As I sit here looking out over this barren landscape with the sound of cresting waves in the background, it is hard to deny the beauty of this world. But at the same time it is difficult to ignore the blaring ugliness of humanity.
I´ve never found the beauty in a desert landscape. Perhaps it is my upbringing in the land of deciduous forests and fields of cotton that give me a flavor for the greener side of life—a green that simply isn´t found here in this desert. This month has been the longest excursion into this “wilderness.” A wilderness of rocks, dust, sun, wind, and the tantalizing beauty of the Pacific Ocean—tantalizing because I haven´t been afforded the opportunity to go swimming and yet every day we work under the blazing sun looking out over the cool blue knowing that its waters would refresh our weary bodies.
There exists a beauty in knowing that these rocky shores of Peru are a part of a much larger wilderness. We are perched in the foothills of the Andes—those majestic mountains ranging from the end of this word up into the canal that Roosevelt built. These mountains are the source of the mighty Amazon as well as home to the capital of the vast Inca Empire—a place which I will call home in a few short days. And we are connected to all of these places by the soles of our feet. But this is a temporal connectedness. There also exists a historico-social connection.
Just a short walk down the coast we encounter the ancient fishing grounds of the Inca. Marked by two large stone circles we see where they would unload their catch for the waiting Chaskis. Then long trek towards Cusco would begin as the chaskis would sprint the daily catch up into the mountains thus ensuring that the Inca Empire would have fish for dinner. Additionally, this coast is retains a dark history of conquest—the unflattering picture of invasion, integration, and apparent self-denial of Peruvian roots. The importance of the coast on which I sit is highlighted even more as we watch the fishing boats come into port; unload their holds of the bounty which the sea has provided. Once securely stored in whichever car, truck, or van it is immediately shipped off to Lima or some other large city along the coast that will barely recognize the name of the port from which they eat.
Acknowledging these connections is easy. Understanding, however, is not. Removing myself from the ugliness found in humanity proves to be difficult. From our work on the side of the mountain I look down. First I notice the ocean and then I see the town in which we have been serving for the last four weeks. If I wanted to I could count the house, but there appear to be 60 or so. The majority of which are single rooms made of “Esteras” – a woven grass of sorts. But this is not the only reminder of the poverty ingrained into this fishing village. A special care is needed when walking through town as to avoid the piles of human feces that serve as a physical and an olfactic manifestation of the neglect felt by this village. Their government has failed them. It has failed to provide the basics which we, gringos and Peruvians alike, take for granted. The smell of burning plastic in the morning serves to remind us that there is no trash pickup. The scene every Saturday morning of people taking their water containers to the corner to quench their thirst for the week reminds us of a lack of running water. And even that water is not a guarantee from their government as right now they are trapped in a nightmare of intergovernmental bickering. They have been without water for 10 days because they have been disowned by their own district, and their neighboring district will offer no assistance. They live on a border between two localities and neither one wants them. Their humanity has been forgotten as they are transformed into a red number on the bottom line; a subtraction of 350 soles each week from the budget—the cost of water for this village.
But the government has not wholly forgotten. They did build the village a medical post in 2009. A lovely blue and while building that has lain vacant until 51 Peruvian adolescents, 5 teachers, 2 cooks, and 3 Jesuit Volunteers moved in a month ago. Conveniently the government found the money to build a medical post, a sign of goodwill to appease the villagers, but they have forgotten to provide the personnel and supplies necessary for the health of this village.
But every night, for a brief moment, the beauty of this port is restored. Mateo, Greg, and I sit on the front porch of the medical post, wave to abuelita, and watch the sun set over the tranquil Pacific. The transition from yellow to orange to red to night reminding us that it will rise again—bringing with it the hope of a new day.