Sunday, August 30, 2009

For Peru's Sake

Not that anyone wants more of this girl writing, but here are two articles that I have had published about time in Peru:

-South American Explorers Magazine: Little Hands -- Here is an account of volunteering with Peru's Challenge; it might be similar to earlier posts.

-Global Journalist: On the Beaten Path -- This story untangles the mix-ups that Machu Picchu puts on the table. It is a grand site all should see, but that idea and reality is tearing it down and shooting prices up to the points of the local Peruvians not being able to see the mighty haven of their ancestors.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

When Birth is A Burden

Families up in the mountains have an average of six children per family. I came across families with many, many more: nine, 10, 12. Each child just as precious as the next and each child one more mouth to feed and body to clothe. As I have mentioned before, it isn't about material possessions in these mountains, but it is important for children to have food or shoes or be healthy. And US$3-5 a week doesn't go far with so many mouths. A family welcomes many children, but it is hard work.

These families don't family plan or use preventatives. So a few months ago, when a 45-year-old woman was pregnant with her 12th child and was working in the fields, she had a miscarriage. Her daughter found her and took her to the hospital. The hospital wouldn't accept her without a payment of 300 Soles. There wasn't any way to pay that, so she called Peru's Challenge who, from their emergency fund, was able to pay for the mother to be taken care of. But what are all of the other mothers who have similar circumstances doing? What if your body isn't healthy or prepared for a baby? Or you work hard while pregnant? Or you can't afford any help while carrying or having the baby? 

The sad thing is that this has become such an issue that CNN picked it up as a story titled, "Peru Has High Maternal Mortality Rate."  The UN is saying that for every 100,000 births, 240 mothers die. In wealthier America nations, nine mothers die for every 100,000 births.  Between the lack of resources for families, working conditions for these women and the health care systems, there are a lot of odds built up against you as a pregnant woman in the rural areas. 

I am so thankful for Peru's Challenge's ability to help the mother in the fields that day. We need to make it possible for mothers to have a child and not have such scary numbers in their face. 

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What's Also Hidden in the Andes

My Perusing here has been quite minimized as of late but I still think about the smiles and little hands hidden in the Andes every day. And then, opening up The New York Times to read stories that make me crazy that people aren't just not helping but being pro-active against helping the gorgeous people in these mountains. Here's a story

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On the Photo Above and Holding Hands

I didn’t know that the last time I went up to the communities was my actual last time. For those of you who know me, you are probably nodding, thinking Good; it’s better that way. You would be a mess. This is true, but I still get that burning feeling in my nose when I think about not going up for “one last time” or making sure I squeezed those little shoulders extra hard or let the children know I think they are intelligent and beautiful, and they have changed me and thank you.

I was going up for Mother’s Group/Talleres, and we were bringing a method of dying cloth for more colors, colors that made the mothers gasp and slip the leftover examples in the blankets wrapped around their backs. Talleres is inspirational to be a part of. These mothers face the hardships of a third-world country: poverty when trying to provide for many children, alcoholism, domestic violence, hard work in the fields, and, quite simply, one of the most selfless existences I have witnessed. Here, they sit at tables and laugh and stare in awe at the crafts they are going to learn to make, learning to speak up for themselves about who should lead the groups or which colors they want or how important it is to attend the sessions. They listen to Jane, replying with “Si, amiga Jane” in between glances towards her and down at their busy, rapid hands that are creating something beautiful: a scarf, a painting, a hat, a wall hanging—a  means to an income, a Christmas, a health campaign, pride.

The children run in and out of the room, telling their mothers through tears who did what or chasing the dogs or creating games on the grass outside with each other. I have to remind myself to stick with the mothers instead of running with the kids, who pull on your hands and ask you to play a game with them. To hear the giggles over the mother’s Quechua chatter and to have your eyes catch on the colors and slight details fills your senses with an inner joy.

As we walked through the hills to Quilla Huata before Talleres started, the sun shone and there seemed to be glitter strewn on the swaying, tall grass. On the adjacent hill, I looked up to see the silhouettes of five children greeting us, with the sun at their backs and the wind in their hair. As we waved back, they began running, allowing the downward hill to pull them towards us as they yelled their welcomes. My heart doesn’t always know how to handle those situations.

