Sunday, June 14, 2009

REPRISE: A Fond Farewell to PERU....

As I sit on a comfortable first class bus riding from Puno to Cuzco, Peru (the fare is a whopping $8), we approach the turn off to the tiny village of Chijnaya where I have just spent 10 days as a board member of the Chijnaya Foundation working with the artisans there in preparation for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July of 2009. The bus is mostly filled with a tour group of middle-class Canadian and European tourists, and we whiz by the Chijnaya exit (north of Juliaca and Pucara). I am suddenly completely aware of how privileged I am to have come to know so intimately the details of what goes on down that particular dusty dirt road, to be so familiar with the daily life inside those homes, and with the optimistic dreams that reside therein.

The other passengers, of course, can only see the blatant poverty, the spare tin-roofed adobe blockhouses, and the bleak, sad vista positioned in a huge, thrilling landscape. But now I can also see the amazing community spirit and their incredible cooperative organization. I know firsthand their big friendly hearts and also, the innocent childlike expectancy they have placed on their upcoming two days of retail sales in Santa Fe at the highly acclaimed International Folk Art Market.

The artisan groups in Chijnaya create a winsome, fanciful embroidered depiction of their lives here in this high Peruvian Altiplano village at 13,000 feet. Stitched within their embroidered ‘achachis’ are not only the images of their livestock, their weaving, their quinoa and potato harvest, and their dances and celebrations, but they are also weaving into their work their dreams to improve their health, to get clean hot water for bathing, to put a small piece of meat in their soup, or to buy enough new materials to actually be able to continue production of these endearing artisan products for the years ahead.

(The sun is shining in the bus windows now, and as we actually pass by our town, and the tourists pull the curtains to shield them from the sun’s glare and the rest of the outside world. Seems like a perfect metaphor for how most of us so easily turn our consciousness away from recognizing the harsh realities that most of our fellow humans endure…I have never really figured out why the poor are so invisible to most of society. If people only understood how much good sharing a few extra dollars can do -- it would make such in difference in so many lives!)

But I digress….. There are 110 houses in dusty little Chijnaya. And there are 110 members in the 11 artisan groups, 10 in each. One group is all men, and they are in stiff competition with the women for speed and quality. They meet several times a week in the morning after their cows are milked, or at 5 pm after they fetch the cows from pasture. Milk and cheese production is their first economic priority. And then they come together to create their little wonders in the Casa Comunal.

This unique folk art grew out of a casual Peace Corps project in 1964 -- a volunteer gave the towns’ children sewing needles, woven wool cloth and some alpaca yarn, and asked them to draw their life stories on the cloth. The stories grew and their expertise increased and the art thrived until the Shining Path and the political upheaval of the 80’s.

A Santa Fe anthropologist and former Peace Corps Volunteer, Dr. Ralph Bolton, recently returned to his former assigned village of Chijnaya some 40 years after the fact in response to their cries for help. Bolton created a foundation that helps Chijnaya and other nearby villages in the area with health, animal husbandry, farming and economic development/artisan issues.

One day we traveled two hours round trip to the industrial town of Juliaca on a cramped, hot little bus to buy our natural alpaca yarns in shades of grays, blacks and browns. And on another day, an twelve-hour round trip to get to Cuzco to for colored background fabric. There are only two cars in Chijnaya that I can tell so bus transport is our only option. We then meet in near darkness in the Casa Comunal, aided by the light of a 25-watt bulb, to pass out new materials and to learn how to use straight pins, how to translate inches into centimeters for our pillow covers and how to create a standardized product line that will hopefully provide a new income stream for the villagers. A baby alpaca wanders in and playfully breaks up our concentration. We are wrapped in blankets, with our hats on, and have on an additional three layers against the bitter night air of approaching winter. I hold up a flashlight to shed more light on early samples they have created, to praise and discuss the pros and cons of each artisan’s creation. The women giggle as they each take turns learning new skills, such as how to create pillow cording cut on the bias, or how to depict snow and rain in yarn. Whispered secrets in Quechua, their first language, buzz around the circle as they watch and learn.

The artisans of Chijnaya are hard at work as you read this, preparing their embroidered tapestries for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market July 11 and 12. Please stop by their booth to say hello when you go; you won’t be able to resist their creations, and in so doing, will help to ensure fulfillment of their tenuous yet certainly reachable dreams.

To donate:

Judith Cooper Haden, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, El Salvador

1 comment:

  1. Judith - Your observations and descriptions put me on the bus and in the village with you. You are as good a writer as you are a photographer. More importantly, perhaps, your keen visual and sagacious verbal communication has the power to open the eyes of others passing through life with "the curtains closed". Thank you.