Ecuador Notes 2014

8 December 2014

Arrived in time to see a beautiful sunset casting swathes of pink across the skies of Quito, then on to Roberto and Johanna’s home (and ours for the next week), where we had a simple yet tasty dinner (cheese, bread and salad). The evening ended with piano recitations by Roberto and his two daughters, before jetlag finally caught up with us and we fell into bed and slept like a log (until 5.30 am).

Today, we attended a stakeholder mediation for Tevcol, a security transit company that is being certified to the S2M standard for which I am the international verifier. The dialogue was held at the foundation and gallery of the famous Ecuadorian artist Guayasamin. His portraits are so powerful in the stark way they capture human emotions, many representing the suffering and pain of the indigenous population.

After driving around the Old Town of Quito and stopping for ice cream overlooking one of the valleys, we went with Roberto and Johanna to the Vigil of the Virgin Mary, which is commemorated every year on this day. The community event was held at a private Catholic school and included a recitation of the five joyful mysteries surrounding the life of Jesus, with dozens of Hail Mary’s and various songs and testimonials in between – all in Spanish of course. It was strange, yet also familiar (given my Christian youth), to experience this devout religious event. I suppose it was a kind of cultural education.

9 December 2014

Today, we are once again back at the Guayasamin Foundation, attending a sustainability measurement workshop for SERTECPET (an oil technology and servicing company). As we arrived early, I had the chance to inspect some of Guayasamin’s paintings. His style, often using a palette knife to apply layers of paint and variations of colour, resonates strongly with my own evolving preference.

11 December 2014

Excellent dialogues yesterday on creating a Sustainable Quito and promoting culture and social responsibility.

12 December 2014

Yesterday was a day of shared sustainability insights at Hexagon’s CSR forum in Quito, with me preaching Integrated Value (CIV). Today, early start (3.30 am) to get a flight to Cuenca for a CEO breakfast, university lecture and lunch with the mayor.

13 December 2014

About to set off on tropical adventures with my love. Super excited to be heading to the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest today, visiting communities 5 hours drive from Cuenca.

15 December 2014

En-route from Quito to London via Guayaquil and Madrid. After a mad scramble to catch the planes in both Quito and Madrid, finally I have a chance to catch my breath and catch up on the diary. On Wednesday (10 December), we conducted a dialogue with a variety of stakeholders interested in the arts and culture of Ecuador. Incredibly, Guayasamin’s son (Pablo) and grandson were attending. Afterwards, we had a chance to talk with Pablo and he shared some insights about his father. Apparently, his personal motivation was promoting peace, rather than happiness.

In the evening, we were hosted for dinner by the British ambassador in Ecuador (Patrick Müller) and then on Thursday (11 December), with all international experts present – myself and Indira, Wendy Chapple from ICCSR at Nottingham University, where I did my PhD, and Aris Vrettos from the Institute for Sustainability Leadership at Cambridge University, where I am Senior Associate – we held a seminar on the Sustainable Quito strategy for the Environmental Secretariat of the local government.

In the evening, we attended a dinner hosted by Gustavo Baroja, the Prefect of Pichincha province and on Friday (12 December) we woke at 3.30 am to catch an early flight to Cuenca, where we had breakfast with Juan Pablo Eljuri, CEO of Eljuri Group and apparently the richest man in Ecuador. Next were presentations to a packed hall of academics and students at one of the private universities, lunch with the city major (Marcelo Cabreia), a short bus tour in the rain and evening talks to around 300 executives at an event jointly sponsored by Diageo and Eljuri Group.

By this point, we were all exhausted and rather short tempered from lack of sleep, altitude sickness (which affected Indira the worst) and the stress of the relentless pace of work. Also, in typical Latin style, the agendas, formats and timings of events were all moving goalposts, so we did not feel as prepared as we would have liked. Nevertheless, the presentations seemed to go down well, with Aris on sustainability trends and leadership, me on sustainable business and integrated value, Indira on migration trends and social entrepreneurship, and Wendy on co-governance and certification systems.

