I have spent many months in parts of Asia, Europe, and South America and written countless e-mails detailing the events of each trip. The words have always flown freely from me as I react the the new, exciting, and sometimes frightening experiences. Always, I have responses and questions to what I see and I am envigorated by writing about my journeys.
Yet, on this trip, I am finding that it has taken time to put this experience into words. And, even now, as I sit at this Samsung computer in Arequipa I am not sure that I have the words quite yet. You see, this trip is not really my adventure. I mean, it is in the sense that I´m in a wonderful, new foreign country where there are lots of things to observe, learn, and do every day. However, in the same way, I am here for my students own personal adventures. And, in that sense, I sometimes feel like the adventure of this new place is not yet mine to be had. That has been so interesting. This is my work. I am here to support my students, to pose invoking questions that will cause them to dig inside themselves. I am here to answer their questions about the stray dogs, about the necessity to pay for public restrooms, about crazy traffic, about the litter scattering the streets, and about the children who are not in school. At the same time, however, I am here to listen. I cannot push their experiences too quickly, I cannot force them to learn what I have already learned from traveling in foreign countries. I cannot lessen their experience by indicating that I have already had one like theirs. I must allow them to embrace Peru as it comes to them. They must grow out of disrespectful American habits at a speed that is comfortable to them. They must be able to realize the little value that material posessions have in this Peruvian world and then relate it back to their own lives without having me push that point, or any other point for that matter. I have appreciated this process. My students have reminded me the necessity to do this still in my own life. They have taught me while I am trying to teach them.
Yet, what I take away from Peru right now is the history of the people that lived here many years ago. I am fascinated by their cultures and by their struggle to live. I am interested in their spiritual ideas and history as well. It is so interesting how religions are born to fulfill different people needs. It is not unusual that mountains play such an important part of the daily lives of the mountain people.
I am grateful, again, to be a student here in Peru. The lessons come to me in unforgettable ways. And, this is the story that I leave you with. I am, with no exaggeration, a dog enthusiast. I think that for the first 3 weeks of our trip I tried to feed a large portion of my leftover food to stray dogs in the street. I went so far as to buy a roll of bread for a dog that was following us one night. (I wonder why he was following us?!) When I arrived on my trek, however, our guide, Raul, decided that it was time for me to learn something different. With passionate eyes he looked at me one day and told me what it was like to grow up as a child, starving, without any food. As his eyes began to well up he patientley explained that it breaks his heart every time I think about feeding the starving dogs before the starving children. The children don´t stand at the door of the tent waiting for us to finish our food, they don´t follow us wherever we go with food in our hands, they don´t always put on their best puppy eyes to beg for food. However, if you pay attention, they are there. They may be working in their families fields, they may be hiding in the doorway of their houses, they may even be standing at the outskirts of our campsite wondering if you are going to eat that orange. They are shy. They are hungry.
Raul taught me that I need to look at the bigger picture. I need to be aware of all my surroundings. I need to be mindful of the lives and cultures of the people whose country I am in. And, once I have given away all that I can to the children, I can then turn to the dogs. After all, although many of their lives will be confined to the mountain villages that they are in, they have more to give to this world than the dreaded-haired dog staring wantingly at me. And, gratefully, there will always be a jar of peanut butter that only a dog´s tongue can polish off. I am comforted by knowing that I will always be a student.