Two Months Later

It hit me the other day that my blog has not seen any post-Quillabamba action, nonetheless any posts about my last few weeks in Peru, and readjusting to life back in the U.S. But as I prepare to publish this blog into a hard copy book format, I realized how vital a conclusion post is to complete the cycle of my experience abroad.

Last few weeks in Peru: After my three weeks in Quillabamba, I headed back to Cusco for the last two weeks of the program. I spent the first week back living with a friend in an apartment in a familiar neighborhood, fully dedicated my time to writing the final versions (in English and Spanish) of my ISP. After 6 days and 40+ pages of research turned into writing, the only thing standing in the way of me and my summer was my final ISP presentation. Following the ISP week, we were required to spend two days awkwardly living with our Cusco host families again. We spent Mother’s Day with them, which was a nice gesture, but also made me miss my own family terribly. Especially when my host mother “suggested” I enjoyed myself in Quillabamba, you know, since I had gained weight—needless to say, she’s not on the list of people I miss. Then, with only one week left in the program, we all headed back to Urubamba (where we all first met during orientation!) for our ISP presentations. I must say, my presentation was pretty kick-ass, and it was nice to relax with friends before we parted ways. After one last night in Cusco, it was time to say goodbye and pack our bags to head on to whatever journey came next. In my case, that journey consisted of 5 days in Chile, reuniting with the lovely Sarah Fitzgerald!

Santiago and Valparaiso: My week in Chile was indisputably amazing. It was so great to spend time with Sarah, unwinding and reflecting on our time in two very similar South American countries. It was also nice to really play the role of the young tourist—staying in hostals, meeting other young tourists from the UK, Brazil, and Argentina; not showering for a few days in a row (oops..); going on tours of Chilean vineyards and drinking wine; wandering the streets of Valparaiso and taken dozens of photos of the eclectic street art; getting caught in the middle of an anti-government protest that took place in the midst of a national holiday. And because we were in a bigger (more “modern”) city, we had access to a few amenities we had both lacked over the past few months, such as free (safe to drink) tap water. We were both so excited to be traveling together, but also visibly exhausted from our transformative semesters, so we were certainly ready to head home to the U.S. when the time came. And sure enough, after nearly 48 hours of traveling, I made it to the Boston Logan Airport, greeted by my mom and sister, who I quickly and eagerly embraced in huge hugs.

Home: One of the most important things students who study abroad are repeatedly told is how difficult and confusing the re-entry process was going to be. While I was in Peru, I had an inclination that I wasn’t going to experience those typical emotions. And I was right. It took my less than 48 hours to feel completely at home; in fact, after one weekend home, I felt as though I had never evenleftthe country. My time in Peru felt so distant, so dream-like. The only things that were grounding my Peruvian reality were daily texts from Eva, and a treasure chest of Peruvian mementos (like the earrings I’m wearing today). It’s actually been a rather conflicting experience. Why don’t I yearn to be back in Peru? Does this mean my experience wasn’t as enriching and transformative as it could have been? Am I the only person who feels so normal? Will the feelings unload themselves in a few weeks, just making me a late-bloomer?

Alas, after being home for over two months now, those feelings haven’t disappeared. Peru still feels like a dream—although I did have dinner with a fellow SIT Cusco friend last night, which reminded me that the experience was real. I think (as does my mom and my professors) that this experience just feeds into the larger narrative of my life. I’ve spent most of my life divided between different places and experiences: growing up on the U.S.-Mexico border, enveloped in a bi-cultural environment; summers in Minnesota with my mom’s family; traveling throughout Mexico, exploring my dad’s heritage; moving to New England and splitting my time between Norwood and Providence. I’ve always had people and places to miss; I’ve been surrounded by Latin culture my whole life. All of these things have shaped me into the person I am today, but they have also led me my current feelings of confusion over not having fallen in love with Peru as I expected to.

