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I’m not sure why this photo seems to have a bluish tinge to it.  It was taken on my archaic nokia cell phone in 2010 when at the very end of 2 months in Peru, my digital camera just stopped working.  That’s right, right in time for Machu Picchu.  But I snapped some photos with the cell and honestly probably wouldn’t have posted or thought much of this one if it wasn’t for this photo challenge.  But now I’m seriously wondering…why is it tinged blue?  It has undergone absolutely no editing.

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Together-Weekly Photo Challenge

To me, this photo shot at a strip mall in North Carolina of all places, while I was on tour with Piccadilly Circus and the Espanas, represents this week’s The Daily Post weekly photo theme of ‘together.’  No circus performer can make it without working together.  We are sometimes literally the legs each other stands on.

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Chincha

I am writing now from the crisp fall mountain air of Cuzco.  It is 11,200 feet where we are according to one of my fellow circus folk.  I´m not sure if that´s exactly right or not, especially since the next statement out of their mouth was that is either twice or four times the height of Denver, our own mile-high city.  Not exactly scientific, but this is what happens when people are not connected to the magic Blackberry-Iphone boxes at their hip to fact check their conversations as if we were writing term papers.  This is how legends are born.  And maybe I´d rather live in the legend…afterall it doesn´t really matter to me whether I´m twice or four times as high as Denver.  It matters to me that there is a rationale for why I start panting mid conversation because I can´t get enough oxygen.

The cool air was a welcome respite though from the 20 hour bus ride from Chincha.  15 hours of that time is on tight cross-winding mountain roads which make one feel exactly as if they are lost at sea in a dinghy riding out a tumultuous storm mid-ocean.  Our first clue should have come when they handed out plastic barf bags immediately after dinner.  Nice really, that they give you something to fill your stomach, so you´ll have something to expel later.   Unfortunately, I was sitting behind (though luckily across the aisle from) a 72-year-old man who was quite ill and having diarrhea every hour or so in his seat.  His daughter had to change him something like 14 times and at one point, his pee actually showered down through the seat crack onto my friends Calypso and Tom´s feet!  Yikes.  This and the inevitable barfing made the trip a bit of a challenge. 

Despite this, I feel we survived our first long bus trip together with dignity, peace, grace and a surprising amount of positivity.  I mean we weren´t singing in the aisles or anything, but at about hour seventeen, there was the most beautiful sunrise at the top of our mountain and it was literally like we were sitting in the clouds watching it.

Today we moved to a shared house again after having a little bit of a break in hostels with less roommates.  Our house is at the top of a ridge of Cuzco in a neighborhood called Tambillo.  Our portion is smaller, quaint is the euphemism.  But despite being four to a room, people crashing in the living room and my room being quite damp and mildewing and needing airing everyday, the space that we are staying is gorgeous.  There is a large garden between our quarters and the main house and we are literally across the street from the Incan Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon).   This is a beautiful rock formation with an Incan trail leading down to Cuzco proper and hills and mountains behind that lead to smaller, newly discovered ruins.  The house is also home to local ceremonies with the San Pedro cactus, which are an ancient form of native healing for everything from emotional, to psychological, to physical ailments.  The best part of our space is having our own kitchen!  I was nervous about doing group meals, but I´ve cooked a fair amount of them myself and we have some pretty good chef talent in our group it turns out, so food has been a happy thing here.   This is a nice respite after so many of us got sick in Chincha adjusting to bugs in the water or food.

Speaking of Chincha, I´d like to record a few things of that experience.  We were fortunate enough to have the perfect culmination of a slightly difficult three weeks there.  Much of our time there was crowded, dusty,  filled with daily rehearsals (and their attending frustrations and conflicts of course) outside in the dirt and heat, workshops with Mayten´s amazing kids worked into the schedule and some pretty intensely emotional shelter experiences.

Don´t get me wrong, it was also a time for caring for each other (I had to have a doctor called to the house to give me antibiotic shots in my buttocks two days in a row…he didn´t charge me a centavo.)  It was also a time for us to share some of our personal tragedies and victimizations with the girls at the shelters that had been assaulted and raped.  As trying and emotionally draining as this was for me personally, there was suddenly a beautiful strength that connected us as women (and supportive men) across cultures…sharing our pain, but also our examples of hope for healing. 

We actually finished our show and performed it three times before leaving.  Our first performance was for the neighborhood of Mina de Oro where we were staying, and for Mayten´s kids with whom playing with became such a beautiful part of our everyday and every evening lives.  We performed in the restored soccer field in the neighborhood where we´d been rehearsing everyday surrounded still by the ruins of the ´07 quake.  It was amazing to hear our small friends and Mayten screaming out our names as we came out for each scene. 

