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Saturday, November 26, 2011


BY: Rinda Payne

In the Andes, many fervently believe that special men can call the Apus, the spirits of the mountains, in order for them to materialize as condors. There are also those who believe that the practice is a deception. The Apus in the bodies of condors are called papitos(1) or angels. They give advice to those who consult them. In Cusco, there are three groups that call the Apus.

Christian and pre-Hispanic rituals intermingle in Andean ceremonies. For example, Jesus Christ is considered an Apu. There is a song sung in Catholic churches that begins, “Apu Jesucristo.” During mass, some priests call upon the Apus for blessings, especially when there is a powerful Apu near their church. The Papitos bless in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is a sacred, pre-Hispanic, waist-high stone in the Cusco Cathedral. Worshippers connect with the stone by embracing it or placing their hands on it. 

Dialogue reflects the speech patterns common to the Andes.

“There is nothing we can do for you.”


“Nothing. We don’t know what caused your paralysis. Your tests and scans were all normal.”

I looked at my legs. My feet were perched on the foot rests of the wheelchair borrowed from a neighboring family. Their grandmother had sat in it, immobile and speechless, head dropped against her chest, as she neared the end of her life. For a second, a picture of myself in a similar state flared in my mind. No, no..I will not be like her.

If the doctors at the Social Security Hospital were unable to assist me, perhaps the medical staff at the Hospital Regional(2) could.

Several days later my wife pushed me down the corridor that led to the doctors’ offices at the Hospital. After waiting my turn, I was escorted by a nurse into an office where a young doctor sat behind a scarred wooden desk. His hands were folded on top of blank white paper.  

Perspiration formed on my face and hands as I recounted how one morning, two weeks ago, I got out of bed and to my shock collapsed on the floor. My legs splayed out. I struggled to control them, to stand up. They wouldn’t move. I turned my body so I was face down on the floor. Tears formed and ran down my cheeks. I tried to hide my sobs from my wife who pushed open the bedroom door after hearing the thump when I slumped to the floor.

“Did you notice any symptoms prior to that morning?”


“No pains in the legs, nothing that you felt that was different?”


“We’ll run some tests and do a scan. Your records from the Social Security Hospital show normal results.

“My condition isn’t normal.” My hands clenched into fists. When I opened them my fingers had left imprints in my palms.

The doctor wrote notes, handed me a list of the tests to be done and an order for a scan and shook my hand. “Return in a week. The results will be waiting for you.”

After a week, I took a deep breath before entering the doctor’s office.

“We find nothing wrong with you. Your tests and scan show the same results as those from the Social Security Hospital. If you think of anything that happened to you before this occurred, please come again so we can discuss it.”

In that instant, my mind, overwhelmed by anguish, went blank. My wife wheeled me out of the room, down the corridor and out to the waiting car driven by my neighbor Sergio. So she tells me. It was as if a gust of the wild wind that was blowing that afternoon swept away the memory of the trip from the doctor’s office to my home.

The following day fear seized my heart. To go to a private clinic cost more than I could afford. “What can I do? I am helpless!” I cried out. I heard a deep voice. “You are not helpless! You are a strong and healthy man!” Who was talking to me? I glanced over my shoulder to see if the pronouncement came from someone who had entered the room. No one was there. The message, so contrary to what I was feeling about myself, made me uneasy. “Who are you?” I called. There was no answer.

Not long after, my wife knocked on the door, probably worried that I was crying again. She set a tray with lunch down on the handles of the wheelchair. I eyed it and thanked her. She tiptoed out of the room. I picked up the utensils and held them in my hands. My stomach growled. Tears crept down my face spilling on the food. My hands shook. The knife and fork rattled on the plate. I waited until I took command of my emotions, and then began to eat, a small portion at a time, chewing it thoroughly to take more time out of the day that stretched endlessly before me.

In the afternoon my friend Ricardo visited. His eyes were downcast as he approached me and laid a hand on my shoulder. He settled himself in a chair close by me. His easy silence was comforting. At last he spoke. “I’ve heard the news that the doctors have decided that there is nothing wrong with you.” He cleared his throat. “Why don’t you visit the Papitos? Have you thought about them?”

“I hesitate to consult them. My condition is complicated.”

“Think about it. They help many people. I’ll take you. They hold services near here.”

The following day, the manager at the bank where I worked came to my home. His eyes sought out a point on the opposite wall. What did he see there? The man I used to be? His voice was steady but held a steely edge as if trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing. “Tellers don’t use wheelchairs,” he began. “There are no handicapped access routes into the bank, only a steep flight of stairs. The guards at the entrance are unable to carry you and the wheelchair upstairs to your window. I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to leave our employment. If your legs become mobile, you can reapply for a position with us.” He stood up, shook my hand, swiftly turned and walked away.

After he left, the only pain I experienced was the pain in my soul at how useless I had become. Useless to my family, useless to my employer, but most importantly how useless I was to myself.

Remembering scenes from the recent past added to my grief. Arriving home with cash in my wallet to pay for food for the family. The glow on the faces of my wife and sons as they unwrapped the small purchases I had bought to surprise them. The outings we used to enjoy together. Helping grateful customers at the bank with difficult transactions. How I had been able to fix anything in the house that needed repair. How independent I had been, able to come and go as I pleased.

Day after day my wife and elder son helped dress me, bathe me and take me to the bathroom. Visitors came: neighbors, relatives who lived near us in Cusco, former colleagues at the bank. Everyone, except for my friends, Ricardo and Sergio, were uncomfortable faced with my distressing situation. They avoided talking about my condition. Some sat still and made small talk; others fidgeted in their chairs and hemmed and hawed; a few paced around the room. Except for a twitching nerve in my cheek, no one could tell that they drove me crazy.

