Friday, September 30, 1988

Chicuchas Wasi, the Children's Home of Cusco (notes for an article)




FIRST DRAFT NOTES  Most of my Chicuchas Wasi files won't even open, and the ones that do open are in far worse shape than this one. And this one's in bad shape. Will I ever be able to resurrect this? Alas, the dot matrix hard copy version I finally found is basically what you see here, not a finished article.



Peru’s capital city, Lima, founded in 1537, was once considered the Paris of the New World. But even the new Paris foundered quickly. Patron of Peru, born in 586AD, Santa Rosa de Lima, the new world’s first and only saint, housed, fed and nursed the poor, teaching them to read and write. 

By 1823, when the Gran Liberator Simón Bolívar arrived, he was appalled by the filth and poverty. Cuzco has always been the naval of the world, the capital of the Inca empire. 

In the center of the world, carrying on the tradition of Santa Rosa de Lima, is a modern 20th century healer, nurse Rae Pieraccini. When Pieraccini, a Sonoma County resident and Kaiser nurse at Santa Rosa (named after Rosa de Lima, incidentally), went to Peru with a Sierra Club expedition in 1985, little did she know she’d move to Cuzco and found a home for poverty-stricken children of the street, Chicuchas Wasi, which in Quechua, the Inca language, means Children’s Home.  

NOTES Pieraccini said when she arrived in Cuzco, she had a sensation of being here before and vowed to come back to live. Se didn’t even know Spanish. She was put to work as a nurse soon after when the tourist train to Machu Picchu was bombed in 1986. After the bombing, tourism dropped off because of war and terrorism but the children are insistent. Pieraccini came to Cuzco with a nurse friend whose brother was an archaeologist at Stanford. Pieraccini had the feeling of deja vu, of having been here before. 

Rae Pieraccini has 3 grown sons in Santa Rosa, 21, 23, 26. In 86 it was rough. Her youngest son was in Cusco when the train was bombed. She was the only bilingual nurse. She said that she tried not to work in medicine…but Rae at Kaiser was into alternative healing practice. Psychic healing, stress reduction (Kaiser administrator Michael Peterson was supportive of her efforts.)

Rae: I don’t know anything about US policies. This is a project of the heart..so we can get to know eachother as people. When you finally have all the things you need, then what? You come here where they have nothing. The only luxury we have is  a black and white TV. I have a VCR wish out. I’m writing a lot, mostly out of need. Perhaps for a nursing journal.

Rae works in the countryside with a Peruvian nurse, Enriquetta, and house manager, Phil Voysey, an Aussie.. Phil & I are on max burn-out level 24, hours a day. (

see PD article july 19, and TV interview on Chamnnel 6?  

Rae returns home to Sonoma County every 6 months to keep the flow (cash) going)

How people can help. Send money, says Rae. Chicuchas Wasi needs to become self-sufficient. to buy land in the country and to raise vegetables, there's always a shortage of greens in the Andes. She wants to take the kids back to the country.  But there's no electricity, she talks about the dangers of using a kerosine stove. No hot water, etc.

This is an outreach perogram, She has to contend with officials. credibility Ifactor.. story of sold kids... She has the way paved with the ministry of Health. She has an administarative role, something she doesn’t like to do…but it needs to be done. Chicuchas Wasi is in her name. She married a Peruvian.. Americans can’t own land (doesn’t want this mentioned…  )

Chicuchas Wasi's legal foundation is in Santa Rosa, because the money is in California. She says Chicuchas Wasi isn’t my house. it’s the kid’s house. She sees herself in the role of country nurse who's duties include birth to autopsy to dentistry (not in that order). She’s tryiing to incorporate both local healing, herbal and modern medicine practices.

We hiked three hours and 1,0000 meters up to vaccine kids and teach birth control. Cuzco at 11,100 ft. is base camp.

KINTERPLAST—group of surgeons plastic, at Stanford. She’s liasion. She says there are lots of burns, cleft palates, and told a story about a baby in the campo with a cleft palate. The parents wanted to leave it out, exposed to the elements, to die. Many superstitions.

But things are improving, there are several groups working together to serve the community better.

Sociology syndrome. There are kids living  in the street everywhere. The poverty is appaling. It’s time to take another look at how the children of the world are suffering. We’re chasing the wrong rainbow.. The time is now.  

