La Candelaría

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We went to a restaurant in Barranco called La Candelaría. It was huge! Inside, the tables surrounded a big stage with a band. Shortly after we arrived, a group of dancers took the stage wearing colorful costumes. They came out several different times and demonstrated the traditional dances from various regions of Peru.

Between the dances, they played music so that the customers could dance, as well. It was a really energetic, fun environment. The staff asked each table where they were from, and towards the end of the night, the announcer called representatives from each of the countries to the stage. He informed everyone that the people on stage would have to demonstrate the traditional dance of their country. The Argentine tango, the Columbian cumbia, the Puerto Rican calypso, the Spanish flamenco—country after country represented in dance. What surprised me, aside from there being so many international travelers in one room, was that each randomly chosen citizen knew the dance of their respective nation. Granted, they were not professional-grade dancers, but they all knew the steps. I was very impressed.

As I stood on stage, I couldn’t fathom what dance my two classmates and I would do to represent the United States. We thought we could try to do the Electric Slide, but that isn’t a national dance. I didn’t know what to expect. We were the last country standing on stage. The announcer had us all step forward. When the microphone was shoved in front of Amy’s face, she stated “We are from the United States,” and said a few gracious words about Peru. Then, the band started to play a fast-paced, loud song. At first, I thought it was Crazy in Love by Beyonce and began to dance–despite my confusion. However, after a few seconds, I realized that it was not Beyonce—it was the YMCA song! It was fun, but I felt a little inadequate in comparison to the sophisticated dances from other parts of the world. Well, I guess it was better than the Kangaroo-Hop that the Australians had to do!

This simple international dance demonstration made my mind wander. The US is an enormous nation compared to Peru. I understand why we have regional differences— dance, music, slang, food, etc. However, Peru has regional differences packed into a smaller space. I read somewhere that Peru is smaller than Alaska. Desert, coast, mountains, and jungle—all squeezed in between the same border. There is so much diversity here, both in environment and culture. My classes have really stressed the complexity created by this situation. It has been really interesting to witness it firsthand. I will be curious to see how Peru continues to evolve throughout my lifetime. I know that I will be watching.

I had a dream last night…

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Midway through the morning, I realized that I had a dream in which I spoke Spanish last night!  I wasn’t speaking perfectly, but I was talking to some sort of employee–he was standing behind a counter.  He kept speaking to me in English, and I wouldn’t switch.  I just kept saying things in Spanish until I got my point across.  In my dream, I was so intent on choosing my words that it didn’t occur to me that I could have just told him my message in English until afterwards.  It’s like my mind was made up–no more English.

I think the dream is related to my observations of the interactions our group has with Spanish speakers here.  As soon as people know we are native English speakers, they often only want to speak in English—so they can practice.  It can be easy to fall into that trap and just speak in English instead of struggling in Spanish, but that’s not beneficial for us… I had the feeling that my determination to speak Spanish in my dream was related to that frustration. Whatever the cause of the dream, it was bien chevere (really cool)!

Museo de la Nación

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Today, one of our teachers accompanied us to the “Museo de la Nación.”  We went to see an exhibit about the terrorism that occurred during the 1980’s-1990’s throughout Peru.  The group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) still exists, but they’ve been pushed north and into the jungle.  There, they’ve increased their revenues by controlling the narco-trafficking routes.  A few of their leaders were recently arrested, according to an article I read in the paper last month.

They entered the political scene in the 1980’s.  Initially, they burned the ballot boxes in a small town during the first democratic elections that followed years of military leadership.  Gradually, they got more and more violent as their communist movement rose up against the Peruvian military/government.  At first, they promised the citizens of rural Peru all of the benefits and prosperity that the city enjoyed.  They appeared to be fighting for the equality of traditional, native communities.  In that manner, the group gained support.  However, it wasn’t long before they turned on those who they claimed to be fighting for.

