This entry is part 15 of 18 in the series Ecuador

The pickup truck squealed to a stop in front of me and six suit-clad men scrambled out of the open bed. A tall, thin, mustachioed man held out his hand. “Bienvenidos a Ecuador,” he said. Welcome to Ecuador. Surprised, I looked around and realized I was the only white face on the street; it was obvious that I was a tourist. He pumped my hand and smiled broadly, his brilliant white teeth gleaming in the light streaming from the school gymnasium in front of which we stood. I had previously peeked into the gym, where thousands of indigenous Quichua were seated in the bleachers, but had hesitated to enter because I had no idea if I would be welcome. “Where are you from?” He asked. “The United States,” I answered. “Please, I invite you to be our honored guest tonight. We are celebrating the Independence of our town.”

Booming tunes of the Cristiana Cristo Rey Band lured me to the entrance of the gymnasium where Quichua celebrated Independence Day

Booming tunes of the Cristiana Cristo Rey Band lured me to the entrance of the gymnasium where Quichua celebrated Independence Day

The city fathers escorted me to a seat in the second row of plastic folding chairs set up on on the main floor. Music boomed from giant speakers and the room erupted in song. I stood and clapped along, marveling at the passionate faith and the brilliantly colored Quichua costumes on display. Green skirts were topped by pink capes, orange over maroon, red and turquoise; hats and long stockings in contrasting colors completed the traditional ensembles. Groups of Quichua women, each from a different sector within the canton of Alausi, shyly walked to the front of the room, stood shoulder-to-shoulder and recited a biblical verse in their sing-song Kichua language. Their testimony was followed by a song of worship, performed as they rocked to and fro in unison.

Four hours later, having been introduced as an honored guest, serenaded by a male solo vocalist, and gifted with christian music CD’s, I finally begged off. At midnight, the celebrations were still going strong but I had to return to my guest house before it was locked down for the night. I thanked my hosts profusely for providing me with a unique opportunity to witness Quichua culture up close, cognizant that I had seen in one night what might otherwise have taken months of travel throughout Ecuador.

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