Siempre estarán en mi corazón

These past few weeks have been a little on the rough side. 

Not that this is unusual for the last weeks of a semester, but a semester in Perú makes things a little more complicated. 

Normal semester stuff: final projects and paper and exams. More stress, less sleep, less time for family and friends. 

Different stuff: Uh, being in a foreign country. Needing to pack up all of your life from the past four months. Deciding what to leave behind so all your awesome Peruvian Christmas gifts can fit in your two suitcases and carry-on. Trying to find some adequate way of thanking the family who has taken you in and loved you as one of their own this semester. Finding time to say goodbye to all the awesome people God has brought into your life this semester. Getting on a plane to leave one family in order to go back to another one. 

Packing up brought back many memories. Memories of packing to come on this trip, memories of previous apprehensions about what this semester would contain. Memories of my first night in Arequipa, being utterly exhausted after spending SO MANY HOURS in airports and on planes and meeting my host parents. 

I’m taking so many wonderful memories with me from this semester. Of new friends, and new family. Of adventures and exploration. Of late night talks with my host family. Of the beautiful city of Arequipa and all of Peru that I have seen. Of all that I have lived and learned here. 

I have learned so much this semester. I’m not even sure I can fully put it into words. I’ve obviously learned a lot more of Spanish and how to communicate in another language and how to adapt to different cultures and ways of life. But I’ve learned how to be a better, more culturally aware person. I’ve learned what it feels like to be an outsider and a minority and how I can take that and use it to help the marginalized in our society. I’ve learned how to have an open and warm home for the community, to never turn away someone in need. I’ve learned more about the person that I want to be. 

My life after this semester will never be the same. I will always carry these memories and life lessons with me. I might be saying goodbye to perú this week and all the people I have met, but this is not the end. They will always be with me in my heart. 

Chau Perú. Te quiero mucho. Cuidate. 

You know you’re in Arequipa when…

1. Taxi’s hail you down instead of the other way around. (and for some reason when you REALLY need a taxi there is not a vacant one to be found)

2. You’re rich! (because your money triples in worth)

3. You don’t need a lawnmower because llamas cut the grass.

4. You have soup at every lunch and bread and tea for every dinner.

5. You can buy EVERYTHING on the street… clothes, food, drinks, ice cream, watches, trinkets, etc.

6. Your feet are in a constant state of dirty.

7. There are more homeless dogs than people.

8. eating guinea pig (cuy), cow stomach (pansa), cow heart (anticucho), raw fish (ceviche), alpaca, a fruit called tuna, and a fruit that looks like fish eggs (granadia) is normal. 

9. You live on Peruvian time which means nothing ever starts on time. Ahorita (right now) doesn’t actually exist.

10. You have a view of the three volcanoes everywhere you go.

11. There is no ice : (

12. You get excited when you see another white person and have to control the impulse to ask where they are from.

13. Traffic is awful. and life threatening.

14. You get really excited for pizza hut and other “american” food options.

15. You meet incredible people and form friendships that will last a lifetime.

This semester has been a crazy roller coaster of emotions. I have met so many great people and done so many things I never thought possible. I was really nervous before I came on this semester. I didn’t know anyone in the Calvin group before I stepped on that first plane leaving Grand Rapids and i was lacking faith in my spanish speaking skills. I was nervous about making friends, both from Calvin and Peru. Now, after 4 months I am walking away from this experience a stronger spanish speaker with friendships that will hopefully last forever. Thanks to the Calvin group for making this such a great semester. This week we’re relaxing in Lima. I’m ready to head home for christmas. See you soon, family and friends!

Standing Stones

On some of our excursions, we’ve seen strange piles of rocks along the side of the road at certain sites. Our guide on the trip to Cotahuasi told us that the Peruvians use these piles to signify how many times they’d visited this site, or as monuments of something important that happened in their lives.

Similarly, in some Ancient Middle Eastern cultures, sacred stones were erected as monuments to their gods. If one of their gods caused an important event or provided a significant benefit, a stone was erected as a testimony to the action of the god. These are called “standing stones.”  Travelers who see these stones ask, “What happened here?” and those who knew the story would bear witness to their god.

God also called the Israelites to worship him and memorialize what he had done by erecting these standing stones. For example, in Genesis 28, Jacob sets up a stone at Bethel after his dream of a stairway to heaven. God’s covenant with Israel was represented by 12 standing stones at the foot of Mount Sinai in Exodus 24. Joshua’s crossing of the Jordan in Joshua 4 is perhaps the most famous account of these standing stones.

