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Published: September 21st 2020
Chicha MoradaSunday, 13 Sept, 2020
The main ingredient in chicha morada is purple corn, which you boiled with cinnamon bark, lime, pineapple skin and the corn cob. Complete instructions are on Saturday in this week's blog!
I’ve been hearing a lot from my friends and family about the wildfires in Washington, Oregon and California. The red skies, even at 9am, the ash covering their cars parked outside and the choking smoke all make the west coast sound apocalyptic.
I sympathize with their predicament and unfortunately I can also empathize a bit too well. The smoke in Cusco isn’t as thick as in Seattle or San Francisco, but it’s also tragic: the Machu Picchu National Sanctuary is burning
The fire started on Friday, near the train tracks. Though the fires on the west coast of the US were almost all started by the same dry lightning storm in August
, naturally caused fires are unheard of here. Most wildfires are caused by people burning the stubble in their fields, in preparation for planting. They prefer to burn on windy days, since winds help the fire to move more quickly over the ground, only burning the tops of the dried stalks or weeds. Obviously, on windy days, these fires are much harder to control. The blackened hills around Cusco are an eyesore, but not as much as the blackened hills around Machu Picchu. Very few photos have been released and there are
Chicha Morada ingredients
The corn on the left looks black, but it turns anything it touches purple, including the limes and cinnamon stick.
almost no eye witnesses who don’t work for the government, since it’s almost impossible now to get to Machu Picchu.
There are only two ways to get to Machu Picchu: walking the Inca Trail or the train to Aguas Calientes, followed by a shuttle bus up to Machu Picchu. Nobody is able to get there on the Inca Trail, because it has been closed since January 23, when a mudslide killed three porters, washed away a section of the trail and caused the emergency evacuation of hundreds of other workers and tourists. It was scheduled to reopen on March 16th, but the pandemic caused the government to close all borders, airports, businesses, tourist attractions and national parks on March 15th.
Since the start of our quarantine here six months ago, the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes has been tightly controlled by the government who were intent on evacuating everybody from Aguas Calientes. Only a very few residents were allowed to remain. Under normal circumstances, there are only about 4,000 residents. It’s such a small town that there is no hospital or clinic and help is a train ride away. Considering the problem that poses during a pandemic,
When I took the kernels off the corn cob, my fingers turned purple, even though the corn was dry and so were my hands.
most residents voluntarily evacuated and went to live with family elsewhere.
This isolation posed a problem in getting firefighters to the fire. Only the remaining residents of Aguas Calientes were close enough to even get to the fire. They were short on trained firefighters and fighting a very uphill battle. The canyon walls around Machu Picchu are very steep, but also covered with dense vegetation. This is the edge of the Amazon and normally it is a very wet and humid place. Unfortunately, the normal dry season from June through August was extremely dry this year, and the expected September rains have not yet come.
The videos I have seen show high flames, which look like they’re from a fire hot enough to scorch deep into the earth, killing tree roots. If that is wrong, if the fire moved quickly over the ground without burning deeply, maybe plants will come back with the rains, whenever they finally arrive. However, if everything was burned, the rains will only bring more mudslides, potentially destabilizing the entire area on which Machu Picchu is built. There is a lot more information that will have to come out before we will know how
Purple on the outside
After I strained the kernels out of the chicha, I tried peeling them. The kernels are white inside and don't have much flavor. The skin is still very purple and can now be used to dye yarn or fabric, even though I already used it once.
much damage was done to the area.
For now, the major statements coming from the park service and the government have stated that the Machu Picchu archeological area has not been damaged by the fire. I hope that continues to be the case. Monday, 14 Sept, 2020
Looking for information about the Covid situation here, you have to check if what you find is for the city of Cusco, or the region of Cusco. Most of the numbers I find are for the region of Cusco, which is 71,986 km² and has a population of about 1.2 million. The last census for the city was 2017, when we had a population of just over 400,000. There are another dozen cities in the region, each at different stages of the current outbreak of Covid, which contribute to the aggregate of information about the region.
