Rachel Huff [4th year BA student in Anthropology in Fall 2009]

Status:  Rachel was in Peru for the Fall 2009.  She took a variety of courses in Spanish and English at Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, a Jesuit university in Lima, Peru through the University of Virginia´s program in Peru and lived with a Peruvian family. While there she also volunteered at the Posada Belen, a home for abused boys.  Rachel helped  with homework like English and mathematics and also with other activities such as playing soccer and other sports.  She returned to us here at Marshall in the Spring 2010.

Bio:  Rachel is a fourth year student with a double major in Communications and Anthropology and a minor in Spanish. She is originally from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania and a former Marshall University women’s soccer player. Rachel has travelled to Oxford University with the Yeager Scholars to take courses in 2008 and to El Salvador with the Latin American Studies Department in January 2009.  From those experiences she has gained an interest in international politics and human rights issues and is specifically interested in how environmental policies and the use of natural resources relate to human rights issues.  Rachel plans to graduate in 2010 and eventually continue her education in either environmental law and policy or anthropology.

December 15, 2009

Mancora, Peru

Final exams have finally ended and I´ve reached my final travel destination in Perú—Mancora.  A couple of friends and I took a 16 hour bus ride to get to this popular surfer´s hangout.  We had originally looked for a beach that was a little less crowded and less crazy than Mancora but weren´t willing to pay for more than a cheap hostel, cancelling out a lot of the nicer beaches in Perú that are private or only have pricier resorts.

After the stories most Peruvians had told me, mostly consisting of statements like, “Mancora is crazy” and what not I was expecting the beach to be something like Spring Break Cancun+surfers.  The beach definitely has giant waves but unlike what I was told, it doesn´t seem to be overcrowded with people or to have a bunch of crazy bars and nightlife on it.  There´s a small strip of low and middle-priced restaurants near the coast (that usually flood during high tide every afternoon) and a mixture of low budget hostels and pricier bungalows.

My friends and I have been on an extremely tight budget as the semester has been winding down and have been shopping at the local markets to cook at our hostel, as opposed to eating out at restaurants.

The market´s only a street with about 10 or so produce vendors (a fraction of the size of the markets in Lima) that sell fresh fruit, vegetables, and various spices and nuts.  Two of our friends who´ve been here for a week already trudge us past the first vendors who shout out their products as we pass-“mangoes, piña, tomates” they ramble.  We pass the vendors on the right as our friends tell us they normally have flies buzzing around their fruit, and continue past the stands on the left as my one friend Ally is still bitter about them overcharging her for the produce (the “gringo price” we like to call it).

Generally, when gringos pass by most shops people up their prices.  Although I´ve recently found out that outside of Lima, Limeñeans too get this special treatment of inflated prices, something they´ve expressed bitterness about.  “Yo soy Peruana, también,” a friend of mine complained.  I was unsure if her statement reflected a frustration that Limeñeans were not looked at as Peruvians but as outsiders or if her statement could also be interpreted as it´s ok to give “extranjeros” or non-Peruvians higher prices but against some sort of inner-circle rule to give Peruvians bad prices.

Anyways, we passed all these stands until we came to the last man who offered us free samples of his mangoes, which we gladly accepted.  The produce market is very different than how I normally do my grocery shopping back home, however, it also reminded me of Saturday and Sunday mornings growing up when I would visit the local farmers´ markets in central Pennsylvania.  Although, instead of mangoes my Dad and I would usually pick our own strawberries and instead of the dark skinned Peruvians offering fruit samples, there were Mennonites peddling their soft pretzels.

Unfortunately, the farmers´ markets in the US usually aren´t as cheap as those in Perú where we were able to buy four kilos of mangoes and two pineapples for our mixed drinks (in celebration of my birthday) for about $1.50 per person.  You would probably spend that amount of money on one mango in the US.  Sometimes I feel like I´m in a backwards, upside-down world in Perú where fast food like McDonald´s is more expensive than an entire meal at a local restaurant—home-cooked too.  How could this possibly be?  In the US fresh, organic food seems to be more of a luxury when you can always just venture over to the McDonald´s dollar menu instead.  Is this because we have to import so much of this healthy food?  Or that we give tax allowances for certain products and put tariffs on others?  I´m not sure why there is a difference in food prices but it certainly all comes back to economics.  I also think it´s evident that a healthy lifestyle is directly related to economics, which is easy to see in any statistics taken from most countries.

However, I think this connection between the economic decisions within agriculture and having a healthy lifestyle is a very important topic for our generation—a generation I once saw a savvy journalist dub “Generation XL.”  As obesity, diabetes, and health-related illnesses increase and the situation with health care for all Americans is becoming increasingly questionable, it seems like Americans should ask themselves what are the real problems that are affecting their health.  I think a strong look at economic decisions and other cultural factors would be an important topic of an anthropologist, whose results should be important to numerous policy-makers.

 

December 13, 2009

Mancora, Peru

Yesterday, the other American that I live with, Vanessa, and I attended a member of our host family´s wedding ceremony.  The daughter of the family was getting married on a beach about an hour outside of Lima and we were all invited to attend.  Although I was excited for this occasion, I was also a bit nervous.   Would anyone talk to us?  I mean, we really only knew the immediate family and sometimes I feel as if it´s difficult to convey my feelings and personality through the Spanish language.

The wedding began on the beach with the bride thundering in on a small red jeep.  First, the pastor read off the laws of marriage, followed by both of the bride and groom´s signatures, legally marrying them.  Then was the religious part of the ceremony, as we took communion (but without wine…the pastor joked we would later have “cerveza” or beer instead at the reception) and sang religious songs that I was completely unfamiliar with and kind of just hummed along.

The wedding was followed by the reception and was very similar to American weddings I´ve attended in the past.  There was drinking, picture taking, and dancing.  I was also excited to actually have people want to interact with me—relieving me of the social anxiety I had felt.

At the wedding there seemed to be different age groups congregating.  The older people, +40 began dancing first (after the bride and groom´s dance of course).  I, on the other hand was seated with the younger crowd, a mixture of the bride´s cousins and some of the couple´s friends—the 20-30 year group.  We, instead, continued our drinking for a bit longer and I ordered another maracuya sour.  Later, of course we were the group who was still dancing into the early morning hours, outlasting both the kids and the older group.

I remember this sort of age division in other weddings I´ve been to before, as well.  Although, at that point I was still a younger kid who longed to be accepted into the older grouping of young adults that were always dancing and having a good time.  This age division doesn´t seem to be intentionally done, more of an assumption of who´d you´d be more comfortable with.  It seems strange to me how these age groups seem so international, like every culture separates themselves.  Why do people do this? And what purpose does it serve?

 

December 6, 2009

Jesús María

Lima, Peru

As finals are winding down and our time in Perú is coming to a close, traveling seems to becoming more important—making sure you got to see everything you´ve wanted to see and trying to fit in as much as possible.  Therefore, my American friend and I have just taken a week long break to travel to Arequipa in between some oddly scheduled exams.

