Great retreat at The Casa today. We are ready for our trip to Peru.
Great retreat at The Casa today. We are ready for our trip to Peru.
The last workday in Arequipa has been my most memorable moment so far in Peru. Instead of working for most of the day, a bunch of us spent the day with the kids trying to figure out how to use a simple toy called trompos that all of the kids at CIRCA did with ease. Just trying to learn how to use trompos from the kids who speak a different language was a great experience because I had to figure out a different way to communicate with them. At the end of the day, I still couldn’t figure out how to use a trompo, but I made great relationships with some the kids at CIRCA. This helped me to realize how much fun you can have with just simple things as long as you have an open mind and heart to experiencing new things. Not everything has to involve phones or some expensive thing, sometimes it’s better to just get to know the people around you. Most of the time, you will end up being the one learning from these people. Throughout this trip, I have learned things about the world that I had no idea existed. For example, seeing how happy people are in the places we have helped made me think about what really makes me happy in life. For a while I never wanted to go on an immersion trip, but I am very happy I chose to go Perú because I have already made so many memories and learned so much from the people here.
Our workdays in Cusco are very different from our work in Arequipa and Lima. La Comunidad De Cjounacaca is a small, poverty-stricken community that houses roughly 350 families and 85 children. Each and every single child in the community goes to school for free, receiving an included lunch. Primeria, primary school up to fourth grade, takes place down the mountain next to the Comedor, which is basically the lunch room. Secondaria, secondary school, takes place up the mountain. To go to lunch, they hike down and then make their way back up, either by bus or foot. The food and the school are sponsored by the Jesuits and is also heavily funded by them as well, along with occasional service work from others. The school is roughly 50 years old, beginning back when the government finally gave them some land to utilize. But the history and the regular days of the students isn’t even the tip of the iceberg regarding the stress in this community. Each family makes roughly 25 soles a day, equal to about $8 US dollars. They then have to pay for food, coca leaves, clothing, and any other expenses that come from a day to day basis. The houses are made of crumbling brick, barely any roof, and little to no flooring. About all 180 (approximately) houses fit this description. We work sandpapering and painting an old church that hasn’t been renovated in 30 years. Mass is held twice every month on Sundays. As we work, we look out upon the rolling hills of this poverty, trying to do the best we can. After working a couple strenuous hours at the church, we settle for a lunch exactly where the kids go every day for their included meal. We eat exactly where they eat, and exactly what they eat.
After the meal, we head onto the bus for a tour of the area. We visit one chapel and two churches. The first chapel is beautiful, amazing Inca Stone at the base, finished with adobe Spaniard walls and intricate designs inside. Murals, gold alters, statues, and more intricate designs all over cover the inside. The second location, a Church of John the Baptist, blows us away. It has even more gold design on the very back wall, prodigious murals depicting heaven and hell, beautiful ceiling designs, and an overall larger space. Moving to the third location, the Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle, we are left in awe once again. Immediately entering, we notice the constant Inca base covered in the Spanish architecture and a beautiful mixture of different fashions inside, more gold than ever, a special room to our left for baptizing, the front gold alters and large space for actual ceremonies, the most gorgeous ceiling designs with beautiful paint and wood. As we were touring the third church, I realized how open to growth the Incan people were. In the baptizing room, you could see an Inca stone baptizing fountain, an odd yet clean cut stone alter on a wall with a matching fountain made out of a single piece of fantastic stone. But these were just the beginnings of construction for the Incas. This place could have become anything, a place of worship, a palace, anything. However, as you go up the wall, higher and higher, the Inca stone disappears and it is replaced by Spanish adobe bricks and white paint. The Spaniards turned this into a church. The entrance to the Baptismal room had markings all over the outline of the door. 6 different languages. Latin, old Spanish, and 4 different old Indian languages including Quechua. These languages all translated to “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and were utilized in the Spaniards evangelization of Europe. The Incas were so open to growth by accepting the new Religion and meshing with the Spanish. This is also prominent in the architecture through the ceiling. The ceilings look constant and symmetrical, beautiful and perfect for the entire ceiling, until one line in the ceiling close to the alter which is a completely different color containing a completely different design and symbol. All of the sudden, the parent went from a constant blue to a white with a symbol of two keys around a tiara. This was not original. It was found during the refurbishment of the ceiling, because the design was found accidentally. Behind the Spanish ceiling fashion was a simpler Inca design that was hidden for centuries. The Inca were so ready for change and went with change. Open to growth is a big part of this trip, let alone Brophy, so seeing this in Peruvian culture was truly inspiring. It was amazing to connect school with this immersion and to truly understand what open to growth calls for. Through the work in Cusco and all the culture we have now been exposed to, I can truly say I have grown, and that because of this, I will keep on growing.
