During this excursion I met Manuel, a father of five. His home, which he built with his own arthritic hands, was as simple as the rest in Pumamarca. A “living room” full of potatoes, a kitchen full of smoke and, upstairs, a bedroom with two basic beds and a shrine to Jesus.
When I returned downstairs (I had ben taking photos of the bedroom for the family’s file) I walked in on one of the most heartbreaking sights of my Peruvian experience – of a lifetime of experience.
Manuel was in tears. Blubbering to the social worker and our volunteer manager because of the life of poverty he was “providing” for his family. At the time, I couldn’t understand a word (my Spanish is as shocking as it was when I left) but his sentiments were obvious. He was a beaten man, but also a grateful man – grateful for the assistance offered by Peru’s Challenge.
As we were leaving, with tears in his eyes once more, Manuel showed me his hands. They were destroyed from a laborious life. Black, torn apart, crippled. I put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, he burst into tears and hugged me. I shed a couple myself.
These experiences have been unique and touching. I am reluctant though to say, they have been life-changing. Firstly, it’s a wanky cliché I would rather avoid. Secondly, although such tales put my life, my comparatively pathetic troubles, into perspective, they haven’t lessened said troubles.
Somehow, for example, I was still pissed off on the plane from Lima to Buenos Aires when I let a girl take my window seat, even though I wanted to say no, only to discover my (HER!!) earphone jack didn’t work. Grrrr.
Anyway, it’s important for me to remember home visits weren’t always teary. Visit number two this day was to a pregnant mother with five boys and a little girl already under her wing. “Home visit” wasn’t the correct term on this occasion as the boys, playing in the dirt in the front yard, didn’t let me past the gate. Instead they took my camera hostage, pulled stupid faces and cracked up upon review each and every time. Gorgeous.
And so, I leave Peru as I arrived: amazed by the locals’ happy faces and the complete juxtaposition of their bleak lifestyle. In the end, I had a similar contrast going. The time spent sick put a dampener on my month in Peru and there were times I would have happily left. But, on the other hand, there were times, many times, the kids of Pumamarca – their bright smiles and unyielding affection - made it all worth while.
Still, my next holiday will likely be less third world country with strangers, more beach paradise with friends. Anyone?