Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Language lessons

I met with my project coordinator, a Peruvian that works for ProPeru, the first weekend I was here. He had the strongest handshake I've ever experienced, so I said so. Or at least, I said, not knowing the word for handshake: tienes un buen mano (You have a good hand). He looked down, and I followed his gaze, noticing at once that at some point earlier in his life, he had lost half of his thumb.

Gracias, he said. We moved on swiftly.

Some older members of the communities around Chichubamba do not speak Spanish. I experienced this whilst looking for the elusive post office. From beneath her wrinkles and deep tan, a tiny old lady indicated that she couldn´t understand my enquiry.

The ones that do speak Spanish, speak with much affection. Papa, Mama, Tio, Tia (Father, Mother, Uncle, Aunt) are all regularly employed to address people, regardless of whether they are complete strangers or close friends. As you might imagine, the family gathering (see previous post) was a nightmare from this point of view. I was introduced to sisters who were then addressed as mama, mothers who were addressed as tia, and I rapidly became a papa.

In an attempt to ingratiate ourselves with the more far-flung communities, we have had a lesson in Quechua, the local language. Here follows a few key phrases:

The name of the language is Runa Simi, the language of the people. simi, means both 'language' and 'mouth'.

The spanish language is known as alqu simi, the language of dogs, since that is what they consider it to sound like.

Imaynalla Kashianki How are you?

Allillanmi Fine

Huq 1

Ishay 2

Kinsa 3

Tana 4

Miski Your food is delicious!

My favourite: machananchis kamalla Until our next drunken session!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Meeting the grandparents

I was invited to dinner at the house of the mother of my host, Miguel. This was a big family occasion, since it appeared Miguel's sister was to be introducing her new boyfriend to the family for the first time. I was relieved, since I felt that the traditional, rather over-bearing, Peruvian hospitality and attention that might otherwise have been directed at me, would surely be offloaded onto him. I looked forward to observing whether the stereotypical awkwardness of this sort of introduction existed globally.

Thus, I was slightly surprised and embarrassed to be asked to carve when the main course came. We had already eaten a palatable broth with its chicken drumstick, and the ubiquitous choclo [which resembles an English sweetcorn on steroids]. However, never one to shirk the call of duty, and having recently presided with modest success over a couple of Christmas birds, I was honoured to accept. The plate came out, on which was balanced 5 staring, brittle, guinea pigs. Standard 'breast or leg' jokes were not going to cut the mustard here.

Having taken a large swig of chicha (local, barely drinkable corn beer with strawberries), and much jubilant instruction, I set to the task, to the obvious relief of the sister's new beau.

Four observations about Andean guinea pig (cuy) eating.

First, though they enjoy a good cuy dish here, it is very much reserved for special occasions, so I was lucky to experience one.

Secondly, if faced with carving a cuy in future, please be advised that they serve 4 people. And there is no dignity to the carving: a simple quartering.

Thirdly, do not ask for cutlery. You will get laughed at. (This also appears to apply with Americans, since they don't use that word for knife, fork and spoon, but for industrial-type butchers' knives. There was some bemusement at dinner with my fellow volunteers last night when I asked if there was any cutlery for the salad.)

Fourthly, and finally, since this will surely see most readers off: the head is a delicacy. Do not simply discard it on the side of the chopping board. Head meat is actually preferred by some consumers. In addition, the fun to be had at the end of the meal is apparently endless. Within the ear drum of a cuy, there is a miniscule bone (all of maybe 2mm) named el sorito (the little fox) since that is what it resembles. I'm intrigued to know who first decided this; it was very difficult to find. As well as this, my Spanish teacher informs me that more ingenious cuy-eaters will create models out of the jaw bones. Favourites include a condor and, bizarrely, a Batmobile.

As conversation pleasantly bubbled over, I politely wonder of my host who the charming lady in the charcoal picture on the wall was. She was his grandmother, Miguel states with pride. She owned a lot of land in the area that is now divided between his large family. I make suitably complimentary sounds about the old lady. Yes, he muses. He looks at the picture again. You know, he says, in that picture, she's dead.

