Saturday, June 10, 2006

Prez Results

Since I mentioned it earlier, I wanted to report that the ¨less leftist¨ presidential candidate won here (Alan Garcia), though by a margin significantly less than had been anticipated. To look at it from a completely selfish point of view, this probably means that I will be unlikely to encounter political problems here during my stay. The only big, looming issue is what to do about the Free Trade Treaty with the US, which will soon be debated and possibly ratified by the Congress here (the new Prez here seems to hesitantly support it, though would like some changes). There will no doubt be some protests in my part of the country here, as it is thought that the treaty will be bad for small scale farmers (partly, b-c of the continuing subsidies for agriculture in the US). Again, to be self-centered, I don´t think these protests will be strong enough to really cause problems for my research. We´ll see.


I have been terrible about updating the blog, I know. Part of this is that I really haven´t been up to anything terribly interesting. After a first three months of furious data collection, I have spent most of this month trying to get all this stuff into some kind of interpretable form. Mostly, this means that - with a great deal of help from my assistant Albino - I have been transcribing all the stuff that we have recorded, combining, when possible, the films we have made with (the higher quality) audio recordings of the same events, and, lastly, noting in the transcriptions what the kids are actually physically doing (for instance, pointing at something, or moving a piece in a game, etc.). The end goal is to have a document that essentially captures all the data - both verbal, physical, gestural, etc. It´s a royal pain to do, and pretty depressing even. I am essentially spending some very very long days in my room, typing, listening way. I am about two thirds way through this final task. Already I have about 600 pages of (very well)transcribed, annotated material. There will be more.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My adversary

There´s a long-ish strip of restaurants, bars, clubs, tourist trap places in Puno, accessible only by foot. Walking down this strip is, for me, rather like running the gauntlet: little kids try to sell you hand puppets, people try to convince you that you need a shoeshine (just yesterday I was informed that a shoeshine was ¨it possible. your shoe not good.¨), they try to sell you cigarrettes, and - worst of all for me - every restaurant has its one person who tries to convince you that should eat there. Fortunately, I´ve walked down this street frequently enough that most have learned that I´m there for some other purpose (usually to go to the bank, sometimes to go to an internet place). However, there is this one guy (from a chicken place called ´La Choza del Oscar´) who absolutely, absolutely refuses to give up. He relentlessly follows folks as they walk, explaining the benefits of his chicken. Over the course of these last couple months, my response has gone from a polite ´no thanks´to, now, a grumpy shake of the head. In the end, I thought that we had a workable comprise: he had to do his job soliciting customers, I would give a quick shake of the head, and all was done. I was curiously starting to respect the guy for his relentless pursuit of something that I think we both knew would never happen.

He raised the stakes, however. The other day, our brief ritual concluded, he continued following me, explaining that, even if I didn´t want his chicken, there would be a band and a dance later in the night. And, he handed me a little pamphlet (in English) explaining the benefits of both his chicken and his music. Equilibrium broken. I felt trumped.

I took the time to read his pamphlet yesterday . First, the pamphlet explained that your first drink would be free; then, it explained that ¨you are either a whiskey or a pisco sour.¨

I´m not sure that this is my best instinct, but it left me feeling better about our little cold war.

Today, I´m a whiskey (it´s a good day).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Looking out into a hailstorm

Trust me, this picture does not even begin to portray the ferocity of this hailstorm (I'm looking out from my room).

My little room

This is my room in the countryside. You can see how I operate here a little: there's the little table where we work with kids, the computer used mostly to translate the recordings, my bed, etc. It is definitely cozy. (The big blue bags are full of potatos and quinua to eat or to sell, depending on how things turn out). Overall, I like it a good bit.

My motorcycle

Well, here it is. Pretty cool, huh. It has recently been Peru-vianized with the addition of a flourescent Tiger mudflap (ubiquitous here, I don't know why) and the sheepskin. It needs a name. Any suggestions?

When the pueblo realizes some things...

My assistant and I talk politics a lot. I've noticed that he tends to group 2 things as instances of how local communties have recently "come to realize" (and act upon) some things about their current political/economic situation. They are 1) that the education offered in the countryside is typically just astonishingly horrid; and 2) given urban migration and other problems, there is a lot more petty crime here.

