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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jimena's Calling

Guest Author:  Rinda Payne
Written by Rinda Payne

 Jimena was 30 years old. She lived in a village near Paucartambo in the same house that she had shared with her mother until her mother’s death. She missed her mother’s company. Without her mother, Jimena felt that what once had been a home now seemed like an empty shell. Her father and brothers and sisters had died in a tragic accident two years ago. They were traveling on the bus to Cusco, a four-hour trip. The only route from Paucartambo to Cusco is a treacherous dirt road that winds through the remote mountains until it descends to join the paved main road to Cusco. In places it is wide enough for only one vehicle. Towering cliffs are on one side, precipitous drops into deep valleys on the other. There are no guardrails. The bus missed a curve and plunged into a ravine, killing all on board.  
Jimena’s mother had been a respected healer who used the herbs from her garden to cure patients. Her healings had brought in a small income, enough for the two of them to live on, but Jimena never took her mother’s ability seriously. Jimena considered herself to be a modern woman. She believed that physicians with their pills, injections and treatments provided the best cures and care for the sick. There were no hospitals or specialists in Paucartambo, but when Jimena was sick, she always consulted a doctor in general medicine at one of Paucartambo’s postas medicas1.

Furthermore, her mother had learned how to heal with herbs from Jimena’s maternal grandmother who in turn had been taught by Jimena’s great-grandmother. It was a family tradition passed down from a long time ago. “Times have changed,” she used to say, “What is the use of herbs when you can pay a physician in Paucartambo to treat you?”
Jimena’s mother had had a dream just before she died. It had revealed that Apu2 Ausangate would call Jimena to a new life. Lying on her deathbed, her mother had struggled to speak. “It is a great honor to be called by Apu Ausangate. I believe you will become a healer if you accept his calling.” During moments of lucidity, she told her daughter, “Speak to the Apu about the calling. Offer k’intus3 to him.”  

A grieving, but practical, Jimena evaluated her situation a day after her mother’s death. “I now am on my own.” She stopped momentarily overcome by sadness. “My relatives live far away in Arequipa….there’s no contact with them.” She wiped tears from her eyes and continued, “I’ll care for the herbs my mother gave to the sick…and tend the vegetables. The guinea pigs…I’ll keep them. They’ll provide me with meat.”
She went to stand on the balcony. Ausangate loomed in the distance. The mountain was massive, covered in white snow. It rose up above the surrounding landscape, huge and intimidating. It was the highest mountain in southern Peru, and it was home to the most powerful apu in that region of the country.

As she gazed at Ausangate, she wanted to howl with pain, not so much at the loss of her mother but at finding herself alone in a country where family meant everything. Andean customs dictated that she remain stoic unless she was in the privacy of her home. She sighed. “If I wail on the balcony, the neighbors will hear me.” She stifled her anguish.
Jimena worried about her mother’s dream. “Was it a vision? Or was it my mother’s attempt to leave me, her last remaining child, with a vocation?” Jimena was troubled by the fact that the dream hadn’t disclosed how the Apu would call her or what Jimena’s new life would be. As she looked at Ausangate, it seemed cold and aloof. “It’s not in the least ready to grant me a calling,” she said aloud. She turned and went into the house.

After the funeral in the nearby church and burial in the local cemetery, Jimena returned to her house and went to the balcony, drawn by the message of her mother’s dream. What if the dream were true, she thought, and I am to be called? The mountain looked back at her with its haughty splendor.
She decided that the best tactic to take with the Apu was to trust the dream and disregard her conflicting views about her mother’s revelation. “After all,” she reflected, “the Apu has a commanding presence, and everyone in the community respects it.” She began talking to the Apu.

“Dear Apu Ausangate, please give me a sign about my mother’s dream. Tomorrow I’ll buy some coca leaves and make a k’intu in your honor like we Andeans do to honor the apus and Pachamama4.” She waited patiently, but the Apu remained silent.
The next day she took a colectivo5 into Paucartambo to purchase the coca leaves. After alighting from the colectivo near the entrance to the town, she crossed the bridge over the river and headed in the direction of the main plaza. She turned down a narrow side street lined with the typical two-story white-washed buildings, their doors, shutters and balconies painted a deep sky blue, which are a highlight of the town, and entered a small store. Inside, the light was dim. Baskets and paper bags holding the offerings to make despachos6 crammed the store’s shelves. Beans, rice, candies, silver and gold stars, llama  fetuses, confetti, and many more items filled the containers. She moved to a large sack of coca leaves that stood on the floor in one corner of the shop. Shifting the leaves through her fingers, she bargained for a small bag.  