CHILDHOPE in Guatemala City gave Rae a foundation grant.

She tells a story about one of her first charges, Ronald, now 15, twho ook everything we had. He’s now on his own working in a bakery painting faces on tarts. He earns 1,500 intis a month ($7.50 us) 500 intis go for a room. ($7 buys a good meal for 2 in Cuzco—barely). He lives on this a whole month?

He was their first street kid. She said, old habits die hard. Stealing and lying are a big problem. He still lives on the outside. His brother Lucho, we’re having better luck with him.

We’re trying to get little girls off the streets and into the home. The problem is 99% have parents so we legally can’t do much for them. For the first few months I was out there every night pounding the pavement. They won’t talk to Phil bevcause he’s a man. There’s a lot of abuse…mothers won’t let them come here because they won’t be earning money.

Foreigners have come here in the past to “adopt” kids and have turned around and sold them.

The story of Eva, the 8 year old selling her body to tourists on the streets of Cuzco. pix

People here are blind. It takes a foreigner here to see what the needs are, and what can be done for these kids. The question is, there’s so much to do, where do you start?  

Her mail’s being lifted? She said that she can’t trust officials.  >she describes herself as a woman in transition. Trial by fire.  

See article in the Christian Science Moniter on street kids. june 30, 87.

Phil Voysey’s been in Peru since January. He received a phone call at 4 am from Rae asking for help. Phil worked in Zimbabwe for two years teaching English & African history. He's had a lot of experience with the 3rd world. He first came to Peru in 1985. He said that he wanted to work in Latin America. And he  intended to go to Chile, but never mde it.

Though Rae doesn’t want to talk about the political structure, she said that Peru is one hell of a political hot spot for a middle class single gringa with 3 kids.  

She takes a more holistic approach—medicine. quote on wall— in spanish— your children are not your children. They are *sons and daughters of life—-Kalil Gibran  

Her own children having fled the nest, she’s now raising Quechua chiildren.  

I can’t figure out the politics. Like Pol Potismos, Viet Kong terrorists—nobody seems to be for the Sendero Luminoso. Carlos, our Limeño friend, a member of the miiddle class, feels a Sendero takeover is inevitible. He hopes they’ll have learned something and mellowed in the process. 

Chichua means pregnant. Chicuchas means children. Wasi means house.

Ronald who’s 15 looks about 10, from malnutrition, she said that he grew 4” in 4 months after she took him in.. .

Rae now has his brother Luis who came to Chicuchas Wasi —because I was walking the street looking for Ronald & they told me he was living with a gringa. Need translation of story...

Gillermo’s story, In the hospital, my mother died, my papa died .

Santusa’s story. She says they suffered a lot in the country taking care of the sheep in the rain? and she likes it better in the city. She likes it in Chicuchas Wasi because she wouldn’t have anywhere else to go if she left. She’d like to be an empleada (a domestic) when she grows up and work in somebody’s house. She’d like to work & put Rosita her little sister through high school.

John, who was translating their stories said, One thing that strikes me is that these kids have limited aspirations. Carpenter, maid. All my chicano kids in Oakland want to be doctors, lawyers, models. Or is it that a carpenter or maid is as high or unreachable or semi-realistic a goal as these :professional glamor positions are for most of my students?

Chicuchas Wasi was founded for puroses offering practical assistance, a future with hope to the abandoned street children of Cuzco. We were striving to create a home environment, where together we can become strong in body, mind, and spirit. Daily existence here is a struggle—even for the educated.

An economic crisis exists in Peru—so the children are forgotten. The government has no financial ability to help them. They simply exist by whatever means they can find, they are alone, afraid, hungry, sick, and without hope for more; or they die.

We are trying through love, affection, imnproved diet, health and education *to give them hope and a productive future.

Goals: to establish several permanent homes.
Self care education. Kids in local schools, apprenticeship with artisans. I’m looking for a mechanic apprentice to work 1 to 1 with the kids. We need community volunteers as well as US health care providers.

I’m here alone with the kids for days at a time. Kids have humble goals, but not too humble. A carpenter, a maid, I teach them basic living skills, washing and cooking. It’s a lonely profession. You have no one to share the hard times with—especially street kids—Ronald, I had to send him back to the streets because he exausted me.

