My good relations with the townspeople continued and I began to feel very much at home. Where ever I’d walk, I’d see someone I knew. They’d stop me, we’d speak for several minutes – conversation usually focused on where I was going (no where really), when they could get a copy of the wedding DVD (whenever you want, I have them in the house), and how much I was charging for the DVDs (nothing it’s a gift). They’d smile and I’d be on my way. Everyone was friendly and always smiling. I shouldn’t say everyone. There were at least a few people who viewed my presence as an imposition – they didn’t like the idea of a Gringo hanging around and filming them. “Gringo, what are you looking for?” An elderly woman yelled out at me once as I filmed near her house – a profound question and one I’ve often asked myself. But other than these few objectors, I was a hit. As the time for my departure came closer, conversations centered around the date I’d chosen – October 12th. “And when will you return?” They would ask.
Indeed my final few nights at Yanet’s had an heir of sadness to them. “We’re going to be sad when you leave, Michael.” The father told me at dinner. “I don’t think you should leave. You should stay with us longer,” the sister told me. I reminded her that when I left she could at least have her room back and not have to share a bed with her sister. “I don’t care, you can have my room,” was her response.
However, the comment that will remain with me always came a week earlier, during an interview I did with Yanet’s father, Mauricio. The mother had gone into town for the day and the children were all at school. The house was quiet and we spoke at length. When I had finished all of my questions, as I do at the end of all my interviews, I asked Mauricio, whether there was anything he wished to add. He thought about this for a moment and then looked right at me.
“Don’t forget about us,” he pleaded. “Everyone else forgets about us but you – you remember us.”
I promised that I would.
I as wrap up this account of my first three weeks living with families in the Andes Mountains, I recognize, that I can’t have possibly captured all of the moments that pervaded my time in Antuyo and have indeed shaken the foundation upon which I have built my view of the world. It is an incredible thing to be welcomed into the home of those who have so little, whom happily offer all that they can, not only with a smile but with insistence. Indeed, their generosity was so great, that at times I forgot how poor they are. But they are poor. For a full week of back-breaking work on the canal, each person was paid a salary of 20 soles – less than $7. At the end of my stay, a high electricity bill was the source of much angst. The bill: 12 soles – about $4. (As I had been using electricity to charge my equipment each night, I insisted on paying it).
In addition to the many moments I have described in Antuyo, there were many others – the details of which escape me. There were moments of sheer awe in which the mountain view that my eyes never took for granted offered indescribable miracles of nature. Like in the first hours of the morning, when the mountains blocked the sun’s dominance of the sky, creating the illusion of a battle between the moon and its peaceful nighttime stars and the sun which pushed the night from the sky with all of the power of its daylight. Moments of fears in which guard dogs chased me from their property as I made innocent hikes around the mountains. There were small triumphs of joy when I climbed trees with Bernardo, who sang the whole time, and remembered again what was to be a kid with nothing to do but get dirty, play and be home before dark. Undoubtedly, there were moments of difficulty and foreigness, times when I felt of a different world and that I couldn’t stand another minute there. But above all, what I have learned from my time in Antuyo is that while we all inherit different lives – different challenges posed to us that are met with different reactions – we are above all else the same. And while this appearance of other often clouds our vision and ability to see the undeniable truth of similarity that is at our core, when we demand that our eyes see through this fog, the world offers to us the greatest of its gifts: connection – a bridge between two worlds that allows us to learn, to understand and to grow.