Pique y Pasa (Choose What You Like)

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

When I first heard “pique y pasa” (pronounced pee-kee pah-sah) it was used in a traditional way to describe how to go about buying something when there were different items of all kinds offered. Not a single-minded hunting trip for just one thing or at best a few things where the range of possibilities is finite and it’s a matter of how much you have to spend. This is a more experiential, hypothetical, exploratory, and unpredictable style that might have parallel origins with the wondrously wide-open type of weekend markets that exist in Latin countries. Practically anything can be found there, plumbing supplies to live animals to jewelry to personal services such as haircuts. None of those things may be there next week so pique y pasa while you can.

The phrase is used for many more activities now. When buying things it can also carry the meaning of “spend what you can afford” or “just look around”. Extended beyond the market to dating it can connote playing the field. In a restaurant it can refer to reading over and selecting from the menu. (In Guayaquil there is a popular chain of home delivery restaurants named Pique y Pasa.) In fact, at this point the expression has its own life and can be activated to cover nearly any situation.

Here are some short takes on Bahia de Caraquez and developments to retain its ecological balance with the Rio Chone Bioregion. You are invited to pique y pasa.

A little girl of about five years with a totally satisfied grin rides in the middle of the passenger seat in the back of an otherwise empty triciclo pedaled by her father. It is late afternoon so they are probably headed home. She is likely so delighted because she wears the driver’s several sizes too big cap that is kept out of her eyes by two fingers holding the brim. It could be a charming scene as old as the first triciclos here except that the cap reads “Associacion de Tricicleros Bahia Ecologico Fundada el 10 de Agosto del 2002 (Ecological Bahia Association of Three-Wheel Drivers Founded on August 10, 2002).

At a formal ceremony in the Municipal Theater attended by many city agency staff members, barrio leaders, and independent eco-city groups, the city/canton government unveiled its new recycling oriented solid waste collection system. It has been a long passage that began with the Eco-City Declaration nearly five years before and has involved notable evolutionary steps such as separating waste at the main market and then building Fanca Produce to collect market and household organic wastes from a single barrio to manufacture compost. The new program will carry this activity to the entire canton.

The El Alcalde (Mayor) Dr. Leonardo Viteri made a compelling speech linking the sustainable practices existed in his boyhood to Bahia’s present condition of poisoning soil and water with garbage. He explained the limited role of his office and city government and summoned the famous pride of Bahians to carry out what needs to be done on a family and school wide basis so that they can join other recycling cities around the world and become a model for Ecuador. Since the meeting was called for six in the afternoon and he has medical office hours from four onward most days, he was still wearing green top/white bottom scrubs.

The mayor was followed by a comedy routine set around a group of young people who threw trash on the stage and stood silently afterwards in a row to be teased, rebuked and instructed by two street-flashy dressed clowns. When the teenagers left the comics developed jokes involving the audience, panel of presenters, various city barrios, and cultural attitudes in general. One had mannerisms that combined brash little boy with swishiness. They staged a “battle of verses” exchanging funny lines. The high school-looking Queen of Bahia wearing a tiara and wide sash of office was brought on stage to dance and be wooed with poems. Two audience women were brought up so that the comics could show off truly ornate salsa dance steps. It was a model event for how to make recycling interesting in South America.

Planet Drum Foundation was thanked from the stage and asked to continue helping the city. Along with most others there we received a “diploma” in gratitude for our assistance. I sought out Nicola Mears and Dario Proano who originated the market organic waste separation system, and the mayor’s wife Michelle Monceau who helped write the Fanca Produce grant proposal with our recycling expert Amy Jewel, congratulating them for their role in establishing those important steps on the long road to this goal. (The original full-scale proposals can be found in the Recycling and Eco-City Plans from a few years ago featured elsewhere on this site.)

Chris and Patrick have been remarkably versatile and productive volunteers in the few weeks that they’ve labored at jobs as tough as hacking trails and as gentle as transplanting seedlings. Together they hauled compost to the Universidad, watered hillside plantings, built the greenhouse extension, developed paths to water future plants, made screens and plumbing repairs to the apartment, and even tore down an outhouse that was an obstacle on a new trail in the Bosque park. Considering the self-motivated style of these two, I probably left out as many or more tasks as have been mentioned.

