up to 28th Aug 2011
August has been really busy with Living Heart trying to help them sort things out and the medics visits. There has been a bit of tension as work isn't moving on as fast as it could be. I'm getting into the finances to make sure I understand them all and looking at Gift Aid, Just Giving as well as some of the other stuff. Our new temporary administrator has started and her and I will now work closely together. She is working 3 days a week but this will make a huge difference to taking some of the regular office tasks away from Jess and allow Jess and I to get on with updating the website content, looking at fundraising etc. I have tentatively given us until the end of the month to clear most of the outstanding stuff and then Jess and I can focus on the fundraising in September. I say tentatively because during the medics visits to the mountains Jess started to feel ill again. Our doctor gave her a longer course of antibiotics but has strongly advised she needs a lot of additional tests as her health is really suffering. Sonia has really encouraged her to take time for herself and get her health back to what it should be. She is only 25 years old to be so ill is quite concerning. Whether she can get the treatment she really needs here or has to go back to Britain for a time we will have to see. Meantime because of Jess’s need to work and her enthusiasm there are tasks she can do from home and bed using her excellent creative skills. This will reduce her need to come to the office which is an hour each way for her in a collectivo as she stays in Cusco with her husband.
After the medics visits with no time off as the 5 days were over a weekend and into the following week, we were all very tired. My cough continued on after the course of antibiotics but it definitely felt easier and a full blown cold developed...again!! There had been a lot of flu around here so I suppose it was inevitable that I could pick it up. I am trying to take it easy and let my body fight it...hopefully completely this time with no lingering symptoms.
I have been out most weekends prior to the medics visits so not a lot of time to myself...nothing stressful mind you...and no late nights...I’m becoming a boring old fart...my bed looks soo inviting by about 7.30- 8pm...Well when you stay out in the sticks and it is dark at 6pm...wouldn’t you want to cuddle up in a nice warm bed...my hot water bag has been a godsend. Sonia and I have spent quite a lot of time together. She is really good company and we really are quite alike in so many ways....I am working more than I meant to but it is OK so far and some days I do more than others so it works out not too bad. On our time off Sonia and I have visited Pisac, eaten wonderful carrot cake, with lovely coffee, bought some lovely things, visited Lucre where you get amazing duck and been to Cusco a couple of times for nice lunches. We have shared cheese and wine and generally had some lovely chats. This has been a lovely way to relax here. I have been avoiding the nightlife just because this feels nicer and has allowed me to chill more.
I've just signed up for another little trip before I head home. One that will sort out my visa... as I am here a little too long (3 days to be exact)...I'm off to Argentina with Carol and her daughter, Lara to a ranch and horse riding for 5 days...I'm really looking forward to it. ......Does Heather ride horses I hear you ask???? Well I have had about 6 lessons from a friend last year and really enjoyed it but as usual, life and work took over and I didn’t get back!! .....So in a mad moment of “yeah..Let’s do it” I signed up!! Because I am a friend of Carol’s, and the lady who runs it is Carol’s best friend from Wales, she has given me a discount. I’ve had to change my flights around a little (the Cusco – Lima connection) to make it as cheap as I could but otherwise I will fly with Carol and Lara.
There are a few interesting facts and discrepancies about Peruvian citizens and gringos with no citizenship. LAN airlines give incredibly cheap internal flights to Peruvian citizens...about a quarter of the price at least and access to the Inca ruins around Peru is free on Sundays to citizens. This applies to gringo citizens and Peruvian citizens. To become a gringo citizen you either need to have a business employing a certain number of local people or marry a Peruvian for at least 2 years. Some of these marriages – especially the gringo women and Peruvian men - seem a little unstable from the reports I have heard...so it is not the way to go just to get a cheap flight and free access to ruins.
Anyway back to current time. On Sunday 14th I had the opportunity to participate in a North American ritual called “a Sweat Lodge”. This is a spiritual experience taking place inside an igloo shaped structure made from branches. There is a hole dug into the earth in the middle and placed within this are hot stones throughout the ceremony. The whole structure is covered in blankets to retain the heat creating a steam/ sauna environment. Before you enter the structure you are cleansed with the smoke of a certain plant and then have to walk around the lodge but not crossing the path between the fire outside, that is heating the stones, and the lodge. Before entering the sweat lodge you pay homage and respect to Pachamama, Mother Earth, by kneeling and kissing the earth. You then enter the lodge finding a space around the edges. The space is quite tight so I was a little worried about claustrophobia but other than a brief time after the first round of stones and steam building I was OK. I found I couldn’t straighten up properly but did find a way to be reasonably comfortable...well as good at it was going to get sitting on the hard ground!! Clothing for such a ceremony can be lightweight cotton clothes, a sarong or for 2 of us it was swimwear with a borrowed sarong. You sit directly on the earth so are quite dirty at the end as you have really sweated quite a lot. My borrowed sarong was soaking! There were 4 rounds where the door was opened up and on each occasion a certain number of the 20 stones are brought into the lodge. On each occasion a different herb is placed on top of each rock as it is placed in the hole. One of the leaders brings the rock as far as the lodge door and then this is transferred to the hole via 2 two-pronged bits of wood that should normally be deer antlers, by the other leader, who remains inside the lodge with us. Once the correct number of stones has been placed in the hole the door is closed over again and water splashed onto the stones to create the steam. During each round thanks are given to the spirits and everyone takes turns to give thanks or ask for help for their work, relationships, themselves... as guided by the main leader of the ceremony. All in all the ceremony probably lasted two-three hours. As we exited for a shower we were asked to bring along some food and share a late lunch together. What we discovered as we headed for the showers was the power had gone off so we had no hot water!!!! I just washed down but the rest decided to brave it....I have done brain freeze before in Choquequirao so was not up for a repeat session...I could wait!! Typical..as soon as we were dressed the power came back on! I did get my shower in the end just a little later.
