Thursday, September 24, 2009


Guayasamin's paintings continue to haunt me, and compel me to see with new eyes. I did not avert my gaze as I walked down my street to the bustop. There are three shoeshine boys who take turns for clients on the steps of the Ministry of Health building. Their hands are black with shoepolish, one has a pillow on the top of the stump he uses to sit on, the others balance precariously as they work. They belong in school, why are they not playing, where are their parents?

I pass by a woman with a child on her back and another in her lap. She has a kiosk to sell candy and chips and snacks, and is ready for customers before 7 in the morning. Further on, a young girl sits behind a cardboard box covered with chewing gum packets and cigarettes which she sells one at a time. I have seen her sleeping at times while hawking her wares, or at least her eyes are closed and she is slumped over while mouthing her mantra. An even younger girl has a partner, helping her set up her box, while another approaches potential clients with small packages, pleading for a sale. She has not bathed for days, nor have her clothes been washed; she looks no more than four or five years old. A woman in traditional dress sits on the sidewalk breastfeeding her child; I am not sure of her age, her breasts are young, the lines on her face do not fit the rest of her.

A blind man sings on the bus, his boombox accompanying him. He has a good voice and sings traditional songs; last week he had a partner with him to collect money and help guide him through the bus, but he is alone today. Later in the taxi, we encounter jugglers at intersections. Again they are children, working with other children, sometimes it appears that whole families work together on street corners. When a fire breather performs, the taxiste opens his window to contribute a few cents. Occasionally I see a very old and weathered woman simply beg, her hands reaching for me, in supplication, in misery and pain.

Ecuador suffers from high unemployment and underemployment. Many large families move from the countryside hoping for greater opportunities in Quito, but are faced with dire hardships. Their children are compelled to work to help the family survive, as ambulatory vendors, shoeshiners, entertainers on buses and markets, and labourers. They do not go to school because the family cannot afford to send them, and they are able to bring in some income. The children are out on their own on the streets at four of five years of age. The children encounter all sorts of challenges on the streets and are victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. They are often punished severely when they do not meet quotas, and resort to petty crimes to avoid beatings. Malnutrition is the norm, and infant mortality is high due to poor hygiene (no running water). Children who die do so before the age of five, due to diarrhea as a result of poor hygiene.

I wonder if much has changed since Guayasamin painted, since the oil boom in Ecuador brought so much wealth, since Correa has been in power and the country has moved to the left. I know that the pleading and the pain and privation that Guayasamin depicted confronts me everyday when I walk in the streets.

No comments:

Post a Comment