So I have spent the last twelve days at an orphanage in Pampamarca, Peru. There aren’t any posts from my last four days there as I was really busy and then got food poisoning, but I think it gives a pretty good idea of what life is like. This is the story of my time there!
October 29th, 2010
Oh how Perú is teaching me to be flexible. Today is October 29th. I flew from Lima to Cusco yesterday with a guy from IFSA Butler, Peter. I was relieved to be going with someone I knew, even if it was only to Cusco. Peter goes to Carlton College so we can actually talk about Minnesota things together!
Peter and I met at 6:45 on Thursday, the 28th, to catch a cab to the airport. We had decided not to call a cab, as they charge about S./40 ($14?) and we didn’t want to pay that much. So Peter hailed the first cab we saw and the guy said he would only charge S./16 to go to the airport.. That is ridiculously cheap. We were a little apprehensive about taking a cab that cheap, as we thought maybe he was saying a really low price just to get us in the cab and then rob us, as it is an hour drive to the airport, and paying less than $6 doesn’t seem right, but we decided to go for it. It was a marked cab, which meant the guy was accountable to a company, so we thought what the heck. We got to the airport just fine, so I am not going to complain!
Anyways, our flight was only 20 minutes late taking off, and we landed in Cusco an hour later. It is amazing to me that you can fly to Cusco in an hour from Lima but it takes about 30 hours to go by bus…just to give you an idea of how bad the roads are.
We were supposed to be picked up at the airport yesterday by Julia, who is a friend of our program coordinator, Laura. However, Julia didn’t show up, and when we called her she said she was too swamped to get us at the airport but she would meet us at the hotel we stayed at when we all went as a group to Cusco about a month ago. So Peter and I hopped into a cab and headed over to the hotel. The doorman was really confused about why we were arriving at his hotel if we had no intention of staying there, but he was really nice and let us camp out there for about ten minutes until Julia came and got us.
Julia took us to her office, as she is one of the creators of Sierra Sustanible, which is an organization that helps small farmers become more environmentally friendly and more economically efficient. Peter is working with her program for the next five days. Anyways, she talked to us about where we were going (me to the orphanage in Pampamarca and Peter out to live with some small farmers that Julia works with) and then told us that we wouldn’t be leaving until today.
That was news to both of us, as we thought we were leaving that afternoon. Guess not. We hadn’t planned on staying in Cusco, so we hadn’t set anything up. However, Julia offered to let us stay at her house for the night, which we gratefully accepted, but that meant that we literally had the entire day in Cusco…and had planned nothing.
Cusco is really high up… over 3,000 meters above sea level. I don’t know how to translate that into feet, so I will let you all do the research. We both had taken altitude pills before we got to Cusco, but both felt awful, so we didn’t want to do much.
We decided to wander out into Cusco to find something cheap to eat for lunch before Julia took us to her house, so she wouldn’t have to feed us. We walked around for a while and then asked a vendor where we could find some cheap food. She sent us to a street that is obviously generally for locals, and we found a restaurant that had menú (soup, main dish, and a drink.. does not mean menu at all, as you don’t really get to pick what you want.) for S./4 which is roughly $1.75. Fantastic! The food was actually really good, and we couldn’t beat the price.
Julia then took us to her house, which is way on the outskirts of Cusco. It took about 15 minutes to get there in a taxi, which by the way is much much MUCH cheaper than in Lima, and then we had to walk up a fairly steep and large hill. My host family sent me tons of things to give to the girls, so needless to say my duffel bag weighed over 40 pounds. Peter was kind enough to carry it for me, but both of us died about halfway up the hill. The altitude plus the weight of our bags (I must admit that I only had my backpack, and Peter had his hiking backpack and my duffel bag) left our lungs screaming for oxygen and our brains strongly reminding us that they were not getting the normal amount of oxygen.
