In 2009 I participated in a Community Project trip to Peru with World Expeditions. It was one long experience of perspective.
Part holiday, part volunteer project, we trekked through the Andes for four days to the village of Tastayoq. There we spent four days building a new bridge across the river so the children could cross safely to get to school. Here’s what the original bridge looked like:
Being there in the dry season, the river was little more than a creek but when the water comes, it can be a raging torrent. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want my children crossing a fast-flowing river on this bridge.
At almost 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) above sea-level, we lugged rocks, mixed cement by hand, pushed wheelbarrows full of gravel and toiled away beside our Peruvian hosts to build this (The timber is just to hold the frame for the cement slab. It was removed after we left.):
When completed, we held an official opening and blessing of the new bridge and celebrated with the villagers. We had brought supplies for the school and some of these were handed out to the children as gifts.
This was my strongest lesson in perspective. The children were so excited to receive a pad of paper and a few pencils. When you live in a stone hut with a dirt floor and no running water, when your toys are the sticks and stones outside your door, some shiny new paper and sharp pencils all of your own must seem like a treasure bounty.
When I returned home, so many people greeted me with “Welcome back to the real world.” If only they knew. I had actually left the real world and come home to Fantasy Land.
For weeks after I returned, I couldn’t even sit with other parents waiting to pick up their children at school. The complaints of “Susie’s gymnastics teacher just doesn’t understand her” or “Johnny isn’t getting enough time on the basketball court” left me with an overwhelming urge to grab the parent by the shoulders and yell, “Get a grip!!”.
I shamefully admit that I did acclimatise back into Fantasy Land eventually and even now I find myself complaining of similar trivial issues. However, I am regularly reminded of my experiences in Tastayoq. On our trek to the village, we had pretty extreme weather. One day it rained so much I got wet right through my coat and three layers of clothing. Now, every time it rains, I remember that experience. It brings first a feeling of exhilaration (I loved our time trekking even when it snowed) then a reminder of the Tastayoq children. And I get a grip on my problems and remember how lucky I am.
- Getting a Grip 1: A Dose of Perspective in the First World (masterofsomethingyet.wordpress.com)