Monday, November 04, 2013

A Brief Litany of Labour Abuses in Peru

A person I know recently told me about  the case of a friend of hers, who was working as an apprentice employee of a large train operator in a Peruvian tourist centre. While working for the train operator, the friend made a mistake on the, apparently rigid and unforgiving, Amadeus reservation system, and was docked $20 USD (from her monthly part-time pay of $150 USD). Such mistakes apparently need to be corrected through an unwieldy bureaucratic process involving the physical movement of pieces of paper; yet they are fixable.

I'm not sure the practice of 'discounting' worker's wages for mistakes they make that result in losses is ever legal, anywhere, and it's certainly not right. A worker never receives the full positive benefit of transactions that they undertake successfully - so why should they ever have to bear the cost of unsuccessful ones? Although the practice is abusive, it's perhaps understandable that it is common in small and informal businesses where profit margins are very small. But this example comes from a large, formal business, part of a multinational operation that makes millions of dollars in profit.

This has inspired me to document some of the other labour abuses that I hear of from time to time in Peru. I'm not sure which of these result from violation of existing laws and regulations, and which are actually legal under Peru's notoriously 'flexible' labour legislation, but putting them in a list is a start:
  • A person has been working for a government ministry for 4 years, doing the same job, on a series of fixed-term contracts. Each year, her contract has been terminated, and then she has been invited to re-apply at the start of the next year. This means she has none of the rights of a formal employee. She is apparently considered a 'consultant', but her pay is not commensurate with this status, she has to keep fixed work hours, and she has little to no liberty in how she does her job.
  • Employees of a regional government office are required to 'swipe in' and 'swipe out' with an electronic fingerprint recognition system, every time they leave the building. Bear in mind that these are professionals with positions of responsibility, who are frequently required to attend meetings - yet they are treated like the most lowly production line workers. Someone else I know who worked in a local government office reported that arriving even 10 to 15 minutes late for work can result in being docked (already low) wages.
  •  Teachers at a rural technical institute were required to sign a contract saying they will provide remedial classes for a certain number of hours for students who are failing. These are to be provided outside normal working hours. Yet, instead of paying the teachers overtime, the institute has told the teachers that they must negotiate payment directly with the students. Because most of the students come form low-income families, they will not be able to pay much. The teachers will officially be required to provide an additional 50 hours tuition for approximately S/.60, a marginal rate of pay worse than any shoeshine boy or street vendor.
  • At the same institute, there are no text books or resources for preparing class materials and teachers have to spend their own money on printing and photocopying. Further, for their annual evaluation, they are required to present a folder of material including print copies of a couple of standard 100-page policy documents, resulting in a cost of approximately S/. 50 (from a monthly after-tax salary of S/. 1,150)  - i.e. they are paying about 5% of their wage for the privilege of having a performance review.
  • A waitress in a restaurant in a provincial centre works on weekdays from 8am to 4pm and is paid S/.300. Although she also gets provided food this is less than one half of the official full time minimum wage of S/. 750, which itself is barely at a subsistence level. This is a popular eating place for workers in the health, education and NGO sectors, because they can eat reasonably well at a low price, suggesting that the value of their own low wages is being subsidised by workers on the next tier down.
  • Most of the small travel agencies and tour operators in Arequipa are at least partially staffed by students undertaking their required practical experience. Such interns are legally required to be paid a wage, but this is almost universally ignored, and most do not get lunch or bus money either. (This is one case at least where formal labour legislation is being violated, but as far as I can tell there is no interest in enforcement, and neither do the educational institutions that these students attend seem interested in the situation).
I'm sure there will be many more, and more egregious, examples that I'll be able to list over time. For now, it's worth noting that the above examples do not all come from informal, sweatshop-style businesses but several are from large companies or the public sector - which you would think would set an example for decent working conditions.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

La Primavera Chola

A couple of short topical posts coming up.

An interesting development in Peru in the last week is the widespread public disgust, and the protest action led by the young, educated middle classes, at the apparent collusion by parties in Parliament to appoint a series of party hacks to important public positions including the People's Defender (Defensoria del Pueblo), Constitutional Tribunal and Reserve Bank.

The appointments have been described as a repartija ("doling out).  The outgoing People's Defender expressed dismay at the perception that his office was being sold off and would thereby lose credibility and independence.

