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Along the Limañean coast, a new crop of condos rise from the ground. The early morning chirps of car horns have been masked by sounds of jackhammers and bulldozers. It is 2011, and Lima is moving to the sound of a new track . In the district of Miraflores,  it is hard to find a street which is not occupied by building materials and construction crews. This new wealth which is quite apparent in Lima has been powered by investment in Peru’s natural resources.

Houses are being torn down to build highrise buildings in districts like Miraflores

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The only light in Señora Filomena’s*  hut is the early morning sun which streams in through the open doorway. The mountain air is crisp, and a thick fog slowly descends on the grassy plains, mimicking the effects of a fresh Canadian snowfall. Our day started at 5am today, and Señora Filomena invited the research team for breakfast before beginning our long day of interviews. Her small adobe hut is no bigger than a 10×10 room, but is able to comfortably accommodate our team of 4 as well as her two young sons and her husband.

The smoke inside the hut is thick, as the fire crackles beneath the two heavy wrought iron pots. My eyes are fixated on the potatoes Señora Filomena is washing in a tub of water. As her hand rolls over the lumpy mound, each circular motion unveils another protruding eye, unsightly scar or coloured patch of skin beneath the cloak of mud, transforming the water into a darker shade of earthy brown. I have watched this tub of water metamorph over the course of the morning.  The river water was first used for tea-making purposes, before being used to wash dishes, and re-used for potato cleaning.  There are no pipelines or faucets here. Water is fetched from the river below and utilized in a carefully orchestrated manner to complete household tasks.   Continue Reading »
My list is a sweaty mess, with the death hold I have on it.  It is 4am, and Señor Felix, our contracted driver, is patiently waiting outside my hostel gates as I scramble in the dark to double check my list of supplies we will need for the next 3 days in the south central Peruvian highlands. We load the boxes of food, firewood, and our sleeping bags in the back of his 4×4 and head for the first of the four communities we plan on visiting.  It is rainy season in Ayacucho, and I’ve been warned that NO ONE conducts fieldwork at this time because of the imminent dangers involved with travelling to these remote Andean communities on narrow dirt roads. Yet, given the schedule and timeline for my project, I guess this is where stupidity meets ambition. This trip is the reason I came to Peru four months ago. It is the reason for all the logistics and planning, the evaluating and re-evaluating, the learning of a new language. I even have gum boots. I was ready.  Continue Reading »

Staining Grey with Life

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life

    – Pablo Picasso

    Walking through the Yanamilla prison in Ayacucho- your hand is your passport of entry.  One needs to make their way through several checkpoints, where, if deemed “suitable”, your hand gets tattooed with stamps of approval to move on to the next checkpoint. The stamps are the differentiating accessory between the ones who are able to leave at the end of the day, and the ones who must remain behind. There are no prison uniforms or barred inmates here- Yanamilla is an open prison. Dressed in denim jeans, running shoes and t-shirts, it is difficult to tell who the prisoners are.

    So what was I doing in the middle of an Andean prison? It was quite simple really, I was here to plaster these bleak prison walls with images of  butterflies and flowers.. no, really.  I was here to help paint a beautiful jungle mural in the prison’s cuna!! It  was by random luck that I happened to meet Shayma in ViaVia cafe one afternoon, after I overheard her speaking English.  Craving to have a conversation without the use of my dictionary,  verb conjugation booklet, or simply staring blankly at the other person,  I intruded on her peaceful lunch. She told me that she had come to Ayacucho last April  to volunteer with an organization called Cross Cultural Solutions. Following her volunteering experience,  she was  so drawn by the magic of this city that she just had to come back. So in the months to follow,  she took a leave of absence from her job at the hospital in England, and decided to spend the next four months in Ayacucho with complete freedom to develop herself as an artist- all behind prison walls.  And so began our daily morning journeys to the prison, with paint cans and brushes perched in one hand, while the other hand was used like a surfer in rough waters to balance ourselves on the bumpy combi rides to the prison. Continue Reading »

    Prisoners of Circumstance

    Two-year old Jonas spends hours sitting on the concrete floor tossing around bottle caps and watching them fall back into the pile of colours, with occasional shrieks of “mira, mira” as the bottle caps bounce off each other, creating a cascading effect. Bottle caps and tile spacers have become common playtime activities for the children of the Yanamilla prison in Ayacucho.  The reality for these children exist within the confounds of metal bars, barbed wire and watch guards. A childhood spent behind prison walls is never idyllic- yet Yanamilla is home to approximately 16 children and their mothers. Continue Reading »

    ‘Tis the Season

    I am back in Lima to spend Christmas with Liana and her mom. For all of you who have been bothering me for pictures, here is a day in the life of a “typical Peruvian Christmas”. Feliz Navidad! Continue Reading »

    The Pulse of Ayacucho

    Plaza de Armas, Ayacucho

    There are only a few moments in life when all your senses collide harmoniously- resulting in an orchestral performance worthy of an encore. In these moments, your cappuccino has the perfect coffee-foam consistency, and at the very instant you take your first sip,  the flock of pigeons sitting on the cathedral bell towers fly in complete synchrony to the balconies below, as if beckoned to follow the rhythm of the pan flutes harping in the background . Continue Reading »