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.

  • Larry Wilson

    Hey Erin, Uncle Larry here,
    Like your posts, Keep em coming. A couple of suggestions…..

    When washing dishes, try using those cheap plastic hospital gloves, they will keep the chill away for a bit (if u r quick) and you should have dry hands at the end.

    Also, when writing your posts, try using notepad and ave the file on your PC until ready to post. When you get to internet cafe, you just need to copy and paste to post it.

    Bottled water……buy 4 to 6 bottles of bottled water and refill them with boiled water (6 at a time). Since you really should not put boiled water into a plastic bottle, not sure how to disinfect……let water cool somewhat before you refill.

    Hasta la vista

  • Erin O’Rourke

    Hey Uncle Larry, thanks for the suggestions. I bought a 5 liter thing of water last night so I´ll be using that when I´ve gone through it, though I definitely won´t be putting boiled water in it until it cools – I´m already worried enough about toxins leaching into the water from the plastic without helping it along. Thanks for reminding me about gloves – one of the things I need to see if I can purchase today. I´ve been trying to use notepad, but I admit it´s just not the same. Luckily I might have internet at home for 6 weeks, so we´ll see how it goes!!