Arequipa´s about a 15 hour bus ride from Lima, although luckily Perú has an array of bus companies traveling through the night for fairly cheap prices.  In fact, the nicest bus company, Cruz del Sur, which also doesn´t make uncertified stops for people along the way, which poses a safety problem, usually offers a complementary dinner and breakfast, as well as bingo and movies! Traveling in Perú is a lot nicer and cheaper than my previous travels through Europe.

One of the things we did in Arequipa was to visit the Santa Catalina Monasterio, an old but still operating convent from the 16th century.  The convent was really a village within Arequipa filled with various streets, buildings and fountains where nuns used to live a clandestine life.  As we wandered through the buildings we saw old clay stoves, living spaces and hundreds of religious paintings.  In fact, one room was filled entirely with paintings of dead nuns, painted peacefully in their death.  Other paintings were devoted to the Creation and pictured God as an elderly grey-bearded man creating Adam and Eve, while yet the last room was devoted to Santa Rosa, a particularly prevalent saint in Perú.  In this room there were separate paintings telling the story of her life– her as a child, her being a devout nun which apparently means physically disciplining yourself using barbed wire, her performing miracles and curing the sick.

I enjoyed thinking of the purpose of the murals.  Possibly to show others how to live like her, disciplining herself and being devout, or perhaps simply a story to entertain, or it could be a testament to her miracles (a necessary component for the Vatican´s approval of sainthood).  The paintings also reminded me of other Peruvian art we´ve seen in museums, like the thousands of pieces of pottery that the Moche, Nazca, Wari, Chimu, and Inca cultures created to depict every facet of daily life.

When looking at objects created, things that we would describe as “art” I feel as if it´s important to remember that all art was meant to be viewed and attempts to convey messages to its viewer, possibly to persuade the viewer of an opinion of to convey a feeling or emotion.  But what is the artist trying to convey?  And, if we think of it as a form of communication, you´d have to recognize that it is also the viewer that decides and interprets the meaning of the message.  Therefore, my interpretation that the murals for Santa Rosa focusing on her miracles may be a message to others that politically petition for her sainthood may be completely different than the nuns who viewed those paintings hundreds of years ago which is different than the other tourists who view the paintings now.

Arequipa, la ciudad blanca, they call it for all the white buildings made out of sillar, a white volcanic ash produced from all the nearby volcanoes, also offers an array of trekking and outdoor adventure sports.  So, after checking out the convent, my friend and I decided to take a three day trek into Colca Canyon, the largest canyon in the world.  Beginning our journey at 3am we passed highlands filled with alpacas and llamas as our van continued to climb into the altitude.  Higher and higher we climbed until my friend, Susan looked over at me and began mumbling anxiously about needing a plastic bag.  Altitude sickness and possibly a bit of motion sickness from the rocky, curvy road had finally set in for my friend, forcing the minivan (that held other trekkers) to pull over to the side of the road.  After Susan reboarded the bus after her little “break” our tour guide Jessica poured agua Florentine, a flowery perfume over Susan´s hands and forehead, telling her it would help with her stomach problems and the altitude.

After leaving the bus, we hiked about three hours the first day to a local village half way down the canyon where we were staying.  On the trek Jessica pulled some leaves off a tree, saying they worked as natural insect repellant, although it was later discovered that both the leaves and the 80% deet that I was wearing was nothing against the insects that had attacked us, leaving a number of bumps and welts up my legs and back.  I have to say though,  I was impressed with all the herbal knowledge that our guide seemed to have.  She was a Peruvian, probably in her mid 20´s who wore pink Timberland boots, spoke perfect English and had Pit Bull´s new song as her ringtone.  Yet, as we were hiking she would show us poisonous plants, the red dye from the cactuses used on alpaca wool, and various rituals and offerings that the locals would still give to Pachamama, the earth mother deity.

Other Peruvians too, have impressed me in the past, offering me various remedies to cure my incessant allergies.  Half a limon, a tablespoon of salt and boiling water was supposedly all I needed to sleep  soundly at night with my allergies.  I found it interesting that these “modern people” had all this knowledge of herbal medicine, while I usually rely on all the pills that are marketed to my doctors.

Do all these herbal medicines work?  I have no idea– the bug repellant certainly didn´t.  Although, I wonder how these people have managed to remember these treatments all these years while still utilizing western medicine at the same time.  Will local and traditional treatments slowly be forgotten as more villagers migrate to cities and away from these landscapes and lifestyles?  And what happens when the government steps in and decides local remedies are not permissible?  The eradication of coca leaves has been a huge political issue in the past, as many foreign governments consider the coca leaf a drug (processed with chemicals it becomes cocaine).  While Andean people have used coca leaves as a tea, a cure for altitude sickness, and as a depressant for hunger for centuries.  In this case, what role does policy making play in transforming traditions and medicinal knowledge?  I would imagine both national, as well as international policy (and maybe even pharmaceutical companies) have made an impact on which medicinal and herbal practices are sustained.

 

November 19, 2009

Jesús María

Lima, Perú

Warm, sunny weather is finally starting to arrive in Lima as we head further into spring time.  So, to enjoy the good weather I decided to take a walk around el Bosque de Olivos today (a large park in San Isidro with an array of olive trees and a variety of birds.  Here, I´ve seen the types of people I usually see at other parks—people with their dogs, kids playing and of course a lot of Limeñean lovers.  However, after a short stroll I also noticed another group of individuals I don´t always see—the elderly.

I seemed to pass at least six or seven individuals in wheelchairs being taken care of by women in white outfits (similar to a nurse´s uniform).  It seems to me there must be a nursing home nearby, as the relationship between the individuals didn´t seem to be that of family but rather one of caretakers.

This surprised me quite a bit because up until now I´ve never heard of the elderly going to retirement or nursing homes.  In general, most of the elderly are taken care of by their children, something I found very different from the US.  Although homes in the US can be quite diverse, especially with the high divorce rate, I believe there´s still a tradition of housing only a nuclear family together.  In Lima, this is a very different concept.  It´s not unusual for grandparents to live with kids and grandkids and for young people to stay at their parent´s homes into their late 20´s and 30´s.  For example, one of our professors who has two children of her own, recently moved back in with her parents while her husband is currently in a different country working.  She now lives with her two children, her parents, and her brothers and sisters.

Family connections seem like such an ordinary thing, it´s hard to think of them differently, because “that´s just the way things are.”  Of course, you live with your nuclear family and then you move away for college and when you have your family you live with only them.  But, in reality there´s a million different ways we could be housed together.

 

November 17, 2009

Jesús María

Lima, Perú

This past Sunday a friend at my school invited some of the other Americans and me to a Kermese, a small local festival that her church was having.  I was particularly excited to go because it was located in El Augustino, a district in Lima that’s a lot poorer and less developed than the other districts that we generally move about in.

