Martes de Música: James Morrison

So after reading the title of this blog post, you might be thinking to yourself, “James Morrison? That doesn’t sound like a Peruvian name. What is Mark up to?”. Well, you would be correct, James Morrison is NOT Peruvian, although I cannot guarantee that there isn’t a Peruvian out there with the name James Morrison.

This week I am breaking tradition a bit, and instead of highlighting another song from Perú, I’ve decided to highlight an artist who has been very important to my Peace Corps experience.

Peace Corps is challenging. You find yourself committed to work in a foreign country for 2 years, a foreign country where you may or may not be familiar with the local language, where you probably won’t understand many of the local customs, where you will probably be stripped of your comfort zone, exposed, and forced to develop new strategies to cope with all of the new changes and challenges facing your life. A foreign country where you can’t just call your family whenever you feel like it to get advice, or call a friend to wish them a happy birthday, or even celebrate your own birthday with the people you care about from back in the U.S. A foreign county where the local food might put you out of commission for several days, where your host-family doesn’t understand that you sometimes just need time to be alone, even when you are sick, where your host country counterparts might forget about important meetings and activities that have been scheduled for a week. Peace Corps can be challenging.

Over the last 13 months here in Perú, I have had my fair share of ups and downs as I touched upon in my piece about hitting the 1 year mark here in Perú. However, one consistent factor which has guided me through both the good and the bad here in Perú has been music. Here in Perú, even more so than back in the U.S., I have turned to music to fjord the rough waters of service, and to release my emotional tensions and frustrations. I am proud to say I have enjoyed numerous solo jam sessions in my room, rocking out to Adele, George Ezra, Corazon Serrano, and of course, James Morrison, among others..

James Morrison hit the music scene back in 2005 with his debut album, Undiscovered, which touts one of my favorite songs, The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore. Since then, he has released 3 further albums, each of which continues to feature his incredibly gritty, soul-filled, R&B sounds. His music is powerful, personal, and meaningful, and never fails to relax me and catalyze the processing of my pent up emotions and stresses, accumulated from my day to day activities as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

A few weeks ago I discovered that he had finally released a new album, and my joy effervesced. I immediately purchased the album, and subsequently listened to it about 10 different times. Once again, he hasn’t disappointed me, and his latest album was quickly added to my favorite playlist.

So, while this series will normally be focused on Peruvian music and sounds (which it will return to for next week’s installment), this week I felt obligated to highlight one of my absolute favorite artists who has helped me all throughout my Peace Corps experience thus far. I hope that all of you can appreciate his music as much as I have. James Morrison, some days I owe my calm and sanity to your music.

So, here is the titular song from his latest album, Higher Than Here, which I hope you will all enjoy as much as I do.

Other PCVs, what music or artists help you get through your service?

Until next time,

MGB

Advertisements

Sawdust Rugs: A surprise cultural event

This past Sunday as I was with my family in the Caraz market selling fruit, I decided to head down to the Plaza de Armas to try and get some money out of the bank. As I was walking down to the Plaza, I noticed that the streets to the plaza had been blocked off and that large masses of people had gathered. Curious, I walked closer and discovered that the main streets around the central plaza were covered with alfombras, or rugs. However, these were not typical rugs made out of fabric, but rather temporary “rugs” made out of dyed and dampened sawdust.

IMG_1546
A few of the rugs made by the student groups.

As I began to make my way around the various works of art, someone called out my name, and looking around I found a group of students from my local school in Yuracoto. Now, another school in town is in the midst of their 111th Anniversary celebrations, so I naturally assumed that the alfombra contest was just one of the many activities the school had organized. However, one of my students filled me in, telling me that the “competition” was in honor of a religious holiday during which they celebrate many Catholic Saints, and therefore independent of the school anniversary. Students from all over Caraz and the campiña organized into groups to design and create their alfombras.  I spent a while talking with my seniors from Yuracoto about their alfombra and the whole process they went through to make it. They explained to me how everyone chipped in for the materials (4 bags of sawdust at S/. 4 each, lots of dye, and transportation), and then how they all met up in Yuracoto on Saturday to dye the sawdust into the proper colors; many of them still had green and red hands come Sunday morning. On Sunday, they all met up in the Plaza at 6am to begin construction of their alfombra, which first involved drawing out the design with chalk, and then painstakingly placing the damp sawdust overtop. My student said it took about 3.5 hours to finish the whole thing; I was impressed with the commitment given there wasn’t even a prize or anything.

IMG_1544
Pre-procession rug (made by the seniors of Yuracoto)

So what is the point of making the alfombras? Well, the alfombras seemed to have served as a way to show of artistic talents, to contribute to the religious holiday, and to maybe show up your rival schools to some degree. However, like many things in life and nature, the alfombras were ephemeral, and after having been displayed for a mere 2 hours, the beautiful alfombras were quickly disfigured by a large procession of Saints who emerged from the church to continue with the religious celebration. At least the rugs wasted away doing what they were meant to do: getting walked on.

