We are in Arequipa for language school, but part of learning a language is growing to understand the culture. So we have used our free time to do a bit of sightseeing around the city.
Arequipa grew into a city soon after the Spanish invaded and is now Peru’s second city. It combines history, culture, commerce and churches (lots of them). It is also home to Peru’s constitutional court. Two of the most interesting places we have visited are the Monasterio de Santa Catalina and Convento-Museo La Recoleta.
Santa Catalina convent was founded a few decades after the Spanish arrival. It’s almost a city within a city with beautiful walkways. Each of the nuns had their own rooms, and since they all came from upper class backgrounds, they were relatively lavish. For us it provided a useful insight into the power of the Spanish, the influence of the Catholic Church and how both have shaped modern Peru.
The Museo La Recoleta is a much smaller affair, it was a base for Franciscan mission to Peru. It had a world class library (and still has an impressive collection of books including many that were printed before Gutenberg). It gave us a great insight into the life of the early catholic missionaries, and how tough it was. (They have a chart showing how many of them died, and where).
Arequipa’s weather is cool desert, so the sun is strong, the temperature is in the low to mid 20’s and it is very dry; which makes it quite dusty as well. It is also quite high (2,300 meters, 7,600 feet above sea level) so for the first few days we got quite out of breath; espcially since we have tried to walk whenever we can.
The language school (ABCespanol) is in a nice area of the city, close to shopping malls but set back from a small square. Almost every student is here to prepare for some sort of mission activity (Doctors and medical work seem the most common) and they come from the US, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Norway and Ireland. For us, it’s been great spending time with other nationalities, especially from the US. It really is true that we are divided by a common language (who knew for example that a hole in the wall was a type of restaurant not an ATM?) The teachers are lovely and have a real desire to help their students learn. Most of the students are here for several months, whereas we have only been here for a month which has been a bit of a challenge for both us and the language school.
Whilst here, I (Neil) have had a chance to learn more about indigenous Amazonian cultures (from one of my teachers) and to do a bit of research into the history of the church and missions in Peru. Thanks to the internet I’ve discovered that the earliest Baptist Missionary to Iquitos arrived in 1935 and started a church in Iquitos; which makes it one of the first in Peru. Unlike some other parts of the world Peru was largely closed to Protestant missionaries until 1915; the country was catholic and that was that. There were a few missionaries and missions in the 1800’s but they mainly focused on schools and education. The real growth in evangelical churches didn’t start till the 1930’s which has helped me to understand why so many of the Baptist Churches seem to have a culture which comes from 1950’s and 60’s US Baptist life…….. it is because that’s when many of the churches were started and that culture has continued. Much of the mission work done over the last century has been by people from the US, and even today, lots of mission money flows from the US, which continues to impact the shape and culture of churches. Most recently the evangelical church scene has seen a significant growth of Pentecostal churches (especially Movimiento Misionero Mundial en el Perú who have radio and TV stations here.)
Learning about the various Amazonian tribal groups is a reminder that it was not only the Spanish who left their mark on Peru, many British businesses were involved in the rubber boom at the end of the 19th Century; they effectively used slave labour provided by the indigenous communities and decimated many of them with disease.
As well as my learning about the culture, Lori has been learning about Spanish accounting terms and a bit about how things are done here.
While here we have been staying with a Peruvian couple and our dinner talk has included quite a bit about politics and life in Perú. They also took us to a local market and some of the city viewpoints. So although we are a long, long way from understanding the cultures of Perú we are starting to appreciate some of the nuances and main elements of life here.
Going back to Nauta will feel like going to another world, but our time in Arequipa has given us a deeper appreciation for Perú, Inca civilisation and history, as well as a better grasp of the Spanish language.