- Abby Franquemont
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As I write this now, I’m in a tourist service Sprinter van whose driver wanted to pick up more passengers from Ollantaytambo to Cusco via Chinchero. It’s Mother’s Day and I’m headed for Chinchero to put flowers on your grave.
This place has changed so much in the past 42 years. I hope you can see it. We’re just pulling into Urubamba and I’m writing this on my smartphone. Everywhere it’s oarties and feria action and the driver isn’t having much luck picking up more passengers because it’s noon and everyone is heading for lunch with their moms. I got a late start due to a bunch of unseasonable rain and being unable to get it together.
I was trying to decide on a picture of you to post on social media when, again, I ran across my scan of this letter you wrote almost 42 years ago. And you know, it’s this amazing picture of a rough spot in your life as the mother of 2 little daughters. I remember this stretch of time vividly. Even through rose colores hindsight glasses, it was hard. So hard.
You and Ed had decided to build a public outhouse for use on market days, instead of just having all the human waste on a terrace off the market. We lived upstairs in Mateo Pumaccahua’s house, with no windows, and it was so cold so much of the time. You guys were working so hard to overcome the learning curve for everyone in the idea of a toilet. The outhouse was routinely filthy. You were hellbent that our family would be the good example of using it all the time. It was the middle of the day and I’d been complaining of exhaustion, didn’t even go out to play. I had to pee and I begged you to let me just use the chamber pot because I was too tired to walk across the plaza.
“Absolutely not,” you said. “The chamber pot is for at night when it’s pitch dark and freezing.”
I disobeyed you and pissed in it anyway, behind your back. You were furious, and insisted I had to carry it to the outhouse to empty it. Crying angry 5 year old tears I set off across the plaza. It wasn’t fair how you didn’t believe how bone tired I was. Or how heavy the chamber pot was. Or how weird my pee looked.
The next thing I remember I was under a lliclla on top of my sleeping bag on the thick straw pallet under the camping pad. You were holding Molly, who was crying, and holding my hand, while Ed was reading from the Merck Manual. You had looked out of the balcony window to see why I was taking so long and people were surrounding me where I lay asleep in the plaza on one of the hummocks for the market, the spilled chamber pot next to me where I had passed out.
It was three hours by cattle truck to Cusco, where there was barely any medical care anyway, not that it mattered because we were down to our last 25 soles. You were both hoping some money would come from Junius Bird at the American Museum of Natural History who had agreed to fund a project collecting Chinchero textiles woven to order. It kept not coming. The mails were so bad then.
And then Ed got sick too. Molly cling to your jeans while you tended your husband and daughter with the help of folks in town. When I eventually pulled through and Ed was on the mend we went to Cusco in hopes the checks would have come, crashing at some random anthropologist’s two room apartment with a hot plate. The money didn’t come. And then you got sick. Like, really sick, not just the mild sick you were when you wrote the letter below.
Ed would later describe that week to me many times as a turning point in his life, but you, you never talked about it. This letter to Marty and Yve, that Yve kept along wth the others and sent me after you died, is the only time I ever knew you to talk openly about how hard it was. It was only then that I realized all these things were the same few weeks, and today is the first time I actually put it together that it was all right around Mother’s Day.
I’m finishing this up now, sitting at your graveside.
The flowers, unimposing as they may be, are from me, and Molly, and Quilla, wherever they may be, and from Edward too. We all miss you so much. I’m so grateful for the chance to be here near you for this Mother’s Day. I’m so grateful for my mother. Nobody worked harder than you, and nobody ever gave a daughter more.
Thank you for my life. It is so much more than simple thanks can convey.
Chris Franquemont to Marty and Yve 19 May 1977
Chinchero, Cusco, Peru
Dear Yve and Marty,
Well I feel like I should explain why you haven’t heard from us – we have just been through a classic five-months-in-a-foreign-country, especially an underdeveloped country, period of culture shock or whatever – it starts with spending hours talking about all the foods we can’t have, etc. Etc. Etc.
Actually Molly fell off the eight-foot-high Inca wall in the plaza in the middle of the Sunday market – and everyone got hysterical, especially since where she fell on is ground where they believe the “hungry,” angry and dissatisfied spirits of the Incas dwell still, so they were certain she would die – we had to do all kinds of rituals – and to everyone’s amazement, Molly was not even bruised.
Well then we all got sick – atually I think maybe we were sick first, as we’d been low on energy for a while – with I can’t imagine what but it included the following symptoms: chills and fever, generalized body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, total anorexia, extreme dehydration and bright orange pee, followed by a period of the same symptoms only less so and specific pains in fnny places, followed by feeling better but being exhausted and quite noticeably jaundiced. God only knows what it is – Molly didn’t get it at all (she has turned out to be the strongest member of the family, me the weakest, to my surprise). Abby and I are still kind of yellow off and on, but we’re trying to drink lots and rest when possible.
[inserted in margin: viral hepatitis, I now realize, and Molly has just come down with it too]
Of course in the midst of this, we had to leave Cusco and go to Bolivia so we could re-enter Peru and get new visas – an absurd bureaucratic hassle, which meant a 24-hour bus ride to end up in an expensive and unattractive city (La Paz). We decided to come home by stages, and stopped off at Bolivia’s major ruins for a couple of days (Tiahuanaco) and then stopped in Pucara – this was sort of an ego trip as you described your trip to Bolton, Yve, as we had spent maybe a month and a half there eight years agoworking on the stone sculpture, and everyone remembered us instantly, competed for us to stay with them, and ged us great meals of their own milk, butter, cheese, and meat three times a day which I am sure was really good for us.
Today we came back to Cuzco on the train and are staying in the same luxurious room we staed in when we first cae here – and all in all, we’re feeling better. We came very close to coming home (going home) while we were sick, especially because it was awful to see Abby really, really sick – she is really skinny and talks an awful lot about the US, although now she speaks good Spanish and adequate Quechua – amazing how much you can learn when you’re five years old.
[inserted: she also has pinworms and I don’t know what other kinds of worms, I hate to think.]
We did pretty much decide to come home this summer when we run out of money since at this moment in Peruvian politics it’s IMPOSSIBLE to geta visa to work, which means Agust or maybe September as we’re thinking about going back to Pucara for a month or so where we can stay for free and do some archaeology.
Well, so a very important thing that cheered us up tonight was we stopped to get our mail and got the Tintin! Only slightly over two monts – I guess things have to be sent airmail in spite of the absurd cost. Also your letter – I think we have gotten all your letters, even the one you sent to Chinchero which showed up in our mailbox in Cuzco!
[inserted in margin: one, however, had been opened and taped shut…]
So Cuzco even feels like home, I think we have gotten over our slump – tomorrow we start back to Chinchero with renewed energy to finish up all the projects we’ve started in the short time remaining to us, dig potatoes and eat watias (they really are good) – then come home and actually publish some of our work (which will involve uncharacteristic discipline on our parts, but who knows?) and maybe someday someone will give us some money to come back.
So what are your plans? I know you will never come to see us after everything I’ve said – are you really going to stay in Branchport for another winter? From our point of view 5 degrees south latitude or wahtever, which is pretty far away, it’s hard to understand why we aren’t all still in Bolton or at least someplace together, instead of in Peru and New York and San Francisco and West Virginia and so on.
Ed is reading “The Black Island” to Abby – he will write. We miss you, needless to say – Love, Chris.