Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Cusco, Peru
July 2003

This morning the news seethes with concern about the resurgence of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.  In the eighties and nineties it created a civil war that led to more than thirty thousand dead, although to be sure the government was probably responsible for most of the dead.  

Evidently the group has taken the side of the peasants growing Coca to process into cocaine for export.  They have obtained, as a result, a ready source of cash and seem to form a threat.   

It is too early to tell.  People are very frightened and concerned about the possibilities of a violent future.  Like the people here, I remember those years and hate to see them return, despite the amount of social injustice one sees every day.  In the US the word terrorism is thrown about a lot, but despite September 11 people have no idea what it is like to live under an extended terrorist threat nor what provokes people to take up arms against the state and civil society. 

Outside a morning haze obscures the sun.  Cars of commuters and tourist buses heading to the sacred valley and the ruins above the city emit a cloud of gray, stinky exhaust.  But that fog seems an appropriate image for the haze people feel on the future, especially at a time when support for the current government is plummeting as it is increasingly unable to meet its promises to provide jobs. 

Yesterday, after I left the internet café to make my way towards the Centro Bartolomé de las Casas to renew friendships and contacts, I was shocked out of my thoughts when I heard some one close to me say “Doctor”.  I looked up and it was one of the staff people who had helped us when we brought students.  It always surprises me to be in a country distant from my own and to have people recognize me as I walk down the street, particularly when I have just arrived.  But it should not surprise me.  I have years and years of interactions with this town.  Its massive Inca stone foundations and walls and its Spanish colonial architecture carry much history of wars, conquest, and expanding empires, including the current one.  But they also invoke many, many memories of the years of my life.  There is no other place in the world that has seen me in so many different conditions and statuses as this.  I feel very much at home.  

Yesterday I met with the new director of the CBC, the major graduate school and non/governmental organization with which we have been working in the University of Utah’s program.  His name is Gustavo Hernandez and he moves with a snappy energy as if his tall and lanky body were made of the steel that keeps heavy trucks steady.  His sharp eyes dance across the room, although in their depths one can sense the heaviness of his new job and the desires he has to perform well and accomplish something.  It is not easy to take over a new agency and try to give it a new course and stamp.  Many of the staff are leaving in protest, but he is excited and hopeful.  We had a great conversation.  It helped that he is a fairly recent graduate from the anthropology department at the University of Texas, the same place I got my Ph.D. Being from there here is about like being from Harvard in the United States.  There is an incredible Texas good old boy network throughout Latin America, of which I guess I am a very small part.  We decided to try something new for the service learning programs here in Cuzco.  I have to spend some time thinking and writing an innovative program for him.  I look forward
to getting to know him better in future years and to tightening my connection with the CBC. 

In the shadows, just inside the very heavy, studded Colonial doors of an annex to the Jesuit’s Church, a man dressed in traditional Indian clothes sits at the side of piles and piles of exquisite weavings.  I walked in from the sun, took off my sunglasses, put on
the regular ones and said “Buenas tardes don Timoteo, allinllachu”.  “Ah Doctor” he answered as a smile spread across is lightly wrinkled face.  Timoteo is an amazing man with an amazing history.  He was an orphan from a rural, Indian community in Puno.  His family had no land.  He was one of the poorest of the poor. But he pulled himself up first by his sandal straps and later his boot straps to become mayor of a Town in Cusco called Pitumarca and a person who has been a catalyst in the revival of traditional weaving and its marketing.  He filled me in with news about Pitumarca and its people.  When I leave the internet café this morning it is to meet with him and see if I am going to Pitumarca on Saturday or if my friends are coming to Cusco.  Timoteo was going to call for me.  

In the evening, I climbed the narrow stairs of the colonial Cuesta de San Blas.  I walked by the massive Inca walls of the Archbishops palace and past many stores selling handicrafts for tourists to a large metal door, more appropriate to a garage than a house,
beneath a sign for the Sisters of Mercy, I believe.  

The more ordinary door inset in the huge metal one opened and a Colombian woman, Claudia opened her arms with a huge smile, “David, where have you been all this time.”  Claudia is the wife of a rotund and bearded Frenchman who was the former director of the CBC.  Jean Jacques had invited me over for drinks, but when I entered their second story apartment with a balcony above the building’s common, large patio, Jean Jacques was sautéing chicken and I knew I was staying for dinner.  Last time we had seen each other I had cooked for them and now they were cooking for me.  We had a wide ranging conversation for hours on anthropology, politics from all over the globe, modernization and globalization, art and literature, until the clock seemed sluggish with the heavy numbers it had to bear.  All the time there was a painting of an angel on the wall whose look seemed to bring support and sanction for our conversation while candlesticks with the sacred Inca Sun, star, and moon slowly disappeared under the weight of melting white wax. 

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