When the government sent the military out across Peru, they had difficulty determining who were supporters/members of the Shining Path group because they lived amongst the townspeople.  Instead of acclimating to the culture of the town and doing investigations, the military slaughtered entire towns in the name of “fighting subversives” and Communism.  At the same time, the terrorists used the identical tactic to eliminate possible informants and military personnel.  Seventy thousand people died during this civil war, 75% of those killed were native Indian people who lived in mountain villages—mainly caught in the crossfire.  People were abducted, tortured, and many were never seen again.  It wasn’t until 1992 that the Shining Path brought their fight to Lima.  They used car bombs in Miraflores! (The district by the ocean that I visited on my birthday in January–see pictures in my “Birthday” post.)

There was a man at the museum who told us how clearly he remembers that time in Peru’s recent history.  He said that people were afraid to go outside, “You might disappear.” He told a story of his friend that had walked to the pharmacy and was shot in the head before he could arrive there.

We’ve studied these events in our classes here, and the visit to the museum today just makes these tragic events more vivid in my mind.  An inquiry after this war found that the Shining Path was responsible for 54% of the deaths during the war, and the military was responsible for 46%.  I know wars are complex, and the US has some bad history, too.  However, I can’t imagine a modern government/military killing 32,000 of its own citizens during a war …its unbelievable!  They were no better than the terrorists in this case.  It is just so hard to believe that this civil war and all of these horrible events were going on over the entire span of my lifetime…

These people are holding pictures of their missing family members.  It is an especially horrible situation for members of these traditional cultures who have had family members abducted because many have never been told the location of their loved one’s remains.  They believe that they are connected to their ancestors.  So, when they aren’t able to perform traditional ceremonies for a person that has died, it creates a disconnection that is as equally hurtful as the death of their family member–a double insult.

(Above, Left: Man and woman suspected of being terrorists walking with military at gunpoint)

(Above, Center: Smoking remains of a rural town after a conflict between the military and Shining Path)

(Above, Right: Woman standing with the body of her husband, who was “a suspected terrorist.”)

(Above: Flag of the Shining Path in the district Huaycan 1986.  The terrorists killed the local leaders and took over the area.  I volunteered in this district (see post).  While I was there, I thought that the piles of rubble were only from earthquakes, but it is possible that some of the damage that remains is from this civil war.

(Above: “Ronderos” were local people who were given training by the military to take up arms against the terrorists.)

 (Above: Many families fled mountain villages and lived in the outskirts of Lima.  However, Lima was not able to support the influx of people and the living conditions were very poor.  The woman has a baby on her back, and they carry all of their belongings in that suitcase.)

(Above: The remains of a building after 500kg of explosives detonated in Miraflores in June of 1992.  Two-hundred homes were destroyed.)

(Above: This room contained photos of victims of war.  This man was the victim of a “forced disappearance” in 1989.  In essence, he was abducted by the Peruvian Navy and his remains are in an unknown/secret location.  The testimony of his mother plays from a speaker within the frame.  She is seeking justice at a hearing in Lima and is crying as she describes the events leading to the disappearance of her son.)

(My rough translation: “All of these dead had names and families and the violence has reduced them to photos and the few who remember them.  Don’t let their deaths be in vain. Please don’t forget!”)

Machu Picchu

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 We went to Machu Picchu, and I am now prepared to step out on a ledge and say that it is the BEST of the world wonders.  I realize that my credibility is lacking since I haven’t been to all of them.  However, I let my declaration stand.  :)  I had seen Machu Picchu in photos and on TV prior to visiting Peru, but I feel that it is a place you have to visit to truly appreciate.

We started our trip at 4am from Cusco.  Two hours in bus and two hours in train, and we were there—practically among the billowing clouds.  The day was clear and sunny…it was amazing.  Like I said, pictures don’t do this landscape justice…but it didn’t keep us all from trying to capture its beauty.

