PASEO Program Adventure: Final Thoughts

I wanted to be sure to end on an important note before I officially conclude writing about my experiences in Peru. Throughout the past two months, I spent a lot of my time working in El Porvenir—an impoverished city in northern Peru. This past March, Peru experienced an awful huaico, or flash flood, attributed to the phenomenon of El Niño. As I mentioned in posts throughout the past few months, we heard firsthand accounts from locals who live in El Porvenir and other cities in northern Peru about how the huaico affected their daily lives, and I spoke with various faculty members and school administrators about students whose participation in school has decreased due to having lost their homes in the flood. As I wrote about earlier, one student in particular was trapped underwater as the flood tore apart his home.

Just days after this particular flood (because keep in mind, there are many), the Peruvian government stated that the death toll had reached 94, while estimates reported that 700,000 individuals were left homeless in 12 of the country’s 25 regions. Nearly six months later, there are still so many individuals affected by the flooding whose lives have been changed ever since. When driving into El Porvenir, one can spot the zona de las damnificadas (pictured below), or the area of the victims. In this designated area, temporary housing (tents) have been set up alongside the street for families who lost their homes in the flood.

While living in a country filled with resources and opportunities for all (ideally), it can be easy to forget just how fortunate we are. I wanted to dedicate this post to those who have seemingly been forgotten, and to those who have been impacted by the devastating natural disaster that changed the lives of so many. From the children who cannot focus in school because they continuously re-live the scene of being trapped underwater to the parents who lost the homes they spent years saving up to afford, and everyone in between.

This post won’t help any of the affected individuals currently living en la zona de las damnificadas. This post also won’t change the stigma associated with mental health in Latin America, and more specifically, Peru (which is another concern). This post won’t help individuals realize the importance of seeking out mental health care, and it won’t make any difference whatsoever in changing the way the public hospital systems work when caring for individuals without resources. This post won’t increase the number of resources in Peru regarding mental health care like there being 1 psychiatrist per every 300,000 people within the country.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, statistics show that nearly 5 million people (11.8%) in Peru suffer from some type of mental illness. 700,000 out of 1 million Peruvians suffer from depression, while 200,000 out of 1 million Peruvians suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. Less than 4 percent of these individuals receive services in specialized centers. Why, you may still ask? Fifty percent of such individuals believe they can overcome their mental illness on their own. Thirty percent don’t believe in treatment, and thirty percent don’t know where to go to receive services. So no, this post won’t help increase the number of individuals who receive services in specialized centers, and it most definitely will not decrease or eliminate the sense of shame that so many people associate with mental illness within the country. 

Realistically speaking, my words and my blog post can’t accomplish any of that. But what we can do is this: we can work together to appreciate what we have. As soon as we can learn to find gratitude and accept the term in its entirety, we can seek out ways to help those around us. There are so many people in need of help and assistance everywhere you turn, but when we become engulfed in our own lives, we often turn a blind eye to situations around us, and understandably so. But if we don’t help those in need, who will? 

It has to start with us. As for finding a solution to problems throughout the world, well, I haven’t gotten that far yet, and frankly, I doubt that I ever will. But if we can each find a way to work together and use the resources at our disposal to try and make the slightest difference—whether in somebody else’s life, in the community, in a different country, or on a global scale, that slight difference will hopefully make a lasting impact that will better the lives of those in need. Yes, I understand that this is much easier said than done, and it’s just a bunch of words written on a page that probably won’t be read by many. But we have to start somewhere with something. And I guess this is that starting point.

As I conclude writing about my experiences in Peru and the incredible opportunity that I have been given, I kindly ask that we work together to not forget those who have seemingly been forgotten. Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” If you ask me, I think that’s the perfect starting point for all of us. 

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Barcelona, Spain: Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys

Once the Telefèric de Montjuïc (or Montjuïc Cable Car) took us down the hill, my sister and I decided to walk around and explore the surrounding area. Fortunately for us, we came across Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, also known as Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium.

The stadium was first built in 1927 in preparation for the International Exposition (also known as the World’s Fair) which took place in Barcelona in 1929. In 1989, the stadium was renovated for the 1992 Summer Olympics, since this was the city’s primary stadium for the Olympic’s events. The stadium has been known to seat anywhere between 50,000 to over 60,000 people and is currently used for sporting events and concerts.

The stadium was renamed in 2001 after the formal president of the Catalan government during the Spanish Civil War, Lluís Companys. If you remember reading about the Montjuïc Castle in the previous post, Lluís Companys was executed there in 1940 by the Franco regime, but his name lives on through this magnificent stadium.

Day 2 In Cartagena, Colombia: Mud-Bathing at Volcán de Lodo El Totumo

We had an hour or so of down time in between seeing Casa Azul and an afternoon excursion. For our afternoon excursion, we drove to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, which is a mud volcano located in Santa Catalina, Bolívar, in the northern part of the country. The mud volcano is forty-five feet high, so it’s a small hill to walk up upon arriving. However, the volcano is 6,000 deep, but the catch is that the mud is three times more dense than one’s body density, so even though the volcano is so deep, you float in the mud.

