Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Piranhas in the pool

Yesterday, after the morning-program finished at La Restinga, some of the kids asked me to come with them and play on the boulevard (the street along the river, where the people congregate to wander at night). The summer vacation program has now officially started, and there are lots of new kids, so I had such a fantastic time getting to know and running around with this group of five heartbreakesrs. As the day got hotter, we went over to the big fountain with a small pool around it, and the kids screamed of joy as they threw off their shirts and jumped in. (I don't think it's normally allowed to play in the water, but the kids said that because there's a gringa (white woman) with them, the police wouldn't say anything. They were right. Sad, but true.)

Anyway, midway through a role game of tourists and sharks, one of the boys stopped in his tracks, and, a little paler than before, he turned to me and said: "Oh no.... Here comes the piranhas." I turned and looked, and recognized them immediately. Piranhas is the common way of referring to the rougher streetkids that live off of shining shoes, getting money from tourists, and stealing (not all streetkids steel, but those who do, or a suspected of doing so, are often referred to by this name). The leader of the gang, let's call him Jose, has been coming to La Restinga off and on for a long time, but is still living on the streets. His life could be so entirely different if he could choose La Restinga over the streets, but for an adrenaline-seeking group of young boys, leaving your friends on the streets in favor of a life of safety and rules is not always an easy thing.. Jose, especially, is really rough around the edges, and as he and his friends jumped into the pool, the dynamics changed instantaneously. The "piranhas" shoved the other kids away, grabbed the ball they had been playing with, and started their own game.

Photo on the right: Imagine if the first thing people associated with you when they met you on the street was this meat-eating fish....

Observing the ways in which the kids and the "piranhas" treated each other broke my heart. Having the sub-human identity of a piranha, these streetkids are met with suspicion, fear, and sometimes disgust from other children and adults. Being met by such expectations, it is a natural progression to come to see yourself this way, to think of yourself as less than human. Also, it makes it extremely difficult for them to make new friends, or to be accepted into a protective community of kids who are not living on the streets. Hoping and praying that they will start coming to La Restinga more so that we can get to know them better and recognize and treat them as the human beings and children that they are.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Infield - Chilean and Bolivian adventures

Infield, a one-week course mid-way through the abroad stay, was a wonderful oppertunity to see the other norwegians again, share and process our experiences thus far, and have time to dream about what we would still like to contribute with and get out of the rest of our stay. Wheche, our professor from Hald (and my personal hero) flew in with the intern Tor Haakon, and from La Paz, Bolivia, we went together to Coroico, a beautiful small town three hours north of La Paz.

Since Infield was in the beginning of January, a group of us Norwegians decided to meet up and celebrate New Year's together in Arica -- a small Chilean beach town right accross the border from Peru. From there, we took an overnight bus to Puno, on lake Titicaca (at 3821meters, it is the highest navigable lake in the world). Our bodies were in a little bit of a shock, going from beachlife one day, to freezing weather and altitude sickness the next, but we took it easy and stocked up on some traditional alpacca gear to keep warm! Lots of pictures below, including our visit to the floating islands, man-made by layers upon layers of straw, and inhabited by the Uro peoples.

New Years Eve in Chile: (from the left) Guro, Thea, Elin, me, Vegard, and Kristine (Kristin was there too, but was taking the picture).

A miniature representation of life on the floating islands

An older man making handicrafts to sell on the island. Tourism has becoming one of the main sources of income for these people.

Strong colors and indigenous patterns is common.

On our way from Puno to La Paz, we had an hour stop in the small town Copacabana, also on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

From the famous cathedral of Copacabana.

Crossing the border: Thea, Kristin, Kristine, Elin, and Vegard

Busy markets

A saleswoman protecting herself from the hot mid-day sun in La Paz.

A small boy looking lost on the streets.

Two older women on the streets of La Paz.

Celebrating Elin's 23rd birthday while visiting Alalay right outside of La Paz, where Vegard ad Guro work. Marius and Svenn, who work at Alalay, Santa Cruz, had also joined us at this point.

Monkey business: Jungle adventure to the Yarapa River

Right before Christmas, two of our friends, Leo and Adrian, brought Elin and I on a jungle adventure on the Yarapa river, about five hours from Iquitos. Our friend Adrian spent a good deal of his childhood here, so he was able to show us around. Highlights included feeding wild monkeys (video below); a hike through the forest, with lots of medical plants and beautiful flowers; our friend called Mr. Tarantula; and learning Peruvian cooking over open fire.

Arriving at the Yarapa River.

Elin and I with Miguel, who is in charge of "the dophins's corner," the lodge where we stayed.

In the living room, there was a large collection of tropical snakes and skulls. I had a little mediation session in front of one of the bottles with a snake in it to cure my fear..

Lush jungle.. Leo, our other friend, peaking back from the tip of the boat.

One afternoon, we brought with us bananas, peanuts, and crackers, and took the boat down the river in search of monkeys. Though the monkeys are wild, there are a few hotels along the river, so when we found a pack of monkeys and started holding out bananas, they were not shy.. Crawling all over us and into the boat, they did not leave until all the food was gone. So much fun!

Elin holding out a handful of peanuts. They disappeared pretty quickly...

I have not laughed so much in a long time, with monkeys crawling all over me, and reaching into my pockets to get their hands on the crackers.

Adrian, another one of our friends, who spent a few years of his childhood in this area, showed us around.

I walked into the bathroom one morning, and to my surprise found a decently sized tarantula spider hanging out by the mirror (see right above Elin´s forehead). I asked the boys if they thought he was dangerous, but they shrugged it off and said it only attacks when it feels threatned. He was a quiet little guy (he stayed by the mirror the whole time we were there, moving only a few centimeters from day to day), so we learned to love him! :)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Belated Christmas Wish..

The Christmas season always seems to fly by, but this one came and went more quickly than ever. Might have something to do with the fact that we celebrated Christmas in hot, tropical weather -- this was definitely the furthest thing from a white Christmas that I've ever experienced.
In a way, though, being away from all the stereotypical markers of Christmas (snow, lefse, chocolate, apple-cider, gifts, etc) helped bring the true meaning of Christmas in to focus. I just wanted to share with you some words from my favorite radio program and podcast, NPR's Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippet. In the following link, you'll find a short interview with Joan Chittister, who shares her thougts on Christmas in a time of economic crisis, and the virtues of generosity, serenity, and spirit:

And finally, a belated wish of ¡Feliz Navidad!