Spontaneous Salsa Night: Perks of life in Lima

Last night I had one of those moments when I just love that I live in a big ol’ messy metropolitan smorgasbord like Lima. In this particular case, I have Salsa to thank.

Since mid-December, I have been attending free Salsa lessons during Sunday evenings. They are taught by two youth who regularly participate in the Joining Hands Network’s youth activities, Norman and Angel.

I headed over for what would be my third class a bit before 4:00 yesterday and arrived around 4:20. The classes technically start at 4:00, but my tenure in Peru left me unsurprised that I was the first to arrive.

After waiting for 10 minutes though, I started to wonder if I had missed an announcement that classes were canceled. As soon as I decided to give it another five minutes, up walked someone that I thought I recognized from past weeks.

He introduced himself as Jairo and asked if I was here for Salsa. Then he informed me that everyone was headed over to Barranco for an “event” and I’d need to pay 10 soles ($3-$4) to get in. I was not really sure what that “event” would be, but I apprehensively agreed. I’m not much of a Salsa dancer, but I valued the chance to keep dance and making new friends in the Salsa circle.

A quick note for context, Barranco is three districts over from where I live, or two bus rides, totaling an hour of transit. This was not exactly a small commitment, but my YAV sense of participation moved me to jump on board.

I asked a few casual questions to make sure that these new friends were who they said they were and off we went in a cab to arrive at the doorstep of the large, admittedly foreboding, Barranco Bar.

I greeted Norman as I walked in, with pumping bass and blazing rhythms greeting me in return. That and a dancefloor packed with some fantastic, amateur Salsa dancers.

It appeared I had stumbled into a white party sponsored by every Salsa school, club, and competition in Lima. Dancers ranged from years of experience to just a few months.

At this point, it might be helpful to remind the reader that I set out that afternoon to attend my third Salsa lesson. Needless to say, I did not light up the dancefloor. The only steps I seemed to get right were those with other feet below them.

An hour in, a club promoter led us all in Rumba lessons. Don’t get your hopes up, I’m not a particularly gifted Rumba dancer either, but it’s still a blast. Halfway through these lessons the lead singer of some mildly famous Salsa band came in to add some musical energy to the lesson.

My poor dancing in mind, I kept a more passive role. It was far more enjoyable to just watch other lifelong dancers blow my mind.

In fact, I got the special treat of watching a choreographed dance by 30 of the most renowned Salsa instructors and professional dancers within the Salsa subculture in Lima, which included Norman. There was some incredible talent on that floor and I for the not the last time that night internally bemoaned my lack of a camera.

After unsuccessfully, but enjoyably trying my feet at a Salsa circle I decided to call it a night. I headed home winded, but just pleased with the direction my Sunday had taken. Lima’s got it’s perks, no doubt about it.

Life Update Part Two: A Fantastic Church

I was going to speak at great length to how wonderful my new church, Congregación Luterana Cristo Rey, is. I was going to talk about their fantastic welcoming tradition of singing to visitors, in addition to their habit of singing their own “Happy Birthday” song to those who celebrated during the week before. That stuff is all still fantastic and part of the loving community, but I thought of a better way to communicate their purpose.

Then they recently published an open letter to their Facebook page critiquing the leadership of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and inviting them to be more welcoming to all Christians. This leadership discouraged the participation of LGBTQIA Christians and actively excluded “El Camino,” a group working for inclusive ministry in Peru.

There is no place in Christianity (and arguably most religions) for the selective exclusion of any group of people.

Humans are intersectional one and it is common to take on many distinct religious, racial, gender, sexual, and ethnic identities. There is no reason to sacrifice one of those identities for the advancement of another. Cristo Rey takes the time to explain exactly why that is and invite others to recognize that truth.

I’m completely in support of Cristo Rey and so thankful that they have also welcomed me in the last month as a guest in their congregation. They make some incredible points about intersectionality as well.

I include the translation below, but check out the actual post for yourself.

“Christ King Lutheran Congregation
OPEN LETTER, motivated by a hurtful act that occurred during the Week of PRayer for the Unity of Christians from January 17-24, 2014.