Finally, my research turned up a government website, http://www.diresacusco.gob.pe
, which has its own Covid page for the city Cusco. The numbers published today are not good: 959 daily new cases in the region, with a total of 48,906. Unfortunately, the majority of those cases are here in the city of Cusco: 30,918.
El Águila Negra
The Black Eagles were called in to empty out the bank at 4pm. Drama details on Thursday this week.
After months of wishing that there were better statistics available, I am fascinated by the six pages of information that the Cusco Regional Health Management has put together. The first page is the general numbers of total infections, deaths, daily increase (959 today), how many have been tested with both rapid tests and complete molecular tests, with the rate of positivity (14.68).
More interesting to me, is that the second page lists the hospitals in the Cusco region and the number of beds in each, including how many beds are full. There are a total of 537 hospital beds, and only 304 are currently occupied. That looks like good news, until I look at the number of ICU beds: of the 28 ICU beds in the Cusco region, 27 are full.
Following the news about the pandemic in US and Europe, it looks like the current outbreaks there are mostly driven by younger people. The fifth page of these Cusco stats shows a very different problem in the region. Kids 19 and under are only 3 percent of the total positive cases here, and young people 20-29 are only another 17 percent. We’re doing a good job of
Outside the bank are blue circles painted on the sidewalk to show people how far to stand away from each other. If you eventually get inside the bank, the blue circles say "We maintain distance. Let's take care of each other together!"
taking care of our elderly here; only 15 percent of cases are people over 60. That leaves the majority of cases with people who have to leave the house to work every day. Adults 30 to 59 account for 65 percent of Covid cases in the Cusco region.
The last page has a stat I haven’t seen before and certainly haven’t heard people talking about: 72.7 percent of Covid cases in the region are men. Men ages 30 to 59 are the vast majority of Covid cases here. Again, to me this looks like the people who have to leave home for work, and probably those who work in more unsafe environments. All kids 14 and under have been required to stay home since March 15th. They are only allowed to leave the house for half an hour per day, under parental supervision, as long as they stay within 500 meters of their home. Since the 2020 school year started in April, all classes for all schools are designed to be done at home. Invariably, somebody has to stay home with the kids and around here, this usually falls on the mother’s shoulders.
In these circumstances, maybe we
Parks have been closed for six months now, so my neighborhood created a little Saturday market on ours. It's only a few local farmers, but they have great produce at great prices.
should consider it a privilege that more women are able to stay home with the kids. I really believe that has to be part of the reason why only 27.3 percent of Covid cases are women. There are surely multiple factors involved, but that that has to be part of the equation.
I have been trying to find more information about the fire at Machu Picchu, but all that’s coming out in the news is that the fire is now contained
. They haven’t called it extinguished yet, but having it contained is definitely better than what’s going on in Oregon now. Tuesday, 15 Sept, 2020
Today is exactly 6 months since President Vizcarra declared a state of emergency and shut Peru down to slow the spread of Covid-19. Since then, we have had nightly curfews with an all day curfew on Sunday. The first couple months, the police and military patrolled the streets, tightly controlling who was outside their home and what for. Throughout the second half of March, all of April and May, only pharmacies and places to buy groceries were open. In June some other businesses started slowly to open, under a lot of new rules.
Many people have converted their garages or front yards into some form of shop. This woman only has a little space between her front door and sidewalk, but has created her own fruit and vegetable stand for some income.
months into the pandemic in Peru, there are still a lot of restrictions on how and when we can leave home. Transportation has normalized in some ways and more businesses are open but all of that has brought big consequences.
Through June, there were only a handful of Covid cases in Cusco, without any deaths since three tourists who arrived here sick back in March. Those first three months I was congratulations myself on what a great place I was in to weather the pandemic and how safe I was here. That has now changed. As soon as transportation started up again, and more businesses opened, the case numbers in Cusco started a steady climb. In July is was a constant, though mercifully slow, increase in cases. In August it exploded and in September we are still waiting to plateau from that explosion.
