June 14 -
Sorry for the delay but as you will discover over the next 2 blogs I have had a few challenges!
I feel for me I truly started to work for the school on Tuesday of the following week after arriving. However it was all a little overwhelming and disjointed to begin with for various reasons...everyone was especially busy as it was also a special week with solstice at the end of it.... and poor Veronica, a key contact for me was still pretty sick. All this meant things didn’t become clear and more settled until the middle of the following week. All those that know me will know I am never idle so I used the time as best I could to make sure I was clear of what I was doing and already I was building up e mail contacts (which Fielding wanted me to foster very quickly) providing them with the necessary things or discussing what we intended to do. One of those key contacts was a tech guy who I will work closely with on the website, to add pages, complete and tweak current stuff, as appropriate. My personal thoughts are this is something we need ASAP to give us a strong foundation and it became clear this would have to take a back seat for the moment while we looked at certain grants etc.
This is where a planning meeting would have been soooo helpful. Oh well, such is life. I will still try to encourage this when everyone is back in August. after the winter break here. Veronica and I will work over the holidays for about half the time to try and move things forward a bit.
So what did I do with myself over this weird time?
Well on my first real day at the school, the Monday I discovered we had no WiFi so
left to my own devices I began the translation of the first video on the website to help anyone watching get a real flavour for what the school was about. I had identified a number of issues we needed to address and this was one. Fortunately I had received the original video from the guy who had done it for the school so had it downloaded on my laptop. This and a few other this kept me busy that first day.
On Tuesday and Wednesday Fielding wanted to bring me up to speed as quickly as she could because she and her family were leaving the following week for 5 weeks. The team that I will be part of is Fielding, Veronica and myself. We are in charge of development. However with Fielding soooo busy and Veronica really unwell (as I saw on Tuesday) I was left on my own trying to make sense in my head of the huge amount of notes I took and reviewing some very large documents. I eventually decided to make mini boards (on A4 sheets of paper with headings at the top to identify different groups of people) using post-its with each name and a little about them on it. This helped me a lot. The reason being they have already built up a number of regular, very important supporters, agencies, organizations etc for the school. None of this seems to be written anywhere from what I could gather and the information I received over those 2 days was a little disjointed because on the second day we mainly sat with another possible new supporter for the school while Fielding went over similar stuff from the day before.
A lovely moment on that second day was when Fielding arrived she said she awoke that morning with genuine excitement as she now felt she had a team to help her work on development, and she was no longer drowning. That felt good!
Thursday was the big celebration at the school for Fathers Day and Winter Solstice with the children presenting gifts they had made to their fathers and beautiful, haunting music performed by various indigenous groups coming from Bolivia, Lake Titicaca, the Queros (of which there are very few left of this indigenous population from the mountains); representatives of the Shipibo tribe from Pucallpa in the jungle (wearing the most beautifully embroidered and brightly coloured clothes) and finally some of the founding parents and children wearing costumes and performing a dance representing the spirit of the eagle and bear! I will share these photos with you soon through Drop Box or they will be on our FB site (Kusi Kawsay) which I will send you a link to. I am not sure when that will happen yet as I still don’t have access to FB for the school and our processes for vetting photos etc are all currently taking too long.
Friday was a holiday for the school and all of these guests were staying at a cultural centre, set up by some of the parents, for Solstice and various other activities over the weekend.
I was invited to the very special, sacred ceremony throughout that night leading into Solstice. I really felt extremely honoured to be invited. Although there were around 200 of us, there were about 30 of us that were not family or those performing. I have never stayed up all night before and wasn’t sure how I would cope. We were recommended not to eat after lunchtime as part of the ceremony and to wear a skirt. Needless to say I managed to find thermals to wear under my leggings and borrowed a sleeping bag as most of my stuff was still in Urubamba. No photos are allowed at such events but the memories I have are amazing. The music is so much more powerful when you are in such close proximity to it and as they danced and played around the fire in these incredibly colourful costumes. The stars and milky way were so clear in the large dark sky above us and I was surprised at how long it was before we saw the crescent moon that, because of the angle just looked like it was grinning at us! The tall trees in the background seemed to be looking down on us and acting as protection and the way they set up the fire the sparks from it danced high into the incredibly dark sky. It was magical!!