IMG_1560
Mid-procession rug.
IMG_1570
Post-procession rug.

And then, as soon as the procession had passed, what remained of the alfombras were swept up into colorful piles of sawdust, a poor vestige of what they had been only minutes before.

I am hoping that the students in Yuracoto will give me a heads up for next year’s celebration, so that I can get in on the Alfombra-making. I would love to get some experience making an alfombra here in Perú (maybe the Peace Corps logo???), because I think it would be a fun concept to bring back to the US.  It could also be a great Goal 3 project for those working in the World Wise Schools Program.

Well, what started off as a normal Sunday in the market turned into an awesome cultural surprise, and reminded me once more why I love my Peace Corps experience.

Until next time,

MGB

 

Foto Friday: Hazel Leia

So it has been about 4 months since one of my neighbors brought Hazel Leia into my life. Those 4 months have been filled with a lot of trials and tribulations, such as choosing a name, teaching some basic tricks, convincing her to not eat chickens like her bad older brother, and trying and trying and trying to get her to stop crossing the road in front of my house. But, these 4 months have been extremely happy months for me as well because each day when I am returning to my house, I am greeted by an exuberant little puppy who can’t seem to contain her excitement at seeing me. Whenever I am feeling a bit down, her goofiness picks me right up, and she is certainly one of my favorite aspects of my Peace Corps service here in Perú.

Whereas when I first got Hazel, I could easily carry her in one hand, it now requires both just to pick her off the ground.  When I first got her, she loved to enter my room and squeeze under my bed to take a nap for the afternoon or the evening. Now, after a few months of eating a wide assortment of foods, she had grown quite significantly and has quickly outgrown the underside of my bed, instead choosing to upgrade to the underside of my desk, where she now naps on my bags of Tara seeds. Given that Tara is a type of legume, you could say she has her very own personal bean bags.

P1050266
Hazel Leia during a brief hike with some of my recent US visitors

But, everything hasn’t been sunshine and daisies unfortunately. About 1.5 months ago, after I arrived very late to my house due to an movie event in Caraz, I was greeted by my host-dad who let me know that my beautiful puppy Hazel Leia had been hit by a car. Since that was all my host-dad told me, I assumed that she had died and they had already disposed of her. However, after mourning her during a sad dinner, I decided to go check the spot where my host-dad was sitting earlier and found that Hazel was not dead, but was in fact severely injured. She could hardly move, had blood coming out of her nose, appeared to have difficulty breathing, and had several cuts all across her body. I was devastated, but thankful that she was alive. I sat with her for a while, and woke up several times during the night to check on her. When I finally woke up Sunday morning, she was lying outside my door, still very weak, but at the very least responsive. Since she had managed to move in front of my door during the night, I knew that she could walk in some capacity, and so I had lots of hope for her recovery. So, I scooped her up into a plastic tub and took her into town to visit a vet. Now, vets here in Perú are not equipped to a similar level we are accustomed to in the U.S., but it turns out that this vet had just enough. She gave Hazel a thorough check-up, cleaned off her wounds, and then gave me a script for medicine and told me some signs to watch out for in the following days.

While I was extremely worried about the fate of my new puppy, by the following day her spirit had renewed and she was up and about, probably operating at about 30%.  Within 4 days of the accident, she was miraculously back to her old self, walking around without much hesitation, regaining her appetite slowly but surely. Those first few days post-accident were extremely trying, but she pulled through, recovered to her old self, and is now once again a happy and healthy puppy.

Unfortunately, her date with death hasn’t deterred her from crossing the road as I had hoped it would, but I do my best each day to scare her away from the road in the hopes that she will learn.

Now, all that remains is to get her dewormed and get her up-to-date on all of her necessary vaccinations. Hopefully by the end of next week, she will have reached the “US standard of puppy health”, apart from being a tad bit more dirty (she hates baths).

So to Hazel Leia and ALL of the Peace Corps Pets out there in the world, thanks for bringing us comfort and solace during our 2 year journeys.

Until next time,

MGB

Martes de Música: Festejo

When most people think of Peru, they probably think of Spanish, Machu Picchu, the rain forest, and maybe the Incas.  But what most people probably don’t think about is Africans. Unfortunately, Perú and many South American countries were largely involved in the slave trade after the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores. Consequently, many South American countries like Peru and Brazil have a very large groups of people from African descent. Here in Peru, people of African descent are generally known as Afro-Peruanos, and typically are the result of a blending of the African slaves and the indigenous peoples, often referred to as mestizo or criollo.