One of the problems I’ve run into in Lima when trying to visit areas outside of the middle-upper class districts is the perceived and real risks of danger.  Poorer areas in Lima, like many poverty-stricken places in the world, have an increased amount of drug trafficking, theft, and violence; however, often times I feel as if these dangers may be exaggerated by some Peruvians.  Whenever we try to go outside of the five or so districts that can be safely considered middle-upper class it seems like we’re (the American students) always being told “cuidado”- careful or don’t go without a Peruvian.  Believe me, I appreciate my friends’ precautions, as it’s very easy to get lost in Lima and end up somewhere you weren’t intending,…especially with the incredibly complex and confusing bus system.  However, at times their warnings seem a little unwarranted and even silly after we visit a place and it seems perfectly safe, although maybe lacking certain amenities.  Sometimes it seems like the idea of a neighborhood being dangerous is a very relative thing…like a way for Peruvians to separate their neighborhood from the next.  In fact, my anthropology professor at Ruiz actually had a funny story about when he was walking through a poorer district and at every block he stopped at, a person would tell him not to go any further because the next block, not their block, but the block over there was dangerous.

Anyways, we reached El Augustino, a district past Lima Centro where my friend lives, without any problems although I have to admit we passed some sketchy looking areas.  One in particular was a large market where mostly stolen items were being re-sold and our friend told us that robberies occurred frequently.  Despite this warning, I couldn’t help wanting to go to such a place—they sold everything here.  TV’s, scraps of metal, whole sugar canes.  “Todo es possible,” seems to be the characterizing phrase about markets and a statement I’ve been told more than once by Peruvians when looking for particular items.

So, we didn’t take a detour at the market; however, Kermese was certainly enough excitement for me.  Here you could buy one sol tickets for carnival games—basketball, a roulette wheel, and games where you had to throw a ball through a mouth of a creature that was painted onto a board.  Although these games sound exactly like the ones we have in the United States, there’s one major difference: the games were actually winnable!  And the church seemed to be giving out prizes to just about everyone.  Included in the myriad of prizes were stuffed bears, plastic roller skates, women’s clothes, and even soap.

After the games, Dora, our friend, took us over to the food stand where her mom and other women from the church were serving meals for approximately 1$.  Ceviche con camote, choclo y cancha was the most popular dish (a Peruvian specialty consisting of raw fish in limon juice with sweet potatoes and corn).  Though, I happened to prefer the dessert—one of my favorites, picarones (a mix between a donut and funnel cake).  Even though the food was slightly different than that of the US, the entire feel of the event reminded me of local festivals that our small town used to have when I was growing up.  The small town feel of the Kermese made me somewhat nostalgic for my own small town in Pennsylvania where everyone seemed to know everyone else and we also had our own special takes on food, like the fried dill pickle…I know, weird…but I grew up in Dillsburg.  Besides being nostalgic, I was also surprised that this level of intimacy was possible in such a large city like Lima, certainly not something I’ve experienced in other parts of the city.

While we enjoyed our delicious and cheap food we listened to a variety of Criolla and American rock music that was being performed by a band that was playing in front of the banner reading, “Salud para los más pobres.”  This Kermese, I found out, was both to raise money for the poorest individuals in their community, as well as to have a festival for them where they could eat well, enjoy themselves, and win useful prizes…like soap.

After the festival Dora took us for a little tour of El Agustino and we ended up walking past the church, ascending a large hill with unfinished brick homes built on a dirt road.  “Sube, sube, sube,” we joked as we went up the hill mimicking the cobradors (the men who take the money as you climb into a combi).  Walking the dusty, dirty road was a sharp change from the grassy areas of Jesús María and a reminder of Lima’s natural, deserted landscape.  No wonder, the city has water scarcity issues, I thought.  Everyday I see the municipality workers flooding the parks with water to maintain the grass, when Lima’s really in the center of a dry, deserted coast.

At the top of the hill were homes made out of thin wood.  These were provisional homes where people had most likely squatted on land but had not yet been there long enough to legally claim it or to build a brick home on the land yet.  This is very common in the outlying areas of Lima and some entire districts (like Villa El Salvador) have formed out of nothing within the past 30 years or so just with an influx of emigrants from the Sierra and other rural parts of Perú.  Dora’s parents also emigrated here from the Sierra when they were kids and ended up settling in El Agustino.

From the top of the hill you could see all of Lima.  The coast was the furthest from our lookout with the high-rise hotels near it, marking the outskirts of Miraflores.  Next, following the residential districts was Lima Centro with the large, colonial style government buildings. And closest to us, across the Río Rimac you could see other homes climbing the opposite hill, homes similar to the ones we were at then, probably in the district of San Juan de Lurigancho, another outlying district.  It was amazing to me how easily I could identify the different districts by just an aerial view, some without ever having been to them.  The divisions between Lima’s districts regarding public services and appearance are something that’s very noticeable to an outsider, and were more apparent to me when I first got here.  It’s interesting though, the longer I seem to live here the more normal these large discrepancies in wealth become to me, as if it’s just how things are.

 

November 4, 2009

Jesús María

Lima, Perú

This past weekend was filled with a variety of national, local and international holidays.  First, the end of October marked the final day of the enormous procession in Lima known as Señor de los Milagros, or the Lord of Miracles.  A few other American students and I were lucky enough to be there the final day of the procession, Sunday, when hordes of Limeñeans hoisted the large adobe painting of Christ onto their shoulders and paraded the heavy, gold and silver framed picture around downtown Lima, eventually returning it to a small cathedral.  The Christ is said to have been painted on an adobe wall by a former slave and has miraculously survived church-toppling earthquakes, as well as other effects of mother nature that would have likely destroyed a 16th century painting by now.  Therefore, some of the most devout Catholics devote the entire month to this procession, wearing purple button up dresses or robes and Christ pendants while asking for miracles.

The lead-up to this procession was very interesting to me, because I had no idea it was going on until I noticed a note from my “Peruvian brother” (from the family I’m staying with) that we has going to Sr. de los Milagros in the morning.  I had never heard of this and thought that it was strange that I could live in a city and still be so unaware of these large processions.  Strangely enough, I did notice some changes in my everyday life—there were quite a few older women who all wore the same purple dresses, nuns I assumed…maybe from an unusual order, there were also little purple flags hanging around certain restaurants, but nothing too much out of the ordinary.  No one ever mentioned it before and I wasn’t aware of anyone who was attending it, until my house brother and another group of philosophy students at the Jesuit university that I attend were required to go for class.

