COVID in Cusco: Week 39

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December 12th 2020
Published: December 14th 2020
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Old fashioned milk cansOld fashioned milk cansOld fashioned milk cans

We buy fresh milk for our chocolatadas because it's more nutritious and also because there is no waste in packaging. Each of these milk cans holds 30 liters.
Sunday, 6 December, 2020

Yesterday was amazing, but I am so exhausted by all of the travel. The farther out the villages are, the more they need help, so I’m bracing myself for a December full of twisty mountain roads that make me carsick. It’s certainly worth a little discomfort on my part to be able to reach families who need so much.

Not only are the communities farthest from Cusco lacking in basic communication and medical care, they also don’t have any way to get to a town where they could buy basic necessities or try to get medical care. The pandemic is far from over and I am always impressed when we go somewhere that doesn’t have any Covid cases in the area. They really are staying isolated and I really want them to keep staying isolated.

Faced with so much need, I tend to feel overwhelmed. It’s helpful to have my friends with me, and Auqui’s constant reminder that “algo es algo.” My Mom also sent me a quote from RBG that helps: “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives
Giant cauldrons of hot chocolateGiant cauldrons of hot chocolateGiant cauldrons of hot chocolate

I love how much hot chocolate these communities can make with the ingredients that we bring. For Mayubamba we brought 3 kilos of pure cacao, a bag of sugar, a big handful of cloves, a cinnamon stick the size of my arm and the 30 liters of fresh milk.
not just for oneself but for one’s community.” Mom pointed out that RBG had said “a little better,” which I need to remind myself is not “totally fair and equal for everybody.”

I can definitely make life a little better for some of the families that we’re visiting. That seems like a realistic goal for me. As with anytime I’ve got a cause I’m working for, I get frustrated when other people don’t think that it’s as important as I do. Several times, we have run into roadblocks of one form or another from local government hacks who can’t be bothered to call us back or organize transportation for us. I am dependent on local mayor’s offices to pick us and the donations up in Cusco, take us to the village and then get us back home at the end of the day.

Even yesterday’s event didn’t get much support from the Calca mayor’s office. The guy who worked with us, Elio Huaman, didn’t get the help he needed from his bosses, but he made it happen anyway. I am so thankful that among the useless people in every administration there are often people like Elio who have
Clothes for kidsClothes for kidsClothes for kids

I really appreciate having people to help give out the kids' clothes because I'm terrible at judging sizes. This is my friend Henry's niece, Lucera, who came with us from Cusco.
their heart in the right place and will do whatever they can to get help to those most in need.

Monday, 7 December, 2020

After taking yesterday off, today I’m working on the video of last Saturday’s event. I’ve gotten a little better at these over the past few months, but it’s still a laborious process for me. The first step is to listen to the interviews and speeches over and over, transcribing and translating simultaneously. Then, after I get all of the clips edited together how I want them, I put subtitles in English for everything that’s in Spanish and Quechua. I can’t translate Quechua by myself, but that’s where Auqui comes in. I really couldn’t do any of this without him and Henry.

Today, watching the clip where Elio speaks to the people of Airepampa, the kids running around just about break my heart. Sometimes, there are images that just stick with us, that really pull at our heartstrings. What’s really getting to me right now are their cold little feet. The kids I saw on Saturday were wearing one or two pairs of pants or leggings, at least two skirts and three or four
The best volunteersThe best volunteersThe best volunteers

I am so thankful that Andrea, David and Sonia were available to help on Saturday! We bought the mini-panettone with donations, but Andrea also brought granola bars as an extra donation.
little sweaters layered on top of each other - but sandals on their little feet. It was cold and the kids didn’t have any real shoes. Everybody had the same black rubber sandals that offer very little protection and absolutely no warmth. They’re called ojota and cost less than $3.

I think that what was harder about last Saturday, compared to the villages we visited May through August, was that this is much more focused on children. Before, we wanted one adult representative from each family to come to the meeting point and take home the bags of rice, oatmeal, sugar or whatever we had to give. In August we also tried buying school supplies for kids, but the kids were not the main focus of the event.