However, already the outcry and protests have caused President Ollanta Humala and other party leaders to express disappointment and dissatisfaction at Parliament's choices - despite the fact that they were all probably involved in stitching up the deal - and for many of the nominated individuals to indicate they will not accept their posts and suggest that a new nomination process be held.

 Protest action is of course extremely widespread in Peru; what is interesting about this movement is that it's not directly tied to resource or labour conflicts and there are no clear material interests at stake,. Rather, it is driven by a general sense of dissatisfaction with the corruption and manipulation of the political class.

These protests have already been semi-jokingly described as "La Primavera Chola", (the only short translation would be "Andean Spring", but this link provides some, though incomplete and not very well translated, context); and they have been linked with the huge protests in Brazil during the Confederations Cup and the ongoing student-led demands in Chile for improved public education.

What has happened in Peru is of course on a much tinier scale than those movements, but it does have significance. Along with the narrow defeat of the recall movement against social democratic Lima mayor Susana Villarán and the decision not to grant a pardon to imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori, it may be seen as representing the 'green shoots' of a more democratic and accountable politics in Peru.Time will tell.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Maiz Cabanita: El Solay/La Siembra (Planting Season) 2

The day of the solay doesn't start so early, around 7:30-8:00 (perhaps one reason why it was the aspect of the cultivation cycle I participated in most). The workers gather at the house of the person who is doing the planting, and everyone is served a bowl of caldo, thick soup, as well as a large glass of chicha, the first of many during the day.

The men then head off to the chacra. There needs to be enough hands to herd two teams of bulls, carry the pero or plough, lead the horse, mule or donkey that will be used to majonear, and take a porongo or 20-litre plastic container of chicha. I was responsible for all of these tasks on different days. The dense wood of the pero is carried balanced over the shoulder, and doesn't seem to weigh much at first, but after about 15 minutes it starts to become heavier (especially when heading uphill over uneven terrain), and when the chacra is a long way away it can feel like carrying one's own personal cross.

The work during the morning varies, depending on what kind of preparation there has been prior to the day of planting, and what condition the chacra has been left in after the previous year. If the chacra has not already been ploughed by a tractor, it's necessary to plough and majonear twice to prepare the earth for planting. Sometimes, if a small chacra is to be planted as well as another medium-sized one in the same day, the small one may be planted in the morning, somewhat guiltily, without ceremony. Often there's work to be done in filling in the gaps in the terrace walls where animals have been allowed to wander in and out during fallow season. If the chacra is in stony terrain, rocks and stones need to be gathered up. Usually, there's the tough job of fighting back the grass that has invaded the border of the chacra. If this hasn't been done thoroughly the previous year, and the grass has made its way into the centre of the chacra, this task can continue into the afternoon.   

Every half hour or so, someone will serve all his fellow workers a big glass of chicha. Coca leaves and sometimes jampi (herbal licor) will also be shared around. The chicha and the coca seem to gradually  banish pain and tiredness: there were several days when I barely managed to get out of bed to make it to the solay, but by mid-morning was feeling relaxed and relatively energetic.

Around 11:30-12:00 midday, the women arrive. This will be the owner of the chacra, or the owner's partner, plus her relatives or comadres. They have been cooking back in the village and will bring food for lunch as well as chicha for the rest of the day. Sometimes other friends will arrive around this time as well, bringing gifts, usually alcoholic: beer, wine, pisco, champagne and rum may be added to the chicha and jampi.

Lunch is served, the men and women sitting apart in different groups. Lunch during planting is usually sumptuous: the owner of the chacra will want to make sure that their workers and guests are well fed and happy.

After lunch is the centrepiece of the solay, the mocco tinkay,which could perhaps be translated as "seed blessing ceremony". Mocco is Quechua for seed, while the tinka, which in Cabanaconde has been hispanicized into the verb tinkar, is the act of splashing what one is drinking, generally onto the earth, although cattle or other objects can also receive a tinka.

For the mocco tinkay, the men gather in a semi-circle, always facing towards Hualca Hualca, the apu tutelar, or mountain god, of Cabanaconde. The owner of the chacra and/or those responsible for ploughing take pride of place at the left side of the semi-circle. The women sit or crouch in another loose semi-circle, facing the men, while the seeds that will be planted are placed on a lliclla (blanket) in front of them. One of the women, usually the youngest, will serve each of the men in turn with a glass of everything that has been brought. Obligatory are chicha, jampi and pito: chicha mixed with various cereals including barley, maca and kiwicha. Cigarettes and coca are also passed around. As each person is handed the glass, they will splash a little on the ground, perhaps making an invocation to the pachamama or to Hualca Hualca, and then drink the rest.There will be conversation and jokes, and in larger events, someone may be especially designated to play the clown.

