Guest blogger Rodney Rascona travels the world for Food for the Hungry, photographing the struggles and dreams of the people FH helps. In this post his lens focuses on Peru.
Post Two from Peru: Nueva Ollantaytambo…
250 people living in 58 homes line a windswept ridgeback 2 hours from Huancayo – Earlier they’ve lived their lives for generations at the base of a valley thats been prone to unexpected and violent landslides due to heavy rains and now the local government has relocated these families to higher ground at their request.
A few thoughts…
FH has a new project just about to get started that’s centered around education for the villages children ranging in age from 6 to 15 years old and additionally, programs funded via child sponsorship have begun with over 43 children currently signed up.
My experience wasn’t an easy one really but in my defense, it was an 8-hour bus ride late Friday night to get us to the Huancayo region. I was completely out cold until the bus doors opened up and ushered in the bracing cold of the Andes. Thing is I love cold weather, finding it so refreshing, so good as opposed to sweltering desert heat. But we arrived at dawn and jumped into a taxi to music blaring on the radio from the Rolling Stones which was just a bit odd given everyone was in traditional Peruvian dress. Not to miss a beat, the “landscape” is always colorful no matter where I seem to end up and I was just very much awake and looked forward to the images which lay ahead with every image so green and cool to touch..so different from Delhi just a couple of weeks ago.
We visited three new project communities, each filled with smiling children eager to try their English out on someone, which was such a good fit because my Spanish is just about at the grade school level..consequently we understood each other and we all got along great.
After a special field lunch made up of whatever we could find in the local grocery store, which wouldn’t have lasting effects…once again white bread, peanut butter, jam, green olives…oh and tuna..were just the right mix…funny how the same products, not sure if they’re a food group or not, can be found across all hemispheres.
From field to field, home to home, and greetings of well-wishing I managed to accomplish a few of my must haves on my shot list and enjoyed the humble relationships I’ve created, regardless that they’re years old or 5 minutes fresh…it seems to work.
Coming full circle, aside the grand vistas of swirling clouds breaking over the montaña faces, we were at the end of the day with one more project to visit. Standing at the side of the gravel road, everyone pointed up…and I don’t mean like…up to the top of the stairs, I mean….UP a scree-covered rock face to the Nueva Ollantaytambo community to which I looked at my feet and tried to find a way to avoid climbing straight up this cliff face at what is already a region well over 4,000 meters.
I reflected on emergency services, forget that, but I can’t ignore the feeling, no surely the sound, of my heart beating dramatically and the limited oxygen molecules struggling to find their way to my lungs. Younger staff are strewn across the rocks with equally straining lungs yearning to breath free with the youngest casting a shadow over me, beckoning me to get up that they’re waiting for us. Ok OK…so without the painful and not very glamorous details, I looked behind me after my 7th stop for air and to once again ask “why are we going up there” – to find some 20 children sitting behind me in silence just looking at me…wondering what my problem was…so humiliating, it was all the motivation I needed.
So yes I met my Waterloo…time to get up and pretend I’ve the remaining strength to go the distance. Four hours later I can only say that it was worth every moment of agony to get up that cliff face to see what turned out to be a very special place.
On reaching the crest, green verdant hills like my beloved England rolled out in front of me to clouds blending the edge of the horizon. Stark contrast to this were row after row of corrugated houses with tethered horses, roaming sheep and pots of food on the boil. Children watched at the edges and peeked around the corners of the gleaming spacecraft-like housing as we were ushered to a school room. Once again an outstretched hand found mine, and with my inadequate Spanish, which proved to be adequate enough…mutual respect was felt, smiles exchanged, laughter ensued and I relaxed, all due to my working class English upbringing where a simple chair and a cup of hot tea were all that was needed to make everything possible in the world.
High on a mountaintop with children running wild, playing, laughing…food being cooked over open wood fires, washing in the stream by smiling women wanting to know your name and forgetting that my beating heart recovered from the arduous task to reach this new planet, at once it all seemed so familiar. Standing there as the clouds raced across the landscape, the air pure and cold, the smiles on humble faces, used to a hard life, for a moment it seemed like a commune of “travelers” or “gypsies” where everyone looks after each other, shares their meagre offerings, protection from strangers and enjoy the freedom of being left alone by the outside world.
FH is just beginning their work here and I’m optimistic that they’ll do what’s needed, do what’s right by these humble people. For my part, aside from a few images created to help put a face on a people, I mostly shook hands, spoke the best Spanish I’ve ever spoken and tried to understand a few of the issues and needs they have. It’s unprotected from the elements, this new Jerusalem with bitter winds delivering biting cold temperatures, especially at night. So over a meal of potatoes, cheese and prickly pear cactus fruit graciously given to us by one of its leaders, the FH staff and myself sat on sheep skins to think, to share…just what we can do as men and women to help them with the basics of life.
But to wind up this small set of thoughts, never easy for me, while waiting for the returning night train to Lima I’m reminded that their corrugated homes have no insulation from cold, rain or the noon day sun and just because they don’t complain doesn’t mean we won’t try to find solutions to help them – it’s what FH has been doing for decades now and while I can’t say I wanted to…I’m so glad I made it to the top of that hill…selfishly I’m so much better for the time spent, the handshakes enjoyed and yeah..a bit of the pain endured…