I got sick.
And I don’t even know how. I woke up with my stomach feeling queasy on my very first morning in Lima. By the second day, I almost didn’t make it to the jungle alive. By the third day, I was still breathing, but the churning feeling in my stomach hadn’t yet left.
Ok, I might be exaggerating slightly, but honestly, I haven’t felt so terrible since I was in 5th grade and spent Christmas Eve throwing up at my grandparent’s house. Before I left for Peru, I swore to the guys that I wouldn’t get sick at all. Paul said he had faith in me, Dan, however, wasn’t quite so convinced.
It’s now my fifth day in Peru and my stomach still feels queasy every time I eat. I’m not even sure what I ate to get sick in the first place. When I arrived in Lima on Sunday night, Dan’s aunt fed me some leftover cake from the family’s mother day celebration and I drank a glass of water from the filter over the tap. Dan had testified that all of these items were “safe” to eat so I’m not sure what could have caused me to wake up feeling bad.
The only thing Dan and I can reason is that perhaps even the filtered water at his grandparent’s house isn’t so clean after all….
And that led to my first big realization since arriving here.
If I can’t even drink the filtered water in the city without feeling sick, then I can’t even imagine how terrible I would feel if I were to drink the unfiltered water in places where the infrastructure is less developed. And if the filtered water has enough bacteria or other harmful substances to make me feel sick, then there must be so much more in the unfiltered water. And yet that is the only water that the people here have to live on.
I know this realization is quite simple and most likely you’ve heard something similar before. I have to share it though, because right now, it is so real to me. I’m sitting in the backseat of a truck as Jose Jorge drives us at top speed through the jungle to Villa Rica. The view of the mountains around us is breath-taking and the air feels refreshing as it whips across my face through the open window. I’m itching to take out my camera and snap a few photos in the fading light because the moment is just so picture perfect.
And yet I must constantly remind myself to disregard the nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. My concentration keeps slipping… I’ve been trying to write this post for hours but I can’t form my thoughts into coherent sentences. I realize now that my body must be severely dehydrated and it is starting to affect thought process. I’ve gone from drinking ample amounts of water every day to drinking maybe one or two water bottles a day. I know this sounds like a simple problem to solve, but in reality, it is not quite that easy. The only water I can safely drink is bottled water. That means that I need to have access to a store whenever I’m thirsty, or otherwise I need to have an ample supply of water bottles with me at all times. I haven’t been smart enough to carry around more than one water bottle.
So my dehydration is my own fault, but I think it’s been an important wake up call for me. Life without water is terrible! I’ve been too self-absorbed to realize just how painful it is not to have clean water until I was the one without it.
Although the people here have conditioned themselves to survive on a limited amount of dirty water, while I have conditioned myself to drink ample amounts of really clean water each day, I know there is an equilibrium amount, and cleanliness, of water that sustains life.
On my first day in the jungle, Jose Jorge, a partner of Reach Trade’s, brought us to Luz María, a community of orange growers nestled in the mountains outside of La Merced. Jose is organizing a festival in honor of the community’s great care for growing oranges with sustainable and organic practices. While we were at Luz María, we saw the community’s water system and bathrooms. They don’t even have toilets. After talking to some of the adults, we found out that the children often have stomachaches, although they don’t attribute this to the water. Below are pictures of the bathroom next to the children’s schoolhouse.
I hardly know anything about water, but I do know that these are not good water conditions. Today, we travelled around La Merced with Jose as he asked different businesses for donations of toilets. Two businesses agreed thus far, so Luz María will have two toilets installed by the time of the festival on Saturday.
I hope that we can eventually help further improve the water system at Luz María by installing water filters. I don’t really know anything about it yet, so first I need to learn about how to test water for different contaminates, and then how to build water filtration systems based on the condition.
There is a lot of work to be done and I haven't even seen a coffee plant!