Curiosity in Peru- Marcajirca

Curiosity, something I always claim to have. I’ll scheme days ahead to find that I will end up doing something out of the planned scenario all due to curiosity. What is down that path? What is in that store? What is it like to be there and try? In a way, curiosity got me involved more into anthropology and soon I found myself in Peru, never struck by amazement, but struck by curiosity.

An image of depth of where we stayed, dining house on top and our tents scattered around….

After having been in Huari for a few days of lecture, it was time to go to the site. I was so excited to be doing something I felt was going to be so worthwhile, and it truly was. To be able to do my research and be with people whom I felt were just as geeky about bones as me for two weeks, well, I couldn’t wait to go.

 
We begun our journey to over 13,500 feet by bus, well, more like small buses that lacked seatbelts, going over a one lane, narrow road alongside a cliff that either panicked a few, or in my case, made you feel as if you were flying. It may have helped that I took motion sickness medicine prior to the road trip (which I would suggest to everyone as it really does help). After about an hour of riding, we get off in a small town, taking small bags or just water, to begin our two hour hike up. Our bags were left in the car with a local farmer and his donkeys. At this point I noticed a few things, that is our group was already starting to form smaller crews. I remember all to well in Huari when I was walking with a couple others when one spoke up saying that a big group never stayed as a big group, that we were going to form our own little cliques of who we would rather hang out with and from there, even though we were in the same field school, those few other people were going to be our core group. I didn’t like the thought of it at the time, but I found that as we begun our hike, we were somewhat beginning to organize into these small groups and cheering each other on.

 
It was a difficult hike; I will not lie about that. It was as if we were climbing stairs two or three at a time for over an hour straight. I never felt so soaked in sweat, and at the end when we reached the top, never felt so accomplished. That is when the wind came and soon we were all freezing, I thought I was never going to be warm until our bags arrived and I was able to change. During that time the crew begun to organize where the tents were going to be set up and who was sleeping where.  Again, the groups grabbed each other and I found myself in the same tent with two other girls that were probably the quietest ones there (I was quite glad). There were two large tents that could fit about five to six each, and one of these tents were broken. The door was not zipping up and there were holes. Among all of us, there were combinations of duck-taping, sewing, propping things with sticks, and more duck tape. It was a bit entertaining to everyone involved. We were then told that we were free to explore, however to not touch any of the bones that we may see until we have done the Shogodan, a ritual with locals to give our respects and mark the beginning of our excavations. Do not touch any bone, simple enough.

 
The next day I was ill with altitude sickness, and I was glad that it was the morning that was reserved for weed pulling and picking up trash and I would not miss anything by staying in my tent. That afternoon we went to the portion of the ruin, which was originally a tower, to participate in the Shogodan. When all of us were seated around, a Quechua woman, also one of our cooks, laid down a colorful cloth and placed on it cocoa leaves, cookies, pisco, cigarettes with lighters, and candies. Our director played the conch shell to begin and explained that we offered these gifts to the mountain in which the mountain gives back to us in a mutual agreement for our health and prosperity. We passed around the leaves, pisco, and everything around the blanket, taking what we wanted in thanks. During this ritual one of my fellow students dropped his cigarette and without thinking about it, went to go pick it up and resume smoking it. I noted it as I continued to chew on the leaves (it really helped my stomach at the time). After the ritual ended, I hiked up back to the tent to rest up a bit more as the others could start setting up the excavation pits. Deciding I wanted tea, I went up a bit further to the dining house where I met up with one of the professors and one of the locals that was helping assist our cook for the trip. The local Quechua woman was being translated by our cook and the professor and I listened.  The Quechua woman described that one of the guys, whom dropped his cigarette, is a bad omen. That someone was going to get very, very ill. Our cook, as she was translating, mentioned that the locals are superstitious and that we can believe what we would wish. We tried to shrug it off, but I could tell that the professor was a bit uneasy.

 

A local Quechua woman making offerings at the Shogodan

I found out that archaeologists are indeed superstitious, but with good reason. A couple days later of being warned by the local, one of the students was bitten by a spider and had an allergic reaction in which her lip blew up to a large size and her tongue turned black. She had to hike down the mountains to receive care from the hospital. We all ended up being sick in some form however, it may have due to the lack of readily available water, or again, the mountain striking back. The director even mentioned that this was the first time he has seen so many people become ill. I personally think it could have been the dehydration everyone experienced, but then again, I’m now opened to ideas. To end the story, the poor girl, she did come back to base camp, yet on our way back home she had to go back to the hospital after collapsing in the street and continuously throwing up. She did make it back in one piece and is in perfect health now.

 
During our couple week stay in the mountains, I found that getting into a very basic routine helped a lot. I woke up at six in the morning, washed up (baby wipe shower really), changed from my designated sleep clothes to non-sleep clothes (you end up not caring how many times you’ve worn a shirt), get breakfast, hike to the site by eight, get lunch for a couple hours at base camp, hike up to finish the day at 5, go change or add more clothes, huddle at the house till dinner was ready at six, and go to bed at about eight. The weather was nothing to be trifled with, during the day a layer was fine, however when the sun went behind a cloud you wanted more layers. The temperature dropped fast and by the time we were getting ready for dinner, we were in an easy five layers of clothes. It took a bit of getting used to, and if I did not have a thick scarf to cover my face and keep my breath warm, I believe I would have suffered a lot more in the cold. I never looked forward to it, but I knew it was coming, and I found that as long as I got to do the work I came to do and learn about bones, I was okay with dealing with the cold for just a couple weeks.

 
I accepted it, but others had trouble adjusting to the cold and the idea of camping without running water and toilet paper (we ran out completely for a day and that roused a panic among a few).  This bothered me a little bit, we were all there to do what we loved, yet I found that there were other interests in my fellow archaeological friends. It was somewhat a curious thing as well to observe such behavioral changes from being excited to go and excavate bones, to being miserable about the conditions offered. Our conversations about halfway through the first week were mainly about food and what we would cook when we got home. From then on, that was the main topic of conversation, along with sex talks too which made me feel bad for the two guys at our table with seventeen girls. The week carried on, and I learned a lot at our lab tent in identifying bone fragments and got the chance to work with mandibles for my project. I also got to be in a chullpa; mostly being balanced on a thin wooden board inside a tiny building oddly holding a tape-measure in the ultimate game of pick-up sticks to get the single layers of bones mapped and removed at a time. I also liked it more when it was literally warmer inside the chullpa because the cold wind could not pass through the walls. Our weekend also served as our break and we celebrated a birthday in a very typical college manner by drinking pisco.

