Last month I was on a plane flying back from a vacation to Bolivia and I happened to be on the same flight as forty 11-year-olds who were flying from Puno to Cusco for their elementary graduation trip. The tiny airport was filled with mothers in typical Andean dresses and hats, kissing their children goodbye and giving them blessings of safe travels.
When we boarded the plane the flight attendants were patiently explaining how a seatbelt worked to the group and they excitedly buckled and un-buckled the new seatbelt contraption. The plane was filled with the anxious smiles of 11-year-olds about to fly for the first time; I couldn’t help but laugh watching them all!
When the plane took off there was an extremely loud collective scream at a pitch that only 11-year-olds can achieve, as they all held tightly to their neighbor or the armrest. When we were in the air there was a tiny bit of turbulence and the collective screaming magnified. Finally after about 20 minutes in the air it was time for the landing (Puno to Cusco is a really quick flight) and the cabin was full of giggles, ooh’s and ahh’s. After a smooth landing the children applauded the captain and began to unbuckle. Wide-eyed and smiling, as if they had just finished the best ride at Disney World, the children disembarked and I continued on to Lima.
As I sit at my desk in the Contumazá municipality for the last time I can’t help but think about how, like the forty 11-year-old’s flying experience, this Peace Corps experience has been a giant mixture of frightening, lonely, exciting and joyful emotions shoved into such a short two years. (Bueno, now that I have been in Peru for over two years it seems short.)
Between preparing to move to Lima, all the Peace Corps end of service paperwork, awards ceremony for my Women’s Empowerment and IGA group, despedidas (going away parties), and final goodbye lunches and dinners, it has been a CRAZY last week!
My heart is full and so is my trashcan from all the tears and tissues. At the end of the day I am so glad to have something to miss and people who are going to miss me, because it means that I have integrated and done my job as one more member of this little Peruvian town. I am also so happy that my journey in Peru isn’t over and continuing as a third year volunteer in Lima means that I am only a 16 hour bus ride away from this little slice of home.
The goodbye bonanza started with the awards ceremony and final meeting of our Women’s Empowerment and IGA artisan group. We met in our usual auditorium and all of the women came with their friends and families to receive their certificates and say goodbye.
We opened with some words from one of the ladies and then I talked about how much each and every one of the women has made an impact on my life. Then one by one they women received their certificates and applause! (Certificates are important in Peru and when you apply for jobs it is custom to include your resume and a copy of every certificate you’ve received, so it was a big deal.)
After the ceremony we all said our goodbyes and hugged it out. A few of the women surprised me by bringing an Inka Kola and rosquitas to share, so a few of us sat around the table laughing and eating.
Later that night I hosted my despedida, and invited my close friends and some of the people I have worked with over the past year. Doña Mari closed up the restaurant early and we pushed all the tables together to accommodate the ten guests of honor. (In true Peruvian fashion only ten of the twenty invitees showed up, because no one is good with goodbyes here.)
We started the night with the Peruvian tradition of giving “palabras”, otherwise known as really long speeches. One by one all of my guests stood up and told me how awesome I am, talked about the memories we’ve made, and expressed how much they would miss me. Although kind of awkward to be on the receiving end of this tradition, it was definitely a self-esteem booster! After each speech there was a tearful hug and kiss on the cheek exchanged. Finally to end the “palabras” I gave a speech of thanks to everyone present. Totally was not planning on crying, but because I am my mother’s child I couldn’t help the bawling mess of a person that appeared.
After everyone spoke, we shared a delicious meal of Ají de Gallina and spent the entire night laughing, singing and dancing!
The best part about the two despedidas was the beautiful handmade gifts I received from all of my friends. I am a sucker for sentimental gifts, and oh did I receive them in plenty! Contumazá is known for a specific style of artisan work and as you can see below the women in town do amazing work.
Now, as I pack up my desk and get ready to sign off for the last time from Contumazá, Cajamarca, I can’t help but applaud the pilot for such a great flight and for sticking the landing. Hasta pronto mi querida Contumazá!