Rae would like to see the home staffed with members from the local community. Creating a sense of extended family where children can reestablish their capacity to trust, and reenter their culture with a future that will include  a job, self-respect and dignity.

Rae lives in a modest 3 storey complex of adobe with a tiny courtyard the size of a hallway where the laundry chores are shared by all the children. The bright red plastic tubs are nearly as big as the kids. The kerosine stove is also outside.

Kerosine stoves account for nearly all the burns that Interplast tries reconstructive surgery on. Rae says we theoretically could expand Chicuchas Wasi.

Chicuchas Wasi currently has 6 kids; 4 brothers & sisters). We can put 4 more boys (8 total) at 2 to a bed, and 4 more girls. We have the space but not the resources. This includes care providers and money.

There’s also the problem of neighbors complaining about the noise the kids make while playing.

What Rae really wants to do is to relocate in the country and build a large hacienda where kids can raise their own vegetables to sell.—to become self supporting. She needs large cash outlay of several thousand dollars. $12,000 to buy a truck, $7,000 for land and another $3,000 for building supplies for starters.

We're outgrowing our house. Rae would like to see graduates from the home return to participate in its continued existance. As a registered nurse, and help in the community…. outreach

The kids always say, “are you going to hit me? There’s so much alcoholism here. They are always speaking Quechua when they don’t want me to understand. They tell us, you and Phil speak English when you don’t want us to understand. I need to learn Quechua. No one speaks Spanish in the campo.

I was in the park, when I first arrived here—- I lifted my hand from my backpack for a moment and it was stolen right out from under my hand. I didn’t have a place to live, I didn’t have a job and everything I owned was stolen. I had enough change to get a cup of coffee and a friend saved me. He took me up to th English Language school and got me a job.

Rae is care provider for six kids; 4 boys and 2 girls. All are without family. One child has Spina Biida or Spinal TB, they’ve had parasites, worms, typhoid—many street kids come to lunch to eat their main midday meal—usually their only meal.

Rae needs more space & help. She says we have a policy not to take in kids on a permanent basis under the age of five years. The economy here is crazy. The price of food has more than doubled in six weeks. The majority of the street kids are boys.

All I want to do right now is administartive stuff— I’d like to start a cottage industry. Make cookies to sell to the gringos. All the kids are way behind ifor their age— physically, emotionally & educationally. I must be crazy to do this (to raise kids) for a second time. I look at all those kids soaking it up In Cuzco, there are similar projects.

The orphanage run by nuns and Jhurch-related orphanages tend to take in babies but they don’t deal with Iindependent street kids. There’s a woman from France who also takes in street kids but she doesn’t offer them the kind of support Rae offers her charglings. Giving them a place to sleep and food isn’t enough—like Oliver Twist in the poorhouse in England—-

Rae said, I went home to get rested and I worked like hell to raise money. We had two interviews. The crowd she wants to reach are the west county folks. She says the 8 to 5’ers don’t respond. It’s the alternative lifestyle people who will help this project. Who knows what’s going to happen here politically? The Peruvians don’t understand our motives. Gringos robbed them of their children years ago and sold them into slavery and prostitution.

Her nurse companion Enriquetta Ccapatinta has been instrumental in helping Rae get through the legal work. ON her bookshelf, City of Joy, 501 Spanish verbs. Pediatrics, Carlos Casteneda, candles, crystals, shells and herbs. A poster on the wall. Love is the power that heals. A calendar of street people of the world. Stuffed bears and rabbits. Large butcherpaper notes of Quechua suffixes and tenses plaster the walls. Mi casa wasi y, tu casa wasiki, casa wasi.

There are no stipends she can offer house manager Phil Voysey. Phil’s had to pay for everything out of his own pocket. When Rae came to CA to raise money, someone donated $100 so he could take a vacation. When we get the oven working, we’ll sell cookies and wear our twe shirts that say Chicuchas Wasi and sell them to the gringos on the plaza.

Her dream is to open a *tienda, a store and export Peruvian goods. Rae was raised in Sausalito, the daughter of a fisherman, I was his crew & deck hand. We were berthed down where Spinnaker's is now. Her father went into boat tours and they moved the business over to SF’s Pier 43.

I was the oldest of two daughters. I did all the PR and contacted the hotels. For ten years. II passed out literature, sold tickets, etc… this survival skill was to later help her with Chicuchas Wasi.