Now that I’m taking hot chocolate, sweet bread and children’s clothes, the kids are front and center. They are so cute and look so surprised to see people who look like me. I’ve had kids here tell me, after they got to know me and felt more comfortable with me, that they assumed at first that my hair must be a wig. Once they realized that it’s not a wig,
What police should really be doingWhat police should really be doingWhat police should really be doing

It was heartwarming to see the local police helping the littlest kids carry their hot chocolate. Carrying a full mug and also a panettone and granola bar was more than most of them could manage. If the police are supposed to serve the community, carrying a little kid's hot chocolate seems like a great job for them.
they decided I must have it dyed because any color besides black or brown just isn’t natural. And those are kids who live in town. I wonder what these kids, who live so high in the mountains that they don’t even have cell service or radio, think when they see me.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

The video isn’t done yet, but it’s still time to start planning for this weekend. We’ll be going out both Saturday and Sunday, so I went to buy motion sickness pills today. Saturday it will be about three hours of twisty mountain roads, each way. Sunday will be even farther.

Today I went to see Jorge, the wholesaler that I’ve been working with. I paid off what we had ordered for this weekend: 5 kilos of rice and a liter of vegetable oil for every family, plus bags of oatmeal and a package of crackers for each of the 90 children at the Paruro elementary school. On Saturday, while Auqui, Sonia, David, Andrea (from the Maytaq Wasin Hotel) and I are taking a chocolatada to the village of Mayubamba, Henry is going to take a chocolatada to the Paruro elementary school.
Mini or giant panettone?Mini or giant panettone?Mini or giant panettone?

I've been calling these mini-panettone, since a panettone is usually the size of a cake. Still, for some of these kids it was obvious that the panettone looked impossibly giant for them.

Henry’s uncle teaches there and asked Henry if he could take something to the kids there. I prefer to take what we have to families who live far from towns, families who don’t have any way to buy necessities or find work without leaving their mountaintops. Obviously, these are the families who should stay up in the mountains to avoid catching Covid. Paruro is a real town with government offices that have jobs programs, hiring as many people as they can to do everything from paint crosswalks to pulling weeds in parks. Paruro also has shops where people can actually buy things.

Still, Henry pointed out to me that everybody is in need this year. I can’t argue with that. We do have enough in the budget for him to take a chocolatada and oatmeal to 90 kids, so why not? We do have some donations still coming in, so I don’t think it will take away from what we were going to take to the other villages anyway.

Wrapped up in my do-good world of the Covid Relief Project, I was shocked to hear that in Boise, where my parents live, the Anne Frank memorial was vandalized
Las mamitasLas mamitasLas mamitas

After a year of isolation, it was wonderful to see the community get together.
with swastikas. Why do people want to spread hatred? Why is it so hard for some people to embrace or even just accept, people who are different from them? How could somebody put a swastika on Anne Frank’s statue? She was just a kid! She probably had cold little feet when she was in the concentration camp.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

I’ve never been much for Christmas movies, Christmas music, much less Christmas shopping. Still, when I was a kid my parents used to take me to a big family gathering at the Belts’ house on Christmas Eve. Every year, the highlight of Christmas Eve was the book The Polar Express. When I was little, I listened to somebody read it to all the kids. The year that I got to read it to the little kids, I felt like I was growing up. It meant a lot more than a quinceañera or a sweet sixteen party.

So, when Kerry invited me to watch the movie Polar Express with her and Sonia tonight, I was really excited. This is the sign that Christmas is coming. It may be too warm here to feel like Christmas, but Sonia
Covid protocolsCovid protocolsCovid protocols

We try to follow Covid safety protocols, keeping our masks on and using gloves to give out food. Most of these communities don't have a single case of Covid, even after nine months of pandemic. We need to keep it that way!
pointed out that it’s raining here as much as it usually does in England on Christmas.

It’s a funny thing to be in the southern hemisphere for Christmas. In North America and Europe we’re so used to Christmas being about hot drinks and snow and evergreen trees and snuggling up in front of a fireplace. We do have hot drinks here, but not more than usual. At altitude, you get cold and dehydrated quickly, so drinking endless cups of tea and hot chocolate are normal all year.

I’ve celebrated Christmas in several warm countries: Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Peru and even on the beach in Cartagena, Colombia. One year, I thought I was going to be in a warm country, only to discover that Hanoi, Vietnam, is really cold in December. I had to buy a fake North Face down jacket, since that was the warmest option available. I had to buy XXL, which makes it obvious that they are not made for export. Those are Vietnamese sizes. I loved that the logo had been modified to read The North FFace.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

The rains have set in for real now. Our first day
BYO mugBYO mugBYO mug

We ask everybody to bring their own mug so that we aren't creating a lot of trash with disposable cups.
of real rain was December 1st, which is over two months late. The dry October and November killed most of the crops that people planted in August and September, since so few people here have access to irrigation systems. I am so relieved for the rains to finally be here, knowing that not only will the farmers be happy but that also I won’t see anymore wildfires. Wildfire season is definitely over.

The national news picked up Boise’s tragedy from Tuesday. NPR quoted Boise Mayor Lauren McLean “Bad actors who use racist and violent rhetoric are not welcome in this community.” I hope that Boise manages to turn this around. It is starting to become a more liberal community, with a growing population of refugees. They really can’t let this kind of hatred take hold.

Friday, 11 December 2020

I am always happy when I can negotiate prices down and convince those who are selling food or children’s clothes to give me extra discounts because what I’m buying is going to be gifted to families in need. We already have everything set for tomorrow, but I still have a little money from the budget for Sunday. Auqui and I took it to
The Paruro teamThe Paruro teamThe Paruro team

The mayor of Paruro sent a team of volunteers to help us organize everything. Paruro is the equivalent of the county seat and small communities like Mayubamba don't have their own mayor.
a wholesale fruit market and bought a giant sack of over 500 oranges.

The woman selling actually tried to talk me into the cheapest oranges, when we asked her to give us a discount for both buying in bulk and buying to donate to families in need. I tried to politely thank her for her advice, but also told her that just because they’re poor, they shouldn’t have to always get the cheapest option. Already we’re taking them used clothes, which are all in good shape, but still used. This is Christmas. I want to give them the nicest things that we can afford, and we can afford the most expensive Valencia oranges, so that’s what we bought.

We took the sack of oranges to the Maytaq Wasin Hotel, where we met my friend Sarah. She was there to help us sort through the clothes. We dumped out the bags that we had bought two weeks ago and sorted them into baby clothes, little kid clothes and big kid clothes. Peruvian culture is very heteronormative, so we sorted out little girl clothes from little boy clothes. For both Saturday and Sunday, we put together five bags of clothes:
Los abuelitosLos abuelitosLos abuelitos

We held the event in front of the Mayubamba church and they carried some of the pews outside for the village elders.
baby, girls 3-10, boys 3-10, girls over ten years old and boys over ten years old. It’s a rough estimate on sizes, although some of the clothes helpfully say on the tag what age they’re for.

Wagner was supposed to deliver the rest of the rice, oil and oatmeal at noon, but it didn’t arrive until almost 4pm. I was getting hangry by then and was so glad to leave for lunch, before going home to pack for tomorrow. All of today was taken up with preparing for the weekend chocolatadas. It’s a good thing I’m not trying to juggle a full time job with all of this!

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Today was our second chocolatada and we met at the Maytaq Wasin Hotel at 5:30, to try to get the truck loaded and hit the road as early as possible. Today’s drive was only about three hours, but since we’re also going to another village tomorrow, I want to get home early in the afternoon so I have time to catch my breath before it’s back on those mountain roads.

Henry got there right at 6am, with two milk cans that each hold 30
Toothbrushes and toothpasteToothbrushes and toothpasteToothbrushes and toothpaste

The Covid Relief Project bought rice and oil for each family and the Maytaq Wasin Hotel donated a hygiene pack for each. In each pack, Andrea included 6 towels, 5 bars of soap, 4 toothbrushes and 2 tubes of toothpaste, one for children.
liters, and 350 mini-panettones. We dropped him off with one of the milk cans and 100 of the panettones at the elementary school in Paruro, then kept going to Mayubamba.

Just like last Saturday, they already had a big cauldron of water boiling, ready for the chocolatada. When they saw the 30 liter milkcan, they ran to get a couple more pots, to take out some of the water so there was room to add the milk. It’s fresh milk, so they had to make sure to boil it before it could be served. We added three of the 1 kilo bricks of cacao, a bag of sugar, a handful of cloves and a stick of cinnamon the size of my arm. I don’t know why it seems so cool, but I just love these giant cinnamon sticks.

All of the kids from the village were already there, so we lined them up, smallest to biggest to start giving out the clothes. It was pretty cute to see kids choose their favorite of the options available. It’s not always easy to judge the right size, but if the kid picks it out, I’m sure they’ll make it fit.

