Mary Oliver, but with drums

In a way, Dirty Projectors are a musical equivalence of Mary Oliver’s poems: positive energy, reflection, meditation and the beauty of nature.  After all, attitude is the only thing we can truly be in control of, and Dirty Projectors’ music celebrates life even in the face of difficult truths.

Here is my housemate’s cover.





Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

UNSA Campus Photos

By 10:00 pm on Thursday, I am totally burnt out for the week and refuse to absorb any more information. I am taking only four classes but they should give me 2 credits for philanthropy class since we have an extra an hour and a half session every class day. So, today, I had four classes in a row from 8:30am till 2:15pm, JUST LIKE HIGH SCHOOL! Then, literature hall meeting, yes a theme hall – where we read and discuss more books and stories. In theory, I am also supposed to go to swim practice afterward but I am dropping it after all because I need to drop something – not international club, not dance, not student restaurant nor environmental club. Cooking and grocery shopping add to these workload and Lin is confident that I will stop cooking meals myself by Spring Break (note the capitalization, it marks holiness). Despite these apparent complaints, you can tell that I am secretly in love with being busy (not quite a secret anymore now, is it?). It keeps me moving, and gives me an illusion that I am actually doing something useful. How good it is to be back in a college setting!

But I still miss Peru.

And strangely enough, I even miss UNSA – Universidad Nacional de San Agustin. Abimael Guzman – the leader of Shining Path – was an UNSA student. He also went to a high school that’s right around the corner from my house. Shining Path is a leftist political violence that started in Ayacucho (highlands) and moved up to Lima, the capital. It caused so much misery and pain and death, mainly because the movement poeticized death. The followers are supposed to cross the sea of blood to reach utopia.

Evidently UNSA also hosts students and faculty members that support Pizango, a presidential candidate with a heart for on protecting indigenous rights. He often speaks up against Amazon forest deforestation and commercial exploitation, I believe… Believe because I followed him through a combination of Caroline’s translation and my reading newspapers with the help of a dictionary every seven words. Pizango is against water privatization. His party symbol? A big, blue drop of water. He positions himself directly opposite to that of Alan Garcia, the current president, who’s all about development and industrialization. He published an article in Peru’s El Comercio, titled El Perro del Hortelano. I just found out that you can access to its translation here. When I was in Peru, even Google engine generates only links in Spanish – it may have been a good thing for my Spanish.

You don’t need to look elsewhere to sense the tensions between development and environmental preservation. It is not surprising to find murals and signs that extol environmental virtues at UNSA.

These pictures from UNSA were initially intended for my history paper: Peru’s Past in Peru’s Present. I was planning to analyze murals and statues at UNSA campus and around Arequipa. Then, I found an easier method: to study films and books! As a nerd, I had been appropriating previous student’s books and reading novels on Peru from the beginning. So I just used them for my paper and made a bold claim = books and films show that Peruvians are more resented against their government rather than Shining Path itself for the tragic events from 1980s onward.

In front of Social Science building, statue of Jose Carlos Mariategui, an influential socialist thinker. Guzman took the name Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) from Mariategui’s writing: El Marxismo-Leninismo abrira el sendero luminoso hacia la revolucion, meaning Marxism-Leninism will open the Shining Path to revolution.

This one is to “Arequipa’s heros that fought against military dictatorship,
June 1950, and permanent validity (?) (vigencia) of human rights”

Walk from home to school, writings on the pedestrian bridge

In case anyone’s interested in movies for spring break, these are the films I used for paper:

  • La Boca del Lobo (1988),
  • Paloma de Papel (2003),
  • Ojos Que No Ven (2003),
  • Mariposa Negra (2006) and
  • La Teta Asustada (2009).


  • Nicholas Shakespeare’s The Dancer Upstairs
  • Mario Vargas Llosa’s Death in the Andes.

Liberal arts, romanticism and Che Guevara

The Motorcycle Diaries remains my all time favorite movie. I first saw it with my really good friend from Ecuador during my freshman year at college. Fascinated by cinematography, I also found the film easy to personally relate to.

~ How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew? How can a civilization that built this be destroyed to build this?~ said Che when visited Machu Picchu and compared it to modern Peru in 1952.

He commented that Incans knew astronomy, brain surgery and mathematics but Spanish had gun powder. “A revolution without guns? It would never work.” It is one decision, one moment that distinguished Che from Gandhi. Thank goodness for our Buddhist traditions. Che, Guzman, Gandhi … they all feel the same to me, they all want social justice and equality, except that they chose to carry out their missions differently. If I hadn’t been influenced earlier by non-violence leaders, I could be radically rooting for an armed struggle by now because of you, Che. If I had been born in an Andean village, I could easily have been persuaded by promised land of social equality under Gonzalo Thought.

In any case, I saw the movie again twice in Peru, two years later. The film is largely responsible for my presence here. And I am not the only one. Some of the students in my program had the same experience with the film. In fact, Prof. Orin Starn from Duke University also wrote about his first introduction to South America though a film called Bye Bye Brazil. He also writes, upon reflection, of a youthful romanticism as he left home.

“As it happened, far from being solitary adventurers, we were following the well-trodden “gringo trail” of greasy young backpackers from the United States and Europe. We thrived on the all-night bus trips, fleabag hotels and sour-smelling cantinas en route to Machu Picchu, Iguacu Falls and the Amazon jungle, and on contact with the peoples and cultures of a world less familar and, so we supposed, more alive than our own middle-class neighborhoods in the north. It has now been almost tweny years since that first trip. While puff harder now up mountain trails and lurch to the ball with less agility in village soccer games, I am also aware that my attraction as a twenty-year-old was sparked by travel brochure stereotypes about the mystery and exoticism of South America and by the privileges of race, class, and nationality that enabled us to travel in the first place.

