Every Thursday, I arrive home around 6:30 pm after a womens’ training session that is located in a marginalized community on the outskirts of Chiclayo. The women in this community have come together to start a small income generating initiative. They are learning how to make Peruvian desserts and pastries to eventually sell in their community and surrounding markets. I and another Centro Esperanza volunteer have started to support this initiative alongside the women in the community. Sofia, who is one of the organizers of the initiative, has allowed us to meet under a tarp in front of her house. She also lets us use her kitchen. In Peru, we don´t always have the conditions or resources but we make these kinds of community initiatives happen through the solidarity, generosity, and the collective work of many people.
After a Thursday workshop on how to make chocolate and orange cake, I sat down on the coach in my living room. I smiled to myself thinking about how we all laughed when a fly tried to taste our cake batter. I remember our conversation about the week´s events while our cake was baking. I could still smell the harsh smoke that stings your lungs from garbage burning in the community that afternoon. I remembered how it felt as the wind blew a light shower of dust on us under Sofia´s tarp, the soft dust touching our skin just like when you are baking and get covered in baking flour. My hair and clothes had a grainy feel that is now very familiar to me.
In Chiclayo, like other desert coastal cities, dust is blown into our rooms every day. Dust is a part of living in Chiclayo. After a Thursday afternoon with the women from Sanborja, I often think about how I will miss the feeling of being covered by dust, when I go back to Canada. I often think about the things that have become a part of life in Peru to me and that I will miss. I will miss the sense of humour that people have amidst so many challenges and struggles they endure. I will miss Peruvian food. I will miss the friendships that I have developed with people. I will miss all the people that I work with. I have a long list of things that I will miss. Strangely enough, I will even miss the dust.
I will miss being with people who are working for change in Chiclayo. I find myself amidst people and places where there is deep human suffering. While Peru is one of the world´s growing economies, poverty, corruption, and despair persist in Chiclayo. The streets are often filled with water from a poorly constructed sewer system. Viiolence, crime and desperation are the result of a lack of equal opportunities for all God´s people to access a decent education, health services and job opportunities. Young adults with perfectly good skills and hopes of fulfilling their dreams are urgently looking for paid employment. If they find a job, it is more often than not a job where they are overworked and underpaid. The low quality of public health service puts many lives at risk. I know too many people who have been unable to fully pay for basic health services and treatment when they are sick. The rate of violence against children, youth and women seems to overwhelm so many lives of people that we work in solidarity with. My heart aches for peace.
Luke 10:1-23 shows how the early followers of Jesus experienced the overwhelming needs of their time. The seventy two sent out were told by Jesus to shake the dust off their feet if people in a town do not welcome them. Amidst, the despair, suffering and injustice, I often too can feel that the harvest is plentiful and the labourers few, but I know that Chiclayo´s dust on my feet is a symbol of sharing life and mission for justice and peace in Chiclayo. The dust on my feet, my clothes, floors and in my hair is sacred so I am not shaking Chiclayo´s dust off my feet!