Pathetically, we had to stop halfway up the hill, as an old (about 70) year old woman passed us with a load of who knows what on her back.. I don’t know how these people do it! We made it, eventually, and Julia took us to where we would be staying. She had only one extra room, which was out in the back separated from the rest of the house, and had two mattresses on the floor. She then asked us if we wanted to use the two or if we wanted to share one.. awkward, as Peter has a girlfriend too… but we just politely said that two would be just fine.
After we set the mattresses up we figured we shouldn’t just awkwardly chill out in this random room, so we caught a combi back to the center of Cusco and tried to figure out what we were going to do. Both of us kinda jumped out of the combi, just like we do in Lima, and both almost fell over because we got so dizzy. I love the altitude!! Anyways, after buying some weird, but delicious, shortbread cookie from a street vendor we went to the Plaza de Armas and just sat for about an hour.
After an hour of being approached by basically every street vendor, except for the two we wanted, we decided to go grab a drink and sit down somewhere that we wouldn’t be attacked by vendors. After that we aimlessly wandered around Cusco trying to find necklaces that Mallory had asked me to buy for her. We bought some last time we were in Cusco, but these vendors were NO WHERE to be found. We eventually found D’Anafria ice cream, which is the best in Peru, and so we ate that before setting off to look for the necklaces again.
I didn’t realize that it is the rainy season in Cusco, so I didn’t bring my raincoat.. which is sitting in Lima, where it literally never rains… and then noticed, as I started to get sprinkled on, that there were huge thunderclouds above us. As we started to head back to Julia’s office to get some shelter from the rain, we finally found the necklaces. So I bought those, and we camped out in Julia’s office for about two hours until the rain passed.
Then we decided to buy dinner, which we chose to get anticuchos (cow heart) and choclo (huge sweet corn) from street vendors. So good. Funny story: we were sitting on stairs on the street eating our choclo and this Irish woman (about our age) goes “Sorry to interrupt your romantic moment” and then just keeps talking to us.. talk about random. But then when she left she says to me “Sorry to ruin your romantic moment with your husband”. First of all Peter and I didn’t understand how eating sweet corn out of plastic bags on cement stairs that led down to the street could ever be seen as romantic, and second of all.. husband?! We both, at the same time, corrected her, and she just kinda went off with an embarrassed and confused look on her face.
We then headed back to Julia’s for the night as we left her house at 6:00 this morning. The mattresses were SO uncomfortable, and Peter and I figured out in the morning that neither of us slept at all last night. We both woke up feeling awful, as we now realize that eating tons of strange food yesterday in combination with the altitude could not have been a worse idea.
We left this morning at 6:00 to first take Peter to his “farm” where he will be staying for the next four days, we think. After an hour and a half combi ride, we got off and found a taxi driver to take us on some of the worst roads I have ever been on. Julia stopped the poor taxi driver about 5 times on the way to drop in and have Peter meet people that he can stay with, if he wants. We finally got to where he is staying for at least tonight, left him there, and then headed on to Pampamarca.
The roads are always just dirt back here, but they are trying to pave some of them, so the roads are completely torn up. Not feeling well plus an additional hour after dropping Peter off in a jolting taxi, definitely has not been the best way to start the day. We finally made it to Pampamarca, where I found out that all but one of the nuns had left for a meeting.
I was just told to “rest” in a meeting room, and the nun just left me there. After a while two men walked into the orphanage. Men normally don’t come here, and they were really white..like me!, so I went out to greet them. One is a priest from Nova Scotia that works here in Perú and the other was an American. The American definitely doesn’t speak any Spanish, and the priest couldn’t go up and down all the stairs, so I translated for the nun and the man, Jerry. I still don’t exactly know why he is here in Peru, but he has come down to Peru many times I guess. Supposedly they are coming back tomorrow, so I will get to help translate again, and who knows what else.
