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All in the Family

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Peru
Expresión

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Hold on to your hats! Abeja is driving!
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Apus, the god of the mountains, cast a kind eye on Kavitha and me as we rode together on the back of Silverio's small orange Honda motorcycle down the windy gravel roads of Quispillaccta (watch out "Duke's of Hazard"!). Magdalena, Silverio's cousin, rode her own bike because, even though we were told that they often put four people on the bike, Kavitha and I are both bigger and heavier than your average Peruvian.

The community of Quispillaccta, which consists of twelve small traditional Andean villages, has a communal house in Ayacucho too. The people of the community can meet and stay there when they go to town. We met up with Silverio and Magdalena there, and they told us all about their community where we'll be staying for the next few weeks.

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Cuzco, Ayacucho and Quispillaccta - cities in Peru

The community of Quispillaccta has been organized since pre-Columbian times, and still follows many of the Incan traditions. Families own their own tracts of land, called chacras, which are scattered out over a variety of terrains near their village. On the higher, rockier chacras, and the communally owned land, they raise sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas. On the other chacras they raise subsistence crops (see Kavitha's article). The families also work together as extended families called Ayllus. Highly organized communal work systems are common up here, where the land is too steep and rocky for tractors.

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With teamwork, you can turn a mountain into a molehill
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We stopped the motorcycle on the way up to visit with a group of men working with shovels, wheelbarrows, and pry-bars. They were digging rocks off the hillside to build a corral for their sheep. It looked like some hard work! The men stopped to talk to us (Silverio and Magdalena know EVERYONE!). They told me that they are all part of the same Ayllus. They have an agreement, called Ayni, to help one cousin today, then next week they'll go to another cousin's land and work. Gosh, I wish they would've been around when I was little to help me with my chores!

There are many different traditional communal work agreements used up here. Although the Quispillacctans do go down to Ayacucho to sell their products and buy things, most of their economy is still local barter (trading one thing that someone makes or grows for something that someone else produces), including labor. Entire villages do work exchanges too, called minkas, to do big projects like build community buildings or clear communal lands. It's as if you and your neighbors got together to help another neighborhood build a playground, then they all came to help dig your swimming pool. It's kind of like the "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" deal.

The people of Quispillaccta still elect traditional leaders of individual villages and of the entire community. They aren't officially recognized by the government, but they still work with the elected government officials, who are also from the community. Unfortunately, that doesn't ensure that their voice is heard on a national level (see Making a Difference).

Silverio and Magdalena are some of the few people from Quispillaccta who have gone to college. Instead of leaving their small villages though, they've come back to work with their families and started the community organization A.B.A. (not to be confused with the 70's disco sensation ABBA). The Associacion Bartolome Aripaylla (ABA) is named after a community leader from Quispillaccta in the time of the Incas (what they call el Tiempo de Abuelos, or "the time of the grandfathers"). They work to help Quispillaccta organize as a community to maintain their culture and traditions while sharing helpful knowledge and information.

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Terraces keep fertile soil in place
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Silverio and Magdalena organize meetings where people exchange knowledge and form work parties for community projects. For example on steep slopes, land needs to be terraced before it is planted, or it will wash away. Some families were persuaded by agri-businesses to adopt modern methods of farming, and do away with terraces so they could use larger equipment and agri-chemicals. The result was the ruin of their chacras. The fertile soil washed away and the chemicals found their way into the streams.

ABA's work groups have helped these people rehabilitate their lands. They reintroduce proper composting techniques and build terraces (called patapatas in Quechua). Similar work has been done to rehabilitate communal lands for farming and grazing. ABA groups have gone out to the countryside to plant native plants useful for wood or medicine, and to combat the intrusion of non-native eucalyptus (the government planted lots of eucalyptus here--perhaps with the idea of controlling erosion, but now it's taking over, depleting the soil, and out-competing native plants).

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A.B.A. shares knowledge of herbal medicine
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This week, the little orange Honda motorcycle is taking us to several villages where people gather to talk about traditional medicinal plants and how they use them. ABA also organizes meetings to share seeds, information on raising animals, and local artisans. Without using schools and textbooks from outside, these villages are sharing valuable information and getting together to discuss their concerns.

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A strong sense of family is a part of life, here
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Even though I don't speak Quechua yet, I can see how useful and important these meetings are for everyone there. I really admire these people. They are strong and healthy, good-natured, and have a strong sense of family. When they tell me they want to come to the US where they can earn money, I point out all they would be losing--close family and community, clean air and water, and one of the most beautiful countrysides I've ever seen. The money may be greener in the states, but the grass is greener here!

Abeja

Intentional Communities

Around the world, people who feel a lack of community are working to recreate it. Do you know people organizing in your community? Do you barter or exchange work with your neighbors or work in a community garden?

Kavitha and I have both lived in what are called "Intentional Communities," where people decide to live together with the intention of sharing lives and resources. They exist in many different forms in the U.S. and around the world. Some are religious-based, some environmental, some artistic, and some are just a group of people looking for a simpler, healthier alternative to the "rat race." Some intentional communities are in the big cities, others are rural, and some even own property both in the city and in the country!

Kavitha lived at a community called Aprovecho, in Oregon, which is also a sustainable living research center (those of you studying Spanish know aprovechar means "to make the most use out of"). There they develop, utilize, and teach environmentally safe, sustainable technology, and make an effort to grow everything they need to survive on their own land--for food, for heat, for building and cooking. I lived at Twin Oaks Community in Virginia, which is one of the largest and longest existing non-religious intentional communities. Together with a hundred other adults and children, I helped raise cows, chickens, and bees, care for a huge garden, run three successful businesses, and build an office building!

Whether or not you would ever want to live in an Intentional Community, they are very interesting places to visit and read about. People are living and working together in a different way, creating their own culture, and trying to make the world a better place.

To find out more about Intentional Communities, check out the following websites, or check out the Directory of Intentional Communities at your public library:

 

 
Kavitha - One Potato, Two Potato, and a Hundred More!
Kevin - All that Glitters is Not Gold
Monica - The Belly-button of the Inca Nation
Making a Difference - Eating Pesticide Potato Chips
 
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