They always say the early bronco gets the worm. That was very true for our early-rising group of broncos on the day we left for Machu Picchu. First thing in the morning we were woken up (by the heavenly voice of Señor Cordova) at around 5:45am for breakfast and promptly left soon after for the great Incan city. It was so early that on the bus ride I saw morning clouds on the same level as us, floating around the mountains as we made our way upend up in elevation. When we got there we went straight through the ticket-checking area to start taking on Machu Picchu. The city was, simply put, mind-blowing. We were there at the perfect time because right when we arrived we watched the sun rise over the mountains like the beginning of a nature documentary. I decided not to take a picture purely because I only had one left on the disposable camera I brought, and I needed to get the absolute perfect photo of me from the classic post-card angle. Anyways, back to the amazing ruins of Machu Picchu. All of the structures and terraces were, for lack of a better word, crazy. The time and effort put into the bricks and stairs and temples were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We were breaking rocks in Arequipa with sledgehammers while the Incas simply broke rocks with harder rocks. Never mind that, they broke an entire mountain with rocks just so they could live on it. Similarly to our work, they clearly didn’t rush anything. Every structure was meticulously crafted. The city as a whole was breathtaking; llamas grazed on the terraces and on the central yard; people from all parts of the world convened to see one of the world’s oldest civilizations. It was actually weird to think about it, but this was really the first time we were true tourists. My group cleared literal tons of dirt off a basketball court in Lima, helped build a school in Arequipa, but we hadn’t gotten to our work in Cusco just yet; now it was time to relax a little. It was such a pleasant time to take a break from the labor-induced sweat and instead enjoy some tour-induced sweat. And once I finally made my way to the top of the city, I got the perfect picture taken of me by the great photographer Harrison Grant Cohen on my disposable camera. Or at least I hope it was perfect. There’s no screen on a disposable camera so I really won’t know until the film is developed. Oh well, it’s not like I’ll be forgetting this memory anytime soon. Enjoy those last few days of peace and quiet, we’ll be back before you know it!
During my time thus far in Peru, I have made and been involved in numerous memorable experiences. I have found the work that we have done to be extremely fulfilling, yet I have found that the relationships and connections I have made along the way to be even more impactful. The group around me from Brophy has been extremely inviting, and because of our closeness through this journey, I feel as though I have created relationships that will last a lifetime. Along with my newfound friendships with the Broncos, I think I have also created strong relationships with the people here, in Peru. These cross-cultural relationships have been developing since the beginning of this journey. After a tough day of work in the slums of San Augustine, we headed, to the local football academy where the children gather to hone their soccer skills (all of which were better than mine). My group, Machu Picchu (consisting of Jackson, Ethan, Ian, and I) was placed with the younger, 5 to 6 year olds, to help coach them to greatness. While working with the numerous children on the field, many of the boys abandoned trying to play soccer in order to tackle me, instead. While running from the ferocious pack of cleat-equipped boys, I noticed a girl who was staying out of the action. I decided to try and include her in our games so that she could have some fun along with the other footballers. Nadia, that girl, ended up smiling throughout the rest of the practice, offering me water and even introducing me to her mother. Eventually, the practice and playtime ceded, and it was time for Nadia and the rest to go home. My group Machu Picchu and I waved goodbye to the kids, exchanging numerous hugs and high-fives before departing. While walking through the gate to head home, I noticed Nadia grasping her mother with one hand and waving goodbye to me with the other from the sidewalk. Next thing I know, she let go of her mother’s hand and starting running towards me. She then put her hand up to the fence which separated us, and I did the same. She said, “Ciao, mi amigo”, and left the facility. This short yet memorable experience made me feel as though I had created a lasting impact on someone else, and she had also made a lasting impact with me. Since that day, there have been plenty of other relationships I’ve made and that the Peruvians have made with me. Waking up each morning since that first major moment in this journey, I have started to long forward to those relationships and I’ve begun to take more initiative to create them. I never felt this way before traveling here, to Peru. After bonding with the people we’ve aided in Lima, the children in the Circa school in Arequipa, or even the teachers accompanying us today, I have started to value those who are important in my life even more than before due to my time here. I know that there’s more of those moments to come, and I can’t wait until they do. The people who I’ve been involved with on this journey will stick with me in my heart, forever. Hopefully, I can stick in theirs, too.
I would say this journey, that my band of brothers and I took, was not what we anticipated. From the moment we stepped foot in Lima the humid air and the buzzling commotion of traffic made this trip real. I am sure what many of the guys have said is how this trip has changed them or what it’s like to be here. For me this trip is more than a change of mind or just a simple string of words. As the great Brophy philosopher Tom Mar once said, “You will fall in love.” As many of the adults reading this know, love is a tricky thing. It’s hard to describe with just words. It is so much more than that. It’s an emotion that always brings you back. Well, this trip made sure I fell in love.
The writing on the back of our shirts translate to, “I won’t be satisfied if, when I die the world continues to be the same as if I had not lived.” My work ethic was solely built upon the idea of changing the physical part of these people’s lives. I thought that was our mission while we were here. Work from 9am to 1pm then go back to our lives and return the next day. I feel there was a certain point when we all had that click moment where we knew the real reason we are here. My ‘click moment’ occurred on June 10th. It’s kind of ironic because it’s the day after my 18th birthday. I guess all of those adult thoughts just started forming. June 10th was a Sunday and my host family took me to church, which happened to be at the first Jesuit church in Arequipa. I didn’t understand a single word from that two-hour service so instead I spent my time thinking. I don’t know what I was thinking but I got goose bumps and the epiphany hit me. Some would say, “I am drinking the tea.” After the service I was able to go on the roof of the church because my host family has connections. The view from the top of this Jesuit church was breath taking. I can’t even describe it in this Word doc. The next day was our 3rd work day in Arequipa. I was stationed in the trench. My duties consisted of shoveling dirt and breaking rocks. During my break I was sitting down and eating my sandwich when all of the sudden some little boy came up to me and hugged me. I have no idea why this kid hugged me or if Cordova told him to but I can only hope that the work I was doing has impacted him. One solider cannot win a battle, it takes an army.
That’s my love story.
My experience with building a room on a house in El Agustino was an interesting and a tiring experience. First, we spent a day tearing down the original room and taking trash up a hill, which was hard. The process of taking trash up the hill was a tiring process, in which we had to climb many steps, and encountered many stray dogs. On the way down from collecting trash, I smelled cooking food, which smelled good. We worked with people who helped tear down and build a new room, who aided us by tearing down to the roof and tearing down the walls. The work on the first day was very dusty, which required us to wear our glasses and masks, to prevent the dust from getting into our eyes and mouth. The next day we worked on finishing building the room and picking up trash. The second day we had to move some trash, but not as much as the first day, as we mostly were collecting trash into bags. The work of moving the trash bags up the hill was easier, due to many of the trash bags ripping, forcing us to stop picking trash. On the second day, we also nearly completed the room, as we dug the holes for the support, assembled the walls, put on the door, and finished most of the roof. We could not finish all of the roof as we did not have enough panels, but towards the end of the work day we got another panel, which was sharp and required us to wear our gloves to move it, and delivered it to the house, so the room could be finished later. The work on the first day was much harder in my opinion, as we had to carry much more trash up the steep hill. To conclude, my 2 days of work was an interesting experience, as we had to learn about the basic struggles the people of El Agustino face, such as trash and access to water.
