Travels to Peru

I had the great fortune to travel to Peru a few years ago.  It was part of a leadership program that focused on agricultural and rural living.  I did learn a lot while in the two-year program, but I felt like it was more like conservatism 101.  I am grateful for the opportunity, however.  It was an investment made in my by the institution for which I am on faculty.  So, I will tell you a bit about my trip.  When I’m not trips, I take copious notes, so my plan is to share those with you, sporadically.  I should tell you that my journal notes were mandatory reading for a U.S. Army Command who had an assignment in Peru about three years ago.  That was very exciting!

“If you smile at me, I will understand; ‘cause that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language.”    That is David Crosby’s first line of his song, Wooden Ships, and it was my greeting to security at Wichita Airport, and thus began my 4,234-mile (one-way) adventure to Peru.  The quote was on the paper liner in the plastic boxes where travelers put their personal items to go through x-ray while they step through the metal detector.  Other than being greeted by one of my all-time-favorite songs,  I thought, “What a perfect way to begin a trip!”

My philosophy of travel is to view every experience as an adventure, and I’m always grateful for whatever happens.  I think it’s important when visiting other countries to go without expectation and to leave the lenses through which I see my middle-class life at home.  If I expect that every part of the world should be just like home, then I should stay home.  What would be the point of travel?

With that said, I must say that Peru was absolutely delightful.  The food was marvelous no matter what part of the country we were in.  The people were beautiful, happy, and welcoming.  They were eager to share their culture, their food, their drink, and mostly, their country.

I will use this space, occasionally, to tell you about what I learned in Peru.  We were greeted at the Lima (the capital of Peru and its largest city with 9 million people) airport by many people waiting for loved ones to return from trips.  When we loaded the bus, an ambitious young man helped us load our luggage.  I appreciated his ambition, and I was glad to offer a tip.  You see, Peru is a country of working poor.  One-third of the population lives in poverty.  Most affected are rural and inner-city people, so one becomes ambitious and entrepreneurial at a young age.  Nationally, poverty is measured at 100% when a family of three earns the U.S. equivalent of $2,640 annually.  Compare that to U.S. where a family of three is at 100% of poverty earning $19,530 annually.  However, we must remember that poverty is relative to average earnings in a country.

In Lima, we visited the U. S. Embassy, where we heard from the Ambassador and had a USDA briefing.  In the years since the horrors of Alberto Fujimori’s “reign”, Peru has seen a 6.4% annual growth in its gross domestic product, and it’s had a 1-2% budget surplus.  Poverty is pervasive, because many people are still not convinced that democracy and prosperity are real.  Right now, the Peruvian currency is appreciating against the U.S. dollar.  The greatest booming economies are agriculturally related.  Right now, the U. S. is not exporting as much wheat as usual because of the drought.   Peru has a moratorium on genetically modified organisms, so that hurts some U.S. exports to Peru, too.

I am sharing a photo of a moment I share with a lady in the village of Urubamba.  The people there still speak their native language, Quechua.  Luckily, the village escaped colonization by Spain those centuries ago.

Financial Opportunities and Micro Loans

Some friends and I were discussing building financial opportunities for women.  It made me think of the micro-loans that were championed by the Grameen Bank many years ago.  One of my colleagues, a Bangladeshi engineer, was personal friends with Grameen founder, Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate.  The concept of micro-credit and micro-finance has worked in many places to help people build financial security.

Our discussion centered on ways to help women, specifically, to build financial security.  It made me think of a study trip to Mexico, a few years ago, when I was able to learn from people who were using micro-credit to run very small farms called, ejidos (Eh-hee-tho).  Looking back at my journal notes, I will describe their process for growing tomatoes (tomates).

We visited several farms in the county (municipio) of Ayala.  An ejido farm can be compared to a parking lot. When you go to a parking lot, you just know there will be a place for you to park. And as long as you do not abuse your parking privileges, you can continue to park in a spot in that lot. An ejido farmer does not own his/her “lot”, but as long as he or she wants to farm there, and as long as it is used properly, the farmer can be on the land indefinitely. Like paid parking lots, there are only small fees to be paid, or food can be supplied to municipios.

