It's the third week here in Peru and I'm just now writing a blog about the project at the Saqsaywaman archaeological park. Why? Because, as usual, it's taken me this long to have the necessary meetings to figure out how to move forward with my work here. This year the negotiations have been especially challenging. In summary, the situation here has become even more challenging than when I arrived in 2010. It's a long story, but I'll try to tell you all about it here.
TRUST. I can't escape the juxtaposition of watching the Impeachment trials, that center on the issue of trust on so many levels, and the challenges I'm having here in Peru keeping the trust of the communities that live on the active archaeological site of Saqsaywaman, and maintaining the trust of the Ministry of Culture who is in charge of protecting for the world the amazing site of Saqsaywaman.
All that aside, this site still needs to have the latest of archaeological techniques utilized to bring it's history to light. And, that's the main challenge that the Ministry of Culture and the communities living on the site face.
HOW DO YOU PRESERVE A WORLD CLASS ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE FOR HUMANITY WHEN PEOPLE LIVE ON THE SITE WHO WANT TO ENTER THE 21ST CENTURY BY BUILDING ROADS AND HOUSES?
Without exaggerating, Saqsaywaman, and it's surrounding archaeological sites (some known well and some obscure), have the potential to completely re-write our understanding of human history! I've been visiting some of these less-known sites on my trip this year. BUT...and it's a BIG but, these sites cannot help us understand how the Americas were populated and what role the Americas play in overall human history UNLESS they are preserved. And, that is a big challenge in this amazing country of Peru. Serious archaeological work needs to be conducted. Lidar studies need to be done. Ground penetrating radar needs to be completed. Funds need to be allocated. And, most importantly, communities where these sites live must be encouraged to preserve these sites, instead of building homes and communities that may threaten archaeological ruins. Bottom line, when you live on these sites, it's way too easy to destroy sites in the pursuit of building homes and growing crops. Stones and ruins don't feed families. Unless, artifacts can be sold that you find on your land. COMPLICATED!
Now to my work here. In 2010 I arrived in Cusco thinking all I was going to do was film a stakeholders meeting between the Ministry of Culture at Saqsaywaman and the communities that live on the active archaeological site. Well, their trust in each other was so minimal, that the meeting didn't happen. Instead, my team was asked to use our cameras to mediate between the two groups. We've been trying to do that since then.
This year, that whole process seems to have completely failed. The communities don't trust the Ministry. And the Ministry don't trust the communities. So many events have happened, over the last 10 years, that have eroded trust between the two groups. And, most concerning to me, THE COMMUNITIES HAVE LOST TRUST IN ME! I can't express how SAD I am about this turn of events. The communities seem to perceive me as someone who is more aligned with the Ministry and the fact that I only show up here periodically doesn't help them build trust in my commitment to their concerns.
Bottom line, I have lost the TRUST of the communities that live on the Saqsaywaman archaeological park. And, I will need to find other ways to assist here over 2020. My friend and team member, Fernando Sallo, had a meeting last night with the Union of communities and they basically said they were not willing to move forward working with me without a formal report of my work and reassurances that I have their best interests in mind. I cannot do that with the time I have left here, so I'll have to find another way to move forward.
Today, January 24th, I had a meeting with Director Francisco Solis Diaz at the main office at Saqsaywaman. The topic: Goals and objectives for my work in 2020. My team members Fernando Sallo and Fiorella Romero were with me. The meeting was difficult. The Ministry director realizes that the relationship between them and the communities isn't good night now. And, in fact it's at a critical stage. The communities are building without permissions and the Ministry is VERY concerned that archaeological ruins are being damaged or built over. This situation MUST stop and soon! And my ability to mediate between the two groups is non-existence at this point. The park officials and anthropologists don't have the trust of the communities. So, the situation is dire! Stories of inca walls being destroyed and used to build local homes are being told. The archaeological site is threatened. And, the future of the people who live on the site is up in the air. Personally, I fear for each side's safety.
There is a glimmer of hope. The park director has asked that I accomplish two tasks before my next visit to Saqsaywaman in April/May 2020.