Time blurred. I was no longer sure how long I had been sitting in a wheelchair looking out the window at an empty weed-filled plot of land, aimlessly turning the pages of magazines, watching endless TV programs. Suddenly, I recalled the strange voice that had spoken to me. Now that I thought about it, the words had seemed to come from inside me. Could it have been one of the Papitos? Their powers are well known. I straightened up in my wheelchair. For the first time since I had fallen, I smiled. The Papitos are my hope!

I called Ricardo on my cell phone. “Ricardo, the Papitos. Will you take me?”

“Of course. Let me find out when their next meeting is. I’ll get back to you.”

Within minutes the phone rang. “The Papitos hold a service every Wednesday. Be ready tomorrow at 9 a.m.”

The next morning Ricardo pulled up in front of our house in his red pickup truck with a flourish and a beep on the horn. I picked some lint off my jacket and smoothed down my unruly hair. His strong arms lifted me into the car. He folded the wheelchair and put it in the back.

We arrived at the temple, a square, red brick building with a portico at the end of an unpaved street. People were sitting on benches outside its door. Ricardo got the wheelchair, lifted me into it and wheeled me close to the entrance.

Women were removing their mantas(3) filled with the morning’s purchases from their shoulders, knotting the ends together and placing them on the concrete to one side of the door.

“Six soles(4),” said the man at the door to each person entering. “Wheel him down near the table on the right side,” the man told Ricardo.

We entered a large hall. To the right of the entrance there was a life size statue of the Virgin. Burning candles and vases of white lilies and colorful carnations were in front of her. Long wooden benches lined the right and left walls. Above them were pictures of saints and Our Lord. A stage took up the entire width of the end of the hall. On it sat a massive table covered with a white cloth.

“Look.” I exclaimed, “There are no windows. How odd!”

The benches were filling up with people pressed shoulder to shoulder. Attendants scurried back and forth from the door to the table with food and drink for the Papitos – plates of cheese cubes, plates of green olives, bowls of rice, bottles of Inca Kola(5) and beer. A thick set man who stood in the center of the temple repeatedly announced, “Anyone with a cell phone must leave it outside.” Several people hurried out to tuck their phones into their mantas.

Without warning a man rose from where he was seated near the door. He pulled a cloth down over the entrance. He shut and bolted the door. At the same time, a woman extinguished the candles burning before the Virgin. The hall was plunged into darkness.

What if there’s a fire? How do we get out? Never mind, I thought. The Papitos will save us. I relaxed against the back of the wheelchair.

A sibilant, high-pitched whistle rang out from near the table. Its haunting sound sent a shiver down my spine. The calling of the Papitos had begun. After each whistle, the voices of the participants, chanting prayers to the Blessed Mary and to Our Lord, resonated throughout the hall. After the whistling and prayers had ended, there was a long silence.

Deafening bangs and raps came from the roof.

A loud thud of feet on the table heralded the entrance of the first Apu. “I am Apu Ausangate.”

Another terrific thud… “I am Apu Salcantay.”

And another…”I am Apu Sacsayhuaman.”

Each Apu introduced himself in a gruff voice.

There was scuffling and scraping on the roof. A landing on the table. A female voice proclaimed, “I am Apu Mama Simona.”

The plates and bowls clattered on the table, followed by sounds of chewing. I could visualize the Papitos dipping into the olives, rice and cheese with gusto. They certainly liked the beer and Inca Kola from the slurping noises they made! I was inside an interior that was blacker than the night, but I could see in my mind’s eye what was occurring.

It was time for the participants to approach the table to ask the Papitos for advice. I was second in line. The woman next to Ricardo whispered, “Address the Apus as Papitos and the female Apu as Mamita. State your name and where you live.” I sensed that a man took Ricardo’s arm and guided him to the table with me in the wheelchair, just as another man brushed past my shoulder as he walked the first person back to his seat. I had repeatedly rehearsed what I wanted to say the previous day. Now I was nervous.

My throat tightened. I stammered as I began, “Papitos…and Mamita, my name is Alfonso…I live in Cusco. I woke up…one morning about two months ago. When I tried…to get out of bed I collapsed…on the floor.” And then the words poured out, ending with a plea for help.

A raspy voice said, “I am Apu Ausangate. Let me feel the star on top of your head.”

I almost yanked my body away as I felt a cold, hard talon on top of my head.

“Let me consult with the others.”

Murmurs and low mumblings all ran together in an incomprehensible sound. Were they arguing? I grasped the arms of the wheelchair with all the strength I could muster.

“We have reached a decision. You must use your will to exercise daily in order to get well. If you follow our advice, we will assist you. Come back next week and report to us.”  

My heart beat faster in response to my excitement. The Papitos will help me! They want to see me next week!

After Ricardo and the assistant returned me to my place, I listened intently as the people directed their questions to the Papitos. I knew I had come to the right place when I heard the Papitos’ answers. Their invited each person to work on a solution to his or her difficulty. Then they would intervene. The Papitos made sure that the petitioners were serious about solving their problems…that they wouldn’t depend on the Papitos to do all the work. Teamwork, that’s what I liked!

On the way home, Ricardo broke the silence between us. “The man that led me to my seat released my arm precisely in front of the spot where I had been sitting. How did he do that when there was not even a glimmer of a tiny flashlight? These assistants are remarkable! They can see in the dark.”

“It’s inconceivable how the assistants could guide everyone to and from the altar. What impressed me most was the Papitos wanting to see me next week. Also how vivid everything was even though it was dark: the Papitos’ arrival, their eating and drinking, their voices, Apu Ausangate’s talon on my head.” I shuddered as I recalled the talon.

