Monday, July 16, 2007

Susana's Impressions

Journal Entry:
Saturday night, July 14th
San Ramón, Chanchamayo Province, Perú

My adventure for the day....
Well, my day started at like 7 or 7:30 when my dad woke me up. Way too early for me. I don't do too good on 5 hrs of sleep. It took me 10 mintutes just to get out of bed. Breakfast was the usual- bread, jam, and tea. Me gusta. Then we hit the family shop for cookies, crackers, Inca Kola ( an amazingly awesome soda) and candy. We left at like 10, 1 hr behind schedule. We just drove for two hours (it took an hour just to get out of the city). We hit traffic.

Then we got stopped by the cops at 11:45. Our troubles began.

First of all, this country is poor. Really really poor. Like almost no middle or upperclass poor. Most of the country lives in little adobe, cement, brick, or mud houses. Lots and lots of little houses squicshed together with tin or cheap tile roofs. It's sad. If you drive along the highway in the Andes you'll see tons of them pressed against cliffs or mountainsides with the doors 3 ft fromt he highway. It's very 3rd world, because, well, it is. It's extremely so. To make it worse, most of the government is corrupt while lots of the country lacks water heaters or proper roofs. That's why the cops stopped us. They were poor and needed $ to feed their families.

They car we were drving in was a red SUV. It was my uncle's, and he's a doctor, so he can afford it. (My family is pretty lucky, we're part of the upper extremely small middle class). SUV means $ in this country, well, every country i suppose, you don't see many of them when most of the country is built out of cement. So they stopped us, wanting to see the permit for our windows (apparently ou need a permit to have tinted windows. No one really cares though.) My uncle Juancho didn't have it, but he had everything else, registration, license, everything. so they took my uncle out of the car to "talk to their chief." Really they wanted a bribe, and it was a great way to put pressure on him. My dad wouldn't tell me, but I think we gave them about 30 soles (the local currency), or about 10 dollars. It was cheaper than paying the fine that went along witht the ticket they were threatening if we didn't pay them to ignore it. I know it's wrong, and I know it was a form of thievery, and usually I'd be angry, but well, I couldn't blame them. I empathized with their situation.
Photo by Susana
So, we get done with the cops and we realize the car is hoverheated (it was having to work super hard to get up the mountains. A combustion engine doesn't work well when there isn't as much air because of the altitude). It took 1 L of water and 45 min, but we got it to work eventually. We drove pretty smoothly until 1 pm when we had to stop because were going crazy from being stuck int he car for so long. I guess the car overheated again, because it took another hour for it to start. We were in this little town, maybe 200 people. maybe. It was the first time I really looked at the houses.
Photo by Susana
Usually I just glaze over them and look at the crazy beautiful mountains that they're in front of. I looked and saw the walls of mud and cement, how gibe they were, the communal water spout, the broken glass in the windows and lack of bathrooms, the lines and lines of clothes hanging next to the road, newly washed but hung to dry next to the highway because that is the only space they have, only to become covered with chemicals from exhaust pipes. It was sobering. I think it solidified my Vision even more.

Then I saw the kids.

I hate half the stoplights here, because when your car stops kids weave through parked traffic to sell you stuff. And I'm not talking 9 or 10 yr olds, though there are plenty of those, but kids like 5 or 6. Once I sa a kid who looked to be 4. They sell stuff before and after school, and you know they're not doing it because they like it or just because they can, but because they have to. The other day we were walking past a school and I saw a kid maybe six or seven open her bag and got to the corner to sell stuff. It breaks my heart. Like my NSLC friend Hugo said "I'll never get used to it. Never". He's right. You see it all the time and you never do. The kids in this town were so dirty, no shoes. they even made a swing out of one of the highway signs. They attatched a piece of rope and what looked like some socks stiched together to make a swing seat. I wanted to cry. I nearly did, but I was kinda sick from the altitude and dehydrated, so I couldn't. My chest literally hurt though.

Between the working kids and the housing situation, well, it was kind of an eye-opening day for me. I guess you ignore and forget stuff after a while away from it. Maybe you want to forget. It's easier.

The town of La Oroya, a while down the road, kind of topped it off. It is one of the biggest towns in the area, maybe a few thousand people, and one of the most polluted places in the world. On the right side of the road the cliffs were beautiful, rustic tan with chocolate and rasberry colors mixed in.

The other side of the road was pure white.

They were made of the same type of stone, one just had been bleached because it had been so drenched in chemicals. It takes a lot of chemicals to bleach stone. Right at the base of the mountain was a river where kids wre playing and women were washing cothes. They must've known that all the chemicals went in there. I gues they got used to it. Its terrible that they had to.

After that we stopped to eat dinner. I had what ammounted to a giant chicken nugget and fries. Then we kept on driving. I fell asleep. I've got to say, as beautiful as the Andes are, dont go up without any aspirin or crackers. You get sick. Really sick. That or you pass out. That's what happened to me. We got to 10,000 ft and I passed out from lack of oxygen. Dad almost fell over at 12,500. He just took 10 steps to take a picture. Good thing he didn't, drops down cliffs aren't god for your health. The air was just so thin. Poor Rafa, my 8 yr old cousin, got it bad. She passsed out for most of the ride and was so sick she couldn't eat dinner. She got sick from the altitude. I got sick from looking at the kids.

When I woke up we'd been traveling for about 8 hrs (including stps and breakdowns). That's when we figured out that we'd been given bad information by 2 people and our destination was 2 hrs away still. We decided to spend the night in La Merced, a not-so-tiny town. Maybe 10,000 people. We went to the plaza (most of the good restaurants and hotels are at the plaza). We stopped and ate dinner. I bought a cute pendant for 2 soles ( 60 cents) and met Them.

They were the cutest, scruffiest boys I have ever seen. They must have been 7 or 8, the oldest 9 at the most. The 4 of them were trying to get me to let them take me on a tour. There was also a 10 or 11 yr old girl trying to sell me keychains. It took them all of 45 seconds to figure out I wasn't fluent in castellano ( or español) and that I was from the States. It got them all excited, that, and the fact that they thought we were driving a real live "Matchbox car." They liked our SUV. My dad started talking to them and took out the camera to take pics. I think me meade their day. They were jumping around impishly, like we were the best circus ever. It was like Christmas when they saw the pictures and we said we would send them to them. They all gave us their email adressed. It made me laugh. One of them was wearing mismatching shoes, but he had a hotmail account.

I've never seen kids so full of life, jumping around, happy as can be. They ran after our car yelling and waving and smiling as we left.

I guess I assumed after reading Kaffir Boy, Tale of Two Cities, and Black Boy that if you were poor, you were unhappy. The kids made me ralize that it doesn't really matter. You can be happy anywhere if you choose to be. I guess it finally cemented some of the stuff in at the NSLC that I still had doubts about. I think today finally solidified my dream of humanitarianism. I'll start tomorow.


Anonymous said...

Very nice, Susa. I wish I'dve been there, as well, but you described it better than I could've!

Fra Miguel, "journeying" with y'all, though without eating guinea pig!

Anonymous said...

Bubba Sue you make your tia's heart swell with pride. If only all quinceañeras were as intelligent and empathetic as you, this would be a much better world. I'm so glad that you're having these adventures with your papi and brother. I can't wait to see you guys.


the bubbanator