How Can You Help? I'm not really good at asking for help and certainly not suited to admitting that I need help. But, I need HELP! This project is at a sensitive stage and it could continue to move forward or fail all together. I need emotional support, encouragement and words of wisdom and support. I need people to help me believe in myself. In whatever way you can do this is much appreciated.
And, I need financial support. I'm hoping this year to get some grants and find a academic partner who can help me with funds to continue my work here and in the USA. I have team members here in Peru to fund. I have equipment and online tools that need to be paid for. I have travel and daily expenses. I have paid all these myself since 2010. Anything you can donate will help me to continue my work here. And, my Andean jewelry sales also help on my site beaditforwardstore.com
And, if you want to travel with me to Peru, I have great opportunities to become part of the team and explore this amazing part of Peru.
I look forward to hearing from you all in whatever way is best for you. Send me a text, email, Facebook message. Call me on What'sApp. Or connect me to someone you might know who can help me along the way.
Abrazos to you all.
In 2010 I was just starting my Master's program at the University of Southern California and had no idea that the film project I decided to pursue, as part of my education in Visual Anthropology, would end up being a 10 year long obsession. Yet, here we are in 2020 and I'm still working on the world UNESCO archaeological site called Saqsaywaman. It's been an honor to work with the Ministry of Culture, the various people who live in the communities of Fortaleza, Pucara and Huayllarqocha. I have grown to love this culture and these amazing descendants of the Inca culture. I have established friendships, professionals relationships, and I've come to know Saqsaywaman and Cusco like I know my beloved California.
As we start 2020, I feel such a sense of gratitude for the gift of being able to work at Saqsaywaman. There are so many people to thank, so many doors that have opened, challenges that have been overcome. My heart swells as I think of all the people who have supported me in so many ways.
Just to remind everyone and those new to this blog, these communities live on an active archaeological site, and end up having conflicts about building and modernizing their communities when the Ministry wants to preserve the site for humanity. We have been using our camera to tell their stories and mediate through film. The Ministry recognized us in 2019 for the importance of the work we've done to generating a situation now where conflicts are resolved more easily...most of the time. To read more about our overall research goals, you can see some of the earlier blog posts.
In 2020, I am going to give Fernando a video camera and teach him how to use it so he can become my local cameraman. His daughter also wants to learn filmmaking, so giving them this equipment will enable the whole family to take steps into a new future documenting their community and, possibly, a new revenue stream.
Then, much to my surprise, the National Geographic scholar Peter Frost asked to join our team in 2019! Wow, I am so honored to be working with Peter and will be spending quite a bit of time with him in 2020.
Over the years many other people (Becky Roth, Erika Roys, Nancy Lutkehaus, and Kara Cooney) have helped me with logistics, translations, and crucial mentoring. And of course John Pollini at USC for his frequent advice and emotional/financial support. John has had me teach a class during one of his courses at USC which has been fun and an invaluable academic experience.
And my friends back home in Monterey, Carmel and all over the world deserve a BIG thanks for keeping me believing in my dream to continue working in Peru, especially given health challenges from 2012 to 2018. Can't even thank them all enough...you know who you are.
Special recognition goes to ALL the people and organizations who have donated to this project over the years! I've been self-funding this research since 2010 and I could not have done it without the help of friends and colleagues who have contributed along the way. Special thanks to Susie and Charly Franklin and the Franklin Legacy Fund for their support in 2019. And to The Global Purpose Group and Bodhi Garrett for getting us started on getting our non-profit status. That process is now underway and we will have our 501(c)(3) by end of 2020. A list of all our founding donors can be found on our Donations tab. I want to thank each and every one of our donors! We reach our financial goals one donor at a time.
I leave today, January 2nd, to go back to Saqsaywaman for 5 weeks. The goals during this trip are to do several tasks:
Adios! Stay tuned as I'll be posting a blog weekly!
Maren Elwood is a visual anthropologist and founder of On-Site Expeditions...a field school that will provide scholarships to aspiring heritage professionals. The first field school session will be in January 2020.