I am going to carry these feelings of belonging (or lack there-of) with me for years to come. My experience was undoubtedly different than many of my peers who also studied abroad; but because of that, I’ve learned different things about myself and the world. I’ve discovered new passions, which in turn have sparked other new interests. I’ve also come to the realization that there are certain things I love about my country, among many things I dislike; and vice-versa, there are plenty of aspects of Peruvian culture and life that I adore, but many things that I cannot and will not support. All in all, my time abroad was an indescribable learning experience. It was also undoubtedly transformational—just not in the ways I had originally planned, which turned out to be one of the biggest lessons I learned in the Ombligo del Universo.


Last days in Quillabamba

It’s almost been three weeks since I first arrived in Quillabamba, which also means I only have a couple days left here. I’ve had such an incredible experience working on my ISP here! I’ve toured coffee chacras, worked at a coffee coop, and gone to a coffee tasting; Drank coffee at the central coop of COCLA (which exports coffee to New England) and ate cacao right off the tree. I lived in a house with 8 birds, roosters, guinea pigs, 1 bunny, and 1 dog. I also lived with an amazing family full of teachers, who despite their tendency to feed me past my stomach’s capacity, truly enriched my experience. I went to the heavily vegetated cemetery with the band from the Cultural Center to say hello to one of their deceased friends; then proceeded to drink and dance at a restaurant across the street. I’ve hardly spoken any English in the past 3 weeks, but worked towards becoming fluent in Quechañol. Joined in the celebrations of the 24th anniversary of the Machiguenga (Amazonia indigenous peoples) Cultural Center in town, listening to its leaders talk about their need to be recognized as equal citizens by the state. I’ve also sang karaoke in Spanish (Selena), rode on a vespa, and played volleyball by the local pool.

Most importantly, I’ve learned a great deal about international coffee trade, on a local level. I’ve learned about the production and commercialization processes and spoken to everyone from producers to intermediary traders, getting first hand perspectives on their work within the coffee trade. While all of these new experiences are going directly into my final ISP project, they will also be staying with me way beyond this program. I’ve truly developed a passion for this kind of economic justice, for developing consumer-producer relationships across continents. I am forever grateful to have had this experience, and can’t wait to take all of it back home and work towards change!

It’s certainly bittersweet leaving Quillabamba. I’m going to miss my host family and the weather; plus, this also means my semester abroad will soon be over. BUT…this means my semester abroad will soon be over! Which means home to New England for a wonderful summer (it’s the last summer of my undergraduate career, gotta make it great)!


Attended my first coffee tasting event ever! My dad would certainly be proud. Also visited the chacra of my advisor´s sister-in-law´s parents. I had the opportunity to watch ripe coffee cherries be de-pulped and toured their chacra. They’ve got coffee, cacao, citrus fruits, pineapple, mango, bananas, papaya, ducks, chicken, turkeys…goes to show how diverse coffee farms in La Convencion are!


Wandering around Quillabamba and learning about coffee. Exploring everything from coffee coops to coffee chacras!


Visiting coops, drinking coffee, and the size of my stomach

After a week in Quillabamba, I’m still really excited and grateful to be here. I’ve learned an immense amount about the production, comercilization, and social aspects of the world of coffee. I’ve also been having a great experience spending time with my host family here (who continue to be wonderful!)

My week was really full of coffee related experiences. I spent most of my mornings working at the Maranura coffee coop, helping with small organizational tasks and talking to the coop workers and any farmers that came in as much as possible. It’s been pretty great to witness the inner-workings of a coop, and how they relate to the big export coop in town, COCLA. I also visited COCLA a couple times, once with Maranura to use COCLA’s giant cement slab for drying coffee beans, and once with my advisor’s brother, Robert, for a more official interview with the head of production. On that visit, I learned more about the pre-export tasks COCLA completes, and I also drank a cup of freshly roasted coffee (with no milk and only 2 spoonfuls of sugar—I’m making strides in my coffee drinking abilities!).

Robert has also arranged other interviews for me, such as an amazing one with his father-in-law coffee farmer who has years of experience in the world of coffee and gave me some incredible information. Robert also drove me past a few other coffee coops, and we even came across some farmers harvesting in their fields! He, like the rest of the family, has been an incredible help, and we’ve also had some great talks about coffee and its social and economic implications on farmers and their communities!

