Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is not easy, living far away from friends and family is not easy, and figuring out how to make a life in an unfamiliar environment is not easy. The key to it all… Integration. A buzz word among PC training staff around the world, integration is the first step to a successful service and it´s not easy.
The connection I have formed with Peruvians in my community is the greatest gift I will take away from this entire experience. My co-workers at the municipality who made me eat papa rellena and dance with them for a month before they trusted me to participate in projects, the 24 year old girl who is my “chat about boys and life” best friend, and the countless women who make sure I am fed, have a seat at the town donkey races and who treat me as their own daughter… those are the connections that I cannot quantify on any report.
That is why one of the best moments of my parents´ trip was watching my USA connections collide with my Peruvian connections in the most unimaginable way. This is the story of our day in Huertas!
To set the back story a bit I must introduce Doña Maga. She is one of the most amazing community members in town. She fights for what she believes in, her doors are literally always open to help anyone, and she is not afraid to get dirty. She is one of the few women I would give the title of “host mom” and she has cared for me time and time again. The most memorable being when there were mice running around my room at 3am and she answered the phone, and without thinking made me a bed in her humble home so I could stay the night.
Needless to say, when my real mom and Doña Maga met it was a very special moment. My mom may have even cried… a lot. (What’s new?!) So after a solid week of exploring my town, my parents and I decided to spend a day in the capital city of Cajamarca. We were kind of pressed for time and we wanted to try and get there before dark. Little did we know Peru and Doña Maga had other plans…
To get to Cajamarca we had to go to the terminal and see whose turn it was to drive and then contract them to take us to the next city. Lo and behold the next driver in line was Doña Maga’s husband, Wilfredo! If that was not a sign, I don’t know what is. We took off in Wilfredo’s car and as we were en route to the next city he mentioned that Doña Maga and her mom were actually waiting for us at their campo house for lunch. The house was only ten minutes from our final destination, so apprehensively we agreed… Only apprehensive because we have learned that there is no such thing as a “quick lunch” in Peru.
After an hour on the curvy mountain roads the car came to a sudden stop and we were told that we had arrived! Except we were literally in the middle of nowhere with not a soul in site. Intrigued and very apprehensive at this point, we followed Wilfredo down a dirt path and a little house in the middle of the woods appeared in the distance. There out front was Doña Maga with her mother and some other relatives.
We exchanged introductions and then were invited into the dirt floored, thin walled house and asked to sit down. Baby chicks ran around inside, and disheveled little girls eagerly chased after them. An old TV was on in the corner and the figures on the screen could barely be made out through the static. Everything was covered in a layer of dust, because the roof was just thin sheets of metal. They told us that when the whole family comes for holidays or reunions everyone brings a mattress and sleeps on the floor.
My parents looked just slightly out of place and I smiled thinking about all of the times accepting an invitation had led to most amazingly bizarre adventures.
For Doña Maga´s mom this was the event of the decade! This cute little old lady proudly invited us to go on a tour of their farm and led the way through thick brush in her thin sandals made from recycled tire rubber. She showed off the melons, mamey, avocados, café, bananas and other fruits. She picked the best avocados from the highest branches and graciously offered them to us until all three sets of hands were over flowing with fresh produce!
My parents were good sports and trekked through the brush in their sandals and toms, and as the minutes passed the tranquilidad of the farm relaxed us all. The toilet was a hole in the ground, the stove was a fire burning pile of logs, but none of that mattered because there was a connection and we all understood one another.
In true Peruvian fashion when we arrived back at the house we were immediately offered Coca Cola in little glasses that probably had not been washed with soap in ages. We sat outside to enjoy the breeze and chatted about life in the US and my parents’ first impressions of Peru. Doña Maga and her mom joked and laughed with my parents and I watched from the sidelines in awe of the instant connection that was happening right before my eyes.
Then the best part of the day happened! We walked around to the back of the house and Doña Maga was rounding up chickens. My mom commented about how cute it was that they were trying to herd the chickens into their corral. I on the other hand knew they were trying to catch one to kill for lunch!
My mom finally realized what was actually happening when Doña Maga, in her nice dress, had a chicken’s neck stretched out in one hand with a machete in the other. My mom is not a vegetarian, but in that moment she decided she would politely decline lunch! Haha.
Two and a half hours into our “quick lunch” it was finally time to eat! Unlike my mom, I was looking forward to eating the organic hen… they really do taste better when they wander freely on the farm.
After our “quick lunch” of three and half hours it was actually time for goodbyes. We headed up to the car pleasantly plump, and with arms full of fresh fruits. It was sad, as to be expected, but as we took a picture with me and all my moms I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming joy! I had succeeded at integration and in that moment I knew the community connections I have formed here would last a lifetime.