A blast from the past

Five years ago, I wrote a mini-essay for an Anthropology student journal that didn’t get off the ground until I had graduated (InSitu) and so was never published.  It was based on fieldwork I did for my IRB-approved senior thesis.  Today, I got a bit nostalgic and looked back at it.  I have omitted her last name for privacy reasons.

Portrait of an Andean Lady

Roberta begins by apologizing for her old age.  “I feel my mind is confused.”  She is reassured that her knowledge is very valuable.  She goes into the house, and comes back out with roasted corn kernels for us to eat.  We graciously accept and begin the interview.

We take our seats in the shade with our back to the house, and she sits in the sun facing us.  Her face is obscured by the shadow cast by her hat.  Two curious children come to gawk at us, as they have never seen foreigners in their humble little village high in the Andes.  A white cat sits preening itself.  We begin by asking her about her experiences during the Shining Path violence during the 1980s.  The Shining Path was a Maoist movement in Peru during the 1980s that began in Ayacucho, a highland department in Peru.  The Shining Path guerillas won popular support in the countryside on a platform of redistributing hacienda land to the peasants.  They later fell out of favor with the rural populace as they stressed more radical visions of eradicating religion, traditional customs, traditional peasant authorities, and dissenters.  As the Peruvian army stepped up their operations to suppress the Shining Path, atrocities against the peasants were committed by both sides.  The usual story goes: army approaches a village, Shining Path guerillas leave, army kills alleged Shining Path conspirators and leaves, the Shining Path guerillas come back to the village and kill alleged army conspirators.  Members of the same family would be killed by both the Shining Path and the army.  Not surprisingly, the peasants developed an intense distrust of both the Maoist Shining Path and the Peruvian government.

Roberta remembers the village’s first encounters with the Shining Path.  They were relatively peaceful and just slept in people’s houses.  However, she did not help them out of fear, and the Shining Path hated people like her for that.  Later, the army came and accused her of being part of the Shining Path.  The soldiers took cheese and clothes from accused conspirators and beat them.  These actions were very shocking to the villagers, as they would usually enthusiastically give visitors food and shelter.  “El militar era ratero.” The military were thieves. They took our best belongings. We asked her who was worse, the Shining Path or the army.  She said both were equally bad.  We inquired further, and she said that the army was slightly worse because they dispossessed people, whereas the Shining Path only slept in their houses.  The comparison was made assuming that both sides killed villagers.  A significant portion of the village left during the violence, and only a small portion of them came back…

She has a son, a daughter, and nine grandchildren.  Her children left for Lima, the capital of Peru, during the violence and did not return to live in the village.  They started families there, and so are rooted there.  They do not have permanent work, but get by well enough.  She wants her children to come back and live with her.  She built houses for them in case they want to come back.  When I asked, “Do you think it is better to live in the city, where there is more work but more uncertainty, or here, where there is less work and money but more peace and certainty?”  She said, “Iguales.”  Both are equal.  However, her children prefer to go to Lima because there is more work.  Her children still have a strong connection to Pomatambo, coming occasionally and contributing money to the rebuilding of the church.  They want to return to improve the community, but it’s not possible with the precarious work situation in Lima.

Roberta is more optimistic about the current direction of her village.  There is more peace.  She said that in the future, the young people would work in the church and the health post.  She imagines a future where the young people will work together in community projects and improve the community.  She does not think the government will have a role in the improvement of the community because she thinks they do not take into account peasant views nowadays.  This sense of self-sufficiency pervades the whole village.  There are communal building projects and villagers help one another out.  I hope that Roberta’s optimism proves true.

At the end of the interview, I asked if I could take a picture of her in front of her house.  As she moved into the shadow of the house, her previously obscured facial features were made clear.  Her face showed the harshness of the land.  Her wrinkles echoed the texture of her adobe house.  Her eyes were full of the spark that characterizes her strong-willed people.  Her hair was the color of the wild grass in winter. Her blue snowflake sweater and hat echoed the intensity of the blue in the highland skies.  Her deep red shirt and skirt was the color of the hills around the village.  Roberta has worked the land all her life, shaping the earth, and cultivating crops.  Both the history of her village and the tenacity of her people are evident in her.

Note: I took this photo on a simple 10-dollar 1960s SLR camera, and the original resolution was astounding.

