Ayacucho – shades of terrorism in the city of churches

From the coastal Paracas we went directly into Peruvian Sierra, straight to Ayacucho. Ayacucho surprises its visitors with the number of churches – according to travel guides there are 33 of them from colonial times (16th-18th century), one for every year of Jusus life. Counting 20 modern churches more, it gives over 50 in the city with just 150 thousand citizens! Why so many? The guide does not answer this question any more but my guess is that the city was in a strong opposition to the Spanish culture. And the conquistadors remedy against confrontation was to destroy on the local shrines and build in this place a church – a symbol of the new god.   P1360220 P1350729

Until now Ayacucho has an exceptionally strong personality and feeling of its own identity. The primary language of the city is not Spanish, as is the case for northern and costal Peru, but Quechua. I had the impression that almost all the ayacuchans know it and speak it between each other. The women in Ayacucho wear small white or brown sombreros, so different than the ones I got used to in the north. The skirts have incredible colors and flower patterns.

P1350821P1350970On the local market one can find overwhelming number of cheese sorts (in all the stages of  maturity!) and the best bread I tried during my whole stay in Peru (that’s a personal opinion of course). In the weekends local women sell traditionally made ice cream muyuchi (tasty, creamy and completely natural!).

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However, Ayacucho has behind it a painful and difficult history. Just a few kilometres away from here took place the most important battle of south american war for independence. In 1824 the revolutionists defeated the royalists, a victory which lead to the creation of new republics, among them Peru and Bolivia. After this campaign the city gained its contemporary name: Ayacucho, which some translate as ‘The city of dead’ (although it could mean also the ‘Home of the soul’). This first name actually describes better what happened to Ayacucho later.

Just half a century ago, in 1960s, the city witnessed the birth of the peruvian maoist political movement known as Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path), which was to hold the whole country in the terrorist horror until late 90s. The Shining Path developed under the leadership of Abimael Guzman, a philosophy professor at the local university. Guzman was finally sentenced a life in prison for terrorism and murder, as his political organisation evolved into brutal guerilla groups. In the 80s the campesinos in central Andes were trapped between two evil forces  the terrorism of Sendero Luminoso on one side and the brutality of peruvian army on the other. Both parties are responsible for exterminating the whole villages: those who supported the army were killed by the guerillas, those in favour of Sendero Luminoso were murdered by the government. No escape.

The woman in the market stall smiles as she pours us a freshly made juice. She seems to be a very positive person but her past hides some sad memories. Asked about the Shining Path she tells us briefly her story: how the terrorists came to her village, how her father was killed and hanged outside by his legs, how his only fault was to be the son of the mayor.

Her story was a nighmare come true for many people that still walk on the streets of Ayacucho. Now the city lives its modern life as if nothing ever happened. Many of the young ones will even not know what Sendero Luminoso was. The topic is almost omitted at the history classes (mostly due to the lack of time) and the in result the young students with revolutionary idea are attracted to MOVDEF, a political ‘cover’ movement for old members and ideas of Sendero Luminoso people. When will we finally start learning our lesson from the history?P1350690  

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Paracas – into the land of birds

Imagine tiny islands full of birds. Many birds. Lots, lots of birds. Actually millions of birds, flying all over. For me (I am a nature freak) it was one of the most amazing views of this trip.

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Islas Ballestas are the main attraction of the National Park of Paracas, a couple of hours south from Lima. Some people advertise them as ‘Galapagos of Peru’, which is somewhat too flattering for the Peruvians. But still the Ballestas still impress with their wildlife. They say there are 150 different types of birds on the islands. Impossible to spot even a part of them, but what you see is exciting enough: there are colonies of pelicans, Peruvian boobies with their chicks, Inca terns, cormorants …. and …. penguins  (It has always been my dream to see the penguins)

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The Humboldt Penguins, called also peruvian penguins, swim in the cold streams of the coastal waters of Peru and Chile. And they are so cute, walking clumsy on the ground but don’t be deceived – they become extremely fast once they enter the waters!