Today, Katerine (my advisor) took me around to briefly talk to a bunch of folks in the coffee business. We visited at least 5 coops and 4 intermediary “coyotes”, giving me some great research info! Plus, she took me to the mercado here, along with a couple other local spots (like two of the Plazas) which was wonderful because I got to see another side of Quillabamba. Her family has really been making this experience amazing, not just by supporting me with my research, but also by showing me around the city, which is only enriching my time here!

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Parrots, Coffee, and C.A.C. Maranura

                      

Let the month of ISP work commence! A few quick updates from the tropical mountain town of Quillabamba…

First of all, the environment here is stunning. Surrounded by green mountains always covered in fog, Quillabamba (the capitol of the La Convencion region of Peru), is a tropical wonderland. Not quite in the rainforest, but not entirely in themountain region of the country, Quillabamba is known for its production of cocoa, tropical fruits, coca, and of course (the reason I’m here), coffee. I’ve already come across coffee trees (and cocoa, mango, papaya, and banana trees) on a casual drive around the city. The weather is absolutely beautiful; mostly sunny (sometimes rainy) with glorious temperatures (so much better than dreary Cusco!). 

I’m really having an amazing experience here. A lot of the credit for this can be given to the amazing family I’m living with. I’m staying at my advisor’s house (she’s a local anthropologist and teacher) and her family. Her parents are ex-professors and community leaders; her mom hosts a local radio show in Quechua, and her father is basically my mentor, taking me everywhere (on the back of his vespa!) and setting me up with a ton of great contacts. There’s 5 others who live in the house, including my advisor’s husband and daughter, and her sister, her husband, and their son. Oh, and we also live with the most adorable little dog, a fat and furry bunny, and 8 birds (a noisy and beautiful parrot among them). The house is wonderful; all out in the open, with lots of plants and a view of the mountains from my bedroom window. I’m so comfortable there, and everyone in the family has been so amazing. We’ve had wonderful conversations about everything from the education system in the U.S. to all topics related to coffee here in La Convencion—-so great for my Spanish and well-being! This is definitely a much different (better) homestay experience than I had in Cusco, which is a great way to end my time here in Peru!

Thanks to my family’s contacts, I’ve already spent some time at a local coffee coop, C.A.C. Maranura, exploring the administrative and comercialization aspects of the coffee trade. I’m pretty much going to be working in their offices for the next couple weeks, really getting an inside look at the comercialization of coffee through a coop. Today was my first day there and it was something else! The day started with learning how to sort through/prepare coffee for shipment. Then we ended up going up the mountains to a town called Maranura (where the coop was founded, hence it’s namesake), for the blessing of two new trucks and a bunch of computers. I met a bunch of the coop members and administrators, saw the very traditionally blessing of the vehicles, and drank some beer with the farmers. All before 1pm! It was an amazing one-of-a-kind experience that is really helping me shape my ISP into something I know I’ll be proud of.

I’ve got almost 3 more weeks of adventures in Quillabamba, and then head back to Cusco for two weeks, after which the program officially ends. Then after a much anticipated trip to Santiago for a week, I’ll finally be on my way back home—YAY!


FOOD

My favorite Peruvian dishes:

  • Aji de gallina
  • Aji de quinoa (delicioso!) 
  • Estofado de pollo
  • Quinoa soup (although I’ve had a little too much of it as this point)
  • Ponche de maca (basically a drinkable oatmeal breakfast thing!)

And by the way, I now eat:

  • Raw tomatoes (especially with milanesa de pollo)
  • Onions (raw and cooked). I can’t wait to eat my own onion rings at the Minnetonka Drive-in this summer!
  • Avocado…I know, shocking! I’ve only been eating them in salads, drenched in olive oil, but I enjoy them, so maybe the next step is guacamole. 