She returned home and sorted the leaves. She put the perfect ones in the pocket of her apron and ventured out onto the balcony. She made a k’intu just as her father had done when he was alive. She gently breathed into the k’intu her prayers to the Apu, “Apu Ausangate come to me. Most sacred Apu hear my plea. Send me a calling to honor my mother’s dream. In return, I offer you my finest energy as ayni7.”            
She talked to the Apu daily. Sometimes she felt a sharp influx of energy enter the area just below her stomach. “Ah, perhaps that’s a sign that the Apu hears me. On the other hand, perhaps it’s just the wind,” she would exclaim.

Isabel, a neighbor who lived near Jimena, told her, “It is an Andean tradition that Apu Ausangate always calls twice.”
Jimena murmured, “Why wasn’t once enough? Probably the first call was my mother’s dream.” Her mood brightened. Days passed. Nothing happened. She didn’t feel any different. There were no mystical experiences. There were no visions. No one came to consult her for a healing using the herbs from her mother’s garden. She was irritated with the Apu. “The Apu is ignoring me because I believe in modern medicine,” she grumbled. She felt frustrated by her efforts to elicit a response from the Apu.

Jimena had a pleasing personality. Everyone whom she met succumbed to it, even her family when they were alive. She always got her way without any effort on her part. She was not used to having anyone, not even Apu Ausangate, deny her wishes. Surely, she thought, the Apu eventually will realize that I am sincere in my appeals to him.
After several months had elapsed without a sign, she was exasperated. She vented her annoyance to the Apu. “Why are you so silent? I daily ask you for my calling, yet you do not respond to my repeated petitions. What must I do to gain your attention?”

Days passed. Jimena complained, “I’ve never encountered a situation like this.” She refused to accept a lack of a response from the Apu as an answer. “Don’t be discouraged,” she told herself. “Perhaps the calling will come at night.” She extended her hours with the Apu long into the evening, imploring it for a calling. The winter winds swept down from the Andes, turning the grass and leaves of the trees brown and driving the temperature down to freezing as soon as the sun set. The bitter, cold nights would force her into the house to get a warm, thick manta8 to wrap around her in order to keep warm. “The cold is nothing; the Apu is everything,” she would mutter.
About a month later, she declared, “He will call me in the early morning.” So she began her day on the balcony communicating with the Apu. By this time, her persistent attempts to win the Apu’s favor and to prove that her mother’s dream was true had turned to obsession. She stood on the balcony from early morning to late evening, petitioning the Apu for her calling and paying tribute to the spirit of the mountain with k’intu after k’intu. She watched the early morning rays of the sun light up the sacred mountain and the rays of the descending sun turn its mantle of snow from white to a glowing pink. Every night, she would say “buenos noches9” to the Apu and crawl into bed.

Another month passed. The more her desire to receive a calling from the Apu consumed her thoughts and feelings, the longer she stood on the balcony. She failed to notice that the hours that she devoted to herself and her surroundings grew less and less. She was spending almost her entire days and nights with the Apu, falling asleep on the balcony from exhaustion.  
Soon, she was neglecting everything around her. Jimena repeated to herself ritualistic phrases: “I must cook. I must clean. I must tend the animals and the garden. I must go to the Sunday market. I must visit my neighbors.” Her mantra became, “Tomorrow I’ll take care of everything,” but tomorrow never arrived.

Then, late one evening, a fierce hail storm erupted while Roberto was walking along the dirt road that led from a distant pueblo10 to his home in Jimena’s village. He saw a light in Jimena’s window and knocked on her door in order to take refuge from the storm. There was no answer. Sensing that something was wrong, Roberto pushed open the door and looked around the house. He saw no one. He noticed the door to the balcony was ajar. He opened it wider. There was a white bundle lying on the floor of the balcony amidst coca leaves coated with hail. Moving closer, he turned the bundle over with his foot with a strength that came from walking long distances and doing heavy labor. Roberto suppressed a cry of horror. It was Jimena, her manta white with hail.
Roberto fled from the house into the raging storm, which was bending the tree branches low to the ground and sending dirt and pebbles swirling into the air. Covered by hail, he looked like a phantom as he passed from house to house to rouse the residents of the community to tell them about Jimena’s untimely death.

After a mass in the village’s church, the neighbors buried Jimena facing Ausangate, next to her mother. At the grave, the mourners formed k’intus of coca leaves and invoked the Apu, “Most sacred Apu, honor this woman in her life after death. Apu Ausangate, grant her peace and happiness in her new life.”
1Posta medica (Spanish): a small medical clinic.

2Apu: (Quechua): spirit of the mountain. In general, apus are male, although several apus are female. Apu Ausangate is male.

3K’intu: (Quechua): three perfect coca leaves held in the shape of a fan and used in rituals.

4Pachamama: (Quechua): Mother Earth.

5Colectivo: (Spanish): a taxi that transports passengers where there is no van or bus service.

6Despacho: (Spanish): A dispatch, an office; in the Andes, it means an offering made to Mother Earth (Pachamama) or to the apus.

