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

Friday, September 11, 2015

Welcome to the Jungle

A deep blue river snaked it's way through verdant jungle claiming huge swaths of land around the small clumps of houses, storefronts, and restaurants that make up civilization. The jungle gave way to a small black tar runway for our plane to land. The tiny airport in Tarapoto was losing a war with vegetation. I had never seen the jungle until that day.

The drive to Moyobamba wound through the mountains. We drove down a tiny two-lane highway built into the side of a cliff. The truck bounced up and down while I stared up at the night sky transfixed.

Different stars. Different language. Different family. 
Different Life.

Bring it on.

My first full day in Moyobamba I had a conversation with a deaf person in Spanish sign language. I played soccer with a bunch of Peruvians. I got lost for two hours, and somehow managed to find my way back. I haven't spoken english out loud in well over forty eight hours. I've mixed up countless nouns and verbs. I made like ten new friends. I rode a motorcycle! (Sorry mom.) Everyone drives like small Honda bikes here get around. They're more like dirt bikes really, but they're very common.

First: My Home.

The View from my Room.

In Moyobamba I live in what's more like a complex than a single house. Everything wraps around and connects with a center courtyard. The kitchen, dining room, living room are all open-air. There is no air conditioning here, just the wind. Multiple closed rooms house my new host family. A second floor houses more rooms plus an indent for a bathroom and washing machine. Clothes dry the old fashioned way.*

Second: My Work - Paz y Esperanza

It's a normal-sized office. Single story. The front has desks for all the people. In the back where a large garden rests a large auditorium can be found. This auditorium is used for presentations and large meetings. In a separate, second building are more offices. One floor is occupied by an environmental engineer and a human rights lawyer whose work focuses on the native tribes.

I found the video editing workstation. A few omni-directional microphones hooked up to a basic 8-input mixer fed into the computer to record through Sound Forge. Very similar to what I worked with at Southwest Airlines. I almost got lost in the editing programs, sound recordings, and various film appliances I studied in college. I think I'm going to enjoy the work I do here.
This is Joel. A coworker at Paz y Esperanza.

Third: The City.

Moyobamba is a small city! It's probably the size of one suburb in New Orleans. I could walk from one side of the city to the other if I decided to. The city hosts close to 45,000 people here. It's a dusty city with well-constructed roads. The town square is surrounded by a Catholic church, Municipal Building, and school. Tall palm trees line the square offering shade to the bench-dwellers underneath. It's a common stopping place for people after work or during their lunch break to visit. The humidity can be fearsome at times.

Once you see past the buildings you recognize those same green mountains I mentioned before. Only these mountains surround the town on all sides. You travel outside the city and immediately you're greeted with green fields that go on forever. There's a few thermal baths just outside the city. The weather: high of 87 low of 77. Rain is on-and-off. Civilization just sort of drops off. You see the occasional shack or two. There are plenty of street vendors driving wheelbarrows with fresh picked platanos, yucca, o aguacate.

I keep thinking to myself: This is my life now. I live here now.

Riding the back of a dirt bike down the dusty streets of a small town in northern Peru waiting for a call from your boss sounds like something out of a spy movie. Except, of course, I'm probably the furthest thing from a spy. I'm a volunteer working for Paz y Esperanza.

Sometimes it doesn't sink in. This is just another one of my trips. It doesn't seem real.

The hard part is when I think about home. I won't lie, I get bad homesickness. I left behind a lot. If I spend time thinking about what life could have been like my homesickness gets worse. I get a little nervous at times cause it's just me out here. Jenny, Jed, and Shaina are all back in Lima. I won't see any of them for a full month and a half. It's easy to feel stranded and to let that feeling encourage my homesickness, but I don't have to feel that way. Truthfully I'm not alone.

As cheesy as it is to say I'm walking with God. It's hard to understand the conversation we're having. I say one thing, He does another. I do one thing, he says another. Plus, what I'm feeling right now is completely normal. Other volunteers have gone before me and had the exact same experience. My fellow YAVs around the world and in the States are having these feelings. I'm not alone in these thoughts.

So I focus on the positive. I take it one day at a time. Tomorrow I get to wake up and be a part of this brand new world. It's the dream I've always wanted to live. I can't think of a better blessing than living your dream.

Gracias y vaya con dios

 - Daniel Pappas -

Welcome to the Jungle!

*More about my host family in a later post, pending their approval.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A (Not So) Brief History of Peru

Today was a sad day. Not because I was slightly homesick (it's SMU's opening football game of the season and all my friends are there). No, it was a sad day because today Shaina and I learned about the violent period in Peru's history from 1980-2000.

Throughout the course of my lessons in Peruvian history I have come to understand a certain paradigm when it comes to the people that make up this beautiful country.