She was married at 18 to someone who lived around the corner, had three sons by the time she was 24. She moved to Hawaii, sold real estate in Oahu and Kauaii.

She returned to San Rafael, had the ticky tacky house, station wagon and dog—the whole middle class scene. And I woke up one day when I caught my children out in the back yard taking the temperature of the pool with a thermometer to see who had the warmest pool in the neighborhood. I said, something’s wrong here.

We took a ride up to Sonoma (74) and bought six acres south of the town on Watmaugh And built a home for ourselves. We went back to the land. We were very domestic. We had a farm, joined 4H, raised pigs. I had a truck, with pigs in back, kids in front—pigs have a tendency to escape. I wound up chasing pigs with a tennis racquet.

We had goats, made cheese, home canned, etc. The kids were involved. Like with coming here, I lived by that inner force that's always led me. IMy dream as a kid was to be a nun and to work on the hospital ship, Hope.

Rae did become a nurse. Took courses at Napa Community college for 5 years.. She worked at Queen of the Valley hospital, Yontville Veteran’s Home, Sonoma Valley Hospital, before coming to Kaiser Permanente for six years.

She officially quit last year. She did ICU intensive care nursing at San Rafael for two years—before she burned out. Working at Santa Rosa Kaiser, in general medicine, five days a week from 8 to 5, was great. She taught stress reduction classes, and worked in OB/GYN.

She said, I wish I had more pediatrics training. What I like most is country nursing. I was involved in psychic healing long before I became a nurse. When I worked as a student nurse, I’d use psychbic healing and the moniters would go down. ‘I use touch, channeling energy fields.       

See PD ARTICLE Fall 85 Rae visited Cuzco, the magnetic center of the earth. where she found the place & its indigenous Quechua people so compelliing that she knew :she had to go back whether or not she could make a living.  

10 year resident of Sonoma co. critical care nurse at Kaiser Pernanente. her 3 sons live in sonoma, their father is in Stockton. (Sausalito story…3 mos. later, she took leave of absence from her job to spend a year in Cuzco and be a volunteer nurse, to learn Spanish, to make connections with the Quechua culture.

During her year in Cuzco she became acquainted with the street kids. seven year olds with families so impoverished, they live solely on potatoes. She blames the problem on declining economy and high birth rate. This forces the kids on the street to work, beg, steal at an early age. Soon, they’ve moved onto the streets.

After months of fundraising, Rae bought the apt 3 blocks from the town’s main plaza and invited the street children in. Her project has attracted the attention of foreign Peruvians in Cuzco.  

Contingents of interested Sonoma County  people are fundraising on the home front. Rae says Peruvian participation is crucial if this projets is going to survive. Rae wants project to be acceptable to the Quechuas and then she’ll turn it over to them when it’s established.  

In June, Rae drummed up donations of time, clothing, and medical supplies. Cuzco is an Inca museum filled with peasants. Those coming from primitive mountain villages find the adobe houses, electricity, and cobbled streets, very urban. Lack of high rises, poorly equipped hospitals and a severe absence of services for the poor…   

get back to PD article 

Chicuchas Wasi Rae Pieraccini, President, 
Casilla 636, Correo Central, Cuzco, Peru, 
SA tel 22772 Domicillo: Alabado 525 
FAX 51-84-236140 
Sra. Rae Pieraccini tele. 22-77-20 c/o La Positiva, Cuzco Peru 

Capp Street Foundation flow thru— went belly up. Chicuchas Wasi needs another flow thru. List of foundations sent to Steve Burdick to FAX to Rae.  or PO box 2031 Sonoma CA 95476 CA Prez. Steve Burdick, 1860 Sobre Vista Ct., Sonoma w. 765-9125, h. 938-0267 Kaiser ortho Dr.Jon Lopez H. 579-9065 W. 571-4123 9 Carol Stewart 539-4563, 538-2468 leaving for Peru in Oct? Leann Geiger 578-2606, 19, wants to work with Rae. Read about Chicuchas Wasi in PD. See also, Betty Woods—back from Nicaragua. Still at Kaiser? She may come down to help Rae later….