 
The next day we decided to go on a hike to the peak of the mountain we were excavating on, all the way to the cross that topped its crest.  It took us a good couple hours to get there, and I have never felt so fulfilled, or tired, after such a hike. The view was absolutely worth it. The others I was with felt the same and we stared at the world below us before taking a short nap from our exhaustion.

 
The second week made me realize what being in a mountain, isolated as we were, could do to people. Being in a routine helped a lot, but I found that I had become tired of eating potatoes, and I had a knot in my stomach every time I saw potatoes on my plate or bowl. I was not the only one though, hence as to why food conversations became more of a dominant topic. Many people did become ill, mostly with stomach aches and problems, and the cliques of the groups became stronger and more defined. I found that there were indeed people I preferred talking to, mainly the ones that were more mellow that didn’t mind the shared silence of watching the sunset in the cold. We were a bit more philosophical, and I observed even more. The girls quickly were easy to define, some more desperate in trying to remain clean shaven, others more mellow and not caring. A spectrum of behaviors could certainly be noted, enthusiasm verses a lack of such became more noticed in this second week. I didn’t feel tired, just a bit cold, yet despite that, I was certainly excited to be more by myself or with one other person to study the bones. Working in groups was certainly great, but I too, found myself with preferences as to with who.

Watching the sunset and gazing at the scenery with a friend, often our favorite way to end the day.

I guess anyone can say that we prefer to be with certain other people more than others, but after seeing how we started to how we ended made me wonder. I guess its just behavioral patterns that we tend to follow more and group ourselves by, which seemed more fitting in a way. We all got along, I will not say anything besides that, however, once we were all back to the house in Huari after being in the mountain, the cliques remained firm. Perhaps it is personality, or development of trust when you worked with people more than others and tended to agree as to what was going on and see the same things.

 
After returning, everything relaxed in a bit, and we celebrated with a large Bar-B Q. Showers and laundry were certainly priority and never felt so good to do. In a way, at the end of that mountain adventure, I was in a daze. I knew I was there, but then again, I was back and the view with the sunset and stars were not. I feel that being there proved to me that bioarchaeology is certainly the field of study for me. In fact, I’m convinced due to the reasons that I went through fairly extreme conditions and wouldn’t mind to do it again.

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A Girl in a Man’s World- Day 1

To take a quick break from Peru, I thought it would be interesting to get a perspective into a different world, the martial arts world. Anthropology focuses on the interactions and growth of groups of people and the interactions in this particular group deserves a point of attention. The first thing I want to be understood by you as a reader in this is that this blog post is in no way meant to talk about myself as a “I am so cool” deal nor as a means to put anyone down. It also especially not meant to be wholly feministic, that is not my intention. I mean it as an academic sense in order to investigate anthropologically as how this group dynamic works and how I got into the unique position that I am now in and how females can thrive in this world.

 

Watching our sensei demonstrate a technique during a Judo clinic in Roswell

I have been doing Judo for almost four years, and personally, Judo has done a lot for me. It has given me self-confidence and belief that I could do anything as long as I put in a sincere heart and effort to what I do. It has given names to morals that I can now live by, Jita Kyoei and Seriyoko Zenyo (Japanese for “mutual benefit and welfare” and “maximum energy with minimal effort”) as well as a good foot to start my college career in that I made good new friends that I could turn to. However, Judo is a highly male dominant sport, and in the four years that I have been in the New Mexico State University Judo Club, I have been the main, solo female in it, not to mention among the youngest and smallest ones in the club. There have been other girls in our club that have practiced Judo, but it was for a couple months or a semester on an exchange program and then schedules arise and change that prevents them from coming, as it generally is for many college students. There are other clubs in the state of New Mexico too that I work with, and there are other girls in them, but the ratio is always the same, mostly male. Yet, even though our club is hugely male, I have been put in the position of instructing and leading it as president, and currently as one of the higher ranks. Why and How? That is often something I still ask myself and by approaching my brown belt now makes me wonder more.

 
The first day I started Judo is a funny story, but also proves a good few points. I had emailed the current president of that time to find out about when the club met and how I could join. The response in his email mainly stated “Sure, but you do know what Judo is right?”. I sorta did- I actually googled it after that email to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into and discovered that Judo is a throwing/ grappling martial art used for defense and competitions and particularly good for short people (and being short myself and wanting to stay in shape, I figured doing Judo would be good for me to do. I also thought it would be a cool thing to say that I knew Judo). So I showed up on one of the practice days, found the martial arts room and a couple of the guys standing out in front waiting. I peeked into the room and figured that I should wait too. My plan at the moment was to basically follow the crew. The guys looked over at me and asked if I was there to do Judo, and I simply replied yes and introduced myself as they did the same. A few minutes later, a larger guy comes up to the door and walks in, bowing before fully entering the room. The two other guys I met followed him in, also bowing. I pretty much just went in.
I had a couple expectations when I entered the dojo; I thought there were going to be Japanese posters in the room. I thought there was going to be a mixed group of ages and sex. I thought it was going to be a strict and friendly atmosphere. After a few moments, I realized I had wrong expectations, as more guys came in and I looked around finding that we were in a small room with a set of tatami mats and a wall of mirrors not to mention a few set of odd glances that came my way. I realized that the guys were used to being able to change in the room, and by my presence they were a bit uncomfortable to do so; others didn’t care. I went up to the larger guy and introduced myself, thinking he was the one I had spoken to via email. He wasn’t him, and mentioned that the guy I spoke with won’t be in Judo that day, but I was welcome to stay to watch and try if I wanted to, as he was the one instructing. I figured that since I was already in the room I might as well go the whole way. I also was debating if I should leave, seeing that the glances were almost glares, and the other instructor that I had emailed with wasn’t going to be there.

 
They allowed me to be in the circle to stretch, each guy taking a turn counting to ten in Japanese with a stretch of his choice. At this point, I felt I was intruding a bit, as the guys constantly watched me, seeing what I would do. It came to my turn for a stretch, and not knowing Japanese at the time, they counted for me. After that, it was time for ukemi (falling techniques). Falling is very important in Judo, so important that you learn it first and never stop practicing it from the first day. There are many falls too; you fall to the side, then the other side. You fall forwards, then backwards. Then after mastering those, you can do a shoulder fall on both sides. Later you leap into the falls and follow the eight directions in falling sideways (but we won’t go into that yet). The head instructor had us line up, with me in the back, to practice the falls. He wanted me to see everyone fall first and then to try myself. The guys then began, falling to their right sides first, slapping the mat as they should- palms down and hard, like thunder. The loud sound surprised me at first, but I watched, curious as how they were not wincing when they seemed to hit themselves on the mat (which I learned better after that you hit the mat first before it hits you). After all of them went I was standing alone on the opposite side of the mat. The instructor looked at me, “Let’s see you try”, and they all stood to watch. I followed the motion that I saw them do their falls in, and was surprised that I thudded. I look up to see some of the guys hiding their laughs and almost snorted, others wincing, and the instructor simply stoic and smiling. He asked for me to try again, and I did, landing with a good thud. Being in the spot was making me a bit nervous and the instructor called me to the side, giving one of the color belts instruction to lead the rest of the ukemi.

