In Memory of Cesar Ramos

In Memory of Cesar Ramos, 1963- 2017.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such a remarkable soul. Cesar Ramos was an endless tornado of knowledge, charisma, and energy whose enthusiasm for learning and culture was exceeded only by his deep, gentle kindness.

I doubt I will ever encounter another character as committed to learning and relationships as Cesar. I hope that all of those whose lives he touched in his massive web of artists, students, academics, and dear friends take comfort in the fact that we were so blessed to have had him in our lives when we did. Cesar had a profound impact on me, and my interactions with him challenged me to revisit my own beliefs on why I do what I do. His ability to bring people together, to foster understanding and respect between strangers, and his endless enthusiasm and willingness to help others learn – I hold those strengths of his dear to me. If I succeed in being half as knowledgable, in bridging a quarter as many connections between people, am able to be a fraction as kind, as thoughtful, intelligent, energetic, and dedicated to knowledge as Cesar – I know that he will be with me always throughout the rest of my life.

Below I’ve included part of the essay I wrote about him for my final project during my first study abroad in Peru. I was compelled to write about him when I saw his passion for his work, and I’m so grateful that I did. Please enjoy.

Bridging Boundaries: Blurring the Line Between Academic and Amigo

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2016.

Preface:

I am at a crossroads. I graduated a few months ago, and though my mom says this depression is a perfectly normal response at entering this new phase of life – I find myself overwhelmed with anxiety over the future, feelings of worthlessness and insecurity.

After I returned from a wonderful two and a half week trip to Peru, I came back to Seattle to deal with some serious health issues, a lease that was about to expire, and nowhere to move into. Days after I returned, my car was broken into, window smashed, equipment from my job was stolen (upwards of $5,000) and because of that I subsequently lost several friendships and my part-time job. My phone was broken while traveling abroad, and a few weeks after I got my replacement, it was dropped into water and ruined.

A few days later, I found out that an old friend of mine from my travels was murdered by her abusive boyfriend abroad. A few days after that, my childhood best friend’s mom passed away from cancer. That same day, I found out the ex-boyfriend I’d separated from earlier that year proposed to the woman he cheated on me with – just over half a year after our own 2+ year relationship ended.

I was in a dark place, to say the least.

Fortunately, I had some wonderful friends step up and help me at this time, and it was due to my incredible support system and family that I was able to get back on my feet. However, as a part of this process, I needed to shift my focus from all the negativity and appreciate the incredible things that had gone on that year.

The following is my ‘happy list’ that I wrote to remind myself, that yes, though things may seem terrible right now, great things have happened this year and they’ll continue to happen.

Pictures from an Airplane Window

Flight4 Flight3 Flight2 Flight1

The program ended Tuesday night. I spent all night Tuesday night playing silly Pictionary games and laughing until I cried. Wednesday, after a few short goodbyes, I accompanied Cesar, Vincent and Anja to explore the city one last time. That night, I packed my bags and enjoyed the stillness. I did not know what or how to prepare for what was to come the following day.

Thursday, I flew out. The flight from Lima to Iquitos, located in the northeastern corner of Peru in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, should only taken an hour and a half, but our flight stopped over in the airport of Tarapoto. What was originally supposed to be a 15 minute pause while passengers got off at their stop soon turned into a three hour delay. Apparently, an hour up north, Iquitos was in the middle of a torrential downpour. At that moment, the reality of my unpreparedness sunk in.

During the layover, my travel companion Anja and I chatted away with two visiting British medical students. As they detailed out their extensive travel preparations, Anja and I did a collective “gulp” at the mention of malaria pills. Malaria, schmalaria, who has the time for those anyways? Apparently the doctors did, which left an unsettling pit in my stomach for the next two weeks.

The flight was spectacular. What an incredible country, in a two (+3hr unexpected layover) hour flight, one can witness the coast, the desert, the Andes, and the heart of the Amazon. Immediately, once I saw the green expanse beneath our plane I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders. I did not realize how much the grey and concrete of a city can drain the energy out of you, but my immersion into the Amazon quickly reversed that.

I stepped off the plane and onto the Iquitos runway right as the sun set. The rains had passed, but the air still buzzed with the electricity that lingers after a heavy storm. In contrast to the winter of Lima, the warmth of the season-less Amazon embraced me as I walked to the baggage claim. And so it was I began my time in the Amazon.

Grimaldo del Solar and Schell

I spent six weeks at the SuiteService Hotel on the corner of Grimaldo del Solar and Schell in Miraflores, Lima, Peru. Six weeks in the same room with the same roommates, walking out the same door into the same neighborhood day after day. The contrast between Miraflores, one of the wealthier neighborhood’s in the country’s capital, and the rest of Lima is stark. The farther out from the city center, the more dirt roads replace concrete. The streets in Miraflores are cleaned regularly and routinely patrolled by police. As I left my hotel for lunch, or the bank, or the grocery store, I walked past fellow foreigners. English and French conversations snuck past as I walked down the main streets past the leering skyscrapers and international banks.