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The boobies, cormorants, pelicans and penguins live in peace and harmony with sea lions. I saw whole big colonies of those beautiful creatures – really extraordinary!

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Islas Ballestas used to be economically strategical for Peru in 19th century due to the guano, the bird shit (there were far more birds on these islands at that time). Guano was being sold to the European markets and the economy was experiencing a boom. There was just one little problem – exported at the rate of more than 500 tones a year, exploited by the greedy governors, the guano islands got depleted at one point… And the peruvian economy was close to crash.

Some sociologist nowadays would say that the country did not learn much from its history. The Peruvian economy now is based mostly on the export of gold, silver and copper, which are bound to finish one day as well…

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Go South!!!

The school finished and with that also my work.. It’s holiday time! Tomorrow I start my Peru odyssey, five weeks of travelling around the south of the country, with a short jump into Bolivia. Here are some of the highlights (too make you a bit jealous ;=)).

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Tiahuanaco – “The city of Giants” in Bolivia

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Machu Picchu and Inka treasures around Cuzco

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The National Park of Paracas

Islas Flotantes, Lago Titicaca

Floating Islands of the Lake Titicaca

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Fiesta de la Candelaria in Puno

 

See you in 5 weeks 🙂

Farewell school!

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Carmen with her family during her prom night

For Carmen it was probably the most special night of this year. I used to see her everyday at school, wearing her sport trousers and pink pullover with Mickey Mouse. She was always a bit scattered minded, seemed to live in her own world, so different from the school reality. But this night I almost didn’t recognize. Her hair was all curly; she was wearing a glimmering violet dress, silver shoes and make-up. She looked just like a princess Barbie-doll. She was smiling and her eyes were shining from excitement. No wonder, it was her prom night.

In Peru, the school graduation is a big event. Seems almost too big, taking into account the fact that it’s just a primary school and the kids are only 12 years old. The girls come all dressed up, in their Barbie-doll dresses and shiny shoes. The boys look like little gentlemen, in their white shirts and ties. (Imagine how much effort it is for the family: to buy their daughter a dress, shoes, take her to the hairdresser…  While sometimes they cannot even afford school books).

The prom night of the Manthoc school in Cajamarca

The prom night in my primary school in Cajamarca

And the party starts.. There are speeches, dinner and dancing. Each kid gets their own graduation cake and a graduation souvenir. And dance and play happily almost until the morning, while their parents get drunk celebrating the graduation of their children..

That’s how it looks like in the city. A day before I was invited to the graduation of the high school of Catache, where I was giving science workshops. There were not Barbie dresses, curls and no dancing until the morning. Everything was very modest, very quite..

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Graduation of the high school in Catache

I would like to see what happens to those kids in a couple of years.. All of my students from the school of Manthoc are going to continue their studies in the high school. But how many will finish? Will any of them make it to the university?

From the students of Catache two guys are going to study auto mechanics in the nearby technological institute. One will maybe go to live with his sister and study in Trujillo, one of the largest cities of Peru. The only girl that graduated this year will not continue to study. She’s going to stay at home, they say that high school is more than enough for a woman.

God is everywhere

God is everywhere – would say those who see the world in a spiritual way. But in Peru those words get a new meaning. Here God, Jesus and Virgin Maria are literally EVERYWHERE.

Are you an owner of the bus company looking for a convincing name? Why not call it Senor the los Milagros – Our Lord of the Miracle? (It makes sense as sometimes it seems to me on peruvian roads only a miracle will get you safe to your destination)

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Do you have a petrol station? Call it Jesus de Nazareth! Taxis? – San Antonio.( And make sure to put a picture of San Antonio on the taxi door.)

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You take your evangelization mission seriously but you are just a upholsterer? Write on sits in the bus ‘Cree en Senor Jesucristu y seras salvo’ (Believe in Jesus and you will be saved).

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Your money exchange business is not going so well? Put a portrait of Jesus together with you $ and € signs. (Since Jesus so was much in favour of this kind of business!)

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The examples are endless….. Only a question rises – does the picture of God in the money exchange service make the country more spiritual?