The first four months, up through June, I was afraid to go outside for fear of being arrested. I am now afraid to go outside for fear of catching Covid. The past three weeks we have been averaging a thousand new cases per day. At one point in August, they were registering a death an
One of my favorite potato varieties here is huayro, which has both purple skinned bright purple middles. They are delicious boiled whole and have a buttery texture.
hour, just in the Cusco region. I still feel safe walking in the hills above town, out in the wind where nobody goes within ten yards of me. It’s doing any shopping in town that worries me now. At least now I have my own apartment, can control who is allowed to enter and don’t have to share a kitchen.
Tuesday is the one day that I really have to leave the house though, for three hours of in-person teaching for friends. I teach an hour of French to my friend David, an hour of Spanish to Sonia and an hour of English to José. During our lesson today, I asked José what it would take for him to open back up his coffee shop. José owns the Monkey Café
, which was forced to close along with all restaurants, bars and coffee shops on March 15th.
If José wanted to re-open Monkey now, he would have a lot of new costs to contend with, along with a much smaller customer base. The vast majority of his clients were tourists, though of course he had a local following also. If you really appreciate good coffee, then Monkey was the place
The little pink potatoes are Peruanitas, with as much pink inside as huayro is purple. Peruanitas are also delicious boiled whole, or roasted, and a lighter, fluffier texture than the huayro.
to be. If I have learned anything about José in the past few months of working with him, it’s how obsessed he is with every step in coffee growing, fermenting, roasting, cupping and making the best cup of coffee possible.
If he were to re-open under the current rules, he would have a lot of new costs to factor in. He would have to buy an infrared forehead thermometer to take customers’ temperatures when they entered the shop. He would have to pay for a certified Covid cleaning service to clean his shop and he would have to buy a lot of protective gear, from masks and face shields, to full body suits for himself and any employees. He would have to renew his coffee shop license and also pay for a new Covid license.
He said that there is no way he could break even by just selling coffee. To break even or hopefully turn a profit, he said that he would have to be more shop than coffee shop. He said he has been thinking what else he could sell. Tea, baked goods and chocolate are obvious options. He said he would also like to carry
New Covid rules
To sell chicha, or just about anything for that matter, you have to invest in all sorts of personal protective gear. You have to completely cover yourself and also completely separate yourself from your customers. This isn't just expensive, its an overuse of disposable plastic and will have serious consequences on our environment.
organic produce and wine.
There are so many farmers in the Sacred Valley that used to sell in Cusco, but now have been left without any customers. Restaurants and hotels that catered to tourists have been closed for six months, which eliminates a huge market for farmers in the area. Plus, it’s next to impossible to get products to Cusco, considering the ongoing restrictions on transportation.
One local tea, made for Parque de la Papa in Pisac, is something that I would love to see available in Cusco. My favorites of theirs are chamomile and muña. Muña is a local mint, which only grows high in the Peruvian Andes. I love how I can get three to four good cups of tea from each bag of freshly dried herbs. The locally made and plastic-free packaging are another plus.
Plans to reopen the shop also brought a discussion on how local banks are trying to help people financially survive the pandemic. José told me that the local credit union Caja Cusco has a new program for buying a bike. With bus fare going up from s/.80 to s/2 and the fear of contagion on public transportation, biking has
Where are the tourists?
It's been six months since the tourists left and the government closed the borders. It's been so hard to find buyers for all of the beautiful creations made by Cusco artisans and we have no idea how much longer borders will be closed. It's not just our borders that are keeping tourists away though. As Covid cases surge in the US and Europe, the tourists that we want to come back to Peru are getting sick and losing their jobs. When will they be able to travel?
become much more popular here. This is fantastic on so many levels, especially for air quality and public health, as people get more exercise biking than sitting on the bus or taking a cab.