The women then turn to face the seeds, and it's their turn to sample some of every drink. When this is done, the seeds will be organized into bundles and one of the women will deliver these to the men who will be doing the sowing. This is known as to levantar la semilla, literally to lift up the seeds.

Once the ceremony is completed, it's time to work. The two yuntas plough the chacra, while those responsible for sowing the seeds follow behind. In some cases, a further person will add natural fertiliser from sacks of guano de isla, ground up bird droppings from the Peruvian coast. Finally, others may continue to gramear, or clear the grass from the chacra. As described in the previous post, it's expected that both the ploughing and sowing will be done by men, while women and children can participate  in the remaining tasks. The gender division is fairly unique to Cabanaconde: in other parts of Peru, and even elsewhere in the Colca Valley, women scatter the seeds, but as many have commented, a peculiar kind of machismo predominates in Cabanaconde.

 The final act of the day is to serve the alsa. This is kind of a picnic that is spread out on llicllas, as in the photo above. The base ingredient is toasted maize, and to this are added olives, cheese, fried pastry, cold meat, and ideally, small dried fish sourced from the Laguna de Mucurca, a large lagoon in the mountains above Cabanaconde. The alsa is considered a great delicacy, and people who remain in the village will often ask you to bring them back some if you are going to the solay.

By the end of the day, most of the participants will be slightly drunk, especially if the owner has prepared a particularly strong batch of chicha, or if people have brought lots of additional beer and liquor. In the best cases, everyone will be relaxed and happy, and there will be lots of joking and ribaldry. This was the case in the solay of Javier and Angelica (also attended by a group of French tourists as part of the Cabanaconde Turismo project), pictured below in one of my favourite photos.

Monday, May 06, 2013

The Art of Adobe

Wherever you go in the rural villages of Peru's sierra you will see many or most houses made of adobe mud bricks. They are usually small, squat, with a couple of tiny windows and an unattractive roof of corrugated iron (calamina), sometimes held down by small rocks. They are practically a symbol of poverty and what is considered backwardness.

Yet, just preparing the basic materials for such a dwelling is a skilled and subtle task. The other week I had the opportunity to watch and assist with the making of adobe bricks. I was visiting an elderly couple who live in their little plot of land about 30 minutes walk from Cabanaconde.When I arrived I found them in the chacra above their house, with three other men who were helping make the adobes. There were already about 300 bricks laid out in rows. They needed to make a total of 900 to build a basic greenhouse where they would grow vegetables and herbs.

The first step in making adobes is to make the mud. This might sound simple, but apparently the mixture is quite hard to get right. Too much water and the adobe becomes brittle when dry, with cracks forming in the bricks. Too little, and it is "dead", not sticky enough to mould into bricks. To the mud mixture is added ichu, Andean straw grass, which will help hold together the bricks. The mixture needs to be turned over twice and then left to "mature" for one to two days.

The process I saw to make the bricks involved the following. First, an area of mixed mud had to be loosened a little with a pick. This was then shovelled into a wheelbarrow,which was wheeled over to the row of existing adobes. The mud was dolloped into a double-sided mould, where one of the workers compressed, smoothed, and added more mud until the mould was packed full. After the worker ensured that there was a little space on each side of the divider in the middle of the mould, this was pulled away to reveal two fresh adobe bricks. The bricks would then dry and harden in the sun over a number of days.

What I've always found interesting and ironic is that the poorest and most humble people are often masters of a range of arts and crafts. Just for example, saddling and securing a load to a donkey or mule, ploughing and sowing, expanding and maintaining agricultural terraces, are all practices that have many subtleties, often require precision combined with considerable strength, and are best learnt from an early age. The average farmer or agricultural labourer will be master of most or all of these tasks, and will often have a greater range of skills - you could even say greater total skills - than many people with specialized roles in the modern economy. This is why I think it's misleading to talk about  them as having "unskilled" or "unqualified" occupations.

The difference that leads to "higher productivity" in the modern economy, is the system or machine, that pulls together the disparate tasks of individuals. In an economy based on small-scale household production, there's not much point in having specialists, say, someone who just builds and repairs agricultural terraces - there wouldn't be enough work. To make this worthwhile you need some kind of organization to scale things up - I imagine that the Incan Empire, for example, did have workers highly specialised in shaping and fitting stonework.

