January 4, 2013 by jiejie768
Well, when last we left everyone, Meg and I had survived a tumultuous day up in the mountains outside Ayacucho. A disastrous day 1 of the KATC annual tradition came up short of our expectations, but bright and early the next day, we were ready to head for Chiara and another attempt at spreading Christmas joy (this was Sunday, Dec. 23).
In addition to recharged batteries after about five hours of sleep, Meg and I brought along a few members of the family to the campo with us. As mentioned in the Rosas Pampas post, Meg’s family arrived the 22nd, and though Pam and Daniel (Meg’s mom and 16-year-old little brother) were feeling the altitude/30-hours of traveling and stayed in Ayacucho on Sunday, Tom, Ty and Lolo (Meg’s dad, twin brother and 12-year-old sister respectively) gamely rose with us and boarded the bus to the countryside eager to see what KATC and Peru were all about.
Our good friends Bill, Kathy and Katie Collins (Dan and Lolo’s godparents and their 26-year-old daughter) had arrived in Ayacucho at 6:50 a.m., but joined Pam and Dan in Ayacucho rather than head to the countryside. Bill and Kathy are on a year-long mission trip in Cochabamba, Bolivia and Katie flew down from Boston to meet them in Peru where the 10 of us (including Meg’s family) enjoyed a wonderful Christmas week in Ayacucho followed by a trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu (details to be blogged later). By all accounts the group in town had a wonderful time shopping in the market. There was even a little excitement when Dan, the family foodie, got bored with shopping, wandered off and was found 45 frantic minutes later enjoying a cup of soup deep in the central market with a pair of ancianas who had taken him under their wing. I, however, was not there so I can’t tell you all they did. You’ll just have to check out Bill and Kathy’s blog to see if they discuss it there.
Meanwhile, those of us headed to the hills had an absolutely wonderful day. It was, as I alluded to in the RP post, everything that we had hoped it could be. In addition to the Andersons, our crew for the day consisted of Alejandro, Aydee, Gloria, GeGe, Hilda, Yamile and Wilber. Unlike Saturday, we left pretty much right on time and were greeted from the get go with nothing but sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. With the extra help of Ty, Tom and especially Lolo (one of the most helpful 12-year-olds you will ever meet) we quickly had GeGe (good-naturedly) scolding us for making paneton bags too quickly. Another nice addition for day 2 was Tom’s spectacular SLR-body Nikon camera. It would be passed around liberally and is responsible for most of the sensational photos you’ll see in the this and several subsequent posts about our time with Meg’s family.
About an hour (and several dozen gorgeous landscape photos) after leaving GeGe’s we arrived at the day’s first stop: Cochabamba a small village in the community (county) of Chiara. To clarify, all of our stops for this day were in the community of Chiara, but GeGe has stopped going to the city of Chiara after dealing with too many greedy and demanding adults in years past.
As we drove along the dirt road into Cochabamba, a group of children on the outskirts greeted us enthusiastically and then proceeded to swarm after us as we pulled into the center of the very tiny little town. The threat of rain (which never materialized) did abbreviate our stop a bit; Alejandro, after Saturday’s fiasco, was wary of getting stuck without an escape route should the dirt roads become muddy roads. Nonetheless we enjoyed a much different environment than the day before.
For the most part the parents took a back seat and allowed the kids to simply enjoy the treat. Each kid got to pick a toy. For younger boys they got either a toy airplane/helicopter or a toy train, while the older boys got to choose from a wide selection of large toy cars/trucks/motorbikes (about the size of an adult’s tennis shoe). The girls had their choice of a Barbie-ish doll or a baby doll that cried and sang the Aqua classic “Barbie Girl.”
Also, though we were in a bit of a hurry, we couldn’t resist an invitation to stay a minute and hear the kids from the town sing us a couple of Christmas carols. Meg and I were pretty pleased at the completely different feel from the previous day and Ty, Tom and Lolo got their first taste of the countryside. Lolo, especially, was shy at first, but as the day wore on and we made more stops all of us enjoyed trading off handing out toys and/or treats to the many smiling (and sometimes crying — apparently big, white people are not a common, and therefore altogether comforting, site for many of the smaller kids) children.