Peru is a divided country. It is not one cultural entity, but a mix of different cultures centered around geographical zones.

Or at least, that was my takeaway from my lessons this past week.

To begin you have to understand there are three main regions in Peru: The Mountains to the South, The Desert Coast to the West, and the Jungle to the North. These three regions support a wide variety of different cultures and lifestyles ranging from the Quechua-speaking natives in the Andes to the Amazonian tribes in the Jungle to the Spanish-speakers in the cities along the coast. Even before the Incan civilization Peru consisted of multiple pueblos with widely varying traits.

Here's a good geographic breakdown of the country.
Fast forward to Spanish colonialization. When these conquistadors arrived in South America they didn't see a pre-existing civilization with a nature-oriented belief system, political hierarchy, form of record keeping, advanced astronomical capabilities, or significant public works designed to enhance The Conquistadors thought they saw a tabula rasa people who were primed to be controlled and taught the Spanish way of living. In this manner they destroyed a significant amount of culture and imposed the Catholic church's will on them. What's worse is they managed to convince the Peruvian people that they were inferior to the Spaniards. The Peruvians believed what the Spaniards taught them.
life. They saw a backwards people growing potatoes or corn and riding alpacas.

This mindset goes on today.

But after condensing over three hundred years of history in one paragraph I want to open up a few twenty years to examine a terrible time in history.

So, prior to 1980 Peru's capital city soaked up most of the wealth and benefits: healthcare, education, transportation. Peru was ruled by a military dictator at the time. Outside of the capital, especially in the mountains, people lived impoverished lives. They enjoyed none of the benefits the Peruvian government employed in Lima.

Abimael Guzman, leader of Shining Path
A former philosophy professor named Abimael Guzman organized a group intent on changing this.
They called themselves Sendero Luminoso or, in English, Shining Path. Shining Path aligned itself on Leninist principles of governance. They modeled themselves after General Mao Ze Dong's People's revolution in China.

Sendero Luminoso started off meaning well, but quickly turned into something horrid. Their early years focused on organizing and spreading their information outside of the City. In 1980, during a presidential election, they declared the beginning of their violent revolution.
They began by focusing on military targets and dictatorial powers in the countryside, especially cities like Ayacucho. And plenty of the campesinos supported them.
A photo of Shining Path from 1985
Then they focused on civilian authority figures. They murdered Mayors, governors, county clerks, and other officials and replaced them with their own members. The Peruvian government's response was limited since it existed outside the city. This distanced Shining Path from the average Peruvian.

The government's response for one very specific reason: They couldn't identify who was Shining Path.

Here's another axiom my lecturer/teacher Efrain wanted to highlight:

The difference between a guerrilla army and a terrorist group is that guerrilla fighters wear uniforms. Terrorists can be anyone.

Hence the State's response was to murder huge swaths of Quechua-speaking natives in the hopes of catching one or two Senderosos. The Senderosos used the civilian population as their shield. They never cracked under torture and they compartmentalized their organization to limit possible leaks.
The Peruvian Military has a Terror Suspect and Wife.
The common folks were caught. If they joined Shining Path the government would kill them. If they aided the government Shining Path would kill them. Make no mistake: In Peru Shining Path is known for destroying villages and raping women all along the countryside.

Then came Fujimori.
Elected in 1990 the Japanese-Peruvian president was assisted by Vladimiro Montesinos, a military adviser. Everyone liked Fujimori for his minor victories (settling a border dispute with Ecuador, slashing inflation, privatizing state industries) but he continued the violent search to root out Shining Path's leadership.

In 1992 a car bomb went off in the posh suburb of Miraflores in Lima. It was at that moment that the State (and many ignorant city dwellers) realized the war had come to them. It was in their home city and they hadn't even realized it. Shining Path had nestled into Lima long before the car bomb, but this was a call to action for the more wealthy people.

Not long after the car bomb an intelligence organization was created to find and capture Shining Path's leadership. In a Zero-Dark-Thirty-esque story of spy intrigue this group found and captured Guzman as well as his staff in a fancy building in Lima. This effectively cut the head off the snake. Shining Path became dysfunctional and waned in the proceeding years to the point of ineffectiveness. Guzman and his staff were sentenced to life in prison.

Fujimori took the credit. In fact, his specialty turned out to be manipulating the public image of him. He purchased all the television and print broadcast sources in Peru and had them churning out positive message after positive message. It turns out he was incredibly corrupt. He was arrested after 1992 and sentenced to life in prison. As it so happens he's not even Peruvian. He's just Japanese.

Today Peru has a democratically elected president. But they are much more wary of politics to begin with and any independent party's promises of a better life ring hollow in the ears of many Peruvians. Optimism for politics is in short supply here among the older generations and some of the young adults here as well.