We (all guests) were given a particular area to sit in which meant we were layered along and up the earthen bank and so were a bit like sardines, which was actually OK as we all huddled together, cuddled into our sleeping bags at times as we watched. In this position it can only work if everyone works together and that is exactly what we did as knees and feet occasionally became uncomfortable we had to move around again.
Occasionally we were invited up to dance and automatically you picked up the rhythm and style of dancing of the natives, holding our skirts, swaying and dancing around the fire. On a number of occasions a chain would start that weaved around the fire and out into the dark exterior, eventually weaving back in. There were lots of laughter throughout the evening and the founding families made sure everyone was OK; dressed in their black bear costumes and masks this made them a little scary if they came up behind you! A special seat and blankets had been prepared for a recognized and revered elder (now in his 90s), known for his outspokenness, wisdom and knowledge of true Andean visions and philosophy from the Incan times, prior to the Spanish invasion and destruction. Often someone would squat beside him and have deep conversations with him, I’m sure also checking on his welfare throughout the cold evening.
We all saw the dawn and occasional peaks of the sun as cloud cover came in, with heightened celebrations into the early morning. At a given point everyone formed a line and somehow within the circle everyone was greeted and kissed to bring in the New Year. The main greeting used was Quechua “ Urpillay Sonqollay” meaning “our heartfelt thanks/ my heart flutters like a dove in thanks”....so beautiful!
Eventually things quietened and everyone sat or moved around talking until large pots of soup were brought out, serving each person in turn. We were the last so had to wait for plates to be finished and washed. I must admit I was pretty hungry by that time. The soup was a clear soup with corn (the latest crop to be harvested here and a chunk of meat (beef I’d say). It is surprising how quickly this fills you. I couldn’t go back for seconds. Not wanting to arrive empty handed I had brought bread and bananas the night before, which I had left with the them in the kitchen to be used at a later time by them.
I had decided to walk to the Cultural Centre the night before and wasn’t sure that I had the energy to walk back as it is a good 30 minute walk but as I set off that morning I just kept walking. It felt good and as the day wore on I only rested for about 30 minutes, not sleeping until the Saturday night.
Sunday is the big market day in Pisac so decided to look around buying my veggies and fruit in the main square that day. I realized it was the same vendors from the main undercover market and a few more from the remote communities but there is a nice atmosphere.
As I was living in the hostel for the first month, sharing a busy kitchen my cooking has been limited to a fruit bowl with granola and natural yoghurt (made locally and delicious and creamy) vegetable stir fries, with some quinoa added and rolls at night filled with avocado, egg or cheese with tomato. To vary this I eat a “menu del dia” as discussed in my last blog. When I am nestled into the house and well out of town I will look for other options and recipes, using more of the readily available ingredients here. There are lots of pulses and veggies so it would be easy to be a vegetarian but I’ll definitely buy chicken and freeze it too.
I think the loss of a night’s sleep and still no real contact with my team to discuss things meant the first 3 days of the following week were particularly tough for me!! I think the guys were a little worried about me, but as the wifi was still down at the school , and to be fair all of Pisac was out that day, I left and found a quiet place to work on my own. This worked well for me that day. The problem with where we are in the school is there is nowhere to work. There is constant traffic, discussions etc going on. We have just applied for a grant to build an administration area to allow the general hubbub of the school to continue above leaving us to work quietly. Currently we have moved into an empty classroom as we don’t have sufficient funding and teachers to split some of the composite classes yet. It’s better but not great as you can hear the lessons happening next door..and that isn’t quiet! Currently if I’m on my own I stick in earphones and put on some music. I hope to be able to work from home for part of the week as I feel I will get so much more done when I can stay focussed. I think the school team find this strange as they kept looking in on me later in the week, or maybe they were still worried about me, which was lovely. During those early days they were so friendly offering to listen if I needed to talk or whatever, saying not to be alone, we were all one big family. I know this is going to be a lovely working environment but if I want to get ore done for them then working away from the school will be necessary for a least part of the week.
