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Gandalf Won’t Be Joining Us at the Lonely Mountain: Peru Trip Update

Remember in The Hobbit how Gandalf travels with Bilbo and the Dwarves for a good long while and then he takes off, to their dismay, leaving them to face the mountain and the dragon alone…? Bilbo can’t fathom how they will manage without their wise mentor and the mastermind behind their operation. Well, my family recently read this part of the book (we are reading the novel aloud to my son), and it struck me how, once more, I identify strongly with this hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.

I haven’t posted on my Peru news for a while because I wanted to make sure “Gandalf” was going to be okay first. You see, the leader of our group — our wise magician and grand puller-of-strings — unexpectedly had to have open heart surgery for a triple by-pass and isn’t going on the trip with us! Guess who is now the “senior faculty member” traveling with the group?

Irony of ironies, isn’t it? Here I was planning a trip where I would be an observer, asking questions and helping students to reflect on the meaning of this service-learning experience. I envisioned me sitting off to the side, writing in my notebook, and talking with students at mealtimes, asking brilliant questions that would lead them to life-changing ah-ha moments. Or at least that was my hope. Always, though, in my imaginings, the Project Director was there. He IS the Project.

Now he’s not going to be there. As awful as this is, I have managed over the last two and a half weeks to look on the bright side…

First, thank goodness he’s going to be okay. The surgery went well, and he is recovering, albeit slowly. He had NO indicators of heart disease. Everyone, in fact, is shocked that he had to have such a surgery because he is so generally healthy and spry. But his good health should aid in his recovery. Just goes to show that medicine is not an exact science, as I said in my earlier post. A person who is slim and exercises and eats right, has normal blood pressure and cholestorol, no diabetes and no family history of heart problems can end up in the hospital for heart surgery. Go figure.

Second, THANK GOODNESS the doctors caught this problem before we went. I can imagine too well what might have happened if he had had a heart attack in a village at 12,000 ft. elevation, seven hours from the nearest hospital. Really brings home how important the emergency radios we are installing are for the good folks who live in these villages.

Third, thank goodness that half the folks going on the trip this time have been before, most multiple times. One private citizen has gone ten times previously, in fact! She will be the de facto leader once we get through customs. I will be the official (i.e., legal) group representative and help coordinate mundane things before we leave like collecting/dispensing money and handouts, improving communications, reminding people about various to do items, but it’s not like I’ll need to coordinate the Project activities once we are down there. I’ll help as needed, but I won’t be responsible for such things. Obviously, it would be idiotic for me to be in charge since I am an English professor and NOT an engineer, not to mention the fact that I’ve also never been to Peru! 🙂

Fourth, what a great opportunity for some of the graduate students going on the trip to develop their leadership skills. We will be relying on them for their engineering expertise, so it’s not as if I have to supervise solar engineering projects, either. These students will HAVE to step it up and make decisions that would generally fall to the Director. As far as learning goes in this service-learning trip, I expect a lot of it to be taking place!

Fifth, thank goodness I’ve stopped freaking out about the trip (mostly). I am too busy and too many people are relying on me to be a leader in my domain. I usually am able to rise to such occasions when it comes down to it, but I wasn’t sure, frankly, how I’d handle this trip. It’s a pretty big deal for me, facing my fears and all that. But my attitude shifted as soon as I heard that my colleague was going in for surgery. Puts things in perspective.

Well, so I’m going to Peru. And while my name IS on the official documents now as the person who is responsible for the group and if anything comes up in customs about the equipment we are bringing down to donate to the medical clinis and schools, it’s my name they will see on our papers — somehow I’m okay with that. To be honest, I felt earlier a bit like useless baggage, much like Bilbo felt before he found the ring of power. I was (sort of) up for the adventure and all and agreed to help as much as I could, but I didn’t expect much at all from myself. Now I feel more like I’m earning my keep. I have a role. Plus, I am one of many, all pulling together to make the trip a success.

Am I still scared? You bet! But I’ve got a job to do, and I’d best get to it and do it, as my Grandpa used to say.

2 Responses

  1. I hope your Gandalf’s health continues to improve.

    Also, did you hear they are officially making The Hobbit movie (2 movies actually) and Peter Jackson is indeed going to be involved? Yay!

  2. Hadn’t heard that. Hmmm. Not sure how I feel about a Hobbit movie. I like the world of my imagination an awful lot….

    Thanks for the well-wishing for Gandalf. He’s got a big heart and will recover, I’m sure 🙂

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