Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rednecks, yankees, cholos and monos...

In the States we harp on North-South/East-West differences, and color our maps blue and red, proclaiming diversity. It’s true, you’d be hard pressed to find a good bowl of grits up north, and the famous In and Out Burger has not shown it’s face to the Atlantic Ocean, yet. However, for all the stereotypes that exist, we’ve made a tremendous effort to transform a diverse, immense landmass into a homogenous “America.” Homemakers in the Arizona desert also have their neatly groomed lawns (even if it means breaking the watering ban at 2 am to keep it!!) and supermarkets and chain allow us to eat the same foods all year round, anywhere in the country, so exotic meals like “tamboori chicken” or “mandarin duck” are just a microwave button away.
Coming from this mentality, I didn’t expect much from Peru’s famed regional divisions. Sure, the landscape might change, but a Peruvian is a Peruvian, and we are in an ever-shrinking world, where Power Rangers and Coca Cola have arrived in tiny Andean towns. How different could the coast, a 10-hour bus ride away, be?
Very. I spent the last week on the coast of La Libertad, Tumbes and Piura, in a Peace Corps training. We visited volunteers in Tumbes, a costal department on the border with Ecuador, and Piura, a hot, dry department, green right now, at the tail end of the rainy season, but famously dusty and desolate the rest of the year. Beforehand, I had heard the stereotypes: people in the highlands are shyer, more conservative, less open with strangers, whereas lowlanders are open, loud, and generally rambunctious. My bus arrived in Trujillo, a large costal city, at 7:30 am, and I had the day to wait for another bus at 11 pm. I decided to explore, and, before lunchtime, I had experienced dozens of catcalls and whistles, as well as 5 offers of conversation and friendship (from mostly men but also one woman). It was startling.
Tumbes was no less bizarre. I watched, in awe, as 15-year-old peer educators spoke confidently to their classmates about topics both embarrassing and awkward, such as condom usage and HIV/AIDS. There were no giggles. In Musho, I have a hard time getting my peer educators to describe their favorite color in front of the others, much delve into the realm of blush-provoking controversial topics.
As might be expected, the coast is also more developed in infrastructure, with larger, less pothole riddled highways, bigger cities, and more cars. Still, the most surprising difference was the attitude and personality of the people we met. I feel as though a fascinating history lies beneath this difference: the colonization, the isolation of highland populations, and the availability of resources on the coast. While I am glad for my undergraduate education experience, I feel as though I could go back to college right now just because so many new subjects have piqued my curiosity.
Yesterday morning I returned to Ancash, with relief. Despite the attractions of the coast (showers!!), I think that there is something magic about these mountains that draws me to them. It could be as simple as the egoism of wanting to live somewhere I feel needed or as complex as some sort of complex alignment of stars that sent me down the path to end up “al pie de Huascaran.” (at the foot of Huascaran). As I spent all day greeting and chatting with my friends in site, I said many times, believing it, that it was nice to visit the rest of Peru, but I have stumbled into the best place to live, poverty, mud, quechwa and all.

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