I came into this trip repeating to myself: it is what you make of it. With trips as unpredictable as these, it is inevitable that there will be bumps in the road. There will be unexpected challenges, and you will feel uncomfortable at times. And I knew this because not only was this my third go-round with Courts for Kids, but because I was about to travel 24+ hours with 12 high school students, one college grad, and one chaperone to another continent to stay 10 days in a remote province no one has heard of, in unknown conditions and with unknown resources. But I couldn’t have been more excited, or ready.
Up before the sun, the group met at PDX to head to what we knew as a remote province named Caray, Peru. We were to go from PDX to LAX, to San Salvador, to Lima, Peru, then Trujillo, then an hour or so bus ride to Viru, and a final two-hour van ride to our site in Caray.
Our only bump in the road while traveling was LAX to San Salvador. After some MAJOR turbulence and many upset stomachs, our pilot announced that because of the thunderstorm we would have to land in Honduras instead. We waited on the plane at the Honduras airport tired, nauseous and worried about our connection in San Salvador, but about 40 minutes later we were headed back to San Salvador and our connection had been held for such a big group.
Our group couldn’t have been luckier to have so many amazing role models and such inspiring individuals to learn from and get to know throughout this trip. Thank you to the PCVs for all of your help and all that you do and sacrifice as a PCV. You all have similar admirable qualities that any of us – students and adults – would be lucky to acquire.
With sleepy faces but wide, excited eyes, we rode through Viru and looked on at the desert around us. For me at least, desert makes me think of flat, dry, dusty land – but the mountains surrounding us couldn’t have been any higher. It was beautiful in that it was such a unique scene; as if it were a fake background on a movie set. Among other things, we saw trash lining the side of the streets, farmers burning corn husks between their long lines of crops, and locals walking about.
The van ride to Caray was not for a sensitive stomach, but one of the most riveting experiences I have ever had. It was then that I think it really set in for the group that we weren’t in the States anymore. We rode up the mountains on a ledge that was a little too close and a little too far of a fall for comfort, and around in loops and tight turns, back and forth and up and down and forever on, or so it seemed. Caray really was remote, because it was roughly a two hour drive until we came upon a line of children, dressed in yellow and blue, each holding flowers and a small sign in their hand; watching with eyes just as wide as ours.
The kids took us one by one by hand and walked us over to where we would be welcomed with basic background information on Peru and the community of Caray. Hungry as ever, we then ate lunch; our first of many delicious meals prepared by local women.
Day two was met with a slow start, as we still had much leveling and square making to do before we could begin pouring concrete. As the days continued of the same routine and jobs to be done, everyone seemed to fall into the jobs that worked best for them, switching with others and being guided by the workers with what to do next and where to go. We seemed to be three separate groups with two different languages working towards one common goal.
The following day was July 4th, and how lucky we were to celebrate with this community. We ended work on the court early so that we could give a presentation and share with the community (and workers) why and how we celebrate the 4th of July. In addition to the presentation, we did a dance to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA”, passed out small American flags to the community, and played gestures, Peruvians vs. Americanos. When the sun began to set, we made a campfire. Our group brought everything needed to make smores to share with the locals more of our culture, and one of July 4th’s most popular treat. It was a hit. Many more families from the community had come to join in this celebration, and all – kids and adults – wanted 2nds if not 3rds. It was the first time the three groups were able to spend time together outside of working, and by the end of the night, I didn’t feel like such a stranger in this new environment anymore. Both cultures had now been shared and accepted, and more importantly, it felt as though the community no longer looked at us as strangers as well. The curious locals now better understood who we were and why we were there, and both parties realized there were in fact more similarities between us as human beings, than differences. The night ended with joke telling and playing futbol with the kids, as well as the workers walking around with American flags sticking out of the back of their shirts, and one flag very symbolically – put there by a local – waving tall from a leveling tool on the court.
We ended up finishing the court on day five, a day earlier than expected, and were able to spend day six going on a beautiful two hour or so hike up and around the mountains to a waterfall. The workers and a few community members joined us, and there we were able to swim and enjoy the view. The following day was the court’s opening ceremony, where the municipal government including the mayor of Viru, the provincial capital where Caray is located, was present. The students put on a special dance just for the occasion, speeches were given and we had potluck of sorts as well. The court was played on all day; from baseball, to flag football, to volleyball, and of course, futbol. That was all the satisfaction needed from a hard week of labor: getting ready for bed hearing the giggles and yells of the locals playing on their new court.
Saying goodbye the next day was tough, but so touching to see what our presence had come to mean to the community. The children who we played with every day realized that they were never going to see us again, and vice versa. We also realized we had to leave this place that became a home away from home. Through the tears and goodbyes was a mutual appreciation for the sharing and acceptance of both cultures, and the understanding that the memories created would never be forgotten.
We spent our last night in a hotel in Trujillo near the coast, and our last day touring two ruins: the Huaca del Sol y la Luna built by the Moche civilization (100 AD to 800 AD), and Chan Chan, the largest Pre-Columbian city in South America, and capital of the historical Chimú Culture from AD 900-1470 until they were defeated and incorporated into the Inca empire. Most of the authentic souvenirs brought home were bought outside of these two sites. We also had lunch in the beachside town of Huanchaco and tasted a delicious local treat called a cremolada.
Challenges and bumps in the road are bound to happen – and necessary. Especially in a setting so out of ones comfort zone such as this. They help you grow in ways you didn’t know you needed, or even could. They’re what make trips more eventful and a better story to tell. The bug bites, bathroom issues, sleeping problems, tired muscles and everything in between, are small obstacles and inconveniences when you’re able to look back at a small, remote province in Peru and call all those you met there (community members, workers, PCVs, and our group members) your family. It is what you make of it, I told myself. And it was the experience of a lifetime.
– Abby Engel, College Courts for Kids Volunteer
“I learned that positive attitudes, determination and working with the same goals can overcome even the most daunting obstacles.” – Ted Fujioka, Adult participant
“I learned the world is full of many different people, cultures, foods and customs . . . When I learned more about the differences, I began to accept them and embrace them. I learned that people can get to know each other without speaking the same language and can develop bonds too.” – Kristin Fleuischauer, adult participant
“The big stereotype that has changed the most would be the situation they live in and that everyone is poor and hates what they have. I first thought they lived miserable lives with what they have. I have later learned that it is a very happy community and they love what they have.” – Charles Vranizan
“I think I learned that there are little solutions for bigger problems. That in the world a lot of problems come from people being selfish and egotistic. Caring way more about themselves than those who are below them. When we worked together we were able to come together and build something.” – Judith Pacheco
“What I learned about the world was in communities even in different cultures humans are so alike even though we come from different backgrounds. The key to seeing this and appreciating this is living in a community and really opening up with them so they feel comfortable with opening up to you.” – Noah Crouse
“Our stay here focused our attention on respect, kindness and consideration of others, as well as, understanding and respect for differences. Hopefully we will foster and encourage within our own circles, be it school or work, a greater respect and tolerance of individual differences. “ – Sharon Fujioka, adult participant