a look at the quechua of peru

9 Sep

i don’t claim to be an anthropologist, or know anything about the subject really, but i did spend a week in the andes through some unchartered terrority, far away from other tourists, and i did see a way of life that seemed relaitvely unchanged throughout the last milenia.  i’ve come a long way in spanish and can hold my own but there is still a long way to go.  for the locals of the ausangante mountain area, spanish is too a second language and though my guide spoke well, I did not think he was fluent.  And he didn’t always understand what I was saying.  But that all being said, here are some observations:

on religion: wasn’t sure if my guide believed in one god but he clearly believed in the idea of gods.  on the eve of our most dangerous night, the night when he had met a stranger on the road and slept with eyes open and alarmed, Jose told me everything was going to be alright – that god didn’t plan on him dieing just yet.  When I asked him a few days later if he believed in god, he repeated the same idea, this time using it as proof.  see, we’re alive. god does exist.

when we heard the howling wind of the mountains, jose told me the spirit of the mountains were making themselves heard.  i gathered that everything had a spirit, from mother eart to the mountains to the sky.

on the way to mountain picchu the week before, at an ancient incan site used for sacrifices, my guide took out a bag of coca leaves and held them in the air, gently blowing on them and offering sacrifice to the four corners of the earth. it was cute, gimmicky, and wasn’t the first time our guide attempted to explain an old tradition to us.  it was just that everytime he did, it seemed so fake and tourist ready.  apparently however, at least this tradition was quiet real, and still prevalent in today’s age.  Jose, my new guide for the Ausangante trek did just that each time he opened his bag of coca leaves.  And it don’t think he did it for my viewing pleasure.  He did it during the trek’s most dangerous overpasses as if it pay respect to the spirits in charge.

on women: women seemed to do a lot more work than the men.  in fact, i didn’t see many men at all.  when I pressed Jose on the issue, he explained that a lot of the men went off during the dry season to seek work in other cities.  Other he said were busy working the irrigation canals which were a ways off from where we off.  truthfully though, i didn’t buy it, not fully anyway.  meanwhile, women could be seen everywhere, hunched over with heavy loads, tending to anmials, working the land, and collecting small tariffs from us camping on their land.  many women never said a thing to me, and not only did Vacillio’s daugher avoid eye contact byt Jose’s wife did as well.

the landscape: Jose only got electricity a few years ago.  Before then it was candles that provided the necessary light for his daughter to finish her homework. He lives in an adove house.  He built it himself, starting with the bricks that were molded and dried with his own hands as well.  He has a seperate building for his kitchen, which keeps the smoke from filling his bedroom and a small out-house lies a little ways off as well.  In general, houses in the area have gotten much bigger.  Jose says he can still remember living in a tiny house along with an internal kitchen and his entire family.

Some might say Jose is one of the luckier ones now, he has fresh water as well.  A channel of above ground pipes that lie exposed to nature make their way around the houses of his village.  His village actually consists of no more than a dozen or so houses but he considers it his community.

Once on our walk, I asked him what town he were seeing before our eyes. He laughed and said it wasn’t a town but a family that kept on expandind. It’s normal in the area to have a half dozen or more children though Jose only has three daughters and joked that it even that was more than plently.  I suspect he might have wanted more but a few might not have made it.

I wasn’t sure where my guide made his earnings.  I didn’t think it could have just come from tourism.  His wife makes clothes and accessories and sells them at the local sunday market.  I surmised it was a bit of a risky business because she had to buy the materials to make her crafts first.  If couldn’t sell them, she’d be in the red.

My guide and his family had livestock just a few meters from home.  They tended to cows and lamas but it wasn’t for sale.  One animal could hold the entire family over for a month and it seemed mostly for consumption than anything else.  Crops they had as well, but it was only in the good years that they had enough surplus potatos to bring to the market.  Otherwise, it was mainly just to consume as well.

The sunday market is where the bulk of the trading and selling would occur.  During good years, the area’s surplus vegetable and meats would be sold to middlemen who would take them to Cusco.

Alpacagas: Just as I would miticolously avoid stepping in anything that resembled poop, my guide, wearing sandals no less, didn’t seem to have a care in the world when it came to walking on poop.  in fact, poop in the area is actually a lifeline of sorts as the locals use it for gas.  that’s right, huge mounds of tiny balls of alpaca waste are somehow used for gas in the kitchen.  Trees are far and between in this part of the world and when he met two little kids who were collecting firewood, they told us they had been hiking for three some hours to fill their bags with enough twigs.

