All Saint’s Day in Perú

November 1st of each year is a national holiday here in Peru. The holiday is known as All Saint’s Day (Día de Todos los Santos) and was established to celebrate all Catholic Saint’s known and unknown. During my two years working in Yuracoto/Caraz, I never really saw any traditions or customs associated with the holiday other than the fact that the schools, municipalities, and other businesses closed down. However, this year I had the opportunity to take part in some traditional customs by traveling to the town of Huashao to visit the host-family of a former Peace Corps Perú Volunteer who is back in Áncash completing her Ph.D. research.

And so, yesterday morning, at 9 A.M., the 3 of us hopped on a combi from Huaráz to Yungay, and then took a colectivo (car) from Yungay up to the beautiful town of Huashao at the foot of the beautiful Mount Huascarán, the tallest snow-capped mountain in Perú. Once we arrived, we were quickly introduced to everyone, kids, adults, and dogs alike. Being a fairly rural zone, the family all spoke Spanish as well as Quechua, the indigenous language of the Sierra of Áncash. It was nice to be able to use the little Quechua I know to greet the family and make some funny comments. Anyways, after all of the introductions, we got to work. You see, for many families in Áncash, a typical celebration for el Día de Todos los Santos is to gather as a family (extended and all) and make lots of bread! In fact, this host-family ONLY makes bread on November 1st and not at any other time of the year.

When we arrived at the house, the process was already underway, but there were still plenty of opportunities to observe, help, and of course eat lots of the delicious bread. In fact, as soon as we arrived, we were gifted some freshly baked cachanga, a type of flatbread popular here in the mountains. While the oven was located outside, most of the dough preparation was being performed inside the kitchen. And when I say we were making bread, it wasn’t just a few pieces of bread, it was hundreds of pieces of bread.

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The dough all prepped, waiting to be cooked. Note: this is only maybe half of the dough.
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Fresh bread alongside the “brushes” made from willow branches used to clean out the ashes from the oven.

But, we were not just going to bake and eat bread all day (even though I personally would have been fine with that since bread is delicious). We also took advantage of the oven to make some delicious Pollo al Horno (oven-roasted chicken) for a large, familial lunch. And might I say, the chicken was absolutely delicious.

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Rotating the chicken for further cooking
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Lunch: Pollo al Horno, boiled potatoes, and a lettuce salad with lime juice.

After lunch, we decided to walk over to a small grassy area to play with the all the kids (if we had stayed seated at the house, I think we all would have fallen into food comas). At the park, I played some soccer and then broke out my frisbee, which was a huge hit with everyone. We played for about 1.5 hours before heading back to the house to rejoin the bread-making extravaganza. Now, upon returning, we decided it was time to make our own special bread; pizza. We had bought all the ingredients and prepared the dough in advance, and so, surrounded curious host-family members (mostly kids), we got to work on the pizza. My job was quite simple; shred the cheese. We opted for a mix of Mozzarella cheese and queso fresco, the typical cheese sold in wheels all over the Sierra of Áncash. In terms of toppings, we went with salami and chorizo.

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The first two pizzas (we made 3 in total) ready to go into the oven.

We expected the pizzas to take about 10 minutes to cook, however, the oven ended up being really hot (we thought possibly around 600F), and so the pizzas cooked in about 3 minutes. The edges of the crust got quite burnt and had to be removed, but the rest of the pizza remained uncharred. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the cooked pizzas, but I can assure you they were Top Chef-worthy, especially since all 3 pizzas were eaten in a matter of 15 minutes by everyone in attendance.

After the pizzas were enjoyed by all, we moved onto the last bread-making chapter for the day: the creation of muñecas and wawas. For many religious holidays in Perú, such as Día de Todos los Santos or Carnaval, it is customary to mold bread into different forms: a woman, a child, a llama, etc. I like to think of it as bread art or bread sculptures. Anyways, everyone was given a ball of dough and set to the task of creating their bread art. The host-family went the traditional route, creating some beautiful and elaborate sierra women holding their babies.

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The muñecas with their wawas.