The other difference is the use of technology. I don't think it's correct to say that the traditional peasant economy uses little technology, because all of the practices I've described above are technologies, in the sense of being practical applications of human knowledge. Rather, the difference is in the kind of technologies used. "Modern" production practices tend to make more use of systematic measurements and explicitly-defined techniques, instead of or complementary to personal skill and judgement. There's a lot of potential for such"scientific" approaches to strengthen and improve traditional practices, as long as this is done with understanding and respect for the existing strengths of those practices. Again, I'm pretty sure the Incas and their predecessors did take these approaches.

The other thing which makes modern technologies so much more productive than their traditional counterparts is the intensity which which they, directly or indirectly, make use of the energy provided by fossil fuels.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Maiz Cabanita: El Solay/La Siembra (Planting Time) 1

The highlight of the agricultural calendar in Cabanaconde is El Solay or La Siembra, the planting season. The expression solay is unique to Cabanaconde and I understand it to be some kind of linguistic hybrid (it's neither Spanish nor Quechua). The classical Quechua expression would be sara tarpuy (literally, maize planting), and this is also used in Cabanaconde, albeit within parentheses.

The solay starts in early August. Each chacra is planted around a week to 10 days after receiving its last round of irrigation water. For planting, the earth must be turned over  and smoothed down (majoneado) twice, before in the third ploughing cycle the seeds are scattered into the furrows, which are then smoothed over for the final time. The traditional practice is to do all this in a single day with teams of bulls. However, nowadays in most cases where the chacra is accessible, people will have the first two rounds of ploughing done by tractor 1-2 days before planting. The tractor isn't considered precise enough for planting itself, but provides an efficent and less labour-intensive way of preparing the earth.

A related task during planting time is to gramear, to clear the grama or grass away from the edge of the chacra. The wiry local grass that forms the borders of the chacra is tough and invasive, and if left alone will work its roots into the soil and compete with the maize. Depending on how well the borders have been cleaned the previous year, this can be tough work: some work with pick, shovel and bareta to cleanly redefine the borders of the chacra, while others follow behind, gathering up the uprooted grass and tossing it away. In some places it is also necessary to rebuild the walls of the terraces with stones and clods of earth, a task known as to pircar. Gaps that have allowed animals to wander in and out (desirable during the fallow season) must be closed over during cultivation.

Planting is very labour-intensive: for a medium or large chacra or several smaller ones, you generally need two teams of bulls, plus a donkey, mule or horse to majonear. Each team of bulls requires someone to guide the bulls, someone to plough, someone to scatter the seed, and sometimes someone to scatter natural fertiliser (usually guano de ave, made from bird droppings sourced from the Peruvian south coast). You also need someone to lead the donkey/horse/mule and someone to ride the majona. To make best use of time, it's preferable to start the majoneando while the bulls are still ploughing, which means that someone other than the ploughing team needs to do this. Therefore, a regular day's planting can require at least eight workers.

This is complicated by a fairly strict gender role division in Cabanaconde. The two most skill-intensive tasks - ploughing and scattering the seed - traditionally must be performed by males. To be fair, ploughing requires considerable strength. However, scattering the seed could technically be performed as well or better by women, but according to local custom this would be inappropriate and could bring bad luck. Guiding the bull should also be done by a male, although it's quite common for a (male) child to do this.

No one really cares who scatters the fertiliser or does the majoneando, although a child or someone of lighter body weight is often the preferred choice for the latter task if a donkey is the only animal available. Meanwhile, the main role of the women is to prepare food and chicha for all the workers and bring it out to the chacra in time for lunch (although the men will usually take a supply of chicha when they head out in the morning). All and sundry will help with clearing the grass.

Traditionally, the large number people required at planting time wasn't a problem, as this was resolved through ayni, the reciprocal exchange of labour. People would help out their family and neighbours, and then when it was time for them to plant, the favour would be returned. People will tell you that ayni has largely disappeared from Cabanaconde, but it is still practised a bit at planting time. I estimated that at least a third of the people I worked with during the solay last year were doing it as a favour, to their family members or their compadres. Of course, they and others who pitched in were also incentivised by the plentiful food, chicha and liquor on offer.

