A Change of Scenery
Life moves differently here, the pace is slower, the land is central and MSG is a seasoning. I have a theory that something in the combination of MSG, potatoes and living off the land keeps you alive until you are 103, because there are more 100+ women per capita here than anywhere I have ever been.
The land is vida here, it provides the potatoes, the avas and the food for the animals. It is strange to live in a place where you can see the visible effects of global warming. In Cleveland I could tell, the snow came later, it was more erratic, but life continued on.
Here on the other hand when the rain doesn't come that means that there may not be enough food. It means that the land will dry up and people will have to sell their animals because there will not be enough food for the vacas and ovejas.
A mal ano has a completely different connotation here where substance farming is the main form of life.
A few people have asked me where the rain went, I generally say I don't know or global warming. If they then ask what caused global warming this is where I stand staring. I usually say burning trash. But it is hard to look into their eyes and say 1/3 of the problem is America. It's hard to say your carbon impact is barely anything where as mine is probably equivalent to the whole village. It really puts your own life in perspective.
There are things about Cusicancha that are so different and yet so similar to America that it makes you realize that the human web is all interconnected it is just a matter of perspective. Where you were born and the experiences you had as a child mold your perspective but the ones you have as adult can shatter those perspectives or morph them in a way you never knew possible.
Another issue I have been forced to reckon with is machismo and domestic violence. For those of you that don't know machismo is the belief that men are superior to women and the treatment of women as such. It is very prevalent is several of my annexos.
During one of the more melodramatic moments I have had here there was a man that decided to drink a dash of rat poison. I happened to be in the annexo to do some surveys with the population at the time it happened so I was witness to the fallout. The man drank just enough rat poison to make himself sick enough to appear that he was comiting suicide but not enough to actually kill himself.
When my health post arrived to provide him treatment he was resistant and flailing around refusing treatment. His children and mother were crying and many members of the community were standing in the house watching. I felt like I was watching some terrible movie that I couldn't fast forward. When my health post was finally able to give him some treatment they realized that the poison had moved to his blood and they would have to give him anti-venom treatment. At this point they tried to get him to come down to the health post in Cusicancha or the health center in the closest city, Huayatara. He refused.
Katie Campbell-Morrison doing encuestas (surveys)
with her community
The women of my post looked around asking the women for help. His wife was no where to be found because her husband had dislocated her shoulder earlier that day and she was hiding upstairs. The other women, excluding his mother, just said that he was a man so they couldn't force him to do anything. They were helpless in this situation. It was a man's life but all the women did was stand there and stare at him.
Finally they had to pull in the gobernador to have a man's help. It was like a strange parallel universe where it was acceptable to know a man had beat his wife and be powerless to force him to get medical attention in a potentially life threatening situation. Don't worry the man survived but that night showed me something I had never really been exposed to before.
Katie Campbell-Morrison's nurse Felly doing a census report
in one of her annexos Pacca Alta
The world I grew up in as a child was filled with powerful women. I actually refused to apply to Mount Holyoke when they said in their tour that I needed to come here to escape the oppression of men. Its not that I had never had to hear about any form of domestic violence in the past. Several of my closest friends had to experience domestic violence in a very personal way. But there is just something different about hearing stories about domestic violence and having to see it for yourself.
Seeing a woman cower in the corner as she holds her arm while others outwardly proclaim that they are lesser then men. It changes something. To see a child come running into a tienda after her father, shouting "don't sell to him, he stole money from my mother."
To see the visible fear and terror in a child's eye of their own father, hear the crack in their voice and they shy away from his touch. It makes you think of the world in a different light.
As a woman it makes you almost feel powerless and angered at the same time. That was the moment that I decided I want to do self-esteem charlas with the young girls of my community.
But it's not all global warming and domestic violence; there are many funny moments as well. I say funny because there really is no other way to describe it. Things like arm wrestling your governor more than once and dumping flour on his head really can only be described as funny. I have had to entirely give up on the concept of shame for starters because shame will really get you nowhere in this business.
