This is my family. They are a group of tremendously lovely, warmhearted, indigenous Ecuadorians with whom I am currently living out in the lush countryside of Cotacachi. We eat at least 2 meals a day together, always chatting and laughing in Spanish about me, Cotacachi, Ecuador, and the world. To them, I am Cocito: the affectionate, familiarized modification of my Third-World moniker, Coco.
This is Pedro, father and husband. He used to be the president of Santa Bárbara, the community of some 250 people where they live. Nowadays he spends his days working on various construction and development projects around the area, always returning home for dinner around 6pm with a huge smile on his face. Like everyone else I´ve met in the village, he is always anxious to know how I´m doing, and how I feel about the community and Ecuador in general. My response is always the same: I love it.
Then there´s María. She had her first child at 18 and married at 20. Now at only 38, she has five children and is the true head of the household. She instantly took me on as yet another daughter, and is a constant fountain of generosity and compassion. She´s always calm and responsive to my daily barrage of questions, ranging from cultural traditions to soup recipes to words I can´t seem to remember in Spanish. She´s spent her whole life here, but told me she secretly wishes she´d gotten to spend some more time on her own before settling into married family life. No kidding.
The three older daughters are Anita (20), Alicia (17), and Apacha (14). Here I am with them, dressed in traditional indigenous garments at the request, and to the delight of, my family for this week´s Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations. (The only other non-sister is the one to the left of me... by the way notice how I´m the tallest person in the photo, that´s a new one for me!) They are all beautiful and look stunningly alike. Anita is currently living in Quito and going to college, but the other two help with every last activity around the house. They wash the clothes, clean, cook meals, attend to the animals, and watch the little ones when María is attending to other issues. I don´t think I know another teenager anywhere who would be capable of half of the things these girls do on a daily basis.
Then there´s the little ones: Apauki (5) and Sayani (3). A constant source of joy and amusement. They are also best friends with each other, with is pretty much the cutest thing to watch. They spend their days doing kid stuff: getting filthy, chasing chickens, kicking soccer balls, running around, loving life. They are always glad to see me when I return from wherever, greeting me with hugs and jumping and sleeve-tugging, and it always makes my day.
And finally, there´s Grandma. Or, at least I think that´s what she is. I can´t quite figure out where this lovely old lady fits in, but I´m pretty sure she was introduced as someone´s mama. But she´s always hanging around and I´m relatively sure she lives in the tiny shack on the property. She always gives me the biggest smile I´ve ever seen whenever I walk by, and chats away to me in Quichua even though I hardly speak a word. And though she has large cataracts in both eyes, she giggled like a little kid when I showed her this photo of herself.