I think this also says something about the procession and about religion in Peru.  Although, there were all types of people at the procession, various classes and races of people, I think the lack of discussion about it amongst the younger group I’m around may denote a sense of secularism in their society that may not be so apparent to many who view Peru as overwhelmingly Catholic.  In fact, many of the friends I’ve made claim to not be religious at all or not to attend mass, which is slightly ironic, considering I’m attending a Jesuit university.  Others, including a member of the family in the home I’m staying at have expressed their disinterest in the church and their frustration with the political involvement and conservative teachings of the Opus Dei sect which has become more prevalent in Lima after Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, an Opus Dei priest was named Archbishop of Lima

The differences in religious opinions and traditions amongst Limeñeans were evident in how people celebrated this past weekend.  Some chose to attend the Sr. de los Milagros procession on Sunday, while others visited the cemeteries of their loved ones for Día de los Muertos, giving them offerings of food and flowers.  Saturday was also a dual-holiday: Halloween and Día de la Canción Criolla.  The first of which, Halloween, has been imported by the United States and has only taken hold in about the last 20 years or so.  In all the supermarkets there were sections for Halloween candy and later in the night I saw little kids dressed up, running around our apartment complex carrying bags of candy.  However, supposedly because of the importation and growing popularity of Halloween, there has been a debate amongst Peruvians about which holiday to celebrate, with those favoring nationalism also favoring the promotion of Día de la Canción Criolla.  Criolla is a term for early settlers who arrived from Spain to Peru, although the holiday—“Day of the Criolla Song” actually encompasses all varieties of traditional Peruvian music, including Afro-Peruvian and traditional Andean music.  This holiday is usually celebrated with parties or open displays of music and dancing, and in fact, many Peruvians celebrate both Halloween and la Canción Criolla.

This wide variety of celebrations has certainly been capitalized upon by the various Peruvian vendors.  Along with a group of students and our program director, I headed downtown this past Friday to Lima’s central market to pick up some Halloween games and decorations for a party we were throwing for the kids at Posada de Belén, the boys home that we volunteer with.

Once there I was somewhat overwhelmed by the immenseness of the downtown area and Barrio Chino (Chinatown), as well as the variety of things you could purchase.  The only comparison I can even make is to that of a Super Wal-Mart divided into a million little stores that all specialize in one item.  A store for blenders, located next to another store for wrenches and tools, next to a stand selling any type of music you could imagine.  And having gone to the central market right in the middle of the holiday season there were even more items to consider.  Millions of children’s costumes like Spiderman and Minnie Mouse cluttered the streets, while purple flags, rosaries, and paintings of the Christ were being sold by walking vendors.  And, if that wasn’t enough, I even spotted a couple stores dedicated to early Christmas consumption— stuffed snowmen, Santa figurines, and ornaments.

Being in such an exciting but overwhelming environment was exhausting andmade me realize how much people really do consume during the holidays.  It’s funny, I’ve always heard the joke in the US that holidays were invented by Hallmark. I don’t really think this bares much truth, although I have to say the way people produce and consume things in relation to holidays is really astounding when you think about it.

Early in August, after arriving in Lima, I began searching for a group of individuals to play soccer with.  I was excited for the opportunity to play soccer in a country that generates a level of enthusiasm for the sport that seems unmatched in the US and also to play in an environment that was less demanding than the college level of soccer that I had been participating in.  Unfortunately, it seems all of my attempts at finding a team fell through.  The Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, where I take classes at is a small university without sport teams; however, the director of our program suggested I try joining the women’s fútbol team at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, a nearby university that is much larger.  Although I was told there was a women’s fútbol team, the only information I could find was that for a gym class and another for a women’s futsal team…a form of soccer played with less people.  I found it interesting that when I talked to one of the teachers of the gym class, she told me that most of the female participants were “extranjeras” or foreigners (exchange students).

Slightly disappointed about the lack of options for female soccer players here, I became even more envious as I walked past Católica’s large soccer field, filled with all males playing amongst each other.  Even now, two months later I have yet to see females playing soccer either with a league or just for fun.  Everyday I run along the coast, where there are a number of short sided fields for fútbol.  One after another I pass the fields and cement areas where older men and younger boys play fútbol together.  They vary in many ways—age, clothing, ability level…but never in gender.  I have yet to see a single female let alone a group of them playing at these public fields in the districts of Miraflores and San Isidro, both two of the wealthiest districts in Lima.

Why is that?  I suppose it’s possible, although incredibly unlikely that there are some hidden fields for women to play fútbol at somewhere.  It could be a class thing…although even when I travel to the poorer areas in Callao, to volunteer, I still only see men playing pick-up in the streets.  Having discussed gender with many Peruvians before, answers from men and women are generally all the same— Perú is a “machista” society, they’ll tell you.  In fact, I hear the term “machista” so often I’m beginning to think they were taught this in grade school or something.  However, it’s very rare anyone ever actually explains this term to me, maybe indicating that it’s one of those “loaded words” that carries a lot of emotions and strong reactions, while also indicating an ambiguity of meaning.  Anyways, the use of the term “machista” is interesting because it also indicates that Peruvians think or assume that their culture is male dominated or chauvinist in some way.  By recognizing the male dominance in society is it somehow excused as a cultural phenomenon or something?  Or perhaps this recognition is a step in overcoming some form of injustice to women?  Or on the other hand the term could actually glorify male dominance.

“Do you feel oppressed here?” one of my male Peruvian friends asked me, after taking some time to translate his thoughts into English.  Oppressed…I almost laughed.  Oppressed seemed like such a strong word to use; there’s no laws here that I know of dictating my activities because I’m a woman and I virtually act and dress in the same manner that I would back in the United States.  “No,” I decided.  “I don’t feel oppressed, although I wish men wouldn’t make the ‘kissy face’ at me when I walk down the street and I also wish soccer was more available for women.”  Why did the idea of me being oppressed seem so comical?  I suppose it’s because I virtually act and am allowed to act in the same manner in Perú that I do in the US.  And we all know the US isn’t “machista,” right?  I mean I can play soccer there freely and I only get “cat-called” every once in awhile when walking or running down a road.

Hmm…I can play soccer, which is arguably even more popular for girls than for boys in the US; however, it would be stranger for me to play American football and possibly even more difficult for me to participate in wrestling.  Why is it that we consider these “male sports”?  Why does Perú consider fútbol a “male sport”?  Clearly, these are just cultural differences that designate what is and is not appropriate for males and females to participate in.  However, I find it interesting that in Perú these differences are considered to be “machista” while in the US, similar differences are just considered normal.  Even after reflecting on these similarities I find it difficult not to view Perú as being more “machista” than the US.  For example, the other day I was immediately offended as our Peruivan friend Christian chose to talk past me, asking instead Mark, another American exchange student questions about American soccer.  Immediately I felt like yelling at him, “I play for my university!  I know more than he does!  You’re not talking to me because I’m a girl and you’re machista!”  Although I feel like my feelings were somewhat validated, I could never imagine getting that upset when a male friend in the US ignores my opinions about boxing or another “male sport”…in fact I could never imagine actually having an opinion about most of these sports.  It’s very interesting to me how in anthropology I am trying to study other group’s cultures while I continue to find that I am still so unaware of my own.

