Peru 2008: Isca Pataza, a rural community

July 3, 2008 (continued)

This afternoon, we were on our way to bring fruit and bread to a rural community and have lunch with them. Before we had left Puno this morning, we had stopped to buy fruit from vendors. The vendors were few and their offerings repetitive – well, it is winter – so we bought lots of bananas, oranges and apples, and I checked out some papayas that one vendor had, but they were both partially rotten. However, I spotted another possibility – a small, permanent tienda, where we found some great tomatoes and purchased two dozen of them.

With our fruit and bread (purchased the previous day in Urcos) in tow, we set out on foot along a path between farm fields, past cows, donkeys, sheep and pigs, and cone shaped stands of straw.

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 At the end of the path, we again ascended a rocky hillside, 

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and when we reached the top, we were greeted by an assemblage of villagers in their native costumes. We deposited our offerings on a table and were addressed by Martin, the mayor of Isca Pataza village.

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The mayor of the village stands near the table of food that we bought in Puno.
The mayor of the village stands near the table of food that we bought in Puno.

Off to the side, a woman and a little girl wearing a “kantu” hat sat next to crafts they had for sale, and beyond them, an older woman was stoking a fire in an igloo of clods of earth, ready to cook potatoes. We were told that we were free to take pictures of whatever we wanted and didn’t have to give tips.

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811Across the yard against a low wall overlooking the village, a group of women in beautifully hand-embroidered jackets, bright colored long skirts and bowler hats were chatting and spinning sheep’s wool, or working clumps of wool with their fingers to make it ready for spinning. The spinners used spools that resembled tops, onto which they deftly spun the threads of white wool. A few children were among them, including very young ones slung on the backs of their mothers in black shawls.

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The first order of business was for us to grab some potatoes from a bag and throw them, like bowling balls, into the fire.

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The fire was then extinguished, the igloo collapsed and dirt thrown over it. It would take about 20 minutes for the potatoes to bake in the hot embers underground.

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The mayor then got everyone together as Edgar gathered us together to greet each other, using the Aymara phrase he’d taught us: “Kamisaraki” (Hello, how are you), to which they replied: “Waliki” (Fine, thanks).

 

First we told them all our names and they told us theirs. Then we asked other questions to each other, including the usual how old are you and where each of us was from. Then the questions got more interesting: I asked what the woman working on black wool was making. I asked this because Edgar had told us the wool of black sheep wasn’t good for anything. The woman answered that she was making a black shawl, like the ones several women were wearing to keep out the cold or carry their babies.

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Sharon (or Val, I don’t remember) asked about the beautiful jackets the women were all wearing; who made them?

 

This little girl wears a colorful jacket and the cap worn by single girls, meant to resemble the kantu flower.
This little girl wears a colorful jacket and the cap worn by single girls, meant to resemble the kantu flower.

Martin replied that there was an embroiderer who also was the tailor that makes them for everyone in the village. The tailor was apparently not present now.

 

The questions turned to farming and life in the USA. We were asked whether farming was much like it is in Peru, and we answered that thee were big farms with hired help, and small farms in which the family worked their own land. How much did a farm worker make?

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We estimated about $5 per hour, that this pay was really low and a lot of farm workers were immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala. To make a comparison, the man asked (all the questions were asked by men) how much a quilo of potatoes cost and after some discussion we estimated about $1.50, a very high price compared to here. We also said that farming in the U.S. was mostly done by machine, even by small farmers. But someone brought up the Amish, and how they still farm without machinery and have close-knit communities that work together.

 “I’d like to go there,” the man answered wistfully.

 We also talked about farmers’ markets and how popular they’ve become, and why we like them – the food is fresh, locally grown and tastes better than a lot of food we get at supermarkets that is imported.

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They also asked about our patriotic holidays and how we celebrate them. I answered in Spanish that, in fact, our Independence Day is tomorrow, the 4th of July, and that we celebrate with fireworks, families go together to watch them and have picnics. Wally mentioned lots of beer, which got them to laugh.  The man who asked about this then said that Peruvian Independence Day is July 28 and that they celebrate with parades and parties – lots of drinking too!

So there we were, privileged Americans standing in a line, talking to this group of rural, poor Peruvians, with whom we would seem to have little in common, attempting to conduct an international exchange. These were not desperate or unhappy people. Their lives were simple and their concerns communal, but they were content with their traditions and way of life. Of course they wanted to improve their lives and they enjoyed the gifts of fruit and bread, things that seem to be sort of luxuries – not what they eat every day, not to mention the money they hoped we would spend buying the crafts they had for sale.

