issue 321 - March 2000
Vanessa Baird ties up some loose ends with
Faustino, Mercedes and Thanks be to God.
I’m tying up loose ends, noting what’s become of the last few people on my list. There’s Alberto Oré Solier, who used to run Ayacucho Tours – the only tour operator left in the city in 1985. He’d told me, no offence meant, that he didn’t like journalists. They only concentrated on negative things; Ayacucho was a lovely place for tourists. Now I can find no trace of him and his office has been demolished. A neighbour informs me: ‘He left in 1987 or 1988. Went to join his children in the US.’
Then there was a puzzling fellow called Ordinola Luna. Originally from the coastal town of Tumbes he had just arrived in Ayacucho and had sunk his fortune into a new nightclub called Los Balcones. Today there’s no sign of man nor club, but there is another venue of the same name. As I’m reading a notice telling me that persons with firearms will not be admitted, an amiable woman in a dressing gown appears on a balcony above. She runs the club and she’s never heard of anyone called Ordinola Luna.
Finally, I had promised to see the work of poet and weaver Faustino Flores. Ayacucho is supposedly going through a cultural revival. Actually I find more inspiration in Faustino’s Covadonga backyard than in the city’s official art exhibition. Here he, his partner Mercedes and her two cousins create the most wonderful carpets, making and controlling every part of the process. They clean, card and spin the wool; gather the bark, lichens, roots and cochineal insects used for all the dyes they make. Everything is natural, all comes from their place of origin, Vinchos. Living with them is Faustino’s ancient apple-cheeked grandmother – both his parents died in the troubles as did those of Mercedes and her two cousins. ‘We are all orphans here,’ says Faustino. ‘Except him,’ indicating his very cheeky-looking kid, whose name translates as Thanks be to God.
These are refugees, peasants in the city, keeping campesino skills alive under the urban dust. They are also realists. Sure they would prefer to be living back in Vinchos with its streams and its hills and all the things they need for weaving close at hand, says Mercedes. But life has changed irrevocably for them. And here they can sell the work they live by.
In his designs Faustino draws upon both Inca tradition and the more recent history of Peru. The imagery is abstract or symbolic in parts, more literal in others. A recurring theme is ‘the fight between two siblings’; Sendero and the armed forces, he explains.
It makes me think of a story local historian Ponciano Del Pino told me about a military commander in a remote jungle area of Ayacucho who was holding over a hundred Sendero collaborators. ‘He asked me: should he release them back into their community, bearing in mind that the rest of the village had resisted Sendero? I told him I thought it would be asking for trouble. But he ignored my advice, luckily. Do you know, within a few months you could not tell who had been on which side and the community now has no more problems than any other?’
Officially Peru is still at war with itself. There is no peace accord between Sendero Luminoso and the Government. But it seems to me that during these last few years ordinary people have been taking the threads of trauma and weaving for themselves, for their communities and for their country, a sort of peace. They just need all the help they can get in keeping their fragile democracy alive.
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