They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Travel diary (11 out of 28): flowers springing into life out of the ruins

Travel diary (11 out of 28): flowers springing into life out of the ruins

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

In "Mensajes del alma" ("Messages from the soul"), León Gieco sang...

What a great dignity, to always believe in life
with only gazing at a flower springing into life out of the ruins!

If we ever believed in life and in courage and determination of a community to go on in spite of the worst conditions in life and its setbacks, it happened that morning in Huaicán.

On Wednesday, 15th of November, the Congress would be over and this was our last but one day in Lima. Just a look at the programme was enough to decide that we were not going to enter the conference room anymore: the first table of the day had to do with "Companies and Information management", a subject that was of no interest at all for us. The second one, maybe the most attractive considering its title ("Libraries social role in the Knowledge Society") made me felt absolutely disappointed when we knew that one of the main conferences would be given by EBSCO vice-president. I am not telling here that this person knows nothing on this matter (though I am doubtful about it). What made me suspect was the lack of coherence. "Do what I say, not what I do...". This second table presentations would be shown by important Peruvian librarianship examples, however, my opinion about some of them pushed me to believe that they know very little of "social role" and too much about "business role". And both ideas do not normally combine well. Once more, incoherence made me feel uneasy, together with the lack of honesty: personally, I would be ashamed of talking about something I believe, practice or has ever experienced.

We said goodbye to our colleagues and accepted a much more interesting proposal: the visit to the library of an old settlement that has become a very big quarter of the city. Huaicán –the depressed area mentioned before– belonged to ATE district, it was of considerable dimensions and highly populated. It hardly had basic services till not that far, but at a time it had slowly improved (little by little) those services and today it allowed living conditions more of less "stable". Nevertheless, it continued being one of the many poor areas in Lima, where education and support is needed most. It included rural areas placed in the mountains, as well as sections in absolutely precarious conditions.

[I want to point out that when I talk of "precariousness" and "poverty" concerning to some areas of Lima, I do not say it with astonishment: I have lived with those very same realities in my own country, in my own city and in many cities of other countries, even of those which call themselves "developed"].

In this place that was emerging from dark ruins into bright light, a flower has sprouted and was starting to grow: a library. Our contact was a librarian who has long worked on its development: Rocío Aponte.

Rocío was our guide up to / through / from Huaicán. We arrived together making use of the famous buses –already described in detail in previous posts– which made us sway from side to side for quite a long time. We rather prefer this means of transport –though we can choose others– because it allows us to listen to people, what they talk about, how they do it, what opinions they have, what they think, what they listen to, what they are worried about... Right, swept by crowd, knowing about police trying to discover illegal busses and teachers on strike –including stones thrown against public transport– and a few more imaginable complications... our arrival was not that easy

Huaicán reminded me, in some parts, of that song of Violeta Parra, "Arriba quemando el sol" ("Above, burning, the sun"):

The ramshakle houses in a row
Opposite to each other, yes sir...
Women getting into a line
Opposite to the only basin,
Each one with her bucket
And her sorrow face.
And above, burning, the sun.

Dust, soil, and mud; some walls made of reed; many roofs made of metal board; dirt in every corner, quiet voices, dropped gazes... That image –already seen in my own country, there in Chaco, in Jujuy or in Buenos Aires– expressed once more our unbalanced world, the injustice faced by most, the losses and the surrenders that millions of people have to bear day after day. More than anything else, it talked about the lack of interest on the part of the whole society that fell on its back this depressing view, which discriminate and label many as less, as inferior, not as good, not as intelligent, not as handsome. A society in general that prefers to turn away and look to the other side, which does not want to show solidarity with them, and better likes to forget, to close its eyes, its ears and its heart.

The library was placed in the Parochial Center, the institution that supported it. Before going there, we were visiting the communitarian radio –also parochial– "Radio Emmanuel". Its director, Orlando, outlined more or less the important part that plays the radio in the community as a cohesive tool, plus being a source of information and entertainment. News forecasting included last news from every part of the community, no matter how far or difficult to reach this place was. And, of course, music was one of the main attractions, especially the traditional and folk ones, which are our favorite ones.