Caja Cusco has a program for you to buy a bike directly from them, with monthly costs as low as s/100. If you take the bus twice per day, six days per week (remember Sunday we have to stay home) it will you cost s/96 in bus fare. For an extra s/4 per month, you might as well be paying off your own bike. How’s that for a silver lining in the pandemic? Wednesday, 16 Sept, 2020
Today after work I applied for a grant for the Covid Relief Project. Initially, I had been focused on finding people who had already been to Cusco, hopefully who had done the Inca Trail, to ask for donations. I really thought that enough guides would have been friended by past customers on Facebook, that we would be able to get donations from them. That totally failed, either because the guides didn’t ask or because their former clients didn’t answer. The vast majority of donors were my
Hand-spun wool yarn, dyed with natural colors, is called Kaito in Quechua. It's used for all kinds of traditional textiles but is getting increasingly harder to find. Fewer people are producing it locally because the market is shrinking as many people turn to synthetic yarn because it's cheaper.
friends and family. I am so thankful for their support, but also disappointed that I didn’t manage to get the intended audience.
Until I read the September newsletter for the Seattle Returned Peace Corps group, SEAPAX, it hadn’t even occurred to me to apply for grants. Even if we don’t get this one from SEAPAX, now that I have the idea, I’ll spend some time looking for other grants that we might qualify for. Here’s hoping!
Only Angela was available for my Zoom class today, so I took the opportunity to ask her for an update on her nephew, Fabián. (The beginning of Fabián’s saga is in last week’s blog). The tyke was hospitalized on Monday this week and is still undergoing testing. They don’t have a diagnosis yet, but Angela reported that Fabián starts neurological therapy today. That news prompted me to try again to ask her for what symptoms caused his family to drive him to Lima in search of a pediatric neurologist.
Angela described his symptoms as difficulty moving and difficulty speaking, with sudden onset. Those sound like scary symptoms for any 4 year old. Most of the 4 year olds I’ve known run
I was just looking for stats on Covid in Cusco when Google kindly suggested five strategies for coping. I'm going to need more than five if I'm going to stay sane in Peru's quarantine lockdown much longer. Six months in and we still have an 8pm curfew and complete prohibition on leaving home at all on Sunday, except for emergencies.
everywhere and never stop talking. I can’t imagine how terrifying that would be, either as the kid or as the parent.
Last week Angela told me that if Fabián were to be admitted to the hospital, that he would not be allowed any visitors, per Covid regulations. It was hard for me to believe that anybody would hospitalize a 4 year old without a parent or guardian but I thought that maybe it was because the whole family had Covid a month ago. Fortunately, Angela reported today that her cousin, Fabián’s father, is staying with him at the hospital.
That prompted another question from me, how are Fabián’s parents both missing work? They drove to Lima last week from a small town in the Peruvian Amazon and who knows when they might be able to go home. It turns out that Fabián’s father had already been laid off, due to Covid-driven budget cuts. He had been what Angela called a topographer, but her description of his job sounded more like a surveyor for buildings sites or new roads. So, he’s not missing work.
It’s Fabián’s mother who’s missing work, now that she’s trapped in Lima taking care of her 2 year old, while her 4 year old and husband are at the hospital. She had been a pharmacist at the government clinic in the town they lived in and considering how government staffing of those clinics usually goes, it’s entirely possible that the town is now without a pharmacist.
Fabián’s mother and brother are staying at Angela’s aunt’s house in Lima, so they can isolate as best as they can. The Covid pandemic in Lima is still terrible, and although Fabián’s whole family has already had Covid, nobody really knows how much immunity that gives them. They’re no longer contagious, but Angela’s aunt is staying with her while the cousins from the Amazon are in Lima.
This sparked more curiosity: is Angela’s aunt quarantining with them at home or leaving the house to go to work every day? The answer was a very emphatic: she stays home! If I lived in Lima I wouldn’t want somebody coming and going from my house, considering how bad the pandemic is there. The reason the aunt, Gladys, stays home is much more practical though. She’s a teacher and all teachers and all students are staying home this entire school year. (Go back through some of my blogs if you want to read more about how virtual school is playing out in Peru).
