Schoolchildren at El Colegio de Santa Angela Merici School with their fish art project on plastic

Sister Carol Curtis is in Peru for six weeks, staying with our Ursuline Sisters of Louisville there who minister in Callao and San Miguel, Peru. She recounts some of her experiences in this blog entry:

I am at the midpoint of my six-week stay in Peru. I had been forewarned about the reversed seasons between North and South America, and was glad for my winter coat; we have had some unusually warmer, sunny days, as well. For these first three weeks, I have been with Ursuline Sisters Yuli and Sue in Callao (near Lima). Today I am getting ready to go with Sister Kathy on the 14-hour bus trip up into the mountains to San Miguel in Cajamarca.

During our long layover in Miami, my immersion in the Spanish language and Latino culture began! A Puerto Rican sports team was on the flight with us, and we discovered that the Pan American Games were being held in Lima. In the past few weeks, I have visited different classes at El Colegio de Santa Angela Merici [SAM]: Montessori, Primary, and Secondary. After school, Sylvia, a fourth-grade teacher, has been tutoring me in Spanish; besides the daily immersion, I am also studying on my own to help get a clue what people are talking about… Sylvia is good at charades! Yuli and I are coaching each other.

Friends in the neighborhood and at the school greet each other daily with embraces. After three long months in the United States, Kathy was warmly welcomed back to Peru with an enthusiastic round of “Happy Birthday/Feliz Cumpeaños” during the school assembly. Word quickly traveled to San Miguel that she is back in town. It has been good to be with the Ursuline community here in Peru and realize its long, endearing history here in Callao.

Across the street from our house in Carmen de la Legua is the Rimac River. Just a league away from the port of Callao, the trash cascading down the embankment brings the reality of polluting the ocean close to home. Callao has improved its trash collection and recycling, but in Lima, the barrios built along the river still use it as a dumping ground. As a coastal country, fishing is an important part of Peru’s economy and the livelihood of many.

A picture is worth a thousand words: fourth-graders graphically presented the issue of fish ingesting microplastics by filling in with small bits of plastic bags their outlines of fish, while Mathias Quispe Narvaez noted in his science report that the “great sea of plastic formed in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii is the size of France, Germany and Spain combined.” Initiatives to decrease use of plastic bags and increase awareness of their environmental impact are promoted by the schools and some vendors. A “bring-your-own-bag” school project involves making cloth bags for families’ daily purchase of bread.

Next month includes a day for Special Needs Awareness. Santa Angela Merici [SAM] students will visit a partnered special learning school and engage with them on a project. A blind student attends SAM: at school dance performance, his mother assisted his learning the routine, and during the performance his partners gracefully transitioned him to the next position. Yuli is currently taking a course on identifying special learning needs and ways to work with learning differences in early education. Parenting retreats and Parent-Teacher conferences help orient collaboration between home and school in education.

Diversity awareness is part of the living curriculum of Santa Angela Merici School. Anticipating the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon in the fall, all grades are studying the region. On a recent field trip, the primary grades visited a community of people from the Amazon region who have resettled on the outskirts of Lima. They learned of the deforestation, terrorism, and illegal mining which are destroying their culture and environment.

Peru celebrates the diversity not only of its three topographical regions: coastal, mountains and jungle; but also the colorful cultural traditions of the different departments (states). The closing of the Pan-American Games showcased the folk dances and music, and a local celebration in Carmen de la Legua brought the cuisine, music, and energetic dance right into our neighborhood. On the Associates’ retreat, a 90+ year old abuelita (grandmother) delighted us by dancing and singing for us in Quechua, the language of Cuzco; two of the Associates share that heritage.

Yuli, Sue, and I visited Old Lima to attend the annual book fair, then again to visit the Cathedral and the churches of Santa Rosa de Lima and the Santo Domingo, where San Martin de Porres lived. A wedding party was in front of the Cathedral, the bridal party in glorious array, including numerous senoras in multi-tiered skirts with shawls and traditional hats.

Kathy arrived in time to go with us to the archaeological site of Huaca Pucllana (600 A.D.), a flat-topped pyramid honoring the Sea Mother (the Pacific Ocean can be seen from the top platform) which acquainted me with the ancient history of Peru. One of many huaca (sacred places) of the Lima people, it was respected by three successive civilizations – a lesson for our day. Afterwards, the Mira Flores Artisans’ Quarter overwhelmed us with its rainbow array of arts and crafts in every imaginable hue and medium: alpaca wool and cotton textiles, leather and wood, copper, silver, and gold, paintings, carvings, weavings…

Traffic here merges like the Derby horses do, and gives “mass transit” a whole new meaning – mototaxis (a motorcycle rickshaw), sardine-packed taxi-vans and buses, motorcycle and bicycle trucks and carts mingle like the Mad-hatter’s cocktail party, with traffic police directing the circus. Horns, whistles, calls of taxi-van ticketeers and hawking vendors make lively street conversation.

Kathy and I are heading to San Miguel in Cajamarca this evening. We will arrive in time for a fiesta in one of the villages (lots of fiestas here – including Santa Rosa at the end of the month). I am eager to experience the sierra and its vibrant culture. I just read my first Andean story in Spanish  – El zorro enamorado de la luna (“The fox enamored by the moon”), which tells of the “mysterious night of the sierra. People say you can touch the stars there…