Thursday, February 4, 2010

Arequipa: a true introduction

It doesn't feel like the second day. Although I am by no means familiar with Arequipa, I have now walked more of her streets, collected more of her dust on my sandals, breathed in more of her exhaust, sat and sweated together with her locals in a combi (public van). I've met a few of her musicians who play music as a way to connect with Pachymama (Mother Earth) and to heal, I've perused a small sampling of her goods and learned the difference between llamas, suri llamas, alpaca, and vacuña (small deer with soft fleece), I've stood with one of her families in need of work in order to put their two teenage sons in school outside their one room house with no electricity or water.

This morning I went down to Plaza de Armas (the central square) with Margaret (in the picture) who acquainted me nicely with downtown: where to find a good capaccino con crema, how to negotiate with artisans on the street (for items you would not like: "otra dia" - another day), a good place to exchange U.S. dollars into nuevo soles (make sure not to get any ripped bills because stores won't take them), and how to catch a taxi back to the Volunteer House. Speaking of which, we are approximately 15 minutes (taxi) 25+ minutes (combi) from Plaza de Armas and 1,500 feet higher here at the Volunteer House (a total of 8,500 ft above sea level).

We also saw a demonstration around the main plaza - a strike for better water facilities, I think - and very grassroots with all sorts of different organizations coming together to publicly protest.

Then this afternoon I attempted to sit with the knitting ladies but wasn't aware of the fact that they had left for lunch time from 1 - 3 pm. So instead, I went with Steven and Lauren on a food delivery to the family I mentioned above. Maria, the Mision's social worker, is an amazing woman who has a great way of putting things directly and simply and making everyone feel valued and comfortable (I don't even need to know Spanish to see that). She's the one who put Steven in connection with this family - he had received a donation in order to give a few families food - we were delivering two weeks of food for this family of six - $50 worth. It was hard to stand before this family outside of their house without being able to help more. The father tried to get jobs as he could but unemployment is so high in Arequipa, as Maria explained, that often even educated professionals end up driving taxis. And, while education is free, the two young teenage sons couldn't go to school because of the fees of uniforms, etc. This was just one family in the midst of a neighborhood, a city full of families in similar situations.

Afterwards, Lauren and I opted to not take a combi back up but walked instead and earned some sweat-soaked clothes. We changed and hopped in a combi with Maria, who was going home, to go to a supermarket and a bank in the city. Combis are great. You pile in to what amounts to a 12 - 15 passenger van, a teenage boy stands in the sliding door and beckons to people on the street as well as tells the driver when a passenger wants to get off. You pay him as you get off which, today, was about 70 soles to the city (a little more than 20 cents). On our way back up the mountain, Lauren and I crowded onto a full combi where I'm pretty sure I sweated onto the gentlemen I squeezed my self between.

All in all, a very interesting introduction to the city.

Some pictures from Lauren of yesterday, sitting with the first group of knitting ladies:
Maria is the one on the left in the second picture. Margaret is the one in light blue in both pictures.

Me, Lily and her sister Milady.

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