P1320835-001In Peru there is a never ending variety of churches: Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Adventists …  In reality the situation of religion is Peru is rather complicated. The country’s reach spiritual heritage, the spirituality of the Andean world, was destroyed by the conquistadors and the missionaries who came with them. They imposed the Catholic religion on a land full of spirits and deities. The Catholic Church for a long time remained accessible only to the white elite and for some is a simbol of the colonisation. Until now a large part of the catholic community are those with money and ´good name´ (meaning usually a foreign name). So the large part of the population is drawn into the protenstant churches (everything that is not catholic), that are less conservative and more open minded.

At the end, the spirituality of Peru is a mixture of ancient andean believes and christian doctrine. Maybe that´s why, when I ask the lady from the poor Mollepampa: “Are you Catholic?”, I get a very strange answer. “I am not Catholic, I am religious”.

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Peruvian guide to Christmas turkey

pavo-300x267The main dish for Christmas in Peru is turkey. The streets of Cajamarca away from the center are full of turkeys (there were maybe 10 of them just outside my school!). Not many of those turkeys survive Christmas. But how does this big bird become a dish? – it is not as simple as you may think. Turkey is a strong animal and killing it is not as easy as killing a chicken. The aunt of my friend told me that once a big turkey managed to kick her and her husband and run away. So the trick is to … make the turkey drunk! Buy a bottle of wine (or something stronger) and make your turkey drink it! After some time the turkey gets happy and quiet .. and finally falls asleep making snoring noises. And this is your moment!

The stories how to make a turkey drunk made me laugh the whole evening! So here – to make you laugh – a traditional peruvian turkey joke.

imagesCAOUHZU0An old lady had a turkey – big, fat and strong turkey, just as it should be for Christmas. She was hesitant to kill it herself so she hired a man to kill it for her. The man says: – Sure, I´ll do it, but I need to make the turkey a bit drunk. So please give me a bottle of wine and I will start the ritual. The lady agrees and leaves the man alone with the turkey. Time passes, nothing happens so she looks in: – What about my turkey? The man, already a little bit weak in his legs, answers: – Oh, my lady, this turkey is super strong, I need another bottle of wine! So he gets another bottle of wine. Time passes, nothing happens.. Lady gets anxious and looks in again and finds the man and her turkey, hugging each other on the floor: -Ey, what happened to my turkey??  And hears a drunk voice: Damn you lady, nobody is going to touch my friend!!!

Christmas a la Perú

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Christmas tree in Trujillo

This year my Christmas was green, not white. There was sun, blue sky and palms. There was no Christmas tree but a pasltic snowman in the city center, a turkey for dinner, chocolate and paneton.

I was very excited to see how peruvians celebrate Christmas. I was bit disappointed to find out that the peruvian traditions here are not as rich as european ones… But it was still a beautiful and happy time.

The Christmas in peruvian cities, as everywhere else in the world, begins already in November. The main city square is full of lights and there are plastic Christmas trees popping out everywhere. This year there was even a plastic snowman in city center, just next to the palm! (unfortunetaly it vanished or ´melted´ before i managed to take a picture of it).

In December all around one can hear Christmas carrols. In Peru they are meant mostly for kids and they are sung by little kids. This is one of the most popular ones: Mi Burrito Sabanero.

The kids at schools are also prepering their nacimiento – the representation of the Christ´s birth.

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Christmas chocolate!! Yummie 🙂

And finally comes the night of  24th of December, the night of Noche Buena (Good Night). The families get together in the evening, and spend a good quality time chatting, laughing and just being together untill midnight. At midnight everybody gives everybody a hug and a kiss and the Christmas dinner begins. The obligatory dish for Noche Buena is a turkey, usually filled. (In Peru families often buy turkeys alive – so the day before the turkey must be killed… – it is not so easy, look here to see the guide :=) ). The piece of turkley is accompanied by corn, salad and patatos. Then comes the sweet part – chocolate (based on the real chocolate from the selva) and paneton, a special kind of cake.

