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Peru vs. United States---Part 1

Peru vs. United States---Part 1

Hello and good day!

I’ve been in Peru over the last couple of weeks.

 We’re coming home soon, and I want to get some reflections down before we get on an airplane, and they escape me. Our entire trip has been spent in small towns in northern Peru, except for a solid day and a half wandering around Lima.

 During this trip, we have also spent a lot of time with family members who live in Bolivia, and I want to add a couple of reflections from my conversations with them.

 The first thing I notice about Peruvian cities is how walkable they are I consider this a great advantage. You aren’t required to get in your car and drive somewhere just to pick up a loaf of bread, or cheese, or fruits and vegetables, or laundry detergent, or whatever.

 There are good sized markets, with a large variety of products, within 5 – 7 blocks of almost everybody.And just about every block has several bodegas that sell smaller items. Several good things stem from the walkability of the cities.

 Obviously, you find yourself walking a lot more. This gives you sort of a built-in exercise regimen.You find yourself walking at least an hour a day, just doing your daily activities, running errands, taking your kids to school, walking to work, etc. Since everybody is out and about walking all the time, there are a lot more chance meetings with neighbors.

 You run into people you know and stop and chat with them much more frequently than you do in the United States. 

Of course, this is a generalization. There are some people in the United States who walk everywhere and are very chatty. But overall in the United States, I very rarely see so many people out and about, in their own neighborhood, walking around talking to each other.

 The fact that people spend more time talking to each other bolsters verbal skills, and I believe that an average Peruvian is a more skilled and charismatic talker than an average American.

 Here is another outcome of walkability.

 There are a lot of small, locally owned, businesses all over the place. Businesses pop up just to serve their own little corner of the city so that people don’t have to walk too far. I’ve never noticed it before in my travels to Peru, but I think that small business entrepreneurship is much more vibrant in Peru than in the United States.

 That feels like a very peculiar thing to write, because I’ve always considered the United States to be the home of entrepreneurship.

 However, it sure seems to me that the number of small businesses per block is far, far higher than in the United States. This proliferation of independently owned businesses creates very lively and fascinating local economies.

You find yourself wanting to walk around and explore Peruvian cities forever. There is something new around every corner. And the energy from so many people being out in the street intensifies your desire to explore.

 There is a potential downside to all this walking around and chatting though. It is inefficient. Less real, productive work gets done. It is easy to see the tradeoff here.

 You are trading quality of life for standard of living. Real, hard, productive, work is what builds infrastructure. And it requires long hours of sweat, blood, tears, and sacrifice. It requires being away from your loved ones more than you'd like.

 Walking around and talking and looking at shops on every block doesn’t get it done. Massive amounts of grunt work are the only way to truly raise the standard of living.

 For example, you can’t drink water straight out of the faucet in most of Peru. Most people have propane tanks to light their stoves. They don’t have gas piped straight into their house. There is a tendency to keep lights turned off because electricity is more expensive in Peru than in the United States. Many houses put used toilet paper in trash cans rather than flushing because the pipes are so thin.

 Complain as much as you want about the healthcare system in the United States, but there are hospitals, clinics, and urgent care centers within a ten-to-fifteen-minute drive of most everybody in the US. This is not the case in Peru.

 Here is what we’ve traditionally done in the United States.

 We’ve worked our butts off to create the necessary infrastructure to live a more comfortable life. You can see it and feel it. Americans are comparatively very hard workers, so much so that we sacrifice a lot of life’s pleasures in order to sustain a comfortable society.

 Which is better? I can’t say. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

 I should point out here that using the term “American” can be tricky. Being in Peru lays bare the fact that there darn near isn’t even such a thing as an American.

 As an aside, I should point out that many Peruvians take umbrage with people from the United States calling themselves Americans. After all, Peru is in South America.

So, aren’t we all Americans?

 And when you get right down to it, most folks here in Peru have at least some indigenous blood in them, so doesn’t that make them even more American than North Americans of European, Asian, of African descent?

 It’s a fair point.

 But it is too clunky to call ourselves North Americans, as many Peruvians would prefer, and North America encompasses Mexico and Canada as well, so it is confusing.

 Anyhow, back to the point. Here in Peru, almost everybody is Peruvian.

 My brother Brian, for example, is a Peruvian citizen, but he will never be ethnically Peruvian. On the other hand, my wife is an American citizen, but she is ethnically Peruvian. She has a  accent when she speaks English, even though she speaks English very well.

 But given that she has been granted citizenship in the United States, she is just as American as any other American. And that is because the United States is a nation of immigrants.

 Being American is a style of living, not an ethnicity.  It is a set of principles. It is a belief in freedom, and that all people are created equal, and that all should have equal rights under the law.

 That is unique. It is what makes the United States historically very different and special. We have a greater collection of ethnicities all living together in relative harmony than any other place. It is quite magnificent, and it is something you just don’t see here in Peru.

 It looks like I am running out of space for now. I will continue with a part 2 of this exploration tomorrow.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!