The following types of actions have been taken in response to these issues:

1) On the outskirts of Juliaca, a town about an hour from here, a large group of families circled and barricaded the local school during a faculty meeting. They prevented the faculty-officials from leaving the building until it was agreed that some action be taken in regard to 4 teachers accused of very poor job performance, and maltreatment of kids. In the town where my assistant lives, a principal was forced to resign by threats of violence.

2) Criminals are beaten before police intervention. In just the time I've been here, I have read of at least 4 of these situations: thieves being tied to telephone posts, whipped with cow whips (Puno); physically beaten (Juliaca); or killed (Ilave). In one instance, the criminal was forcibly removed from the local jail, dragged through the streets of the main plaza, taken to his home, and burned along with all of his possessions.

(I was just told about this last instance; it probably is a bit exaggerated).

Something is definitely going on.

Presidential Politics in Peru

The Presidential election here will be held this Sunday (it's also an election for Congress, and the Andean Parlament). It should be interesting to see whether the current Latin American trend towards a 'light socialism' will continue. The current leader in the polls - Ollanta Humala - borrows from Chavez (Venezuala) and Morales (Bolivia) the discourse of anti-neo-liberalism (against free markets) and anti-imperialism (that is, mostly, against the US). Unlike Morales, he is not an indigenist (though his father, a lawyer/politician is), and, unlike Chavez, he has no dreams of a unified Andes/Latin America (or, at least, not so strongly). If anything, he has a strong fascist tinge to his rhetoric (his motto is 'love for Peru'). I think there's little doubt that, if elected, he will raise some of the same (largely unwarranted, I think) fears that Morales has in the US. However, it will be important to remember that, whatever may happen, it will be very different from what happened in Bolivia: in this most recent election, Bolivia's traditional parties mostly ceased to exist, and a former, (relatively) marginal party came into position of the Congress and Presidency (also, Morales was the first person in modern Bolivian democratic history to win more than 50% of the vote). Truly historic. In comparison, Humala's party will not have a majority in the Congress, and, if he wins, he is not likely to win by too much. Anyhow, if you're interested in what this leftist swing amounts to in Latin America (or, if it is even leftist!), this election will be an interesting one to watch.

(Note: I've failed to mention that, should no candidate win more than 50% of the vote, an election is subsequently held between the top two vote-getters. So, this is very likely to be an ongoing story)

Short project update

The project goes well. I realize I haven't really spent much time explaining what I'm really up to here in this blog - and, for the moment, the following will have to suffice. I just want to comment that it looks like the types of language resources that interest me are, indeed, acquired during middle childhood here (between 7 and 8), and that they subsequently get used (I'd say between 8 and 9) to achieve complex interactional ends. Once I have more time to do some analysis, I have to have a better account of what I mean by 'complex interactional ends.'

Hopefully, I can end up making some claim that, by complex interactional ends, I mean that kids in some sense become more thoroughly 'cultural' during this time period. (Ultimately, the idea is to claim that middle childhood is a privileged period for the psychological integration of language, culture, and 'selfhood.') At the very least, nothing has happened in these first few months that has dicouraged me from some of the larger claims I'd like to make.

After this next trip, I need to draw up a pretty complete review of what I've been up to (for my advisor and committee), so I hope to have a more concrete blog entry about how things are going in this respect.

It's definitely a lot of fun to have data to play around with and to think through.

transportation strike

Today and tomorrow there will be a transportation strike here (delaying some of my plans, incidentally).

Strikes here are different; they have a much larger place in civic life. First, groups colloborate: so, today, the student unions are collaborating with the transportation unions. Secondly, and most strikingly, the transportation unions don't just strike; they essentially shut down all transportation. For instance, this morning on the radio they told of a person who was driving their personal car out of town when he was confronted by transportistas, beaten, and his car demolished. This is part of what I mean by 'having a larger place in civic life.' You, as a normal everyday citizen, are expected to endure some measure of hardship for union claims. And, correspondingly, I'd say, union claims are not -only- parochial claims about wage increases, etc. For instance, the current strike is in part provoked by the poor conditions, and safety problems, of the main road here. All of this leads to a kinda strange politics where the 'will of the citizenry', gets measured in the following kinds of facts: how 'strong' a road blockade is (how many people there are in support, how many people are being let through, etc.), how long and intense a strike is (are ALL the transportistas participaing?), and how willing people are to complain/violate it. In some instances, it becomes a strange kind of referendum on some issue, votes being counted in physical bodies at blockades, the gossip of the 'people', and, admittedly (but occasionally), demolished cars and beaten limbs.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Photos Added

Please take a look below at some earlier entries - they now have photos added to them.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


This previous week was the Catholic celebration of Carnival. This celebration is the one that the Russian social theorist Bakhtin celebrated in his writings: in earlier times, in Europe, this was a time when nobility could act, dress, and talk like peasants; when the Church could be mocked; when the nobility could be caricatured... Everything was topsy turvy, for a day or week or so at least.

