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 name is Esperanza. It means hope. I am eight years and three months old. I’m really going on nine.
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.