les extraño mucho, muchísimo
Three nights ago I arrived at Jorge Chavez International Airport at 8:33 pm. There I waited until 2:40 for a flight that had originally been at 11:59, coughing and sleeping intermittently, and not really wanting to be at home, but not really wanting to be in Lima, wanting the trip to be over and wanting to go back to my own bed in Pueblo Libre, wanting to see my parents but not wanting to leave Peru, casually thinking about the people I met who told me they loved me, I’ll always have a friend in Peru, remember that, as I was leaving and it’s not that I wasn’t allowing myself to think that I’d never see them again, but it’s that I don’t quite believe that I’ll never go back.
I’m young and I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, and I’m flexible and open and mildly adventurous, and who’s to say an end is truly an end, anyway.
So I don’t quite believe that those goodbyes were really goodbyes, in a final sense.
I mostly felt tired, I guess.
And now I'm home.
To my Paz humans: it was a joy and a pleasure to work alongside you this summer. To see what you do, witness your passion for Christ and for people. I am humbled to think that I was able to help you along in that, and forever grateful for all your care and friendship. You all will always have a friend in the States, long as I’m here. Long as my family is here.
And goodbye for those in Christ is never a true goodbye, anyway – we’ll see each other again someday, whether it’s in this life or the next.
Los quiero, mis amores.
all the scraps
this week in health: lindsey kicks her pill habit, takes up running
I'm sure you'll all be glad to know that I finally managed to kick my little pink pill habit. Pepto-Bismal, you were good to me, but it was high time we parted ways. I have been clean for almost two weeks.
In place of popping the pepto, I´ve recently re-taken up running.
It is amazing how out of shape one can get in only two months. Ou. I could hardly walk for two days after the first go.
this week in the arts: books, music, the greatest up-and-coming
The great annual International Book Fair is currently taking place in Lima. Located in Jesus Maria, it is a massive, almost maze-like endeavor, an endless ongoing labyrinth of book stands, representing authors from all over the world. At the inauguration two nights ago several important people spoke, and one Important Official From The Government (not the president, I don´t remember who) said some beautiful words on the nature of books and reading and how it expands horizons and brings people together. There were men in suits and women in dresses and people walking around looking official wearing name tags and holding massive videocameras on expensive tripods. Then there was me, looking fairly normal in regular clothes holding a tiny microphone as I trailed after a less-important cameraman holding a less-expensive tripod. There were several stands about the culture of the guest of honor, Mexico. There were free drinks and hors d'oeuvres and one million books, and even though they were all in Spanish and my reading comprehension is not high I still wanted to buy almost all of them. So great is my lust for the written word.
If you too have a lust for the written word, or even just a genuine liking for it, you are in luck. My sister, who is a gifted and driven and soulful poet, is working on publishing a BOOK (an actual, true-to-life, ink-and-paper book) and I could go on and on about her dedication and her passion and her talent and her gentle yet penetrating, inquisitive, longing yet vibrant take on life - but really it's redundant for you to read my words about her words when her words in the ink (or pixels, if you rather) are so much more compelling, so if you're a person with fine sensibilities who enjoys the finer things in life, such as poetry and art and soul and conversations about things like longing and God and our place in life and death, all written in a delightful tone, I'd encourage you to check her out. You can do so at keysandthings.blog.
Last week my host cousin showed me a song by a Puerto Rican group called Calle 13. It is may be my favorite song. Calle 13 is a puertoriqueño group made up of two half brothers and their half sister. They sing about things like social issues, call out injustice, talk about politics, rap and use traditional beats and drums and have immense pride in who they are, and anger for their people and the injustice they suffer. They are also known for having some fairly harsh critiques of the United States (but if you know a bit about the history of Puerto Rico, or a good knowledge of our history of foreign policy with latinoamericano countries, you can begin to understand that). The song is called Latinoamérica. It has English subtitles and I would strongly suggest you take three minutes to watch it.
overheard on the street (real texts sent to real people)
I solemnly swear these are all true.
6 julio 2017, 14:05
Good afternoon friend! Yesterday I poked a fish on the nose, and then ate purple pizza for dinner. how are you?
9 julio 2017, 22:18
Yesterday I went to use the restroom, and when I glanced over into the shower I discovered a puppy living there. I also met a cow named Ely, which is the last name of one of my roommates next year. How ya doing?
