Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My time in Peru is coming to a close as fast as a combi driver barreling down Calle Cayma. After a week of traveling to Puno, Lake Titicaca, and Cusco, I'm back in Arequipa, trying to finish last minute details while Andrea and the ladies are putting the finishing touches on the example products I'll be bringing back to Alaska with me. It is so good to be back in Arequipa - as beautiful as Lake Titicaca and the Sacred Valley are, I felt a bit of a homecoming goodness feeling once I was back in the "White City."

I'll be writing more about the amazingness of Peru and its people (especially since I have 24 hours of travel coming up) but for now pa karin kama (Quechua for hasta mañana or "see you tomorrow").

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quick! Grab a pen!

Have you ever spoken with one of those people who seem to utter the most golden of quotes within every other sentence they speak to the point that you're scrambling to remember exactly how they put it? But then, when you go to repeat them, the phrases echo hollow and fall flat? Well, Father Alex (who is the Padre of the three parishes here in Alto Cayma and runs all of their programs including the clinic, knitting group, and a school just to name a few things) is full of such phrases. I spoke with him this afternoon, beginning to wrap things up since I'll be traveling the rest of this week and then leaving next Wednesday evening. It was so inspiring to talk to him and I'll just go ahead and give you tidbits of what he said although it will not be as powerful without him saying it.

He spoke of how culture is living life in a community and how one must respect the culture, seeing it (and living it out) as neither good or bad but just different. And how the knitting circles are just one way in which to bring dignity to a group of women who come to find they are now in community. See? Not as powerful but if you saw Father's eyes and the clench of his jaw while he said these things, you would be just as impressed by them and the determination behind them.

As with Fair Trade, the relationship with the people comes first; building community and restoring dignity to each individual is the driving force behind all of his programs. Andrea and the knitting ladies create beautiful knit scarves, sweaters, toys, etc. but they also are creating a circle of understanding and support for each other.

Following are a few pictures of me trying my hand at sewing on spots for a dog finger puppet (note the cheesy smile - you have no idea how many times I pulled out my handiwork until Andrea showed me deftly how to create what I wanted).

Also are some pictures of Lauren and me in our matching mochillas (backpacks) bringing the donated medical supplies (thank you Esther Petrie!) down to the clinic.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"You could appreciate"

This weekend, Aunt Toni and I went to Colca Canyon which is 3 hours away or so by bus and is, as we learned, the deepest canyon in the world! Our tour guide, Ellie, was great: very informative, full of interesting facts (as well as a little fiction as well), and had a habit of using the expression, "You could appreciate..." quite often when talking to our group. We could appreciate the pre-Incan ruins, the coca tea, the bathroom. And we did:

*3 Australian travelers also in our group and a bunch of fun.
*Coca tea leaf chewing to help with the altitude (and which made the side of my mouth go numb).
*Llamas, alpacas, and vicunas.
*High desert passes with a smattering of slush and snow.
*Green, lush, terraced valleys.
*Our guide Ellie trying to sacrifice Aunt Toni to appease the mountain gods by pushing her over the cliff.
*More alpaca - this time for lunch!
*Open air hot springs under the twilight skies over Chivay (the capital of Colca Canyon).
*5 am wake-up knock so that we could get under way to see the Andean condors.
*Dancing with an elderly Peruvian in a traditional dance.
*The strange beast of tourism - I'm used to it in Alaska but it's interesting to be on the other side.
*Driving over/through a river that used to be the road.
*Building little stone statues over three buried coca leaves (facing the east) and making a wish (and repeating it three times - I have no idea if, like birthday candle wishes, it won't come true if you tell people).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Qué risa!

How funny!

This afternoon, Lauren, Aunt Toni (yes! Aunt Toni is now here with me!) and I went with Andrea up to a different sector in Alto Cayma called Japon (with brightly painted houses - I loved it!) where she goes each Thursday afternoon to teach knitting and crocheting. There weren't very many women this week; apparently, most of the women were away planting potatoes. However, we did meet one of the funniest women, Abigail, who made me laugh so hard my cheeks hurt. You didn't even need to know Spanish to understand her humor.

The couple of hours we spent with them made me wish a) that I knew how to knit/crochet; b) that I knew more Spanish. And so I'm putting a thought out there - if anyone is interested in starting a knitting circle with me that speaks in Spanish, let me know (or perhaps there is already a group that wouldn't mind me joining?). Andrea and I were joking about how I learn a little more and more Spanish each day - I told her that I would continue to take Spanish lessons once I was back in Alaska so that I could talk to her on skype and she got really excited.

