Saturday, March 3, 2012

Final Reflection

March 3, 2012

So if I could sum up the entire experience and give out some sort of magical advice what would I say? It doesn’t work that way. I probably just learned more about myself than how to inspire others.

So what did I learn?

Let me address the service work first. I basically just learned service is a tricky thing. What is right? What do people need/deserve? How do you do it in a way that is culturally sensitive? Do they even need/want it? How do you evaluate it? Is it arrogant to even think that you have something to offer others? How do you give a “hand up” and not a “hand out”? The girls had no way to understand how many resources went into their continued education, do we try to teach them that? I don’t know these answers. I just know that when you care about another person with no strings attached it changes both people for the better. It connects the human condition and the world becomes a better place. I know all the trips I have done in my life all over the States and the world have had a minimal impact. But I am glad to have done them.

I recently checked out Eat, Pray, Love on my phone from the library and read it in order to better understand a friend of mine who said her life parallels that of the woman who wrote it. It wasn’t exactly my favorite, but I did gain one bit of insight from it. There is a scene where she is in Rome with friends and they were discussing how cities have a certain feel about them. They all have one word that encompasses the general direction of the city. Rome is SEX, Vatican City is POWER, New York is ACHIEVE, Los Angeles is SUCCEED, and so forth. They then applied the same idea to people. We all have something similar, one word that embodies everything you stand for. I have a friend whose word is REVOLUTION and another’s that is EARTH. I would argue my sister’s is COMPASSION. Mine is simple, it is SERVE. I used to be so confused when I thought everyone’s word was SERVE and why they didn’t want to help more. But that is not the nature of this world. I respect the fact that we all have different words. All I have the power to do is live my life as fully as I can in accordance to who I am and what I have. And it has worked out pretty well so far. What is yours?

Another thought I had these last few days was the book “The Giving Tree”. Like the starfish story I wrote about this summer, I used to HATE that book. Arg, it drove me crazy. The boy just takes and takes and takes. What does the tree get out of it? I mean really, c’mon. What is the point of the story? How could you be happy just giving everything you have away, especially when there is no gratitude shown? And the tree is discussed using "her". Is that some sort of misogynistic statement?

I was thinking about coming home. Now I most certainly am not comparing myself to the tree, I still have more than most of the people in the world (house, job, family, etc.). But I am coming home to an empty garage, bank account, and cashed in life insurance policy. I feel like I gave away everything I could down there. I gave my time, money, resources, education, and even my two hoodies. Yet somehow I could not be happier. Interesting. I think I need to grab a beer with that old stump and have a long chat.

So let me finish by saying thanks for coming along for the ride. I wrote this blog to share a little of the world with my community back home, help my dad not miss me so much, and hopefully raise some money for the project. I have four rules of life I live by, but have seriously tossed around the idea of adding a fifth.

#5 If you’ve had the privilege of being there, you now have a responsibility to take others.

I think of all my worldwide travels and how simply unbelievable they have been. It has been an absolute privilege and for most of them I had someone who had already done it lead me. So now it is my turn.

I invite anyone who has read this blog that would like advice or guidance on traveling or serving to email me. If I am able to I will do my best to help in any way I can.

My list of people to thank is far too long to include everyone. So let me just say thank you thank you thank you. I am surrounded by truly incredible people.

Take care.

I suppose it would be appropriate to end with one final quote, taken from The Two Towers:

It’s like in the great stories. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

What are we holding on to?

There’s some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for.

Lima, Miami, Minny, Home

March 2, 2012

Wednesday I got off the flight in Lima. I sunk into a ball on the ground waiting for my luggage. My whole life airports have represented adventures, different cultures, and amazing times that have defined who I am. For the first time ever, I hated that airport. I was so tired of that airport representing so many goodbyes. I was in bad shape after leaving my friends and family back in Ollanta.

I called Penny and headed to her house. She was exactly who I needed to see. I was not doing well and she needed a friend as well. She made me lunch and went into her room to rest up a bit. I headed to the beach. Lima is actually gorgeous from December to March. It wasn’t the dreary cloud cover I am always used to during the summer months. The sun was out and the beach was beautiful.

I sat for a few hours just staring at the water. It was the same stretch of ocean I had been looking at 6 months earlier the night I found out the motorcycle was to be released and I would be leaving. How much I had changed! I listened to a song on repeat that I haven’t heard in a long time, yet seemed strangely relevant.



Beach in February, alright

Still sitting

Okay, a few hours are enough...

I went back and had a great talk with Lolo, and Penny ordered pizza for us while he went to a high school reunion. She and I stayed up late drinking wine and trading stories. I got up at 6:30 to catch the taxi and felt way better. Time with Penny was the perfect bridge between the people I left behind and the ones I was headed to that day. Thank you!!

Back in the airport my spirits were much better. It is time to go home. I couldn’t help but think about what everyone was doing back in Ollanta. I wanted to be there helping where I could, but I am now needed along a different path. I checked in and looked at my ticket. I had seat 1A.

Wait, what??

I asked the man, and he said the ticket was booked in business class. He also said that meant I had access to the VIP lounge. I used for the ticket, and it was $200 cheaper than all the other sites. There is no way I booked that business class. Now I don’t believe in karma or anything like that but that is the second time I have come home from a service trip and magically got upgraded to first class. The VIP lounge was amazing. Think about the contrast, 8 months of rice, potatoes, intermittent showers, crowded combies, everything that is life down there, then walking into a lounge with unlimited food, drinks, flatscreens, fast wireless internet, showers, beds, soft leather couches, and even a machine that squeezes oranges right in front of you for juice. It was fun being in there with dirty motorcycle jeans and tire sandals while everyone else had suits on. I wandered in a daze for a bit then went nuts on the food. I made a bunch of extra sandwiches and stuffed them in my backpack along with fruit. I called my sister on skype and just sat for a bit.

That's right, first class baby.

Returning was surreal. My phone worked in Miami and I called my parents. I then called Jeff and coordinated the next few days of being home and visiting. But while waiting in line to check in life crashed around me again.

The two couples behind me asked each other about their vacations. One was a week cruise and the other was a week in the Keys. They talked about the food, how it was only okay, they talked about airlines not compensating passengers when a flight was 5 hours late, having to snow blow the driveway back in Minneapolis, etc. They didn’t ask me about my trip. It is probably better that way, I did not offer. How can I explain to a couple of regular couples living normal lives what I had just been through? How I was just happy I could drink from the water fountain let alone complain about the lobster on the cruise? I miss everyone back in Ollanta terribly. I hope this will pass or I am going to have a rough next few months. Maybe I am not cut out for life in Grand Haven. But it is such a great city and full of some really kind and unselfish people and I love my job. I’ll be fine in a few days I hope.

Who can I talk to? Who can I share this with? How does one live with everything that I have gone through? I suppose the answer is to hold it all in. It makes me think of a line from Goodwill Hunting. Sean is telling Will about his wife who died of cancer.

Will: And you don’t regret meeting your wife?

Sean: Why? Because of the pain I feel now? Well, I got regrets, Will, but I don’t regret a single day I spent with her.

I am feeling a lot of pain, leaving the project, my friends, my community, but I don’t regret a single moment of this trip.

The whole VIP thing ended as well. I was put back in coach for the last two flights, so I got to sleep on the floor in Minneapolis waiting for my 6 am flight back to Lansing. That food I took in Lima came in real handy. I practiced what I would say if someone asked. I was freaking out, time alone is not good when you are dealing with loss like this. I really needed someone to ask me where I was coming from.