Marriage: People are marrying younger these days according to my guide.  16, 17, 18 years og age.  As for himself, he married when he was at the old age of 25 and seems happy with this decision.  Jose couldn’t understand me when I tried to ask who pays for the wedding – and I couldn’t understand him when he tried to explain where the newlyweds live.  From what I gathered, a newly married couple gets a lot of land, but I wasn’t sure whose side of the family it would come from.  Jose insisted that his daughters could marry whomever and whenever they wanted and that he didn’t care if they chose to move to the bigger cities or stay near his land.

Global Warming: I doubt my guide knew what global warming was, and even if he did, I doubt that we would have a strong opinion or an agenda in promuglating its views.  So it came as a suprise to me when he described situations that came dangerously close to sounding like campaign talk.  The mountains have changed he informed me, that just forty years ago they were blindlgly white.  Some of them, especially a few in a particularly dry valley barely had an inch of snow left at all.  The land had been drier and warmer in recent years, conditions that are bad for farming, Jose said.  Indeed, we passed by lakes that had been completly evaporated in just the last few years.

Private Party: Jose and I walked through what seemed like wild abaonded country.  But just the opposite was really true.  The locals somehow knew exactly how the land was carved up though I never saw a fence to prove it.  Each morning, a woman and her dogs would show up near our tents to ask for a tariff, a fee for staying the night.  Sometimes Jose just gave them a few slices of bread.  I wasn’t sure if sometimes they just came down to chat or whether it was soley for the money.  I asked my guide one day what he thought about gringos.  Then I thought better of it and asked him what most people in town, not necessarily just him, though of the tourists.  Jose put his hands together, palms facing up and put them behind his back while making a farting noise.  Gringos shit money he told me with a grin.  This sentence unfortunately sums up my experience in Peru – though with a few notable exceptions.  The locals have bcome so acustomed to seeing foreigners with mounds of cash that they can only dream of that its created a sort of rat race to see who can get the most cash out of the most amount of gringos.  It wasn’t uncommon to walk past a woman on the hike and have her ask for some money or candy.

Jose: My guide didn’t have any blood brothers, but he called every friend he had a brother.  He group up goofy, probably having to entertain the guys in order to win their favor.  Indeed, one of his best qualities was that you can still see the kid in him – making funny noises and running around like mad when trying to multi-task.  Cooking was a spectacle to be watched.  So was cleaning.  The good news for Jose is that this gringo didn’t really care about cleaning standards.  In fact, sometimes he used the same techqniues I used in college.  No soap? no problem. Just run a bit of water and scrape what you can.  Nevermind that you’re using a dirty fork to scrape a dirty plate.  As long as it doesn’t smell and looks somewhat clean, we would be in good shape.

Jose was faster than me.  Even though he wore sandals and boasted over 50 long years, he beat me to the sumits each and everytime.  But when it came to stamina and walking long distances, and walking them fast, I’d say I had him beat.  50 was still somewhat young for the area.  Most people live until well into the 90s he told me and living past 100 was not uncommon.

Finally, my dear guide had a radio slung over his shoulder at all times.  Most other locals on the trail had simillar radios as well.  With no batteries and no antenta, I had absolutly no idea how they had any service at all.  But they did, even at the highest passes, and at decent quality too.  Aside from music, the radios served up-to-date news information as well as the time.  If I understood Jose correctly, they also alert locals of packages they’ve recieved through the mail.

Dreams: I asked Jose on our last day if there was anything in this world that he wanted, that he didnt have right now.  He didn’t understand.  I aksed if there was a thing that he wanted to buy, like a computer or a car or motorcycle.  He said he would love a computer, and a car, and a motorcycle,  A computer he wanted for his children, so that they could learn how to use one.  I got the impression these weren’t things Jose could ever afford to think about.  He doesn’t drink much because even beer runs a bit too expensive for him and his money seems tied up between electricity bills and school fees.  Not only do the locals have to buy uniforms and materials, but I got the impression they have to leave tips for the teachers as well.  As for his daughers, I believe Jose sees them as a sort of investment.  He doesn’t have any sons and says he won’t try for any more kids.  His explanation was financial, he simply doesn’t have the money for any more.  This was the first such explanation in the countryside that I had come across.  Food prices in Peru were some of the cheapest that I had ever seen in my life.  But even here I’ve been told that they’ve been rising steadily for sometime.  Jose told me he was worried that eventually he won’t be able to afford some of the basics like bread and that if his daughters decide to move to the city, he’ll have no choice but to go along with them.  It’s a possibility that he’s not necessarily in favor of, but one hes willing to entertain. it’s not up to him to decide what his daughers want. it’s for them. and with english taught along with spanish in their schools these days, they will probably have more opportunities than ever.

is jose a special case? are his views more modern than others. i think so. probably a bi-product of being an only child in a tighly knit culture and being the occasional tour guide with exposure to some western values.

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