Sixth months, thirty eight greenhouses and three pairs of running shoes later, I am entering my last week in the region of Cuzco. One of the first impressions that I got when I arrived here is that young people are forced to leave their communities, their customs, and their families looking for a modern life and end up in between two lifestyles, two different cultures and philosophies that are increasingly separate and in which one is overpowering the other without mercy.
In Andean communities of Peru elderly people are often known as “yachaq”, wise people. Listening to one of these “yachaq” is a good way to understand better the dilemmas that young people in these communities face: to stay in the communities and live as their ancestors did or to join the process of mass migration to cities and new mining areas that are being installed in many communities in search of a better and modern life. “May be because of the lack of opportunities or may because money means so much for the younger generations, the truth is that young people do not find enough here and many abandon their communities and their customs”. The model of Western life, in which supposedly everybody has enough, is “an invitation to stop being what they are and go in search of something they want to be. It is like they dreamed of being different and “modern”, and decide to leave everything and live a life of fiction which does not become fully modern and where they end up losing part of their identity”. Mining companies play an important role in this dream. All mining companies have something in common when they visit the communities for the first time: they all promise a higher salary and better living conditions than their current life. But once young people reach the mining camp, the reality seems to be different and many of the promises are just words. Yet, many of these young people will adapt to working long hours away from their families and culture. The consequence is that many communities are inhabited only by the elderly and some pastoralist children that take care of the few animals they have left (in a previous post I wrote already about why children here spend less time in the schools than they should). These inhabitants, their animals and the plants they eat seek favorable conditions to survive a climate change that increasingly affects them more strongly.
Under these circumstances I often wonder whether it makes much sense to keep trying to maintain some of these communities alive, or whether it would be better to relocate these communities in areas with better services, with at least medical care and well-functioning schools. According to the “yachaq” I was talking with, development projects should try both and let people decide. Soon I will migrate as well, but her advise will last in my mind, as long as I hope that the greenhouses will last. Hasta pronto hermanos.