Making Urubamba my Home

by Teagan, Civic Semester Participant

Yesterday officially marked two weeks in Urubamba. It is crazy that in just fourteen days, we’ve learned our way to and from the market, created our own daily routines in the program house, and begun to communicate in local landmarks and inside jokes. We’ve gone through a whole cycle of breakfast crews and have each taken a turn cleaning up lunch and dinner. We know what fruit stands have the best avocados, and what “tourist trap” grocery stores to avoid. We’ve fallen into rhythm with the sun and the moon. I truly feel that we are on the way to becoming a family, and there is nothing that I look forward to more than thirteen other smiling faces at the dinner table each night.

While we’ve been physically in Urubamba for a fortnight, I didn’t feel quite settled until yesterday. After a lazy morning of laundry and YouTube, I put on a clean shirt and pair of jeans, did my hair with a bandana, and packed my fanny pack for a day out. I texted Tsering that I was going to Miga’s, a cafe with the best pain au chocolat in the Sacred Valley, and set foot outside of the house by myself for the first time.

I only had a rough itinerary, and with no Google Maps to consult or time constraint to abide by, I felt free. I just wanted to wander through the side streets and explore the unfamiliar cafes. The walk to the Plaza de las Armas felt so familiar under the soles of my Tevas, and I even stopped the impulse to take a photo of the mountains every three minutes—a real sign of growth.

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Colors of the Local Market

by Veena, Zhiyi & Iris, Civic Semester Participants

We spent our first evening wandering the plaza and exploring the local market. Vendors selling woven bags, clothing, and hundreds of colorful fruits dressed each corner of the streets. Being in the local market reminded me of home and how desperately I wanted to share the beautiful tropical fruits with my family. It reminded me of my aunt, who stops us on the corner of every street to pick fruits, my grandma’s lemon trees, and my parents and siblings, who display their love by cutting fruit for each other. We entered our new home in Urubamba, welcomed with bananas, apples, and freshly squeezed juice, and at the market with tons of fruits I could never get at home. Sharing fruit is my family’s love language, and knowing that it is a part of the community here makes me feel so much closer to home.

– Veena

It’s very exciting to see all the fruits and vegetables sitting there, group by group, freshly. It seems that they’ve just been picked from the trees. They are not beautiful ones with no stains. Some of them are even wrapped in mud, totally different from what I find in US supermarkets. This scene actually reminds me of home. My family always believes the best and freshest food comes from piles in the market instead of the prettily packaged ones on goods shelves. It is always an amazing experience to discover how tasteful the fruits can be after carefully selecting my favorite ‘ugly’ ones from a large pile. I can’t wait to visit the market more and develop my ability to identify better plants.

– Zhiyi

As the sun set, we gathered on the steps in front of the church, shimmering golden in the late evening light; a group of teenagers gathered outside and began to dance. They wore white and blue skirts over their pants for practice, moving in nearly perfect synchronizations up and down the landing. Teagan and Sophia asked to join them, and before long, a group of us stood in the back, trying our best to keep up. The girls would look back at us every few steps, ensuring we followed along, laughing at our clumsiness. The sun set, the only light coming from the bubbling fountain and church behind us as we all took a bow, our bright rain jackets and their white skirts coming together as we spun and smiled.

– Iris

Orienting Ourselves Between the Mountains

by Eleanor, Nica & Ella, Civic Semester Participants

As our van backed into the tight driveway of our home for the next three months, I had no idea where I was. Sure, Urubamba, Peru–I’d been spitting out the name of this city for the last 4 months to anyone asking about my college plans. But where were we, really? Where was the nearest panaderia; how far is the walk to a drug store; what street am I even on? This was a mere 23 hours ago, and today I still have some of the same questions echoing through my head. But, today, I know where to find un Churro Peruano, and how to get to the plaza, and the closest place to buy the toiletries I ditched so my duffel would zip shut. How do you orient yourself to a city, country, and continent completely new to you? In Urubamba, you memorize the mountains. I know what the Andes look like from my window, and how the perspective is different from the plaza. I know which landmarks to look for (most notable: 711 DIMA carved into the mountain directly in front of our house), and how to find my way using them. The mountains are the key to knowing where we are, I hope to never let the magic of this new compass grow dull.

Another unexpected beauty of this compound is how easily sound travels from one side to the other. I was half asleep in the warmest bed when Jacob called out to me from outside, “I can see the Milky Way!” I ran outside, freezing in just my pajamas and socks, to the center of the compound’s grass where Jacob stood and was looking up with a smile on his face. Sure enough, we could see the hazy grouping, clearer than I’d ever been able to see with my town’s light pollution and low elevation. Just as amazing to us as we craned our necks upward was how the constellations were different from the ones we’d seen back home, or at Tufts. Little differences like this, or how half of us nearly took freezing cold showers when the faucet marked “C” was “calor” (hot) and “F” was for “frio” (cold), have made this experience even more exciting, as we learn not to trust what comes to mind first. The sunlight here is extremely direct as we are so close to the equator and so high up in altitude. Sitting in the sun completely encloses you in heat, despite the cool, clear air. Being so connected to the universe by seeing the stars in a new way and feeling the new heat of the sun fills us with renewed gratitude, an occurrence that has happened many times since arriving in Peru.

By moving somewhere completely new to us all, we’re learning to find our way and form perspective using collections of completely new experiences. Whether that’s memorizing the Andes that surround us, studying the shifted constellations, or remembering that C means “calor” and not “cold,” I’m excited to see the new ways that our perspectives are challenged, and expanded. I can’t wait to see the ways that Urubamba becomes home.