The littlest girl fell easily behind the others, and I waited for her. She took my hand in hers and took the lead going into the village, pointing out her house and her family’s cow. I held on tight, swinging our arms in the glistening sun and listened to her stories.

I have spent four months here, leading volunteers or lessons or chimney-building endeavors. I have learned a lot about how leading with education and ideas is the only gentle leading that is self-sustainable in a community that has goals and with an organization that is there to assist, not give hand-outs.

And to feel my time in those hills ticking as I walked through with the dirty, tiny hand in mine, through a place where I have been lost in time but stuck in an ideal of helping lead a community to work towards lives they desire, to follow the little black braid and timid smile, I was simply happy to be led. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lesson Learned: Climb Waynapicchu

In the pitch black dark, someone rustled our tent, a husky voice saying, "beunos dias." I look at my watch, and it is 3:45am, and it is time to go. The rainbow day had come - the 4th and final day of trekking to Machu Picchu, the day we see what we have thought about each night as we fall asleep in the cool mountain air, somewhere in the Andes. 

Machu Picchu has been getting a little too popular, so the day has its structure. I wonder what it would have been like to be Yale University's Hiram Bingham, to be led by the hand of a small local boy as Bingam brushed away the historic site's blanket of trees and bush and moss. To enter the Sun Gate and overlook the Incans' site unfolding upon steep terraces of beautiful green hills. We however, packed up our gear and waited in a line about 6.5 km away from the Sun Gate, our first "checkpoint." 

There were five of us that wanted to climb Waynapicchu (meaning "small mountain"), the straight-up, narrow mountain behind Machu Picchu ("big mountain"). They only let 400 people up in a day and when those who took the train are usually the first ones into the site, the hikers have a race to run. Our guide led the five of us down the original Inca trail, by other trekkers and through misty jungle. The rocks are unsteady and the climbs steep, and when you are fighting for a place at the top, you have to sprint. So we ran, finally reaching the Sun Gate that was covered in clouds. We continued to sprint through the site as I wondered if this was a terrible idea, pushing off the splendor that surrounds me to breathe hard and ignore aching knees and the 20 extra pounds on my back. We will have time later, I thought.

The line was long, and the 10am spot had just filled up. There was only one group of hikers that beat us there, and they were high-fiving, proud to be going up at 10. At first, we were crushed. We were exhausted and had wanted that climb bad. Our sweet guide said he would give us a tour separate than the rest of our group (who were walking in three hours what we had just run in one hour), and we could go up at 7, right now, but the clouds might block all views. We had run all that way, it was worth a shot. 

The views as we started our upward climb were, even in the clouds, some of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. When we looked down into the valleys with sun gleaming through the clouds and onto the Urubamba River that flows between the mountains that made me feel the smallest I have ever felt, it makes you look up to the higher peaks, the ones you want to reach to see even more. I felt like I was in Peter Pan, when the audience sees Neverland for the first time and flowers bud at amazing rates and the green is slightly visible through mysterious clouds. We hiked straight up for 45 minutes and looked around, getting nervous. We could feel we were high up but a thick fog blocked all views. So we sat, wondering where we should be to see Machu Picchu below. 
It didn't take long. Our rushes of adrenaline had slightly slowed as we dangled our feet over the ledge, waiting, but they picked up as clouds began to move and the vast spread-out of Incan ruins from nearly 600 years ago slipped into vision.
The Incans knew what was up; they seemed to magically pull and push rocks we can't dream of moving today to have a haven with views so splendid, the clouds wrap themselves around to remind you to open your eyes when, each morning, they unwrap the splendor like gifts. Their ideas of survival that simply formed out of necessity inspire me every time, making our techno ways of life seem silly, lazy, unintelligent. We walked around the sun dial, the towers, the tombs, the royals' rooms, the altars, feeling the straight-cut, perfect stones for the royals and the more jagged, imperfect stones for the regular class, hoping to maybe lay a finger on a spot that was last touched by a citizen before Machu Picchu was abandoned in the 1530s. 

