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Student sees beauty and poverty in Peru

By Sonia Jackson
Assistant Web Editor

With clear blue skies, crystal clear waters and awe-inspiring emerald mountains, Peru screams "breath-taking" to the average eye.  Jeshannah Ayala, 22, and a UNCP student at the time, experienced more than the average tourist, living in Peru for a semester with her host family. 

The ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru were rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram

"It's very different both economically and culturally from the United States," Ayala said.

"Everything is faster in the U.S. and time is always of the essence. In Peru, they don't worry about time so much; they don't worry about getting to this place and that place." 

"It took a lot of getting used to, how people really watch and enjoy life as opposed to here. I think sometimes we take things for granted," Ayala said.           

Making adjustments

Ayala not only had to adjust to living in a new place, but also to living with a new family. 

Her host family was very family-oriented with weekends devoted to the family. During the week the husbands worked and many women stayed home.                              

"And I think that that was another thing about Peru, that I saw, that really stood out," Ayala said, as opposed to the U.S. where she thought families sometimes tended to lose that closeness because everyone is busy working or taking care of their own needs. 

An only child, Ayala also had the opportunity to discover what life was like living among a household of eight. Her host family included the father and mother, their son and his family and their daughter-in-law with her daughter and maid. 

"The house was always alive, especially because of the children," Ayala said.

Ayala celebrated her 22nd birthday in Peru, the first birthday she spent away from her family. Being so far from home and her parents, Ayala hadn't expected to enjoy her birthday as much. It became one of her most memorable birthdays, she said.  

Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest lake sitting 12,500 feet above sea level. The lake is also the second largest lake in South America.
The love of family

Ayala recalled how her host family embraced and treated her as family, extending their hospitality.

"They try 110 percent to be there for you and comfort you, despite the language barrier, I felt that connection," Ayala said of her host family.

Language barrier

Spanish is spoken in Peru. Although Ayala already had some background in Spanish, she still couldn't speak as fluently as she would've liked. Her complete immersion into the language initially caused her some anxiety. 

"It was a little bit scary,” Ayala said. "You're put in situations where you basically have to [speak Spanish]; you just do it."  

Her adjustment to the language, and to Peru, was made easier because of her newly made friendships with her fellow students from UNCP. Ayala and her companions were there for each other when moments of homesickness came upon each of them.

"If you think about it, the only other people that really, really understand how you feel are those people that are in the same situation with you," Ayala said. 

Jeshannah Ayala and her host family. Bottom row from left: Amy Orozco. Top row from left: Jennifer Orozco, Victoria Orozco, Maria Jose Orozco, Jeshannah Ayala, Abraham Orozco, Abraham Orozco Jr. and Carla Orozco.

While she was able to take pleasure in the experiences with her host family and friends, as well as the cultural backdrop of Peru and the beauty of its landscape, she couldn't ignore the blemishes of poverty that were in front of her from the moment she arrived. 

"Over there, their level of poverty is very obvious. You see it wherever you go. You'll see children without shoes. People will come up to you and beg for money," Ayala said. 

The poverty there is right in your face. It's a day-to-day thing, and you're bound to see it living in Peru, she said.        

Another visit?

Despite her memorable moments in Peru, and her desire to visit her host family again, Ayala wasn't sure about traveling to Peru again.

"It's like any country that has beautiful scenes and sights for tourists to see and enjoy. The difference with Peru is that they have all these beautiful things, but their…facilities aren't made for tourists. Like in areas where there's a lot of tourists, they don't have bathrooms…and if they have bathrooms they don't have toilet paper," she said. 

Justin Byrum, Kevin Sledge, Hope Robinson and Jeshannah Ayala visited Peru in the fall 2005 semester. 

"Living in a Third World country will always be an eye-opening experience, an unforgettable experience, but you gotta take the good with the bad and you gotta learn from both," Ayala summarized.

About Ayala

Ayala went to Peru through a program that's similar to a cultural exchange program. Professor Liliana Wendorff, who is Peruvian, started this program in the Spanish Department. 

Ayala graduated from UNCP in December 2005 with a degree in Mass Communications-concentrating in Journalism. She is currently applying to graduate schools. Ayala is a member of the Lambda Theta Alpha sorority and lives in Fayetteville.

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke The print edition of The Pine Needle
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Updated: Wednesday, March 1, 2006
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