Speaking of which, Jill sent down a video camera with me that I set up on the computer in the knitting ladies' working room. Yesterday, they had a phone call through skype with Emily, a long-time volunteer who is currently living in Iowa and, because of the camera, she was able to see them for the first time since she last left. It meant a lot to the ladies who were so happy to show Emily their newest knitting member, Maria, and her young son who has just begun to walk. It will be exciting to talk to them even when I'm in Alaska.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Knitting, knitting, and more knitting

Por favor.

Thank you.
Muchos gracias.

How are you?
Como estas?

See you tomorrow.
Hasta manana.

This morning Andrea taught me Quechua while we worked up in the tejedoras' room and I taught her English. Most of the tejedoras speak Quechua (as well as Spanish), the language that is more common up in the higher lands of the Andes like Puno and Cusco than it is in Arequipa. It has a very different sound than Spanish so even my ears can pick up that the ladies are not speaking in Espanol with its soft endings of "o"s and "a"s and lilting cadence. Instead, Quechua has a lot more clicking sounds and harder endings of "ch"s and "k"s.

For the past two days, I've been watching in amazement as the designs Andrea and I worked on come to life. Some of the projects have been pretty straight forward - mismo pero mas ancho (the same [looking at an example] but more wide) - while others have been much more experimentos than anything else - put the button here maybe and a flower between every three leaves?. Sometimes I feel like I'm the biggest gawker this side of the Equator - I watch in amazement as their hands fly through the motions and before you know it, a beautiful piece has been made.

This afternoon, I couldn't help myself. After watching for so long, I dusted off my crocheting skills (Grandma, you'd be proud how quickly I picked it back up) and made a few chains with little decorative flowers myself. Andrea teased me by saying "Mas rapido, mas rapido!" (Faster, faster!). Churning out sweaters and scarves and hats and whatever is not easy work but there is also a tranquility to the rhythm and attention it takes. I've never been a part of a knitting circle but all the quiet concentration punctuated by chatting and laughter makes me wish I was.

Finally, a note on my Spanish - as it turns out, I have been spelling tejedoras wrong in my posts (previously I was putting an "e" instead of a "a"). Also, after calling the large marketplace San Cameo for the past two weeks, Steve, Lauren, and I found out that it is San Camilla (Saint Camille not Saint Camel! whoops.).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Food & Festival

This morning Steve, Lauren, and I got an early start and went down to the Clinica to help out with the food program coordinated by the Mision but funded by the Christian Fund for Children and the Aging. For each child sponsored (I believe it's $30/month), that family receives a parcel of food each month. Today was the day it was being distributed which involved weighing out lentils, sugar, and rice and separating them into individual bags; checking parents and children in; and then handing out each family's portion. About 325 kids are sponsored through this chapter of CFCA and this month that meant each family received:
2 kilos of lentils
3 kilos of sugar
3 kilos of rice
1 Liter of oil
0.5 kilos of salt
2 kilos of spaghetti noodles
2 cans of milk
3 cans of fish
Although it may not seem like a lot, it goes a long way toward helping these families and their children. What never ceases to amaze me, though, is how heavy of bags these women carry home - all those kilos add up to quite a bit of weight. There are some strong mothers here.

This afternoon, we were surprised by a festival going on just across the way from us - dancing around a tree and taking turns chopping into it with an axe until it fell over - in celebration of Carnival. I'm not really sure the significance of chopping down the tree but as soon as it fell, everyone rushed in on it to grab the prizes tied to its branches. Even more exciting was seeing Andrea, the head knitter, among the dancers in her traditional Puno garb. (Andrea is from Puno, a city right off of Lake Titicaca which I'll be visiting in a week or so!) She was beautiful and the dancing looked like a lot of fun. It made me wish we had something similar in the U.S. that I could join in on ... perhaps I'll have to join a square dancing group when I return.

Well, I have a great video of Andrea bailando (dancing) but I've been trying to upload it since yesterday and it's not working so I'll try to upload it once I've returned to the States.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


I know! Two posts in one day! But I just wanted to catch up...