While we were waiting for the library to open its doors, we had lunch in a very popular eating house: a dish called "ollucos" (Andean tuber of very peculiar flavor and texture) and the well known "seco de res" (a sort of cooked dish with rice and cow meat). While we were eating I wondered why these experiences and these realities are never presented in (inter)national LIS congresses and meetings. It is quite easy to talk of the results produced when you have the resources needed to accomplish them. Moreover, it is even predictable that with those resources such a success can be achieved. What is astonishing and absolutely heroic is the fact that with very few possibilities –or even without them–, in spite of adversity and people against, in those situations where there is no chance to be successful, still some of us feel we have accomplished very much. Those –and not the others– are the sort of experiences from which we have a lot to learn, to discuss, to improve, to build on...

The rest are mere repetitions of things already done, which any of us, with the very same tools and resources, would be able to do. Valuable lessons can be obtained from the humanity and professionalism of those who, with very few things in favor, still work for their community and believe in those children, those grandparents, the men and women who will be the users, the reason and the aim of their effort.

Shamefully enough, it seems to me that librarianship "great ones" (whose "greatness" I do not seen anywhere) prefer to turn their backs on those professionals who put determined and real effort into making their ideas to come true

The library did not offer us many more surprises. It was a public unit, carefully planned, very well organized, neat and tidy, with books mainly got through donations, space well set up for users, and with a room for computing workshops and courses in the near future.

I had seen many similar experiences spread through our geography, but what really made it seem a wonderful miracle was to witness a few children come inside, the same ones we had seen before in the streets with brown skin and sad eyes, who came to do their homework because they needed some help. And there was the single librarian, looking through books, dictionaries and encyclopedias in order to orientate, to guide, to help them with their school tasks. The reason for those books to be there in the shelves, was the miraculous presence of people who need them, who enjoy them, who learn from them, who dream with them, who grow with them. Those books speaking through those smiling mouths, the librarian handling them, the children looking up in their pages... that memory is absolutely fantastic.

Going back downtown was much easier, but we still got on a series of packed small buses that made us move backwards and forwards for the following two hours.

Outside we could observe the many different urban landscapes: from absolute poverty to insulting wealth.

Many people who said to be from Lima –from taxi drivers to sellers– had spoke to us before about the shame that they felt when foreigners came to such a "dirty" and "neglected" city. Some of them thought that immigrants from rural areas –fleeing from terrorism acts on the part of Sendero Luminoso in 80s'– were the ones to blame. As far as we could understand, there were many indigenous communities that moved to urban areas looking for security and something better for the future. They settled in the outskirts of the cities, feeding the stream of marginalized and poor people that would never find their place and would survive doing what the rest do not want to do, anything. These "strangers" to the city are the ones thought to be responsible for harming, hurting, polluting, damaging. They are blamed for their lack of culture, of education, of good manners, of "right proper behavior"... In this sense, we noticed that among the people from Lima there is the same problem as in many big Argentinean cities: the "negros" ("negroes" literally speaking, however, in my country it does not only mean the color of the skin, but from a different and poorer origin: rural areas, indigenous communities, immigrants...). Internal racisms, discrimination...

We had an invitation from the LIS faculty students of San Marcos University, to attend a presentation in its conference room and, at the same time, walk along its corridors and know their faculty. And there we went. This university has a beautiful campus, that witnessed (as we would come to know a bit later) many students' fights and strikes, especially during Fujimori government. If I did understand right, in the university-yard there are a few examples of "huacas" or ancient (pre)Inkan monuments, what makes the place a very special one. The Librarianship School belonged to the Philosophy and Humanities Faculty, a modern and simple building, preserved in quite good conditions and with a very utilitarian design. The presentation, which was a part of a seminar called "Librarian reality" dealt with "Prospectiveness and communication: new strategies in Librarianship", and counted with the presence of local professors from other faculties. Regretfully, though the organization on the part of the students was pretty good, the educational quality of the guests was not what we would have expected. It should be enough to say that the first lecturer gave its lecture in a short and hasty way because he "had another appointment", and the second one read us, word by word, his Power Point slides in 45 minutes, which had to do with something but what should have had to, and, in addition, showed complex diagrams that not even himself could make any sense of.

Considering what was best for our neurons, we decided to leave the conference room and see other parts of the building. There we met once more with our colleague Julio Santillán, and he was the one who told us about its history.

We still had time for a last "expedition": a glass of "pisco sour" and the opportunity to lift it, at the same time as our friends, in order to wish us a good journey the following day, since we were setting off for Quito after having lunch.

It would be another long trip on one of the "Ormeño" company busses, one of the very few companies that –unfortunately for us– offered that international journey.

In our next post you will find about the journey and our arrival in Ecuador...

We will wait for you in this very same place tomorrow. A big hug.