We are a Church that celebrates diversity: The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, teaches us that we should pray for unity of the Church everywhere, it instructs us that we should unite in prayer, without distinction whatsoever. For this reason, we have joined with the other Christian denominations that are protestant, Catholic and Orthodox during the 8th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
We are an Ecumenical Church. And we recognize that this is a difficult path because it requires me to tolerate what I don’t understand or share. But we desire to overcome the tolerance to arrive at acceptance of each other, though we are distinct, with the hope to arrive to an us, that is an “Us in Christ, members of the same universal church.”
Desiring the true unity: We reject any type of discrimination in this walk and therefore we deeply deplore the in this opportunity, the Christians of the Inclusive Ecumenical Christian Community, “El Camino” was excluded from participating actively in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity after having been invited to participate because of the ministry they develop with the LGBT community in Peru.
The Lutheran Church Cristo Rey salutes the initiative to bring together the diversity of Christians to prayer for unity and rejects energetically any act of discrimination and loving calls our involved siblings to reflect on this approach and on the contradiction as it is involved with the aim of our prayer. At the same time, we urge everyone to follow in the example of Jesus to draw the excluded of society near without distinction.
May the God of Life lead us to Justice and Peace.

Lutheran Congregation Cristo Rey
Surco, Lima January 2015″

Life Update Part One: A good family

It has been awhile since I gave just a general update on life. I’m still reflecting on a bunch of different ideas, which will be posts sometime soon. Until then, enjoy three part series about my home, church and work life. I’ll start with home.

I am halfway through my second week of living with the Romero Mazzinis and it is going really well. In some ways I live extremely well, while in others it is surprisingly not ideal. On one hand, my family is very active and likes to invite me to events. Plus I have access to wi-fi. On the other hand, we have frequent power outages due to a poor electrical system in the house, there is a current cockroach infestation, and I am sleeping on the equivalent of a hospital cot. As Jenny says, there are pluses and minuses with every family situation.

In this case though, I am really enjoying the pluses ranging from the grand gestures to the simple shows of care. Take my birthday as an example. My host mom spent hours in the kitchen to prepare a birthday dinner just a week into my stay. David stayed up until midnight waiting to be the first to post on my Facebook wall and give me “saludos,” a hug and wishing of happy birthday. It might seem simple, but it was exceptionally touching to receive that from someone here. This family is excited to welcome me into their way of life.

Let me introduce my family. David is my host brother, who is 29 years old. My host mother is named Isis. I also have a host grandmother, but she just moved in to spend six months with her other. Also, my host uncle and cousin live upstairs.

David in many ways is basically a Peruvian me with a dash of what I think my father was like in his late twenties. He has shoulder length curly hair, a massive beard and glasses. He has worked extensively in interfaith and ecumenical coalitions. He values progressive social causes.  He leads various youth ministries throughout Lima. He frequently argues about theology with his closest friends. He closes every grace with a sarcastic, “destroy my enemies!” The main difference between us is that he used to be an art teacher and is not particularly gifted at mathematics.

I met David at a youth conference around facing climate change, where Jed pointed him out to me as a well-connected leader in Lima. Over time, I built a connection with him, taking him up on his invitation to church and attending his birthday party. In that time, I learned that he is one of the most progressive people I have ever met on many social issues, including the welcoming LGBTQIA folks, which is very rare in Peru. In fact, he is challenging other Peruvians in a way I, as a foreigner, cannot to be more accepting of the disenfranchised members of society. In fact, David is quick to argue his point on many issues.

This often leads him to bicker with my host mother on topics ranging from his hair length, to his political opinions, to his conduct with our host grandmother. Admittedly, Isis tends to argue right back with David. The two rarely let the little things go with each other. Below it all though, they truly love each other.

Plus, my host mother loves greatly to all those under her care. She is also quite willing to expand the net of her care quite far, taking not only me, but members of her extended family and friends under her wing as need arises.

Occasionally, that care is a bit paternalistic. I’ve had more than a few moments when I have needed to cave to her way of doing things, because she assumed I had no idea how to do this or that. For now, I am just accepting that as part of living here. It’s more important to just let the little things go and remember that this all comes out of active care and love.

Of course, she does not entirely sacrifice herself in being there for others. She and David were the first in the family to leave the Catholic Church to explore Protestant traditions with her late husband. That did not stop her from staying connected to her family. It is obvious that she worked very hard not to be estranged from her highly Catholic mother.

Still, the family does struggle because of their different religious ideologies and even upbringings. Essentially, Mama Luz was raised in a different era, an era that placed more value on whiteness. She was raised with Anglo Saxon depictions of the Bible and the saints. That led her to openly claim that I, with my light skin and golden hair had the “face of an angel.” No really, that happened. It was as hilarious, as it was casual in its racism.

