Lesson learned: camping is always worth it if you’ve got a view to die for. The omnipresent backdrop of the past week has been those ancient gentlemen: the Andes. For them I was prepared to sacrifice sleep, hygiene and wifi and endure the hard labour that my rigorous itinerary entailed.
After a somewhat rickety coach ride from Cuzco in which cliff edges approached rather nearer than solicited, we arrived at Camp Moray which was to be our home for the next two weeks. The ten of us were greeted by traditionally dressed locals who welcomed us by showering us with confetti and including us in their dance. The festivities were led by the ‘singer of the community’ who arrived running across the fields in a fluorescent pink poncho. Here the comforting warmth of feeling we experienced in Cuzco seemed to be amplified by the mountain air and open spaces. Here the people have little but give much.
We were then introduced to Sonia, whose job it was to feed us for the coming weeks. Sonia is a wonderful woman. Using the crude camping-style cooking equipment she was provided with, this culinary goddess managed to keep us hungry travellers more than satisfied with dishes that varied from Peruvian ‘Cuy’ (Guinea pig: I’m not a fan, like fatty duck with tougher skin) to more familiar dishes. Not only is she extremely talented but Sonia is a lovely person who dreams of travelling to Europe and perseveres with bold attempts at the English language.
The work is hard. We are expected to perform all aspects of the building work, from roofing and cementing to plumbing and electricity. I have doubts about whether I’m nailing the techniques involved but Hernan and Cirilio, our two ‘maestros’, seem to nod patiently when I ask if my handiwork is “correcto”. At times the work is backbreaking, hacking into concrete to dig out stones in order to fit in electrical wiring is just as fun as it sounds. My new buddy Catherine and I were nearly sent into despair over a stubborn stone that wrought emotional pain like no other. I firmly believe that I lost my mind on some level. We even began to beseech the help of the chickens that watched us, clucking dispassionately at our efforts. We returned to camp like war veterans having at last outsmarted the rock (I told you I was getting personal about this) feeling nobody could possibly understand our struggle. You will be glad to hear that I have since overcome this fit of the crazies.
There are moments when my focus wavers and I begin to question why it is that I am putting myself through this. Now that I am half way through the project work, I have somewhat ambivalent views on charity in general. It would be nice to think that installing a few loos would revolutionise the lives of these villagers, the reality is quite different. We were shown the only other functioning facility in the village and it looked hardly used. Perhaps the people of Moray are uninterested in what we so patronisingly term ‘civilisation’? Perhaps we are interfering with the old ways that have worked for them for hundreds of years? By educating the blissfully ignorant are we not just teaching them to be dissatisfied with what they do have? Living side by side with the villagers, I can see how simplicity is conducive to happiness. I myself have discovered the feeling of liberation after living without technology for just one week. They seem to have a beautiful harmony with the land and the animals, something that would be completely destroyed by further interference. In short, are we just here for our own personal self-congratulation?
Anna-Cecilia (our team leader and guide) told us that rural Peruvians don’t generally get married, it’s more of a matter of somebody getting pregnant. This added another dimension to their happy estrangement from the rules that govern developed society. It demonstrated that although these people are nominally christian, they have not embraced one of christianity’s key principals: matrimony. Here, in a culture supposedly destroyed by Spanish imposition, people speak Quechua and not Spanish. Interesting. So how far can rural Peruvians really be changed? At this point I realised that the people of this culture choose what they will reject from foreign intrusion and what they will adapt for their own purposes. I no longer feel guilty about introducing a tool of ‘civilisation’ into their happy harmony. What they will use, they will use. It is a good thing to introduce something that we feel to be indispensable to them so long as nothing is forced. No longer will I work despondently. I gift is a gift, so what if people don’t always like their presents? So long as one villager feels they have been helped by our facilities, I shall feel my job well done.