Fulbright Field Report
Month 5 (July 24 - August 23, 2001)
At the end of July, Toledo became president. Jonathan and I were back in Lima for this event, but without press passes we stayed at home to watch most of the festivities on television. We went to a rather annoying music concert at the Plaza de San MartÌn and also stood in front of the Palacio del Govierno in the Plaza de Armas, watching the dignitaries come and go in their fancy cars. Tatiana, my friend who is a radio journalist, had gotten access to many of the inauguration events. She told us a very funny story of how the various South American presidents were transported from place to place on inauguration day in a bus! Granted, it was a nice bus, but a bus, nonetheless! An anarchist terrorist easily could have taken out almost all of South America's presidents by bombing that one bus! And it is certainly very funny, thinking about the politics and interaction between the presidents on the busówho one should sit next to or not, etc.
On Monday, the 30th, I went to shoot the parade on Avenida Brasil. I thought that this would definitely be good visual material that I should have on tape. I went early, but there were already many people waiting. It was clear that I was not going to get the footage I wanted so I wended my way up the avenue to the press box and miraculously got permission to enter with an old press pass (actually a fake pass). They definitely took pity on me since they thought I was "foreign press." It was very exciting sitting across from Toledo and other dignitaries in such a prime spot. And I always find parades quite amusing events because it is a public display of patriotism, accompanied by the irony that goes along with it. There was much hand waving and pomp and circumstance with group after group of uniformed army, navy, airforce and police marching bands. Perhaps the funniest episode was after all of the marching, the moment that Toledo was put into a vehicle to be driven up the rest of the avenue to do his obligatory hand waving to the masses, the order disintegrated immediately. Journalists jumped out of the press box to get close up shots of dignitaries and SUVs abruptly drove up to pick up important people. After the dignitaries were quickly ushered into the vehicles, the cars screeched away. It was all very comical because the show of order and discipline disintegrated so alarmingly rapidly. It seemed like a purely Peruvian moment. I was also both amused and appalled by the mountains of trash and garbage that were left underneath the bleachers. Was it the flipside of the display of order and discipline or the emptiness of it?
Daniel Garcia, a friend of a friend, who is studying filmmaking in Ohio came to Lima to do pre-production on a documentary project he will be shooting in December. I spent several days helping him, talking about the project and shooting for him. Although he is from Lima, I was very amused by the reverse culture shock he was experiencing and his crisis, deciding whether he should continue to study in the U.S. to pursue a doctorate or return to Lima to try to live and work. Time will only tell whether he will return or continue his studies.
Daniel's thesis project came about from a chance encounter he had walking in Miraflores. He ran into an old friend who works with Doctors without Borders in the San Juan de Lurigancho prison, and his friend persuaded him to do a project on the prison. Hence, he hopes to do a video exchange workshop with prison inmates, bringing small, cheap video cameras (he expects that they will be stolen) to the prison to conduct video workshops with the inmates. Hopefully, the experiment will be fruitful for both sides--Daniel will get interesting video material for his film; and, the prison inmates will benefit from the creative exchange, emotionally and educationally. The workshops are the basis for a larger documentary project, documenting the workshops as well as using the videos that the inmates make. Daniel hopes that the process will bear personal, insightful footage of prison life that he will be able to incorporate in his documentary. It is quite an ambitious project since he needs to gain the trust of prison inmates as well as those who work with them. Also he has to figure out how he is going to negotiate pedagogy with expression and whether he will be able to get them to participate and be interested.
Although I had been to the Santa Monica women's prison in Chorillos, I had not been to a men's prison, here or in the U.S. Apparently, the San Juan de Lurigancho prison is the second most crowded in the world. I am not sure who is counting, but I could imagine that prison authorities might revel in this piece of trivia because it made their prison special. It was quite intimidating entering the prison, especially being surrounded by only men. I was also immediately accosted by inmates who wanted to sell me one thing or another; I was clearly still in Peru. A fast talking wrist band maker insisted on making a green and black yarn band with my name on it. He apparently had a business of making bands with women's names on it for the various female visitors who came to see their lovers and family. Although drugs and cell phones are prohibited in the prison, there was clearly a black market for all of these items. And pimping and prostitution persisted as a way to make money for these purchases.
We spent most of our time in the capenilla which is where classes are held for the inmates. Most of these classes are conducted by Christian and Catholic organizations. These groups do an immense amount of work for the prison community, but it was obvious from sitting in on one of their workshops that it was not without a price. The moralistic, religious overtones of the workshops were not to my liking, but I politely observed in silence. The workshop we observed was on how to control one's anger.
We did interviews with two inmates: one was Ronald, a tall, thin Dutch cab driver who was an ex-junkie that had been caught for drug trafficking and the other was Cristina, a transvestite who was in prison for murdering her lover. Both were very polished, but each had their own style. They clearly had much practice telling their stories to lawyers, judges and the press.
It was clear that Ronald had charmed the Peruvian press many times with his blonde hair and blue eyes. He was apparently a kind of a celebrity. It was also interesting to find out how all of the Dutch prisoners were connected, and he was friends with the Dutch girl who was in the other documentary for which I had visited Chorillos. How ironic that during my only two trips to Peruvian prisons, I should meet two different Dutch inmates who knew each other! It was obviously a very interconnected world and foreign prisoners had a lot of advantages.
He told us about how he missed his fiance and baby in Amsterdam; how he had cleaned up; how he was raped in prison; how he had been a junkie; how he was writing about his experiences in prison; how this book was going to be printed in four languages (English, Spanish, Dutch and German); how his parents had come to visit him. He painted a pretty clean image of himself although he seemed quite duplicitous and naÔve at the same time. There were two moments during our interview when he revealed himself most to us. I asked him whether there would be a stigma against him when he returned to the Netherlands, and he replied that yes, there would be because he would have to explain that he had been in prison for two years, etc. I played devil's advocate and asked him, "Why not lie?" It clearly took him by surprise, and he quickly had to think up a response. He said that he was a new man and didn't want to lie anymore so he would have to tell the truth. Later on, near the end of the interview, Ronald explained to Daniel that he didn't have any vices except for one thingóhe liked sex. He boasted how he had a Peruvian girlfriend who visited him weekly to have sex with him, and how there were several others who visited him. He explained how he had had eight girlfriends while he was in Peru (and he was in prison the whole time). Daniel asked him if his fiance in the Netherlands knew, and he said "yes." He explained that he was irresistible to Peruvian women with his blue eyes and blonde hair and that they all thought that he was going to take them back with him although he said he made it clear to them that he had no intention doing so. Clearly, he was taking advantage of the situation, and he could not help revealing this side of himself. Later, when we were talking to some NGO workers at the prison, I was very amused to hear them describe him as having a very weak character, that he was always trying to take advantage of situations and how he was exactly the type to go back to his old tricks and drug habit when he got out. In the prison, he could not stay clean unless he was separated from the rest of the prison inmates by being put in the capenilla.
Cristina's story was polished in another way. As an openly gay man (or woman, depending on how you wanted to identify her), she had suffered a lot of discrimination in prison. She had a young mousey boyfriend who hardly spoke and was in for robbery. She was very adept at manipulating emotions and was able to tear up at opportune moments. She was obviously a very savvy person, and it was hard to know what to believe. She mentioned how she wanted to get out of prison, but how her family was dependent on her income in prison so clearly she was still prostituting herself. She is a very intriguing character, and Daniel hopes to continue to get to know her and involve her in his video workshop when he returns in December. We did this interview inside of the prison proper where we were not supposed to go. Since the prison authorities got wind of this, we were not allowed into this part of the prison the next time we went to visit. The prison clearly had its vision of itself that it wanted to present to the public.
Unfortunately, with all of these visits to the prison, I contracted a horrible virus that was circulating there and got the flu for several days.
I also went to the Galeria on Avenida Brasil which sells all kinds of underground music and bought several CDs to which I have been listening. I went to a concert for the Ayacuchano group, Uchpa, but was somewhat disappointed by them since I was expecting more of a stylistic fusion of Quechua and rock. The funniest part of their show were the three Indian guys dressed up in traditional clothes with the circular horns who really fulfilled the role of back up dancers! It was far more entertaining to see them sway from side to side than some skimpily clad, glittery girls, shaking what they could, which is normally be the case.
