Erica's SuperFashion Jungle Time Blog

a trusted, unbiased source for breaking news and quichua catchphrases

the farewell post June 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — wallelee @ 7:38 pm

Well, here I am.  Back in New York, back in my apartment, back at work.

question of the month: "is it hard to be back?"

I got really lazy decided to give myself a week or two of reflection before bringing the blog to a close, and now, well, (as I place my hand gently on top of your hand, all six people reading out there), I think it’s time.

So, what to do?  What to write?  Well first, let’s do a little catchup.  Since my last post with the Mamacitas, I left the Jungle, went to Quito for a week, and then Dave and I flew back to the states on June 3rd.  At around 5:30am on June 3rd, I found out I had been in Ecuador illegally by ten days.  Apparently my 90 day stay had started in November during my first trip to Quito, and not on January 1st 2010.  Yikes.  So usually what happens next is this: you wait for the banks to open, you leave the airport, go to a bank, pay a hefty fine through the bank, get a stamp in your passport, and then beg the airline to put you on the next available flight, having missed your flight completely.  When the customs agent informed me of my expiration, I got a little dizzy and super nauseous- I wasn’t going home.  And aside from being mentally prepared to leave, having an excellent flight partner, and just generally not liking getting stuck, this was going to throw a huge wrench in our calendar of events.  I was panicked, but somehow still fairly quiet and super polite (I’ll say it was the 5:30am energy levels that were my saving grace).


So I don’t really know how or why she did it, but the customs agent then said to me “I’m going to go away for about ten minutes.  I’m going to come back and put a manual stamp on your passport so you can leave.  Normally you’d have to wait and pay $250, but I’m going to do this for you.  I’m going to help you.”  And she did.  Several xeroxes and an aggressive STAMP later, I was on my way, indebted to this customs agent who wielded an amazing amount of power.  I thanked her, I wanted to hug her, I wanted to do something to show my gratitude- so I offered her some banana bread I had baked the night before for the plane ride.  And she paused, shrugged her shoulders, and said “…yeah, okay!”  So, I cut her a slice of banana bread,  took my manually stamped passport through security, and flew home.


flash forward to the weekend:  Jamie and Elon’s wedding.  The reason Dave was flying back with me in the first place was to go to one of his best friend’s weddings.  The weekend was a lot of fun and was the perfect transition back into the states: pieces of newness here and there (ie potable tap water, bagels), but against the backdrop of unbelievably nice and kind people who immediately made you feel welcome (something I will really miss about life in Archidona).  And I’ll say this:  I think one of the coolest things about the wedding was the happiness that was everywhere.  Literally everywhere.  It was like everyone was walking around with a twinkle in their eye, as if they wanted to whisper to each other “pssssst…. this marriage is a really really good idea.” It was great to watch, and even better to be a part of.  Oh, and we all danced.  A lot.

dangerously good playlist = never sitting down. ever.

And now, for some self-imposed Q&A!!!



The Mamacitas. June 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — wallelee @ 3:05 pm

I’ve talked about these women a lot on my blog, but I never dedicated a solo post to them.  I could write an entire blog about them alone, but something has kept me from writing about them until my time with them was done– as if I felt I were betraying the continuity of our experience by punctuating them with a cheeky blog for the readers back home.

me and my mamas wearing their handiwork

I met the Mamacitas my first week here in Ecuador- I hopped on a midnight bus out to Archidona with Tyler and began an insane 36 hour stint of visiting farmers, harvesting Guayusa, staying overnight at Silverio’s in Santo Domingo (and meeting Jordan), playing basketball with kids, waking up for Guayusa, and of course, stopping by the Mamacitas.  Our first encounter as a bit of a dog-and-pony show.  Tyler had notified them that we would be coming, and that we would be coming with a photojournalist, so the Mamacitas pulled out all the stops.  All the women were there, the table was filled with their craftwork: necklaces, keychains, chikras (elaborately woven bags), earrings, carved gourds, woven cell phone holders (yes, cell phone holders), etc.  Tyler bought a handful of things as promotional items for Runa, and the women chatted and laughed as their kids ran around with a possum-like creature that they put on our shoulders (again, Nick has this photo).  At a Runa farmer’s meeting later that week, Magdalena, one of the Mamacitas showed up and I spoke with her and asked her if I could maybe, possibly, join them at one of their next get-togethers?

