My husband and I recently spent about a week-and-a-half in in Abancay, Peru, visiting our son Brendan, daughter-in-law Erin and new grandson Oliver. We travel to Peru about once a year these days because Brendan and Erin live there as missionaries, high in the Andean town of Abancay. (No, we have not seen Machu Picchu yet. That always seems to be the question we get asked when we come home from these trips.) Abancay is in a poor region populated by the indigenous Quechua people, and certainly when we travel to Abancay we are aware of being outside the “turistico” places with gringo amenities. But we have grown fond of Abancay, in the way that you develop affection for places you associate with people you love–even if those places are a little dusty or hardscrabble. Here’s what’s in Abancay:
- A delightful new life, Oliver Miguel Connally. His parents, Brendan and Erin, are already setting him an example of love, faith and joy in three languages, speaking to him in English, Spanish and Quechua.
- The dry, rugged beauty of the Andes, where people live in very close connection to the earth: building their homes from its clay, planting crops wherever they can, letting their chickens and animals scratch and nibble among the scant grass and weeds. In Abancay you see some donkeys and horses carrying loads and cows being led along next to the cars and trucks. In front of their houses people might grow flowers, but they’re just as likely to grow long grass to feed their guinea pigs. Which are raised for meat.
- Bougainvillea, hibiscus and other flowering bushes and trees, right there among the clotheslines and the buildings with re-bar sticking out the top. (Regarding the re-bar, see the top picture. We’ve heard that people there like to leave their buildings looking unfinished, because once you finish your building you pay taxes on it.)
- The market, where local ladies will sell you fresh guinea pig, called cuy in Peru, or vegetables they’ve grown, or anything else that their equatorial mountain climate can produce. I’ve shopped at the Abancay market, making my requests in Spanish. My son talks with the people in Quechua, and he has attained somewhat of an heroic stature for being a gringo who uses their language. The people are more accustomed to their language being looked down upon.
- Stray dogs running around or laying around in packs together, making themselves at home in the neighborhoods even though they don’t belong to anyone. Often mangy and carrying fleas, they eat what they can find.
- Most of all, the Quechua people. Brendan and Erin have many friends here in the Andes. The people have been most welcoming toward Rory and me because they love Erin and Brendan–and now they love Oliver, too. We were with Brendan and Erin on the first Sunday they took Oliver to their Quechua-speaking church. Everyone was so happy about the arrival of this baby. And so curious about him: the birth of a gringo baby among them was a big event! The children gathered around, eager to see Oliver’s blue eyes. He has been born into a loving circle of friends. These people are his Peruvian family, and as his grandmother who can only be with him a few days of each year, I am very grateful for the love they’ve extended.