Month 4 (June 24 - July 23, 2001)
The theme of this month has been the state of the Peruvian tourist industry. Let's see if Toledo can bring three million tourists to Machu Picchu! After taking the lavish trip, thanks to the Fulbright Commission, to Manu, I came back to Lima where I met my boyfriend to go and see the standard tourist sights.
Manu was quite a treat. Certainly, I would never have been able to afford such a trip so I appreciate the opportunity. It was amazing to see all of that greenness on the other side of those mountains. The extreme climates here make sense nowójungle, mountains and desert. It was also interesting to see the upper crust of the tourist communityóall older Americans, it seems. The birds were amazingóthe brilliant colors of the macaws and parrotsóand the sounds that they made. I wish I had taken my DAT player on the day we went to see the clay lick where the parrots were because they make the most incredible sound. I made some good frog and bird recordings on other days.
I must admit trying to spot that tapir was the most surreal episode of the trip. We walked two hours in near darkness to a hut that had neatly mosquito net covered beds laid out. This was our lookout spot for the tapirs that come to eat clay at night. Ramiro, our guide, kept urging us not to make any noise so we all lay there, slept there, and tried to rattle our plastic snack bags as little as possible until these mythic tapirs made their appearance. Personally, I made several recordings of jungle sounds. Well, two hours, then two and a half ours passed of everyone trying to be quiet when a not so subtle animal came crashing through the jungle. What could that beóperhaps a tapir? Lo, and behold, it was. Ramiro flashed his very powerful torch on the head of the tapir, a very large animal, indeed. Ten seconds later it tucked its head back into the foliage only showing us its butt. Then ten seconds later it was gone. If you can imagine the largest mammal in South America which probably most resembles a hippo having a huge light shined on its butt in the middle of a very dark jungle, you can imagine what our experience was like. I couldn't say that it seemed real. We waited in darkness 45 minutes for another guest appearance of the nocturnal beast without any luck.
After observing the 4th of July celebrations at the US Embassy, Jonathan and I travelled south to Paracas with the hopes of spotting some penguins. Our first day there, we opted to just walk around on the peninsula. It was brown and dry, dusty with absolutely no plant life. Underneath the soil there was a four to six inch layer of salt.. It would hardly seem like a piece of land that one would make into a park or reserve, but there is a lot of bird and sea lion life in the ocean surroounding it. It seemed like we were on the moon. The next day we took a boat which took us to the islands. There we saw many marine birds and sea lions and two penguins! Our boat was hit by a sea lion ("pobrecito!" como dijo el conductor) which cost it its life and caused a leak. I felt like I was in guano central. All of those birds busy making fertilizer didn't even know they were contributing to Peru's largest export.
From Paracas we went to Nazca. We got ripped on the air flight over the Nazca lines. Lesson number one is don't trust anyone who tries to sell you anything. I was so angry with the guy when I found out how much they had overcharged us, I told him to give us part of our money backówhich he did. I thought he was still getting a reasonable margin. This was just the beginning of our trip. Jonathan got motion sickness on the airplane and I felt a little queasy as well since I was shooting the lines. Now I know how ex-army pilots make a living. "Right, humming bird, right. OK. Left, humming bird, left." As he banked the four person plane from one side to the other.
So Jonathan's motion sickness in Nasca was just the beginning. We had already bought tickets for the grueling 16 hour bus ride from Nasca to Cuzco. Since we were getting on a bus that originated in Lima, there were only two seats in the back when we boarded. I had not realized Jonathan was quite so delicate.so the poor guy suffered the whole trip, throwing up the entire 16 hours, if that is possible. And then we arrived in Cuzco, 3000 plus meters higher, which I am sure did not help his physical state at all. While Jonathan recuperated for the next two days in bed, I tried to write my script which I need to send to Sundance in a matter of a few weeks. He got better and then we went to see the sights in Cuzco, avoiding the backpackers if at all possible. We went to Paucartambo to see the fiesta and dances with a Cuzqueño tour group. In Paucartambo, within half an hour Jonathan was pickpocketed and had his camera stolen out of a zipped jacket pocket--they are very good. They dances were interesting, but there were far too many people to make the experience very enjoyable. We also went to Tres Cruces to see the legendary sunrise by which we were both not particularly impressed. And more than the sunrise, we were impressed by the obnoxiousness of a group of drunk guides whom our guide let onto our bus. It was a typical situation that as a woman she didn't know how to handle this group of rude and obnoxious drunk men. I would have told them to get off of the bus immediately when they started acting upóand would have stuck to my word. En fin, Jonathan got giardia lambia from something he ate or drank in Paucartambo so it made the rest of our trip rather difficult.
Perhaps the most telling chapter of the way the Peruvian tourist industry works is our experience trying to see a bit of the Inca Trail before going to Machu Picchu. When we were in Cuzco, I asked at one of the municipal tourist agencies (I found out later it was for "las fiestas") whether we needed to have a guide for the Inca Trail. They told us "yes," but from km 104, it was not necessary. Jonathan and I wanted to avoid the huge groups that were trekking and since there was lodging in Wiñay Winay, we thought that this would be the better alternative. We went directly to the Instituto de Cultura to buy our entrance tickets and they gave us a pass which would allow us to do the one extra day. No one ever questioned us. We also bought our tickets from Peru Rail directly and were puzzled by the fact that we didn't see any foreigners at Peru Rail or at the Institute of Culture. Well, Jonathan was not very well the morning we set out, but he knows his physical limits and since it's only a two hour hike to Wiñay Winay, we figured we would walk the distance without a problem. When we told the train conductors we wanted to get off at km. 104, they asked us if we had a guide. I said "no," but I explained how we had spoken to a tourism office in Cuzco who assured us it was not necessary. They didn't want to take responsibility if we couldn't continue on, but I insisted. When we got off the train, again at the Camino Inca control, we had problems. They said we needed a guide. They asked, "What if something happens to you?" Little did they know it was really more likely that something might happen to Jonathan (since they are a little sexist). I explained, that was why there was two of us; I was not going alone. Anyway, I had to do my song and dance again and somehow we managed to get through. In reality, it was a very easy hike and the trail is extremely well-maintained. With as much traffic on it, there is really no risk of danger. The real problem was the huge number of backpacker groups at Wiñay Winay. It was like staying with a whole army of people without the discipline. Israeli travellers really give a bad impression of the country as a whole and make me just a little less sympathetic to Israel. And then we packed off with all 70 other people at four or five in the morning to see the "sunrise" in Mach Picchu (which never happened). Somehow it seemed strange that the only Peruvian people I saw at Machu Picchu were working there or were Peruvians who lived abroad.
I have been meaning to write a complaint letter to the tourism board in Cuzco, but I have not gotten around to it. I understand why in theory they have made this rule about having a guide to trek the Inca Trail (they began this policy this year). It is hopefully a way to regulate and preserve the trail. And it is also a way for all of the trekking agencies to make more money. But the system is like Swiss cheese. We were "lucky" and were able to make it through the holes; some others weren't. The parts without the holes are their rules, and like so many things Peruvian, it is the appearance of having a system with rules which is more important than how well the system actually functions.
I overheard some other trekkers saying that their guides had smaller packs than they did so if some medical emergency really came up, they obviously were not any better equipped to deal with the emergency than the others. They could speak Spanish, but their English was often questionable. It sounded like, there was some sort of emergency in their group, but the woman knew how to take care of herself. Also if they were really interested in restricting the numbers that came through each camp site, one would think that they would regulate the numbers a little better. In the United States, one registers for a back country permit which allows you to stay at a certain site. If there are too many people, you are refused. One Peruvian guy who I met who was working at Wiñay Winay told me that this new rule had some serious repercussions with a group of Argentinians and another group of Swiss people who did not want to have a guide. It was likely to discourage more tourism because the bad taste it left in their mouth from the experience of arguing with authorities. And the whole system seems to make this sort of experience all the more remote for a humble Peruvian person who wants to see a bit of his/her cultural heritage. Machu Picchu is money. I understand the need to make money, but encouraging tourism just doesn't seem like the right direction to take. It seems like a cash crop of the service industry and that it encourages more of the same old-fashioned hegemonic dependency ties. Making money from tourism is based on withholding information from people so that tourist agents can charge more--a form of trickery. Or one is paying for convenience. Or perhaps I am naive to think that there is a more honest way of making money.
If everything I see has to be filtered through a guide (like those ridiculous museum docents who explain "the meaning" of a paintingófor those who want that sort of explanation, fine), the experience becomes more about the commentary on the sight than the sight itself. Maybe I just am a bad tourist. I have been privileged enough to be able to visit many amazing places in the world so my patience for a few poor people trying to make a buck has been worn thin. I know that I am privileged. I am well-educated and live in a country where the currency is worth something which gives me the wherewithall to visit other parts of the world--with an American passport no less. But I am not the "rich" American in the stereotypical sense. My normal annual income hovers around the poverty lineÖwhich probably underlines the sheer unfairness of world order even more. So I supposeAmericans are all the same outside of our borders; and we are all rich. When the grandeur of a place like Machu Picchu becomes lessened by a few bad experiences, probably one only has oneself to blame. (I hope I have not offended you with my ranting and raving.)
After Cuzco, we took a train to Puno where we visited Tequile, the island of knitting men. I tried to contact a theater group there which has ties to Yuyushkani without any luck. Then we came back to Lima for Fiestas Patrias festivities.
Upon returning to the gloom of Lima, I have caught another cold.
Month 3 (May 24 - June 23, 2001)
Time is ticking by very rapidly. I am already into my third month, a quarter of my scheduled time in Peru, and I am still not clear about the focus of my film. I am getting a better grasp, but I feel like I am behind in terms of my research. It is encouraging to know that I have to make my own way in terms of finding information (it means that there aren't others who have done the same), but it is also a little discouraging how slow it is figuring things out. However, time deadlines always mysteriously make things happen more quickly.I shot a couple of campaign rallies before the elections and then travelled to Chirimoto to be an election observer for Transparencia this month.
Santa Monica prison
Before I report on this month, I forgot to mention that I visited the Santa Monica women's prison in Chorillos last month. I was helping a couple of friends in Los Angeles with a documentary about women who are imprisoned for narco-trafficking. There was a Mother's Day concert at the prison. The Lima Symphony was invited, and it was basically a PR day for the Ministry of Justice. There are two women in the prison who they are following. One is from the Netherlands (Nicole) and the other, from France (Emilie). I visited the prison with Antonio, the cameraman for the doc. We had to turn in all keys, phones, etc., and they checked through everything that we brought in and patted us down. The prison was certainly not as bad as I was expecting, and it is apparently one of the best in the country. Because most of the women are there for drug trafficking, they seem to have a fair amount of freedom to move around the compound. It was very shocking to hear so much English spoken. Of course, it makes sense, but it seemed ironic that a prison should be such an international environment. There were women of all colors. Nicole told me that there were more than 700 women there and that about 200 of them are foreign. There were many black women. I imagined that they working class women from North America and Europe who were just trying to make a little extra cash. Nicole is waiting for an immenent release and has been there for just over two years. Her sentence was for nine years, but she will get off on parole shortly. Emilie is a mother of a three-year-old. Since she was in another part of the prison which was filming "Hola, chola!," I was not able to talk to her. Apparently, she also has a nine year sentence which had been upped recently because of a change in a particular statute. However, that statute has been revoked in her case and her original sentence still stands so she was hopeful about getting out soon. Apparently, how soon one would be released seemed to be dependent on the strength of one's lawyer. Not to diminish the severity of the conditions or reality, at least, it did not seem like the nightmare that many foreigners experienced in, say, Thailand where I had seen posted lists of foreigners' names. Apparently, they virtually lock the door and throw the key away. Getting caught with drugs is life imprisonment in Thailand, and I can't imagine that conditions are as cushy.
I shot a May youth rally for Alan Garcia. I was there on stage and got some good footage of him in front of the crowds and dancing with the rock band on stage. I was quite overwhelmed by the juventud present. It was quite exciting. I also shot the last Toledo rally at the Paseo de la Republica in front of the Sheraton. I was squeezed in the press box and realized how glad I was not to be a journalist. There are some pushy cameramen out there. I shot much of Toledo speaking to the crowds. Apparently, I was featured quite prominently on Panamericana TV.
Election run-offs in Chirimoto
For the election run-offs, I traveled to a different district and province. I went to the district of Chirimoto, province of Rodriguez de Mendoza in the department of Amazonas. As a Transparencia observer, my point of reference when I was travelling was my beloved Tayabamba where I went the first time out. I am happy to report that everywhere in Peru is not quite as isolated as Tayabamba. When one visits somewhere else which is different, one realizes what the possibilities are, and one often learns more about the place that one had visited earlier in retrospect. I went to Vietnam in 1990 and again last year. Although I didn't enjoy my trip last year and was disappointed that the warmth and hospitality that I had experienced 10 years earlier had been replaced by the empty words of people who had been hardened by competition for the tourist dollar. Certainly life in Vietnam was better than it had been 10 years ago. Most Vietnamese owned their own Honda Dream bike and had enough to eat unlike before. Roads were better and things were bustlingóin the cities, at least. Yet the fragility of humanity and the genuine warmth that I had experienced before was gone and everything was business as usual. I realized that with normalcy the deep wounds that had been open since the war had been closed and the vulnerability which prompted so many people to tell me their stories no longer existed. Perhaps a round-about explanation, but in the same way, I realized how much more desperate the situation in Tayabamba is.
Rodriguez de Mendoza is much more accessible since there is a highway which connects Chiclayo and Chachapoyas. Mendoza is only three hours away from Chachapoyas and the road is in much better condition than any road I traveled in Pataz. In Mendoza, I was surprised by the abundance of telephones and the existence of internet connection. The two Transparencia coordinators, Patricia Chingay Melendez and Gloria Luperdi Iberico, were both very young women. Both worked in offices and had access to computer and copy machines which facilitated organizing the paperwork. The biggest problems stemmed from the attitudes of other Transparencia volunteers who were not very cooperative. Because of their youth and gender, there were several who complained and made demands without helping out muchótypical macho attitudes. However, I was surprised to find these sorts of attitudes among Transparencia volunteers and wondered what their motivations in participating as volunteers was. Especially when they were distributing money for travel and food expenses, a small, small amount of money (10 or 20 soles at the very most), the people began to show their true colors. Money always represents power despite how small the amount. I noted these differences because in Tayabamba most volunteers were teachers and there was no money to divi up so this sort of jealousy and competition did not exist.
I traveled to Chirimoto with another Transparencia volunteer who is from there, Elvira Trigoso Trigoso. I stayed with her and her sister's family. There are no phone or electricity in Chirimoto and, hence, no televisions or FAX machines. When I arrived, there was a group of villagers on the top of the hill, the closest place they could get reception to watch the Peru-Ecuador soccer match on a television powered by a car battery. Despite the lack of modern conveniences, the warmth of the climate and the fertility of the land struck me as a virtual paradise in comparison to Tayabamba. There was an abundance of fruits, vegetables and animals of all kinds. In the living room, there was a small black bear skin, recently killed because he had been eating their corn! I guess it was him or them! The climate reminded me of Brazilówarm and tropical, and they grow similar kinds of plants. The principal crop is coffee. They also grow everything they eat: fruits, beans, vegetables, corn, chickens, cows. In their yard, they also had orchids which made me think of the commune I had visited in Brazil. I ate very well, and the family took good care of me.
This family has a sister who lives in California, and I couldn't help thinking how different their live in Chirimoto was from the life she must live in California. Certanily the children of their sister, probably would not be able to adjust to the primitiveness of their life hereóno toilet, no hot water, no electricity. I tried to explain to them that there are probably many people who immigrate to the US in search of a better life and miss their more simple life from before. Yet because they had made the commitment of moving away and had also changed through the process, they could never go back. The beauty of Chiromoto and the peacefulness of the valley are quite unforgettable. I tried to explain this, but to people who had never lived anywhere else, I am sure it was difficult to understand what I meant because without leaving they probably did appreciate what they had. No doubt they are still curious to visit other places.
The people in Chirimoto are very fair. Most are of European extractionómany of Spanish, German and Dutch ancestry. The mayor joked, "Look at my gringo!" when he was showing me his young son. Chirimoto had been a large town until 1979 when flooding of the laguna put most of the town under water. Consequently, many had moved away, moving to Nuevo Chirimoto which was about six or seven hours away.
