poverty, in landscapes of scarcity and abundance

I haven’t been posting any new writing in a while because I’ve been off getting married to the love of my life! Everything went amazingly with the food, pictures, families, and the party after the ceremony. I couldn’t have been a happier person on that day, nor will I ever be happier than I was that day – at least until some other huge life events.

We spent 10 days on our honeymoon in Peru. Many people asked us how in the world we chose Peru. The truth is that we found a great deal on plane tickets and it was cheaper than Hawaii. What sealed the deal was that we both had never traveled anywhere in South America and wanted to see one of the wonders of the world: Machu Picchu. As long as our horrible Spanish was deciphered, we could buy the lower deck seats on the overnight buses (top deck feels like riding in a boat), and could find some fresh produce to eat – all of which are not necessarily easy, then we did alright. People were helpful, the Plazas de Armas were beautiful and manicured, the mountain scenery was incredible, and there were plenty of tourists – Peruvian and foreign alike.

What most shocked me about the experience was going back to work the Monday after we returned from our honeymoon. Driving down areas near Grand Boulevard and Trumbull:

Detroit’s poverty hit me hard.

I know that poverty and urban decline in Detroit have become romantically connected to the grit of America and its loss of industry, but this was different. I wasn’t excited to see the “ruin porn” or the decay of Detroit’s empty landmarks. I was having true culture shock. Growing up near Flint, urban decay and vacant industrial buildings were nothing new. On this drive, however, I could see the downtown Detroit skyline from the expressway while on my left and right were neighborhoods falling apart and huge structures with broken windows and without any activity.

The stark contrast was the difference between the poverty of abundance and the poverty of scarcity. Peru is not a wealthy country. The country gets a steady stream of tourists from around the world due to its pivotal location hosting the Incan empire and its prized city on the hill, Machu Picchu. Beyond the Plazas de Armas and the tourist meccas, there are obvious signs of poverty. My wife commented that just two or three blocks away from the manicured Plazas seemed to be the boundary for where any wealth reached. I recently wrote about how Mount Kilimanjaro is known for having the highest percentage of tourist dollars go back into the communities nearby, Peru made me wonder where all the tourist dollars were going besides improving tourism. In every city, we were met with street vendors, but also women and children dressed in traditional clothing asking if we wanted to take pictures with them for a fee. It hurt to see because it seemed to be a selling of their spirit, their culture, but it was one of the few ways they had to get by. Taking the taxi from Cuzco to Poroy train station gave a clear visual of the layers of wealth and poverty based on access to tourist dollars. The housing became more and more rundown as we went further from Cuzco and down into Poroy, where the best looking building was the train station. On many long bus rides we also witnessed the vast, empty, barren spaces were dotted with square homes. The poverty of scarcity was obvious in Peru, but it was also mostly hidden from tourists.

Maybe the reason that Detroit’s poverty hit me hardest was because Detroit doesn’t try to hid its poverty. There is no large tourism industry in Detroit and buildings lie abandoned, burned out, and collapsed. Our honeymoon to Peru really highlighted the differences between poverty based in areas of scarcity and poverty in places of apparent abundance. Even while Detroit has a history of abundance, many could argue that it is just as much a landscape of scarcity.

Up and Down Peru’s Mountainous Landscape

Eight Twelve Eleven

Our honeymoon was an incredible adventure. We couldn’t have asked for anything less! Here are some cities and highlights.


We landed around 10pm at night in Lima and thankfully had a car waiting for us from the hostel where we were staying. We were pretty tired and it was welcoming to see a man with a sign that said, “Mr. Hill.” He spoke no English and our Spanish was no where near conversational. We had a quiet and interesting view of Lima at night punctuated by our driver’s attempts to be friendly in Spanish, which unfortunately we were unable to reciprocate (should have brushed off that high school Spanish book).

We didn’t do much in Lima besides find the bus station to our first destination: Arequipa.

We also bought these huge water bottles to stay hydrated. These were a staple of our trip.


We boarded the double-decker Cruz…

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finally a triathlete #HawkITri

On Sunday, June 5th 2011 I completed my first triathlon. It has been a goal of mine for the past 3 or 4 years and finally I succeed (with some helpful pushes)!

During college I occasionally trained with the MSU Triathlon Team, they were a fun crew that comprised of some intense workouts and really hilarious people. However, I always skipped the swimming training days because I was intimidated and didn’t know what I was doing. I had run cross country in high school and continued to run as my primary mode of exercise ever since. I had also picked up a love for mountain biking during high school, which I carried through college and got my first road bike after my bright yellow mountain bike was stolen.

My fiancé (Nichole)’s Dad, Uncle, and Brother competed in the Hawk Island Triathlon last year. I declined to participate because of an ongoing runner’s knee issue as well as my lack of experience in swimming.

This year, after Nichole suggested I sign-up for a swimming class at the YMCA, I finally completed my first triathlon! I spent all winter trying to get my knee back in shape with spinning and signed up for the swimming class in the spring. I then spent most of my mornings up until the triathlon working on building up my ability to swim more than 2 laps without needing to stop and breath.

