Saturday, January 1, 2011

The visit of Alejandrino Quispe

Well It’s January first and I am still trying to catch up with all of the obligations that the end of the year has most graciously placed at my feet. Peter sets such a fine example of correspondence that I felt that I had better follow suite or be trumped.

My “end of year” started in October. With the visit of Alejandrino Quispe ( an indigenous gentleman from Peru with whom Don and I had been working through the United Religions Initiative). Due to take place in November, We made the discovery that nothing had been done to assure his travel visa was approved. We began the rather arduous task of trying to alert the American Embassy in Lima Peru to look for him and put him on the fast track and get hold of him and get him into Lima to get his visa. With less than a week before his departure date we finally received word that did indeed have his visa in hand. As there was quite a bit of funding tied up in this process it was a huge relief to be assured that he would make his flight.

He arrived in good health at San Francisco International Airport with Don, Anna Korn, and myself to greet him. We took him to Saul’s, a Jewish soul food restaurant for his first taste of foreign food, and then home and to bed. The next three weeks was a constant mix and motion of sight-seeing and work.

The evening before his arrival we had been invited to dinner with Gede Parma, a young Australian pagan and writer whom we had met at the Parliament. He was on a book signing tour for his latest book, By Land, Sky and Sea. Over dinner I said that he could not leave the area without seeing our beautiful Sequoia Simpervirens. He said he only had the following day and we decided then and there to take him and Alejandrino to the Redwoods that following morning.

Greg took them to a huge hollowed out tree (about ten feet around) that he knew of some ways off the path and Gede did a ritual for all. Though Alejandrino did not understand the words, (I could not walk that distance and so he had no translator, though Don does a fair to middlin job in my absence) he said that he truly felt that the gods had answered them. Needless to say neither of them had ever seen such trees and were profoundly moved by the experience.

Though technically Don and I sponsored him privately, our mutual membership in the United Religions Initiative and the work that Don and I have been doing with the South American Region, was the focus of a great deal of our time together. We traveled to the San Francisco Hub of the organization one day to meet with all of the folks there and have lunch.

Then Don took us to the Interfaith Chapel to show him around and we drove out to the Marin Headlands where he could get a sense of the topography of the land and sea.

I took every opportunity to show him how the indigenous peoples of the region lived and Don bought him a really nice fold out of many of the animals native to this area which he referred to constantly during his stay. We talked a lot about the native plants of the region and their uses and I showed him the acorns, grinding stones and process used to make the staple of the native diet here in California, acorn mush. He was amazed to see a Sparrow Hawk on display in one of the nature museums and told us that it is a very sacred bird to his people and practically extinct in his land. The curator was nice enough to let us handle the stuffed model and Alejandrino had his picture taken with the bird.

Of all this the things that impressed him most were the areas that have been set aside as natural parks, the endless vistas of pine and mixed hardwood forest viewed from the crest of the Sierras, and the care that we give to setting aside natural places for posterity. There are no forests in the Andes and few trees anywhere. Every square inch that can be cultivated or used for grazing is.

During this time we bought him a small video camera for his work in recording the remaining rituals of his people and encouraged him to use it. I worked with him extensively on expanding his use of the computer with Google, Google Earth, and Wikipedia. He could not believe what can be learned from just “Googling” a bit of information. Not long after that he brought me the computer with something he had found on You Tube and wanted me to watch it.

It seems there is a village in the Peruvian Andes with a rather unique custom. No one in the village is allowed to fight at any time during the year. It seems that two guys trashed a church once and the local priest set up this custom in order to prevent it from ever happening again. On Christmas day the entire village goes to the bull ring, the police act as referees, and anyone with a gripe against anyone else may call them out one at a time, at that time. Men and women both do this and it seems that at least 80% of the arguments for both men and women are over who got the lover. It has now become the standing joke between Don, Anna, Greg and me. “Why no I’m not angry, I will see you at Christmas.”

Alejandrino was our guest speaker at the “People of the Earth” conference held this year on November 20th at the Interfaith Chapel of the Presidio, in San Francisco. I did the set up and food prep and service and Don handled the programing, and hosting. Greg taped his talk but, unfortunately Alejandrino took both the CD and chip with him in error leaving us no copy.

