*Note – This post was written starting on my bus-ride back from Piura and return into site as a reflection of my travels the past couple of weeks. It is a ramble of some sorts.
After my trip back to the beautiful US of A visiting my wonderful family and best friends, followed by a week of early in-service in Lima while visiting my past host family; I am refreshed and rather excited to get back to the desert of Piura (not for the heat, but to be back in my tranquilo home). I am currently sitting on the second floor of a bus starting the 16-hour journey from Lima to Piura. While waiting for the bus, I enjoyed surprisingly easy conversation with 3 Peruvians from all different departments (Lima, Trujillo and Iquitos) – we each shared our origins, destinations, work and a couple laughs. After fare welling one another and exchanging information I boarded the bus alone, and was soaking in the comfort of my independence. Instead of opening my book and shutting the curtain, I decided to observe the rare sites of Peruvian city life as we escaped the everlasting traffic filled streets of Lima. It was refreshing to see Peruvian nightlife does exist after 7pm, as I have forgotten due to the early bed-schedule I have in the campo.
As I watch the sidewalks filled with people, I begin to see tidbits of various people’s stories. The two lovers holding each other while waiting for a combi to return home for the night or go out on a wild date. Two men shaking hands with force and accomplishment before heading their separate ways, with different thoughts running through their minds. The teenage boy with the backwards hat and slouched bag lazily hanging off his shoulder weaving in and out of people in a rush to his next adventure in his young life. The health workers in their scrubs walking in a pact after their long day of work, in which they will get up again tomorrow to begin again despite it being the weekend. The small combi jetting in front of our bus filled with over 35 people from all different walks of life. The city is bustling and its people are leading their interesting unique lives with the painted background of Lima’s intertwining never-ending streets.
And that leads me into my reflections over the past weeks’ travels, and the wonderful people I was able to spend time with and meet. Everyone has his or her story, and we never know all of it. I won’t ever know the full stories of even my best friends, parents, sisters and brother – let alone a stranger I encounter who is having a bad day or a great day. The only story I will be able to most likely fully comprehend is my own. But even in regard to my own story, I may not even know whom my story affects or the consequences of some of my actions on other people’s stories. I think this is a beautiful, mysterious and sometime tragic thing about human connection and sharing. We never fully-know everyone’s story and there is always space for learning, even in regards to ourselves. So what stories did I learn on my travels?
Let’s start with my trip back to the US…you blow me away America, and I love you – but I may just not miss you too much yet to come back for awhile (but the people I do love and miss very much, are very welcome to come down and visit Peruland 🙂 )! Through my journey from Piura –> Lima –> Miami, Florida I encountered many people and their stories. As I arrived in Lima, I switched to America Airlines where I had to wait in a very long line with American tourists…and damn can we be ridiculous. I had my first tid-bit of culture shock while still in Lima, while 8 US women I presume in their 60s were standing line bickering over the smallest insignificant things, after enjoying one of the wonders of the world, Machu Pichhu. As I began to chuckle to their ridiculous tone and lack of respect to one another, I tried to hold back judgment but can’t lie found it a bit difficult to be somewhat appalled at their behavior. But who knows what got these women to the level of screaming at each other for not checking-in online beforehand, as it did not make any difference. Anyway…
The culture-shock was quickly alleviated by the eclectic middle-aged passenger sitting next to me. We began talking in Spanglish about our lives, families, futures plans and eventually exchanged information hoping to cross paths sometime in the future. He owns his own furniture company making unique pieces out of bamboo and leather, and born in Italy moved to Peru as a child, and now lives in Indonesia half of the year. As I wished safe travels to the eclectic man with long hair, an elaborate scarf, and wrists decorated with jingling bracelets that carried his hand-made leather bag expecting never to see him again… he came and found me at the baggage claim to introduce me to his nephew who is my age. We chatted and he seemed ecstatic to be going on this trip to learn more about his uncle’s business, and that is when I saw the impact an affective mentor can have in someone’s life – secretly thinking to myself I hope I can be that cool of an aunt one day.
As I walked out into the beautifully diverse Miami, Florida my parents surprised me at passenger pick-up where tears quickly filled my eyes with happiness and the comfort to be back in my champions’ arms. They had come in just for the morning to take me to a big American breakfast and we talked over what we had missed in each other’s lives. I do not even know what they gave up to come down to surprise me just for a couple hours before heading to New Orleans, and I am so lucky to have them in my life as mentors, friends and party parents. As we caught up, I was alarmed how much little things I can miss in 6 months, which may not feel like a long time; but it is alarming and somewhat sad the moments, accidents, occurrences that accumulate to me missing part of my loved ones everyday lives while I am serving here. But that is a sacrifice of the experience in which I am gaining so much, and on other hand I will never fully be able to paint my picture back to them as well.