“In June of 2011 I left my house in Michigan on a dirtbike and rode to Texas. I shipped it to Lima and traveled across the country to a tiny village in the Andes where I taught math at a dormitory for young girls who wanted to continue their education past high school. I fell in love with the town and made strong connections with the people there. I also took a few motorcycle trips to Chile and other parts of Peru. I have very close friends there. I am a wreak. I am on a roller coaster of emotions. I could not be happier for what I experienced over the past 8 months, but the pain I feel is sharp. I have left my community, project, and even a relationship. Now, I am headed to back to my old life, a place with my original friends, family, and students. I begin teaching on Monday. The shock of being back, getting ripped away from those I cared about, being thrust back into my former life, is overwhelming. I will be fine once I am in the presence of those who care about me, but these two days of travel are a new kind of challenge I have never felt before. Thanks for asking.”

Haha, I struck up a conversation with a young woman and she eventually did ask right before we boarded. I said something similar to the above paragraph. She said, “Oh, that’s nice.” Then she called her boyfriend and we didn’t exchange another word. It helped me put things in perspective a little bit. I need to stop thinking about my life, deal with it, and focus on what is next, namely getting ready to teach on Monday.

We flew directly into the sunrise as that final flight soared toward Michigan. The symbolism was clear. It was the dawn of a new day. I must now begin a new life in a familiar situation. I need to replace the part of my heart I left in Peru. My second job when I was in high school was washing rental cars for Avis at the Lansing airport. I knew it well. It seemed appropriate it would mark the end of my journey. My parents, sister, and Jeff would be waiting for me.



Or is Ollanta my home?

At this point I don’t know or care, it was just great to see them.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Final Days and Goodbye

February 29, 2012

Monday was a rough day. I had to leave very early in the morning to go to Cusco and fill out motorcycle papers. All I wanted to do was be in town and spend time with the people I care about, but selling the bike bought me a couple extra days so I couldn’t really complain.

So we headed to the first place where he knew someone in customs. It was bad news. I knew that nationalizing a motorcycle was a very difficult process. He finally called my customs guy in Tacna and the only legal option was to go to Chile immediately and get the right papers. We went to a few other places and got the same news. So we ended up waiting all day for a call from a woman who knew a guy. That option turned out to be illegal and not very desirable for him. But it was too late to drive to another country in one night. I felt bad but I lowered the price because I knew it would be tough.

While all that was going on, I got a call from the people of Soccma. Apparently the company is ready to transfer me the money, but only into a Peruvian bank account. Awesome. That would have been great info a week ago. So I wandered around Cusco trying to find a bank that would open an account for a foreigner. The only bank that would do it is Banco de la Nacion, but the main branch in Cusco couldn’t do it, only a tiny outlying branch. Really? I just had to laugh. So in the late afternoon I went to Urubamba and opened an account. So now I have a bank account in Peru. But I only had one day left so I gave my information to the people and left the ATM card there for them. So we will see if they can get the money into that account and then actually pay for the work that has already been done.

I got back to town tired and deflated. I was worried about the motorcycle because the paperwork was going to be so sketchy. I didn’t want to screw him over, but it was too late for me do to any of the other options I had. I wish I could have finished up for the people of Soccma. I was feeling pretty crappy and wandered over to La Esquina. The lights were off but the lock wasn’t on the door. So I walked in to see what was up…


Haha, so Kiri got everyone in town together to give me a surprise going away party. No way! It was awesome. It really meant a lot.


Hmmm... chips

Alicia, Laura, Me, and Ana


Tuesday I had to go back to Urubamba to fill out more paperwork for the bike. Once again, I just wanted to spend my last day in town but I owed it to him to fill out the papers. That evening we planned a dinner with my closest friends at the dorm. We cooked up 8 pounds of lamb I bought in Cusco, Alicia made an incredible spinach salad, and there were roasted vegetables as well. It was the perfect final night.

Wednesday morning I left for Cusco for my flight to Lima. It was pretty simple really. The four most important people in my life here were there to see me off.

Alicia, the heart and soul of Sacred Valley Project right now, took care of me this whole time. She fed me, sent me to the clinic, gave me a couch when I needed it, calmed me down when I got fired up about some injustice in Peru, and gave me important advice every time there was a big decision to make down here. I cannot thank you enough.

Ana was my little sister and a reminder of my students that I left behind. We had some great times. Thanksgiving was epic, Quinta Cruz has very special memories, tutoring the girls, chillin on the roof, discussing the Albergue, ice cream, there are too many to remember. Battling the dysfunctionality that is so often Peru can be fun and frustrating. So we had each other’s back. I will forever use our phrase when something doesn’t make sense…”I have a four-letter word for you, it starts with a P, and ends with an accented U.”

Keri was next. She is a replica of my own sister. They are the same age, have outgoing personalities, can make friends with complete strangers, and most importantly have the biggest hearts in the world. They both would do anything for anyone. We had many long talks at the house, a few motorcycle trips, and some deep discussions about what it means to serve in the Sacred Valley and around the world. Thank you.

The last one was by far the hardest. I fell hard for another volunteer down here. She is absolutely amazing. But our lives are spread across three continents and right now there is no future for us. Who knows if our paths will ever cross again. It was the toughest goodbye of my life.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The End of an Era

February 25, 2012

I am almost out of time. This fact is really weighing on me and I will address it later. But the biggest problem I had was what to do with the motorcycle. Since the moment I decided to not drive home I knew this would be a problem.

I wrote earlier about how I had a few legal options. I could deal with massive paperwork and money in order to leave it in customs or nationalize it. This would involve another trip to Chile and days of paperwork.

Other options included lying about repairs, bribing border officials, signing the title to Alex and just getting a new one at home, or simply driving full speed through the border and hoping for the best. None of these really appealed to me. It was a huge headache that I didn’t know how to solve.

Well, Friday night I was at a party for Laura’s birthday. Her roommate is a man from Urubamba who lived in the States for a year. He loves motorcycles and had a lot of money saved up. He offered to buy the motorcycle.

I told him I would think about it and call the next day.

Wow, I had not even thought about selling but that would not only solve all my problems but then I would get one final week in Ollantaytambo. It actually would be the best decision ever except for my stupid, irrational, emotional connection to an inanimate object.

So in the end, that was it. I met with him yesterday, and by 6:00 pm I had the money in my account and no motorcycle.

The last photo of my bike while it was mine. I think it is appropriate it is in front of the restaurant.

Enjoy the bike Salvatore

It is a 30 minute combie ride back to Ollantaytambo. Talk about a chance to reflect. One thing about this trip, as much as people have defined the past eight months, the motorcycles rides were my time of solitude. There is nothing to compare to hours and hours of driving alone through unknown, beautiful territory. When I get home, I will have dozens of people with which to share this experience. I have made friends for life. The girls and I will always be happy to see each other. People have defined my time in Peru, and have made it the event that it was.

But my only companion for those long, lonely hours on the road was my motorcycle. It never let me down. Close calls, twisting roads, canyons, valleys, 16,000 foot passes through the snow, the utter desolation to Arequipa, sleet, rain, heart-stopping views, no one was there with me but that bike. I suppose it does make a little sense to become attached to something that your life depended on for so much.

And when I looked at that bike, it represented so much more. It also reminded me of my friendship with Jeff. We bought it together, he taught me how to work on it, rode trails together, and went out on that first day way back in June. He once reworded a famous quote from Pirates and it made so much sense on that 30-minute ride home with a helmet and no bike. Not only did I lose a traveling companion, but I lost something else…

"Not just Michigan. The entire continent. The entire world. Wherever we want to go, we'll go. That's what a motorcycle is, you know. It's not just a frame and an engine and a seat and tires, that's what a motorcycle needs but what a motorcycle is... what the DR650 really is... is freedom." -Jeff Verwey

I lost my freedom. Before yesterday, I could go anywhere I wanted at any time. The world was my playground. Now I am a slave to taxis, buses, and flights. It is a weird feeling.

But, I can always build another. I will.

Since that morning back in June: 9074 miles, 4 countries, 8 states, and unbelievable memories.

Sitting by the market after getting dropped off from the combie ride home. Two helmets, no bike.

Gaby, the Girls, and the Return of the Plague

February 20, 2012

Gabriela is our new program director for Sacred Valley Project. She is from Rosario, Argentina, hometown of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Lionel Messi. Our final feana (workday with all the parents) was Friday and we had a few concerns about some of the girls returning. We had heard rumors that a few weren’t coming back and we wanted to invite Jessica to return as well. So we spent the week traveling around on my motorcycle and visiting all the girls so Gaby could meet them and we could talk to the families.

Gaby and I headed off to Pallata

We started with Jessica and Dina from Pallata. Gaby did a great job of meeting the girls and Jessica really seemed to want to come back. But her parents weren’t home so we drove up to Pumamarka and talked to her sister instead. She also really wanted Jessica to return so things were looking good. We also went to Dina’s house and chatted with her family for a bit.

After Dina's I took her to the fish farm in Pallata. We stayed there with a Rustic group two summers ago and I have a lot of memories there. Plus it is cool to see thousands of trout swimming around in the tiny pools.

Entrance to Pallata

Snack at Dina's: Mote

Dina, her mom, and Gaby holding one of her mom's weavings

Next we went up to Soccma to visit Maria Elena, Nohemi, and check on a new girl who might want to join. It was great to see Maria Elena and she and her brother promised to hike the extra two hours up to Marcuray to tell the new girl’s family to come down on Friday to help. The trail is too small for a motorcycle.

Katy was next. Gaby jumped right into her spiel about why Katy should return. One thing I wish I would have explained was the process of how to have a serious conversation with families in the Sacred Valley. You are supposed to small talk for at least a half hour, wait for tea, then eat a huge bowl of soup, and finally get to the serious stuff over several glasses of chicha. It was awkward at first while her mom was serving us our tea and food, but it ended up being fine when her dad showed up around chicha time. Unfortunately, I understand how important it is to share chicha with the family and had two glasses. Arg. I hate how it is shoved down your throat even though you insist you don’t want any. The drinking culture is so frustrating to me. Also, the talk didn’t go so well. Her parents really wanted her to stay home. At least I got to go outside and help the younger brother split wood. It is one of my favorite activities back home and it felt good to get a little workout. Gaby wanted to take some pictures so the whole family washed up, put on nice clothes, and wanted to look good for the pictures.

Gaby with Katy's cousins

Splitting wood

Gaby, Katy's mom, Me, and her little brother

Katy's parents and her brother

The next day, Friday, was the faena. I got there early in the morning and immediately went to Alicia’s house and lay in a curled up ball of pain. Of course chicha is just a cup of bacteria and it destroyed me. The next three days were basically me in bed with hourly trips to the bathroom and feeling like someone was stabbing me in the stomach. Awesome. I finally broke down decided to take antibiotics. I was here almost 8 months and my stomach never adjusted. Arg.

After enduring the sickness, I was more than disappointed to know that Katy never came on Friday. Neither did Jessica or Anita. But the new girl did come, so it wasn’t a total catastrophe.

So Monday I was feeling better and we headed off to Jessica’s and Anita’s to see what was up. Jessica’s house was a disaster. We got there at 10 am and there had already been a lot of chicha consumed. One of her dad’s arguments against her returning was that we don’t have sugar for tea. What? Um, I’m pretty sure the girls get great meals and there is plenty of sugar. I would know this because I was there every day for four months! I was upset but Gaby did a great job of staying composed. So it looks like she is not coming back.

Anita wasn’t home but at least we were able to coordinate the mobile health clinic in Soccma for the following week. Keri has a group of 20 volunteers from Wayne State in Michigan for a few weeks and they have a lot of volunteering lined up.