Nowadays, here, at least, Carnival comes in the form of water guns, water balloons, foam spray and kids. This is what is topsy tury now: kids and adolescents can pretty much attack whomever they please with water and foam, and, as my assistant informed me, you can't really do anything about it. Walking the streets in Puno, I got a pretty good shot of foam spray in one of my ears and hair. I can't say that Carnival is one of my favorite holidays.

The other things that happen during this time are more typical of Andean-style holidays: communities get together, dance (very particular dances with very particular costumes), drink... For some odd reason that I would like to know more about, particular regions and communities "specialize" in particular holidays. It so happens that the particular rural area where Mulla Fassiri is located "specializes" in Carnival. My luck.

Here's another typical thing that happens: groups of musicians (either with traditional flute-like Andean instruments, or with band-style instruments) travel from house to house celebrating with each individual household. To reciprocate their music, you offer them some coca leaves to chew, a large bottle of pure alcohol, and sprinkle their hair with colorful paper. I did this, and my assistant recorded it.

Another thing that happens: parallel to the "official" celebration, a set of other, more "Andean" rituals run concurrently. In the case of Carnival, there is a ritual performed to supplicate Pachamama (the Mother Earth) and Santa Tierra (Saint Earth) to bring more animals during the upcoming year. This ritual involves setting up a 'misa' (that is, a "mass" or an "altar") that contains coca leaves (as always), conch shells, wine, incense... Two animals, a male and female, are "married" (that is, tied to each other), feted with alcohol and other decorations, then released. The other animals are offered ch'allas: that is, to each animal one showers with a conch shell's worth of wine.

(This is really a long performance; I'm just hitting the highlights)

The photo is a picture of the animals that were feted, and the location where it occurred. You can see the alpacas and a couple sheep; I don't think you can see the one llama the family has.

The ACC Tournament

Ahh, the things I'm missing. Anyone who went to grade school in NC knows the importance of the ACC tournament: teachers drag in TVs into the classrooms so that not a minute can be missed. Classes are essentially cancelled. (incidentally, I wonder if this will still happen, now that the tournament lasts an extra school day.). Most every kid has some kind of affiliation with an university, through parents or maybe older siblings. Reputations are at stake.

Despite their miserable season, I can still have hope that my Demon Deacs will pull off a miracle. Justin Gray needs to act like Randolph Childress (which isn't impossible, right?).

Entering the field, another motorcycle misromance

Once upon a time, every anthropologist started their ethnography with their "entrance story." This was the one point in the book when a people's oddities could be emphasized, or, at least, when you could emphasize some kind of gap between yourself and the people to be described. The rest of the book could then be read as a tale of increasing connection, communication, rapport, etc. Great stuff, if a bit outdated nowadays.

Here's my entrance story: with a motorcycle packed with my belongings, a good deal of food, my assistant, his backpack, and myself, we very carefully picked our way through water-logged, hole-ridden roads, across and through riverbeds, etc. to arrive on the outskirts of Mulla Fasiri. Once in the territory of Mulla Fasiri itself, we plowed through alpaca, llama, and sheep herding grounds, honking to say buenos dias to the kids and others herding in the afternoon. As we came into Albino's household, however, the front end of the motorcycle hit the edge of the stone wall enclosing the house, popped up (under the weight of all our stuff), and threw Albino and me, my stuff and his stuff into this little pit of mud created by the animals. A little crowd of kids and family came around to check us out, to make sure we are okay. We were okay, except for my foot, which the motorcycle landed on.

The lesson of the story: I entered on a (admittedly fleeting) moment of extreme mutual understanding. We laughed and commiserated and looked at my foot, which was to leave me bed ridden or at least house ridden for a couple days.

Here's how fleeting this moment was, however: during dinnertime conversation that I had a tough time following, I nevertheless caught onto some conversation about what should be done with my foot. Here's what happened: halfway during the meal, the father of the family left, a dog made a strange squawking sound, and the cure was initiated. My foot was bathed in dogs blood, covered with this kind of potato, and wrapped in cloth.