The elections passed very uneventfully. There are five tables in Chirimoto. The members of the mesa all had experience from the previous elections so things went smoothly. There was no rain so it was easier for those who were from faraway to come. However, there was still a lot of absenteeism since for many, Chirimoto is a day or for some, two days walk. Most of these people live outside the system so the threat of a fine is fairly meaningless since they don't have much business to do. People seemed better fed, and there seemed to be less illiteracy because at least everyone could sign their name. There were no votes which looked like they could not hold a pen to form a proper "x" or did not understand how to mark their ballot. Apra is very strong in Chirimoto as it is in Mendoza in general, and Alan Garcia won by a few percentage points. There were not many blank and null votes.
I met Sandra Montiel, an editor who lives in Los Angeles, for the first time here in Lima. She is a friend of a friend in Los Angeles with whom I had worked on another documentary. Sandra had some interesting anecdotes dealing with the Peruvian film world. She said that I would have much better luck in dealing with Peruvian filmmakers because I am not perceived as the threat that she is as a Peruvian who has studied abroad. It was a disheartening observation, but I am sure that it is true given the shortage of resources and the competition for them. I am hoping that I will be able to collaborate with her in some way because she does seem like an insightful person and the fact that she is Peruvian makes her a valuable resource in Los Angeles.
In terms of my project, Sandra told me that her mother was a better source of information regarding artists in Lima than she was since she had been living in the US for so many years. Her mother, Miriam, taught at Bellas Artes for many years and has an interesting perspective on Peruvian society having come from Brazil. Miriam graciously organized a meeting of a few artists she knew whom she thought would be pertinent to what I was researching. Fortuitously, they were all people who I had been meaning to contact and whose numbers I already had: Herbert Rodriguez, Alex Angeles, Alfredo Marquez and Miguel Garcia N·Òez. I had already seen a few photos of Herbert's work at the San Marcos show and had heard of him through Luis Jaime Cisneros (the son, who is a journalist and a friend of Tatiana's). Alex and Alfredo were main collaborators in the Piensa project and Cecilia Jurado had already given me their numbers. Miguel was the only one whose number I didn't already have.
When I arrived at Miriam's house and sat down to talk to them, I was a bit intimidated. Herbert virtually began attacking me, asking me what I was doing and what I wanted to know. He is the veteran of the group and perhaps the most radical. Hence, I was able to understand his criticism of the art scene, curators and critics. He has been doing community based art projects for 30 years and still continues to maintain his feet in this world through Centro Kultural el Averno, located near the Plaza de San Martin. Alex and Alfredo continue to work together in a collective called Perufabrica. In the past, they have worked on several projects such as Piensa and the projects . Perhaps Alfredo has the most riveting story since he was in prison for his art in the mid 80s. Alex explained how he had to painstakingly explain to the lawyer and judge how Alfredo's work is not the work of a Senderista. Talking to them, I was able to appreciate "Piensa" much more. They explained that the simplicity of the projectócolor xeroxes with the words "Piensa" was partly out of necessity to keep costs down. A few points that they collectively made were the following. Some of these things I already knew, but it was good to hear their ideas.
When I explained that I was interested in looking at art within different segments of society, they immediately pointed out that "arte culto" and "arte popular" were extremely different. Arte culto was centered in Lima and was Western influenced and had more to do with Europe and North America than with the rest of Peru. Arte popular and artesania was hardly considered art by many Limeños.
Among artists in Lima, they made it clear that there were very, very few of them who pursued this kind of political work. It was not a passing theme, but their life. I sensed that they were extremely critical of artists who occasionally touched on these themes instead of being committed to them as they were. None of them sold any of their work which made it extremely difficult to make a living. Alex candidly said that his wife was a doctor which made things much easieróperhaps the dream of all of us artists. I know that I have certainly always been in search of a sugar daddyówithout much success! They also mentioned that one of the big difference between those who had been active in the 80s and the younger generation who had become active last year during the anti-Fujimori protests was the lack of danger. There was a real sense of danger in the 80s and now that did not exist.
(Last night, I went to a show at the Centro Kultural el Averno near the Plaza de San Martin. I didn't know what was going or at what time anything started, but I thought I would go and see what there was to see. There were several punk bands. After having travelled on so many buses and heard so much chicha music recently, it was very refreshing to hear hard core punk music. And the most amusing part was the mosh pit actionóplenty of testosterone bouncing around the room in the form of young Peruvian men. I could definitely understand why someone would be into punk here because it is so much the antithesis of what chicha and salsa are.)
The PROMUDEH connection
Sara Fajardo introduced me to her cousin Carla Fajardo who works for PROMUDEH. She had been quite active with "acciones" last year, and it was interesting talking to her because she was able to talk about what had been happening last year in a more general way. She definitely thought that there was a difference between the younger and older generations of activists. She mentioned the fragmentary depoliticized nature of the younger artists and how ultimately the acciones were useful in terms of bringing attention to the problems but ultimately fell short in terms of having new ideas.
At an accion for the Comision de la Verdad at the Plaza Mayor in Lima, Sociedad Civil was organizing the public in a project of sewing a large black and white flag which was supposed to symbolize the public's disapproval with the government's unability to deal with this situation. I was surprised to find out that the organizer for Sociedad Civil is Gustavo Buntinx, the art critic who had curated the Eduardo Tokeshi "Bandera" show. His reputationa for verbosity had already preceded him, and I got proof of it on camera. I got his number and need to call him to talk to him again. I filmed the accion and also the demonstrators from an organization which was trying to put pressure on the Japanese government to have Fujimori extradited.
The University of San Marcos Museum of Art was having an exhibition of crosses by Claudio Jimenez Quispe, an artist from Ayacucho who now lives in Lima. I discovered that his brother owned the gallery/museum in Barranco which was filled with Ayacuchano retablos. I decided to contact Claudio since I was anxious to find other kinds of more traditional art which had taken on a more modern form, portraying social themes. I visited his home and workshop in San Juan de Lurigancho and met his father who was the master retablista in the family. I was quite impressed by Claudio's demeaner and way of speaking. Although the family lived in Lima, they still speak Quechua in the house and his Spanish was accented. It was clear that there was a division between the more commercial retablos that were made en masse for the market by various family members and friends of the family who came to work in the workshop and the more personal work that he designed and executed himself and which was exhibited at the museum. He had visited the US, touring with his work, and said that he liked the experience because there was much more appreciation for his work in the US. Ironically, I heard this over and over from the various artisans I spoke to.
It is a small community of Ayacuchano artists who are doing work reflecting social themes. I visited Edwin Sulca in Barrio Santa Ana. I thought his rugs were quite interesting. They were filled with ideographs that symbolized the violence, the people, hope, etc. He obviously was very practiced in explaining his work as he went through his catalogue of photographs, explaining each one as if a machine. He was obviously quite successful and driven, having passed this down to his children since one of them was studying at Harvard. I decided he would not make a good subject because he seemed a little fakeómore work to get to something genuine.
When I explained to Edwin what I was doing, he suggested I visit his plaza neighbors who worked in piedra de Huamanga. Julio Galvez Ramos was the senior member of this household, but he was not there. I ended up talking to his son, Carlos, and his wife for some time. Very nice people. I was not a great fan of the work, but I liked them a lot. He was obviously a thoughtful man who had had the opportunity to travel abroad. Unlike his father who focused on religious themes, he was carving more graphic, desperate images. He described how he remembered seeing a child bathed in blood on the steps of the church across the plaza, a legacy of the 80s. They generously invited me to lunch with them. Although I don't think I will put them in the film, I will definitely go back and visit them and help them in some other way I can. They were not as wealthy as their neighbor, and it seemed like the pattern so common in filmmaking was also the case hereóthe better businessman was the more successful artist, not the better artist.
The next day, I visited Pablo Neri in Quinua. He is a ceramicist who is known for his rather disturbing images. I got a slow start to Quinhua and asked several people where I might find him. A young kid who was on the combi had told me that his Pablo was his uncle. I ran into him in the village again and finally met Pablo. Life in a small town. Since I had no phone number, I just went to the village to look for him and fortunately he was there. It seemed that everyone in the town was related, and his cousin had told me that he was no longer working and often went to the jungle since his wife had died. I was a bit confused. When I finally spoke to Pablo, he said what a bad cousin he had. Although he had not been working recently because of health reasons, he said that he had not stopped working; he was just trying to get some inspiration. I liked Quinhua with its cobblestone roads and thought that Pablo was a much more thoughtful man. His experiences seemed written on his face. It hink I will include him in the film. He told me how he had had to flee Quinhua for two years for his safety because the authorities suspected him of being Senderista.