¨Of course,¨ she said, ¨we meet every thursday, friday, and saturday, at 1pm¨

and so began my regular thursday visits to the mamacitas.  The first few times, I would just watch as they drilled, burned, pulled, and threaded their materials.  A few of their daughters were named Erika, so they said to me “See, you already have mothers here for you!”  Finally, one day, Rosa Maria offered to teach me how to string her elaborately stitched bags, using a wet seed that dries into a little brown bead as soon as it is punctured by the needle.  I worked at a turtle´s pace, but got the hang of things.  Then came the big festival of San Jose, their annual celebration of the community where they play sports, dance, elect a local queen, and drink lots and lots of Chicha.  I went to this two day festival with Dave and we were immediately swarmed with kids wanting to play tag, sing songs, and of course, borrow ten cents for ice pops.  The night we were there I wandered off with a group of girls over to an open field where they were setting off fireworks.  The girls clung to my shirt, stretching it this way and that, screaming as each firecracker exploded in the air.  They would cower behind me, grab my legs, but you could see in their eyes that they were captivated and enamored with the colored lights that filled they sky (as am i).

Mamas hard at work

I took a brief hiatus from the Mamacitas, falling prey to last minute schedule changes, community visits, etc… I disappeared for a few weeks, but when I returned they were just as happy and welcoming as if it had only been a few days.

“Mama Erica!  We were afraid you had gone back to your country!” Magdalena exclaimed when I stumbled up the covered basketball court where we meet.

“No no… not yet…” I replied.  And then we went back to business as usual.

The last month consisted of me helping out here and there (and honestly I wonder how much of a help I actually was), but also bringing some “craftwork” of my own.  After a recent trip to Quito, I bought a bunch of colored strings to make friendship bracelets for the kids (thank you summer camp), and the Mamacitas, particularly Elena, were intrigued by the patterns and explosions of colors that could happen through simple knotting.  I gave Elena some string, taught her the basic format, and within minutes I’m pretty sure she was better at it than I was.


During my second to last visit there, Magdalena, who I had grown the closest to, asked me if I’d like to be the godmother of her 8 month old daughter, Curi (which means “gold” in Kichwa).  At first I thought she kept asking me if I wanted water, saying Aguita over and over again (turns out she was saying Wawita, which means little baby in Kichwa, this I know).  But once it clicked I was honored and 100% in.  Let me tell you about Curi: since the first day I met her at a teeny 5 months, I was obsessed with making her smile.  She has the most incredibly expressive face, and this is heightened by unprecedented levels of cute chubbiness.  She grabs at your face, screams in your ear, and everyone turns their heads when Curi comes out from her afternoon nap.  We started cooing to Curi about how she will come visit me when she is big, and she needs to practice her English and needs to go to school.  I am very serious about Curi going to school.  Many kids, especially the girls, drop out of school at a very young age because the parents can no longer afford it and need help in the fields.  One thing I really like about the Mamas is that education seems very important to them- a handful of them take distance learning classes, and Magdalena is a businesswoman to end all businesswomen.  I hope this stays true for Curi– I’ll be keeping tabs on her and making sure she has the funds she needs to stay in school.  This feels much more compelling to me than my usual annual credit card donation to the red cross.  I know where this is going.


So, of course, in order to become a godmother, we need a baptism.  This would take place on my very last visit.  And what a better multi-tasking opportunity than a dual baptism-going-away-extravaganza!  Magdalena organized it all, and to see the only time I ever brought my camera to these ladies, click through below…



A House Tour! May 31, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — wallelee @ 2:19 pm

Over the next three days, you will (hopefully) see a flurry of posts to wrap up my experience here in Ecuador.  Check-in regularly!


First up, a brief tour of where I lived!  As a quick refresher, I lived in a small jungle town called Archidona, which was one of the first mission towns founded in the Orient in the mid 1500’s.  With that as a homebase, I would travel to local communities (including the Waira Churi in Rukullakta and the Mamacitas in San Jose) and spend days doing everything from taking GPS points of Guayusa trees to carving pilches (drinking gourds) to just hanging out.


I lived in a house that served three purposes:  First floor was our site office.  Meetings were held regularly, business conducted etc.  Second floor were the living quarters for interns, volunteers, etc.  And the backyard was were we built the first ever Guayusa drying facility (families usually just pull a branch off a tree and let it dry naturally, which is why there has not been a need for machinery until now).  For the last several weeks, we’ve had the dryer running 24 hours a day to keep up with our U.S. launch, and I’m not going to lie, I think I will miss the constant hum and sweet smell of drying tea wafting through my window.


I am still waiting on pictures from Nick (Nico, if you are reading this, SEND ME PICTURES FOR PETE’S SAKE) to show you what it was like to stay overnight at some of the communities, but in the meantime, enjoy a tour of life in Archidona!!


Jordan. May 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — wallelee @ 3:36 pm

Yes, this, sadly, is the last Jordan post.


Jordan came over on Wednesday and we had a full day.  First, Jordan tagged along on a visit to a local women’s health collective and helped me take pictures, with my camera carefully wrapped around his neck.

running around the grounds

Jordan getting bored during a Guayusa presentation

Jordan loves Guayusa

A small bird's nest that Jordan found

Medicinal Plants! you suck on the seeds, it gets rid of headaches, and it tastes sweet!

so headache free

Then we went back to the house, where I continued to fiercely knit this baby blanket I needed to complete by Thursday morning, and Jordan worked on a yellow and red friendship bracelet (Really refreshing to meet someone who doesn’t automatically say ‘but those are McDonald’s colors!’).

