For the Love of the Amazons
By SHERIF AWAD
Born in Cairo, Egypt, Sherif Awad is a film / video critic and curator. He is the film editor of Egypt Today Magazine (www.EgyptToday. com), and the artistic director for both the Alexandria Film Festival, in Egypt, and the Arab Rotterdam Festival, in The Netherlands. He also contributes to Variety, in the United States, and is the film critic of Variety Arabia (http://varietyarabia.com/), in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Al-Masry Al-Youm Website (http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/ node/198132) and The Westchester Guardian (www.WestchesterGuardian.com)
In past articles we were introduced to many expatri- ates (expats) from the US and Europe who moved to Ecuador for professional or personal reasons. Czech writer Jindřiška Mendozová studied, lived, and worked in Ecuador for many years and was intro- duced to and fell under the influences of Ecuadorians and their culture.
Published in both the English and Czech languages, her first book, Irami, is based on some very famous aboriginals who have become extremely popular in stories about Amazon women warriors. Mendozová is also finishing her second book that is also related to Ecuador. It is a collec- tion of tales and stories based on Ecuadorian myths and legends. Mendozová also worked in Ecuador as a journalist for different media and finished a movie script, Pandillero Blues. The script was a reflection over social problems; such as drugs, crime, gangs, etc. For professional reasons, Mendozová again moved with her family to Prague years ago but maintains a strong and solid connection with Ecuador through her writings. She connected with The Westchester Guardian through this interview.
AWAD: Why did you move to Ecuador? Would you describe the differences between the unique Ecuadorian culture and your own Eastern Europe upbringing? MENDOZOVA: My husband is Ecuadorian so we decided in the mid- nineties to settle in Ecuador and develop our careers there. However, the economic and political crisis at that time, together with a lack of job opportunities forced us to return to Europe. I lived in Ecuador for almost four years. A lot of things astonished me there – in both a good and bad sense. Huge social differences, political instability; the word “democracy” not always correctly understood... and on the other hand a very rich cultural inheritance and very beautiful scenery... As a European, I grew up in an open-minded environment where differ- ences in race, religion and sexual tendency are accepted. In Ecuador this is seen rather differently unless you demonstrate your economic power in front of others.
AWAD: Did you find any socio-political perspectives in common between the Czech Republic and Ecuador?
MENDOZOVA: From a political point, Ecuador and the Czech Republic are differ- ent. Politics in Ecuador was always strongly associated with the presence of one striking political character, some kind of “caudillo”. The majority of Ecuadorian presidents since Ecuador became a republic in 1830 have been men who have controlled and influ- enced the political panorama, frequently bordering on populism. It has not changed and we still see this type of politician. In the Czech Republic the personality of a party leader is important, but the most impor- tant thing is the image of the whole party. In my opinion the disparity between the democratic rules in Ecuador and the Czech Republic drive the differences in the cultural and economic development of these nations. Social stratification is also very different in both countries. In the Czech Republic, we have a strong middle class without consid- erable differences between the high and low social classes. The Czech Republic has a very well developed social network, which is a valuable aid for disadvantaged citizens, which in Ecuador is almost non-existent. I’m not just talking about unemployment benefits, but also, for example, support for women who are on maternity leave with children, the disabled, the orphans, help for families in crisis,etc.The common point that the two countries have is a strong feeling for family life, which is very important for both Czechs and Ecuadorians.
AWAD: Why did the story of Amazonian women interest you? How did you present it in your book? Do you think this book could be visualized in film or on TV?
MENDOZOVA: My book “Irami” is about an old Ecuadorian myth of the tribe of women warriors, a.k.a. the Amazons. It is a work that combines aspect of adventure, drama, romance, and some magical aspects. I figured out that a novel about an Amazon woman warrior encountering someone from our modern world would be of interest for readers. Also there was the intriguing question about whether it would be correct to reveal the secret of the existence of these warriors to contemporary society and expose them to the modern mass media.The hero of my book, who doesn’t just deal with dramatic and dangerous situations coming from the jungle, has to answer that question. Anyone interested in “Irami” can find it at a majority of online bookstores. I think that any “Irami” reader can visual- ize it and be part of the story. I think that the book could easily be made into a film either for TV or for cinemas. Apart from the story itself, I believe that audiences may be fascinated by the unbelievable beauty of the Amazonian jungle and also the picturesque Ecuadorian cities and villages.
AWAD: What can you tell us about your experience studying and teaching in Ecuador?
MENDOZOVA: I studied journalism in Guayaquil, which is the largest of Ecuador’s cities. Studying at the Faculty of Journalism was a unique experience. It allowed me to get to know Ecuadorians close up and personal; learning their sensibilities by way of thinking and behaving. As I had already graduated from the Prague Film and TV Faculty (FAMU) in my native country, I had the opportunity to offer some courses and workshops about film and TV at the Faculty of Journalism. In fact, this was another nice experience for me. It was so easy for me to feel self-motivated with the courses when I noticed how much my students wanted to know about European and Czech cinematography.
AWAD: What do you try to provide in your writings for children?
MENDOZOVA: I ́m strongly convinced about the importance of reading for children. The earlier they acquire the good habit of reading, the better. I believe that this is the way to become good readers as adults and the ones who will help to perpetuate the culture. For that reason children’s and young adults’ literature are very important genres to attend. “Irami” my first book is aimed at teenagers 13+. My second book, which is almost finished, is for an even younger readership.
AWAD: Do you have other projects?
MENDOZOVA: The project that is cur- rently occupying the major part of my time is the compilation of Ecuadorian myths and legends. I have also spent some time writing screenplays for a children’s programme called “Planeta Yo” for Czech television. It is a programme consisting of various things presented by two hosts and an animated figure, which is an alien. In my remaining time, which is interlaced with my family, I work on my ideas for the future. The most likely at this time is to write another book for children drawing on medieval Czech history.
AWAD: Tell us more about this book...
MENDOZOVA: This is my second book based on old Ecuadorian myths and legends. It is a compilation of 18 stories from pre-Columbian and colonial times. There will be space for fantasy, magic, thrill- ing stories, and much more. I have no doubt they will enchant people as much as other myths and legends from other countries and regions.
AWAD: Will “Pandillero Blues” be produced soon? Will it take place in Ecuador or did you change the locale?
MENDOZOVA: Yes, it ́s true some time ago I wrote a screenplay “Pandillero Blues”, completely written in Spanish, that narrates the story of a Guayaquil teenager trapped in the debased world of gangs and crime. This work is now in the hands of several film producers. I personally believe that such a film will be realized, but I can’t say anything more precise at this moment.
Interview was published 11/24/2012 in Westchester Guardian
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