During August Sonia found a great office so Living Heart can move into more suitable premises leaving her in peace to enjoy her house and garden. We managed to make the move on 23rd Aug. It is a lovely space..nice and bright.
I have worked between Ccatan doing my finance and the office supporting Ineke to help get things more structured and we know where we currently are..re finances one document we can all understand and general day to day stuff. Ineke has also helped me sort out the office and a number of other outstanding things.
I have found a lovely lady who does great massage so I’m really enjoying indulging in this most weeks.
To give myself some chill-out time and time to read more I have dropped my Spanish to one day per week with more homework on the areas I feel a little less comfortable with. I am working on my vocabulary and speaking and listening wherever possible. I will be looking to continue this when I return to improve my ear and my speech so if anyone is willing to help me please let me know.
On Monday 15th I visited Cusco to buy some contraceptive injections with money that had been kindly donated since I arrived...some of the money was for my photos which was great. I had made contact with another Scot who stays in Cusco and she took me to the local ladies clinic which is actually where we had purchased them from before...we thought she had another source. This is also an NGO and can give us them at a cheaper rate. It was more expensive than we thought but I will buy as many as I can then look for regular funding to keep it going thereafter. At the clinic I cleared them out of all their injections and discussed how I could buy more once we saw the uptake at the first of our community clinics. Fiona then took me to the local hospital to fake our need for free condoms. We then had to sit through a Spanish lecture about not drinking too much, being promiscuous or doing drugs!!! The nurse then gave us each about 25. We did have a good giggle about this afterwards. On a serious note condoms are not something Living Heart has pushed until now and I’ve met quite a lot of resistance until now.... Those who know me also know I will push for things I am passionate about so haven’t let this go. The reasons for the resistance are the men either won’t wait (women’s choice doesn’t exist in the remote communities..if the men decide they want it there is no stopping them) or if you give them to the men they often sell them. What we have now seen (since our medics visits) was what I feared....STDs are now in 2 of our communities...not large numbers but enough. The problem is the men are sleeping around while on the Inca trail...and also within the community!! I have strongly suggested the free condoms, I brought with me and the ones we managed to acquire in Cusco, should be part of a targeted conversation with the affected women. If they don’t use them, they don’t use them but I think we have more chance after their treatments and if they don’t have any to use they have no chance!!! They are expensive to buy here...so I’m told.
On the weekend of 21st I received an email from Carol telling me that Peruvian Airlines had been grounded for 90 days. Further investigation showed the government were concerned with their safety standards....This is where the fun began and the joys dealing with Peruvians!! I emailed the travel agency and asked them to look into this and look for alternative flights for me. Pamela sent me one flight only! I tried e mailing her again but got no reply on Saturday. As I had to conduct everything in Spanish I was reluctant to phone. I decided to leave it until Monday as to trail to Cusco and Pamela not be there would have been a pain. As I have mentioned before, an all round trip to Cusco takes about 4-5 hours. By Monday I had received a few emails from Pamela so asked her to initiate my refund from Peruvian Airlines and look for 2 flights..i.e. a return flight too!! Sonia hadn’t heard the news either and was also booked on flights with Peruvian Airlines so after our morning meetings we set off about 1.30pm. When I arrived at the travel agency Pamela was on lunch so I spoke to her colleague, explained the problem as best I could, showed her my travel slips for both flights, i.e. including my flight to Cordoba, Argentina and asked for suitable flights. She quoted me for the next best which once we had checked the rest I agreed was the best price...what I stupidly didn’t do was check before she processed the payment was which flights she had put me on. The silly woman had booked me on flights that didn’t connect with the Argentinean flights!!!! Pamela arrived back at this point and as she was processing alternative flights I asked her to make sure I wasn’t charged twice. Her colleague was just about to leave for a late lunch.. The hunt for the authorisation code for the first lot of flights then started as the woman couldn’t remember where she had put it...10 mins later she found it in a notebook! The discussion between her and Pamela began as to how they were going to complete the transaction as my new flights were a little cheaper...$50 cheaper. The woman tried to tell Pamela to put me on a slighter later flight and charge me more!! I said no!! I now had to stay overnight in Lima with these new flights as there was no connecting flight so I wasn’t forking out any more than I needed to. I also was paying more for these flights as I had been on the cheapest airline initially. Eventually after I refused to come back and a few phone calls Pamela found a way to put through a second refund for me.... WHAT A DAY!! I’m not sure how long the refunds will take but the Peruvian Airline refund could be a least a month. I asked Pamela to send me copies of the refund e mails so I have a copy for my records and can prompt accordingly. To be fair Pamela is very nice and she wasn’t the one trying to diddle me..not impressed by her colleague though!!