24 julio 2017, 21:44
Just casually walked by a Thunderbird with a PA license plate tonight, no big
travel - Ocros
Ocros is a tiny little rural town about a two-hour drive from Ayacucho. The drive is incredibly beautiful, all blue skies and vicuñas peacefully grazing and the gently sloping spreading grasslands. The roads in the mountains are not like our roads, which impatiently cut through obstacles as much as they can, and rush and push and gash in an effort to Get There In The Most Efficient Way Possible - they are winding and flow with the terrain of the land, weaving in and out along the sides of the mountains. Seen from the air, they look almost as though they belong to the land, which cannot be said of most of the North American roads I have met. The beautiful thing about this kind of approach to highway is that you don´t ever get that horrid dipping feeling in your stomach when you´re flying up and down over hills, because they ascend and descend quite gradually. Lo malo es que, they are literally all turns and winding ways. There are some spots where the curves are so sharp and the road is so narrow that the drivers blast the horn as they round the corner, to warn whoever might be on the other side to stop because somebody is coming. Usually quickly. There are other spots where you are hanging onto the side of the car, just wishing you would arrive already because you didn´t feel well to begin with and now your stomach is rethinking about where it wants to live (namely: it wants to leave you for a calmer human being, who doesn´t insist on taking insane two-hour long roller-coaster car rides) and you think it just can´t get all that worse, and then you look up and there´s a sign saying, Careful: Winding Road Ahead, and you think to yourself, then what would you call this twisting snake we've been riding? and actually think your world might actually end.
Ocros is a tiny little town. It is perhaps the most rural experience I have ever had. We stayed in a hotel where the only water was ice-cold and there was no heating nor Wi-Fi, and in that span of three days I decided to myself that for the rest of my life, if I have access to a hot shower, thick blankets and some kind of reliable source of internet, I can be perfectly content. One of the guys who came with us didn´t realize that we were staying for three days (...I´m not really sure how that happened) so only brought one shirt. One shirt for three days is a bit much, so he decided he wanted to buy a new one, to freshen things up a bit (why it was only his shirt that was bothering him - nevermind, I´d rather not worry about it). Unfortunately for him, we were there from a Tuesday to a Thursday, the market didn´t open until Friday, and there was no other place to buy clothing.
The people wore traditional clothing, the women wore skirts and sweaters and severe black hats, the children wore their school uniforms,
It was really unlike anywhere else I'd ever seen.
But it was beautiful.
This is perhaps my favorite thing that I saw while we were there:
(It´s a sign for a guinea pig farm!)
We were in Ocros for two main goals:
One was to educate children about domestic abuse - specifically, their legal recourses. We went to a school and the Paz humans played some games with a fourth-grade class, and we made drawings of our ideal superheroes, and at the end one of the Paz humans (who works for the municipality in Ocros) told the children, I am your superhero - if you ever need help because your parent or anyone is beating you, mistreating you, you call me. And she gave them her number. And my heart almost broke, because the kids listened to her. They straightened up. They pulled out their notebooks and wrote down her number and looked as though they were trying to memorize it while they were doing so, with that peculiar concentration that is special to eleven-year-olds. They did it with a focus that said, we know we need this.
The other was to empower and educate women as entrepenours. Sexism is a lamentable part of Peruvian culture - it is part of a male identity type called machismo, and is especially blatant in more rural areas. For example, while boys are allowed out into the streets to play at night, the girls are not allowed out of doors, not even in a group. Girls are pulled out of school earlier, to learn to cook and clean, girls get married earlier, girls are the ones who suffer the most from the utter lack of sex-ed because they are the ones who have to carry unlooked-for children. There was one mother who came to the workshops who had a five-month-old baby boy, and she was barely 18. I heard a story about a girl who was seen talking to a boy and then her parents forced her to marry him, because otherwise her reputation would have been ruined. This general lack of education leaves women entirely dependent upon their spouses - and if their spouses mistreat them, or misuse the household money, the women have very little ways of finding help or providing for themselves and their children. This is where Paz y Esperanza comes in. They brought in a chef to teach the women how to make churros (perhaps my favorite kind of pastry here), so that they could begin to make some sort of living for themselves and their children, and learn to support themselves, and also were in the process of planning a workshop on basic entrepreneurship skills for the following week while I was there.
Domestic and sexual abuse are both extremely common in Ocros.
But readers and friends, I´d like to ask you to remember something:
Sexism is not a problem that is relegated just to the rural parts of Peru.
Nor is domestic abuse.
Nor is sexual abuse.
These are all things that permeate the very fabric of my country, of the United States, as well - in different ways and with different faces, certainly, but it is still there. One of the really incredible things about humanity is it´s universality - wherever you go, people are still very much people. But this also means that wherever you go, you encounter injustice, sadness, sexism, brutality.
You don´t need to go to Peru to find it.
I bet you could find it in your own town, if only you would take the time to look.
