July 10, 2008

From Tacna

In a change from our usual two or three day visits, we have been in Tacna now for just over a week. Our sisters here are wonderful--no surprise there! Five sisters live here in the house, but Sonia is away visiting family while we are here. All of the sisters work in the school, Fe y Alegria, a combination grade school and high school. In typican Peruvian style, the grade school children meet in the morning from 8:00 until 12:45, with the older students taking over the building in the afternoons. The schedule here is usually prayer at 6:20 a.m. with breakfast following before heading off to school. We return for lunch just after 1:00, and the sisters head back sometime between 2:00 and 3:00. We pull out the leftovers when everyone gets home, sometimes around 6:30 or 7:00.

The school is very impressive. A very large school compared to the grade school that I attended as a child. There are three of almost every grade with nearly 30 students in every class. Classes have been disrupted lately for a variety of reasons. About two weeks ago there was a big strike/protest in the neighboring pueblo and the school was shut down for a week. As a result, there are now classes on Saturdays for the next month. Friday, the day after we arrived, began the Peruvian fiesta for teachers. Classes Friday were replaced with dances, poems, presentations, and food in thanksgiving for the teachers. The party continued all weekend. We went Saturday to watch students from all of the colegios in Tacna perform native Peruvian dances. They were wonderful with their native dress and enthusiasm. Sunday we watched the students (and professors) march. A very patriotic and regal event. I find the culture as a whole very patriotic. After the marches we returned home to have our own celebration--barbeque, with a Peruvian flair, of course. We didn´t get our Fourth of July fireworks, but this was close enough.

Monday and Tuesday were slightly disrupted at school with the arrival of an image of SeƱor de los Milagros, with which there was a procession and prayer. Yesterday classes were cancelled in a country-wide protest of national policies affecting workers and the economy. Shops were closed, taxis and buses didn´t run. Tacna was pretty shut down. The teachers did meet at school in the morning to share prayer and reflection around the injustices and to make signs to hang at the school. After that we played volleyball, which was fabulous. It is incredible to me that so many people would participate in the protest; I would guess that many of the venders in the mercado and on the street live on the money they make day to day. I wonder how many people went hungry last night because they chose to stand up for the rights of workers.

One of the images and thoughts to which I continue to return these days is from the mercado. There was a point when I realized that many of the venders (typically women) and the children that I see wandering and playing in the mercado sleep there as well. What seem to be unattended stands are those often being watched in the dreams of the vendor catching a cat nap under or behind her or his table. The smell of urine is understandably strong as day and night the venders are there. Yesterday the gate to one of the markets was closed because of the protest. I could see only the cloths over the carts, yet I could hear the voices of the children playing inside. It is no wonder that the first graders at school have such a difficult time sitting still, minding their teachers, etc. It is such a different setting from what they leave and to what they return.

Today we went to Chile, a bonus stamp in my passport. Tacna, and most of Peru all of the way north to Lima, had been at one time invaded by Chile. Tacna was under Chilean rule for fifty years, actually not terribly long ago. Similar to the U.S.-Mexican border, although not as extreme, there is a definite difference between the economies of the countries. Things in Chile are nearly twice as expensive as they are here in Peru. I was thinking of the immigration issue in the States and asked if there were similar issues with persons crossing illegally from Peru into Chile. There would be except that there are landmines lining the border. I think we could come up with better ways to resolve the gaps between the poor and wealthy.

There was a very small tremor here the other morning. No damage, nothing, but since I for some reason can´t send or check e-mail here in Tacna, I thought I´d post this reassurance that all is well for anyone who might have heard the news.

We return to Lima Sunday, arriving in the morning on Monday, and hopefully I´ll be able to share a bit more then. I have taken more time for personal prayer and reflection this last week or so and hopefully will be able to share some of that rather than simply the schedule of events in one of these postings. As with everything here, who knows exactly where we will be and when with access to what.

Love from Peru.



  1. Dear Sarah,

    Thank you for the vivid descriptions.

    I'm reminded of the time when I was young and unions were strong in the US. My dad worked for the St. Louis Star Times newspaper. When one union on the newspaper would call a strike to get just wages or benefits, all the unions honored the strike and refused to cross the picket line. I remember that even if Dad wasn't on strike no money would come in at that time because Dad wouldn't cross the picket lines. To this day if there's a picket line at a place where I want to shop, I won't cross the line. Unfortunately for workers in the US nowadays, the unions aren't as strong. Unions were broken in Reagan's time as president.

    I hope the strikes and protests in Peru bring justice to the workers there. Greed rules the economy in so many places.It makes me reflect on how I can live more simply.

    Much love and prayers,
    Mary Ann H.

  2. Thanks for putting some of our minds and hearts at ease. It's a little sad that the earthquake got press and the workers' rights issue wasn't even mentioned.

    With all the criticism that comes from U.S. Unions about "outsourced jobs", you'd think someone would have made the connection that fighting for workers rights and just wages overseas would help Americans too.


  3. Ordinarily I do not take my "required" break here at NLC; however, thought I would right now and see if you had a new entry.

    I am so looking forward to the/your stories...in person. Many, many experiences, yes? I am so very happy for you, Anne and Andrea.

    More later.

    Love to you, Sarah Jane Heger!

    Mary Patricia Quinn

  4. Dear Sarah Jane,
    As always, your Blog is so very interesting. I, too, was surprised about the large numbers willing to protest despite the extra hardships.
    I'm eagerly awaiting your return.
    As I write this, my sister is probably in the process of cremation. Thank you for your prayers. She will be interred in the family plot in Denver. I'll share more when you get home.
    All for now. Love, prayers, hugs...Paula