While slavery has long since ended in Perú, there has still been a lot of discrimination against Afro-Peruvians, to the extent that in 2009 the Peruvian government released an official apology for the years of racial injustice against Afro-Peruvians.  Now, I am no expert on the history of Afro-Peruvians here in Perú, and I will likely be asking a friend to write a guest blog post to give a far better explanation than what I have included here.

While the history of Afro-Peruanos in Perú is not the brightest, the inevitable blending of cultures that occurred between the indigenous people of Perú, the Spanish, and the people from various parts of Africa led to some very interesting cultural developments, most notably in the realms of dance and music. Festejo is a genre of Afro-Peruvian music which has a very distinctive sound due to its heavy reliance on percussion instruments such as the cajón and the lower jawbone of a horse. I really enjoy the music because it has a great beat and just makes you want to dance.

Speaking of dancing, there are an abundance of interesting dances to accompany Afro-Peruvian songs, such as the one I am highlighting today called “El Alcatraz”. While I really enjoy this song and the beat, the best part would have to be the dance which involves a man and a woman dancing after each other, each trying to use a lit candle to burn a paper towel attached to the back of the other dancer’s clothes. I couldn’t find a great video of the dance, so if you are interested in checking it out, just do a quick YouTube search for “El Alcatraz”.

Without further ado, I give you, “El Alcatraz”.

I hope you enjoyed the music!

MGB

Foto Friday: El Hombre Araña

My apologies for this being 1 day late, but I was on a little vacation with some friends visiting from the US and could not update my blog. A post on my vacation and consequent visit to one of the Wonders of the World will be forthcoming.

Anyways, this week’s Foto Friday features a very special individual, widely renowned for his humor, wit, intelligence, acrobatics, and arachnid qualities. If you didn’t guess it, this week’s foto Friday is about the Amazing Spiderman.

P1040260
Junior in his Spider-Man costume.

Ok, so maybe not the real Amazing Spiderman, but the closest thing to him that I’ve got is my host-brother, Junior. Junior is a 5 year old with a lot of energy, sass, and spunk, and a huge, I mean enormous, interest in superheroes. His favorite superhero, in case you didn’t guess, is Spiderman or as they say in Spanish, El Hombre Araña. A few weeks ago in March when my friend visited from the US, I had him bring a few things along for my host-family. Since my host-brother junior and my sister Sarah have a shared passion for the web-slinger, Sarah got a few Spiderman things for Junior, including his awesome Spiderman outfit he is wearing in the photo.

Now, I must be clear. My host-brother wore this outfit nearly exclusively for about 3 days straight after receiving it. He wore it to bed, he wore it to breakfast, and he even hid it in his backpack so he could put it on in secret when we worked in the market one Sunday. While he doesn’t wear the Spiderman outfit as much anymore, he still pulls it out on occasion and anytime I have to leave for vacation or training, he asks me to bring him back some Telarañas (spiderwebs). I still have yet to find some place that can sell me reliable spider-webbing, but I’m sure it is only a matter of time before my host-brother is back to busting up crime in the campo with his costume and spider-powers.

Ok, so many he won’t be stopping any crimes, but he will be having a good time at the very least. So why did I share this photo? Because an important part of the Peace Corps experience is the host-family living situation. Your host-family can become another family for the Volunteer, a family that supports the Volunteer through the ups and downs of service, a family that makes you tea when you are sick, a family that helps you navigate the complex cultural norms in your new life abroad. In my case, Junior brings me a lot of joy with his crazy antics, and helps keep me positive throughout this whole experience.

Until next time,

MGB

Martes de Música: Huayno

If you are going to review Peruvian music, no analysis would be complete without mentioning Huayno, the traditional Folkloric music of the Andes. Huayno is a beast of it’s own, and incredibly popular, especially with the older, more traditional people of the Andes, with most of the younger generations enjoy Cumbia or Reggaetón instead.

Huayno is probably unlike anything you will have heard before, generally involving a variety of instruments accompanied by a form of very high-pitched singing. Most of the songs, as far as I can tell, revolve around love, and often involve male and female singers singing back-and-forth, with an occasional breathy conversation between them about how they betrayed each other and need to move on; it depends on the song. Additionally, most have a hype-man who will introduce the singer and occasionally shout phrases like “eso, eso”. For a clear description of Huayno, check out this wikipedia article.

While I prefer cumbia like most of the younger generation, Huayno has grown on me during my time here in Perú. To ease you all into your first Huayno exposure, I have selected a song from Dina Paucar, one of the most famous folkloric singers in Perú, often called the “Goddess or Queen of Huayno”. The style of the video below, is also quite typical of most Huayno videos here in Perú, involving lots of dancing in traditional clothing in front of beautiful locations. Without further ado, I give you Dina Paucar.

Please note that the foot stomping dance performed in the video is called Huayno, and is the go to dancer for most of the fiestas I have attended here in Áncash.