Basically, Mama Luz is the traditional racist grandparent from a different time. David does not just let this go. Of course, she shoots right back with her own comments on his crazy curly hair and other topics.

This family is no stranger to open and direct bickering. Right now, I am so thankful for that. I’m sure that will become more stressful in the months to come, but after months of working with indirect communication I cannot get enough of mild bickering.

No cultural miscue gets left unmentioned, which at the end of the day helps. I know when and how I have made a mistake, so as to better apologize and avoid a repeat offense.

Admittedly, the honeymoon phase will likely come to an end. I can already tell that David’s argumentative personality grates easily. Plus, my patience may occasionally wear of my host mother assuming I do not know how to do certain mundane tasks. Eventually, killing a few cockroaches every night will stop being novel. Still, those are the problems of living in community. Problems that mean I am in a place where I feel comfortable to be myself.

A little solidarity, a little confusion at the youth protests in Lima

Last Thursday, I attended the tail end of the fourth of a series of protests against Law Nº 30288, or the Youth Labor Regime Law. The government passed this law in December, which reduced the labor rights of workers between 18 and 24.

I hesitate with that statement because I am not grounded enough in Marxism to make a statement so aligned with class warfare. I think it is an easy way to create divisive debate that sidetracks a dialogue.

Despite my apprehension, I do not know another way to characterize the effects of this law. The law makes young workers ineligible to receive severance pay when dismissed. Also, businesses are only required to offer this age group half the vacation that older workers receive. Finally, Peruvian law requires two standard annual bonuses of a month’s wages for all workers. Under this law, workers from 18-24 are not required to receive that bonus.

There are about the pros and cons of these benefits for any group of workers, but that is another conversation. Instead, I found myself distinctly upset by this clear discrimination. We have a set of rights not allowed to a section of society based on demographic characteristics.

On principle, discrimination is wrong. In this case though, I paused because it just seemed so blatant. There must be some harsh, but pragmatic justification.

I do not see that in this situation. Supposedly the goal is to save money because young adults in Peru often continue to live with their families or receive benefits as university students.

Of course, that is largely inference as I have seen no clear defense of the law other than an intent to save money. That justification is weak and ignores that there are a variety of experiences.

Admittedly, this is a complex situation. Peru is divided between the provinces and Lima in a way that seems unfamiliar to me as a citizen of the United States. Workers’ rights and incomes are critical in Lima, where life is centered on monetary transaction. Money is used in the provinces, but there is a distinct difference in the infrastructure and workers’ rights. Beyond that, I do not understand the nuances that go into Peruvian politics.

I do not need that knowledge to understand that some (probably many) youth need these benefits. Some do not continue living with their families and depend on being treated like an adult. It feels somewhat unnecessary to say that, but someone had to get this wrong to get the law passed.

Thankfully, many of all ages have responded by marching against the law and crying to have their voice heard.

Five thousand marched last Thursday. I was heartened to see so many making their voice heard, yet while on the ground I was a little concerned at the disorganization.

The groups did not meet in the central plaza for a demonstration against the government. Instead they seemed to mill about in clumps, each shouting its own chant. At some point, a major group lit two effigies of some rats, which they waved around. I am assuming that was something to do with symbolism related to the government.

It was pretty disorganized. That is not to say that this stops progress. There were some youth who were able to enter the Congressional building to have their voices heard by the lawmakers.

Instead, disorganization can trigger various dangers. Sometimes, a few protestors become violent, warranting an exaggerated response from police. The disorganization compounds the dangers of non-lethal responses from police as people run in terror. It’s no stretch of the imagination to see trampling occur.

Of course, the police should not respond by launching tear and pepper gas as occurred Thursday night, but the reality is that this occurs. David summed that up best when he turned to me with uncontrollable tears streaming from his bloodshot eyes and shouted as we ran, “Welcome to the manifestations!” (Manifestaciones is the word for protests in Spanish. His English is pretty good, but I couldn’t resist sharing that little false cognate, which provided some humor amidst the controlled chaos.)

Whether in Ferguson or Lima, tear gas is a common response to protests. The issue is it can quickly create more chaos in an attempt to restore calm and order. Luckily, enough folks at the march maintained their wits.

That is just so frustrating to see. Oftentimes, the cause gets sidetracked as people defend their right to protest instead of maintaining the cause they mean to defend.

