… From Our International Fellow (Part 6)

… From Our International Fellow (Part 6)

Jenny Valentine is Creative Wales Hay Festival International Fellow 2017/18, travelling to each Hay Festival edition to meet with young people and explore the experience of adolescence. Here the award-winning writer offers her first dispatch from Hay Festival Arequipa 2017…

Arequipa’s astonishing geography doesn’t look real to me.  I cannot grasp it.

Built in five distinct phases since 1540 (and between major earthquakes) the city centre’s architecture is a dazzling mixture of baroque, rococo, and neo-classical styles, all handsome squares and high walls and imposing facades.  Dwarfed, all of it, by three watchful volcanoes – Chachani, Pichu Pichu and Misti, the latter still awake, but not this weekend.

In the dry light, it looks to me very like the painted backdrop to a good old-fashioned movie.  Perhaps it is the long-haul flight, flanked by two shorter ones, that it took to get here.  I have to keep pinching myself to believe what I see.

Events at this Hay Festival are packed, across generations.  Students from the University act as tireless and resourceful assistants to Arequipa’s guests, and throw themselves into everything on offer.

The students I spend time with from the Colegio Nacional Jorge Basadre Grohmann can barely believe that someone has travelled all this way to listen to them.  And once they understand that I mean it, there is no stopping them.  This is truly the most fascinating of my conversations with teenagers so far.  They believe in miracles.  And the sanctity of family.  They reveal an extraordinary social conscience.  They care deeply about people. They want to be more open minded and tolerant of difference, they really do, but religion confuses and contains them.  They have so much to say, and they are acutely aware that more often than not, they are talking into the void.

They have had the same teacher for four years.  I have been with them a matter of hours.  I ask her, “Did you know this about these kids?”

“No,” she says.  “I never asked.”