Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Feliz dia Mama! Mother's Day in Cusco as gappers hit the 5 week mark

PROJECT: Teaching & Building
WRITTEN BY: Lauren Collee

It's our 5th week in Cusco and its starting to cool down a little - every morning I stumble upstairs in woolen Peruvian pants, stripy thermals and a beanie that looks like a dead baby llama, and proceed to pour about a litre of hot tea, coffee and this unidentifiable porridge-like substance down my throat. The cold tends to leave us alone during the day, and comes back around 8pm. This hasn´t hindered our nighttime excursions into town, however. We are beginning to discover the benefits of having to upright-spoon on buses due to lack of space, and one of them is warmth. The same goes for taxis - I´m proud to say we recently beat our record of How Many People Can we Fit in a Cusco Taxi?, getting 9 (including the driver) into a 5-seater. Our goal is 11.

We are slowly starting to learn the names of a few of the local doormen and barmen in town, after getting over the initial shock of their tendency to literally drag us by the arms into their clubs. Fogl had an interesting experience the other day, when one of the doormen got hold of his Facebook and posted him a love ballad and invitation to play playstation at his house.

Picking up from where I left off - the week before last for most was spent madly trying to fit in all the sights on the Cusco city tourist ticket (I think between us we have seen almost every Incan and pre-Incan rock and pot and pan and painting in Cusco), but also characterised by the lead-up to mother´s day. If there is one culture that is particularly appreciative of mothers, its the Peruvians. From Monday right through to Sunday we were bombarded with billboards, ads, miscellaneous banners and signs proclaiming "feliz dia mama!". There were services in churches, schools, even the local jail. On Thursday, we received printed invitations to our own little school´s tribute. Each grade sent up a couple of shy but excited students to perform for the class mothers, who sat in a line with long plaits hanging down their backs, other smaller children at their feet or in their laps, and proud smiles on their faces. Most of the performances were songs or poems which followed the gist of "pretty mummy, i love you, your cooking is good". The most memorable, however, had to be year 6 - a hilarious sketch mimed to a melodramatic Peruvian song in which the father goes out drinking while the mum stays home to cook and clean, until eventually she drops dead and he is left feeling guilty and heartbroken. It was a huge hit with the audience.

An affectionate email back home for most of us did not quite live up to the momentum of the holiday here, and so we lavished attention on our Peruvian mothers on the 11th of may (dont worry mum, i still owe you breakfast in bed). Sarah and I cooked a crude imitation of a lamington for Carmen, with melted Peruvian chocolate bar icing and coconut shavings that were worth the effort of smashing the coconut on the street below. Fogl and Sam got their caricatures drawn for Dina.

Speaking of mothers, I´ll just quickly reassure all concerned parents that we are all alive and well and there is no one left in the clinic - poor Holm held out the longest, lying in bed with her drip in even after the other 4 had gone back home to be nursed to health with coca tea. While 5 of our group were in their and things were looking particularly grim, Gabi´s mum saved the day with a package that would fit a 10 year old child. Watching Gabi pull countless pairs of socks and 8 tubes of vegemite out of that Mary Poppins paper bag (although it made us all insanely jealous) somehow lifted the mood of that little clinic room enormously.

Since the last entry, we have properly settled into our teaching schedule and have made very satisfying progress with the greenhouse - as was all the more evident when I handwashed my trackpants the other day and emptied out a bucket of water that was literally black with dirt. Memories of primary school are starting to unearth themselves as we find that despite cultural differences, the kids here enjoy games like giants treasure and making pasta necklaces just as much as we once did. I won´t pretend that classes aren´t exhausting - that teaching the alphabet in english to a class that has only just learnt it in Spanish is easy, or that anarchy doesnt break out every time we offer them choice regarding the colour of their paper or the sticker on their workbook - but their enormous appreciation of us simply being there is more than gratifying.

Last weekend is probably one of the last we will have free to spend in Cusco from now on, given how many weekend trips we have our hearts set on. On Sunday, most of the group went white water rafting - I havent heard much of that, but it seemed to be a positive experience despite Brindy and James going under. Don't worry, they came up again eventually. We spent Saturday exploring Cusco´s wonderful second hand markets, the batarillo, which has been one of the highlights of my trip to date. Im not exaggerating when I say they have everything there - food from quails eggs to coffee to UFOs (Unidentifiable Fried Objects) - ornamental goods from donkeys heads to boob-shaped jars to rocking horses made out of stuffed baby deer, and enough second hand clothes to ensure I never spend another dollar on jumpers in town centre again. We were among the only obvious non-locals, and were warned more than a few times to get out before we were robbed, but despite the claustrophobia that hit us after the first hour we all left vowing to come back when we could.

 On the way there, we made one of many bus-friends - a lovely old woman who wanted to practice her English and was incredibly keen on Fogl. I´m going to miss the trust between strangers on the bus that Cusco has going for it - mothers are perfectly happy to plonk their babies or shopping on the laps of people with a seat, and when sam fairbz sat down on the floor the other day and old man offered him his carpet as cushioning. I will admit that we had a not-so-pleasant local bus experience, however, when the other day a sneaky little man offered us and about 10 peruvians a direct lift to cusco for 2 soles. We happily agreed, and were gloating over our comfy tourist bus seats when he kicked us out on the side of the mountain about 2kms later and demanded we pay him anyway. Ive been much more grateful for my square metre of space on the regular bus ever since.

Like I said, we have a lot of long-weekends in view, with plans for Arequipa and Pisco and Bolivia and Ollantaytambo all in the making. We are also mulling over a festival next weekend held at the bottom of a mountain, which apparently involves a nighttime hike to get to the site, whipping and throwing llama foetuses (whatever that means), and substituting dancing for sleeping because of the cold. In short, there should be a few extra stories to tell by the time the next fortnight comes around.


  1. Glad everyon eis out of the clinic...and you have some exciting weekends planned

  2. Hi Lauren and all, want to hear more about the paganistic goings on on the mountain! Safe travelling and avoid the bus brigands.