I saw exactly that happen Thursday night. Eight thousand police officers responded to 5,000 protesters pushing them away from the central plaza where they protested using tear and pepper gas. Traffic stretched back for miles. A mall closed its doors as protestors streamed away from the central plaza seeking shelter. Uninvolved folks were diverted from their lives as the police forced everyone to channel away from the mall.

It is disheartening to see a protest spin out of control like that. My hope is that people will not respond callously to being “inconvenienced” by these protests, but rather be moved to recognize the plight of this law on society. Having watched the #BlackLivesMatter protests and responses in the U.S., I am not overly confident.

I don’t make that parallel lightly. For whatever reason, I have been let down by the responses to popular protests in recent history. Governments answer protests by shutting them down. The general public bemoans being inconvenienced. Media focus on the occasionally blurry line between protest and riot. The protesting group is ignored and no further dialogue occurs.

As I bring this post to a close, I admit that I’m not sure what my larger point is. I suppose this all aligns Dr. King’s claim that “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

I have always felt he was referring to the need to organize and intentionally work for change. At the same time though, this quote explains why protests seem disorganized and ineffective. Progress is slow. A group of protests are not a magic bullet, but the sacrifice, suffering, and struggle of every protest are so necessary to creating lasting, progressive change.

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Slightly altered baptism: Just enjoying, not analyzing

In what the pastor called a divine coincidence or lack thereof, a la C.S. Lewis*, there was a baptism on Jesus’ Baptism Sunday.** While those moments are admittedly intriguing, it was a related, but separate moment that led to this post.

I was unexpectedly moved during the ritual of baptism. I say unexpectedly because I have been to my share of baptisms in my life: Standard baby baptisms, adult baptisms, immersion baptisms, and others I am likely forgetting. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in these services and be reminded of why baptism matters.

Rev. Pablo spoke about how lucky five-year-old Miguel was to be at an age where he would remember his baptism. Baptism marks you as a child of God, he said, so most parents hurry to have it done.

I often wrestle with this element of baptism. Does God not recognize those who go unbaptized? What does it mean if you were not baptized? These aren’t earth-shattering questions, but important all the same. Of course, spiritual leaders rarely grapple with them during the happy occasion of baptism.

As far as I could tell, this was no different during our service. Though I continue to struggle with the spiritual weight we place on this ritual, I was thankful that we chose instead to just enjoy the moment. Often, I (and this is not unique to me) privilege analysis over enjoyment.

The baptism began familiarly. Rev. Pablo baptized in the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Ghost (not gender inclusive, but what are you gonna do?). Miguel resisted giggling as the water trickled down his forehead and the nape of his neck.

Then, Rev. Pablo invited his mother, godparents, sister, and cousins to come forward and bless him with the water themselves. “I’m not the one with the magic touch,” he said. “You are all a part of this.”

It was a simple, but powerful twist. It recognized that a crucial part of every baptism is the communal commitment to fostering faith.

As the baptism came to a close, Rev. Pablo, sprinkled each of us with water used in the ritual as flicked from a pine branch. A physical reminder to accompany the more metaphorical, spirituality provided by the baptism.

These were both new spins on the ritual. I do not know if they are unique to Cristo Rey or if they are part of the Lutheran tradition, or a tradition here in Peru.

I will find that information out, but that is in the interest of analysis, the accumulation of knowledge. Analysis is a critical part of my YAV year, but right now, I am just enjoying that moment.

*Still trying to find a clear reference to what he was talking about in Lewis’ writing. If you know of one, let me know!
**The Sunday on which we commemorate Jesus’ baptism by his offbeat cousin, John the Baptist. There’s excessive humility, symbolic doves, and Jesus reminds John that he matters.

Begrudgingly-made, but necessary New Year’s Resolution

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions. It’s no deep philosophy or anything and maybe I just think I’m too cool or something, but honestly I just rarely put much thought into it. I always say the same old, “Why do we make one particular special time of year so special? We can make real changes any time of the year!”

Guess what though? I’m finished 2014 on a pretty low note. I’m in the “trough” of the cultural adjustment timeline. I have experienced a few of the scariest moments of my life. I have made a few of the worst mistakes of my life. Due to all this, I ended many relationships on a negative note. Seriously, I can think of at least five people in Peru who consider me a terrible person. That’s weird for me. People really tend to like me. So I’m working through a lot of regret.

