Quechua in Peru

Colijn_Peru_072009, originally uploaded by CLACS – NYU.

Hello from Cuzco, Peru! I´ve been here for a few weeks now and it´s been somewhat of an adjustment to life here, as it´s my first time in Peru. Along with working on research for my MA project, I´m in an intensive Quechua language course along with two other students from NYU. We take taxis or buses to school or do the hour-long walk when we´re not fighting off illness due to the variety of things that have befallen us here. Trying to get research done has also been somewhat challenging, due to periodic strikes, threatened strikes, or closing (public) school due to the H1N1 flu. My research focus involves bilingual education between Quechua and Spanish, so having the schools closed for two or three weeks doesn´t help, even though it´s certainly a good reason to close school.

This past Sunday the class from our Quechua program went to a small town called Combapata about two hours outside of Cuzco. We visited the two markets they had: the animal and the “stuff” market. The animal market pictured above had mostly cows left by the time we got there. The “stuff” market, on the other hand, was selling everything from fruits and vegetables, guinea pigs and baby chicks, hand-made sweaters and scarves, to cell phones and pirated dvds and cds. We walked through the animal market, drawing lots of stares, as the five of us walking together were quite definitely the only gringos anywhere nearby. We stopped to speak to two vendors selling grapes, and wound up getting to practice speaking some Quechua with them. They asked questions like where we were from, what we were doing in Peru and in Combapata, and were pretty interested in our relationship statuses. They seemed somewhat surprised that none of us had any kids, and asked the couple we had with us if they didn´t have kids because they couldn´t have kids. By the end of the conversation, a crowd of at least 15 or 20 people had gathered to watch the gringos trying to speak Quechua.

We also attended a Catholic mass conducted almost entirely in Quechua. Interestingly, the priest was originally from New Zealand, and had been taught Quechua by one of the teachers in our school in Cuzco. We drew some stares in mass as well, but managed to follow some of the service. It´s definitely not easy to pick out the few words you know from a running stream of religious-oriented speech. According to our Quechua teacher, the priest didn´t have a very good Quechua accent, but it was likely a little easier for us to understand, as it was closer to our own gringo-accented Quechua. Some of the church members and vendors in the market, like the two people selling grapes, were fairly willing to speak Quechua with us, though they spoke Spanish as well. Some of the vendors just shook their heads, said no, or said they didn´t speak Quechua if we asked if they would be willing to speak Quechua with us. That seems to be fairly common in the places that we´ve visited thus far. At least one member of the families that we live with speaks Quechua and is happy to practice with us, but some vendors have no interest whatsoever in speaking in or about Quechua, at least with foreigners.

Our Quechua professor from NYU arrived in Cuzco yesterday. He´s from Calca, a town about 45 minutes or an hour outside of Cuzco, and has invited his students that are here in Cuzco to have lunch with his family in Calca and plans to show us around town and introduce us to people. This should open some doors as far as research goes, and will afford some great opportunities to use Quechua with our professor, his family and other friends around town, so the rest of my time here in Cuzco should be pretty interesting. Good luck to all the rest of the summer travelers!

Erika Colijn
MA Candidate, CLACS

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