I, however, decided to branch out a bit from the norm and decided to first create a cobra, and then a lizard. Those who know me well, shouldn’t be too surprised.

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My dough-bra.

The black dough is used for added decoration and is made by rubbing dough in the blacked bottoms of pots & pans. I think my cobra turned out quite well considering it was my first foray into bread art. My friends and one of the host-kids also went down the creative route, creating an Inti/Killa (sun & moon), an osito (bear), and a culebra (snake).

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The sun/moon baking in the bread oven.
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Fresh out of the oven! Bear (left), cobra (top), lizard (middle), snake (bottom).

Shortly after our bread-creations emerged from the oven, it was, unfortunately, time to leave. We thanked everyone for the hospitality, gathered up our creations as well as the fresh bread we had each been gifted, gave our goodbyes, and then hopped in a car to make our way back down the mountain. Overall, I had an absolutely incredible time visiting Huashao and I was so, so, so glad to be able to partake in such a fun custom. Since I’ll be around Perú until next August todavía, I’m hoping I will get another opportunity to make some more bread and partake in lots more traditions before I leave.Before we left, I managed to take one last photo with my bread creations in front of Mount Huascarán.

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The dogs wanted to eat my creations.

Until next time,

MGB

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Sawdust Rugs: Take 2

On a typical Sunday morning last May in Caraz (way back in 2016),  I was walking through the market where my host-mom sells fruits, when the urge to walk down to the Plaza de Armas (Town Square) suddenly came upon me. After following the small stream of people heading down to the Plaza, I stumbled upon a really neat event organized to celebrate Corpus Christi, a Catholic holiday celebrated throughout Perú (more info here). The event in question was artistic in nature, and involved the creation of massive “rugs” made out of wet, dyed sawdust. Check out my post from last May to see how the first year went.

While last year´s event was a surprise, this year I was prepared. I knew about the event in advance, and had even coordinated with some students from my local school to help out with their alfombra (rug). However, due to various circumstances once again I did not get the chance to make a rug, instead assuming my regular role of documentarian. But, I like taking photos, and Peruvian jóvenes (young people) tend to like having photos taken of them, so it all works out in the end.

What follows are an abundance of photos of the different rugs created for the celebration of Corpus Cristi. The rugs are largely made of dyed sawdust, but some also include other organic materials such as leaves, flowers, branches, etc. Generally, the rugs depict different religious symbols (crosses, Jesus, doves, flowers, etc.) and/or Biblical verses that the student first sketch out with chalk, and then fill in with the sawdust. Of course, the rugs also display the name of the school that created it; school pride is a big deal in Caraz.

The rugs are created all along the town square, essentially forming a beautiful, continuous sawdust walkway upon which the members of the Catholic procession can walk. But enough talking, enjoy the gorgeous photos and let me know which is your favorite alfombra!

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My seniors from Yuracoto; rug still in process.
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The juniors (I think?) from Yuracoto with their rug

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The rug from the seniors of Pampacocha; I had a nice chat with the students.

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Micelino Sandoval Torres
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M.S.T.
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M.S.T.
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Nueva Victoria
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Nueva Victoria
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Nueva Victoria
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M.S.T. (I think)
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M.S.T.
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M.S.T.
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M.S.T.
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M.S.T.
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M.S.T.
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M.S.T.
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Dos de Mayo (D.D.M.)
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D.D.M.
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D.D.M.
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“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…for you are with me”

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Once the students finish their alfombras, which usually takes anywhere from 3-5 hours, it only takes about 1 hour before they fulfill their purpose: to be walked upon by the religious procession.

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The procession leaving the church and starting the alfombra path of destruction.
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Even the military band gets in on the stomping action.
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The rest of the Saints joining the procession.

As the procession ends, my good friends in Limpieza Pública (public cleaning) get the fun task of sweeping away each and every rug.

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The colorful remains of a former sawdust rug.

I love the alfombras because they are ephemeral. A flash of beauty, which is then trampled on, destroyed, brushed away, and ultimately forgotten. In many ways, the alfombras remind me of the mandalas of the Tibetan monks.