I take a swig of chicha.

Study of past Volunteers' Reports

A reading of the past reports on the Agrotourism project have produced the following conclusions with regard to what work is worthwhile by a volunteer on the project.

English teaching
Little success: villagers found grammar difficult. Volunteers concentrated on vocab instead with more success. Poor commitment from villagers. Also, short length of time volunteers are generally here for makes it difficult to sustain any teaching programme.

Conclusion: Low priority. Seems an unnecessary complication at this stage - considering how difficult it is to teach English - for two reasons. First, a translator is often available. Secondly, handouts in English with interesting facts can be prepared.

However, two interesting options: First, any Quechua speakers within the village so that visitors might hear presentations in the ancient language? Next steps would be to identify any Quechua speakers. Secondly, as a more long-term solution, could use profits from tours to send members to a local language school.

Marketing (locally, in Cusco and for online websites)
Slow progress – unclear from previous reports which agencies are used. There has been no commitment to distribution from locals.

High priority, need to build on relationships. Establish with whom we are working; most popular agencies; which big guidebooks have been contacted with what success. This has now been done to a certain extent, mainly with the conclusion that there are no existing relationships with agencies, except a very recent one with Intrepid, an Australian tour company. This is a very interesting relationship stemming from village networking: a family member of Elizabeth, the Agrotourism President, works in a local bar/restaurant, the owner of which also works sourcing community-friendly projects for Intrepid. This is therefore a strong link that should be built upon. It has yielded record visits at the start of 2008, and they consider 2 tours a week to be a sustainable number, far exceeding past expectations for the project. This relationship needs to be nurtured as a platform on which to build. Intrepid are also keen to sponsor a community-wide project, details of which need to be confirmed. Extract from minutes of Agrotourism board meeting:

Intrepid is prepared to sponsor a project in Chichubamba. However, this must be a project for the benefit of the whole village, rather than just Agrotourism (A).

Elizabeth suggested helping re-open the Chichubamba school, which is abandoned.

Chris suggested that this was too ambitious for A. Currently A should concentrate on making the tours very good and building relationships with travel agencies.

However, he agreed that, hypothetically, it was a good idea. One way in which it could work would be for AA to sponsor a project, such that, for every tour, they would donate a percentage of the profit to the community project. However, Chris would have to look at figures and work out how much the tours cost and whether A could afford to do this.

It was suggested that A could not afford to give from the tour profit, because there was not enough for the members already.

Chris outlined a proposal for raising money. Income and expenses should be counted. Then, ask whether there would be enough money to give to a project at the end of the year, or whether A should increase the price of tours.

Eufracia suggested that a better project to support would be a drinking water project.

At this point the discussion was interrupted so that the members could chase a mouse from the meeting place.

It cannot be stressed enough that this relationship is crucial to the success of the project, both financially and as a test to see if the group can cope sensibly with the high footfall and amount of money coming in.

Quality checking tours
Seems generally good on tour front. Both parties seem to enjoy the experience.
Low priority, as seems to be under control. Next steps, view tours.

Conclusion: after viewing tours, some do need additional material. In particular, more, travel-friendly, products should be available to sell, for example, pressed, dried flowers, perhaps on greetings cards at the horticulture presentation. Could this link in with Kanchay wasi project? [NB. a project providing work and refuge for female victims of domestic violence. A large part of the project seems to be sourcing material for arts and crafts activities.] They could be provided with fresh flowers and paper, then given back to the gardeners to sell/ put in display cases.

Cleaning up town
The Sacred Valley suffers from a lack of local appreciation of sanitation. The mighty Urubamba river, source of the Amazon, is notoriously dirty and in Chichubamba litter can be found regularly. Rubbish bins required.
High priority, as seems to be easy to accomplish and benefits town generally. Need to approach local council about this.

Bathrooms for tourists
Was a crucial point agreed on between ProPeru and Agrotourism group. Has not been fulfilled.
High, this is a good time of year to be carrying out refurbishments (less tourists). Reestablishes good faith. Unfortunately however, this is a problem that has its root in the manner in which this project was set up by ProPeru. The village was approached with the project and seem to have been led to believe they could demand what they liked and it would be given to them with little reciprocation.

