Friday, December 25, 2015

La Noche Buena

So, I'm going to be honest with you guys right off the bat: I actually forgot it was Christmas Eve for a few hours yesterday. The combination of new christmas traditions, missing old traditions, and a desire to suppress emotional outbursts dominated my subconscious and prevented me from recognizing the date was, in fact, December 24th and not (as I previously thought) December 20th.

December 24th felt almost like any other day for me. 

December 24th I got up early enough to hop a combi and make it out to Nueva Cajamarca. From there it was a short mototaxi ride to the Cueva de Palestina. This cave rests at the foot of the mountain ranges that strike up through San Martin. It's covered in green jungle and the entrance looks like a ruin only Indiana Jones would discover. Count me in.

"Throw me the idol I throw you the whip!"
Stairway to a small shrine
Afterwards our guide invited my friend Sytske and I to partake in some local cuisine. What started as an invitation to tea ended as a full blown lunch with the entire family. I brought the Peruvian-favorite bread: Paneton. It wasn't until I split what little bread I had and shared it with the amassed people did I realize it was Christmas Eve.

Living in Peru has been an absolute blast. The cultural exchanges are numerous and gratifying every time. That being said my site coordinator Jenny warned me the holidays were going to be hard. There's no way around those feelings of sadness, apprehension, and longing when Christmas rolls around. The best thing you can do is immerse yourself in activities. In short: If you idle you are going to suffer.

I think that was part of it. I went to numerous Chocolotadas. I served hot milk mixed with chocolate and paneton to children multiple times. I finalized a christmas greeting video for the office. I took photos of my coworkers chacra. I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens twice.

Not once did I light an advent candle. I didn't go christmas-lights looking. I didn't watch TV Christmas Specials. I didn't visit a shopping mall to fight the masses and embarrass my sisters at the same time. None of these traditions I was accustomed to took place. To be honest December 24th (and the 25th) was shaping up to be just another day.

My fellow Peruvian volunteer pulled me out from my initial pit of despair with a few wise words of wisdom. When I told her I almost burst into tears she wisely responded: "You may not be home now and that sucks. Next year you'll see them. We may not have those old christmas-lights-warm-cookies customs we did back in the States but Peruvians focus on what is really important: Family."*

The birth of Jesus is the story of a miracle. The origin story of a great man imbued with great purpose. It's also the origin story of a young family, and while Mary and Joseph don't get much screen-time in the rest of Jesus' story there's a reason his birth is one of the mostly widely celebrated holidays in the Christian calendar. Despite Mary's fear and trepidation at giving birth to the Son of God, despite Joseph's doubt about the right path to follow, despite the turmoil they encountered in Bethlehem they figured it out.
Local Nativity scene in the Plaza de Armas
Jesus was born in a rather dirty manger alongside several farm animals. The man who would come to redeem the human race and defeat death was essentially born in a feeding trough. As if that wasn't enough God chose several Shepherds to witness this miracle at the behest of a whole host of angels (cause one wasn't enough I guess). AND THEN God guided three wise men from lands far, far away to the stable of an tiny inn in middle-of-nowhere Bethlehem.

In a sense this was the first family to come together for the birth of Christ. A carpenter, his virgin wife, three nerdy astronomers, some local shepherds, sheep, donkeys, and a partridge in a pear tree. Talk about a mixed bag.

Last night, after christmas service, everyone in the family came over. We drank some wine. The young boys Gabriel and Daniel shot off fireworks. When the clock struck midnight everyone hugged and wished each other a merry christmas. Then we chowed down on a massive dinner. After the dinner the adults lounged around to talk some more. It was probably 3 in the morning when I went to bed. Nobody exchanged presents. Nobody sang carols. Nobody stood under the mistletoe. It was just us, the Villacorta family, gathered around a table together. 

I think I like that quite a bit.

Now I'm not condemning American traditions. Lord knows I love presents, carols, and gingerbread houses. But here in Peru they strip it down to what really matters: Family. And it is a true honor to be considered a member of the Guillen-Villacorta family. I even got an honorary 'Tio Daniel' title with the two primos. I helped my host-brother Roberto move some furniture in his new house. I cooked Tacos for Magda, Elizabeth, Joanna, Jennett, Franco, and Deborah. I have been welcomed with open arms here and found nothing but love and THAT is what helps me during this holiday season.

Merry Christmas! From my family to yours!
In all honesty facing a Christmas away from my family is a daunting prospect. Thinking about it only makes it worse. I forgot what day of the week it was because I was too busy living in the love that is all around me. 

*Roughly paraphrasing what Shaina said, but she seriously helped so much that day.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Peace and Hope Pt. 3: Origin Story

So, one of the things I learned in college was that graphic representation can be used to discuss a number of topics. Artistc representation can be used to discuss serious topics to guide understanding and direct emotions through the application of artistic merit. Examples of biographical comics include the infamous Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi or Maus by Art Spiegelman. Both are fantastic reads and helped me to understand their topics greatly. In the vein of (but certainly not on a similar talent level) these graphic representations I chose to make my own about the originas of the organization I work for: Paz y Esperanza. I highly recommend you read this on your laptop or home computer and I apologize for any discrepancies. I only want to convey the information as best as possible. Any misrepresentation is purely by accident and entirely unintentional.