Colca, Victor Fajardo, Ayacucho. Since Jonathan Ritter was the cargante/adornante for the Corpus Cristi celebrations in Colca, I thought I would go and check it out since I also thought I should visit the Ayacuchano artists. After spending four days in Colca, I truthfully don't know if I culd live in the campo like Jonathan did. I kind of like being able to shower in warm running water (at least once in awhile) and a flushable toilet. Having been to similar kinds of celebrations in other mountain villages in other parts of the world, I can't say that I am a big fan of the cuisine although the warm, hospitality surely made up for the lack of freshness of the vegetables. I was extremely impressed by the lasting impression that Jonathan had obviously made on this pueblo. He donated an old family computer to the town and had spent a considerable amount of money on the festivities. He had become the darling of Colca, and they wanted him to be the mayor! There was plenty of music, dancing and lots of drinking. He had brought in some great musicians, and I enjoyed listening to them and recording them. The pumpin songs were very interesting because they sang about Fujimori and Montesinos although I did not understand what the words were since they were singing in Quechua. Perhaps I will go to the concurso in
January or February next year. In Colca, for the first time, I felt the need to learn and study Quechua. I really had not encountered anyone who spoke it up until then. I was impressed at how everyone spoke the language and could sing songs in Huayno songs in Quechua.
Month 2 (April 24 - May 23, 2001)
Before I left Los Angeles, I regarded my ignorance as an asset which would hopefully limit the scope of the film. Yet it has become apparent to me that it is impossible to remain consciously ignorant. There will certainly always be limitations to what I know, but the immensity of this country and the complexity of its problems is something I certainly cannot overlook.
I have spent this month, continuing to make contacts and meeting different people. Some of these meetings have been chance which always seem to be an intuitive measure of whether one is making the right contacts and are in the right place. I have met filmmaker Alberto Durant, who coincidentally is friends with a Peruvian-Icelandic couple (Rhony Alhalel and Mathilde) who are artists that I very vaguely knew in Kyoto 15 years ago. I also coincidentally ran into a good friend from Kobe from five years ago at the Santa Isabel market near my house. I thought he was still working in Kobe, but he has returned to Peru to remake his life here.
One of my goals has been to familiarize myself with Peruvian cinema. Although I had hoped that my contact through Liliana Com to the Filmoteca would open doors, I have found the curator not to be the most obsequious person in the world. Having finally realized this after several weeks of waiting, I have approached the Catholic University for permission to view films from their archive. They kindly have agreed to let me view films, and I have been signing up for four hours for three days a week to watch a variety of films. Unfortunately, they do not have a very large collection so I will have to approach the University of Lima and/or the Filmoteca again after I have exhausted their collection. Through Catolica, I have viewed, Boca de lobo, La ciudad y los perros and Caidos del cielo directed by Francisco Lombardi and Gregorio and Juliana by Grupo Chaski. These films were made in the 1980s. La vida es una sola, directed by Marianne Ende, is another film in the same social vein as the Chaski films about an Ayacucho village divided by the invasion of the Sendero Luminoso and specifically a young Ayacuchan woman who falls in love with a Senderista. I also viewed La Muralla Verde and Sonata Soledad by Armando Robles Godoy.
Boca de lobo looks at the psychology of power within the military and how personal gain, twisted codes of honor in saving face and lies led to the bloody deaths of many innocent people in one small Ayacucho village. Ironically, when I was walking through the Plaza de Armas on a Sunday, I was reminded of how many people still continue to live this reality. There was a group of people fighting for the Truth Commission, displaying a long list of names of desaparecidos, many of whom were Ayacuchanos who were fighting for their loved ones.
Gregorio looks at a young boy who is a migrant to Lima, becomes lured into a life of crime by a group of boys who live in the streets, sometimes working as street performers and sometimes committing petty crimes. The film ends pessimistically; he becomes alienated from his mother and ends up a bandit. Julia is the female version of the same reality and is the story of a young girl who joins a boy gang of street performers of which her brother is a member. The gang is controlled by a dispicable male character who mirrors the macho attitudes of her motherís boyfriend. She dresses as a boy in order to join the group. The film ends on a more optimistic note than Gregorio because Juliana and the boys escape the oppressive overseer of the group. They continue to live cooperatively, and Juliana is able to reclaim her identity as a girl and is joined by other young girls in the groupóperhaps a little unrealistic, but certainly a brighter future for these young people. Most interesting about both of these films is the fact that the actors are mostly non-actors whom the filmmakers met in the streets and hence, the distinctions between their real lives and the film are blurred. Both are very much in the same vein as other social reality films based on street children made in other parts of the worldóLos olvidados, Rodrigo D and Salaam Bombay.
These harsh realities are still echoed everywhere in Lima and in the rest of Peru. With Cristina Alcalde, I visited a young woman who has escaped the violence of her husband with her four young sons and built a shack on the side of a dusty hill in Comas. Certainly, the story of her sons could end up being either Julia or Gregorio. However, my problem with these kinds of films is their inherent patronizing attitude. No doubt the filmmakers had good intentions in trying to portray the social reality of the less fortunate, but I find these kinds of social commentaries most indicative of the makersí socio-political agenda rather than the lives of their subjects, marking the differences between the makers and the subjects in the film. Their portrayal of the grimness of these lives lacks the humor and curiosity that I imagine must also exist among these people. I have to believe that their lives are somehow balanced with the same kind of day to day trials and tribulations that we all experience.
The Godoy films are quite beautiful and have many wonderful images, but a couple of them are a little too obscure for my tastes (I also viewed Espejismo at the University of Lima last month). I liked La Muralla Verde because the images were grounded in a story about a young Limeño couple's struggle to settle in the jungle near Tingo Maria. This film is filled with the small details of everyday life which are important to me. Unlike other Peruvian films I have seen, he is a much subtler director and has a much stronger command of the visual language of cinema.
I have also spent a fair amount of time, watching television and reading the newspaper. The press is central to the general discourse and is extremely powerful. A case in point would, of course, be the ruckus that Jaime Bayleís show caused when Alvaro Vargas Llosa publicly disclosed his frustration with the Toledo campaign. Nery pointed out to me the interesting phenomenon of several journalists who have opted to pursue careers in politics, such as Aniel Townsend. This is not very common in the U.S. or in Japan as far as I know and certainly indicates the close ties between these two realms. Who needs other kinds of entertainment when ìpoliticsî is so theatrical and entertaining? Here are a few observations on the elections, politics and a few other general things in Peru:
When the choices for president are Alan Garcia and Alejandro Toledo, it is pretty easy to understand why there would be little trust in the government and the political processóthe press has likened the choice to a decision between cancer and AIDS, depending on how quickly one wants to die. And, of course, ironically, these are the choices after the Fujimori dictatorship, which was riddled with corruption and mismanagement. Fujimori has been expelled, and the country should presumably be optimistic about a brighter future, but how can it be when nothing has changed and the candidates could be a new Fujimori in different clothes? When precisely these two things, corruption and mismanagement, are so rampant and the tendency to fall into corrupt habits is so predictable, it seems that oneís only choice is to vote for the person who seems less corrupt, rather than on the basis of any strategic or political platform. Even if the candidate supports the same kind of ideology to which you are more partial, if they are not going to implement it and are really seeking office in self-interest, then it definitely does not seem like an intelligent vote. Democracy hardly seems like an issue if the system itself is so mired in corruption and is so easily manipulated to serve one or a few peopleís interests due to its centralization.
It is also extremely shocking how short Peruvian memory is here. The fact that Alan Garcia has the audacity to come back to Peru and present himself as a presidential candidate after his miserable administration before Fujimori and the dormant charges against him. Have the people not forgotten the inflation, lines and terrorism of the 1980s during his presidency. How can he be forgiven so easily for his previous errors? How is that people allow themselves to be swept up in his charisma and oration? I did not live here during the 80s but watching one Univision special on the Garcia administration was enough to make it clear to me why there are many who would never in their lives vote for Garcia. If Toledo wins it will certainly be because of the votes against Garcia rather than the votes for Toledo. It is interesting trying to understand Peruvian amnesia and hearing various peopleís analysis of it.
