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yu-en-me ´a man who leaves home to mend himself and others is a philosopher, .. he who goes from country to country guided by blind impulses of curiosity is .. a vagabond.´ - oliver goldsmith

on debate: ´that moral outrage has a place in the world´

PERU | Saturday, 25 August 2007 | Views [926]

cockfight... i get so mad just going through my photos, grr!

cockfight... i get so mad just going through my photos, grr!

i remember in year 8, when we were taught about female circumcision in some parts of africa, i started thinking for the first time about cultural differences, and where we should draw the line between ignorance and acceptance of respective social customs. although there´s much that i embrace in the cultures that i experience, there are of course occasional situations where i disagree. in such cases, when it comes to personal discomfort and/or safety, i´m quite happy to voice my opinion: on more than one occasion, i´ve now had to say to overeager men ´have you no shame!? would you be happy if someone tried that on your sister, or girlfriend, or mother?´ .. or even though i was initially indignant by how much some people try to take advantage of tourists, i´ve now learnt to laugh off preposterous suggestions. (for example, it´s not uncommon for tourists to be offered a taxi ride for 40soles, when the same route on a public bus costs only 2soles! woe to the unsuspecting, unexperienced, non-spanish-speaking traveller...). but there are other times, when i´m not so sure as to what i should do or say, - or even feel.
recently, i stayed a couple of days in the small town of Santa Teresa, in the restaurant of a newly made friend, Elena. the same age as me (24yo), she´d had her son at 19yo, and fully regrets her naivety at the time. now, even though she lives with the father of the child, they´re no longer together as a couple, but stay together in order to be able to provide for the boy. if she could go to another country to earn more money for him, she would, but she´s also apprehensive that the boy will grow up thinking ´my mum abandoned me´. each time she sees a young couple fooling around (sometimes as young as 13yo), she feels angry that they don´t realise the immensity of having children at such a tender age, and often tells them about her experience. i was happy at least that she´s using her story to better the lives of others, but it was eye-opening to hear some of the beliefs that she held on to. for example, she´d been recommended a remedy for her son, suffering from some kind of pulmonic problem: toasting crickets and making a tea for him to drink. or telling me that i shouldn´t be showering or bathing myself when i had my period: the body´s exposure to water in such a way would create internal buildup impeding bloodflow, and would give me cysts.. just like had happened to her cousin. feeling too surprised in the moment to do otherwise, i just nodded, um-ed and ah-ed at her advice. how convincing would i have been to tell her that such beliefs are old wives´ tales, and besides, would i have been doing the right thing to ´enlighten´ her (how condescending that sounds!) on current medical facts?
i´m still confused when i think that i almost gave up the chance to see machu picchu, all for the sake of an open-faced woman named julia. her story: 28 members of her family were killed in the terrorist attacks in 1989 in Ayacucho, leaving her with no blood relatives, so she came to Cuzco to form a new family. 2 years ago, her husband was killed in a bus accident, leaving her pregnant with her 6th child, and now, she sells paintings in Cuzco´s central Plaza de Armas in order to maintain her young family (youngest now 2yo, oldest 13yo). she pays 300soles a month (roughly AU$150) rent, and recently the municipality has demanded that all street vendors pay a 300soles permit per year to continue selling their wares. thinking that i could at least help her out with the payment of this permit, we arranged to meet the next day. this was no small decision for me - 300soles cover my budget for 2 weeks (to put things in perspective, when i worked in chile, i earnt about AU$12.50 a day, and recently in argentina, about AU$125 per week) - and i was seriously considering foregoing a visit to machu picchu in order to be able to help julia out. but before our arranged meeting, i went to the appropriate municipal offices and spoke to various police officers to verify the credibility of the permit story. and found she´d lied to me! when we met, and i mentioned my findings to her (that the permit doesn´t exist), she defensively told me that she wasn´t asking anything of me, that i´d offered to help her, that she was just an honest woman trying to maintain her family. when i repeated patiently that i was happy to help her, as long as what she told me was *true*, she preferred to leave me saying in an embarrassed tone, ´i won´t bother you anymore, señorita, it´s better that i try and sell my paintings by myself´. i don´t even know if what she told me about her personal story is real, or one whole fabricated sob-story... battling initial outrage as i watched her hurry away (ironically, the word for ´disappointment´ in spanish is ´decepción´), i took the time to calm down and think about her situation. regardless of whatever lies she fed me, there´s no doubt that she *does* need the money, and perhaps felt she needed to lie in order to obtain it. which made me wonder if i had the right to feel morally wronged. indeed, was *she* wrong for deceiving me, if it was for the sake of her family?
in Nazca one evening, i passed a closed-off courtyard with much music and apparent merriment coming out onto the streets. i paused, thinking that it was perhaps a weekend folkloric gathering, but when i asked, was surprised to find that it was a cockfight. being instinctively against such cruelty, but never having seen it live, i entered (women entered free - i never would have paid to endorse such activities), thinking that at least i could get an idea of what it was i was against. here´s a summarised account: 2 roosters held by their owners/´trainers´ in the fighting ring are ´introduced´ to each other, with a bit of pecking allowed to rile them up and prepare them for the fight ahead. a metal claw is then tied to each rooster´s right leg, while bookies go around the inside of the ring calling out for bets. the roosters are placed (at separate times) for a brief moment in the ring, to get them accustomed to the noise and smells of their surrounds. when each has been inspected by the referee, this latter places a plastic divider in the middle of the ring, and the roosters are placed on either side of this. the divider is lifted, the 2 trainers and referee quickly move to the outskirts of the ring, the roosters are left to go for each other. each ´round´ lasts until one of the roosters is triumphantly standing on the other´s body, or, in the event that nothing happens, (which is often the case; animals have better things to do than fight each other for no apparent reason, for crying out loud!) 15 seconds are allowed to pass, before the divider is reset, and the next round starts. the whole fight ends when one of the roosters dies. this process (of waiting until one dies) can take quite a while, since in normal circumstances, the dominant bird would have *no reason* to continue the fight once dominance is established (usually quite quickly and without bloodshed). no matter if one or both of the birds is already injured, eg, a broken wing or leg; the fight goes on regardless. the ´gentleman´ next to me (i´m loathe to call him that - how can anyone tolerate such mindless cruelty??) started chatting to me; i gleaned that this is a weekly event in Nazca, as in many bigger towns, gathering people from neighbouring villages and towns for their Sunday night entertainment. obviously, they don´t see the cruelty in this type of sport; roosters don´t have feelings, after all, right? how does someone who feels the way i do, make a change in social mentality when it comes to something like this, and how much right do i even have to mention that i think it´s unacceptable?
i don´t want to live close-mindedly, but sometimes it´s hard to let go of personal beliefs, especially when i think that i´m *right*. but maybe there isn´t a universal right or wrong, and that what´s wrong for me, may be right for others..? by the way, yes, i did visit machu picchu, and yes, it was beautiful. but if you wanted an impersonal reel of facts about this wonder of the world, you would´ve gone to wikipedia, instead of reading this, wouldn´t you?
(for more photos: 'nazca & cuzco' photo gallery)

Tags: Culture

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