With that in mind, it’s a perfectly appropriate time for me to make a few resolutions. I am not solely responsible for the majority of negative moments from this past year, but I have more than my fair share of culpability. So I’m resolving to change what I can change. And it just so happens to be New Year’s. Call it a coincidence.

Now that I’ve established that this is not a cliché, basic “New Year’s Resolution” post (though it totally is), I can continue.

I have made several mistakes since arriving here in Peru. They range from the careless to the selfish, the ignorant to the petty. The consequences ranged from a complete reset of a YAV year to several destroyed relationships.

In fact, several folks in Peru do not like me and will not remember me positively after I leave. There is little I can do to regain their favor. That does not really happen to me. It might sound boastful, but people usually like me.

I do not take sole responsibility for all these broken relationships, but my mistakes hit pressure points and unintentionally broke some relationships.

Mainly, these errors show a distinct shift from my attitude several months ago. In September, I danced with an old church lady in the middle of a chicken restaurant. Now, I’m fairly shy around the office.

Also, I’ve sort of lost the intentionality with which I entered this year. During orientation, I woke up every morning to wash the dishes for my host family. I often did the same for my host family in Ayacucho. I sought active kindness towards those I interacted with.

Last week though, I greatly upset my landlady by leaving the apartment unclean by her standards. She sent along a laundry list of complaints, which felt terrible to read. Admittedly, I found her reaction a bit more intense than was truly necessary, but still, I could have done better. And I am fairly upset with myself about it.

I was upset not that I had become petty. I had had poor interactions with my landlady. She was not understanding that I left the kitchen unclean while cooking my dinner and she was quick to blame me without reason when I told her the toilet was not working well. I soon discovered the sink was draining slowly, yet due to her reaction to the toilet, I had no desire to be the informant. Sure it meant a nasty sink, but I told myself that my hands were tied. Plus, the “full” kitchen does not include a trash can or a broom. It’s far from useable as a “full” kitchen and I was fairly frustrated.

So what did I do? I allowed my spite towards my landlady and the kitchen motivate me to leave an unswept floor and unwashed sink, telling myself that the biweekly cleaning service would take care of it.

Mainly, I left the tenants’ shared kitchen mildly unclean before

It starts as a standard tenant disagreement. The shared kitchen is advertised as fully-equipped, but there is no shared trash can, broom, or remote cleaning equipment. There is, however, a bi-weekly cleaning service. Additionally, every tenant signs a list of norms that they promise to keep to about keeping the place clean.

I’m not really proud of that. Four months ago, I would have cleaned the sink regardless of any anger with my landlord. Now, I left it as it was.

In the end, it was clear that she held me in pure disdain and I had let spite dictate how I made choices. That’s fairly un-YAV. Plus, worst of all, I gave Jenny even more unnecessary stress and work. I have already given her plenty of additional work this year and this spitefulness only gave her more.

So what’s wrong? Why am I taking the easy way out? At the end of the day, it comes out of self-care. I’ve had a terrible few months. I’ve struggled through issues and challenges that are far from the storybook YAV year and tried to just carry on instead of manage them properly.

That was not smart. Of course, it was hurtful to myself, but it also caused me to disconnect from Peru. Outside of my housing issues, I lack the oomph to get moving in my new placement with Bridge of Hope.

So, I’m resolving to change that. I’m resolving to get back to the enthusiasm. I’ll be better at that if I resolve to take care of myself. I’m resolving to be more intentional. I’m resolving, if you will, to “clean the sink.”

And I’m getting something of a fresh slate. The remaining non-emotional negatives from 2014 are largely gone at this point. I’ll be moving in with a new host family, that of David, who attends the church I have started going to and is a friend at this point. I actually found them too, which is kind of exciting!

That being said, I’m not going to avoid reconciliation. I will apologize to my landlady and explain why I acted the way I did. It’s no excuse, but it will at least help me feel better.

Once that is through, I am just hopeful that I will be able to throw myself at being a better member of my new host family. I want to be more connected to the family and the big moments of the year. I want them to be more connected to my life and my big moments this year.

Plus, I’m going to take care of myself more. I’ve let Living Simply often get in the way of moments of simple pleasure and hold me back from happiness and that is not okay. Living Simply is not about being as cheap as possible, that is in fact in direct contrast to the greater goal, I believe.

With that more established home dynamic and greater self-care, I’m hopeful that I’ll just be more invested in Peru and in my work. Plus, I really do need to clean the sink.