Recognizing that many interests and opportunities are based on cultural guidelines about gender is something that maybe like Peruvians, we Americans should become more aware of.  And like the US maybe Peruvian women should try to play more soccer…at least for my own benefit, that is.  Along with that, I am excited to share that in the upcoming weekend a group of Peruvian girls at my university have finally decided to organize a pick-up game of fútbol. “Sólo chicas,” they say…indicating, at least to me, a subtle rebellion against the exclusivity of the nation’s most popular “machista” sport.

 

November 3, 2009

Jesús María

Lima, Perú

Today I had to go to the post office in Central Lima to pick up a package that was sent to me.  Normally packages arrive at the apartment where I live and then I just have to sign for them; however, because I was absent when the delivery man came I received a note with information about where to go to pick up the package and whom to call.

Arriving at the post office for deliveries wasn’t terribly difficult.  I retraced a couple of streets while trying to find the correct building on Cuadra 12 on Arequipa, walking by various Peruvians who would call out English phrases after me, “Hello!, Hi Miss, Oh my God…etc.”  This usually happens in Lima, at least outside of the touristy areas where outsiders are more uncommon.  I can’t help but feel as if their English phrases are mocking me, denoting me as an outsider and someone to be made fun of; however, I think many times people are actually just trying to practice their English and show off their awareness of the language, maybe like a status symbol of sorts.

Anyways, I eventually arrived at the post office where there was an overwhelming amount of people waiting in various lines for various things.  Unfamiliar with all of the surroundings and with some of the Spanish vocabulary concerning post offices, I decided to ask a man working if I was in the correct line if I wanted to receive a package.  After he assured me that I was I relaxed enough to notice numbers directing people through the process of picking up a package… “ughhh I have to wait through nine windows, really?”  The second window was a little bit more complicated than the first as the lady kept saying something about a photocopy.  “No, no tengo un fotocopia de mi pasaporte” I replied.  Again, she responded, “fotocopia.”  After a while of this confusion and of my only comprehension being that I needed a photocopy of my passport but I didn’t have one, a man behind me asked me if I spoke English and continued to clarify that I would have to go next door to make a photocopy.  Ahh…finally, clarification.  I couldn’t help but think that had the situation been reversed and a Peruvian in the United States was being misunderstood because of their lack of English, our response wouldn’t have been so friendly.  “Learn English before coming to America!” someone would have been certain to say, relating to the ongoing discussion and emotionally charged debate about language in the United States.

Not having studied Spanish in depth throughout school and currently studying and living in a Spanish speaking country has been an incredibly eye-opening experience for me regarding language.  Everyday there’s confusion—people cannot understand my accent, or stressing the wrong syllable of a word confuses the bus drivers about which stop I will be getting off at, or like at the post office, I fail to comprehend a single word, resulting in mass confusion.  These are issues I’ve never considered before, having lived in an area that is overwhelmingly monolinguistic.  But how does this affect people who visit or migrate to areas where only one language is spoken?  There are difficulties in everyday activities like using public transportation, going to the post office and sometimes more important activities like having to go to the hospital.  To this extent, language censors who is and who isn’t allowed to participate in public life.  And in the case of Perú, especially historically speaking, often times many citizens are prevented from taking full advantage of public services— particularly indigenous populations speaking Quechua, Aymara, or Ashaninka or any of the other hundreds of languages spoken here.  How are you supposed to request a new road or public sanitation for your community if you and your community can’t communicate with the politicians that can provide these services?  In the same way, I would imagine that the domination of English in the United States also discriminates against some citizens who are not able to participate in the public realm with ease.  What public services are these people prevented from utilizing?

 

October 18, 2009

Jesús María

Lima, Perú

Early in August, after arriving in Lima, I began searching for a group of individuals to play soccer with.  I was excited for the opportunity to play soccer in a country that generates a level of enthusiasm for the sport that seems unmatched in the US and also to play in an environment that was less demanding than the college level of soccer that I had been participating in.  Unfortunately, it seems all of my attempts at finding a team fell through.  The Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, where I take classes at is a small university without sport teams; however, the director of our program suggested I try joining the women’s fútbol team at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, a nearby university that is much larger.  Although I was told there was a women’s fútbol team, the only information I could find was that for a gym class and another for a women’s futsal team…a form of soccer played with less people.  I found it interesting that when I talked to one of the teachers of the gym class, she told me that most of the female participants were “extranjeras” or foreigners (exchange students).

Slightly disappointed about the lack of options for female soccer players here, I became even more envious as I walked past Católica’s large soccer field, filled with all males playing amongst each other.  Even now, two months later I have yet to see females playing soccer either with a league or just for fun.  Everyday I run along the coast, where there are a number of short sided fields for fútbol.  One after another I pass the fields and cement areas where older men and younger boys play fútbol together.  They vary in many ways—age, clothing, ability level…but never in gender.  I have yet to see a single female let alone a group of them playing at these public fields in the districts of Miraflores and San Isidro, both two of the wealthiest districts in Lima.

Why is that?  I suppose it’s possible, although incredibly unlikely that there are some hidden fields for women to play fútbol at somewhere.  It could be a class thing…although even when I travel to the poorer areas in Callao, to volunteer, I still only see men playing pick-up in the streets.  Having discussed gender with many Peruvians before, answers from men and women are generally all the same— Perú is a “machista” society, they’ll tell you.  In fact, I hear the term “machista” so often I’m beginning to think they were taught this in grade school or something.  However, it’s very rare anyone ever actually explains this term to me, maybe indicating that it’s one of those “loaded words” that carries a lot of emotions and strong reactions, while also indicating an ambiguity of meaning.  Anyways, the use of the term “machista” is interesting because it also indicates that Peruvians think or assume that their culture is male dominated or chauvinist in some way.  By recognizing the male dominance in society is it somehow excused as a cultural phenomenon or something?  Or perhaps this recognition is a step in overcoming some form of injustice to women?  Or on the other hand the term could actually glorify male dominance.

“Do you feel oppressed here?” one of my male Peruvian friends asked me, after taking some time to translate his thoughts into English.  Oppressed…I almost laughed.  Oppressed seemed like such a strong word to use; there’s no laws here that I know of dictating my activities because I’m a woman and I virtually act and dress in the same manner that I would back in the United States.  “No,” I decided.  “I don’t feel oppressed, although I wish men wouldn’t make the ‘kissy face’ at me when I walk down the street and I also wish soccer was more available for women.”  Why did the idea of me being oppressed seem so comical?  I suppose it’s because I virtually act and am allowed to act in the same manner in Perú that I do in the US.  And we all know the US isn’t “machista,” right?  I mean I can play soccer there freely and I only get “cat-called” every once in awhile when walking or running down a road.