The nun that I coordinated everything with still isn’t here, so I am just sitting in my room “resting” as I legitimately do not feel good from the combination of altitude and food. Pampamarca is at 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) above sea level, and Lima is at sea level, so the altitude change is pretty drastic. Even with the medicine I feel pretty awful, but I am hoping that will pass soon. So right now I just sit and wait I guess.. I keep reminding myself, Peru = flexibility.. hopefully I can actually get to that point!
October 30th, 2010
I guess I didn’t think I would appreciate all of the military training I did throughout high school and my first year of college.. now I do.
I went to take a shower this morning, as when I was in Cusco there weren’t showers, which meant as of this morning I hadn’t showered in almost three days. Sick. Anyways, the girls were like “oh it is still kinda warm” so I thought, sweet this will be great. What a lie!
The girl in the shower next to me was gasping for breath after she turned on the water and I asked her, “a little cold??” her reply? “It is like ice!”. Needless to say, she wasn’t kidding. There was straight up ice water coming out of the faucet. I had to mentally convince myself that going four days without showering really wasn’t the best option. On the plus side, it made the air outside seem warmer! It is really cold here.. like about 50 as a high. Chilly.
Another thing that doesn’t exist here? Mirrors. I have no idea why there absolutely no mirrors here, but there aren’t. It has definitely made putting my contacts in pretty interesting, but hey, I’m getting better! I guess it really teaches you not to worry about what you look like, as you can’t tell how you look at all! I am just going to wear my hair up all week. Some of the girls want to do my hair, so I’ll just let them do whatever they want to… doesn’t matter to me!
Goal for today: get some of the little girls to not be afraid of me. I have no idea why some of the little girls are terrified of me, but they really are. I don’t exactly find myself to be that scary, but I guess it will just take some time for them to get used to this new blonde girl walking around.
Saturdays are cleaning days here in the orphanage. After waking up at 6:00 a.m. and eating breakfast at 8:00 the girls spend the whole morning cleaning the orphanage, washing their clothes, and taking showers. With four showers for 43 girls, plus 6 nuns, plus me, it takes quite a while to get everyone showered.
The main thing that I have noticed so far that the girls need is socks and pants. Most of them have socks that have huge holes in them and their pants are completely worn out. Sweatpants seem to work best here, as it is consistently cold.
The nuns are looking to build more bathrooms and showers, as there are only 4 showers and 4 bathrooms here. They definitely need that, but they also need more dorms for the girls to sleep in. The dorm I was helping clean today has 14 girls that sleep in it. There is absolutely no room for anymore girls, but they are accepting six more girls in December. I honestly don’t know how they are going to do it.
My mind is currently churning and thinking about how I could possibly coordinate something to help these girls out. I was talking to one of the nuns this morning and she told me that even though they are a recognized orphanage by the government the government gives absolutely no support. No financial support, no psychological support, no educational support…nothing. Something has to happen to give these girls a chance to get ahead in life. I know very well that there are all too many stories just like this. But I also feel like I am here for a reason, and to leave and “forget” would be the absolute worst thing I could ever do.
I guess I must say I achieved my goal, maybe a little too well. The most timid girl now won’t leave me alone. She wants to be by me all the time. ALL the time. I had four little girls fighting over who would be able to hold my hand. It is amazing all of the games that they have come up with to entertain themselves. They are just little games with strings, with rocks, just anything that they can find lying around. I wish I could be that easily amused! It is also really neat to see how all of the girls take care of each other. They all do each other’s hair, and I think I have done 8 little girls hair today.
I am finding out, which I should have realized, that it will be so much harder to win over the trust of the older girls. They have seen so much more, and most of them are the ones that were raped, and then they, along with all of their younger sisters were taken out of the family. Hopefully by the end of my time here I will be able to get them to trust me, but there are some that I am not sure about. They still have their defenses up about everything.
October 31st, 2010
I have definitely learned over the past three days that knowing spanish is NOT necessary here. Instead, you need to be fluent in Quechua. I am not. at all. Actually, I don’t understand a single word of Quechua. All of the girls here speak Quechua. 41 out of the 43 of them have Quechua as their native language. There is one little girl that refuses to speak Spanish. She understands it and speaks it, but she just does not want to speak it. I am pretty sure her parents told her that speaking Spanish was bad and it meant you had lost your identity as a Quechua speaker.