Over 68,000 people were killed during this violent time and many consider it a Civil War. Peru today struggles to overcome this dark time. There's very little I can add when it comes to American involvement. Nobody suspected Shining Path would become the threat it did until 1992. In point of fact America trained the dictators that ruled many countries in Central and South America at a CIA-created school. These dictators learned how to torture, how to subjugate populations, and how to prevent revolutions from us. The Peruvian dictator went to this school.

So, what does it all mean?

It's a great sadness. These events have become ingrained in the consciousness of Peruvian everyday life. Between the remaining inferiority complexes created by colonialism and the distrust of government one can feel a lack of hope. But God works in the in-between. These moments of horror shock us to our core. I know that I was scared to open my mind to this history. It was too horrific, too awful to be real to me.

What comes next is healing. It's been a good fifteen years since Guzman, Fujimori, and Montesino were sentenced to life imprisonment. My role in this new home is work alongside those survivors of the violence with whatever they need. I don't know honestly how to go about healing the nation, but these native Peruvians at organizations like United Hands Network and Paz y Esperanza do. God called me to serve alongside these people and to offer myself up. It's only appropriate I mourn the darkness as well so that I can help shine some light.

Gracis y Vaya con Dios

 - Daniel Pappas - 

P.S. For a good movie to watch about the Violent Times check out this National Geographic special:
Heads up, it's about an hour and a half long!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Fulfillment of a Months-old Prophecy

I sat down face to face with my future site coordinator during an interview. This was way back in March at Ferncliff Center just outside of Little Rock. At the very end of the interview Jenny looked at me and asked me: "Okay, do you have any questions for me?"

Just one: "Do they actually eat Guinea Pig in Peru?" She gave me one big laugh and smiled.

The answer: Yes.

Thus began the months-long quest to dine on an animal traditionally considered a pet where I'm from.

Flash forward five and a half months to Lima. I'm here. I made it. Not only am I surviving fairly well down here, but I'm thriving it feels like. I'm speaking spanish. I'm paying in Neuvo Soles. I'm learning a lot about the city. Most importantly (to me at least) I'm trying new foods.

Peru is globally recognized to have the most diverse cuisine in the world. Ceviche, Cuy, Chicho Morado, Chanchita, Papas, Pisco Sours, and countless Tropical Fruits/Juices. Already within the first two full days I've tried Limonada, Chanchita, Granilla, Chicho de Morado, Luquma Ice Cream, and (my new personal favorite) Cuy.
This, my friends, is Cuy.

Cuy is a hefty-sized guinea pig fried in a pan and cooked with your basic salt, pepper, and spices. Guinea pigs are farmed at certain houses and grown specifically for consumption. They prepare the Guinea Pigs very simply: they cut it open, remove the organs you can't eat, and flash fry it.

That's right. This pig gets served whole. You can see it's head, feet, and the basic anatomy fried.

Serve it up man! I'm in! Cuy is prepared differently depending on where you consume it. It is prepared differently in the northern mountains compared to the southern mountains compared to the coast compared to the jungle. Largely the preparation is the same the accompanying dishes vary. I had Cuy Frito con Picante Papas de rojas (that's a poor recollection but basically Cuy with spicy red potatoes.) When it comes to food, the potato is the staple crop of Peru.

There are over 3,000 different types of potatoes in Peru. In fact, the potato was introduced to the rest of the world via the Spanish after they conquered South America and shared this wondrous crop with North America and, later, Europe.

Shopping for fruit at a local market.
The meat is tougher and stringier. It came out served to me like fried chicken almost. The skin was much tougher. I actually couldn't cut through the skin easily. I chewed longer and harder to consume the meat. Which is a good sign. Cuy is very high in protein and vey low in cholesterol. The meat tastes like a richer, gamier quail almost. It took more work to consume, but I loved every minute of it.

Cuy is served with the head of the Guinea Pig fried up on top of the actual meat itself. While this may seem grotesque, I actually understand why they do it. How would you know if it's actual guinea pig? If they served you a piece of fried meat on a bone with no legs or arms how would you know it's what you ordered? The (Peruvian) simple answer: serve up it's head. Authenticity is important when it comes to Cuy and most of the food served in Peru is all-natural, home grown.

The yellow sauce is ahi and the corn nuggets are Chanchita.
Most restaurants serve Chanchita alongside two different types of sauces: ahi and the house special. Ahi sauce looks like mustard but it has none of it's qualities. It is a spicy garlic-infused cream-based sauce. It gets put on meat dishes like Cuy or heavier potato qualities. It has a bit of a kick but not enough to make you cry. To my good friend Garrett I told him: "It's a lot like samurai sauce." A sauce we found in Bruges and have since struggled to find something match it's flavor/spice.

