September 12th, 2011

Last week on Sunday, Carnaval was celebrated in Cuzco. It is a two weekend affair, but I missed the first one since I was in Lima.

Carnaval was definitely a highlight of my time in Peru. At around 11 in the morning I arrived to the Plaza, after eating a quick late breakfast with my family in their café overlooking the Plaza, I headed down to join the festivities.

The entire Plaza was blocked off from cars. Two sides of the Plaza were occupied with swirling skirts, pounding drums, and stamping feet. This was a parade of indigenous people from various pueblos (villages), dressed in their traditional clothing, dancing and playing instruments. The route was packed with watching people, and a riser was set up in front of the Cathedral.

Carnaval Float and Dancers

While this was very interesting, I must confess that I barely watched any of it. Instead, I was actively engaged in the festivities going on in the heart of the Plaza in the park. There, an intense and exuberant espuma (spray-foam) and water fight was unfolding between family, friends, and absolute strangers of all ages. Children were shrieking, grinning, and running around wildly. I cannot say that the young adults, and indeed adults, were acting much differently.

The first person to attack me with espuma was a gentleman at least fifty years old. He watched me buy my can of espuma and waited until I was near to attack. Unfortunately, his espuma was a much stronger variety that had great distance and power. I tried to retaliate, but my spray was the Nieve (snow) type, that floated out like snow and was easily persuaded by the wind, not sufficient for a proper retaliation.

I ended up with a face covered in espuma. It was in my mouth, up my nose, in my ears, and covered my glasses. It tastes like a fruity soap, and the texture is like the fluoride treatment dentists give, but wetter. I had to find a safe space in which to wipe away the stuff.

Realizing the limitations of my espuma, I was a bit more cautious…but not that much. I got people of all ages, and they got me. People sitting on benches or on the rim of the fountain would laugh at the joyful chaos around them.

My first can of espuma ran out rather fast. I would go through two more, but of the more powerful variety.

Sometimes if someone got me as I was unawares, I would give chase after them to get them back, though most times I just pretended to give chase. I would start to run after them, then stop after a few steps while they continued running away.
After I ran out of spray and so did two of my other friends that had joined me later, we headed to my family’s café to see if we could get some water. We were lucky. Armed with buckets of water and water balloons, thanks to my younger host sister, we were prepared. My host sister also joined us for out watery fight. We splashed water at people, poured it down their backs, and tossed the balloons.

By the end of the day, we were soaking wet and coated in the sticky residue from the espuma. I consumed more of the spray than I should of, because I would laugh or cry out when attacked, not the wisest thing since the face is almost always the target. Also, I found out later in the mirror that I had gotten an intense sunburn. The next day, I was sore and stiff from all the running, dodging, and laughing that I had done the day before. It felt good.


March 22nd, 2011

One way that a Spanish-speaker can tell where another Spanish-speaker is from if through the pronunciation of the “ll”, which is found in words like “pollo” (chicken).

In Argentina it is a “zh” like the “zh” in “garage” or the ج in Modern Standard Arabic. Thus “pollo” is “pozh-zho” . In Peruvian cities, like in Mexico, it is often pronounced as a “y”. For example, “poy-yo”.

However, when the speaker’s mother tongue is Quechua or if they grew up in an area with lots of Quechua influence, they will say “poy-lo”. That’s because the “ll” in Quechua is a “y” that suddenly transforms into an “l” through some major tongue-twisting. After taking Quechua for two weeks and hearing it pronounced this way, I have begun speaking this way, too.

This “ll” pronunciation could also be the basis of discrimination. If one pronounces the “ll” in the Quechua influenced manner, then the listener could believe that this person came from a pueblo and is a campesino (farmer) or is indigenous, and as such, they are subject to the stereotypes associated with this identity.

Stereotypes of campesinos/indigenous people include: uneducated, poor, and lacking good manner. I’ve been told this and I have heard it expressed unthinkingly in conversation.

For example, I once told a worker in my family’s café that I was going to live with a family in a pueblo for a few days in Colca Valley. He asked me why, and I said because my program was about globalization and indigenous people. He responded with an “Oh, so you are studying poor people”.

Also, one time a husband was eating and he splashed some of his soup. It almost landed in his wife’s bowl. She responded by laughing and teasingly called him a campesino.

Sometimes I wonder what people think of me when I say the “ll” in the “yl” manner. Obviously I’m a extranjera (foreigner), so I wouldn’t necessarily be labeled in a negative way. I think most people are probably just curious, as to why I would have adopted such a way of talking.

(while writing this, my family’s puppy tried getting on my bed the entire time. Here is a picture.)


Elections campaigns

February 20th, 2011

Elections are coming up in April. There are campaign signs everywhere. The most visible campaign propaganda is the painted walls. Where ever one goes in Cuzco and even in the countryside, the sides of buildings are painted with the names and slogans of different candidates. Each party has its own vibrant colors so it is easy to identify were each candidate belongs.

"Always Forward" in Urubamba

From the Ollanta party. Seen on a building on a mountain road to Ccorca from Cuzco.