My colleagues and I visited a wonderful tomato farming operation, which had been in production for about five months. It took about one month to begin to produce significant quantities for sale. Before entering the facility, we had to step inside a sunken, concrete box holding chlorine bleach.
Situated on approximately one-fourth hectare, which is about 2,500 meters, which is about .62 acres, is a screen-enclosed structure holding about nine-thousand tomato plants. The plants’ soil and root systems sit inside heavy, pliable, black plastic bags, which are approximately 13 inches in diameter and 14 inches high. The stems of the plants are three to six inches in diameter. The plants vine up strings rising 12 feet above to horizontal wires running parallel to each row of plants. The tomatoes nearest the bucket-like bags, holding the dirt and root systems, ripen first. As tomatoes are harvested, the green tomatoes nearest the horizontal wires are lowered to run more parallel with the ground. Then the top of any given plant will be hanging over buckets 10 spaces away. Every 15 days, the strings are lowered, and the tomatoes nearest the ground ripen first. This Loreto-variety of tomatoes takes a lot of nitrogen, we were told. If you want to see pictures, please let me know. You would love seeing this operation.
The plants take 20-thousand liters of water a day, which is about 5,265 gallons. The farmer harvests 200 boxes of tomatoes per week. The boxes held about two bushels, which is about 106 pounds. There is not much exporting, but this operation supplies several grocery stores (tiendas) weekly. The picked fruits are sold to the stores, and the fallen fruits are sold in the barrios (neighborhoods).
The producer told us the next thing to be learned is composting so that something useful can be done with the organic waste, which is one other by-product of this operation.

All this was built from a micro-loan, and the farmers told us they thought they’d begin to see a profit just after the second round of purchases.

Here’s another:

Don’t forget to roll the “Rs”.  Okay, so I already introduced the ejido farm producer. The community or municipio owns the land. You stake a claim, of sorts, to some land, and you farm it. As long as you do not abuse the land or other farms around you, you can work that land as long as you like. There is a small usage fee to help the community. The county (municipio) government usually helps with initial seeding, reclamation, and improvements.

We visited the farm of two women near the minicipio of Ayala, state of Morelos. The señoras farmed their ground together. They produced corn, green beans, squash, and sugar cane. Their corn seed came from the U.S., and they grew both grain (maiz) and sweet corn (elote) – pronounced “my-eese” and “eh-lo-tay.”

Farming 3,000 feet above sea level, the ladies planted, irrigated, and harvested by hand and with the use of oxen and horses. Small irrigation ditches ran through the land. It is up to the farmer to flood her fields from the ditches with dams and canals. They farmed four hectares (about 10 acres) per year. It costs about 5,000 pesos per hectare (2.48 acres) including 200 pesos for fertilizer and 350 pesos for insecticide. They pay their water usage annually. The ladies gave us an estimate that it took about 29,000 pesos to get their produce to the market. That is about $2,900.

In the ejido system, producers help one another plant and harvest. For example, the sugar cane was harvested with a machete. It takes strong arms to swing a machete. The crops go to market in Mexico City. Visiting this particular farm held a few contradictions. Everything was done by hand, which took us back in time. The power lines above had electricity surging through them, audibly. That brought us back to reality.

Thank you for reading.

In and Beyond My Backyard: Cultural and Arts Observations in Daily Life and from My Educational Travels

We learn much about a people when we live among those who are not like us.  As a Native, not living on the reservation, most people with whom I interact daily are not like me, culturally and ethnically.    As a young person, I didn’t get to interact with a lot of people outside my developmental sphere with the exception of the kids at school.  As an adult, I think I’ve made up for lost time.  I live in an area of Kansas known for its cultural and ethnic mixes.  Of the 26 counties that make up Southwest Kansas, the three population centers (densely-settled rural) and one frontier-rural are Minority-majority.  In our region, we have about nine African, six Asian, 12 Latin American, and about three Caribbean countries represented. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some.  It is a lovely mix of varying faith beliefs, foods, dress, folkways, and mores.  I’ve made this area my home and my work as a researcher.