While once again I missed out on the alfombra party, I´m hoping that there is still hope for me since I´ll be sticking around Perú for a 3rd year with the Peace Corps.

Until next time,

MGB

2 years in Perú

Today, May 7th, 2017, marks 2 years since officially landing on Peruvian soil (I think our plane touched down at like 10-11pm). While I haven’t officially reached 2 years in my site of Caraz, Áncash (gotta wait until July 25th, 2017), to commemorate this occasion enjoy some of my favorite photos of scenery that I have taken in my beautiful department of Áncash.

Enjoy the photos!

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Mount Huascarán as seen from Huaráz
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The valley visible from the cliffside behind my house
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The soccer stadium where my municipal department’s office is located
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The Cordillera Blanca as seen from Huata (Cordillera Negra)
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One of many beautiful sunsets I have seen from my house
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A panorama of Cuncash, Santa Cruz.
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Río Santa- for once not looking as contaminated as it actually is
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More sunsets from my backyard
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The entrance to the Quebrada Llaca (Llaca Ravine) outside of Huaráz
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Inside the Quebrada Llaca
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Laguna Llaca (Llaca lake) – the lake is formed from glacial melt and rainfall
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A dry field behind my house- reminds me of the savannah
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My host-siblings with a fiery sky in the background
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Laguna Parón (Lake Parón) – this lake provides most of the water to my town
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Snow capped mountains on the way to Punta Olímpica (Olympic Point), where you can cross the Cordillera Blanca to the “dark side”
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Yuracmarca, Áncash. My host-mom’s home turf, this region is only 1.5 hours north of me, but is basically a desert.
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A panorama of Yuracmarca, Áncash
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Laguna Querococha on the way to the ruins of Chavín de Huantar
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The archeological site, Chavín de Huantar
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Colorful, natural springs inside Parque Nacional Huascarán (Huascaran National Park) on the way to the Pastoruri Glacier
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At the Pastoruri Glacier, looking at other travelers
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The Pastoruri Glacier- once famous for its skiing, it is famous for its melting due to climate change
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Laguna Llanganuco- the reddish trees are called Queñuales
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A waterfall on the way to Laguna 69
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What we thought was Laguna 69; the real laguna 69 is way up there below the snow
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The real Laguna 69 – the water wasn’t too cold
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Laguna Parón once more. The mountain in the back is called Pirámide (Pyramid)
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Wilkacocha – a lake near Huaráz on the Cordillera Negra
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Caraz – my home for the last 2 years
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Another beautiful sunset from a site near Huaráz
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Mount Huascarán as seen from the town square of Mancos
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The Callejón de Huaylas as seen from a hike up to Huascarán
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Sunset during a hike up to the base of Mount Huascarán
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Sunset in the other direction
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First glimpse of Mount Huascarán in the morning. We eventually reached the “snow” line
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A contemplative selfie on the way back down the mountain
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Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
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Fellow Volunteer Kevin hiking in Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
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Laguna Tullpacocha at the conclusion of our hike into the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
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Some cool clouds as seen from my backyard
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Laguna Churup- one of the most beautiful lakes I have visited
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The Campiña de Yanahuara – the place I’ve called home for the last 2 years
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From an excursion with three of my former students
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An abandoned church in the hills near my house
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A beautiful, moony night at my house
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The start of a sunset during the rainy season
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Fresh snow on the mountain after a heavy rainfall elsewhere
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One last sunset
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Mount Huascarán once more
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The municipal soccer stadium & Mount Huandoy, the famous snow-capped peak of Caraz

I live in a very beautiful region of the world and I am extremely grateful for the wonderful experiences I have enjoyed during my Peace Corps service. Here’s to one more year!

Until next time,

MGB

 

Earth Day 2017

Each year on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. Why do we have a day to celebrate the Earth? Well, because the Earth is our only home (for the moment), and we need a yearly reminder that we should care for and protect this beautiful planet on which we live.