During this time the Chair of the Global council of the URI asked Alejandrino to write a report on his experience with the Indigenous Global Initiative, an organization that the URI was trying to establish starting with the South American Indigenous to eventually include indigenous people from all over the world. It would have taken any one of us a couple of hours to do so but it took three days of solid hard work for Alejandrino to write that report. The trouble is that he simply did not understand what information was required or how to present it in a corporate, professional manner. He kept trying to start by giving an entire history of each person’s actions from the beginning of the organization’s founding and working his way slowly up to the current situation and the status of the membership (the traditional indigenous method of explanation). We had to examine each part and slowly work “our” way toward what was important information that affected the future of the group and what was unnecessary to any decision that the Chair might wish to consider. Then we began to examine his recommendations. Heavy sigh. We finished it just in time to turn it in and have a telephone conference with the First Chair before he left for home. During this entire time he was hard at work studying English at least two hours in the morning and evening.

He left on November 25th at three in the morning. I dropped Don off at his house, got home, went to bed and slept for 24 hours straight waking up with a bad chest cold. Better now.

In putting all of the footage that he shot onto CDs I was astounded to discover that 4 of the five segments he shot were from the back seat of my car giving a running dialogue on the fact that there were five lanes to the road one way, all the cars were relatively new, none of them smoked, they are remained discreetly separated no matter how fast or slow they were going, a woman, a woman, was driving, and look, she was going 100 kilometers per hour. He had never seen such roads. Even the fast roads are one way each way in most of Peru. He had also never in his life seen a woman driver.

Other things that absolutely amazed him were that I had a machine that only made popcorn, a machine with a window in it that washed my clothes, (he pulled up a chair and watched the entire process; it was a front loader.) He discovered that I had a can crusher early on and carefully recycled every soda can in the house the moment it came empty.

We had a long talk about recycling and I took him to the local recycling center. He now wants to start one down in his home town. He loved to go shopping and missed no opportunity to go into Safeway. He had me take his picture in every isle. Once we stopped on the way home to pick up a couple of things and Greg went in and left us in the car. Alejandrino hopped out and went in after him. Later Greg told me that all he needed to feel like an overseer was a floppy hat and cane. He is so much taller than Alejandrino and Alejandrino absolutely insisted on carrying everything. Greg said he all but fought him for control of the basket but gave up and Alejandrino followed him around the store carrying the basket, then insisted on carrying all the bags out to the car. Greg couldn’t wait to get out of there.

I learned many things while he was here. I discovered just how large is the gap between the modern corporate world that we are used to doing business in and his indigenous, one village one family, world. Communication is incredibly difficult. Even face to face communication where one can pull him back into the topic at hand is a challenge. At times I had to ask a question two or three times in two or three different ways in order to get him to address it directly without a major preamble. E mail communication is all but impossibly frustrating. He has no internet and the likelihood that he soon will have is slim. When he does it will be the most jury rigged set up you can possibly imagine with friends stringing the line from whatever they can find for some distance. Even the connection will be made by “a friend who knows how to do these things” rather than the supplier. This is of course if they can raise the funds for the cable. He has no understanding of how the system works and did not understand that any computer can be connected. He thought that the entire system had to be hard wired to a single computer.

Without even this system he is forced to come into town at a cost of two Solis each way, (an equivalent of about $4 for us) and deal with a computer that cost only one Solis per hour but that is so slow you will spend the entire hour just downloading your email. This means that I hear from him with little frequency. When he is tending his crops or doing the government work he is sometimes paid to do I may not hear from him for months literally. Once he focuses on a topic he does not respond to anything else in the email. I have asked him for his physical address three times and each time I get a totally different response to something we were working on when he left and no address.

Still I continue to move, I think, forward. Our next plan is to get him a set of by-laws that they can use to model a set for their organization. CoG’s are the best suited but that means translating them into Spanish. OMG!!! As if they were not complicated enough in English.

The last words that he left both Don and me with were that there is a ritual in December that is as ancient as his people and very secret as they do not want the Government or the Church to know about it. He wants us all to attend this ritual next December. It is a several mile hike into the mountains from the last point at which you can drive a car. “But don’t worry,” he says to me “I will get you a horse to ride”.

Rachael Watcher

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