It was time for something to eat and a nice glass of wine...Sonia and I went for something to eat and drink.
On Sunday 22nd, as I had stayed at Ccatan because other plans had fallen through, Sylvia and I walked to Las Chulpas ruins. I had been interested in visiting these ruins for some time but wasn’t sure of the path. It was a lovely day and the walk and ruins were equally lovely. At night I had an invitation to a children’s theatre, housed in the same building as our new office. This was really lovely...despite the fact that I couldn’t follow all the Spanish. The children were great and it was amazing what Yeina and Nino had done in the one week since they had been opened. They had been given 3 spotlights and this made a huge difference to the atmosphere in the small theatre and stage.
They now have a lot more children wanting to join the little drama group which is great for them and their new venture.
As part of Living Heart moving forward a new logo to really give us identity was to be looked into. As it happened there was a girl in my hostel, from South Africa, who was a graphic designer. I asked her if she would be willing to create a new design for us for free. She agreed and the result was amazing!!! I had been hopeful as Debra is quite a spiritual person and felt she would develop a logo that would fit with the ethics of Living Heart.
Watch this space as the new logo will be launched in our next newsletter. (I’ll add the newsletter link to the next blog).
I’m getting back into yoga..so far just what I have on my I Pod but Yeina is starting classes in 2 weeks so looking forward to that. I have started the Salsa classes again. They are such fun..The down side is the intermediate class is at 9.30pm so finding a moto to get me back can be difficult and it takes time to slow down after it..so usually a late night for a Wednesday...Yes I now know a little salsa. As the boys have stopped coming I often have to be a man (a chico)..especially if I go a little earlier and am there for the beginner’s class. You end up giving a little tuition as you change partners. On Wednesday I met a fellow Scot called Louise from Glasgow. She has just arrived and is learning Spanish at the moment. There aren’t many Scots here so our accent stands out...Mind you I think around Urubamba I’m known as the woman with red hair that walks really fast. I often pass the locals as I walk up or down the hill to Ccatan or around Urubamba. If someone is with and I have to slow down it takes so much longer to get anywhere..At my normal pace it takes 30mins to get to the opposite end of Urubamba where I need to go for the laundry and a few other things. I do try to stay at my end which is still 20 mins down from Ccatan. I usually only take a moto if I have heavy bags or it is dark..well I walk up to about 7pm using my torch.
On Saturday 27th I experienced another first for me...a women’s circle. The date is reasonably significant as these meetings are always before a new moon. These are a partly spiritual gatherings but mostly about women getting together to share. The act of sharing in a confidential environment can be quite therapeutic. I went in with an open mind as I wasn’t sure this was something I could connect with but all in all found it a pleasant experience. The setting was stunning.... a beautiful circular wooden house set in a lovely garden in the countryside.... it was very peaceful. The meeting took place on the top floor with cushions set out in a circle around the central trunk of the house. The room was full of light and had a lovely energy. You could see the tops of the trees as you sat cross legged in the room. Everyone sat where they felt comfortable and the lady who was leading the meeting began, supported by Yeina. There were about 16 women there aged from about late 20s to early 60s, coming from as far afield as Cusco. Violetta, the leader of the group explained how the meeting would work then each lady took it in turn to take the talking stick and condor feather to tell everyone who they were, where they came from, who their parents and family were and whatever else they wanted to share. As the majority were Spanish a lot of what was shared was lost on me but I could see some had some real issues that they wanted to share as they worked through them, causing them quite a bit of anguish while they spoke. It is the one thing about a lot of women in a room together. If all are willing to participate a lot of love can be generated within a room without any words being spoken in response to what each woman wanted to share. You could feel that lovely, caring energy that day and that felt really good. Next we were split into twos for co-counselling. This is not as you would first think as you must only listen to the other person and not respond during their time to talk. Basically a time was allocated when each person could talk and you had to give them your full attention but as I said not speak. I paired up with the only other English speaker, Maggie, a lovely Irish girl who was having a baby. As you can imagine an Irish lass and Scots one meant we hit it off very well. There were times during my listening session I found it really difficult not to offer some advice or reassurance but there is something about body language, facial expressions, taking their hands that can be so comforting. This was not a free talking session on any subject; we were given set times to talk on certain topics. Firstly we had to talk about the colour green for 2 minutes. What is surprising is Maggie and I spoke about completely different things. Next we talked for 5 minutes on responsibility. These sessions were lovely and I got a lot from them I must admit. As I said the energy in the room was so caring and lovely. After the meeting concluded we shared food that we had all brought. The whole session lasted 4 hours but in a very relaxed way. We all drifted away as we wanted which was probably for the best as where the house was situated there were not many moto taxis so it was easier in small groups. After such a session you are left feeling relaxed and in a nice place.
I hope all my readers are in an equally nice place right now...if not maybe it is time to find someone to share with.
Until my next update, chao mis amigos.