Jordan, me, and Kelsey, showing off our hard craftwork


and then, obviously, we recorded a video…



las horas de despedida May 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — wallelee @ 12:15 am

Okay, if you look forward to oodles and oodles of pictures with easy-to-read captions, this post is not for you.  Alright, let’s get going.


For those who are mildly keeping track of my calendar, I leave Ecuador next Thursday, June 3rd.  However, I leave Archidona, the jungle, this Friday morning.

For the last three weeks or so, I’ve been mildly conflicted about the jungle.  I’ve been traveling frequently back and forth from Quito (sometimes under the guise of tourism meetings for the Waira Churi, a post to come on that later in the week, but more honestly to see Dave) and each time I am packed and ready to depart for Archidona I get this whining “mehhhhh, I don’t wanna” somewhere within me.  I think about the bugbites, the brutal heat, the sodium (seriously, everything here is doused in salt), the mentally exhausting days of speaking nothing but Spanish, and then there’s this especially weird anxiety about sitting hunched over the computer here in Archidona with semi-functioning internet.  A lot of my work right now requires me to work off of a computer (especially since the Waira Churi don’t have easy access to one), but it just feels weird to be sitting inside, typing, when I feel like I should be outside, hacking stuff with a machete.  Last week, in an effort to help alleviate this feeling, I planted a garden a 7am… and then was promptly back on the computer at 8:30am.  Anyway, I’m getting off track, the whole point is that on more than one occasion, I have been very tempted to pack up my stuff, leave the jungle early, and just have a three week funfest in Quito with Dave and his excellent roommates… a tempting scenario indeed.


But… I get on the bus… and I get back to Archidona… and I am flooded with all the things I didn’t think about.  I laugh with my neighbors as they berate me for jogging at night, I take photos of children who run to meet me in the street when they see me coming to visit, I scream “I don’t understand!” with a smile on my face as the Mamacitas continue to talk to me in Kichwa as if I speak it fluently, I watch some of the most incredible sunsets I will ever see in my life, I look forward to the 4pm clouds that look like they belong in a religious renaissance painting, and sometimes, when I’m lazy, I just sit on my bed and look at a view that should cost $250 a night.   I like it here.

This has been made even more apparent by my impending departure.  When I tell people I’m leaving, I am greeted with the same response across the board:


“and when will you be coming back?”



HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!!! May 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — wallelee @ 9:00 am

It’s May 22nd and today is Judith R. Cohen, Esq.’s Birthday!!!

Mom hanging out with two of our favorites

I’m at the beach this weekend, and mom is working in the office this weekend… just doesn’t seem fair.


HOWEVER, if mom is in the office, this means she might be on her computer… which means she might be checking my blog… which means SUUUUURPRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISE!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Love you, Ma, see you reallllll soon!


PS- you share a birthday with Laurence Olivier!


let’s make some aaaaaaaaaht! May 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — wallelee @ 3:32 pm

beads? try SEEDS!

So I went over to the Waira Churi today to do some interviews to put up on their website (official launch coming next week, stay tuned for the live link!), and when I got to Edmundo’s house, his wife Irene was hard at work with her Artesanía, making some really beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and even a leopard skin cuff… whoa.


A few things to know about local artesan craftwork:


– All beads are made either from seeds, pits, or bamboo that has been cut and roasted

– The string is generally homemade too- done by beating the daylights out of a cactus-like plant, stripping the fibers within the leaves, and then weaving into a fine thread or string

– These women use POWERTOOLS!  Some have hand-powered drills to poke holes through the tough seeds, others have fullblown electric drills.  There’s also this burning-type device to sear designs into gourds and other decorative objects, that I used myself in woodshop class in 7th grade to make a snoopy plaque.  They have yet to let me handle this out here.

– They put in a LOT of work for a very little price… this women are working their butts off, and for necklaces that clock in around $2, $3, and woven bags that may take a full days work, maybe selling for $6.    They have a difficult time selling or finding markets beyond their local community.  I mentioned in an earlier post that Caroline Bennett, an awesome photojournalist, is looking to create a multimedia story of different artesans from the andean region, and this will include an online marketplace to purchase their designs.  In the meantime, if you see anything you really love in the pictures in this post, let me know and I can pick it up for you (but fair warning, I leave next Thursday!!!!)


ATTENTION MOTHERS OF DAVE AND ERICA: Please let us know if anything strikes your fancy, we are at a loss regarding your personal tastes when it comes to ecuadorian amazon artesenal jewelry. forgive us.


Click through for more pictures of the beautiful work, along with photos of me making a fool of myself…