Written by Fidgit
Lunch had been served, and the two other tables at the shop/diner had already left. Neon and I sat dawdling in the corner, discussing whether there might be a shortcut into Ayacucho, checking the GPS and comparing it to the land features outside. We wondered where the mewing cat behind a wall of beer crates was coming from.
Lourdes emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron, surveyed the room, seeming satisfied that everything was tidy, she came over. We asked her whether there was a heradura. There was. She had lived here over 30 years, ever since her husband brought her. “At first I cried every night, I was so lonely but now I like the tranquilidad.”
She pulled out one of the plastic chairs and plunked down. We settled in and put departure out of mind; now was time for listening. She is 58 and has raised 7 children: 6 sons and a daughter.
This is based on notes taken during the telling:
When she was 16 years old, her father sat down with a young man and they got drunk together. From this encounter the young man was promised a wife, Lourdes.
“I did not want to get married; I wanted to finish school. I wanted to be a teacher, I have always loved children. My father said my schooling would be up to my husband now. Soon after we were together he forbid me from going to school. He has always been jealous.”
She waxed nostalgic for the old wedding traditions, “now a days when you meet your son’s girlfriend, she is already pregnant. Back then a man had to ask three times to marry a woman.”
The first time the young man asked the father.
The second time he had to ask her whole family.
The third time he would pick her up and take her to meet his family. In order to take her, he had to bring chickens. One for her mother, one for her father, and then several more for the rest of the family.
At the wedding there would always be a Pahamanca. It sounded something like a luau, where a lechon (still suckling piglet) was slaughtered and buried in a pit on a bed of coals. Papas, humita, ava, camote, yuca, was all interred and cooked for about an hour. This feast was the responsibility of the mother of the groom.
The mother of the bride would sit and relax, watching the feast preparations. From the way she spoke, I sensed a power balance at play in this dynamic. Or perhaps it was just because five times already (for each of her married sons) she had knelt and worked in the dirt while the mother of her nuera sat by and watched. Anyway, she told with relish how she relaxed and presided at her daughter’s wedding.
Her husband was abusive from the get-go. Bien golpeada, as she put it. This was why, while her father gave her to him in Common Law marriage, she refused to properly marry before the Catholic Church.
“One time I brought his dinner out a few minutes late and he threw the plate and cut me with it.” She showed us the deep gash up her arm, “it took 17 stitches.”
More recently, she had been hospitalized for three months with water on the brain. “I had no balance, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to walk again, but now I can by the grace of God. He threw a beer bottle at my head and it hit me right here,” she parted her hair just above her temple and showed us that scar, as well as the incision where the doctors had gone in. “Now I go to Lima once a year to be seen by a very good Doctor and I visit my sons.”
“I’m not afraid of him anymore because now [beginning in 1993] there are laws protecting us. They also mean we can’t punish our children or someone could denounce a mother to the law, and that is why children are so disrespectful and out of control these days.”
This relationship dynamic explained the offhanded way she mentioned his being taken by los terroristas. “In 1985 there was mucha matanza in this region,” she recounted. “They came and took my husband and forced him to fight for them. But, that was normal, they did this all over the region. The children and I would sleep out in the cornfields. Los terroristas always had guns and they would kill anyone they found sleeping inside houses, so everyone slept outside.”
“Who is ‘they’, who were these terrorists?” I asked, again galled by my lack of awareness of such forces sweeping these nations. My mind boggled to understand how a woman with living memory of these things could speak so calmly and normally of such goings on. Then I realized, it was because this was normal for her. This is the context from which she came.
“The Sendero Luminoso, led by Guzmán, but he is in prison now because of Fujimori,” she summarized a chilling and drawn out story in a single sentence, with a shrug.
I have been reading about it.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 people disappeared during the internal conflict.
A bit about the two main characters Lourdes mentioned:
Abimael Guzmán, born a bastard and orphaned at the age of 5, became a philosophy professor who contributed to founding a splinter cell of the Peruvian Communist Party, the Shining Path Party, which spanned oceans to influence the Maoist movement. Allegedly responsible prohibitions, curfews, bombings, ballot burnings, he makes quite a character. Known as Presidente Gonzalo among the ranks, his wife died under mysterious circumstances and the stories are that his lover murdered her with his support. His final time of freedom was spent hiding in a ballet studio in Lima, he was eventually captured because of garbage, and was tried by hooded military judges.
The leader responsible for Guzmán’s capture, President Alberto Fujimori (birthdate and exact family numbers unknown), born a Buddhist but baptized and raised as a Catholic, was a University dean and rector. The Fujishock policy got the country out of a situation of hyperinflation. His Fujigolpe shut down the obstructive Congress and, while met by approval within Peru, it was condemned from without. He drafted a new constitution in 1993, which put in place the first Family Violence Laws, alluded to above. Eventually, he fled the country amidst allegations of human rights violations and corruption. He tried to fax over his resignation from Japan and was eventually arrested while visiting Chile. Later he was granted humanitarian pardon.
The role of Catholicism is an interesting one and ties in to many superstitions in various regions. It has been my observation that Catholicism is a “default setting” for most South Americans.
In the case of Lourdes, for most of their life together she held out from marrying her husband, though they are still together today. “Seven years ago we were married at the chapel just down the hill,” she pointed to where I could just see a steeple. “I did not want to marry him but my mother was dying and parents cannot go to heaven if their children are in a couple but not married.”
Her entire life was built on and revolved around practices and incidences completely foreign to me, yet, in the telling, she made it as familiar and rich as the giant bowl of soup she had served us only an hour before.