As an environmental Volunteer here in Perú, the different environmental holidays that occur throughout the year provide perfect opportunities to plan environmental activities or presentations with my host-country counterparts. One group with whom I have been working since last July is the Club Verde (Green Club), which consists of a bunch of young people from Caraz who are interested in improving the environment in and around the city. While they started as just a group of students from the local University, they are now a more formalized entity (Asociación Club Verde –Caraz) and I have been working with them on the implementation of their plans and ideas for this year.

As a group, they decided they wanted to implement some sort of activity for Earth Day, but after 2 meetings we had about a million ideas, but no one, concrete idea to execute. However, in the days leading up to Earth Day, they finally decided on two different activities.

The first was to plant flowers in one of the less-cared-for parks of Caraz during the morning of Earth Day. I mean, it’s Earth Day, so you are pretty much obligated to plant something, right? Here are some pictures of the process! Also, check out the Club Verde on Facebook!

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The flowers to be planted

 Planting the flowers

 

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The flowers became a tad wilted, but that is completely normal

The second activity was a screening of two environmentally themed movies, one for kids and one for “young adults”. My site-mate, who is a Youth Volunteer, had started a Sábados de Cine (Saturday Movie Nights) with her youth group, and so she let us take over the process for the weekend. For the kids, we decided to show The Lorax, which was a big hit and has a great message. Deforestation is an enormous problem in Perú, and so I hope that those in attendance were able to take something away from the movie. For the young adults, we decided to screen The Day After Tomorrow, a movie that rather dramatically shows the potential consequences of climate change in our world.

While the day was exhausting, it was great to be able to celebrate Earth Day through a diverse array of activities. In addition to my activities with the Asociación Club Verde – Caraz, I also worked with the UGEL (local branch of the ministry of education) to distribute about 200 trees to different schools in the province to be planted. We are also currently working to organize the production of more trees for a huge reforestation campaign in November.

Well, I hope this past April 22 you all took some time to appreciate this wonderful planet we call home. If you didn’t, there is still time to do something to help our planet, like plant a tree!

Until next time,

MGB

Carnaval Huaylino 2017

As I stated in my Carnaval post from last year, Carnaval is a huge celebration, likened to Mardi Gras, which celebrates the beginning of the Lenten season.

Once again, I was involved in the Carnaval festivities in Caraz this year! In addition to dancing in the big Carnaval parade, I also got to help out with the Shumaq Shipash competition, which is essentially a beauty pageant-type contest. For the contest, my role was simple; dress up in a suit and escort the contestants to the judge’s table. I was basically eye-candy, most likely have been selected due to being the resident “gringo”. Regardless, the contest and the parade were great fun, just as Carnaval always is. Rather than bore you all with another long Carnaval post, just enjoy some photos from this year’s festivities below!

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Decorating my municipal office’s tablada so we can dance with style in the parade.
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The wawas (bread babies) all got dressed up and labeled with names of workers in my office. Fortunately, I was spared.
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Transferring the tablada via moto-car up to the start of the parade! It weighs a TON.
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Some of the other groups waiting for the parade to start!
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The ladies of limpieza with our Municipal Office banner. A must-have for all Peruvian parades!
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Enjoying the parade, this time without my rented Peruvian sombrero.
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Some of my co-workers in traditional Sierra attire from the region. We go all out for Carnaval!
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This neighborhood went all out with their multi-sided tablada.

And that’s all she wrote for Carnaval Huaylino 2017. If my municipality makes a summary video like they did last year, I will be sure to add it to this post.

Until next time,

MGB

Christmas Nacimientos

So as I mentioned in my post, Christmas in Caraz, from last year, Christmas is a very popular here in Perú, notably due to the fact the majority of the population is Catholic. Now, one of the Christmas traditions I noticed this year, but failed to appreciate last year, is the abundance of nacimientos, or Nativities.

For me, a Nativity scene typically consists of a wooden frame (resembling a small barn), with an assortment of people, straw, and animals underneath. You know, the typical image of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus depicted around the holiday season in the U.S. Well, here in Perú, nativity scenes (nacimientos) are done a bit differently, and in fact don’t much resemble the nativity scenes of which I am familiar.