The balance needs to be made up by paid labour. In some cases, this means hiring a team of bulls and their owner. The bulls cost S/.30, the owner gets S/. 20 himself for a day's work, and the bulls must also be provided with a large bundle of chala, or maize stalks, which is valued at around S/. 15. When people have small plots of land scattered around the countryside, and similar inputs are required for each one, it's easy to see how the costs of cultivation can escalate.

Even with a day's wage being paid, during last season's solay there were complaints that it was difficult to get people to work in the chacra, given the competing offers of non-farm work in various construction and local government projects, which paid from S/. 45 to S/. 70 per day. No hay gente! was a phrase I heard more than once.  The labour shortage, along with the fairly strict gender roles, were among the reasons why I, despite being an almost complete incompetent, was able to take such an active part in the solay last year.

There's so much to say about the solay that I'm going to split it across two posts. The next post will describe the actual course of events during a day of planting.

Monday, March 04, 2013

What I Miss: New Zealand vs. Peru

Over the past five or six years, I've divided my time between New Zealand and Peru. I've generally made a lot of effort to get back to Peru, and when I'm there I don't really feel homesick. This might be because I've always been there on a fixed term - if it became permanent I might feel differently. However,there are always a few things about New Zealand I miss when I'm away. Conversely, when I'm back in New Zealand there are specific things I miss about Peru, apart from the general reasons for wanting to go back.

As will be seen, there are specific foods I miss about both places when I'm in the other place. Peruvian cuisine is varied and often delicious, but there are a few things you just can't get.

What I miss about New Zealand when I'm in Peru

Fish and chips - terribly unhealthy and you can't have them too often, but there's nothing like a serving of serving of greasy fish and chips, and I occasionally get a craving for them. Ironically, chips (papas fritas) are very popular in Peru, but they're just not the same.

Asian cuisine - New Zealand's cities are full of Indian, Malaysian, Thai, Cambodian, Japanese and Korean restaurants - often cheap, and generally good to excellent. It's not just Peru, but Latin America as a whole, where it's near impossible to find good Asian food (Peru at least has chifa, its version of Chinese food, and there are some reputable Japanese places in Lima).

English breakfasts - there's nothing like a big plate of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, hash browns, tomatoes and toast with butter, especially after a night out. Most cafes in New Zealand do something like this, and some do it brilliantly (Kelburn Cafe in Wellington springs to mind). In Peru, the closest thing is what they call 'American breakfast', but almost everything is not quite right. The eggs are dry and scrambled without milk, 'ham' is something that has barely made the acquaintance of a pig, and the toast is from aerated pan de molde that crumbles at first touch. Having said that, my mouth waters at the thought of a 'German breakfast' from El Turco in Arequipa!

The coffee. Peru is a notable coffee exporter, and a blend from Sandia in the Puno region recently won an international prize for best organic coffee. However, it's hard to find a decent espresso coffee (there's a couple of places in Arequipa that I haunt) and strong espresso with milk (flat white, latte or cappucino) doesn't really exist. Every so often, I really miss this aspect of Wellington!

Clean and green spaces - Peru is full of wonderful natural spaces. Unfortunately, wherever people live or anywhere near main roads there is usually significant litter scattered about - the exceptions being tourist sites and some upper middle class neighbourhoods. It's a serious and growing problem, especially as economic growth occurs and consumption of plastics and other durable materials increases. New Zealand also has environmental problems and is nowhere near as pristine as the tourism campaigns make out. However, most urban and rural areas are free of actual litter.

What I miss about Peru when I'm in New Zealand

Cebiche: my mouth just waters every time I think about it. Slices of raw fish or shellfish marinated in a little lemon juice and chili, served with red onion,  canchita (toasted corn kernels), camote (flat sweet potato), perhaps with some seaweed, and ideally washed down with beer. In New Zealand, at parties and potlucks people sometimes offer something they call 'cevish' (pronounced as if the correctly spelled word were French). This tends to be chunks of lightly boiled fish floating in coconut milk On these occasions I have to resist the temptation to be a boor.

Menus: in Peru, all but the finest restaurants will offer a menu or set meal, at least for almuerzo, the main meal in the middle of the day. This is usually extremely cheap, and will incude a soup or starter, main course, drink and sometimes dessert. As an example, there's a place around the corner from where I stay in Lima where you can get a starter of a stuffed avocado, followed by a main course of seco (meat stewed with coriander) and beans in a hearty sauce, served with rice and complementary chili and lemon. All for S/. 8 (around $4 NZD).