I gnawed my Cuy down to the bone. I forked it with some potatoes and dripped ahi sauce over it. Just a half-pig portion, a Guine Pig cut right down the middle. It was a moment I'd been dreaming about and praying for since March since Little Rock. I was beyond excited to consume this new food.

Guinea Pig is my new favorite food to eat.

 - Daniel Pappas -
Bon apetit!
P.S. No, I didn't get to pick which pig I ate, and I've never actually eaten raccoon so I can't tell you. Sorry Kevin! Let me know if you have any more questions about any of the food or drinks I mention in this blog!

Home Sweet Home

Bienvenidos a Lima!

The cool, humid breeze blew over my face today when I stepped outside the theological seminary we were receiving our lessons from today. The morning was a sunny one and the distant honks of cars mixed with birds twittering and passersby engaging in "castellan". I smelled a strong whiff of onions cooked in garlic powder with salt, pepper, and some chilies. My first thought, with the warm sun on my face, was:

"I'm home."

Which may be ironic considering I've spent a total of maybe 40 hours in this city.

Lima is a vibrant city. It's location on the coast means you can walk out to the desert beaches and watch the surfers search for some of the best waves. Palm trees line the streets where cars swerve in and out of traffic like street racers. The only guiding rule when it comes to driving here in Lima is simple: don't hit anything. Short of that, it's a fair game.

The Monastery of San Francisco from the outside
My first full day here was much like any other traveler's day: walk around the neighborhood, eat some local cuisine (pollo con braso, chicho morado, y ahi sauce for my sweet potato fries.) A bus tour occupied my afternoon where we swerved our way to the historical center of Lima. I caught views of the National Theater, Congress, Presidential Quarters, National Library, and the Monastery of San Francisco. We stopped to tour the three hundred and forty two year old monastery's choir, sacristy, and catacombs. Skulls and femur bones filled wells eight feet deep all throughout the underground lair; a sober reminder of the fragility of life. We finished our bus tour in the beautiful Miraflores viewing the coast of Peru.

I saw the ocean for the first time in my life.

My second full day, today in fact, we went to the seminary. It was sunny in the morning as we clambered on to the heavily-stickered public transport. It cost us "una china" - fifty cent piece. We met with a seminary professor and anthropologist to learn about the Andean culture. I came to understand that the Andean culture varies greatly and only advances in agriculture like irrigation, domestication of Alpaca or Llama, and horticulture influenced the trajectory of certain civilizations. The one in the mountains developed sooner because that's where those inventions matter most. I learned all of this in Spanish.

Lunch was an affair. A months-long dream came true: I ate Cuy for lunch. I rattled off as much as I could to keep up with my spanish-speaking mentors.

The afternoon focused on currency. We took lessons on recognizing counterfeit Soles, and general tips on utilizing our money to the best of our abilities. This lesson came to a head when the four of us (Myself, Shaina, Jenny and Jed) visited a local market to purchase some fruit. I won't say the amount of money we spent. Suffice to say the exchange rate is strongly in favor of the American dollar. The clouds overhead threatened rain so we returned to our hotel in Magdalena del Mar to rest before dinner.

These past two days have been focused on understanding this new world I inhabit. My new guides are perhaps the sweetest and most patient humans I know. Jenny Valles is a sweetheart who I would never want to see angry. Her laugh is infectious and sense of mirth alleviates any tension there could be. Her husband, Jed, carries the patient sensibilities of a pastor. Their knowledge of the city and culture of Peru has enlightened me endlessly and I don't doubt for a minute that I'll be leaning on them for support a few times this year.

My partner in crime: Shaina
Alas there's my partner in crime: Shaina Miller. We've been friends since the first day we met. She and I share similar personality traits: outgoing, thoughtful, caring. What's wonderful is we have completely different interests. I like to say she's a musical girl, I'm a concert guy. She's a wine girl, I'm a beer guy (but she's a beer girl if she wants to be.) I could tell you about her hobbies, music preferences, education, movie taste, dietary concerns, and other general knowledge. However I want to boil it down to one simple thought: I'm incredibly grateful she's here. I'd be lost without her and (I like to think) she'd be a little lost without me.

We've spent the last two days seeing the bright sides of the city and country at large. We've been learning about the culture of the indigenous people. We've tried countless new foods and drinks. It's been a delightful past couple days, but I'm curious to learn about the darker side of life here.

Jed said something incredibly insightful during this morning's devotional. He said: "We don't expect you to join the seminary and live to serve the church after this. We don't expect you to master the bible while you're here. We hope you learn to open your eyes to the great darkness there is in the world so you can see the bright light that comes after." I couldn't be more excited.

 - Daniel Pappas -

P.S. Here's a photo of my site coordinator and her husband. They're wonderful people and I feel beyond blessed to have them as my bosses/mentors/faux-parents.

Photo links: