Jul 062010

July 5, 2010: Viva El Peru Gorioso

Cuzco, Peru, a land of dirty stray dogs, exhaust pipe pollution, late night muggings, colorful flags, amicable citizens, prevelent poverty, and cheap cabfare, is the place I have called home for the past two weeks. This is the city that resembles no place that I have ever experienced before. Kids play in the streets juggling and doing handstands while the red light holds traffic. They walk from car to car with their wet squeegies asking the plethora of cab drivers if they would like their windows washed. One would expect the boys carrying the cleaning materials to actually be carrying, well, clean materials. NO, in Cusco that is just simply not the case. A few days ago I watched as a poor little boy dipped his squeegie in a gasoline puddle. I understand that many people living in this city are desperate to make money any way that they can, and for that reason I was not that appalled at the “cleaning chemicals” they use to clean the windshields of cars. This is a whole different world from the United States. Here the speedometers on most of the cars no longer function and sewage is just poured onto the streets and neighboring streams. The smell of waste and garbage pervades almost every street in this third world country.  

Although many differences exist between the cultures and people of America and Cusco, ones that sometimes make me feel uncomfortable or a little upset, this past week I have really started to adopt this place as my own home. I appreciate everything I have and all the opportunities that have been provided for me throughout my lifetime so much more now that I am here because there are so many people here who have so very little. Some do not even have the bear essentials necessary for survival. One of the facts about Cusco that amazes me the most is the lack of beggars here. So many people here are visably destitute and have close to nothing to call their own, but maybe it is pride and/or a strong sense of individualism which makes it unacceptable for them to ask other people to sustain their existence without first providing their benefactors with some kind of service. These services could be in the form of all different kinds of handicrafts that are made by hand in Peru, such as alpaca clothing, candy, cigarettes, and of course questionable street food.

So I know I already said that I love this place like I love my hometown Boston, but I still never told you what exactly was the catalyst that has made me feel this way towards Cusco. Last Friday, I finally had a breakthrough with the kids at my volunteer placement. A bunch of children had left to go participate in extracurricular activities while more than a few remained. trying to help these kids do homework is such a futile venture that no one should dare attempt such feats. I have tried many a time to help kids read dictionaries or to ask them id they need any help. Usually I am just ignored. The other times though the kids just do not have the attention span to learn say how to use a dictionary. So clearly my breakthrough with these kids was not related to helping with school work. Actually, it all began when a cute little kid, whose name I do not remember, asked me if I wanted to play a version of hopscotch that I had never heard of before. Of course I accepted the invitation, and I ended up having a great time laughing with the boy everytime I inevitably jumped outside the boxes that were ingeniously designed to fit small little Peruvian feet. After some of the other kids saw that me and the little boy were having a good time, they all joined in and started speaking to me in spanish. Their slang was a little difficult to understand at first, but I soon grew accustomed to what they were trying to say. Right before I was supposed to leave and go back home, a little kid Jonathan pointed out how skinny I was. He said, “eres muy flaco (skinny)” and then preceded to put his hands around my neck and mock my lack of neck fat. I was laughing the whole time, and suddenly Johnathan jumped on me and asked me to flip him over. As I preceded to flip him over a bunch of other kids swarmed around me and kept asking me to flip them over and over again. My pants were very dirty at this point and it was time for me and Alyssa to leave, so I said goodbye and “Hasta Lunes,” which means until Monday. I was so excited at having finally made some progress at Salome Ferro that I was no doubt smiling the whole way back to my volunteer house. I hope that this week is as good as last Friday was because those were the most fulfilling fifteen minutes of my life.

Another thing that I love about Cusco is that I know someone everywhere I go in the city. I know people from my house, obviously, my spanish classes, my volunteer placement, and from the different bars and clubs. I know almost as many Peruvians as I do non-Peruvians, and knowing so many people here makes this place feel so much smaller and safer. I stopped doing the Tandem program because right now my schedule is too busy to fit it in. Maybe in a week or so I will pick it up again. When I did it at 1-2pm I would have to skip lunch. Let me be the one to tell you that nothing is worth skipping lunch when your breakfast consists of a general intake of two pieces of bread and butter.

Every day here is so awesome, but the only thing that I am not crazy about are the nights. By nights I do not mean going to bars and such but rather actually sleeping in my room at the volunteer house. My roommate Johannes has nightmares every night, and the past few nights he has had them really bad. In the middle of the night when I am fast asleep I will be awoken suddenly by a 2.5 liter water bottle clunking me on the head. When I wake up and say “what the hell” to the crazy person Johannes becomes at night, he always says, “Mike, be careful. There is another person in the room.” I finally figured out after a few of these incidents that I AM THE OTHER PERSON IN THE ROOM. He was so ridiculous in the middle of the night that I had him put all of his water bottles on top of his dresser out of his reach.

All of what I just wrote has to do with events that took place last week. I had a very interesting week but an even more exciting weekend. On Saturday morning I was woken up by a little Peruvian kid, Henry, who my housemate Amy was taking out for a day as part of a big sister program that is associated with her volunteer placement. He was the cutest little four year old kid I have ever seen, and Amy was telling us about his aweful life story. Henrys father is unable to work because of a debilitating illness, and his family is dirt poor. Amy really was so great to him. She bought him new clothes, toys, and food and put a huge smile on his face.

After meeting Henry, about eight of us volunteer house friends went horseback riding in the mountains surounding Cusco. I have only gone horseback riding once in Costa Rica through the jungle, but this time I had a good idea of how to work a horse, or so I thought. Our tour guide brought us up to the Sacsayhuaman ruins, in the bed of a pickup truck (so much fun), where the final Inti Raymi ceremonies took place. He showed us the Cristo Blanco, or white Jesus statue, that overlooks the entire city, which is kind of  like the massive Jesus in Brazil but not nearly as large. From the base of the statue we had the most amazing view of all of Cusco and the mountains surrounding it. I took tons of pictures because I felt like I needed to capture the ridiculous beauty of it all. After visiting Cristo Blanco, we all went further up the mountain and got on our horses. My horse, Scorpion, was a little crazy. Every time someone elses horse began to trot a little faster, Scorpion would start taking off, and I would be bounced around on the saddle, which was super painful. We got to ride our horses to one of the most holy places for the Incas, the Temple of the Moon. It was basically a giant rock with a few cool carvings of snakes on it. We then found out that there was a cave inside the rock, which we conviniently snuck into despite its being off limits. From inside looking out into the light outside, our tour guide showed us that the doorway looked like the sillouhette of a llama, something I would never have noticed on my own. We then went to the Temple of the Monkey, saw some carvings of monkeys and a herd of sheep, and then returned to our horses. The rest of the ride was just filled with awesome views of rolling mountains and streams and trees. Also, the weather was perfect too: It was probably 70 degrees the whole time. I heard that there is a super aweful heat wave in New England right now and that it is 100 degrees in Sharon. It is always the perfect temperature here during the day, but it does get fairly chilly at night. Anyway, after horseriding my knees were in pain and my groin hurt like hell from the sporadic galloping. Riding the horses in the Andes was so much fun and such an incredible experience, and I am so glad that I got to do it.

That was everything that I have witnessed up until this past Saturday. Sunday was also a really fun day, but since I do not have time to write about it today I will tell you all about it tomorrow. Hasta Luego from Cusco.

p.s. I cannot believe that it has already been a month since I graduated high school. NUTS!!


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