29 July 2010
Looking (Forward and) Back- Peru, Pt. 2
I'll be the first to admit it: I complained a lot in Ayacucho. The town was small and devoid of things I found completely necessary: a real supermarket, a movie theatre, more than 2 million people. The altitude made going up a flight of stairs exhausting and also somehow had an effect on my digestive system (yes, altitude affects digestion). The director of the program was a bit aloof to put it nicely. Finally, living in what I described to be a 'small town' (It was actually a city with over 100,000 people) scared the crap out of me. Clearly growing up in New York City had set impossible standards for other cities.
I would have to say that my saving grace was my host family (and friends on the trip of course). Charo, my host mom, and Jorge my host dad and Romi my host sister were increidble. I lived in the most beautiful house in Ayacucho by far. And my host parent's business could not have been more perfect for me. They owned the nicest and most delicious bakery/ cafe, La Miel, in Ayacucho's main plaza. The chocolate chip frappes were worth the subsequent lactose-intolerance induced stomach ache. Their chocolate cake was so good some students would get it for lunch. I was more lucky though. I would wake up to the smell of baking and a dozen cakes in the kitchen every morning. The bakery for La Miel was located in my house. My host mom would sometimes bake my roommate Erin and I our own small chocolate cakes, or leave us a plate of alfajores to take to class.
But overall, I sadly spent most of my time in Ayacucho only seeing the negative side of things. It wasn't until after I had left Ayacucho that I fully started to appreciate the reasons for why I was there. All 18 of us on the BU program were in Ayacucho to study contemporary Peruvian politics. In order to understand this though we had to delve into the complex political realities of Peru over the past 30 years, or the internal conflict caused by Sendero Luminoso. We read articles and speeches by Abimael Guzmán, who founded Sendero to understand where the ideas of the movement came from. This contrasted the testimonies we read of people affected by the conflict.
I started thinking about the reasons why we were in Ayacucho while we were there. It was of obvious importance politically, since Sendero got started in the Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga. It wasn't until I had left and started examining my time at FincaPerú, that I realized how important our location was. All I had to do was talk to my host dad and I would have a first hand account of someone who was affected by the violence. Many of the older women that participated in the microloan programs at FincaPerú were also affected. It would be hard to find someone over the age of 30 in Ayacucho who doesn't have some story of the impact of the war on their lives.
The BU group was lucky enough to be able to attend a talk at ANFASEP an organization that helps the victims of the conflict as well as gives them a forum for expressing themselves. I've obviously oversimplified this. In the video you'll see people giving us testimonies of what they saw during the war.
*A shout out for the videos goes to Alan Wong who shot the group during our time in Ayacucho and Cusco for BU. And then proceeded to edit hours of tape to make these videos. Oh and there's more to come!
Finally, what we learned about the conflict highlights the importance FincaPerú's work and that of other organizations. Most of the victims that died as a result of the fighting were poor and indigenous. Providing people with the ability to learn and removing them from a cycle of poverty removes incentive and necessity for war and fighting. Development is an important and underutilized tool for avoiding further conflict.