Reflections on Tourism in Puno

Surprise, surprise, I was a tourist and felt a lot of conflicted feelings. Some of them are valid. Mainly, I am working on some positive takeaway or suggestion for future tourism in my life and yours if you would like.

The YAVs went on a packed first vacation. From visiting islands on the highest navigable lake in the world, to trekking through the fourth deepest canyon in the world, to lighting fireworks off for New Years’ Eve, there was a lot to enjoy, learn from, and reflect on.

We challenged our physical limits at altitudes topping 4,000 meters. We learned various fascinating, but obscure facts about local cultures, flora, and fauna of southeast Peru.

Peru is an amazing place for tourism. It comes across as a tourist paradise, with 20 out of 36 total climate zones, superlative natural features, diverse wildlife, storied ruins, and many distinct culture traditions. There’s adventure tours, food tours, culture tours, and most others that come to mind.

Peruvian and multinational tourism companies have honed their execution. So honed that you definitely don’t need to plan your travel ahead of time. In fact, we found that it saves you both money and logistical stress. Online companies want to make some additional profit and know that you’re ignorant of the specifics, so they’ll highly overcharge. Additionally, I found no change in reliability on time. Our booked-in-person trekking trip was double the length of time while our online-booked rafting trip was half the time. The point is don’t stress about planning a vacation in Peru, there are always amazing things to find when you arrive.

Still, no matter my planning strategy, I always get uncomfortable with the paternalism in these tours. Our tour guide on the Uros and Taquile Islands on Lake Titicaca directed what the indigenous folks we met did and barely allowed them to speak to us. Instead, he did all the talking.

He shared a lot of useful information and more than likely there would have been no difference in content, but there is still something uncomfortable about the tour dynamic.

As part of the tour, island members said hello and thanked us for our presence.

When our tour guide showed us a long gun used for hunting, he brandished it, while the president of the island just held up a piece of bird jerky. Likewise, the president showed us how to build an island out of reeds, like Uros, but did not participate in the explanation.

The tour guide dominated all information exchange. It felt as if the actual people of the place we were visiting were there to play parts in a narrative rather than have their own voice. And, honestly, it’s always like that.

It got worse when I saw things that contradicted the cute storybook description of the culture of Taquile Island. Our guide informed us that the indigenous folk wear traditional dress inspired by Spain. When I pointed out a boy walking in a hoodie and jeans, he explained that that boy must have left the house quickly because you should not leave your house without the correct clothing. I could feel him stretching the truth to fit his story in attempt to reconcile the digestible picture he had attempted to give us.

Additionally, there were clear positive spins. The phrase, “They don’t get divorced on Taquile Island, they are happily married forever,” is spun as happily as possible. To me, that would be an extremely sad reality, especially as many are married as young as 20. While I have no idea of the legitimacy of this statement, I find boasting it to send a disturbing message about the culture, which I would have preferred to learn about from a member of the culture.

In the end I left having learned a lot, but feeling uncomfortable with myself and the tour. The root of the discomfort was that these negatives come out of a desire to cater to tourists. Tour guides handle all communication because it would take much longer to allow a representative of the culture to talk and translate that. It may not change the information shared and it saves time. Tourists want the smoothest, most comfortable experience possible. I can’t get angry at companies that provide that.

It makes me highly uncomfortable, but that’s not what actually upsets me. The outcome though is a decline in cross-cultural exchange, which is one of the main positives created by travel. It cheapens the interaction in order to make it digestible for tourists and, in my opinion, damaging to members of the culture.

So, I admit, this is the one bit of tourism that you shouldn’t wait for the last minute to set. Before the tour I found a few NGOs that offered more sustainable and culturally appropriate tours. I chose not to pursue them and feel mildly hypocritical for that now. It seemed a more complicated process and I went for the easy, smooth tourist option instead.

Sometimes, though, I wonder about how much better those options are. Either way, it’s a highly short visit. It will not create real friendships or connections. It is unlikely you will be able to share moments of true communication. Plus, it’s easy for alternative tour agencies to put on a better face, while just cashing in on people’s desire to “be more than a tourist.”

Honestly, the difference comes down to a gesture. Except a profit-driven industry will always struggle to capture a nuanced gesture.

At the end of the day, it comes down to allowing indigenous groups more of a say in the process. It’s important they have the right to refuse participation or contribute to the business model. They are a major stakeholder and should be treated as such.

I can’t decide what the proper outcome should be, but I think we can all agree that is a more equitable choice on the input side of the industry.