By Jennifer Bell
Annie opened her eyes and felt rested. She felt as if she had slept for three days. Her mind felt like an empty picture album: fresh, empty, without thoughts, without memories, ready to live… However, when she tried to move, she felt pain in her muscles and then knew that something was wrong. She began to panic.
-Where am I? What day is today? What happened?
-Hush, chica. You are safe. Here, take this medicine.
She didn’t know the voice.
-It’s still Friday. You had a seizure. Rest. My name’s Leo.
The following weekend, Annie sat on the combi on her trip from La Molina to meet up with Leo. She had time to make mental images of all that had happened. She knew that it wasn’t intelligent to go to the center of Lima alone, but she was tired of the schedule changes that Marta, the Peruvian woman that Annie lived with, was constantly making. Marta was very kind, but she didn’t want to visit Lima’s treasures. Even though Annie had arrived from the United States a couple months before, she still hadn’t seen any of the historical city. Marta always said, “you can’t go alone—it is too dangerous. I’ll go with you.” However, she always bailed out once Annie was ready to go. The result was a depressed life for Annie: This wasn’t the Peru that she had dreamed of visiting, but a country where she worked all day teaching English and watched television with Gladys at night.
Gladys was an 18 year old girl from Cuzco who had lived with the family for 10 years. She cleaned the desert dust from the house every day, Monday through Saturday, to earn a bit of money. She had ten siblings in Cuzco. At night, she watched television soap operas, in particular. Annie stayed with her because Marta usually went out with her fiancé. Gladys appeared happy, but Annie couldn’t understand the situation which had the children working and asked Marta about the situation:
-How can children work like this?
-They need to work to survive. I know. It looks bad, but all the families in the middle and upper class take somebody in. We give Gladys a good education. She receives money for her family. We are doing a good thing for society.
Annie thought of the small, bland concrete room behind the house where Gladys slept and shut up.
Over the noise of the street, the driver and his assistant yelled the name of the next bus stop, and Annie jumped to attention. She looked at the map she had torn out of the telephone book and the names of the nearest streets. She relaxed again because her stop was still a distance away.
Annie recalled her adventure in the city: Her seizures began in her head alone, interrupting her thoughts once in a while, but they weren’t terrible because they didn’t cause a lack of motor control. Little did she know. Annie decided to take control of her life and went to Center City. It was a perfect day, up until the moment that she had a seizure at La Plaza de Armas. Leo and his police friend had taken her to a safe house to recover afterwards. Leo and Annie had talked about their lives that day, and they became fast friends.
Annie jumped out of the combi and smiled. Leo was waiting for her at la Plaza de Armas. It was a beautiful day, and Annie had many opportunities to take pictures. They bought delicious empanadas from a street vendor, and for years afterwards, Annie could never find empanadas in the United States that quite matched up. They visited the church of St. Francis and the catacombs. Annie was fascinated by the way they divided the bones into categories: a section for the hands, another for the heads: When they left, they were near the river. A paralyzed man approached them with handmade souvenirs. He asked for donations for his cheaply made, dirty things. Leo asked him to show proof of his paralysis. Annie looked with surprise when the man actually showed them how his legs were cut off. Leo gave him money for a keychain.
-How could you treat him like that?
-There are many imposters in this city. We have to help those who actually need the help.
Annie felt frustration with the systems that could take so much care for organizing dead bones without adequately caring for the bones of the living.
At the end of the day, Annie and Leo reached the highest point of the city. Annie looked over the city of Lima containing more than 7.6 million people in a circle between the sea and desert mountains where the poor migrants live.
-I could have never imagined this. It is huge. And beautiful…
-You have cities in the United States, right?!
-But I come from a small town. It makes all the difference, my friend. All the difference.
-When are we going to leave?
-Patience, beautiful. Be patient.
It was three weeks later, and Leo had been invited to Huancayo to visit his relatives. A 10 year old child entered the bus with a bag of candy. He stopped and spoke rapidly about his need and added a blessing from God for all who helped. Then he walked to the back of the bus.
-Do you want something?
-But…Marta told me that I never ought to give money or buy anything from children because their parents are only using them to beg.
-Ah, this child needs money for school. And there are also children who really need help. Child, here, tell me, what are you studying?
Annie thought about how it is really difficult for someone like her to know what to do, while Leo talked with the boy. Five more people entered the bus wearing brightly colored sweaters.
-Finally. The bus is full. We are leaving.
The trip took hours. They left the dry dusty mountains of Lima and the desert and finally entered the dangerous Andean mountains. Annie looked at the peaks of the Cordillera Occidental covered with snow and the narrow, winding gorges below the road.
-You are too scared. We are going to get there safely.
Always confident, Leo wasn’t afraid of anything. He was an extrovert. His relaxed manner and street knowledge seemed to be natural characteristics. He worked as a goldsmith, he was 7 years older than Annie, and he didn’t have a girlfriend. Annie, on the other hand, had a boyfriend in the United States.
-Your aunt…Have you called her to tell her that I am coming too?
-Of course not. I don’t have a phone and although I could call her from a public phone, she doesn’t have a telephone to receive calls. We always visit without calling. It is the custom.
Annie tried to imagine a world without a telephone and couldn’t. They arrived in Huancayo finally and took the minibus to Muquiyauyo, the village where the family lived. They walked under the words “Muquiyauyo Blesses You” at the same time that the sheep came home from the green fields. Annie and Leo moved to the side when all the sheep walked through the street to their individual families. Leo’s family was kind to Annie, and his aunt added more vegetables to the soup.
-Leo, are you going to marry this girl?
-Sorry, we only have one bed. You have to share.
-If you touch me, I will kill you. Do you understand?
-Mom, why does the girl have such yellow skin?
The house didn’t have a bathroom, so the family used a well-maintained outhouse. The home didn’t have a running-water shower either. They used an elevated bucket of water in a private space. The animals, the pig, the chickens, the cats, and the goat stayed in the yard or the garden where the food grew. It was a very simple life, and Annie was happier in this village than in the rest of Peru. She and Leo explored the mountains and lake close to the village. They visited some Incan ruins and hiked all around the surrounding hills.
-Smile for the picture! I want to remember this day for a century!
And when the fun days ended, they got on a bus to return to Lima.
–Chica, are you going to return to the United States?
-Of course. I need better medicine from my country.
-But you can change your mind, right? You can return here with your medicine.
-Maybe, but my boyfriend is waiting for me. I think he loves me.
-I love you. It is certain. You don’t have to wait to know about my love.
-I love you too, but it isn’t the same. But I do have doubts because I am going to return to the United States sick. There can be difficulties and discrimination in the lives of people with misunderstood illnesses like mine. Will my boyfriend accept me like this?
–Chica, only a fool wouldn’t love you.
The temperature in the mountains fell, and it started snowing. Annie slept snuggled up beside her friend Leo on the bus. The driver wanted to get back to Lima as quickly as possible. Annie woke up from her nap to people screaming. The bus had slipped off the under-maintained road into a gorge. Annie felt pain throughout her body. Leo broke open the window so that they could climb out. He dragged Annie to a safe spot and then returned for others. Annie couldn’t do anything because her body was frozen, as still as a pose. In the chaos of the accident during which 32 poor people died, Annie wanted nothing more than to just go back home and feel safe. She knew that she would always love Peru and its people and that the rest of her daily experiences in Peru would be great, but with her personality, she just wasn’t cut out to stay long-term where so many complex social issues that she could do so little about were playing with her emotions so strongly. She hoped with all of her heart that someday the people would peacefully rise up to demand more rights. Then, a seizure interrupted her thoughts another time, and everything became as black as the shutter of a camera.