09 March 2011

The Peruvian Dream

Hola mi amigos! Are you impressed by my Spanish skills yet? Yeah, me neither, but I’ll have plenty of time to focus on that when I get to Costa Rica. Speaking of which, last week was an exciting time because I finally have a confirmed ticket south in April! I’m not saying it has really sunk in yet, but that certainly makes it a bit more real.  And me being the logistics worrier that I am, it’s relieving to have that first step finally pinned down. I feel like I finally have permission to start getting excited. Of course, I still try to remind myself to hold it all in an open hand. You never know when God’s plans may go in a different direction than what you expect, so I try to keep myself clinging only to Him and not my plans. It’s not always an easy thing for a control freak. 

We have about 2 weeks of training time left here for the group as a whole, and a little longer for us media folk. People are reacting to the imminent conclusion of training in various ways, although almost everyone seems to be getting a bit antsy.

Last week we spent the time split up so we could focus just on the regions where we will be working. It was exciting to talk more specifically about Latin America and life and culture there. We had an assignment to research the countries where we are moving to present to the group, so those of us heading to Peru were able to work on our first “team” project. :-) Conveniently I already own almost every guidebook about Peru thanks to my own compulsive book buying and the thoughtful gifts of various friends: 

This was my Christmas present from Cat. Yes, that is a box full of lima beans. Get it? Lima beans… Lima, Peru…  
Yes, yes. I know. Pretty sophisticated humor around here.

Anyway, I enjoyed learning about my future home, so I thought I might share some quick facts.  Peru has a population of 29 million, more than half of whom live in coastal areas. In 2007, 75% lived in urban areas, and 25% lived in rural areas. Lima, founded by Pizarro in 1535, is home to 8 million just in the city center, but its metropolitan area encompasses 1,032 square miles. Peru has a clear-cut class structure with indigenous peoples at the bottom, and the descendants of the Spanish at the top. The rich are very rich, and the poor are very poor. A middle class is just beginning to evolve, but almost half the population is indigenous and poor. Corruption tops the list in polls of what they are most ashamed of in their country, with poverty coming in fourth or fifth. After Spanish, many speak Quechua, although Aymara is spoken near Lake Titicaca and there are different languages in the Amazon. In Lima, Mestizos are the largest population group, followed by European Peruvians, those of Amerindian descent, as well as Afro-Peruvians. And interestingly Lima has the largest ethnic Chinese community in Latin America (read: tasty Asian food in Lima = win!).

The country is estimated to be 81% Catholic and 12% Evangelical, with a mix of other beliefs. During our research, however, we found conclusive evidence that Jesus himself was actually Peruvian. May I submit for your study Marcos Zapata’s “Last Supper” which depicts Christ and his disciples enjoying a typically Peruvian repast of cuy (guinea pig) and chicha (a fermented corn drink):

Is guinea pig kosher? I mean, I know it has the word “pig” in it its name, but it’s basically an overgrown hamster.

If that’s not contextualization, I don’t know what is! I am looking forward to experiencing some cuy first hand, though. And I’m not the only one. Apparently the Peruvian culture is quite the draw for Americans. Just check out this video:

Heheh! I'm taking their advice and plan to get to Peru just as soon as they'll let me. Yet, while my own Peruvian dream is alive and well, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on America. This Saturday I had a chance to spend the day up in D.C. with a couple of friends. Despite the traffic and negative politics, being there still makes me proud to be an American. We didn’t have enough time to hit all of my favorite places in the city, but it doesn’t matter where you go, you’re reminded of our history. 

One of my favorite places in D.C.
I'll always remember a magazine photo of Arlington that my Grandpa had. He, a WWII vet, had written on the back,
"The price of freedom is seen here."
Not all of it is pretty, (something we would do well to remember when we deal with other struggling countries) but it is part of the fabric of our country and it is our heritage. Washington, D.C. is a paradoxically inspiring and terrifying place: on one hand you are filled with pride as you are reminded of some of America’s finest moments, and then you turn around to find a grown American searching the last page of the Constitution for the famous “John Hancock” signature- not really something that inspires confidence in the next generation of American leadership. (If you're scratching your head, John Hancock's flamboyant autograph is on the Declaration of Independence. I promise not to tell anyone you if you didn't know that.) But no matter what, I’m proud to be an American.

 I've had some friends who felt living overseas increased their distaste of American life.  For them, seeing how people live life around the world highlighted everything wrong with America. For me, however, I've always found it to make me more appreciative of America, and living as part of another culture has given me increased gratitude for the privilege of being American. 

It is easy to whine about our democratically elected government that wastes our tax money, and the financial policies that led to a recession, but let us never forget that at our worst, we are still blessed beyond the wildest dreams of most of the world. To keep things in perspective, worldwide more than 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day, and 1/3 of the world's children live in what is classified as "extreme" poverty. I was born into a comfortable family in a rich nation, and I have taken that for granted for most of my life. I don't know why, in His sovereignty, God allowed me to be born to such privilege, but I do know that it carries with it a responsibility: we are blessed so that we may bless others.  

Parting thought:
A friend "blessed" me with this cartoon last week (Thanks, Jason!). Very appropriate for a week where I studied Peru and saw Old Glory in person. Plus there's a Frenchie shout-out in there as well! 

(The French national anthem "La Marseillaise" is about killing Prussians.
I can see why Bucky likes it.)

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