Transitions: from Peru to the USA

I am back in Portland. I had to return sooner than planned. I was not really prepared to return to the USA, but the Lima airport was about to shut down because of the pandemic. I made the decision to come back and be with my daughters in this time of crisis. So, here I am transitioning from a warm climate and warm (for the most part) culture to a cold climate and in my opinion cold culture. A shock to my nervous system. It happens every time I return to USA and little by little, eventually I get used to it again.

However, this time is different because of the quarantine. I cannot see you in person, give you an embrace or hang out with you. I am feeling more depressed than previous years. Also, the differences in the ways Peru and USA deal with the virus are huge. The way people in Lima deal with the Coronavirus is by staying away from hugging or kissing to greet each other, keeping their normal habits of washing hands and covering their mouths when coughing or sneezing, but most of all are keeping their immune systems strong by eating healthy foods and drinking their home herbal concoctions. They have accessible farmers markets full of fresh herbs, roots and plants for pretty much any illness. Some of these remedies are already made for you to consume or if you want to make it yourself the farmer would tell you how to make it. But most Peruvians are not panicking about the virus. They are only buying the necessary. They are not worrying about not having toilet paper or hand sanitizers. Especially poor people, they had suffered so much and had overcome many different things. Together they will survive and overcome this too.

Here in USA it seems to me that everyone is on their own. There aren’t accessible farmers’ markets providing herbs for people to make their home remedies, depending only the pharmaceutical companies to make remedies for you that are not accessible to poor people. People with resources are hoarding the necessities. And people with so little resources are left to fend for themselves.

As I move through this depression with the help of mindfulness practices, I want to share with you something that my daughter Crystal and Presente! Maine is doing to be in solidarity with our community, it is something that is helping me finding hope in this difficult time. She had started a Food Brigade for our Latinx community. Here is a flier with more details: en Inglés o en Español.

Please consider donating to the People’s Emergency Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ndm9pf-people039s-emergency-fund

Lima – La Ciudad de los Reyes (the City of the Kings)

I was on a bus going to the city of Lima from my neighborhood, when a street performer got on the bus to sing and entertain us, he mentioned that it was Lima’s birthday and played a song for her. He is one of the many Peruvians who figure out a way to make a living using their talents. The minimum wage in Peru is S/. 30 soles (9 dollars) a day. This wage does not cover even the basic needs. But companies in Peru get away paying this much. This minimum wage gives business the opportunity to make as much possible exploiting the Peruvian people.

Listening to this artist giving tribute to the beautiful city of Lima, I could not help but think of the El Libertador (The Liberator) series on Netflix, I recently finished watching. This series it’s about Simon Bolivar and the Latin American struggles to became independent from Spain. The film brings light that even though we won and kick out the king and his supporters out of Peru, the capitalist system the colonialist set up was already well implemented and working very well for the elite. This capitalism system of oppression continues to exist to the present day.

I used to like the song and used to be so proud of Lima’s slogan. Growing up and not knowing our real history was detrimental to native people. Our history was taught by the oppressor and the native people were always referred to as naïve, ignorant and with no contributions to the world. When, in fact, the native people of the Peru have contributed so many great things. Among them are the potatoes and 50% of the crops we know today came from Peru.

When El Libertador and the people come to Peru to liberate it from Spain, they arrived in Lima. They found out that people from Lima were too afraid to join the resistance and when they did was to betray and protect the system in place. As I watched the El Libertador episodes, it clicked why Lima was named the City of Kings and Queens. Lima was ruled by the King under the Roman Catholic Church. It explained why Peru was and still is a right-wing country. Peruvians are still afraid to rebel.

Coming back to Lima from the Quero’s village in the Andes (a trip I recently took and will write more about later), my nervous system was shocked. I become stressed almost instantly. The traffic, loud horns sounds, desperate people including children trying to sell you something, hungry and thirsty street animals looking at you for help. Lima the City of the Kings for the rich.

Lima está de fiesta

Lima is celebrating
Lima is partying,
the Creole song dresses up,
The beautiful Lima
They make their beauty and grace unparalleled.

The guitar strings trinate,
Creole hearts vibrate
to the happy sounds of the popular song.

This is my Creole Lima,
cheerful and revelry,
the earth three times crowned,
where the sailor was born
that with cajon drawer and peal
in the Rímac neighborhoods,
in the yesteryear they gave it color
Montes and Manrique
Creole parents.

Lima está de fiesta

Lima está de fiesta,
la canción criolla se viste de gala,
las guapas limeñas
hacen su belleza y gracia sin par.

Las cuerdas de la guitarra trinan,
los criollos corazones vibran
a los alegres sones de la canción popular.

Así es mi Lima criolla,
alegre y jaranera,
la tierra tres veces coronada,
donde nació la marinera
que con cajón y repique
en los barrios del Rímac,
antaño le dieron colorido
Montes y Manrique
padres del criollismo.

Finding hope in the midst of violence

I was asked to teach a yoga class at a police station for state employees from the Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Population. This ministry focuses making Peru a country where everyone is equal, to live without discrimination, and with equal opportunities. Its mission is to design, establish, promote, execute, and supervise public policies in favor of women, girls, boys, adolescents, older adults, people with disabilities, and internal migrants, to guarantee the exercise of their rights and a life free from violence. This sounds very good on paper.

