A few years ago, my former boss returned from Peru with a memento she thought I might appreciate. It was a brochure from a photography exhibit she visited while in Lima. She was right. I found the brochure’s cover striking and I immediately taped it to the shelf above my computer. Every day for the next year, the image of two hands cupping an old photo-ostensibly the portrait of a disappeared person-and the combination of the Quechua and Spanish words, “To remember,” gazed down at me from above. Though I have long since left that computer, I have returned to that particular image frequently over the last few weeks as I prepare for my internship with the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team (EPAF). Indeed, my first order of business upon arriving in Lima will be a trip to see the exhibit.
My preparation for this summer has consisted of a lot of self-reflection. Frequently, I find myself pondering the question, “Why do we remember?” At the most basic level, memory can serve as a survival mechanism. Our memories are lessons embedded in our subconscious that we draw upon at any moment to dictate our future actions. For example, the memory of pain prevents us from engaging in activities that may cause us more pain.
Collective memory, or the aggregate of a number of individual memories, can serve a similar purpose. This is particularly the case in societies that have experienced mass suffering or trauma, and have been forced to confront multiple, and often differing interpretations of the past. How then, can different memories of past suffering serve to prevent future suffering? This is particularly challenging given that memories can be politicized, distorted, and forgotten under the cover of “moving on” or “forward.” It would seem to me that it is the victims of violence and trauma alone who understand the purpose of their memories. This is what I hope to explore over the next few months as I work alongside the EPAF in Peru.
That being said, my preparation to move to Peru for three months has also included a few pieces of advice specific to living in Peru. Yesterday, I learned how to distinguish between real and counterfeit bills. How you ask? Check for the watermark and texture. Given that this is my first entry and that I’m yet to arrive in Peru, please forgive the abstract rambling. The posts will only get better from here on out. Look out for my early impressions from Lima, and a profile of the organization I will be working with this summer. In the meantime, do take a look at some of the work that EPAF has done recently, as documented by last year’s fellow.
And for those of you reading that don’t know me well, here is a short video introducing myself:
Posted By Jessica Varat
Posted May 10th, 2009