Short Stories
Entry No. 47 February 21, 2005

Making A Difference

The following entry is from another's eyes looking in. Lindsay is a Peace Corps Volunteer who works with a community of over 10,000 people who live in the landfill of the district, ironically called El Milagro (The Miracle). She works where pigs are sustained by waste, where children are breast fed until the age of 6 or 7, where children's toys are plastic containers with old paint and tainted with battery acid, for the girls maybe a paraplegic doll without a head.

She works to try to educate these people so that maybe one or two will have a chance to leave this vicious cycle. We talked about the whole picture, the people who create the trash, the middle men who pay these people to sift through the trash for 2 soles(1) a week, and the municipality for their lack of involvement or action in the waste cycle. There is also the problem of changing the mentality of these people who would love to get more than 2 soles a week, but fear change may mean more suffering. I hope you enjoy her story of her experience on February 21st, the day I met her.

February 21, 2005
I have been slacking in my journaling. Over two weeks have gone by with no written documentation about my experiences here in loco Trujillo. How to sum it all up? I continue to run 6 days a week, 2-3 miles. I love my puppy, Nela, even if I feel like all I do is clean up after her. My work continues to be satisfying, if a little monotonous. With earring making and English classes, I have managed to keep a pretty consistent schedule. When I get bored, I head to the beach and visit my Holland friends, shop around downtown, or watch a movie at the cinema.

Yesterday can be marked as one of the best days of my life. I speak the truth. I hope to give it justice as I describe the extraordinary yet strangely ordinary events. It actually began two nights ago, when I responded to a request to visit an Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who had made her way back to Latin America and to Trujillo on her bicycle from Alaska, an 8 month cycling endeavor. She was staying in town with a bike repairman and his family. When I entered the bike shop (in a very shady part of Trujillo), I found a home in chaos. Several young guys were messing with a couple of bikes, a somewhat loco European was mumbling on the couch, a little girl grabbed Nela from my arms and ran off, and 2 men kissed my cheek and told me to have a seat (in English) along side two Brazilians. I was immediately welcomed by the seņora of the house with warm hugs and a piece of Tres Leches cake. They didn't even know my name or why I was there! After inquiring about my friend, they said she had gone grocery shopping, but would return soon. Thinking I could wait for a while, I was introduced to two Australian guys where I immediately fell in love- their accents are absolutely heart-swooning. Next I met two Americans who looked to have fallen out of a dumpster. Absolutely filthy, with tattoos, chains, and holes the size of half dollars in their ears, they were a bit intimidating and the traveling companions of my RPCV friend. The Brazilians were a bit daunting as well with their questions in a mix of English and accented Spanish, but the owner and his family couldn't have been sweeter people. They open the doors of their home to passing-through cyclists. Anyone can just camp out on the floor, use the kitchen, shower, or chill out. They have scrap books filled to the brim with photos and notes from previous guests. After waiting for half an hour and my friend not appearing, I decided to head out, but not before I was invited to bike with the crowd to Huanchaco on the following day. Making sure they knew I hadn't been on a bike since I was 12 and had no experience what-so-ever in cycling, they assured me it was a casual ride and to show up in shorts and they would provide the rest.

I showed up at 10:00 am the next morning, ready to ride. I was a little surprised to see the amount of people that would be going with us. I was given a bike and helmet as the others decked themselves out in all their cycling gear. It looked like they were preparing for the Tour de France. After some typical Peruvian lazing around, we finally headed out. My bike was comfortable and I just prayed not to wreck or something else as dreadfully embarrassing. I was the only novice in the group. After a few kilometers, I realized we were not heading toward the beach but toward the mountains of La Libertad. Someone happened to call out that the plans had changed and we would be heading northeast. Great, what have I gotten myself into? 21 kilometers (about 13 miles) later, I had found out. Muscles I didn't even know existed in my back were hurting, nothing could compare to the pain in my 'rear' area, not to mention that a couple of fingers on my left hand were numb. We had completed the 21 kilometers without stopping. Several of us rested at a little restaurant on the side of the road, while a few of the more seasoned cyclists traveled on up the road. I felt good! I had just biked along with 'professional' cyclists and held my own. I began to fantasize about a bike of my own and told Lucho, the owner, my thoughts. He assured me he could hook me up. This is so fun.