Gladys is a Special Ed teacher, which is challenging enough in a normal year. I had to ask Angela, how does she teach Special Ed online? It turns out that Gladys doesn’t ask any of her students to get on zoom and has to rely heavily on their parents. She sends the assignments or tasks to her students’ parents and the parents video their child doing the task, then text or email her the videos. Then she watches and assesses the videos. Most of her communication with parents is on Whatsapp.
Every teacher I know who loves teaching does it because of how much they love the kids. It must be so hard to not only manage the technology for virtual teaching and learning, but to also manage maintaining the love and enthusiasm for teaching the kids that you’re not allowed to see in person. The beginning of the school year in Peru coincided with the onslaught of the pandemic, which pushed back school opening dates until the Ministry of Education could roll out a completely virtual curriculum for every student in the entire country. All students and all teachers will stay home for the entire 2020 school year, which ends in late December.
Another interesting declaration from the Ministry of Education was to tell teachers that no student will repeat a grade this year. All students will pass on to the next grade and whatever fallout there is, it will be dealt with in 2021. Under normal circumstances, that would sound like they’re just kicking the can down the road a bit. However, as hard as this year is, I completely understand wanting to put at least some problems off to next year. Asking any more than we already are of teachers is just asking too much. Thursday, 17 September, 2020
This afternoon I went to the bank to pick up the transfer that Angela and Fred sent from Lima, to pay for my zoom classes. Banks here are almost unrecognizable with the new Covid regulations and the lines at banks are a mystery to me. Every bank has long lines, sometimes stretching around the block. They look longer than they would have before Covid, since everybody is supposed to stand on a circle painted on the sidewalk.
All over Cusco, sidewalks are lined with blue or yellow circles, each a meter and a half apart. One of the most common things I see police do is enforce proper mask wearing (the nose has to be covered also) and telling people how to stand in line at the bank. I haven’t seen them make people who aren’t standing on a circle go to the back of the line, but they do threaten it.
Another reason for the long lines outside is the short line inside. Bank lines used to be mostly inside the bank, but with new distancing rules, many banks can only have five people at a time standing in line inside. It’s been the dry season the past few months, but I imagine that standing in line at the bank will be even more of a pain when the rainy season starts.
The real reason that bank lines are so long is that the Peruvian equivalent of stimulus checks are distributed in cash. Only about a third of Peruvians have bank accounts, but even those who do have bank accounts do not get their stimulus payment direct deposited. Everybody has to go to the bank to receive the cash in person. The vast majority of people standing in line are there to get their stimulus payment from the government. Like me, some are also there to receive transfers, though most of them are receiving money from family members who live abroad, rather than their English students in Lima.
The bank I had to go to today, BCP, had a long line when I got there a little after 3:00. Lines are worse in the morning, plus I work until 1:00, so I thought that 3:00 would be a good time to go get in line. I was wrong. The bank closes at 4:00, which I already knew. I just didn't know that I would need to be in line for more than an hour to get inside.
At 4:00 there were only three people still in front of me on the sidewalk. The bank closed the door between the entry way that has ATMs and the entrance to the bank itself. Still, nobody in line behind me or in front of me left, so I stayed too. I figured that even if they didn’t let any more of us in, it would be interesting to see what happened.
What happened was that the bank called the cops to clear us out. A police SUV full of heavily armed Black Eagle Police pulled up within a minute and the cops proceeded to tell us to clear out. They said over and over that the bank was closed and that it would open again at 9am and that we could get in the other line for the ATMs or leave. Still, nobody else in line moved, so I stayed too.
That just prompted the cops to get louder. They didn’t touch anybody, or threaten to arrest anybody, but their voices kept getting louder as they told us to leave. They repeated over and over that the bank was closed, that nobody else in line would be allowed inside and that we should come back at 9am. Looking at the others in line, I wondered if they cops should be saying this in Quechua. Nobody moved. They all looked like they understood Spanish, but it took a full ten minutes at least for the cops to get everybody to either leave, or go to the back of the line for the ATMs.
