Rain, rain, go away…

It’s still rainy season here in Perú, that wonderful time of year where anytime from Late November to late April some amount of rain falls upon the Sierra. Why is it called rainy season, you may ask? Well, essentially the entire annual allotment of precipitation falls across 5-6 months and at no other point during the year (at least here in Ancash). During a typical rainy season, one can expect rain almost every single day, usually starting in the early-to-late afternoon, and continuing for several hours into the evening. Intensity can vary, but I want to be clear; it is very common for it to rain EVERY SINGLE DAY! For all intents and purposes, this year’s rainy season hasn’t been too bad (it only rained fiercely in March/April), but it has been long (still going strong right now).

However, Perú’s climate has been greatly affected by climate change, and the once consistent rains have now become more scattered; sometimes the rains don’t show up until January, sometimes the rains stay until May (like now), and sometimes the rains don’t come at all. This inconsistency creates many challenges for the local people, especially here in the Sierra, who are dependent on the rains for many aspects of their livelihoods. You see, the start of the rainy season coincides with the end of the school year, meaning that students have several months off in before classes start again in March. In rural areas, this allows for the students to help their families prepare and plant the family plots, taking advantage of the free rainfall. Since many rural families here in Ancash are dependent on agricultural production for food and for income, a consistent rainy season is necessary for the family wellbeing. To illustrate, two years ago many parts of Ancash received little to no rain which resulted in the loss of an entire growing season and consequently many economic and water crises for many rural communities and families. So you see, the cycle of life here in Ancash, revolves around the rains.

The rainy season is vitally important to everyone’s livelihood here in the Sierra, but it can represent a challenging time for our Peace Corps Volunteers. Since classes are out for the summer months and most Volunteers work with schools, we tend to have lots of free time but little other work. And for us Volunteers, our work is essential to our wellbeing. We have a phrase here in Peace Corps Perú, “Un Voluntario felíz es un Voluntario que tiene trabajo” (a happy Volunteer is one with work). Additionally, rainy season can make travel challenging or even dangerous, meaning one may be stuck in their regions for extended periods of time, isolated from other Volunteers, or unable to enjoy a vacation while the workload is low.  Landslides (huaycos) aren’t uncommon during the rainy season and in fact, during this past March, we had a large landslide take out part of the highway connecting Huaraz to Lima. And last year, during the El Niño Phenomenon, all coastal PCVs had to be evacuated due to heavy flooding, and those of us in Ancash were “trapped” because the highway to Lima had been washed out.

But, I think the most challenging aspect of the rainy season is just the rains themselves. A consistently rainy atmosphere can just depress the mood, especially since the rains are often non-stop, day after day. For some Volunteers, it can be days or weeks before they see a small glimmer of blue sky amongst the ocean of grey rain clouds. Try to imagine. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the rain, but I prefer my precipitation spread out in doses throughout the year.

Since I know a rainy season in Perú can’t really be understood until it is experienced first hand, I thought I should share two videos I took of the rains here in Huaraz from the last few months. To be clear, both videos were taken as the rains were waning, and not during the height of their intensity. The first is from my apartment, and the second is one I took walking home from work when the streets turned into literal creeks.

 

The aftermath of walking home in the heavy rain:

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Hope you enjoyed experiencing the rain here in Ancash.

Until next time,

MGB

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The scene of the Great Water War, Carnival 2016

I can’t wait for Carnival 2.0 next year.

MGB