Amy in Peru: An Odyssey

Sunday, March 04, 2007


I have been making an effort to keep things light on my blog, and trying to write postings that are interesting and reflect a particular view of Huancavelica that appeals to the anthropologist or traveler in all of us. But in doing so, I have left out some of the real life difficulties that people live with and what it can actually be like to exist here for the vast majority of the population (myself not included).

So try to give some balance to the picture I have been painting thus far, here are some stats on the Department (State) of Huancavelica:

452,000….. population of the Department of Huancavelica
72%….. percentage of that pop. that lives in rural areas
83.7%….. percentage of the pop. that live in extreme poverty
58.2….. life expectancy of people living in Huancavelica
53.4%….. percentage of kids that are chronically malnourished

These are just the bare bone facts (published by Aprodeh, a human rights org that works in the country), but these numbers paint a pretty desperate picture at best. It is the case that Huancavelica is the poorest department of Peru, and was one of the hardest hit during the 20 years of political violence from 1980 to 2000. Beyond these basic pieces of information, I wanted to give some personal accounts--- the following are just subjective observations, so take them with a grain of salt.

I have walked through towns completely abandoned because of the violence, either because everyone was killed or people fled for safer regions, and flourishing, established communities were destroyed. The levels of mistrust and depression among the population are sometimes palpable, not only towards foreigners but towards each other. During the era of political violence, neighbours took up arms against each other, parents against children, brothers against cousins. Beyond the violence, the level of poverty is staggering and often breathtaking, the department is almost completely forgotten by the national government, the local governments are impotent and mired in red tape and political mismanagement, the judiciary is a farce, and while there are so many pretty words spoken about how NGOs and others are trying to help, in my experience, when you get to the nitty gritty of those words, very little is actually done to make a significant and meaningful impact in this region.

And what is the result of all of this? What kind of context does this create? Scarily high rates of alcohol abuse, domestic violence and depression, and a population who often seems rarely able to see a future beyond the oppressive stats.

You might ask why I have chosen to talk about all of this up right now? Because in the late afternoon of Monday, February 26, 2007, my good friend’s 13 year old son, Julio Adolfo, committed suicide. While I can’t begin to understand the pain, tragedy and mind-blowing reality of what drives a child to take their own life, I imagine that some of the facts above helped to create the desperate context that compelled this intelligent, quiet and thoughtful young boy to take his own life.

I could go on to be culturally descriptive and give an account of the mourning process here, the funeral, the cemetery, etc… but those details seem trite in this circumstance. Pain is pain, and tragedy is tragedy. There is no relevant cultural observation that makes any sense when talking about something so visceral, human and deeply painful.

While Huancavelica is beautiful and fascinating, it is also difficult and tragic. So out of respect for this child who was swallowed up by the tragedy of this place, I wanted to share some of those things that might have driven him to kill himself. I hope that it does some good and opens even one pair of eyes, so this kid’s life was not lost in vain.

Thanks for reading.


  • The percent of people living in extreme poverty is shocking. Stuff like this makes me awfully glad I live here.

    By Blogger Gwen, at 6:34 AM  

  • Wow! I'm so sorry to hear about your friend's son's suicide. That's rough. You make some good points about poverty and standards of living -- a very thought-provoking post. Thank you.

    By Blogger Keri, at 2:55 PM  

  • Oh Amy, what a terribly sad thing to happen. I'm so sorry that anyone has to experience something so tragic. My heart goes out to you and the boy's family.

    By Anonymous Lee, at 7:00 AM  

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