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February 27, 2011

To mark the special occasion of our despedida—our host family thank you and service sendoff party—Lima was graced with a few unusual raindrops and, more significantly, a beautiful rainbow that seemed to end right at the Good Shepherd Cathedral hall, where we gathered Friday night to celebrate with our host families, language professors, coordinators, and other friends of the program. The students put together an impressive evening of entertainment, including music (both singing and a drumming performance on the Peruvian cajón), dance, a juggling act, and an individual speech (in Spanish!) from each student to their host family. They also…

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February 22, 2011

Our travels around Lima took us to three interesting places in the last week: La Inmaculada is a primary and secondary school run by the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order. The school has two distinctive facilities on campus: a zoo (which helps protect endangered species from Peru) and its own water treatment facility. The water treatment facility began almost 20 years ago; it takes advantage of one of the city’s major sewage pipes that runs nearby and eventually drains into the ocean. The school siphons sewage from the pipe and sends it through a series of filtering pools. The end…

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February 21, 2011

Our week began with two lectures focusing on the indigenous peoples of Peru. First we heard from Mennonite Pastor Jose Manuel Prada Bernal on how the oppression of indigenous peoples continues to this day, as many have been forced off of their land to make way for commercial enterprises such as logging, mineral acquisition, and oil excavation. Next we heard from Catholic priest and professor of indigenous studies Jaimie Regan about the lives of indigenous peoples in the Amazonas region, and how their environment affects their daily life. On Thursday, we continued our study of native cultures by visiting the…

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February 19, 2011

One of Lima’s more impressive features is the city’s extensive park system. After a morning of delivering water to households that lack plumbing in Villa El Salvador, we visited the nearby Parque Huascar. This beautiful park is situated in one of the poorer communities in Lima. With its ample green spaces, big pond, sports facilities, pool, and zoo, it truly is an oasis. Admission of 1.5 soles (about 50 cents) per adult and just half a sol for students makes an occasional visit in reach for most residents. It exists in large part thanks to the perseverance of former mayor…

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February 19, 2011

Just 50 years ago, Lima’s population was close to 1 million. Today the greater metro area is approximately 8.5 million, or nearly one in three Peruvians. The stories behind that spectacular growth are sometimes tragic: earthquakes and floods that decimated communities drove people into Lima, as did the terrorism perpetrated by the Shining Path and other radical groups in smaller cities and villages in the 1980s and ‘90s. But many migration stories are hopeful: People move from the countryside to Lima in pursuit of education, employment, and a better life. Unfortunately, that pursuit is typically difficult and dangerous. One of…

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February 15, 2011

The Urubamaba Valley is just to the north of Cusco, and it’s perhaps better known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We spent several days visiting the towns and archeological sites in this area. First up was the small town of Chinchero, which boasts a colorful traditional market on Sunday mornings. We did a bit of shopping there and also attended a textile demonstration where several local residents showed us how they spin, weave, and dye wool with natural materials. After that it was off to Moray, a fascinating site of concentric circle terraces that descend about 100 feet…

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February 13, 2011

Just outside Cusco are several interesting places from very different eras that we were able to explore during our visit. We started at Tipon, a 500-acre complex of hillside farming terraces and water channels carved in stone that the Incas took control of and developed shortly after 1400 A.D. Water from a natural spring still flows through the channels and fountains at Tipon, making this marvel of civil engineering feel like it’s  functioning as the Incas would have wanted. We also visited the town of Pikillaqta, a 25,000-acre city that includes warehouses and barns and two- and three-story buildings made…

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February 13, 2011

We took some time to get to know the Cusco area though two service projects. We spent last Friday in the small town of Huacarpay helping move rocks for the Cutípa family, which is still rebuilding a wall after last year’s floods decimated much of the town just outside of Cusco. (Celestino Cutípa is pastor at Huacarpay Mennonite Church, and the story about his town’s experience—as well as information about his church and his family’s home—can be read here.) The day we were in Huacarpay the town was celebrating the opening of several dozen newly constructed homes, which local families…

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February 12, 2011

Our week of travel started in the Andean city of Cusco, a UNESCO world heritage site that is considered Latin America’s archeological capital. By the 15th century Cusco was at the height of its importance as the capital of the Inca Empire, but the local history is much more than the Incas: We were able to explore pre-Inca ruins (the nearby city of Pikillaqta was built by the Wari people between 500 and 900 A.D.) as well as the Spanish influence that first appeared in the 16th century after Francisco Pizzaro’s arrival (including, among many other things, the Plaza de…

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February 12, 2011

Machu Picchu

Our visit to Machu Picchu coincided with two interesting anniversaries. First, 2011 is the centennial of Yale University professor (and later U.S. senator) Hiram Bingham’s discovery of the so-called “Lost City” (we learned that Machu Picchu was far from lost to the locals, and even appeared on a German cartographer’s map more than three decades before Bingham’s finding). Two days after our visit, Yale and the Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco signed an agreement establishing the UNSAAC-Yale International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture in Cusco. Thousands of artifacts that have been curated…

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