Quotation from a previous report (Alfred Dunn):

'However, the project was not set-up just as a plain economic initiative for the people in Chichubamba, but rather is aimed at providing a full package of education that compels the villagers to rethink in various areas such as marketing, packaging, hygiene, coexistence of modern day needs and traditions…etc.

My belief is that it’s very easy for Chichubamba to depend entirely on ProPeru to bring in tourists and achieve the economic incentive part, but in order for the project to be sustainable and beneficial to the community in the long term, the villagers should view tourists as a positive impact on their lives.'

This is an important consideration that needs to be borne in mind when considering next steps.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Amazon

A-mazon in Greek means 'without breast'. This name refered to the legendary female warrior tribe that were said to cut off their right breasts, in order to better draw bow, throw spear and generally intimidate men.

Unattributed sources indicate that this may also have made low-level household chores easier. Currently unclear whether this topic forms part of the trip, but here is the information we have so far:

'Eco-magic' Tour (apparently...)

Day 1: Monkey Island, which sounds like a theme park ride.

We'll fly into Puerto Maldonado, 'Peru's capital of biodiversity'. By bus, we will continue to Capitania, a small river port, where a motorboat will take us across the Madre de Dios River.

'As the trip progresses we will become immersed in the natural surroundings of the jungle while observing the ronsoco[capybara], caimans [crocodiles], turtles, herons, cormorants, and other animals. We will arrive at the EcoAmazonia Lodge and enjoy a welcome drink and then settle into our bungalows for lunch. In the afternoon accompanied by a guide we will visit Monkey Island, a unique place at the heart of the Madre de Dios River. Along the way we will take in a variety of flora that are home to variety of monkey species including, maquisapas, capuchins [two types of monkey], lion monkeys, puffins, and cotos [parrot], along with other animals like coati [anteater, I think], sloth and a great diversity of birds. We'll complete our visit to the island by enjoying the sunset and then return to the lodge for dinner.'

Day 2: Lake Apu Victor

After breakfast, a walk deep into the jungle, along paths and canyon bridges to Caiman's Cave [which sounds ominous] and majestic Lake Apu with its crystal clear waters surrounding jungle marshes and giant tree species. Further along the way we'll ascend to an observation point that opens up a spectacular panorama over the lake. We will observe guacamayoa [the lesser-known endangered brother of the popular avocado dip], toucans, camungo, shanshos [all types of bird], herons and other animals such as caimans and turtles. If we are lucky we may even glimpse the giant otter, the jungle's 'most impressive' animal. [I was initially cynical about this, but an google image search confirms this claim:

Day 2 afternoon: Gamitana River

On this excurion you will be able to take a dip and fish in the river before returning home for dinner

Day 3: breakfast and airport transfer

Just watch out for angry women running around half-naked.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Shamanic shennanigins