After Ricardo left, I shared all the details with my family. My wife proposed an exercise plan. “I and our eldest son will hold you while you try to move your legs. We will begin with half an hour and gradually increase the time to an hour. Let’s start tomorrow morning so you can rest this afternoon.”

The next day I tried to stand. My face revealed my discouragement. “I am a failure,” I told them.

“No, you’re not,” said my wife. “We’ll keep at it. You have to strengthen the muscles.” Each day until I returned to the Papitos I tried to stand while my wife and son held me. It exhausted me so that I would have to rest on my bed after each session. I would fall asleep trying not to despair.

The day before I visited the Papitos again, I gave an explosive cry as the sharp stab of pain from a muscle spasm in my right leg ripped through me. I massaged the area until the pain faded away. I was bewildered by this unexpected development.

The only difference in the next visit to the Papitos was that after I told them about my exercise plan and the muscle spasm, they told me, “We will come to you in your dreams and be in your heart now that you’ve taken the first step in your healing.”

I continued the daily routine we had established. Sometimes my spirits were low; other times high. Every Wednesday I eagerly awaited my visit with the Papitos. Their message concerning my progress was always encouraging. “Good work. We’re with you all the time. Keep trying.” Their confidence in me kept me going. Each day I tried harder to move my legs in order to prove to the Papitos that I was taking responsibility for overcoming the paralysis.

At night just before going to bed, I felt the presence of the Papitos egging me on to regain my mobility. In my dreams, they flew above me, circled round me, soared in the currents of air with their mighty wings spread. Occasionally one would glide close and touch my heart with its wing tips.

After two months of weekly visits, I informed the Papitos that I could shuffle my feet a couple of steps while my wife and son held me.  

After three months, I could take a couple of real steps without support. The perspiration poured down my face and splattered my clothes like raindrops. I persisted, braving the consequences of falling when my family removed their arms from me. I began to visualize myself walking normally while I rested after my exertion. I can walk. Thank you Papitos for believing in me and being with me every tentative step of the way.

After the fourth month, I had mastered holding onto the wall with my left hand and standing erect. At first, I had tottered and trembled. My wife had piled cushions beside me on the wood floor in case I fell. I began to take a step with my hand on the wall. Success! I was so elated that I toppled over.

By the end of six months I could walk a short distance. I felt good about myself. There was now definite hope that I would completely recover. I basked in the comments of the Papitos: “You’ll be healed in no time. Keep going, keep moving. We are with you as you take every step.”

I was grateful to my friends, Ricardo and Sergio. Ricardo never failed to take me to my weekly meeting with the Papitos. Sergio always stopped by the day after to hear what the Papitos had to say and to encourage me to continue my routine. My family, the Papitos and everyone who checked on my progress inspired me to test my limits each day.

After eight months, I made it alone across the room. Joyous shouts erupted from me. Cheers went up from my family. I called Ricardo and Sergio to come and watch while I went across the room for a second time. Everyone hugged me. My wife hurried to the pastry shop to buy a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, my favorite. As a surprise, she had “Bravo Alfonso” written on it in white icing. We invited the neighbors. They all congratulated me and embraced me. It was a splendid party!

That week the Papitos told me, “Your time with us is finished. You need to go up and down stairs and increase the length of your walks. You can do this on your own. We still will be watching over you.”

I bowed my head and rested my hand over my heart as I listened to them. A hoarse voice announced, “Apu Ausangate will bless you.” Apu Ausangate placed a talon on top of my head. Now that he was my ally, the talon was a reassuring gesture. I felt at peace with it resting there. “Te bendigo en el nombre del Padre y del Hijo y del Espiritu(6),” Apu Ausangate intoned.

I returned home determined to achieve the goals that the Papitos had established for my complete recovery. And as soon as my legs became more powerful, I would call the manager at the bank and ask to be reemployed. I knew deep in my heart that soon I would be a useful man again.

(1)Papitos (Spanish): little fathers.

(2) Hospital Regional: a public hospital in Cusco.           

(3) Manta (Spanish): a rectangle formed by joining two squares. It is used to carry babies and transport other items.

(4) Sol (Spanish): sol (soles plural) is the Peruvian currency.

(5) Inca Kola: a sweet yellow soft drink popular in Peru since its inception in 1935. In 1999 Coca-Cola bought 50% of the Inca Kola Corporation. It also bought 30% of the corporation who owned the Inca Kola Corporation and granted all bottling rights for Coca-Cola products in Peru to the corporation.

(6) Spanish: “I bless you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

Saturday, September 24, 2011


WRITTEN BY: Rinda Payne

 My name is Esperanza. It means hope. I am eight years and three months old. I’m really going on nine.
I wanted a dog. Not just any dog, but a special one with long white fur. I saw a picture of one in a magazine. I cut it out and hung it on the wall next to my bed. I looked at it every night before I went to sleep. I made believe it was mine. I called him Bart. Bart is the name of a dog that lives down the street. I liked it. It was short. It sounded like “bark”.   
My parents told me that they were too poor to buy me a dog. They don’t have enough money to give me brothers and sisters. “One child is all we can afford,” they used to tell my aunts and uncles. We live in a three room adobe brick house at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of Cusco. My father worked at day jobs. My mother sold rocotos rellenos(1) on the streets in Cusco. She sat on a blanket on the sidewalk. The rocotos rellenos were stuffed in a big sack. She made them at night after she got home from work. She always gave each customer four little potatoes. It’s called yapa(2).

One Sunday in July after mass, I listened to our priest talking to the people. He calls them “his flock”. He said, “If you walk to Senor de Huanca(3)(4) to celebrate his feast day every year for three years, your wishes will come true.”

On the way home, I told my parents what the priest said. They hadn’t heard him. They were praying inside the church. “Will you take me on the hike over the mountain – to Pachatusan? To Senor de Huanca so I can have my dog?”