A man whom I greatly respect, my teacher and coach in high school, used the example of these standing stones to explain to us that our lives, too, should serve as standing stones. That is, living as monuments that testify to how God has worked in our lives. Peter builds on this standing stone imagery, calling us to be “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) that testify to God’s work in our lives. Being a foreigner in this country has made me a standing stone: I’ve had plenty of opportunities to talk with my host mom about how I’ve seen God work in my life. My prayer for our group as we return to the US is that we continue to live our lives in such a way that people will notice a change (but a change for the better), something different as a result of this trip, so that we can use the experience of this trip to tell them how God has worked in our lives this semester.

PUNO!!!! by yours truely Tom and Martin

     So the 18 and 19 of November we went to Puno, Peru for our penultimate excursion.  In Puno we visited Lake Titikaka, the place where people say that the first Incas arose from and it is also the highest and most navigable lake in the world.  We also visited the floating man made reed islands of the Uros and finally the island of Taquile.  Taquile is a small island that is well known for its textile work. “Really fine work” I would say.  The city that we stayed was in the city of Chucuito. The city is 15 minutes away from the city of Puno. It’s a small yet nice little town.  It is known for its temple of fertility, which some of the students went and enjoyed. 

     In Puno we went to a really nice restaurant that had good food, good aji, and awesome folkloric dancing and music.  The music was incredible and the folkloric dancing was intense.  Puno is greatly known for its folkloric tradition. It has deep roots of Quechua and Aymaran culture. The people here mostly speak these two languages and Spanish.  Puno and this trip also made it hard for some of us to move around.  High elevation can really get to you even with light walking and the bus ride was horrible, but i was worth it.  Seeing God’s marvelous is most definitely worth making a trip like this.

This semester I have been able to volunteer with an institution called Casa Verde. This is an institution that homes and provides for children that have suffered from violence and/or abuse within the home. Right now there are about 30 kids that live there. There is a casa de mujeres and a casa de varones (girl’s and boy’s house). I have had the opportunity to learn about this aspect of life in Peru for the past month. Every Tuesday and Thursday I go to the girl’s house to help a few of them with homework or whatever else they need my help with. These kids are a joy to be around. They seem to brighten my day every time I go there. God has been showing me and teaching me so many things during this semester, and I believe that putting me in this place has shown me more. I have seen what it is like to love and have a heart for others. 

Some of the girls from our group with Peruvian friends

Firsts and Social Justice in Perú

There have been many “firsts” for me during our time in Perú, like trying ceviche, raw fish or other sea animals such as octopus, with onions, lime juice (which some claim cooks it with the acid…I’m still not so sure), and I’m not sure what else. Or riding a combi (public transportation very similar to a bus, but smaller, more crowded, and with a certain stigma ) to get somewhere. White-water rafting (well, not necessarily a first, but falling out from the raft three times was definitely a first). Going to various medical buildings where you have to know how to discuss your problems in Spanish in order to get help. Or being lectured at in Spanish by an angry orchestra conductor (twice as scary as it is in English).

Out of all of these firsts, I’ve got to say the most surprising for me was the awakening to social justice I’ve felt for women in Perú this week. In the past, social justice was, for me, just a phrase that the professors at Calvin threw at you along with other “Calvinist” phrases. But during our time here, I have experienced, at least in part, the discrimination that is prominent against women here, as well as the special discrimination that comes from being a “white female” or gringa. 

Being a woman in Perú means that you are not an equal with men. Sure, there are jobs, but it’s a lot harder for women to get the good jobs and receive a fair salary. I was discussing this a little bit with one of my male conversation group partners from Arequipa. He works at a bank in the legal department. He told me that, it is extremely hard for someone, especially a woman, to get a bank teller position, but once they have the job, the women are usually much better at the job, because “they’re more responsible.” I thought that was a little contradictory to the whole job search problem in general. If the women are doing a better job, then why is it so hard for them to obtain the jobs in the first place?

Women here get overcharged and treated unfairly, for example, in taxi fares. Here, it is normal for a guy to cheat on his significant other, whether it’s his girlfriend, fiancee, or wife. And if they get caught, they beg for forgiveness and promise it won’t happen again, but it does.

Domestic violence is very common, and although the women report it to the authorities, not much is done to stop or prevent it. It’s almost a mindset that if the woman is being hurt physically, she must have done something to deserve it. In the situation of a married couple, even if they both have full-time jobs, it is expected that the woman still does all of the house work in addition to her job.