Pisco: in my view, there's no mixed drink anywhere better than a good pisco sour. With a good quality pisco and a skilful bartender, it simultaneously dances all over your taste buds, loosens your tongue and gives you a warm, happy feeling, In New Zealand, the only accessible pisco most of the time is what I bring back.

General knowledge crossworld puzzles: I'm addicted to the crossword in La Republica,which is based on a mixture of clues and pictures: you have to recognise the people or places in the images, and fill in the clues based on a mixture of synonyms, general knowledge, geography, actors, artists, musicians, politicians, sportspeople, Greek and Roman mythology and alphabets, and common words from English, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, Russian and Quechua. The lower brow papers also have these kind of puzzles, useful for when La Republica isn't accessible.

The unpredictability: when people have asked me why I keep coming back, I think about it for a while and come up with this. Strange and surprising things happen continuously, and it's often a bit of a puzzle exactly what has happened, let alone why. These can be unfortunate or upsetting things, but they're almost always interesting. You truly learn something new every day. My perspective is of course biased, and in many ways this is a good thing, but New Zealand often seems to be running on autopilot.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Cabanaconde: Making Chicha

Previous posts on Cabanaconde and maíz cabanita: first, second, third, fourth, fifth

An absolutely vital ingredient in the agricultural cycle is chicha, the maize beer that is drunk before, during and after work in the chacras, especially during large collective efforts such as the solay/planting.

Here's a description of how it is produced. Note that this refers only to chicha made in Cabanaconde. In other parts of  Peru, it may be done differently and even use different ingredients.

The principal ingredient is yellow maize. First, the grains are taken off the cob and put to soak for two days in a bucket. Then, the water is drained off with a sieve and the kernels are put in plastic bags for seven days until they begin to sprout. During this time they have to be kept in a warm place. Little holes are made in the bags to allow some air out.

After seven days, the sprouted kernels are taken out of the bags and left to dry. This is now wiñapo, which will be used to make the chicha.

The wiñapo is dried for three days. Then it is ground up in a mill or with a mortar and pestle. Water is put on to boil in a big pot, ideally using a wood fire. The wiñapo can be added directly or soaked separately in a bucket before being added. It is boiled for half an hour to an hour.

The liquid is then strained through a white tablecloth held between two people. The sediment is captured by the cloth and the liquid passed to another container. It is left to cool overnight. The next day begins the process of decanting the liquid, usually into ceramic pots called chombas. The upper part of the liquid is clear and yellowy and is called chuyan. The lower, thicker part is called pipo.

The chicha is left to ferment for three to four more days, according to taste, and how drunk you want to make the people who are working with you.

Each litre of chicha requires about 2 kilos of dry grain*. The more maize is included, the tastier the chicha. During the preparation, some people will add fruit juice or even sugar. This can make the chicha more flavoursome, and it certainly increases the alcohol content. A froth on the surface of the liquid generally indicates a more potent batch of chicha.

I drank large quantities of chicha while working in the fields in Cabanaconde. If you work during planting, you will be given a large 500ml beer glass of chicha every 20 or 30 minutes,starting around 8:00 am with breakfast, and continuing until it's all gone (usually around sunset). Some people warn you to be careful with it, and there does seem to be the occasional adverse reaction - I saw several people become extremely drunk or rather unwell in the chacra, though these were mostly women who arrived around midday after spending the morning drinking while sitting around cooking. Drunk as part of a working rthythm, I found it to be pleasant and refreshing. It both quenched my thirst and, as the day wore on, gradually produced a warm, convivial feeling while erasing pain and tiredness (although the coca leaves we chewed might have had something to do with that too).

The only obvious drawback of chicha is that it seems to be an anti-diuretic and can make you bloated. During my first solay, I noticed about mid-afternoon that I had drunken significant quantites of liquid but hadn't felt a need to pee for more than two hours, and my stomach was gradually becoming more and more distended. Fortunately, there's a straightforward solution. Also served in the chacra is jampi, a homemade high-proof liquor. A couple of thimblefuls of this will generally restore one's natural functions.

*This is from only one source, but referring to discussion in a previous post, you can see that at market rates this equates to about S/.8 ($4 NZD) per litre, just for the principal ingredient.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

El Maíz Cabanita: El Arado (The Art of the Plough)

Previous posts on Cabanaconde and maíz cabanita: first, second, third, fourth

Once the land is irrigated, it is time for the barbecho, which refers to the process of turning over and resting the soil before the next planting begins.  This post describes el arado (ploughing), which is an important part of both this stage and the planting season.