“No, you are too young to walk that distance over the mountain. Going on nine is too young also. You’ll only get exhausted. Do you know how long the walk is? How high the mountain is(5)? How cold it will be?”  

“No,” I answered, “but I can make it. I know I can.”

The feast day was September 14. Every day after they came home from work I begged, “Please, please take me to Senor de Huanca.”

They always shook their heads, adding, “Pray for a dog, instead.”

I did pray, very hard. Each night before I went to bed I prayed to Jesus and Mary…to give me my dog. But no dog arrived. So I kept at my parents. I thought about Bart every day. I drew pictures of him. I fell asleep thinking about him.

Finally, they said, “We’ll go to Senor de Huanca, but we must turn back if you get tired. It’s not worth it if you get sick from the cold and the altitude. Can we tell the priest about the dog? And going to Senor de Huanca?”

 “Only the priest. No one else.”

I thought the day would never come. I tried to pay attention in school. One morning, the teacher stopped by my desk. “What’s wrong Esperanza?” she asked. I didn’t tell her that we were walking to Senor de Huanca. It was my secret. I didn’t want to share it even with my friends. They might laugh at me. Talk about it among themselves. I would have lost hope of getting Bart.

The evening before September 14, my parents put rolls, fruit, some cheese and bottles of water in a mochila(6). They also put in long white candles. To light the path at night to Senor de Huanca. And two empty plastic bottles. They put on extra clothes. They made sure I was wearing many sweaters, a jacket and a chullo(7). And long woolen stockings. For the cold. We caught a combi(8) to San Jeronimo on the outskirts of Cusco. I was so excited!

There, we joined many people who were going to climb over Pachatusan to the shrine. It would take us a long time. Could I make it? I looked up at the mountain. I didn’t know.

I couldn’t stand still. I danced around in a circle. I hopped up and down as the procession began. Ahead of us, grown-ups and young people began to climb the narrow path that went up the mountain. Little children rode on their fathers’ shoulders. I felt very proud to be walking by myself.

My parents took two candles from the mochila and lit them. I wanted a candle. They said, “Only grown-ups carry a candle. You might burn yourself.” I felt sad without a candle. Then I tripped on a rock. I almost fell. My parents were right. I could have burned myself.

I watched the lights of the candles. That was fun! In the dark, they looked like little suns.

We were walking very slowly. Because of me. It was hard climbing the path. But I didn’t stop walking. Well, I did stop several times to rest. Perhaps three or four times. I saved my energy by not jumping around…not talking.

My parents were worried about me. “Are you all right? Do you want to go back home?” I first nodded a yes and then shook my head no. I couldn’t say a word. My heart felt like it would break…because everything was new. Because I was tired.  

Everyone was quiet. Slowly going ahead by the light of the candles…and the stars and the moon. It was so cold. The air was fresh. We passed some snow. I stopped to touch it. How wet it was! How it sparkled! I never felt snow before. There’s none in Cusco. Ever.

We could see the people in front of us. We were way behind them. But we were getting closer to the shrine. I went forward step by step…until the sun rose. Like a bright red ball. The sky was red above the sun too. It was such a beautiful sight! I stopped walking. I cried, “Oh! Ah!” And clapped my hands!

At last my parents and I began to go down. At the bottom of the trail above the shrine, we came to the sacred tree. People had placed stones under the tree. They were offerings to honor the tree as a living being. I stopped to give the tree a hug. Its trunk was too big for my arms to reach around it, but the tree gave me its energy. I felt stronger.

Close by was the sacred spring. I limped to it because my feet hurt. I washed my face and hands in the water. I was very dusty. I crossed myself with some of the water drops. My parents filled the empty plastic bottles they had packed with its healing waters. They told me, “Many people are cured at the spring and in the shrine.”

Next came the easiest part. Walking down the broad path that led from the spring to the church. It was lined with tall trees. Father called them “eucalyptus trees”. We passed stone crosses with small stones on their arms. Mother explained, “Some people collect stones before they visit the shrine. Each one represents a person’s fault. They pray into a stone their wish to have the fault removed. Then, they place it on an arm of one of the crosses.”

On the ground between the crosses were little houses. The people used stones and rocks to build the houses. They made fences and garages from leaves and branches. Sticks were animals. They were the wishes of people for a new home. I took a lot of time to look at them. They were so amazing! I thought I might make a house for my parents. But it would take too long. Then an idea came to me. I whispered to my parents, “I’m going to have a dog.” I hunted for some pebbles. Then I made a dog on the ground. “There! That’s Bart,” I told them.

I heard my mother say in a low voice to my father, “Look at her! She is glowing with happiness.”

As we came near the church, I saw thousands of people outside(9). They were close together.. like the stars in the Via Lactea(10). A lot of them carried large pictures of Senor de Huanca. Some were in frames with glass over them. There was a stand with a top over it. Where the priests would say mass. I clung tightly to my parents hands. I was afraid of being separated from them…of getting lost. My father picked me up and put me on his shoulders. I was so happy. I was safe with him. And now I could see everything that was going on!

The priests climbed some steps to the stand; the mass began. The people were so excited. As if everyone had a fever! I guess I wasn’t the only one waiting for the celebration of Senor de Huanca. Now, I thought, all I have to do is pray for my dog. I closed my eyes for a few minutes. I saw my dog as I said my prayer, “Dear God, bring me Bart.”

The mass went on and on with praises to the Senor. People held up their pictures of Senor de Huanca to be blessed. Near the end, my parents left with me still on my father’s shoulders. My head nodded from lack of sleep. And I yawned. I was too tired to talk or to walk.