Oh, and I’ve started drinking coffee (with lots of milk and sugar). I figured since I’ll be working directly with coffee farmers, it’s time I started drinking it! It’s funny what a new country and cuisine will do to your tastebuds!

I still don’t like seafood though.


Last week in Cusco before ISP!

                        

This past week hanging out in Cusco has been pretty sweet. When we got back from our last excursion, we had a few days to work on our ISP proposals. Instead of stressing about getting it done, I slowly worked on it over the course of a few days, hanging out at cafes and getting myself more excited for this next month of research! It was really nice to be on my own schedule, exploring parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet.

For example, last Saturday, I had an early meeting morning at the Cusco office of the COCLA coffee cooperative, which is based in Quillabamba (where I’ll be doing my ISP work). It was a really great meeting and made me even more motivated to do some intense research! As it turns out, their cafe/office space is a few blocks away from the plaza, so I walked down there and explored some new streets. I made it to a few bookstores (they do exist in Cusco!), a great fresh fruit juice bar, and even some travel agencies to figure out my Quillabamba plans. It was really exciting and refreshing to wander around by myself; no schedule, no destination…just the sun beating down on me at 10am on the Saturday of Semana Santa!

So the next three weeks will be spent in Quillabamba, the capital of the La Convención province of the Cuzco region. After a seven hour bus ride tomorrow morning, I’ll arrive to Quillabamba, “The Land of Eternal Summer” (yes!), where I’ll meet up with my advisor and her family (whose home I’ll be staying in). I’ll be in Quillabamba for three weeks studying coffee production and commercialization, ideally interviewing coffee farmers, attending their weekly meetings, meeting with cooperatives, and hopefully spending a few days on a coffee farm! After three weeks, I’ll head back to Cusco for a week of compiling research and writing my research paper, followed by one week of evaluations and presentations. And then…the program will officially be over! I’m realizing how sad it’ll be to say goodbye to our program directors and my new friends, and this city I’ve grown to enjoy. But I’m definitely excited to go home and see my family and friends in the U.S., and enjoy my first full summer in Boston! 


Yanque and Colca Canyon


Yanque, Colca Canyon, and Arequipa

After Taquile, I really didn’t know what to expect out of our homestays in Colca. My prior expectations for Taquile ended up different than the reality, so I was sure whatever I was expected out of Colca would be off too! However, since the program had been describing this part of our experience as “rural homestays”, I was envisioning something akin to our experience in 20 de enero, except living in a family’s house. Especially after seeing the small town of Chivay (the biggest city in Colca that we spent our first night in), I assumed all of the pueblos we’d be staying in for the next couple days would be even smaller and much more rural.

Though this is not a surprise, the town I stayed in, Yanque, ended up being a surprisingly “modern” town. There’s a plaza (flanked by a church and restaurants) like there is in every town in Peru, and hostals/hotels everywhere! I was completely unaware that Yanque is actually a very touristy town (being at a lower altitude than many of the other Colca communities). In fact, when I interviewed my host mom about her visions for the future, all of her answers had something to do with tourism. She sees tourism as the basis for a successful life in her future, the future of her children, and the future of their town. My host family runs a hotel from their home! At the home of Justina and Teodoro, I had my own room (with two beds and electricity) separate from where the rest of the family lives, although we ate all of our meals together. Although Teodoro seems to work elsewhere in the community during the day, Justina seems pretty dedicated to running their small hotel, splitting her time in between their house and their chacra, tending to their crops. Apparently many of the other SIT students had similar accommodations, but I certainly wasn’t expecting an experience like this.

My family in Yanque was wonderful. Justina and Teodoro are very kind and caring people, and fortunately not timid like David and María are. We talked a lot during meals and such, which was a great way to learn more about their lives in Yanque. They have three children, Elvis (15 years old), Magaly (13 years old and, YES, that’s actually her name!) and Kevin (7 years old). I rarely saw Elvis, but spent a good amount of time being shown around by my tocaya. I spent the most time with Kevin, a wonderful kid who’s always smiling and seems eager to do just about anything!

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