Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cartoon 34: Birthday Blues My Butt!

 It was Ana's birthday and we were all sitting around her living room in Villa de Salvador, Peru. I was wading into her jungle of hair to give her a special birthday hair-do when her husband and son walked in saying, 'Sorry we are late, we were in the market and all of the sudden they closed all the doors and no one could get out!' 
           Apparently, in one of the big street markets downtown there was a heated conflict between police and workers.  The government and big business owners had decided to move the formal businesses that were at the center of the market to a different location in an effort to erase the informal economy that had grown up around them.  As I've seen all over Latin America, millions of small illegal tent stores had filled the streets surrounding the mall creating a whole market where a certain lawlessness reigns. Inside, it's a fast life of tons of people and noise and any product you could possibly want and cheap.  To me it looks like chaos that's organized in an incredible web of relationships where life bursts at the seams with activity and stimulus.  This economy is an important source of income for many families who struggle to find work within the formal economy.  In this case, when their livelihood was threatened, the workers took matters into their own hands and as the businesses tried to move, the workers blocked their departure.  Basically all the police in Lima were called in to defend and boom, a stand off. 
       While this was happening, petty robbers saw an opportunity...with all the police in Lima busy downtown, there was no one available to protect the smaller markets in other areas.  They began to sack stores all over the surrounding neighborhoods and store owners were on their toes ready to defend themselves.  At the smallest commotion, stores, like the one that Ana's husband and son were in, would close and lock their doors no matter who was inside.  No one was leaving until the root of the commotion was determined.  Eventually, most businesses in our neighborhood decided to close to avoid the threat causing yet another problem...birthday cake.  The youth that we work with wanted to surprise Ana with a birthday celebration but with no stores open, they couldn't buy a cake. So they went on a crazy search through the neighborhood and eventually found someone who had just had a birthday and was willing to offer the remaining half of their cake for Ana's party.  Imagine the look on her face when everyone yelled 'Surprise!!!' and she found a half eaten cake under her birthday candles :)  To me this was a testament to the resilience of this community and to the Latin American community in general.  What I have learned of the story of Latin America is filled with oppression, violence, tragedy, and laughter.  I learn over and over through their example that depending on each other, we can find the way to laugh like crazy at our half eaten cake that because of its story tastes better than a most beautiful 15 layer cake made just for me. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cartoon 33: Still Thinking About Body Hair

The Arawak, indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada in Colombia, believe that our body is a representation of the Earth. Our hair represents the jungles and if we cut it off, we are throwing our bodies and therefore the Earth out of balance.  When they do cut their hair, it is traditional to take it to the river as an offering.  As they drop it in, they speak the words, "We are one", reminding themselves that we are just another part of nature.
 The particular sect of Taoist monks that I visited in Duitama believed that our hair acts as our antenna.  It can allow us to perceive our surroundings and the world with more depth.  Cutting it off is like loosing our whiskers.
In Bogota, often even the men shave their armpits.  Mine were particularly bushy when I was there and two girls that I was working with pulled me aside one day and timidly said, "Señora Sara, do you know that in Colombia it´s seen badly to have armpit hair?"  Based on my example, I think they thought that all women in the U.S. sport bushy armpits hehehe. I giggled a bit and said, "Yes, it´s that way in most of the cultures I´ve lived in, but it's important for me to choose for myself what I like." I explained how important it is to accept and celebrate ourselves exactly as we are, hairy and round and sometimes even stinky. I was surprised when they said they had never heard anything like that before and I appreciated my mom and her wonderful earthy woman friends.  (Just for the record, I still shave. However, through this exploration I have lost the shame that I once felt to lift up my arms or show my legs if I hadn´t been able to shave for a few of days. Heck yeh.)
An indigenous group in the Amazon called the Ticuna practice a ritual called the Pelacao. When a young woman gets her first period, she goes into a room with only women for three days.  There, they feed her and talk to her and care for her and they pluck out all of her hair a strand at a time.  They explained to me that this is a right of passage and a symbol for excepting that being a woman is difficult and we have to be tough.  Now with more emphasis on childrens rights, they often just cut the girls hair.
On Taquile, an island in Lago Titicaca on the border between Peru and Bolivia,    as soon as they are married the indigenous women began to collect the hair that falls out when they brush or comb it.  They give this hair to their new husband and eventually, when there is enough, he combines it with wool and weaves himself a belt!  How romantical!!

With all these different ideas it´s been interesting to ask myself, "So what does hair mean to me?" I know that sounds like kind of a weird question but after sharing time with some groups that find meaning in everything, it seems clear to me that although we dont necessarily assign it consciously, everything does have meaning and its added a lot of meaning to my life to make conscious and choose what I want things to mean for me.  Does that make sense??