My parents went down the long, curving dirt road from the shrine to the paved main road. A lot of tents were on the land around the shrine. People from all over South America camped out in them for the week of the festival. My father said all the parking lots were full…so empty cars, vans, buses lined the road. Many stalls were beside the road. Their owners were selling copies of things people wished for. But tiny copies. My parents called them “miniatures”. Degrees from colleges, computers, houses, visas, suitcases of soles(11) and dollars, cars, trucks. Everything a person could want. Except there were no dogs!

From the main road we caught a combi back to San Jeronimo. And then another combi from San Jeronimo to our home. I fell asleep in the combis. I don’t remember going home. The following morning I jumped out of bed and ran to my parents. “I had a dream. I got my dog. It was exactly the kind I wanted.” My parents just looked at me. They didn’t say a word. I kept quiet. I was sure the dog would arrive.

A week after the feast day, a friend of my father appeared at our door. “I’ve a job for you,” he told my father. “A good job. A steady one.  You will look after a new condominium building in Cusco. The salary is excellent. Will you take it?”

My father thought for a few minutes. He smiled. “Of course, I’ll say yes.” After the man left, he turned to my mother. “Mami(12), our luck is changing for the better.” He put his arms around her in a gran abrazo(13).

Mother came home the next day filled with joy. “Listen to what happened to me today. A woman came up to me when I was selling my food on the street. She was well dressed and polite. She began to talk to me.

“‘I am looking for someone to do the family washing. I’ve noticed you selling rocotos rellenos. There’s something about you that attracts me. You look a decent woman. Would you like to work for our family? We live here in Cusco. I have four children and a husband. I’d like you to look at our lavanderia(14) and meet my family. If you like us, I hope you will work for us every-other-day, washing our clothes.’

“I hesitated not knowing if she was sincere.

“‘Come with me now. If you like the job, we’ll negotiate your pay.’”

I held my breath. What did Mami decide?  

Mami continued, “I followed the woman to her home. It was an agreeable place, warm and welcoming. The lavanderia was on a balcony. There was hot and cold running water. A big sink. Plenty of clothes lines. How could I refuse, especially when it meant more money for my family? I thanked the woman and accepted her offer. I’ll begin tomorrow.”

I jumped up from my chair. “You see what happens by walking to Senor de Huanca once. What will happen if we go three years in a row?” I said nothing about Bart. I was thinking about my parents’ good luck. Now I can have a brother or a sister…my father can add another room onto our house...we’ll have more to eat. They can pay for my school books and uniforms…not have my aunts and uncles help them.

Soon after my parents began their new jobs, our priest arrived one night. I was curled up in a corner of the room…with a blanket around me…to keep warm. The priest carried a cloth bag. Why was the bag wiggling? He opened it. A little white-haired dog ran out. When I saw the dog, I leapt across the room and knelt in front of him. “It’s Bart!” I cried. “You’ve come to me!”

The priest turned his head so I couldn’t see his face. Then he looked at me and smiled. “I found the dog on the doorstep of my church two days ago when I went to say mass. I kept it until tonight in case someone came to claim it. No one has. It was meant for you, Esperanza. It’s a gift from God.”

There was so much happiness inside me! It ran through me like a river. I hugged the little dog. He wagged his tail…gave a few small barks. He licked my face.

I spoke what was in my heart. “Thank you, Father. Life is perfect. I heard you say that if someone walked to Senor de Huanca for three years in a row, his wishes would come true. I made it all the way to Senor de Huanca. It was hard, but I did it. All on my own. We only walked once but just look. My parents have new jobs. I have Bart. How happy I am my parents called me Esperanza!”

The priest made a choking noise. Like he was going to cry. “Look at her smile!” he exclaimed. “It lights up the room.”

I looked around, but I didn’t see any light. “Where is the light?” I asked.

 (1)Rocotos rellenos: (Spanish): hot peppers that look like red bell peppers, stuffed and baked with meat, cheese, diced hard-boiled eggs, black olives and seasonings.

 (2)Yapa: (Quechua): an addition. Yapa can be extra fruit or vegetables, a map, a tiny doll, or whatever a vendor or a store wants to give their customers in addition to their purchase.

                         (3)Senor de Huanca: (Spanish): Lord of Huanca.

 (4) Pilgrims walk from San Jeronimo, a town outside of Cusco, over a path that climbs the mountain called Pachatusan and descends to the shrine of Senor de Huanca located at the base of Pachatusan. They begin the walk during the night of September 13 in order to arrive at the shrine the morning of September 14, the feast day of Senor de Huanca and the highlight of the week-long religious services. The walk takes from four to six hours.

(5) Pachatusan: the path circumvents the peak of Pachatusan. The elevation of the peak is 16,240 feet; Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, USA is at 6,288 feet. Cusco is at an elevation of 11,150 feet.

 (6)Mochila: (Spanish): backpack.          

(7) Chullo: (Quechua): a traditional Andean woven wool hat with earflaps, often with colorful tassels and intricate bead work.

 (8Combi: (Spanish): van or a microbus for passengers.

 (9) Literally thousands of people from all over South America attend the major festival arriving not only on foot but by cars, buses, trucks and other forms of transportation. The main road leading to Senor de Huanca is backed up for miles with traffic.

 (10)Via Lactea: (Spanish): the Milky Way.

 (11)Soles: (Spanish): sol (pl. soles) the Peruvian currency.

(12) Mami: (Spanish): affectionate for mother; also used in the Andes as a term of respect to address women when thanking them for something or negotiating with them.

(13) Gran abrazo: (Spanish): a big hug.

(14)Lavanderia: (Spanish): laundry.