About two years ago, I was taking my Spanish placement test for Brophy, and Señor Cordova approached me, and said to me, “You’re coming to Peru with me right?” Two years later, here I am in Peru, sitting in my host family’s home, writing about it. This is my first time to Peru, and I walked into the airport without my mom two and a half weeks ago not knowing what to expect. This month-long endeavor was daunting to say the least, but I felt something telling me to go, and it just felt right. Now that I’m here, I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. Before I left, I talked to some role models I have in my life, one being my mentor, and I talked to him about some of the struggles going on in my life, and that I want this trip to be a life change, a way to see God in my life and grow in my walk with Him; and he prayed with me for that. In the beginning of this journey, I was struggling to find God, to see His work in my life, and so many things seemed to stand in my way, making it fairly difficult. A week ago, a priest at the first school we stayed at in Lima, Father Oscar, told us this: “It is so easy to go on a trip like this one you are on, and not let God in.” This hit hard, because so far, that is what was happening. I wasn’t taking advantage of the time I had for reflection and prayer, and kind of rushing through. I started to take his words into consideration as I went through my life in this foreign country, and I started to see a difference.
Through the so many life-changing experiences that I have encountered on this trip so far, like playing music with my good friends, having amazing conversations, and doing impactful work, but I want to focus on one: the second day working at Circa, a Jesuit school created so that children in impoverished areas of Arequipa can get a decent education. We drove up to this school that had about eight classrooms, no air conditioning, a small cement fútbol court outside, and the half finished brick walls topped with broken bottles to stop intruders. Stray animals everywhere had been a common sight throughout this trip. All of this hit hard, as it had for the past two weeks. Us Broncos and our teachers put masks and hats on, ready to work, still sore from the day before. Kids waved and smiled at us, overjoyed that we got to be there with them. We were given our assignments and off to work we went. Our job: to move a very large pile of boulders up part of a mountain to a trench at the top edge of the school, to make a foundation for more brick walls to be built upon. I was at the bottom of the chain, lifting 50 pound rocks off of the pile and handing them off to one of my Brophy Brothers, who would hand it down the chain until they got to the trench. It was there, basically moving a mountain of rocks up another mountain, that I felt this overwhelming sense of peace. I can’t explain it other than finally seeing God’s work in my life on this trip. Even through carrying those heavy rocks, I couldn’t stop smiling. I found that it was through this work for others, through the community of my Brothers, through faith, that true peace is found. It’s not through phones or through television, though those things aren’t bad, but through faith, reflection, and community. The walk of faith is still a battle for me, like for everyone, and the journey always will be, but I feel like I have seen a glimpse of what God has in store for me, and I can’t wait to continue my walk with Him, especially on this expedition in Peru.
Two long tables were lined up with plates of sandwiches and cups brimming with Inca Kola. Everyone is sitting up listening to the others at their table and laughing along with them. It was our farewell dinner, but it wasn’t sad. No, we were… prepared. Ready for the next step of our journey. But part of moving on to the next step was reflecting back on what we’ve done over the last two months – I mean two weeks – of our lives. The night started out with several San José students speaking on how we were really a part of their families now, a bond that can never be broken. And the more I think on it, the more I believe this to be true. Over thousands of miles away in a foreign country with language barriers ever present, but still, I consider my host to truly be mi familia. After this, we all clapped and smiled as a dance was performed for us. But what really blew me away was the slide show of us. Us caked in dirt. Us heaving rocks up hills. Us together playing fútbol with 8-year-old children. Every time the picture changed, people would holler and shout and die laughing. Every picture, there was a smiling Bronco looking into the camera. Sometimes when you look take a step back and look at the pictures, you really do see how much a few people can really accomplish.
I have been surprised about a lot of things on this trip. Some things that I have seen on this trip are nothing like I ever expected. I have seen unbelievable amounts of poverty in El Agustino, the views on the beach in Mejia, and the hospitality of families from both Lima and Arequipa that took us students in and showed us around Peru. When I left Phoenix for this trip, I had only seen photos of cities like El Agustino, but when I got there I was surprised by the fact that it was not a photo this time. This was real, and people actually lived there. Something that I had known my whole life was right in front of me for the first time, and I was shocked. Something that struck me, however, was the fact that even though we were in this city that was not affluent by any means, I thought it was crazy that lots of people in the city were smiling. It truly showed me that none of the things that we have truly matter in the long run, and people that have nothing can truly have everything they need through God. When I got back to Inmaculada that day, I was tired, but I will not forget what happened. I experienced something I never expected, and I am more and more thankful for everything I get now that I have seen people who live this reality.