Eighteen-Year-Old Me and South America

My intention was to simply find a few pictures, upload them to my blog and then write this post. Instead I found myself lost in a haze of memories and a hundred or so pictures as I scrolled through them. Then I looked back at the emails I wrote five years ago and was instantly transported even further into a totally different world.
All during my teenage years I dreamed of going to Peru, South America, to stay with my oldest sister, Betsie, who lived high up in the mountains with her husband and children. Most of our family went for a five-week visit when I was fifteen. It was an unforgettable experience, even though I was quite unwell for most of the trip due to (then undiagnosed) Lyme disease. 
My next-older sister, Helena, went back the following year to stay with Betsie and her family for five months. I frequently prayed that I would be able to go help out as well one day. Health issues appeared to render that dream as unattainable and my young age only added to the roadblocks. 
Then, a few weeks before I turned eighteen (and therefore could travel without parents internationally and not have a hassle with it), we were able to find a certain vitamin supplement that helped me feel the best that I had in ages. It was right after my birthday that my brother-in-law called (a rarity since they lived so high up in the mountains and phone time was expensive and scarce) and… Well, it’s a long story but two weeks later Helena and I were on our way to Peru for two months to help Betsie who was on bed-rest, expecting their fifth child.  

I wasn’t able to find the pictures I had been looking for, but I did find some that Betsie had. 
(Some of these are from the year before I went and stayed with them.) 

We lived in a mountain village of about 3,000 people, settled into a little river valley in the Andies Mountains at 12,500 feet. The air was thin, the trees extremely sparse, and the world seemingly barren. It was the most desolate landscape I had seen at that point in my life, yet even so I was amazed at the beauty. The sky was so close with burning sun, chapping wind, and vibrant blues. The weather would change dramatically, each day easily having a thirty to forty degree range. 
It was a harsh environment. The workload faced each day to merely survive was difficult to comprehend. We lived in an adobe (dirt) house, had no indoor plumbing (although we were blessed to have one sink outside the back door with cold, impure water), limited electricity, and no heat. One of my daily jobs was to fill up the water purifiers in the house and to water the floor to keep the dust down. 
There were also many culture practices that took a bit of time to get used to. We were there during the rainy season, and, as we soon learned, it was important to stay out of the rain. If you did end up getting wet you were supposed to go straight home and go to bed. Betsie explained that since there’s no heat and the weather often dipped into the twenties, it was hard to warm up after being chilled by the cold rain. Therefore the people had learned that if you get into bed with your warm covers you’re less likely to get sick. 

 Most people there had two houses (remember, these were made out of adobe so they were fairly inexpensive to make), one in the village and one out in the country. Then they would divide their time between their farms and the village where they had market and the children went to school.

In the village we had a gas stove, but out in the country we had no such luxuries. If you’ll look behind me in the picture above or to the left of the children in the picture below, you’ll see a huge stack of dry cow patties, which is what we used as fuel when we needed to cook.

Despite the hardships, there was plenty of happiness and laughter to go around. My nieces and nephews especially enjoyed their country house without electricity and extremely close neighbors who would watch every move that that “gringos” made. The swing and hammock added to the charm and were in almost-constant use when we were there.

Back in the village we often had visitors over. (Another hard-to-get-used-to cultural practice was the completely acceptable practice of carrying a small plastic bag in your pocket to slip your food into when you couldn’t/didn’t eat all that had been served to you. You just had to do it without anyone seeing you…) 

The world there was so much more laid back and at a entirely different pace than I was used to. It took some time to learn to go with the flow, forgo plans and not get stressed while waiting for hours at a time, but it was good.

I am so grateful for the time I spent in Peru and I learned an astonishing amount of things; things about the world, about different cultures, about my perceptions, and a thousand other lessons I won’t boggle you down with now. Those two months were life-changing, a dream come true, and the answer to so many of my prayers.

* * *
What about you? Have you ever been to a third-world country? 

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