I’m going to be honest, these past two weeks in Peru have really opened my eyes to my privilege. Growing up, I had seen and understood this level of poverty in the Philippines - though having food on the table was never a worry for me. Both my parents have degrees, taught at University and had good paying jobs when we lived there. We may not have been ‘rich’ by Western standards, but at the least, they had the means to help us migrate as a family. My parents’ hard work and determination afforded me this privilege.
What is privilege? Why do I think it’s hit me in Peru, and not when I go home to the Philippines? Privilege is an advantage that a person or group has because of their social position or economic status. Even though I have called New Zealand home for the last 27 years, I have been back to visit the Philippines since. It’s not that I turn a blind eye to the poverty or social injustices, we just grew up accepting that it’s the way of life. The culture is so ingrained that to affect change will be multi-generational, way beyond my own.
Rural Peru, particularly Zorritos, reminds me a lot of the Philippines.
The glaring difference is the language, though with our shared Spanish colonial heritage, even that is familiar. Same, same but different.
What’s changed? Seeing firsthand the sombre plight of many Venezuelans that managed to cross the border into Peru. You see them walking along the Pan-American highway, searching for jobs, homes, a new life. Many camp along the beach, though I didn’t realise this when I first walked past the tents one morning. I remembered how on the way to Zorritos from Tumbes, my taxi driver, John, explained to me in his broken English that the roads in Peru were full of displaced Venezuelans in search of hope.
I’ve been getting to know some of the staff - one of them came to Peru with his brother. He had been a Biology teacher in Merida, Venezuela. It took them nine days to walk to Peru. That’s right, not by bus or plane, they walked. He was one of the lucky ones - his youth and physical health allowed him to make the journey. Would he go back? Could he go back? Economic instability in any nation will eventually rob them of their brightest minds.
Another usually serves our breakfast in the morning - she teaches us Spanish and we teach her English. I don’t think I will ever forget how to order scrambled eggs in Spanish. When she smiles, there’s a mischievous glint in her eyes that never fails to make me laugh. She too is from Merida. I don’t know how long she’s lived in Zorritos or how she came here.
Travelling, that state of constant transition can afford us immunity to the stresses of daily life. How often have we visited developing countries and become frustrated by the lack of infrastructure - like rubbish blowing in the wind or cosmetic fixes in buildings? There’s a belief that to instill a positive cultural change, we must first learn, understand and live within the native culture. That’s a choice I will have to make at the end of my planned eight month sabbatical from my “normal” life - can I give up the creature comforts of New Zealand and embrace a different way of living?
Having the ability to choose, that is my true privilege. Here, under the canopy of Zorritos’ overcast skies, I procrastinate. There will be time, because tonight, there is only one thing on the brain.
Ronna Grace Funtelar is a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and slam poet currently based in Peru. She is a hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.