Friday, September 2, 2011

My One Percent

Author Katrina Heimark
Written By: Katrina Heimark

It had been a long day. A long day filled with teaching thousands of English classes to scores of Peruvian. A day so long that I came up with a ridiculous limerick about being overstressed.
There once was a girl who gave classes
And taught English to the Peruvian masses
She worked so many hours
And felt overpowered,
So now she just sits on her asses

I was overworked. Out of touch. When I finally trudged through my apartment door, I felt so exhausted that all I wanted to do was read. Take off my shoes. Crawl under the covers, suit and all, and open a book. I didn’t even want to eat.

Had it not been for the low-pitched drone that emanated from every bus in Lima, I told myself, I could have gotten some reading done on the way home. I could have escaped from my self-constructed labyrinth of too many working hours and not enough me time. I needed to dedicate at least one percent of my day to activities that I enjoy, and sleeping sure the hell didn’t count. I planned to spend 14.4 minutes reading, dammit, if it was the last thing I did. Christ, I could sit out an earthquake just to read a little David Sedaris.

I climbed into bed, and opened up my book. Page one. Anyone who watches at least the slightest amount of TV is familiar with the scene...A low humming sound started right in the vicinity of my left ear. I lazily swatted it away and kept reading…An agent knocks…the humming was louder this time, and much closer. I waved my hand in the air, looking to brush that pesky bug away from my face…on the door of some… I struggled to concentrate as the humming changed into a drone. Just finish the first sentence, I told myself. Then you’ll be able to ignore that tiny fly. See, he’s just a baby, you can forget about that!

seemingly ordinary…There he was. On the edge of the book. He wouldn’t even let me finish the damn sentence. If it wasn’t the buzzing, it was this…his little poop-feet were all over my book, tracking germs and poop and who knows what all over my precious Sedaris. I shook him off the page, encouraging him to move on. “Look little fly, there are plenty of other places in my room for you to look at…” And with a shake of the wrist and a flipping of a page he flew off over my head and was gone. seemingly ordinary home or office.

I did it. I finished the first sentence. I smiled triumphantly and looked up, and there he was. He was no little baby fly. This was the Godzilla of all flies. A Flyzilla. I could see myself reflecting from his eyes. He stared at me, with a taunting expression on his face. His head was so big it was about double the size of the alarm clock he was sitting on. I could see the individual hairs on his legs. I could see bits of poop on his damn feet; and they left stains all over my alarm clock! I couldn’t figure out the cause of his joy until I saw the clock. 2.1 minutes had passed, and I had only read 1 sentence. I only had 12.3 minutes left until my one percent of the day was gone forever.

I glared at the fly, and turned back to my book. I convinced myself that I could just ignore him, no matter what. I had just focused my eyes on where I had left off, when Mr. Flyzilla put his buzzing in high gear, and circled around the book, my head and my hand.

“Oh, I see.” I told him. “You like to read, huh?” I saw him shrug his wing at me and roll his eyes. He started rubbing his enormous legs in front of my face, perched on the edge of my book. It was like he couldn’t decide whether he would take a bite out of me, or out of the book. I imagined razor sharp fangs protruding out of that suction cup mouth. He moved his wings back and forth, hovering and buzzing as loud as he possibly could.

“Mr. Sedaris is not to be shared with anyone,” I told him, and wiggled my finger in his face. “I’ll share my room with you, no problem, but this book, it’s mine. Got that?” Flyzilla decided to hiss back at me. “Move!” I shouted.

He wouldn’t budge. I shook the book. He held on as if he had claws that protruded from his legs. I saw his eyes glint red, his mouth open for what was sure to be a bite of my flesh. In my own self interest, I decided to back off. I gently set the book on my lap. I glanced at the clock. Another 3.4 minutes had gone by.

I decided a change in tactic was necessary. I informed him that I only had one percent of the day to be used for my reading. “Please little guy, I’m so tired. Can you just wait over there until I finish? Then the book can be all yours. I promise!”

He lifted his legs and took off. I looked down, thinking I had him convinced, that I won. It was for an instant that I could no longer see him, that I imagined that the pest had transformed into the size of a gnat and would no longer bother me. I even breathed a sigh of relief, and relaxed for the first time all day. Then the little bugger flew up and crashed into the corner of my eye, right by my nose. Stunned, I reeled backwards, and hit my head on the head board.

He put his buzzer on loudspeaker, and crashed again and again into my face. The ear-splitting drone and the combination of his monster sized wings batting across my cheek were more than I could stand. I finally got over the shock and gave a hard swat at him with the back of my hand.

He landed on the open pages of the book. So, I figured, I’d squash the little bugger between the pages. No hard feelings, Mr. Sedaris, but your book became my flyswatter. Ever so slightly, and ever so slowly, while the little bloodsucker contemplated his next assault tactics, I adjusted my hands beneath the book.

I took a deep breath.

I slammed the book shut.

In the process of fly swatting, I had completely forgotten about checking the page I was on. Not only was the book going to have fly guts on it, I was going to have to page past them in order to read the rest of the chapter. Yuck. Well, I had to confirm a casualty, didn’t I? It wasn’t going to be pretty…

Wrong. I paged through the book and found no trace of fly guts. There wasn’t even a speck of blood. In my semi-professional fly-swatting experience, that means the creature is still out there, and will come back with a vengeance. I decided to continue reading, to see if I could get the rest of the measly 6.2 minutes that remained before the guy made his way back to find me.

It took two. Two minutes. Before I knew it, Flyzilla returned. Bigger and badder than ever. And he decided that face-hitting attacks weren’t enough for him. He wanted me. He didn’t take the assassination attempt lightly, that’s for sure. I looked at him sneaking his way up my bed, with new camo-gear in tow. “Don’t think I don’t see you, Flyzilla.” I cried out. “This means war!”

I took my book (hardcover, by the way) and slammed it on the end of my bed, just grazing my big toe. I howled in pain, and I swear I heard the fly howl with laughter. Laughter!