Hope you enjoyed the Huayno,

MGB

Carnival Huaylino 2016

In the month of February, for anywhere from 1 week to 1.5 months, the celebrations of Carnival commence all across Perú. According to this article, Carnival originated as a time for indulgence prior to the arrival of the solemn time of Lent. Essentially, here in Perú Carnival is celebrated via lots of parties, a lot of drinking, a lot of water shenanigans, and a lot fallen trees. The biggest Carnival celebrations occur in Cajamarca, another department of Perú, but I thought we had some great celebrations here in Caraz.

The beginning of the Carnival Huaylino was marked by a series of different activities, a summary of which you can watch below in a video produced by my municipality.

One of the first activities was the selection of the Shumaq Shipash (“beautiful girl” in Quechua) via a sort of beauty pageant in which girls from different barrios of Caraz compete in events such as evening wear, Q&A, speaking Quechua, and performing a traditional dance. The winner earns the title of Shumaq Shipash and achieves a spot of honor for the Carnival festivities. The Shumaq Shipash competition was really interesting, and two other Volunteers and I were almost roped into performing a sort of half-time show when the contracted entertainment backed out. While I am not a huge fan of beauty pageants in general, the Shumaq Shipash competition is different because it serves as a way to remember and honor the sierra culture of Caraz.

The following day was the principal Carnival activity, a.k.a. the Rompecalle (literally road breaker). Essentially, the Rompecalle is a giant parade in which the municipality and many community organizations participate. Each participating group dresses in some kind of traditional attire, and then constructs a tablada (think portable shrine), upon which they tie foods such as noodles, cookies, bread, beer, wine, candy, etc. The tabladas are carried throughout the parade and then judged at the end to determine who made the best one. My gerencia made a triangular tablada, and my contribution was a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups; I’m fairly certain our tablada was the only one in all of Perú with that special ingredient.

P1040058
Our tablada with my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Just like all of my co-workers in the municipality, I dressed up in some traditional sierra attire that I had rented for the Rompecalle. While the parade was long, it was a ton of fun to dance to and sing along to Huayno with my passionate fellow Caracinos. Check out a video of the dancing below:

However, apart from the length, the Rompecalle was also very HOT. Fortunately, an important component of Carnival celebrations is water, usually in the form of water balloons. Throughout the entire parade, there was no shortage of kids (and sometimes their parents) dumping buckets of water or throwing water balloons upon the parade-goers from the heights of their homes. Personally, I found the water quite refreshing, and frequently told them to give us more, and more water is just what I got, however not from a kid.

P1040088
Carnival selfie in my traditional attire.

As we reached the end of the parade, we were met with a wonderful surprise in the form of a fully stocked fire engine, whose hose was aimed straight at my fellow municipality workers and me. If you are wondering what it is like to get hit by water streaming out of a fire-engine hose, you are in luck, because I recorded the entire experience on my camera.

Now, while the parade was probably the principal event of Carnival for the whole city, another important component for Carnival celebrations are the Yunzas. Essentially a yunza is a party in which a family cuts down a big tree, generally a molle, “replants” it in another location, and then decorates it with lots of goods like blankets, sheets, bins, clothing, etc. Now, as the party progresses and everyone has a good time, you draw closer to the principal event. At some point near the end of the evening, a special yunza song is put on and then people pair up, and take turns swinging an axe at the decorated tree in an attempt to fell it. Generally, it takes quite some time for the tree to fall, but once it does, it is a mad rush to quickly gather as many items as possible from the fallen tree. Per tradition, the pair that deals the final blow is to provide the tree and the goods for the following year’s yunza.

P1040101
For this yunza, the tree was “planted” in the middle of a soccer field.

At the yunza I attended, I managed to grab 3 plastic bins and some hangers from the branches of the fallen tree. I just wasn’t quick or aggressive enough to get the treasured mantas from the flourishing hands of the mothers.

And that’s really it. While the main events only lasted about 1 week here in Caraz, there were Yunzas and parties for Carnival going on for well over a month after the main events had passed. As I said, many Peruvians like fiestas, and plenty of fiestas there were.

While I had a great time with the parade and yunza, my favorite Carnival memory came via my neighbors. One Tuesday after the Rompecalle, I was riding my bike back from the school to my house, and I discovered that my neighbors were throwing water balloons and buckets of water at cars and moto-taxis as they drove past. Unfortunately, they let me pass without a word, and so of course I yelled at them asking why they didn’t drench me with water like everyone else. So, I did what any reasonable person would do, and went back to my house, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, and then came back and MADE them give me a solid drenching. I think they were really confused, but I had a grand old time.

P1040129
The scene of the Great Water War, Carnival 2016

I can’t wait for Carnival 2.0 next year.

MGB