Volcán de Lodo El Totumo has been around for between fifty to sixty years. Some individuals were claiming that the mud had healing powers, and since there was so much violence in the area, the government gave the land to locals and had the locals test the mud to see what was in it. Results showed that the mud contains sulfur and various other minerals, and it is said that the mud has helped people with different types of cancer, people with acne, and that it helps soften skin too. And if you’re concerned about the cleanliness of the volcano (as we were), there is constant circulation inside the volcano, so the mud used by a few individuals changes every few minutes with the circulation.

Companies wanted to buy the land and build hotels and restaurants in the area to increase tourism and bring in more money, but the community said no because it’s their land and they take great pride in it. The land in the area is all very natural, and only locals or relatives of locals are allowed to work here.

When we arrived to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, we were quite skeptical about what we got ourselves into. We climbed up a small hill with steep steps and a wooden railing on the side that we held onto for dear life. Once we got to the top of the volcano, we looked down and couldn’t believe our eyes. We had to climb down a small, and also steep ladder into the volcano, where we drenched ourselves with mud. From there, a local who works at the volcano took us and moved us to the corner. While in the corner, we were passed off to another individual who works here, and received a mud massage, alongside fifteen other individuals who can fit into this mud bath at the same time. After our five-minute massage, we were passed off to a different corner of the mud bath, where we had ten to fifteen minutes to float and relax, while continuing to cover ourselves with mud.

Once we got out and climbed down the hill, we were told to walk to the lake behind the volcano. When we got to the lake, local women held our hands and walked us into the lake. From there, we were instructed to remove our bathing suit (while under the water), as the local women scrubbed the mud out of our clothing. They also helped get the mud out of our hair and from behind our ears. Once we redressed under the water, and returned to the bus to leave, I noticed just how clean my bathing suit now was, and was extremely impressed with the abilities of these women!

To say that this was quite the experience is an understatement, but it just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Although we were iffy about getting into the mud volcano at Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, we ended up having a blast, and knowing that we were able to help support a local, hard-working community and participate in something they take much pride in, was great, too. Besides, we came out with a fun story to share with others!

Day 1 in Cartagena, Colombia Continued: The Walled City and Iglesia de San Pedro Claver

After seeing Las Bóledas, we drove further into the Walled CIty. One of the first things we noticed was that many houses had little knobs on the corners of their roofs. Years ago, if you were Catholic, you would put these knobs on your roof for witches to fly over your house. If you didn’t have it on your roof, it meant that you were not Catholic and since you were most probably considered a witch, you were taken into the inquisition.

Every year on September 26th, there is a competition to see who has the nicest balcony in the Walled City. For this reason, almost every house we saw had beautiful gardens on their balcony, and the reason being, the winner of the competition doesn’t have to pay taxes for an entire year. If you were to buy a new house in the Walled City, you must restore it or the government can seize it and sell it to someone willing to make the necessary renovations.

The Inquisition took place here in Cartagena during 1610 and lasted for 201 years. If you were not Catholic, you were considered heretic and would be brought to the building pictured below where you would either be tortured or killed. Either way, all women were brought here and were weighed because you could only weigh a certain amount depending on your height. If you were deemed “too skinny,” you were considered to be a witch with the capability of flying. If you were deemed “too fat,” you were considered to have the devil in you. Additionally, if a woman thought her husband was cheating on him, she could go to someone she thought was a witch and ask her to do a prayer for the husband to be faithful. If the husband was in fact faithful, the woman would be brought in and punished by having her breasts removed. If the husband’s behavior didn’t change after the prayer, it was assumed that he was still unfaithful and he would be brought in and punished in the form of having his testicles removed.

As we continued walking, we came across what translates to “Bitterness Street.” This street received its name because during the inquisition, two men were being walked toward their hanging and as they reached the end of the road, one turned to the other and said, “This should be called Bitterness Street.” Apparently, ever since then, the name remained.

The next building we saw was one in which the Spaniards would use as the main building to bring all of their merchandise into the Walled City. The square itself is called Custom Square because this building is where customs once was. Hangings during the Inquisition took place here as well.

The last sight we saw as we walked around was the Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, or the San Pedro Claver Church, started by a Jesuit priest who helped the cause of the African slaves. He was called the Patron Saint of Slaves because he dedicated his life to helping the slaves. This is the only church in Cartagena with indoor balconies, and back in the day, the rich people would sit upstairs and the poor sat downstairs.

As the evening tour of the Walled City concluded, my mother, sister, brother, and I ate dinner in at Porton de San Sebastian, which is a restaurant that has a beautiful story behind it. Before owning her own restaurant, the owner would cook meals and give them to local workers in the city who didn’t have much money as a token of her appreciation. Someone wrote about this quality of this woman’s food and the premise behind what she was doing, and eventually, the writer’s review helped build up enough of a reputation for her to open her own restaurant. When she did open her own restaurant, she continued her tradition by closing her restaurant off one hour each weekday during lunch hours for local workers. The food was incredible and knowing the story behind the restaurant and its owner made the meal that much more enjoyable.