Rosa lives in the lowlands of western Ecuador outside a town called Santo Domingo de los Colorados.  The town grew up not far from the very traditional Colorado tribe.  Rosa is 40 and has eleven children she supports working as a cook for a group of Peace Corps volunteers here, on a project to improve the local breeding cattle by artificial insemination.  The volunteers are all dairy majors from Wisconsin and keep their bull sperm in a large vacuum jar cooled with dry ice.
Rosa is alert and smart.  She tells me about the MIR, the Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria, or leftist revolutionary movement.  She’d like to see changes in the social system here.  I’ve met two of her sons, very handsome but not as smart as she is.  Her husband is 41 and living with another woman on his farm nearby.  The other woman also left her husband and children and now the happy couple has a small child of their own. Rosa and her children have moved to a village not far from her job.
After her father died young there was no money for schooling.  Rosa can’t read.  She says that at least in the old days the schools used slates and chalk.  Now you have to buy pens and paper, plus pay a small yearly fee for enrollment.  She can’t afford that for her children.  It costs her 500 Soles a month just to feed her kids, or maybe that’s per week.  She is not good with numbers.  At least one of her daughters got three years of school.  She can read, but Rosa can’t afford school supplies for the others.  “They will end up like me.  There’s plenty of work around here but the pay is low.  I make enough that we all eat well enough.  We won’t go hungry living here in the country.”
Slim and attractive, Rosa is very strong, quiet and competent and seems generous and kind.  She always welcomes me when I appear in her kitchen.  Between meals she does laundry for the volunteers.  Some days the two long clotheslines are filled with drying clothes, and sometimes they’re wet again by a sudden downpour.
In the evening, it’s raining again.  Dan says it rained over five inches two days ago.  I finish off a glass of milk and wipe my oily fingers on a towel because there is no paper towel.  Rosa will have to wash the towel in cold water.  The tap water is brown.  It comes from the pond deep in a wrinkle of the land.  I put on a teakettle to heat water to wash my dishes.  The crickets call, a loud sound like bacon sizzling in a hot pan.  I take a teabag that smells like the napthalene mothballs in one of the drawers. From a bag of peanuts from the market, I glean the bad ones out and roast the good ones in a fry pan over the gas burner.  Moths, winged termites and beetles thump on the window screens.
Rosa and I talk every morning in the kitchen.  She is here by eight o’clock.  After the volunteers go off to work, she cleans up then starts the laundry.  I want to ask her why she had so many babies.  Maybe if I get to know her better, I can ask the personal questions.  But that evening Dan asks me to leave.  I am ill and he is worried they will catch something form me. I’ve overstayed my welcome.  My travel buddy Kip will be back in two days from climbing Cotipaxi, so I won’t be alone for long.
A few days later, Kip takes me to a doctor.  The whites of my eyes have turned yellow.  I am diagnosed with hepatitis A.  I see Rosa on the street that afternoon and tell her what I found out.  She is in town to buy supplies for the volunteers.  She will return with her load, by taxi.  She is sad to hear my news, very kind.  I know I will not see her again and wish her well, encourage her to send at least one of the boys to school.  She smiles but she does not say yes.


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