Friday, August 1, 2008

All Created Equal?

I woke up this morning mad at Latin American men. (Just a note: the boy in the picture above is Kiwi and has nothing to do with that comment!)

It had little to do with the loud noises of heavy construction going on one floor above my head, or at least not due to the noise itself. For our first 3 days at Inti Wasi Hostel, the roof had been our social center - handwashing clothes, learning Quechua from the owner Irma, reflecting over the 360 degree mountain view, snacking on bread and jam, and the stars. Wow. The stars. Only 2 other times in my life - and I´m a nocturnal person - have I ever seen such canvases of stars - once in Virginia in the Appalachians and once while hiking in the Himalayans of Nepal. But the coolest part is that these are Southern hemisphere stars. Some of which I´ve never seen before in my life because I was too far North! For instance, did you know there´s an almost perfectly shaped heart bordered by a tight, evenly-spaced set of stars? And then the shooting stars... amazing. JooYeon had never seen one before in her life, but we spotted about 15 in a mere 30 minutes on the roof!

On the roof. The roof that no longer exists as of 7:35 am this morning when Alberto started his newest construction project. Alberto is Irma´s husband and drives buses to Machu Picchu - he just came home last night. Our group hung out for an hour downstairs with him, Irma, and his 17 year old son. He kept boasting about his new construction project fueled by tourist money, how he knew so much more English than his ¨stupid¨wife (never mind that consisted of 15 words to her 5), and how he had overpowered his son´s growing culinary skills and dream of becoming a chef by enlisting him in the Peruvian army where he can eventually earn honors and decorations.

So when I awoke to the construction this morning, I was swept up in a rage against Latin American (or any culture´s) machismo. I should mention that, although the erasing of the roof will take away one of our highlights here, I do realize that this is pure selfishness on my part and that the new floor will be beneficial for their family. But that was really only a minor annoyance compared to my disgust at his treatment of his family.

But this is his culture. This is all he knows. Which re-opens a question that has lingered for years in my mind - of course I believe that all people are equal, but are all cultures equal? Or are some more evolved, more sustainable, and - dare I say - even better than others? Is a French man sipping his wine more evolved than an Indian farmer who drops fertilizer pellets in his moonshine? Is an American who treats his wife as an equal on a higher path than Alberto who treats Irma like a slave? Is a Christian or Moslem who belongs to a religion of a billion people more dogmatically correct than a Bondha tribesman whose worship of a specific wooden stick is shared by only 5,000 people? How does one know when to judge and when to accept when the values of two cultures clash?

I don´t know that answer, but I do know what I´m going to do today. I´m going to teach Irma 11 new words in English while Alberto is working on the roof...


  1. You go...I love the part of giving Irma a little English lesson :). Love ya, sis

  2. This is a Slippery slope my friend. What of the American government who started and funded revolutions in South America so that the Banana Farmers would not lose their farms (and more importantly profits) to the people who wanted socialism. Or the constant intrusion of our government into independent countries to keep favorable regimes in power. Or dare I say (like a conversation I remember us having in the past) what about the 'moral superior' Christian missionaries who don’t even care to investigate a culture before they force a belief system for goods type of trade with the locals, which can and has destroyed whole societies only because they did not believe exactly what they believed. And of course there are all the wars started and continuing because of cultural and religious beliefs of superiority. Be careful as you tread on this way thinking. I know it has not served me well when i have delved into this line of thinking.