The traditional way to plough is with a yunta (a team of two bulls joined by a wooden yoke). However, over the previous decade, tractors have increasingly been used, particularly for this step of the cycle. Ploughing with bulls is more technically precise, and for this reason they are still used by the majority for planting, but the barbecho just requires the earth to be turned over.  Hiring a tractor costs about S/. 60 per hour, which is enough  time to plough a medium-sized chacra. By contrast, a team of bulls costs S/. 30 per day, they also require feed, and if their owner works at ploughing he needs to be paid as well. So the costs come out about the same, and using a tractor is significantly quicker. Some chacras are too steep or inaccessible to use a tractor, so even the barbecho is done with a yunta; also, for those who have their own bulls the relative costs may be different.

Ploughing with bulls is an activity steeped in tradition and surrounded by a fair amount of machismo. Objects and practices have special names: some of them are neither Spanish nor standard Quechua, and some of them may be unique to Cabanaconde. For example, the long wooden pole which is dragged by the bulls is called la pero (note, not perro) and the stick of dense wood which the person steering the plough uses to poke the bulls and keep them straight is called el allejón.

The bulls used in work in the chacras are mostly serrano cattle, small and lean, curious like all cattle, and easily spooked or distracted by their peers, but mostly tame and obedient. This is fortunate, because the first step involves them standing still while they are tied by the horns to the yunta (and thus to each other).

The plough consists of a long pole of dense wood (la pero) which is placed in a loop of rope hanging from the yunta. At the end of the pole is a roughly v-shaped piece of wood (see photo below). At one end is a sort of tiller which is held by the person ploughing. To the other end a steel furrow is attached with an extremely strong and supple leather tie (what is being done in the photo).

To begin ploughing, one person walks in front of the bulls, who obediently follow. This is known as to guide or guiar. There's some skill involved, as you need to need to make sure the bulls follow the line the furrow needs to enter. This has been described to me as 'like driving a car', but it's a rather skittish and mechanically unpredictable car. It's particularly tricky when the chacra is oddly shaped  or the terrain is uneven around the edges. Sometimes in order to ensure that the furrow gets all the way to the end of the chacra you need to jump up on the wall or terrace at the end of the chacra so the bulls will follow you. To make tight turns you may need to tap one of the bulls on the nose with a small stick, or even grab it by the horn and physically drag it around. I acted as guia quite a lot during the planting season, and became reasonably adept at the task.

Doing the ploughing itself requires real skill. It doesn't look so hard but there is strength and dexterity required to hold the plough straight, ensure the furrow is deep and true, make the turns accurately and encourage the bulls while poking them with the allejón to keep them in line.  I had several attempts but never mastered it.

When the earth has been ploughed, it has to be smoothed over. This process is to majonear, named for the majona, a flat wooden board that is tied to a horse, mule or donkey. Someone leads the animal around the chacra while another person stands on the board, effectively skiing along and closing over the furrows (as in the picture below). Quite often a child will be used to majonear, since a donkey (the easiest animal to get hold of) finds it difficult to drag a full-grown adult, and the weight of a child may be sufficient to smooth over the earth. In other cases, someone will stand on the board with only one foot, more like skating than skiing, and quite quite physically challenging. Where the earth is heavier, an adult standing with both feet on the board towed by horse or mule will be required.

After the barbecho, there is one more irrigation cycle, and then in August the planting season begins. This is the centrepiece of the agricultural cycle in Cabanaconde.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cabanaconde: A Day in the Life

A typical day during my time in Cabanaconde as an example of the mixture of things I was doing and the routines of village life.  This is from the 2nd of July.

After breakfast, at around 8:30, I went to look for Ruth, as we had agreed to go together to see the mayor to show him the brochure for the experiential tourism project. The municipality had funded the brochure and the mayor - a keen amateur photographer - had provided photographs and helped design it. Ruth wasn't in her store so I went alone to the municipal building. Outside, I ran into Ruth, who had been buying potatoes from a neighbour. She told me cheerily that she'd found out that the mayor wasn't in town so we were wasting our time.

