A Day in the Life at Tika Center of Textile Production

by Jacob and Veena, Civic Semester Participants

8:00 After eating breakfast with our host families, we head towards the collectivo station to catch our ride to Chinchero. Our bargaining for the ride usually fails and we pay the full 7 soles per person price ($1.90).

9:00 Guadalupe and the other women at Tika greet us to start our day of the products from sweaters and hats to large wall tapestries and ceramics. This is the perfect time to catch up on everything we missed between the days we weren’t at the organization. Some highlights include: a thief, a night at the discoteca, a broken hand, and Mikaela’s vet visit (the mischievous alpaca who never fails to cause chaos in the Textilería). She constantly escapes, eats everything which included Cochinilla that sent her to the vet.

11:00 We finish organizing and dusting off the products and begin helping with other miscellaneous tasks from herding all the llamas – which is fun but challenging every time – to translating and giving Muña tea to the visiting tourists. When the llamas inevitably escape, we have to chase after them to herd them back into their pen. The worst case of this was when Jacob mentioned that Mikaela would probably want to eat his wafers, counted 5 llamas out of the 6 llamas, and rushed outside to see Mikaela across the road 100 feet away.

12:30 Lunch Break! We have time to eat lunch, go shopping, and play with the kitten and the caring dog, who are both constantly begging and climbing over us for food.

1:00 We get back to work helping with the tourist groups or if we have some free time, we learn to make bracelets and weave belts with various patterns on a waist loom. Throughout this time we chat with the women and learn so much about their stories and hobbies.

3:00 Sometimes we might weave for the rest of the day or help with preparing yarn either for dying, making pom-poms or quipus, or help finish tasks we started in the morning. Between the both of us, we know 3 belt and 2 bracelet designs.

4:30 (definitely a subjective time depending on if we get distracted or not) Time to leave and say goodbye to the women. Now we face our last challenge of trying to catch a bus, which means waiting anywhere between 30 seconds and 45 minutes to go back to Urubamba, home sweet home!

A day in the life of an Ayni Wasi intern

by Nica, Civic Semester Participant

Having the opportunity to intern at Ayni Wasy (Scared Valley Health) —an organization whose goals and values fully align with my own views and experience— has truly been one of the highlights of the Civic Semester. Because of that, I decided to walk you through an entire day at my internship.

7.00 – I wake up, get ready, and go downstairs to enjoy my usual breakfast, a fruit salad with chia seeds and vanilla yogurt. (My host mom saw me getting a fruit salad in the market and ever since that became my everyday breakfast. (I am very spoiled in this house!)

8.00 – I get out of the house and start walking to the colectivo station from which I take a 40-minute ride from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo—the city in which the NGO Ayni Wasi works.

8.50 – I get out of the colectivo, always in awe after seeing the myriad of textures, shapes, and sizes of the Andes mountains; I don’t think I could ever get sick of this and it’s honestly one of the things I will miss the most.

9.00 – After a 5-minute walk from the Plaza to my NGO, I enter the office, say hi to all my co-workers, and go straight to the kitchen to make coffee. It’s safe to say that I have been living off of my organization’s coffee supply.

9.30 – I set up my office and go downstairs to check out what’s going on; On Wednesdays, for example, I help out with logistics during one of their Salud Comunitaria trainings: this training is for Indigenous women from high-altitude Quechua communities which are part of one of their programs. They are called Promotoras de Salud and usually travel in between 3-5 hours just for this. However, today, there was a Pap Smear Screening campaign happening in the office.

13.00 – After hours of registering over 70 Quechua-speaking women and walking them through the process of a cervical cancer exam, our team and the medical team from CerviCusco sat down for launch. They were shocked to find out that I was only 17 especially after the Executive Director mentioned my experience with the NGO field.

14.00 – We cleaned and rearranged the office after the medical team.

15.00 – My day usually finishes at this time or an hour later and I walk to the Colectivo station.

15.40 – The drive back is always sacred for me as it is reserved for reflection upon my day and my overall experiences during this program and this time was no different.

16.00 – I arrive home.

For me, interacting with Quechua-speaking communities on a daily basis is about understanding how to navigate differences while being aware of disparities. I find it so inspiring to be able to talk to these resilient women, who break gender norms and become role models and leaders in their community. I truly believe they are the ones who can move mountains.

Defining “Home”

by Teagan, Civic Semester Participant

As a child of a big family, “the second oldest of six” is my most used epithet. I grew up in a house overflowing with laughter, and I learned from a young age the value of collectivism and cooperation. I never imagined a dinner table with less than eight chairs or a life in which I didn’t share a bedroom.

