Highlands in Peru

SR ELIZABETH DOYLE shares a memory of her time working in Latin America…

All our plans were upset when the plane failed to arrive from Lima.  Three days before, we, the Special Catechetical Team, had flown up to Ayacucho to give a short course to teachers of Special Education working in the area.

We were three:  Father Kevin, Sister Carmel and myself.  This course was part of a nationwide programme which took us far and wide in our efforts to help these dedicated men and women who often had to work in very difficult situations.  Lack of training and resources were the main problems and this was what we hoped to remedy.  The thirty or so teachers who participated were very happy and left on the understanding that there would be ‘follow-up’ programmes in the future.

We packed our bags, ready for our departure on the morrow and then discovered that there was no plane returning to Lima the following morning!  Disappointed, we wondered how we would spend the day.  Somebody suggested that we take a tour to a famous battlefield located some distance outside Ayacucho.  So we made our way to the town plaza where a little minibus was waiting, advertising its tour.

There were not too many passengers to be seen, so the driver was obviously happy when we three appeared.  There were already three others waiting to board.  We introduced ourselves: two Irish girls from Lucan and a young German male student complete with camera.  Six passengers was a respectable number for the small minibus and so we started off on a lovely sunny morning, admiring the Peruvian Andes as we travelled … incredibly blue sky, hills and valleys everywhere.

All of a sudden, a bang, and the minibus came to a halt!  Everybody got out, the driver lifted the bonnet and there it was – the fan-belt was broken.  “So you’ll have to put on the spare,” said Kevin.  “But, Padre, I have no spare,” replied the driver.  We looked at one another.   He has no spare and we are now in the middle of nowhere!  The young German took the long leather strap off his camera and offered it to the driver.  He wound it round, tied it as tightly as possible and turned on the engine.  No, it snapped immediately.  No one seemed to know what to do next.

Now, I don’t know where I had learned this piece of useful information, but someone, sometime had told me that a lady’s nylon stocking could serve as an emergency fan-belt!  I took a quick look around the ladies in the group.  Neither of the girls from Lucan, nor Sister Carmel was wearing stockings, but I was!  To my surprise, the idea had not occurred to anyone else in the group, so I decided to break the silence.  “I think a nylon stocking will do the job” I announced.  “Yes, the Madre is right,” confirmed the driver.  So that fixed it!  Off came the stockings, the driver wound one around in place of the fan-belt, tied it tightly and turned on the engine.  A perfect solution!  Off we went and enjoyed the rest of the day to perfection.

A final laugh was raised when, on arrival back in Ayacucho the driver opened the bonnet, removed the stop-gap fan-belt and handed me a little shrivelled, grease-covered piece of nylon while thanking me profusely.  I suggested he keep it for the next time he had a problem! 




Sr. Elizabeth was missioned in the United States, Britain  and Chile for many years.


Categories Encounters