Our second show was the next day at Camino de Soledad, the shelter where the above sharing occurred.  The 40 or so young girls here are mothers because of incest and abuse.  We sat and shared and talked to each other, pealing off our western layers to reveal our own imperfections, pains and fears.  Then we put on our makeup and our costumes and our joy and shared so fully the light that still exists within for our new friends.  Then we lit our torches and our staffs, our fans and our fire-fingers and danced first with fire and then without into the night with girls that are sometimes still afraid of the dark.  We shook their shelter with laughter and love.  It will remain one of my favorite experiences here in Peru.

Our third show happened after a day off spent saying goodbye to the beach and resting.  It was at a larger shelter where we didn´t have much of a chance to connect with the girls and perhaps because I was feeling run down and a little sick that day, felt a little flat and empty and difficult for that reason.  It is sometimes difficult for me to remember that even if we´re just connecting for a small amount of time, the results of that connection for myself and the ones that I´m connecting with  may not be apparent immediately and not to be so attached to the results, just to share the experience.  A relatively tough preteen girl did come in and paint my face in makeup while I was resting that day.   While other kids were getting their faces painted, she chose to come in and do mine. 

There are reasons to be glad to leave Chincha, Cuzco is beautiful with the prospect of less illness, but there is an incredible amount to miss as well.  I will always remember Mayten singing to me through her bronchitis when I was laying ill on a mat in her front room and the special conversation that we had that day after holding each others´ hands through our rounds of shots.  I miss Paloma terribly and wish her all the bueno suerte she can have.  The heat and the beaches, the taste of fried chicken and ice cream from the street once I´d taken enough Cipro to start eating again.  These things remind me of Chincha.

And now a month in and a month to go in Peru, my place in things comes clearer, as do my plans for after the tour.  I continue to work on living simple, giving to the group, giving to the communities here.  I have become a fire spinner, playing with the staff, fans, fingers and choreographing a few pieces with friends for the show.  I do a short dance and then aerial piece in the show on a pipe suspended between two peoples´ shoulders.  As Ryan says, ¨a daring three feet off the ground, with no safety net, the amazing E-Nina.¨ But it is kind of cool.  A sampling of aerial.   And I am formulating a plan.  I don´t want to live full-time in NYC any longer.  3 months at a time, working during busy season and subletting out my apt the rest of the time seems reasonable, doable and preferable as a lifestyle for a while.  I´d like to travel and train and perform both for festivals and more established venues, but also for people who don´t get as much opportunity to see theater and art.  I´d like to work more with children somehow.  I´m not sure how it will all take shape, but I can sense that it’s coming together and I´m excited to be a vagabond for a little while (finally).

For right now, I am loving living in the clouds of Cuzco at the top of a mountain.  I love that when I walk out my door, there are still traditional women and children herding their sheep through the fields in full traditional dress and in a fully traditional manner.  That unlike their sisters dressed and posing for tips in the city below, they are simply living their lives, taking little notice of me as I walk past.  I look forward to more fully exploring the ruins surrounding our casita.

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For me Chincha is best represented by a little girl named Paloma.  I believe she is about four years old.  The first day that I met Paloma, she came crawling up to me on all fours meowing and then declared, ¨Soy una gatita!¨ with the biggest smile you´ve ever seen, as if I might need clarification that she was the cutest ¨little cat¨ there ever was.

Coming on this trip, I had some fears and reservations about what I would be able to provide to the chidren that we would meet.  I didn´t have my trapeze with me, nor the places to rig anything if I did…I didn´t know anyone I´d be working with from Dreamtime to prepare ahead of time for being in a show or planning a workshop.  And I feared that I wouldn´t have enough to offer, or that I wouldn´t fit in. 

Paloma changed all of that for me in the first two seconds of meeting her.  Immediately, she seemed to decide that I was worthy of her amazing friendship.  Whenever I was in sight from the door of Mayten´s house, her little voice yelling, ¨Nina!¨ and calling me out to play rang through the house.  She would make up games that we should play and insist that they be played, even horse rides (piggy backs) when my back was sore.  She listened calmly from her perch on my back one evening as Mayten explained that she should be careful with me because I had injured my back, and after sharing her prescription for what native ointments I should rub on it to heal, solemly agreed to be very, very careful with me before kicking into my sides and yelling ¨Vamos!¨ with such glee, I didn´t really have the heart not to play along.  I could always ice it later after all.

It´s hard to explain the appeal of Paloma without meeting her.  If you look through the group´s photo complilation of the time in Chincha, you´ll see an abundance of her dimples and sparkling eyes laughing from her heart shaped face.  A glow about her that defies the difficulties that she´s faced in her very few years of life. 
When I don´t understand her Spanish, she is completely unfazed and calmly and slowly and quite precociously explains it all to me another way entirely.  She may be the best Spanish teacher I´ve ever had. 

