05.03.2007 - 08.03.2007
The course of travel changes when you´re by yourself. Gone are many of the antics and in place a greater sense of curiosity for your surroundings. That would hold true in my few days in the underrated and undervisited city of Ayacucho...a place of infamous history, too many churches (33!), and too few laundromats (1, run by some dude in his nineties).
My topic of interest was Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a rebel Maoist terrorist organization that was based in Ayacucho and brutalized the region in the 80s and early 90s. How did people function during this era? What was life like? Did it lead to all the crappy Chinese restaurants that exist nowadays here? Can you still sense the past? The answer to the last question was made clear after my first couple days in town. Simply put, you wouldn´t suspect such previous horror given the approachability of the people and the upbeat vibe of the city. It´s like a renaissance of sorts. ¨Mucho tranquilo,¨ many locals would tell me as we sat at a cramped foodstall and they intently watched me eat some nasty fish stew called ¨Leche de Tigre¨ (tiger´s milk). ¨Es muy seguro,¨ they´d add...(ironically as I was writing this paragraph, a fight broke out on the street with two topless guys kicking the crap out of each other...I curse myself for leaving the camera in the hostal).
I was originally very nervous to ask about Sendero Luminoso...it´s like asking about an ex-girlfriend/boyfriend or how someone´s vasectomy went. So I decided to butter up each conversation with something more light-hearted...a simple survey on the preference of Brian with beard or Brian without beard (note: I went for a beard trim in the last town I was in...I clearly told the barber 3 times that I only wanted it shorter and not completely removed...he nodded in total agreement and then promptly shaved it all off in a matter of seconds. IDIOT!!) So yes, the bird´s nest is now gone.
I surveyed 16 people in total and tried to make a representative sample. 8 women and 8 men. Young as 6, old as probably 65. From all walks of life - e.g. shoeshiner, internet lady, hotel receptionist, photocopy dude, pharmacist, waitress, girl selling biscuits on the street, mototaxi driver, nun. And the results were as follows...8 voted I look better without the beard, 4 for the beard, 2 said I´m drop dead sexy either way, and 2 just gave me a ´what the hell, go away you freak´ reaction. Most of the girls preferred no beard, especially the younger ones. The nun liked the facial hair. And the old pedaephilic man said both ways were good. What do you think?
Anyways, back to Sendero Luminoso. A jewelery selling hippie told me how his parents were executed when he was 5. Another just kept remembering how they couldn´t go out at night. ¨If you were out past 6pm, you weren´t coming back.¨ And the owners of the Tiger´s Milk stand remarked on how they couldn´t work because there was no industry. And how they had to send their kids to other towns or countries for safety and to make a living. There was probably more detail in these stories that my spanish just wasn´t good enough to translate. I think in hindsight, that could be a good thing.
Some effects do exist unfortunately. By chance I came across a children´s shelter in a suburb of Ayacucho that was run by a Belgian, his wife, and a host of French volunteers. There were nearly 30 kids here, between 1 and 13 years old - some handicapped, some abandoned, and all from poor, alcoholic, and/or abusive families (as a result of Sendero Luminoso´s reign). I ended up spending the day volunteering at the shelter - playing with the kids, helping prepare the feast, and setting up decorations. It just happened to be the 5 year anniversary of the place and there was a massive fiesta, complete with costumes, dances, a military band, and performances put on by the children. When I didn´t have 3 kids hanging off my legs, shoulders, and neck (they were pretty damn affectionate), I talked extensively with Gil the founder (first pic) to get a deeper understanding of the project. Without going into detail, my instincts tell me the place is rather genuine - the kids were quite healthy, happy, and well-behaved - and the local community was beginning to support it too. It´s called Casa Hogar - Los Gorriones and there´s a donation link on the website if you´re at all interested.
This was the feast being dug up...chicken, beef, sweet potatoes, beans, corn, and other stuff was buried into the ground under hot rocks, dirt, and full sized herbs. It´s a Peruvian thing called Pachamanca...and it was pretty damn good.
Starting my own volunteer work this weekend and I think I´ll be back in mid-April now. Thanks to everyone who has given me an opinion on school in September...keep the comments coming (Boston U and New York U are now options too - don´t ever apply for more than 5 schools, I am retarded!).
Some random photos because I´m 5,000 photos behind on my Flickr site.