A Month of Contrasts
How can one yak even begin to sum up my impressions of Peru, or any of my experiences for that matter? But as I think back on the past month, four images wrought with irony and contrast stand out to me.
The first is of a taxi driver who drove a group of us from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, and his pouring a sip of his Fanta on the ground as an offering to the Pachamama before drinking from the bottle. The second is of my homestay mama in the town of Japu in Nacion Q’eros, who pulled a cellphone out of her pocket the night we were there. When I asked her if there was reception, she shyly shook her head no. The third is of a young university music teacher, who presented to Emma and I an entire table of Incan and Pre-Incan instruments at the Inka Museum in Cusco; among them included panpipes made from condor feathers, flutes made from llama bones, and ceremonial whistles in the shape of a hummingbird. He was initially wearing a ‘The North Face’ sports jacket, but halfway through donned an indigenous poncho and wool hat ‘in case we wanted to take photos.’ The final one is of reading in the Machu Picchu museum that the terraces at the ancient Incan city were now covered with a type of African weed, because it appeals more to the ‘Western aesthetic.’
These four images remind me of the complicated dynamic between traditional culture and development. It is interesting to see a taxi driver remain loyal to his ancestors’ beliefs, but it is ironic that he did so with a soda produced by a Western company. It was bittersweet to see my homestay mama with a cellphone, because I didn’t know how often she had use for it, or how much modern technology had touched the people of Q’eros, who still seemed very attached to their land and traditional lifestyles. It was funny to see the young music teacher drape his poncho over his Western-branded jacket, as if doing so would give us a more authentic experience. It was sad to see a site as mystic as Machu Picchu so touched by tourism, and confusing to realize that tourism is probably also what sustains the preservation and continued excavation of the city.
What these impressions have taught me though, is that development is not black or white, nor good or bad. The struggle between preservation and development is rea , albeit unconscious, as I’ve seen with my very own eyes. I can still remember Fabian, our local guide in Q’eros, who had been the president of the five local communities, sitting in the grass telling us about his wish to preserve the culture and practices of the indigenous people, but acknowledging that he had moved his family to Cusco so that his children could get a better education.
The most important lesson I’ve learned in the past month is to feel as equally with my heart as with my mind, so although much of what I’ve seen still confuses me, I know that at least these impressions will stay with me long into the future.