I felt mostly ready (even though I hadn’t run or biked much) the day of the triathlon. The Hawk Island Triathlon is a “sprint” length: 400 meter swim, 16k bike, 5k run. The chilly open water hit me and I completely forgot my plan of freestyling to the first bouy then switching to breaststroke. My sidestroke lesson when I was 8 years old came in handy so that I could catch my breath. Transitions are harder than I imagined (gotta cut down on that time in the future), but all in all moving from one activity to the other was painless. Check out my results, #686: HERE

Hawk Island Triathlon I will see you again and there even be some other triathlons in between. . .

Things to work on:

  • Biking and running together
  • Swimming longer distance
  • Eating something during the bike
  • Transitioning!

Recipe: Chisaya Mama Stuffed Peppers

Since moving to Ann Arbor, Nichole and I have had the chance to try out some new recipes, some of which we are very proud of and enjoy sharing. With my job working in healthy weight loss through education and healthy food choices and Nichole’s upbringing in healthful (lactose-free) foods, we have a wonderful repertoire of recipes for those with their good health in mind.

We picked up a stuffed peppers recipe from Meijer one day because it looked interesting, had lots of vegetables, and decided to make healthier with our own additions. We added more corn and quinoa. Quinoa was considered sacred by the Inca people, calling it chisaya mama or ‘mother of all grains.’


  • 2 Bell Peppers (of any color preference) (30 cal./pepper)
  • (1) 16 oz Jar of Corn & Bean Salsa (from Meijer) (260 cal.)
  •  (1) 8oz Can of Whole Kernel Corn (120 cal.)
  • 1 Can of Black Beans (rinse before using) (330 cal.)
  • 1 Garlic Clove (4 cal.)
  • 1/4th of an Onion (1-2 cal.)
  • 1/2th Cup of Quinoa (Brown Rice can be substituted) (344 cal.)
  • 1/2 lb. of Ground Turkey (425 cal.)
  • Pam Cooking Spray with Olive Oil (0 cal.)


  1. Spray a good sized pan to cook the ground turkey.
  2. Add finely diced the garlic and onion to the pan along with the ground turkey, cook until browned.
  3. Add 1/2th cup of quinoa & 1 cup of water to a pot. Set to boil until water is gone.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine: browned ground turkey, cooked quinoa, kernel corn, 1/2 – 1/3 can of rinsed black beans, and the jar of salsa.
  5. Cut 2 bell peppers in half and clear out the insides.
  6. Place the pepper halves in a glass pan or on a cookie sheet and fill the pepper halves with the stuffing mixture.
  7. Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

One (1) stuffed pepper made with this recipe has about 325 Calories with lots of fiber, protein, and other nutrients to help you feel full for a long time.

Average cost for the meal, making 4 stuffed pepper halves: $17

twelve to twenty-two

A lot happens in 10 years.

Around new year’s (2010), my Aunt handed back letters that family members had written to themselves at a new year’s celebration in 2000. I was apprehensive to open my letter; was I a profound twelve year old, was it going to be embarrassing, how much had I changed?

The letter, written in my poorly scribbled cursive, read:

Yo Al,
Right now im at a 2000 millenium new years party. I’m making an aircraft carrier in lego’s. I am twelve years old. When you are reading this you will be 22. Hope you are having fun. With lego’s I have humvees, F-14s, a harrier, jeeps, chinook, and working on an aircraft carrier. I hope you made it out of high school and into college.
Love, Alex Hill

I may have been mostly preoccupied with my lego creations at the time, but at least I had some ambitions for my future self: having fun, graduating high school, getting into college. On January 1st, 2010 I had definitely achieved all three. I was spending the new year in New Orleans with my girlfriend, Nichole, of almost a full year, watching the fireworks over the Mississippi River. I had definitely graduated high school and gone on to college. It may have been an uncertain choice as to where I went to college, but ended with a great experience at the end of 4 long years of study at Michigan State University’s James Madison College. I unfortunately never completed the lego aircraft carrier and can’t look back and remember how amazing that turned out.

Legos seem to have been the most important aspect of my life at twelve. I guess I need to evaluate what that means for my development as a child and 10 years later. I love legos! For as long as I can remember I’ve been constructing things out of legos, but I was very particular as to how this worked. I was very conscious of color and design. I had a meticulous system of organization for all my lego pieces and enjoyed the creative problem solving that occurred. My lego corner in the basement was my safe haven for all my thoughts and creations to come to life. Legos taught me success and failure, they allowed me to deconstruct, learn by doing, and try again.

So, legos were important, but did my twelve year old self have any idea what was to come next? In just one year I would be thirteen and my entire life would be given purpose and direction. That summer I would meet Fr. Joseph Birungi and found the organization, SCOUT BANANA, the following summer I would travel to Uganda and see the harsh realities of our world at the ripe age of 14. The years that follow after that were just as loaded with significantly life altering experiences, people, and places, but thirteen was the pivotal year from which all of my current life springs.

Its crazy to look back and see that in just one year, my thirteenth year in this world, my life would be impacted beyond my wildest dreams. That year following the beginning of the new millennium would set me on a path taking me across three continents, to 16 different countries, having critical experiences that would lead me to meet hundreds of amazing individuals who would all have a profound impact on how I developed as a person, a friend, and a leader.

A lot happens from twelve to twenty-two. In just two months I’ll be turning 23 and I have no idea what the next year will bring. I’m grateful to my twelve year old self, but even more grateful for the people who made it all happen: my parents, grandparents, leaders, mentors, friends, girlfriend, colleagues, trainers, co-workers, randos and strangers – Thanks!