Have you ever thought about the stories we tell about different places, places we maybe don’t actually know that much about? We hear stories all the time that tell us about far off places. Sometimes the story is a beautiful tale of an idyllic lifestyle, where everything is easy; other times, it’s one of hardship and sadness. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about so eloquently in her TED talk, so often we are only hearing one side of the story, leaving our picture incomplete.
We sometimes hear people talk about their experiences in the Andes, describing the communities as places of poverty and hardship, where life is hard, uncomfortable and short. This depiction makes us feel pity, maybe even guilt that we have experienced lives richer in experience and opportunity. We feel compelled to “do something”, to help.
But this is only half the story, and neglecting to fill in the details does a disservice to these Andean communities and the people who live there – and to us.
When I travel to the communities, sure, I feel the smoke from the open cooking fire choking my lungs when we’re all huddled together in what is often a single room that serves as kitchen, dining room, living space and bedroom for the whole family. I feel the bitter chill in the unheated and uninsulated room, the temperature hovering below freezing outside, and wonder at my multiple layers compared to their bare legs and feet. And I worry about the children with chronic bronchial infections due to the harsh climate and lack of regular access to medical care.
But this is not all that I see. I see vibrant villages of warm people who celebrate life and each other. I see close-knit communities, where the principle of ayni reigns – reciprocity, “today for me, tomorrow for you” – where problems are solved collectively, and community projects – from restoring a bridge, to building a school house – are completed with everyone pitching in. I see so much laughter (the Quechua language is notoriously full of humour and double-entendres) and such rich culture. The Andean worldview – brought to life in ceremony, written in textiles – is also expressed in the most mundane of everyday activities.
I didn’t grow up in a community like this, and it would be hard for me to adapt to life there. But at the same time, I cherish my visits – a breath of fresh air (literally), a break from the hectic modern life, a chance to see the world from a different angle.
Improvements can always be made in any society. But the Quechua lifestyle is a valid lifestyle. That’s why at Threads of Peru we celebrate life in the Andes, and we aim to empower those who live there, and share their vibrant culture with the rest of the world.
Photos courtesy Lizz Giordano and Jordan Putt
Story by Sarah Confer