Sometimes I sit back in awe, the people, the landscape, the smells, the tastes, the unexpected, the paradoxical. It never ends. In America we have our nice little lives with our perfect kids, where a tough day is getting to work by 9am, dropping the kids by soccer practice after school and getting home with some fast food in time to watch American Idol.
Life here requires an ingenuity that we are never faced with but strangely enough very seldom an eye towards the future. Americans stumble through life always looking out towards the future and many times missing today. Peruvians live for today, most live day to day looking for a way to find enough to make through the day, tomorrow we will start the search again. It’s never easy and many people work hard all day under grueling conditions.
The Amazon is such a beautiful majestic river, you would think there would be a movement towards saving one of the Seven Wonders of the World. You would be wrong, exploitation of the environment is the rule here. Use any natural resource you can find and when you are finished throw it out. Many times you are quite sure what is going to show up on the dinner table. I had mahas for lunch today, a mahas is a large jungle rodent.
Endangered species, what’s that? In the market every day I see turtle eggs, alligator and monkey ready to eat. Baby animals for sale as pets after someone has killed the mother for dinner. Jaguar and anaconda skins are easy to find, I saw an ocelot skin the other day for S/50 ($18).
Trash and sewage is just dumped in the river by the ton every day. The other day I saw a shop owner step out his front door toss some trash into the street turn around and walk back into his shop. Each night the scavengers raid the trash along the streets looking for plastic or metal to sell or a quick meal. They are followed by street cleaners in some areas. In Belen the trash just piles up until the river rises and takes it away.
Peruvians will squeeze the last dime out of a gallon of gas, conserve every kilowatt of electricity or recycle anything of any use. I have been in a motorcar before when the driver ran out of gas, so he asked me to get out, turned the motorcar on its side to get the last drop of gas into the carburetor and off we went. I have never seen a taxista put more than S/2 (about 70 cents) in their moto, one time a driver put S/.20 (about 7 cents) of gas during a pit stop.
In America helicopter parents watch their kids like a hawk, making sure junior has the best education, molly coddling and planning every step of their children’s lives. Here it is not unusual to see a three year old, unattended swimming in the river or walking around the streets.
The other day I was in a jungle village walking with a mother and her small child and we had walked about a half mile when I realized her child was no longer with us. He had wandered off somewhere and nowhere to be seen, I asked “Where is Anhil”, I just received a shrug. Now don’t get me wrong, the jungle is a beautiful place but it can also be deadly with poisonous snakes, monkeys, jaguars and any number of creeks, crevasses, holes or other pitfalls for a three year old. By the time we got back to her house there he was, playing with a machete.
In Peru kids have not lost the ability to turn the world into their playground, no X-Boxes or Playstations here. The other day I saw some kids who had dumped a couple buckets of water down a muddy river bank and made a slide into the Amazon. Kids are kids here and they play like I remember, dirt clod battles, jumping in the river or streams, exploring their world.
The downside is that there are times that natural danger comes up and grabs them, a lot of kids die here from their environment or accident. There is a little girl that I know in the hospital right now from getting bitten by a fer-de-lance (a very poisonous snake). It took her parents three days to decide to bring her to the hospital. She is going to be fine but almost lost her leg.
The river is the source of many things, food, transportation, hygiene and the largest playground in the world. You find many people doing their daily chores in full view of the neighborhood, whether it is washing clothes, taking a bath or preparing food, you are on display for anyone who cares to look. Most of the time taking a bath and washing clothes are combined into one effort. Wash your clothes, a quick shampoo and a bucket of water over your head and you are done. Sometimes a field works as a makeshift clothes line.
I wish I could wave a magic wand and get Peruvians to understand how important their environment and natural resources are and in that same stroke get Americans to wake up to conserve our resources. Most Peruvians would not leave lights on the air conditioner running when they are not home or burn gas to get where they could walk or take public transportation. I wish American parents would take time to let their children explore their environment and Peruvian parents would place a premium on formal education. I pray that this beautiful river will still be here when Keller is old enough to visit this magical mess.