Once I got together with Veronica it instantly felt better and we discussed the few things she and Fielding wanted us to focus on at the moment. Veronica understands a little English but her forte is official Peruvian documents and grants. Part of my work will be those grants we need in English.
I also discussed my own thoughts from what I had seen. I discovered that Veronica stays near where I used to stay on the outskirts of Cusco, which means it takes her 2 hours to travel to school each day!! No wonder she works from home on certain days. She was going to stay nearby the following week to reduce her travel so we should have a productive week however this didn’t happen as she became even more ill and was confined to bed. I also discovered she was newly pregnant. Even Fielding didn’t know.
During those 2 days with Fielding it became clear the biggest stress and concern, as you can imagine is the operational costs of the school to keep it open and going forward. The teachers don’t get big wages but they need a wage and to make this new school (now only 5 years old) legal the teachers needed to have their benefits as a legal requirement. This obviously takes more cash and was our primary focus. Fielding had mentioned a grant which she had been told about that could really help us operationally. Veronica showed it to me. It was all in English and as I scanned it looking for criteria and the type of grants they had given before a number of things became clear...very quickly. This company was soooo not going to give us a grant! It didn’t pay wages ,except in exceptional circumstances, they didn’t fund children and young adults and most importantly they didn’t give to schools!! Whoever suggested this grant obviously hadn’t read it at all!!
We were back to the drawing board but there were a couple of options we could possibly progress.
With Veronica off and Fielding away I continued to work on various smaller things that required very little input, talking to the current volunteers at the school and side project ( a small organic project) and generally observing. These and photographing another couple of events at the school kept me busy until the school closed. During that time a few rather urgent ideas formed that I have now shared with Fielding. Although we are development this (for me) means inside the school as well as looking outside. I think with a little tweaking and taking time to put a few processes in place it should make for smoother operations within the school.
2 of the smaller events were a “desperdirle” for Teresa, a lovely lady and an English teacher who had been there for 4 months; and an evening event with pizza from the new school clay oven with some beautiful performances from the school founders (who are incredibly talented traditional musicians) and families, for some special guests who were visiting and who are supporters of the school.
A bigger event was the Watia which is an ancient tradition making small clay ovens and then cooking potatoes or vegetables in them. The soil is very dry here so it is easy to use larger clay pieces and break them up a little to fit. (Well, to loosen the soil in the first place, picks were needed)! Some of the founding parents began preparing larger ovens earlier in the day; then around 11am the children came out of class and were talked through how to make an oven. They then, through choice, began to make their own. Try to stop children working with dirt! The most difficult part, I think, is to get the opening to support itself as it is a semi-circle, supported only by its own weight. then a circle of clay pieces are formed behind it and built up steadily until reaching a point. Sorry for the explanation but once you see the pictures you will see what I mean. With locations all over the school I was pretty busy running around photographing that day. Once built they add loose soil to fill in more of the holes then build their fire inside (through the little opening) and keep stoking it until it is burning well. There is also a bigger stone at the front of the opening (I think to reduce drafts and build up heat inside). Once hot enough the potatoes and veggies are added and the whole thing carefully pushed in so it collapses around the food. This is done quickly to try and preserve the heat and then more soil piled on top to seal it all. After 20 minutes each oven (pile of soil now) is carefully dug/scraped away and the hot food collected to be eaten.
We had various types of potatoes, beans even bananas. Sauces had been prepared and slices of local cheese to eat with this very large feast. My favourite were the really small potatoes (whose name I have forgotten) but they were so sweet and very more-ish! After my initial doubts of how to eat this we were demolishing the complete potato, dirt and all..it was roasted after all!
It was a lovely day and really brings the school together, teachers children and all of us that are helping too.
On that note I think I should end as this feels like more than enough for this blog.
More to follow....
Hasta luego mis amigos.