It’s difficult to know what to write about our annual mission trip to Peru. I suspect that even if I wrote one hundred posts, accompanied by 1,000 photographs, I would have only begun to express what time in Peru means to me. So, I will attempt to be concise. And I will fail.
Peru is among the poorest countries in the world, and Chimbote, is the poorest city in Peru. At one time it was considered the “honeymoon capital of Peru,” a bustling port city on South America’s Pacific coast. Chimbote Harbor. Most of these vessels have been docked for more than ten years.
Fishing, particularly anchovy fishing, was the greatest in the world, and processing plants were the top employers. Today, that work is sporadic at best. Most fish factories are closed, although this spring and summer have seen an increase in fishing and processing. Men who work in the plants can earn as much as 40 soles a day, which works out to be a little more than ten dollars. Like most of the world’s poor, many in Chimbote live on less than a dollar a day. The above picture is the back side of several houses in a neighborhood called 25 de Mayo. It’s named “May 25th” (in English) because that’s the day that literally hundreds of families from the Andes left the mountains together to settle in Chimbote. Some left to flee the brutality of The Shining Path; others because they believed their economic futures would be brighter on the coast where they were not limited by the archaic inheritance practices of the Quechuan Indian tribes. Technically, this neighborhood is called an invacion, or invasion, because the settlers are essentially squatting on private property. I told you I wouldn’t be able to be brief. If you are interested in reading more about Chimbote and the poorest of the poor, please visit Los Amigos, a website devoted to explaining the plight and the hope that is Chimbote.Brenda graduated second in her class. She is studying nursing at the technical institute in Chimbote.
Our group is a rather unique one in that we are not from a specific church or even denomination. Some of us have met before, but many of us have not. Professionally, we include several business owners, a lawyer, a surgical nurse, a photojournalist, a stay-at-home mom, a couple of engineers, a bank president, an outdoor guide, a couple of students, and a priest who was born to rock. Geographically, we primarily call home the southeast U.S., with a cluster of folks from Charlotte and another half dozen from Saint Simon’s Island, Georgia. Spiritually, we have evangelical Protestants, not-so-evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and skeptics. In age we range from 22 to 58. About two-thirds of us are married, but only a third of us are traveling with our spouses. We are divided into four teams, and we are competitive.
We begin each morning with breakfast, which is followed by a time of devotion and prayer. Then we fill our water bottles and head out into one of the 14 barrios that comprise the parish. One of our goals is to build six houses this week. Each team is assigned a Peruvian interpreter as well as three local men, who are skilled in building.
Social workers from the parish have chosen the homes that are to be rebuilt this week. My team is assigned to rebuild a house for a single mother of three children and one grandchild, who is two. The grandchild is the result of incest between the father (now in prison) and the daughter, now 16.
Before we can rebuild, we must first tear down the existing house. Above, Manuel disconnects the electricity. All the electricity in the barrio is stolen from a city transformer and strung from house to house in an alarming tangle of unmarked wires. It is early in the day, and already the skeptics are praying.Before we arrive, the family has moved all their possessions into the open air kitchen/laundry room at the back of the house.Water for drinking, bathing, cooking, and laundry is collected and stored in a 55-gallon drum.It usually takes about an hour to pull the old house down. These homes are made of estera, or woven palm, panels secured to frames of bamboo and cane. All the floors are dirt; there is no running water. A latrine is dug by the men at the back of the house. Once the old house is torn down and dragged offsite, neighbors immediately begin rummaging through it to salvage any useable estera, wire, or nails.
The next several hours are devoted to raking, leveling, and smoothing the dirt floor and framing the new house with cane poles. This house will have a living area and three rooms opening off the hall to the kitchen/laundry area.
Once framed the estera walls are wired and nailed into place. The two homes on either side of ours boasted wood fronts and porches, however, all the remaining walls are still estera despite the houses’ more prosperous facades.
Children and their mothers are nearby all day. Everyone is always delighted to play with the sweet kids as well as to attempt conversation with their mothers. These boys are romping on the materials that will finish the roof.The Mister and I were so happy that our old friend Father John was on our team. Father John was born in the Bronx, and I think he had his first epiphany when the Beatles played Shea Stadium. He has been rocking ever since, and he is amazing. He was in a band that opened for The Who, among others, and he always brings a guitar on our trips. Music opens doors that words alone cannot. Called to the priesthood later in life, he has a heart as big as Texas and the intellect and life experience to match. Every year, with prayerful discernment, he gives away his guitar to a young Peruvian who seems to have a proclivity for music. I believe he has given away at least 20. Shortly after lunch, we get into a rhythm to get the house finished. To leave it undone with dark approaching is unthinkable, as theft and violence are the norm on these rough streets. With the estera walls done, our team waits for the cane poles to be delivered, so that the roof can be completed before nightfall. In the meanwhile, John of Saint Simon’s teaches the hand-slap game, which is a huge success. Clean, cold water also hits the spot with these little guys. The first section of poles is up, and the cross bracing is slid into place.The remaining poles have arrived, and we have plenty of help. A rooftop view of neighboring houses is humbling to me. Beneath the cane is a layer of plastic tarp for insulation. The Mister works to get the poles in place.The new estera exterior and the first half of the roof are complete.This sweet girl was quite bemused by the pale gringa with the camera. All the children loved being airborne by the tall gringo men. The cry once more or “ una mas!” was heard many, many times. David, a Colorado environmental consultant, takes a moment to play ball with Elena, the youngest member of the family.
The next day, the Mister and I returned to the house to finish the roof while the rest of our team went on to our next site, where we would join them after lunch. Here are the oldest son, Miguel, and daughter, Lady, who will call this home. Miguel was a big help in finishing the work on the roof. Three little neighbors peek under the temporary door. At first, I thought they just wanted to see what was happening, but they were most interested in carmelitas, or candy. Surprisingly, red licorice is a big draw, second only to Nerds and Lemonheads.
Here is the camera shy, Maria, matriarch of the house, washing her dishes. I’m not sure what the Spanish is for “punch list,” but I honestly think that by this point she was ready for the gringo contractors to be out of her house.
Seriously, she was heart-breakingly grateful. It was such an honor to tell her that her house was built in love. Sweet love.
In the name of Jesus.
That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.