As we prepare to accompany the people of Chimbote, Peru, in various nutrition, business, educational, and art projects, we remember that the city grew so rapidly because thousands of people left the highlands of Peru thinking that they could find work in the seaside city. Our group is exploring what life is like in an Andean region and some of the rich history of the Incas. With Cuzco as our base, we have taken tours and explored many Inca sites. People 500 years ago hewed, polished, and carried stones, building these amazing temples.
We marveled at their engineering ability moving the gigantic rocks of Saqsahuaman.
From left standing up: Elena Valenzuela, Yasmine Lainez, Stephanie Mitchell, Karissa Rangel, Monica Hernandez, Gabriela Bogran, Mariel Sanchez, Cristina Sanchez. From left lower: Nicole Foy and CCVI Sr. Martha Ann Kirk.
The Pacha Mama, mother earth, is respected and revered as a source of life. An indigenous woman both sold me packages of dried corn and beans and she showed me how she was drying them. Another woman sold me a package with samples of about 40 types of seeds from familiar popcorn to completely unknown unique Peruvian seeds. Pacha Mama is generous giving an abundance of good things. Can we humans learn to share that with all?
In the town of Chinchero we saw the Church of Our Lady of the Nativity which was built in 1572. The finely crafted Incas stone could be seen on the bottom on the walls. A few of our Quechua-speaking guides have had deep feelings as they describe the Spaniards and the Catholic Church taking their land and their gold and trying to suppress their culture and their language. For about 400 years until recently Quechua was not respected and people were to learn Spanish. The Spanish Conquest didn’t seem like an incident 500 years ago, but like a wound which still hasn’t healed.
How fitting that in this town where some of the finest textiles in Peru are made, Mary the mother of Jesus, is depicted in a huge painting creating embroidery. Mary and her three female companions hold their fingers in a symbol for Venus and the star is depicted behind Mary. The sighting of Venus was important in the timing of agriculture in the region. Inca astrologers served here watching the movement of the stars and the planets. The painter is both acknowledging the wisdom of the Inka ancestors and showing the compassion of the mother of Christ.
After seeing the church, we walked in the cold night through the village and entered a large adobe room with dirt floors and wood burning on a little stove. Around two sides of the room were piles and piles of vibrantly colored handmade textiles. Our hostess began to demonstrate all the stages from washing wool to dying, spinning, and weaving. Purple corn, various leaves, plants, and cochenille from the little bugs on cactus are all types of natural dye.
We could imagine the grandmothers thousands of years ago developing agriculture, domesticating the animals, and developing how to make cloth. As they saw the beauty of Pacha Mamma, they wished to make clothing not only practical but beautiful.
We got up before five so that we could go by bus, train, and bus again through breathtaking scenery to the World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city that was discovered about a hundred years ago. Some of our group soared like condors to the highest place and took some spectacular pictures.
We the Incarnate Word Sisters are focusing on care of creation inspired by Pope Francis letter Laudato Si. Creation here is truly wondrous! As we have visited places of the Incas we have seen both their genius transporting water and water flowing in their temples.
A gentle shower began to remind us of the preciousness of water. Remember those condors who soared? See the Soaked Condors! The shower dampened their clothing, but not their spirits.
Check out our friend in the Spurs hat and note that by Machu Picchu, Dr. Brian McBurnett, UIW professor of chemistry, has joined us!
Since we were in the city a few days ago, we kept remembering the crowds of workers cramped in the buses commuting long hours to work and the polluted air. Here we see the expansive sky, rushing rivers, and majestic mountains. From country to country, people search for where they can get work. Whether in the US or in Peru, when would a simple life near one’s family and land be better than the material gains of the cities? When do your children so desperately need food and education that you must do some place else?
As we see examples of the brilliance of the ancient Incas, may we be firmly committed to educational opportunities for the indigenous today.
May the beauty of these towering Andes and splashing rivers lead us to love creation and passionately care for God‘s earth.
As we see the abundant gifts of Pacha Mamma, may we use our knowledge and skills that all may be nourished. May her beauty give us energy to joyfully encourage art and creativity in Chimbote.