That is until this weekend.

When I was accepted into Tufts, one of the first things I did was research study abroad programs. As much as I love my family, I knew that I could not live in Medford for another four years of my life. I submitted my application to the Civic Semester, a program for students to study abroad during the Freshman fall, and before I could even blink, I was on a plane to Peru.

Since arriving on September 1st, time has flown by. In our home we call Rocafuerte, this group of strangers quietly transformed into a family during the “in-between” moments—making dinner crammed in the kitchen, logging onto Zoom for class, or sharing cups of tea while watching the Milky Way.

Last Saturday, we sat together facing twelve Peruvian host moms and dads dispersed among our suitcases and duffle bags. We squeezed each other’s hands with nervous excitement as Pablo, one of our instructors, announced our future parent’s names.

At that moment, I felt nostalgic for the memories of a place I had called home for only two months. I couldn’t comprehend what I would do without waking up alongside Sophia or being a few steps away from Elaine’s dorm for our nightly “chisme.” We sat in a state of suspension, and I asked myself if I even had the right to call Rocafuerte “home.” I asked myself, when a place has such a strong impact, does it matter if you live there for two months or two decades?

As a second generation Medfordite (yes, a real term), I feel a little tinge of resentment every time a Tufts freshman calls Medford “home.” It’s not that I want to keep the city to myself, but Tufts students miss so much about the city’s rich and complicated history that can only be learned through stories of my mom’s childhood or shared experiences in Medford High School. Medford is so much more than Tufts. It is so much greater than the Hillside. And when Tufts students generalize, I feel as if my city is cheated out of its complex identity.

Pablo called my name, and I was brought back to the present. I looked up apprehensively as my Peru mom, Yaki, ran toward me with open arms. She smiled ear to ear, and we embraced in a hug. At my new house, I met my two “hermanitos,” Santiago and Gabriel (who immediately gave me the nickname “Snacks”). With them, I felt back at home with my own brothers, Cullen and Declan. I guess I had forgotten what it’s like living with boys who love roblox, wrestling, and doing anything to avoid putting the toilet seat down.

It has only been a few days, but I have been welcomed into the family of Yaki, Rafael, Santi, and Gabo. Just this weekend, we traveled to Cusco for trick-or-treating and our bisabuela’s birthday party, and event filled with karaoke, traditional dishes, and games of sapo. Gabriel, Santi, and I watch Netflix together after school under a new profile named “Tiguen” that they made. I realize how much I had missed home-cooked meals every time Yaki places a plate of pasta or egg frittata in front of me, and I smile every morning when I am woken up by the quiet voice of Gabo asking “Snacks, ¿puedo entrar?”

I was so nervous to leave my cohort—after two months in Rocafuerte—but, last night, as I laid in my very own bedroom for the first time in my life, I realized that nothing is as scary as I expect it to be. Knowing that my cohort is going through the same emotions as I am makes me feel less alone and intimidated by what lays ahead.

So yes, it has only been a week with my host family but I already feel at home. No matter how you define it, home is created by the people just as much as the place itself. Whether at Tisch Library or Tenoch in Medford Square, I hope that all Tufts students can find their own place in the city I am grateful to call home. And maybe we can value our chosen families just as much as we do those related by blood.

Life is Life and Thread is Thread

by Iris, Civic Semester Participant

After a forty-minute drive (and a slight detour when we walked right past the bus depot), we arrived at Tika, a women’s weaving co-op. The outside of the building is unassuming – located on the side of a large road, the only thing that identifies it as extraordinary are the colored tassels hanging from the doorway.

Inside is a different story. As we enter, we are greeted by stacks and stacks of fabric in every color, pattern, size, and shape you can imagine. Along one wall are tablecloths and shawls; another holds thick, soft sweaters made of alpaca wool; tables are lined with intricately woven bracelets and wallets; hats and bags hang from hooks on the ceiling. We walk upstairs, where we meet Lupe, one of the women who works at this organization. We learn about different natural dyes (did you know that there are bugs called cochineal that can be used to make almost 10 different shades of red?), and then we learn to make Kipus. We tie brightly colored rope in specific knots to signify numbers and dates of significance in our lives. Lupe explains that the meaning of the Kipus was lost for a long time and an Archeologist came to where they lived and taught them about it. This is something that we’ve seen a lot of in the Sacred Valley – the traditions of the indigenous people were so thoroughly demolished during colonialism that they didn’t get the chance to be passed down from generation to generation. Instead, scholars (often Westerners) have had to relearn and then teach Peruvians their own traditions. This dynamic is complicated and more nuanced than I can properly dig into, but important in understanding Tika as an organization.

