Peru: Ear to the Ground

Life has taken an unexpected but quite welcome turn for me. I’ll be spending the next three to six months in Peru teaching adults English for the purpose of expanding their job opportunities while I learn Spanish for much the same reason: ideally so that I can work with immigrants upon my return!  The school is El Arte Sano and I will be living in Urubamba, which is in the Sacred Valley below Machu Picchu and an hour outside of Cuzco, a major Peruvian city. Central and South America have long fascinated me due to the intersecting issues of human rights and economics. Both have had an impact on the regions quite deeply. I am SO EXCITED!!!

During the past few weeks I’ve been reading whatever I can about Peru and have teased out at least a couple of topics I’d like to keep an eye on while there:

  • A friend was kind enough to point me to a law Peru’s president signed regarding indigenous rights and natural resources: Indigenous people must be consulted before natural resource deals proceed on their land. I’ll definitely be following developments about this.
  • While the US has initiated Coca eradication programs it has not stemmed the flow of Cocaine. On the other hand, it has disrupted Peruvian indigenous life in which Coca leaves play an integral part in the culture.
  • Language and colonization: The indigenous language of Peru is Quechua (Keh-choo-uh) and for some it remains their first and only language. I was dismayed to read that Spanish has been used as a method of control in much the same way that illiteracy has been used to keep people from voting in the United States.
  • The influx of tourism is resulting in the degradation of native arts and crafts. The global demand for cheap goods results in the use of lesser quality materials for things such as textiles so that local artisans can compete.

Last but not least: Martin Chambi, a Peruvian photographer in the 1920s, was quite taken with Machu Picchu and took over a thousand photographs of the ruins. Quite a feat in itself, it’s important to remember that photographic equipment was heavy, large and fragile in those times and there wasn’t the regular bus service or roads to Machu Picchu that there are today!!

Martin Chambi: Cuzco's Plaza de Arms

Martin Chambi: Cuzco's Plaza de Arms (The main square)

He gained quite the notoriety with the Cuzco elite and began to receive funding and commissions. One of these Cuzquenas was a socialite who required that he bring she and her thirty or so friends along, complete with a group of musicians:

Chambi amused himself with the bright young things of Cuzco, many of whom had never been in the mountains before, by killing snakes with his machete for dramatic effect. A photo survives of the party when they finally arrived at the ruins: the musicians play in the background as couples tea-dance in the overgrown and deserted buildings. It is an intensely romantic and unreal image. But this is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of a photographer whose work tried to document the light shining through the mundaneness of Peruvian daily life.

Story and quote from The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland by Hugh Thomson. I wish I could find the picture he speaks of!!

Martin Chambi: Cuzco

Martin Chambi: Cuzco

Policeman with boy; Cuzco, 1923.

Martin Chambi: Policeman with boy; Cuzco, 1923.

Self-portrait near native village of Coaza Carabaya, Puno, ca 1930.

Martin Chambi: Self-portrait near native village of Coaza Carabaya, Puno, ca 1930.

Who said that all is lost? I come to offer my heart.

Yo Vengo a Ofrecer mi Corazon, one of my favorite songs, is featured in Naomi Klein’s documentary The Take and sung by Lhasa de Sela. Unfortunately a recording by de Sela has never been officially released. The most popular version is sung by Mercedes Sosa, a popular Latin American folk singer and (from my understanding) an important resistance figure. I was excited when I finally found an English translation and saw that the words are just as touching as the vocals. The song was written by Fito Paez in an expression of solidarity for victims of violent oppression.

Yo Vengo a Ofrecer Mi Corazon

Quién dijo que todo está perdido
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Tanta sangre que se llevo el río
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón

No será tan fácil ya sé qué pasa
No será tan simple como pensaba
Como abrir el pecho, y sacar el alma
Una cuchillada de amor

Luna de los pobres siempre abierta
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Como un documento inalterable
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón

Y uniré las puntas de un mismo lazo
Y me iré tranquilo, me iré despacio
Y te daré todo, y me darás algo
Algo que me alivie un poco más

Cuando no haya nadie cerca o lejos
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Cuando los satélites no alcancen
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón

Y hablo de países y de esperanzas
Y hablo por la vida, hablo por la nada
Y hablo de cambiar esta nuestra casa
De cambiarla por cambiar nomás

Quién dijo que todo está perdido
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón
Yo vengo a ofrecer mi corazón

I Come To Offer my heart

Who said that all is lost
I come to offer my heart
So much blood that the river took
I come to offer my heart

It wont be easy, I know that
It wont be that simple as I thought
Like opening the chest, and taking out the soul
one stab of love

Moon of the poor always open
I come to offer my heart
Like an unchanging document
I come to offer my heart

I will join the ends of a lasso
And I’ll go quiet, I’ll go slowly
And give you everything and you’ll give me something
Something that will help me a little

When there is no one else near or far
I come to offer my heart
When the satellites do not reach
I come to offer my heart

I speaking of countries and hopes
And I speak for life, as I speak for nothing
And talk about change in our home
to change for changing sake

Who said that all is lost
I come to offer my heart
I come to offer my heart
I come to offer my heart
I come to offer my heart