So realize that you do not need to go to another country to find evil - and church kids, if your hearts are breaking for the abused and misused in Peru, instead of spending hundreds of dollars to come spend a measly week here and then return home thinking you've down a great work in building some sort of edifice, and feel all pleased with yourself and feel the heartbreak fade, even though you honestly have not alleviated all that much of it - maybe even honestly have made it worse (but that's a song for another time) I beg you, I command you, I plead with you - take that passion to your own community - where you speak the language, where they are your own people and their hearts beat to the same rhythm as yours, where all it will cost you is time and compassion, where you can do SO MUCH good, if only you would look -
Don't tell me your hearts are breaking for those in Peru if you have done nothing, absolutely nothing, for your neighbor.
a voice is heard in ramah: rachel weeping for her children. she refuses to be comforted, because they are no more.
It began in the university in the 1970’s: La Sendera Luminosa, the Shining Path. A group driven by a highly intellectual ideal, informed and inspired by Marxism, that cried power to the people, to the lowly every-day kind of people, and death to the rich and corrupt and despised. They promised a new kind of society, a society of equality and promise and opportunity for the everyman. They began in the universities, and from there they spread.
The political assassinations began in Ayacucho, in the mountains, and from there they spread. Originally, the killings had an aim – change society. Fix society. But after a time, the aim became less clear. The violence became less purposeful. The goal of using terror to bring change, good change, shifted. No longer was it only those in power whom the Senderistas abhorred, but those who spoke out against the violence, too. Those who suggested that maybe there were other ways of bringing change, aside from such rampant violence. So pastors, peace activists, regular people began to be targeted as well. And so eventually the goal shifted from using terror to breed change, to using terror to breed terror.
And of course, if you didn’t openly side with the Senderistas, you were their enemy, you were for the government, and you had to go.
Originally, the government only wanted to kill the terrorists, the ones who were disrupting society. But it takes effort and time to search out and find those truly responsible, and it is easy to kill the marginalized and vulnerable indiscriminately and tell the rest of your people, look, we have found the terrorists and killed them, have no fear, support us! Re-elect us! So the government’s hand also was heavy and broad and undiscerning.
And of course, if you didn’t openly side with the government, you were their enemy, you were for the Senderistas, and you had to go.
Over 13 thousand Peruvians vanished during this time.
In Lima there is a memorial to the Desparecidos – the ones who disappeared during the terrorism of the 80’s and 90’s. It is called El Ojo Que Llora, meaning ‘The Eye that Cries.’ It is round, with rows upon rows of palm-sized stones surrounding one great boulder mounted upon a pond.
Within the boulder is a single eye, from which water constantly pours.
The palm-sized stones are inscribed with three things:
The name: of the one who disappeared. This name would drop from the lips of family members for years, these names still drop from frantic, tired, waiting tongues, painted with pain, voices horse from weeping, uncertainly calling, inquiring in vain, begging God, reviling Him.
The age: how old the disappeared was. It might not be the same as their age at death - nobody knows.
The year: the last year in which their family members ever saw them.
There are stones that say, 1 años. 10 años. 13. 15. 21. 47. 68. 80.
What would the terrorists want with a child? With a baby? What evils did the government think children would commit? Or an old woman, old man?
There is nothing a child could do, nothing. Nothing.
There were stones of humans who were my age – had my same hopes, my same dreams, were going to university, studying, wanted to learn, make a difference, do good, have a long life, travel, work, play, serve –
and one day they just vanished. Their families to this day do not know what happened. If they’re yet alive. If they died the day they disappeared.
Children and students and young men and old women and parents and nephews and cousins and daughters and sons.
In Ayacucho we visited una fosa comunal, a communal grave where almost 300 bodies were discovered after the terrorism ended. A team of anthropologists exhumed the bodies. People came from miles around to see if they could recognize their loved ones by the ragged remnants of the clothes the bodies were found in. The bodies were then re-buried in large hollow white coffins, marked with bold black letters, and so light are the remains (they are barely skin and bones) that each coffin could be carried down the winding mountain path on the shoulder of just one man.
Not all of the bodies were claimed, because the army had shipped in people from miles around to kill them, and burn them, and bury them without due process, without justice, without mercy or decency or kindness or even a chance to tell their loved ones they would never see them again. So there are some families who will never know what happened to their father (sister, mother, son) because he was shipped to Ayacucho and killed there, and they have no way of knowing. Peru is a large country. You cannot comb through it all.
Because you see, while the terrorists killed and disappeared thousands, so did the army. And this mass grave was the work of the government of Peru – an institution meant to protect the people, guard the people, support the people, turned on its people in fear and suspicion. Killed its people. Destroyed them.
It was much like a civil war, the terrorism. It is not something that I think we North Americans in our safety really understand. It was nothing like the police versus the blacks, Black Lives Matter protestors, one or two innocents killed each month. That is murder, mistreatment, violation of rights, racism, yes. It is horrible. Yes. It is wrong. But this, this was utter war.