So not only do these girls come to the orphanage from horrible situations, but most of them don’t even speak Spanish. One of the nuns here understands, but doesn’t speak, Quechua. The rest of the sisters don’t speak or understand Quechua. It has to be a hard transition, but at least all of the other girls can communicate with them and help them learn Spanish while still retaining their native language.
Mass last night was in Quechua. It was really interesting for me as this was the first time I have gone to mass in a language that I don’t speak. The church is literally right next door to the orphanage, and it is where Tupac Amaru got married in the 1500s. It is really famous in Perú, but the church definitely hasn’t been maintained. I kept telling myself that if the church has managed to withstand over 500 years of earthquakes it wasn’t going to collapse on us during mass. I’m still not sure of the structural stability of the building, but it held up last night!
We had quite the storm last night. It doesn’t rain in Lima, ever, so needless to say I left my rain jacket there. Not smart. We had a full-blown thunderstorm last night with torrential downpour. Interesting fact about being here: when it rains you lose electricity and running water. I don’t understand the water part at all, but I guess you just have to deal with it. The storm hit last night right after we finished dinner, which was nice for the kids to be able to just go to bed.
Today is actually looking sunny, which is nice as it is the girl’s free day. I helped this morning to burn some CDs for the sisters, as they didn’t know how to do it, and then helped with lunch a little bit. The girls have just set up a volleyball net, so I think I am going to go play with them for a while before lunch.
I guess I am going to become the new English teacher for the week. That is a scary thought. In the morning I will teach for three hours, one hour per classroom, of elementary aged students. What scares me, besides not having any classes on how to deal with elementary aged students, is not having any materials. I have so many ideas of what I would love to do with them, but we don’t have the materials here that I would need to do it. Hopefully it doesn’t fail miserably.
I keep reminding myself that this is the girls third language, and I can’t make too much of a fool of myself.. hopefully. In the afternoon I am going to have the high school aged students. Thank goodness. I feel so much more prepared to deal with high school aged students. There is only one class of secondary students, so that makes only one hour of teaching in the afternoon. I have so many more ideas of what I can do with them. Hopefully they are open to trying things, but I know quite a few of them have absolutely no interest in learning English at all.
I am really tired today for some reason, and I don’t know why. I actually slept in until about eight this morning so I really have no reason to be tired. Who knows why. I did get my first good nosebleed this morning. I don’t know what it is about the altitude, but I just get nosebleeds like crazy when I am up here. I never get them anywhere else.
I have been playing Monopoly with the girls. It has to be the Lima, Perú version, because all of the streets are streets in Lima. However, it is by far the most used Monopoly I have ever seen. The girls are so excited to play it, even though most of the pieces are missing. Monopoly is ridiculously expensive down here. It is about $37, which is just obnoxious, and also explains why they don’t have any board games, as they are all about that expensive.
One thing that I am going to stock up on before I leave from Perú is Spanish DVDs for when I teach. They are ridiculously cheap here, so I figure that I better get them now! It is going to pour again, it seems like a nightly tradition here.. ha ha. I have definitely learned that I should always check the weather before traveling to somewhere besides Lima. I can’t believe I didn’t even think about it.
The girls are calling me “Elizabeth” now because Crysta just wasn’t going over. They didn’t understand me when I said it, and they couldn’t say it themselves. One of the older ones was like, do you have a second (middle) name that we could use instead? I told her that my second name is Elizabeth, and she was very relieved to have a name that she could pronounce. I would much rather be called Elizabeth though instead of the “señorita” I have been getting over the past three days.
November 2nd, 2010
Today marks three months here in Perú. It is still hard for me to believe that I have been here for that long. That also means I have little over a month left before I go back home to the United States. I am really excited to spend Christmas with my family, but I am also going to miss it here. I really love this country!
