Friday, November 12, 2010

Stay in the Campo: Part 2

Part II

Day 2 continued

Sunsets are beautiful here, but where are they not? Here, there is burst of activity as all the animals are brought back from pasture. It is the closest thing there is to a rush hour. Besides the playground noise coming from the nearby school, the days are pretty quiet. But twilight is a convivial time of socializing before dinner. However, I noticed that Damian had socialized too much and had apparently continued the San Juan festivities throughout the day and was now red-eyed and staggering. Santusa was annoyed but mostly embarrassed. She has plenty of work to do, but now has to also had to take care of an inebriated husband.

As much fun as I was having on my own, the stay was not turning what I had hope for, and I thought about leaving a day early, on Saturday. I knew that they had to be at the Sunday market early to sell their textiles, so I would skip out the day prior and reduce Santusa’s workload by one less male dependent.

When I later mentioned this idea to Santusa, she immediately jumped on it and insisted that I stay, and told me how she wanted me to give Damian a ride to the market Sunday on the motorcycle, on my way home. He was really looking forward to it. I could tell then how much she really loved him. Not because of a ride on a motorcycle but the sincerity in her voice. I will stay I said.

My original intention with the trip was to help out more and be part of things, but in reality it just wasn’t practical. I had tried helping the nephew chop wood, but with the dull axe and cracked handle, I ended up with a bloody splinter in my hand, which Santusa freaked about and wanted to care for. “What a pansy-ass thin-skinned weenie of a gringo”, I thought. I went back to my room to lick my wounds – after I broke the handle of their only axe, ARGH!

Around 8:00pm Santusa came into my room with a bowl of hot soup, chicken based, with root vegetables and pastas. This whole time she would enter my room unannounced and just sit and chat. As a second language, her Spanish is slow and clear and I understand her better than most. She is patient with me – a nurturing mother to her core. I have taken to leaving my door open all the time, for the fresh air and view of the mountains, but also with the hope of initiating more of her visits. On this visit, while I ate my soup, she told me more about her life. How her father left them when she was an infant and how her mother raised three girls in extreme poverty. She managed to only get through the third grade, but continued to study Spanish on her own (her mother only speaks native Quechua). She started weaving at eight years old, but had been spinning wool before that. She is my age of 46, and Damian (one year older) is her first and only love. Moving up to present day, she told me about how her eldest son, of 26 years, will soon finish the medical program in Cuba and will return as a doctor, how her middle son is now in University in Sucre studying music, and her high school senior will be going to University next year to study English. I tried to express what a fine job her mother did and how she in turn has also done a great job with her children. I tried to explain how it is every parent’s ambition to give their children a better life than what they had, no matter where they are from. She asked about my life and my family with genuine concern and interest. Tears welled up in her eyes as she told me how difficult it was for women in her culture living in the countryside. She spoke of the prejudice among her own people, and how poorly she is treated when she attempts to go to a restaurant in Sucre, because of her indigenous dress and darker skin. I thought to myself, "here is a woman putting three boys through college, who runs her own successful business, creates amazing art, and lives a decent and honest life". Others here should be so lucky to live up to her standards.

Day 3 - Friday

Still in bed, Santusa entered my room with a bowl of fresh scrambled eggs and bread, and said that she needed my help downstairs when I was finished. The eggs were damn tasty, as I threw them down as fast as I could.

When I got down stairs into the salon, she and her mother were setting up a new loom. She was going to start a shawl and I was going to be able to see the process from the very beginning. What a great opportunity. This video explains it best.