And it was the poor, it was the indigenous, it was the marginalized and the vulnerable and the speaker of another language who suffered from this war the most.
Now, the fosa communal is no more than a long field. A fence surrounds an expanse of grasses, thorns, cacti, spiders. Houses encroach upon the fence, leap it and creep within its boundaries. It's a phenomena called "Invasion" whereby the poor attempt to claim land by squatting on it (if they manage to squat on it for ten years continuously, by law the land is granted to them). Each year, the municipality has to come by and kick them out.
Nothing is left to testify to the exhumations, the graves, the bodies, the lives, but a grid of shallow pits.
At the end of the field of graves, where the grid-like pits from the exhumations are thickest, stands a squat cement building. It has a tall, narrow doorway and a square opening in the roof. In the middle of the slim interior is a pillar-like part, making the space feel uncomfortable and cramped. Towards the ceiling are slit-like windows. It is about four times as large as an outhouse, but taller.
It is an oven to burn the bodies.
In the corner of its doorway lies a bouquet of dying roses, and white carnations.
At the other end of the field, at the far end, apart from the horrid pits that have begun to be overgrown with grasses and thorns and cacti, stands a white cross with black words painted on it and a small metal plaque beside.
La cruz dice:
En memoria de las víctimas de la violencia 1980-2000
In memory of the victims of the violence of 1980-2000.
La Hoyada: santuario por la memoria. Entre 1983-1985 cientos de personas fueron asesinadas enterradas e incineradas clandestinamente en este lugar.
The Hoyada: sanctuary of memory. From 1983-1985 hundreds of persons were secretly killed, buried, and burned in this place.
At the foot of the cross is a vase, also filled with flowers.
We went towards sundown, one of the most beautiful times of the day. The site is nothing more than a field, gutted of bodies, overgrown with tall tawny grasses and cacti and thorn bushes populated by great spiders. The light caught on the edges of everything. It was breathtakingly beautiful – the kind of place you would want your wedding photos taken.
It was horrible. I hated it.
A place where such evil has occurred has no right to be beautiful.
They should salt and burn the ground, and tar the graves, and scar the land so that it never heals, so that everyone who walks by sees and remembers, and the children who walk by stop and ask their parents what it means, that the land is black, and so are taught to remember the horrors and evils committed by people who have power stained with fear and anger, people who are much like ourselves. So that they remember and care - that it would matter enough that it will never fade from memory,
I asked the man who brought me if he knew anybody who had disappeared.
Sí, he replied. Yes. Mi papá – when I was seven years old.
We still don’t know whether he died, or if somewhere he lives.
In the Ojo Que Llora were also flowers, laid by people who have lost loved ones, who have no graves to go to.
A hummingbird whips around the stone and freezes – pauses; stops at the dead flowers, laid gently over the palm-sized stones, and sips.
For a moment all is still.
Then the small green gem whips itself away again, but its presence among the heavy memory of the dead has been a kind of benediction – a kind of blessing – an act of God.
hidropónica (this one's for you, dad)
Who ever would have guessed that Paz would have started a hydroponics garden as a way of funding their projects?
I learned today that South American NGO's are having a hard time of it. The majority of their funding comes from international sources (such as, the USA) and recently the emphasis of the donations from these countries has shifted to African NGO's - so much so that a lot of the smaller South American NGO's have actually had to shut their doors. Paz is fairly large, but they too are having to get creative with their money and their resources in order to get by. For example, the office in Lima is going to construct some apartments above the international office to rent out. And the office in Ayacucho is trying out it's green thumb. (It reminds me of the parable of the workers who were given 10, 5, and 1 talents - if Paz has been given 5 talents, they are certainly working to make that 5 generate 5 more).
Friends and readers, if you have some money to give (and all of us do - from the Pharisee right down to the widow and her mite, everybody has something to give) I would ask you to have a conversation with God and ask what He thinks about you supporting a South American NGO. Not necessarily a big grand American NGO, like World Vision, that happens to have an office here, either - but a real live South American NGO that knows and loves the people it serves because it is the people, that loves the ground on which it works because it is it's own.
Anyway, the Paz office in Ayacucho currently has a couple hundred lechugitas (baby lettuces) and the capacity of housing a couple thousand. Dad, you should totally come down and visit, you would love it.
In order to be creative and excited about what you do it's so so important to play - I am not by nature an explanatory photographer, and I like grain and black-and-white and a little bit of ambiguity, and most of my days here are spent taking highly explanatory photographs that colorfully lay out, step-by-step, what's going on, why and how and where. Which can be fun too, but I do miss my mystery. So here I share with you a baby sequence, not about the lechugitas, but about the process of getting ready to feed them, that I made purely for my own pleasure, because I thought it was beautiful. I kind of hate the way weebly positions them, but I do love the photos. So here they are.
ie all the photos i've been keeping hidden from you for weeks
Last night I went to a birthday party for someone I didn´t know. I actually didn´t know it was a birthday party until we arrived ´- but then I had no idea what it was we were going to in the first place. This, I feel, is reflective of much of my life here, social and otherwise.
