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Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Different Cloud

We woke up at 4:00am to the sounds of a nearby discoteca. Michel Telo's "Ai Se Au Te Pego," and the Watichurros, "Tirate un Paso." Still half asleep, we packed our things, our clothes still damp, and headed to the train station. Time for another adventure.

The thing was, I could buy my return ticket ahead of time, and it would be the same price, regardless of when I bought it, so we had reserved a spot for me on the 5:05 train to Ollantaytambo. But Carlos, because he is a Peruvian national, could purchase a return ticket at the station for only S/. 10, a mere fraction of what a ticket costs for an extranjero. But, we were told that the train was already full, and I wasn't allowed to change trains. We planned on me waiting for Carlos in Ollantaytambo for a couple of hours, unless he could somehow get on the train. By the grace of God, we had been given misinformation, and Carlos was able to board the half-full train.

But because Carlos is a national and could purchase the discounted ticket, we had to ride in separate cars. I had boarded before him, and had no idea whether or not he was on the train with me. Luckily, I found space to relax. There were only about ten people in my rail car, and so after we pulled out of the station, I moved to an open seat with a window, and fell asleep to the peace of trains, their inherent music, the rhythm of the wheels clicking along the tracks, the whistle sounding a sorrowful melody.

When I awoke and rejoined the symphony, now bolstered by the sounds of foreign languages and laughter, I sat making movies in my mind about the different passengers. It turned out that I was in the same car with the Americans that I had met yesterday, the New Yorkers. I was disappointed almost right away. Any film about them would be too predictable, like the Titanic. You know the ship sinks. I got tired of counting cliches--"All I want is a bagel," or "I think I'll live in Portland for a while"--and began to listen a little more closely.

These New Yorkers had spent the last several weeks traveling south from Ecuador to Arequipa, and were now on their way back. They talked about looking for jobs when they get home, maybe. But they would only take the offers if the job took them to Hawaii, Boston, Portland. They complained about the Peruvians that had served them meals, about how they were victims of racism because the Peruvians could travel much cheaper. They were still in a cloud. They had been traveling, seeing the world, but couldn't see the world around them.

They didn't see the rugged farms, the land to which these people are tied. They didn't see the leathered hands and faces. They didn't see the smiles--because they were few. They didn't see the boy that crept out of the bushes while the train was stopped, begging for bread. They didn't see the child defecating on the sidewalk as people walked by. They had come to see Machu Picchu, but to everything else, their eyes were closed.

Just before I left for this excursion, I watched a clip of a film titled "The Motorcycle Diaries." The film chronicles the early years of Che Guevara's travels through South America. In the clip we watched, Guevara was traveling from Machu Picchu, through Cuzco, to Lima. Along the way, he met a couple that was camping in the countryside. As they told their story, they revealed that they had been unable to find work, and so they joined the Communist party, which had promised them jobs. But, the powers at the time exiled them for their new allegiance. They traveled through the rough landscape in search of work that was blind to politics, probably some mining operation, but whatever it was, they knew it would pay poorly and be extremely dangerous. After they had told their story, they asked Guevara, "Are you looking for work, too?" "No," he replied. "Then why are you traveling?" they asked. Guevara hesitated, and then told the truth. "I travel just to travel."

On the tour bus yesterday, the guide explained that there are two sources of income in Cuzco: the Cusquena distillery and tourism. It was then that I started to realize how hard these people's lives are. They live to serve the wealthy, those who can afford to travel just to travel, for purposes other than work. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to watch the wealthy of the world pass through, not giving you a second thought, how humiliating it must be to be invisible to people like the New Yorkers.

They don't see the darkness, the hardness in the faces of the Cusquenos. These are a people that are dependent upon the excess of the other. And there's an oppression in that. The darkness in the eyes of the women and children that dress up in traditional costume and beg for money, the hardness in the faces of the shop owners. A certain joylessness. A loneliness.

Yet there seems to be something spiritual in this oppression as well. I sense, especially in the countryside, that there is something passed down from the pagan culture of the Incas, a dark, heavy cloud. I sense that there is still some fear, some deeply rooted fear, of Pachamama, or of some other local deity, of the world around them, or of life itself. A certain defeat. A heavy darkness. A hopelessness. A dark cloud.

But there's something different in the house of Urias's friend, the pastor. There's light there, real joy. They gather as a family. There's something different about Vani, Josue, and Mariana. They care for each other. They joke. They laugh. There's an incredible amount of light in their eyes. No clouds there. I'm so grateful that they have shared that light with us this week. And I'm grateful that they live here in this city, sharing that light with those they meet.

I'm glad that I'm not a New Yorker or a Che Guevara. I'm glad I have a purpose, that I'm not traveling just to travel. I have a purpose. I'm glad to serve the people I meet. I'm engaging and learning a new culture. I'm here to love the kids in Santa Rosa with the love of Christ, to serve the disabled with the hands and feet of Christ.

I can't imagine traveling without a purpose. And a purpose can be as simple as seeing something created, some amazing sight. You can travel to learn a culture, history, geology, any number of things. But if you close your eyes to the world around you, if you don't take in the full experience, if people aren't a priority, you're not really traveling. You're sightseeing.
But every time I travel to a place simply to see the view, I remind myself that God made the mountains, the sky, the intricate natural setting, but that his greatest creation is walking next to me, or begging for bread, or thinking about moving to Portland.

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