Andean Life Outside Machu Picchu: My Growing Affection for Abancay, Peru

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 Peru July 2011 228once 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:

Brendan, Erin and Oliver

Brendan, Erin and Oliver

  • 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.CIMG6870
  • 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.

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  • 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 pigPeru July 2011 243, 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.  CIMG6904
  • 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.March 2012 Peru Trip 176
  • 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.
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Mission Workers Addressing Endemic Sexual Abuse

In my last post I wrote about the tiny Peruvian village church where my son has been helping the people to learn and teach the Bible.  In this one I’d like to tell about what two children’s ministries workers were doing there that day.My son Brendan spends part of his time working with a Peruvian ministry called AIDIA (a Spanish acronym).  Most of the people who work with group are Peruvian, and their goals are to spread the usage of the Quechua Bible, increase literacy, develop good teaching materials in the Quechua language, strengthen and support indigenous churches, and help the Quechua people deal with some of their own difficult social issues.  Two of the foremost issues are alcoholism and sexual abuse.

So on the morning we went to the San Gabriel church, two young women from AIDIA presented a message to both the children and the parents after the Bible teaching time.  The presentation was on sexual abuse.  I was surprised to see them raising such a personal, difficult topic with a congregation they hadn’t known very long, but Brendan told me the pastor had been in favor of them doing it.  The two young women gathered the children up front.  They told the children their bodies belonged to God and showed some drawings that explained the private areas of the body.  They then showed a video about a girl distressed by an abusive relative, and they taught the children a song that outlined basic refusal skills.  One of the leaders then took the children outside to talk with them further, while the other spoke with the adults.  At this point, since Brendan and Erin were finished with their part in the day’s work, we left; but we all had been impressed with the forthright, loving way the young women dealt with such a heartbreaking topic.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse is often all too familiar to Quechua women and girls.  it is most often perpetuated in a situation like uncle-to-niece.  Children are often looked after by extended family members living in close proximity or even in the same house, and this kind of trouble can easily occur.  In addition, because of the culture’s great reluctance to bring shame on the family, speaking out can be very difficult.  I deeply respect AIDIA’s courage in taking on this painful work.