You see, at least here in the sierra of Áncash, nativity scenes are usually created using a mixture of colored paper (usually brown, green, or grey), rocks, native plants from high up in the mountains, little figurines, sand, and whatever else seems to be available. The paper is usually used to create some sort of landscape (mountains, deserts, etc.) over which the rocks, plants, and figurines are placed to create a pretty scene. In some location of the nacimiento will usually go the typical manger with an image of Mary, Joseph, and on Christmas day, baby Jesus. These nacimientos can be tiny enough to fit on a small table, or large enough to fill up an entire corner of a room. Regardless of the size, the important factor is that almost EVERY public institution makes nacimientos: the schools, the hospitals, the UGELs, the market, etc.

Now for about a month or so, my office  in the Provincial Municipality has been planning to do a Christmas exposition of recycled products/furniture/art in the Plaza de Armas (Town Square) to get the community of Caraz thinking more about trash and how it can be repurposed. While the exposition hasn’t begun yet, one component has already been completed: a nacimiento made of traditional and recycled materials. Over the past 1.5 weeks, my office has been hard at work creating a fairly LARGE nativity scene in one of the gardens of the town square. Naturally, being partnered with the Municipality, I was also involved in the creation of the Nativity scene.

Check out some pictures of the entire process below!

It all started on Tuesday, December 6th when I walked into my office to see my desk surrounded by plants from the puna (high mountain plains).

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All the plants safely transported to the Plaza de Armas
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Moving stones for Day 1 of creating the nacimiento
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Start of the future stone path & arrangement of recycled tires/cylinders
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Decorating with the plants from the Puna
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Work completed by the end of Day 1. Unfortunately, it was raining the whole time.
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Cleaning water bottles & filling them up with H2O for the Plastic Bottle Christmas Tree!
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Work completed by the end of Day 2

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The final 3 photos show the finished product, bottle-tree and all!

I had a great time helping out my office in the municipality, and I think the final product turned out great! I am quite sad though that they uprooted so many plants from the puna just to make a nacimiento that will last a little over a month; perhaps they will return the plants, but I am doubtful. We’ll have to have a talk when I return from vacation about why taking the plants isn’t really that great for protecting the environment, but poco a poco.

Well, I hope you enjoyed some brief insight into another interesting Peruvian holiday tradition.

Until next time,

MGB

 

Trash Talking: Recycled Costumes

As I mentioned in my first Trash Talking post a few weeks ago, one of Perú’s biggest challenges at the moment is trash management. While the biggest barrier to advancements in trash management here in Perú is probably lack of infrastructure and technical experience, another important one is a general lack of environmental awareness. Simply put, many people just don’t know the consequences of pollution or how to properly manage this waste. Consequently, a LOT of my work revolves around sensibilizando la gente sobre los residuos sólidos (raising awareness about solid waste) via various means; charlas (presentations), conversaciones informales (informal conversations), programas de radio (radio programs), y eventos (events).

Oftentimes, teaching about trash management and raising awareness can be extremely fun, as is the case with the event I am highlighting today. A few weeks ago, I participated in a super fun event that I coordinated with the Provincial Municipality and the Environmental Youth Group (Club Verde) with which I work; a recycled costume contest.

You see, we wanted to engage the creativity of the schools in the city and at the same time celebrate trash management, and this is what was born. We invited all of the schools of Caraz to participate in the event, and had four categories: pre-school, primary school, secondary school, and post-secondary education. The rules were simple; design a Halloween costume using only recycled materials (wrappers, newspaper, plastic bottles, old trash bags, old wire, etc.). Each school was allowed 2 participants, and in total we had over 10 schools participate with over 40 students showing up in their “recycled” costume.

Like most Peruvian events, we started off with a parade around the town square to show off all of the hard work by the students!

 

Afterwards, we headed into the Coliseo Cerrado for the actual contest. Here are some photos of the amazing competitors, photos courtesy of one of my counterparts, the Municipalidad Provincial de Huaylas.

I’m hoping that this event was just the first installment of something that will continue and evolve año tras año (year after year).

Until next time,

MGB