Here is the full page spread (surprising its not in the exact order I drew it!)

For those who might have read a bit about the Violence here in Peru during the 80´s do not think it was a lonely time with no outside help. In 1984 Evangelical Protestants chose to workly direct in the results of the armed conflict. This work culminated in our organization Paz y Esperanza. It was founded by six professionals in 1996 taking up the work CONEP started: incarcerated people, victims of armed conflicts, human rights education, and enabling churches to be more involved. This initial work prospered into the work Paz does today (Human Rights, Citizenship, Justice an Reconciliation, Sex Education, Protect Abused Women and Children,, Indigenous Rights.) In 2002, Paz grew to include offices in Ecuador (Guayaquil) and Bolivia (Santa Cruz) as well as offices in the US and UK. They also opened several more offices across Peru. My office here in Moyobamba is a result of that.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities

"You will always be a millionaire to them."

My host brother and I got into a discussion about international politics. We were talking about the Peruvian people's lack of international concern. It came hot on the heels of the attacks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad. I told him that despite there being so much bad in the world there is hope. The same hope inspired me to pack up and move to Peru to do some good in this world. To join the people! My host brother told me "You will always be a millionaire to them."

It was with that idea I went in to our first YAV retreat here in Moyobamba. I was beyond excited to show my site coordinator Jenny, her husband Jed, and fellow volunteer Shaina the life I'd built for myself here. In the middle of the week the four of us took a trip to beautiful Tingana, an idyllic Amazonian lodge about an hour from Moyo.
Imagine deep jungle canopy overhead while rafting up a thin river tributary to arrive at a intimate resort complete with bungalows, mess hall, and hammock-filled common hall for us to ponder our deep spiritual insights.

My new best friend and mentor: Don Juan de la Selva!
During our time there we spotted monkeys, sloths, birds, and many other wildlife. We visited a small farm growing everything from oranges to star fruit to cafe to cacao. Our guide, and host, Don Juan* showed us through an herb garden where he was growing cilantro, coca, onions, mint, and a few others. Don Juan, by the way, is a master of puns. Some jokes came so fast I only had time to laugh instead of translate. We celebrated Thanksgiving in the Andean Amazon by eating fresh pan-fried tilapia, cucumber-and-red-pepper salad, rice, with garlic-based aji sauce, and a Doña Pepa cake made with a crumbling cookie texture. 

In between fishing for dinner on the river and laying in hammocks we spent our time identifying some of our successes and some of our failures. From Day One the difference between my experience and Shaina's became apparent.
  left: Shaina and Jenny                     right: Jed dozing 
First, let me be honest and admit that I have the inherently masculine tendency to seek solutions to any problem that presents itself to me. Can't open the pickle jar? Run it under some warm water. Can't find a mototaxi? Change streets. Having trouble with the food you eat? Buy your own food, prepare it. 

When I'm presented with other people's problems I attempt to help solve them and I feel discontent when any solution is dismissed or taken lightly. In other words, I don't understand complaining to complain. I mean I understand venting. I do it all the time. But when my older sister is noting all the negative feelings she has about little things that she can control I get mad when she doesn't change anything.

Our retreat made clear to me the paradigms both Shaina and Myself live in. We are, by all standards, two worlds apart.
Doing some reflecting at Tingana
We were taught at orientation at Stony Point that we carry privilege with us. We don't often recognize how far it goes. There's privilege to being American, white, male, middle class, christian, tall, strong, college-educated, well-traveled, and creative. I knew that. I knew that going into my YAV year I was going to see new ways others see my privilege. We were taught that we didn't get to choose most of the privilege we carry with us, but we can choose to use that privilege to benefit others.
Shaina's fishing for dinner. She was unsuccessful.

What I didn't imagine was the privilege I'd find just by living in a different world. The advantages of living in Moyobamba versus living in Lima define what I call 'site-centered privilege.' Of which there are many (Shaina has outlined fairly clearly the differences of living in Moyobamba versus living in Lima, especially Comas.) Make no mistake there are things that Lima has that Moyobamba doesn't. That doesn't mean one site is better than the other.

Moyobamba has nature all around it, and thus easy activities to pursue within my budget. In Moyobamba you can hike up a mountain, take a boat ride, and wander the streets at night. In a small city like Moyobamba everyone knows everyone, thus increasing my odds of seeing my friends and making new ones. The network expands. There's even a few ex-pats who set up shop here in Moybamba and who aren't going back to their homeland anytime soon.

In Lima beer is cheaper.

I don't think it's fair to compare Moyobamba to Lima. That'd be like comparing Kauaii, Hawaii to Memphis, Tennessee. They're completely different and if you waste time thinking about it you can convince yourself one is more valuable than the other. While my frustration still mounts from the numerous times Shaina and I traded experiences I have come to an important realization: this is how we process. This is the reflecting we came to do on our retreat.

