1) What has been your most culture shocking moment whilst in the communities?
I am used to the communities now, I don’t feel culture shocked too often. I feel instead that I am returning somewhere familiar. However, I remember one of my first visits sitting in one of the stone houses, and the smoke filling up the room. It was freezing cold and I was hungry, tired and alone. The smoke was choking me so badly that I had to run outside and took deep breaths until the cold forced me back into the smoke. The other shocking moment that comes to mind was doing a nits (head lice) check and pulling off the chullo (beanie) of a small girl and her head literally seething with lice.
2) What inspires you to work for Threads of Peru?
I started this project when I was about to finish my Masters of Arts degree in Development studies, with a specalisation in Third World nations. At first, I was inspired by putting my studies into practice, and the women and their remote circumstances. The women, their environment and their weavings are very inspiring.
Now, I have not progressed any further with the Masters and don’t seem likely to in the next few years…because there is just simply too much to do with Threads of Peru! So now I am inspired by what we have achieved so far, and the things that we might be able to achieve in the future!
3) Favourite Peruvian food?
Anticuchos! I was non-flesh eating vegetarian for 8 years and lived happily for a year in Cusco before the mouth watering aromas of anticuchos on street corners at night finally got the better of me! (I had sincerely not ever wanted to eat meat for such a long time, until the smell of anticuchos lured me!) My second favourite is ceviche… also a strange choice for an ex vego. Oh, and Chicharon! (Deep fried pork)
It’s still one of my favourite things about Cusco, huddling with others around an anticucho seller and her hot coals, on a crisp winter night!
4) Least favourite Peruvian food (and why?)
Chuño. I think it must be an acquired taste.
5) Best spot in Cuzco for visiting?
San Pedro market. While the main market is OK, you need to get off into the back streets to feel the true market vibe. San Pedro used to be crazy, with stall holders illegally squatted on the sidewalks, rubbish, litter and pick pockets. I cried when the Municipality rounded them up and pushed all those vendors without permits onto cattle trucks.
6) Happiest/most touching moment in the communities?
Watching the women’s delight in playing with my baby. I had never realized that while we, as foreigners are curious and interested in them, they are also fascinated by us. As soon as we arrive in the communities the women take Molly from me, and play with her, inspect her, look at her skin and hands, discuss her clothe s and do all the things that I think that they would like to do with us! (as adults).
7) Strangest/funniest moment from living in Peru?
I guess the longer I stay in Cusco the more it feels part of me… it’s certainly a second home. So as I go about my day to day business, I forget that to the Cusqueños I am just another gringa face, one of the thousands that fly in and fly out of Cusco every day.
I was recently in the market with my 8 year old god-daughter, who I have known since she was a babe in arms and shared much of her childhood. We were shopping, asking prices, and trying to get an idea of some things that we wanted to buy. We got a few extremely high “gringo” prices in a row and she turned to me solemnly and said, “Aunty, I think it’s time that I started to ask for the prices.” Perhaps it was a little girl growing up, but it was also her recognizing the gringa in me.
8) Most embarrassing faux-pas when communicating in Spanish?
I used to teach English in exchange for Spanish lessons, at a local English institute. I asked my class if they were excited about the class we were going to have. They all looked at me blankly, so I asked them at the top of my voice: “Estan excitados?” (Excitement in Spanish has a very strong sexual connotation…) I was literally asking them if they were turned on!
There are also lots of easy to make mistakes in Quechua, my most common being asking the taxi drivers to take me to Koo-che- punku (door of the pig) instead of the correct pronunciation, Koo-i-che- punku (door of the rainbow). That often makes them laugh.
9) Biggest achievement so far?
Everything we have done in Threads of Peru is a big achievement. Taking indigenous women and getting them to weave items to specification has been very challenging… but then the marketing and sales aspects of the project have been big too. It’s an achievement not only because of how much has been done, but also because we’ve done it with a skeleton budget. Every step of the way has been a massive learning curve.
10) Main thing you wish to achieve in the next five years?
I’d like to see the project fully sustainable.
The first phase of the sustainability would be to have the project not rely on volunteer hours. The founders currently put in excess of 2000 volunteer hours a year, combined. That’s a crazy amount of work!
The second phase would be to have the women taking control of the orders, quality control and delivery so that we can focus on the sales. (and indeed have some of the women involved in sales and marketing as well.)
To watch a short interview with Ariana created by the LATA foundation please click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbcXLVlEgpE