I was just commenting to a friend the other day that I am able to show love for someone best with giving them my time. For my mom, if I had to guess, it would probably be the same. Her love is mostly measured by her time in the kitchen. An avid maker, doer and shaker, we have much to learn from women like her.
Today, her birthday, is a perfect time to remember her and pay homage to the time she has spent on me and all her loved ones.
In the middle of Cochabamba
I am reminded of you
bread and butter pickles
What a surprise!
From a relative’s recipe
scrawled in ubiquitous Ford handwriting
the circular section of the cursive “l’s”, “q’s”, and “g’s”
are long and slender like great-grandma’s fingers
The cucumbers lay waiting in the garden
with white bellies face down
protected from the harsh sun
smooth yet bumpy to the touch
You gather them in a bucket casually
then cut the green vegetables thin
with a newly sharpened blade
onion slivers follow
slender as the last phase of the waning moon
salt, sugar, vinegar
celery and mustard seeds
sprinkled into a Mason jar
like a snow globe
My frenzy in the kitchen
directly contradicts your
calculated and anticipatory approach
NPR is my mother’s soundtrack
as she moves through
different stages of myriad dishes
Her hands work in concert with
a recipe as if she were reading
a piece of music
her cookbook the sheet music
the counter her music stand
anything she tries and likes
She travels the world
retraces her roots
remembers her ancestors
respects the land
all in a movement of love.
I know I have been kind of absent on my blog recently so I hope this serves to let people know a little bit of what I am doing right now. I am leading another group of students through Peru and Bolivia and just this past Sunday we made it to Bolivia. Specifically, to El Alto and a theater company called Teatro Trono.
As an interpreter and translator for the group for much of our time in Teatro Trono I have found that it is a good way to “profundizar” or go deeper into the material we are learning. Nuestros dragones have had the opportunity since Sunday to be immersed in an art collective known as Teatro Trono or COMPA (Fundación Comunidad de Productores en Artes or the Community Foundation for Artists).
Iván, partner to one of our beloved Dragon’s instructors who is currently leading Group A in Andes and Amazon, welcomed us with a smile that made us feel right at home in Trono, a building, that also serves as café, gathering place, theater, and home and which was envisioned and designed by Iván himself. The building is a work of art and has many old relics and antiques and scraps from all over La Paz and El Alto that Iván has collected for years. Parts of old buses, historical balconies, windows from all across the city in various sizes and shapes make up the building façade.
Iván’s personality matches the building in part because he is a gentleman who is not only charming, but at the same time has a depth of personality and purpose that one cannot help but admire and want to get to know.
He tells us, as we tour Trono, that the house pays homage to the miners that are the populace of El Alto, one of the most socially and politically important centers across the Andes. In 1985, El Alto, perched just above La Paz and the capital’s eyebrow, was officially founded. Home to migrants from all across the country who have mostly come from mining backgrounds, the city’s population has exploded to over one million inhabitants. The mine shafts that are in the basement of Trono help to enact an important story of Bolivia of mining and also serve to make sure that Trono stays close to its roots of mining and struggle. At the same time, the rooftop of the Theater is where the artists wings can take flight. One can enjoy the view of the snow-capped mountains that wrap around La Paz and El Alto in a giant embrace, if the day is clear, and imagine all one’s dreams taking off into literal thin air, at 4000 meters.
In his “charla” or talk with us Iván stars as the protagonist, although he apologizes in advance that he has to tell us his story. On the contrary, I tell Iván, “qué no te de pena, queremos escuchar tu historia,” “don´t worry, we want to hear your story”. And he starts to tell us about his life, born in La Paz. When his dad died in the second guerilla of what was the movement that Che Guevara started in Bolivia for independence, Iván too wanted to live his life for something–he wanted to be a revolutionary, a “guerrillero” with a clear purpose.
Iván’s dad was pursued because of his involvement in the guerrillas. He therefore had many trades so that he could remain out of reach of anyone looking for him. He was a painter, welder, boxer, football player, plumber, etc. For all these trades he needed different instruments or tools so he had a red box full of whatever work element he might ever need. When his father died in `70 he left behind a widow and three kids as well as his red box full of tools from his various trades. Iván’s mom, Doña Elba, started selling the things inside the box, one by one, in order to provide food for her family and little by little everything in the box disappeared.
Iván, started using the red box as a play toy. He would hide in there and also use it, as his dad did, for storage. Whenever he would come back from the street he would stash different doodads in the box: pieces of wire, leather, glass, little trinkets, whatever he could find lying around outside. His mom would periodically empty out the box. He later realized that it was because there wasn’t much room in their house to have so many things, they lived in a 3 x 4 meter room after all. The years went by and the red box eventually disappeared.
Now, Iván has us Dragons, sitting around in a circle in his house, look around us. We are surrounded by every kind of trinket, antique, and thingamajig imaginable. Posters, frames, paintings, wall hangings, cover the ceilings and walls, and an eclectic mix of rugs lay obedient under our cross-legged feet. We take it all in for a second and then he says. “That red box is long since gone, but that same red box is now my house, where we find ourselves. We are all in that red box now.”
Aside from the red box that serves as the backdrop for the story of Trono’s mission. Iván started the theater company with 7 young at-risk homeless youth and it has grown since then. Next year Trono will turn thirty years old. Iván tells our group that after finding theater he had no need to be a “guerrillero” because theater is a revolution in and of itself, a tool used to transform people into better versions of themselves.
We can only hope that as dragoncitos passing through the door of Trono, we too have become better versions of ourselves. Through the workshops we have had that got us out of our heads and acting with our bodies and our hearts, we have found another way to interact with the world and ourselves. Un trabajo bello e interminable. A beautiful and never-ending work.
Hoy, caminando las calles y avenidas de La Paz, Bolivia, tratando de cumplir con un pequeño trámite me topé con una tienda de antigüedades y en particular en la ventana había máquinas de escribir de todo tipo. Me acordé de un bello recuerdo y mil disculpas a los no hispanohablantes por ahí porque la memoria me vino en castellano así que tendré que también escribirla así. Quizás, si me reclaman, la traduzco al inglés. ¡Avisen no más!
Muñequitas con canastas
Recuerdo haber tipeado
Con la máquina de escribir de mi padre
Cubierta siempre cuando no se usaba
Con una mantita que hizo mi mamá
Con su máquina de coser
Tipie una invitación
A la fiesta de mi cumpleaños
Estás invitad@ a mi casita
Para el día 29 de mayo
No hace falta traer nada
Solo una sonrisa y calzados confortables
Vamos a jugar juegos y divertirnos mucho
Y antes de haber tipeado ese pequeño mensaje
Yo y mi madre nos íbamos a la librería
Para comprar la cartulina
Color rosado fuerte
Y luego dibujamos un bosquejo de una muñequita
Señorita con una canasta de flores
En sus manitas
Trazamos docenas de esta maqueta
Y con tijeras corté detalladamente y cuidadosamente
Los bordes de la tarjetita
Y de ahí puse las tarjetas
De a una en la máquina
Y con mucha perfección tipie cada invitación
Por último colorée las invitaciones
Cada uno con un patrón distinto
Para que cada invitad@ se siente especial
A veces quisiera regresar a esos tiempos
Donde hacíamos las cosas con propósito y para la gente
Que se siente especial al recibir algo
Hecho con mucha intención y amor
Quisiera por lo menos abordar el presente
Con el mismo empeño del pasado
Para poder regalar el amor
Muñequitas sosteniendo canastas de gran valor.
My aunt asked if I could translate so here goes:
Today, as a I walked the streets and avenues of La Paz, Bolivia, trying to take care of an errand I ran across an hole-in-the-wall antique store and in particular a window displaying typewriters of all kinds. I remembered a beautiful memory. It sounds better in Spanish, but that is the reality of translated art.
Dolls with baskets
I remember having typed
With a typewriter belonging to my dad
Always protected when it wasn’t in use
With a little cloth that my mom made
With her sewing machine
I typed an invitation
To my birthday party
You are invited to my house
The 29th day of May
You don’t need to bring anything
Just a smile and comfortable shoes
We’ll play games and have lots of fun
And before typing that short message
My mom and I would go to the craft store
To buy poster board
The color of dark pink
And then we would draw a doll pattern
A little woman with a basket of flowers
In her tiny hands
Then we traced dozens of little dolls
And with scissors I cut with care and great precision
The outline of each card
And then I put the cards
One by one in the typewriter
And with much perfection I typed each invitation
Lastly, I colored the invitations
Each one with a different pattern
So that each guest would feel special
At times I wish to return to these times
Where we would make things for people with purpose
So that they would feel special upon receiving something
Made with love and intention
I would at least like to approach the present
With the same degree of resolve as the past
To be able to gift love
Little dolls holding baskets of great importance.
Don Guillermo me recibió en casa La Rizoma sin mucho apuro. Me saludó con una sonrisa que le pintaba la cara entera y que me hizo sentir en casa desde el primer momento. Me mostró el cuarto dónde me iba a quedar y me enseñó el sistema de como asegurar cada puerta. Cosa importantísima pero, “¡No te preocupes!” me aseguró. Se nota que le es importante la seguridad. Y luego me doy cuenta que quizás tenga que ver con su historia de militar. Luchó para la revolución. Es un Marxista. Es un Guerrillero. Pero a la vez su tratar es de la más gentil y cálida.
Me invita a un café todas las mañanas y mientras sorbo lo calentito, fuerte y rico de café Las Flores, el me cuenta historias de su vida y de la condición del mundo en que ahora vivimos.
Un día hablamos de que el ser humano es bien complejo y en complicarnos la vida no podemos ver lo simple que es nuestro propósito. Agarra un marcador verde y empieza a rayar el pizarrón. Ahí apunta que la humanidad está llegando a la final de una etapa. Está dando la vuelta a la página de la vida. Estamos regresando a la etapa de la Naturaleza, dónde todo comenzó y donde nos debe importar el mundo natural a nuestro entorno más que cualquier otra cosa.
Y como buen académico describe la dualidad de tres cosas claves muy organizadamente
Y yo, como buena estudiante, las apunto:
1. Yin y yang: lo que se puede describir de lo que es compuesto el Tao. Fuerzas complementarias y opuestas a la vez que llegan a la realidad entera.
2. El Masculino y el Femenino
3. El Yo por dentro y como eso traspasa al exterior
En cada una de estas dualidades hay un gran desiquilibrio, me cuenta. Y el balance de las cosas está llegando a un “tipping point” o un camino sin salida y a un momento crítico.
“¡Así es!, concurrí. Y continuamos hablando de la vida de la naturaleza de la esperitualidad y de la literatura.
Shuffling in scuffed Black and White Reebok sneakers Don Guillermo makes his way out to his morning routine.
Feeding the fluffy white Pókhora and Luna he goes about his quehaceres and puts on a pot of Nicaraguan coffee ”Las Flores.”
He invites me to some and he talks Revolution, Marxism, and Religion in the same breath.
Inhaling hot, humid, and sticky air and exhaling the dense, truths that cling to you like dried sweat.
You need a way to wash them off, come clean, and know your truth and that of others in a way that doesn’t invite arrogance and knowing but invites sharing and a compassionate heart.
Guillermo’s ideas dot the air like the droplets of water spraying in the sun
As he waters the garden
the molecules rest in the form of punctuation marks on the thirsty green plants that enshrine the patio of La Rizoma.
La Rizoma is a space for sharing, a center for cultural immersion and way for folks in the community to learn about and enjoy topics of interest.
I’ll leave you with the vision statement that La Rizoma has on its walls. This safe haven in a world where violence and crossing one another to get ahead is the norm, La Rizoma exists as a way to push away the boundaries that create rigidity and misunderstanding and invite fluidity and understanding. (By the way, this is a new intention I have created for myself this coming year).
“el mundo está en un estado perpetuo de violencia. adentro de tantas masacres y eco-cidios es dificil encontrar espacios seguros. la rizoma pretende ser un espacio “seguro,” pero entedemos que esta seguridad no se puede pronunciar linguisticamente (no es tan facil como simplemente “nombrar” un espacio seguro), un espacio seguro se construye a través de las relaciones empleadas por todas las personas que habitan esta casa. Convivir en este espacio asume que lxs participantes respeten y celebren las similitudes y diferencias que se expresen en este comunidad.”
“the world is in a perpetual state of violence. under so many masks and eco-cides it is difficult to find safe spaces. la rizoma aims to be a “safe” space, but we understand that security cannot be pronounced linguistically (it is not easy to simply “name” a safe place), a safe place is constructed by way of relationships working in concert for all the people that inhabit this house. Cohabiting in this safe place assumes that the participants respect and celebrate the similarities and differences that are expressed in this community.”
One thing that I like about coming back to the States is that I get to cook. Don’t get me wrong. When I have been in Peru and Bolivia for the last 6 months, off and on, I have really enjoyed my almuerzos (lunches) in the mercados (markets) from las caseritas (the women at the markets that sell you scrumptious meals) who are eagerly trying to lure each passerby over with the menu that they shout out persistently until their food that day has been all eaten up. One walks by and smells things so delicious that I wouldn’t really dream of cooking in a place like this. It is a great way to try out new foods and a super cheap and fast option when you are constantly on the move. One of my favorite caseras almost always had a vegetarian option. Her name is Ernestina and she has the kitchen post in the corner of the downtown Urubamba market on the second floor. The first time I met her this summer we chatted like she probably chats with most tourists who stop to sit and dine at her bench…I introduced myself and told her I wanted to be back because her food was spectacular. I did go back, many times, and now I will go see her and enjoy her lunch any time I go to Urubamba.
Since I don’t have a caserita in the States, I do my own cooking. Cooking is an art and a stress reliever for me. It’s something I can also do with my mom and we greatly enjoy making things old and new. Sometimes we follow a recipe, but for a lot of dishes I just kind of make it up as I go and see what is in the season and the fridge.
So, one of my go-to “recipes” for the winter months when at 5pm it is already dark outside is a Curried __________ vegetable soup. The veggies that work well, I have found, are carrots, most any squash, and sweet potato. It’s super easy and fast, here goes:
Saute in soup pot with olive oil
as much garlic as you can handle (normally I put in at least 4 cloves)
celery or green pepper or whatever other more bland veggie you have laying around that you need to use up (optional)
When the onions are soft you can add whatever chopped up vegetable you have chosen to be the base of your soup. Following are some examples of tried and true great options!
Dice up small (if carrots you can scrub and peel and dice), with sweet potatoes (same thing) with squash I recommend baking the squash first if you don’t want to deal with having to cut it up into small pieces while the squash fights back hard–as is its nature. Just cut it in two, scoop out the seeds, then brush some olive oil on the inside and place it on a cookie sheet and put in the oven for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the squash. You can always do this the day before and have in the fridge. My roommate in California always complained that she didn’t like cooking with squash because it was such a hassle, but the thing is that squash is so good, just take the time to do it right and don’t get frustrated–if you get frustrated while cooking you are doing something wrong! Take out some wine and keep at it.
I like to add curry powder, herbs, tonight I added chipotle, or something of spice to anything I make, soup included, so do what you like or try something new.
Add some of your favorite broth or water. The best veggie broth (or meat broth for that matter unless of course you want to make it yourself) I have encountered is “Better Than Bouillon.” It comes in a small glass jar that will yield quite a bit of soup all told. Check it out and be prepared to never go back to those cans, bouillon cubes, or those Tetra Pak cartons that are so horrible for the environment, again.
Let simmer until the veggies are soft but not mushy.
Blend and enjoy!
Some people may like to make it creamier with coconut milk. Another option is garnishing with your favorite seed or nut or something green like cilantro or green onion.
I see myself as a somewhat serious, realistic (with a huge dash of idealism), and grounded person who only uses humour when necessary. That said, one of my friends and readers said I might utilize some more fun in my writing. And so, without any further ado, a couple of limericks and a silly poem for this gloomy day in January:
When we go to visit my grandparents I’m always the first to put on my shoes
Although these days the visits are full of sitting and talking the blues But the time I spend with them regardless No matter the conversation we harvest
I enjoy, delving up stories of the past, present, and future to peruse
My winter hobbies always experience a rekindling
in the midst of the holiday bustling and twinkling I stay home and knit, cheery While I watch a Spanish series
And think about all the gas and coal supplies dwindling
And this one is for my niece, Aliyah. Thanks for the time you spend with me reading fun and silly books and letting me do it in Spanglish!
This winter I wonder what makes me a sluggish, two-legged humaninstead of a squirrel scurrying across a branch in cold akin to a frozen beer can?
I sit and I eat and I wait for a treat. And then I look at my toenail.But doesn’t that make me the same as a creature with a brown, bushy tail?
“No, no, no!” says the barn owl that looks at me de reojo*“You cannot be a four-legged rodent!” he says while he perches with enojo**. You are a human whether you like it or not,
so get on your feet and let’s see a squat.
*looking at of the corner of your eye
Shoveling the dusty-white driveway while tingly fingers thaw
I thought the Holidays were about family but that is not the all
I’m feeling a little dead inside with all the flat grey skies
The bone-chilling cold is probably part of my demise
The heaters suck the water out of your body until your skin cracks raw
Though the crackling of the fire-place as it burns is a welcoming draw
But what comforts me the most are the warm drinks that I sip
So it’s lucky that my mother–cabinet full of teas–is fully equipped
Her favorite is Celestial Seasonings, a place she frequents often to flavor all her water
Her pilgrimage out to the Colorado plains usually includes a visit to her daughter
Carting back tea boxes a plenty, she adds various teas to her collection
When she arrives back home she and her visitors have more of a selection
One tea that doesn’t make it into the cabinet is one that is made fresh–Masala Chai
The best way to make this tea is to have all ingredients in your tea supply
A combination of the following is all that you will need
Just do some testing in your kitchen and you will most likely succeed
Combine in a saucepan, boil and then simmer
Green Cardamom pods
Anise or Fennel
Black tea (loose or bagged is fine)
Your favorite milk
Honey to preference
Let steep for a few more minutes and share with a friend who is adventurous.
Chai it! You’ll like it.
p.s. If anyone in the continental U.S. would like to try Chai without having to experiment with different spices in the kitchen, let me know (by any means you would like) within the next week and I’ll send you a starter kit 🙂
Not really sure what to write about today. The thing is that this kind of writing challenge is for me to get out some things from my fingertips that have been here, deep down, for quite some time but first I have to brush off the dust.
So following are some musings that maybe shouldn’t grace the pages of the internet, but will, all the same.
I’m currently sitting on my bed in my grandparents’ house. I remember the first Christmas (in memory) that I spent here was in first grade. My family was back to the U.S. for furlough from Argentina and it was our first time experiencing snow and ice, this amount of cold, and everything that comes along with Christmas in the Midwestern United States. I also came back from Columbus, where my grandparents live, with a stuffed doll that I called Ginger–a present from my great-grandfather Bus.
I’m not sure what it is about but I think that the cold brings out the worst in people, but sometimes the best.
I put eggnog in my pancakes.
I don’t want to write about any of these things.
How about the feeling that you get when you are driving on the road and the wind is swirling the snow into such geometric patterns that you feel like you are at sea or smoking some kind of potent weed.
Flannel sheets are the best invention ever.
My parent’s neighbors have a wind chime as tall as their house. I hear it every morning and it is the first thing I know when I get up and the last thing that I hear when I drift off to sleep. The first time that I saw it a couple years back I was appalled that such a large wind chime would exist and it was ostentatiously placed on the tree that is directly within eyesight of my parent’s back windows, or half of the windows of the house, including “my” bedroom. The first time I saw it I simply laughed and proclaimed it ridiculous. This time that I made my visit to my parent’s house I have appreciated the deep and grounding sounds such an instrument makes in my bedding down and waking hours.
Talk is cheap, but I don’t know what else to do when I want to go deep, but it seems like there’s nothing really there to anchor me as I dive.
Yesterday in my yoga class a man was breathing loudly the whole time. At the beginning of class he started making some weird grunting noises and I realized that his partner’s mat was right next to his and I knew that I was going to be in for it. He felt himself at home, being that his partner was right there and there were only two other young women in the class (me and someone else) I’m sure he felt as though he could do whatever he wanted in terms of sounds—grunts, loud breathing, exasperated sighs, you name it. The whole while I was trying to concentrate on what the teacher was saying and I was trying to imagine myself calm and collected no matter what was in my presence. This is what yoga teaches and sometimes I can be really hard-pressed to really take these things to heart. People eating loudly, or more than a little bit of dirtiness in the wrong spot can turn me into an OCD individual real quick. I don’t mean the DSM-IV type, but just in general, I am pretty persnickety when it comes to certain things.
I am learning important life lessons during this small rendezvous to the Midwest. My centering point. Coming back to the fulcrum to then have the pendulum swing right or left again, depending on the wind.
A conversation during New Year’s Eve had me talking about Hoosiers, you know, those people from Indiana. I told people at the bar that one thing that I missed about “living” in California is that people there were a lot more distant, less friendly, they take their time in warming up to just about anyone. I appreciate this about Hoosiers and most Midwesterners in general. It seems as though one of my stereotypes of the Midwest is that its citizens are very conscientious about making people feel at home, they are friendly, they dive right into small talk, and they don’t skip a beat. “This makes me tired,” my best friend from high school comments, “sometimes I wish I could just not say ‘hi’ and simply be on my way.”
“You got to be in it to win it,” says a wise yet very young individual about the lottery jackpot.
And that’s all I have for today, last night rather.
¡Feliz Año Nuevo a tod@s! Happy New Year! I am back (to this writing platform) and wanting to share some musings with you this month. Last year I tried to write for every day of January, and I would like do the same this year. At the very least, write more than the 15 entries I did last year.
I will eventually post something on my past semester in Bolivia and Peru (that’s a way of saying that this will happen this month). That is where I was with my two trusty co-instructors and 12 students for the last three months (plus 3 weeks in Quito, Ecuador to visit my brother and his flia in December). Now that I am in Indy at my parents house I have a chance to sit and reflect. And sitting and reflecting is much easier to do when it is below zero because there is not much else to do.
The few cards that I sent out for the New Year and the messages that I have texted, Whatsapp’ed and Messenger’ed, have included
“I wish you light, love, and courage for the new year.”
In retrospect I might change that to
“I wish you light, love, community, and courage. Ingredients of a successful approach to our current realities. Light and love to encounter the joys and challenges that life so graciously gives us and courage and community to continue this work sustainably and meaningfully. ”
This kind of recipe is one that you can make over and over again. A kind of Masala Chai that requires the combination of spices, brewing, and drinking and then the repetition of the same each time you’d like to take a sip.
Here is a poem that I wrote (through a combination of recycled and new verses) that I wrote and compiled during this past semester. I shared it while I talked to the youth and my co-instructors about my life-story. I think it’s pertinent for this time right now at the beginning of something new and at the end of a holiday season.
Writing a new poem is always a challenge in its own right because it means digging up something from inside that is still unripe
Taken from the Earth
poems are like the first crop of the season
The carrot you tentatively pull from the ground to see if it’s ready
So here goes…
Community for me is the expanse you till around you that will eventually grow fruit
if you take care of it well enough and the weather behaves.
It takes work, lots of sweat, and, sin falta, some tears.
The first community that I can remember is one that I revisit fondly in my head when I am feeling lonely
The film is a slideshow of photos caressing my innermost sensitivities
My extended family lived thousands of miles away from me when I was little and so I developed an adopted family:
Tía Milka, Tío José, and La Abuela lived right across the street.
The ginormous tree on the side of our lot spread its branches to the sky
And through which you could see Don Jose’s carefully groomed roses peeking through the slits of light
like red, pink, yellow, and white, Christmas lights
The three of us kids came over a lot.
Any time we wanted to watch TV (our house didn’t have one)
Eat something not too healthy (imagine anything fried or sweet)
Or be spoiled by Abuela’s hugs (nothing like a hug from someone whose soft rounded belly touches your body in all the right places)–
We would show up unannounced yet welcomed each time.
On rainy afternoons
We looked through the windows of our house at the drops of water
Falling from the sky
With certainty and indifference at the same time
We searched for our raincoats and made our way down the well-trodden road to our aunt and uncles’ house
Abuela would be in the kitchen making the dough Tía Milka, dressed in an apron
With a kitchen towel draped over the apron string tied at her waist,
Serving mate [ad infinitum]
The television buzzing in the background at a volume that was almost indistinguishable from the rain that fell outside, and serving as a reminder of the world without.
“Come in, come in, kids,” tío José said with a relaxed air that mirrored the weather.
And the three of us kids entered eagerly, sitting down at the table, and telling our aunt, uncle, and abuela about how we were and the news of the neighborhood. Tía started to heat up the oil on the burner closest the back of the stovetop Abuela cut pieces of dough into small balls,
Ready to be rolled out into circles,
Slashed in the center with a knife so they would fry evenly.
When fried, the circles made of flour, oil, salt, and water are simply delicious
In and of themselves, but
Spreading on dulce de leche made them better still.
My mom and the tíos put homemade kumquat jam from the last harvest on top of the tortas.
And all of us ate, talked, and drank mate until our bellies nearly ached.
And so, my first loving community (from memory)
formed out of pure necessity, love, and dedication.
Then, eight years later I left this community
I felt pulled from the ground that held me steady and comfortable.
Many hugs and kisses and promises of being in touch passed between the gringos and our familia adoptada and my ears and cheeks were red with fear that my community was gone.
Many years later I visited José and Milka La Abuela had passed peacefully in her sleep the year before
Which reminded me of the time I had shared a bed with her to watch a late-night tennis match between Gabriela Sabatini and I don’t know who else
The match didn’t come in because of bad weather so I stayed awake listening to the storm outside punctuated with the even louder snoring of La Abuela.
The next time I visited Tío José and his floppy dentures were just one more picture in the slideshow. Tía Milka and I ate dulce de leche and mint-chocolate chip ice cream straight out of the Styrofoam one-kilo bucket and talked about everything and nothing.
Each and every time I felt community, I feel love.
And so what I wish for all of you is more community and therefore more love.
Light and courage are also pretty active ingredients in the life balance.
The other night my dad invited me to a reading from someone at the Mennonite church that had just published his memoir chronicling his life from his birthplace in Paraguay, retracing ancestral roots to Russia and persecution there and extending the roots that he himself had stretched into North America at the age of twenty years old. His friends and mentor introduced Erv and then he read a few excerpts of his story. Lastly, he had each of his family members present–children and grandchildren–read stories that they most identified with from his book. I found the whole presentation very touching and an exercise in modern-day storytelling that I had never seen before. Each of the voices took it’s own shape, but through the framework of Erv’s original story.
Our Focus of Inquiry for our Peru six-week course this summer was storytelling and communication. We heard and experienced so many stories during the oh so short time we spent together. Stories of hardship, of trauma, of joy, of love, of privilege, of gratitude touched us from within our group of travelers. And stories with these same themes touched us from outside our group of travelers. Stories have come to us about the magical place called Peru from the high snowy peaks of the Andes, to the dense green forests of the Amazon, to the citadel of mystical Machu Picchu. We learned from people who inhabit all of these spaces, and thus learned a bit more about what it means to be a human in these often broken, bewildering, and besieged times.
I’d like to share with you now some of our time together and I will try to punctuate opportune times with pictures for your enjoyment and increased understanding of our wonderful experience together.
Our adventure began in Lima where, after excited and nervous introductions in the airport, we traveled to our orientation destination in Caraz, a beautiful permaculture eco-lodge called Apu (or Mountain) Eco-Lodge with a view of the Cordillera Blanca. In our three days there, we built a supportive group culture, started learning about Peruvian history and culture, and outlined different course components so that students would be familiarized with our learning goals and outcomes. This course mostly focused on the focus of inquiry outlined above, as well as rugged travel, trekking, home-stays, and developmental studies.
From orientation we went to Huaraz, where we spent two days preparing for our first trek. We went to the mercado and stocked up on supplies and met with the trekking company and our guide to familiarize ourselves with the lay of the mountainous land we were about to trod. Then we traveled to Parque Nacional Huascarán by bus, enjoying the peaks of the Cordillera Blanca glistening and grand, through the dusty bus windows. Huascarán National Park is the highest tropical mountain range in the world and holds close to 660 glaciers and 300 lagoons. We (instructors and students alike) were a bundle of nerves that didn’t know how to diffuse. So as the bus bumped along the road our nerves jostled along as well and we sat in nervous anticipation of what lied ahead.
Upon arrival to Pomabamba we stayed overnight in a friendly and spacious hostal to be greeted the following morning by our three arrieros (Agustín, young and timid, Geraldo, silent and somber, and Zenón, our all-knowing hero), fourteen mules, and trusty emergency horses–Mono and Juan. During our rugged and isolated trek through the park, students learned the basics of trekking, philosophy of Leave No Trace, and how to keep safe (although we did have a few close-calls with symptoms of altitude sickness and some kind of bacteria that most of the group got halfway through our trek) and warm in the high Andes. Students also got the chance to practice camping behaviour by setting up and tearing down tents when time allowed, cooking food, and learning about the park through our guide and mountain enthusiast, Eduardo, and our trusty and steadfast arrieros. We crested mountain passes over 4,800 meters, enjoyed the cool of glaciers, and looked with awe into crystal lagoons. After hiking for a week we concluded our expedition to the park with a short bus-ride back to Huaraz to relax and recover from our rugged adventure in the snow-capped Andes.
After a day and couple nights in Huaraz we changed our surroundings dramatically during a 20+ hour bus ride to Pucallpa, our entry point into the Amazon. We took a short boat-ride down an estuary of the Amazon to arrive in a Shipibo community called Santa Clara where students spent four days and nights in homestays with families who had only this year been catapulted into modern times through electricity and running water. Many families spoke limited Spanish and the cultural exchange was even more meaningful by the fact that houses were normally built with the surroundings in mind, sometimes only three walls enclosed participants from the forest along with their thin mosquitero or mosquito netting. We partnered with an agency based out of Pucallpa called Alianza Arkana, roughly translated as The Shielded Alliance, that collaborates with many indigenous communities of the area with a particular emphasis on the Shipibo people. One of their main projects in Santa Clara is a permaculture project that will eventually reforest the deforested region around the town and provide one meal a day for the local children that attend the elementary school in the village.
After our short but sweet time in the Amazon, we transitioned back to a bustling city as we made our way to Urubamba, a city in the Sacred Valley that is a stop for many people going from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. In addition to learning about Urubambin@s first-hand from host families, during our ten days in this vibrant town, students took Spanish classes daily, worked with local mentors on independent study projects focused on learning about Andean instruments, Andean spirituality, Permaculture, and Andean weaving.
Our time in Urubamba came to an end and we said goodby to our host families and new community partners as we transitioned into the expedition phase of our course where students prepared for a ‘mini-expedition,’ where they would take on most, if not all, the leadership and logistics. Student leaders took us on the three-day trek of Salkantay a sacred apu or mountain that is one entry point to the Machu Picchu ruins. Our expedition took us through the Sacred Valley where we delved into the meaning behind being a traveler versus being a tourist on oftentime crowded parts of our journey as we headed to visit the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. We were fortunate enough to have Favian, a wonderfully joyful guide and spiritual leader. Favian’s quena (Andean flute) playing floated through the air as we took one step after another on sacred ground. His music was a plea to the mountains to allow us to journey safely, purposefully, and most importantly, to secure an invitation to journey at all. On the day we climbed from our campsite up the steps to Machu Picchu park and up more steps to Machu Picchu mountain, Favian taught us much about the quickly fading culture through an impactful pachamama ceremony, a blessing and sacrifice for pachamama, or mother earth at the Incan bridge.
We then returned to the outskirts of Urubamba, where we transitioned into our transference phase of program. We continued sharing our own stories and that of our time together and discussed how to translate what we learned and experienced in Peru to our lives back home. These final days flew by and we soon found ourselves in the heart of Peru–Cusco–basking in the light of the full moon as it sat over snowy Ausangate. In the light of the moon we offered praise, gratitude, and appreciation for the people we had met, the lives that had touched us, the places we had only briefly known, and the impact that it already had on our lives. After saying our goodbyes, we were ready to take our individual stories, now altered by the sacred apus and their inhabitants, out to our respective parts of the world.
Coming back from the place you started from and telling your story is always an interesting exercise that for me never gets easier with time. Hearing Erv and his family read his memoir gave me some hope about how storytelling can be more integrated into our experiences. I’m currently filled with a light mist of sadness because of the people and the places that I always seem to leave behind in a mission to keep moving forward with the tides of time. Sometimes the visibility through that mist is pretty good, but other times that mist clouds my vision and I have trouble seeing at all. I hope that through this account you can see some parts of my story during these last couple of months and I thank you for journeying with me.