First day in Ccotatoclla

Written July 5
I left the hotel last night to sleep at Mary Carmen and Martin’s house so we could get up at 4:30 am to catch an early bus to Ccotatócclla. We were hoping to catch the teacher’s van from San Jerónimo but didn’t see it; however, there was a large bus that agreed to leave us right at the school.
The road is being paved so we took an alternate route, similar to last year: a rocky dirt road which wound its way up through the high mountains to this high community, which is higher than Cusco. At many points there were sheer cliffs and rockslides on the edge of the road; at one point the road was so narrow our big bus had to back up in order to let three other vehicles pass. We heard from one of the teachers on the bus that there was a serious accident in Huancarani on Sunday; six teachers were killed.
I asked Martin why teachers come from the city to work in the countryside rather than being from the country, and he said that many rural teachers actually are from the countryside but have moved to the city and choose to return to teach during the week.
The bus left at 5 and we arrived here at 7 am. My compadre Ignacio greeted us first, then Sudit (aged 10) then Elena my comadre and my little goddaughter Yeny who turned 3 on January 2, 2010. We sat in the yard and I showed them photos of my family as well as their school and other schools where we have worked; then I gave them the first present which was a photo album taken the day last year when I cut Yeny’s hair to become her godmother (chukcha rutayuq.)
Ignacio’s parents came by one by one. They looked young and energetic; his mother immediately asked me to give her my earrings, which I did. It turns out someone else has a north American godmother in the community who always comes with earrings and gifts of money. The mother quickly went off to the hills to shepherd sheep, care for pigs, cows and horses.
Sudit took me to see the chuño: freeze-dried potate which takes about two weeks to make. You start by laying the potatoes on the ground to freeze over night. They get hot in the sun, and people of all ages come and stomp on them to squeeze the juice out. This process is repeated until they are hard as rocks and ready for storage. They have to be soaked to use in soups and cooking. In the course of the day we saw chuño all over the valley and people stomping on it at random. Martin says in his town there is a special place dedicated to chuño and everyone works there at once.
Today was a special and also disorienting day because I was greeted with such friendliness by so many people and yet I understood so little of what they were saying and was able to express myself with great difficulty.
One of the first things country people have asked me, whenever given the chance, (here and in Bolivia) is always something like “When do you plant potatoes where you live?” or something related to agriculture with the specific expectation that we live as farmers as well. It always feels strange to say “I have no idea when or how potatoes are grown, or even where.” Agriculture peaked in my hometown, Williamstown, Massachusetts, in the early 1800s and farming was no longer a primary occupation for more than a handful of families by 1910. Later in the day when I was walking and not feeling so on the spot I was able to remember that we actually do grow apples, corn and squash as well as onions, tomatoes (starting them inside because of short growing season) and many other fruits and veggies in New England. My father and many friends have cultivated gardens for fun. However, subsistence farming could not be further from our experience. They wanted to know then, what do people do for work?
Here, by the way, they grow barley, potatoes, lima beans, and oats. It is too dry for corn. The first planting is around July 25. The biggest planting is September. Harvest is four months: March, April, May, June. July is a time for making adobe, construction and catching up with things you can’t do during the planting seasons.
The radio is playing now and neighbors from nearby communities send greetings to their friends who have moved one or two communities away; Elena is smiling and listening for familiar names.
The girl children challenge themselves physically from very early ages; at this moment my three year old god-daughter and her cousin Marga of the same age (who lives right next door) are busy climbing up on bricks and suspending themselves from a table and bed nearby. Earlier they busied themselves climbing in and out of a window of a new low building in the yard.
One of the things that initially impressed me about this house is even more impressive now: I asked about the origins of the fireplace and chimney design. Basically there is a traditional small clay stove which is inside a fireplace with chimney much like those in the states. I asked Ignacio about the chimney and he said it was the product of his own creativity. Later I asked his wife and daughter if Ignacio had seen a photo or model of a house with a chimney and they said no, Ignacio had dreamed of the chimney and built it based on his dream. This year, unlike last, the house is painted inside and out with elaborate painted designs – Ignacio also did that himself.
The local school is closed today. It serves first to sixth grade with two teachers (one for each two grades.) Martin and I walked down the road to the next school and talked to the director who is interested in participating in our project. They look much larger and serve elementary through high school. They were closed though there were lots of kids playing in the yard.
People on the road call out and greet us in Quechua and Spanish.

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