Learning Peru’s History, Celebrating the Women of Its Future

By Monica Hernandez
Day two of our Peru adventures began with a leisurely stroll down the bustling streets of Miraflores to take in the lovely coastal views and art of the Parque De Amor. The houses and businesses in the area are as bold and vibrant as the people and culture of Peru, and a sharp contrast of colors and lush greenery greets you on every corner. As our group of young and eager travelers walked into the park, they were met with a hazy grey Pacific Ocean reminiscent of the fog of San Francisco’s bay area.

The group took in the sights and sounds of the park best known as a hang out spot for couples, locals, and tourists alike. I found it a place of both hope and longing all in the name of love. As Pablo Neruda, a famous poet, once said: “Loving is so short, forgetting is so long.”

Next on our agenda was walking to the nearby market plaza to do a little bit of shopping and grab some local fare for lunch. The shops were bustling with a wide array of Peruvian clothing, gifts, and wares. 

The shopkeepers warmly greeted you and urged you to buy from them. Much of the colorful textiles and clothing is traditional to Peru and made from the finest baby Alpaca and llama wool. Yet I caution travelers and tourists with an untrained eye to recognize some of the minutest details in the pieces that can reveal whether one is made of original wool or whether it is synthetic.

The group separated for lunch and had time to wander off and explore the wide array of cuisines in the area. I and my friend and fellow UIW doctoral student, Elena Valenzuela, found a nice and cozy corner in a Chinese restaurant, Chifa Miraflores. Oriental food is quite popular in Lima. The food is good, the portions are huge, and the prices are reasonable. We talked about our experiences so far on the trip and our service projects to come later. She is very excited to have the opportunity to paint a mural with schoolchildren and a popular local artist in Chimbote next week.
After lunch, we took a taxi, an adventure in itself, to meet up with the rest of the group at El Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusion Social, or The Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion. Set along the Lima coast on a hilltop, the gray minimalistic and modern architecturally designed building towers over its visitors, beckoning them to hear the many different voices and stories of the people of Peru affected during the violent and turbulent conflict between the Maoist “Shining Path” group and Peruvian armed forces in the 1980s and 90s.

As is almost always the case, those most victimized and oppressed were women and the marginalized. The museum serves as a place for history to be remembered and recorded and offers to educate its guests – young and old, local and foreign. The many exhibits and installments house photos, documents, recordings, and other important pieces. Walking the floors, I took photos of the pieces that most appealed to or resonated with me while trying to translate, as best as I could, the many quotes and passages giving a story to the nearly 70,000 lives lost during this time.

Although I could not completely decipher everything read, for it was all written in Spanish, there is a level of humanness, compassion, and shared understanding which transcends language. As with each country and culture, acts of violent history must be documented so that it serves to educate those who are born after it in the hopes of them building a more promising future filled with peace and acceptance.

Our final outing of the day took us to the poorest section of Lima to meet up with CCVI Sr. Katty Huanuco, who introduced us to the women the Shipiba Community who live in the hills of Cantagallo, Lima. The shipomi- koniba communities are indigenous Amazonian communities who have moved to the huge capital city seeking work and education for their children. Sr. Katty, an Incarnate Word Sister, works with the women, encouraging their artisan business and strengthening their leadership skills.

About a year ago, fire completely destroyed their small hillside homes. The government for the longest time refused to recognize the community’s rights to the land. But this group of about 30 women have been leading the charge there and the government is finally relenting and allowing rebuilding. As we know, a small group of organized and impassioned women can do anything!
It took our group an hour and two taxis to get to Cantagallo. The ride gave me a glimpse of the raw side and grittiness of Lima and I could not help but focus on the many different faces of the pedestrians, as well as those who were cramped up in the many buses traveling down the tight and narrow streets at a rapid and alarming rate. It was mass chaos and allowed me my first glimpse of life in a developing country. Yet, this was the most meaningful experience for me of the trip so far for it offered me insight into the spirit and leadership of the strong and independent women that we went to visit.

It was an honor for own group of strong and budding all-female travelers to gather in the small and welcoming home of the Shipiba Artisans’ president and leader. Sitting around a table, we all formally introduced ourselves to one another and then the artisans laid out their many textiles, adornments, and other pieces for us to look at and purchase.

The fine detail and artistic skill that went into every piece shows the expert craftsmanship of the women. The smiles and robust character of each woman was evident and I felt a sense of community and camaraderie among us all. 

Once our visit was over, we went back to our taxi whose driver was kindly and patiently waiting for us. As I sat in the taxi, two curious children walked up to our car windows and smiled as they pressed their faces on the glass. They inquired whether we were going back to the United States to which one of the bilingual students in our group said, “Dos semanas.” I gave the kids a bag of candy and chips and they thanked me and went on their way. Ten minutes later we were off, but not before one of them called out to us, “Adios” and waved frantically at our taxi. I smiled and called back, waving in return. This small gesture between me and the small boy, for me, represents the warm and friendly vitality of Lima and its inhabitants.


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