Published: February 18th 2008February 18th 2008
I´ve been thinking a lot lately of the infamous Denise Brown and my travels with her. For those of you who didn´t know me through university, Denise Brown was my Latin American Studies director during my degree and for my 2 field schools, to Mexico and Peru. I´ve had the chance to think a lot about the direction she gave me over the years and how much she´s shaped the way I look at the world. She´s taught me to look beneath the surface of things, and to question why I feel the way I feel when confronted with new experiences. I really should write her an email and let her know that she did her job well. Anyhow, one of the exercises in both field schools was to write a daily journal. We whined and complained and hated writing it at the time (afterall, we were seeing so much it felt impossible to keep up!) but by the end, we had developed an amazing ability to critically think about our experiences abroad. Instead of saying, "there´s so much garabge everywehre. It´s dirty and I hate it" We had to say, "There´s so much garbage everywhere - does that make the people here dirty? Are they bothered by it too? What about the people who use the garbage dumps for resources? What aren´t we seeing..."
There is so much to experience here - to see, smell, feel, and question. While we´re happy to be here, we´ve been struggling with adapting to a completely new world. We drive by makeshift garbage dumps on the way to work everyday - where people are foraging for food, bottles, anything that can help them survive. There is such extreme poverty here that we haven´t even seen. Just at the end of our block, the road converts to dirt and the landscape completely changes. But does a dirt road = poverty? I really don´t believe so. A paved road doesn´t mean they are any happier or have any more money. Just outside of town there are "pueblos jovenes" - young towns. Shanty villages populated by families of squatters, that don´t have running water, and only select houses may have electricity, if at all. The other day, I spoke with Gerard (an ex-pat who lives down the street) about the young towns. They´ve been building small centers where they have an instructor who comes in and teaches the young children (ages 3-6) reading and life skills, and who also runs breakfast kitchens. It sounds beautiful, and heart-wrenching.
I think that really epitomises this country - beautiful and heart-wrenching. Sometimes all we experience is the heart-wrenching. The garbage, the shanties, the beggers with no legs on the streets, the skinny mothers with crying children who cling to me and you can hear their shame as they ask for food, the thieves and criminals, the competition just to live and the hopelessness of the failing "system."
But we´ve also experienced the joy of Peruvian life. The vibrance of dance and friendship, the laughter of friends, the familiarity of a small town, the smells of the market, the sounds of the circus, the music - blaring from every corner, every passing moto. The incredible sunsets, the sand dunes and beaches. The beautiful birds living on the balcony who sing us through the day. And the beauty of experiencing it all together - even when it´s a struggle, because that´s how we will learn this year - about eachother and about living a full life, whereever we are.