 

Practicing our ukemi (falling techniques) in our dojo.

 

Taken aside the instructor joked at my fall and showed me step by step how to do a side fall. After being adequate enough to him, he showed me the front and back fall. I did as I was told, doing my best not to wince or delay, although being told to just lean forward and let yourself fall onto a mat is a pretty hard thing to do at first. It took some coaxing, but soon I was able to fall forwards. After came the shoulder falls, which I remember took me so long to be able to do on my own and it got to a point even on that day that the instructor stopped me so that he could continue instructing the guys, having me watch.

 
I observed, curious as how the hierarchy in the room was working. Obviously the instructor, being an Ikkyu (third degree brown belt) was in charge. There were green belts, seemingly to know more than a couple of the yellow belts, and the white belts were the least experienced. Watching for a bit, the first guys I had met asked if I wanted to try to throw, and I started to practice with them. The instructor did not mind, and after a few fit-in and attempts for a throw, the instructor stopped all of us and gathered us up into a circle to give a talk which I can recall I received quite a few glances as he began, “Remember, Judo is about respecting each other….”. I could tell I was the reason for this speech. After we concluded the practice, and the first guys that I can now call friends asked if I was coming to the next practice. I answered that I would, thinking at how sore I currently was, how I may not be still welcomed by the others, but also that I had the intention of meeting the other instructor to prove that I was interested and see if he had any other comments or advice for me.

 
I did return, after dealing with two full days of being so sore that I could begin not fathom of being able to do a sit-up. My shoulders and neck hurt for that whole first week, which after I found is pretty much part of the initiation stage of getting into Judo. This first day, however, I want to point out the reactions of the guys. The male dominance and hierarchy is respected in that dojo. The higher rank commands and leads, however the other ranks can lead too, only to those lower than them. Each of them respect and trust each other, part of the principle of Jita Kyoei, and important as you can be severely injured if you do not trust your partner’s ability and your partner not being able to trust yours. For me, this first day was the dabbling into the waters- a test of myself- but my stubborn and curious nature is what convinced me to come back. I had every option that first day to leave, but there was something I wanted to prove, and that was that I could do Judo despite the odd glances, and I wanted to learn it. Having those first two friends in the club certainly helped too. I have the perspective that if I started, I needed to finish; to follow through.

 
The next few blogs about Judo will cover a few of these experiences I have had in investigating the roles played in Judo and how the interactions within it can work. There are triumphs and frustrations in the stories, but as an anthropologist, they are all part of finding out who we are and what the world can be. I’ll go over the second day and then into the overall dynamics that I observed as a general statement in this club as I came fully woven into it. Look out for more to come!

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“Gringa!” Curiousity in Peru- Huaraz and Huari

I am sure many of you are familiar with city life; it’s lively, diverse, and full of familiar shops and brand names plastered on billboards everywhere you look. Full of people conversing in the streets, artisans selling you their goods, and sadly a sky that is not always the clearest blue. It’s constantly moving, and that is how Lima in Peru was; people were in the park into the night watching their children play on the playground in Kennedy Park, a view right outside the window of the hostel that I was staying at. Rural parts of Peru feel a bit different from city life, as any rural place can feel really.

A view from one of the many plazas in Huaraz

At this time, the group I was traveling with was at about twelve people, and our mode of traveling from Lima to a smaller town, Huaraz, was to be by bus. I must say that we had quite a nice bus- we went through a company called Cruz del Sur, and they take their service quite seriously as they test their drivers with a breathalyzer and give you a comfortable blanket and pillow to sleep on (the food…well we’ll say it’s on par with airplane food), and generally nothing like a Greyhound bus, or a chicken bus as some may say. I had a seat next to someone whom was traveling to do business in Huaraz, and as I tried to explain that my Spanish skills were not the best, he laughed and we managed to get a small conversation going. At this point I figured that at least admitting and being able to joke that I was not good at speaking Spanish was the best way to handle meeting people, and I still think it is.

A view of Huaraz from upon entering a bit of the residential side…

When we arrived in the morning we found that we were indeed in a smaller place, the streets more narrow and uneven and dogs were roaming everywhere. After deciding that we wanted to walk with all our bags to the hotel or hostel that we decided to stay at, I found that we were definitely looked at more (then again, a large group of college travelers each with a couple large bags, and a bit groggy from a night bus ride probably would call for attention too). Yet after settling our things in and getting refreshed, we decided to explore the place, and indeed you can find more glances at us and mutterings of “gringas” and “gringos”.
I immediately felt the difference in the atmosphere as there was hints of more traditional lifestyles as Quechua women, whom stood out in their beautiful embroided hats and brightly colored skirts of pinks, reds, and oranges that complimented their sweaters, looked at you from their seated position on their rugs to sell you their woven textiles. These women always took my interest, since they did stand out from the crowd and were often found doing hard labor or cleaning the streets if they were not selling you their goods. Most of all, they were often elderly women, hinting that this tradition is a dying one that newer generations are not entirely embracing. The main difference however, is that the town is not as diverse as it was in Lima and even though we were there for a brief day, there is a different sense of community in the area and other curiosities. One such interesting event was after a dinner a group of us shared that a parade full of children holding candles and lighting fireworks out of large paper mache structures was taking place in the streets. We had no clue what it was for and we were a bit concerned and wondered why they children were parading around with candles in the streets, as dancers and musicians followed them. We did explore during the day as well, and after going up a hill, you begin to feel more suspicious eyes watching you as the area we were in became looking more residential. I do not blame them; it isn’t often that travelers would go into residential areas to get a panoramic view of where they are. Peopled watched, from both sides of travelers and locals.
The next day, we were on our own little bus to head to a smaller town, Huari. Here is where we stood out in the dynamic of mixing openness and traditions with our curiosities and current needs of food. Here, school children were among the most fun to deal with and people were often open when you say a friendly “buenas tardes” (good afternoon) to them. Here is where the word “gringas!” and “gringos!” was truly expressed too.