Later that night Damian and Santusa came in with bowls of sopa de mani, or peanut soup. It doesn’t taste anything like peanuts but is a rich thick soup with a peanut stock and various vegetables, sometimes with chicken. Earlier, I had noticed Grandma crushing peanuts on the grinding stone, but hadn’t thought much of it. I had had this soup before in Sucre, and know that is reserved for special occasions and events, so it was special that they were serving it to me now. The soup was far better than anything I had tasted in the city, everything being fresh and made from scratch it was not surprise. We sat our empty bowls down and laughed over the video footage that I shot earlier that day. Apparently weaving is women’s work and seeing a grown man “flub it up”, was quite comical. We said good night, after Damian agreed to take me on a hike in the morning to look for proper fossils and some Incan ruins. The visit seemed to be turning around into what I had hoped for.

Day 4 - Saturday

We set out after breakfast. Damian carried a small pickaxe and had strips of rawhide wrap around his corduroy blazer. I felt underdressed. We followed the dry riverbed as he pointed out plants and salts clinging to rocks that were used in the production of dyes for the wool. I don’t understand him as well as Santusa, but we get by. Later, we come across an ancient stone bridge, and then remnants of a stone silo used for grain storage, next an aqua duct system originating from the river, all dating back from the Inca times in the 1400’s.

This area was the southeastern corner of the Incan empire back in the day, and the rulers placed some the empires best warriors along this border. They were fierce and fought off many invasions from other tribal people. Today’s Tarabuquenos are direct decedents of these people and they are very proud of their history. In many respects, not much has changed. Seeing these ruins was amazing, even more so knowing that not many other people have had the opportunity to see them.

The sun was intense. I opened up all the vents on my ExOfficio safari shirt, rolled up my sleeves, and put on my floppy sun hat. Damian forged ahead still wearing his wool cap and blazer, and only drinking water after practically forced him to. Before we turned around to start heading back, we stopped to collect firewood. The straps he had been carrying were to bundle dead branches and to haul back over his shoulders. As he ingeniously secured the near 50-pound bundle to his back, with nothing more than a leather strap, I thought how the engineers at REI would capitalize on this and create a specialized wood carrying apparatus available online for $99.

As we walked back, I was started feeling it. The relentless sun and climbing, had taken its toll. I offered several times to carry the wood, but I think he knew, as I did, that doing so would have about killed me. We never found any fossils, and never really looked, but had a good time, and I had finally had a chance at some alone time with Damian.

Closer to home, I was trailing behind Damian and his burden by about 40-feet carrying only my Chapstick and empty water bottle. We were walking through some plowed fields, me with my head was down focusing on my dragging feet, when I noticed some chards of terracotta. I began filling my pockets.

Over a lunch of chicken and rice with a fresh green chile sauce, I proudly and excitedly pulled out some of the pottery pieces and laid them out on the table. I had collected only those pieces that had paint showing on them. Naturally, I was planning on calling the anthropology department at Yale to notify them of my monumental discovery once back in Sucre, until Damian and Santusa shrugged their shoulders and gave me a, “oh, those things”, kind of look. They told me that they are common after the fields have been plowed up. I didn’t care, this was the coolest thing ever – cherry picking ancient pottery off the ground! I virtually begged to go back out there to look for more, almost tugging on Damian’s pant leg. He agreed that after siesta and after we shucked some dried corn that we would go back out. We did, and it was the perfect ending to my “Day of the Inca”. Besides his "hiccup" involving too much San Juan celebrating, Damian proved to be a very kind man, and we eventually connected.

Day 5- Sunday, Market Day

The morning was cold, damn cold, and at 7:00 it was hard to peel back the heavy covers and get started. Eventually, the bike was loaded, which included a bag of old pottery chips, and Damian mounted on the back. At we rolled out, my riding suit was completely zipped up to keep out the cold, while Damian wore a down coat under his long poncho, wool cap, his white wool “shorts” and sandals. Thirty minutes later, we were setting up their spot at the market as the sun finally began throwing down some warmth. I grabbed some street food, said good-bye and headed off on my way home, to Sucre. I had arrived in the campo with curiosity and naive interest, and left with a new set of friends. Friends that would soon become family.

Video montage of my four day stay in the campo.

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