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Sevilla la maravilla: the first days in Seville

When I took the high speed AVE train from Madrid to Seville, I knew my time in Spain would be special.  The landscape reminded me of the background in medieval paintings.  There were lots of olive groves, and the clouds were a grey-blue.  The landscape itself was mainly hilly. Some castles were perched atop hills, and the landscape was made more surreal by how close the clouds were to the ground.  Then I saw a rainbow.  In the colonial Andes (and before, most likely), rainbows signify dramatic change.  I’ve seen a fair share of rainbows in the Andes, but this was my first time seeing it in Europe.  The first time I saw a rainbow in the Andes was in 2006.  It was an intense double rainbow.  That season solidified my love for the Andes, so I associate rainbows with good dramatic changes.

I stayed at a Pension my first night in Seville because the place I was renting would not be ready until the next day.  Although I was tired, I decided to make most of my time by walking out with a bottle of milk and a banana.  I visited some gardens close by (Jardines de Murillo).  Sevillan gardens remind me of the old Roman paintings and mosaics of Africa or the Orient.  There are palm trees and other exotic plants.  The fountains are tiled and the ground is sandy.  There are orange trees everywhere, which makes the city smell nice.  In the gardens of Real Alcazar, there are even peacocks and old Roman statues.  If I had to choose the colors that best define Seville, they would be Blue, Green, and Orange.  There are also cute puppies and dogs everywhere, along with their poop.  Luckily, as an archaeologist, my idea of sightseeing is to look at the ground, so I’m proud to say that I did not step in poop even once.  The small victories in life bring much joy.

Because I arrived during the weekend, I also had time to explore the city.  I arrived when people were preparing for epiphany, in which they celebrate the three wise men as we celebrate Santa Claus.  The air was thick with incense and smoke from chestnut vendors.  Children were everywhere frolicking about, and the Spanish were enjoying themselves jumping about and dancing to the parades.  The golden light in Seville combined with the smoke and hustle-bustle.  The closest experience I’ve ever had to this was in China during festivals.  People would gather in the streets and set off lots of fireworks, which would make the atmosphere smoky.  However, the golden light in Seville really made it all the more magical.  I generally don’t like crowds, but there’s something about happy crowds, smoke, music, the smell of roasting chestnuts that’s absolutely infectious.  The parade people throw candy, and you can hear the little kids squealing with delight with every throw.

Some of my more memorable first impressions:

The Spanish are very social.  I often hear them making a racket outside at 3am, drinking and singing beer songs, or what I interpret to be beer songs.  They come out at around 11pm and stay out late.

Because the Spanish are very social, I never see them eating alone.  This made my culinary experience in the first few days rather dull.  I would greedily eye the menus at tapas bars, but would be too embarrassed to order and eat all by my lonesome.

The Spanish really enjoy taking out their children to walk around.  In the U.S., children are generally allowed to be social only in designated spaces: playgrounds, parks, recess yards, children’s museums, etc.  However, in Seville, they are social EVERYWHERE.  Their parents would stand outside eating their tapas, while their children would frolick about with each other.

Seville isn’t perfect, but even its imperfections are charming.

Quick summary of work in Seville

Time in Seville: about a month

Books looked over in the Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos: about thirty

Legajos (dossiers ranging from 150-600 pages) of archival documents looked through: 16, but not all of them were useful

Words transcribed from archival documents: Around 26,000-27,000, half of them double-checked on site (27412, but  including page numbers)

Photocopied pages: 133

Great finds: Census of my site in the year 1686, relationship between mermaids and obrajes, detailed descriptions of Spaniards fomenting racial animosity between “indios,” “negros,” and “mestizos” in obrajes, detailed descriptions of punishments and injustices in obrajes, amorous and illicit relations between priests and the wives of indigenous caciques (not directly relevant, but hilarious), and information about the social effects of the great epidemic of 1720-24.

Cost (airplane, transportation, food, housing, photocopies): Around $2400

Favorite place in Seville: Real Alcazar right next to the archives, free for students.

I’m already planning to come back next winter.  I’ve looked through all the obvious documents that would contain information about obrajes, but I think there is a ton more in the letters from the Viceroys. I also did not have time to look at the archival documents in the University of Seville, which may or may not hold information.

In the next few days, I will add more updates and tales from Seville.  I finally found some time now that I’m in Lima.