“A gesture cannot be regarded as the expression of an individual, as his creation (because no individual is capable of creating a fully original gesture, belonging to nobody else), nor can it even be regarded as that person’s instrument; on the contrary, it is gestures that use us as their instruments, as their instruments, as their instruments, as their bearers and incarnations.” – Milan Kundera
Soy una voluntaria, mi programma es Manejo Ambiental Communitario, I said for the 237th time (there’s a small challenge among volunteers here to see who has the highest record of repeated explanation as to why you haven’t left the village yet, after-all, white skin is the yin to the yang of the tourist culture and there are some people that think I am on extended vacation.) Maybe they are right. Either way, I repeat my purpose and express my interest in working with their community. Like a teapot to my fire they are slowly but surely warming up to me. My community is convinced that now, after two –months of slap-stick Peruviana, I am Levantina. That means that I roll my ll’s like j’s, don my rain boots proudly a’stomp’en through the rainy season and can break a cuy’s neck without hesitation. I am going to become the John Seymour image of self-sustainable. But getting to that point after a little over a month in site has been a great test of the Peace Corps character, and yes, the highs and lows at site are true. But then again being in the presence of incredible day to day beauty, who cares about the pig that was tied to the roof of a combi, that got loose and flung feces on the nearest passerby (me). Or how after a grueling 5-hour hike through the cloud forest with the kids from your environmental club “visiting” an imaginary waterfall and Pre-Incan ruins hidden by vine-entangled poro-poro, you turn a corner and finally see the sound that had eluded you for so long. I have gained that long sought-after skill of patience and realized that I walk 3-X the amount of the average Peruvian Male. Anyone you ask in the Peace Corps will tell you how uplifting and humbling the experience can be. I am another addition to that mantra. During the first 3-months every new volunteer is required to submit a Community Diagnostic Report that outlines the natural strengths your host community has, challenges, threats to development and potentially for the future. Levanto is a great place for a volunteer.
About mi familia in the campo, (all of the community is my fam): My host family lives near the plaza and gave me my own room with a wooden floor, a window that looks to the West (we are talking’ jaw-dropping sunsets people), and a wood carved bed with a mattress. Que Suerte! I have since then furnished it with all of the homey things that one thinks they require for habitation, like a desk, a place for my clothes, and a book shelf. I do cook for myself and also have a lovely cooking for one cocina set-up. It’s my slice of home and I look forward to papering the walls with love-mail and photos. (A Watson-esque clue here).
Excerpt from http://www.marvelousspatuletail.net/history-of-levanto.html mentioned in italics and my comments are in superscript and normal writing. Credit where credit is due!
“Historically, Levanto, or Llauantu (ancient name), was the seventh city of the Chachapoya, mentioned by Garcilaso Inca. Indeed it was one of the largest and most important curacazgos, or politically independent ethnic groups, that made up the Chachapoyas Confederation. In the hills to the north of town were found two major urban archaeological sites and several smaller sites of lesser consequence. “
The crew up in Amazonas, We have the scenery for sure. The area environment surrounding Chachapoyas, the regional capital, is bar-none for geologists seeking a little more flavor in their studies. Littered in the mountain-faces and cliff-tops are countless caves, and archeological finds that the Peruvian government in Chachapoyas leaves to be “protected” by tourists, pirates, and the elements of mother nature. Remember Jurassic Park? That is what I am coming home to for the next two years. Continuing on…
“The Inca Tupac Yupanqui conquered Llauantu in 1480, thus ending his victorious campaign against the Chachapoyas. Alonso de Alvarado colonized the region in 1536, and, according to tradition Levanto became his first capital. HOT DAMN. Alvarado established his new capital in San Juan de la frontera de los Chachapoyas in 1538, and Levanto thereafter sank into neglect and obscurity” C’mon now?!
The archaeological importance of levanto was only discovered after the Reichlen Expedition of 1948. The Kuelap ruins of San Pedro de Washpa were found on three low hills a little more than an hour northeast of Levanto. The ruins stretched continuously for a kilometer north along the ridge, connecting with the Puma-Urko Ridge at its height. The site was naturally divided into three parts it is urban centers found on each hill. The lowest hill, the most impressive of the sites, was partially cleared, but most of the slash had been left behind. The middle one completely cleared by ax and fire, was found in pasture and for the most part destroyed. And the last one was still immersed in cloud forest, therefore probably reasonably well preserved. For nearly two weeks in 1948 Henry and Paule Reichlen excavated an undisturbed circular habitation at the last part of San Pedro de Washpa .