Yes, I am in your place, Prof. Starn. A twenty-year-old kid from some liberal arts school. The only difference is I am not even a gringa, I do not even have privileges of race, class or nationality. My home country is worse off than Peru. And here I am, living the life of a gringa and enjoying all the privileges my parents have earned me. A friend of mine forwarded me this link as a joke.

This study abroad experience has been pleasant and I have nothing to complain. It’s too perfect that I am feeling guilty. Liberal arts education in general strikes me as delusional. I see excited Burmese students like the young Orin Starn. I read their romanticized blogs with my arrogant cynicism. About their empty writings on Plato, Socrates, and their romanticism. Maybe we are being too selfish. Maybe it is not for us, third world kids. This is what my American peers do and the difference is in their society, USD 20,000 per year is considered “low income.” Liberal arts education is supposed to teach me critical thinking but what is more advantageous for Myanmar? More thoughtfulness or technical, vocational skills? At the same time, I am questioning myself if I would be able to meet expectations, especially from people that have invested in me. An american who is currently in Yangon and who I have never even met outside told me, “you know, people here think very highly of you.” I feel obliged to live up to their standards and I really hope I’d be able to with my degree in a humble major.

Talk about learning, let me conclude with one of my favorite quotes.

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain – John Adams

Sunday jokes

Suspicion fills the air. I can smell my own vulnerability. Like the state of Peru in 1980s, there is no concept of trust between my host brother and hermanitas that I live with. Next thing you know, you will be the target of a practical joke. Especially today, we had a war.

Last Tuesday, my brother Luchito came back to Arequipa. He found out the hard way that there were alarm clocks in shoe boxes, in his bed sheet and closet. They started ringing every ten minutes from 3 to 4 am. As a revenge, Luchito and his father devised a plan to gather all three girls and Lucy, our mom, in the garden while someone locks all the doors. Then, Luchito was going to throw water at us using the garden hose. When I was sick on Thursday, he told me all about the plan and asked for my cooperation. But we ended up driving to the beach.

This morning, my host brother Luchito asked me to help him clean chairs in the garden. I am sure he thought that I would have forgotten by now that this was a trap.  So I replied, “I will be back,” locked myself up in my room, and laughed at Luchito throwing two buckets of water at Caroline, my host sister as well as program assistant. I warned her this morning when Luchito decided to turn against me. Luchito promised her that he wouldn’t use the hose, he ended up using the buckets. A man of words, I like.

Then, David and Claudia wanted to put our pet monkey in Luchito’s room. The monkey escaped and they decided not to pursue their dream any further. Instead, they wanted to pour shampoo on Luchito’s head. After lunch, Caroline grabbed my hand, dragged me to my room and asked for my shampoo. I gave her my curl control lotion that I haven’t used for quite a long time. As I walked back down the corridor to the living room, Luchito grabbed my hand, dragged me back to my room and asked what we should do to Claudia. I thought it would be cool to play Claudia’s joke against herself and advised him to put Toto the monkey in her room.

Luchito reacted the pouring curl lotion by grabbing it and applying it back on us. Since he was right-handed and I was sitting on the left, I escaped. Poor Caroline got a bunch on her hair. At that moment, Claudia heard her curtains moving rapidly from her room and went, “Wait a minute.” The amazing end result was poop on Claudia’s pillow, pieces of tissue all over the room and disappearance of some raisins. A picture will come here soon.

As you can tell by now, there is a tradition at home to play practical jokes.  After each getting the curl lotion, two buckets of water and monkey’s poop, Luchito, Caroline and Claudia are planning on my downfall. Everything is fair in love, war and our jokes. I am innocent and I do not believe I have violated anyone. For sure, I have been escaping all these times. So I am being extremely cautious. Maybe I should start locking my doors! Oh what a day.

Friday internships

I switched my internship this morning from Mesa de Concertacion to Habitat Siglo XXI. So, I am now working for my host dad because he is one of the FIVE persons running Habitat. I also found out later that he founded Crear, a micro-finance organization in 1998. Crear recently gained status as a bank or some kinda of standard that makes it eligible for giving out more loans, I believe.

Habitat has projects that are subcontracted by larger organizations such as Carita or IADB. This morning, we went to capacity building classes that are subcontracted by the Peruvian government. Projoven program invites Peruvian young folks to attend vocational training classes, helps find jobs after the course and creates a communal sentiment among students.

This morning, we visited cooking and sewing classes. Women in the sewing class are of ages between 16 and 25 and some of them are not only teens but also mothers. When I was sixteen, I was worrying only about cute guys not liking me, not about supporting family in this machista society. All students receive transportation fees of 2.80 soles (about a dollar) and mothers receive twice so that they could use daycare services. After three months of training, these women can find jobs and earn up to 600 soles ($200) per month. If they had been selling goods on the street, their monthly income would be about only 200 soles. Some didn’t know they could earn better than this. Caroline asked the lady at sewing class what she would do if there were more funds. She replied that she wants to expand this program for elder women that are divorced or widowed. She also spoke about handicraft industry that was hard hit by Peruvian free trade agreement. She said that Peru is not ready to compete internationally yet.

I thought this was a great cooperation between the state and the civic society. Habitat rents out the place and supports instructors and axillary services. The Peruvian government pays for materials. The program is not that selective either. Only 10% of applicants are denied and selection is based on both need and merit.

I don’t know how I can help Habitat with my petty Spanish but there should be something I can do.