When we speak of culture, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve asked a group of Anglo, U.S. Americans to tell me about its culture, individually.  I become sad when people say, “I don’t really have a culture”!   So, I have to ask about their family traditions, foods, behaviors pertaining to their families, holiday, etc.  Then a light comes on about their own cultures.

So, what is culture, in the non-bacterial sense?  We social scientists might say it’s our attitudes, our customs, and our belief systems.  Humans build their cultures from the influences of place, time, socio-economic status, education, and belief systems.  Our cultures set us apart from one another in the fabric of humanity.  Every human population has a culture. We transmit our cultures through artifacts, language, rituals, and through the creative arts.

Think of your favorite artist.  Perhaps you have favorite artists across many disciplines: music (within or across genres), visual arts (within or across media), written word, and spoken word.  I know I’ve omitted a medium, but you get the picture (no pun intended!).

What have you learned from observing, listening, performing or, perhaps, owning a work of art from a culture different than your own?  Though I graduated high school 40+  years ago, I continue to be influenced by my high school music teacher, Mr. Bauguess.  Because of his talents as a teacher, I learned other languages, like Latin: by singing masses by Franz Schubert and Antonio Vivaldi; learned German by singing folk songs by Johann Sebastian Bach, and we learned French singing the music of Guillaume DuFay.  Learning those languages also sparked interests in me and my fellow students to learn more about the cultures of those composers who were touching our lives some 100 to 500 years later.

A perfect example of transmitting culture and chronicling history reaches way back to medieval Spain, then called Castile-Leon.  King Alfonso X ruled his kingdom by laying down laws and teaching morality through more than 420 songs/poems (written and commissioned by the King, himself) and corresponding works of art based on the teachings of the Virgin Mary.  He used the fine arts to teach a largely illiterate kingdom how to behave “properly”.   Fast forward to early 1800s to England, Scotland, and ultimately, Boston.  Harvard professor Francis James Child collected his “English and Scottish Popular Ballads”, some of which were broadsides, a sort of news clipping of the day, to tell the stories of broken laws, love, betrayal, and current events.  To this day, musicians and performers are still telling the stories collected by Child.  We call them the “Child Ballads”.  You’ve heard of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair”?  Child called it the “Elfin Knight”.  Do you remember Led Zeppelin’s “Gallow’s Pole”?  They used the same name as it was collected by Child.  We learn much about a culture from its music and other forms of art.  Even more contemporarily, think of how music and other forms of art are used to express political views.  We can learn a lot from the arts and culture of others, and we transmit our own beliefs to our children and grandchildren.

I am working very hard to make sure our grandchildren know their ancestries. After all, they reflect the pluralistic society that demographers predict for the U.S. by 2040.  My wish is that we keep teaching our cultures through the arts and other forms of creativity and intellect.  The more we know about each other, the more it fades to lines of “difference” that separate us (humans).

If we do not have the luxury, or the good fortune, to live among those who are not like us, then the next best thing is to visit with an open mind, a sense of adventure, and without judgement.  In other words, leave your back yard at home!

I have had wonderful opportunities to travel with work and with my work-related organizations.  These include a cultural geography trip called, “North Plains to The North Woods” arranged and executed by the Kansas Geographic Alliance.  Seven educators, with two leaders, made up a microcosm in a Kansas State University van traveling 4,106 miles during a 10-day span.  We studied flora and fauna (my assignment), culture, Lewis and Clark (It was the 200th anniversary of the Expedition), food, art, history, and some architecture. Why did we do it?  To learn about other people who have a different story than each of my fellow explorers.

Why does anyone travel?  I travel because I am curious.  I want to know how other people function in their societies.  I want to know how other people interact with their environments. I want to learn from them.  I want to eat their foods.  I want to hear their music. There is so much to learn from other people in other cultures, other socio-economic backgrounds, and of other ethnicities.

My plan for this blog, is to intersperse my extensive journal notes from some of my travels.  I hope my notes and writings will both enlighten and entertain.  Though, I have not traveled widely, I do take notes on my observations, experiences, and activities. To this point, my writings will come from my educational travels to Canada, Spain, Gibraltar, Mexico, Peru, and Alaska.  I’ve even taken notes on some of the simple travels across the U.S. I learn something everywhere I go.  Stay tuned!