A soccer (futbol) practice that we stopped by to watch

A thing about kids to be mentioned, they are genuine and they love to laugh and play just as kids should.  They whispered and pointed at our group, and one of them was picked at as a dare to come up to us and say hello after which he/she would run back to their friends, fulfilling the dare. One time, after greeting a group of the schoolchildren, one turns around smiling and says “Wait! What’s your name?” (which we received often actually from the children, which may mean that this phrase is a common one taught in their schools). They waited as we told them our names and then went off happily on their way home. Soccer is a very big thing in the town too, and often the kids were dressed in their soccer uniforms if they were not in school uniforms. We watched a few minutes of their soccer games and played with them in the streets, as they always smiled and laughed at our Spanish attempts. The locals in Huari were all wonderful to us, though they were entirely open in calling our large group (now often split into smaller groups of five at most as our total was about twenty for the field school). 
The people of Huari were very open to us, and again, laughing at your own lack of Spanish as a joke and still being sincere with a “por favor” and “gracias” goes a long way and people like having the opportunity to help there. One of the days as were walking to the marketplace, I looked down this corridor that seemed like a patio full of flowers. I pointed it to my friends and we stopped to look as this lady in her chair by the corridor looks at us and invites us in, into her home to show us her flowers. She could tell that we were trying to say things in Spanish to her, but she simply smiled and let us look at her garden and invited us to sit with her when we had time. Yet, despite the overall kindness, we were often whistled at, pointed, watched. A gentleman went up to a couple of the girls and took their hands whispering “gringas…” and smiled as he watched us go. Dogs watched us too, as possibly some of the donkeys around.
What I found the most fascinating in this little town though was after we returned from our excavations and research in the mountains a couple weeks later. This is where I appreciate that I tan and not burn in the sun. I became a few shades darker then what I was at the beginning of my trip and walking around the town, I noticed less attention and looks- as if I was a bit of a local myself, especially when my curly hair was tied back in a bun to the point that it was hard to tell it was curly (it isn’t found often in Peru). I was still friendly in saying “buenas tardes” and went to the marketplace to get fruit, but I noticed that the looks where fewer and people all the more willing to help me out. I was more obvious a sort of tourist when I was with my friends and they found that all of us had limited Spanish speaking skills. I found it quite funny though at this transition of actions in a matter of a few weeks. Many of my friends had burned, and were still a bit out of place (anything over five and a half feet is already a bit out of place as it is), yet we found that these people, in this little town welcomed tourists as people too in their own way.
I mentioned this to one of the ladies that often cooked for us during the field school and she described it perfectly well (being interested in cultural anthropology herself and teaching psychology). She mentioned that people lived by basic traditions, and an example is that in the market places if you didn’t have money, a simple trade of goods is sufficient enough. She pointed out that a thank-you does go a long way; that people will help you as long as you remain polite and sincere, everyone respects that- it is how they were raised.

A panoramic of Huari, simply a beautiful little town by the Andes

Now there are always exceptions, there were times we were ignored or had great difficulty in communicating, but there did seem to always be someone there to help us out, and I believe that those words of wisdom do prove true.
Yes people are curious, we all are, but we are all here to help each other too. How the world can continue to progress is through cooperation, learning, and open mindedness, and sharing diverse interactions and knowing they exist is a fair way to start in understanding ourselves and our world. These rural parts of Peru, being less diverse, is still full of life and we witnessed dancing, music, games, and people working to do their part as their role in society. Our role as anthropologists is to recognize these as they are and record them in their likes for you and ourselves to appreciate us as people.
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Curiousity in Peru- Lima

Peru- a colorful, cultural, lively, and friendly place that is full of curiousity of the world around it. I went to Peru for many reasons, one of the main ones for dental anthropological research to investigate wear patterns of teeth at an archaeological site located in Marcajirca, north of Huari. This project was mainly for my senior thesis and consisted the use of vinyl poly-soloxene to create dental impressions of over sixty individuals at the site. These dental impressions will be further investigated in the EMS lab under electron microscopy at New Mexico State University. The other reasons were mainly for the experience of travel, as it was my first time out of the United States and I am always thirsty for an adventure as it is. I certainly received such an adventure.

Colorful buildings that are usually lit up in the light

For this blog post, I will go ahead and admit that I have been thinking over and over again as to what to exactly blog about. Usually blogs are stating what one goes through and rant on about a clichéd event, and I did not want to fall into that category. I decided to wait until I returned from my trip with the full knowledge of my experience and what it entailed for me as an anthropologist to be still an anthropologist despite being a bit of a tourist and researcher. People focus on experiences without realizing how important an interaction can be and how we relate to each other as a people.  I find that this is something worth mentioning and will do my best, for you as a reader, to portray this, firstly in Lima, and then later I will write on about the more rural parts of Peru.

In Downtown Lima experiencing the joys of local vendors and getting a few laughs.

When I realized I was going to Peru, it never really hit me at how different of a society it is. I never received a large culture shock, possibly because New Mexico is full of Spanglish as it is and I grew up hearing a lot of Spanish being spoken around me. A lot of people warned me about the dangers of Peru as well, and I made sure to keep common sense with me. Stories of Peruvians being so rude and taking advantage of you were on my mind, yet I never had a problem in general with the locals, and I wish to refine these views that many may have while traveling.

With that in mind, I watched the people, in Lima, in Huaraz, and in Huari. I observed the locals, their actions towards me and the rest of the group that was taking part in the same field school I was in. I observed us as well, for it is somewhat fascinating as how anthropologists with Osteological knowledge can interact and feel that finally someone can understand their bone jokes. The best bottom line I found however is that we all got along, the locals and us as a large group, and no one was let down by others, they just moved on- something I feel isn’t very common in many parts of our own society. It was comforting really. In Lima, my first experience was when a couple of the girls and myself, meeting for the first time in the airport, rode in a taxi to get to the hostel in Lima. I sat in the front with the cab driver that didn’t speak English and I quickly realized how slow I was recalling my Spanish. Yet, a smiling face can go a long way, and as I was remembering words, I realized that the cab driver was describing places to visit; what beach was good to go to and which one to avoid. He helped with our bags up a long flight of stairs, which he didn’t need to do at all.