Since today was Saturday and it is quite at the Mision, Lauren, Steve and I went down to the San Camao market once again to pick up some supplies for projects as well as check out some different kinds of yarn there (besides the super nice alpaca). I love San Cameo. Just walking around with all the bustle and commotion looking at all of the foods, fabric, hats, knick-knacks, you name its, is a whole lot of fun. (Pictures thanks to Lauren) And today it was even more exciting because we are in the season of Carnival before Ash Wednesday. Here there is the great tradition of spraying people with water (and, as we saw at San Cameo, foam stuff) as a way to celebrate. So San Cameo was teeming with little kids running around with squirt guns and aerosol foam cans, spraying each other and passersby.

But it's not just San Cameo - this is going on throughout the city. While walking around, you have to keep an eye out for open windows, kids on roofs, and even combi riders who will flick, spray, or dump water on you. We, amazingly, did not get wet (even though tourists are a favorite target). Over the past week, though, Lauren and I have gotten sprayed a few times while walking the streets from a combi passing by which makes me involuntarily cringe every time a combi cruises by.

And, one last note for today: When in Rome... well, when in Peru, you can't but help eat torta - they are expert cake makers here - tres leches, torron, I don't even know all the names. Umm, so, here's my lunch for today - muy rico!

Getting Down to Business!

Not that we haven't been working but yesterday (Friday), I watched the rapid production of las muestras (the examples). Lauren and I went up to the tejedores' shop in the morning and began by talking to Andrea about the different points and questions I had after talking to Jill the night before. Until I realized that all the women were sitting around. Waiting for something. We asked Andrea if they were waiting to start and she said (as polite as ever) that they were waiting for us to decide what colors of alpaca yarn for each design. Ohhhhh.... we quickly changed tacks and began picking out various colors for the Encarrujado Chalina (Curled Scarf), Salmón Chalina (Salmon as in the fish or color, I'm not sure Scarf), the Chalina Ladrillo (Brick Scarf), and so on (these names make a lot of sense once you see the patterns). As we did, Andrea started each knitter on a different project: winding out a ball of yarn, weighing it on the scale (each scarf is approximately 50 grams of yarn), and sitting down with the previously made scarf to knit a new one with a different yarn. Throughout the process of deciding colors (thank goodness for Lauren - not only is she a great translator but it is also very helpful to bounce ideas off of her), a knitter would come up with the first knit bit of an item and check it through Andrea. No, wider.... Yes, good.... No, a little tighter knit.... By the time we stopped for the lunch hour, there was 30 some muestras de chalinas in the works!

And, oh boy! I am super excited to see the final products! You should see the speed and the skill of these women. It takes them only about a day to knit the most complicated of scarves - well, you'll have to stop by the store to check out the designs.

Oh - and Andrea surprised me with an example of one of the newest products: un titero "husky" - a husky finger puppet which we had designed together. It is so cute and all created from a photo and the roughest of sketches that I drew for her. It does need a few modifications: ears closer together, white spots on its chest, a longer snout, a furrier tail but for the first go, I was very impressed.

In the afternoon I returned without Lauren to find Andrea and a teenage boy sitting at the computer in the tejedores' shop. It turned out he was Andrea's son, Elbes/Elvis (couldn't quite catch his name all so well) and he has been studying English for two years. Since Lauren hadn't quite joined us yet again and I needed to talk to her about the remaining points of design and business, Andrea called him over to "practicar" his English. Being excited to have another translator I started rattling off the most rapid of English filled with idioms. Poor Elvis. Although he did an excellent job, it took quite a few blank stares and sheepish "I have no idea what you're saying"s for me to slow down and explain things more simply. Interestingly, Andrea and I were often on the same page with hand gestures, pictures, and a few words of broken Spanish and although she called him over a few more times to explain things, I think we understood each other more rapidly than he could translate between us. However, it was extremely helpful to be able to talk to him about some of my more strange questions like if there were any folktales about the mountains around Arequipa. I don't know how but I think it would be interesting to have some sort of product or design that links Anchorage and Arequipa through one of their commonalities: mountains. As it turns out, there is an interesting story behind the famous peaks and volcanoes surrounding Arequipa (which I'll fill you in on later!). But to tell him the story of Sleeping Lady across the inlet from Anchorage and then ask for a story about the ones here was, at first, the most bizarre of conversations. However, when Lauren joined us once again, she was able to explain to Andrea why I wanted to know it. And we'll see what kind of product we can make from the mountain creation stories (if anyone has some clever ideas, let me know!).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Transitions & Colorful Yarns

Ayer (yesterday) - Chuck full of interesting transitions.