She shows us how to make yarn from alpaca wool, holding a spindle in one hand that she spins effortlessly between two fingers, switching quickly to thinning out the wool so that it spools easily into a perfect bundle. Once the spindle is full she does something magical that makes it reset. She hands it off to us to try, but all we can manage is a pointlessly spinning spindle and a couple of broken pieces of thread (she magically fixes this, too).

I’ve learned about so many skills over the past month and a half that I never really considered before. In America most of us are completely insulated inside a bubble of office jobs and machine assembly lines, making us forget that for most of time humans have done things by hand. Here in Urubamba, there is no distance from creation – nearly everything that we have is made or grown by hand, by locals. There is so little separation from the producer to the seller to the consumer. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about how yarn is made before coming here, but now I walk through the market and see people absent-mindedly working the thread through their hands as they go about their days. I love that my eyes are being opened to the details of life and that I’m thinking more about how things are made.

I am wary of over-romanticizing Peru, but also want to reject the narrative that these people make our lives seem ‘lucky’ by comparison. Instead, I’m trying to let it just be: life is different here, but life is and will always just be life. And I will go home knowing what it takes to make yarn by hand, and maybe that will change things and maybe it won’t. What I want to hold on to more than anything else is the universality of personhood. I am often tempted to assign meaning to everything: I saw a woman use a spindle to create thread from fur, and it struck a chord in me. What does it mean? Where’s the metaphor? So we’re separated from the means of production, and being closer to it doesn’t solve all our problems. What then?  What do I want to say about this?

But I’m not sure I want to keep assigning meaning to people’s everyday lives. Or, rather, I want to assign everyone’s lives the same meaning, which is that it’s a life, and it’s valuable and interesting and rich and complex just for that, and the thread in her hands can just stay thread.

Painting all the Tires Yellow

by Zhiyi, Civic Semester Participant

It was such a new experience for us to play a game as the beginning of a day’s org visit.

We confusedly paired with kids and ran left and right without knowing much about the instructions. But we quickly learnt and started to have our own fun from getting to know more and more Quechua words. Hearing ‘Apu’ (which means mountain), my teammate Paroma, a seven-year-old smiley girl, hold her arms high up in the sky to form a triangle. I copied her movements carefully. When the teacher yelled ‘Pacha Mama’ (which means mother earth), all the kids quickly lay face down on the ground, opening their arms to hug the mother earth. Me and Paroma kept standing up and lying down, running here to there, acting like tigers or horse-riding… until we became the last few groups that were not knocked out. I hugged my little girl to celebrate our win and watched her walking into the classroom.

It was a normal Monday morning in Kuska School, a rural elementary school and kindergarten located right next to the Inca rail to Machu Pichu in the village of Ollantaytambo. It is hard to tell Kuska is a school from its appearance. The three separate classrooms and an activity room took much less space than combination of the playground with a swing and a slide and a farming field with nest for Guinea pigs and two lambs.

Continue reading “Painting all the Tires Yellow”

Day in the Life!

by Teagan, Civic Semester Participant

¡Buenos días!

My name is Teagan, and I’m hoping to share what our day-to-day in Urubamba, Peru looks like! The Civic Semester is the only study abroad program of its kind that combines civic leadership, experiential learning, and Spanish immersion. What makes it especially unique is that it happens during the first semester of college!

Without further ado, ¡vamos!

7:30 am – I wake up and say good morning to my roommate, Sophia! The mornings are pretty chilly so I throw on a flannel and make my way to our outdoor/indoor kitchen and living area. We rotate making breakfast in groups of three, and today is my turn! I cut fruit while Nica fries eggs and Veena sets the table. We sing along to our morning Spanish playlist and brew a fresh pot of coffee for the day.

8:00 am – We text our group chat that breakfast is ready, and they slowly trickle in to eat. We talk about our goals for the day and laugh at our dreams while passing fruit salad and toast across the table in a comfortable rhythm. We have already hit the 1/3 mark of our trip, but none of us can remember what life was like before Peru.

9:00 am – After doing some dishes, we log in to Zoom for our first class of the day—Latin American Civilization. Today the topic is the Haitian Revolution and its effects on the liberation of Latin America in the 19th century. We have Latin American Civilization on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Community Change in Action on Wednesdays. By taking two courses over the summer, our course load is relatively light so we have more time to focus on our organization visits and internships.

Continue reading “Day in the Life!”