The Ride

Around midnight I am sitting in a deserted common room.  In front of me I see a chess board with the troops lined up for battle, and behind it four equal stacks of contraband video discs under the TV table.  To the right is the house phone, sitting atop two phone books on a wooden baby blue chair.  The phone rests just shy of the line of intersection between the common room and what may be called the dining room.  Crossing the open area of the common room from this barrier we find the weather-worn cocktail table, courageously holding three water bottles, some mugs and spices, sunglasses sprawled on issues of Cosmopolitan, two sets of just turned in keys, food paraphernalia, an iridescent cube, and The Lonely Planet Guide to Peru.  To my left the guitar lays unplayed.

Today began on the dregs of a great 5am night with the wonderful people of Bruce.  Between 7.30 and 8.00 the six of us working in Alto Trujillo district in various order and degrees of enthusiasm greeted the day, until all were ready to make the cold walk to the bus stop.  The mood was lively, and fed on itself as we each with plunging surprise noted our lack of sleepiness.  Then we caught the bus, and as luck would have it, the passenger watchman was serving up good music for the body.  We were sitting in back, and the dancing started as if Thursday night never ended.  The bass was rich.  There were even some small but bright flashing lights in the front of the bus.  The watchman noticed and played our songs.  We drew smiles from the other passengers; attention from pedestrians, street vendors, children and dogs.

At school the mood continued, as we walked to class singing the theme to “Hotel Room Service”.  Some of the kids caught the dance bug right away.  Today was only my third day at Alto Trujillo after being moved from my last school, but already the kids were becoming comfortable around me.  They’re so open with their affection.  We brought cake today to commemorate the last day of so many volunteers.  Berenice, Melissa, Jess and I would leave the school for good at twelve noon.  I am glad to say it was a good day of learning and playing — I got to share some laughs with a few new children, and the cake was a big hit (but oh god, the frosting wars).  During goodbye photo ops and hugs it was obvious that we had won the hearts of the children, and they ours.  But we came here with the goal of affecting educational outcomes and not winning hearts, strictly speaking.  We volunteers have no easy metric to measure this.

In the afternoon some of us went around the streets of Trujillo passing out yellow fliers for English classes.  Truth be told the fliers are not very good.  The address they list is for the administrative office of the organisation, not the location of English class, and they could be more informative, e.g. by listing the price for lessons.  Handing out fliers is not a glamorous job, and naturally each peon resisted signing up for the duty.  Those of us who went were surprised by the experience, however.  The people were friendly and invariably took our proffer.  On a few occasions taxi clients rolled down their windows and stuck a hand out in plea for a flier.  Once when we passed a hair salon some girls whistled at us.  Good sports that we are, we turned back to go in and give them all fliers.  Many people entertained us with brief — or not so brief — inquiries about our offer.  The sunlight was warm, and likewise the people gave the city an aura of amicability like an introduced prism altering the complexion of the streets you pass through every day.

Of course, your perception of a given locale will be irrevocably tinged by the nature of the people with whom you experience it.  I have already mentioned the children, who drew the lines of emotional and intellectual purpose in this canvas.  And the walkers.  The other salient group are the other volunteers.  With these people I visited the temple of the sun and moon and the ruins at Chan Chan, played basketball and took salsa lessons and tried to surf, toughed out a cold night in Chiclayo, browsed the market for cheap goods, sang songs and watched movies and discussed politics and life, taught children and shared our experiences over a traditional lunch.  So of course, it was not easy saying good-bye to everybody when seven of our ten left for the night bus to Lima en route to Cusco.  Now, good-byes are common fare in my recent life, and ever since some good time with anonymous friends from European hostals, the habit of facing the temporality of human characters has become more deeply etched.  I get to meet up briefly with these folks again in Lima one short week from now, but to one of these members who leaves the country early I had to bid a final farewell.  I will remember it as both very happy and very sad.

Now that the apartment is quiet with only three residents down from a high of seventeen not three weeks ago, I am getting ready for my own trip to Cusco and enjoying my last rays of time in the city against the dying of the light.

I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my soul.

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