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“what to get peruvian women as a gift”: Which Peru?

I just noticed that someone came to my site having searched: “what to get peruvian women as a gift.” A mere commodities search or something more philosophical? My first response is clean water, health care for their children, enough food to feed the family. But then it hit me: WHICH Peru did that person mean?

Since I’ve been back from my service trip to Peru, a great many people have mentioned that they or someone else has been to Peru, too. My repsonse is always, “Which Peru?” They look puzzled at first but soon are nodding along with me as I explain that I am asking about where they went because of the huge socio-economic range of that developing country’s inhabitants.

“Ah, yes, of course,” they say. “My Peru was lush and green, with interesting archaelogical sites. My Peru had some fabulous deals on pima cotton tee shirts and silverware. My Peru had some wonderful restaurants — did you try the ceviche?!”

Of course, that IS most definitely Peru. I can see it, having stolen a glimpse of that place for an hour and a half on the last night, when we snuck away from the airport to the Mira Flores neighborhood. We went shopping there, and I found some great deals. I bought a little silver ring that I wear every day to remind me of the trip. I bought each of my family members an alapacha hat. I found a llama stuffed animal for my son and a doll with a baby on her back. R., one of the Peruvian grad students, was our fabulous guide to Mira Flores. After shopping, we had just enough time left to take the “dulce tour de Lima,” i.e., we walked from sweets cart to sweets cart, sampling Peruvian treats. We strolled around the lovely Kennedy (as in JFK) Park and licked our fingers dripping with syrup and honey, listened to the band and watched the couples dancing, observed the ladies taking their cocky little Schnauzers for walks and the lovers smootching in the darker spots between the glowing street lamps.

That is Peru. Yes. But…

So is the Peru of Quian where R. also took us on an hour and a half tour in the twilight (I mentioned this earlier in the Jan. 18th post). In Mira Flores our goal was to shop for gifts to bring home. In Quian our goal was to convince the community, one family at a time, to each donate a big wooden post and some labor to build a fence around the biodigestor we built (but did not finish) in their village a couple of years ago. The children have been playing on the structure, and it is quite dangerous for them to do so. A fence is needed both to keep the children off the contraption and to hold up a roof from which we would be able to hang the methane bag (biodigestors convert animal and plant waste into methane gas for cooking and effluent for fertilizer).

Anyway, that night R. and a villager, Paco, led us from house to house. As we stumbled through the darness with one headlanp between us, dogs, so complacent during the day, barked and growled furiously at us in the night. People emerged slowly out of their houses, so slowly. Most shook hands with us, weakly as they do by custom in Peru. Their touch is so light as to hardly resemble a hand shake. The more common greeting is a hug and a kiss on one cheek. One woman we met that night in Quian was so sweet. She shook our hands weakly when introduced and then hesitated, finally going in for the hug and kiss. You could see her almost thinking, “Oh, what the heck. They may be gringos but I know the proper way to greet someone!”

That, too, is Peru. My Peru. Dusty roads and dirt floored houses. Little water and even less sanitation. Kind friends and generous hospitality. Great need and great hope.

Before we went on the trip, a group of us used to meet every week on campus for a Spanish immersion lunch. After a short time, we noticed that the grad student, M., always seemed to answer our questions with the word “depende.” It depends. Eventually, it became a big joke that M. was Señor Depende. When we arrived in Peru and throughout our trip, we often discussed how we could now understand a bit more about why M. always responded that way. OUR Peru seemed, by American standards, to be in a contant state of uncertainlty. Will we have transportation once we get there? Will transport, once secured, actually arrive at the time we arranged? Will the truck break down? Will that clinic where everything is supposed to be fine actually have some major problem with their system that we will need to fix on the fly? Will anyone want these student projects installed in their backyard — biodigestors and rocket stoves? Will the systems work if they ARE installed? Will villagers even use them if the systems DO function correctly? Who will maintain systems when we are gone? How can we keep kids from using our systems as playgrounds? Do we need to build them some playgrounds?!! It seemed like everything was up in the air: transportation, lodging, food and water — not to mention logistics about the engineering projects that we were in Peru to install.

Then one day whewn we were discussing how we thought of Peru as “depende,” R. took issue. He was reminding us that we were seeing only a small portion of Peru, and our experience was heavily influenced by the socio-economics of the places and people we visited and our mission to work directly with the poor. Of course, this made perfect sense, but it is only as I sit down to write this post that I see that R. was actually confirming our perception of Peru as land of depende. He was saying that everything depends on which Peru you visit!

So, what ought one to give Peruivan women as a gift? Clean water. A gold necklace. A composting toilet. Tickets to the opera. Job training. A shopping spree in Paris.


One Response

  1. Depende.

    Very good post. It’s funny, I read the last line first and thought, “A typo”, and then read the post and understood. Duh!

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