I had a dream about Paloma before leaving Chincha that I had adopted her and her older sister Cyamara.  I told it to Mayten and she said she felt the same way.  But that not to worry.  Paloma was a force to be reckoned with, a very strong little girl indeed and because of that, they´d both be just fine. 

Now, sitting in an internet cafe in Cuzco, what I have to remember Paloma is a drawing that she made of me, with pink pigtails and a shining sun (my character in the show) and on the back her and I both in pigtails, holding hands and smiling and standing on a heart the size of the paper.  When I think of Chincha, I will always think of Paloma´s laugh and the way she yelled my name with such joy.

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Peru-March 10

Ten days in Peru…what to say…where to start…

Time here seems to be blending and blurring together like the dreadlock-like formations growing in my bright  pink hair.  Just kidding, I don’t have dreadlocks, but yes, I dyed my hair pink for the trip.  It’s perfect and fun and bright and the kids are attracted to it like moths to flame.  But, what I didn’t know about pink hair dye is that it is fundamentally different than regular hair dyes.  It is like paint, constantly drying out my quite oily-slick straight hair, causing it to twist and curl in the heat like it’s never done with the hottest curling iron, making it difficult to really get it clean, it sheds pink rivulets in the shower that i find meandering slowly towards the drain as I exit.

Not that this is bad.  Actually, drying out my hair helps my aforementioned oily hair to go for longer between showers in an area where running water is an expensive luxury.  This is especially important as our hosts here in Chincha try to put all of the money and material luxuries that come their way towards the work that they do in their communities here and in Cusco.

Dad, you asked about the sociopolitical structure of the population here…I’ve been pondering that.  It’s a difficult matter to comment on after only 8 days in this community.  Especially considering that yesterday was the first day that I stepped outside our immediate neighborhood and interacted with anyone besides our group and the local kids.  But let me see if I can describe it.  Our neighborhood is called Mina de Oro, which I think means ‘Neighborhood of Gold’ in Chincha. 

Some of the kids that we’ve met have undergone severe sexual trauma and violence (often by their own families), others are still living in tents since the 2007 earthquake, but you’d never guess.  They are laughing, playing children that look out for each other, largely because of the work in healing and education that Mayten does with them.  Mayten is a deeply inspiring woman.  She is 100% committed to healing through education of anti-violence as well as instigating a cultural movement focused on recognising the values of every individual.  She is not a non-profit, just a woman who offers literally everything that she has towards these goals and to her community.  If you are interested in learning more about her work, or would like to assist in any way, please visit here.

It is interesting in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes of Haiti and Chile to be here in Chincha two years after a similarly devastating earthquake.  From what Mayten has told us, prior to the disaster, Chincha was a thriving city close to rivaling Cusco and Lima in wealth and infrastructure.  Now it looks like houses and tents pitched up around the ruins of some ancient civilization.  But these are not the Mayan ruins.  These are recent and only seem ancient and decayed.  The fear and mythologies still hold tight to the people.  They fear the ocean, and they fear another quake, another punishment. 

Yesterday I went into town to the Mercado (market) and the Home Depotesque Sodimac hardware store.  Main Chincha has some houses that are rebuilt fairly nicely as well as a couple of modern looking behemoths of buildings just now erupting out of the earth that sit at extreme disharmony with the majority of the crumbling disaster areas that have been propped up at the bottom, left distinctively unfinished at the upper levels but are still called houses.  There seems to be some mystery about whether this is from fear of another quake, due to lack of funds to rebuild, or because there is a tax break for houses that are in construction and building slowly seems an economically intelligent manuever.

Sodimac’s shining, organised aisles of brand new pipe, lumber and office sets as well as their very American concept of an ‘impulse buy’ section at the front counter is very different than an experience at the Mercado’s sprawling maze of fruit stands, shoe and fabric stalls and tiny avenues where you have to watch not to get hit by a taxi.  Sodimac seems to hint at an upper class that hides itself somewhere, but I personally haven’t really seen it.

Evening time brings a more local chance to meet Peruvians.  We take a walk through the crumbling brick ruins of walls and the tents that have become permanent and the plastic swimming pools from Sodimac that I suspect here are used as wash basins rather than recreation through Mina de Oro to a well hidden local gem.  A friend and ally in Mayten’s fight for peace and value, is Nelly.  Nelly is the third generation owner of a small, local and organic vineyard called Jazmin after the giant Jasmine flower plant that her great-grandfather had found planted there covering the land and which mysteriously died when he did leaving the soil to become the home of grapes instead of flowers.  And so, since 1918, Jazmin has been producing Peruvian wine. 

