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.
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.
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.
When it comes to corporal punishment in the Central Andes of Peru, domestic abuse is still typical and it wasn’t too long ago that there were more extreme measures at schools. Parents wrap broken egg shells on the child’s hand with wool dipped in brandy, and then light it on fire. The alcohol produces a quick flame and the egg shells burn against the skin. Some claim that its purpose is to scare a child from robbing and that the flame is blown out or disappears as soon as it appears. Others show their scars from the burns.
Using a belt is also a typical way of punishing children. If one child is the culprit, all children are thrashed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It’s believed that all children deserve the same punishment and should learn the same lessons. Beating children is somewhat of a ritual on the Thursday and Friday of Easter. It symbolizes a holy sacrifice as they share the pain and suffering of Jesus on the cross.
At schools, children who arrived late were forced to kneel on beer bottle caps in front of the whole class. It left scars on their knees. Children who had a difficult time understanding a concept in class had their heads banged against the wall. Children who misbehaved were hit by a pointer stick, sometimes until the stick broke in half. These days, children are no longer abused in the classroom, but they are still punished if they arrive late — they get hosed with water and spend the rest of the day dripping wet.
This is apparently not so bad because it’s reminiscent of the entire month of February when the whole country “celebrates” Carnaval. In Huancayo, this celebration entails gangs of boys throwing water balloons or buckets of water at random girls. You have to watch out because people can even attack from their apartments or dunk you in the plaza fountains. I have already seen three ladies get soaked and I’m not prepared to be the next one!
Writing about combis last week got me thinking about how hilarious it is when the cobradores (money collectors) run to get their card stamped. Each combi has a card that needs to be stamped at various locations during the route. As I understand the set-up, there’s a penalty if a combi is consistently late — typically, it has to run the full route one more time. To avoid this, cobradores often jump off their moving combis up to three blocks before the checkpoint and run at full speed to get their cards stamped by a machine or signed by a waiting time-controller sitting at the corner of the block with a pen and clipboard. I’ve always wondered if it’s actually ever worth it for the cobradores to endanger their lives by running through traffic, only to shave off a few seconds. Sometimes it seems more like an excuse to move their legs after standing in the same cramped combi doorway for hours at a time.
Peruvian society often functions on the basis of punishments and rewards (or avoidance of punishment). The classic dictatorial boss can subtract from your pay or give you bonuses as s/he pleases. Corporal punishment is the norm (and so is domestic abuse for that matter) and children are hosed when they arrive late to school. In a government program for maternal and child health, families are given 100 soles for showing up to workshops. Even NGOs silently tell mothers, “If you don’t treat your children well and follow our recommendations, you won’t get gifts at the end of the year.” So then you hear mothers say, “I’m going to join this project because they’re going to give me a gift at the end,” when what you want to hear is, “I’m going to join this project because it will better the life of my child.” When I tried to raise my concerns about these extrinsic motivators, I was brushed off as the gringa who didn’t understand Peruvian society. “It’s the Peruvian way,” I was told. I accepted it.
Four months later, evidence starts falling into my lap that Peruvians themselves are trying to make changes and that the system of punishments and rewards doesn’t have to be “the Peruvian way.” A professor I used to work for encouraged me to meet with one of her contacts in Lima, Dr. Mary Claux. As I read up on Dr. Claux’s research, one of the first academic articles that arose questioned the need for authoritarian Peruvian leaders (article in Spanish). A good Peruvian friend shared his thoughts on leadership with me and he cited his own businesses as examples that a freer managing style without penalties or crackdowns works. He even sent me an enlightening and relevant TED talk presented by Dan Pink (below) that contributed to his belief system regarding the best way to motivate others.
It “CAN BE DONE,” my friend writes to me.
With renewed faith in my morals, I figure it might be worth a shot sharing this new evidence with the nonbelievers I have come to know in Huancayo.
When I look at my schedule and think of all the occasions I attend, I feel a serious lack of special, formal, and large-scale events in Canada other than weddings. (Speaking of which, does that mean people who decide not to marry are just not special enough?) Here in Peru, above and beyond the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, many young ladies commemorate their coming-of-age when they turn 15 years old at a quinceañera. It’s a major affair almost at par with her wedding day in terms of unreserved attention to the celebrant, recognition from family and friends, and nostalgic moments.