As we walked back across the plaza, I was hailed by Patricio, and then Edison ('Chiqui') also appeared. Both of them have worked as local tourist guides. I showed both of them the brochure and we talked for a while about the tourism project. We went through a list of names of other local guides who could work with the project. I headed back to my side of the village and when I went past Lili's shop she asked me if I wanted to accompany her to the chacra. She had to take food to the guys who were ploughing in one of the family's fields, and then to her mother who was down with the sheep that were sleeping on the chacras in the Ccollcca sector.

While Lili was cooking, I used the time to wash my clothes. All washing in Cabanaconde is done by hand: I used a bucket and a concrete laundry fixture with a tap. I normally do one soak-and-wash with detergent and then two rinses. It's tricky to balance getting the dirt out and being able to rinse away the detergent. I've got better, but it's not ideal, and whenever I'm in Arequipa it's good to get a machine wash done.

I went with Lili to Lihuay to take lunch to the two men who had already finished ploughing the small chacra. From there, we walked down the main pathway towards CCollcca and while we walked we discussed the new urban development in San Miguel (20 minutes walk uphill on the main road out of Cabanaconde), where the Peasant Community has subdivided the land and is allocating lots to those who register fo a fee. Some see it as a necessary development to give more living space to the community, where many extended families share very restricted space in the small properties within the main village.

Lili hadn't registered for a lot in San Miguel and wasn't in agreement with the process. There were two main reasons why. First, she doubted that it would actually go ahead. The National Cultural Institute has registered the San Miguel pampa as a site of archeological interest (although they've never investigated anything there) and has indicated it will take legal action against any development. This seems perverse, given that Cabanaconde already built a small football stadium on the same land and now the Province of Caylloma is financing a new museum, supposedly to evenutally house the Mummy Juanita. I can't see the building in San Miguel being stopped, but Lili was dubious. She and Ruth had supported an "invasion" there last year, but the president of Peasant Community opposed it and ordered the rudimentary structures that people had built to be torn down. The president had then done an about-face and thrown his weight behind the development, which Ruth and Lili thought was suspicious.

The other reason was that Lili didn't agree with how the land was being divided up. She thought that new land should be reserved for younger people who didn't necessarily have their own families -  partly because there's little space to raise a family. And she didn't think it was fair that multiple people from the same family - many of whom don't live in Cabanaconde - should each be allocated a lot. Instead, the system was based on differential fees: S/. 500 to register if you didn't already have land in the ampliaciones (the formerly dry areas that received irrigation water from the Majes project in the 1990s), S/. 1,000 if you already had a lot, and S/. 1,500 if you weren't originally from Cabanaconde.

We were not far from the chacra and could see Lili's mother, Señora Prudencia, down with the sheep and goats, but we couldn't spot the shepherd. Lili called out to a woman who was working on the left side of the path, "Hey, have you seen [name redacted]". "Oh, I think he's dead already" was the reply. When we got down to meet Lili's mother, she explained that the shepherd was not actually dead, but was lying immobile by a bush, two chacras away. He had refused any food and wouldn't even move the short distance to the shade to be out of the burning sun. He simply groaned occasionally and asked for water.

Apparently the shepherd was meant to look after the animals all night, but had returned to the village around 8:00 pm and started drinking aguardiente with some friends. The drinking session had gone on all night, and he had stumbled back towards his post in the early morning, only to fall a couple of fields short. In his absence, the animals he was supposed to be watching had taken the opportunity to go their own way. The docile sheep hadn't gone far, but the goats had dispersed themselves through the countryside. Señora Prudencia had taken a couple of hours to round them all up.

I helped Lili and her mother muster up the sheep and the goats from where they had been grazing back to their enclosure in the chacra, where their nightly droppings and urine would provide organic fertiliser. An amusing thing in Cabanaconde is that, although gringos are considered to be ignorant about a lot of things, no one considers the possibility that anyone would not know how to herd animals. So it is that on a number of occasions I've been the closest person to, say, someone's escaping bull, and have had to respond to urgent waves and shouts of "arrea, arrea!!".

Among the sheep were a number of very young lambs, which struggled to cross a couple of canals on the way back to their enclosure. On several occasions I had to grab hold of a nervous lamb and carry it gently across the canal while its mother watched warily from the opposite bank. I found this rather touching, but it's a normal part of everyday life in the countryside.

Lili had finally convinced the shepherd to have a little soup and he was on his feet, stumbling back to where his blankets and provisions where, just before a hot afternoon turned into a feezing night - which would have been truly dangerous. Lili , Señora Prudencia and I began to 30 minute walk back to Cabanaconde, arriving there just as it got dark.