Padre Pedro


I must stop writing for today. It excites me too much. I’m getting confused. And the letters are flickering and dancing in front of my eyes S. Mrożek

It turned out that this year I had two Christmas Eve Suppers. I didn’t wait for the third, because according to the local customs, the Bolivian supper began after midnight, but I was so exhaused that I collapsed in a heap and fell asleep. I was invited for the first feast by Jacek (a priest, called here Padre Jacinto). Despite being only in his thirties, padre holds a honorable position of the rector and has his parish in a small Bolivian village, called Challapata.

I noticed the lights of the town a long time before nightfall, but, although I tried hard to get to them as soon as possible, it was impossible due to the strong winds, fatigue and frequent breaks to stop my nose bleeding. The town seemed to remain in its place and it did not want to come near any closer.

I got to the first buildings until late at night. I saw an open shop, and two young women talking. I came closer to ask them if I could use a cell phone. Maybe padre answers, and I would be able to stay for the night, rest a little, and hopefully this time I would not have to put up my tent being literally blown out of the ground by gusty wind.

– Good evening, padre! – said one of the women. – How can I help you?

A very bizarre way of greeting a stranger, I thought, and then, in a few sentences, I introduced myself and presented the situation. In a moment, a nice, quiet, man’s voice on the phone explained me how to get to the parish. A description seemed to be quite complicated, so in order not to prolong the conversation, I decided to get to the center and then to ask how I could find the way forward. I gave back a great Nokia to a smiling woman and asked how much I should pay.

Padre, there is no need to give anything, a little pray for both of us will do, that’s enough.

I looked suspiciously at the woman – she seemed to be perfectly normal. I wanted to say something, but finally, I only smiled. I was too tired to explain that I am a very far cry from a missionary, so I said farewell and went to the city center. I got to the market and approached two men.

– Good evening! – I said. – Does this street lead to the parish?

– Good evening, padre, yes, go two hundred meters straight ahead and you will see the parish.

– Oh, that’s good, thank you – and I was about to move on, but looking at the faces which seemed to be waiting for something, I added – I am not a padre. I came here to visit padre Jacinto.

– So, padre is not a padre?

– No, of course not, I’m not a padre. Do I really look like a priest? – I asked and looked at the men whose faces were more puzzled that mine.

– Well, you certainly do – said one of them. – So, you are probably a member of the family, Jacinto’s brother? You both look like two peas in a pod. Does padre know what time the parish opens tomorrow? I have a child to be baptized, but I did not enroll him yet. Oh, I won’t feel like standing in a queue in the morning, but, the child must be baptized, no doubt about it.

I wanted to say that I had just explained that I am not a missionary and that, frankly speaking, I came here just an hour ago, but the man cut me short and said:

– I was thinking… maybe padre could baptize, huh? Let’s make a deal, padre will have nothing to lose, there is no need to be afraid of. And I will not have to stand in a queue, I will not tell anyone, and surely, it definitely does not matter to God whether I’ll write my son’s name in the notebook or not. So, what padre thinks, could we make a deal?

I sighed and said that we would not make a deal today, maybe tomorrow, but rather not today, then I got to the bike, I did not listen to what those men were saying, I approached the corner of the church and met padre Jacek. I did like him in an instant. Maybe because he was very different from the stereotypical image of a priest, or maybe because of something else. Anyway, I stayed on the Christmas Eve, in fact on two. The second I spent in the company of three Albertine nuns. There was fish on the table and wafer, borscht with dumplings, and there was even the cake with plums.

One of the nuns, sister Clara, said that I looked pale and that I should be rubbed with hot urine. I look surprised, but the sister went on, talking:

– Start with your chest, then your back, and at the end – feet and hands. It could even help you get rid of your sinusitis. Just remember that men should use feminine urine, and vice versa, women need men’s urine, preferably from young stuff.

I thought, why not, and in fact, I never put urine on my chest. What’s more, it turned out that I could take the occasion at the parish, not necessarily from the nuns, because it somehow happened that two girls came to visit the padre. They both volunteered in an orphanage in Cochabamba. Unfortunately, they did not share my enthusiasm regarding alternative medicine and refused to cooperate. They suggested doing poo instead, and take it to the lab to see if I have any nasty bacteria or, Heaven forbid!, parasites, which may be even nastiest.

During the following days, I was walking around the town, greeted as Padre Pedro, who could baptize on the side, or do something else, or simply bless, in exchange for two bananas or a kilo of beans.

One day I climbed above the village to visit a small chapel, in the vicinity of which, four figures were walking around on their knees, holding small, smoldering torches in their hands. From the center of the chapel I heard a muffled sound of a song, singing in a foreign language. The crimson glow of the declining sun emerged from darkening clouds, dramatizing the sky, as if it wanted to balance those dull, pale colours of Bolivian villages. A ritual took place just beside me, from which I understood only a little, or rather, I did not understand anything. After returning to the parish I found out that natives prayed for the rain.

The next day downpour drew near. The streets were covered with streams of muddy water. After an hour it all dried up. The sun was burning. The wind was blowing. The road was calling. Although I would love to stay longer in the village, and I quite liked my new identity of a peccant priest, tomorrow I will be heading south. To welcome the new year. The spring will be here soon. Moomins will wake up even sooner. The leaves of the trees will turn green. And again, everything will be exactly as it was, as if nothing changed, nothing happened. With us or without us, the spring does not give a shit about our dilemmas. And it will come, as every year, waking the world up from its hibernation.

