April 29, 2013 by jiejie768
Meg and I returned from our trip with Mikey on Friday, March 22, to a bustling Ayacucho. It was Holy Week (Semana Santa) and the pre-Easter festivities were hitting a fever pitch. GeGe, a veteran of the Ayacucho Holy Week madness, wisely chose to spend this time back in the States visiting family and recharging her batteries with salmon and Thai food. We spent the latter, and crazier, part of the week holed up in her apartment as we were forced out of our living space by a large group of Spanish tourists renting out the majority of space on our floor, including the kitchen, into which they managed to shove three or four beds after we moved all our stuff out.
GeGe returned early in the morning on April 1, the day after Easter, and brought with her an extra taste of home: my mother. My mom is GeGe’s youngest sister (the two of them are the youngest of six children, five girls). Other than Meg and I, Mom was the first family that had visited GeGe in Ayacucho during the entire time she has lived there.
The two of them reached Ayacucho at 6:30 a.m. following a rather harrowing day and a half of travel that saw them leave Portland at 6 a.m. on Sunday and spend about seven hours Sunday night camped in the Lima airport. For GeGe, this routine was familiar, and the adrenaline of getting ready for the return of the children that afternoon (KATC was closed for Semana Santa) kept her going. For Mom … not so much.
We arrived at GeGe’s at about 9 a.m., and Mom seemed to be looking for a place, any place, to curl up and sleep for the next three days or so. After a shower, some coffee and a bit of coca tea, however, she rallied and decided to come downtown with Meg and I. Other than a long night spent in the airport, it was her first real taste of Peru, and she seemed energized by the experience. After a brief stop at our Santa Ana apartment, we walked down the hill to the Parque Sucre (the central plaza), checked out the grocery store (where Mom bought a bevy of Peruvian sweets to augment her already impressive traveling collection of American goodies), and grabbed lunch at ViaVia overlooking the plaza.
I imagine it was a bit of a whirlwind for her, and for Meg and I it was a little bit surreal having her here. The miracle of Skype has meant we’ve talked to, and seen, Mom pretty regularly since we’ve been here, but it was still great to have her there in the flesh. We did spend a little time lamenting the fact that my younger sister, Tara, was not able to come.
Originally Mom and Tara were both going to come in May as a kind of graduation trip after Tara graduated from Washington State University. Sadly (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint), Tara is too smart and talented for her own good and already has a job lined up for after school. The job doesn’t start until June 10, but it will move her to Lincoln, Nebraska, so she understandably decided to spend her last month at home visiting friends and family rather than traveling around Peru. Mom then decided to move her trip forward to coincide with GeGe’s return from the States so she wouldn’t have to travel alone.
After lunch, we headed back up the hill to Carmen Alto for school. This was Mom’s first chance to see the kids and visit the school. In addition to being a big supporter of Meg and myself, Mom also contributes a monthly donation to Kids at the Crossroads and was eager to finally meet the kids. She was not disappointed. The first kid she met was our good buddy Isak. Isak is already a bit of a star on this blog, but he was in rare form with a new guest to impress.
We returned to the school just as the first wave of children were coming in. As ever, they were fascinated to see a new face among the adults at the program. They quickly divined that she was related to GeGe, as they looked identical in the children’s eyes (“Except her (Mom’s) hair is brown!”). They also thought she and I looked similar and were amazed by how tall she was — 5’10”.
The rest of that day, Mom wandered around observing the classes, before retreating to GeGe’s room at about 3:30 to rest. She still hadn’t slept and the altitude was getting to her. We did rouse her at the end of the day for a formal introduction to the all of the kids and a turn in the afternoon hug line. GeGe, Meg and I chuckled as she marveled at the assembled students.
“There are so many kids … man, that’s a lot of kids.”
We were amused because the reality was it had been a pretty slow day. The first day back from a week off always features a high number of absences, and that day we only had about 80-85 kids compared to about 110 each day the past two weeks. Nonetheless, it was a impressive sight for Mom, and she was (pleasantly, I think) surprised when every one of them insisted on giving her the traditional kiss on the cheek and a hug on their way out the door.
After school, the four us (Meg, GeGe, Mom and I) gathered in GeGe’s kitchen and chatted the evening away. I believe we had pollo a la brasa (spit-roasted chicken) from down the street for dinner and quizzed Mom on her first impressions of Peru and Ayacucho. Other than being tired, and perhaps a bit knocked out by the altitude, Mom seemed to think it was pretty OK.
The rest of that week pretty much mimicked that first day. Mom, who was staying at GeGe’s, would meet us (either at GeGe’s or our place) mid-morning and we’d hang out or wander through the markets before school. Then we’d go to school, where Mom would wander around observing Meg, GeGe or myself at our various tasks and trying to understand what the kids were saying to her (Mom speaks no Spanish at all).
Mom also met and impressed the Vega Ramos family down the street from GeGe’s. The Vega Ramoses have seven kids in total, three of which attend our program, another of whom is an employee and a fifth who will start coming when she reaches first grade next year. GeGe is also good friends with Maribel, the oldest daughter (about 19 years old). GeGe has a special relationship with the family, who view her as a second mother. As such, they quickly adopted my mom as an aunt and regaled her with stories about GeGe and force-fed her homemade local delicacies such as mazamorra (a rice-pudding-esque Peruvian dessert).
One of the days (Tuesday or Wednesday) we arrived at GeGe’s with about an hour before most of the kids arrived at school, so we decided to take Mom up to the viewpoint a block beyond GeGe’s house. Seeing that Meg, myself, and his new buddy Annette were leaving, Isak (who arrives an hour and fifteen minutes early each day with his mom) decided he’d better chaperone the adventure. We had a pretty good time checking out the view, taking pictures of Isak, showing those pictures to Isak (anytime you point a camera at him, he won’t rest until he’s approved the result), and digging in the sand for money.
SIDEBAR: Isak found 10 cents in the sand on that trip, about four weeks ago now, and he still carries it with him everywhere. On Thursday (April 25), I noticed him playing with a 10-cent piece and asked him if that was from our trip to the cerro with my mom. “¡Sí!” I then asked if he was saving it. “¡Sí!” I then asked what he was going to buy with it. “¡Pollo!” (“Chicken!”).
Isak, who turned four on Thursday of Mom’s visit, also was fascinated by the gift shop up at the cerro. All of the ceramic animals were a wonder to him, and he was bound and determined to point out every knick-knack and oddity in the place to Meg and I. The ladies who owned the store, quickly noticed us telling Isak (repeatedly) not to touch, and begin asking him a series of questions. It was a good-natured interrogation in which the women asked Isak if his mom (our co-worker Amancia) had given him to us since he was so inquisitive.
By the second or third day, Mom got into the swing by helping Amancia make the sandwiches. Amancia makes about 100 sandwiches each day, and Mom was pretty blown away by how fast she could put them together. It was a pretty humorous scene to see Mom scrambling to keep up while being completely unable to communicate with Amancia, who speaks no English.
Mom’s 11-day trip to Peru consisted of five days in Ayacucho, and five days traveling with Meg and I to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Most of the Ayacucho leg was simply visiting and seeing where Meg, GeGe and I live and operate on a daily basis. Toward the end of the week though, we had two special events. On Thursday, we took a tour of the city on the big yellow bus driven by our good friend Alejandro. On Friday, the four of us, driven by GeGe’s friend Ingrid, went out to the campo (countryside) to deliver school supplies to three mountain villages. Look for recaps and photos from those adventures later this week.