Monday, June 25, 2012

Saying Goodbye Is Never Easy

A lot has happened over the last few weeks, making my "last post" actually my second or third-to-last post.  There have been strikes, road blocks, medical exams in lima, a youth camp for boys, going away parties with friends, and last ditch efforts to make some kind of positive impact on my adopted community.  But a recent tragic event made it evident to me that I would like to write at least one more post about the people who have made my two years in Peru the best they could be: my host family.

Ever since my first day here my host family, and extended relatives, have made me feel not only welcome but have done their best to make me feel like a part of their lives.  Through their efforts I have had the opportunity to really integrate, never being made to feel as merely a renter or an outsider, but more as a distant cousin visiting for the first time.  During my two years here I have had the great honor of being involved in family birthdays, church events, holidays and even drama.  Unfortunately, today I can count my integration complete on a much more somber note as I share in my family's grief at the loss of my host uncle, Willy Castro, who died in a boat accident on a river in Jaen on Saturday.

Willy was a dear friend to me these two years and not only the first that not only welcomed me with open arms but the first to become an active and helpful advisor during my first confusing and scary months in site.  My first impression of "Tito" (as the family refers to him) was that he was almost too friendly.  Within a week of meeting him, he would find me in the streets and give me big hugs, laughing and telling me how wonderful it was for me to be there.  He wasted no time in sharing his favorite hobby with me: birdwatching.  Initially I would avoid Willy in the street for fear of losing an hour of my time to his long-winded and excited stories of his most recent excursion.  He would have me sit down next to him and show me each and every one of hundreds of photos of birds... often the same bird - looking to me we raised eyebrows after each to see how much I approved of his birdwatching prowess.

Tito was the kind of guy who either grew on you fast or became "that guy" you would always try and avoid.  Fortunately for me, he quickly became the former and was inviting me on nature hikes, to see his family on the outskirts of town, and giving me my only real glimpses of life in the poorest parts of Peru.  Willy was an amazingly dynamic person who was/is adored throughout the region as a great man in every community he touched, be they rich or poor.  He was a professor, a writer, a cook,  a comedian, a friend, and a loving husband and father of three daughters.  He truly was one of those rare and exceptional human beings that you can meet once but remember forever - and I will.

It is often the case that we get so wrapped up in our daily routines that we forget the people around us who make our lives worth living.  I have had my fair share of frustrations and pessimistic fits during my two years here but I would do it all over again if given the chance because the people I know today (volunteers, host family, friends, counterparts) have enriched my own existence in so many wonderful ways.  It is my hope that I can keep contact with as many of them as possible after I go home.  It is, however, much to my detriment that Willy cannot be among them.

Edit: The wake was only one night as upposed to the traditional three because of the length of time it took to bring the body to Cutervo.  However, there were over 1,000 people waiting for Willy at the entrance of the city and over 2,000 came to grieve as his casket was escorted by police through the streets to his home.  The next day an equally impressive number of Cutervinos gathered for a huge mass and parade to see Willy off to his final resting place in the new cemetery on the hill overlooking the city and hills he fought so hard to protect from environmental destruction.  Appropriately, the skies opened up and rained heavily the second the priest said the last words and his casket was slid into the crypt.  It was a very touching time for the whole city... something I have never seen happen here in Cutervo - proving how amazing of a person Willy Castro was.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Conga No Va

Here is a blog written by one of my friends who lives near me.  I decided to repost it so that you all might understand the serious situation occurring here.  For those of you who are unaware, there have been strikes taking place all over the department of Cajamarca over the mining operations here.  Here is Kelsey's post:

In November of 2011, we blogged about the intense striking that was happening in our area.  To give a quick recap, people were protesting the creation of a new mine in our department, the Conga Project.  We currently have the second largest gold mine in the world, Yanachocha, just south of where we live.  Like the Conga Project, Yanachocha is owned by an American mining company called Newmont.  Over the past couple decades, there have been issues of water contamination by Yanachocha, including a major mercury spill.  The people claim more contamination, but it is difficult to know what to believe, because so many things are being said without much scientific basis.  What we do know is that Peru’s standards for environmental protection from mines are much lower than that of the U.S., so U.S. companies that would never be allowed to use such unsafe practices in our own country are able to do so here. 

When the Conga Project was still in its initial construction stages, our entire department went on strike for 15 days in November.  All roads were shut down, so you couldn’t leave your town and no supplies could come in.  We were short on all fresh food, and only rice was left to buy in our town.  No schools, government offices, stores, health centers, or hospitals were open.  Anyone employed by the government (teachers, nurses, etc.) were paid for the day’s work if they went to the strike.  If they went to their post to teach or give medical services, they were not paid.  Electricity was shut off for a couple days, as were the cell phone towers.  Internet service was shut off for the duration of the strike.  At the “Lagoons (the natural source of many rivers in our area),” where the Conga Project is set to be built, there was some violence, which ended in tear gas, rubber bullets, and one person shot in the leg.   

The strike finally ended, because the national government called a state of emergency in the department.  The national police and military were sent in and no one was allowed to meet in groups of more than three people.  Sounds like Hogwarts under the supervision of Umbridge, right?  Since then, we’ve had a military occupation in Cajamarca city and Bambamarca. 

Now let’s get to the present.  The national government hired third-party researches to redo the Conga Project’s environmental impact study, and last month, the results came out.  The national government determined the project environmentally safe, but they required that the company agree to some additional safety measures. 

Since that announcement, the departmental government has threatened another strike, unless the national government changes their stance.  The department is not willing to negotiate, and will only be satisfied if the project is canceled.  Their slogan is “Conga No Va (Conga will not go).” 

The weeks have passed, and the national government still has not changed their decision, as the deadline set by the department gets closer.  If nothing changes, the department will strike again on May 31.  This strike is set for an indefinite amount of time, and schools and health services will be closed down again.  Most people expect it will last longer than the last one, but I hope not. 

Kelsey blogged this post on May 28th and the situation has gotten a bit worse as roads all over the department are blockaded and some of my friends have been stuck in their sites, unable to work because locals are denouncing them as spies for the mines.  I am currently safe and on my way to Lima for medical exams but I hear that our road home will be blocked and I might end up stuck outside of my site for a good chunk of my last few weeks in Peru.  All I can hope is that I can get in and out safely one last time in order to say goodbye to my friends and host family.