Hmm…I can play soccer, which is arguably even more popular for girls than for boys in the US; however, it would be stranger for me to play American football and possibly even more difficult for me to participate in wrestling.  Why is it that we consider these “male sports”?  Why does Perú consider fútbol a “male sport”?  Clearly, these are just cultural differences that designate what is and is not appropriate for males and females to participate in.  However, I find it interesting that in Perú these differences are considered to be “machista” while in the US, similar differences are just considered normal.  Even after reflecting on these similarities I find it difficult not to view Perú as being more “machista” than the US.  For example, the other day I was immediately offended as our Peruivan friend Christian chose to talk past me, asking instead Mark, another American exchange student questions about American soccer.  Immediately I felt like yelling at him, “I play for my university!  I know more than he does!  You’re not talking to me because I’m a girl and you’re machista!”  Although I feel like my feelings were somewhat validated, I could never imagine getting that upset when a male friend in the US ignores my opinions about boxing or another “male sport”…in fact I could never imagine actually having an opinion about most of these sports.  It’s very interesting to me how in anthropology I am trying to study other group’s cultures while I continue to find that I am still so unaware of my own.

Recognizing that many interests and opportunities are based on cultural guidelines about gender is something that maybe like Peruvians, we Americans should become more aware of.  And like the US maybe Peruvian women should try to play more soccer…at least for my own benefit, that is.  Along with that, I am excited to share that in the upcoming weekend a group of Peruvian girls at my university have finally decided to organize a pick-up game of fútbol. “Sólo chicas,” they say…indicating, at least to me, a subtle rebellion against the exclusivity of the nation’s most popular “machista” sport.

 

October 16, 2009

Jesús María

Lima, Perú

One of the seven wonders of the world and a sacred site of the Incan Empire, Machu Picchu is by far Peru’s largest tourist attraction and one of South America’s most popular spots.  It’s also a site I’ve wanted to visit for most of my life, although in the weeks leading up to my trip I have to say I was somewhat nervous about finally seeing this “magical place” and realizing that it may not measure up to the image I had of it.  It is interesting how people form these images about places—of course I would assume most of the images about Peru are probably heavily shaped by tourist propaganda; however, there’s many other avenues people in which people form these emotional connections to places they’ve never been.

In my mind, Machu Picchu and Cusco, the major city of the Incas should be set majestically in the Andes with native Andean people still living their traditional agricultural life and guiding llamas through narrow mountain paths.  This, of course, was not exactly how it was, although the locals certainly made an effort to give tourists this image or at the very least, the pictures they wanted.

When we arrived in Cusco we were met at the airport by an employee from our hostel who took us to the main square of Cusco where our hostel was located.  I was thrilled with the colonial architecture of the city and to see that a festival was already going on.  Traditional dancers, silly masks and costumes, statues of saints and the Virgin Mary being hoisted above people’s shoulder’s at the parade.  Curious about the meaning behind the festival, I asked the guy from the hostel of its importance.  After a slight chuckle he suggested that there’s always a festival every week or so…for the tourists of course.  Later in the day we were also able to see another young group of dancers twirling and skipping in the plaza dressed in their brightly woven costumes.  All over the city of Cusco you could find these images of Andean people practicing traditional dances and wearing clothing form the time of the Incan empire.  Even older women and children would be dressed in their woven cloths, holding baby llamas and yelling in English, “Picture! You want a picture senorita?”…pictures were only a few soles, of course.  I found all of these “traditional” things very interesting as they were a mix of traditions from colonial and pre-colonial times…but they certainly weren’t an accurate representation of what Cusquenan people were like now.  In fact, it seemed like the only reason any of these traditions were practiced were for the purpose of tourism.  Traditional shamans were now on every block in Cusco and festivals that were previously practiced maybe 2 or 3 times a year were now being performed nearly every month.  All this aside, I don’t necessarily think tourism should be viewed as having had a negative impact on Cusco and its culture—only that it has changed it.

Sure, it wasn’t exactly what I had imagined in some aspects: getting hassled to buy something every five seconds and realizing that the people dressed in traditional Andean clothing were dressed up like that so you would give them money and probably went home and put on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans as soon as they left the plaza.  However, this tourist mecca, the “new” Cusco was equally if not more interesting to me than the idea of the Ancient Incan Cusco.

After passing through Cusco, my friends and I arrived at the bus station at the base of Machu Picchu at 4am so we could be amongst the 400 people permitted to climb Huayna Picchu (the tallest mountain in the back of most of the pictures of Machu Picchu).  Already at 4am, there was a crowd of backpackers forming a line from the bus stop, everyone waiting for the first buses to leave at 5:30am.  It was astonishing to hear the myriad of languages being spoken—Hebrew, Mandarin Chinese, French, German, and many others.  The diversity of people prompted us to pass the time with a game we decided to call “Guess their country.”  Despite the differences of nationalities, it was interesting to see how this group, including us, formed this sub-culture of travelers that shared striking similarities.  From the matching outdoor gear— North Face and Marmot jackets and backpacks to the little baggies of fruit, granola bars, and coca leaves (chewed on for altitude sickness) this group of travelers had more in common than just merely being in the same place; but why this place?  What were their motives for coming here?  What other places have they’ve been?  What other similarities does this group possess?  It would be very strange to study a group of people that you yourself belong to, although I think following around a cluster of backpackers would make for an incredibly interesting ethnography and may have to be my next adventure.

 

October 02, 2009

Jesús María

Lima, Perú

“¡Bolivar! ¡Bolivar, Todos Bolivar, San Marco Católica!” the bus workers yell out in a manner similar to an auctioneer.  The arrival of bus “40” makes me quicken my paces across the street towards the bus as I’ve come to realize that there’s only two 40’s running.  Unfortunately something I learned the hard way was that arriving 20 seconds later sometimes means arriving to school 20 minutes later.  At least when I’m late I don’t usually get too much grief from my professors, considering everyone in Lima runs on “Peruvian time”…or at least that’s what the other American students and I joke.

Every weekday I take Lima’s vast and confusing bus system to school and back.  I always wait on the same corner at Huiracocha and tip my hand in the same downward motion when I see bus “40” go by—it’s a motion similar to patting something, a motion I naturally started doing after seeing other Peruvian women making the same gesture over and over.

After being here for two months I’ve come to realize the reliability and safety of Lima’s bus system (or the safety at least in the areas I travel to).  The buses roughly run around the same time everyday only without a time schedule or a map—making the system a nightmare for visitors, or people who hate waiting, or people who like to be on time (which would probably include a vast majority of Americans…”time is money,” right?)

The perceived safety of transportation is something that has drastically changed in my mind after these two months.  Most of the taxis here don’t work with a company, don’t look like a taxi, and are often just cars with a taxi sign and a driver who flashes his lights at you.  (My mom would probably kill me if she ever knew I took them.)  The buses vary in their styles but from my perspective it doesn’t look like any of them would pass a safety or an emissions test in the United States.  The bus I take to Miraflores, a popular downtown area with bars and restaurants, looks exactly like an old American school bus painted red.  Although there are some larger buses like these, Lima’s also well known for their “combis” a local term for a minivan that transports around 8-12 passengers.  There’s even a popular game on facebook called “crazy combi” in which combis zoom around traffic disobeying road laws and is frighteningly closer to the truth than a game.  It seems that road laws are more of a suggestion…red lights, stop signs, speed limits, only something to follow every once in awhile.