All in all it’s a swell place to live.
Thing: The “ah HA!” moments at site:
I walk fast, maybe someone should hobble me. (where’s Annie Wilkes when you need her?)
Small little fact: Levanto is slang for the word “hook-up” who knew? Not that there’s any of that going on at my site. For all persons there, I am considered married.
The stars that are visible at my site makes the movie Contact look like a low budget film.
There’s something incredibly powerful about little kids yelling your name. I will enjoy this, I think it’s the closest I will ever come to being a benevolent dictator.
Sometimes, politeness does not make the weirdly chewing texture of a chicken foot/head/neck/tendon disappear. Host Mother Wilma, I am still very sorry you saw me giving the chicken head to my little 5 year old sister. I swear, the look of glee when she freed the chicken brain from its skull and popped it into her mouth was a look of sheer joy I would have again and again over your disapproving stare.
Pigs will shit themselves when tied down to the top of a bike rack. They will suddenly try to get away when anyone approaches the car, and they will have great aim with their mercenaries of feces. They will also scream for the hour ride down the mountain at 40mph in zero degree Celsius weather, and then they WILL still have enough strength to run away after you released them from their bindings.
Making weird noises with my mouth kinda sounds like Spanish when I have reached the end of my language rope. Some others are not entirely convinced.
Email in the Peace Corps as a form of communication has replaced any other conventional form. I also have no internet, cell phone, and spotty electricity at my site. BUT if I climb to the nearest mountain, and climb some rocks, I get a bar.
My host mother is the cleanest Lady in all the Land. I thank my lucky palm seeds for that.
I can knit. I am making a frombra. What is that you ask? I will sit on it when I finish it. It will keep my butt from getting too cold when I am reading Peace Corps manuals and translating things into Spanish. No one likes a cold butt. Especially, not Levantianians.
There are some pretty cool kids in Levanto. I am harnessing their powers and mobilizing an environmental army.
There are 3 incredible ruins of Pre-Incan Culture an hour’s walk from my site in all directions.
I dig for Potatoes in my family’s chacra (farm) on Fridays. People in Levanto have two types of hands. One hand is beautifully manicured. The other has gnarled nails, and blistered skin from years of digging and harvesting. I wonder if the hand will continue to evolve to have more structures better for digging. It’s evident that its starting.
I can touch clouds every morning. Sometimes I wish one would take me away when I go running at the go-awful hour of 5am. Some hours of the day should be left to clock notation.
My family tells me every once in a while that They will miss me when I am gone. Laughing I tell them that they have another two years to decide, but secretly it makes me teary when I think about it. I got really lucky with my host family.
During February and January there is summer vacation. It is a two month spree called Vacaciones Utiles where the entire family leaves town to harvest crops out in the field. Crops include 5-different varieties of potatoes (there are 2500 spp. in Peru), cabbage, carrots, yucca, onions. Coming from Pennsylvania,
I drink a good amount of tea here. Herba Luisa (lemon grass), Menta (mint), anis, (black licorice), puro, (black)… I think thus far my experience can be related to the ritual of putting sugar in all types of beverages here. Peruvians love some’ suugarrr. But, If you watch the process of a small scoop of sugar going into a cup, you first see how much the clump of sweetener looks like something recognizable, something familiar, something you know. But as you twist your wrist and swirl the crystals downward they break apart, dissolving into something unfamiliar. Then you pull the spoon back out. The sugar has disappeared. All it took were a few turns of your spoon and the sugar vanished, but we all know that isn’t true. It hasn’t disappeared; it’s become something part of something bigger. A different form, but as you drink, you realize the sugar is still there, but you like the collaboration that happened between the sugar and water and plant. All the components intact, but elevated, creating something enjoyable, that you recognize never really disappeared, but instead came full circle. Giving into that process, the slow break-down of what you want to be real, true, and honest, and the experience you derive from mixing with other people, places, ideas. Its only been 2 and a half months, but I am enjoying the small bits of disappearance and reemergence.