How do you sum up a trip that gives you more food for thought in a morning then you’ll have in an entire month at home?
How do you combine the headaches of development in one of the worst slums in South America with the lightheadedness of climbing tall volcanoes in Patagonia?
This trip was certainly not one journal entry and could never be described in that way. Instead I’ll share a few moments that really have me rethinking about the way I’ll be living my life moving forward.
The first days in Belen were exhausting. The heat seemed relentless. Waking up in a pool of sweat is not the most pleasant alarm clock. That line from the Wizard In Oz kept ringing in my head. “(Tamo) we’re not in Kansas anymore”. It wasn’t that I’d never left Vancouver before. In fact I had just taken a 5 day boat ride into Iquitos predated by a month long trip in Ecuador. The trip included hitch hiking up the coast, sleeping in a hammock and living off fish given by local fishermen. This, however, was different. Belen was a new world to me. The best way to put it was; it wasn’t hard traveling but it was exhausting for my head and my senses. Belen was an entire community living on the garbage outflow of the town of Iquitos. Open sewage lined the houses. Flies carried disease from stagnant waste piles onto everything, including every meal of the day. The smell filled the air and even after a month I never really adjusted to the choking sensation of entering Belen. Yet with all these sights, sounds and smells there were moments that surpassed them in intensity. In thirty-degree heat we would all bring water bottles down to the raft. What followed was something I will never forget. Kids and adolescents lined up begging for a sip of our water. Kids desperate for a sip of clean water.
How many times do we appreciate turning on our taps at home? How many times do we realize that when we shower we are washing ourselves with clean drinking water? Is it fair that in my own life of 22 years I have never had to beg for water? Their innocence and desperation will stick with me forever. This is what clean water can mean to a community, to a person, and to a child.
After spending the rest of the month in Peru having new perspectives slapped in our face, it was time to move on to Chile where we toured the backcountry of Patagonia. I am thankful for that time as the long days touring up the volcanoes allowed my mind to process the Peruvian experience. I wore a bracelet that one of the Belen girls had given me. We’d had a talk the day before I left Peru. She had given me the bracelet so that a part of her could travel to distant lands. She was only twelve years old yet she had come to the realization that she would never leave the slum of La Belen. As I toured up these mountains, I realized that although my perspective had changed profoundly from the trip, that little girl and her community would continue unchanged; lives without clean drinking water, without proper waste sanitation, without a fair chance at a high school diploma.
The small rays of hope are the local organizations we worked with. They are chipping away at the giant mountains of inequality we see in this world. Like everyone else they are affected by the economic crisis, which has devastated their programs. These are people who live their lives, day in day out, attempting to make the world a better place. They put perspective and humility into action. These are the programs that are going to change this world and we all need to honor and support them.