All Dressed Up but Nowhere to Go:
Our Endless Search for a Party!
Village life in the Central Highlands has been a beautiful, peaceful, and educational experience, but for two city girls like Abeja and myself, going to bed when the sun goes down starts losing its thrill after a couple weeks. That's why we were excited to hear that the end of the rainy season marked a time of "muchas fiestas" (lots of parties)! The kindly folks at ABA filled us in on all the happenings in the local surroundings, including parties full of food, music, and dancing all night long. Filled with excitement, and even a little apprehension, as to whether we would be able to keep up, we were set for a week full of parties.
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MISSING THE CELEBRATION:
International Workers Day is celebrated all over the world on May 1st except the country from which its significance originated: the United States. It began over a century ago, on May 1st, 1886. The American Federation of Labor adopted a historic resolution, which defined a legal workday as 8 hours long. This came after months of protests by workers around the country voicing their disgust about oppressive working conditions. Chicago was at the forefront of the organizing and protest. By May of 1886, over 400,000 people were out on strike. The entire city, from its factory to its mills, was shut down. On May 1st, 1886, when the eight hour strikes hit the city hardest, police troops came and broke up a peaceful labor union meeting with clubs and guns, killing one and injuring many others. Outraged by what he saw, August Spies, who was speaking on behalf of the Central Labor Union, urged all the workers in Chicago to attend a protest meeting the following night.
The protest meeting took place in Haymarket Square and was addressed by Spies and two other leaders in the trade union movement, Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden. The meeting that started out calm and orderly took a turn for the worse when a huge police force closed in on the crowd. Violence broke out and the police opened fire leaving many injured and killed, including some policemen. Within days, eight of the biggest union organizers in the city were being held as "accessories to murder," even though five of them weren't even present at Haymarket on that evening. After an unfair trial with a rigged jury, seven of the defendants were sentenced to death and the eighth to 15 years in prison. On November 11th, 1887, Parsons, Spies, Adolph Fischer, and George Engel were hanged.
Finally after years of public outcry, the Governor set the remaining four men free on June 26th, 1893, since it was obvious they had been victims of "hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge." Their struggle and their beliefs back then are what make it possible for us today to enjoy the benefits of an eight-hour work day. This symbol of courage is celebrated around the entire world in the form of International Workers Day on May 1st -- a holiday celebrated almost everywhere except for in our very own United States. Perhaps the government doesn't want us to remember the injustice of the Haymarket affair? Perhaps they don't want us to celebrate a victory of the people organizing behind government consent? But for some reason, our government refuses to make May 1st a holiday and instead created "Labor Day" many months removed in September.
It was all to begin on Thursday, when one of the neighboring communities, Quispillacta, was to have their annual patron saint's celebration. Instead of going to work with Magda and Silverio like we normally do, we waited at home, since some neighbors from the village were going to walk with us to the celebration around 10 or 11 AM. We got our bags ready for the evening, and even donned our skirts and cleanest shirts for the occasion. When lunchtime arrived, we weren't too worried, we've gotten used to "hora Peruana" (Peruvian time) which is usually a few hours late! But by 3 PM, we were starting to get a little curious. We sent a friend to the neighbor's house to find out what was going on. He came back with little news...supposedly their horse was all packed up and ready to go, but they were still waiting for someone else to arrive. Finally after a whole day of waiting, we gave up on the idea of going to the celebration as the sun started to set. No big deal, at least then we would be better rested for all the other parties coming up!
LESSON #1: Don't wait on Peruvians -- hangin' out and waitin' is just no big deal to them. They're not on the rushed "have to be there" schedule that we Americans are used to.
The next party was going to be celebrated down in the cities, so Abeja and I took a three hour bus ride down to Ayacucho to find out how the locals here in Peru celebrate "Dia del Trabajadores" (Day of the Workers, or May Day -- see side bar). The whole week we had been reminiscing about all the fun we had had celebrating May Day last year in San Francisco, with a big parade, a dance around the May pole, and a huge picnic in the park attended by thousands. Filled with anticipation, we were looking forward to seeing how Peruvians celebrated this favorite holiday of ours. We arrived in Ayacucho on Friday, and even though we met some nice people who invited us to go out dancing that night, we decided to make it an early night so that we could party all day on Saturday for May Day. When we hit the streets on Saturday, everything seemed pretty tame except that many of the stores were closed. We headed to the central plaza and were disappointed to find not much going on there either. Rather than having the feel of a fiesta, the city was actually quieter than usual. After walking around the empty streets for a while, we finally realized that here in Ayacucho at least, "Dia del Trabajadores" is celebrated in the closed shops and offices. People will get together and celebrate with their bosses and fellow workers behind closed doors. Not even the discos that were happening the night before were open today! Yet again Abeja and I found ourselves in bed soon after dinner, dreaming of all the fun our friends back in San Fran must have been having that night.
LESSON #2: High expectations can set you up for disappointment!
Okay, so after our brief, uneventful couple of days in Ayacucho we headed back up to Quispillaccta for the main festival -- we had been anticipating this party the most. Since the first day we arrived, the folks at ABA urged us to stay at least until May 3rd for the annual harvest festival. We were thrilled! After all, it isn't often you can celebrate a harvest in May! After catching the early and only bus back to Quispillaccta at 4 AM on May 3rd, we reached our home base in Union Protrero by 9 AM. Looking forward to taking a long nap, we were disappointed to learn that we had to quickly make some lunch and get ready to go, because the fiesta was going to be celebrated in another village - a four-hour hike from where we were! Oh well, who needs sleep anyway? We ate, packed a bag with some warmer clothes for the night, once again put on our nicest clothes, and set off with our trusty guide Valeriano.
The hike was beautiful, but hard! We hiked over high passes, past rivers and lakes and herds of sheep and alpacas. The whole way we asked Valeriano questions about what we could expect at the party. He filled our heads with pleasing images of all the food that would be prepared, all the music that would be played, all the dancing that would be done. After seemingly endless hours of walking, we finally reached the village that the party was supposedly going to take place at. No food was being prepared, no music was being played, and nobody was dancing! The villagers were all very surprised, curious, and happy to see us coming -- Americans had never visited their village before. When we told them we had come for the fiesta, they smiled and nodded and invited us to join them for their meeting they were having. After a few hours of exchanging questions and sharing stories about cultural differences, the sun was starting to set, the meeting was over and people started to go home. When we asked again about the party, they told us they thought it was happening at another village about 2 1/2 hours away! Confused about why they didn't tell us that when we first arrived, and confused at Valeriano's lack of surprise (did he already know or expect it?), we decided to re-evaluate before we willingly walked another 2 1/2 hours further away from where we had to eventually return. We were cold, tired and hungry. Maybe there actually was a party at the next village, but given our track record it wasn't likely. Anyway, three strikes and you're out, right? We decided to count our losses and start our long walk home so we could at least make it to our warm sleeping bags by nightfall. So once again, Abeja and I found ourselves home and in bed...I guess we didn't come to the Central Highlands of Peru to party anyway!
LESSON #3: Peruvians will often tell you what they think you want to hear, so the more excitement you show in something, the more they will embellish it. They're not exactly lying -- they're just trying to make you happy.
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