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Paneton – peruvian Christmas cake, sold in a paper box. It is the best gift to bring if a peruvian family invites you for Christmas dinner.

The Christmas dinner often develops in the dancing party (as peruvians love to dance), and the families contumuos having fun with salsa and cumba until early morning.

This year´s Christmas had also a polish accent – the best polish ginger bread cookies and pierogi prepered by the best polish cook in Cajamarca 🙂

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Science comes to Catache

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Students in Catache learn also traditional Andean crafts

Ten pairs of frightened eyes are staring at me. There is total silence in the classroom. I ask: ‘Why is air important? Why do we need air?’. No answer, just silence. The scared eyes are still watching me. Finally a shy voice, so low that almost impossible to hear, says: ‘We need air to breath’. It was the first day of my workshops in Catache.

In the city the kids are loud and selfconfident, making the work of the teacher as hard as possible. In the campo the problem is different: the kids are so scared they hardly ever speak. They need time to adjust, to get used to new people. A friend of mine, Anne Bernhardt, who spent almost a year as a teacher in Catache was telling me that for the first week the kids didn’t say a word, they were just looking at her from behind of their blankets. My experience was not so extreme, but I didn’t achieve much more than a whisper.

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Together with Profesora Ana of Catache

Although difficult, it was still one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in Peru so far. The highschool of Catache is tiny, there are not more than 30 kids attending it. Some of them come from far away and need 2 hours of climbing the hill every day! The school is lucky to have two wonderful teachers: Profesora Ana y Profesor Carlos, who follow their mission in Catache already for 5 years. They’ve been living with the campesinos, sharing their everyday life and problems, trying to improve the life of the community. With their arrival the campesinos started to take more care about environment and the education of their children. Profesores Ana and Carlos are truly inspiring people and I admire their work.

But not all the teachers are so good – many of those that come lack imagination, initiative and new ideas. It’s understandable – who dreams about being a teacher in the middle of nowhere for 200€ per month (if you have family it is not enough to survive!)? I give you an example: the science teacher has a school microscope at her disposal and she says she does not know how to use it! Just think how many great science lessons you can make with a microscope, and it just sits on the shelf and collects dust… The students learn about magnetism without seeing a magnet, about electricity without ever touching a cable..

P1340090I wanted to change it, at least for a while. Show those kids that science can be fun. And we really had fun! At the beginning shy, with time they started to do the experiments with more self-confidence. And all of them were fascinated by the microscope. So fascinated, that they started to kill small flies and insects around the classroom to see how they look like under the microscope! I tell you, it is a wonderful feeling to look at the kids and teenagers amazed by the world of science!

Finally – the village wants to hire me as a teacher for next year. What do you think? Should I accept the offer? 😉

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The lost world of Catache

Far far away, deep in the Andean mountains, at the edge of the awe-inspiring cliff, lays a little village…

The people living there are simple but have great hearts and know what is love, respect and hospitality. They live quietly, with their sheep, and eat what the earth is giving them. They wake up early with the sunrise and go to sleep with the sunset. Most of them have never seen or touched a computer in their lives. Internet for them is a virtual world they have never entered. How could they if the electricity has not yet reached their homes? When the sun goes down each house lights a candle. And the village goes to sleep in total darkness and total silence, since there is not a single car in this place…

Sounds like a fairy tale? This village really exists, it is called Catache. From Cajamarca one needs to follow  bumpy mountain roads for 90 min and then walk almost 1 hour. I visited Catache a week ago, to give science workshops in the communal high school. It is a place where the time has stopped. Some would call it uncivilized and undeveloped, others ‘the third world’. I say it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. In all the sense of the word ‘beautiful’: regarding the landscape, the traditions and the people themselves.

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Where Trujillo goes shopping

A crowd of people, buses, taxis, honking, tons of patatos, bananas, chickens with the intestials inside-out. This is La Hermelinda, the heart of commercial Trujillo, the place where the city goes shopping. Here you can buy everything – starting with fruits and vegetables, and finishing on chickens and pigs alive! It is cultura peruana viva, with all its colors, tastes and smells.

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