I had the great fortune to travel to Peru a few years ago. It was part of a leadership program that focused on agricultural and rural living. I did learn a lot while in the two-year program, but I felt like it was more like conservatism 101. I am grateful for the opportunity, however. It was an investment made in my by the institution for which I am on faculty. So, I will tell you a bit about my trip. When I’m not trips, I take copious notes, so my plan is to share those with you, sporadically. I should tell you that my journal notes were mandatory reading for a U.S. Army Command who had an assignment in Peru about three years ago. That was very exciting!
“If you smile at me, I will understand; ‘cause that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language.” That is David Crosby’s first line of his song, Wooden Ships, and it was my greeting to security at Wichita Airport, and thus began my 4,234-mile (one-way) adventure to Peru. The quote was on the paper liner in the plastic boxes where travelers put their personal items to go through x-ray while they step through the metal detector. Other than being greeted by one of my all-time-favorite songs, I thought, “What a perfect way to begin a trip!”
My philosophy of travel is to view every experience as an adventure, and I’m always grateful for whatever happens. I think it’s important when visiting other countries to go without expectation and to leave the lenses through which I see my middle-class life at home. If I expect that every part of the world should be just like home, then I should stay home. What would be the point of travel?
With that said, I must say that Peru was absolutely delightful. The food was marvelous no matter what part of the country we were in. The people were beautiful, happy, and welcoming. They were eager to share their culture, their food, their drink, and mostly, their country.
I will use this space, occasionally, to tell you about what I learned in Peru. We were greeted at the Lima (the capital of Peru and its largest city with 9 million people) airport by many people waiting for loved ones to return from trips. When we loaded the bus, an ambitious young man helped us load our luggage. I appreciated his ambition, and I was glad to offer a tip. You see, Peru is a country of working poor. One-third of the population lives in poverty. Most affected are rural and inner-city people, so one becomes ambitious and entrepreneurial at a young age. Nationally, poverty is measured at 100% when a family of three earns the U.S. equivalent of $2,640 annually. Compare that to U.S. where a family of three is at 100% of poverty earning $19,530 annually. However, we must remember that poverty is relative to average earnings in a country.
In Lima, we visited the U. S. Embassy, where we heard from the Ambassador and had a USDA briefing. In the years since the horrors of Alberto Fujimori’s “reign”, Peru has seen a 6.4% annual growth in its gross domestic product, and it’s had a 1-2% budget surplus. Poverty is pervasive, because many people are still not convinced that democracy and prosperity are real. Right now, the Peruvian currency is appreciating against the U.S. dollar. The greatest booming economies are agriculturally related. Right now, the U. S. is not exporting as much wheat as usual because of the drought. Peru has a moratorium on genetically modified organisms, so that hurts some U.S. exports to Peru, too.
I am sharing a photo of a moment I share with a lady in the village of Urubamba. The people there still speak their native language, Quechua. Luckily, the village escaped colonization by Spain those centuries ago.