(Above: Imagine thatched roofs connecting the peaks of the houses. You’ll notice near the top of the highest mountaintop, there are terraces.  From what I understand, the Inca used that space as a look-out tower, among other things.  We didn’t venture up that far–maybe next time!)

The city of Cusco is fantastic, as well.  It was refreshing to escape the big city for a weekend.  The weather was nice and cool—just right for wearing chulos.

(Below: The main town square in Cusco)

Our guide provided interesting details, and visiting these places added a new dimension to the coursework we’ve had in the past.  During my previous classes, I was satisfied to learn about these places from a textbook, but having been here, I know that students would gain so much if they could experience the places in their history books firsthand.

I feel a connection to this area now.  In the future, I know I’ll be paying much closer attention to this part of the world. For example, there is a controversy about the indigenous population’s tradition of chewing coca leaves to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness and hunger pains.  Chewing on the leaves in their natural form is not comparable to abusing cocaine (which is made by processing the plant in other ways).  However, in the ¨war against drugs,¨ the US has been pressuring Peru (Bolivia and Columbia, too) to drastically reduce the production of coca.  If I hadn’t come to Peru, I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to this news topic.  Having been here and studied the history and traditions of this place, headlines such as this are much more interesting and complex. (Below: Coca leaf tea was served to us by the hotel when we arrived in Cusco.)

Callao

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Today, we went on a fieldtrip to “El Museo Real Felipe” in a district south of here called Callao.  This area is known for being more dangerous than other places in Lima.  Well, to be fair, I’ve been told that not all of Callao is dangerous, but it has areas that are especially dangerous for people that aren’t from there.  Also, the people from there are tough and generally have a rougher attitude.  For example, the same might be true for Brooklyn, NY.  If I understood correctly, the museum was originally a military base built by Spain to help conquer Peru.  Later, it was overtaken by Peruvians and used as a military stronghold against Spain.  As you can see in the pictures, it is right on the Pacific coastline.

 

The museum was interesting, but my favorite part of the day came later.  After the museum, some of us stayed behind in Callao with our teacher and two Peruvian students to eat fresh seafood at a nearby restaurant.  The teacher encouraged us to speak only in Spanish, both for practice and to include the Peruvian students in the conversation.  I really appreciated everyone’s effort to speak Spanish, as well as the patience of the native speakers.  The conversations flowed from one to the next.  It was a really nice time.

I ordered Ceviche (a Peruvian dish–raw fish) as an appetizer.  For my entrée, I was a little confused and ordered the picture below…

To be fair, the flavor of the fish was pretty good.  However, I didn’t eat very much of it because I coulded get past the appearance, and there were a lot of fine bones.  In the end, I covered it with my napkin and ate the rice. :D

The following pictures were taken as we walked around the area after lunch.

When we were ready to go home, we walked to the higher traffic area to find a combi that could take us back home.  There were 11 of us, and we wanted to make sure that we all could be together in the van.  Also, it took some time to figure out which combi we needed.  We ended up standing in one place for at least 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, every combi’s representative tried to get us to board their van.

A well-intentioned, older lady walked up to our teacher and told him that it wasn’t a good idea for us to be in that location—that we needed to leave.  About that time, the combi needed pulled up.  We all piled in, and as we drove away, our teacher told us to shut the windows.  This teacher always speaks to us in Spanish.  However, he made an exception and said in English, “You know how I told you guys that there are dangerous parts of Callao for foreigners?  Well, this is it—and you are all clearly not from here.”

I think we all could tell that we weren’t in a really great part of town.  There were a lot of people walking around.  It was noisier and a little confusing, and there were stray dogs and garbage scattered around.  I would not have wanted to have been there alone or without men–that makes a difference here.  It’s always better to be in a group and half of our group was guys.  Because of this, I wasn’t scared, but it was definitely time to go.  I didn’t want to get robbed, so I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not taking a picture of this place.

