Tag: community

La Economía de Regalos en Perú

Gifts have the function of bonding communities together.” — Charles Eisenstein

I’ve been part of the gift economy even before coming to Peru because of my natural urge to give others at least equal or more to express gratitude. To Eisenstein, this gift giving creates bonds (obligations, even) as opposed to the money economy that promotes isolation. Community disappears in a money economy because financial transactions offer you the luxury of not needing anyone anymore.

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According to Catholic tradition, the devotion of the “Via Crucis” or “The Way of the Cross” honors the last few hours of Jesus’ death. It consists of a spiritual pilgrimage, acknowledging 14 stations or shrines that depict distinct events beginning from Jesus’ death sentence to his crucifixion and burial. The phrase “via crucis” or “way of the cross” is also used to symbolize all the obstacles we need to overcome when we try to achieve a certain goal.

Una Estación de Via Crucis en Huancayo
The fifth Via Crucis station commemorates when Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry the cross.
Along with thousands of other Peruvians across the country on Good Friday, we did Huancayo’s version of the Via Crucis. In Huancayo, the 14 stations are set up on a winding path around a hill with a giant metal cross adorning its peak.

Other than the typical route where you pray and leave a rock at each shrine along the way, there are two other ways up the hill. You can ride a taxi up the winding path, speeding by each of the shrines, or hike directly up the hill, bypassing all of the stations. The latter is the fastest route up, but it’s also the more torturous path because of the steep incline of the hike. As an afterthought, it could be an experiential way to signify Jesus’ suffering during the Passion.

El Cerro de Via Crucis en Huancayo
Most people took the direct shortcut up the Via Crucis hill.
Joining the majority, we tightened our shoelaces to huff and puff our way up the hill via the direct shortcut.

In undertaking this mini pilgrimage today, I realized that living in Peru has become somewhat of a pilgrimage for me in the sense that I was drawn to a place that was meaningful to me and the journey has been transformational, endowing me with insights and understanding. Although I haven’t taken the typical route and I sometimes feel like I’ve chosen the tougher passage, I have also discovered more and more people along this path who have motivated me and helped remind me of the value of my choices. In the blogging world, I would especially like to thank Janet Callaway, Sherry Zander, Rowena Bolo, Karen Swaffield and Diana Simon.

They say that when you return home from a pilgrimage, nothing is ever the same again.

What has your personal pilgrimage been like?

The more I take combis (Peruvian public transportation) in Huancayo, the more I envision the combi as a microcosm of Peruvian life.


Today I rode a combi that had a little speaker hanging dangerously over the heads of some passengers. It was tied onto an inner metal support bar and wired to the front of the van somehow so that people in the back could enjoy the same Peruvian cumbia music as the driver. It wasn’t even working, but it’s the thought that counts.

Last week, when I hopped onto a combi to escape the pouring rain, there was a leak near the window and rain was dripping onto one of the seats. They stuffed a cloth into the crack to stop the leak. It would be temporary. The combi worked fine when it wasn’t raining. They were never going to fix that window.

To me, these are examples of resourcefulness and of taking advantage of what’s available. They’re examples of being okay with imperfection. The lesson is to care less about the little details and more about making something functional. It’s about using something for its full worth and then finding ways to extract even more out of it, instead of continually buying the latest gear or replacing the whole package because of a tiny tear.


I have been on various interrupted combi rides. Sometimes the combis take a different route because there’s a parade or party going on downtown. Sometimes they take shortcuts without warning their passengers or explaining why. Sometimes the police will stop the combi for going too fast or taking passengers in undesignated areas, and everyone on the combi has to wait.

It’s impossible to know what to expect and things aren’t always fair, but they happen so you live with them. People learn to let things go. Maybe sometimes toleration is expressed as repression or resignation, but what’s important is knowing when to choose their fights. Toleration can also be seen as a type of acceptance. In the grand scheme of things, life isn’t ever fair and this realization melts indignation and demands respect.


At any given time, you may ride a combi in the company of dogs, chickens, piglets, or even sheep. The owners often hop on with large mantas (a large cloth ladies use to carry load on their back), filled with what they’ve bought at the market as if their mantas were large purses and shopping bags combined into one.

There are unspoken rules to help each other out. The cobrador (money collector) always helps the ladies with their things, especially if they have extra boxes. The passengers get up to give the ladies their seats. Not only do these ladies get priority seating, but I’ve also seen people get up for seniors and pregnant women just like in Canada.

Sometimes, a child or recovering drug addict gets on the combi to sing or tell their life story, and then ask for our “collaboration” with whatever we can spare. You see the nod of the cobrador: “Come on in. I know what it’s like to live a hard life too.” And after the presentation, the passengers on the combi share — at least half of them.

There’s poverty here, but it hasn’t become cut-throat, at least not in the Andes. There’s still a sense of community. It’s near impossible to live an isolated lifestyle. Huancainos know that no man is an island and being packed into a combi together is only a physical affirmation of the links between you and your neighbours.

In the Heights

I don’t think any other New York experience will top my first time seeing a broadway musical. My friend and I had second row discount tickets that evolved into front row seats when the lady in front of us asked to switch spots because she had a neck problem – I didn’t mind at all, but she was so apologetic that she bought us free pop in souvenir mugs during intermission. What a deal!

Front row seats meant that we could take a peek in the orchestra pit underneath the sewer-like grates at the front of the stage. They meant that we could make eye contact with the actors, notice them wink at one another, and see their hard work expressed in the sweat on their faces. They meant that we could feel their energy and the movement of air when they danced past us. It was intense!

And there was no better musical for me to have chosen at this point in time than “In the Heights.” I had briefly read about it on the internet – I liked that it was about a Latin American (more specifically, Dominican) community in northern Manhattan and that its music style would be a mixture of rap, hip hop, salsa, merengue, and soul, mixing Spanish and English in its lyrics and dialogue.

I already knew that I would like the performance, but I didn’t expect that I would also be able to connect so deeply with the themes and messages.

1. There was the barrio sweetheart who had the opportunity to go Stanford but came back ashamed about losing the scholarship and disappointing her parents who had sacrificed so much for her to go there. They supported and loved her still.

2. The electricity was out and the heat was scorching, but the neighbours were resourceful. Instead of sitting around and complaining, they took advantage of the moment to have a carnaval – they used maracas and wood blocks for music, set the fire hydrants off like sprinklers to cool them down, and danced salsa in its mist.

3. “When there’s an issue or a problem,” the mother reminds both her daughter and husband, “you go back home.” The initial reaction may be to escape or walk out; the grass always seems greener, but when the family core is strong, we are all individually strong. The narrator, in the end, also decides to forego the lottery money he won and the allure of moving back to the Dominican Republic to stay with his community in the Heights.

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