I went with the archaeoastronomy students to the Museo de la Nación. Like the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, etc. where I work, it is filled with exhibits about precolumbian Perú. The Museo de la Nación has more gigantic reconstructed displays while the other seems to have smaller, more genuine things to see. They’re both worth a visit for those interested in archaeology. There was a new exhibit at the Museo de la Nación on the 6th floor (did I mention that this building is huge?). It was an exhibit of photographs telling the story of Perú in the 1980′s and 90′s. It’s a sad story.
Starting in the late 70′s, a rural college professor became the leader of the Sendero Luminoso, a group following the teachings of Mao who wanted to overthrow the government. Unfortunately they did not quite believe in the social equality part and instead opted to murder large numbers of people in the rural Andes. The Peruvian government sent what could accurately be called death squads to fight the Sendero. Villages were caught in the middle and faced death from whatever side they did not ally themselves with. Tragedy was everywhere: for example, eight journalists were killed by Andean villagers when their cameras were mistaken for Sendero guns.
The rebellion and counterattack eventually spread from the Andes to Lima and intensified there in the early nineties. Backpack and car bombs were used by the Sendero to kill civilians. Military death squads started abducting university students. Perú’s congress was disbanded by then-president Fujimori for raising objections to the military’s actions.
Fujimori’s tactics eventually prevailed as the main leaders of the Sendero Luminoso were captured in 1992, reducing the group to rural drug trafficking. Fujimori’s government also faced some consequences for its actions during this period. After accusations of election fraud in 2000, Fujimori fled to Japan and resigned as president. Japan has a policy of not extraditing its citizens for trials in foreign countries (though it is odd that being a common Japanese citizen supercedes being the president of a South American country). He was nabbed in Chile on an inexplicable trip back to the Americas and placed under house arrest. Just last week, a Chilean judge ruled that Fujimori cannot be extradited to Perú. He is actually running for senate in Japan while staying in Chile. While that sounds like the worst plan ever, he actually has support in Japan for his handling of a hostage situation at the Japanese embassy in Lima in 1992 when soldiers under his command stormed the building, freed the hostages, and killed the assailants, allegedly after they had surrendered. Well, I suppose Japan had their own death squads not six decades ago so why not.
The museum exhibit was very well done, with over twenty rooms of photos, each relating to a certain incident or general theme. Hidden speakers played speeches and TV clips. The photos were graphic but not gratuitously so. We left for our next destination, the shopping mall Jockey Plaza, saddened but appreciative of Perú as it is now.
While Perú is still feeling the effects the horrendous 80′s and 90′s, it has improved dramatically in the past decade. Even in the time from my first visit in 2003 I can see that Perú is steadily becoming a better, more stable place to live. On the Panamerican highway there are billboards titled “¡Lima, Ya es Diferente!” (“Lima, it is already different!”) which show both the latest improvements to the city, and plans for upcoming ones.
On a smaller scale, I see many public works projects in the different districts I frequent. The notoriously deteriorated sidewalks and streets are being repaired. Gardens are being revitalized by both city workers and homeowners and new flowers are being planted in the parks. I do believe there are more traffic lights and crosswalk signals, and the people actually follow them. A lot of these developments are accompanied by signs attributed to the mayor of the district that ask the people to care for their new constructions. As Perú approaches its Fiestas Patrias (independence day), July 28th, the local pride has grown even more noticeably.
Maybe it’s a social response to the awful circumstances they lived through, but generally people are very cordial to fellow inhabitants. People go out of their way for others in a way that not even the friendlier people in Columbia can conceive of (me included).
Here’s an example. Last night I was at Saga Fallabella, one of the two major department stores in Lima. I’ve been looking for a jacket the past few weeks. The ones at Saga Fallabella were close to what I was looking for, something light with lots of pockets. I’ve been to the one at Jockey Plaza a few times and I haven’t found any I like. Just to see what it was like, I went to another store in Miraflores. This one was a bit bigger, with four floors instead of three. There were also very few people there for whatever reason so I felt a little more comfortable. I found a nice fleece-like jacket from their Mountain Gear line. I also picked up some nice exercising shorts to sleep in. You have no idea how long I’ve been looking for a decent pair of shorts in the States, by the way. When I went to check out, the cashier said something… complex. I looked puzzled so she explained it a lot slower: since she assumes that I do not have a Saga Falabella credit card (and she’s right), she’ll have to put my charge on someone else’s credit card for me to receive the full discount.
I understood the words of slow version, but didn’t really get what she meant. There’s a discount? Who’s credit card are we using? As I was finishing that thought, she already walked around the register and was out of sight behind me. She came back with two apparently random guys. She explained to one of them that if he charges my jacket on his card, I get a discount. And… he agreed! What? I’m a total stranger (who looks kind of freakish compared to the rest of the population). She’s also a stranger from what I gather. If someone asked me to do that I would have to decline as it sounds like the worst identity theft scam ever. But without hesitating, this guy was going to do this favor for me. He got out his credit card, and bought my jacket with it. I gave the cashier the money. She then instantly refunded the guy’s credit card. She did warn me that I cannot return the jacket since it’s on his card. I shook the guy’s hand, as it’s common to do between Peruvian chums. I looked at my receipt: instead of 79 soles ($25), the jacket was only 59 soles ($19). Good deal!
So I’ve taken us through a roller coaster of Peruvian history and culture, past and present. I really like it here. It sounds weird, but I’m really happy for this country. As I live here, study the distant past, and get caught up with recent history, I see a country that has seen a lot of changes. I’m also happy that it seems to be improving, even past another controversial election. I like the limeño life All of the faires, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, the small parks strewn about every few blocks… I really enjoy being in the outdoors with total strangers here. I’m a little sad that I have less than a month left.