As I write this blog I am literally sitting on the bus watching the city of Piura fade around me as I am heading to Lima, which means that in a few days I will no longer be a Peace Corps volunteer. That is such a weird thing for me to say. For two years it has been that title that has defined what I am doing here, it has been my excuse behind everything I was doing or sometimes things I wanted to get out of, it has been my back up in just about every situation. And in just a few days I will be formally separated from this title that for two years has defined me, and has changed me, and has been the most significant milestone and amazing adventure of my life up to this point. There are not enough words to describe my emotions on saying goodbye to these two years.
I can start with retracing these past few months from the last blog I wrote. To preface the following I must say that it hasn’t been my easiest or my favorite part of my 2 year experience in Peru; sometimes becoming so integrated and having a better level of understanding of your environment and those in your surroundings can have its disadvantages and I found this to be a problem from me at my ending in Chipillico.
It’s no secret that Chipillico is a poor rural community with its own set of problems that include not having water, any government support, poor health, and the people just have a tougher life in general. Well with all that, there is someone else who has added to their problems and that is the banks. Some genius thought it would be a great idea to come into my little pueblo and offer loans to these people. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what harm loans will do to a community of people who have no solid income and barely know day to day how they will pay to put their food on the table let alone figure out how to pay a loan payment monthly. However, these people come in and glamorize everything and these easily influenced people who dream of having a better life, or a better home, or nicer clothes are quickly convinced to signing the dotted line.
This was the problem I saw with my own host family. Unfortunately their financial problems did start to create problems for me living under their roof. I watched the quality of food I was being served change from meats, beans, and occasional vegetables to fried eggs and rice at every meal. Then, I was constantly being asked to borrow money; however I learned early on to never let anyone borrow money. But then I would be manipulated into paying for things, and sometimes out of guilt and simply feeling sorry for them I would think I was helping pay an electric bill or something and then later realize the money would go to completely other things. Just like the money I pay monthly for my food. I know I paid for a lot more than a fried egg and rice for both breakfast and lunch.
Conversations with my host family began to become very uncomfortable, I would avoid being alone with my host mom because it would often turn to money and their hardships that would make me very uncomfortable. She was famous for talking about my parents and how wealthy they are and all the things they could do. It didn’t matter what I said about how they were successful in their lives all they see are dollar signs and the things they are able to do. Simply trying to show them a picture of my niece they would analyze the clothes she was wearing and everything else they could see in room from the background of the picture.
My last few months with my host my made me very edgy. It was money stuff it was food issues. I even started to put back on weight from such a poor diet and they would feel the need to comment on that, which would infuriate me. I made it a point to stay out of my house during the day or spend time with my host sisters or the kids. Fortunately for awhile my project kept me busy and focused on other things.
My relationship has been a popular topic for gossip for everyone from my host family to complete strangers. There is one thing you have to understand about being an American woman in a community such as Chipillico is that I am literally a celebrity, maybe there are no paparazzi, but there are people who watch my every move every day. People who I never spoke to would know what type of crackers I like to buy or if I had gone and bought juice that day. After two years you start to get used to this kind of stuff. The stuff I didn’t get used to was the things that get invented about me! Sometimes it can get difficult constantly battling rumors people make up about you, or just walking into conversations where everyone is clearly talking about you. Its part of the job, and part of what it necessary to deal with when you make a decision so big as to live in a place like that. But sometimes I just want to be me and not have to worry about what everyone is saying when I walk by.
A few weeks ago I was put into one of the most difficult situations I have ever experienced in my life, and the repercussions from it have saddened and infuriated me. To make a long story short, I was put into a position where I had to rescue a little girl from the arms of a disgusting drunk who wanted to molest her. Although the situation could have been much worse, I think I caught it right on the brink of going there. Fortunately I had been there start to finish and was able to intervene when I got the notion that something was wrong. The situation with the little girl is sad, she came a few months ago with her beaten up mother from Lima. The mother returned to her jackass womanizer husband in Lima with her baby, but since the little girl is not the daughter the husband she left the little girl behind (4 years old) with her completely out of it grandmother. What kind of woman does that?!?!?!?! So this drunken predator knows the background and thought it was his chance to swoop in. The drunk tried to confront me which only escalated the situation for me and made the entire town aware of what had happened.
And what happened? Apparently the entire town is also aware that this man has a history with this type of behavior and has been successful on several occasions. My host family had me confront the wife, who is a good friend of my family. She defended her husband as a drunk and asked me if “he touched the little girl, or she touched him”, probably the craziest question I have ever heard in my life! Days went on and I searched out what I could do. The police weren’t going to do anything because drunks have rights in this country! Believe it or not, being drunk is an excuse to a major crime. And the local Rondas (neighborhood vigilantes) couldn’t help me either because it was my word (the American who came to the community to help out) against the drunken pedophile! INCREDIBLE!!! People then proceeded to trash me; the wife came up with another story saying she witnessed the whole thing. Then another neighbor I have issues with proceeded to tell everyone I was nothing more than a liar. The drunk even commented that he didn’t really care because he knew I was leaving in just a month!
So as you may see, I lost a lot of faith in Chipillico. More that everyone knows it and no one does anything about it. This is how it is in everything, because the amount of child molestation and prostitution that happen in my community of 1700 people is absolutely terrible.
The only thing that restored a little of the belief that there is goodness in some people was that the Aunt of the little girl (who was also in my project) believed me from the rumors she had heard about the situation. She asked me host family about it, and the little girl confirmed the man had been touching her. Since then she has taken the little girl in and is getting the care she needs and that is enough for me.
So all that and other things are what leave me here writing about my indifference of leaving Chipillico. But if you have been reading my blogs over the last two years you also know there are so many reasons I also fell in love with Chipillico and most of them have resulted from working with some amazing women (the moms of my project) and seeing success from that, but mostly I fell in love with the little people, those little kids have my heart! And they were the hardest people to leave.
My host family threw me a going away dinner and we ate my favorite roasted chicken at a big family style table with the 17 people who ended up making up my host family over these two years. Then the health promoters and the mothers of my project also threw a party, we ate and drank and danced and it was a great way to have my final send off. I am leaving so very proud of that group of women. They have taught me so much.
I think a part of me is still in some sort of shock a little, I was watching some the videos I had taken during my time in Chipillico the other day and was just thinking how normal that life felt to me. I think I will realize how much I miss it when I get home. Right now I just feel like I am on a vacation from Chipillico, but when I really leave this country and know that everyone isn’t just a bus ride away that I may struggle with missing them.
I didn’t want this last blog to be on a negative note. But these were also some of the truths of my experience that I wish didn’t have to be. Chipillico will always hold an incredibly special place in my heart for a number of reasons. I am not returning home the same person that left. I said there were two things I hoped to gain from this experience, they were passion and patience. The patience part is questionable at times, but the passion is a given. I will never be able to look at the world the same after having been a part of a community such as Chipillico. It has made me a better person and I am forever grateful to all that community and my host family did by opening its doors and lives to me.
Now it’s time to close out this chapter, I will formally leave Peace Corps this week and return back to Piura as just Jillian to spend a few more weeks with Edgar before we move onto the next chapter together.