I have been in Pampamarca, at the orphanage, for five days now and I am absolutely loving it. The view is absolutely gorgeous, the sky is blue, the air is pure, I can actually feel the difference in the air. And it is quiet. There is absolutely no traffic. It is amazing.
My body, well my nose at least, has still not gotten used to this altitude. I had a nice wake-up this morning at 5:00 with a gushing bloody nose. Fantastic. It is 3:00 p.m. right now and I have had only had three nosebleeds today. Not too bad. The other nuns keep saying that they had the same problem when they first came too. I hope it ends soon.
Yesterday was All Saints Day, and we did end up making it to mass. There wasn’t mass offered here in our town, and we had to go five towns over to find a mass that was offered. This church was also really old and really worn down, but the mass was in Spanish this time!
We only went with some of the girls because they only have a fifteen passenger van, so obviously not all of the girls can fit. This congregation was celebrating a novena for Saint Martin de Porres and had animal crackers and rice milk for everyone after the mass. The priest is from South Korea, and is still learning how to speak Spanish. I think he has only been in Peru for nine months. His accent is still really strong, but he is taking classes in Cusco for Spanish and Quechua.
Since it was All Saints Day, and today is the Day of the Dead, there was a list of prayer intentions that lasted for 10 minutes. I thought that it was pretty long. However, after mass the priest told us that during the morning mass the list of prayer intentions was literally 50 minutes long. Holy cow. I must say that I am really glad that we didn’t go to that mass.
I am starting to get used to live here in the orphanage. Although I would prefer to have water warmer than freezing, and a mirror would be nice, I am loving the time that I am spending with the girls. Something that I don’t think I could get used to is the food. Last night all that we had for dinner was bread and animal crackers. This morning all that we had for breakfast was one roll and one hard boiled egg. Fruit basically doesn’t exist at all. I will definitely look forward to eating the food back in Lima. I miss having fruit all the time.
Yesterday I started teach English to the girls. I taught the older girls yesterday and the younger girls today. I must admit that I really like teaching older children more than younger ones. The older girls really enjoyed learning and practicing the new English words. I played a lot of games with them, which also went over really well. The only hard part of working with the older girls is that there are no supplies for me to use. I have become so accustomed to have supplies at my disposal, and now literally all I have is a white board and two whiteboard markers.
The younger girls just didn’t want to listen or learn English. They don’t care about learning it, so that makes it really hard for me to convince them that they should listen and pay attention, when it really is one of the last things on their minds. One of the little ones literally started singing in the middle of class. I am so glad I didn’t chose elementary education, I know I am now cut out for it.
Last night, during dinner, I was talking with Sister Renée, who is the head nun here. She told me about the stories of the girls. They are absolutely heart-breaking. One girl came to the orphanage because her step-mother would make her strip and scrub her body with a hard scrub brush and tell her that she had been “bad”, for no reason. The stories just go on and on, and all of them are totally heart-breaking.
You can tell which of the girls have been in the orphanage for a long time and which have just arrived, just on their attitudes and personalities. The new girls are still scared, shy, and don’t talk to anyone. It is amazing to see the girls that are now “perfectly normal” and to hear where they have come from.
Today I went to Sisquani, which is a semi-larger town about an hour from Pampamarca, with Sister Renée. The roads are absolutely awful, and I definitely do not trust the combi drivers at all. For about twenty minutes we were literally going less than thirty kilometers per hour, winding up a mountain. How lovely. It was nice to get out of the orphanage for a while and to see a different part of the area.
I think that I am going to be teaching another class this afternoon, this time to the older girls again. I feel so unqualified to teach English, but I am just teaching them as I have been taught to teach Spanish, but in English. Hopefully it works! This has really made me think about getting my masters in ESL. I’m not sure if I want to get a Masters in ESL or if I want to study translation.