The centre of the world

Titicaca (3)

– You asked me about my plans, said Moomin, but, what about you, do you have any? – Yes, said Snufkin, I have a plan, but you know, one of those solitary. Moomin looked at him for a long time. – You are about to leave, he said finally. Snufkin nodded in an affirmative gesture. – When are you setting off?, asked Moomin. – Now, in a while, said Snufkin. – And when will you return? – The first day of the spring I will be here again and whistle under your window, time passes so quickly. Tove Jansson

I got to Bolivia. As I thought, the road from Cuzco to the border was far more easier in comparison with that I had been cycling for the previous two weeks. Almost every day I would meet the other cyclists. Like all the natives, with whom I spoke in Cuzco, those foreigners also asked me how I liked Machu Picchu. As if it was perfectly obvious that being in Peru, I had yet to visit the main tourist attraction of the country. That actually, it might have been the main purpose of my journey. To see a pile of stones protruding from the neatly trimmed lawns.

But the problem is that I don’t give a fuck about Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, I do not know how to translate it exactly as to be clear and blunt, so I usually euphemistically replied that I was not interested in it, and it usually closed the topic. Nevertheless, there were some people, who really wanted to know why then I came to Peru. Unfortunately, I could not, and perhaps never will be able to answer that question. Why did I come to Peru, and not to Paris, or Perth, why here and not there. This question could have been expanded and one could ask: Why did I set off from home at all? Unfortunately, in this regard I will not make it more clear, either. Many years of wandering around the world do not help in better understanding, on the contrary. With each journey, more questions and doubts appear, space shrinks and narrows, all those visited places become similar to each other, and even people, despite their anthropological and cultural differences, seem to behave in a predictable way, even if the mutual meeting takes place only at the level of conjecture and not always clear and fully understood gestures.

So, what I was looking for in Peru? Well, I think, I tried to find the same things as in any other places. Warmth. Meetings. Glances. Smiles. Closeness. One day, on a busy street, in a curious coincidence, two hands meet, touch their fingers, and they can not get over their surprises how beautifully they match to each other. In a place, where all straight lines meet together. And for a while, because nothing lasts forever, this place becomes the center of the universe.

I’m going to the bazaar. It is noisy and crowded, people rub against me all the time, push slightly, nudge. I sit on the wall and listen to some chattering women. I like listening to conversations in the languages I do not know. The meaningless sounds paint in my head the colorful pictures, which are manifestation of those sounds.

I was listening, not understanding anything. They were using scraps of old, well-known sentences. They were talking about old, well-known events that had been recurring for hundreds of years. Life, death, people, weather, work. They spoke with a singsong accent. I guessed rather than understood anything. The sounds were enough. A. Stasiuk

From time to time, someone comes up to me, asking about my family. Don’t you have a wife? What about children? You don’t have any? Man, what’s wrong with you? I blend slowly into the bazaar and do not feel so out of space. A woman, who sold me a chicken leg with fries, throws a piece of meat to a dog. I look surprised, because it’s the first time I’ve seen anyone here giving the food to the dogs. I ask if this is her dog and get closer to pet him, but the woman says it’s not the meat she had tossed, but poison, so the dog wouldn’t steal the food from the table. He will die in an hour, she said, and kicked the animal in the ribs.

I finish eating, the sun is scorching, the dog is out of sight, disappearing behind the next stall. The woman gives me the nicest smile imaginable, wishing a nice day. I go back to the road, I meet a Korean boy, we begin talking, he complains about Bolivia, I complain about Peru, then we say goodbye to each other and when I finally fall asleep in my tent in the evening, I’m starting to wonder if I’m really here, or if only I think so. Is any of that reality actually reaches me, if I see anything beyond what I think, beyond what I want to see.

Maybe I should have visited Machu Pichu, I should have visited the Nazca plateau, I should have gone on a trip on Lake Titicaca in the super sail boat called Mercedes. Because, unfortunately, this so-called Latin American phenomenon, does not reach me at all. I do not understand why on the bazaar someone tries to sell me one banana for a dollar, I’m tired of horning cars, the chaos bothers me, the stench of decaying garbage makes me puke, and I’ve had enough of commonly used here, idiotic sounding diminutives (sopita, horita, cervezita).

Perhaps I’m just too close to anything. Maybe the change of perspective could alter the perception. Maybe, when I return home I will start missing all these places ? As Dariusz Czaja wrote: During the trip, we are too close to everything. Too close to the world, which lies ahead, and too close to ourselves. And understanding is always a function of distance.

But it may happen in the future, now it is today and there is the way ahead. And it is calling me. Tomorrow I’m heading on, getting closer to the point where this journey will loop. I think often about what I will find there. I’m afraid of these thoughts.

Once I chose movement, and later I realized that within this movement I can find some peace needed for writing. That movement and silence, creating the unity of the opposites, mutually persist in the equilibrium, that the world with all its drama, funny beauty and the stunning diversity of differrent countries, people and history, is a passenger itself, in the constantly traveling universe; it is the traveler on his way to his new destination. C. Noteboom