On Saturday, we awoke in high spirits and set off at about 8.30 for Macas in the Amazon region, roughly a 5-hour drive. The journey through the winding alpine roads of the Andean landscape was spectacular, gradually giving way to the more forested scenery of the Amazon region. On the way, we passed little shrines on the mountain roadside and stopped for lunch (rice, beans and plantain bananas) in a town called Chordeleg, which specialised in fine jewellery.

As soon as we arrived in Macas, we were taken to a beautiful open sided, wooden roofed meeting space, surrounded on all sides by the rainforest, where the assembled community of indigenous leaders were all waiting for us, many wearing traditional face paint, headdresses and clothes. Our messages seemed to be well received and sparked a dialogue in which several of the leaders expressed their passion for the forest, their pride in their culture (most were from the Achuar nation) and their anger at the extractive industries and the national government, especially President Correa, who they see as a sell out to the oil and mining companies.

We felt immensely privileged to be hosted by the Prefect of the region, Marcelino Chumpi and President of the Achuar nation, Jaime Vargas. The Achuar nation is one of the few that was never conquered or colonised, perhaps because of their remoteness in the Amazon and their reputation as fierce warriors who practiced the art of tzanza, shrinking the heads and sewing the lips =of their slain enemies. This fearsome tradition apparently continued into the 1960s, according to a documentary that was made in 1965. To our great surprise and delight, Jaime arranged for us to visit one of the remote communities living in the Amazon rainforest the next day.

In the morning we set off in a 9-seater plane and flew to Tzapapentza, a small community of 300 people (the second largest of the Achuar nation) living in the Amazon near the border with Peru. To get there, we flew for about 40 minutes from Macas over breathtaking vistas of continuous rainforest. Apparently, it takes them days on foot and by canoe to reach the nearest town. We arrived to find the community assembled under a massive open-air pergola.

Immediately, the President of the Achuar nation (Jaime) and the protector of the community sat on chairs opposite one another in the middle of the assembled group. Both looked impressive in their regalia of face-paint and feathered headdresses, and in the case of the Protector, a rifle across his lap. They entered into a melodic call-and-response greeting, passing on news and asking permission to enter the community, while drinking the local brew (chicha) from patterned bowls made from clay.

While this was going on, a steady stream of women was passing bowls of chicha to each of us as guests, for us to sip. The drink had a sour, fermented taste and, I noticed, the froth of what looked very much like saliva floating on the surface. I later found out that this wasn’t far from the truth, as chichi is made by chewing grain (maize of quinoa) and spitting it into a bucket for fermentation for a few hours. Chicha literally means ‘to sour a drink’. After a series of speeches by the local leaders, Roberto and Aris made short comments of thanks and shared some ideas on how we may support them and their cause.

Their most immediate need seems to be to have a road built, which would allow them to get their products out to the national and international market. Apart from traditional housing (made from timber), they do have many basic facilities already, including electricity (from solar panels) and a small information centre, which connects them to the Internet. They wear Western clothes and they have a school and dusty sports playing fields (for football and ecua-volley, a type of volleyball), but no clinic or doctor. Any emergency cases have to call on a flying doctor.

As a gesture of goodwill, we clubbed together and I offered a gift of cash ($240) on behalf of the team. In my little speech, I told the story of the two hungers in Africa: the lesser hunger for food and water and houses, and the greater hunger for a sacred purpose in life. Today, I said, we join with the Tzapapentza community in their sacred task of protecting their cultural rights and their forest. The money, I said, is merely a token of our gratitude for being welcomed into the community, knowing that friendship is the true gift that keeps on giving.

After sharing lunch – including a scrumptious caimito fruit (like a grapefruit sized grape, which tasted a bit like mango, but without the stringy texture; I brought home 5 seeds in the hope of growing it in Cambridge and in Swellendam), plantain, coconut water (slightly fermented) and chicken soup for the others. We then flew to Shell (a small town) and drove back to Quito, nearly missing our flight to Madrid. In fact, we only made it thanks to a bridge constructed by the current government and opened a week earlier. Ironic really, having just spent the last few days listening to strong declarations of opposition by the Achuar people to the incumbent president and his government.



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