The next stop on the tour of Chiara was very literally just a stop in the road. GeGe says that over the years, children who live on the many farms and agricultural projects in the area have learned to meet there on the day we make our tour, and it has become something of a regular “random” stop along the way. Among the 20 or so kids who made greeted us here is an adorable young man named Nelson, who is literally the poster-child for Kids at the Crossroads. Though GeGe swears she has no favorites among the many children she plays pied piper for, the picture below makes it pretty clear this little guy holds a special place in her heart.
As we were a little ahead of schedule and the weather appeared to be cooperating, we were also able to play a game with these kids. Even after four months of working at the school, I’m still amazed at how much joy these children take out of the simplest things. I haven’t spent tons of time with American elementary school kids, so I could be wrong, but I have a hard time imagining a group of 3-9 year olds back home having so much fun playing a simple relay game that involved passing a small foam ball backward through their legs to the back of a line, having the kid at the end sprint to the front of the line and start the process over again.
After a quick rendition of “Mi Burrito Sabanero,” a Peruvian Christmas staple, we were in the bus again and headed for the town of Liriopata. GeGe told us afterward that this is one of her favorite stops every year, and it didn’t take long to figure out why. This was probably the biggest group of kids we met over the course of the two days handing out gifts (Rosas Pampas may have had more kids, I’m not sure, but it was close) and they were a remarkably well-behaved bunch. For the first time in the two-day effort we had no time or weather constraints, and we were able to divide the kids into age groups and spend about 45 minutes to an hour playing games before handing out the goodies. The younger kids played the same ball relay game we had played before, while the older kids played a game called Nunca Tres (never three).
In this game, the kids form a circle, two-deep and a player is determined to be it. Then, one of the two-deeps is given a third person and the kid at the back of the line must run and get in line in front of another two kids before being tagged. Then, the kid at the back of that line is on the hook lest he/she be tagged. Once tagged, the erstwhile It must make it to a line before being tagged back. Essentially, it’s a more chaotic version of Duck, Duck, Goose.
A third set of kids, led by GeGe herself, played a form of Ring Around the Rosie. All in all it was a lot of fun and gave the kids a chance to work up an appetite for the Christmas paneton we were about to hand out.
True to GeGe’s assertion, the gift/food-giving portion of our visit was as orderly and pleasant as any we would experience. There was virtually none of the begging or goading from parents and the kids managed to pass through the line in an orderly fashion (no small feat, in my experience, for a group of 100-plus Peruvians, regardless their age). Feeling right at home with the group by this time, Ty, Tom and Lolo joined Meg and I as we rotated posts at the paneton box.
After the gifts, we were invited for a bowl of soup. Since we had about two hours to kill before we were due in the next town (and it would’ve been extremely rude to refuse), we happily dished up. Following our meal (full disclosure, not the best soup, but a wonderful gesture), the town president (mayor) informed us that the local band wanted to play for us. Shortly after the music started, Ty, Tom, Lolo, GeGe and myself were all swept onto the dance floor by some of the townsfolk (GeGe, befitting her fame in these parts, was partnered with the mayor himself). Though our dancing was probably not a text-book display of the finest Peruvian dance forms performed by Ellensburg’s own Tusuy Peru, it was a lot of fun and the locals sure got a kick out of seeing us out their giving it our best.
The good times kept on coming, as even after a rather long stint on the dance floor, we still had time to kill. Lolo and I attempted, without success, to join a few local children in a soccer game, and, not long after Ty and I got to have a beer Ayacuchan style. Unlike in the U.S., where each drinker gets his or her own beer, or at least his own cup, Ayacuchans do things differently. There is only one big bottle (about 22 ounces) and one small cup. Each person takes the bottle, pours the equivalent of a shot of beer into the cup and passes the bottle forward. After draining the cup, the drinker then passes it to the person with the bottle, who fills the cup again and passes the bottle along. So it goes until the bottle is gone, making it fairly difficult to gauge exactly how much beer one has consumed. As Ty and I only shared in about one and a half bottles among eight or so people, I don’t think we were too deep into our cups (hat tip George R.R. Martin), but it was the first time I’d partaken in this particular custom.