The main thing I noticed is that we were stared at, and we did stand out as a trio (at first, and then more so as our group increased gradually as others for the field school arrived to meet up in Lima before heading off to Huaraz).  One of the girls had blonde hair, and was stared at the most I felt. We had a couple cars of people stop by us as we walked around the downtown area trying to talk to us, asking where we were from. We quickly answered and kept walking, intent on seeing the catacombs in Lima.

When we were at the catacombs, lots of schoolchildren where on tour and whispered to each other pointing at our English speaking tour group that we had joined. Soon they were coming up to us with paper and pens, signaling that they wanted our autographs. We were surprised really, as we were swarmed for a few minutes by a group of twenty children handing up papers. They kids then turned to follow their teacher saying a quick “gracias” and “ciao!”.  It somewhat brightened my day, and confused me too as to why schoolchildren were so curious and acted as if they have never seen gringos before. Perhaps they never did and it was their one chance to prove to each other that they met other people from somewhere else away from what they know.

Later that same day we went to go find a place to eat for dinner, and after finding another one of the girls for the field school, we headed off in search of food. Lima at night is certainly a lively place still. People danced in the parks, artisans sold their goods in open marketplaces, and waiters with menus constantly going up to you, eager to get your business.  Once we have decided a place to eat, we received great service, and a couple of musicians came in and played us music while we ate ceviche (raw fish with Limón and spices served with white rice).  After the meal we walked down the strip with all of these restaurants and people constantly calling out to us to get our attention and have our business. Again, common sense is definitely something to have with you in your own pocket, and we headed back to the hostel to see if more of the group for the field school had arrived.

The next day ran similarly, as our group grew into a large size. Traveling as a large group can be difficult too, as we often had to run across streets and redo head counts to keep track of everyone. As we arrived to take the metro, we gathered up our change to pay our way as a group onto our metrocard. When we put our change into the machine, we took our card out not knowing that it did not load and we had to repay. One of the metro guards came up to us as we ran into confusion as to why the card did not work to let us thru to the station. He tried to explain to us what happened, giving us a receipt to get our money back, and we were a bit dumbfounded as to what to do, since we did not have much change left on us to pay for both a way there and back to downtown. As we were trying to communicate, a local lady came up to us, speaking a little bit of English, and offered to pay for our group, a good twenty soles, to get onto the metro. We gave her the receipt to be fair, but it was such a kind thing that she did for we would not have made it to the downtown area if it were not for her!

Overall, before we all headed off to get the bus to Huaraz, I feel that Lima was full of people wanting to help as long as you were sincere in needing help. A “por favor” and “gracias” goes a long way, and even as an intimidating group of obviously non-locals, we were treated kindly by businesses serving us and people giving us directions, and even by simple folk asking where we were from and how we enjoyed Peru. Sure we were stared at a bit, and it may be possible that many thought that as tourists we had a bit of money to spare. Yet personally, I found that kindness, along with curiousity, allowed for us to get around Lima without much trouble. Now Lima was a bit different from Huaraz and Huari simply because it is a larger and much more diverse place. There were many tourists around, and so it was more common to see lighter skin people with backpacks in the area. When we arrived to the more rural places, the treatment was a bit different, and I will go through in explaining that in my next post.

Despite cultural views and different treatments, or possible similar if you are willing to be open minded about where you are, really creates a perspective on the dynamics of people, and I find that being part of this dynamic in traveling makes for a more wholesome experience.

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Ok guys, I know it’s only the second blog but we are gonna take a break from Peru already (or are we?) to delve into my excursion through Bolivia. I had about a week to travel south of Cusco after I finished my Spanish schooling and once I reached Puno and saw the sun rise of Lake Titicaca, I simply had to see what was on the other side. Despite the $135 price I had to pay that is required for a United States citizen to acquire a visa, my trip was definitely worth it

Lake Titicaca how you beckon me.

(besides, what’s a little dose of our own outrageously expensive US immigration tactics). While I ended up spending 4 nights out of my week on night buses on the ridiculously bumpy roads of Bolivia, this allowed me to see as much of the amazing natural and cultural wonders of Bolivia one could fit into a week. Though I have much more to see (definitely within the next 5 years before my visa runs out), I was able to get a taste of a country that is persistently dedicated in identifying itself apart from Peru, while in reality they share a history inevitably tied together through the land, the people, and the culture that have created the modern day Andes. Peru and Bolivia share so much more than the shores of Lake Titicaca, and perhaps what drew me to Bolivia was an attempt to understand the country I will be residing in for the half a year through the view of its wild brother to the south.

I started out my Bolivian sidebar after crossing the border at Kasani with my Bolivianos in hand, which are extremely inflated even compared to the Nuevo Sol, Peru’s currency. I ended up walking the 8 km to Copacabana because of my frustration with immigrations and my impatience of waiting for the combi to fill up with enough people to drive there. I was surprised at how deserted the border actually was, but in retrospect I realize that most people cross the border in tourist buses while I had decided to do it myself (which is decidedly less expensive, yet way more of a pain in the ass). Needless to say, the  walk ended up being a gift in disguise in the amazing views I had as I passed through the rural villages that have subsisted along the shores of Lake Titicaca for thousands of years. On my way, I happened upon a cluster of archaeological sites including the remains of a colonial church, which was located among the backdrop of an enormous outcrop of rock that was home to some pre-Incan sites, named Cantera de Locka (I’m guessing it was a quarry of some form from the word “cantera”). If I would not have had a deadline of sunset and six more kilometers to go then I definitely would have climbed up to see those sites, but you can see the hike I would have had to undertake from the photosynth I took.

As a side note, besides being a stop over for excursions to Isla del Sol, Copacabana is home to an absurd ritual during August in which Catholics flock to the beautiful Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana to receive the blessing of mobility on their vehicles.

I finally arrived to the picturesque town of Copacabana, that may not be the same Copacabana in Brazil that is the hottest spot north of Havanna, but still is a beauty in its own right. After I walked down to the the beach to find the first restaurant I could find, I struck a conversation with my waiter. Humberto was a Chilean who had traveled all around South America, yet had found nowhere comparable to Copacabana. As I watched the sun set on the shores of Lake Titicaca, I could definitely see where he was coming from. In the course of two days I had worked my way around the massive borders of Lake Titicaca in order to see both a sunset and sunrise on this beautiful lake (one in Peru and the other in Bolivia… Impressive, yes?)

