Monthly Archives: June 2013

fruit of the day: shiwu palm

We went on a trek into some property owned by Tod, the field school director. We were accompanied by four local women who would often point out plants they knew and used. We would often pause and talk about traditional and medicinal uses for the plants. Sometimes, one of the ladies would remember a song about the plant, and we would listen to her sing it, our teacher Tod would translate, and we would learn about the close connection the Kichwa language Runa people speak has to nature.

I fell behind at one point in time and was walking with Luisa and Elodia. They were constantly on the lookout for fruit that might be ripe. After poking at a couple of things that looked like the love child of a hedgehog and a pinecone on a palm tree trunk, we were rewarded by excited cries by one of the other ladies. We veered off the path and found a very tall shiwu palm tree. “Perfectly ripe,” commented Elodia, “but it’s so high there’s no way to harvest it!”
**Heroic music plays as suave announcer begins voiceover**
THIS IS A JOB FOR TALLMAN! TALLMAN wasn’t always tall. Over years and years, though, he developed his primary and indeed his only superpower, being tall. He was, however, always really really ridiculously good-looking, if a bit absent-minded.
** nearby compatriots B-Man and Flori-Girl manage to find a super long stick**
TALLMAN: What ho! Tropical fruit? Too high to reach? Not on MY watch! Pass yon stick!
B-Man: Here you go.
TALLMAN: It’s so long! Perfect for a job by Tallman!
B-Man: So are you going to use it, or…?
TALLMAN: Now, I must find the palm tree…
B-Man: It’s behind you.
TALLMAN: I am now grabbing hold of the stick and using my signature VISEGRIP.
B-Man: Please. Just knock down the fruit.
TALLMAN: I’ll use the Coati Rage Combo!
**TALLMAN begins to beat clump of fruit with  a stick like a child beats a pinata. Hard, nutlike fruits rain down like pennies from heaven.**
TALLMAN: Good thing I always wear safety glasses to protect myself from the sun’s evil rays AND falling tropical fruit!

And thus the townspeople were saved by the glory, the height, the stature of the TALLMAN. After they later led the rest of the class back to  the palm, there would be more singing, more fruit-gathering, and altogether much rejoicing until one girl grabbed a secretly spiny tree which punctured and numbed her hand. She later remarked of the jungle, “I don’t know what’s in this forest. All I know is that it hurts.

As for the fruit itself: After cooking the fruit, you find a very thin membrane of gluey, vaguely avocadoey oily fruit surrounding an enormous pit. You scrape it out with your thumbnail and wonder why Runa are so crazy about it. It’s probably not worth the trouble.

Fruit Scores. 0-5. 0 is “abomination,” 5 is “so delicious you would sell your dog to buy some more good.”
Flavor:2
Appearance:2
Texture:2
Cost: Free, if you forget about beating a tree savagely with a stick for twenty minutes.

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fruit bat tax

You ask yourself: Is this blog just about fruit? Well, basically. I guess it reflects my life.
Remember my huge stalk of bananas? I had planned to share them with the other students—you can only eat so many bananas alone in one day—but most of them conveniently ripened when nearly all of the students were visiting nearby Banos. Oh well.  Anyways, my suddenly ripening bunch of bananas did not go unnoticed by the forest, and I was unsanctimoniously subjected to the Fruit Bat Tax. What manner of tax is this? It’s quite simple, really.  For every night I wish to keep bananas outside, ¼ of a ripe banana shall be taken by the Fruit Bat Lord for his own inscrutable purposes.

I have, however, decided to be optimistic about the situation. Maybe it is less of an obligatory payment and more of a contribution to the realm of flying mammals. I can imagine it all now…

“We live in a world of privilege and bounteous plenty. When was the last time you ate an apple and threw away the core? The last time you wolfed down a banana, did you leave the end uneaten? Every night in Ecuador, a fruit bat goes hungry. Every night, a fruit bat furtively, frantically but fruitlessly flits, flaps and flies far to find food but ends up fruitless. My name is Franz Fernelius Fritjof Ferdinand, and I am Finnish. I and my folk found fun, faith and freedom by spending French francs found in Fiji not on fruit frappe shakes, furs or fish but in what frankly is the most deserving of causes: funding furry flying foxes.. For just the price of a banana a day, you can ensure a fruit bat is fed and can spend more time finding deeper meaning through higher education and vocational training. Freaking Fantastic! Donate to Finnish Friends of Flying Foxes today!
Since I like both Finnish people and fruit bats, I can hardly turn such a cause away into the warm, tropical rain, so I have decided to put bananas up outside for the fruit  bat.
My name is Neil Reed, and I am a proud Fruit Bat Sponsor.

demonic devices

First, I need to mention two very important people: Luisa and Elodia. These two elderly sisters teach us so many things all the time. They will be mentioned a lot. It seems there is little they haven’t heard of, until now.

