Saturday, January 17, 2009

Observing the Observer

4:30am—I awakened after a short hour of sleep-induced fog serenaded all night by the drunken party next door. Peruvians like to party and dance, and that’s that. The sound of horn-beeping taxis outside escorting those in their hazy mist lifted my desire to sleep. Ramón, the hotel manager who said he would wake me up at 4:15am to prepare for my trip, was passed out kneeling on the floor with his body draped face-down into the couch. Thankfully I know the Friday night routine of Peruvian parties and bought my own $3 plastic alarm clock out of distrust for my “man alarm.” A man off the streets sees me waiting for my ride and enters the open gate I thought was locked to protect the hotel guests. He stumbles inside and I am a bit troubled when he walks into my room and closes the door as I am leaving for my cab. There are just some things that you can’t explain.

The ride to the airport was accompanied by the ocean mist of the dark morning and getting through the various hoops to arrive at the waiting lounge for our domestic flight to Cajamarca was uneventful. Too easy. If there is one thing I should have learned by now about getting things done in a developing country, it is this: expect the unexpected.

After a short and pleasant 45-minute flight over the Andes Mountains and majestic views of the Cordillera Blanca (photo shown here), the pilot seems to be circling the green hilly farmlands of Caja below. I recall the first time we entered this bowl of green, couched in the middle of the mountains, and thinking, “this is my new home.” And freaking out, “this is my new home!” After five minutes of circling, the pilot announces that we cannot land due to limited visibility with the wet season clouds clinging low in the air. FYI: they don’t use radar when landing in Caja because it is such a small airport there is no tower, so the pilots land by site. No site, no landing.

Ten minutes pass and we try again. I keep envisioning myself on the ground with Brian, one of the DiscoverHope Fund Board Members who lives in Cajamarca. We are so close! The pilot mumbles a quick message in rapid Spanish, and I know from the noise activity on the plane that we are going back to Lima. I also know that there will be no flight this afternoon since approaching in the afternoon is impossible as the skies fill with rain and more clouds during wet season. I notice how annoyed and angry I am, sitting next to Mahlon, an old gringo friend who happened to be traveling up at the same time. In fact, we carry on together about how we are both annoyed. I look around and everyone seems calm. I start thinking about the concept of time in our culture and how in general, when our plans don’t go the way “plans are meant to”, we feel we are off course. I always admire the way that Peruvians just accept that time works itself out. It just is. I’ve been in a bank line before that theoretically should have taken 15 minutes and waited 2 hours with no known reason, with everyone around me calm and relaxed while I was fuming.

The wheels hit the ground in Lima and I dread what’s ahead. I know the nonexistence of organization of small matters in Peru, and so I know that working out a plane filled with passengers to get to Cajamarca is going to be tough, really tough. I walk briskly to the baggage area and follow the crowd as we’ve been told nothing yet, and I know that there will be no official announcement, that we’ll just need to catch the crowd mumble to understand what is going on. I see a group surrounding an airline rep in a circle and all I hear him say is “50 seats, tomorrow” and the rest is a blur. These words turn on the “serve thy self” switch in my mind, so I keep walking onward briskly to the counter where we will be processed. This quick move finds Mahlon and I at the front of a line that soon becomes a swell of anger, sadness, and yelling as the airline rep tells the passengers they are not responsible and only 50 people (of the 150 or so) will get on tomorrow’s plane. For the non-first 50, no answer, just a general mumbling about getting them on another flight next week sometime. There is desperation and the scene becomes aggressive as people demand to have an additional flight booked so all the passengers can get to Cajamarca. The airline isn’t bending and I see myself getting edged out of line by nervous and unhappy people. (Cutting is common in Peru, and since women are generally not in power, even more cutting.) In this moment, in the midst of the chaos, I realize that I am operating on the survival of the fittest mode. I am not happy about this, especially because I like to live with all the heart I can. But I see this not-so-pretty part of myself emerge as I seek a boarding pass.
My existential self kicks in…knowledge always seems to be about something or someone else, a “collection” of information about observation. Einstein, amongst others, brought up that the observer was the one variable not being looked at. As such, when we look at the one who is looking, he noted that a whole new world is revealed. From this musing, the Western world welcomed what Eastern thought had known for time: “what you see depends on how you see it.” Paul Ferrini, an author I love, wrote, “If we want to continue to understand the workings of the world, we will study the object and how it behaves. If we want to understand the workings of consciousness, we will study the observer and how it sees.” Observing myself as the observer, I see in this moment that I am very human, wrought with ego. I want to get my pass, amidst the tears and concern around me. I don’t feel proud.

At the counter, we are told that the first 50 people who checked in for the flight that a.m. will be the ones given the boarding passes; everyone else must wait for another time. At least I know that as my boarding pass is handed to me, I am rewarded for my day ahead e-check in, which many locals wouldn’t be able to do in Peru (i.e. access to computer and printer.) So I am rewarded for my access to early check-in. Mahlon and I walk away with our boarding passes, knowing we will follow the same pattern tomorrow and head for Cajamarca. We are “successful” but I am left with the sour memory of my powerful ego obsessing on my boarding pass. As I walk out into the dusty loop of taxis, I can only find solace in the fact that I am awake to what I don’t like about this part of me. There is no reconciliation.

This journey is filled with the ever present challenges that are inseparable parts of doing international development work in a developing nation. There are so many layers to unpeel for you. This work, the work of DiscoverHope and our quest to create opportunity for women in poverty, inevitably gives so many opportunities to us by holding up that mirror for growth.
It reminds me of a piece I wrote about this divide I felt one day on the streets of Cajamarca:

across the concrete divide
the sell desperately.
i am freshly showered.
i am watched while i watch

the rhythm of the day passes with a 20-person street band
and the bells of bread carts
everyone is waiting
waiting for something
maybe something better.
or maybe i'm the only unsettled one
while they can sit on concrete slabs for hours

yet aren't we always seeking?
i want simplicity
they want opportunity
we all want some opening for joy
the woman with half her face covered in mold wants it
the wrinkled hunchback man pushing a cart with 200 oranges wants it
and me, fresh and clean, i want it.

from our unsettled spaces in the human story
we each do what we know
waiting to open new magical golden doors

across the concrete divide
the door opens
and i walk thru.

From Lima, blessings to you as you observe. MM

1 comment:

Andreams said...

Hey Magz - It's A & E. We're so proud of you and enjoyed reading about your journey so far. Hope things have smoothed out. I just got pissed off b/c my comment got erased and I'm having to re-type it (Eli says this is a 'perfect parallel' and good exercise in being the observer. I told him to shut up ;) I'm reading the handbook to higher consciousness right now and it talks a lot about 'needs' vs. 'preferences'. If we can turn our needs into preferences, we can pave a way to a higher way of being. Love you. A & E