The next day I caught a boat to the fabled Isla del Sol where according to legend, Manco Capac arose from a sacred rock here to go on and to found the city of Cusco and form the great Incan empire. Ok, so this may not be true and is among quite a few other versions of Inca origin, but regardless it can be seen why these legends were inspired from the beauty of the largest island on Lake Titicaca. Though there has been evidence of human occupation on the island as far back as Archaic times, its Incan heritage remains the definitive marker of the island. The most striking features that immediately stunned me upon arrival was simply the view of the lake surrounded by the ice-capped mountains of Bolivia in the distance. This honestly was one of the views that will stay with me for life, and really made it seem possible that the beginnings of an empire could have began here. As I made my way around the island with a German traveler I had met in Copa (as the locals call it), I very quickly noticed the extensive terracing of the island for

Isla del Sol, and as you can see here easily confused with Santorini.

cultivation as a result of its ancient occupants. Subsistence agriculture is still in use today and the terraces are utilized even now, but for the most part, the several communities situated on this island make the majority of their revenue from the ever-increasing onslaught of tourism (hmm sounds familiar). This is evident as you follow the Inca highway (more like a trail as there are no roads on the island) from the sight of newly erected, almost luxurious, residences being constructed for tourists and the unlimited amount of pizzerias lining the side of the road that seem to number more than the residents. And all the while the inhabitants of the island still live in the bare-bone adobe brick houses. From what I have read and heard, the people of the island control all of the incoming and outgoing transportation, as well as the tourism on the island. Yet they do not build these luxurious resorts for themselves.

I finished the length of the island and walked along the terraces to the remains of the Incan structure of Pilka Kaina where I took this photosynth. The terracing can be seen lining the side of Isla del Sol, and in the distance you can spot Isla del Luna where the moon was born (it’s not the big round one, but that itsy bitsy one to the left of it).

Next stop was La Paz. The ascent into La Paz will take your breath away. As you drop into the crevasse where the city is located, the urban sprawl seems lika a growing, breathing thing with its muted, brown brick buildings that creep over the edges

For me, this is a snapshot of life in Cusco: the cholita women with their vending stands, the ever-present taxi that is there when you don’t need and occupied when you do, and dogs all wrapped up in a cobble stone street. In all honesty, I could take the exact same picture in La Paz maybe with less dogs though.

of the valley from its epicenter of high-rise building down below. As I wondered the streets, not only were the souvenirs eerily the same as in Peru, but the everyday life was definitely familiar to me from my experience with Cusco. Vendors line the street with everything from chompas to Casino cookies. Public and private space are one in the same as people pack on the buses to the point of claustrophobia and couples display affection in public like its going out of style. Campesinos come down from their farmland to sell produce and protest against yet another government project to encroach on native lands. In all of this I felt the unique blend of Andean and Spanish culture that had developed in the Andes mountains, yet when I talk to Bolivians and Peru happened to come up they would always tell me how different Peru had become. “All they want is money now” is the general reply I would get.

It looks like the matrix, but its a crusty layer of salt. Pretty cool huh?

Continuing with the wonders of Bolivia, I traveled to the southern end of Bolivia in the department of Oruro to visit the Salar of Uyuni. The largest salt flat in the world at a whopping 10,582 kilometers squared is a vast expanse of white nothingness (here is a photosynth from a volcanic island named Incahuasi at the center of the Salar where the only thing that can grow are these massive cactuses). However this nothingness is far from nothing. Salt has always been an incredibly important commodity in Andean culture and the development of trade between coastal and highland people. Some of the first civilizations that developed on the Peruvian litoral (an expanse of coastal desert that runs the length of the majority of the western South America) thrived because of the necessity of salt that was only available to highland people through the trade with these early important economic and religious centers in the desert. However, this particular source of salt is located in the altiplano as the result of an ancient salt lake formed by the uplift of the Andes mountains. There are multiple archaeological remains surrounding this salt flat, and the communities today still harvest its salt.

Aside from the obvious source of salt (I feel like I’ve said salt too many times already) and the Salar’s overwhelming presence that truly is one of Pachamama’s greatest works of art, this blank canvas contains 43% of the world’s lithium reserves. Highly sought after, the extraction of lithium for batteries from foreign companies met strong opposition from local communities who assumed (and rightly so) that they would not receive the dividends of the economic development of the salar. This is one of the few examples of local communities’ successful resistance of large corporations, who in general have exploited many of Latin America’s developing countries. Right as we speak, residents of Cajamarca (where Pizarro first encountered and eventually killed the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa) have had violent protests over a gold and silver mining corporation (U.S. owned to all of our apparent dismay) whose plans to displace lakes for a reservoir that will be used to wash metal out of crushed rock using cyanide have led to massive demonstrations. I think that the common interests of all of the residents of the Andes is one of self preservation at the least.

The sacred position in which nature is held by the people of the Andes is very special, and the connection that Andeans have with their environment is something so different than from what the rest of the world thinks of natural resources. The Andes and its surrounding landscape, as you can see from the few examples that I have given, are just freaking awesome. The Andean mountains, their glacial mountain tops (quickly melting from the affects of global warming) and the water that runs from them (those that run through cities are heavily polluted) were and still are revered in Andean mythology. Its seems as this has changed with the exponential increase of capitalistic ventures in Cusco which has exploded with its rapidly expanding tourism based economy.

It did make my heart sink a little bit when I heard that tickets to sit up close and center to the Inti Raymi procession at Sacsayhuaman cost upwards of $150, and also because of tourist complaints instead of sacrificing an actual llama, they had changed it to a toy. Was this festival that had been resurrected from Incan times, and Cusco’s largest festival simply a money collecting scheme? How could a festival of such ritual importance at one time be so diluted by the desire to make a buck? This is such a tricky subject to deal with. How can the country of Peru arrive at a prosperous state economically without being just “all about the money”. It is unfortunate that the success of any country now a days is based upon a capitalist economy and a monetary system. We are so trained to see progress as equated to the size of an economy that it is difficult to see past a country’s “poverty”. Bolivia’s hesitation to associate with Peru really seems to me to be a resistance of the naturally and culturally degrading forces of capitalism that seems to create money-thirsty monsters of its citizens (inevitably, as it can already be seen from my examples, capitalistic ventures are making their way in Bolivia).

I will state again about the uneasy nature of this subject. At the same time as we can talk about the destructive nature of capitalism, capitalism cannot be seen as an unstoppable beast and even though it is hard for me sometimes, I cannot take on a defensive position of Andean culture surrounded by romantic notions of the pristine culture it was before the Spanish arrived. Even the supposed “pristine” culture that was present at the time of the Conquest was the result of historical occurrences and the changing dynamics of different social relations that represents an ever changing, adapting culture. Capitalism affects all levels of society differently in many forms. As Marshal Sahlins taught me, culture is an adaptive strategy that allows its people to continue persisting (ironically enough) in their own “philosophy of life”. The people of Cusco may have adapted capitalistic strategies in order to siphon money from stupid tourists who are willing to pay the bucket loads of money to watch some dancers (which I saw for free from above aka this guy is not a stupid tourist), but that does not mean that Cusco is something completely different from the Cusco with its ancient heritage and dynamic history.

