Saturday, March 6, 2010

Village Life Part 1: Dos Mangas

I’ve had some requests for more information about where we’re living, so I’ll try to paint a picture of life here in the village, with some of the more amusing qualities, as well as the annoying ones. A disclaimer at the beginning: we've been here over 9 months now, and have over two months left, so while the picture I paint may be more vivid than it would have been 6 months ago, it's also more tired. We're looking forward to coming home.

Dos Mangas is located in the Santa Elena Province, on the north side of the Manglaralto River Vallye, a seasonal river. The road coming into the village (from the coast) and out of the village (further into the "mountains") both cross the river. When rains are heavy and the river rises (which hasn't happened yet this year) the village is essentially cut off from the rest of the world. Supplies, and the occasional person, have to be ferried across on rafts.

The village has two principal roads running parallel to the river with several side streets connecting them. The town has a daycare, an elementary school, an internet café, and numerous little shops that people run out of their houses, selling sundry and food items. There’s currently one restaurant, and a woman who sells roast chicken skewers on Saturday nights (these are awesome, both because we don’t have to cook those nights, but also because they kind of taste like bacon).

The population in the village is between 900 and 1000 people, with nearly a third of these under the age of 12. Most children do not continue school past sixth or eighth grade. Some families cite the cost of schooling, but others just need the help in the family business. Fourteen to sixteen seems to be the average age at which people get married and start having children. This is apparently a switch from even a generation ago when people were getting married in their twenties. We recently attended a First Communion where one of the kids participating was only a few months away from getting married and becoming a father. People live with their extended families - grandparents, parents, children, and the children's children often under the same roof, or in houses right next door to each other. Because of this it seems that there's always people around to help, whether preparing meals, caring for children, taking care of livestock, etc. It has also been my observation, though, that it's usually the parents, and not the young, newly parented children (did that make sense) who actually care for youngest members of the family. From the experience I had when my phone was stolen by a married 14 year-old girl, it is clear that the families still consider these individuals children, and not the adults that their responsibilities would demand they be.

Dos Mangas is a comuna, which is a legal entity under Ecuadorian law. Among other things, it means that the comuna as a whole is the actual landowner of most of the land adjacent (and not so adjacent) to the village – it leases out the right for people to work the land, often times in un-ending leases that approach private ownership, but the comuna still retains the right to recall the land. Only about half the population of Dos Mangas are comuna members. That means only half pay dues to the comuna, but the benefits that the comuna gains from the government or NGOs generally is shared by the entire community.

The majority of people in the village practice a mixed economic strategy - they farm various crops (corn, tomatoes, watermelon, etc.), they raise cattle and own horses, they harvest goods from the forest that can be sold (paja, cane, lumber), and some family members have wage jobs in the surrounding region. A decent cash income is around $200 a month, and families with children get a small monthly stipend from the government. 

Some people in the village bring in income as guides. Because the communal lands of Dos Mangas include several beautiful natural features, including a waterfall along one river and river pools along another, Dos Mangas has an organized groups of community guides who take tourists on ecological hikes to these areas. The group plans on adding the archaeological site to the tour. This work is seasonal, occurring primarily between January and April. 

Others make a living producing handicrafts that they sell to said tourists. The primary crafts are paja toqilla (woven palm) items - such as handbags, placemats, and baskets - and tagua nut (vegetable ivory) jewelry, keychains, and pipes (often with marijuana leaves on them - Dos Mangas is just a few miles away from Montanita, a town known for surfing and for drugs). Well organized cooperatives exist in the village to gather, prepare, and create these goods. There is a rough gender division, with women weaving the paja toquilla items and men carving the tagua.

One of the women drying paja.

In the forest!

One of the roles that the community has embraced is as protector of the forests. There are limits placed on the number of trees that can be cut down, and the community has teamed up with environmental groups like Fundacion Natura and other comunas in the area to help protect the Colonche Hills. They certainly are beautiful, draped in clouds and filled with animals, including howler monkeys, jaguars, boa constrictors, wild boar and deer (which are both hunted and yummy), and many others. The community seems to take this role very seriously, however they currently have an agreement with the government to mine the river bed adjacent to the village for stones and sand to temper the concrete that they're laying down to re-do the coastal highway. To me, this suggests a certain disconnect between conservation efforts, and perhaps what they are conserving for tourists, versus what they are conserving for themselves.

Next installment: Animals!

1 comment:

  1. YAY for pictures!!! I actually understood this entry ;)