Taking a cue from Humans of New York, I thought I’d elaborate on my Peru trip in the form of portraits and mini-stories.
Being in the desert with open windows meant that every inch of every surface was covered in dirt. We had a cleaning woman, Queta, come in daily to clean: “dust maintenance” someone called it. Everyone I met who had been at the house for long enough spoke of Queta like she was an oracle, or a best friend, or a surrogate mother, grandmother, aunt, sister. It made me incredibly sad that she and I couldn’t communicate, so I took her picture instead.
The first time I met Mauricio, he threw a football at my head. I caught it and threw it back. An American football is an unwieldy item to throw without someone showing you how, so I ran over to him before he could throw it back and guided his fingers to the laces, made the motion to throw it overhead. I ran back to my spot and caught a perfect spiral straight to my chest. I gave a thumbs up and threw the ball back.
Juan wouldn’t speak to me, which was fine, because I couldn’t understand what he would have been saying anyway. The great thing about three year olds is that they find ways to communicate without using words because sometimes they can’t think of the right ones. I handed him some paper and a big bucket of crayons. He stared at me blankly. I handed him a blue crayon and pointed to the paper. He started coloring meticulously, scribbling all over the page, like it was his sworn duty to color every inch of it. Like I had given him a mission. Eventually the crayon caught on the paper wrapper and he handed it back to me. I ripped some of the paper off and handed it back. “Brilliant!” the look on his face said. He squatted down and started using his stubby little fingers to pry the rest of the paper off the crayon. When he finished, he handed it back to me, beaming. I looked at my watch. We still had two hours to kill. I picked out another crayon, peeled a bit of the paper off to get it started, and handed it back. He ripped all the paper off again. This went on with about six more crayons, until he started taking crayons and exasperatedly peeling off the paper, as though he were divinely obligated to do so. It was the entire purpose of his being and it burdened him the way factory workers are burdened with manual labor in order to support their families. Finally, our time was up, and I handed him back to his mother. It was like punching his time card. He was finally off the clock.
Most people ignore all the stray dogs in the area. They’re not like dogs in America: they’re more calm, less spoiled. There was a mangy-looking dog around the classroom, who was just looking for a bit of love and maybe some food. He wasn’t bothering anyone. However, this woman, whose name I don’t know, dressed completely in traditional Andean attire, threw rocks at the dog, all the while shouting Spanish curses at it. She didn’t throw them to hit the dog, just aimed them so that they would land near it and it would scurry away. It didn’t work, though. The dog kept coming back.
For me, this little girl is a perfect symbol of Huaycan. Maybe at first glance, she looks dirty, and poor, and maybe we assume that we should give her charity because of that. In actuality, she’s dirty because she’s been out playing all day with her friends. She may be poor, like the rest of the community, but despite that, no one seems to want for anything.
Jefferson was the quintessential Bad Boy of his class. Because of the language barrier, I would point to my eyes and then point to him to show him that I was keeping an eye on him. So he started doing it back to me, repeatedly, and laughing hysterically, as though my watching him had any bearing on his classroom behavior at all. Despite all this, he was one of my favorite students.
These guys were just rocking out in Barranco. When they saw I had pulled out my camera, they started serenading me.