Shaina's eating a furry caterpillar.
We can compare and contrast Lima and Moyobamba all we want but we still have the same core problem. The privileges we were born with.

Shaina and I both encounter different forms of it but we both recognize that people here are quicker to offer respect, invite you into their homes, have you stand by them, and ask for your help. They're quicker because we're White, Middle Class, Americans. This sentiment that a lighter skin color benefits us heralds from the oppression the conquistadors laid over the native Peruvians here. This privilege has existed since the 1500's. To them, we are millionaires. While people marvel and awe and hope that Shaina or I can make them cooler by association we just want to help people. We want to belong. We crave authentic relationships.

Now I've learned authentic relationships are more possible here in Moyobamba. Part of that is due to the legacy of foreigners living in the neighborhood. Another part of that is the size of the town. After awhile everyone knows who you are and the novelty of being foreign wears off.

Despite living in two different worlds Shaina and I still have the same problem.

I was called to Peru. I was given my site placement. I managed to thrive in my cozy little home here. I have overcome those hard moments of homesickness. I unearthed my effectiveness at work.

This blog post should perhaps ruminate more on some of the deeper spiritual problems I've encountered, but what I learned the most from our retreat was just how much I have to be thankful for. Without sounding bigoted I'm thankful for the privilege I was born with. It has served as a powerful tool for Paz y Esperanza and YAV. I'm also incredibly grateful for the site-privilege I took for granted previously.

Don Juan showing us his beautiful chacra.
I am exactly where I need to be at exactly the right time in my life. God put me here. 

I'm thankful for my friends, family, home church. I'm thankful for Jenny and Jed and Shaina for being my YAV family and for being there for me during my stay in Peru. I'm thankful for the YAV office. I'm thankful for good health. I'm thankful for feeling at home in a foreign land. I'm thankful for Paz y Esperanza for having me on their team. I'm thankful to my older sister who encouraged me to be a YAV. I'm thankful to Zoe Filutowski who gave me the best advice ever: "All you can do now is pray about it." I'm thankful, most of all, to God for his gentle nudging.

The paradigm I live in may seem like paradise when compared to another but there is darkness here all the same, and I am thankful that I can use what privilege I have to help bring light to the dark corners.

Happy Thanksgiving, from my YAV family to yours!

*Not his actual name.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Office Woes

A day in the field can yield Masato-drinking with the tribes.
I don't teach children. I don't collect hand-me-downs from church families. I don't work in a soup kitchen. I don't spend my days collecting the medical history of homeless people. Some of my days are in the office. Some of my days are in the field. Those days offer the quickest insight. I can meet the people I'm serving. That's meaningful and gratifying. Still, the ratio is inconsistent. I don't confront the marginalized as thoroughly as I expected, and that frustrated me.

One of the reasons I initially felt this frustration was the adjustment period.

Jenny and Jed described the first phase of my time here in Peru as finding how I fit in. Three full months to learn. It seemed appropriate at the time that three months would help me fit in. Now, living it, I have the urge to say three months is too long; I'm ready for the next phase.

Often people ask to take a goofy pic
Part of this adjusting is understanding the context I'm walking into. To fully understand exactly the kind of world I inhabit now would require living here for much longer than a year. I've read countless pamphlets, brochures, and web articles describing the struggle the indigenous people face with major corporations and the role the regional government plays. I honestly thought I understood the gist of it and the nuances would just come to me as I worked. But that's not enough. Pretty quickly my understanding unspools in front of me and my frustration starts to mount.

Part of it is I don't often believe what I'm hearing. Corruption, nepotism, riots, and even murder pop up in my studies of this topic. Conspiracy abounds and when you've grown up with a healthy amount of skepticism you have a hard time stomaching some of the wilder accusations. I've had to ask people to repeat themselves multiple times not because I couldn't translate, but because I didn't believe them the first time.

To sum what I've learned: the government will employ literally every manner possible to prevent indigenous recognition at the national level.

Another part of it is the nature of my work. My job isn't directly hand-to-mouth feeding the homeless. Which is good. I would prefer the work I do address root causes. Cure the disease, so to speak, not the symptoms.

But it's the best way I can help. I don't know human rights law or environmental engineering. I know how to use a camera, microphone, and recorder. I can edit on three different platforms. I can patch up bad audio from interviews. I can write, shoot, and edit a short documentary. These are the things I'm better than anyone in the office at.

Not only that but I'm beyond blessed to have all the tools I need at my disposal. It is an incredibly rare circumstance to have an entire editing suite in my office. Based on these two things I'd call my site placement a perfect match.
Moyobamba is known as the City of Orchids! Exhibit A.
I've been blessed. In more ways than I fully understand. I'm still unpacking the meaning of what I do here. I can't quantify the impact I have as well as I would like. I trust in God that I am doing the right thing and that every action I take has meaning. Currently that means I need to study more. Brush up on my international labor conventions a little more. I'm okay with that. 

