Thursday, March 27, 2008

Belen, Peru

More pictures of Belen ...

Entrance to the
floating shanty town

Kids playing underneath the main room of their house. During the dry season when the water level is lower, this area may also be used as an additional story/ room.

Kids swimming

Local Church built on stilts

Steps of the local church

People use canoes to get around and do laundry on their front porches.

Every house has a hammock

Kind of what i imagine Venice must have looked like a long long time ago...


The sun setting on
the town of Belen

Machu Picchu...whoops...

So our trip to Machu Pichu began at 4:45am yesterday morning. We had arranged for a taxi to come pick us up in Cusco and take us to the train station at 5:30 to make our 6am train to Agua Calientes. We are all set... Camera battery charged, rain jackets in hand, we had even picked up our train tickets at the station the day before. Like clockwork we get to the station right on time. Show passports, find platform and train and hand over boarding passes. As i stepped on the train i realized how excited i was to sit down in a seat and not move for the next 4 hours (we have been going none stop!!) Well, didn´t look like that was going to happen... ¨son para manana¨i heard the women tell my mom who was three steps behind me. shit. ¨No es posible.¨ shit! Our tickets were for the same time the following day. Ok, well, back to the hotel i guess. And so we went. slept for the next 4 hours and spent a beautiful day in Cusco.

This morning we woke up same time. Left same time. Arrived at station same time. And finally were on our way to Machu Piccu. We had only an 90 minutes at ¨the lost city of the Incas¨due to the train schedule home so we decided to hire a guide. She was amazing!!! The whole experience was absolutely stunning and we would have been completely lost without her.

After our whirlwind tour of Machu Piccu we caught a train to Ollantaytambo. The train back to Cusco was full so ollantaytambo was the next best choice. How we were going to get from Ollantaytambo was still a bit unclear. Once we got to Ollantaytambo and after some asking around, we caught a collective to Umbambo. We had never heard of the city, but apparently it was in the right direction, so we hopped in the back of a caravan and headed off to Some city in the middle of the Andes. We were dropped off in Umbambo and assured that we would be able to find a taxi the rest of the way. Luckily, we met a really kind women who helped us find our way into another ¨seguro¨ collectivo and ended up back in Cusco about an hour later.
Another wonderful adventure in Peru. Tomorrow we fly to Lima for one last day.

The Inca Ruins and Wini Picchu in the background (Machu Picchu´s little brother so to speak)

Wish dad was here too...

THE Inca Calendar
Supposedly emits spiritual energy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sin Palabras... in Peru

... ¨without words¨. One of my favorite new Spanish phrases. We have been in Peru for 5 days now and i can only begin to describe the things we have done and seen.

We have had our fair share of pisco sours in Miraflores and Lima, caught paranahas in the Amazon River, and canoed through the floating shanty town of Belen. We have visited villages along the Amazon and learned so much from the people who live there. It has certainly been an adventure. We learn something new every day and have been meeting wonderful people: A school teacher who gave us Yoga lessons in the middle of the jungle at 6 am easter Sunday, a couple from the state department whose next assignment is in Afghanistan, and a young female dr. who is finding her way volunteering in the poor slums of Lima.

We are now in Cusco which is a nice break after the manic and aggressive city of Iquitos. So many experiences i hope to write about soon, but our train for Machu picchu leaves at 6am tomorrow and sleep es muy importante.

Con Paz y Amor

Our first day in the city of
And our first introduction to pisco sours
(the peruvian drink of choice)

Canoeing in the Amazon on easter sunday.
Butterflies, birds, fish, tarantelas.
Opa was with us oin this one.

And yes, pick dolphins really do exist!!

The floating shanty town of Belen
(for which we had to find an escort becuase we were told it was too dangerous to go alone)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

World Vision. Narrow Vision?

Last weekend i went to the World Vision AIDS tent exhibit recommended by someone in my AIDS in Africa course.

World Vision promises the experience will "give you the opportunity to see, hear, and experience the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time."

The experience: You are given an MP3 player that guides you through the real life and story of a child who has been affected by AIDS. The first thing you are asked to do is clear your mind and put yourself in the place of that child in Africa. As the recoding of a women’s voice describes your life (or the life of the child you have been assigned), you walk through different rooms of the exhibit including your bedroom, a free clinic, and a chapel with pictures of people who have died from AIDS.