This week, my next door neighbour left to finish her training in the rainforest. She will spend 2 months eating a very restricted vegan diet in order to graduate fully into her chosen career. Chosen that is, not by her, but by destiny. For she is a shaman.
The lady speaks an ancient Peruvian language (Lapactu. sp?). How long, I wonder? Since she was 14. So you have heritage in Peru? No, she lived here in another life. She could just tell when she got here - memories, deja vu, etc.
She has been married, but moved out here because a Native american shaman gave her a coca leaf reading that told her this was her destiny. Although she refused to move right away, eventually she felt she could not escape her destiny. Some examples of this: she was once photographed at a wedding. On the photo, one can see clearly white angel's wings behind her, glowing. Unfortunately, her last house was burgled and they took her camera with the photo on it. Also, a friend of hers came to Machu Picchu and took a photo, noticing afterwards that there were spots of light on it; these were spirits.
Her favourite Inca site is Sacsayhuaman, on the hills above Cusco. Above this site, there are 44 laylines. I enquire whether this is a nautical term. No. The earth is criss-crossed with hundreds of laylines - lines of energy. Where they intersect lies the most spiritual power. She has led people to the top of this site and some people simply can't process the energy so they have to come back down.
In one of her former lives, she lived in a world where women ruled. She herself was a Queen of that world. She had a slave who was madly in love with her. Unfortunately, he was too enamoured of her and she had him killed. In this life, they found each other again. They felt a tremendous energy when they were with each other, which is how they knew. Then he told her that he had actually been her greatest warrior, that it was true she had had him killed, and that he wanted his revenge in this life. They are now dating.
So, she is completing her training to be a shaman, with her shaman in the jungle - called Ruben. She is already trained in San Pedro (a hallucinogenic drug only legal in Peru). San Pedro is a cactus and is administered as a drink. It has a very ritualistic role in Andean society. It has been used since pre-Inca times and is documented in ceramics and wall carvings. Hugh Thompson describes certain temples that appear to have been designed purely to enhance the hallucinogenic experience, with confusing maze-like structural architecture as well as wind tunnels that produce whistling noises and running water sound effects.
'She' (San Pedro) works on the three bodies (physical, mental and emotional). It has been known to cure AIDS, cancer, etc. It cured her diabetes and my host, Miguel's stomach ulcer (he told me this independently). If you are pure and you drink San Pedro you will have an amazing experience. You can feel her moving through different parts of your body.
The drug she is completing her training upon is called Ayahuasca. She had a bottle unopened in a cupboard which exploded the other day of its own volition. There has been no conclusion made about the significance of this. Ruben is to be the star of a documentary about the shamanic life. A chap that worked on the photography from Spiderman the Movie has been to shoot footage of him in the rainforest.
My neighbour is no stranger to media attention either. She is currently writing a children's book that she hopes will receive critical acclaim when she can finish it. She was inspired for it during a ceremony and wrote feverishly, completing the beginning and end. She currently has writers' block, but upon hearing the amusing, playful and creative storyline she has concocted for the next generation, I urged her enthusiastically to write more.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Globalisation debate

The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman: Argues that globalisation is essentially a good thing.
I haven´t read this book. However, a fellow Inca Trailer last weekend wished to take issue with this central premise. I´d be interested in further comments on the debate, the beginning of which is documented below.

Chris: Communications globalisation brings huge benefits accross the globe. Most recent and extreme example is the Burmese revolts. Compare the global awareness in 2007 to the quiet and brutal repression of 1988.

Siri: Uncontested. Have to define globablisation. She sees it as companies exploiting developing countries. For example, soda companies causing environmental destruction in the Bengal district.

1) This is not a new phenomenon associated with 'globalisation'. Companies can, and do, exploit weaker classes of society/cause environmental damage in their own backyard.
2) The parameters of discussion do need to be defined. However, submitted that globalization simply describes global growth. It is difficult to separate the wrongs of companies executed in the name of globalization from the fact that we have heard about these wrongs and that action is being taken to prevent them. For example, the isolationism of China has disguised an exceptionally poor human rights record for decades. It is only following the harsh glare of the Olympics that this has become a global issue and China is forced to take steps to make the situation better.
3) Suggested that globalization of regulations helps the situation as well. For example, the century of industrialization in the UK saw tremendous injustice (child labour, slavery, extreme poverty, poor sanitation/living conditions etc), but by the beginning of the 20th century, law and regulation had caught up with the new developments.
4) Where does the actual benefit come from? Infrastructure development, raised sanitary standards to accommodate foreign workers, and FDI. In addition, it allows market forces to work. For example, (with acknowledgments to Nat Kent for this example) the ability of Ethiopia to diversify their exports. Previously one of the world’s largest coffee exporters, it is no longer as able to compete on a global scale. As a result, it is now fulfilling a different import demand in the form of fresh flowers.

S: Specific answer to (3) above, this happened a long time ago. We should have learnt from that example and deal with the evolving situation.

