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

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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

Martes de Música: Shaqsha

For today’s Martes de Música, we are covering a traditional dance of Áncash, the Shaqsha. But Mark, this is Martes de Música, not Martes de Baile, why are you talking about a dance on a post about music? Well, anonymous reader, that is because the Shaqsha is not just a mere dance, but also a way for creating percussion music.

You see, not any person can just go out and dance the shaqsha like it were breakdancing, the tango, or even salsa. In order to dance the shaqsha, you need to have the proper accessories. Below, you can take a look at a fairly standard attire for shaqsha dancers.

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The first item of note is the crown, which is believed to have been used to poke fun at the royal Spanish family who once controlled Perú. The shirt and kilt-like clothes are also intended as parodies, mimicking the clothing worn by the early Spanish Conquistadores. In the hands of some of the dancers, you will also note whips, which could be a reference to the farming lifestyles of the past.

However, the most important accessory to the shaqsha is what you see around the legs of each of the dancers in the photo above; the shaqapas. What you are seeing is more or less a ton of small dried seed pods tied together with string which is then fastened around the legs and occasionally the arms of each dancer. The shaqapas are integral to the shaqsha, because as the dancer moves, the seed pods and the seeds inside shake, creating a vibrant and entrancing sound, a sound which is generally interpreted as “shac shac”, hence the name of the dance. So you see, the Shaqsha is as much as a dance as it is a musical style, with the shaking of the seeds creating a beautiful sound.

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The dance itself is incredibly energetic, involving lots of hopping, jumping, screaming, and foot pounding. Honestly, it looks absolutely exhausting, and I can’t imagine how shaqsha dancers manage to keep up their energy in the intense sierra sun. The dance is generally performed during religious festivals here in Áncash, with the shaqsha groups being accompanied by a small group of musicians playing wooden flutes and drums. The photos above are from a religious festival celebrating the Virgin Mary held at my local school in Yuracoto, I.E. Estenio Torres Ramos.

Shaqsha is my absolute favorite dance here in Perú, and I’m hoping to eventually try it out with the help of some of my students in Yuracoto. With one year left in my service, I feel like I should be able to squeeze in a little time for a practice or two (or five). So to finish out this post, I leave you with a video of some Shaqsha performed in Yuracoto last week so you can fully appreciate this entrancing dance and enjoy the melodious sounds of the shaqapas.

 

Until next time,

MGB

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mid-procession rug.
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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

 

1 Year Later

Well, with the arrival of May 7th, 2016, it has officially been 12 months since I first touched foot on Peruvian soil, and also 12 months since I last touched foot on U.S. soil. It has been a year full of highs and lows, a year full of changes, a year full of doubt, a year full of new foods, and a year which has showed me that I made the right choice in applying for and joining the Peace Corps.

I know that I am not the same person I was when I left the US 12 months ago. Yes, I still am a nerd, yes I still love nature, and soccer, but what I mean is that Peace Corps changes the way that you view the world. In this past year, I have been immersed in a new country, culture and way of living that has challenged many of my beliefs and made me reevaluate how I view this world. I’ve come to realize that many of the beliefs and habits I hold are not universal, and that in just accepting and living within our comfort zones, we miss out on the incredible diversity of thought that exists in this world. There is no right way to do something; we only just think there is based on the beliefs we were raised with and hold onto.

My first year in the Peace Corps in Perú has been quite unforgettable, and I am looking forward to seeing what these last 15 months have in store for me. When I took the leap to join the Peace Corps, I was frightened of what my future held, but I’ve pushed through my worries to come out empowered and more confident in myself and my capabilities. Here in Perú, I’ve made great friends, projects are coming together, and I’m really excited for all of the highs and lows yet to come, for even more arroz y papas, and for many more memories made with my friends and family here in Perú and abroad. To commemorate this special occasion, I decided to create a short list of ways my life has changed since coming to Perú, as well as share a photo gallery with one photo/month of time here in Perú.

Changes:

  • It’s been over 1 year since I’ve had a Frosty from Wendy’s or sesame chicken from a Chinese Restaurant, but it has only been hours since I’ve eaten a US-week’s worth of rice and potatoes.
  • It’s been 1 year since I’ve pet and hugged my dog Cody, but only a few hours since I’ve played with my new puppy, Hazel.
  • It’s been 1 year since I’ve held one of my pet lizards, but only a day since I saw 3-4 lizards running around outside my house in the morning sun.
  • It’s been 1 year since I last used shampoo, but only minutes since I reaffirmed to myself its uselessness.
  • It has been 1 year since I’ve driven a car, but only a few hours since I used Perú’s unique and controlled chaos that is the public transit system.
  • It’s been 1 year since I sat in a hammock under a tree in my backyard, but only 3 days since I planted some trees with my host-family.
  • It’s been 1 year since I departed for this Peace Corps adventure, but only minutes since I’ve been thankful for what I have gained so far.

Photo Gallery

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So with 12 months, down, I’ve still got 15 left to reach the title of Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, or RPCV in the omnipresent Peace Corps abbreviations. Who knows what the next few months have in store, and while that would have worried pre-Peace Corps Mark quite a bit, current Mark is excited with the uncertainty.

Let’s do this!

MGB

Martes de Música

In an effort to be more consistent with my blog posts, I have decided to move forward with two daily themes each week, the first of which will be Martes de Música, or Music Tuesdays. Every Tuesday, I will post a different Peruvian song that I enjoy so that you all can learn more about Perú through its music.

Perú has a variety of different musical styles, but the first I’m going to highlight is Peruvian Cumbia, a musical style that arose from the blending of many different musical styles here in Perú such as huayno, rock, and Colombian cumbia. The style originated in the Amazon cities near the border with Colombia, but quickly became a thing of its own when it arrived in Lima in the 1960s, growing and changing with the influx of diverse peoples from all over Perú.

So, without further ado,  I present to you my favorite Cumbia song at the moment, “He Sentido Amor” (I’ve felt love) by Hermanos Amaya.

 

Hope you enjoyed the music, and stay tuned each week to get another taste of some Peruvian jams.

MGB