How a General Strike in Peru Represents What I Love about This Country
(Written on September 26, 2013)
I was working in my hotel room today because there is a general strike in Cusco, meaning transportation to the office would be impossible. I am here to coordinate a study on Intercultural Bilingual Education in the region with the local team. The sounds of protest chants began to waft into my open window which surprised me because I am in the Santa Monica district, which is not that close to the centre of the city. I couldn’t help but wander out to sneak a peek.
Marching down the main street was an eclectic group made up of various unions and allies carrying all different banners and leaving a trail of bricks, rocks, and garbage in their path so as to block traffic. The strike was called by the General Confederation of Workers of Peru to protest proposed laws that would result in mass layoffs of government employees. English information about the strike is here and here. Or read a little in Spanish here. In many ways, this strike is emblematic of some of the things I love about Peru.
Things here are chaotic and sometimes there seems to be no order. Things are messy – people don’t respect lineups, cars weave in and out of lanes, and there is garbage in the street. The rich often seem to ignore what’s going on around them and the not-so-rich do what they can to support their families. But then there’s a call. There’s a unifying moment and, all of a sudden, everyone comes together. They bring drums and banners and they chant in unison. They use that garbage in the street to create barricades – they make something out of the chaos.
In Lima, it can be at once be easy to forget that I’m living in a “developing” nation given all the high-rises and fancy shoes, and at the same time impossible to forget given the disorder, the noise, and the diesel smoke. In Cusco, it’s a different world full of Incan ruins topped with colonial architecture, backpackers navigating their way between traditionally clad campesino/as trying to sell their wares, and a mix of Quechua and Spanish everywhere. But it’s all coming together.
Peruvians are proud people. They love their country and there seems to be a general push to make things better, however each group defines “better”. A good example of this is Intercultural Bilingual Education. Peruvians are rallying around the fact that a progressive society values all of its peoples and cultures, that diversity is what makes the country strong, not some problem to be solved. And what I really love is that everyone here knows about Peruvian politics. I was warned before I came not to get into political conversations but I feel they are the best kind to have. From my UNICEF coworkers, to taxi drivers, to the kids playing soccer on the corner, start talking politics and they will engage.
Perhaps it sounds like I am romanticizing the country, but this is what I really love about Peru: everyone has something to say about politics, and many are willing to march in the street to back up their beliefs. I also love the food. And the fact that some kids decided to set off fireworks in the park outside my hotel after sundown this evening and I got to watch them shower over me closer than I’ve ever seem before. Sometimes chaos is beautiful.