I brought my didgeridoo to Ecuador at the suggestion of my professor, Janis Nuckolls. When I first met her, I had one with me. She explained that in Ecuador there isn’t an instrument like it, and so it could be an interesting topic of conversation. It had proved its worth in Atlanta, Georgia, during my layover. I played it on streetcorners, in shuttle buses, airports, subways, the World of Coca-Cola and at the Georgia Aquarium, where I think I earned the “Most Interesting Patron of the Week” award.

Here in Ecuador, besides a couple of performances for my peers and for the kitchen staff, I thought I would take the chance to play it for Luisa and Elodia, two elderly sisters who we frequently interview during our Kichwa class. They grew up some distance away from here and spent a lot of time living and working in the rainforest. I thought perhaps they would be reminded of some animal they had heard.

I told them I had something to play for them and began playing the didgeridoo. Now, if you haven’t heard it before, a didgeridoo sounds a little bit like…well, it’s like…the didgeridoo. Maybe eeeeeeeeeAAAAAARRRROOOOOOOOOOOOWWWEEEEEEEEEEEEHIIIIIIIIII!
I began with a low drone with some barks mixed in.  As I did so, I watched Luisa and Elodia’s expressions change. Surprise and confusion gave way to a sort of horrified fascination.
Luisa : “What is that? Ugh!”Elodia:“It´s awful. Play it again.”
Didgeridoo: **eeeaaaaaaarrrrrrHIIIIIIIIIvvvv**
Neil:“Do you like it?”
“No. That sound is going to make us have bad dreams tonight.” (Runa people believe certain events or things they encounter or see during the day can cause dreams.)
“What does it sound like?”
“Like a supai (an evil forest spirit. Perhaps it was summoning one).
“Look, it’s fine. Look at these carvings on the outside, a snake and a lizard.”

Oh, bother. Two things not really liked. Especially not snakes. They were somewhat peeved that it made the noise it did. I pointed it at each of them to try to show them it was hollow inside, but they wouldn’t look inside it. Instead, they turned their heads and covered their faces with their hands. Luisa and Elodia did all I could have asked of them. They had listened to the didgeridoo, but they didn’t have to like it.

Conclusion? The Amazon might not be ready for the didgeridoo. Its drones, shrieks and howls apparently just sound…well, strange and disturbing. Kind of like a Justin Bieber concert.

fruit of the day: chilean pepino

I have seen these in American Wal-Mart’s before but never purchased one. They are native to Chile, but I thought perhaps these had been grown here and so would make a delicious purchase. The pale white flesh is mottled with purple streaks. It has the texture of a mushy tomato and tastes faintly of…nothing. I don’t mean that it tastes unique. I mean it doesn’t taste like anything. It’s not awful because it tastes bad. It’s hard for something to taste bad when it the only thing it might taste like is bland. If you scrunch up your face when you eat it and think hard of a number between one and twelve, you might be able to detect a subtle hint of cantaloupe. This is unfortunate, because we all know cantaloupe is the putrid melon of the fields. Cantaloupe is actually humanity’s longest-running inside joke. It started out as a couple of friends pretending they liked it so they could trick a friend into eating it. He was so embarrassed when he found out that he began pretending he liked it too, and so they all began growing it and getting people to try it, secretly laughing at them when they also exclaimed how “delicious” it was as to not appear uncultured. And so the cantaloupe has spread throughout the world because no one wants to just ‘fess up and admit they were tricked.