They also have different parades in the street. I have seen three so far. The one two days ago was for PPK, for Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. There was a long line of vehicles with colorful balloons stuck to the sides and on top. They were in his vibrant colors of blue, pink, and yellow. There were also signs hanging of the vehicles and the back of one truck was packed with smiling and waving people. They were moving kind of slowly and backed up traffic. This back up of traffic is what I noticed first since I heard lots of cars honking next to me before I saw the parade.

The two times before this I didn’t see the campaign parade itself, but the preparation. On my way home from school one day the road I normally walk through was packed with people wearing bright yellow. They were standing in clumps talking. There were several vehicles there, covered in yellow balloons and flags. Later that evening as I was walking back from the gym with my host sister, the street was packed yet again, but with different colors and different people. There was a festive atmoshpere.

Quechua en el Mercado

February 20th, 2011

After two weeks of Quechua, I still do not feel like I can say much. However, what I can say is enough to break the ice with people and make them smile.

Two days ago I spoke Quechua with a woman selling tourist items in a local market and we ended up talking for at least half an hour. Lots of foreigners who visit her barely know Spanish, let alone Quechua. We talked about Andean culture, festivals in Cuzco, my studies in Peru, and her study of English. She had learned Quechua from her grandmother, not her parents even though they knew it too.

It seems to me that Quechua is normally lost after the second generation.  My Peruvian mom knows Quechua, as well as her siblings since their parents spoke it and were from a pueblo. My host sisters barely know any. I think I know more than they do even though I’ve only had two weeks of instruction.

When people move to the city, they often try to distance themselves from their campesino/indigenous past. They want and need to learn Spanish in order to get a job and to be accepted into the city and a higher status.

 There was a man who came to her stand a bit later. He was a Peruvian that now works as a dance instructor in central Europe. When I asked him if he missed Peru, he waved his hand around the market, as if to say “What this?” The market was a bit run-down. The meat section is especially unappealing with raw, unrefrigerated meat lying in the open and blood staining the floor.

 Then he complained about politics and how he would not vote since he doesn’t really care about what happens in the country since he doesn’t live here anymore and that politicians are all the same anyways. As he was saying this, the woman I was talking with and her husband were just silent.

Finally, it became time for me to leave. The woman told me that she hoped I would return tomorrow and she would see me again. I will definitely return to that area some other time and drop by.

Fujimori, the Shining Path, and Keiko

February 20th, 2011

During orientation, we watched the movie “En la Boca de Lobo” or “In the Mouth of the Wolf”. It is an excellent Peruvian movie. I’m going to give some spoilers.

 It followed one soldier who was stationed in a pueblo to fight against the Shining Path. The Shining Path was a terrorist group during the years of Fujimori. This movie showed how almost impossible for the army to figure out who was a terrorist and who was not. During the day, there were just campesinos (farmers), but during the night, members of the Shining Path would terrorize the army and pueblo.
Near the end of the movie, the soldiers disbanded a wedding party at night. The party resisted, and they were brought to the barracks for detention. Several of the men were tortured, but they did not reveal anything either because they knew nothing about the Shining Path or were trained to withstand torture. Most likely they were innocent. One was tortured to death. After his death and the rest of the detained party found out, they were very upset.
The soldiers then herded them out of the barracks and they marched to ravine. The campesinos, composed of men, women, and children of all ages were made to stand at the edge of the ravine. The soldiers stood opposite in a line. The captain ordered his men to shoot. The entire wedding party was massacred, their dead bodies tossed into the ravine. Then, to cover up the incident, explosives were set-up to explode part of the ravine so the bodies could be buried under rocks and earth.
The director of my program told us that the killing of innocent people in pueblos was a widespread occurrence in that era. A commission for truth was set up years later in Peru to investigate the role the army and government played. It determined that about half of the deaths of innocent people in pueblos were caused by the Shining Path. The army made up the other half. While the movie made it seem as though the massacre of campesinos resulted from the decisions of mentally and emotionally disturbed individuals, the widespread nature of these occurrences shows that there were probably orders from higher up.
It is for human rights abuses like this and other acts of corruption that Fujimori is in jail. However, he still holds the admiration and support of many Peruvians. My host father for one really admires Fujimori. Fujimori brought both economic prosperity and security to Peru. Before Fujimori, Peru was doing poorly. They lacked roads, schools were few and underfunded, electricity and telephone lines were almost non-existent, and the economy was very weak. Fujimori built up the infrastructure, strengthened the economy, and cut back inflation.

He also put an end to the Shining Path, which was terrorizing both the countryside and cities. People were afraid to travel to other cities or towns, since they might be killed by the Shining Path along the way. I went to Ccorca the other day (a district of Cuzco) and my host dad told me that during the age of the Shining Path, such a journey would not be possible. People would not go there since it could be a dangerous journey.
In the eyes of my host dad and other Peruvians, Fujimori was not corrupt. Instead, it was his advisor Montesino that was corrupt and made lots of illegal deals with businesstmen. Montesino is considered a traitor.
It was really interesting for me to talk to my host dad about Fujimori. After watching “En la Boca de Lobo” and hearing stories of corruption, I had a very negative view of Fujimori and could not understand how any Peruvian could like him. After talking to my host dad, things became more complex.

