I vowed to go back to Peru eventually, but I never expected to return so soon.When I was asked to chaperone my brother’s trip there I jumped at the chance. Of course, that meant missing classes and pushing back responsibilities, but it was very worth it to see my brother happy.
Those who know me understand how much I love my brother, Mahamed. He was adopted from Somalia, also called the horn of Africa, 11 years ago. His entire family perished in a famine and his age was unknown when he was found.
After a slew of doctors looked over him it was determined that he was between the ages of 4 and 7. We rounded up. He considers himself very lucky and still has faith in his country even though many don’t.
I consider myself lucky because I have such a wonderful brother who is a survivor. As I have told him many times before, he is my inspiration.
With help from some amazing people, he was able to attend The Gailer School for four years. This school is very small and boasts a unique learning environment. Every year this school goes on a trip, which they call living and learning, where they do community service. Each person raises money for they trip. We all did. When I had time, I helped at the teddy bear factory and sold whatever they were offering.
It was all worth it for two years, then something bad happened.
After his health forms were turned in, the organizers of the trip saw that he has limited lung capacity. They sent him for a free lung capacity test at UVM to see how he would do. I was devastated when my nana told me that he failed twice.
Mahamed had tuberculosis while in Somalia and has one great lung and about 20% of the other. The trip included going to Cusco which is 11,300 feet.
The doctor said that it would be like the equivalent of a normal person on the top of Mount Everest. He was devastated when he found out and so soon before the trip. I received word that he was very depressed about it.
His teacher then called me four days later. She said that she still wanted Mahamed to go, but with another person who knew him and knew Spanish and could stay with him. She also told me that an anonymous person had donated a lot of money for it to be possible.
I was hesitant to go because I was worried how he would feel not being with his group for more that half of the trip. After a family meeting, we called at 5:45 p.m., before the 6 p.m. deadline a week and a half before the trip, to say yes.
At the last meeting before the trip, I almost cried. I hadn’t seen Max so happy in such along time that it made my heart burst.
So I prepared to return to Peru, just weeks after coming back from a semester there. And not just for Mahamed, but to also see a very ill person I had met before. I packed up and ran home for about a day then my brother and I began our trip.
Being with 12 teenagers for days is scary. Besides that, I kept getting the “don’t embarrass me Ariel” look as I told my brother to brush his teeth.
The majority of the time, Mahamed and I spent in Puerto Maldonado, a town that has the river Madre de Dios running through it, Mother of God. The river connects to Bolivia and Brazil at the tri border. It is in the rainforest, where there are many problems — trees being cut down and the extinction of natural species and habitats are just a few.
Since we wouldn’t be going to Cusco, Max and I had to find a community service project. With him wanting to study ecology, I figured we could incorporate that into it. We went to the National Reserve and Park of Tambopata, which has 13,000 species of everything!(animals flora and fauna)
Our service began by doing a conservation-message puppet show in Spanish to local children with some of the Reserve workers. Then we went to “el Bosque de los ni¤os,” the children’s forest, where any child from the area can go and learn about the trees and animals in the rainforest.
Antonio, a park ranger there, brought us on a seven-hour trail-cleaning project where we also learned about medicinal plants and trees. We drank water from a paca tree, which is good for the heart.
After that we took a four-hour boat ride to the Control Point of San Antonio to meet and complete our third project. We felt really cool in the boat as Antonio waved to everyone we passed including the three indigenous communities. Upon arrival, Mahamed and I took a tour. A few solar panels were on the grounds, along with a lot vegetables. The park rangers live there for 20 days, then return to Maldonado for an eight-day rest.
Their job is to protect the rainforest from outsiders destroying it. They do rounds three times a day in the huge 125-acre part that they protect. Only locals are allowed to enter without permission. Max said it was very inspiring to see that they cared so much and that the Peruvian people realized that they needed to protect their resources.
Across the river was Bolivia, which we entered the next morning to cut bananas offered by locals. We left at 4:30 a.m. in boat the next morning to see the clay licks where the enormous parrots lick salt. After clearing the area surrounding the point, Max and I returned in the boat to Maldonado to meet the group in Lima.
We were exhausted! Max said it was the first time he had seen a parrot outside of a Pets Mart and the head park ranger Victor said that that’s how it is supposed to be. I smiled because I had heard Max say that before. We woke up to the sound of howler and squirrel monkeys, not to mention the toucans. It was amazing to be around it all.
Max said he wanted to return to the station, possibly to study there when he is in college. He loved it and enjoyed hanging with the rangers. We left and went to Lima to visit the very sick person I spoke about. The group was there and we all went through Lima wearily. Mahamed then met my host family. They liked him a lot.
I took him to all my old hangouts. At the breakfast table the next morning before we were to return, I asked Max if he was happy he went he said yes — and that he was even happier that I could come with him.
Those are the moments that I live for. I often don’t get to spend much time with him. We were lucky. This year is a big transition year as we will be separating from each other. He is going to college and I will be volunteering overseas, but I know that the memories we have from those 11 days will be with us forever. I know that he knows how much I love him.