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TRMOALABS! (That Reminds Me of a Long and Boring Story!)
Once upon a time Neil was a missionary in the mystical land of Paraguay. He lived in the same apartment as three other missionaries, one of whom was from an obscure Peruvian town and loved nothing more than to rave, “In MY city, all the trees are THIS much taller. In MY city, the streets are THIS much cleaner. In MY city, the food is THIS much more delicious…etc, etc. We’ll refer to him as Aristotle. My missionary companion—who we will call Polecat—was also Peruvian, but was considerably more secure in his identity and felt no need to constantly tell us about it. Polecat loved playing pranks on Aristotle.
Aristotle hated nothing more than spiciness in food. He thought it a sin and an abomination. In HIS city, they didn’t put this awful…stuff on food. Polecat, Flying Welshman and I spent many happy hours trying to persuade Aristotle to eat spicy food. “No, Aristotle. Why would we put chili pepper bits in these fajitas? Those are clearly, uh, tomatoes and red bell peppers.” We could sometimes get him to consume a plate or so before our treachery was revealed. Why the hatred of spice? Aristotle was convinced it wasn’t healthy, nor was it natural. Over bowls of bland stew he once prepared for us, Aristotle loudly proclaimed how in HIS country, they only ate natural foods. They didn’t add these strange, artificial and unnatural…things to their meals, he explained. He then waved dismissively at the spice rack, chock full of abominations like basil and oregano. My missionary companion Arizona and I tried to listen to his diatribes with an open mind while we discretely reached for the black pepper.

Flying Welshman and I carefully surveyed Aristotle’s food choices and determined that not only did he despise spiciness, he despised all flavor. This was the basis for the Spice Wars—but that’s another long and boring story. Just know Aristotle’s favorite flavor was bland.
I got several packages from my family during my mission. These contained such miraculous things as chili powder, Milky Way Midnights, and Almond Joys. They also contained a great many packing peanuts—the kind made out of rice that melt in your mouth into a gluelike mess. I delighted in persuading other missionaries to eat these, claiming they were the new White Cheddar variety of a local snack. On one particularly fruitful day, I convinced Elders Apple and Canada Geologist to eat a couple. They made faces but gamely chewed on. When I couldn’t handle the laughter anymore, I told them what they were actually eating, and hilarity ensued. We then had an idea. As Polecat, Flying Welshman, Apple and Canada Geologist looked on, I called in Aristotle from the other room and persuaded him to eat a couple. He ate a few and said they weren’t bad. He reached out for some more. I began to feel really guilty. Sure, his food choices were boring. But did he really deserve this?

“Hey, Aristotle.”
“What?”
“Those…those aren’t snacks.”
“Huh?
“What you’re eating.”
“What about them?”
“They’re packaging.”
“Oh yeah, I see your box. These are pretty good.”
“No, I mean you are eating packaging.”
“I like them!”
“You’re not understanding me! I was pranking you!”
“Huh?”
“That’s not a ‘traditional American snack. It was a lie.”
“You know what? In MY country, we have snacks just like this! I like these a lot!”
“Aristotle—oh, never mind.”

My objections fell into silence, swallowed up by the sounds of supressed laughter and a national pride that just couldn’t be stomached.

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fruit run

A couple of days after arriving I woke up at 5:30 in the morning and caught the first bus that passed the field school to the nearby city of Tena. I did a little bit of shopping—laundry supplies, bread still warm from the oven, and fruit. Lots of fruit. I knew exactly what I had come to buy. The open-air market was still sleepy, but I found a man selling what I needed—a stalk of bananas. I am not sure how much my stalk weighed, but it was probably 35 or 40 pounds. Total price? $6.00, plus no tax. The fruit stall owner hadn’t seen my new Presidential series dollar coins, but after a little persuasion he accepted them, saying he would keep them for later. I was able to pick up a couple new kinds of fruit I hadn’t tried, and caught the bus back to the field school with perfect timing. Occasionally, there comes a moment when you are simply…happy. I sat down to rest in the softly swaying bus seats, fresh bread and tropical fruits in hand, Mana’s “Mariposa Traicionera playing in the background. This was one of those moments.

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The Lost City of Atlanta

SUNDAY

My journey to Ecuador began in a normal enough way. I had packed weeks before in eager anticipation of this event, and so I had only to grab my carefully packed bag out of its apportioned place in the closet, take my boarding pass and passport from their place in my drawer, straighten the ruffled blankets on my already-made bed and stroll casually out the door to the airport.

Anyone who knows me should recognize this as a bold-faced lie. There was no making of beds or packing beforehand. Nay, instead I ran frantically in circles about the house attempting to find various objects and, failing to find most of them, yelling about it. Through the collective efforts of the family, however, we were remarkably able to find most of the things we were searching out.

MONDAY

The flight proceeded normally, until Atlanta. Upon arriving at Atlanta, I knew I would have an eighteen hour layover until my flight to Ecuador. I resolved to pass as much of it in unconsciousness as possible and slept on a great many airport-couch things. I must have looked pitiful, for a stranger offered me fried chicken. “Hey bud,” he called out, “want some chicken?” I grabbed my stuff and moved towards the Chicken Offerer. He quickly clarified I was just to accept the chicken, my stuff and I could remain at a comfortable distance away. Oh, Atlanta. The City of Conditional Chicken Friendship.

