Tuesday, September 23, 2008

San Clemente: First Impressions

We took a three hour bus ride along the ocean shore and then half an hour inland to the outskirts of Pisco. Along the way, we saw town after town made up of nothing but a few brick buildings and shacks. San clemente is no different. Now I realize why they call them “shanty towns”—it’s not like a normal city with a central area, some normal residence areas, and then the “bad” side of town. Every side of town here is poor. Every side of town consist of shack, after shack, after shack, dusty thatched roofs, dirt “roads” separating blocks, smoke billowing up from crockpots over open fires. On top of that, because of the earthquake that broke up the town over a year ago, piles of rubble line the roads, the adobe bricks constant reminders of the walls and roofs they once had. On the two paved streets, cement buildings still standing are painted bright colors, and from our roof they pocadot the place, adding pinks, greens, blues and yellows to the brown town. From here I can also see grass about half a mile away on a cotton farm. There are a few trees and of course the colorful clothes hanging outside, relieving your eyes from all the dirt and straw.

The first afternoon we were here, Armando walked me around. He came here for 3 weeks with his team from his church in A-town. So we strolled down the hill from the mission house into the central area where street vendors and make shift stores are. Some things that stick out in my memory—the smell of animal feces and stray dogs, flies swarming around a whole broiled chicken at a “restaurant” (a tent made of tarps and stakes), honking three wheeled “motos,” a dog ravaging through garbage and gulping down something’s intestines, little old, wrinkled, leathery women with sombrero hats and skirts that puffed out from their waistlines to their knees over pants, schoolgirls giggling at the Americans on the street, old men shouting in gruff voices, and colorful fruit stands all around. The grown ups—this is their life, all they have ever known and probably will know of the world. The kids have never even been to Lima.

While we were visiting a church that first night, I shook the thickest, strongest, roughest hand I may ever shake. The friendly giant must work in the mines. His grip left such an overwhelming impression on me of the reality of how hard people work here, their whole lives, to provide less than what is necessary for their families.

I guess this all sounds like I am pitying them, as though I think I am better off because I go home to clean streets, maintained buildings, recycling bins and trashcans, and sturdy roofs. But bare with me, these are only my first impressions.