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A Pisco, Peru Snapshot from BWB Volunteer Elizabeth Doughtery

Ok, I admit it. I’m a big cry baby. And since arriving in Pisco, Peru, 5 months after a 7.9 earthquake leveled 80% of the city, I have done more than my fair share of it. While Pisco has always had a reputation for being one of the most dangerous towns in Peru, the level of chaos and crime brought on by the earthquake disaster conditions has grown exponentially. Poor people are even poorer now, with even fewer services functioning such as non-potable running water or bathrooms, thousands living in tents in the streets or the 9′ x15′ wooden, temporary (I.e. Permanent) structures made of 1x3s (I.e. – um……wtf?), pooping into plastic bags which line the street. Cry, baby, cry!

This morning I joined the BWB crew working at a school for children aged 5-11 in the central market of Pisco, which gave me the opportunity to cry for all the best reasons. The locals call the school Collegio Basura (Trash School), as this once served as the dump for all of the market’s detritus. During the last 9 years, it has transformed into the only schools in Pisco with an ecological bent. The school’s director is actively teaching her teachers and students about recycling (which doesn’t actually exist as such in Peru, outside of Lima), water management, sanitation, wise use of resources and organic gardening.

Today’s job was to clear the dirt area in front of the school of all the weeds and trash, human and canine excrement, rotten fruit and vegetables, and an endless sea of wandering plastics in order to prepare for an organic. Dang, I sure wish I had brought my gloves! Yuuuuuuuuuuckola! All people and the bazillions of trash-gobbling dogs walk in the streets, with “tuk-tuk’s” and taxis inching or racing in between them all, with harrowing results for dogs especially, as evidenced by the standardized “Pisco-limp”. Given that the school is right in the market, many, many people pass by on the dirt road, creating a much more public exposure of BWB than we normally have when pouring the cement floors necessary for people to claim their relief housing assistance from the government or when we are installing our new cement toilet, shower, sink units (lovingly referred to as “the shitters”) on back streets of various neighborhoods in the greater Pisco area.

Within 10 minutes of beginning to clear the insidious kikuyu weeds with a hefty machete, flanked by two other volunteers doing the same, an older woman in Andean style-dress, had taken the machete from my hand and was showing me a better way to go about it. Then came the man on the bicycle who suggested a pick axe instead, but got into a long discussion with the Andean woman about technique. Other passerby-s joined in, working out between themselves and me on how this project should go down. Then came the couple who wanted to know why we were helping them, later passing by again with a bottle of pepsi and cups for us (these folks have almost NO money), joking with me that if I poured the liquid over me, I could become the same color as him. Completely unsupervized 5-10 year old children worked with me for hours, finding me marbles (I need all the marbles I can get) and plying me with endless questions. A tiny young girl came and kissed each of us, another older woman came off the road to kiss me, and another passed by exclaiming, “We are so shamed that you have come all this way to help us with no pay, and yet all we Pisceans can do is rob from one another. It is shameful.” Another man worried out loud that we would consider them lazy. When I finally bought the pick ax, those from the morning reappeared to re-instruct me on the mighty ways of pickaxing. This constant flood of curiosity, appreciation, and care, topped by one of my five year old helpers, Johnny, warning me over and over again late in the day that we must leave very soon for our own safety. Passing through the market, I stopped for a glass of maraguyu juice from a street vendor. As we talked, young Johnny appeared from behind the stand. Ah, his parents. After chatting all together, they waved off my attempt to pay for my juice. With each encounter, tears silently created lines on my filthy cheeks.

But, the crying didn’t stop there. After dinner, Andy, who is largely responsible for implementing our tireless Operations Director, Sam’s, “Shitter” design, gifted me with his account of being caught with his girlfriend in a hut on the beach during the Tsunami in Thailand. His girlfriend did not survive, and he himself was badly damaged. Now he’s focused his life’s efforts on disaster relief, and is working here with others of the core BWB-Peru team who, like Sam and he, originally met while working in Thailand during the year following the Tsunami. His story had me covering my drop-jawed mouth to keep the tears out.

And, as if all of this wasn’t enough for one skinny gringa to experience, tonight an enormous swarm of local kids and adults suddenly began running down the road in front of me at top speed towards our Center Camp. I saw another long-term volunteer, Nick (coordinator for the Collegio Basura project) spinning his fire staff on the street in the distance. They were all yelling out, “Estan haciendo fuego! Estan haciendo fuego! They’re making fire! They’re making fire!”

And I thought, finally smiling to myself, “You got that right”.



4 Responses to “A Pisco, Peru Snapshot from BWB Volunteer Elizabeth Doughtery”

  1. Shelley Fenner says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience with me. I am proud of each and every one of you that are so willing to give of yourselves to help others. We need to hear the stories you have to tell.

  2. Zen Dreamer says:

    You ROCK, will see what I can do about getting down there myself! lotsa love

  3. Parsec says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your tale of this distant land. It brought tears to my eyes here at work. Keep on rockin and hopefully someday I will be able to get down there and lend a hand.

  4. Marcy says:

    You rock, sweetie…. thank you for sharing! *and your work on Mani’s backyard in CA is beautiful!*