So after my ramblings, it seems as if I have ended up back in Peru. After spending a month in Cusco, it is clear to me how amazing this city is. Despite critics that say Cusco is all about the money, I have seen the vibrancy of life that is still exuded by those who reside here, and during June in “el mes de jubilar” the celebration is everyday and it is definitely not for the tourists sake. Regardless of all the problems they face, from poverty to pollution, the majority of people here only want to see Cusco improve and become a better place for its citizens not exploit it. In many ways this surge of tourism has helped to improve conditions in Cusco even though it is heavily criticized.

It is also important to remember the active role that we play as tourists in this equation. Tourism is designed to suit the tourist, and if we choose to exploit the people of these amazing countries in Latin America and disregard the importance of their own unique cultures for our own entertainment then we are no better than the Spanish royalty or the large corporations.

 

 

 

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Bienvenidos a Peru

Hello everyone! I would like to welcome you to the beginning of a blog that will get you as close to experiencing Peru as possible while still being able to flush your toilet paper down the drain. I am beyond excited to share my experience with all of you out there on the internet who find this in the midst of the multitude of blogs congesting the information highway. More importantly I want to show you what Peru looks like through my eyes and through the eyes of those that I meet along the way.

In a suiting fashion, I will begin my first blog with the introduction of a project that I plan to extend to the entire length of my trip. Using my Iphone (basically the best phone) I have the capability of taking amazing 360 degree panoramic photos using an app developed by Microsoft called Photosynth. I want to travel to as many archaeological sites as possible during my stay in South America to give everyone out there a taste of Peruvian archaeology through the technology allowed to me through my mobile phone.I wanteded to give everyone back at home a chance to come right along my trip with me and in essence “see through my eyes” (did you catch the extended metaphor?).

This will be a great way to visualize the immensity of cultures preceding the Incan Empire and Machu Picchu (which is almost always the only site people know of from Peru), and the amazing accomplishments of Peru’s many advanced civilizations through a passionate pursuit of my own: archaeology.

With the remains of a former empire, an ancient cemetery, or agricultural terracing in every direction you look in Peru, I will have no trouble staying busy. The abundant evidence of ancient human civilization, the result of 5,000 plus years of habitation, pepper the landscape of Peru in such quantity that the large majority have yet to be properly investigated. There is so much that we have yet to learn of the cultures that eventually were revealed to the Old World in the form of the Incan Empire. The political, organizational, and technological feats of the Incan empire that so amazed the Spanish Conquistadors were in large part a manifestation of accomplishments from preceding cultures stretching thousands of years back in Andean pre-history.

Machu Picchu in 2009. Been there, done that, got the picture, and moving on to more amazing archaeological remains that you will have never heard of.

 

 

I just concocted the idea this week, but luckily I have a couple of sites to show you from panoramics that I took before I thought to put them on my blog. I have spent the last 3 weeks at a Spanish school in Cuzco, the former capital of the Incan empire (not the school of course), so inevitably we will start with some Incan sites. In retrospect, It will actually be a great way to start with the most recent and familiar (and surprisingly some not so familiar) aspects of pre-Columbian culture. From here we can work our way backwards through time to reveal the many predecessors which the Incan empire drew on to achieve the incredible visual feats that you can see from a 360 degree panoramic view right on your computer screen. I have to say, you guys are pretty lucky to have me and my nifty phone because of the immensity of many archaeological sites in Peru and the amazing landscape, it is almost necessary to have a panoramic shot to fully capture the entire thing in one shot!

Check out panoramics of a couple of sites I got to see around Cusco on my Photosynth profile, perufrommyeyes. The Photosynth site (not archaeological) is an awesome place for checking out any number of landscapes, places, and more archaeology of course, always in panoramic views, albiet a little glitchy. I have had some issues so far, but I plan to have some descriptions to give you an idea of what you’re looking at, and highlight certain features in the site of particular significance. I will also have them geo-referenced, so you can see exactly where I am when I take the picture! Just really cool stuff basically.

This will be the official start of my photos, and after I finish my Spanish school this week I will be heading to the birth place of the Sun: Lake Titicaca. Get ready for your mind to be blown, as I have already begun preparing myself (and I’m still not sure if I’m ready for the sheer awesomeness). Let me know if you have any suggestions to see a particular culture or archaeological site (within consideration of distance and my current location). Also feel free to comment on a photo or ask questions; I would love to get a good discussion going.

Alright then guys, get ready to come along for a wild (and of course intellectually stimulating) ride in Peru and expect much more in the coming weeks!

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Becoming an Anthropologist, an Introduction

Growing up and facing time isn’t always easy, but it is a journey that everyone goes through in finding their own self-definition and awareness. Every person wants to find a meaning and pursue a life in which, at the end, is a story worth retelling. The story of life, although fluid, is built upon the foundation of the building blocks of memory and experience.

The past is important, as it allows lessons and experiences learned from it to bring benefit to the future. By going into the field of bioarchaeology to study human remains allows for this past to be brought to life. Such science and beginnings of research are essential in order to grasp at a larger picture of the integrity of human individuals. We know so little of our own history; and what we know may be skewed by publicity and biases from the perspectives of different people. What I search for is the truth of our past, and to understand its own composure and melody that it has laid onto the ground, waiting to be heard.

Anthropology is a field of open mindedness and exploration of the human spirit both within an anthropologist and within what the anthropologist observes through the course of their career. Anthropology is not a job, it is in essence a way of life in that it changes our perceptions and opens up new perspectives to be explored by simple thought and curiousity along with a drive to discover. Human beings change over time as society and culture progresses, and many times we are unaware of our own changes until we stop to look back to the “whys” and “hows” that have affected our views today and have pushed us in a direction of becoming such an able thinker as an anthropologist.

