Cusco, Peru, South America
April 29th – May 29th, 2011
My intention for Cusco was to write several blogs. One within the first few days of being in Cusco for first impressions, one in the middle to see how things were progressing, and a final one wrapping up my experiences and impressions. My hope was that I could compare my experiences from start to finish. Now, as I finally write this, at least a week after leaving Cusco (and as I’m publishing at least two weeks after), I find that all my memories are jumbled and grown fuzzy by newer experiences. Such is life. So, I will talk about what I want to talk about regarding Cusco, which will take a few blogs, but they won’t follow a particularly strict time-line.
We pulled into Cusco on a Friday afternoon after 20 hours on a bus from Lima. The ride, so new to me at the time, was typical of Peru. Winding, small mountain roads, heights that give one vertigo and moments of wondering if you were going to make it out alive, all punctuated with fabulous scenery and shantytowns. Now, I take these bus rides with the same eagerness and excitement I approach roller coasters.
My first thought in Cusco was how dusty the place was. Cusco is dusty, no lie. At the bus station we were picked up by Gleni, FairPlay Peru’s assistant, and taken to FairPlay’s headquarters. At FairPlay we met John, co-founder of FairPlay (with his wife Fanny).
John is an interesting man. My first impression was not the most favorable as I was nervous and excited while he seemed uncaring. As I learned in my weeks with John what I took as reticence was actually extreme laidbackness and, his best quality, flexibility. John rarely judged, took punches rolling, and was extremely kind. Behind this calm exterior burned a passion for what he was doing. John is one of the few human beings I have met who genuinely wants to help others, without thinking too much about how others view him or requiring accolades. John told us that when he went into Non-Profit work a friend confided in him three rules.
1. Be passionate. You have to have the fire to see you through the projects.
2. Have a part of the project that will actually make some profit; think about business.
3. Don’t ever, ever expect gratitude. No matter what you do, you will never get thanked.
I think John took those rules to heart. As a result he took the influx and outflow of volunteers, strange behaviors of those he was helping, and general craziness with an emotion that at first I couldn’t identity. Later I found it was grace. He was a 20 times a day coffee drinking, hard smoking, fanatical meat eater, loving father, and forgiving boss who was no push-over and had big dreams that were slowly, achingly being created in reality. Stupidly I never took a picture of him. Here are pictures taken from the website of Fanny, manager and co-founder of FairPlay Peru and John’s amazing wife, and John himself.
|Fanny: She mostly runs the spanish school side of FairPlay Peru|
|John: He mostly runs the non-profit side of FairPlay Peru|
Please check out FairPlay Peru here: http://www.fairplay-peru.org/
While exploring Cusco, in the Los Nogalles area where we were to live, it was obvious that Cusco was poor. Buildings were left unfinished and the constant dust was a nuisance. Stray dogs, ten to a street, slept in the dirt, their fur matted, trotting in and out of the few restaurants and local shops.
And yet, Cusco had charm. Los Nogalles was surrounded by mountains and the natural greenery softened the ugly concrete of the buildings and gave the place life. The people were nice and went about their daily business. Los Nogalles may have felt poor (and was poor) by American standards but the people never acted like it was. The culture of poverty wasn’t strong here, or seemingly in Cusco in general (from what I saw).
That weekend we explored downtown Cusco. Here is where the most money is sunk, tourist money, and it shows. The main plaza is dominated on two sides by large Cathedrals and the other two sides are lined with shops, restaurants, and clubs. Spreading out from the main plaza was a network of additional plaza’s and streets packed with tourist shops, mountaineering stores, tour places, and restaurants.
Come Monday we would start our first day at Helping Hands and my first Spanish lessons. The next blog will be about Helping Hands.