Wednesday, September 14, 1988

Journal, Enroute to Hawaii, Bearing Witness


Having returned from Guatemala, and unable to write about it, I depart for Hawaii and I marvel at the strange turn of events. I'm still on the road seven weeks later. This fast life and I'm not sure why the images won't come to me.

Yesterday, at the CPITS conference in Ben Lomond, I got a copy of American writers abroad edited by Carolyn Forché, from Tomi Nagai Roth, whom I know from the Napa Poetry Conference, and I haven't written about Dave Evans' death yet, or the one I am about to commit in two weeks.

And while reading prose, one of the things that struck me was that muteness is not singular. Carolyn Forché calls it "conscious preoccupation." It's as if (war correspondent) Harry's camera suddenly became too heavy to record yet another atrocity. 

My camera didn't record it all all those National Geographic shots of peasants being held at gunpoint, nor did it record them being quaintly ethnic either.

I didn't want to document this, become a witness, so that I, too could say I've been there. The shock value of the unreal postcards – somewhere between the two is what I wish to record. This muteness that lives inside me remembers much and I have to trust that it will all come out in poetry.

It's hard to find lyric images from the soldiers with Uzis stats who stopped the jeep for the third time in 6 miles, or when the women lying on the sidewalk in rags, hold up a gnarled hand for cambio, her milky eyes can no longer focus, from too much alcohol and abuse. Our bag ladies are quite yuppie by comparison.

Next to me, a man in uniform is reading a Star Trek novel while waiting for his flight. I wonder how many men he directs towards the war machine with his three color bars like so many Guatemalan belts. The title of his book is called Deep Domain. 

Two men discuss the existence of potential planets. One, an astronomer, complains of light pollution. The other sells airline insurance. I've been in so many planes the past few weeks I'm afraid the chances of being in the crash have increased. 

I can't forget those flaming horses falling from the sky in Mexico City when the Belize cargo plane crashed. I can't help but think of the irony of those six legged gods conquering the Indios one more time. 42 dead. All this numbs one.

I am preoccupied by what I have seen to the point of muteness. How can I begin to write these things? Also, the knowledge of what I already know to be true, I bring to my writing. Bearing witness.

The soldiers have Uzis, they got them from Israel, with US money to make those weapons. Therefore the US is offering military aid to them, albeit indirectly. 

This also means that guerillas have AK-47s because of the nature of the war beast. I don't know what AK-47s look like. I know that the guerillas of El Salvador and Nicaragua are armed with AK-47s. And I assume that they are Russian guns. I dont' want this knowledge in my head. But I can't unlearn it.

After two weeks ranging fires, the air is finally clearing a bit. The sun was a red ball in the gray sky. On August 30, 15,000 lightning strikes lit 1300 fires. Most of the northern state is on fire. The moon is filled with dragon blood at night. This smoke blends in with the night sky. The stars are imperceptibly less visible.

I amuse myself with scientific metaphors. How to demonstrate gravity with a bucket of water and a rope swinging it overhead.

Or how to demonstrate how a black hole can swallow light. Inconceivable to me until I remember learning how to go into a fast spin on ice skates, one leg at an angle helps to gather speed putting me into an orbit, then lifting it off the ice, drawing it in at a right angle, along with my arms, closer to my body, until the spin becomes a blur. 

It's so hard to hold oneself in. The centrifugal force wants to pull your limbs back out and slow the speed in which you spin.

An imploding star condenses, becomes heavier like the ice skates— PSI. Spin faster than the speed of light so that nothing escapes. Like these events that frame our lives, the actions, louder than words. We are not in control of our destiny after all.



9/14/1988 
check dates, did we really go to S. America, return, then go to Guatemala (and me to Hawaii...) Then in November, John broke up with me, leaving me desolate.

Friday, September 9, 1988

Journal returning from Mexico and Guatemala


I'm back from Mexico and Guatemala, and I'm plagued by bad dreams. The red light of the digital clock becomes a fire burning at the top of the temple of the Jaguar at Tikal.

I have a hard time convincing myself that I'm home again. Reverse culture shock. I wake up, not knowing where I am, or who I am. The feeling of utter desolateness doesn't leave me. The soldiers with their Uzis continue to patrol my the perimiter of my dreams.

Meanwhile, thousands of forest fires burn in Northern California. The sun is a red ball in a gray sky, an angry eye in the temple.