For a going away event I suggested renting a river taxi to see Isla Frigatas (Frigate Bird Island), Isla Chorazon (Heart Island), and upstream stretches of Rio Chone. There were thousands of pelicans, frigate birds, sea gulls, cormorants, and other species nesting on a bright green island that is whitened in spots with sheets of droppings. The main island and those nearby represent a sanctuary that epitomizes the abundant natural provision in this bioregion. Wary  birds made a cloud of wings when we got close that seemed as dense as a bee swarm. Upriver we encountered a father and son team silently fishing from a dugout canoe, closely diving pelicans and cormorants, and a new silt island bare of vegetation but entirely covered with hundreds of aquatic birds. Everyone except myself and another person who had to get back next embarked in dugouts for a tour of Isla Corazon’s truly exceptional mangrove restoration site and educational center to see first-hand aspects and exhibits about the invaluable role of mangroves as nurseries for a vast range of river and ocean life.

Last night there was a despedida (farewell party) for them at Gordon Blues where new friends celebrated over beer and cana drinks, shrimp and several types of fish grilled with garlic sauce. They left at sixish this morning for Guayaquil to visit a native seed source at Cerro Blanco Reserva and pay for our next order on their way home. If we had more like Chris and Patrick the time to complete revegetating hillsides would be cut in half.

When Brian and I left the first meeting about how to  celebrate the upcoming fifth anniversary of the Eco-City Declaration, we resolved to develop a wish list of things desired from the municipal government.  Some of them could be useful to all other groups such as participation of the Department of Environment and Tourism in our planning sessions, and some like assistance with revegetating hillsides were specific to our projects. Our thinking was that if all the non-government groups did this and their desires were assembled together as a single document it would be a statement of ecological goals and a kind of platform.

The second meeting (they will hopefully be held every Thursday night from now on) was extremely productive in terms of ideas raised and discussed for the celebration. Some suggestions were a paseo (ride around town) in buses and triciclos to see open houses of active groups, connecting with the mangrove restoration organizations whose International Mangrove Day falls a week later to make a continuous week-long celebration, involvement of school children at every level, talks and panels on subjects such as native birds and alternative energy, and others. Brian read our wish list and encouraged everyone else to write one.

Working class and artisan groups such as Arte Papel women’s recycled paper making collective, the president of Eco Bahia Triciclero Association, and residents of Maria Auxilidora have been invited to all the meetings but none have attended. I’m not sure what this means. They may feel intimidated by heads of companies and city agencies who attend, or not feel they have anything to add any ideas. They may not care what develops as long as they have an opportunity to participate in the final event. I went around announcing the next meeting and inviting them again. If they don’t show up the next time Brian will inherit this nagging task. It may be that he eventually has to accompany them to show that we’re in earnest.

Patricio Tamariz is in town for a short time from teaching sustainability in Guayaquil. He and I will go to the Department of Environment and Tourism next Monday morning to seek their involvement in the anniversary celebration meetings and suggest that they show leadership for getting local, national and international media interest and publicity. They’re more apt to listen to Patricio because he has had experience working for the national agency that has the same name.

The term “globalization” referring negatively to economic, political and cultural domination of parts of the planet and its people by other people and technological forces has obvious value and should be retained for many reasons. Where it breaks down is in accepting the rapidly reconstituted quality of personal worlds. I went to Canoa beach on an overcast day that promised few surfers, swimmers or towel loungers. Soon there is a conversation in English with a local girl whose ancestry is Chinese-German. This is remarkable enough, but someone is visiting just now who is Turkish-German, would she like an introduction?  “No, I’m too self-conscious in German.”  We talk of other things and say goodbye. (Without knowing it I have acquired the worst sunburn on the back of my legs since childhood even though the sun never came out.) At the Bambu bar run by exceptional Dutchman Joost whose wife is African-Ecuadorian from Esmeraldes I meet the Turkish-German and pass along the fact that there’s an Ecuadorian who is part German. To cover the Chinese part, I recite ¨The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter ” by 9th Century Chinese poet Li Bo, translated by American Ezra Pound from an Italian translation by Fenellosa. Although none of this would have been possible a century ago it is becoming common now. Gobalization needs another word to describe how our individual worlds are eclipsing each other.

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