Going through the more dangerous part of town didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the day.  Peru has a lot of economic disparity.  So, I know that everything I see will not be all sunshine and roses.  You’ve got to take the bad with the good and do your best to protect yourself from unnecessary danger.  It was a really great day.

Huaycan

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I went with my roommate to Huaycan today.  She volunteers there every Sunday, teaching English to the local children via a non-profit that has been set up in the area (Light and Leadership).  I live in a district called Surco.  It’s a nice area– with manicured public areas, for example.  Also, there are a lot of businesses: a big mall, grocery stores, Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc.

The district of Huaycan is about 45 minutes away by bus. I’ve been told that Peruvians don’t really go to Huaycan unless they are from there.  It is an area that is sort-of looked down on because it is a poorer district.

We went by bus along a busy road, where the scenery gradually changed.  The big name businesses disappeared.  Graffiti and the remains of past political movements decorated most buildings/walls.  The road wasn’t well maintained.  Out my window, I saw all kinds of people—many wearing conservative/traditional skirts, blouses, and brimmed-hats.  However, others wore current styles—I saw a guy wearing a FUBU shirt.  Many people gather at the bus stops and intersections to sell food and trinkets.  In addition to the commuters, coming and going, the street seemed full of activity.

As I sometimes have been since coming to Peru, I was struck by the fusion of different worlds.  We passed a field in which a single woman was tending to crops by hand.  In the next breath, we passed a man in modern business attire talking on a cell phone. Ironically, the song Dust in the Wind by Kansas was playing on the radio as I made this observation.

The streets of Huaycan are not paved.  There are piles of rubble on some corners and heaps of garbage at others.  The neighborhood of the non-profit’s home-base looks like it used to be a nice area…just that it had fallen in to disrepair.  I was told that many people moved to this area from the mountains to find work and/or to escape violent political conditions.  Also, that it grew really fast and there wasn’t enough housing.

These pictures are from the main road leading into the town.  This road is paved, but not the ones inside the town.

The district of Huaycan is broken down into subdivisions.  The outermost subdivision, where we taught the children, is accurately described as a “shanty town” in appearance.  After gathering supplies and meeting with other volunteers, we took a micro-bus for about 15 minutes on a dirt road.  After that, it was a steep hike to the school.

 The kids gathered around to play games nearby for the first half-hour.  Then, we started class.  About 15 kids were there for the English lesion.  We went over the alphabet and numbers 1-10.   All of them practiced how to say, “My name is ____.” Then, we broke down into groups to play Go-Fish.  The kids practiced how to ask for needed cards in English, with the phrases “Do you have___.”  There were a few kids that wanted to be disruptive, but overall, the kids seemed excited to learn.

Afterwards, we ate “picarones” (fried bread with honey) on a neighbor’s porch and headed back to home base.  I think it is really amazing that people come from all over the world to volunteer via this organization, in this place.  I met people from North Carolina, France, and New Zealand (it took her 44 hours to get here!).

It was a really interesting day.  As is true for many places, you don’t have to go far to see a different side of Lima.

Weather

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Overall, the January weather in Lima has been like June weather in Nebraska.  Tonight is the first time that I’ve felt the need to wear a sweatshirt in the 3 weeks I’ve been here.

There is a marked difference whenever there are clouds–the temperature is great when it’s a bit overcast.  When the sun is out, it’s just a little hotter than I’d prefer.  I can’t really complain–summer is summer, right?  Also, there is almost always a cool, light breeze. Not like the hot wind we have in NE.

Last week, it seemed like it was going to rain–I recognized that pre-storm sky and the increased level of wind.  However, when I asked a Peruvian what he thought, he said, “No.  It NEVER rains in Lima…maybe one day per year.”  I thought that was going to be the day, but not a single drop fell.

Check out the link below for a monthly weather breakdown for Peru.

http://www.andeantravelweb.com/peru/tips/weather.html