7Ayni: (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. 

8Manta: (Spanish): a blanket made from two large rectangular weavings sewn together.

9Buenas noches: (Spanish): good night.               

10Pueblo: (Spanish): a town, city or village.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Good Day

A Good Day
By Katrina Heimark

Lima was a city of noises. It was a city of screeching tires, the rush of car horns and the rumbling of motorcycles. Papers and bags rustled in the salty wind that swept around buildings, alleys, and highways. The wail of trumpets, accompanied by promises of eternal love, poured over radio airwaves and seeped through car windows. Dogs, perched on rooftops, voiced their disapproval of the chaos passing by below them. Whistles escaped from the pursed lips of street vendors, taxi drivers, and even pedestrians as they tried, in this chaotic city, to capture anyone’s attention. 

A scraggly dog was oblivious to all this. His curly ashen fur added a fullness to that body that stature otherwise lacked. The dog’s pointy ears were folded over just slightly and extended much too far from the top of his head. Ears were his principal feature, but his modest snout was his best characteristic. It was long, but not too long, ending in small black button nose, which was covered in several scars. He was missing a few teeth, but few got close enough to notice. 

He was a strange looking dog—his back legs were so long that he leaned forward, as if he were walking downhill. His hips were slight; their bones protruded from his back, forming two small knobs right in front of the base of a bushy and busy tail erupt. His feet were disproportionately large, and his front legs were slightly curved inwards. He would sit down once and a while, to scratch a patch on his neck where had no longer had fur, and his tongue would hang out lopsidedly when he did. 

But had anyone ever really focused on his eyes, they would have seen a completely different dog. They would have seen inside those dark sparkling pools a sort of composure that was different from the sum of his uneven parts. They might have even seen a hint of kindness, a drop of loyalty, a hunger for reward. Maybe they would have seen a good dog.   

This morning found this lopsided dog busily trotting along a side street, while he approached the hustle and bustle of Lima traffic. 

“Toooodo Bolivar, Universitaaaaria, La Catoooolica, San Maaaarcos!”(1) Shouted the already hoarse cobradores,(2) their head and limbs protruding precariously from the bus as they tried to convince people to get on.  

As the dog approached Bolivar, he slowed. The traffic was intense at this hour, and he noticed. He turned the corner and weaved through students carrying backpacks, mothers taking their uniformed children to school, and many people with bags, briefcases and the occasional suit. He sniffed a few bags as he walked by; it was definitely time for breakfast. 

He smelled the sweet perfume of a jelly-filled roll in one small paper sack, and took just one moment too long to enjoy it.  WHAM! A hand slid into the back of his head, knocking open the eyes he had so carelessly allowed to close. “Perro cochino!"(3) bellowed a man! A knee slid into his ribs, and pushed him into a passer-by. The woman, in turn, lashed out at him with a stabbing heel. The dog whimpered loudly and galloped off before he could hear, or feel more threats. Had he been more alert, he might have even been able to grab that piece of breakfast after all.

He galloped off until he came upon a stop light. He paused, not because he was out of the man’s reach, but because he had looked toward the on-coming traffic. Cars and buses sped by with horns blaring; they all had to beat the light this morning. The dog sat down. Someone his age certainly knew how to gauge the noises of Lima. The light would change soon enough. 

Tires squealed and passengers lurched forward as the buses came to a halt. No one seemed to notice the dog quickly running to the median, following the university students as they crossed the road. The dog continued along, this time much faster. He knew where he could find an easy meal. 

Turning onto an obscure side street with graffiti espousing hatred caused by an upcoming election, he came upon a man in white. The man was short, like the dog, and was filling a large white cart with baked goods. Saliva dripped from the dog’s mouth as he sat down. 

“You’re a little later than usual, Chusco(4)…Let me see what I’ve got for you this morning.” The man rummaged around his cart, careful not to stain his white coat. His head was covered by a baseball cap with a municipality logo on it, and the back of the coat stated “Registered and Inspected by the Municipality of Pueblo Libre.”(5) He wiped his hands on his dirty blue jeans, and pulled a smashed empanada(6) out of a small bag. “Looks like I’ve found something,” he muttered. The man’s eyes sparkled as he threw the pastry to the dog; a smile protruded from underneath his long, skinny nose. Chusco gulped down his breakfast in one bite, turned, and wagged his tail in appreciation as he trotted off. He knew better than to ask for more.


The best place for lunch in this dog’s part of the city was in Plaza San Miguel. Not by those nice stores; he never had any luck getting compassion from anyone who shopped there. No, it was behind the plaza, in a seedier, run-down mall complex that he went for lunch. The workers at Chi Lau’s Chinese Restaurant always recognized him, and threw him scraps from the chicken or pork they were preparing. He always went before the lunch rush--it ensured him more scraps, less fights with other dogs, and maybe even a bowl of water. One day he was late, and only received a measly portion of day old rice. It had made him so thirsty he had never been late since. 