Nelly shared a sampling of every variety of wine that she was currently fermenting, siphoned from a narrow tube by Nelly herself straight from the barrel.  Peruvian wine is much sweeter than what I am used to (as is much of the food and drink in Peru), but delicious and unique.  We tried seco (dry), semiseco (semi-dry) and dulce (sweet) versions of the three grapes she harvests: borgone, quebranta and maravilla as well as a Peruvian special wine called canchina.  Drinking canchina is like drinking the richest, freshest, most succulent grape juice with just a hint of alcohol taste to warn you not to guzzle it, though I suspect it is much less strong as far as alcohols go.

We took the walk with three teenage boys that were trying to learn English and I think that yesterday was one of my favorite days.  It was wonderful to get out and have to use my Spanish as the translator to navigate the mercado and to practice with Andy and Richard at the vineyard and to get to meet and talk with Nelly and listen to her stories about the vineyard, getting a little more connected to the area and its people.

Unfortunately, I got sick early this morning with a traveller’s bug.  I am tired and drained and must run to the bathroom every ten to twenty minutes, though I am still able to work and rehearse with the group as long as I take breaks in the heat.  I am going to be using a pole balanced on two troupe members shoulders to perform trapeze on as the sun character! 

 Each day it seems one or a few of us of us seems to be struck down by traveller’s illnesses, mild injuries or new flare ups of old injuries, jet lag, sunburn, etc.  It is making putting our show together difficult, but is also nice that aside from the sunburn which even attacked our local hosts, we aren’t totally wiped out all at once.  This leaves some of us to run workshops for the kids, rehearse individual scenes, cook and clean and take care of the ill ones.  I feel blessed to be a part of a group that deeply respects each other and takes responsibility for themselves, each other and the world.  I feel wholly welcomed and safe here despite the dangerous neighborhood that lurks quietly outside at night.  There is an aura of protection and safety around this house and our group.  And don’t worry Mom and Dad, we’re too exhausted from rehearsing and the heat to go out at night anyways. 

More to come…including pics that take a bit long to upload in addition to typing…but here‘s some from mi amiga Sophia’s blog to look at til then!

Besos, Erinina

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Peru, March 4

I’m still adjusting and having some difficulty finding the words to express my experiences.  It still hasn’t hit me that I’m in a different country (limited resources, tropical fruit and no flushing of toilet paper and all).  I’m sure it will catch up to me soon.

It looks like I’ll either be playing a water or sun element in our show.  Either with flags for the water or this weird contraption called an OMGym that I might be able to rig up as aerial equipment some places.  I may end up directing some as well and will get the chance to spin fire for the first time at some point and play with all the other circusy skills as well (hoop, contact improv, poi, juggling, stilting, knife throwing, etc).   The show is about three strangers that get stuck on a bus (probably from a storm and maybe flooding, something that the people here can relate to) and are very different and self absorbed.  Through conflict and contact with nature (animal and element characters) they come to learn to work together and form strong community.

Late last night we arrived in Chincha, a town devasted by an earthquake two years ago that still hasn’t recovered.  Many people do not have roofs, running water or toilets.  We are staying at an independent project run from a woman named Mayten’s home.  She runs a school and play area for the kids in the neighborhood in her front room as well as being active with sexually assaulted women and children in the area.  Here if you are a child or woman that’s raped (most often by family), you are placed in a shelter which is essentially a prison to keep the traumatized victim away from the community.  Very sad.  Visiting there will probably be very intense, but good for us to be able to provide some light in their lives.  The house is very humble.  Five open rooms besides her’s that include the front room that’s sacred and dedicated to the children, the kitchen/eating area, bathroom, office and our room.  We’ve taken over the one foam mattress and five straw bunk beds and concrete floor space amongst the twelve of us rather remarkably.  Those with mattresses and sleep mats took the floor and the rest of us got to have beds.

You’ll be excited to know that for at least the next nine days, I will be an officially full on vegan eating communally in this house.  This is where we are putting together the show and our classes that we’re going to teach to kids.  Though, it sounds like there are a lot of outreach possibilities here, so we may end up staying here for longer.  It’s actually incredibly peaceful and nice to be here and as I get to know the group more, I am finding that I am not as different as I felt at first, though I think that my New Yorker shell still has some crumbling to do, and I can tell that some of that is going to be a little uncomfortable.  I cried today playing with the kids, feeling so awkward and bad at relating to them, but just part of some of that shedding I think.

Peru in this area and in Cusco at least is doing some interesting things with food it seems.  There is a strong movement in this part of Peru to ban genetically modified foods and pesticides, so our food is organic and local and mostly farmed according to Peruvian (Incan/Mayan) tradition.  The fruit is amazing and there are some different kinds that I’ve never seen before!  Really interesting!  Some of the organic farmers in the US have come here to learn their farming techniques.  It is very interesting being here and hearing about the culture from Mayten’s intense socio/political eye.

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