Wednesday, July 20, 2016

About Mountain Villages

I’ve been in Peru for eight years. The sights and sounds that at first were so different from anything I’d known have faded into the background. I don’t see them anymore. I’ve become indifferent to sights that tourists spend a lot of money just to get a glimpse of on a ‘once in a lifetime’ vacation.

Back in the early 1960s when it was my time to be young and foolish I could never have imagined that someday I would be standing on an Andes mountain top in northern Peru, being welcomed to a tiny village by some of the poorest, friendliest people on earth and that they would invite me into their homes and share their food with me...fresh food that was grown or raised just outside their door.

Surupampa sits on a long narrow ridge running east-west. The houses to the left and right in the photo define the limits of travel north and south. Just a few feet beyond the houses is an abyss. The villagers joke that if you fall into the abyss on Monday you will arrive at the bottom in time for the weekend.  Electricity and lights came along with a rough road that connected Surupampa to other communities two years ago. No one in the village owns a vehicle. Some homes have radios. There are no televisions; the signal is too weak. The daily routine consists of getting up at sunrise, work in the fields, tend the animals, and go to bed by 8:00 pm. Perhaps once a month if there’s transportation available some people will go to a town ‘down below’ to sell or buy something, or maybe just get away for a while. They don’t blend in with the people ‘down below’. You can always recognize people from the mountains by their dress and mannerisms.
The story of Surupampa and its people is the story of thousands of villages in these mountains. Civilization is slowly starting to encompass them but for now they still occupy their own part of the world. I am just now beginning to know these people and to understand what they think and feel. Basic needs, beliefs and values are really no different than those of families occupying condos in Manhattan. It’s when you get beyond the basics, when things like social standing, wealth and appearances come into play that the differences are apparent.

Life in the mountains is a solitary, simple, hard existence. If you ask these folks if their life is a good life you’ll probably get the same answer I did…”We are accustomed to it”. I still haven’t decided if that was a yes or no.  

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