Saturday’s quinceañera was as grand as I imagined them to be. The hall was decorated like a dream – the flowery adornments, entranceway, tables, and chairs were all decked out in the night’s theme colours of cream and purple. We arrive at the location at 10pm. The invitation says to arrive at 9:30pm, but nothing starts until midnight. (Have I ever mentioned that Peruvians are notorious for arriving late? The two-and-a-half hour timeframe is to make sure that everyone arrives on time). So, what do we do for two hours? Eat and drink. Waiters continuously pass by each table with different hors d’oeuvres. As for drinks, each guest has four different sizes of glasses for different types of liquor – pisco sour to start off the night, champagne for the toast, wine for the dinner, and then beer for the dancing. There is no water glass.
During this time, the special lady is spending special moments with her special chosen partner for the night – typically a boyfriend if she has one or at least someone she has a crush on. There’s also a photo session that almost always includes photos on a decorated swing to commemorate her childhood. At midnight, they finally make their way over to the hall.
Traditionally, the star of the show is in a white gown and tiara and at midnight, slowly walks down spiral stairs for all to see. This star is too cool for that. She arrives on the back of a motorbike in a deep purple dress and the night begins. She takes her father’s arm and he walks her down the aisle where 15 of her friends, including the crush, line the way armed with a candle and a rose each. The father leads her to each friend, where she blows out the candle signifying each year of her life that has passed and receives a rose. Afterwards, the father and godfather of the night give teary speeches about how much she has grown and matured, and then the mother gives a toast for her daughter’s future. We reminisce with the family as we watch a slideshow presentation of her life, are treated to a waltz-like choreography by the friends, and enjoy a presentation from the star herself with two masked dancers to accompany her. Then, the rest of the night is all about dancing – a private area is darkened and set up like a club for the young people while the rest of the hall is taken up by the older people, and everyone dances away until dawn.
Huancayo and its satellite cities in the Mantaro Valley (although only the fifth largest metropolitan area in Peru) are nationally renowned for their festivals and fiestas. There is always something going on and you always know someone who fills you in on what’s going on. Just this past week – my week of arrival – I already found myself busy with different events:
One of the projects of the organization I used to work for held an evening shindig to celebrate their anniversary.
A school hosted a competition for “Youth Day” – students sang, danced, and recited poetry.
A group of us planned a picnic outing to a nearby town famous for its fresh trout (where we met many other like-minded picnickers), and
One of the ladies I used to work with had her baby shower – she’s due in a week!
Let’s not forget the flag-raising ceremony and march of the army band held every Sunday, baptismal and confirmatory celebrations, other anniversaries (of schools, organizations, companies, and towns), and other “days” including “Ceviche Day” and “Pisco Day.”
It’s also worth mentioning Peru’s seven major national events:
They celebrate Carnaval all of February – it’s like the carnaval in Rio where people randomly water bomb you in the streets.
In April, there is Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrated around Easter.
Arguably the largest celebrations revolve around Fiestas Patrias – Peru’s Independence Day.
October is known as the Mes Morado (Purple Month) in honour of “El Señor de los Milagros” (The Lord of Miracles). Schools and companies get together to create elaborate images on the roads with coloured woodchips to be trampled by purple-clad followers parading through, carrying an image of Christ.
The first day of November is El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead or All Saints Day). In remembrance of ancestors long gone, families set the table with favourite foods of the deceased and/or share the food at the cemetery.
I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Huancaino-style with my Peruvian family and the rest of my vacation days travelling across the country from the beaches on the coast to jungle of the rainforest.
First stop before Christmas – Lima. As winter and the rainy season began in Huancayo (and the rest of the sierra), it was nice to escape to the summer that was starting in Lima and the coast of Peru. I managed to fit in all things tourist-y in Peru’s capital in a week:
We suntanned, climbed rock formations, hunted lizards, and jumped into the waves at a serene beach a few hours away from the big city – “The Sleeping Lion” they call it because of the shape of the rock castle that borders the sand.