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The potatoes were done, dug out and cleaned, and set out with other traditional foods we were given for our lunch:

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fried cheese, a few different preparations of potatoes (including dried or sun-baked), homemade bread from quinoa and wheat flour, sauces for the potato which included 2 salsas made with onions and tomatoes – one spicy and one mild, a sauce made with clay, and two kinds of sweets made with quinoa (which to me tasted identical).

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Quite a starchy meal, but we helped ourselves, spooning the food into clay bowls and ate with gusto, savoring these unusual flavors, as we settled on benches and outcroppings of rock. Our hosts arranged themselves in their traditional community circles of women, spreading their food (mostly potatoes – not what they had given us) on a cloth in the middle. The men came and took their portions, then lined up along the side, leaning up against a wall with the other men.

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We were together, yet not together; the food we ate was traditional food prepared by members of their community, yet it was what they prepared for guests – fancier than what they were eating themselves, a meal of potatoes eaten communally with their hands.

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Afterward, Martin gave us quinoa soup, then a type of sweet popped corn, followed by mugs of muña tea. (Muña is a kind of mint which helps oxygenate the lungs at high altitudes). Each mug was brought to us individually, a sprig of muña in each.

827When we had finished eating, we shopped.

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I emerged from the toilet to find Carol trying to get change from the woman selling the crafts. She’d given her a 50 soles bill, expecting 30 in change. The woman apparently didn’t have change so Carol asked if someone else would like to buy something to make up most of the difference. I agreed, since once again I hadn’t brought any money with me. I knew Dale had some, but figured this was a way to help Carol out of a dilemma.

 This, however, created a problem. The vendors were not all the same. The woman who we had been giving money to was supposed to share it with the actual vendor. I had picked out a wall hanging for S/15, a cloth 3-pocket holder for S/8 and finished off with an assortment of finger puppets and woven animal ornaments for S/7. This came to exactly 30 soles, and with Carol’s purchase, exactly S/50. The woman seemed confused so I tried to explain it, naming each purchase, its price, and how it added up.

 

Peasant community of Isca Pataza, the sign says. This is their main community building.
Peasant community of Isca Pataza, the sign says. This is their main community building.

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Soon afterward, it was time to leave. Martin eloquently wished us blessings for our journey, home and family, and we said good-bye to each of the women, men and children.

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When we got to the bus, we noticed that one of the women had come down behind us and was approaching, looking concerned. Had someone perhaps left something behind?

 We were all on the bus when she entered and said that she had not been paid S/10 for a piece of her merchandise. She indicated that I was the one who hadn’t paid. I showed her what I bought and told her what I’d paid and that two of us had gone in together and paid the other woman 50 soles. But this woman said the other had not given her all the money and had told her that’s all she had received.

 I was on the verge of just giving her another S/10, but Boris said that if the other woman wasn’t giving her her proper share, then the other was a “ladrona”. They eventually stepped out of the bus to settle it, and Boris apparently ended up giving her another ten soles. I felt terrible and stingy – I should have just given it to her. 10 soles is very little for me and a lot for her.

I hadn’t meant to create a problem, or argue with this woman – I would never cheat someone like that and had only wanted to begin by explaining the situation, then perhaps give her the extra money. But Boris seemed to be handling it his own way, and so I was never given the chance to make amends as I would have liked to.

 

On the way back, Edgar showed pictures from a book on Lake Titicaca, giving us a preview of what we are to see tomorrow. And also a last discovery: a large house on a cliff, constructed with bricks the same color as the rock, complete with a round castle-like turret and many arched windows. Edgar said it belonged to a rich Belgian businessman who built it about a decade ago.

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When we arrived back at the hotel, we said good-bye to Edgar and I tipped him enough for both Dale and me (20 soles). Jayme gave him an additional 10. We plunked down in the room we met at the end of each day, helping ourselves to coca tea and selecting our choices for starters, entrees and desserts for dinner at the hotel that evening.  Finally we went to our rooms to clean ourselves up from the dust and dry windy air before gathering for dinner in the dining room, heated by a blazing fire in the fireplace.

 Some people took Boris’s advice to take a walk after dinner because it’s good for the digestion. At high altitudes it takes longer to digest food. However, we were to set out early the next day and I preferred to stay in the room, write, read and go to bed early.

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