9/9/1988 
Double-check date. Fires (late summer), but I'd returned from South America...



Thursday, September 1, 1988

Are the French Really Rude? On the Gringo Trail


ARE THE FRENCH REALLY RUDE?

Just back from spending the summer in South America, for me, one of the first indulgences of coming home (besides marveling at flush toilets, potable tap water and raw fruits and vegetables), is to read the Sunday paper.

One title in This World section caught my eye. “Are the French Really Rude?” Foreign LA Times correspondent Stanley Meisler writes, “after five years in France, and American still has a puzzling time figuring out the French. Are they really rude?

I read that article with particular interest because I was going through the same dilemma after spending two months on the Gringo Trail with them. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, all those places we budget travelers have been beating a path to, made popular in the “60’s, is the Gringo Trail. Tropical beaches and ancient ruins are de riguer. Club Med is out.

One meets people from all over the world vagabonding on the Gringo Trail but these days the bulk of travelers are comprised of young Europeans. The trouble with the Gringo Trail is that the travelers tend to bring to bring a portmanteau of their country’s obnoxious habits with them. Friction develops.

Fellow tourists from other countries tend to get annoyed with each other. Being forced to ride 14 hours in the Pullman car or a first class bus with a group tour of rude Frenchmen is worse than water torture for some travelers. I suppose a tour of North Americans or Germans would be equally obnoxious— but one sees fewer North Americans on the road.

These reports are not isolated instances of psychopathic travelers who have it in for the French. For example, the journalist from Boston’s very first sentence to us was to commiserate how rude the French were.

It seems one Frenchman didn’t like the way she moved his suitcase in the overhead luggage rack above her seat to make room for hers. He jumped up frothing and shoved her suitcase back screaming if he wanted his suitcase moved, he would have done it himself.

Days later she’s still pissed off. The problem with the Gringo Trail, is that you keep running into each other in various ruins and cafes all over South America. Vendettas and quickie marriages are common.

There are times when I prefer a second class carriage with its chickens, pigs and robbers to traveling with the French. When the train stopped to wait for an oncoming train to pass, pity the poor traveler, unable to face a second class pissior, who jumped off the parked train to take a quick pee and lost his eyeglasses to a light-fingered Peruvian admirer in the process. He was pissed off. P.O’d. is a more polite abbreviated term.

Any tree in a public park is well guttered with piss. A seal rookery smells better than the local plaza. One rarely sees a Frenchman traveling second class. I didn’t always have this racist attitude toward an entire segment of fellow travelers. Being on the road with them too long did it.

When I first came face to face with blatantly rude French travelers was in Guatemala. It’s true they won’t give you the time of day. In Latin America, every one graciously and politely greets each other. A greeting is met with coldness by the French. Being in a restaurant with them can be embarrassing for fellow Gringos. If they wanted to eat at Maxim’s why on earth did they come here?

I though my normally liberal traveling companion’s bristling tirade against the very sight of the French was a bit of an overreaction— he’s logged many more miles than I have, with ten more years on the Gringo Trail than I— I figured that they just pushed his buttons and the incident was merely one of travelers crossing each other’s paths wrong.

That was until one Frenchman decided my bus window needed closing with my hand still in it. I wasn’t upset that he knowingly slammed it on my hand. He didn’t have the courtesy to ask to close it. As it turned out, I was carsick— about to lose my cookies as they say— because he smoked a cigar and I needed air. A minor brawl erupted. What thoughts go through their heads that they prefer to do violence to fellow travelers than to speak anything abut French?

Or the time one Frenchman took to shouting and laughing into the wee hours in the open air bathroom adjacent to our room in a minus three star hotel in the Galapagos. Minus star hotels generally don’t have glass in the windows or curtains for starters. I asked him to be quiet in the lengua de pais, Spanish, which he ignored. I tried both the formal usted and the familiar tu forms. I even tried French. No luck.

It’s amazing how much English they do understand when it’s delivered at top lung and peppered with stout anglo-saxon phrases. “Fuck” a guaranteed attention grabber will usually trick them into speaking English with you. Then they really hate you.

Next morning, he claimed innocence saying he didn’t understand Spanish because he was French— as if that in itself was an excuse— and proceeded to deliver insults like a schoolyard bully.