For May Day, I went to a the May 4 Toledo night rally at the Plaza 2 de Mayo. And then on May Day, I went to the Garcia rally at Campo de Marte near my house. The Toledo meeeting was a much more traditional political rally, complete with banners and flags. Much emphasis was placed on Indian and cholo identity. One of the speakers was the recently elected Aimara congresswoman from Puno. The Alan rally was an all day event, a big party, which focused on youth. It seemed like the majority had little interest in Alan and more in the entertainment. I missed Alan speaking on stage by minutes. I was quite horrified by the very young teenie bopper entertainment they had contracted to fill time until the bigger act came later. They were painful to listen to. There were also many lost children who kept coming up to the stage, crying for their parents. It was a kind of a sad but comdic comment on the whole event. I kept thinking about the metaphor of waiting in Garcia lines for food and now waiting for the entertainment to show up. His administration wouldnít be much different it seemed.
The debates were an interesting exercise. Certainly, the press emphasized them more than perhaps they merited. Nothing particular new was presented, and the ability to say what needed to be said within the time limitations was perhaps the most notable feature. The question of who ìwonî seemed rather irrelevant. I wondered why the journalists did not attack Garcia on the terrorism that existed under his prior administration. Always, inflation, endless lines and terrorism are the first things that come out of anyoneís mouth who is talking about the former Garcia administration. The fact that Garcia is a better orator than Toledo was made clear, but his style is so heavy-handed and we have all heard it so many times, that his words seem quite empty. As Cesar Hildebrandt put it, Toledo gave more examples, but the clearly rightist orientation of his economic policies made me sceptical.
In terms of my attempt to figure out the art world here, I am having difficulty assimilating the extreme differences between the haves and the have nots. Wealthier Limeños, more pituco, who live near the sea in Miraflores, San Isidro, San Borjas, etc., might as well be living in the United States and the geographic division of this part of the city with the rest of the city and country is extremely marked. I am sure that there are many who lead insulated lives in this world, consciously choosing to close their eyes to the rest of the country. The flood of foreign goods, thanks to Fujimoriís liberalization of the market, makes life in this zone of Lima more connected to Miami than to the rest of Peru. While everyone gasps, trying to survive the high prices relative to low incomes and lack of employment, the unrealistic standards for measuring life is Miami. The upper middle class and upper class, larger physically and fairer skinned, try much harder to maintain the appearance of wealth and the look of the ultra rich of Beverly Hills whether or not they have the dollars to back up the look.
Consequently, the art world, which has always been the playground of the bourgeoisie and the privilege of the rich, becomes an even smaller strip in the land of the wealthy which is already a small island in the ocean of the vast majority of Peruvians who are less privileged. And because of the need to measure up to the standards set by Miami, it seems that anything which does not fall into that context is not of importance here. Thus the majority of the art I have seen in Miraflores seems irrelevant to greater Lima and is more of a commentary on the aspirations of what wealthy LimeÒos perceive they should be doing. Thus it is clear that the kind of work that I am looking for is extremely marginalized and that anything ìpopularî is segregated from that which is ìhighî art. It is that same dichotomy of ìhighî and ìlowî art which is magnified here by the extreme differences in race and class.
posted by ann kaneko on 9/6/2001 04:02:17 PM
Fulbright Field Report #1
(March 24 – April 24, 2001)
This first month has been spent acclimatizing and making contact with people here in Lima. Filmmakingis about who you know, and networking will make everything easier when it comes to actually making a film here. I realize that my first few months are going to be about meeting as many people as I can. Since I am fully aware that a year is both a long and short period time, I have jumped in head first, to try to figure out what my film in Peru is going to be about.
Logistically, Lima has been an easy place to get around. Negotiating the Lima transport system has been relatively straightforward, and it is a pleasant change to be in a city where public transportation is a viable option. Within the middle- and upper-class world of Lima, I feel very comfortable, but I realize that there is a whole world beyond that I have yet to discover, where the majority of Limeños live. I have also fallen into a living situation in the home of an Okinawan-Peruvian family in Jesus Maria which should work out for the duration of my stay here. It is a private, furnished apartment which is detached from the house. Most importantly, I feel that my equipment is safe here since the house is in a patrolled, middle-class neighborhood. I am able to speak to the Tamashiros in Japanese so strangely enough am speaking more Japanese than English here in Peru. Their home is very centrally located and is close to the Japanese-Peruvian Cultural Center where I occasionally visit to do research.
Arriving in Lima two weeks before the presidential elections, I was overwhelmed by the television campaigning and posters everywhere in town. Trying to make sense of who the next president will be, I have been reading the newspaper and watching television. It is quite apparent how Peru is a media-dictated country and how the images that the candidates present seem to have a great deal more effect on their popularity than anything substantive they may say. This is the first time that they have been granted television air time for their commericials, and over and over again I see Alan Garcia singing with the sumo wrestler sized Afro-peruvian singer; Alejandro Toledo with the colorfully dressed people of the sierras and Lourdes Flores dancing and smiling on stage. I went out with my friend, Doris Morimisato, to film campaign banners and billboards as well as to the Plaza de San Martin to see what the rag tag crowd in the square were saying. I shot the graffiti on the streets, “chino asesino,” “voto visado,” etc. Since I was accompanied by Doris and Lindsey Sasaki, our three Japanese faces ilicited some disturbing responses in the square. There were people ready to blame us for all that Fujimori had done. They were telling us to go to Japan, and it was clearly most disturbing for Doris, who is Peruvian.
Given the importance of the elections, I was anxious to participate in them in some way. Jonathan Ritter, another Fulbright scholar who I know from UCLA, gave me information about Transparencia’s solicitation for international observers. On the first Monday after I arrived, I went to Transparencia’s offices in San Isidro to attend the first of three lectures on being an observer. Althought I was doubtful about my Spanish ability, I decided that what actually had to be done was fairly straight forward (calling in the results of two information sheets--one on setting up the voting table and the other, on the vote tabulation) and that above my language skills, my resourcefulness and fortitude would be more important.
On the Friday before the elections, with satellite phone in hand, I headed for Tayabamba in the Dept. of Libertad. From Lima, I flew to Trujillo and from Trujillo, I flew in a very small plane to Chagual near Pataz. From Chagual, according to Transparencia, it was another five or six hours to Tayabamba; in actuality, it was 10. The road from Chagual was a dusty strip of dirt which barely hugged the sides of some very steep mountains. The mountains seemed to go on and on, and to get from one part of the province to another was always at least a day’s trip. It was warm and dry in Chagual, and the mountains were covered with cactus. The landscape reminded me of Northern Mexico, but it quickly changed as we climbed through the mountains. From Chagual, I took a bus to Retamas, a small dusty town filled with drunken miners. After travelling through the barren mountains, Retamas seemed like a huge civilization. There I waited for a micro-van. The “combi” was supposed to leave at 5 pm, but unless there were enough passengers, it would not leave till dawn. Finally at about 8 pm it filled up, and we left for Tayabamba where I arrived just after midnight. Travelling in the rainy darkness from Retamas, it was risky business trying to negotiate the one-lane road when there was two-way traffic. On average, from Tayabamba to Trujillo it takes three to four days by car, and during the rainy season, they say it is often a week.
Suppressing a nasty cough and dozing the entire trip, I arrived in Tayabamba in a semi-state of consciousness. Having told the driver I was an election observer, he had taken care of me on the road and saw to it that I arrived safely at a hotel. Across the courtyard of the hotel, a cow was grazing in the darkness, waiting to greet me.
The word “isolated” took on new meaning in Tayabamba, and the immensity of trying to organize and govern a country which has so many physical and geographical hurdles became much clearer. Tayabamba is the capital of the province of Pataz and supports a population of about 6,000, which includes people who live in the immediate surrounding area (there were 42 election tables which are about 150 people each). Yet the town has seven public telephones. It has spotty electricity and reception for about five television stations (one of which is Brazilian so all of its programming is in Portuguese). If this was the capital, one could only imagine the state of the rest of the province.