Safety: Our time spent in Miraflores challenged my thoughts about security. When our group would visit areas of town with higher poverty rates, where our foreign appearance did not blend in, our group felt a general sense of unease. It was expressed mostly in the first few weeks, particularly by those who had not spent much time abroad. Yet, when we returned to our hotel in Miraflores, I caught myself falling into a lull. The fancy storefronts, swept streets and cosmopolitan atmosphere gave off the impression of security, yet I know from past experience that it is ofteni n these areas of greater wealth where more robberies and crime occur.

Not to say that Miraflores made me feel uncomfortable, I simply wanted to reflect on our notions on safety, what makes us feel safe, and whether those factors are truly associated with security or are they simply masking greater issues?

Meat Markets and the Veggie Option

On my last day in Lima, I had the pleasure of walking through one of the largest markets in the city – located in the heart of Barrio Chino. The scent was overwhelming, overpowering. The sight was worse. Our entrance was unplanned. I had ordered a drink about an hour earlier and was looking for a place to toss the trash. Cesar, our guide, briskly walked my friend Vincent and I into the darkened area where we were confronted with the unpleasant sensory overload of fresh meat.

Two months ago, my reaction might have been different. Growing up in a family of meat-eaters, I’ve rarely questioned my consumption. Three years ago, when I started to work at a kickboxing gym, I learned to regulate my diet in other ways – cutting out grains, sugar, alcohol. The “Paleo” or “Primal Blueprint” diet was effective for my first weight loss, and I became a proud advocae. The “caveman” diet consists of mainly vegetables, fruits, and protein, though the emphasis on protein intake has created a sort of rift in the fitness community between vegan/vegetarian advocates and primal/paleo fans.

As I got to know our study abroad crew, I was surprised at the number of vegetarians. I was even more surprised as I saw the lengths that my colleagues would go to to find a good, veggie meal in a city where veggie options are rare. Vincent was one of these friends. The few spots that do offer vegetarian options are often strictly vegetarian restaurants, a type of dining establishment I’ve never been to back in the states. To support my foodie+veggie friend, Vincent and I would often grab lunch or dinner at a local vegetarian spot. Over the course of my 6 weeks in Lima, I slowly began to cut meat out of certain meals – a huge first for me.

In one of our first outings in Miraflores, many students visited the Surquillo Market – where vendors sell vegetables, fruits, and meat all day. Some of the vegetarian visitors reported back that the experience had been discomforting, almost painful, as they were not accustomed to seeing the slaughter or bodies of animals displayed as blatantly as they were in the market. I’ll admit, my initial reaction to their comments was skeptical. I’ve visited a great diversity of markets in different parts of the world, and when I went shopping at the Surquillo Market myself, I found it was as I had expected. Nothing too surprising.

Flash-forward to my last day in Peru, as I walk through the meat section with Vincent, I am overwhelmed by the death around me. I am acutely aware of the cuts of meat, of the types of animals on display. I am acutely aware of how Vincent is faring, and by how he’s holding his breath – I’m guessing not so great.

I’m not saying that my experience in Peru converted me to a veggie lifestyle. However, through my repeated exposure to so many animal-rights and vegetarian colleagues, my consciousness around the issue has certainly been heightened. Vincent’s challenged me to No-Meat-Mondays. I’ll start with Mondays, who knows what will be next?

Art over Artisan

“The difference between art and artisan is racism.” – Jorge Miyagui, Plastic Artist in Lima, Peru

For my final project, I spent three weeks shadowing anthropologist Cesar Ramos in order to gain greater exposure to the research and communities he works in. One of these communities is the Shipibos of Cantagallo. They migrated to Lima about 18 years ago to flee the poverty and destitute conditions of their home near Pucallpa in the Peruvian Amazon. Cesar has worked with community leaders suck as Olinda, featured in the first photo, and followed her work as a producer of Amazonian art.
Cesar’s interest in the tension between “artist” and “artesan” is reflected in much of his career’s work. “traditional” or “folkloric” art versus “popular”, Cesar has worked with both” styles, from Chicha to weaving to painting (Jorge). As an anthropologist, Cesar notes the historical significance of “popular” art, and as an art enthusiast, simultaneously notes the incredible creativity, craftsmanship, and time that goes into art pieces such as the Shipibo weaving pieces or beadwork or the retablos or big dude statue things.

In a conversation with Cesar, he shared with me how often academics are expected to do field research in undergraduate studies, possibly continue it through Ph.D and doctoral degrees, but rarely continue these relationships with communities after the “job is done.” In this sense, Cesar acts as an exception to this norm as he has established relationships with traditional and popular artists that have spanned decades. In an interview with Jorge Miyagui, a plastic artist with whom Cesar has collaborated with, Miyagui defines Cesar’s work as curator as exceptional in that he actually works on the ground and truly supports the political agendas that he promotes through artwork.

When I asked about how Cesar viewed his relationships with artists such as Olinda and Wilma of Cantagallo, Cesar clearly remarked that his relationship with them he does not view as academic-subject. Rather, Cesar prefers to think of it was a reciprocal relationship where both parties have resources to offer.