My father in law is a small man. Not so much in stature (he’s about 6’2, 250lbs), but more so on the inside. To him, the world is a small place where there is really only one legitimate race, dogma, and prevailing political perception.
Last week my wife and I went on a 10 day adventure to Peru and to my father in law, we might as well have been plunging ourselves into the depths of hell. Forget that if I had handed him a map, he’d probably be hard pressed to even point it out on the piece of paper. All he knew was A. drugs and terrorists come from Peru, and B. you’re liable to have a bus driver drive you right off the side of a mountain down there.
Those were literally the two objections he offered in opposition of us going to Peru.
After returning, I overheard my wife having a conversation with him about our trip. It was amazing to hear the disbelief in his voice over all the things we’d experienced. We came back completely unscathed and free from harm, but he was even more amazed to find that the savages are over 95% Catholic. Say wha!!!! They’re Christians down there?! Not quite southern Baptist, but he gladly took it.
Forget that Christianity was forced on the indigenous as a means to colonize and control them. Let’s all just be glad that their eternal souls are saved from their pagan ways. (Please allow me to step off my bleeding heart soap box now).
What I tried to accomplish in Peru
In my small town in Northwest Georgia, most people I encounter are admittedly small minded. The only way you’d find them venturing off to a developing nation is if it were with a church mission group or more likely, on a cruise to a resort.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a bit of time with an NGO in rural Guatemala and have seen how life in the 3rd world really works. I’ve seen how the poorest of the poor live and got a solid feel for what it feels like to not be a part of the 1st world. Even the poorest of the poor in American typically have clean running water, toilets that flush, a roof with an attic overhead and even heating and air conditioning!
While in Peru, I made my wife stay in a rented apartment in a residential neighborhood of Cuzco. Every day we had to walk through the neighborhood. It was nerve wracking at times, especially after dark when even I felt scared to be out on the streets. But I wanted to show her something more than just the tourist shops surrounding the central plaza. I wanted to give her a small glimpse of how people in the developing world really live. How they butcher their meat and sell their produce on the side of the street, how they commute, how they socialize, and how they go about their daily business.
I also wanted to show her what the typical home for a Peruvian is like. Our apartment had thin walls, no heating or air conditioning, and a shower that sprayed luke-warm water at best. Luckily, the apartment had indoor toilets that flushed and a working washing machine. When I was in Guatemala, not a single family I stayed with or encountered had working indoor plumbing. They all relied on “pilas,” outdoor sinks where you would fill up buckets of water to either force flush your toilet, heat your bathwater over a wood burning stove or use for cleaning and cooking. This apartment also had steady electricity. In Guatemala, the electricity seemed to come and go at random.
After our brief stay in Cuzco, we hiked the Inca Trail, a 26 mile trek up and down mountain passes on our way to Machu Pucchu. Along the way, our tour guide would give us history of the indigenous. We learned about their religion, their social structure, their culture and a lot of other great details in between.
We also watched our hired porters carry most our supplies for us very hastily to the next check point each day. Most of them wore sandals and carried packs easily five times the size of ours. My wife and I did the math, adding together all the fees for the entire group, subtracting the costs for various permits and tickets the trekking company bought on our behalf, and assuming the company keeps at least 25% of the remaining revenue, and concluded that these porters couldn’t be earning more than $15-20 a day for their long, backbreaking days of work.
Finally we arrived at Machu Picchu and all its glory, only to be inundated with tourists; fat, ice cream eating, cigarette smoking tourists. Despite its overwhelming glory and awe, we felt disappointed. But we my wife walked away changed. She had experiences a little bit of the everyday culture of a developing nation, she had learned about the ill effects of colonialism on the indigenous culture, and she had accomplished a remarkable physical challenge in completing the Inca Trail.
During my wife and father in law’s conversation, I could hear him manipulating the conversation so that she fed him his own predisposed conclusions back to him. He would ask questions in such a way that made Peru seem inferior, backwards, or not as good for one reason or another. And sadly my wife typically agreed with him since it is true, conditions are better here. But he is missing the big picture in his small mindedness. It isn’t about who is or isn’t better, it is about living life, experiencing culture, getting outside your comfort zone and seeing the world as more than just a big Stars and Stripes themed bubble where it’s us then the rest of the world.
I was hoping maybe my wife would come home and blow open the eyes of her family with accounts of her new-found experiences. On the surface, she hasn’t seemed to yet, but maybe in a roundabout way she has simply in the fact that she had the courage to do something none of them could ever imagine doing themselves.