Monday, July 13, 2009

Paro in Peru: 8 July 2009

Outside of the Central Market in Cusco, a throng of people slowly marched through the otherwise empty street, most traffic suspended for the day. They chanted “Urgente! Urgente! Nuevo presidente!” Some beat on drums, others blew horns.

On July 8, 2009, unions across Peru organized a national strike (paro). After several conversations with various Cusqueñans, and after reading newspapers and the wall of information posted for public display, I understand that participants used the strike to voice a quantity of grievances against the current president, Alan García.

I spoke with a municipal worker in the Plaza de Armas named Sylvester (left). In his opinion, “the platform of the fight is [that] our Peruvian government wants to privatize our natural resources, riches, and territory that had been adjudicated as part of the state.” Referencing a nationwide economic crisis, he condemned the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, claiming that it “doesn’t benefit us, the people of lesser resources; [it] only benefits those higher up [like] business owners.” Sylvester highlighted another point of the strike to be the nationalization of the factories, explaining that “before they belonged to the state but now they have been privatized. We want them to be nationalized, and not in the hands of international companies” (my translation).

While not all were in accordance with the strike, many groups spoke out in Cusco. Of what I witnessed, protests were generally peaceful, with a massive number of police keeping watch throughout the city. In addition to unions marching through the streets, a large collection of posters and pictures lined the stone wall of one of the main buildings along the Plaza de Armas. I heard both that law faculty from a university had posted the information as well as local writers. There were also large sheets of blank paper taped to the wall on which the public was encouraged to write their opinions on topics ranging from the privatization of water to Alan García’s relationship with the United States. While I have read that the strike was not as widespread as some had hoped, I understand that it is probably not the last that we will see.

To see more photos of this day, visit flickr.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Quechua Studies in Cusco, Peru

Hello from Cusco. Along with three other classmates from New York, I am here to study the Quechua language at Centro Tinku, a language school that is about a 5-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. In addition to this intensive program, I am also planning to research photography in Peru for my master’s project. My intention is to explore the many ways that photography may be used in and around Calca, a small town about an hour drive outside of Cusco in the Sacred Valley.

While all four of us from NYU passed the evaluation into the intermediate level, all 10 of us in the class have had a different experience in learning the language. Even though our professor in New York is a native speaker from Cusco, it is incredibly challenging to attempt to converse with Quechua speakers outside of a classroom setting. One of the benefits of studying Quechua in Cusco is the countless opportunities we have to practice. Participating in a homestay, I have the advantage of chatting with my Señora in Quechua over a mate de coca or while learning a new recipe. Quechua speaking taxi drivers, waiters and sellers in the market have generally seemed willing to see how this gringa fares: I would say that I know that I have a lot of learning ahead of me, and I’m excited to have so many chances to actually use the language on a daily basis.

We are now in our second week of classes, and I finally feel like I may have a grip on being here. The first week was intense, to say the least: adjusting to life with a family as part of a homestay, battling stomach complications due to new food and bacteria, fighting off colds and the flu during these frigid winter nights, trying to wrap my head around a new language. I had hoped to be able to start research in Calca almost immediately, but I see that I needed this week to get settled. In addition to the challenges listed above, Peru is also in a time of political discontentment...more on this soon.