But besides the initial fright of a 12 combi pile up and of being perpetually late and lost to everything, there are many things about the bus system I have come to love or at the very least accept.  Talented musicians, a lone comic whose act was to mock the only “gringa” on the bus—me, and a never-ending amount of venders selling everything imaginable are just some of the people I have come in contact with.  These people however, are of a special nature, they don’t “ride” the bus exactly, nor do they pay for it.  These are the people who jump on at one bus stop only to get off at the next.  Every time they begin they’re transactions in the same sequence: first, it’s a speech at the front of the bus.  Some discuss how they’re working so they can provide for their family, mention a diseased relative or an injury that’s making their livelihood difficult.  After this the vendors expand upon their product—a delicious chocolate for only 50 céntimos, a pen that has a pull-out map, and surprisingly enough sewing needles are amongst the most popular items.  If you are a musician you will begin to play—usually with a small guitar, sometimes with a pan pipe or harmonicas, and there’s always a few who just sing along while drumming on a box with their hands.

After the musicians play and the vendors, who vary in age from pre-adolescent children to very elderly men and women, give their sales pitch, they’ll walk the aisles of the bus waiting for donations.  There’s never any begging involved, although I can’t recall a time when a musician or a vendor left completely empty-handed.  In fact, I was even told by a friend that often times people can make minimum wage from their work on the buses.  I, myself have a system for giving money.  Generally I buy candy, an act stemming from my sweet tooth and I will also give money to musicians as I enjoy the atmosphere.

But why is giving money here so different than elsewhere?  When I was in London there were even signs requesting that you don’t give money to individuals asking for it, and instead donate to charities.  Even in the US I often refuse people, as I feel many others do, assuming that your handout may end up going towards an addiction.  But here it’s different, Peruvians give money to others frequently, possibly even daily.  Is it because the poverty here is so much worse?  Maybe that has something to do with it, although I was also intrigued by a statement by a Peruvian friend who has also lived abroad in the US.  Her opinion was that many Peruvians give money to others because they can identify with them.  I was also intrigued by her second comment implying that being poor in the US was far worse than being poor here.  How could that be—certainly not materialistically?  As she continued to discuss how awful it must be to grow up without money in a culture where money reveals everything: your status, your work ethic, your competence level etc.  I have to admit, she had an interesting point: Is it possibly more emotionally damaging to have off-brand Nikes in the US than it is to lack any shoes in a poorer country?  I have no idea, but it certainly brings up questions about what it means to live in poverty and how people view the term poor.

 

September 28, 2009

Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya

Lima, Perú

This past weekend I was able to travel to Trujillo, the third largest city in Perú located in the north in a deserted area near the coast.  Although Trujillo retains certain characteristics similar to Lima it seemed to me that there were some striking differences between the two cities.  The most noticeable differences were exterior: Trujillo had a beautiful town center surrounded by brightly colored walls and colonial architecture and I was thrilled to actually be able to see a blue sky after spending months in Lima, a city renowned throughout the world for its white haze.  Furthermore I noticed a difference in how people reacted to me and also to the other people I was with—a mixture of American students and our Limenean friends (who I can only describe in appearance as very European looking in facial features and style.)  In Lima it is possible for me to blend in with the crowd more, appear more local by knowing my way around…or at the very least look like one of Lima´s many international students or backpackers.

In Trujillo people reacted to my presence differently, making me feel more like a spectacle, and a novelty.  Once when chatting with a friend in the main square, la Plaza de las Armas, a young girl came up beside me, stared at me in curiosity for a few minutes and eventually worked up the nerve to ask me where I was from.  After I replied I was from Estados Unidos she turned around giggling and ran back to her family sitting down on another bench.  Many people seemed to have this type of curiosity but particularly children and other young people.  When travelling to the Huaca de la Luna ruin outside the city of Trujillo we encountered a large group of Peruvian scouts (a mixture of boys and girls) who probably ended up taking more pictures of us than of the ruins they were touring.

For the most part I found this curiosity endearing and even flattering at times.  We were lucky enough to go to Trujillo during the opening of the Festival de Primavera (or Spring Festival) and at night made our way to a stage at the Plaza de las Armas where there was a band playing a variety of English and Spanish cover songs to a large and rambunctious crowd.  After mingling in the crowd for a bit we realized that the female singer was calling the females in our group to dance on stage with everyone.  I´m not sure if it was the flattery of being called out in a crowd or the loosening of insecurities after a couple beers but the five of us made our way to the stage where the band introduced us to the crowd along with the joke in Spanish that more or less translates to, “they don´t know why they dance, but they dance.”  After our dancing debut we were interviewed by a local news station where we sputtered into a microphone how much we love Trujillo and the festival.  Needless to say, it was quite an exciting experience but also a thought provoking one.  Why was it that we had this special status?  Just because we looked different or maybe it was because we seemed like outsiders, non-Peruvians?  Although most of the people´s curiosity was quite innocent, there were other remarks that were more intimidating or took on a sexual tone as we passed men on streets.  These kind of remarks are obviously more uncomfortable compared to a child`s curiosity about where you´re from; however, this excess of attention, in general, is quite unusual and brings up many questions.  For example, could I ever really be apart of this city, even if I were to live here for years?  How does this type of attention affect someone and their identity?  Do they feel like outsiders and isolated or could it make someone feel privileged, more like a celebrity?

September 22, 2009

I´m sitting at my favourite park right now-the one located on the coast in the district of San Isidro.  I generally run here everyday as it´s located only about a mile or so from where I live in Jesùs Maria.  I´ve come to love running here as there´s always so much going on—older women practicing tai-chi in the mornings, athletes cycling on the paths, and plenty of people walking their dogs, which are all adorned in some type of little dog sweater with accessories.  Then there´s the people that take advantage of the coastal winds—people flying kites, others manoeuvring battery operated model airplanes, and every weekend there´s the paragliders who sometimes swoop so close to you, you flinch in fear of getting kicked.

Right now though I don´t seem to be noticing any of those things, in fact all of my attention is focused on a different type of bustle, the bustle that the scattered couples are making.  They´re all Peruvian couples, mostly teenagers and young adults, although some may be in their 30´s or 40´s.  Right now, they´re taking all the good grassy areas that look out over the sea, in turn, forcing me to a bench where I have to strain my neck to see the waves.  I suppose most Peruvians, maybe even other couples may not be so concerned about getting closer to couples intimately making out, but I am…and I can´t manage to go within about 20 meters of them before I feel like I´m invading their space, or maybe more that they´re invading mine…I mean this is a public park.  I suppose my uncertainty may come from cultural differences in space proximity (even on the buses people are a lot closer than what I´m used to).  Or there might be different understandings in what denotes public or private space and what activities can be done therein.  Certainly, in the US a park would be considered public space and perhaps we consider romantic affection, or at least what I would consider an excess of it, as only appropriate for private space.  I´m not really sure of the exact differences that stem from my feelings of discomfort, but it is interesting how being in an area with different norms makes you question your own and why they exist.

