Yesterday evening, I visited a small town outside of Huancayo called San Pedro de Saño. As a build-up to the town’s 56th anniversary, they hosted an informal competition of traditional Peruvian dances in their main plaza (that they had just finished constructing this year) of exclusively participants local to the area.
One of my favourite traditional dances is called the “Trilla” – the verb “trillar” means “to thresh” in English. In the dance, there is typically a group of men who go to work in the field, they thresh barley with their V-shaped threshing sticks, the women arrive and give them water for their hard work, and they dance together.
The story of yesterday’s “Trilla” was very different from what I was used to seeing. In the background, a friend of mine sings in Quechua to tell the story. The lyrics told a more serious tale, but there was an air of joy and fun in its presentation and within the crowd.
Below are the parts of the story I was able to extract (because some parts are in Spanish; modern Quechua includes Spanish words and phrases). See if you can pick out when they act/dance each part of the threshing song:
Making a baby
Lift up your child
Give him to his father
Give him to his grandmother
Caring for her grandson
Kill your child
Now cry for your son
Hit his father
Pull your hair
Bury your son
This week, Maria and I are wrapping up phase one of our infant stimulation project in Peru – the individual home visits and infant assessments. We’ve visited five different towns in and around Huancayo, each with a very different feel and personality. Some random thoughts and experiences to summarize it all…
We gave a workshop in Paucar (one of the more rural towns) teaching moms how important it was to sing songs to and with their babies. I gave my first introductory lesson on the importance of singing to your children (speaking completely in Spanish – okay, it only lasted 2 minutes), then sang song after song, hitting the dry grass like martillos (hammers), pretending to be gusalinos (little worms), and acting out Dinky Dinky spider (no joke, that’s Itsy Bitsy’s name here!) Even with my sore throat, I belted out tune after screechy tune, not fully believing that there I was, leading this group of moms and their babies, singing in Spanish.
It was an adventure in every town, locating the mothers as most of the houses are S/N (sin numero = without number). Sara and I had a particularly interesting morning walking back and forth across chacras (farms) because different people we ran into told us that the other street was Avenida Andre Avelino Caceres. As there usually aren’t any street signs in more rural areas of town, street names are often painted on the sides of houses – and even then, we never found the street we were looking for. So we piled into the colectivo (like a taxi, but they let anyone on), thankful that we weren’t one of the five packed into the trunk, and headed on to the next home.
The moms in Chupaca had a bit more money and almost every family, good hosts as they were, either fed us or at least served us coke. I have never had so much gaseosa (pop) in my life and I don’t even particularly like soda. On top of all this, I already have a bladder problem and try to make sure not to drink too much when we’re going out to the towns all day. Little good that did.
Animals are a general theme of the houses we visited. There always seem to be dogs, hens, pigs, and cows running around, participating in the assessment sessions. Often, one can find guinea pig pens with guinea pigs of all kinds of colours, shapes, and sizes. And can someone tell me if the gallinas (hens) lay eggs wherever they want to since they’re running around all the time? =)
The oldest babies we see are 30 months old (2 years, 6 months), and moms are still breastfeeding at this age.
I was surprised to see some babies with natural stark blonde hair – super adorable. Sara later mentioned that the hair colour could possibly be from malnutrition. Didn’t even think of that.
In Molinos, the furthest town, almost two hours away from Huancayo, we got caught in a mini storm. We could hear the thunder as if it boomed right beside our ears. The rain came suddenly and in spurts, sometimes sprinkling then other times intense with huge droplets almost like hail. Sara and I conducted an interview standing under a tiny awning with the mother, trying not to get our papers soaked. With another family, we huddled with them under a tarp in the middle of their farm, sitting on wood chips, getting bitten by fleas and tiny spiders, watching the father carve Jesus’ face out of sections of tree trunk.
For those of you that are wondering, I am almost always wearing a toque now to hide my silly haircut. =) It works out well for the weather – protects my face from the UV rays, but doubles as a head warmer when it randomly gets cold out. And no, I’m not the only one here who wears a toque under the blazing hot sun!
A few nights ago, I lay in bed dripping with sweat in the sweltering heat of my enclosed bedroom – my thermostat said it was 31 degrees. I tossed and turned and tossed and turned and could not sleep. This is very rare for me. I’m usually an excellent sleeper – my body knows to sleep through what it needs to, but I can also be perky as soon as it’s time for me to wake up. I had to wake up at 2am last night and air my room out for an hour. Ironically, that afternoon, there was torrential rain.
Thomas (affectionately known as “Dr. Peace”) led an insightful half-day workshop on racism the other morning. It’s funny because I was constantly telling others about Vancouver’s multiculturalism when I was in Japan, but the simple fact that Canada is a country of immigrants doesn’t mean that we’re any less segregated or any more tolerant than the next person. Brittany (one of the other interns) commented that she was surprised at some of the blatant discriminatory comments she would hear from some of her friends in Vancouver when she was on the West Coast for an internship. Her friend made a face at her for buying something from the Richmond night market and it’s true that sometimes Caucasians are viewed differently if they spend too much time participating in Vancouver’s Asian culture or with Asians. Our typical language is filled with labels – “chugs,” “FOBs,” “brown,” and it’s common for us to chill with people from our own ethnic circles (my sister vouched for that, especially based on the cultural environment in high school).
It’s also important, though, that I point out what I learned about the difference between racism and discrimination. As Dr. Peace put it, racism is discrimination + power. It’s discriminating against another ethnic group for the purpose of exerting one’s power or superiority over that group. I think both are present in Vancouver.
Maria and I had the chance to meet with Julie, one of Tara’s past interns, a couple days ago who left us with several pointers.
Expect vicious dogs roaming the streets of Huancayo. If I’m alone, the best way to deal with them is to make like I’m going to pick up a large rock and hope that I don’t actually have to throw it.
I’ll have to deal with the machismo culture – still not sure what to expect in terms of this.
Some of the Peruvians in the more rural communities think that foreigners steal children and use their fat to grease railroad tracks. (!!!) Establishing that trust-based relationship will be really important.
The other day, Sophia from Tanzania nonchalantly commented that I seemed to be gaining weight (I have been eating a lot of pastries lately – I’ve gotta take advantage of this buffet!) What’s so great is that fat really is beautiful where she comes from. If only I was going to Africa. =)
I’m going to church today for the first time in years. The ladies from various countries in Africa promised that we would be clapping, singing, and dancing like they did during the Welcome Social night and I’m always up for that!