In the summer of 2005, a friend of mine came home from Costa Rica. She told me many stories, and it seemed every moment had been extraordinary. She told me, ‘The group I went with is taking a trip next year to Lima, Peru. You should go!’
After lots of deliberating with my parents, I was finally given permission to submit my application for a spot on the trip. On a chilly November day, I went to routinely check the mailbox. I jumped around the house for an hour because my acceptance finally came! It seemed like it would be an eternity until July 1, but within what seemed like a few short months I was on my way to Miami for training.
We spent three full days there preparing for our trip, and finally we were off on our eight-hour flight to Lima!
The plane arrived around three in the morning, and my first impression was pure chaos. It seemed like all nine million people that populate Lima were in the airport. There were people shouting at one another, and a there was a mob of people waiting near the exit to pick up their friends and family.
However, once out of the airport everything changed. The streets were completely dead; we got our first glimpses of the outskirts of the city. The tattered and worn down buildings expressed the poverty that Peru faces.
Signs were painted on walls for the upcoming presidential election. Clothes hung from rooftops, and dim streetlights attempted to illuminate the street. (In Latin America, the poorer housing is located on the outer ring of cities, and the wealthier live in the central core.) The sense of unbelief that I was actually riding in a bus through the streets of Lima was not as strong as my reality check that this is what most of the world lives in daily.
Throughout our visit we traveled to the poorer areas of this mega-city. When looking at the foothills, little houses appeared to be stacked on top of each other. Once you were out of the developed part of Lima, the paved streets turned into dirt roads.
Piles of trash were located sporadically on the ground, and mangy dogs roamed the street in search of a scrap of food. Many of the houses, or what Americans would refer to as shanties, were barely bigger than fifty square feet. These homes had no insulation, and were made of flimsy wood or corrugated metal; about every tenth house didn’t have a roof.
There wasn’t running water or a source of electricity for every home. Families had to get their water from a local well, and refrigeration wasn’t a luxury they had. They don’t wear big name brand clothing, but second hand garments that if they were lucky actually fit or coordinated.
The parents paid for schooling, supplies, and a uniform. The elementary schools were smaller, maybe five rooms, and had pictures the children had drawn all over the walls. I specifically remember one class I visited, and plastered everywhere were signs the kids had made about sexual abuse, how to detect it, prevent it, and get help if it occurred. This was probably one of the most disturbing things I saw while there.
The high schools were larger but not much better. Many did not have windows, A/C, flooring, or even lights.
With the experiences I was so blessed to participate in, I came to a newfound thankfulness for everything I had. I was thankful for everything I had at home from my bed to my school.
They lived without so many material things, but it was their spirit that taught me much more. Everywhere my group visited a warm welcome greeted us. In the Peruvian culture, you are not greeted with a handshake but a hug and a kiss on the cheek. They don’t do this out of formality, but to extend the love they share between everyone.
Smiles were so contagious there, you couldn’t look at someone without them smiling at you. The kids just wanted to sit in your lap and play a game. The teenagers sang Shakira with us, and then whipped us in a soccer match. These people were truly happy, and it didn’t take material wealth for them to be that way.
This taught me that it’s not about what little you have, but that the little you have is cherished, shared, and less important than the people in your life.