The World Is A Different Place: A Week In Peru
Progress is evident everywhere. My husband’s company has just joined the United Nation’s efforts to implement green strategies into their business model and they’ve announced they’re hiring a storyteller. We’re not sure what kind of stories the storyteller will tell, but my husband’s just glad he’ll be retired by the time he’s forced to listen. He just wants to work. He doesn’t have time for stories.
I have my own stories to tell. I was recently in Peru for a week and I’ve noticed some profound changes in the country over the 25 years I’ve been visiting there. While the United Nations likes to tout the progress made in Peru’s standard of living, at least 20 percent still live on less than a dollar a day. And while Peru is rich in natural resources, they’ve been exploited by more powerful countries and now seem to be controlled by international organizations like the United Nations, the Organization of American States, APEC and the World Bank.
Lima is beginning to act like New York City, with its $14 glasses of wine and $300 per night hotel rooms. The people on my tour thought nothing of it, having grown accustomed to this kind of ridiculousness in America, but 25 years ago you could eat a five-course meal in Peru, including a nice bottle of Chilean wine, for less than $25.
The people of Lima, a city of more than 10 million people, are much more savvy. They’re feeling emboldened by American corporations setting up shop in the city with their fancy rooftop bars and expensive wine lists. I’m sad to say the money benefits the corporate hotels more than it does the people of Lima.
You have to travel across the Andean Mountains to Cusco to feel as if you’ve landed in normal. Cusco is where people visit to get access to Mach Picchu, and it’s a beautiful little city 11,000 feet above sea level–a mix of Inca and Spanish buildings and a lively colonial central plaza that has, sadly, been adding McDonalds and KFC to their restaurant lineup.
American corporations have been building hotels in Cusco to exploit the wealthy tourists who travel there, and prices are in line with our new U.S. prices, but if you can see past the Americanization of the mountain communities, you will see a people who are still very close to their families and who still take great pride in their work. Perfectly coiffed older waiters in boutique hotels watch each of their tables closely, dashing in and out of view, ready to remove a salad plate or fill your water.
Children shuffle to school together in their perfectly pressed uniforms, and Christianity is still a central focus in school and at home. Their ethics and moral values are still very much intact and besides the annoying hawkers on the streets, all visitors are treated with uncanny kindness and respect. Peru doesn’t have worker shortages and employees there don’t yet feel apathy about working, so away from the giant cities, people still take pride in their jobs. Most Peruvians are still of the mindset that a job is a privilege and they show up everyday ready to work and to give it their best.
I can’t tell you how refreshing this all was. We felt like we spent a week in a time far removed from our own–we were relaxed, cared for, and safe, no cameras filming our every move, no apathetic airline or hotel clerks, no waiting 15 minutes at a restaurant table to be recognized by staff.
Still, I doubt this mindset can continue. The Peruvians I spoke to talked about the new apathy and progressivism in their younger people who have access to the internet and are thus integrating the ethos of the greater world into their psyches. Religion is slowly being replaced by materialism as corporate entities teach the Peruvians to yearn for more buying power. I doubt it will be long before the ethnicity and cultural bearing of Peru will be whitewashed in a pool of bland, corporate nihilism.
It’s already happening. Twenty-five years ago, I got off a plane in Cusco and was treated to the sound of Andean flutes everywhere I went. Their haunting, melodious sound filled me with a feeling of the great past of both the native Incas who last settled the mid-Andean region and the Spanish who brutally conquered them.
There is no Andean music there today, save for our last day near Machu Picchu. An Andean band played for a while during lunch. I have to say, there is less magic there than there used to be. Even Machu Picchu, which is now controlled by UNESCO, an organization of the United Nations, which dictates the rules of the world’s great ruins and historical sites, is less of a visit and more of a highly controlled shuffle on a pre-determined path through the ruins.
I remember when you could go to Machu Picchu with a picnic and walk wherever you like.
Perhaps you see the good in all of this change across the world, but I don’t. The magic of our diverse and varied earth is being dulled and it seems to benefit very few except the corporations and the people who benefit the most.