A sip of Incan culture; Experiential course contrasts traditional and present-day Perú

By Rebecca Allen

May term provides opportunities for Goshen College professors to offer concentrated studies in particular subjects ­ or cultures ­ of interest, often up close. Dean Rhodes, assistant professor of Spanish, first lived in Perú in the 1970s while serving a term with Mennonite Central Committee.

Rhodes led Goshen College students to Peru during May in a class titled Lost Empires of Perú. Over the course of three weeks, 25 students lived with host families in Lima, explored the jungle of the Amazon basin, wandered the ancient streets of Cuzco and trekked 26 miles to see the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Along the way, students ­ including author and graduated senior Rebecca Allen (Seattle, Wash.) ­ encountered Peruvians representing the impressive diversity of this South American country: wealthy limeños(persons from Lima), children living in poverty, educated guides and Quechua porters. Every interaction taught the group to be flexible, aware of their surroundings and appreciate the sharp contrasts of Perú.

Inka Cola: Perú’s national soft drink is yellow in color and echoes the flavor of cream soda or bubble gum. According to Rhodes, Peruvians loyally consume so much Inka Cola that they shun other soft drinks, like the international marketed Coca-Cola. Peruvians will tell you that Coca-Cola even attempted to advertise that its corporate colors match that of the red-and-white Peruvian flag, but Inka Cola is still the national favorite.

A chilled Inka Cola soothed my parched mouth after four hours under Perú’s hot equatorial sun. Trees and buildings in the developed parts of Lima provide relief in la sombra,the shade, but there were no trees and no real buildings, either, in Pamplona, a pueblo joven,or young town, on the outskirts of Lima. Instead, the residents there live in shacks constructed of woven reeds, tin or cardboard that lean into the sand. The capital city of Lima sprawls unchecked in a desert; pueblos jovenesappear literally overnight when a group of mountain people ­ desperate for work ­ build temporary homes faster than the government can tear them down. Eventually, the city may agree to extend electricity and water to the people of Pamplona. Until then, Pamplona’s children play for hours each day under the harsh sun in sand littered with candy wrappers and dog feces.

Dean arranged for our group to spend a morning in Pamplona where children clamored for our attention, we sang “Siyahamba” for them and they performed an enthusiastic praise song complete with an energetic dance for Jesus. Senior Jill Widmer (Washington, Iowa) said, “Seeing the joy in a kid’s face in a place where they basically had nothing is something that I will never forget. I never want it to stop affecting me.”

The harsh reality of a childhood in Pamplona became clearer to me after I left, when contrasted with the generous and good-natured host family in Lima where senior Jessica Schrock (Sterling, Kan.) and I lived for five days. After our class visit to Pamplona, we reunited with our urban Lima family in a cheerful, clean McDonald’s, where our two young host brothers were celebrating the birthday of a friend. The party marked the third birthday of a timid little girl with curled pigtails and a crisp frock. Our host father bought us each an Inka Cola and our host brothers graciously offered us their piece of birthday cake. Before we ate, we had a few quiet moments in the bathroom to wash the dirt of Pamplona from our feet and into the shiny McDonald’s sink.

Peru’s indigenous people manage to maintain many aspects of their traditional culture: terraced farming, woven ponchos, steep mountain paths for transportation and avenues of communication. This is a unique contrast with the city dwellers who profit from tourists by remembering their Incan ancestry,