Halie Morgann

Halie Morgann

Home.

When the Scotts-Irish settled into the hills of Appalachia, I often imagine their dismay and fear when they began exploring the mountains that would become their home. The rugged landscape has never been the most welcoming, and even today’s “city slickers” from areas like Princeton and Beckley couldn’t navigate, now, the wild wildernesses of Mingo, Boone and Lincoln counties. Then, imagine a people from across an ocean that settled in these foreboding hollers and hills, carving out the soil and rock, hoping to create a home that would withstand the harsh winters as well as the wet springs. Sure, they fled persecution and famine, but the lands that welcomed them when they arrived in the new world could have hardly felt like a dream come true.

I’ve always wondered what that feels like: standing on the foundations of a fresh start, unaware of the struggles and triumphs that inevitably follow resettlement.

Lima, Peru.

Our guides for the week call this community of people “invasions.” As the roads turn from rough concrete to rocky, mud-filled streets, the mountains in the distance expose the true meaning of the word. You can’t possibly count the number of stray dogs, nor can you possibly imagine how many families call San Juan de Miraflores “home.”

Our van passed the same dead dog for five days in a row.

The mist settles around the mountains, and the mountains hold row after row of ramshackle houses. The invasive communities, though technically illegal, have increased steadily since the terrorism in Peru during the early 1990s. Rural villages and the people who inhabited them were threatened and persecuted. Often, entire villages were wiped from the Earth. Naturally, when you are under attack, you seek safety. Hence, the innumerable “casitos” I witnessed from the comfort of a tourism van.

I am co-leading a group of students from rural Eastern Kentucky on a service trip this week. Starting out, I had noble hopes that their perspectives and notions of the world might be challenged and refined. These students are some I taught during my three-year tenure in Inez, Ky. I love them like family and have been anxiously planning this trip with them for more than two years. As I looked out the window, noticing men still carving out plots on the mountain (by hand, no less), I worried that perhaps we might be unable to find a healthy way to remember all we had witnessed.

I’ve always wondered what that feels like: standing on the foundations of a fresh start, unaware of the struggles and triumphs that inevitably follow resettlement.

How can I possibly help here?

** The content, opinions, beliefs expressed in this column are in no way representative of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, nor any other governing body. These are merely expressions of opinion.