C: The new situation is inherently difficult to regulate. Look at more recent developments in the past 15 years that have had huge consequences because of the law’s failure to anticipate them: dotcom bubble, huge derivatives-related global market crashes, 2007 credit crunch etc. These were all as a result of new ways of working that had not been tried before. No-one is going to stop trading in derivatives or the mortgages market, despite the 1998 crash and the one last year, respectively. However, what will change will be new regulations and monitoring for similar events in the future.
This is what should be expected with globalization. It is a new development, and an inherently enormous one that global regulation and even the foundations of company law are having difficulty dealing with. However, change is occurring. In the Companies Act, 2006, directors have a duty to the company which has been redefined. Previously, it was to ‘act in the best interests of the company’. In the recent statute, passed in October, 06, the duty is much more extensive. The new duty is ‘to promote the success of the company’ but with regard to a list of factors external to the company, including the surrounding environment and community (see section 172 of the Act). It remains to be seen how much this will affect this debate, but it is an example of the world adapting to the new development in order that as many people as possible might benefit.
Further reading that may be of interest:

For an interesting, although unfortunately American, view on changes required in company law, see Kent Greenfield’s The Failure of Corporate Law. A large problem currently seems to be the combined attributes of a company: having a separate legal personality and limited liability. This leads to parent companies being able to absolve themselves from riskier group companies’ actions in developing countries. See Adams v Cape Industries as the seminal case on this point.

A good summary read in this area is Companies, International Trade and Human Rights, Janet Dine.

A few years ago, Linklaters compiled a report on social entrepreneurship and the other side of the legal element of this argument, that is, regulations hindering charitable work in certain countries: for a summary, http://www.linklaters.com/about/about.asp?navigationid=392

Thursday, January 24, 2008

El Borsino

Fast, diagonal. Driving in Lima, lanes are optional. Corners are especially interesting. Most cars have white and red reflective strips on their sides. The new arrival might be forgiven for thinking this was some display of patriotism, since they are the colours of the national flag. In fact, it is clear on taking to the roads that the reflective strips are as essential as headlights. Due to the unorthodox approach to lane discipline, it is the side of the car that ends up being the part you are most likely to see in front of you.

Even the lanes themselves look as though they are forgetting their raison d'etre; with the faintest of white lines they vaguely assert their presence on the road, a lack of confidence with which all other road users have no problem. It is unclear whether this lack of paint is due to local government neglect or simply overuse from the astonishing frequency and speed of tyres passing over them during the course of the day.

Pedro, my taxi driver, agrees that there is no respect for lanes, and seems to think that the horn (el borsino), rather than being a part of the car, is more of a co-driver. In a similar way to a rally car team, Pedro will concentrate on the direction of the vehicle, whilst el borsino watches the road.

Worryingly, he and most other drivers seem to drive with a kind of serene enjoyment of the chaos around them. It borders on obliviousness. He is far more interested in testing my extremely rusty Spanish with simple vocab such as: the implications of the socio-economic situation in Peru on a terrorist resurgence; whether Lady Diana's death was in fact a conspiracy by the Royal Family; and what I thought of the Falkland Islands issue.

But I am lucky to have Pedro in the driving seat. Aside from the fact that I would never dare take on Limeno roads myself, there are far more unsavory characters that cruise the streets. 'Express kidnapping', as the guidebooks warn, is a popular pastime in Lima. My Spanish teacher, Maria-Terese, tells me that this also takes place in Cusco. There is no predilection for foreigners. Her sister got into the wrong sort of taxi one evening at 10pm. The taxi stopped round a corner, two men jumped in and pressed their gun barrels to each cheek of the frightened girl. They drove to Sacsayhuaman, an Incan site 30 minutes out of town, and stripped her of her valuables, including all money and her ipod. She was left to walk back into the city and was traumatised for months afterwards.

I ask Jhovana and Kari, two sisters I have dinner with in upmarket Miraflores district, how to tell if the taxi driver is genuine. They look at each other and shrug. You just have to look at their expression, says Jhovana.

Back in my taxi, we drive down the Pacific road past two cars tangled up in each other. The drivers are inspecting the damage, again, serenely. Either we have missed the initial reactions or there appears to be no particular concern at the accident. Pedro thumps his horn loudly and lovingly.