The President Sings for His “Almuerzo”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Standing on top of the bare produce table, my wife Belinda and I join half a dozen female vendors at Mercado Doce de Abril on Cuenca’s east side. At the edge of this plywood platform, facing the musicians, a young man stands with a three year-old boy. The occasion for forced intimacy with perfect strangers is the visit of Ecuador’s Presidente Rafael Correa, traveling by car between Guayaquil on the coast to Quito, the capital located high in the Andes.

My perusal of emails on the morning of August 13, 2014, had revealed an invitation from Indira Urgiles, the youngest of four sisters who make up Cuenca’s traditional music group, “K’Prima.” Belinda and I had been thoroughly captivated by their performance as guest vocalists on Valentine’s Day in February with the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra.

We later became acquainted with Indira at the government’s internal revenue office where she accompanied a North American expat in her capacity as facilitator/translator. “We loved your singing at the orchestra’s “Dia de Amor” program,” I shared with the attractive young woman with glistening long brown hair.

“Thank you so much. I am so happy that you attended! I will email information of our next appearance, if you like,” she volunteered.

I pulled out a pen to write the address. “This is so kind of you, Indira. We look forward to seeing you and your sisters soon. You all looked so beautiful on stage in your colorful ponchos!” Belinda stated admiringly.

So this last-minute notice thrilled us to discover that we would have a rare opportunity that afternoon to attend K’Prima’s event honoring the President. Already past 11:00 AM, Indira had mentioned that the program would commence at noon. We dashed out into warm weather with partly cloudy skies, and grabbed a taxi for the fifteen minute ride to the Mercado.

Our driver dropped us at the market’s entrance. We felt overwhelmed by the security activity in preparation for Correa’s eminent arrival. Recorded music could be heard from inside the cavernous concrete and steel edifice. We retreated across the street to a “cervicheria,” Restaurante Don Raul which featured seafood. We joined twenty other patrons consuming their midday meal, “almuerzo,” for $4 a plate.

“Por favor, Senor, dos Coca Colas,” we told our waiter while seated in white plastic chairs on the tile-floored patio across from the entrance. I photographed souvenir shots from our prime view of the events unfolding for the first visit by a president to the four decades-old marketplace.

Steady, professional activity unfolded in the market parking area. Troops with automatic weapons assumed protective positions around the perimeter. National Police officers attired in gold-trimmed uniforms clustered in small groups in the street. Officials of Province of Azuay arrived in marked vehicles.

Once we had paid the waiter for our sodas and crossed the street, I commented to Belinda, “Maybe he will arrive by helicopter. That cleared parking lot now could handle one!”

Upon entering the Mercado, police officers speaking into two-way radios greeted us and directed us to the right aisle where tables of fruit and produce stood. Women greatly outnumbered the men in conducting business inside the bright clean hall. They abandoned their tables to gather in small groups, abuzz with excitement and pride.

The first 500 words have been revised. Click the link to finish the story.

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