I may not know how far my influence really reaches, but if studying a little more can guide that influence then you will find me with my nose in a book, and a hand on my camera (just in case! :)

From the top of Moro de Calzado! A mountain my host family and I hiked last weekend!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Peru Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery by

Cultural Interchange: Halloween

Moyobamba (and a large portion of cities in Northern Peru) don't celebrate Halloween. In the big city Lima they sell costumes, throw parades, clubs have large parties. Can't miss a good opportunity to make some money, I believe that.

Halloween, according to friends and family here in Moyobamba, is a Satanic Holiday. It's a day for witches (brujas) and monsters. It's an Anti-christian holiday. It's a highly discouraged holiday to celebrate. Thus there are no costumes sold, candy doled out, and neighborhood festivals.

INSTEAD, the Peruvians have a day to celebrate Criollo Music. A national day dedicated to playing and listening to a collection of native Peruvian music. Cumbia is what it's called.

Here in Moyobamba we also celebrate the Festival de la Orquideas. As far as I can tell it's only on this weekend so it's a local holiday also designed to celebrate the city's namesake: Orchid Flowers.

I'm not overly upset about not celebrating Halloween. It's fun to celebrate and it's fine to miss out every now and then. What interests me is the knee-jerk reaction I encountered when I mentioned Halloween. An evil day. A day for witches. A day for Satan. A day for The Enemy. 

This illustrates a curious expression of more conservative theology found here in Moyobamba. 

The main prebsyterian church here in Moyobamba has a praise band. Services last up to two and a half hours. They often do the thing where they singe a couple praise songs all together and then transition into praying while the piano player gives a soft melody. I personally find it a little frustrating cause I never know when we're praying or singing and awkwardly get left singing the last notes of a song when everyone bows their heads.

I haven't seen a single woman pastor yet. Pastors have prayed before that only those who are baptized in the church and who are free of sin may accept communion. Drinking alcohol and dancing are severely looked down. I know people who don't drink in the city of Moyobamba to avoid any potential conflict with their home churches.

My knee-jerk reaction to their knee-jerk reaction was to explain Halloween has very little to do with actual Satan or Witches or Werewolves or any other demonic force. I wanted to explain it's just a highly commercialized holiday that was originally adopted by the Church as part of their method to integrate pagan holidays (in this case Samhain and its later constituents.) Start a dialogue, get some intercultural exchange going on! The trick would be to make it discussion and not a debate.

I got the feeling that might not directly help my existing Peruvian relationships.

 You have to pick and choose your battles.

I'd be lying if I said the conservativism didn't intimidate me at first. This was something I associated with small town, Texas. A 'Footloose' town as I like to call them. Still, it's wrong to brand an entire population or community based solely on a collective experience. Many church members might not feel the same way as their pastors. Maybe they have friends they see at church. It's important to remember that while their theology (and some of their worship practices) I do not agree with I do not condemn it either. Christ didn't agree with what the Rabbis were teaching in Temple. He didn't go out and condemn those teachers.

An interesting story for your Halloween season:

Over lunch I talked about horror movies with my host brother. He mentioned a new exorcism movie which I laughed at and told him there are better ones than that. My host mom added something to the effect of " They're even better in person."


Mom, what did you just say?

Thus began a fifteen minute interview begging my host mom to describe the few exorcisms she'd attended.

The Pastor of the Presbyterian church will call some of his ordained friends. They organize a prayer group. My mom has been in several of these prayer groups. They pray throughout the morning in the church. In the afternoon they go to visit the afflicted where they pray outside the door. There's no strict plan for an exorcism like you'd see in the Exorcist. It's a lot more of pray-alot-at-the-foot-of-the-bed-and-hold-down-the-convulsing-body type. A lot less the Exorcist and lot more Emily Rose.

She told me they go in groups of 12 or 15 to the house. The Pastor and his pastor-buddies show up and lead the prayers. Sometimes they have to hold the person down cause of the convulsions/struggling. 

The afflicted scream and cry out. They rip their clothes. They tear their hair and gnash their teeth. They make rather unnatural guttural screams. My host mother recounted as best she could.

Usually after an hour of praying the afflicted stops seizing and lays in bed, practically comatose. The demon has left that person and they are healed. The person never has that problem again. They never perform an exorcism on the same person twice. It doesn't work that way.

My host mom has been to six exorcisms in her life. I told her if she ever does another one to call me immediately. I will drop what I am doing and record the exorcism on my camera.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Peace and Hope Pt. 2: Las Indigenas

So, I work for Paz y Esperanza here in Moyobamba. Paz y Esperanza focuses on two things:

1. Teaching sign language for deaf children and helping spread education/awareness about deaf rights

2. Help indigenous tribes get recognized by the government and obtain their land deeds to preserve their culture.

Their both very different topics and come from very different places in our hearts.

Pt. 2 - Las Indigenas

Paz y Esperanza's original mission focused on assisting indigenous people protect their land from major corporations. It's a noble cause, but one that faces numerous obstacles such as exploited legal loopholes, political corruption, general ignorance (on every level), and direct apathy.

Let's start at the beginning. Well, kind of the beginning.