A young man was outside; thick hair tussled about a large forehead. He was thin, but well built; his tanned arms protruding from a dark colored shirt. He looked up at the dog as he moved the trash cans to the back door of the restaurant. “No food yet, Pulgoso"(7) he stated, laughing at the fact that he was talking to a dog. He smiled as he opened the door and disappeared inside. The dog sat attentively at the door; ears perked, mouth at the ready, reflexes tense. When the man didn’t return after a few minutes, the dog circled three times, and found a piece of cardboard to lie down on. He closed his eyes. 

Soon smoke began to billow from the chimney, and the smell of soy sauce, grilled pork, and fried rice filled the air. But it was the growls from a stocky black dog that woke him from his dozing. She was much bigger than he was, but he bared his teeth anyway--he was not about to lose his spot in the lunch line. He jumped up in a flash, ready to confront her. His hair stood on end in a futile effort to make himself look as big as possible. She wasn’t fooled. 

Her black coat was as black as her eyes, and she barked with a meanness that only hunger could provoke. She growled and stepped closer and closer, in an effort to steal his prime position next to the garbage cans. The dog began to bark--a low, deep rumble that emerged from his throat--this was his territory. She started for him--taking a snap at his neck. Barks exploded from his modest snout; the sound echoed off the concrete walls. 

The man opened the door to take out some trash. Pulgoso saw his opportunity. He backed as quick as lightening into the kitchen. As the door closed behind him, he shouted a triumphant “Guau Guau!”(8) back at his adversary. He licked his lips and turned, saliva dripping from his chin. The entire kitchen turned wide-eyed to stare. A dog was in their kitchen. A barking dog!

Before anyone had time to react, the dog jumped up onto the counter, reaching for every bit of food in sight. He scarfed down an entire chicken breast, a bowlful of thinly sliced pork, lapped up a watery substance with eggs, inhaled some vegetables and began to gnaw on a tough piece of beef, while evading the prying hands, the pokes and pulls from the men in the restaurant. He snapped back at them, showing his missing teeth; he was not about to get off that counter. 

The men were just then rushing for a broom when a high-pitched voice erupted from just inside the swinging kitchen door. “What is going on!?” The restaurant manager had rushed into the kitchen as fast as her little feet could carry her. Her faced turned darker and darker shades of red, as her eyes were as wide open as the size of the hard-boiled eggs that disappeared inside the dog’s mouth. “What the hell is a dog doing in my kitchen?!” She screamed, even louder. “Get! Him! Out!” She grabbed the nearest kettle lid and chucked it across the room at the dog. Pulgoso expertly dodged it. 

The man who had opened the door had since gotten a broom and began to sweep Pulgoso and the entire contents of the table onto the floor, in a desperate attempt to save his job and his reputation. He sure didn’t want to touch the dog, the combination of the fleas and the dog’s fierce hunger were overpowering. The woman’s screams became more intense, as the man’s efforts seemed more and more futile. “Get this dog out of here this second, or you will beg for scraps!” 

A loud whack on his curved rump sent the dog him flying off the counter. Pulgoso scurried around the room, avoiding the barrage of pans, lids, and the ceaseless thrashing of the broom. He inhaled the food that had fallen on the floor, grabbing at a pig’s foot just as he received a final push from the broom. His nose smacked into the closed back door. Before he could do anything about it, sunlight blinded him, and he was outside.
The enormous black dog was waiting for him, and stole the pig’s foot from right out of his mouth. Pulgoso didn’t mind. He was too busy ferociously wagging his tail as he loped away from the parking lot. He had gotten a great meal.

He slowed down as he reached another street, inspected the stationary traffic, and crossed by inching his way behind the motionless cars. He approached a park filled with shady trees, and found a nice sunny spot on the sidewalk. He sat down, panting, and surveyed the area. The food began to settle, and he lay down, closing his eyes as he stretched his legs. Every once and a while he would look up in a stupor; car horns or passing bicycles rousing him from his sleep. As he lay his head back down, his tail thumped the ground. So far, it had been a good day.

(1)The names of streets or locations along a bus route. The bus workers shout the names of the roads they drive down so the passengers know where the bus goes, as there are no maps of bus routes in Lima.
(2)A bus worker who collects the bus fare from the passengers already inside the bus. He/She is also in charge of shouting the bus route, as there are no signs or posted routes in the city.
(3) Dirty dog!
(4) A Peruvian word for Mutt.
(5) Many street food vendors are authorized by different Municipalities in order to reduce the amount of informal laborers in the country.
(6) A small pie, often filled with ground beef, egg, raisons, and onions.
(7) Flea-bitten dog
(8) The sound a Spanish speaking dog makes. It is very close to the Bow Wow of an English speaking dog.