Dreading the descent a bit, I was even more discouraged to hear that we had a headwind. Not really understanding what that meant, I quickly realized it is when the wind is coming into your face and makes you feel as if you're peddling for absolutely nothing and traveling backwards. My volunteer friend was a real trooper and helped me by giving me advice how to relieve a bit the ache in my tail while also dealing with the wind. When another girl got a flat tire and we had to stop, I couldn't have been more relieved. I was a dead woman barely standing, just praying to God to give me the strength to finish. You have never been a quitter, I told myself and would make it back to Trujillo if it killed me. And you know what? I made it! I cruised back into Trujillo around 4:00 pm with the knowledge I had just biked 42 kilometers (about 26 miles) and lived to tell about it.

After we got back, Lucho told me he was impressed that I made it. Everyone was asking me how I felt and I rambled off the various aches and they all laughed in memory of their own pains.

Plans were then made for later in the evening to celebrate one of the American guys 21st birthday. My volunteer friend and the two American guys were interested in seeing El Milagro, so we headed to the landfill. Not the least bit intimidated, the guys said they like trash and that they had even slept in a dumpster. They were definitely going to fit in with their dirty clothes and smelly bodies!

This visit to the actual landfill became the best I have had so far. I experienced a moment (as I walked into the trash to greet one of my mothers) when I realized I had grown as a person -- the trash didn't gross me out as it had before. I could actually grasp how the families worked there. I could truly imagine having to do it myself, if push came to shove. I would never want to HAVE TO, of course, but I knew I could. Nine months ago, I remember only wanting to put the thoughts of the landfill and what the families do there to the farthest part of my memory and continue on with my life outside of the reality of El Milagro. We talked with some of the families at work and chatted with a couple of kids I knew who were playing along side the road. My volunteer friend asked me if it bothered me to get kisses from the kids. Her question surprised me. I hadn't even thought about it. It hadn't bothered me a bit to hold, hug, or kiss any of the little kiddies there. In fact, it made me feel loved and welcome to hold the hand of the lady working in the trash as we conversed. I remember a time when it did bother me, when I was so worried about lice, sickness, and danger, that I cried myself to sleep.

We continued our descent from the landfill and ended up taking photos and talking with various families along the way. The kids were amazed at the bicycle trip my visitors had undertaken, but I think the holes in their ears impressed them more. I was happy to share with these 3 Americans the reality of El Milagro that so many individuals do not know exists, but what made me even happier was the way these particular Americans played and talked with my families, with respect and affection.

After a trip to the supermarket, we split our ways and I promised to make it back to the bike shop for the birthday party. I found my apartment in disarray from little Nela who had stayed by herself all day. She was so excited to see her mom! After a walk with her, a quick dinner, and a shower, I didn't think my body was going to be able to make it back out. Shooting down a cup of coffee, I made my way back to the bike shop to find it blaring with 80's music and the occasional salsa. Speakers taller than me were rocking the place and as usual it was mad chaos. We ate dinner and danced until midnight (I think my salsa/meringue has improved!). We sang Happy Birthday and cut the homemade chocolate cake that everyone just dug into with their hands. I made it home by 3:30 am to wake up at 4:30 with the worst cramps in both my arms and legs. Three Tylenols later as I curled up beside Nela, I realized my left hand was still numb and I had just had the utmost greatest day.

Lindsey L. Parramore
Peace Corps Volunteer
Apartado Postal 779
Trujillo, Peru

(1) A sol is the currency here in Peru. 3.3o soles is equal to 1 USD.

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