I’m not trying to paint a bad picture of Perú or Arequipa, because they are beautiful, and filled with many wonderful people, but as a woman in this country, I can not help but notice the injustice occurring ever day. I do think that one problem that is the fault of the women (at least in part), is the easy prey that they let themselves become for the men. If they don’t respect themselves, and their bodies, the men won’t respect them either. But it makes me sad and angry to see the “normal” relationship between women and men in this country, so different from what God created it to be. Pray for social justice in Perú.

a weekend to remember

Wow! What a weekend we’ve had! I don’t know how I’ll recall everything we saw and experienced, but I will try my hardest to give justice to this incredible weekend. First off, on Friday night, we all arrived at the bus station in Arequipa for our 8pm departure to Cusco on one of those double-decker, fancy-cushioned-seats type of buses. With a bingo game, a typical Peruvian dinner and a movie we began our weekend. Arriving at 6 am the next day in Cusco, we took a short bus ride to our hotel. The hotel was so cute! It was nice and open, and the flowers and fresh air were a nice change of scenery. The rooftop had an incredible view of the city and the mountains surrounding and the buffet breakfast filled us right up! We all rested in our own way (some slept, some showered and some explored the city) before a quick lunch in a restaurant across the street from the hotel. We were a little rushed, as the restaurant was very small and had a little trouble serving us all an appetizer, main dish and fruit dessert. However, we got our fill and headed to our tour Cusco. Our tour started with visiting 3 churches (which actually form the shape of a cross!) which were incredibly adorned with paintings and figures of the saints and holy family. The decorations were incredible and there was even a chapel made of pure silver! What was the most interesting for me was that the Spaniards actually used the Incan temple to create their Catholic churches. You can actually see remenants of the Incan’s creation in what the Spaniards made. The churches were filled with religious history and were very interesting to see. It’s almost like visiting an art museum when you visit these churches. And these ones are considered some of the most beautiful in South America! Even the choir room was filled with sculptured wood that could be a exposition in a museum. After the churches, we visited the convent, in which we saw more of the Catholic creations covering up the old Incan ruins. However much the Spaniards tried to destory their temples, we could still see their construction. Their ways of building were so strong and today, the little details are still visible. After visiting the city, we took a bus up into the mountains to see some of the Incan ruins. It was just a taste of what we’d see the next day in Machu Picchu, but no doubt was it incredible as we saw how maticulous the construction was and how perfectly put together the rocks and stones had to be to withstand earthquakes and erosion to be perfectly intact today. Though 70% was destroyed with the arrival of the Spaniards, it’s still a huge place with gigantic stones that overwhelm you. We were given time to climb up to the top of the ruins where we could see the city of Cusco clearly. It was incredible! As we stood there at the top of the ruins, it began to rain. After 2 1/2 months without precipitations, we were all rejoicing at the sound of thunder and the raindrops falling. Sticking out our tongues to catch the raindrops, we finally felt the refreshment of cool rain. It was defitely a memory making moment. Little did we know we’d be even more soaked as we visited the next area of ruins. After a short bus ride we arrived at a temple where they sacrificed to Pachamama. Nowadays, it’s still used on holy days by the catholics, though they don’t call it sacrificing anymore. They offer flowers or food instead of humans or animals. (That was comforting to know as we walked to through the room with the stone where they actually carried out the sacrificing process.) As it rained even harder, we ran back to the bus. From there, we rode to the Cusco cultural center where we saw an exposition of traditional dances complete with traditional costumes, live music and a narrorator explaining the history and meaning of each dance. A dancer myself, I really enjoyed seeing these dances as I recognized some of the dances I have learned in my  dance “taller” (club). Some of them were really funny, too! For example, at the end of one, the boys picked the girls up and carried them off stage like a sack of potatoes while the girls kicked and tried to get away, all in good fun. Each one was really unique and had it’s own little story and own song to go with it. The only thing that would have made the night more enjoyable would have been being dry. All of us were soaked from the rain, and sitting in wet clothes made us a little chilly. After the dance production, we were all ready to eat and head back to the hotel to put on dry clothes. That night, we all gathered to sing “Happy Birthday” and surprise with chocolate cake the birthday girl, Julie! We all hung out for a little while just enjoying each others company, a much needed bonding time. We’re all friends and it’s so much fun to just laugh and enjoy each other.

