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another italian mission

PERÚ: ENCAÑADA — CAJAMARCA

Taking pictures is easy but sometimes I run out of words to tell the stories.

In Encañada, I ask at the parish if there is anywhere I can put up my tent for the night. The place is beautiful with the amazing intricate carved woodwork that seems to indicate the presence of an Italian mission – and sure enough a young Italian man on crutches struggles down the stairs and directs me to the other side of the village; there is a house, he says, where I will be welcomed for the night.

I arrive at a series of buildings arranged around a open grassy courtyard. People  – a curious mix of children, teenagers and adults – are ambling around in the late afternoon sunlight in a disorganised fashion. Other people are strategically placed in wheels chairs. The gate is locked so I call out, attracting the attention of some of the pacers, who move towards me. They gather at the gate and stare.

Eventually, a young woman comes to see what the fuss is about.

“I’m looking for somewhere to camp,” I say, a little embarrassed and discomforted.

“Wait,” she says and disappears around the courtyard.

After some time, she returns with keys. Opening the gate, she leads me to a large room filled with equipment, where a physiotherapist is manipulating a the legs of a child lying face down on a bed, and tells me to store my bike there. I lean it up against some parallel bars and the girl then takes me upstairs to a room filled with bunks.

“You can sleep here,” and leaves me to my own devices.

I am somewhat confounded but after a while I gather courage and go down to the kitchen. There is a same chaotic mix of people – young and old, mobile and immobile, verbal and speechless; some alert and communicative, others locked up alone in an unfathomable mind.

One woman is busy around the stove. People come and go. I sit in the corner and watch.

It is late – almost 8 o’clock – before everyone has congregated in the kitchen and the dining hall next to it. Pasta is served in bowls. The able bodied sit next to the incapacitated and spoon pap into their mouths. It is hard to see the order but everyone gets feed. A cake is served to the young man on crutches who has materialised here, which he cuts and shares outs amongst those of us sitting in the kitchen. People sing Happy Birthday. The cook makes him an espresso and then asks if I would like one, too. Medication is given out. Everyone stands and recites a prayer and then disperses.

I go to my allocated bed and sleep.

The entrance to Casa de los Enfermos is graced by an elaborate mosaic mural.

A four year old boy. He is the size of an average one year old and can neither speak nor walk, although he is learning now, after eight months at the centre. Before his arrival here his mother simply carried him everywhere - an eternal infant - on her back.

A girl, seemingly bright, but unable to communicate and confined to this chair.

Another sweet girl, unable to walk or talk, but apparently happy standing by the wall watching the world.

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Every time I got out my camera this boy would approach me, gesture for me to take his photo and place his hand on his heart.

This young women is alert and communicative and extremely affectionate.

An Italian volunteer nurse.

In the morning, I set off after breakfast along paved highway through rolling fields.

...

Looks to me like the Peace Corps has been here spreading that wholesome US obsession with hygiene in the form of brightly painted latrines. They strike me a little incongruous next to the earthy worn mud brick walls of the houses they service.

The locals pursue their own construction projects...

...using the traditional packed earth method.

...

I arrive in Cajamarca mid afternoon and set about looking for somewhere to stay. On a street leading away from the central plaza a stylish looking cafe attracts my attention with its promise of wifi and the potential for a decent cup of coffee. There is a hostal attached so I enter the courtyard to enquire about the price, knowing that it’s almost definitely going to be out of my range.  The courtyard is full of small children. It transpires that Jasmine Cafe and Hostal are are the fundraising component of a special needs education project set up a by  Crista, a German woman who has been living in Peru for almost 40 years. Crista, takes a shine to me and my bike, and first of all invites me into the cafe for a double espresso on the house and then offers me a bed at the volunteer’s house in Baños de Inca a few kilometres away.

In Cajamarca, I happen across a special needs education project...

... and find myself staying in nearby Baños de Inca with a group of young volunteers. They have just finished building a playground for the kids and I am there for its inaugural play session.

Good folk - the carers that work in the residential home for children with special needs.

One of the kids being assisted by a young German volunteer.

The volunteers on Krista’s project are all young Germans – some of them are doing community service with the project as an alternative to military service in Germany.

Saturday night the volunteers organise a barbeque and the opportunity to try out 'cuy' drifts a little closer but in the end these poor sad creatures, with their tortured grimaces, end up on the barbeque long after I go to bed.

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