Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: South America (02/05/09)
TITLE: Illapa Dances Behind My Eyes
By Jan Ackerson
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One day, Illapa was carrying his jug full of stars when he fell…no, make that ‘stumbled’…stumbled on a mountain. The jug of stars fell from his hands, shattering on the sharp rocks below. The stars fell down to earth, but they changed to…the pictograph shows ‘cloud’—changed to cloud?—no, to rain…but they changed to rain. Illapa grew angry, and he stomped…
I’m distracted from my translation by noises outside. My little thatched house has no glass in its one window; I poke my head outside to see a child of about six or seven years carrying a protesting chicken down the dirt road. He is barefooted, and his nose is running. His life here must be very like that of his Incan ancestors—brutal, filthy, diseased.
Despite my academic interest in the lively gods of this region, I believe that I’d have been an agnostic Incan, just as I’m an agnostic Chicagoan—there is cold comfort in gods whose only purpose is to explain misfortunes of the weather. If I were in the business of inventing gods, I’d invent one who was more concerned with how people were treating each other than with creating thunder and lightning.
The boy is singing as he carries his prize into a small white building across the road. The chicken squawks, and after a few seconds, I hear a thunk, then silence. Lucky chicken--my head continues to pound. Perhaps a different translation…
Supay left the underworld of Uca Pacha to find something to…burn? consume? No, it’s ‘eat’, or maybe ‘devour’…He snatched up llamas and rheas…note to self—check translations for native wildlife… ‘llama’ is possibly some other large mammal…but they did not satisfy his hunger. Supay scooped up some water from the river to quench his great thirst when a voice from the water called out…
There are voices outside my window again. I look out, annoyed at the interruption to my work. The little boy is still there, and he’s been joined by perhaps a dozen Indians in their colorfully woven clothing. They are all singing now—some dissonant melody no doubt descended through generations of post-Incan Peruvians. I pity these people, who seem not to have evolved in several hundred years. Just as their song finishes, I start to cough, a deep chesty bark that won’t stop. When the paroxysm finally passes, I glance outside one more time. Several of the natives are staring in my direction.
I wish for the millionth time that my doctoral advisor had let me do as I wished—to study these myths in the comfort of a paneled cubicle, with my computer and my iPod. The Incan pantheon—Catequil, Pachamama, Ekkeko—is full of fascinating personalities. This little village is not.
Another spasm of coughing shakes me, and when at last I look up, an Indian woman is standing in my doorway, holding a steaming pot of…something. She speaks to me in her native tongue—I can translate half a dozen pre-Columbian hieroglyphic languages, but I have no idea what she has just said. She holds out the pot and tries again, this time in Spanish: Aquí esta alguna sopa, señor, in el nombre de bendito Jesus Cristo. Para la tos suyo. She is offering me soup—chicken soup, I guess, remembering that squawk from earlier—for my cough, in the name of blessed Jesus.
Suddenly I want nothing more than this very cup of chicken soup, offered humbly in the name of a surprising god. I accept it from the woman with a hoarse gracias, señora and she smiles shyly. She is missing several teeth, and she is perhaps fifty, perhaps seventy--and it seems to me that she is very beautiful.
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