Floor to ceiling windows, the front of the two story bus to Cusco gave the first row a panoramic view of the ride. I wandered up the aisle, stretching my legs, and sat down on the small deck that stretched between the seats and glass, and hosted a goat and several chickens I had followed on the bus back in Lima.
I extended a hand to the goat at the same moment an older woman in vivid traditional clothing reached out to touch my hair. I jerked backward out of instinct and she mumbled something, making a motion near her face.
“Lo siento, no entiendo.” I stuttered. She made the gesture again with her hand and looked to the boy next to her.
“You can pet the goat,” he said to me, then nodded toward the woman “She only speaks Quechua. She’s asking if you’re an angel, because of your hair.”
Momentarily balked by the fact he spoke to me in English, I looked back to the woman. I was often called “exotic” looking with heavily lashed jade eyes and long auburn hair that danced about my hips. People would sometimes ask where I was from, but this was the first time anyone had mistaken me for celestial.
“Why would my hair make me an angel?” I inquired, petting the goat.
The boy shrugged. Smiling at the woman, I presented her a handful of my brunette mane, hoping to communicate something through some miracle of body language and human connection. Joy broke over her face as she clasped my offering between her hands and bowed her head. Unsure of the proper protocol, I tried to sit patiently, glancing from the goat to the top of the woman’s head. The goat seemed to enjoy the attention, I tried to take my cue from him.
Mountains skirted by as we plunged into another valley. The Andes reminded me of how children draw mountains: up, down, up down. It seemed better with the dramatic lines, raw. Each peak knit together and distinctly separate, independent and collective. A perfect metaphor of how humans ought to be, unique yet connected.
The woman was lovely. Older with white ridges in her straight black hair and lines etched in her sunned face, she had an sincerity that dissolved my cultural hang up with someone praying over my hair.
Lifting her head, our eyes met. Tears in hers, she placed gnarled hands on my head, hair still laced in her fingers, speaking hushed and blessed words I couldn’t understand. I thought only that she was more of an angel than I would ever be.
“Gracias.” I managed, hoping a harmony might pass between us even if she didn’t know the word.
Note: This is a picture of me in Peru, long hair and all. I found myself in similar, although not as poignant, situations often while I lived in Cusco. Peruvian and Bolivian friends would later tell me that it was most likely the combination of long, dark, and wavy hair with such light skin, although we never received a real answer from any Quechuan person we asked.