Peru is a resource-rich country. The Andes mountains spikes straight through the center of the country while the Amazon rainforest hides mountains of resources in the North. Between these two there exists a long history of exploiting these resources. Whether it's gold by the Spanish, oil by Canadian companies, or minerals by American conglomerates there has been a history of outsiders invading the country, extracting these resources, and leaving once the earth has been (quite literally) sucked dry. This comes at the cost of those people who call that land their home.

In 1989 the International Labour Organization hosted a conference in Geneva to ratify/affirm several proposals. One of these proposals affects the influence of Native Tribes.

Basically the convention declares Native Tribes have the right to self-govern their own land. They are accorded all the rights of normal citizens of that State. The State government must consult with them before a political decision is made in order to reach an agreement with those affected. This is known as the Derecho a la Consulta (roughly translated as the Right to Prior Consultation.)

In 1991 many, many countries adopted Convention 169 along with the Right to Prior Consultation. Peru adopted Convention 169 in 1993. That was under a different presidency.

This will literally explain everything

Flashforward to 2006 then-President Alan Garcia has ambitions for trade agreements with North American countries (mainly Canada and the States, sorry Mexico.) During Garcia's presidency  multinational conglomerates cultivate huge swaths of land containing indigenous people. The outrage is felt immediately.

June 5, 2009 - Bagua, Amazonas Departamento, Peru

The protest of a mining company at the Curva del Diablo by Awajun-wampi tribes is violently interrupted by military police. The conflict explodes with the military police firing at the crowd of protesters. Everyone shut their doors in Bagua that day as soldiers fired at protesters in the streets (this was, of course, after the road to Curva was abandoned.) 33 Protesters and 21 Police were killed. More than 50 were injured. Several newspeople capture the awful events of Bagua and broadcasts it back to the capital. Bagua goes down in Peruvian history as the turning point. The "we've had enough" event.*

CNN Report on Bagua

Remember the Right to Prior Consultation?
In 2011 the Right to Prior Consultation is approved (roughly ten years after a majority of other nations have adopted it) under President Ollanta Humala.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Into The Woods

Monday - September 28th, 5:30 A.M.

Wake up. Groggy. Grumpy (to say the least.) I struggled into the bathroom to put in my contacts. In between my sarcastic grumblings I manage to dip my contact lens case over the sink and thus pour one of the only two lenses I have into the drain. Deep groan. Search for the contact lens for 7 or 8 minutes. Fail. Shower. Brush my teeth, throw on some shorts and a tee shirt. Go outside.

6:00 A.M. - Tarapoto, Peru

Nobody's out just yet. It's our departure time for a long journey ahead of me and nobody is out just yet. It takes about fifteen minutes for everyone to show up: Me the team photographer, then Joel the accountant officer from Paz, then Ronald the Environmental Engineer, finally Ruben the Human Rights Lawyer.

Everyone's wearing pants and I've been wearing shorts the past couple days. I decided to switch to jeans, to fit the meeting we're about to attend. I think "stick to your guns" and then I see everyone wearing pants and I change my mind.

6:30(ish) A.M. - Tarapoto, Peru

We leave Tarapoto for Barranquita. I'm told it's a four hour journey so I attempt to sleep off the grogginess. Everyone else seems chipper and that's not really helping. I drown out the noise and nod off for maybe twenty or thirty minutes total. The landscape is too beautiful (and the road too bumpy) to ignore. We listen to Spanish cumbia or salsa for a bit before the music switches over to Katy Perry and I finally lighten up.

"Maybe this isn't so bad after all."

The journey takes less than two and a half hours so we get into Barranquita around 9.

9:00 A.M. - Barranquita, Peru

We're greeted by our friend Jugo and a member of the Shawi San Jose tribe. This man's name is Apu and he is telling us their water supply is contaminated. Everyone's getting sick in his village. It's a small village about a three hour hike not far from here.
The sleepy town of Barranquita!
Ruben mentions this to Ronald who immediately takes interest. Me being still groggy I vaguely pay attention. It's only when they mention me going with Ronald to the village do I perk up. I'm going where?

First things first: Breakfast. We snag seats at a tiny restaurant right next to the town square. Breakfast is a traditional pollo a lo braso with rice and lime-juiced tomatoes. Nobody is drinking the chicha. I reach out for the pitcher. Everyone looks at me and shakes their head. In a low voice they all mutter "You don't want that." Okayyyyyy. I'll have a bottle of water then.

10:00 A.M. - Barranquita, Peru
Ruben and Ronald host the meeting here. This meeting is to support the people living in the area. A mining company has been attempting to purchase a large portion of land. This past Friday the regional government acknowledged the appeals of the population at a Town Hall meeting and announced the documents are currently in favor of these people. This mining company doesn't have strong grounds to purchase the land just yet, but there will be a new ruling at the beginning of November. Thus our meeting today. To create a plan of action to improve our odds before November.

I don't know exactly what is discussed. These people are all older men with small 'chacras' or plots of land to grow some of their own crops. They're mostly worried about their means of living. You can tell that many of them feel helpless when it comes to legal things like land titles, restitution, legal courses. They have to trust Ruben knows what he's saying and can help them.

