Quillabamba – Part Two

July 7, 2006

I’m a million different people from one day to the next… I can change but I´m here in my mould.. It´s a Bittersweet Symphony, this life…(The Verve continued)

REWIND. I´m back again and, obviously I arrived safely as I wouldn´t be writing this now, would I? Unless, I’m writing from another place entirely, a place not of this world…. who knows? How do you all know that I really exist and that this isn´t some great pre-planned ruse on my part? I could be anywhere really…. I could be down the road, somewhere in London just making this all up. Which is why it is so important for me to see things for myself, to find out if they really exist, to explore this world…

Let´s back track a little to before I arrive in Quillabamba and finish the road trip. One thing that distresses me is the litter. Sadly, everything, including plastic bags, is thrown out of the window. In some towns, like Cusco, as you come in on the local bus (2 nuevo soles) or in a shared collectivo (5 soles), plastic bags, bottles and other assorted debris spills down the mountain slopes. As in many countries, this is a big problem. But it is not confined solely to Peru – just take the Silverlink train through Dalston Junction, especially in the summer. You´ll smell the litter before you see it. There goes another plastic wrapper casually tossed out of the window. It seems to be a case of, out of sight, out of mind, and is a very big problem. Education and changing behaviour is key, but how? Better start in my own backyard before I am accused of a form of colonial imperialism.

Diatribe finished, so back to the scenery. Adobe walls are painted with political sloganeering showing voters where and how to mark their votes as crosses. The sides of shops are painted with fizzy drink signs, including the appropriately-named yellow and blue Inka Cola, Sprite and the ubiquitous Coca Cola alongside churches which emerge from every village – symbols of the Catholic conquistadores. As we move through different ecological zones, from sub-glacial to sub-tropical, the plants change dramatically. Rhodedendrons, geraniums and hollyhocks provide beautiful splashes of colour, crimson and deep pink set against verdant backdrops. Fields of potatoes abound. Apparently there are more than 100 types of papas and Urubamba´s market has Potato Alley (more of that another time). Then we move through a cloud forest and it´s damp. Ferns unfurl, lichens cling to rocks and bright orange, trumpet-like flowers hang like upside-down fluted glasses from unfamiliar plants. I want to reach out and touch and smell them. Waterfalls cut across our path and, at one point I see bouquets of wild blue, purple and white flowers tied with a leaf, lying in one spot, denoting a recent accident and fatalities… but I don´t ask. I merely ponder. Then the bus hits a more tropical region and I feel the warmth and it´s bliss. Now, I can see banana and coconut trees, palms and other tropical trees, flowers and plants. I feel a surge and am glad to be on the road, alone-ish and free. Though apprehensive, the landscape comforts me and the plants and flowers are reassuring. Not long now, I can see the town ahead of us and the Rio Urubamba is snaking its way towards it as we get closer and closer to our final destination… (to be continued)


9 Responses to “Quillabamba – Part Two”

  1. Juergen said

    Dear Miranda,

    Nice to see that you have a little leisure time to explore Peru. And whenever, you feel blue whilst saving the children, then remind yourself of Wagner’s words, which suit you so aptly:

    “I believe my compassion to be the strongest feature of my moral being – and probably the source of my strength.”


  2. davidf said

    OK, Miranda, the World Cup’s over, so you now have my attention. Blog away….

    Dave x

  3. Kevin Spaceman said

    Wait a minute – you’re making this all up?

    I think we should first sterilize all Peruvian mothers. Then we switch from plastic to biodegradables.

    p.s. JC says hello and should visit soon.

  4. Sarah said

    I return and read some more,

    I hope the photos will be as good as the writing, can’t wait to sit with you and hear all about it, you have been there one month already !
    How is your spanish ?

    Kevin AKA Dan, where is JC going to visit ? UK ? why don’t you come too,
    Miranda we didn’t go to Teresa’s garden party, so lets visit her together soon,

    The big pear tree is being cut down in front of our house next week, which is sad but subsidence calls, so if you know anyone who is a wood sculptor let us know, they can make it into something beautiful,

    lots of love,

  5. miranda said

    Hey you guys, I miss you. I miss the familiar when so much is unfamiliar and it´s reassuring to be amongst those one cares about. I will write more tomorrow but the last few days have been quite difficult as I have been a bit too outspoken and asking too many questions. Also, I am living in a situation that is akin to student res days, which is something I never did anyway. Amongst volunteers aged 20, 21, 23 x2, and 28, (5 people), and I, at 41, am bang smack in the middle, as the oldest volunteer is a woman of 57. I love the work with the children and did a photo workshop with them but have had to deal with some scenarios that have been difficult and, even more so, without the language, cultural and geographical context that I understand, am part of and affords me protection and support. It needs to wait till I return for more detailed accounts but, if I were to write a book, this episode, in parts, would feature.