However, the reality is another story. Most of The Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Population employees do not have the understanding of the long history of patriarchal and violent culture that was implemented at the arrival of the European Conquerors. Consequently, are unaware of the deeply rooted trauma effects on women and children in Latin America societies. Often times these vulnerable populations get blamed for the violence perpetuated against them. This system does not empower or support these women to heal from the devastating effects of trauma. Their situations often lead survivors of sexual and domestic violence to substance abuse, abuse and neglect of their children, not having access to education or meaningful well-paying jobs to prostitution, just to name a few.

Among the Ministry for Women are social workers, lawyers, and mental health providers. These workers are very stressed, overworked, and underpaid. They are providing services without any kind of trauma sensitive practice nor are trained in self-care practice. Often times these workers retraumatize their clients because of their own personal macho biases, such as why do these battered women not leave their abusers? as if it’s simple to do so.

Their clients are women living in poverty and seeking emotional, physical and legal support. The numbers of women killed by men in this country is devastating. This year 20 women have been murdered and it’s only the beginning of the year.

These service providers were very excited to try yoga; it was their first time. They only had 20 minutes to spare, their clients were waiting to be seen. We used their small office space for the yoga practice. We focused on releasing stress and did different breathing techniques and movements, a mix of Hatha and Kundalini yoga. There was no room for us to lay down, so we sat on chairs for our shavasanna (relaxation). While I was guiding them to let their bodies be heavy, allow Pachamama to hold them, and to allow everything to just be as it is, I noticed a few of them tearing up. It was an emotional moment because their job requires for them to be strong, constantly be setting boundaries. The are supposed to avoid getting attached to their clients so they won’t feel hopeless with the overwhelming violence their clients face on a daily basis. There was a moment of sharing after class. They expressed that they did not know how stressed they were and that the breathing and the movements help them reclaim their bodies, their humanity and were able to let the heaviness of their jobs melt away, they said they found hope.

Seva (Service Work)

For the last ten years I have provided “serva” or service work in Peru, offering trauma sensitive yoga classes to women in my neighborhood. These women have survived violence of all kinds and are very grateful to have access to free of charge yoga classes while I am there. In addition to this group I also offer yoga to a group of women and men with mental disabilities (Asumen).

The first couple of years I use to go from house to house to recruit them and their response was “yoga?” “what is yoga?” “I do not want to change my religion.” Once I told them they did not have to change their religion, they reluctantly came to my house to check it out. These last few years as soon as they find out I am there they come knocking on my door and eagerly ask when I will start teaching. I think is because there are not other safe spaces for them to rest, to relax or to be; spaces where they have choices, where for an hour they forget their roles and responsibilities; where no one is judging them or where there are expectations; where they can be how they are. For most of them, these classes are all they have as part of their healing process. Access to psychotherapy or counseling of any kind are not existent. My dream is to someday offer a teacher training right in my neighborhood and have them learn to teach to other women in our community and also to reach out to other neighborhoods.

This year I am planning to offer warm water yoga, which will be the very first time they will experience this type of healing practice. I am grateful that people already have donated yoga pants and bathing suit for the students.

If you would like to support this work, donations will provide the students with drinking water, snacks, transportation for trip to a yoga studio in Lima. In addition, we do a day trip to the beach: transportation, entrances fees, umbrella rentals, bathroom rentals, snacks, beverages and lunch, and weekly rental of a swimming pool for water yoga. I hope you would consider to support this worthwhile effort. No amount is too small. If you wish to donate, you can send your donation to Maria Sanchez (email me for my address) or via Venmo: Maria-Sanchez-391

About Maria

Maria

Maria Sanchez Herrera is originally from Lima, Peru. For over 20 years she has been helping people empower themselves through befriending their bodies and living their lives with compassion. She teaches yoga, mindfulness, and breathing techniques to women who are survivors of trauma.

Maria is a Kripalu certified yoga instructor with over 200 intensive hours of instruction. Maria is a certified LifeForce Practitioner, which is a yoga practice designed to alleviate depression and anxiety. She has completed an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction training.  Maria has also taken a Trauma Sensitive training with the Boston Trauma Center. She has also completed a 200-hour Kundalini teacher training.

Maria also teaches South American cooking workshops that nourish the mind, body and soul. She is passionate about reestablishing the connection between food and health as a tool to empower others. Growing up with a strong relationship with food, cooking, and community, Maria sees how people can achieve self-sufficiency through growing and cooking their own food. Her students learn that eating healthy does not have to be expensive or complicated, and that it can be both fun and delicious. She believes that a healthy and rich diet is the most powerful medicine and that it can cure almost any ailment. For Maria, cooking is another way she shows her love. She shared that love with Portland as the owner of Inca Roots restaurant for several years and now shares it with the Greater Portland community through cooking classes. She had collaborated with Spiral Arts, Cancer Community Center, Biddeford Adult Education, Cultivating Community, MacAuley Residence, Skillins Greenhouses and The Portland Food Coop.

Maria lives in Portland, Maine with her two daughters. She travels to Peru every year and teaches trauma sensitive yoga in San Martin de Porres, Lima, Peru, where she grew up. She is a cofounder of Friends of Nuestras Raices, an after-school art program for at-risk children and youth.

Maria is available to teach cooking and/or yoga classes for individuals or groups. She can be reached at incaroots@yahoo.com or 207-272-2071.