The next morning I searched out Teófilo López Segura, the local provincial coordinator of Transparencia. I walked down to the ONPE office, and he also was coincidentally there looking for me. He immediately began complaining to me about their lack of funding and that they had yet to receive the necessary materials to be election observers from the Trujillo office. They were not able to send volunteers to other villages in the province because of lack of transport money, and they did not have funds to feed volunteers on the day of the elections. Communication was a major problem because there were only seven phones in the town, and he could never get in touch with Transparencia in Trujillo. He wanted to use my satellite telephone to call, but I had been forbidden to let him use it. I sat through a long meeting spent complaining about and waiting for the election materials that ultimately did not arrive.
The next day, wearing my bright blue Transparencia vest, I made my way to the school where I was supposed to be observing one of the polling areas. It was raining, and at 7:15 am, there were already substantial numbers of campesinos, waiting outside of the locked gates. When the potential members of the “mesa” were let in at 7:30 am, it was clear what a free for all the election process was. Everyone seemed to barely know what their responsibilities were and a fair amount of confusion ensued as they waited to assemble a three member team for the mesa and then check the election materials. Ironically, one of the designated members of the table was deceased so someone joked at how they would have to wait for her resurrection in order to fill the table.
At almost 10 am, voting began when they had finished setting up. I called in the results of my first set of observations and was able to get a connection to the city quite easily. One by one, the grizzled lot that came down from the sierras cast their votes. It was clear that many of the campesinos did not know how to read or write because they could not sign their names on the registry. Instead, they put their fingerprint again in place of their signature. Undoubtedly, they were most interested in the sticker for their ID card which would guarantee them free from the hefty fine of 120 soles (about US$35) for not voting. I was amused that everyone had to press their fingerprint on the registry, a practice associated with criminals in the US and also which had caused such a hulabaloo with the Korean-Japanese community in Japan.
Coming from a country where voting is a choice, the obligation to vote hardly seems democratic, especially when many of them could not even mark their ballot properly. It also seemed strange that none of the names of the presidential candidates appeared on the ballot (only their picture) and none of the names or pictures of congressional candidates appeared on the ballot. It was hard to know for whom one was voting. It seemed clear that not as much importance was placed on the congressional candidates and that the notion of popular representation was not very strong. I could also not understand why one could not vote for congress people from different parties, especially since the parties in Peru are so ephemereal. Different parties do not necessarily mean different political or economic platforms, but rather who the person is buddies with. I kept wondering for whom they were casting their vote as they filed by. I was filming the whole process, and my camera was tolerated because of its value as a documentation tool and my role as an observer.
Lunch finally came at 1:30 pm (it was supposed to be at 12 pm), and the Transparencia observers were very happy about eating. We were the last to get lunch. Most observers were local school teachers and seemed to be socially conscious as is the reputation of teachers most everywhere. Many were Apristas. One couple, both teachers, were from Trujillo and preferred to pay the fines than try to get back. Someone joked how the locals called Transparencia, “Transferencia,” not knowing the difference.
At 4 pm, they began counting votes. It seemed strange that I would know for whom the people I had filmed moments before had voted within a matter of minutes. The largest number went to Alejandro Toledo and second was Lourdes Flores. Perhaps most telling was the fact that approximately 40 percent of the votes were blank or null and that over 40 people had not come to vote (there were about 150 people registered at this particular poll). It was clear from the scrawl on the ballots that many did not understand how to mark their ballot or could not mark it properly. Interestingly enough, there were also several who voted for congresspeople but not for president.
I was planning on leaving the next morning for Lima, but Teófilo convinced me to stay till the next evening when Transparencia members would have another meeting to discuss the elections, especially in light of the certain second round. He hoped that I could convey the results of this meeting to the central office in Lima. Even though I had been planning to leave for Jauja in the next day or so and was worried about my persistent cough and my lingering cold, I consented to stay. He promised that his daughter could show me around the area, and I could be a tourist for the day. I had a long talk with him in the evening, and it seemed that he was eager to pass on his responsibilities to someone else. This was one of the messages that he hoped I could convey to Lima. Knowing the strains of trying to make a living, I could only imagine the difficulties of taking on responsibilities beyond those of a day-to-day job and the challenges of trying to coordinate things in Tayabamba, especially with so few resources and support from the central offices. No wonder he looked to me for answers to his problems. Yet I hardly felt equipped to make any decisions beyond what I had been enlisted to do. If he could not get a firm response from Trujillo, I did volunteer to pay for the election day lunches since it was clear that I was only using a fraction of the per diem I had been given. Ultimately, it had to come from somewhere, and it was all Transparencia money after all….Although I was the ignorant foreigner, I felt like I was in a very privileged position, being closer to the money and information, and higher up on the hierarchy.
I watched the election results in the evening on television, listening to the various speeches and statements. Although the results were not firm, Alan Garcia had surprisingly nudged out Lourdes Flores for the run off by a few percentage points. I was certainly surprised since there were few Apra votes in Tayabamba, and Toledo clearly had the upper hand.
The next morning I was surprised to hear a knock on my door at 7:30 am. I had agreed to meet Teófilo at 9 am so was confused as to why he had come by so much earlier. He told me to get ready to leave because an ONPE helicopter was coming to pick up election materials and they had space for an observer. Teófilo, himself, said he would like to go, but because of any lack of transportation back from the end destination, he could not go himself. Since riding the helicopter would cut my travel time down, he thought I should go instead. I hurriedly gathered my things together, ultimately forgetting my favorite black vest. I dashed to the ONPE office, but the car had already left so I had to complete the strenuous walk up the hill to the stadium on foot. Teófilo accompanied me, and the altitude certainly slowed both of us down.
We waited over an hour and a half for the helicopter. I had Teófilo give a message to Transparencia which I recorded with my video camera. I was able to get all of the important people back in the Lima Transparencia office to see this message. The helicopter finally arrived. I was overwhelmed by the presence of the military who helped with the refueling process. I boarded the helicopter with a couple of ONPE representatives and several cartons of Tayabamba election materials. I waved good-bye to my friends in Tayabamba and hoped I would not get motion sickness from the helicopter ride.
The helicopter visited many different villages within the province, going up and down over the mountains. They seemed fairly organized and almost everywhere, ONPE representatives were waiting for the arrival of the helicopter; and, the transfer of materials went smoothly. By the time we arrived in Huamachuco, the helicopter was filled with cartons, and there was barely any space to sit. Teófilo had told me that Huamachuco was much closer to Trujillo than Tayabamba. When I arrived there and asked the ONPE representative where we were, he told me that we were 11 hours to Trujillo by car. Certainly, we were closer to Trujillo, but I would hardly call 11 hours close. I asked the pilot of the helicopter where they were going and if there was a possibility I could accompany them back to Lima. He said that they would similarly be gathering election materials in Ancash and that with luck they would arrive back in Lima by 4 pm. He said that I could come along. I knew I was getting special treatment as a foreigner and as a woman—and as an international observer for Transparencia. Novelty was on my side. I called the Transparencia office to tell them that I would not be using my return ticket to Lima from Trujillo.
After refueling again, we headed to the various scattered villages in Ancash. They were less organized in the province of Huari because many of the villages did not have election materials to ship; they only had a box or two of the ballot counts. Clearly there was a misunderstanding in what procedures were, and it seemed as if there was certainly room for irregularities. They also seemed eager to send an ONPE rep with us on the helicopter. It was almost comical in the way the guy on the helicopter would pull in the stairs so that the local rep could not get on. In the district of Huacchis, all of the ONPE committee were drunk—always a reassuring sign. We refueled one more time in Huaraz and then flew over the Andes back to Lima. The flight back was stunning as we traveled over the snow-capped mountains. At our highest point, we wore oxygen masks since we were 5000 meters in the air. When we arrived back in dry, dusty Lima, I was escorted by a military officer to the gate of the military compound where I picked up a cab. The cabbie was an Aprista and accosted me with all of his reasons for supporting Alan and struggling as a Peruvian. Welcome back to life in Lima. . . .
After reporting back to Transparencia and returning their satellite phone, I left the next day for Acolla, near Jauja, with Manuel Raez, an anthropologist at the Catholic University who works at the Center for Andean Ethnomusicology. I met him through Jonathan Ritter. Manuel is writing his master’s thesis on reenactment scenes that the community in Acolla perform during their festivities for Semana Santa. The scenes are often reflective of or inspired by current political issues, and given the elections and the hunt for Montesino, he and I were both eager to see what would be performed this year.
