A few weeks ago, we went to one of our favorite restaurants for a goodbye dinner sending away Lydia’s dad. We were all having a good time, speaking of the highs and favorite parts of the trip, breaking the different food that Mr. Burns had tried during his trip into categories. He wasn’t too fond of cuy or alpaca, but loved ceviche and arroz chaufa.
One of the ladies serving us, whom we’ll call Lucero for confidential purposes, was a little more gloomy than usual. We took note of it, the same way we did with the few hair strands we found in our soup. We weren’t bothered by it; after all, it just something to take out. We just noticed minute differences.
A bit later, we asked Lucero – then in the kitchen – if we could get more spicy sauce. She brought it out swiftly, when I saw it. Her left eye was purple and baseball-sized, practically swollen shut. Lucero seemed to notice my gaze and made sure that every time she brought us food, her eye was well covered by her bangs. Suddenly, the hair in our food made sense, but was even more significant before. It wasn’t just something we could ignore.
When I returned the next day to ask Lucero’s coworker how her eye was doing and if she was okay, she responded with minimal details, appearing uncomfortable and unwilling to say too much. I wanted to do or say more, but what power would I have had? I couldn’t pretend to know what Lucero was going through, nor could I have done much about it having known the truth. All I could do was hope and pray that it wouldn’t get worse.
Though I can’t say for sure that this was domestic abuse, I can still note the change in her behavior and attempts to cover her bruises.
Some believe that the machismo culture in Peru is a memory of the past, that situations like those – where women are abused by their husbands – no longer exist. Yet, a mother at one of our schools confided in me that she had the same treatment by her ex-husband only 2 years prior. She had the support of her family to get herself help and kick him out of the house, but she was sure to let me know that it wasn’t without struggle. Many people she told didn’t believe what she said and thought that she was making up the entire situation for attention. But the passion with which she spoke, explaining that she had to get her children away from a man that demonstrated violence over love in her house, was enough to convince me she was telling the truth. And seeing her with her son today, the way she has raised him with respect for all authority figures, even women, and watching his gentle nature with his female classmates, gives me hope.
In a different way, seeing how the girls who participate in our program respond to boys on the soccer field also gives me hope. In our year here, we have seen numerous girls go up to and challenge boys to a game of soccer, playing against them mercilessly as the boys underestimate their strength. This willingness to proceed, to never yield, is something that we hope our girls continue to exhibit throughout their lives.
We will never know for a fact how for our impact goes beyond girls being better athletes, but these reminders, though some are sad, fuel our program.