A Lesson Learned in Peru - My Family Travels

If there is one thing from home that you could introduce to the indigenous Peruvian people, what would it be?”

My answer: NOTHING!

This was a question my peers and I had to consider one evening last summer during our community service/travel trip to South America. Many gave answers you might expect from the average American teen: movie theaters, malls, video games, and an Internet connection.

â–º  Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship

But once I began to reflect on life in the native villages where we had visited and stayed, the more I realized that there was actually nothing from our materialistic, plugged-in society that they really needed. Why introduce some unnecessary “things” when they already have everything that makes them happy?

While some Peruvian cities may have some of these, I’m talking about the native Peruvians who live in remote, tiny towns in the Andes Mountains or on Lake Titicaca on floating islands that they build with their own hands out of tortora reeds. They speak Quechua, Aymara and other Andean languages and survive by fishing and farming for all the food that they eat. They burn cow dung for cooking and heat, and wear only what they have woven with their own hands, practicing many of the same traditions as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. Electricity is scarce, and if they have it, it is solar powered. Running water and flushing toilets cannot be found for miles.

Yet, despite the fact that they have only a fraction of what an average American can easily get his hands on, the native Peruvians seemed to me hundreds of times happier. Instead of seeing them as isolated, in fact, I see them as living in their own bubble of comfort and kinship where the relationship of family and friends can’t come close to the relationship between a person and his electronic toy.

I believe that most modern Americans – like me and my friends — take everyday things for granted; things that a native Peruvian may never even see in his entire lifetime. We seem to need material things to create happiness, but they achieve happiness simply by living life in a simple way.

As entertainment we play endless video games and watch shows on our 50-inch plasma screen televisions — and we even get bored while doing so. The indigenous Peruvians can dance around a fire under a blanket of stars and play music on handmade ukuleles and be completely content. Even the local teens spend hours kicking around a soccer ball without showing any desire to text, IM or surf the Internet.

We buy “stuff” and replace it just because we feel we need to have the most modern, up-to-date things just to keep up with everyone else. It becomes a bragging right. In their society, the bragging right is the person who has the best relationship with his or her family.

If we would introduce anything my peers suggested, all it would do is create corruption, greed, jealousy and lust. Currently, there is nothing to stir up those emotions in their society because nobody has more than their neighbor. All the Peruvians have is what they can make themselves. And that seems to be enough.

When people like me step out of their comfort zone and venture into new lands, we often think how much better our lives are than the native people. All we see are the things they are lacking. But in my travels, I discovered just the opposite.

Maybe they’re the ones who can teach us a lesson. Maybe they’re the lucky ones.

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