Vamos de compras

Cajamarca has one shopping center and, obviously, the city is very proud of it. ‘Quinde’  was constructed maybe 5 years ago, before that the only possibility to shop was on a street market. Now, one has a choice – the old-fashioned mercado or the kingdom of consumption.

In reality ‘Quinde’  is nothing special, a poor imitation of the western paradise that so many here wish for. A huge supermarket, several fashion and shoe shops, a shopping center with perfumes of Channel and Tommy Hilfiger clothes, a cinema showing crappy mainstream movies and a couple of fast food chains. But you enter and suddenly the world changes: outside an old grandma in a sombrero sells fried potato from her street food stand; inside a lady in Levi’s jeans happily eats her slice of pizza in Pizza Hut. People who shop in ‘Quinde’  carry heavy bags and their faces show this characteristic look of a happy customer who just spent a lot of money.

I rarely enter ‘Quinde’, only if I need the ‘luxury products’ like coffee or wine. Otherwise I do grocery shopping on the market. Apart from the simple fact that vegetables, fruits, fish are better, cheaper and do not live in a plastic bag, it is such a great place to observe Peruvian culture alive. Mercado is often loud, sometimes chaotic and annoying, but always fascinating. Ladies smile while serving customers, chat a while about weather or everyday life, tell jokes and nicely try to convince you to buy more vegetables for the soup.

In Cajamarca mercado occupies a large part of the city. The number of shop seems to be never-ending. The streets have their specialties: food, cheese, the world of plastic, kitchen plates and ovens, electricity, cloths.. Apart from that, many poor cajamarquinas put their goods directly on the pavement: a couple of tomatoes, several onions and potatoes some season fruits. And somehow they manage to make their living out of this..

It is the world that in Germany already died long time ago; in Poland is slowly getting extinct. But in Peru it is still strong, and no Quinde is going to change it any soon.

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I planted culantro

I cannot distinguish the seeds of carrots from those of lettuce. I can barely tell coriander from parsely when they grow. But that day I ended up planting vagetables, including culantro, a plant I have never heard about before.

Segundo, one of the Peruvians from the intercambio, took us to visit his grandmother and his cousin at the countryside. The house that belongs to his family stands in the middle of the land, there is no road leading directly to it. There is no car standing next to it, no tractor. Everything is done by hand, eventually with mules or horses. The machines are anyway almost useless in the Andes, where the fields so often climb the slopes of the mountains. Many of the houses are still built in a tranditional way – out of adobe, a mixture of sand, water and straw. (Certain resources might be missing here, but the dirt is plentiful!)

The main plant cultivated in the region is patato. Or rather patatoes because most families harvest more than one type (out of over 3000 existing in Perú!). Apart from that, the family of Segundo plants corn and every-day vegetables, like carrots or lettuce. They also breed animals – nothing too exotic, just a couple of sheeps, cows, chicken, two huge rabbits, and … a small herd of cuyes i.e guinea pigs (the tiny animal I am holding in the picture has maybe 3-4 months more to go..).

Our task for that day was to start a vegetable garden. With dry Andean ground it turned out to be quite exhausting. With a hoe in my hand and my back hurting I couldn’t help but wonder that out picture of the campo gets distorted, that we loose the link between the land and the physical labour. What comes up to your mind when I say ‘countryside’? Silence? Beauty? Quiet, green, close to nature? All true, but for the campesinos, it is first of all hard work, it means getting your hands dirty with soil and your back acking. In sometimes unfriendly Andean landscape, where every small piece of the land has to be torn out with the bare hands, this connection, so often forgotten, becomes very clear.

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Visiting ‘la carnicería’

“That’s not how you should do it, I will show you” – says Daniela pushing me away from the dishes. She takes a spoon and starts scratching up a bottom of the burned pot. And then she adds: “Papa will be very angry when he comes back and something is dirty.” How old do you think she is, that girl, who teaches me how to clean the dishes? 10? 12? 15? No, she is just 7 years old. Her family owns a meat shop and every afternoon, after school, instead of playing, she comes here to help. She knows how to organize the stuff, where each of the boxes should go. She knows better how to wash the burnt pots. And she also knows how to take care of the chickens. They live upstairs on the first floor, supplying the family with fresh eggs.

I came to the meat shop together with the guys from the intercambio, in order – as they put it – ‘to see the real life of the peruvian partners’. We stayed around a bit, cleaned the back room, carried the huge amount of pig feet from one fridge to the other, and ended up transporting a … trolley full of meat through half of the city!

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The story of MANTHOC

It was 1962 when a german priest, Alois Eichenlaub, came to Perú. He was just 30 years old and probably did not expect to spend next 50 years of his life in the Andes. Living in Perú, Alois quickly realized how hard the life of an average family was. It was not unusual that the children had to work, they were, however, usually expoited, treated unjustly and made unfairly little amount of money. “I met the boys washing the cars and I remember asking myself the question: why don’t they join together and set fixed prices?” – tells Padre, now grey haired, 81 year-old man. Together with already existing JOC (Juventud Obrera Cristiana), he set himself the goal of creating an organization that would support those kids, that had not known the support of anybody. That is how MANTHOC started.

Today MANTHOC unites over 3000 kids from almost all the provinces in Perú. The name stands for Movimiento de Adolescentes Niños Trabajadores Hijos de Obreros Cristianos, which can be translated as the Movement of the Working Youth, Children of the Christian Working Class (it sounds old fashioned also in Spanish!). Most of the children and teenagers that belong to MANTHOC work on a daily basis: they collect tickets in the microbuses, work in a bakery, help to carry the luggage or shopping in the market, work on the street with their parents or grandparents. MANTHOC is not against the work of children in general – on the contrary, it promotes working with dignity and responsability, in fair conditions. It take care that the kids know their rights and give them possibility to develop new skills, gain education and finally become independent.

In Cajamarca MANTHOC unites around 300 kids in the poor areas of the city. They are divided in the groups, who meet on sundays or afternoons during the week. Since many of the children are not allowed or cannot afford to go to the public school, the organisation created its own primary school, with educational system adjusted to the needs of the kids. This school will become my working place for the next 5 months.

Padre Alois, the initiator and for many years the main organizer of MANTHOC activities, still lives in Cajamarca. Sitting in his library, full of the traces of peruvian culture and history, in the slow pace tells stories from his life and talks about his passion for the culture of Cajamarca. On the walls hang great pieces of the pre-inca cloth, on the shelves the ceramics from the Wari culture. Protecting and spreading the local culture was, next to creating MANTHOC, another focus of his life.

In fact, Alois is not a priest anymore. His adopted peruvian daughter recently got married in Germany. Being over 80 years old, he does not participate in the activities of his organisation any more. But he still remains the soul of MANTHOC.

First impressions from Cajamarca

It’s been already two weeks since I arrived to my final destination – Cajamarca. At the beginning of August, I said goodbye to the marvelous views of Cordillera Blanca and left Huaraz. I spent a weekend in Lima, at a friend’s place, picked up my stuff and took a bus to the north. When I arrived, the school still had a week of holiday left, leaving me just enough time to wander around the city and get adjusted to the place I am going to live in for the next months.

Cajamarca, the capital of the province known under the same name, lies in the northern part of the Andes, relatively close to the Ecuadorian border. In the middle of the  valley at the height of 2700m, surrounded by the mountains from all sides, it is often called ‘the Cuzco of the North’. The large part of the architecture dates back to the colonial times. The main churches – San Francisco, Belén and the cathedral – were constructed in the 17th and 18th centrury, and some of the houses atill remember the first spanish families that settled in the city.

Apart from the architecture the city in known for the… cheese production! The national joke says that in Cajamarca ‘pollo es de queso‘ – meaning: the chicken, most popular dish in Perú, is out of cheese. Those who know my passion for cheese can imagine how happy I am 🙂

The heart of the city is Plaza de Armas. This green square serves as a place to sit and chat, area to rest for the families, working place for the shoe-cleaners and a central meeting point on the Friday night. Although the center and the market area are always crowded and traffic gets heavy in the afternoon, Cajamarca still makes an impression of a quiet provincial city. The life goes on with its own slow pace..

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