 

September 19, 2009

“White Cholo”

I’ve always been interested in how “race” and ethnicity relate to class and in Peru it’s a specifically interesting, yet complex issue.  I’ve been living in Lima for over a month and a half now and find that the longer I’m here and the more people I interact with, the more I learn about the complexity of racial and ethnic terms and how people define themselves and other Peruvians.  The first term I learned upon arriving here and hear it almost everyday when strangers speak to me: “Gringa!…taxi, taxi, you want taxi, Gringa?”  Certainly, any fair skinned person traveling to Latin America will be named “Gringo or Gringa” by the locals.  However, it’s more complicated than just a term for white people, it’s probably more appropriate to say a term for an outsider.  What an outsider is may be more complicated…can people look like outsiders?  Many Peruvians have fair skin and some have light hair and eyes, but these people wouldn’t be classified as Gringos…although they may be mistaken for one by somebody on the street.

Although I’ve come to interpret “Gringa” as a fairly harmless term, it seems that other terms and cultural structures have a more discriminatory effect.  For example, I have often been told rumors by various professors and the family that I am living with about places (restaurants, bars, etc.) that won’t let “Cholos” or darker skinned people in.  The term “Cholo” is an even more complicated term for me to understand as I have preconceived notions about what it is to be a “Cholo.”  In America, I’ve always understood the term to mean some kind of Latino gangster; however, in Peru the term has a very different connotation.

Last night, after watching a couple of YouTube videos with some of my new Peruvian friends I was excited to put on a popular club song that I knew from the US: “Lean like a Cholo.”  As my two friends watched intently while laughing, I began to press them for opinions on what a “Cholo” actually was.  Most of the explanation was done with hand motions gesturing to the face and talking about darker features (which I’m assuming relates to the appearance of someone with native Peruvian blood…looking like they’re from the Sierra).  However, I was surprised when Rodrigo began talking about “Cholo” customs and beliefs and how not everyone with those physical features is considered a “Cholo,” saying: we have friends who look like that but they come from “good families” and they are not “Cholos.”  Hmm, perhaps “Cholo” isn’t just a racial term then…but how does one act like a “Cholo”?  It was when Rodrigo began to discuss a “White Cholo” that I began to better understand his (and perhaps other Peruvian’s that have a similar social status) classification of “Cholos.” Uneducated and with certain superstitions, he suggested.  Asking if it was similar to the American term of “white trash” or being poor, I received a nod of the head in affirmation.

If one considers “Cholo” as solely a racial term, than the term “White Cholo” is a complete paradox.  How can one be both White and Cholo?  Clearly, as my friend suggested, identity, and to some extent even ethnic identity seems to derive from social class… i.e. coming from a “good family.”  The realization of this makes me reflect back on another conversation about getting into certain high-end clubs…”If you look like you have money they will let you in” a friend said.  Perhaps, the truth in blocking entrance for certain individuals to stores is really about social class…although, one would be blind in Peru to not notice the correlation between European features and having money.

Although I find this system of organizing people based on their amount of wealth and the customs that come with it distasteful, is that really so different than what we do in the US? White trash: poor, rural, uneducated. Does it have anything to do with being White? Possibly, but more of a derogatory term based more on economic status and customs than on racial ones. It seems that our generation is not as inclined to see differences between “races” as we are between social classes which may be the reason why terms previously denoting “race” now refer more to social and economic differences

 

Early September 2009

The Ashaninkas

After only having been in Lima for about a week I’ve been fortunate enough to go on a short trip through the sierra (the Andes highlands) and into the selva (the jungle and the beginnings of the Amazonian rainforest) with the program that I am studying with (University of Virginia in Peru).  Peruvians tend to separate their country into three regions: the coast, the sierra, and the selva, which is common knowledge here that you will quickly find out upon arrival in Lima.  In fact, it has been my experience that it is one of the first things a Peruvian cab driver will tell you once he discovers you’re not from here…he’ll then follow this explanation with the question, “Have you been to Cusco? Machu Picchu?”

Anyways, during this excursion our group was able to visit the sierra, specifically the city of Tarma, as well as the selva in the towns of Pichanaki, Satipo, and Puerto Ocopa.  The town of Puerto Ocopa was a special treat as we were able to explore the less touristed areas of the selva and stay with Ashaninka students around our own age.  (The Ashaninkas are a central Amazonian tribe in Peru).  It was our time spent with the students at this institute that I began to think about the issues involved in writing ethnography while attempting to portray a culture that is continually evolving and adapting.

The second night at Puerto Ocopa the students were excited to take us out to a local bar in their village, which ended up being an open area next to somebody’s home which also sold beer.  Here, the night transformed itself into a boisterous but friendly cultural exchange. Communicating back and forth in Spanish (in my case broken Spanish) our group was anxious to learn Ashaninka phrases while in turn, the boys in our group taught popular American pick-up lines to our new friends.  The conversation eventually turned into a dance party and we began jamming to techno and then cumbia…a type of music that’s uber-popular in Peru and that most of us have heard out at the dance clubs in Lima.  Not wanting to disappoint us after the beers ran out, the Ashaninka students brought out a giant bucket of masato for us to drink (a traditional drink of the selva made from fermented yuka and spit…yum, I know).  We drank the masato while doing a traditional Ashaninka dance done that’s usually done when groups of people cut down a tree.  It was sometime after this; sometime between this chanting and holding hands encircled around the bowl of masato and between trying to answer the question “why don’t Americans negotiate with terrorist organizations” that I began to get a glimpse of the complexities of an Ashaninka student’s life, or rather yet, the complexities that I, as an American student have in understanding a life that is so different yet so similar to my own.

Reminders of the globalization of our world were everywhere and the Ashaninkas weren’t removed from the effects of being interconnected.  Everything from illegal loggers filling their trucks with timber, to the TV located in the town’s pavilion where we watched WWF wrestling, to the students’ interest in American politics, I was reminded of their interconnectedness with the rest of the world.  Those things aside, some of their customs and ways of living seemed so untouched by the “outside world” (if of course we were to pretend that the Ashaninkas were ever a group isolated to themselves).  For example, most of the Ashaninkas lived in huts without walls, some decorated their face with red paint, and others told us stories about mythical dwarfs and demons.  I suppose the reason why I found myself so perplexed by the Ashaninkas was that I wanted to categorize them as something…as “native” or “modern” or in a state of transforming to a modern lifestyle and loosing their cultural heritage.  But I don’t think any of these categories really fit this group, or any group of people for that matter.  I suppose it’s more of a problem that we want or need to categorize people as something so we can understand them…or “modernize” them, or even “preserve” them.