by Allison Stevens
As I looked out across the horizon and saw the sun setting on the Peruvian landscape, I thought about the hundreds of different ways my perspectives have been changed over the past few months and all the new outlooks on life I have absorbed. Being in South America for the past fifteen weeks with The Traveling School for girls, I have gained the knowledge of the different ways people view the world.
During my time in Peru, I met a man named Puma who was our guide and friend throughout Peru. Puma is a shaman and understands much about the spirits of the earth. Traveling around Peru with him, we stopped at the temple of the moon that was built by the Incans. While there, he explained to us about a carving in the temple that depicted the condor, puma and serpent. Those are all animals that have significance in the Andean culture, but this particular carving was focused on the pumas. There were two pumas, one on the left side with its tail perked and ears alert and a puma on the right side that was curled up in a deep sleep. Puma enlightened us on how the sleeping puma portrayed the North American consciousness while the awake puma represented the South American consciousness. His explanation was in relation to PachaMama or mother earth and how she is a living spirit and we need to take care of her or she will not live much longer. “Waking the Puma” or shifting the perspectives of the world strikes close to home due to the knowledge I have gained in my past months away from the U.S.: Why is the globe displayed with north up and south down? Why are citizens of the United States called ‘Americans’ when there are three Americas in the world?
These are questions I had never considered before coming on the Traveling School. Accompanied by 16 girls and five teachers, we traveled through the countries of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia for the spring semester to learn about different cultures and perceptions on the world.
Our first week in Cayambe, Ecuador, we took a ‘field trip’ to Mitad del Mundo which translates as ‘middle of the world,’ an adventure to the equator. Mitad del Mundo is a large sundial with lines exploding from a large orange pole towering in the center of the courtyard. After posing in various positions for photos, over the equator, above the equator, licking the equator, we gathered in a central location for a presentation about the orientation of our modern globe. My mind expanded as I absorbed the confusion of how north became up and south became down, when in reality, a person who is facing the north star has north on their left and south on their right. I never considered that being at the top of the globe may be a contributing factor to world power distribution. However, looking at the modern world, most of the world powers are in the northern hemisphere of the globe, while generally, more impoverished countries lie in the southern hemisphere. I felt befuddled that this perspective had never been shared with me in my ten years of schooling; however, due to my location, I felt the effects that the modern globe had both internally and externally on the citizens of the world.
I also recognized that in traditional school, I had never previously questioned how U.S. citizens claimed the title of ‘Americans’ while we share the title of ‘America’ with multiple other continents. There is North America, yes, but there is also South America and Central America. I never considered that one word could have such a large effect on the citizens of the other Americas. ‘American’ never struck me as an offensive term, but I learned in my time in South America that a simple word can ruin a relationship. I realized it could show insensitivity to the cultures of the world and display how the country in which I was born has trapped my thoughts.
Moving forward in my life, I hope to carry these new perspectives with me. I have learned that there are multiple ways to interpret ‘Waking the Puma’ and different ways to interpret the entire world. These past few months, my boundaries have been pushed both mentally and physically but the knowledge I have gained will be carried with me throughout the rest of my life.
Allison “Allie” is from Livingston, Montana