Lack of sleep does wonders for my Irish temper. He erred in his judgment as to how much abuse I would take. Spineless, I’m not. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. When he flicked his hand like a glove at my face like a man about to challenge another to a duel, he got one.

I avoid physical conflict, being on the short side of small. There was a time when I despaired that I would never reach five feet. That was like breaking the sound barrier. When I was in 8th grade, the school bully, a well developed “girl” named Tayde who outweighed me by100 pounds, and was a foot taller, had me cornered and tormented me one time too many.

I went in swinging expecting to be killed on the spot but I didn’t care any more. About the only place I could make contact was with her boobs. We always speculated they were fake balloons. Well, they weren’t and they didn’t pop. To my surprise, she laughed, and later became my friend.

I went for the Frenchman’s throat. I didn’t care that I was creating an international scandal. I was out for blood. My companion separated us and everyone thought he had pushed the Frenchman and jumped on him! Male chauvinism. He didn’t become my friend.

I am reminded of the curious fact that the French installed in their public buildings the placard, “no spitting and no Bretons allowed here.” They have little love for the Celt yet they call themselves Gallic— which is a Celt of course! The French, or the Franks of Charlemagne as they were called, took what is now called France from the Celts in the first place.

It took the Bretons, last of the European Celts to rescind the law concerning spitting and Celts. Llamas and Latin American men spit like crazy. A disgusting habit. At least llama spit is mostly hay.

The natives get jaded fast from all this hobnobbing with world travelers and demand money for everything from posing for photos to tourists loitering in public squares and churches. Gone are the National Geographic salad days of photographing the natives going about their business in quaint settings with llamas gamboling about.

Kids are the worst. Dame plata, dame sucre. Gimme money, gimme candy. And if you don’t give willingly to the cause, there are other methods. They’ll come up and hug you, their tiny starfish hands thoroughly frisking each pocket and wrist before you can say como te llamas.

They grow up to be razor artists who slash your daypacks and pants pockets so everything falls out. There’s a funny story of a razor artist so skilled that one unfortunate traveler’s pants fell off as he was walking down the street. Some are that skilled. It gives new meaning to the word embarrassed.

In South America, one has to register name, age, nationality and passport number at every tourist site and public transport. Each ticket taker demands this information and woe to the traveler who resists. I assume this precaution is in case there’s a coup so they’ll be able to identify the bodies after. This does not make me feel any more secure.

Half the time, we weren’t about to list our passport numbers namely because our passports were safely stashed inside a secret pocket in my traveling companion’s pants which meant exposing himself in public just to get the number and so we made up new ones on the spot.

Getting arrested for publicly unzipping and rummaging in one’s pants in a foreign country didn’t appeal to us when there were so many other more interesting things we could get arrested for— like false passport numbers. Ticket takers are almost as irrational as the French when crossed.

My traveling companion, at 46, took a perverse delight in noting he was usually the oldest person on the road. About the only time he was upstaged was at Lake Titicaca by a 60-year-old New Zealand grandmother who decided it was time to travel the world. So she left husband and kids to fend for themselves for a year. At 12,600 feet, she did better than we did in the thin air.

He said, admiringly, “I hope I’m in that good of shape at 60.” My traveling companion and I were an anomaly. North Americans, Californians— over twenty-three traveling with backpacks. Not many from our neck of the woods travel in strife-torn Central and South America these days. The declining dollar, the unofficial coin of the realm is keeping us home, but not the Europeans who are able to travel at bargain prices. The median age of all the world’s people is twenty-three.

The cliché that the French are rude as you’ve heard seems to be true in Latin America. It’s become one of the topics of conversation in coffee houses along the Gringo Trail. Latin Americans are complaining. Even other Europeans. I’m not about to write off the entire French population. I love French cooking. My aunt spent two years in Paris getting her Grand Diplome at the Cordon Bleu School of Cooking. I can’t imagine the world without the visions of Renoir, Cezanne or Debussy.

I also remember reading how the impressionist artists were barred from the Salon of Painting because they did something different than what was accepted as culture. According to my aunt the French come from a stiff, unbending world, blamed in part on their rigorous school system which focuses on rote learning rather than creativity.

“Shhhh! You Americans and French always at each other's throats! France is a middling power, arrogant and with an inferiority complex,” said a Limeño friend. It’s a pity so many take the national prejudices with them.