Upon completing my layover the next day, I thought to escape ‘Murica  (That says America but how we ‘Muricans would say it) but reality was more complex. A bunch of people somewhere had been delayed and this caused all sorts of great problems with flights which Delta intended to solve by throwing money at people. “We need three volunteers.” they began, “who we will pay to not leave today, and leave tomorrow instead so people who clearly have better places to be than this airport can get there. As for you, we will help numb your feelings of worthlessness by throwing some aircraft ticket bones at you, putting you in a nice hotel overnight and stuffing you full of eighteen dollars of the airport food of your choice.” That is the message I got, anyways. Arriving to Ecuador sounded nice, but so did “ Tons o’ airport bones.”  So I stayed an extra day.

The Marriott hotel was where I ended up. Although I looked like a bedraggled hobo, I made it past the front doors to the desk where they gave me my room key.  What’s to say about this hotel? It was nice, but IMO all there is to really do at hotel is sleep in it and look at room service menus, commenting cynically on the sorry state of the world today.

TUESDAY

“This is a nice hotel indeed” I said as I  woke up amid far too many pillows.  My flight left at 5:30 that afternoon, so I decided I would buy a train pass to Atlanta and have a looksee around the place since I was already there. I didn’t have to buy a train pass. A friendly South African named John gave me his rail pass, wisely noting was difficult to use it when he was back  at home in Johannesburg. Thanking John,  off I went into Atlanta on the subway-like train, didgeridoo in hand. What would I do with just a couple of hours? I went and found Centennial Park, a park built to commemorate the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Nearby was the World of Coca-Cola. It seemed really expensive—sixteen dollars—but the promises of fizzy beverage on a hot day were too great. Too bad, because it was a waste of money.OK. Imagine Disneyland. First, take away the roller coasters. Next, take away the Disney characters and replace them with a horrifying  human-like polar bear and…some other weird things. Take away the many random things you could do. Replace the music with variations on just one melody. Add some soda—no, wait. They have soda in Disneyland.  There was an entire show about finding the “vault with the secret Coca-Cola recipe,” but since it’s a “secret” they just showed us the outside and then we had to leave. As I wandered around the place, I questioned my very existence there. “Why am I in this place? I DON’T REALLY EVEN LIKE COKE!” Unfortunately, I did know what had lured me there. There is a tasting room where you can try sixty-five varieties of soda from around the world. I was jazzed for this, but learned very quickly you can only drink so many liters of soda at once before you A)get really sick of pop B)Develop diabetes on the spot. Some highlights, though:

“BEVERLY”:

Origin: Italy

Color: White

Flavor: Like the liquid embodiment of bitterness walked up and punched you in the mouth.

DIY-Recipe: Take a grapefruit. Cut grapefruit in half. Carefully spoon out tangy, sweet flesh. Throw it in the trash. Take rind, and place in a really big blender with a gallon of club soda and a generous cup of high-fructose corn syrup. Taste as necessary, making sure to have a large sink nearby which you can spit and scream into. Sell finished product to Italians, using proceeds to move somewhere where grapefruits don’t grow.

“Tooney”
Origin: Tunisia

Color: Reddish-Orange

Flavor: Sugar and Black Pepper

DIY Recipe: Blend some pepper with some orange juice. Add club soda and sugar. Sell to Italians.  Move somewhere far from Italy where the authorities cannot arrest you for fraud and keep you in prison for life. Maybe you could try Tunisia.

“Manzana Lift”

Origin: Mexico/Chile

Color:  Dark Amber

Flavor: Fizzy apple juice and extract of happiness

DIY recipe: Move to Mexico. Drink Manzana Lift indefinitely. It’s worth the diabetes.

Essentially, Manzana Lift helped me feel like my life wasn’t a total waste. Some nearby Mexicans said the Chilean version wasn’t quite the same, but was “pretty good.” Good enough for me!

As I left the World of Coca-Cola/ Building Where You Pay Coke to Advertise To You and Buy Their Merchandise I got a bottle of “complimentary” souvenir coke. I was going to the airport and was really over soda, so I gave it to some guy on the subway named “Diwayjohnson” or something like that. I also played the didgeridoo for people on the train. It was a lot of fun.