The children call out to us as they walk by on their way to school, "Hola, Abeja! Hola, Kavitha! Habla Ingles!" They want to hear the strange sound of English and try to imitate it. So we talk. If only they could understand! We laugh at what the people here in Quispillaccta might think if they were whisked away from this traditional Andean community and dropped into parts of our everyday life - perhaps a K-Mart Superstore, a Rave, or a twenty-screen movie theatre.
The poverty of the Andean people around Ayacucho made it ripe for the birth of the Sendero Luminoso (see the team dispatch). Many people warned me about the great poverty I would see in the highlands, but instead I unexpectedly found healthy, happy people with a strong sense of family and community. WHAT!? This is poverty? It is unlike the poverty I have seen in the US and Guatemala. Yet, families here have very little money, and are often the targets for development projects. Despite the lack of money, the villagers here own lots of land for growing a wide variety of organic fruits, grains, and vegetables. They also raise sheep, alpaca, and cows for wool, meat, and milk. All these things would cost a fortune in the United States. However, their abundance is limited, without many choices that money often brings. They live in adobe houses without electricity or phones. Even though they have the blessings of good health, a beautiful environment, healthy food, and clothes from handspun wool, these are their limited lives, which are not necessarily their choice. Is that fair? Living here among the villagers of Quispillaccta, I sometimes get a paternalistic feeling, knowing all the evil and ugliness of the "modern" world that I know and I want to shield them. Paternal means "fatherly," and we all know how annoying it is when your parents try to "protect" you from the "big, bad world." Still, I know that it is not my place to "protect" these people, even if I could. Though I do have more formal education than most Quispillacctans, they are very intelligent people, with probably a greater understanding as to what their community needs. Yet, despite the romantic beauty of a simple lifestyle, a close family, and small community without electricity, cars, phones, and the "rat race," I would not want to live like this forever. I yearn to travel, go for a ride on my mountain bike, and dine out for sushi. So who am I to tell these people that they should not want what I've got?
I wish I could give you the magic answer to all these questions, but it is not that easy. All cultures change through time with exposure to new and perhaps more powerful cultures. The Chavín fell under the influence of the Moche, who became influenced by Wari, who slowly lost favor to the Chimu and others, who all became part of the great Inca Empire, only to be conquered by the Spaniards. Now here comes this consumer culture of media and multinational corporations, with the United States as its poster child. That is how history works, with cultures blending or disappearing.
I hope that the people of Quispillaccta have learned from me to appreciate the gifts that they have and not to embrace everything "modern" and "American" as heaven-sent. In the "developed" world we too can learn a lot from these ancient cultures. As you know, our culture is also changing. And, we have the power to make choices that decide where it is headed. What do you think about "modernization" of indigenous cultures? It is for the better or worse? Send me an e-mail and tell me your opinions and concerns on this extremely important subject.
Shawn - Dry Land is Not a Myth!
Kevin - Help! Call 911! Identity Crisis in Peru!
Kavitha - There's a Guerrilla in the House: The Sendero Luminoso in Peru's Central Highlands
Team - The Dark Side of the Shining Path
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