Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Peru.

Students in Peru: Another Perspective

Posted in Peru on June 8, 2009

After travelling from Vancouver to Lima the previous day, I woke up on Sunday morning to make the final leg of the trip to Huancayo. It was going to be an 8 hour bus ride, and having never been somewhere like Peru, I had no idea what to expect. All I had to go on was a friend of mine who had told me horror stories about his travels though Central America, where he would have to ride rickety buses that were absolutely packed with people—and chickens.

I was quite shocked, then, when I boarded a beautiful double decker bus that put Greyhounds to shame. Not only that, but the ride to Huancayo was absolutely gorgeous; having only seen a small, dirty part of the heavily urbanized Lima, I was all the more blown away by Peru’s picturesque landscapes and the many quaint villages that we would pass by. After 8 hours of seeing the country, sleeping, and battling altitude sickness, I was finally finished traveling and could begin my time in Huancayo.

The house that me and the 11 other people (or gringos, as I would soon learn we would be called) along on the trip was also a pleasant surprise. It had all the necessities, like good beds, a kitchen, a shower, and even a TV! Now, don’t get me wrong—it still took some time to adjust. The stove didn’t work quite perfectly (I’m not saying I’ve been expecting the house to explode from a gas leak, but you never know), the shower electrocutes you a little when you touch the shower head, and, of course, all the channels on the TV are in Spanish. Oh, and apparently in Peru you can’t flush your toilet paper down the toilet, you have to throw it in the garbage. As awful as that sounded to me, it really hasn’t been that bad. You just have to make sure not to accidentally drop anything in the garbage, because fishing it out is not an option.

The next morning, Monday, we went to work and I got to see the actual project that we came to work on. It’s a school that’s being built for children who are forced to drop out of school because they need to start working to help support their families. This school has a flexible schedule, and teaches kids skills that will directly help them in getting a good job. The work itself has been pretty standard stuff, but it’s pretty cool to think about how much this facility is going to help children who would otherwise be trapped in poverty with no way to improve their situation.

While the work we do is mostly things like painting and digging holes, are weekdays are anything but boring; incidents such as the “dog-napping incident” keep things very interesting. Basically what happened there was the guy who drives us to and from work in a little bus/huge van, was accused of stealing someone’s dog one day when he came to pick us up. I believe the exact words of the person who witnessed and reported the incident translated to something like “the van of gringos stole that dog!”

The day of the incident our driver was late, as usual, and in what I imagine was an attempt to make up for his tardiness, he offered Michiah, DWC Team Leader, a bag of oranges. That was nice, but after that he also reached down and pulled up a small white dog and extended that out to Michiah as well. Michiah motioned that he didn’t want it—the oranges were enough. Now, the driver may very well have just been showing us the dog rather than offering it to us as a package deal with the oranges, but due to the language barrier, we may never know for sure. He had to bring the dog back a few days later so that the woman who had had a dog stolen could inspect, and it was apparently not the same dog, ridding our driver of all dog-snatching allegations. Now, if he had stolen the dog, I would assume he would bring a different dog for the lady to inspect, so I still have my suspicions… but I was not in charge of the investigation, so I guess the case is closed.

We don’t do a lot of sitting around here, and we’ve been getting to experience the culture of Peru quite a bit on top of working on the school. The Sunday after I arrived, we went to a traditional Peruvian party (or festival maybe, I’m not sure what to call it… you’ll see why in a minute). It began with us travelling a little way out of the city to a tiny little farming community in the middle of nowhere. Arriving at 11 am, we were handed beers, and a fairly large band—maybe 25 people—started to play. It was a mobile band, with trumpets, saxophones, and drums, and they then led us to a second location, where we were served “breakfast.” The meal was some sort of soup, with what I was told was corn (but it was nothing like the corn I’m used to) and meat. I have to say, I thought it was awful. The “corn” was very strange, and the meat was suspect at best. Having said that, I was very happy to be able to try it; it did not taste good, but I guarantee you will never have the chance to try that dish in Canada.

Next came the really cool part of the day. We were led, again by the band, to another location where some of the locals cut down two large trees. We proceeded to carry the trees on our shoulders to yet another location—that seemed very far, but probably only because we were carrying giant trees—and managed to stick them in holes in the ground, standing them up again. Before we stood them up, the tops of the trees were decorated with balloons and blankets, and then we danced around them for quite a while. I will tell you this: you haven’t lived until you’ve danced with a 70 year old drunk Peruvian woman around decorated trees.

Finally we were led to a final location to have dinner. Unlike breakfast, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal. It was beans, meat, potatoes, and tamales prepared in underground fire pits. I couldn’t tell exactly how it worked, but it was a big pit in the ground filled with hot coals that cooked the food over a long period of time. It was a long day packed with things I had never done before, and it was easily the coolest experience I’ve had in a long time.

Volunteer Participant
DWC - UBC 2009

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