Lauren, Steve, Maria, and I started out the morning journeying down to Mundo Alpaca, the (ritzy) warehouse where the tejedores (knitters) buy their yarn. Once there my morning quickly changed from simply getting the colors of yarn that Andrea and I had decided upon (most of which they no longer had in stock) to making color decisions all over again. A seemingly easy task yet when you're dealing with muchos colores it becomes delightfully boggling. As it turned out, they did not take credit cards, only cash, and so I put los conos de lana (the cones of yarn) on hold.

Next we went to the marketplace closer to el centro so Lauren and Steve could buy 100 toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes for the preschool students. Lauren and Steve are putting together little packets for each student so they can learn good teeth practices. While there, we (of course) also visited the aisle of fruit vendors to restock on dulce mangoes and took a gander at the bull testicles for sale.

After leaving the commotion and daily trade of the San Camao marketplace, we had to stop at Plaza Vea for plastic baggies (to hold the dental hygiene goodies) and la torta (cake) for Scholastica's birthday (who works in the kitchen for the preschool). Plaza Vea is the Fred Meyer's of Arequipa - there is a parking lot on the roof of the massive store (unlike the San Camao market where most people walk into), florescent lights bounce sterile light off the clean white tile floors (with staff constantly sweeping - we almost got swept away while trying to walk around the store), and even express check-out cashiers (versus the girl who sold me three mangoes and then threw in two tiny bananas - bananitas? sorry, bad joke.). Needless to say, it was a bizarre transition.

What marked it even more in my memory was coming back up to Alto Cayma and visiting the tejedores of Once de Mayo (a neighborhood just up the road from the Volunteer House). Lauren and I accompanied Maria and Margot (a teacher at the preschool) as they met with the tejedores and talked to them about the importance of having their children baptized as well as what steps to take. I sat in the same house I had a week before with a simple wooden bench, a bed, a dirt floor and one window and listened to Margot with the women as they knit. The florescence, the plastics, the clean facilities of Plaza Vea seemed more than five miles away.

We then returned to the facility on the same compound as the Volunteer House where Andrea and other tejedores regularly work on knitting machines as well as by hand. As you can see, this next transition involved each of us changing our apparel (examples to show Jill back in Alaska) as well as a lot of laughter.

The final (and extremely fun) transition came with Lauren and I deciding last minute to join the staff as they celebrated Scholastica's birthday. What we thought would be a chicken dinner just down the road from us, actually turned out to be at a restaurant quite a bit farther away than we thought and was followed by an invitation to Scholastica's house to continue celebrating with everyone. And so, we found ourselves dancing in Scholastica's living room (a lot of clapping and moving around in a circle while Scholastica and one other person danced in the middle - think simple salsa steps - and, yes, Lauren and I ended up taking our turns in the middle as well!) and getting to know the different staff members better.

It was the first time that Spanish seemed totally natural (even though I couldn't understand much of it and relied on Lauren for lots of translation) - I even ended up dreaming in Spanish last night (although I still couldn't understand it...).

Hoy - Vamos a la tienda de lana! Muchos colores!
Today - We go to the store of yarn! Lots of colors!

Lauren, Maria, Andrea and I returned to Mundo Alpaca to purchase the yarn as well as to confirm with Andrea the colors and what she thought of the tipos de lana (types of yarn) that we had chosen. I was so glad it worked out this way - it was much better to have Andrea there and discuss the different yarns in light of the different products. We left victorious with viente y uno (21!) conos de lana. I am so excited to see the beautiful colors transformed into vibrant scarves, gloves, and more by the mujeres muy talentoso (?) (very talented ladies).

Speaking of colorful yarns, I apologize for my egregious use of Spanglish in this post but I am just so excited to be able to hablar un poco Espanol (speak a little Spanish). I've been assisted tremendously by a terrific Spanish tutor, Nancy, who is enthusiastic and kind and, well, simply great. I've only spent three hours learning from her over the course of this week but after each session, I feel even more confident in speaking and am able to understand just a bit more. My homework involves very practical things like being able to say the color codes of the yarn (i.e. VR1330 - a gorgeous leaf green, by the way) as well as saying hello to as many people as I can in as many ways as I've learned.