    I had horrendous dreams last night, dreams in which I was hit by a stroke as a result of a traumatic experience and had no capacity for language, as we know it – the dream was so vivid and distressing. I kept trying o let people know how I felt but couldn´t and they jsut lñooked at me blankly. I feel so much sometimes, I think I will burst. However, am taking photos and finding solace in these chats as well as ones with people back home. You need support when, as Mr David Bowie once sang, one is Unwashed and Somewhat Slighty Dazed. I do appreciate the messages, you can´t comprehend how much. We must have a get together when I get back and revel in friendship.

    Sarah, NGOs and all they entail present their own particular set of challenges, especially in developing countries. One sometimes wonders what it means to be Trying To Do Good and To Help. How do you know that you don´t end up making things worse in the long term? Is a Band-Aid effect all we can hope for? Is it always more difficult to navigate the world when one constantly questions? Is it better to be ignorant and unexperienced? I sometimes wish that I was more passive but it is not in my nature. Hey, I ran away from nursey school and got home, when I was three…. is my curiosity and challenging behaviour learnt or genetic? Why do I care so much?

    I am revisitng Spanish and am going to make an effort to keep it up when I return, so if you fancy some classes when I get back Sarah, let me know and tell me about Greece. Dan, tell me about Praha and where JC plans to visit? and Dave F, tell me about London and la vida alli…. What of Jonny Brown or Juan Moreno? Where has he disappeared to? We need a reunion, all of us, including Elsa and Ian, if we can all hook up sometime, esp without The Sadgrove, there is too strong a bond to ever forsake it. Don´t get me wrong and worry that I am getting too sentimental, but I miss you all. I have also had two Pisco sours and am now feeling OK, I really needed them. Till tomorrow Brazos y Besos M

  6. Sarah said

    yep there are a lot of questions around NGO’s and their intrusion, which was why there was a big move to letting local groups set things up and solve their own problems, as they know what they need, not what we as outsiders think they need, I wrote one essay on humanitarian aid in Somalia and read a lot about the mistakes made there by NGO’s.

    In some ways it’s the same as my job now that we beleive that the young people know what they want not the adults making the decisions about them who believe they know what is best.

    That’s one thing about working back in England at least I am working within my own culture, even if their lives have been pretty different to mine, I can understand the systems,

    yeh I would like to do some Spanish again i started some lessons with Mafe my neighbour but they pettered off. I need a reason to do something or I find it hard to keep going.

    Remember what I said about not getting involved in the problems of the other volunteers, this trip is for you !