I heard him take off, just to spite me, and begin to fly around in slow circles, above my head, around my bed, circling the book. I frantically looked at the clock. I had 3.7 minutes remaining. I had to do something, and quick! His wings were the size of jumbo jets and the sound was deafening.

He must have been doing recon, because he flew in two big loops from my window to my door to my bed. I threw everything I had in reach at him, and missed and missed. He dove out of the way of a pencil that I tossed up in the air, and flew smack into my lamp next to my bed. He twitched and fell to the floor after burning his feet on the light bulb. I giggled maliciously.

My laughter faded as I watched him get up from the floor and begin to climb up the wall. His eyes filled with new determination and the noise erupting from his wings shook my apartment complex. I crouched in fear on the opposite side of my bed. No, I wasn’t going to go down as a coward! It was time to negotiate.

I stood tall, and rushed over to my door. I opened it wide, and did a spectacular interpretative dance urging Flyzilla to leave my room. I talked of open fields, piles of garbage, and many many other gringas he could visit at the wee hours of the night.

He contemplated the free world option and compared it to a world of life on the battle field, with its endless thrill-seeking, and infinite adrenaline rushes. He chose the latter.

He completed the necessary surveillance to launch a full-fledged attack on his very well-suspecting victim. Exhausted, and with less than 1 minute left on the clock, I was ready for him.

This time while he zoomed above my head, I feigned exhaustion and lazily grabbed the leg of my teddy bear, which had fallen onto the floor in the previous book-slamming commotion. I snapped upright, and with sharp-shooter’s aim, Teddy went flying into the air, and crashed against the ceiling. He landed with a poof on my bed.

I no longer heard the roaring of the jet engines. I heard a faint plink on the floor, and the sputtering fizzling halt of the mosca del infierno. He appeared on the other side of my bed. His little feet waved in what could have been a dance of surrender, or a call for reinforcements.

I promptly smashed him with my book.

Contented and pleased, I relaxed for the first time in what seemed like weeks. I rolled over, opened my book and began to read when another buzzing began…

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Aztec

Written by: Rinda Payne

A mysterious man was seen walking down Triunfo Street to the Plaza de Armas in Cusco in the middle of June shortly after he had arrived from Mexico. He was dressed in black. His back was as straight as his long nose. His glistening hair, the color of coal, was brushed back and tied in a pony tail. His eyes, glittering like two pieces of jet catching the light, were focused straight ahead. He was known as The Aztec. His name was unpronounceable, long and filled with tongue-twisting combinations of consonants and vowels.
He was accompanied by an assistant, a paler version of The Aztec. He, too, wore black, but his skin was sallow, his nose slightly out of joint, his shoulders slumped and his long, raven hair, which hung loose, was lusterless. Like a shadow, he followed several steps behind The Aztec.

The Aztec had paid cash to rent an apartment. He announced, “I have come to save the Andean people. To show them the Aztec way, to convert them to a way of living far superior to that which they are accustomed to.” He distributed fliers describing the weekly one hour meetings that he would host in the living room of his apartment. Each meeting cost approximately four American dollars.
Twelve men, intrigued by The Aztec’s fliers, attended the first meeting. They came from different backgrounds. Five were friends who owned businesses in the city; three had jobs with the City of Cusco; three were retired; and one was a lawyer who had just opened an office in Cusco. Each man was bored with the monotony of his daily routine. They all were seeking something new in order to regain their passion for life.

The assistant took the fee for the meetings, checked the names of the men who were present and then disappeared from the room.
The Aztec introduced the first lesson by saying, “I will reveal to you how to interpret the Aztec calendar, how to live in balance by separating foods and beverages into categories and percentages, how to breathe, to sleep, to relax, and to massage your bodies. Precise formulas account for every aspect of life, mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. As a result of these techniques, you will be healthier and happier.” 

He required the men to keep the Aztec ways a secret. He laughed to himself as he ended the first class with a warning. “You can’t share what you learn here with anyone outside of this group.” Several thoughts passed through his mind in quick succession. If they knew that only a handful of men have been granted the privilege of teaching the Aztec beliefs, and I am not one of them, I am an imposter, they would run from me. What if anyone in Mexico discovered I was representing myself as an Aztec when I learned all the techniques and systems by eavesdropping on one of the approved teachers while working as a cook in his home. Keeping the beliefs secret will entice more people into the group, and I’ll earn more money.
Before long, the members of the group realized that being a part of the Aztec world required a great deal of effort on their part. They struggled with the practices which would bestow harmony upon them. They wrestled with dividing the foods and beverages into the correct percentages to be consumed each day. Figuring out how much water they should drink daily according to each one’s body weight was a chore. The tortuous names of the systems were in Aztec, not in Spanish. It was difficult to remember the correct hand positions for the massage techniques. To practice them on each other in class, embarrassed them. They began to grumble among themselves on the street as they parted for the night.

“This is too difficult.”
“I’d rather be home drinking beer.”

“It’s torture. I don’t want to be an Aztec.”
Jorge, who worked for the City, summed up their feelings. “We prefer our own rituals and values centered on ayni(1) and honoring the natural world, Pachamama(2) and the apus(3). The Andean way is much simpler, more profound. Our long-established customs make us feel good. The Aztec way doesn’t suit us.”

The Aztec was oblivious to their lack of enthusiasm. He continued his nonstop lecturing and whacking his pointer against the chalkboard whenever he wanted to emphasize a detail he had written on it. “It was a good lesson tonight,” he would say to his assistant once the men had left.
After each meeting, The Aztec would tell his assistant, “I am making headway with the men.” He would pat himself on the back. His self-importance and greed increased as he observed the men trying to grasp what he taught them. “Aha!” he would exclaim out of earshot of the assistant. “They will spread the word about the Aztec principles! The size of the group will expand. I’ll make more money.”

