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Latin America Kavitha Dispatch

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It's a Small World After All!

Beautiful Peruvian people remind Kavitha of her past.
Abeja, Winter and I are now in the Huaraz area, high up in the Andes Mountains. The town of Huaraz is over 9000 feet above sea level and is surrounded on either side by the Cordillera Negra and Cordillera Blanca mountain ranges--some of the highest mountains in the world!! The town is an indigenous town, and the descendants of the Incas and the other ancient cultures of the region still preserve many of the traditions. Walking around this high mountain village, meeting the locals, and going to the market has brought back many memories of places I've lived in the past. These places include: the village of Humla on the Tibetan plateau, high in the Himalayas of Nepal in Asia; on the high altitude desert of Big Mountain in Arizona with the Dineh Navajo Indians; and most recently, the friendly village of Todos Santos where Shawn and I lived in the mountains of Guatemala. Even though these four places are in completely different parts of the world, thousands of miles apart, the people that live in these tiny towns share so much in common--it's so amazing!

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Cities in Peru: Trujillo, Chimbote, Sechin, Casma, Huaraz
All of these towns are high in elevation and are inhabited by people who have learned how to live with their difficult, often brutal, but beautiful, environments over thousands of years. These are also all indigenous cultures, cultures that have managed to hold on to many of their traditional ways of life even in the face of conquering imperial efforts. Maybe it's because living in such high places is so difficult or maybe it's because these places are just so remote that these cultures have been so preserved. Whatever the reason, I am truely thankful that they still exist, so we can learn from them and share their beautiful handicrafts and cultures. (Unfortunately, the Dineh Navajo are in currently in grave danger of being kicked off their native lands because Peabody Coal company and our very own U.S. government want to mine the coal reserves they have discovered there. Read more in this weeks Making a Difference.)

This llama's wool will keep you warm!
Living at a high elevation is not easy. It is cold, and many vegetables and even farm animals cannot grow in such environments. Electricity and running water are new to villages in these areas if they have them at all. There's no heat to keep you warm during the cold nights, no hot showers or do people live like this?

Navajo woman spins wool
The Tibetans have made their living by herding yaks, enormous shaggy animal that kind of look like cows that need haircuts. The Dineh Navajo have herded sheep on the high plateaus of Arizona for centuries, while the Andean Indians herd llamas--a strange looking fuzzy mammal with a long neck. All of these cultures rely on their animals for their wool and for their meat. But since the wool is so important to keeping them warm, they only kill animals for meat as needed. The wool from these animals is then woven to make the most beautiful and durable clothing and blankets. In Nepal, the older women of the village would sit for hours weaving intricate Tibetan rugs of yak wool. In Todos Santos, I loved to watch the mother of the family I lived with weaving colorful shirts and blankets of cotton and sheep wool. In Arizona, it was the grandmother of the family who spent most of her day weaving gorgeous Navajo blankets and rugs of wool. Here in Peru, the Andean women weave beautifully soft llama hair sweaters and bags, soft like cashmere.

In all cases the families in these small villages live in single room houses. The families consist of grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren. They are much bigger than the small nuclear families most of us in the U.S. are used to. In Tibet, in Todos Santos, and in the smaller Andean villages, they cook over wood fires that also keep the houses warm at night. They sleep under many layers of wool blankets, often four or more to a bed.

Even the physical appearance of the people has similarities. They all have rosy, dark cheeks and skin, a trait that has developed to protect them from the strong sun of such high altitudes. Oh how I miss all the little children with rosy cheeks and big smiles that I grew fond of in Nepal, in Big Mountain, and in Todos Santos! The kids of Peru are cuties too though! I have found the people in these indigenous areas very kind too. Sometimes they are not very open, perhaps due to years of persecution in many cases, or perhaps because they often don't speak the national languages. In Humla, only the younger generations know Nepali, the national language; the rest speak Tibetan. Even though Big Mountain is in the U.S., the families speak in Dineh (the Navajo language), and the grandparents of the family I lived with did not know any English. In Todos Santos, only my sisters spoke Spanish, the mom and the grandparents only knew Mam, a Mayan dialect. Here in Peru, the Andean Indians speak Quechua, but most in the larger towns speak Spanish too.

From the colorful indigenous clothes, to herds of shaggy animals, to cold nights, and high altitudes, the similarities are a constant source of wonder to me. Oh yes, one last similarity I had the pleasure of experiencing in Nepal, Big Mountain, and yet again in Todos Santos, that hope I don't discover here again in Peru...friendly bed bugs who love to make their homes in the cozy wool blankets!


Shawn - For Your Eyes Only: Shawn's Adventure in Peru
Abeja - Is There Thanksgiving in Peru?
Team - The Conquistadors: They Came, They Conquered, and Left Their Mark
Monica - If Decapitated Heads Could Talk!!
Making a Difference - Constant Threat at Big Mountain

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