(for the dog lovers out there: just a bit of blood was taken from a nick made in one of the dog's ears...)

Mulla Fasiri, bulls, and a bathroom

I have a fieldsite at last. The name of the town is Mulla Fasiri (which is odd because Aymara does not have an ¨f¨ sound). It is the natal village of my assistant; his family continues to live there. I live in the sister's room who has left to work as a maid in the large town of Arequipa. It is as comfortable a place as I can reasonably expect, and my assistant's family is very welcoming. It will be a good place to live throughout this year and a half.

The picture at the left shows about half of the village, looking from behind the house where I'm living. The green fields are potatoes. The reddish mountain is where a lot of grazing is done (of alpacas, llamas, and sheep).

Just to show you the level of hospitality I've encountered: the house's bathroom had been destroyed several years ago by one of the family's bulls. My assistant and his brother (Albino and Javier) went about reconstructing it for me (a bathroom in the countryside is a big hole surrounded by three walls of adobe that reach up to your shoulders).

Of course, two big bulls are still tethered behind the house, within sparing distance of the bathroom. Lets just say I'm not too fond of late night bathroom expeditions.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Puno Peru

This town will be my home now. All of my stuff is here, at least, in a room otherwise full with a hard bed, two desks, and shelves that rim the walls (stuffed, in parts, with things that aren´t mine). The house itself is perched midway up a hill, overlooking the center of the town, its Church, its markets, its tourist hotels, and Lake Titicaca itself. It´s a contemplative place to be, far enough removed yet close enough to the city to both look at it and live in it. The window in my room, however, looks inward onto the house´s courtyard and garden - you can see the boxes of archaeological data peeking through the flower and vine covered windows.

I need to get out into the city.

From Bolivia to Peru

We came upon the Bolivian border town of Desaguadero at about 3PM in the afternoon. All around us, buses, mini-buses and taxis simply deposited their people, potatoes, corn, kids, and luggage on the Bolivian side. Mobs of ¨trici-taxis¨ - largish tricycles designed to carry 2 people and some luggage - finished the work of transporting people and potatoes to the Peruvian side. The four of us - my friend M., a fellow anthropologist; her husband J.; their son L.; and me - were all piled into a Nissan 4x4 increasingly hidden among the huge commercial trucks carrying bags of rice, gas, and, yes, potatoes into Peru. Occasionally, as a truck was permitted to pass, we would move forward some fifteen feet forward, the tires snapping out of the mud. There were enough onlookers, trici-taxis, candy and soft drink sellers, the kid who was juggling apples...that our slow crawl mostly took the form of evading everyone and everything or else seeming large and stubborn enough to be evaded. And, then, the standard fictions of customs and border officials: M. and J. didn´t have the correct stamps on their passports; the car´s registration and license needed to be photocopied; exit taxes had to be paid; J.´s Argentinian license ws not valid for use in Bolivia; and, indeed, the Peruvians required the Bolivian stamp. 4hrs. later, dark, bribes paid, we pulled away from the border - or escaped from it - into Peru.

Friday, February 17, 2006


I have so much to write about, so much that has happened earler - yet, I have to write this: I bought a motorcycle yesterday! It´s a bit more like a moto-cross bike, an off-road machine, fit for the countryside here. I can´t really help but write about it first: it´s like getting a tattoo, having a drink for the first time, etc. It is definitely one of a series of slightly illicit, slightly (if you will) bad-ass life events that, despite having this tainted image, is completely, absolutely normal. I know this, yet it is still thrilling, even to look at it, even if it is small and already well-used looking. For my assistant, it is a way to easily get to the countryside with a lot of things, somewhat slowly. This is what it will have to be for me, too, I know.

And, I feel this way despite even this: after buying it in a town called Juliaca (from a person who insisted in calling me ´Senor Gringo´), the motorcycle slowly came to a complete stop in the middle of this relatively desolate field. The little bar used to change gears had totally come off, lost somewhere in the field. My assistant and I pushed it to the local police station, where we left it for the night. We crammed into a little truck already packed with people. The truck was so packed that we had to put our helmets (both marked ´Speedy´) partly across two sleeping kids, undisturbed.

This isn't really the best spot for the photo at the left. But, anyhow, it is a picture of my assistant Albino and his brother Javier, looking rather proud of the beautifully green field of potatos behind them. Unfortunately, a couple early frosts have nearly destroyed this year's potato crop.