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chuschi: much more than “history”

November 19th, 2010

Before I came here to Chuschi everyone kept warning me about the history of this community. The terrorist group, Sendero Luminoso, committed their first violent acts here in the community, first burning ballot boxes during elections, and then committed a massive massacre in the town center.

This all happened about thirty years ago, but the only knowledge that most people have of Chuschi is that it was a terrorist haven from 1980-2000. The main thing that I have learned here so far is that the people are some of the nicest people I have met in Perú. They are also some of the most guarded.

chuschi

Sendero Luminoso told them that the gringos wanted them all to die. This mentality has persevered until today, and most of the people are very apprehensive when they first meet me. Also, there were many “gringos” (white people) that came through and kidnapped children from the community to have them adopted for their own monetary gain. The language barrier doesn’t help very much either, as I speak Spanish much better than the majority of the population.

However, despite it’s history, the town is an absolutely gorgeous community. Most of the women work in making skirts, purses, and other handicrafts that they hand-make using wool that they cure and dye themselves. Today I went with the head sister to a family’s house that process wool, and then use a loom to make products to sell in the community.

The mother of the family is one of the best sewers and weavers in the community. The nuns buy products from her and take them to Lima, Piura, and the United States to sell them, as there isn’t much of a market here in Chuschi. I bought two little purses, which are only big enough to hold a camera or something small. They are absolutely gorgeous. When I asked her how much they cost, she told me 5 soles, which is less than $2. I then asked her how long it took her to make each purse: two to three days. You can see the amazing detail in her work in the picture below. These are completely hand-made. I wish I could make things like that.

bags

All of the dyes that they use are completely natural, using mostly plants. The colors that result are amazing. The women wear the most beautifully colored and decorated skirts, which take them up to 15 days to make, as they sew them all by hand. They also have gorgeous hats with flowers, along with brightly colored shirts. I am in heaven here. I wish I could wear these outfits.

skirts

The picture above is of the woman who made the purses. She also made the skirt she is wearing. All of the detailing is done by hand. It is reversible too, and took her about 10 full days of work (12 hours per day) to make. The women really invest in their outfits, but in my opinion it is well worth it.

Today I went to the high school of the other community. They only have 1st through 8th grade there. I taught the Hail Mary to one of the classes of eighth graders and on Monday I will have the other group. The kids in this community still have problems with Spanish, so teaching them a prayer in English was quite interesting. They were really good kids, timid at first, but once they started talking to me they wouldn’t stop.

One of their favorite things was to ask me how to say a word in English, and then to ask me questions in Quechua knowing fully that I don’t speak Quechua. One thing that I don’t understand is how the teachers work. All of the other teachers live in Huamanga (Ayacucho), which is about four hours away. They come to the region of Chuschi on Monday morning for class, stay until Friday, and then go home. Many of the women are married and have children, but leave them in Huamanga every single week. I think that would be so hard, and I know I couldn’t do it. Also, it is pretty common for teachers to not show up for class. They don’t call in or anything, they simply decide not to come for the day.

I definitely am not going to be able to post all of these until I get home. I went to the internet place today. After twenty minutes my email opened and I could read all of my emails, but I couldn’t send anything. I need to go study for finals now… yuck. I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

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