November 3rd, 2010
This afternoon I was sitting in the kitchen finishing up eating lunch and a rooster walked in to the kitchen, and then a sheep. No joke. Then at dinner tonight a cat, a dog, and then the hog all tried to come into the kitchen. Talk about food cleanliness… I just try to pretend that those things don’t actually happen here where I eat and where my food is prepared.
I played volleyball with the girls again today. I am definitely not a good volleyball player by any means, but they keep asking me to play with them, so I oblige. I literally have purple bruises covering my hands and forearms from playing, which is a striking reminder of why I have never enjoyed playing the sport.
It was delightfully sunny today, and hasn’t rained in about three days now. It is so exciting to have sun. Lima is dreadfully dreary all the time. It is a rare occurrence when the sun is out, and everyone comments on how nice it is. I am hoping that by some miracle it will be sunny in Lima when I go back, or I might as well stay here. I don’t want to go to my classes anyways.
I did managed to get sunburned today playing volleyball. I can feel it on my scalp. I still don’t know how I could protect my scalp from getting burned unless I wore a hat as I legitimately get sunburned through my hair, not just on my part line. I guess my face is burned too because the girls commented on it.
There isn’t a mirror here, not one, so I have no idea what I look like. Thankfully the girls always do each other’s hair and keep wanting to do mine, so at least someone else is taking care of that. Living here is definitely living with the minimum, but the girls are always so happy, that I am starting to not even realize all of the “conveniences” that I am missing out on.
I am still really confused at why we don’t have running water at night, but there never is running water at night, ever. I am even kinda starting to get used to taking freezing cold showers, and I am not exaggerating at all about the freezing cold aspect of the shower water. One thing that I am missing is the internet. I love spending time with the girls here but it is really isolating, especially since they go to bed at about 7:30 p.m.
It is pitch black here by 6:00 p.m. and this is the beginning of their summer. I guess during July, the middle of winter, it is pitch black. Most of the rooms here don’t have electricity, so after it gets dark there really is nothing to do but go to bed. The girls have to get all of their homework done before darkness comes or there is no way to do it.
The little girls asked me to read to them today, and I said of course. Two hours later, no joke, I told them that we were done for the day. They never tire of reading! That is a good thing, but most of them are at the age where they need to be learning how to read, but just wanted to be read to instead. The reading aloud really helps me pronunciation too, which is always a good thing.
Today was a celebration of Tupac Amaru, who was a rebellion leader against the Spanish rule. Pampamarca, the town I am in, is his hometown, and so they had a celebration in the town. The girls can’t go out of the orphanage so I didn’t get to go to it, but one part of the celebration was a horse race from the main road in our town, down to a town about 5 miles away and back.
We had no idea that there was going to be a horse race until it started and about 50 horses charged right past the orphanage walls. It was definitely interesting to witness, as fifty horses sprinted past with men decorated in traditional Peruvian clothes on their backs. We watched the majority of the race, as the orphanage is set up on the side of a hill, and we could see most of the race from the top floor.
Even with all of the isolation there is never a dull moment here. Someone always has a question or a need, or there are random animal wandering where they shouldn’t be. For a “city girl” this has been quite the experience, but I am loving every minute of it.
November 4th, 2010
Today has been quite the day. I am never going to get used to the food here. Breakfast? Half an ear of corn on the cob. That was all. I don’t understand how the nuns keep weight on with the little that they eat, unless they are sneaking food when I am not around.. ha ha.
Anyways, I will definitely be ready to get back to my host families cooking. I never realized how much I took healthy eating for granted until I got here. I don’t ever want to touch rice again in my life. At least not for a really long time.
This morning I taught the little girls. Like Kindergarten and First graders. I so much prefer teaching adolescents. I don’t know how elementary teachers do it, but the little ones in massive groups just freak me out. They have the attention span of about two seconds, and it just gets on my nerves.
Anyways, I taught the little ones for an hour, and I think it went pretty good. There was only one instance in which they completely stopped listening and started singing to me in Spanish. Don’t ask me why.. I have no idea.
