Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A traveler and a conversation

December 23, 2011

A few days ago I got an email from my boss from Rustic. He said a friend of a friend is traveling through Ollantaytambo for a day or so and can he look me up? Sure. I gave him my number and Thursday he called.

We met up and ran a few errands before we grabbed dinner. It turns out Eric works for the Bay School in San Francisco which is where two of my students from last summer attend! We had a great talk over dinner and he then helped me move into my new room. (The rent is way cheaper and I am in total saving money mode right now. My mortgage is absolutely destroying me from 5,000 miles away.) Ana, Erin, Anisha, Eric and I sat in my new room and just talked all night. It was great, and we had fun explaining our little world here in Peru to him. It was interesting to sit there and realize that this is my home. I know the city, the people, and have friends and purpose here.

My new room, simple is good.

The next day Keri and I were going up to Socma to chat with the president and some families on our motorcycles. I offered Eric a ride up so he could see what the people really live like down here and not just pass through as a tourist. Of course he said yes and we planned to meet early the next morning.

The ride up was wet and muddy. It is rainy season now and it is always wet. I actually dumped my bike for the first time while moving, even though it was at 5 mph. We got up there and chatted with Nohemi’s dad and had tea. I asked about teaching classes up there in January and February, and Keri asked about doing a mobile health clinic up there as well. He told me how after two years they still don’t have electricity because of drama with the meters. I also found out that the elementary school (which is pretty nice) has been empty all year because the teacher didn’t feel like coming. Arg. It was a great trip as usual, and I love going up there time after time on the bike to hang out.

Eric and I in Socma

I tried to look at that trip from Eric’s perspective. He has two weeks in Peru to travel, and is doing a lot of the normal touristy things. But he is a great guy and jumped at the chance to experience life here from a different perspective. It is just hard to do and it was a lucky connection that we were able to meet up. But the story he will tell when he gets home is that he got his first ever motorcycle ride from some strange guy up to a tiny village high in the Andes to hang out with locals.

It got me thinking about the possible bike ride home. If I don’t manage to find those connections then it would just be me passing through. And if I did find those connections, I would have lots of adventurous stories, but I still wouldn’t be a part of those new communities. It got me thinking about how much I have become a part of this community and how badly I want to continue that relationship. I am starting to feel really good about the possibility of staying here longer.

So right now the plan is to stay until mid-February. Then I want to travel down to Chile and Argentina in order to visit the orphanage from the “best connection ever” blog post. I can return through Bolivia and leave my motorcycle in Ollantaytambo. I will fly back to the states to teach 3rd trimester and return here in June. Then I can decide if I want to drive home or make Peru more permanent. I feel like that is the best of both worlds.

Monday night was a big Christmas party for the Awamaki volunteers to which I scored an invite. (Thanks guys.) It was great! There was a white llama gift exchange, homemade beer and pizza, a fire, and lots of incredibly interesting and intelligent people to talk to. But when you hang out with people smarter than you are, it changes you.

I was chatting with Emma about whether to go or stay, and told her how Jeff’s question was the one that I would probably use to make my decision. He simply asked, “Which choice does more good?” I thought my answer would be staying, because I would continue to help the project and be intimately involved in the girls’ continued education. But she responded with something that I had never thought of. Essentially, she said that to do the most good for the world it involves sitting in an office stuck behind a computer all day helping to create policies and systems that directly affect people’s lives. Whoa. It got me thinking, Socma and Kalkanka have great school buildings with no teachers, so the children there have no education. The teachers were hired by the government but just don’t show up and there are no consequences. I want to hold classes, find a teacher, or get the kids hooked up in a dormitory to help them get an education. I could maybe help a dozen kids by doing this. But what if someone in an office in Lima helps to pass a law that has severe penalties for teachers who don’t report to work? Or passes a benefits package that actually pays teachers a decent wage and gives them retirement and medical services? All of a sudden hundreds of schools are no longer in need of help and thousands of students are affected.

Am I thinking too small? Am I valuing the personal relationships too much when I could be doing so much more? At Storer Camps I was offered a director position but turned it down so I could stay a counselor in the cabins. I have never thought of being an administrator at my school because I want to stay in the classroom and not lose the personal relationships with the kids. I always thought connecting to other people was an important thing, but if I really want to change the world maybe I need to sit in an office all day and fight for justice. It can be boring, difficult, not personally rewarding, and frustrating. But the benefits can be overwhelming. I still am not sure how to relate this to what I do and how I interact with service, but at least I can give a huge thank you to all those in positions of power and responsibility. Thank you for laboring for the greater good. Arg, and I thought I had everything figured out.

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