The stories (simplified):
Olivia - a young teenage girl who becomes pregnant and contracts HIV after being raped by a schoolmate.
Stephen - A young boy who is abducted and forced to become a child soldier
Beatrix - A seven-year-old girl whose sister (and only surviving relative) died during childbirth and is left alone to take care of the baby

I first walked through as Olivia. As I listened to the story and the facts given about HIV in the continent of Africa, I was shocked about the generalizations I was told. I was given facts and statistics that my professor had told us to be wary of. I was given information that completely contradicted the data and research that I have been studying for the past three months.

My disbelief continued as I listened to the story about the world vision "angel" who "saved" these three children. When I finished the 20-minute exhibit I was lead to a "reflection room" where I could write a letter to my congressman (well actually just sign a letter that had been written for me). I could make a bracelet to remind myself to pray for the poor dying children in Africa. I could even sponsor my very own African AIDS effect child and hang his or her picture on my refrigerator at home. I, for only a small payment each month, could help save the poor innocent African children.

I went through the exhibit two more times (once as each child). I wanted to know exactly what they were telling the groups of students being herded through the exhibit. No wonder people think Africa is a dark black hole. No wonder people think Africa needs to be saved. No wonder stereotypes about Africa are as common as they are. I realized how dangerous it is to give people only a small piece of a large picture, especially when that portion is distorted.

Here are some important ideas about HIV/AIDS that were not presented by World Vision:
  • HIV/AIDS prevalence and incidence has been greatly overestimated
  • Most Africans know what AIDS is and how it is spread.
  • Many Africans know how to avoid or prevent HIV transmission.
  • The greatest cause of HIV transmission is from having multiple concurrent sexual partnerships.
  • Thus, being married significantly increases your risk of contracting the virus.
  • Being wealthy also significantly increases your risk.
  • In general, women are not powerless or forced into their sexual relationships.
  • Transactional Sex is not the same as prostitution or “sex work”
  • Some of the most successful interventions have come from local African governments
Although I do believe that the specific life stories World Vision presents are accurate, I also believe that they inaccurately represent the AIDS epidemic in Africa. They promote stereotypes that Africans are somehow intellectually, morally, and socially inferior and they must be saved from their own lack of knowledge.


Because World Vision needs funding to sustain its organization and the AIDS work that it does. These are the ideas and stories that pull at people’s heartstrings … and their purse strings. These are the stories that get people to take action – to donate to the cause – to “save a life”.

I guess the real question is: Is it okay to perpetuate stereotypes if they result in funding for legitimate programs that attempt to alleviate the problem? A more universal questions: Do the ends justify the means? Who decides?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"SOS Cameroon"

Last week I got an email entitled “SOS Cameroon”. It was from a friend I met last summer in Cameroon. She is from the UK but is in setting up an NGO in Cameroon and has been there for the past couple of weeks. She was writing from the North West Province, where she had been stuck inside for the past four days. Her email went on to describe the events that had transpired over the past week...

"[...]a transporters strike which started in the commercial capital of Cameroon Douala, spread to the rest of the country, angry about the rise in petrol, and how this was effecting the prices of basic produce in the country. There was therefore no way to get back to Yaounde as no public transport was moving and people were attacking private vehicles for not showing respect for the strike."

"What people were now calling for was unclear……it could be a number of things, all of which I can kind of sympathize with. I mean we have corruption, unemployment, rising food prices, a not so democratic government, a pretty lame and ignorant President…I could go on. But the problem was that their protest wasn’t organized, didn’t have a clear message, but instead involved burning down building, looting shops and attacking innocent people on the street who tried to go about there daily lives. Where I am stuck in the North West has been in the worst…as this is the focal area of opposition to the Government."

"Today the North West was chaotic, the social unrest continued, and we started to seriously worry was Cameroon going to turn into the same trap as Kenya and Chad. 4 were killed, dozens arrested."

“People always question if civil war could develop in Cameroon, I never believe it could, the opposition is far too fractioned, but now I can’t say no, never, with such conviction.”

As i read her email my heart sank for two reasons: First, the most obvious, because a place that i had fallen in love with was being torn apart by violence. Second, because part of me wasn't all that shocked or surprised. Just another relatively stable, wealthy African country whose fate could change in the blink of an eye by violent government opposition. When did this idea cease to be shocking?

The email continues...

“As I sat listening to guns and teargas be fired yesterday afternoon, drinking tea in a kitchen with my Cameroon colleagues, it struck, that despite all the trails, tribulations, frustrations and fear of the past few weeks I have never wished to leave this country, I enjoy life here, I love the work I am trying to build up and I am lucky to have made some wonderful friends. It is with a little sadness that I make my preparations to leave Cameroon”

BBC has reported on the violent strikes and protests caused by increasing fuel prices:
Deadly Violences Wage in Cameroon (2/29/08) Cameroon head blames opposition (2/29/08)