Money Makes the World Go Round…and Charlie Goes Home Early
(The following post was written one month ago.)
In winding down this blog (this is the penultimate post), I must note how much money has affected my trip, from the moment I stepped foot in Peru to the moment in which I will leave, a moment rapidly approaching. As you’ll remember from my previous posts, my plans to travel through Colombia and Ecuador were cut short due to an unexpected change in my financial aid package. Well, another surprise, courtesy of Columbia University, has also cut short my plans to stay in Peru.
My hope had been to stay in Peru for all of July and August in Cusco, where I was to work with Sierra Productiva. SP is a Peruvian NGO that works to develop the Peruvian economy in an almost novel way. They draw their inspiration from the pre-Spanish Incan economy, and seek a Peru that is rich for what grows out of its soil and not what can be extracted from beneath it. In a country that has promised riches for its poorest from extraction of the gold, silver and other minerals that comprise 80% of the country’s GDP, Sierra Productiva has a different vision of the future from that of Lima, the central government and the corporations that control the majority country’s economy. It’s a concept of development that falls outside of the neoliberal politics that have affected so-called “third world” countries for the past thirty years, and it’s an organization that I would have loved to have worked with and learned from. Unfortunately, Columbia denied my application for funding during the internship I secured, and so here I find myself not leaving Peru at the end of August as per my plan, but at the end of June, two weeks before my program begins. Why? Because I’m broke, and I have to start working, now. My flight leaves on the 29th, lands on the 30th, and on the 1st I start work.
What does it feel like to be leaving so early, to be the first of the group to leave? Well, here continues the theme of money. Allow me to preface this by saying that many students in my program had wonderful host families, host families that treated these gringos and gringas as if they were their own children. I envied them.
Three weeks into the program my host mother admitted to me that they only host students because of the money they bring in. So the family treated me like a guest in a third-rate hotel chain. In the morning, they answered my greetings of “Good morning! How are you? How did you sleep?” with a mumbled, “hello.” If I returned home at 7pm, they would eat dinner at 6:30. And when the doctor told me to stay off my injured foot for two days, they wouldn’t even walk to the pharmacy to fill my prescription.
I was happy to leave my family, and disappointed that the situation would lend itself to that feeling. Saying goodbye to them at the airport wasn’t like saying goodbye to Claudia or her family or my family – instead of the tears I had before, this goodbye was filled with smiles and thoughts of “freedom!”
(Side note: My host mother told me she was looking into other study abroad programs to see if she could host a second student, because IFSA only permits a family to host one student. The housing director knows and will not be sending students to this family’s house anymore; thus, future IFSA students need not worry about getting the same bad luck I had.)
Money issues aside, not all goodbyes were so lovely. The night before my flight left, my friends took me out to a bar to toast to my safe flight and to say, “see you later.” There I had to hold back the tears, as I wasn’t sure when “later” would be. The night ended at Tumbao VIP, a salsa club I had wanted to go to since Day One of my trip in Peru – and we danced until I had to go home and pack for my flight. It was one of the most fun nights I had in Peru, and made the saying goodbye to my friends that much easier.
As the night was getting started, a friend of mine from IFSA said that it’s a lot better to leave too early rather than too late, and I can’t agree more. Most would agree that eventually you have to return home from trips like these, and while I loved Lima and my friends at La Católica, I am also ready to return to the United States. I want to see my friends and family, and eat leafy greens from the farmer’s market. Once in the States, I’m sure I will miss my friends – some of who were like family to me – in Peru. But for now I need to go back, before I miss my home too much, and before I go completely broke.
One thing is for sure: I will be going back, as soon as I have the money to return. I put some roots down in this country, so I have no choice but to return to my roots when the time comes.