The next day we woke up bright and early to take a bus to the train station. We boarded the train and were given playing cards and a snack, which made the 2 hour ride fly by. As we rode farther and farther, we saw more and more greenery. As we stepped off the train, we stepped into a different climate - the rainforest. It was so refreshing to get away from the dry air of Arequipa and see some nature! The cute little village was beautiful, too, with flowers all around and greenery growing on the mountains surrounding it. We’d have to wait to enjoy the village as we quickly got onto our bus to head into Machu Picchu. It took about a half hour to drive up the side of the mountain and enter into the beginning of the Incan ruins. We hiked (really hiked - the steps the incans created were so tall!) to the top where we could see a complete view of the city. We snaped a few photos, then had a quick devotional time. It was incredible to take in God’s creation. The tops of the mountains covered by the clouds all the way down to the river rushing through the valley was all created by Him. He carved it himself. That was incredible to imagine. It was overwhelming to stand on the side of the mountain and, for as long as I could see, there were mountains and valleys. God is so incredibly intricate with His creation. I just imagined his hand just forming the mountains and making them perfect in everyway. He is God of every generation, too. He was there when the Incans were creating their city and He was there in that moment that I stood taking the Incan ruins in. Heading into the city, our tour guide explained the security, irrigation and agricultural systems to our group. I realized then just how smart the Incans were. We toured their city, filled with temples, plazas, little houses, and more. There was even a meditation room where on the walls were a few little holes. We had the guys hum into the little holes and we felt vibration! It was very cool. We even visited a stone up at the highest part of the city where supposedly you could receive energy if you placed your hands on top and cleared your mind. I tried. It didn’t really work….maybe I wasn’t “clearing my mind” enough, or maybe I’m not Incan enough. We visited their sun temple, too, which had two little pools where the Incans would study the constellations at night. There was one temple that was formed out of rock into the shape of a condor. In the belly of the condor they practiced their sacrificing. It was actually quite interesting to see all the part of the body so perfectly placed by the Incans such a long time ago and still in tact today. As we toured the city, every time I though I saw an incredible view, we would walk a to another part of the city and I saw an even MORE incredible view. For 3 1/2 hours we listened to our tour guide tell us of the life the Incans lived while we saw the details still visible hundreds of years later. It was truly incredible to see the history and culture of Peru come alive as we hiked through the Lost City. It was sad to leave, but after a long day in the sun and having not eaten since our snack on the train, it was time to head back to the little village. We had a yummy buffet in a hotel, complete with several Peruvian dishes and desserts. It started to rain just then and we were so happy to have made it through the ruins before it started, otherwise we would’ve been slipping all over the rocks! We boarded our train and spent the next 4 hours playing cards, talking and bonding as we headed back to Cusco. After grabbing some dinner, we headed back to the hotel after the long day in Machu Picchu.

The next morning we hopped back on the bus to go to the Sacred Valley of Cusco. But first, we stopped at a “mercado”. Basically, 20 or 30 vendors come to one area where they sell all sorts of things. Everything from mittens to chess sets to blankets all authentically made by the people living there. We were told that this stuff was the “real stuff” and that the prices were the best we’d see. We all had trouble keeping our pocket books shut! After that market, we headed to another. Before entering the market, we were given a lesson on the production of silver and we saw the difference between the pure silver and fake silver. This market sold pure silver products at very affordable prices. Though I didn’t buy anything, several people in our group did. Everything was absolutely gorgeous. Rings, bracelets, pendants, mirrors, figurines, everything! The market there was absolutely gigantic and sold an even greater variety of things than in Arequipa. Half the fun of the time there was just being overwhelmed by the abundance of this stuff! It’s all made by hand,too! I can’t imagine how many hours they put into creating those beautiful things. After leaving the market, we headed to another village to eat lunch at a cute restaurant surrounded by nature and half outdoors/half indoors. Ofcourse, we ate indoors after being soaked in the rain and we enjoyed the heat of a fireplace and the warm, delicious food they had to offer. At the end of our meal, we heard from a Calvin graduate who is working with women in remote villages to use their abilities to better their lives and also to educate others about their abilities, like cooking and basket weaving. She is doing some incredible work with them and it’s exciting to see what life after Calvin can look like! After hearing from her, we enjoyed seeing the family of alpaca out in front of the restaurant and a few of us actually spoke with 3 parrots living in a tree in the garden. I actually said “hola” to one and he spoke back! It was such a cool experience. After lunch, we headed to the Sacred Valley, where we hiked up the side of a mountain (and we felt it! — all of our hearts were pounding!) to see more of what the Incans had created. We saw how they used the system of ramps to haul massive stones up the side of the mountain. Even with the ramps, I can’t imagine the strength it must’ve taken to create temples, houses for the workers and more out of those huge stones. But they did it! The Incans continued to blow my mind. We saw how intricately placed the stones were. The ruins have withstood the test of time and you can see today the tiny details of the past that unlock the rich culture of the Incans. I was particularly fond of one of the things we saw in Sacred Valley. There was a stone that was the shape of the chair that overlooked the valley and had the view fit for a king and queen. The chair had two seats and was probably a throne for the Incan royals. Every little details that our tour guide told us just blew me away. I wish I could share every memory I have of this weekend with you all. After heading back down the mountain, we took the bus back to the bus station in Cusco where we boarded for our 8pm departure from Cusco to Arequipa. We were all sad to say goodbye to this city of history and culture, more tranquil than Arequipa and filled with amazing sights. However, we were all pretty wiped out and ready to catch a few z’s on the way back home.

I wish I could share every single detail with you all. If you ever have the chance to come Peru, do it! It is absolutely amazing!

I know I can speak on behalf of our whole group that we love you and miss you — family, friends, Calvin community. We have one month and 17 days left here, and we’re going to make the best of it, but we can’t wait to see you all.

Happy November!

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory
in the heavens… When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8

This was definitely an experience that we will never forget