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Our new group of volunteers seems to be settling in quite nicely. They’re getting used to their classes and already have a feel for the nightlife.  A few of them have already gotten sick, vomiting and diarrhea, but they’re recovering. Getting sick is sort of like an initiation to living in Cusco. You haven’t really gotten the full experience until you’ve run to the bathroom so many times, you might as well just stay there. 

Last Friday was our first work project. The vol’s learned how to make cleaner burning stoves1. Mud and ceramic bricks. I worked with my boss, and a the vols’ Art History professor, whom we’ll call “La Senorita”. He got this name from the old, Andean woman, Rosa, we built a stove for.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a woman quite like Rosa. Normally, the elderly people in the communities surrounding Cusco mainly speak Quechua, and little to no Spanish. But Rosa speaks Spanish like it’s her first language.  I wouldn’t quite call her grumpy, but she did refer to her granddaughter as “the plague” and wasn’t too happy with out project director, whom she accused of “paseando” or strolling around, rather than building her stove! (in reality he was supervising the volunteers as they made stoves for the 1st time.)

I would call her a bit stubborn. She gets what she wants. She has brown skin thin as tissue paper and stringy white hair. She’s probably about 5 feet tall, but her hunched over back takes her down a few inches. She came and demanded La Senorita and I make her a stove! , and grabbing the two of us by the arms (whether for support or from conviction, I couldn’t quite tell) she led us to her house. Looking back, my boss assured me she’d be by later to help once the rest of the volunteers were settled in.

She led us through a door, cut into the thin, aluminum wall surrounding her yard. It was painted green. I almost stumbled over the 2 large dogs sleeping by the entrance. Her house was made of adobe bricks and looked like 3 small huts that were strung together. Her yard was a bit messy, with Spackle buckets and wooden boards lying about. We followed her to the room where we were to make the stove. It seems she’d removed her previous stove, which had left her walls and ceilings encrusted in black soot. It seemed that Rosa lived alone, so she really needed the stove. I wondered why others in the community didn’t help her by bringing her food. My boss later told me that Rosa was mean to the others in the community and would pinch them. Oh, Rosa!

I think it was his long hair that did it. La Senorita thinks it was his voice. But either way Rosa got it in her head that he was a she. Ok, mama. Si, senorita. My boss and I were cracking up the whole time! La Senorita was a good sport about it. After about 10 minutes of arguing with Rosa; Necesitamos arena, no harina! Pero esto es arena!!!!  No, senora Rosa, es h-a-r-i-n-a!  La Senorita declared that there was a definite lack of communication between them. (After the harina, arena mix up, La Senorita was then dubbed “esa senortia wanki”. Wanki is a quechuan word that describes a woman who doesn’t know how to cook or clean, or basically do anything domestic). 

Later, la Senorita had to climb up on Rosa’s roof to make a hole for the chimney to come out of, and boy was Rosa horrified! Has visto la senorita!!?? She asked me, a look of worry knotting up her face. And when La Senorita finally came down, Rosa scolded her, saying Como puedes actuar asi??? Pareces un hombre!!! We all almost died laughing. But it was all in good fun. When we finished, we gave Rosa a hug and were truly glad we could do something to help this eccentric, old woman. Can’t wait to go back next week to make sure her stove is functioning properly!

 

1Our NGO, ProPeru, builds cleaner burning stoves, or cocinas mejoradas, in the rural areas surrounding Cusco. Many communities use stoves without chimneys, so the smoke stays in the house and women and children breathe it in. This is very bad for their health. Our cleaner burning stoves funnel the smoke out of the houses, and also use less fuel so they’re environmentally friendly and sustainable.  The stoves are made from ceramic bricks that are made in Cusco.

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