The final straw for the men was when the Aztec told them that there was to be no drinking and no partying, that coca leaves were forbidden. “What will we do during the festivals?” they asked each other. “How can we make a despacho(4) without chewing coca leaves or putting them into the despacho?” Tired of what seemed like endless lessons and angry at The Aztec’s arrogance at wanting to rescue them from Andean beliefs, the members met in a local coffee house following an evening class some two months after their first meeting.
One of the business owners spoke first. “Let’s frighten The Aztec.”

A retiree asked, “Why not run The Aztec out of Cusco?”
“Not just out of Cusco, but out of Peru,” another retiree added.

Jorge offered, “I’ll dissolve some pills in the water of The Aztec, and he will sleep.”
“That’s the best idea we’ve heard yet,” the lawyer declared. The others agreed.

Jorge appeared early at the next class. Hidden in the pocket of his jacket was a vial of Valium pills that he had borrowed from the owner of a bar who mixed the pills in the drinks of trusting tourists who flaunted their cash. He snuck into the kitchen. He opened a bottle of San Luis water, which always stood on the table, and poured a glassful. He added four pills to the water. There, he thought, we’ll fix him.
Fortunately, the assistant was absent that evening. While The Aztec was collecting the men’s payment as they entered the apartment, Jorge handed the water to The Aztec who, not suspecting a hidden motive, thanked him for his thoughtfulness. After The Aztec had finished the water, he began to feel lethargic. He sat down on a rickety stool. The men waited until he fell asleep. With nothing to support his body, The Aztec tumbled onto the floor. The men kept silent until they were certain that their movements would not awaken him. Then, Jorge turned out the lights in the room. Signaling the group to be quiet, Jorge hissed, “Ssh, ssh.” As the men undressed The Aztec and piled his clothes beside him, the rays from a street light shown through a window, highlighting their smiles. After finishing their work, they filed out of the apartment and slipped away, each man to his own home.

Later that evening, the assistant returned to the apartment to find The Aztec groggy and confused. The Aztec recounted, “I fainted on the living room floor and came to a little later. I am troubled, because I did not have any clothes on. I can’t remember how and when I took them off. I even forget turning the light off. What a mystery!” Together, they decided that The Aztec had fainted because he had not eaten since breakfast. “You see,” he said to the assistant, “how important it is to adhere to the Aztec precepts.”
The men, curious as to whether they had frightened The Aztec into departing Cusco, appeared at the next meeting to find him waiting for them. The Aztec unexpectedly proclaimed, “From here on, meetings will be twice a week for two hours, instead of once a week for one hour. There is so much to learn.” The men looked at each other in dismay. The same thought occurred to each one; rather than scare the Aztec as they had intended, the incident seemed to embolden him.

Of course, such a plan meant more money for The Aztec, so he lied to his assistant, “I am willing to give up more of my time so that the men will have every opportunity to study the Aztec system with me.” Meanwhile, images flickered through The Aztec’s mind of the soles(5) he would accumulate. There’ll be no more living from one day to the next he thought. I’ll have to find a way to send my assistant back to Mexico, so he won’t know how much money I’m making.
After a month of classes twice a week, the men were exhausted. They struggled to speak up in class; they dragged their feet as they walked home; they were absentminded at their work place or with their families. The following week, the men congregated on a nearby, deserted street corner after class. One of the business men spoke up, “Our minds are confused by these complex and unfamiliar teachings. We thought our lives were boring before we joined this group. We didn’t recognize how good our days were. We took for granted our laughter, friendships and families. Now our life is a burden.”

It was Jorge’s turn. “We must leave The Aztec,” he said,
The lawyer added, “All of us will regain our zest for life. We will resume our beer drinking, making sure we spill several drops on the ground as an offering to Pachamama before we take our first swig. We will tell jokes and laugh uproariously. Once again, we will practice ayni.”

“Si! Si!(6),” the men responded in unison, embracing one another.
No one rang the door bell at the hour of the next class. The Aztec paced the floor of the living room expecting the men to appear at any moment. What could have happened to them, he thought.  He angrily turned to his assistant. “No one has arrived. Why?” The assistant was silent. When it became apparent that the men had abandoned him, The Aztec cursed them.  He would have to go without their payments for that night’s lesson.

I am a con man The Aztec reflected. I’ve had many careers in which I dupe people into handing over their funds. I’ve traveled throughout Mexico exhausting my opportunities, cheating at card games, pulling off scams and swindles, selling fake goods. I thought I’d try another country where I’d be a stranger. I decided to target this city. Now, it’s best to move on.
At midnight, he swiftly packed his few belongings in a plastic bag and, without alerting his snoring assistant, he walked out the door of the apartment and vanished into the dark, never to be seen again in Cusco.

(1)Ayni: (Quechua): the principle which forms the foundation of the social and mystical worlds of the Andean: reciprocity among humans and the sacred interchange of energy among humans and the natural world.

(2)Pachamama: (Quechua): Mother Earth.

(3)Apus: (Quechua): spirits of the mountains.

(4) Despacho: (Spanish): an offering made to Mother Earth (Pachamama) or to the apus using a variety of items such as grains, seeds, candies, flowers, gold stars, a llama fetus. The items are ritually arranged on white paper, and prayers are infused. The paper, along with its contents, is folded into a bundle. The bundle is burned if the despacho is for the apus; it is buried in the ground if it is for Pachamama. Materials for the despacho can be bought in the public markets in the Andes. Coca leaves are an indispensible part of making a despacho.         

(5)Soles: (Spanish): the sol (soles plural) is the Peruvian currency.

 (6)Si: (Spanish): yes.