After teaching them and a group of older girls I got asked if I wanted to go out to plaza to watch some gathering in memory of the rebellion of Tupac Amaru. I don’t have time to explain who he is, but I would suggest googling him and his relationship to Peru.
One of the older girls went with me to the plaza where we found basically the entire town there. Half of them were in costume, representing Tupac Amaru, his wife, his children, and then the “campesinos”, which I think best translates to the “country people”. They were all in tradition dress from the 1500s and the rest of the town was watching.
When Ana Lucia, the girl who went with me, and I got to the plaza, literally everyone stopped, turned, and stared at me. Foreigners don’t come out here. I am currently in the middle of nowhere, quite literally, and there isn’t anything touristy out here that would bring people.
The mayor then started giving his opening speech to start the celebration and was talking half in Spanish and half in Quechua. Everyone here speaks Quechua, but not everyone speaks Spanish. Most people 40 and older don’t speak Spanish, or barely can speak it. Thankfully Ana Lucia was there to translate for me, as Quechua and Spanish are nothing alike, and I cannot understand a word of Quechua.
As the mayor was speaking news reporters from Lima and Cuzco were filming the speech, and then “Tupac Amaru” said a few words to get the reenactment started. The celebration starts here in Pampamarca, but then everyone gets transported to Yanaoca, a town about 17 kilometers away, where they do a reenactment of the rebellion.
Before everyone left the reporters came up to me and asked if I would please go stand by Tupac Amaru so they could film us together. I thought they were joking at first—they weren’t. So I obliged, but was completely embarrassed as the only reason they were filming was because I am obviously white, and definitely not Peruvian.
After my encounter with Tupac Amaru, who first greeted me in English, and then asked if I spoke Spanish because the only thing he knew in English was “hello”, the mayor came over to greet me. I felt like it was “white girl on display” day because as soon as the mayor came over the camera crews started filming us again. They had us shake hands, and hug, and kiss on the cheek (the Peruvian version of a handshake) all just for the camera.
I am currently praying that my host family and my friends were not watching the news tonight, because they were so excited to put me on the news, although the Limeñan reporter was disappointed that I hadn’t come to Pampamarca and Yanaoca just to watch the reenactment.
After that last encounter, Ana Lucia and I booked it out of the plaza. I definitely do not like being put on display, but I must admit it gave all of the nuns and the other girls a good laugh.
This afternoon we went down to the lagoon. It is the most beautiful and clean lake I have ever seen. There are four lakes, or lagoons as they call them, here and they are all impeccably clean. The girls were so excited to go down to the lagoon, and we spent over two hours there.
The girls all jumped in, bathed themselves, and washed clothes in the lagoon. They tried to convince me that I should jump in as well, but the idea of swimming in freezing cold water with jeans and a sweater just didn’t seem that appealing.
It was a lot of fun watching the girls really enjoying themselves. As one of the nuns told me, our goal is to give the girls back the childhood they never got to have. The girls do act a lot younger than their age, and they look markedly younger too. It is hard for me to remember sometimes that some of these girls were put in charge of cooking, cleaning, and laundry for all of their family as young as eight.
Most of the girls are from the “alturas” which means they lived about an hour away, walking, from any other person, and some of the girls had to walk over three hours to get to school. These girls grew up in some of the highest points of the Andes, where there is no electricity, no roads, no running water, beyond the fact that all of them were abused.
To give you a better idea of what life is like in las alturas…One of the girls told me. “After we came here we (her and her two sisters) actually got to go to school. We had to walk three hours one way to get to school, and our mom wouldn’t let us leave until it was light out. By the time we would make it to school there would only be an hour of class left, and then we would have walk the three hours back. I also got to sleep in my first bed. We only had the dirt floor (to sleep on) up in the alturas. I had never had a pillow before. I am so grateful to be here.”
These girls have gone through more than I could ever imagine.