I’m sure I will meet many lovely French people traveling. I prefer the individual travelers to groups who may as well never have left their native soil to begin with. Nationalism belongs at home.

I read that the French president Mitterand is one of the few foreign leaders who stands up to the US and refuses to bow to its power and influence. They have banned “American” words like hamburger and computer from the French language, fearing the corruption of their language. Our language is enriched by the addition of French. I can’t see North Americans boycotting words like envelope, romance and intellectual because they’re French words.

I can imagine all the hate mail I’ll receive in French envelopes on this one. (Oops, French envelopes means something else again. Rubbers, galoshes).

One Peruvian said France is too unyielding. It’s unable to bend. That is why it is no longer a superpower. As Americans— let me digress. Calling ourselves Americans is considered an imperialist attitude. And rightly so. It was pointed out to me that North America also contained two other countries, Canada and Mexico. We are all North Americans. English, Spanish and French.

Central and South Americans don’t call themselves Latin Americans. They call themselves Americans! And they are also Americans. I’m sure Kennedy addressing the people, “my fellow Americans…” had no idea he was addressing two continents. Simón Bolívar’s dream was to unite South America and call it the United States of South America. How different things might have been if he’d succeeded.

As US citizens, we are often called on the carpet for our embarrassing policies on Central America. We travel as ambassadors of the American people who don’t necessarily support or agree with the political policies of our nation.

Reagan is a very dirty word. Reagan may shoot down passenger planes mistaking them for military planes in the Iranian Gulf but at least he doesn’t go around blowing up Greenpeace ships protesting nuclear testing in the South Pacific like the French did in Tahiti. That’s a very small consolation prize.

I take it back. The man’s senile and crazy. Referring to the destruction of Polynesia, Jacques Cousteau said, “small material things mask the vital problems in the destruction of a culture. He was referring to his own countrymen. Nationalist attitudes should stay at home with all the extra baggage you don’t need (like the outboard motor) while traveling in a foreign country.

Stanley Meiser cites a stifling school system and foolish posturing on the world stage as an excuse for their behavior. He writes, “all studies show that outsiders look on the French as the coldest and least welcoming people of Europe. They have no tolerance or time for spontaneity or weakness.”

One begins to wonder why a group of people who steadfastly refuse to learn the barest minimum of a foreign language would even want to travel. Simple words like excuse me, con permisso, or thank you, gracias would make all the difference in the world—well, not world but in the Americas at least. ”When in Rome, do as the Romans do” obviously hasn’t yet been translated into French.

The sad part is, aside from pissing everyone off, they miss so much of the culture. Americans both the Latin and Northern of the species— are gregarious and open. A Bolivian writer said, “Nowhere else in the world do people treat you like the French if you do not speak their language.”








Note Bene: I transcribed these journal entries in 1988 - 1990, hence the variable dates. (I'm moving them all to 1988, journal entry date, not transcription/revision date). We were in South America during the summer of 1988. I was trying to publish these stories, or at least find a home for them. I've a vague recollection of the Machu Picchu piece being published in The Paper. 

I was readying several of these Peru pieces pieces for an anthology, House on Via Gombito: Writing by North American Women Abroad. I also wrote Bill Truesdale, the editor for New RIvers Press, St. Paul, MN, a rather zany letter about my travels across the USSR. He took the letter, and not the stories. 

After an incredible journey through South America, John Oliver Simon broke up with me, left me for a young blonde former student of his, and it took me nearly a decade to recover from the horror of it all. Going to the USSR in 1989 was my salvation—and still John was trying to reel me back in. Or maybe he was doing the AA thing, in his case, the SA 12-step thing, atoning for his wrongdoings. By that point, I wouldn't even give him the time of day. Ironically, we managed to heal the gap nearly 35 years later. So it's fitting that these pieces finally get to see daylight, after languishing in darkness for so long.   —Maureen Hurley 2/26/2014

I've very few photos transcribed over to the electronic medium, another project. Here are three small albums.

Machu Picchu
Peru
Galapagos

Mexico City – Enroute to the Airport

Mexico City – Enroute to the airport

A young man (a joven) in a blue lab coat, bloodied, and smeared, gazes out the back of the meat truck  driving down the Malecón, the ribs of the butchered cow, like a bloodied harp, playing at the strings of war.

9/1988