It's like when you call tech support to help you when your computer's dead. You may have no idea how to switch out a processor, but you're trusting this person completely that they know what they're doing. Except this is on a much bigger scale, and way more important than a buggy computer.

12:12 A.M. 

The meeting ends. The men eat lunch together while the Paz y Esperanza team form a plan of action. We've found the Shawi San Jose pueblo on a map. We will head out after lunch and try a highway pass for a shorter trail. We eat lunch at the same restaurant we ate breakfast. Nobody touches the chicha.

1:00 (ish) P.M. - Highway between Alianza and Barranquita

The truck is stuffed with Jugo, Me, Joel, and another traveler in the back. Ruben drives with Ronald in the passenger seat. Apu and his son are in the bed watching the road for the turn off to their village.

The entire time I'm sitting in the truck thinking:
"How are we all gonna hike to this village and back in time? It's a two hour drive to the hiking spot, and that's not counting the two hours it takes to get back. What's going on?"

I fade in and out of sleep for the next two hours crammed into the backseat of this trunk. A grumpy Daniel is a sarcastic Daniel. Every now and then I wield English like a scalpel. And I kind of regret saying mean sarcastic things. Not my best moment.

We stop at a station on our way and load up with eight water bottles and four powerade bottles.

3:03 P.M. - Alianza, Peru

We have hired a mototaxi from nearby Alianza to drive through as much of the Shawi trail as possible. As we precariously lean and jostle over speed bumps and ruts I start thinking "Oh! This makes sense! We can pay the mototaxi to wait here for us and he will take us back to Alianza and we can go from there to Tarapoto tonight."

Ruben and Joel stayed with the truck. It's just me, Apu, his 7 year old son, Jugo, and Ronald.

On my person I have:

  1. Wallet
  2. Klean Kanteen aluminum reusable 1 liter waterbottle. Three-quarters full.
  3. Greek worry beads I bought while I was in Athens
  4. iPhone 6 (no cell service whatsoever so even if I was screwed and wanted to pay for an international call I would be physically incapable.)
  5. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 camera with a 14-42mm lens, battery, 32mB SD Card

That's it.

We slip and slide up a few steep muddy slopes I think are impossible to drive. I think "I'm gonna call this kid a dirt bike magician and thank him profusely for making my day easier."

I was thinking of the spanish word for magician when we stopped.

We are looking at a puddle too big for our ride to cross. Ronald and Jugo are weighing options. Jugo's looking at his GPS compass he has with him. Apu and son are looking out at the trail with longing. They want to be home.

I turn back from the trail and overhear Ronald telling our taxi driver to meet us here again at 7, and then he says 'in the morning'. I think "I must have translated that wrong. He means 7 at night. That makes perfect sense."

The young taxista nods his head and we head out on foot.

3:35 P.M. - Somewhere on the trail in the flatter side of the Andean Amazon

We hike the trail. It's not a hard trail. In fact, it's quite beautiful with huge green fronds, 15-20 feet tall trees, wet leaves everywhere. The light rainfall that afternoon freshens the afternoon up. I'm lost in this beautiful jungle. It's like something out of Jurassic Park.

"Life finds a way."
The only thing that really complicates this hike are my clothes. I'm wearing jeans, tennis shoes, a solid-color ordinary tee shirt. These are the worst possible clothes to wear for hiking of pretty much any kind. In fact, it was pretty much the only day in my life I've openly asked myself "Why aren't you wearing loose-fitting cargo pants?" I'm currently thinking about investing in a pair.

4:35 P.M. - Still on the trail

My cynical side comes out and I talk to Ronald about what we're doing here.

Found a rainforest frog!
Turns out we're not going back to Tarapoto with their comfortable hotel bed and warm shower. We're staying the night at the village. Cue noisy english sarcastic grumbling. I think it's better nobody understands me.

I'm not mad about taking this hike. In fact, I'm all for it! I love the views. You can't see jungle like this back home. No, what I'm frustrated about and ever-so-slightly angry about is that everyone else seems to have gotten the memo except me.

Granted, nobody knew they would be visiting the village today. But at least Ronald and Jugo had the presence of mind to pack a daypack with some spare clothes, toilet paper, a towel, shampoo. Pretty much the few things they needed to survive.

What's dragging me down is: I have a small backpack for day trips. I have a multi-tool knife, a flashlight, traveling towel, spare clothes, an extra battery for my camera. All the stuff I really need is at the hotel. At my home in Moyobamba I have a traveler's hammock kit, a Zoom audio recorder and shotgun mic, a second lens, as well as a small pillow. If somebody had bothered to mention, just once, that morning "Oh hey! Maybe bring some clothes or a spare towel with you today! You never know!" I would have listened and done it. No sweat.

But I'm on an adventure! I think to myself "What would iconic legendary hero and my favorite movie protagonist do?"
To emphasize how much I love Indiana Jones.

Today I get to take myself seriously when I ask:
"What would Indiana Jones do?"

My frustration melts pretty quickly.

Matthew 6: 28-31, 34
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Oh this day's got plenty of trouble already. But, in all seriousness, I have water. I have clothes on my back. I even have a camera to do what I love. As long as I grab a snack and sleep somewhere I think I can manage.
The Village
5:05 P.M. - The village of the Shawi San Jose
Whatever anger and frustration I had left immediately melts upon seeing the village.

