Peru: two views of the good life Notes from a field trip, Summer of 2011 By Lakshman Yapa May 2013
This is a short photo essay from a field trip to Peru. The images capture two views of economic development: The first set of images is from Pamplona, one of the largest slums in Lima, Peru. Migrants from the Andes arrive by the thousands to Pamplona each year looking for wage-work and a decent standard of living—the ever-present dream of the “good life.” The second set is another view of the good life, one that I encountered in Peru among peasants in the high Andes far away from Lima, and one which is a direct challenge to the world view of development economics.
When migrants arrive in Pamplona, what greets them instead are unpaved roads creeping into steep arid hills, substandard housing constructed from whatever material is at hand, no local sources of water, and power drawn from dangerously exposed rigged up electric wires strung from pole to pole.
Water in Pamplona, whether for drinking, or cooking, or bathing, measured by the gallon, is expensive; it is delivered by a water truck which fills up barrels left on the street by the slum householders. When the water truck arrives, if you do not have money to pay or you are not home, then you do without water until the water truck shows up again.
In Pamplona, I saw no shops that sold fresh fruits or vegetables, but I did see shops that sold brand name soft drinks, snack foods, and cosmeticsâ€”an unmistakable sign that Pamplona was integrated into global capitalism. Life in Pamplona surely has its difficulties as well as its joys, but it is most certainly not a temporary condition that will disappear with the arrival of economic development. The misery in Pamplona is not an aberration; it is a necessary component of the global economy that creates glitter, gold, and comfort for the rest of us. It is an economic system that consumes high fashion in Mumbai, London, and New York, while concrete, steel and rubble snuffs out life from the ravaged bodies of Bangladeshi women who produce those clothes. Â Â
Pamplona in Lima, Daravi in Mumbai, Kibera in Nairobi, Sodom and Gomorrah in Accra —all slums, are among the fastest growing settlements in the world.
Slums house over a billion people and are expected to grow to two billion in a few years. As Mike Davis said in Planet of Slums, (2006, p. 19) cities of the future will not be made from glass and steel but instead out of crude brick, straw, and recycled plastic with dwellers squatting in squalor, filth, pollution, and decay. In my view, slums are only the most visible and obvious manifestation of a global economic system that has proved chronically incapable of producing the most basic of use values – nutritious food, healthy bodies, affordable safe housing, and sustainable energy and transport. Notwithstanding The World Bank claims about poverty reduction in the world, the unmistakable record of the last 60 years of development economics is that global capital is incapable of producing for basic needs of poor people. Pamplona offers a glimpse of that larger binary structure—wealth cannot eradicate poverty because the rich and the poor are simply acting out the drama of globalization, a drama in which their fates are permanently intertwined.
Andean women working in a potato ﬁeld and images of na4ve varie4es
The good life or the Spanish concept of “El Buen Vivir” appears in Andean Quechua as “Sumaq Kawsay” or “Allin Kawsay” (Zimmerer, 2012). Written into the Ecuadorian and Bolivian Constitutions, it is a concept of development which is based in Andean cultural roots and Inca tradition. Instead of referring to the academic writing on this topic—which is extensive—I wish to share some images from my actual encounter with the idea as practiced in real life by potato growers in highland Peru. In Pisaq, Peru, I met several farmers who have moved away from the “modernity” of western agricultural science—represented in this case by the genetically uniform high yielding improved potatoes produced and disseminated during the Green Revolution. Instead, these growers choose to grow potatoes sourced from the overwhelming diversity of traditional varieties that have been cultivated in these mountains for hundreds of years. I visited six Andean communities outside Pisaq who have joined together to create “Parque de la Papa”—the Potato Park of Pisaq. With some aid from international foundations they have established a framework to protect, preserve, and promote the bio-cultural heritage of the Andes – the native potatoes, corn, and medicinal plants.
One afternoon a local farmer treated me to lunch as an act of Andean hospitality. Lunch was served on a locally made table covered with a decorative cloth made of Andean material and Inca colors, the seat was a long bench covered with an alpaca skin; lunch itself was an elegant tasteful meal of amaranth soup, vegetables, and chicken â€“ all raised on the farmerâ€™s land. The meal ended with a pot of hot tea brewed from coca leaves. Nothing I had eaten or experienced in the expensive modern hotels of Lima the week before came close to the taste, health, and hospitality of my Andean host.
I casually asked the farmer’s young son why he was doing hard work in the mountains of Pisaq, and not instead working a job in Lima that would earn him a lot more money. Here is what he said as best as I can remember. “Look out there at the blue skies and the sun. Look at the mountain in the distance. It is very far away but I can see it because the air is so clear. As I work and as I rest I fill my lungs with pure air every moment. I only have to scoop my hands together to drink water from the stream that runs through our land. My family raised all the food you ate today. I have seen Lima once and I want no part of it.” Could this be what the Constitution means by “Kawsay”– or good living?
Local indigenous farmers in Pisaq meet to discuss issues of Andean bio-cultural heritage.
The banner promotes medicinal plants for a life full of health.
A woman shows a collection of facial creams and other products made locally.
What I saw in Pamplona was a place caught in the grip of an economic culture that only values exchange value. In Pisaq, I found a culture struggling to revive the logic and power of basic use values—nutritious food, healthy bodies, and the companionship of family and friends. The difference in the two world views is at once simple and stark—one sees a tree as so many square feet of saleable lumber and the other values a tree for what it is, an integral part of the larger web of life.
Citations Davis, Mike. 2006. Planet of Slums. New York: Verso. Zimmerer, Karl S., 2012. “The Indigenous Andean Concept of Kawsay, the Politics of Knowledge and Development, and the Borderlands of Environmental Sustainability in Latin America.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 127: 600-606.
This is a short photo essay from a field trip to Peru. The images capture two views of economic development: The first set of images is fro...