Everywhere we go, people either bring lambs with them, or the lambs wander in and join the event.
After clothes was hot chocolate and panettone for everybody. After everybody had seconds on hot chocolate, we asked an adult representative from each household to line up for the rest of the donations.

The rice and oil seem pretty standard to me by now, so I was really happy to see the packs that Andrea had put together. From her hotel Maytaq Wasin, she donated six towels for each family. She has also been collecting donations, so she was also able to buy five bars of soap, four toothbrushes and toothpaste for each family. Hygiene is a real challenge when you live in an adobe home without plumbing and any help is appreciated. Andrea even included toothpaste for kids. Also, toothbrushes and toothpaste are not high on the priority list for families that are really struggling to get by. Few shops carry them and they’re just prohibitively expensive for most of the people of Mayubamba.

After we had handed out the food and packs from the hotel, we gave out some toys that David had collected from his students. Finally, we handed out the last of the panettones to anybody who had stuck around. It was a lot

There is always enough hot chocolate for everybody to have seconds or even thirds. Saturday we also had enough panettone for most people to have a second one also.
more than the village leaders were expecting and they were so happy. Before we left, the community president invited all of us for lunch, which was served in an empty classroom in the closed school.

Most communities are only able to share boiled corn or potatoes, which I am perfectly happy with! However, the mayor of Paruro had sent supplies to make chicken and potato soup with his assistants. He wasn’t able to be there today, but he certainly sent enough people to support us, including local police. It was cute to see the police helping the littlest kids who were having trouble carrying a mug of hot chocolate and the panettone and a granola bar, donated by the Maytaq Wasin.

The mayor also sent scarves and bags for those of us who came from Cusco. They’re from the Paruro artisans cooperative and are obviously made for the Cusco tourist souvenir market. Sadly, they have been sitting around for almost a year, since no tourists have been here to buy souvenirs. Tourism is starting to come back and I hope that the economy will revive. It’s starting very slowly, mostly with tourists from Lima. It may be several
The Mayubamba teamThe Mayubamba teamThe Mayubamba team

After the chocolatada, the mayor of Paruro had arranged for all of us to have lunch together. He also send scarves and bags as presents for us from the Paruro artisans workshops. They are nice presents that I would have felt awkward accepting from a community like Mayubamba, but Paruro is much better off and if the mayor has that in his budget, we're happy to receive his gifts.
more months before people are able to travel from the US and Europe, where most of our tourists come from.

We got back early enough that I had time to go over the budget for tomorrow again. I had a little money left over, so I went back to Wagner’s and bought two bags of oatmeal and a bag of salt for each family tomorrow. Oatmeal is actually considered a treat here and it’s surprisingly hard for some families to get salt. You can’t cook without salt and in communities that don’t have any shops, it can be a long trek to buy some. Considering how much we had for Mayubamba today, I don’t want to feel like we’re taking less to Q’ero tomorrow.

I’m really excited to see Q’ero, which I have heard so much about. It’s famous here in Cusco as the last holdout of pure Inca culture, who only started to allow outsiders to visit them in the 90s. Before then, they had stayed isolated, refusing all contact with the outside world. According to Auqui, the first people who left Q’ero were not allowed to return. The community was that determined to keep their culture
What to do with budget leftovers?What to do with budget leftovers?What to do with budget leftovers?

On Friday I went to a wholesale fruit market with the last of the budget for Hapu, where we're going on Sunday. I settled on a bag of over 500 oranges, since they travel well and I was told that there are about 250 people in the community.
and language from outside influence. I’m excited to meet them and see how much outside influence has changed them in the past 20 or so years. I also wonder what they think about the pandemic. Will they see it as a justification to seal themselves off again?

I’m also interested in their take on climate change. The Q’ero are known for both their ancestral knowledge of stories passed down through the generations, as well as their close connection to nature. I’m very curious what changes they have noticed in the past few decades, compared with what they know of their land over the past several centuries. I expect that they have a unique perspective that will be very insightful.

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Covid signs everywhereCovid signs everywhere
Covid signs everywhere

The entrance to the fruit market has a hand washing station and information about how to protect your family - Protege a tu familia
Twin coatsTwin coats
Twin coats

The Maytaq Wasin has let us use one of their rooms as a base for our operation. Andrea and Sarah helped me sort through the clothes we bought to pick out the warmest coats for Hapu, which is at 4,300 meters (over 14,000). I got each of these coats for only 1 sol, which is currently about 27 cents USD.

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