Falling for Peru
Excerpt from The Accidental Missionary by David Bredeman and David L. Winters
Labor Strike in Juliaca and Puno
We drove the rest of the way out of town without further incident. On our drive to Puno, we saw scenes that suggested the strike had ended. Roads mostly looked clear, and people swept up debris in a few spots where there must have been trouble. Everything appeared quiet, or at least returning to normal. Then, somewhere between Puno and Juliaca, we saw people standing in the road and large obstacles strategically placed to stop traffic. According to our driver, he knew of no back streets we could take to avoid this section of roadway.
“It looks like people are feeling their whiskey muscles after drinking all day,” the van owner said snidely. I admired her strength and courage but hoped she did not get us into a physical altercation. As for me and the couple from Denver, we claimed to be lovers of souls and not fist fighters.
“This is the only road, and people are blocking it,” the driver said. He gave his boss a worried look, perhaps fearing that she would order him to drive through the riotous mob up ahead.
An imposing group stood their ground, chanting in Spanish, “The strike is not over!” and “No one is getting through here!” Unlike the young people we encountered in Juliaca, this mob had several good-size men and women with makeshift weapons like large planks of wood and metal rods.
Several cars, coming from the other direction, had stopped in a line, but our van had no other cars as a buffer. We sat first in line coming from Juliaca. From time to time, a demonstrator hurled a rock or two in our general direction. When we didn’t turn back, they lit on fire small stands of grass on the side of the road, moving ever nearer our van.
The Smoke is Burning My Eyes
“The smoke is making my eyes burn,” I said.
“This isn’t good for breathing,” the driver added.
At that altitude, the night sky commonly turns a brilliant array of colors. Far from any light pollution, I had seen every detail of the Milky Way on a previous trip. This time, the smoke obscured everything. If the strike had ended earlier, we wouldn’t have been in this predicament.
The whole scene spiraled out of hand. The chanting intensified and more rocks sailed through the air, some bouncing on the van’s roof. We instinctively put our arms over our faces and heads to shield ourselves, though none of the rocks penetrated the van ...
The people alongside the road grew more and more agitated until they had worked up quite a lather. On two occasions, drivers coming from the Puno direction drove right through the mob. Several rioters threw heavy stones at them and beat on the offending vehicles. Each time, the drivers made their way through the pack of rioters, but their vehicles suffered severe damage. The busted-up windows and large dents worried my traveling companions, as we watched those vehicles limping past our position.
I felt scared, not just for myself, but for the four traveling with me. Perhaps all of us prayed silent prayers for God’s help, but I know I prayed extra fervently.
Out of the blue, we heard loud footsteps. Police from Juliaca, clad in full riot gear, marched up beside our van. In an amazing show of force, they had come to break up the strike. They looked impressive in sharp uniforms and carrying batons.
“We’re saved” the van owner shouted. “The riot police from Juliaca are here! They will teach those hombres a thing or two.”
The three of us in the backseat cheered with great gusto. An instant later, the rioters charged toward the police. To our surprise and mild horror, the police turned and ran in the opposite direction, leaving us even more exposed to the now-incensed mob.
“The police are running for their lives” the pastor’s wife said, with panic in her voice. “This is so irregular.”
I let out a slight horse laugh at the naiveté of her statement and turn of phrase. Then, my mood sobered as I saw the mob of rioters surrounding our van. We were in deep trouble.
[The Accidental Missionary by David Bredeman and David L. Winters is available in ebook on Amazon at this link: https://amzn.to/2LUecfc ]
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