 

picture courtesy of Dr. Conelly from NMSU

In a way, I was always certain that anthropology always was a career for me, and over time, it became more specifically bioarchaeology. I know after partaking in an office job that I am not a person that likes to be stuck indoors for long periods of time. Taking part in an archaeological field school last summer with Dr. Walker with New Mexico State University also proved this point to me; I belong in the outdoors, in the midst of a discovery. Mainly what has changed has been my knowledge as to what archaeology entails and what it is like as well as my view of what I truly want to study. From my own personal experiences in maturing in my life, I now believe that to understand our progression, as overall humanity, we need to understand our past and how we developed and changed through time to where we are today. By studying bones and seeing these individuals stories imprinted upon them, we can do so and thus learn from our true history. Even more, we can begin to fathom the great vastness of diversity and gain the great appreciation of who we humans are with the “whys” and the “hows” with such a career as anthropology.

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Water & Rights

Water is bottled and sold. Think about that. Should water–something that everyone’s life depends on–be just another market commodity? Should we trust the supposed efficiency of the “invisible hand” to provide everyone around the world with clean water?

I never really had to think much about water when I was a kid. It was always there. I walked into the kitchen, turned a little handle, and there it was. I could turn on the hose whenever I wanted and flood the grass with all the water it needed. I never had to walk anywhere to get water, and I certainly never went without. Did you?

I grew up in southern California. We never really SAVED water. But we sure did a good job of using it. And I’m not talking just about household use, but how much water was used in the aggregate sense. Yes, I remember some instances in which people were gently asked to be careful about their water use. There were times during hot summers that we were all supposed to use less water. But it’s not like this was ever a real severe issue. People were asked not to wash their cars in the middle of summer, or maybe not water their lawns too much. But there was never a shortage of water–there was always water coming from the tap (this was after the big drought of 1977).

Water, 2009.  Photo by R.A.

There certainly were few moves toward changing the ways in which we used water–there was no major structural overhaul or attempt to rethink how we used water. All of those lawns and swimming pools throughout suburban neighborhoods illustrate this fact quite clearly. Lawns? If you think about it, the cultural habit of surrounding each and every little tract home with a small green swath of grass makes absolutely no sense. But making sense isn’t what’s at issue here–it’s power that we’re talking about (and this applies all over the world, not just to California). Power, and some well entrenched habits. Yes, access to water = power, and many people get used that to power. But this is going to become a bigger issue that more people (especially those in places like southern California) are going to have to think about.

Of course, there is a long history of water politics and conflicts in southern California. The battle between Owens Valley and the city of Los Angeles is one of the most well known examples (Here’s one more link about this well known political battle). It’s the story of a growing urban community living in a semi-desert environment that had to basically steal water to survive. And there’s no way that Los Angeles could have ever grown to its present day size without making a power grab for water. There simply wasn’t enough to support such a massive population. And, looking at Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside County, and San Diego County today, it seems pretty clear that there really isn’t enough water to go around–especially considering the absolute waste of so much water.

Some people think that water is basically the next oil, meaning that the international political conflicts that we see over oil today are going to be over water in the future. In many ways, this is already coming to fruition. Many people all over the world do not have access to clean water–and often this boils down to pure politics. A few days ago I watched the film “FLOW,” which got me thinking a lot about water again. If you haven’t seen it, the film is available via YouTube. It takes a global look at the politics of control of and access to water. Here’s the first part:

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Water access and use are issues that resonate with my research on development in Baja California as well. Large scale tourism development projects clearly control and use massive amounts of water. Hotels and resorts could not function without the “convenience” of clean water in each and every room. But then, there are the golf courses. Los Cabos already has a number of golf courses, many new development projects include yet another “world class” course. I’m not sure how this happened, but golf courses are one of the signs of prestige these days, so everyone tries to include one in their project in order to appeal to that “luxury” or “high-end” tourism market. But what happens to surrounding populations when these massive resorts and golf courses are built? What happens to water rights? What happens to the cost of access to water?

Tourism is a product. Tourism is sold via various forms of media; idealistic images of landscapes and environments become primary sales tools. Tourism businesses sell relaxation, romance, and luxury. They sell peace and quiet, and they sell adventure. Everything from surfing to diving to walking on those sandy beaches becomes a product for sale. But what are the trade-offs? What are the actual social and political costs of some of these products? What happens when these places are built? Are there winners and losers? And what about environmental damage and degradation? Where are the warning labels for “products” like international tourism? This is one way that I think we all need to look at tourism. We don’t really need to look at the “impacts” of tourism as much as we need to look at the histories, relationships, and politics that pervade tourism development. And the effects of tourism development on water access is just one factor to consider. But it’s a critical factor, and not one that you can expect to read about while perusing an in-flight magazine on your way to Cancun. Does it matter if someone else can’t get clean water just a few miles away from your five star hotel?  Maybe questions like this should at least become a part of the equation when tourists look for places to visit.

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A golf course built in the middle of the desert may be picturesque to some people. I suppose it all depends on your personal ideals about beauty. To me golf courses are blatant symbols of power. The ability (and desire) to control water and use it for purely recreational purposes is astounding, all things considered. And I’m not just talking about all of the existing and proposed golf courses in Baja California, I’m talking about the courses that exist all over places like Southern California. Nothing against the sport of golf, but sometimes the use of resources is just beyond the pale. One of the first that always comes to mind when I think about this is Palm Springs. But then, I think my own home town of Carlsbad, CA has about three golf courses now. I understand the fact that golf courses appeal to tourists, and that they seem to improve the image of a city. But at some point, things are going to have to change. As the populations keep growing, people are going to have to rethink how they use water. This applies to everything from golf courses to washing dishes. But it seems to me that lots of Americans, at least, are trying to avoid thinking about these issues for as long as possible.

Drain, California, 2008.  Photo by R.A.

A lot of times when we think about water we think about where it ends up. We see water flowing along gutters or into drains and we wonder about waste. We wonder where it goes, how it will be treated, and then what will be done about it after that. But we should also think about things that happen long before we even reach for the tap. We should think about who has control of our water (and everyone else’s water), and how some people can get it easily and others cannot. In the US, water is seemingly everywhere. Take a look at your local grocery store. Look at public parks, where drinking fountains are routine parts of the landscape. There surely doesn’t seem to be any shortage, right? Distant histories, such as those of Owens Valley, speak otherwise. Water has been an issue in places like Southern California, and for a long time.

But California is just one aspect of the problem. It’s a model, in many ways, of what NOT to do with water. Fortunately, there are some people who are thinking very seriously about water and making changes. But this is an issue that extends far beyond Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Owens Valley, and Baja California Sur. Yes, it matters how we use water. But we also have to think about water access and rights around the world, and specifically how some of our own politics and practices are connected to these issues. Water is a crucial resource that many people around the world simply cannot take for granted. Recently, the UN has declared access to clean water and sanitation a human right. Is that enough?

Cross-posted @ Ethnografix.

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