When there was nothing more interesting to see at the bank, I walked over to Wagner’s, the wholesaler that I’ve been working with to buy food for the Covid Relief Project. A month ago they had to partially close the store, short staffed because of a Covid outbreak among the employees. Jorge, the owner was there and I was happy to see him. It had been over two months since I had seen him at work and I asked if he was okay. Jorge hadn’t gotten Covid, but several of his employees did, including a woman in her 50s who mostly did bookkeeping for him in the back office. I only know the people who work at the front of the store, so I couldn’t put a face to the name when Jorge told me that she was one of the ones who got sick. Tragically, she took the virus home and her husband died of Covid.
The pandemic is still going strong here and I just want to stay home for the rest of the month. Friday, 18 September, 2020
My zoom classes with Angela and Fred, the couple in Lima are going really well, even if the times that are convenient for them aren’t super convenient for me. I teach them English Monday 3-4 in the afternoon but Wednesday through Friday 5:30-6:30, when I would rather be making dinner. I am enjoying it more than I thought I would and I’ve been learning a lot about the Covid situation in Lima from them. I’ve also taken the opportunity to discuss other things that I always want to get local opinions on, like if voting should be mandatory.
Covid and the US election in November are two topics that are almost impossible to avoid. Angela had a meeting this evening, so my lesson was with only Fred. When he asked me what would happen with the election in the US I had to tell him that one of the reasons that it’s so hard to know if the polls are accurate is that so few people actually vote in the US. One of the biggest hurdles for any candidate is to motivate people to actually go vote for them. This year, with the added complications of the pandemic and the various ways each state is attempting to deal with voting during a pandemic, it’s an even bigger hurdle.
This is not an issue in Peru, because voting is mandatory. There are exceptions, like if you are required to work and unable to vote. In those cases the employer might have to pay a fine. Not voting and not having an excuse for why you couldn’t vote, brings a fine on the voter. It’s between s/80 and s/480. The fine is on a sliding scale, depending on your income and on the region in which you live. There is some leniency for people who live so high up in the mountains that it is next to impossible for them to get to a polling station. Unfortunately, this further disenfranchises the highland people, who already suffer from a lack of good education in their communities, leaving most undereducated and many also illiterate.
Australia and Belgium, plus another 19 more countries
, also have mandatory voting. Fred told me that mandatory voting is a problem because so many people just vote for a name they recognize, or just vote randomly, without first learning much about the candidates. I told him that those are issues in the US too, but that I thought the answer has to be education. So many problems I see in Peru come back to the problem of poor or non-existent public education. Even elementary school is not free or mandatory. How are people supposed to be educated enough to know how to find out which candidate actually represents their interests? There are 24 political parties registered in Peru
, so it’s much more difficult to vote along party lines, like Democrats or Republicans can in the US. Not every party has a candidate for every office and not every party participates in every election. There is a complicated and constantly shifting web of alliances between these parties. It can be confusing, even for the most educated Peruvians.
After dinner this evening I got a text from my friend Ali: a photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. My heart dropped. No. It can’t be. We really can’t lose her now. A quick search brought me the tragic news. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died today of pancreatic cancer. I’m in shock. Her death is not only a huge loss for feminists, it has potential huge implications for the Supreme Court. Trump has already gotten to name two justices to the Supreme Court and a third would stack the court so far to the right that it would take decades for the US to get the court to again actually represent the people.
If you’re not from the US, or for some other reason don’t know who the Notorious RBG is, please
">watch this video.
Today Auqui taught me how to make chicha morada, a traditional Peruvian drink made from purple corn. Last week I put a photo on my blog of the purple corn I had bought, which grows in a specific microclimate. It is now most often grown in the north of Peru, though it is originally an Andean grain, from the mountains near Cusco. Grains were found in the
that I hope to visit one of these days.
Besides chicha morada, it is used to make several other desserts and the hot drink api, which you can see in last week’s blog. It’s also commonly used to make a