I have had to sing "I'm a Little Teapot" and "The Itsy-Bity Spider" on the side of the road while one of my friends had diarrhea behind a bush on a 5 mile hike uphill in Sperry's. I forgot the words to "Itsy Bitsy Spider" so it came out more like "the spider climbs up the spout and then the rain comes." Clearly not the lyrics.
To date the most shameless moment that I have had since arriving to Peru was during the carnivales celebration. Carnivales is a celebration all throughout February and actually I'm not so sure why the celebration exists but it does. The first Sunday of February there was a dance competition in my site between my site, Cusicancha, and 3 other annexos; Tambo, Pampapquio and Quiswarpampa.
I was planning on participating but the closer we came to the date the less it seemed that the event was actually going to happen. That is until about 5am the morning of when carnivales music started to blare over the community loud speakers. I don't know if you have ever been exposed to carnivales music but listening to it at 5am is like listening to a cat dying.
Leading a JUNTOS meting for families in extreme poverty
Anyway I headed off to the local communal to prepare for the dance competition. Originally I was put in a costume to be a dancer but then there was a communal consensus to have me be the chanto instead of a dancer. I have included a picture of me as the chanto, pregnancy balloons included. I realize that these photos solidify the end to any hopes of a political career, but really they are just too good to pass up.
Anyways I was then put into the outfit you can see below. Attractive as ever. And told to put my hair down, keep in mind I had not brushed it in about 2 days. There was then a rather intense debate over whether or not I was dancing around the middle or the outside. Also whether the balloons should accentuate my rear end or make me pregnant. To my delight after presenting ourselves in a parade in front of the entire community they decided to take the balloons out. I thought I was in the clear. I could not have been more wrong.
The first round was a 10 minute presentation by each of the 4 competitors. There was nothing super interesting about this round expect I skipped around the outside with a 1.5 liter bottle of sweet sugar cane liquor in a Coke bottle. The second round, the 30-minute round, that was where things got interesting. We were the last group to present so after we went in the first round I thought there would be a simple hour and a half break.
I was leaning against a fence next to a stack of 2 speakers blaring music when an older woman came up to me and said during the next round you are going to urinate. I thought I was mistaken, what on earth could this woman mean when she said I was going to urinate. In my mission to find out more information about the urination the plan got changed to me having to give birth. Significantly less embarrassing than urination.
After what I can only describe as one of the most confusing 45 minutes of my life the plan was finally set into motion. I was in fact going to give birth during carnivales. First I would head over to a chamber pot and pretend to urinate but have it turn into a birth instead. I was expected to scream loudly during the birth. Then at another given point my baby would die and of course I would have to be very upset and crushed at this moment.
In order to solidify this plan I had to tie a small baby doll under my skirt to pop out at the appropriate moment. I was slowly becoming overwhelmed by props, coke bottle in one hand, balloons under my skirt, a baby on my back, a hat that was too small. It's a wonder nothing toppled off.
In case the story wasn't enough just when we were about to start our dance performance it started to rain. By the time I was giving birth it was a full on down pour. Prior to the birth scene there was an unexpected hug that toppled me over into the mud and concrete. In case my hands were not occupied enough trying to keep all my props in check. The birth went off without a hitch. It was actually easier than I thought.
A circle of dancers surrounded me so I did not actually have to stare at any audience members directly. The death scene on the other hand was much more befuddling. First of all my baby was toted away and no one told me whether it was dead or alive. I had no idea how to react so I just danced around for a while waiting for a cue of what emotion I should be exuding.
When I was pulled over to the baby in a cardboard box covered in dirt I knew we were at the funeral. One of my fellow dancers whispered into my ears that I should start crying. As I was standing there in the rain loudly fake crying, which inevitably broke down into laughter, while staring directly at my mayor, all my co-workers at the health post, my host mother and my governor I knew it was all over.
From that moment on there was no point in having shame; I just had to let whatever happens happen. There is something about making a complete ass of yourself in front of every town authority that changes your perspective. I know that I am an outsider, and although I will be here for two years I will always be an outsider.
I may as well make it an entertaining two years and just be willing to sing Christmas songs in March while washing my underwear in the river.
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