Now Keiko Fujimori, Fujimori’s daughter is running for president. She is asked if she will pardon and release her father from jail. Her current stance is that she would like too, but that she will let the people decide. If they decide that he should remain in jail, then she will have him live with her under house arrest.


February 20th, 2011

This semester, I am studying abroad in Peru with SIT. The program is titled Indigenous People and Globalization.
I am living in Cuzco with a Peruvian family of a mom, dad, two daughters, two dogs, one puppy, and one cat. The mom runs a café in the Plaza de Armas, the historic and tourist center of Cuzco while the dad is a policeman in the airport. Both of the daughters help out in the café, the oldest one also works at a bank while the youngest in still in university. They are all really nice and enjoy laughing.
In the mornings I have language class and in the afternoon we have lectures about different themes. Our lecturers are men and woman who are specialists in the day’s theme.
The first week we had orientation in the rural land outside of Urubamba, a small city close to Cuzco. The next few weeks were spent in Cuzco, where we live with host families and attend classes. The first two weeks of class we were taught the basics of Quechua, the indigenous language of the Andes, roots tracing back to the times of the Incas. Our exam was to go talk to a pueblo and ask Quechua-speaking families basic questions about their families and farms.
The upcoming two weeks, we will be traveling around Peru to various cities, pueblos, and rural areas. For about five of those days, we will each be living with an indigenous family in the Andes, helping them out with their daily tasks and practicing our Quechua.
After this, we will return to Cuzco and out families, learn Spanish is the morning instead of Quechua, and continue out lecture series. For our final month here, we will begin out independent study project on the topic of our choosing and the place we want. We will then reunite in Cuzco and present our findings.
My current theme to research is whether or not immigrants to the city from el campo (the countryside) vote in the interests of el campo and indigenous people, or in the interests of the city, their new environment and why. I still need to refine my topic much more, but that is my present interest.

No, Tila!

February 16th, 2011

“Tila! No! No, Tila, no!” I shouted as my host dog ran eagerly into a small tienda (store). I was walking to class and my family’s dog decided to join me. She is a young and crazy golden retriever. She is very curious, eager, and not well behaved. Normally she is on the roof of the house, where she lives on the patio outside. Occasionally though, she is let out onto the street like every other dog in Cuzco.

Last time she was on the street, she did not want to come back inside. There was an enticing, raw chicken head on the sidewalk, waiting for her. We tried to hid it under a piece of ceramic and force her inside, but she was stubborn. She escaped the hands of my host sister Cris, snatched the head and sprinted inside with her prize. A putrid smell drifted towards me as she ran past. Luckily I was going to school then and had fresh air to clear away the smell.
Today offered another adventure with Tila. After a few minutes of her following me up the street and several instances of her jumping enthusiastically up on me (leaving several brown footprints on my jeans) I figured that she wanted to join me on my walk to class, which normally takes fifteen minutes. I called my host mom who told me to just keep on walking to school so I wouldn’t be late and that she would send Cris to pick Tila up.

So I continued to walk down a small, yet commercial street. As I anticipated, Tila became an issue. Instead of just galloping in front of and behind me, she began storming into stores, tail waving frantically. I had to call her out of shops and at times chase after her.

There was an older woman walking in front of us at one point with a green bag bouncing against her leg. It must have smelled good. Tila ran up to her, nose practically in the bag, trailing this poor woman who was trying to unsuccessfully shy away from Tila. She was obviously uncomfortable. I was yelling at Tila to stop the entire time, but she didn’t listen. Finally I caught up to her and got her to sit while the woman made it to a safe distance.

When we made it to the pedestrian bridge, I was hoping foolishly that Tila would decide to head back home, like I told her numerous times to do. Instead, she followed me up the steps. Soon she was sniffing this person, circling that one, and trailing another. At one point she put her front paws up on the side of the bridge to watch the cars pass below, tongue hanging out cheerfully.

As I made it to the other side of the bridge, she ran to the side that we came from, and looked around in a confused manner. I did not know what she would do on her own, so I called her to me, figuring that would be the best idea. Right after she came to me, I saw a group of girls in my program walking towards me. I decided to wait for them, petting Tila in the process to make sure she didn’t run off.

“Who’s that strange dog your petting?” one of them asked me. I explained the situation to them and we walked to class together.
Finally, we made it after several more instances of misbehavior. I made it to school on time, but I could not just leave her there, so I waited outside for my host dad to come with the car to pick her up. In the meanwhile, she decided to bite at some flowers, jump playfully around a woman in the street, and dart into the gated yard of a building with a guard that was both amused and annoyed by the presence of a big dog.

My host dad came soon enough and I made it up the several flights to class, smiling with disbelief at the events of the morning. I felt gross with dirty footprints on my pants, dog hair and slobber coating my sweatshirt, and fingers tinted a greyish-black from petting and grabbing onto Tila so much. Never again will I continue walking to class if she is following. I will take her back right away.