I was concerned about the altitude, but Tayabamba had acclimated me so I did not experience any ill effects. In Jauja, I also met Jose Luis, a friend of Manuel’s who is a professor of development at the University of Huancayo, who had studied in Amsterdam. Before we left Jauja on Tuesday, there was a procession for the Tropa de Caceres, which is a parody of the Breña Campaign in the Chilean War when the army of Mariscal Andrés A. Cáceres lead the largely indigenous forces to victory against the Chileans. The various groups from the area were dressed in mountain clothes, complete with cuy bags, and had a peculiar, exaggerated way of marching, a representation of the perception that these forces did not know how to march properly. There would be much more of this later in Acolla.
Acolla is about 20 minutes from Jauja and is on the road to Tarma. It is the largest town outside of Jauja and is divided into two sectors, north and south. Since Manuel had previously spent seven months doing research in Acolla, he was very well-acquainted with the town and the area. We stayed at the home of a friend of his where he had lived earlier. They were a friendly older couple who very warmly welcomed us.
Since I was most interested in the process of how the creators of these scenes came up with the idea and how they collaborated together, we tried to find people in the area who were rehearsing or still in the process of formulating their ideas. Of course, this was a competition so there was a great deal of sccrecy surrounding each group because they did not want another group to copy them and then win the competition. Almost all of the groups consisted of young men. Some were families; others were neighbors. Some were locals, and others were groups formed by youth who had relocated to Lima or other cities. Electricity had come to Acolla only about 15 years ago so it was clear that there was a much profounder influence of mass media on their ideas and creations. Also those who lived in the cities had more access to resources and were also more worldly. We did not find many groups rehearsing, but we did find the band practicing. Surprisingly, the drum section of almost all of the bands that I was to see were young women—certainly a contradiction to bands in the United States, where the drum section was always the most male-dominated.
On Wednesday evening, the big event was the “choque” when the two sectors marched in procession in the plaza of Acolla, following two different representations of the Virgin Mary. Eventually, they confronted each other at the other end of the plaza, opposite the church. In recent years, the police heavily patrolled this event because of the violence that had ensued, often triggered by the heavy drinking that accompanied the festivities. This traditionally happened around 11 pm, but this year they said it would be earlier.
At about 9 pm, the procession filed out of the church, and the bands joined them in the plaza. There was a great deal of energy generated with the two bands playing and the groups of young men (and women and children) following with their long wooden spoons.
They were supposed to be role playing the Tropa de Caceres, but there seemed to be many more cooks than soldiers. Apparently, because of the violence in past years, the length of the spoons had been limited to a meter. In the past, they had been two and three meters long. The actual choque occurred at about 10 pm. Many small children participated this year, and I thought it must be for their benefit that the festivities were earlier. After more parading, it finally ended and the crowds remained in the plaza to drink. This was the first night of heavy drinking. The local Catholic Church headed by its Polish priests apparently had serious problems with the reputation
that these Semana Santa festivities had in the rest of Peru. In Acolla, Semana Santa was basically a big party with lots of drinking for several days. Very little tranquil reflection seemed to be happening. It was all very exciting, and I personally did not see the harm.
Thursday afternoon in Tragadero was the big parade and competition. In the morning, we tried to find more groups rehearsing and were able to find a few groups who were putting the last touches on their preparations. We headed over early to Tragedero to be able to film the arrival of the various groups. It was very exciting and the weather was good. It had the atmosphere of a big county fair. There were bleachers on both sides of the performance area and a large band stand in the middle. We hoped that there would be no rain despite the big cumulus clouds that were hovering in the sky and threatening rain. The Lima press had also arrived and there was a television crew from the national station. They really looked like outsiders.
First, various bands from the different communities marched in. The next section of the program was reenactments of the Tropa de Caceres again. Every group had their own interpretation, but they were all very similar, beating the Chilenos and dragging them away. Then in the next section of the program, each band for each sector or village marched in again, followed by the political scenes. The most interesting were of Montesinos and only one was of Lourdes dancing. Manuel and I were both disappointed that there were no more scenes that were current and critical. During the program, it rained for about an hour; but, the clouds passed, and it became sunny again. We ate in the tents outside of the bandstands and then headed back to Acolla in Jose Luis’ truck. Jose Luis and all of his friends from Jauja then proceeded to drink themselves into a stupor. They are all presumably intellectuals, but it was hard to tell any difference from them and the other borrachos in the plaza. The Acolla northern sector won the competition so the band circled the plaza endlessly into the night, playing the same song over and over.
The next day, Manuel and I tried to find some of the participants in the enactments from the day before. However, everyone in the town seemed to be drunk so they were hardly fit to be interviewed. The next day we returned to Lima
Back in Lima, I have been continuing my search for interesting artists, active groups to get a better grasp of the scene. I went to the Galeria Forum to meet the artist Eduardo Tokeshi and see his exhibition, “Fardos y banderas.” He is a friend of Doris Morimisato and also the artist Erika Nakasone, who I also met before she departed for a year-long residency in Okinawa. I was very impressed by his work which is deeply informed by some of the more disturbing events which have occurred here in Peru. I had a very interesting talk with him about the origins of his work and his identity here as a Okinawan-Peruvian, his relationship to language and to his work as a visual artist. I photographed his work and will hopefully interview him in mid-June when he has more time. I think that his insights into what has happened over the past few years as a Japanese-Peruvian and the nature of his politically informed work is the kind of reflections of what has been happening that interest me.
Doris has generously helped me out by introducing me to many of the higher ups in the Japanese-Peruvian Cultural Center. I met with Director Luis Baba to discuss the possibility of them showing my films, particularly Overstay and a couple of my other shorts. Through Doris’ good friend, Liliana Com, I have made contacted Norma Rivera, curator and archivist at the Peruvian Filmoteca at the Museum of Art, to talk about the possibility of screening my films there as well as to research and view Peruvian cinema. I must get a sense of the cinema here, partly as a frame of reference, but also to consider the possibilities of curating current Peruvian work for screening in the United States.
In search of contacts in terms of equipment and access to facilities, I met with the director of the Department of Communications at the Pontifica Universidad Católica del Perú and Jamese Dettleff, the technical coordinator. Possibly, they will organize a show and talk with students of Overstay. I also met with Cristina Alcalde, another Fulbright scholar, to hear about her work with battered women and to find out if there were any art projects organized with these communities. As yet, I have not heard of anything, but I am planning to visit some of these communities with her to get insight into another side of Lima.
During my second week here, I was on the daily Canal N show hosted by Raul Tóla to talk about my work as a filmmaker and my current project. Tatiana Harrison, a radio journalist friend, whom I know through Mandalit del Barco, has several contacts at Canal N and put them in touch with me. I felt a little foolish with my rather inadequate Spanish, but nonetheless tried to answer his questions intelligently. Certainly, I felt less pressure to be articulate than if I had been here for months so I decided that I had nothing to lose, especially since I could justify in my own mind that I still had the excuse of having just arrived in the country. Two people contacted the Fulbright office because after this interview, Levy Mancilla, an extremely eager communications student from the University of Lima, and Alberto Durant, president of the Asociacion de cineastas. Through Levy, I have met and talked with Ricardo Bedoya, film critic and professor at the University of Lima; Pipo Gayo, theater director and formerly of Pataclaun; and Julie Naters, director of Pataclaun. I observed classes by Pipo Gayo and Julie Naters.
It has become clear to me that I am involved in four projects while here: (1) to make a documentary, reflecting my experiences here; (2) to try to organize screenings and showings of my films here; (3) to try to develop material for an exhibition dealing with the Japanese-Peruvian community for the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles; and (4) to look at the possibilities of curating Peruvian films for screening in the United States. I am including a first draft of a reworked proposal of the film that I intend to make (of course, this is still very much in process). I am currently working on the JANM proposal. Also another personal goal is to complete two feature-length scripts while I am here in Peru. I am currently completing an application for Sundance. For some reason, life in Los Angeles is always too busy to allow me time to write….
posted by ann kaneko on 5/1/2001 09:16:07 PM