As we were making merry with the townsfolk of Liriopata, another group of gift distributors pulled into town and the kids were treated to another round of Christmas joy. This was good for the kids, but we would soon learn from GeGe that it was a bit disconcerting from her perspective. GeGe has been making these trips for several years, but over the past couple of years other groups have started visiting some of the same towns. The problem, according to GeGe, is that there are many other towns that receive no such visits and she would really like the other groups to focus their efforts there. In fact, she said, Liropata received no fewer than four visits this year, and, though it’s one of her very favorite stops, GeGe said KATC may have to cross them of the list next year in favor of more needy areas.
Making matters worse, the specific group that followed us in Liriopata was led by a particularly slimy politician. In addition to directly ignoring GeGe’s request that he take his gifts to more needy areas (and ones that are not traditional parts of KATC’s route), he had gone on the radio that morning and basically announced all of KATC’s stops and taken credit for arranging them. He was essentially using GeGe’s hard work as a means of leveraging votes from townsfolk who didn’t know any better. Irked, GeGe asked him where he was going next, and again asked him not to head to the two towns left on our list. He agreed, and GeGe was, for the moment satisfied as we boarded the bus and headed to Pampas Wasi.
However, as we were handing out gifts at a stop just up the road to Pampas Wasi, the politician’s truck passed us once again and stopped in Pampas Wasi, visible about 500 meters away. GeGe also gleaned from the people at our stop that he had stopped there and told them “his people” would be along later with gifts and treats, meaning us. Now out of gifts himself, he was just going in front of us and telling people that the next group — us — were his people. GeGe was now VERY unhappy.
When he pulled back through the village where we were stopped, GeGe flagged him down and gave him a pretty stern talking to that included her calling him out in front of all the townsfolk. She then learned that another group, independent of all of this, had visited Pampas Wasi the day before and rather than double up their gifts (we hadn’t reached that town yet) and allow the politician to take credit for our gifts, that we would head back to town.
After reloading the bus and turning toward home, we stopped a few hundred meters down to enjoy the potatoes and cheese the last town had kindly given us. As we were eating, the politician and his crew again pulled up, apparently surprised that we had not continued to Pampas Wasi as he had promised. GeGe and him exchanged a few heated words as he complained he would look bad and she told him she didn’t care. It was pretty funny. Though it was still rather galling that he would manipulate the people he was trying to lead in such an underhanded manner.
After determining once and for all that the kids in Pampas Wasi did receive some presents, and we weren’t leaving them high and dry (regardless of who got credit) we set off for home once and for all down the long, dirt road back to the highway. What transpired then was probably my favorite part of the whole two-day experience.
As we drove the maybe 10-15 kilometers back to the highway we made several stops for children in the fields along the way. These are always unplanned (though expected) and unlike the kids in the planned stops, none of these children know in advance that we are going to be coming (though some have a few minutes warning as kids will run ahead and tell others we are on the way). As we drive down the road honking our horn, kids literally sprint down the hillsides in an attempt to receive a simple toy and a Christmas snack. One girl, immediately after receiving a toy kitchen set, somewhat mysteriously turned heel and sprinted off down the road. We were perplexed, but learned why a few minutes later as we turned a corner and saw the same girl running toward the bus with a trail of cousins and younger siblings in tow. Unlike some of the townsfolk who begged for toys for (possibly fictional) friends, cousins and siblings, she ran full out for probably 4-5 kilometers to make sure her loved ones had a chance to share in her joy. Furthermore, she didn’t even pretend she hadn’t already received something (like some kids did), and we were all too happy to hand out a few more gifts. She then got on the bus and gave all of us kisses and thanked us for coming. It was pretty incredible.
By about 5 p.m., we had reached the highway and were headed home for real, no more stops in front of us. It was a truly magical experience even if did leave all of us in varying degrees of sunburn (Lolo, especially, was suffering after receiving the first sunburn of her life). There is also a chance Ty picked up a parasite somewhere along the way, as he spent much of the next two days suffering from an ailment I’m all too familiar with. But, ailments aside, it was an experience I know all of us will remember fondly for years to come, and, for me especially, made me feel all the more grateful, and a more than a little bit guilty, two days later as I opened a pile of my own presents on Christmas morning. What a day.