Questions for the Asking

After a long conversation last night, Chris and I decided that we need to redefine the parameters for which we are here. Yes, we did come under the pretenses of teaching English. We heard that Bernardo was always looking for people to teach, and although I have never been enthusiastic about spreading English, I thought well if they are really interested in learning English (along with which inevitably comes US culture), Chris and I aren´t bad candidates…Really it would be like an exchange betwen cultures, with us learning just as much (if not more) from them, as them from us.

That was my idea/justification coming into this, but I just don´t know if it works anymore.

Western culture has grown so fast and is making so many mistakes (it just isn´t sustainable how we are living) and yet somehow it is still appealing to people, both in and out of the US.

We came here expecting, or at least not expecting the US and in many ways that´s what we got. Chris put it well by saying “I feel like I´m in a philosophy class, but it´s all day”. So it´s true that being here is different, and although relaxing on hammocks does take up a decent amount of our day, like here actually is stressful. However, there are many parts about life here that are surprisingly familiar. These are the parts that make me and Chris question what we are doing.

At our house, there is electricity(powered by car batteries powered by solar panels). There are lights at night, a small solar powered radio, a fancy headlamp flashlight, a video camera, a cellphone, a television. And we wonder, why do they really have all these things?

In the town, there are streetlamps every 75 feet powered by a generator, a project completed by Engineers without Borders (although Bernardo told us it was broken…probably they don´t have money to power the huge generator we guess), there are stores, there are five motocars (there aren´t even five streets), there is a hospital and a clinic (what about their traditional medicine!?), there are schools (and a whole room full of supplies which includes a 30″ flat screen tv), there is an evangelical church, there are two huge meeting rooms.

Then there´s the small plaza with huts being built for artesanía and a huge plaza central being built with cement sidewalks. A plaza de Armas just like every other big city in Peru, just like all the plazas mayores all over spain.

Then there´s all their Western clothes, the radios that blare at all hours of the night, the alcohol bottles and all other debris from the many stores that litter the streets.

And so now we are wondering why these people need these things, why they want them. It seems more and more as if the jefe Bernardo wants to turn this town into a tourist attraction. And we are here to teach English so they can speak to tourists who come (and not as Bernardo said to speak English in order to talk to organizations like Village Earth and Engineers without Borders – volunteers helping to solve their overfishing problem and superfluously installing street lights that the town can´t afford and don´t need anyways since everyone heads to bed once it gets dark in order to wake up at 4 when they start their day).

Ok so now we´ve been been here. All of this has been brought to our attention and we have begun to question our purpose and our motives. Is it wrong to come here out of curiousity of the people and the life they live? Is it wrong to want to learn about a person? Is that taking advantage of them or exploiting them? Is it like in “El hablador” when Saul says that we must stop trying to study people like this, that linguists and ethnologists are really what is destroying them? Was I actually just being selfish in coming here?

I am asking all these questions, very pointed and they may even seem negative, but as I write I do not feel negative. I feel no negative energy being here. Mostly I feel happy, tranquil, welcome. I feel equal. I feel respect for the family I live with and the few others people I have gotten to know well, like Francisco, Marco, la abuela and Inés.

I see them as individuals. It is when I start to think of this village as a whole that U get lost, lost in questions like is it wrong for me to be furthering their exposure to western culture which may eventually erase their own as it has done to others, lost in questions like is it wrong for me to even ask the former one because who am I to question their desires, they did afterall ask us to come.

These questions leave me completely stumped. All that I know is that in order to continue here I must find some different purpose…

One Response to “Questions for the Asking”
  1. Jennifer says:

    Your stories and thoughts are so wonderful! I especially enjoy these entries on Westernization, globalization, etc. You both ask questions that I ask myself sometimes, and refer to things my globalization class discussed last semester. I often wonder, too, is it so bad if groups like the Shipibo aspire to a Western lifestyle? My initial answer is yes, but yet, do they not deserve the same opportunities that I have had in my life? In the end, I often conclude that many times, we may not know what is best for ourselves.

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