October 8, 2011
Saturday, Alex borrowed Noah’s motorcycle and we headed up in the opposite direction than before to the tiny village of Tastayoc. This is the home of Vicentina, one of our first year girls. As part of the fundraising campaign, we are offering made from scratch weavings as rewards for different levels of donations. Vicentina’s mom is a master weaver so we traveled up to her house to purchase some of her craftsmanship.
Ollanta is located at about 9,000 feet. It took us about 45 minutes on motorcycles to travel through all the 180 degree turns to get up to her community, located at almost exactly 13,000 feet. About halfway up we encountered heavy rains. We were cold and miserable by the time we got up there, but boy was it beautiful. It was like the climb up from the jungle a few months back, except with even more rock formations and waterfalls. Everywhere we looked water was cascading down, sometimes shooting out in spectacular arcs over the mountainside.
Vicentina's house (with rain on the camera lens)
We entered her tiny home and immediately headed over to the fire to warm up. We were surprised to see Vicentina and her entire family wearing the traditional clothing of the mountain people. We were just so used to seeing her in the school uniform all the time we had forgotten her roots. It was pretty cool. We small-talked some, and of course were offered a bowl of boiled potatoes before we talked business. Alex carefully explained how we were raising money for the project in the United States and that we would like to buy some of the weavings to offer to the people there. Her mother opened a carefully wrapped bundle holding her precious weavings. I thought they were beautiful. They may not look like factory made perfect cloth, but I know what goes into making them. Her mother shears the alpacas herself, and spins the wool into string as well. She dyes it using natural dyes, and then spends countless hours weaving the intricate designs. We picked out some mantas and scarves, and asked her to make one more to bring to the parent meeting on Wednesday. We did our best to offer a fair price, then left.
Vicentina with her parents
Alex with the family
There is a major highway that runs right next to her house that was just built a few years ago. So I asked Alex, “Even though she lives so far away, it is easy for her to take a combie up here, right?” He explained how no combies ran up this way, only large tourist buses headed to Quillabamba in the jungle. And because of intermittent terrorism by law they are not allowed to stop. Her only hope to avoid a six hour walk is to have a taxi or bus break the law and stop to pick her up.
Also, seeing her mom and her amazing weavings brought up another discussion. Vincentina is missing out on a large part of her upbringing. Alex asked her if she could weave as well. Her answer was no. By simply not being at home during the week, she is missing out on learning things like that, lessons that are part of the tradition of living in the Andes. This concerned us, but we continued the discussion to include the fact that she can now read and write. She can still learn those traditions after completing high school, and can use what she has learned in school to bargain better prices or create better opportunities for herself and her family. All in all it was a great trip and I have now seen almost everyone’s home.
The valley below her house
I also think now is an appropriate time to bring up some bad news. A few weeks back Jessica stopped coming to the dorm. At first, her mother said that she was needed at home to take care of her siblings since the parents would be out of town on a trip. This turned out to not be true. They encouraged her to work after school at a small store in Urubamba. Her older sister works there, so she has a place to stay. So every day after school she has been going to work.
This really dispirits us. Jessica is an amazing young lady and was doing so well at the dorm. We are concerned that she is not doing her homework or understanding what she is learning in class. Maria went to the school earlier in the week to talk to her. Maria told her how she is welcome back anytime, and that we will still help her if she needs it.
I can understand this situation from her parent’s standpoint. She has the ability to bring in money for the family. Education doesn’t seem to offer much, and the opportunities down the road are too far away to be seen as useful. I come from a culture where education in general is a good thing and opens many doors. She comes from a culture where school is optional after 6th grade. Parents haven’t graduated from high school and seem to be doing fine, so why should their children go?
Once again, I tell this story because this is part of what happens at the Sacred Valley Project. Things aren’t perfect and not every girl is a success story. But we are trying, and the girls (now 10) are still having an amazing experience. There will be success stories down the road.