After my parents left, I wandered the city of Miami with really no plans. I stumbled across the holocaust memorial while I was lost trying to figure out my way back to the hotel. A giant stark hand shot out of a lily-pond with suffering bodies falling off of it, commemorating the large Jewish population and holocaust survivors whom reside in Miami, Florida. I was blown away by the illustrative photos, facts and realistic statue, and in the end found myself crying alone at the foot of the statue, as the reality of 6 million people dying to the atrocities of the holocaust finally hit me emotionally after years of education, reading, and studying the horrific historical event. As I entered the little reception area, the old man at the desk asked where I am from. I explained that ‘I’m from Ohio, but living in Peru,’ situation and reciprocated the question as he had a foreign accent. “Honey, I am from Poland! I was in the holocaust,” he stated as he pointed to a tattoo number with a smile. I was in shock as I had never met a holocaust survivor, and not knowing what to say just exclaimed wow…and sat down to listen to what he had to say. He shared his holocaust story of living in over 5 concentration camps, his family passing, finding his brother on the ship to the US, arriving to America with $10 given to him by the shiphands and his life advice he had for me (and yes I did write them down after, as my past aspirations to be a journalist in me took over). “Do not pity me. The holocaust was a part of my life, and in the end it makes me who I am, which I would not change. The key to life is to stay positive, and everything will be beautiful.” “If you are stabbed on the outside, it will heal. But if you are stabbed on the inside, it takes time, perseverance and forgiveness to heal it so you don’t continue hurting on the inside – cause if you don’t that will never heal.” As I said goodbye with a hug, I knew I would never forget that conversation ever in my life.
Where am I going with this rambling? Whether it be your dearest friend, your deceased loved ones, a stranger on the street, or a kid playing in the dirt…everyone has a story. And it’s a great thing to learn them, as we can grow as individuals through shared stories, experiences and interactions and potentially enhance our own story. I myself am very guilty of being self-involved and thinking I am the only star of the show, and thinking no-one else can be having problems too. Yet we do not know what happened to people 50 years ago or 50 seconds ago, and that is why we must continue to respect one another for the sake of humankind. We cannot dehumanize people or pre-judge based on a ambiguous notion. And we must remember, we ourselves will touch many people in our lives even if we may not realize it in the present moment. It is important to learn from everyone’s ongoing story and what their going through rather it be small and trivial to large and great to devastating and tragic.
During my visit, we celebrated the life of my beautiful spunky Grandma Jeannie who passed in November. She continues to illustrate the power of her story affecting others through her strong spirit. We were able to spread her ashes in the ocean as she had wished, and celebrated after where each of us shared words, experiences, and emotions about the matron who had touched all of us each in a unique and powerful way. Her spectacular life story may be written, but she will continue to live on through all of our stories she touched in a powerful way. And she was definitely smiling down at the crazy party we threw for her!
How does this relate to my PC service? All of it does. I may have been living the fancy US/Lima life for a week, but that does not change who I am or my service. I just completed a training event with the 22 other volunteers in the health program, and it was the first time we had all been together since swearing in. We all had so many stories, complaints, jokes, insights, poop-stories, and more to share with one another. In that aspect, the motto of ‘the Peace Corps service is different for every volunteer”, really sunk in. We all have our challenges, successes, embarrassments but all of us are in different climates, host families, communities, experiencing cultural differences and more. As we all are a bit lost in our peace corps journey, we can’t lose site why each of us came, and why each of us it still here.
As a volunteer, the past week of training did re-inspire me to take full advantage of this opportunity in many aspects from work to personal areas. Our books or shall I say journals are still being written, and most nights by the reluctant tired hand – but we only have 2 years to potentially help change the stories and lives of those in our communities who aspire for change and a happy ending to their story.
In contrast, to my travels the stories of the people in my town are just as colorful. My host family is now back to being a full house with 9 people, as my grandparents and sister have returned from their summer-stay in Lima. There are numerous different stories in Chatito – from the women sitting in the health post, the campesinos going in with their horse carriages for their long-day in the chakra, and the story of Chatito itself and how it came to be. My grandmother who just got back from visiting her 7 out of 13 children in Lima, and still continues to stay on her feet all day. My 8-year-old cousin who just got back from her summer stay in Lima, who worked everyday selling sandals with her mom on the beach. My inspiring 15 year old sister Carla, who also just got back from her summer stay in Lima who worked the night-shifts at her uncle’s store. My dad who had served in the Peruvian army for 5 years, and now finds his peace in the chakra. There are people around every corner that have something to share and teach, and that what makes this experience so great. Not only am I gaining new perspectives, learning new skills I would have never obtained but also learning to listen and see more clearly people’s stories.
And that’s my story for now. Sorry for rambling. Stay tuned if you want more.
Noches de dios,