Perception vs. Reality

Nearly every Peruvian I meet asks me the same questions.

What was my opinion of Peru before I came here? What are my thoughts on the poverty I’ve seen? Why did you decide to come here? How do people from the United States perceive Peru in general?

I’m always left speechless. They’re loaded questions to say the least—ones I can hardly answer in English, let alone in Spanish. And the truth of it is, I can’t remember exactly what I thought about Peru just a few short months ago, but I can remember the reactions I received when I decided to study here.

There’s a certain stigma surrounding South America and Peru that seems to linger in the minds of many people from the U.S. or other countries. Peru is often incorrectly associated with the drug trafficking of Columbia or Mexico or the Desaparecidos in Argentina. Some believe all that occurred within the Shining Path years and years ago exists to this day. Even its connection to the term Third World country seems to emit negativity in all forms and immediately is equated to “danger” or “uncivilized” by many.

Worse are the reactions of some people involved in the situations. It’s a recurring tale, one I’ve encountered not only in Peru, but in Australia as well. I recall walking through the streets of Alice Springs and hearing passersby complain about the conditions of the Aboriginal people, stating how disgusting they are and how ashamed they should be. It’s been a similar experience in Peru—I’ve overheard people whine about sanitation issues, snicker at people who look slightly different and shrug others off if they don’t share exactly the same views. Basically, if things are done even slightly differently than they are elsewhere, it’s not acceptable.

Quite frankly, these common, ignorant attitudes anger me.

If someone doesn’t have access to certain luxuries, they’re considered “dirty” or “underprivileged.” If their skin is a different color, they’re less significant. If they speak a different language, they don’t belong. And I just can’t wrap my mind around why people can’t shake these perceptions and open themselves to reality.

Far too many keep their minds tightly sealed to difference, and far too few break from these commonalities and expose themselves to the world’s realities.

I’ve always been a believer that it is necessary to step out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in what the world actually is rather than what’s been instilled in our cultures, in other points of view rather than adhering solely to our own. This allows the development of a richer, deeper understanding of places, people and environments in general. But when this hands-on experience is lost on those who remain stuck in a certain mindset, how do we develop as a society? Where does the growth stem from if we don’t push ourselves to see and think differently? How do we find acceptance, if we’re not willing to accept reality?

Reality lies in the way different people go about their day. It results from the interactions within a group of friends or the laughs around the dinner table. It relates to the struggles and joys others have dealt with throughout the course of their lives, the troubles they face and the consequences they must handle. Most importantly, it refers to individuals making up a whole, but not a whole making up an individual.

To face reality is to change a manner of thinking—a challenge, and a great one at that. To remain stuck amidst perception, however, is to live life blindly, which will prove to be a far greater challenge as time continues on. Not everything exists exactly as it appears in books, in the news or in the context of history. Until we reach past what’s placed directly in front of us, we will evade reality. Evading reality is rejecting difference, and difference is beauty.

Peru is different. Peru is beautiful. Peru is everything.

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“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.” -Ben Franklin