I’m so excited to be writing my first blog post from Peru! I have had an amazing first few days here and am happy to be sharing this experience. We spent the last couple of days in the province of Urumbamba and especially got a feel for the local culture this morning with our drop-off challenge.
My group was tasked with finding Tunupa, which we found out is a historical site in which the face of the Inca God is carved into a mountain near the Incan temples. This was very difficult because barely any one knew what it was. Our other task was to buy fruits from the market and this was very confusing because when we would ask for help and someone would look confused, we would go on to ask if it may be a market or a place in which we could purchase fruits. However, everyone we asked for either help with our task or for information about directions or the cost or length of the bus ride was very nice and willing to help us. We really appreciated everyone who was willing to talk to us, especially an older woman on the bus to the town of Ollantay, who was the first person to recognize the name Tunupa, and a woman that we found cleaning a hotel in Ollantay that showed us where the temples and the face were located on the mountain.
From this experience, we learned much more than the fact that Tunupa is the face of an Incan God rather than a market. We observed key aspects of Peruvian culture that are very unique. For example, on the bus, it was very crowded but everyone was very willing to hold on to each other and did not seem to mind at all. They were very willing to help each other and work together. I definitely know that every culture has integrity and deserves respect. However, I also realize that it is much easier to simply recognize the integrity of different cultures than to actually put this into practice. If there is a certain aspect of a culture that we do not appreciate or agree with, we are by no means obligated to give up our values. We only need to be tolerant. However, being tolerant requires action. It requires us to be attentive and conscious of our actions. I’d like to think that I am a tolerant person overall, but I will continue being conscious of whether or not I am actually putting this into practice.
Something else I would like to comment on is that yesterday we found out where we will be working. It was very interesting to hear about everyone’s sites because it was the first time that I started seeing connections between the program and previous readings and research I have done on Peru and the current social issues. I will be working in Hogar Amantí, an orphanage. When Mili gave us more information, she emphasized that the owner really needs our help is always very thankful for the help of Duke students. Something that I’m definitely nervous about is that Alex and Mili keep emphasizing that we should come up with ideas for our site directions of areas in which we are passionate and can help in. It is hard for me to connect the things I am passionate about to working with kids. From years of gymnastics, I am definitely passionate about both physical fitness and teamwork. I could definitely see myself trying to apply one or both of these things to my work at the orphanage. Also, a few summers ago in Costa Rica, I co-ran a leadership camp with my group. We played team-building games that were fun, active, as well as applicable to building leadership skills. Another thing I’m also a little worried about is not having the ability to leave a tangible impact on the orphanage. It can definitely be hard to think that there is a possibility that your hard work will not have a lasting impact on the community in which you are working.
It was also very interesting to learn about other people’s sites. The public school in Huacarpay only has two teachers for six grades of students. These teachers are not only responsible for the students but for cleaning and making sure everything is in order. The public school called Virgen del Carmen has a special focus on building the self-esteem of indigenous children and helping them to have pride in their cultures because many of the students come from parents who do not think they should be learning Quechua or be in touch with their cultures because it indicates a lower status in society. They are taught from their families and societal norms to equate “white” with “power” and the teacher has to help them de-internalize this awful norm. Mili told us that the teacher really takes advantage of having the help of Duke studnets. Before I even applied for this program, I did some reading on the way Quechua can be associated with lower social status and as a result many families do not want their children to learn it in school at all. It is fascinating to see an actual application of this. I am excited to hear about what everyone learns from his or her different experiences.
The different sites really do give us a window into the deeper, more complex social problems amongst the indigenous population in Cuzco and the pressures that they face. Although we will not be solving any of these issues, I do believe that our work has significant value. We should put as much energy in our specific jobs as we would in solving the deeper issue because our particular social projects deserve this. Overall, from all of the project sites, I have already seen how large of an impact that a few good people can make.
My favorite part of the day was definitely meeting my host family! I spent most of the afternoon just talking to my host mom who really loves to talk. This afternoon definitely alleviated any previous fear I had about feeling isolated in my host family or not being able to feel at home. I am feeling very settled in and am excited to get to know my host mom, dad, and brother better. As I previously anticipated, it is definitely going to be a challenge to communicate solely in Spanish with my family, but it is also a great opportunity to improve my conversational Spanish skills. I find speaking to be the most difficult aspect of learning a new language because there is no cushion time to correct a mistake in pronunciation or conjugation. However, I definitely worry too much about making certain mistakes. I hope that these mistakes will decrease with time and practice and that being able to understand and communicate in general is the most important at this point. I have never had a homestay before so I am very grateful to have the opportunity. I can already tell that it is going to be an amazing experience.