Exhaustion took over our tour, and I wouldn't hesitate to go back again to lose myself in another era and in those Andes mountains. Let me know if you want to go. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Inca Trail and Its Rainbow

Here is where I am supposed to rave about Machu Picchu, how its splendor is indescribable and too majestic for words. It was named one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, for crying out loud. And I agree with all of these things, but I am aware there are only so many times we can read about these monuments and the grandiose fascination they bring us. And besides, getting there was 3/4 of the fun. 

Hiking for four days was beyond a breath of fresh air because it was perhaps the freshest air I have ever breathed in and, believe me, I was heaving it in. The thrill of the escape to a completely untouched environment where you are swallowed by mountains and suffocated by a sky of stars brought tears to my eyes and a new definition of awe to my knowledge. Yes, sometimes I would use my surrounding splendor as an excuse to stop on an uphill climb, but there were many times where I would stop and stand motionless, trying to remember this feeling of being lost in the best way possible. 

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is about the length of a marathon in total, with the second day climbing 1,200m with 90-degree staircases and hills that continue for about five hours. The trail is unique because of its mixture of microclimates: the Andes mountain and the Amazon jungle. A jungle in the clouds is a cloud forest, and the trees, flowers, mosses and views change every few minutes from a rushing waterfall in wet, forest green to bright pink flowers under the complete shade of moss-covered trees to coming up on peaks to views of bushy green. Just like hidden Easter eggs, Incan ruins pop up randomly. The fortresses lie in areas with amazing views, as the Incans needed look-out points. Looking up to always see snow peaks and sunshine gleaming through narrow valleys became a comfort, even if I was taken aback every time. 

We camped at night and would be in bed quite early. The days were filled with hiking, and the second day included crossing Dead Woman's Pass; the name gives the pass's threat away. Our trek group played Charades and grew with that camp-fire closeness, and Annie and I would snuggle in our sleeping bags after staring silently at the stars only to awake at 5am or earlier to a cup of tea and brisk mountain wind. Our layers would be off within the hour though, as the sun shines hard when you are up so high. Groups of alpacas and donkeys passed us, and the monarch butterflies had an army. And the thought of the views at the top pumped energy into us for the endless, tiring climbs. 

I'll save the last day for another day. I might have read a lot about it, but it still deserves a post of its own.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I met a girl the other day. We were about 8 years apart, but we weren't that different. She approached me in the plaza as I was reading before Easter festivities, and we spoke in a little bit of Spanish, and then she asked if we could practice her English, which was quite good. 

Melanie told me that she was in school to work very hard because she wanted to help "her people." "What do you think of the people here?" she asked me as she handed a begging man a coin, a coin I did not give. "What do you think of our government here?" Her questions caught me off guard - so unlike the usual questions those trying to sell something rehearse. With each of my answers - answers I have been trying to put together for three months now, she nodded and smiled and would usually say, "yes, I know." 

We agreed that there were some terribly poor situations here, and that no child should have to live starving, dirty, without education, sick, begging, the list goes on. Like the children I come across on a daily basis. Like the children she was passing on her way to school everyday so that one day she could grow up and help.

"Do you believe in the God." Yes. "Yes, I love the God very much. I talk to the God all of the time. I read the book about the God. I ask Him to help these people, and I ask Him when I need help." 

"You are like me," she finally said. "You travel and you help the people." I told her she was well on her way. She made me want to work harder. Melanie wants to work in the government - law, in particularly, so she can fight for the thousands of poor that stumble along Peru's cobblestone streets. 
I cannot think of many girls that young walking up to a stranger to sit down and pick through the observations of a tourist concerning the government, the state of poverty, her own neighbors, her dreams. I was left thinking more about the Peruvian government and about why Peru's Challenge is here. And I was left in awe of this young mind and huge heart that wanted to work so hard to do work similar to what I was doing. We plan to meet again, one day. But she left smiling, repeatedly saying she was happy to find someone with her own dreams. 

Annie and I head to Machu Picchu tomorrow - a 4-day trek that is going to test the amoebas, giardia, salmonella, UTIs and other things that are now living in us. We can't wait.