The bathtub.
Nobody's around just yet so Ronald, Jugo, and myself bathe in the river with the soap and shampoo they brought. It feels good to be some kind of clean.

Our home is a school house, made of local woods with a thatch roof. Our beds are several tables all put together, flat as can be. I think "It's certainly more comfortable than sleeping on a rock."

It becomes magic hour here. The sun is setting. I snap some pictures.

8:00 P.M. - Shawi San Juan

Dinner is served! Apu's third or fourth wife (concubine as it is loosely translated) has prepared some lean chicken in a light broth with yucca. There's a bowl of dry bananas (not your normal banana) and yucca to munch on as well. All of a sudden I'm kind of glad I ate so much food earlier today. I devour my meal and leave the dinner table to take some photos of the stars.

I've always wanted to do long-exposure star photography. I love sprawling canvasses of the night sky tinged with the oranges and reds of sun down. The black landscapes dotted with crystal clear dots of light. I get to play for a good thirty minutes. I manage to take one or two decent photographs and I think "This kinda makes up for all my grumbling. I have officially been humbled."
This is just the beginning.

8:30 P.M. - Shawi San Jose

We learn most of the villagers are staying the night in Alianza so it's just us, Apu, his family, and a Shawi-Spanish woman who is the village's teacher.

Ronald and I discuss the video interviews we came here to do. I come alive!

Apu's  awesome son!
Finally! My passion put to use. I gather the resources around me, and do a quick survey. It's dark so we use iPhone light. Thankfully it's pretty quiet out here and the background noise will suit the video. Ronald has a pretty good idea of how to conduct an interview. He has all the questions so I let him do the talking.

Three interviews staged with Apu, his wife, and the teacher. I go to town setting my focus, seeing the video quality with and without the iPhone light, taking test footage and checking the levels while listening for any background noises. I'm at home doing what I love.
They each tell stories.*

These people have suffered from a Chilean mining operation that has tainted their water supply. They don't have medical facilities and it's two hours to hike just to the tiny town of Alianza so they still have two hours to get to Tarapoto to find a doctor or hospital. If children get sick it can take two to three days to find help or for them to get to a doctor. Their education system is tiny. The community lives off of the land and trades mostly in bananas, Yucca, and a few other vegetables. They are a small pueblo so everyone pitches in. Very few speak Spanish.

I'm struck. If I thought I was humbled before, I'm broken now. It's a lot to take in and I'm glad I was there to record it.

We finish our interviews and say thank you/goodnight.

9:00 P.M. - Shawi San Jose

Our bed for the evening.
Apu gave us a blanket to spread over our tables to help us get comfortable. I lay down on my side of the table feeling rather content. This may have been just about the most ridiculous, unexpected adventure of my life, and I was rather upset at the beginning, but I'm incredibly grateful I did it.

3:00 A.M. September 29, 2015 - Shawi San Jose

I wake up again from a deep sleep. Despite all odds I passed out. My back muscles are on fire. There are parts of me I didn't know that could hurt in paid. It's early and still not time to get up. I wait it out. Try a few new positions, still no luck. At least the bugs aren't flying around me anymore. An hour goes by and I conk out one more time.

5:30 A.M. - Shawi San Jose

I wake up again. Ronald's passed out. The sun's just started to rise giving everything that fresh-dew purple glow you always see. I admire it. Then I try to get up and my back seizes for a solid minute.

Very, very carefully I take my time getting up. There are too many stiff muscles in my body. I massage as much as I can while I survey my surroundings. Thank god I was wearing my glasses or my eyes would have been on fire from leaving my contacts in. Also thank god I was wearing jeans or my legs would have frozen in the night.

Ronald wakes up not long after me. We wake up Jugo, pack our bags and leave at first light. It's about 6:00 A.M. when we hit the trail. I'm still groggy and grumpy but moving has warmed me up and the exercise drove away the stiffness.

Saying goodbye to the Shawi San Jose - for now!
7:00 A.M. - On the trail back

We make it back to our starting point. I realize we're supposed to get a mototaxi ride back to Alianza from here. We wait about 30 minutes and nothing shows up. By now the morning has warmed up considerably and I've got about 1/4 of a liter of water in my bottle left. Ronald and Jugo are chipper than ever. We make our way through the remaining trail. My cynical side sets in. I'm sweaty, muddy, and sarcastic. At this point I separate myself from the two. A conversation is the last thing I want to have right now. Spanish might completely fry my brain and make me a vegetable so I focus on photographing the area and of some of the logging activities going on here.

8:20 A.M. - Highway between Alianza and Tarapoto

We made it! The highway is here! Of course my ridiculous hopes that Ruben and Joel would somehow be there holding plates of eggs, bacon, and orange juice are dashed. We hop on a colectivo back to Tarapoto. I fade in and out of consciousness smiling to myself.

"This," I think "this is what Indiana Jones would do."