    Can’t wait to see you when you get back,

    love Sarah

  7. Miranda said

    Yes, I hear what you are saying and have been keeping to myself, esp this week, but it is not a case of anyone´s problems getting in the way, rather more a case of lack of privacy and people not respecting some confidentiality.
    Yes, the NGO situation is complicated and I believe that people and groups who set things up, esp out of their familiar context, really need to question why and how they work as well as the long-term strategies. I remember going to a VSO talk and hearing about an educational project that was set up in Africa by one volunteer for two years but was then disbanded as they never found anyone to replace her. Setting up expectations and then pulling out can be counter productive. The project with the guys on the street and my continuing contact with one of them has taught me so much about these kinds of things, as well as my own experinces setting up a self help group in 1991. Also I have quite alot of experience, not only in teaching, but also in working for different groups and this means that it is not always easy to just sit back and not say what I think. Add the journalism and an insatiable curiosity to the equation and I want to know things like:
    How much of the volunteer´s donation supports the centre and how much is allocated to living expenses in the house and the added extras? Does the centre get any state support (i think not)? How do you work with volunteers who can´t speak Spanish and Peruvian staff who rely on one coordinator to liaise between the two? Nancy McGirr´s street project in Guatemala, which I visited and is 15 years old this year, stipulated that you had to be fluent in the language to work there and it appeared to be a case of to be more of a help than a burden and to integrate, you needed the language. Remember how Praha was/is without knowing the language, language in many ways forms our reality and gives us important insights into the way people see and interact with the world and organise it as differnt societies. How is it to have age ranges from 5-21 years in two classes based, not on age, but needs? How do you work with twenty to thirty children with mixed and very differnt special needs, including Down´s syndrome, autism across the scale, dyslexia, cerebral palsy and other physical and mental problems? What happens when the older ones get to 21 years or so, as some of them are now, and need to find a place back in the community and learn skills that are economically viable? How important is it to have staff who have an understanding and are trained in special needs available all the time, helping to progress the students. If you advertise to vounteers that they will be teaching English and some of them training students for the para Olympics as well as having opportunities to work with horses (three of which have a paddock in the school, but none of which the kids ride or interact with, except for to give them veggie peelings)and then these ideas don´t reach fruition, what do you do? You may ask why they are there and how much does their food cost and where does the money for it come from? Do you address these changes directly and explain the changes or just leave them in the hope that people will forget? How can the kids acquire transferable, useful economic skills suited to their community? Why doesn´t the project, I brought this up very firmly, carry out CRB checks on all volunteers who come out here to work, esp as the kids are vulnerable and many have already suffered emotional physical and sexual abuse? What do you do when staff and volunteers don´t respect professional boundaries and get involved with each other and it is not so easy to prove yet is talked about by everyone, esp in a small village? How exactly does the child sponsorship programme work and how are donations allocated, to the individual child or into a pot? How do you work with a family where the mother is 28 and already has six children, three of whom are at the school, one who is in a typical school, as well as a two year old who seems to have no responses to external stimulation at all – he doesn´t speak, or react to the external world – and a six month old baby, esp when the mother and father have drinking, poss drug and other mental they seem to think now, problems? New clothes and donations have been sold, stacked into piles and the parents still go to the Chicherias (fermented corn alcohol drink) bar? If you don´t work with the parents consisitently and long term, who themselves sometimes have problems, then the kids keep going back into the same home situation and the parent´s addictions can in some ways persist as someone else, the centre allows their behaviour to continue. You then need trained and experienced workers who understand addiction, domestic violence etc and ones that can go the distance. Also, I think any NGO needs a board or group of people who are not directly involved to help shape its direction through asking questions like these from an outside perspective and one where they have no direct agenda and can question freely without fearing personal consequences. Enough of all this, I won´t post this as a main blog as it is something for the background, but believe me, the problems have been less to do with my getting involved in other people´s problems but more to do with the bigger picture….
    Just some of the many questions circulating and an idea of where my head has been at recently. That said, I am thoroughly enjoying working with the kids and finishing the photo project with them, the centre is a haven and a very happy place, the kids are fab, the teaching staff are very committed and caring and many are getting more training in special needs, the volunteers are great and the cocinera Luisa, who has an autistic son at the centre is a great character and very kind… so all in all life goes on… Just think how it will be in Mancora on the coast for my last week when I visit the other centre. Still, I have a three-day trek to Machu Picchu starting Thurs next week before that so it will be a blast of nature, Inca ruins and good for my fitness, better get the coca leaves out…. All love MXXX

  8. Kevin Spaceman said

    Sarah – JC said he would visit Miranda’s blog and post a comment. That’s what I meant by visit.

    Mira – life has been an emotional rollercoaster the last 3 weeks. Prague is capricious and has claws.

  9. miranda said

    Spaceman, so, what you are saying is that Praha is a cat… Remember what you told me about the city when I first arrived? It´s the Devil´s playground, but that´s probably more to do with what one chooses to seek out. I recommend a stepping into nature so the cat has something to get its claws into. Tell me, are you OK? I know what you mean about emotional rollercoasters, have had my own fair share since I got here. Can´t wait to here from JC, hope he does post a blog soon, otherwise I´m going to have to spring a visit on him in India, some time soonish, need to catch up with the Croque Monsieur….. can´t we plan a trip? Anyway, you take great care, and so will I… I have been a model (hahaha) of self discipline and taking care, though I drank too much red wine last night, aptly named El Gato Negro, there´s the cat theme again, just think Master and Margarita… my next post will finish Quillabamba, then I´m moving onto some recipes for you and some tips on how to get rid of Peruvian men who may hassle you….Love to all who may read these comments, besos Mxxxx

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