We shopped in downtown Lima, walking up and down the famous street “Jirón de La Unión” that reaches from the main plaza to the government’s palace, drinking cremoladas (slushies you can’t find in Huancayo) and purchasing all the manta bags in sight – I think I have a collection of over 7 purses now, haha! On the last day we were in Lima, we even caught the beginning of Peru’s yearly telethon at the government’s palace with all the country’s famous celebrities performing to raise money for needy children at Christmastime.
I was denied at some hostels because I forgot my passport and they wouldn’t accept my BC driver’s license. =P
I finally had some really good snacks and meals – soft cinnamon buns with extra melting cream, real chunky cookies, Tony Roma’s ribs, and sushi (all also non-existent in Huancayo – been feeling deprived =P).
We visited Parque de Las Leyendas (Park of Legends), which was like a themed zoo. There were native animals from all corners of Peru and some not from here (my favourites were the sea lions =D).
We also visited La Casa de Papá Noel (Santa Claus’ house) at the Parque de La Reserva where there are light and water shows in the evenings. Actually, it was more like we saw Santa Claus’ house from the outside because the line-up was 3 hours long.
Christmastime was very family-oriented and although the holidays make me sentimental and a little homesick, my Peruvian family made me feel so at home here in Huancayo. My Peruvian mommy cooked a special dinner of pork chop and chorizo then we opened presents at midnight of Christmas Eve – all the presents were set up in a circle and we rolled the dice to choose which present would be opened next.
On Christmas day, we were off to the rainforest to the towns of La Merced and Pichanaki. Most days we visited different swimming pools, chicken-fighting, trying to teach myself how to dive headfirst (a failure), and playing water polo. There was one afternoon we visited a pair of famous waterfalls – Bayoz and Velo de Novia (bride’s veil) – swimming underneath the falls themselves. On the way back to Huancayo, we visited some other tourist sites in the sierra including Huagapo (apparently, one of the deepest caves in the world). We didn’t walk in very far because I had sandals on, but what we did walk into was in complete darkness. Our guide used his flashlight so we could find our way, all of us holding hands, and so that we could see the bats and all the stalagmites and stalactites that have naturally formed themselves into interesting shapes (like a seated horse and a roaring lion).
New Year’s Eve was a fiasco. A whole bunch of relatives came over for a huge dinner and nonstop dancing (mostly huayno – music native to the sierra). The theme is all yellow, which is supposed to bring good luck – yellow “2009” glasses, yellow “Feliz Año” hats, yellow clothes, yellow underwear. Come midnight, there are a series of rituals that I wouldn’t have remembered if they weren’t all telling me what to do – yellow confetti is thrown, we greet each person at the party with a hug and “Feliz Año,” we put lentils in our wallets for prosperity, we eat 12 grapes and make a wish on each one of them, then of course – more dancing. I went to bed at the late hour of 1:30am and when I woke up at 9:30am that morning, the music was still pounding downstairs and people were still dancing!
Note re: living fungal parasite. So they were mites that caused the little bug bites all over my body every evening – I just had to use an anti-scabies cream then wash my sheets and all was well. As for the rash – I had a biopsy and from the lab results it was diagnosed as chronic discoid lupus (which, to me, actually sounds sorta cool). I’m waiting for the pictures of the lab results so that I can bring them to Canada and get a second opinion. The cream he prescribed for lupus didn’t make the rash any better and he’s suggesting a corticoid injection, which I would rather have done in Canada. =P
Here in Huancayo, the people come together. Every Sunday morning, for example, there is always a huge gathering of the public at the central plaza for the izamiento (the patriotic raising of the flags – the national flag of Peru, the flag of Huancayo, and the flag of the representative institution of the week). Each flag is held in preparation by three different groups of people. It is beautiful to see these groups coming together in their respective uniforms – the national police, municipal government officials, and elementary/secondary school students. The event is always followed by the march of the national police accompanied by the army (who has their own band) and usually another parade by students.
