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!