A big question of our generation of artists (especially photographers, perhaps) is how much of art is the work itself, and how much of art is dependent on the context of the work, and how much context is necessary - explanation, interpretation, origins, intentions and desires of the artist. How valid or necessary it is to have these things attached to the photo? - in a word, how many words ought to be attached to a photo? Need to be? Should be?
Recently I've been making friends (YAY) which means that I'm significantly more busy (um, boo? - nah still yay) - either I'm at work editing my mountain of pictures, or I'm out with the pals, or I'm at home with the fam, or I'm struggling through the Spanish edition of The Hobbit (the translated J. R. R. Tolkien uses a whole host of words they never thought to teach us in Spanish class) and not calling mom (sorry, mom - I promise promise promise to call you today!!). So you can understand and possibly forgive me for hiding these photos from you for so long - and also forgive and understand my not attaching a whole ton of words to them. If you wish, you can view it as an intellectual artistic exercise that is meant to get you thinking about context, and interpretation, and question just how many words are necessary, and (if it so pleases you) berate me for not leaving enough (or, perhaps, too many). Dudas preguntas questions comments doubts - let me know and I'll see what I can do.
There are probably one million stories included in these photos -
la escuela para niños sordos
finding gold in El Dorado with the Choco Warmi (chocolate women)
Lamas (when we searched for hours for constitutions)
or, getting thrown off the side of a boat into the ocean in a thunderstorm as a way of learning to swim
I arrived in Lima late on the 20th of May, a Saturday, and was delivered to Jesus Maria, a district in Lima. Driving through the midnight streets from the airport to my hotel the first night, Jesus Maria did feel rather grand and foreign - but waking up the next day, it felt rather like any other city. Sure, there are billboards that say things like 'Fumigation - a clean home is a safe home,' but there's a Starbucks down the road and overall it's generally populated with the normal apartment buildings and the occasional man with a suit and briefcase on the sidewalk. It feels different, to be sure, but not all that different.
That Tuesday the 23rd, after having been in Peru for less than 4 days, and armed with the Spanish comprehension of maybe a 3 year old, I left Jesus Maria for Carapongo.
Carapongo is nothing like Jesus Maria.
We drove in around 5, right when the sun was lowering in the sky and the rays are longest and catch on the edges of things and everything glows, people and trucks and the mototaxis, which I had never seen before, and everything was crammed together - I remember my first impression was of the quantity of everything, the whirl of people lining the road, waiting to slip across with any break in the stream of cars, all the small shops the size of shoeboxes one after the next after the next, the food stands on the corners and the cars and the combis and micros and trucks and the traffic that was so fluid it was more like swimming among a school of fish than driving on a road with straight lines and stop lights. Dry, sloping, barren mountains rising behind the chaos of the ground, dotted with small illegal shanty-houses, blues and greens and oranges and whites, screaming witnesses to life in impossible places. And everything glowed and the polvo (dust) caught in the sun and it was like something out of another world. It felt like a totally different city - a totally different story.
And it is a totally different story than Jesus Maria. Carapongo is poor. It is poverty unlike anything I'd ever witnessed - an already poor neighborhood hit 3 months ago with terrible flooding of the River Apurimac and mudslides from the mountains. Lima was built around an oasis, but it's expanded and Carapongo on it's edge feels much more like desolate desert than succulent paradise. There is sand, everywhere. Dust, everywhere. The river decimated houses and farms, swept belongings along for miles, there is trash and debris everywhere you look, stray dogs, frogs swept from the river into wells, no clean water, no plumbing, no electricity. The people live in tents, mostly blue squarish ones provided by the municipality, what belongings they still have collected haphazardly around them. Couches squat in the middle of barren fields. Plastic bags of clothes, shredded open and gaping into the air. It reeks.
What does one do in the face of such calamity?
And yet the people live.
And they are humans. They are made in the image of God. Reader, they are exactly the same as you or I - the only difference is their circumstances. And circumstances do not devalue a person. They do not define a person. They never, ever do. Circumstances may make a person more dependent for a time - but do not ever in your mind think that because a person is dependent for a time, because they experienced devastation once, that defines them as dependent and devastated forever. They are proud, they are capable, they are unbelievably resilient problem-solvers, they are determined, they are hardworking.
Paz had a temporary office set up in response to the disaster. Among other things, they had food kitchens, which had varying attendance depending on the popularity of the dish of the day, and dispensed both food and clean water to the community.
Paz had also provided materials to build temporary houses - enough cement for a 6x8 m base and plywood and tin for walls and roofing. We visited one food kitchen around midmorning the first day and watched as the men of the house next door and their neighbors smoothed the wet cement level. The next day we returned and they had put up all four walls - all they lacked was the roof, because they didn't have the materials yet. They must have used every available drop of sunlight they had. Never tell me The Poor are not hard-working. Never, ever tell me that.
Everyone in Peru sweeps. All the time. All the store owners, all the home owners, the municipality workers - people here seem to sweep constantly. And it was the same in Carapongo. Despite the fact that everything there is dust, because it's a desert, and there is trash everywhere that the wind blows into everything and it is an uphill utterly losing battle, the people still sweep the front porches of their tents and their common spaces. Do not tell me The Poor have no pride. Do not tell me they are not clean. Would you be bright and shining if you didn't have enough water to cook with, much less bathe with? You do what you can with what you have. That is the most anyone can do, and the one who does this well is perhaps better following God's idea of how we should live in the first place than we North Americans, who waste and waste and waste and whine about what we do not have.
Carapongo turned my mind upside-down. It invalidated all the desires I have ever had, because they were all for utter excess. I have lived all my life with clean water, good food, safety, loving parents, friends, good education, work, plumbing, electricity, play, hot water, toys, internet, money. I have never felt hunger. I have never been dirty. I have never lived in filth. I do not know what deprivation is - I have seen it, now, but I have never felt it.
I never knew what it was to be selfless before I went to Carapongo. It was there that I talked with a psychologist from Paz who told me that sometimes she can't sleep at night because her mind is is still awake, busy, searching relentlessly for one more way to help these people, one more thing they can do to ease their pain, grant them safety, aid -
What does one do in the face of such calamity?
I was armed with a camera and a 3 year old's grasp of the language. I felt utterly inadequate and superfluous, because the last thing these people needed was photos of their misery, they needed more an extra arm to mix and spread the cement, to build the houses, to watch the dozens of kids -
the kids absolutely kill me.
But I couldn't, because that wasn't my place, wasn't what I was there to do. So I hoisted my camera and did what very little I could with the very little I had, and I hope that to God it was enough. It was what He put in my hands to do. I don't know what more I could have done.
But there was so much more to be done - there is still so much more to be done, there will be for years because it takes years and years to rebuild, it is not an easy process, it is slow, slower than knitting two pieces of a broken bone back together, and much more painful.
What does one do in the face of such calamity?
I hope you think on that.
It is important, because we will all face calamity at some point. And when that happens -
what will you do?
or, lindsey braves the forest and does not die of dengue but does discover she likes the taste of pepto-bismol
Dear friends, what more should I tell you about Moyobamba?
about the orchids that have no scent and the small sparrows with tiny gray tiger-striped heads and the yellow birds?
about the other American chicks who were there living in my house? who were super cool, and I cannot say I’m complaining about people to speak English with. or how my freshman year roommate from university showed up Friday? which was totally unplanned and unexpected and amazing and when people tell you that the world is small they are not lying.
about the Peruvian Frenchman I met? who told me very sincerely in heavily accented English that he believes the world is flat, and God is a trinity of Allah the Jewish God and the Christian God, and that people need to love each other more. Among un montón of other things. He told me, with wide earnest eyes, that he knows he sounds crazy, but this is what he believes, and he thinks it is better to know nothing and know it than to think you know something and not. It amused me, and bothered me, since at one moment he would spout something I too believe (ex. everyone is made in the image of God - or, my favorite, People should f***ing talk about Jesus more) and the next he would say something else that I entirely don't agree with at all (do you believe in NASA? Because they’re lying to us). I did not want to identify any part of myself with him, for fear of full association. Which is timid and foolish, because that is the risk that comes with holding any beliefs at all – no matter what you believe, you can always encounter someone else who believes the same exact thing, just as passionately as you do, and also a whole host of other things that you feel fly in the face of all rationality.
about my coworkers at the office? some of whom were deaf, and most of whom were from the selva, and some of whom were constantly laughing and poking fun at everyone, you know the type, and who all laughed at me the day I got so lost trying to get to work I had to call one of them and he came and picked me up and I was not half a block from my house (now that was quite a morning). but on the plus side I saw a large portion of Moyobamba, managed a nice long walk, took a mototaxi on my own and had a chance to ride on the back of the office motorcycle. and in ten years I will still vividly remember that morning, which I would not if I had gotten to the office without incident. and they were patient and helpful and kind and loved each other like family.
or should I talk about Toby the baby pitbull who likes to eat people's pants, or the native jungle dance Pandilla and how the entire town is trying to get enough people dancing it all at once to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, and if you work any kind of municipality job you’re actually required to participate as part of your work? or Choco Warmi, the small chocolate company in El Dorado run by native women, or juane (a food) or the hardest zumba class I have probably ever taken or the difference between plantains and maduros and bananas or how Alberto and I ran all over Lamas searching for 20 copies of the Peruvian Constitution and could only encounter 5? should I tell you about the time I visited a school for deaf children, run by Paz, and taught them a little about photography? or how I learned to ride a motorcycle on a small straight back street and might have almost ran into a policeman’s car while going in the wrong direction? or how my last night we all danced the night away and then with Emily I hiked half a mountain afterward, and somewhere between the dancefloor and the airport I accidentally left my heart behind?
and there is so so so much more I could tell you.
dear friends, I have reached a decision: I am so overwhelmed by my options, even paralyzed, that I think I shall save myself by deciding to tell you nothing, nothing at all about Moyobamba. I am sorry that you have made it thus far only to discover this disappointing conclusion, and hope you have the rugged optimism to continue returning to this page in days to come in breathless anticipation of actually informational posts that will hopefully populate this wall in future.
or, lindsey travels forever to every possible lugar
Let's talk about place for a moment.
Place is, unlike a lot of Important Things, not something we talk about enough. You are not required to take a class on Place in most universities to graduate, nor even in some high schools. It is regarded as secondary, a sort of by-product that is mentioned in history class primarily as an indicator of human interactions and how possible it is for one country to go to war with another, depending on things like distance and geographical barriers. But there is so much more to place than that. I've been reading a collection of essays by Wendell Berry called Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, where he talks a lot about the importance of place, and I've been traveling a ton, and it's gotten me to thinking.
I arrived in Lima the 20th of May - a Saturday. I lived in a hotel, on my own in Jesús Maria until the following Tuesday, when I was sent to Carapongo, a district in Lima that two or three months ago was hit with very severe flooding and mudslides. I stayed there until Saturday, returned to Jesús Maria to spend the night with a family from Paz, left the next Sunday morning for the airport to take an hour and a half flight to Tarapoto, where I was picked up (by a man named Karol) and then driven two hours to Moyobamba. I stayed in Moyo until noon the following Sunday, when I was dropped off at the carport to catch a car to ride the two hours back to Tarapoto to catch my 3:55 to Lima, where I was retrieved and then delivered to yet a different house in a different neighborhood. I have been asked by multiple different people on multiple different occasions how long I will be in Lima and where I will be going next, and only just this afternoon discovered any sort of answer to these questions - I will be staying here for the next two weeks, and after that I am going to Ayacucho. I think. I might be staying a longer time. I might be staying a shorter time
One reason I came to Peru this summer is that I wanted to know what it is to be the stranger. As Christians we are called to be strangers in a foreign land, because this is not our final home and the world is not all there is, and we are to look forward to what is to come. I wanted to learn what it is to be in a foreign land, to be in a culture that is not your own that you do not know, to live and learn and be dependent and humble and open and absorb all my young mind (because, I am learning, I am truly very young still) can. Jesus, after all, lived as a stranger for much of His life - in Egypt, in Nazareth of Galilee... And all this I am experiencing to an overwhelmingly satisfying degree.
Something I had not before considered, however, was how being a stranger corresponds to with transience.
"The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head." Luke 9:58
Because you see, in order to be a stranger you must be transient. I'd never thought about this much, if ever, but these past couple weeks I have. Because every time I go to leave a place, I want to stay. I wanted to stay in Carapongo because despite the tragedy, despite the fact that the people have nothing there, they are still people and they still have their dignity and their pride and their humanity and that is incredibly beautiful. I also wanted to stay because, even though nobody spoke English and my Spanish is broken at best, even though I was staying in an apartment by myself, even though everything was dusty and utterly, utterly foreign and I did not understand anything and felt useless and helpless and lost like a child, I wanted to stay there and be known. I wanted to put down roots and get to know my host family who lived in the apartment down from me and the wise wise passionate women and men who worked at the temporary office with Paz and the volunteer who showed me around my first night, and I wanted to go to church and find a community and know it and have it know me.
I hated to leave.
I wanted to stay in Moyobamba because it is perhaps one of the most beautiful, most verdant places I have ever seen, and the work that Paz is doing there with the niños sordos and the indigenous population is incredible and important, and even though I hate humidity and mosquitoes (and there was a plethora of both) I loved loved loved the people. The host family and the other American chicks who were staying with them (including, unbelievably enough, my roommate from first year at university) and the humans at the office who were coworkers but laughed like family and the strangers I met who became friends. All of them. The laughter and the adventures and the people, always the people. I wanted to stay and know and be known.
I hated to leave.
And this is just barely the beginning of a new week in a new place with a new set of people who I could come to love just as dearly if only I was given the time, and I will not be given the time, because two full months is barely long enough to begin to get to know any one place and even though I have almost two full months left I know they will not all be spent here.
And, dear readers, this is what Jesus did for much of His adult life. He traveled. He left His job as the son of a carpenter and went off and walked and taught and walked and taught and gathered disciples and walked and talked some more. And ultimately, dear readers, He walked Himself to Jerusalem. He walked Himself to His death.
So what does it mean, then, to be transient? What does it have to do with being Christian? With sacrifice, with theology, with how we live in the here-and-now, where-we-are, supermarket runs and suburbia and mototaxis and combis and micros. With the new and the overwhelming and the small and the mundane. What then?
I thank God for this time and this place and this land and these people. This is what God has for me and this is where He has placed me and this is what is at hand and what He was called me to do, and so it is best. Praise to Him.
thanks for reading
Sunday morning, I was picked up from the airport by a man named Karol. It's a good thing he had a sign with my name on it, or else I probably would have wandered around indefinitely searching for the (nonexistent) middle-aged white woman the name Carol brings to mind.
I flew in to Tarapoto from Lima, where I'd been since I'd arrived in Peru on the 20th. Once in Tarapoto, it's a good two-hour drive to Moyobamba, and if you're lucky enough you too can experience the joy of the curving windows-down ride through the ever more verdant landscape, mountains and the kind of trees with broad waxy leaves that you know are accustomed to rain, and if you're lucky enough to be me you experience all of this on very little sleep while squished in the back of a small car with two strangers. Fortunately you get the window seat. Even more fortunately the man beside you sleeps most of the time, which means when you're going around the curves (there are many) his limp unconscious body becomes a heavy cushion, pinioning you to the door.
For those of you who don't know (no shame - I too was among your ranks, not long ago) Moyobamba is in the selva, or jungle, section of Peru. It's towards the north, and is home to about a million species of orchids, potatoes, and bugs of all varieties. The mosquitoes are noxious, but the butterflies are massive and incredible. It has an abundance of birds, and, like everywhere else in Peru that I've been, an abundance of stray dogs. It has street food like maduro con queso or mani (roasted plaintain with cheese or peanut butter - 10/10 would recommend). Everyone rides motorcycles, nobody wears helmets, and if you don't ride a motorcycle you either ride a mototaxi or you use your God-given legs for their designed purpose - you walk. Yesterday I saw an entire family (mom, child brandishing toy, dad) wending their way, helmet-less, through the city on a red motorcycle. Mototaxis are like the front half of a motorcycle attached to a bench on two wheels with an awning over it. They flood the streets, and are always on call. Unlike actual taxis in the US, which in my experience tend to disappear as soon as you need one. Very few people drive cars.
Moyobamba is also home to a large deaf (sordo) population - which is odd to me. Deafness is not a thing I'm used to. Unfortunately, nobody has been willing to fund research on why deafness is so common here, so if you, dear reader, feel so led to investigate a question that strongly impacts people's lives, a good place to start is in Moyobamba. As Moyobamba is rather general, I'd dare to further suggest that you begin with the Paz y Esperanza office in Moyobamba. Not only is Paz just generally super cool, a large part of their work here is running a school that teaches sign language to deaf children, and holding classes at the office itself to teach sign language to the parents of said children. There are several deaf people on staff, which means that meetings can get a little crazy. While one person is speaking in Spanish another is translating everything they say to sign language, so that the deaf staff members can understand, and of course there are the people who sit in a corner and whisper to each other, and there are also the ones who sit in a corner and sign to each other, and all the while I sit in a corner frantically trying to translate everything into English in my mind. I can do okay with one-to-one type of conversations, but groups, meetings, are another level of difficulty entirely.
Like in Carapongo, I'm here to be a photographer - which means lots of taking pictures. Of, everything. This I anticipated, was even prepared for, before I left for Peru. This week, however, I have discovered that being a foreign photographer means not only taking photos, but teaching other humans how to take photos as well. This I was not at all prepared for. This would be excellent in English - I could talk about photography for hours. However, in Spanish, my vocabulary is significantly reduced. Nevertheless, I survived teaching a (very basic) lesson on composition to the staff of the office this afternoon, and as a bonus I even think my subjects learned something, so fingers crossed for tomorrow.
If you have reached the end, dear reader, and actually read all of the above, I thank and respect you.
If you have skimmed the above, I understand you and will forgive you at some point.
If you have entirely skipped from the title to the end, all I have to say is - do things well or don't do them at all. That goes for reading your Bible and for cussing. (sorry mom)