Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ballooning in Cotabambas

One of the very exciting things that I got to do before the beginning of the new year was take my first trip to one of the communities where the Mennonite church has an outreach. The last week of December the youth from the San Jeronimo church took a trip out to Cotabambas in order to do chocolatadas. Chocolatadas are a typical event at Christmas time. It's where people go into poorer areas and give out hot chocolate and toys to kids.

There were ten people in our group and we left early on Thursday morning in two vehicles. The trip was 5 hours up and down mountains on dirt roads that curved and swerved and were sometimes rather bumpy. The truck that I was in had a tape player that only worked sometimes and only one tape that we heard many many times. We also had Señor Mac who was a laptop that one of the guys who buys and sells computers was trying out. Unfortunately Señor Mac only had a battery lifetime of two hours and there weren't available power sources on our way out to Cotabambas. Cotabambas is in another department of Peru called Apurimac.

We made it out to the town of Cotabambas where we met up with Pastor Paulino who is the missionary from the Mennonite church working in the area of Cotabambas. He and his wife Fanny are originally from Santa Teresa which is closer to the jungle and MUCH warmer than Cotabambas! We made a plan as to which communities we would go to when and set off for Colca which lay on the opposite mountain. Colca was a village of about 100 people that had about 20 believers. We parked our cars in the main square (not really a square just an open space in the middle of town) and set off to make chocolate over an open fire at one of the believers house. As they set up the fire wood and got the huge pot boiling, I distracted the kids below in the square with: BALLOONS!! Yes, it's true, my balloon twisting talents were once again going to be put to use. I don't know if these kids had ever received a twisty balloon before so it was great to see their expressions. The best thing was a huge herd of sheep that ran through the square while I was doing this. Two of the girls helped me and we made balloons for about 40 minutes. Unfortunately, by the time I was done most of the kids had dismantled or deflated their balloons!! oh, well...

We walked up to see how the chocolate was coming and get a little warmer (it was really cold in Colca!!) inside the hermano's house. We sat inside their little blackened adobe kitchen and drank tea and ate roasted corn. The believers were so sweet and loved to laugh a lot. They enjoyed our cameras and company. I loved their typical hats and outfits! The chocolate was made with hot water, chocolate powder, chocolate bars, sugar, oatmeal and powdered milk stirred over a hot fire. We separated it into two big pots and the men lugged them down to the square where we set up our chocolatada line. The kids came with their cups and containers and lined up to receive their toy, bread and chocolate. It got pitch black by the time we were done and where there are no street lights it gets _really_ dark!

The kids line up with their mugs in Colca.

Eating soup with a "whishlah"

Afterwards we went and had soup at the believer's house. There were not enough spoons and so I ate mine with the big wooden spoon that had a special name in Quechua (I think it was a whishlah or something like that - Paulino liked to try to get me to say it so that he could laugh at me). After our yummy soup we headed to the little building where a church service was being held. There were tons of people because we were there! There was a worship time in Quechua and one of the guys from our group (who normally goes out to the communities) preached in Quechua. As you can imagine I understood nothing + I was really tired (we left Cusco at 4:30 am) = I had a REALLY hard time staying awake!!! The service was really neat in any case and several people prayed to receive Christ and we prayed for a couple for healing.

The church service in Colca

That night we slept in the church building. It was pretty much like camping because there was no bathroom or water available. I brushed my teeth with a water bottle and accidently dropped my toothbrush in some cow or sheep doodoo. What was I to do in such a predicament??!! Well, I cleaned it off water and antibacterial hand gel of course and tried not to think to much about it the next time I had to brush my teeth. Don't worry I have since thrown it out but there was no where to get another toothbrush in such a situation!

In the morning we left for two communities close by but a little lower down. I went to one small community called K'utuctay with half the group. I had about a dozen kids to make balloons for and it was so fun!! I got into making more complicated things and they seemed to take care of their balloon creations a little longer. We made our chocolate in the house of a believer there. We were in the kitchen/living room/bedroom with guinea pigs running around on the floor and a goat carcass hanging from the ceiling. Add some balloon creations to the mix and you've got the picture of what I experienced. The believers were really sweet and gave us a snack to eat: choclo (corn) and soft cheese with chuño (freeze dried potatoes) and goat meat (you guess where from). When the people in the campo (countryside) offer you food, you eat it and you eat it all! It was actually yummy so I had no problem. The gals in our group had trouble sometimes finishing their food but I would eat up all mine. The guys teased the girls and said: "look at Carrie! She eats like a campesino (country folk)!" hee hee...

Ruth serving hot chocolate
Chuño, Choclo & Cheese

We met up with the other half of our group and headed out to unchartered territory higher up. These communities had no Christian witness so they really were unexplored. In order to get to these places we left the dirt highway and drove out onto the grassy field. We drove past flocks of llamas and alpaca grazing and around cactus and water sink holes. It really was quite an adventure to get to a homestead where there were not too many people and hardly any kids. Since we had no contacts, we just gave out clothing, bread and toys. The woman of the home refused to sell me her yarn ("manan" no - it was for her blanket!) but she did offer us more chuño and chicha (corn beer) which we did our best to swallow down! Paulino was able to hand out some tracts and share with the people in that area. From there we drove to other homesteads to give out clothing, toys and balloons. It was pretty funny because we would stop everytime we saw someone on the side of the road or in the field. "Quick find a piece of clothing or a toy!" It was really fun.

The yarn that I really wanted to buy!

Friendly llamas along the way

That afternoon we headed to San Juan which was another larger community where there is a group of believers. We set up our chocolate making factory outside the church building and took shelter inside when the rain started. That afternoon I gave balloon twisting lessons to the majority of our group and we produced a basketful of balloons to give out later. That evening we gathered kids and adults (there were probably about 50 or 60 total) and gave out chocolate, bread, toys, balloons and clothing. It was really fun but we had so much chocolate left over!! We left in the pitch black (again no street lights and not too many house lights) and drove back to Cotabambas where we slept at the church and in Paulino's house.

Making hot chocolate in San Juan

The next day we packed up our stuff and got ready to leave. Before I left I got to go on a little tour with one of the hermanos to a nearby hilltop where they used to sift/grind the dirt for gold. You can still see the holes that they dug! He told us that the name Cotabambas came from a word in Quechua that means those that grind or mill for gold. He also talked to us about some of the surrounding communities that have no Christian witness and how his son Gedeon wants to be a missionary to those communities. It was such a cool conversation, a wonderful view and great end to my time in Cotabambas.

The hermano who was our tour guide in Cotabambas

We headed out that morning for the trip back to Cusco which was long and uneventful. Along the way we stopped and gave out stuffed animals and toys to some kids along the way. It was so fun to see the smiles on their faces! When we stopped at the bridge for a short break I was attacked by biting flies that left red marks on my face and neck! ugh! We went back up and down the hills and curves (on one hill there were 24 curves just to get up the mountain). Some of the drop offs were a bit scary but what an adventure.

I'm so glad that I got to see the community of believers out in Cotabambas! I know that they have a lot of challenges but I was encouraged by their joy, faith and commitment despite it all. I'm so glad that I could share my balloons with some kids, give them chocolate and see them smile.

So, when can I go on my next trip??

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