Sunday, January 28, 2007

Back to Bolivia

Back to Bolivia, just a few weeks after street battles in Cochabamba killed two people. The division in the country is apparant: one the one side, the indigenous and working class, most of whom still support Morales, and on the other, the wealthy and middle classes, who accuse Morales of "racism" and indigenous extremism at their worst, or simply muddle along feeling like something is slipping from their hands. Which it probably is.

There is talk of civil war, mostly in the foreign press, but I don't see it. I do see Morales trying very hard to keep the country together, which surely ain't easy with these kind of divisions. He recently replaced seven ministers and the news headline said he was adopting a more "consensual" attitude, after being criticized for being too confrontative. But now he is being criticized for not moving the country forward fast enough.

I suppose it remains to be seen what will be the best for Bolivia in the long run--keeping the country together, or allowing it to break up into, if not distinct nations, more autonomous sections.

Despite the political tension, I am happy to be back in La Paz. I have always loved this city: the surreal rugged stony mountains rising up around the city, with snow-capped Illimani in the background, the streets alive with all kinds of people: tall skinny white people, darkskinned businessmen and women in suits, fashionably dressed Latinas, Aymaran women in their bowler hats, elegant shawls, and wide, beautifully pleated dresses, boys leaning out of careening busses, shouting out the names of destinations, marketplaces filled with vegetables, candies, pharmaceutical products,anything you need.

When I return to the States, it's always the noise and song of Latin America that I miss most..the vendors singing and shouting, the caw caw caw of tropical birds, the people huddled in front of newspaper stands, discussing the daily news.

And yes, I will be returning within the next several weeks, so I'm trying to get myself psyched up for it, back into the different, Northern rhythm.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Color of Ash

Alejandro is one of my Q'ero teachers. He's fifty six, and radiates the peace, humility and warmth I have seen in other Qero elders. His sister, another one of my teachers, is Maria Apasa Machaca, said to be the only Altomisayoq (high level Andean healer)left in the Qero nation, and definitely the only female Altomisayoq in a long time. To become an Altomisoyoq, you usually have to be hit by lighting three times. Maria seems to have survived it well. She's in her eighties, strong and vigorous. Alejandro tells me his mother had him when she was sixty, and lived to be over a hundred. That's how good the air is in the high Andes.

Alejandro also tells me that in the Qero Nation you have to be at least thirty before you can begin studying to be a pampa misayoq (Qero healer) and not everyone can do it.

We speak in a combination of his limited Spanish and my very limited Quechua. "You have to have luck (suerte) to become a pampa misayoq. Another pampa misayoq will read the coca leaves for you and let you know if you can take that path."

Today I performed a despacho with him, really the first that I undertook on my own, with his supervision. As usual I was impressed with the beauty and elegance of the process, a kind of artful unfolding of petals, coca leaves, seeds, candies and other items, as well as a powerful energetic connection with the forces of nature.

Actually putting the elements into the despachos with my own hands gave me a greater feel for each distinctive energy I was working with the apu masculine energy being quite different from the female pacha mama.

Alejandro and I don't seem to need to say much to acknowledge the energy of this work. "Allinta," he'll say. "It's good."

After making the despachos, we burned them both in the patio, in a small coal burning pot that I use to heat the house. We sat for a long time with the fire, praying, then he left me alone to pray on my own. After the fire burned down the pot had a fine white ash in it.

"VERY good," Alejandro said. "I didn´t expect it to be this good. I expected some black."

I was pleased. If you pay attention, you learn after awhile that what has long been called "superstition" is actually reading the language of nature: in the flight of a hawk or condor, in the visit of a spider, in the color of ash.

More than anything else I feel a deep sense of happiness after ceremony with the Qeros. Having escaped to the high Andes during the Spanish conquest they are carriers of an energy that is amazingly powerful and uncontaminated, a wisdom and innocence combined. It's not a head wisdom, but a heart wisdom. Somewhere I read that the Qero teachings contain an opening of different energy "eyes" that we have in our energetic field. Though none of my teachers have mentioned this, it is something that you simply begin to feel after awhile. Unlike Western teachings there seems to be little need to discuss analyze or evaluate the teachings one receives or experiences energetically.

I'm okay with that.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hat Story

It's the low season now in Cusco, very quiet, very few tourists, days of rain and tranquility.
My favorite time to be here, though the locals hate it because their income takes a steep dive.

A few months back, during the high season, I made a face and mentioned to a street vendor friend in San Blas that there were far too many tourists in Cusco. Of course, I want to be the only one.

My friend, a Q'ero who sells chunllos, or Andean woven caps, shook his head sadly at my ignorance. He took one of his woven caps and pointed out its elaborate multi-colored texture. "See this hat," he said. "This hat needs all of its colors to be what it is, and all of the colors need each other. "

Well, shut my mouth, I thought.

Besides, without the entire hat, full of its colors and complexity, your head would get pretty damned cold.

The Cusco Paradox

Cusco is a paradox.

On the one hand, the energy here is powerful and cleansing--high up in the Andes, you feel the mountain spirits as they are, grandfathers and grandmothers. And the town itself is magical: light hitting the huge cut stones of the Incan ruins, steep cobblestoned streets, the Plaza de Armas alive with festivals of people in traditional clothes, the Incan traditons still alive in the thoughts, hearts and conversations of the people. All of this is seductive and captivating.

On the other hand, Cusco is so thick with bullshit you could cut it with a knife. A lot of this is due to the mystical reputation of the place, which attracts spiritual seekers from all over the world, and has made a commercial business of ¨shamanism¨and mysticism. I'm putting ¨shamanism¨in quotes because this word is not indigenous to any of the peoples I've met here. Though now that there's money to be made from it, it seems everyone's a shaman. And I can´t blame the Peruvians for hustling the tourists--the economic imbalance has created a kind of apartheid situaation within the town of Cusco, with the old town of San Blas converted to a high-priced tourist playground, and everyone else scrambling for the dollar or Euro.

Yes, there are genuine healers here, some of them local and some of them imports. Ironically, though a lot of Europeans and North Americans come here and spend big bucks to work with indigenous "shamans", some of the Peruvians I´ve met prefer to work with the imports, Europeans and North Americans who have taken up residence here. Not being rooted in the local traditions, they are less likely to engage in the "shaman wars" which local people sometimes get bogged down in. And, as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, whether it is a physical fence or a cultural one. It seems a human response to want to enrich your own perspective with the gifts of others, despite all the advice I've always heard about sticking to the spiritual traditions of your own community.

Peru in some ways strikes me as the archetypal wounded healer. Here is Cusco, attracting thousands of people a year who want to work with healers, paqos, curanderos, and plant and medicine "shamans", often returning to their countries with powerfully moving healing experiences from ayahusca and other medicines, yet the country of Peru, and particularly the Cusco region, stumbles along unrecuperated from the ancestral wounds of its 500 year old conquest. I suppose that is the paradox of the wounded healer, who doesn't always receive the gifts that he or she gives to others.

I have been enchanted and seduced by the magic of the Cusco region, both the landscape and the people. I have tried maintain a detached amusement about the bullshit, which includes "shamans" who put together wowie zowie mystical tourism packages, mixing all kinds of spiritual traditons in a single night or weekend, and my favorite..the "kissing shaman"...a young man who wanders the streets in Andean garb offering to do "rituals" for gringas he encounters, which always seem to end up with his lips on some part of her body.

The bullshit you can always walk away from. The real magic will be there when you need it.