It was like this – a coming-together – when we hosted a two-day workshop for infant specialists in and around Huancayo. Our goal was to bring together a varied group of “specialists” to brainstorm, share, and discuss ideas for a pilot program we intend to develop and implement with the sixty infants whose development we have already assessed in months earlier. Imagine a university professor, project supervisors of NGOs and regional government programs for children and families, their field workers, nurses, daycare teachers, and mothers (one a librarian and the other a market vendor) putting their heads together to identify key issues and come up with potential solutions.
It was, in fact, one of the primary themes that emerged from the workshop – the call for interdisciplinary teamwork. There was already a lot of good work going on and many pre-existing programs set up by different institutions for different needs, but the lack of unity between these institutions meant that a lot of babies-at-risk were lost in the transitional phases and there was often a complete absence of support for infants during their key years of development (from 0-3 years of age). Better interdisciplinary action also meant that mothers needed to be trusted and encouraged to be more involved. We witnessed an interesting dynamic enfold during the workshop as it became clear that the professor was dominating group discussions and often used academic or theoretical speak whereas we were looking for practicality and utility. The mothers later divulged that they felt out of place and uncomfortable asking questions or sharing their opinion.
We had our workshop moderator take more control over the professor’s comments while publicly encouraging the mothers to speak up. We were missing out on so much – the mothers had so much share. There were grave concerns regarding prenatal care; many mothers were preoccupied that they had irreversibly damaged their children’s development solely because they had fought with their husbands or had been crying too much during the months of pregnancy. The mothers also admitted that they continued with their traditional customs. For example, though medical professionals recommend against the customary practice, farming mothers in the sierra (living in the central Andes mountain range) still typically enfold their newborn babies tightly in layers of cloth so that they are immobile. The babies are enrolled this way daily in a certain position – upright with arms down and fingers splayed – before the mothers head out to the fields so that no damage is done from all the movement incurred while the mothers engage in physical labour, carrying their babies on their backs. This method also protects the infants from the harsh cold of the elevation and it is said that these babies also grow up physically stronger.
As we wrapped up the workshop, the participants came to the joint conclusion that there was a need to go back to the basics, to rediscover the value of the Peruvian and Huancaino culture. Just as we brought together people of various backgrounds, levels of education, and life experience for the purpose of the workshop, so too we realized that we needed to mesh the different types of knowledge uncovered – the known and the foreign, the theories and the practicalities, the science and the beliefs, the modern and the traditional. It seems that growth and positive change can occur when there is dialogue and humility.
I was just a part of the biggest and craziest fiesta that I have ever been to in my life! Families and friends come together from all over Peru at this time of the year to Sicaya (a town just outside of Huancayo) to celebrate the pachamama (mother earth). There were hundreds of people, shoulder-to-shoulder packed, mostly dressed in traditional Peruvian garb, pouring beer for each other, and dancing away. Each family proudly wears scarves around their neck etched with their family name and have their own band with 12-15 saxophonists, clarinet players, a harpist, and drummers.
The tradition is to make your best offering to the pachamama first, whether it’s throwing coca leaves or pouring your beer on the ground before passing the cup around to everyone and anyone else. Afterwards, the family holds hands and dances in a circle or parades through the streets of Sicaya, but they’re never an exclusive bunch – Jaap, Dorien, Ruth, and I were recruited to join the dancing and the festivities over and over again as we walked through the plaza! And the party’s not over yet! It’s still going on right now and we may even hit up Sicaya again Monday evening for the castellones (fireworks). =)
Maria and I shared pachamanca for lunch – a traditional Peruvian dish and very fitting for the occasion. They throw layers and layers of food to be cooked in a hole in the ground. Our pachamanca had green beans, spiced pork, beef, and humita (a sweet corn tamale).
Later in the afternoon, we explored the farmlands in the outskirts of Sicaya. We chatted with a family in the midst of building their own home – they had found prime earth to mix with straw to make adobe bricks, the construction material of choice in this region. We then continued on into the currently abandoned farmlands and found ourselves truly aware of our presence in the Mantaro Valley surrounded by the Andes mountains every direction we turned. We trekked up and down dirt hills, leaped across little rivers, ran through rows and rows of tall dried grass, remembering pachamama.