10:15 A.M. - Tarapoto, Royal Kerkus Hotel, Peru

We make it back to the hotel. I stumble into my room. It kind of hurts to walk I'm so sore. I moan, strip off my clothes, and take a long shower. My grumpiness doesn't fade just yet, but considering I have the day off it gets better.

I got to rest and relax the rest of the day.

It was a long trip. It was an incredibly taxing trip. I was unnerved and completely unmanned. I won't lie. I almost broke down on the hike to the village. It might have been the hardest trial by fire I've had to face yet. I thank God I have practice in hiking trails, conserving water, photographing nature, and making the best of a bad situation. Boy Scouts, Frisbee games, road trips. I managed to come out of this one okay.

I may have had it rough, but this is people's lives. Apu and his son hike that trail maybe seven or eight times a week to get into town for something. If somebody gets hurt and breaks an arm or leg it's four hours to the nearest hospital. I'm not staring into a corner of the world unseen by previous human eyes and discovering a new tribe. No. I'm staring into a corner of the world humanity has ignored, that could just as easily have been somewhere else in the world.

This was about applying myself: mind, body, soul to the work of advocacy, care, and human connection. This was God's work and it was God's plan. In the process of living a lifelong dream of mine (I've always wanted to live an Indiana Jones-esque adventure) I got to help Apu, his son, his wife. I may have been pushed and tested to my absolute limits but God knows I can do it.

He trusts me to do the work I was sent to do. I trusted in him to take care of me. You know what? we didn't let each other down.

 - Daniel Pappas -

* I can't post the videos to the internet just yet. I need permission from my boss before I do so. Some of it is in Quechua and all of it is in Spanish so I will have to subtitle them all when I get back to Moyobamba.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Peace and Hope Pt. 1: Para Los Sordos

So, I work for Paz y Esperanza here in Moyobamba. Paz y Esperanza focuses on two things:

1. Teaching sign language for deaf children and helping spread education/awareness about deaf rights

2. Help indigenous tribes get recognized by the government and obtain their land deeds to preserve their culture.

Their both very different topics and come from very different places in our hearts.

Pt. 1 - Para Los Sordos

"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see." - Mark Twain

Okay. To start off with I'm not sure Mark Twain actually said that. Originally I wanted to write about the second topic, but this proved inopportune as this week is the dedicated week to celebrate International Week of the Deaf. Considering I've been doing more work on that subject this week and September 25 is the big international day to celebrate the rights deaf people I want to write about this cause first. Hence, it's a two-parter. Next week you'll get the sequel.

The inability to hear stems from many different sources. When the inability to hear occurs at a very young age the ability to speak is stunted. Without the capability to hear noise how can one process it and mimic it? It ends up that most deaf people are also incapable of speaking. Because of this sign language was created to assist communication.

World Federation of the Deaf Website
Now the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities explicitly states that it is a deaf person's inherent right to have access to sign language and to sign as their primary form of communication. With this declaration it is understood Sign Language is not inferior to any other language nor is it a 'last resort' method of communication.

It sounded very obvious to me when I read about it. Of course deaf people use sign language. That's what I would do if I were deaf. But you have to understand: We live in a world where some people don't always have access to Sign Language resources.

Thus, this week.

On Saturday there will be a cycling event here in Moyobamba. Everyone is encouraged to come and participate! We are joining together to show our support and love for our deaf brothers and sisters. Plenty of the students from Paz y Esperanza will be there!
For my part I spent Monday and Tuesday with another volunteer Jessy walking from school to school introducing ourselves and explaining what we were promoting. We carried flyers with us and introduced ourselves to many school principals. They were full days of walking, speaking in rapid-fire Spanish, and learning sign language. Jessy was kind enough to teach me several colors, almost all the fruits, and a few family terms.
They wanted to hear me say something in English so badly!
Sign Language is just like any other language. There are moments when it's intuitive and obvious. For example when you want to sign a fruit you generally demonstrate the actual way you eat a fruit. When I want to sign banana I pantomime peeling a banana and taking a big bite. You have to exaggerate your gestures and your face or else you may accidentally say something else. In other ways it's counter intuitive. The sign for 'bad' is absolutely nothing like you would imagine. (Of course how could you imagine bad? It's a more abstract construct than banana.)
How to sign Banana! (I'm not making this up)

The reality exists that some families don't want their children to learn or practice sign language. Some families can't afford or find resources to educate their children. Imagine being unable to communicate or share your thoughts, desires, wishes, needs, etc. I spent a day without talking once and I was lucky enough to be able to write everything down.

The work Paz y Esperanza does is offer classes to kids and teenagers. Adults don't normally go since it's much harder for adults to learn a new language. These classes reach out to families in need. There are seminars for volunteer teachers to learn sign language so that they can communicate with their students and teach more classes. There is an ever expanding network of sign language education originating at Paz. I loved learning sign language. I'm going to continue learning. How else will I be able to say 'Thank You' at the end of my stay here?

Like this:

Gracias a todos y que Dios te bendiga!

 - Daniel Pappas -

I also learned Zombie is the same in every language.

Photos from the Puerta Tahuishco.
Photos from the Rio Tahuishco