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.

All Things Go

by Fatima, Civic Semester participant

Three months could not have gone faster. Each week I called my mom and told her about my adventures, excursions and health, and each week she would say “Another week closer to coming back”. But when I called her just now, instead of her usual response, she asked what time she and my brother should come pick me up from the airport Friday morning. As I began to search my boarding pass for an arrival time, I realized that my time here is done, like it really hit me.

How can a place turn into a home for someone, if they’ve only known it for three months?

It’s because for three months, home was where I could look out the window of my room and ask what’s for lunch or dinner and then proceed to make Buldak ramen with Cassie and Sahana, just to dance to “Dancing Queen” with them. Home was where I could barge into Mathew and Pablo’s room and annoy them because the younger sibling in me wanted to disturb someone’s peace. Home was Charles asking if he could try the food I was eating, cooking or buying and then asking me where it came from, where I bought the ingredients or why I wanted to get it. Home was Yazan falling asleep in the back of Juan Carlos’ car no matter where we went and Jordan asking every single question that came to mind, no matter where we went. Home was Tseringla & Don Pablo constantly telling us to be careful, not to fight with one another and encouraging us to have fun by telling us stories from their lives. Home is Rocafuerte, Ligia, Carlos, Roberto and Nancy, all of whom absolutely carried us on this experience.

But now, how can someone leave this place they call home?

I think it will be something we figure out later, when homesickness hits and we all want to book a flight back to Urubamba. When we all realize that all we want is to be able to go back to the coliseum to play or watch basketball, or see our German friends at el garaje for another good time. Or to come home after Booms and throw a dance party in our kitchen or make really gross smores over a bonfire. I think when we start to remember the things we will miss most about our home, we begin to also understand how to move on and start a new chapter. We will understand the importance of our experience, the impact it has had on us, and begin to accept that while we might want to hold on to this forever, we have to let go. We must take what we can, but also keep it pushing. Because at the end of the day, all things go.

What I’ll miss about Uru:

by Pablo, Civic Semester Participant

I will miss playing basketball with guys and girls my age here three times a week. It’s always a great way to end the day, practice Spanish, and compete with Yazan. Once, I pretended to be Urubambino (changing my last name to Quispe) so they would let me participate in their weekend tournament against other nearby cities.

Everything here is less expensive. We pay for food, moto taxis, clothes, and anything else we may need with soles, which are approximately one fourth the value of a dollar. Also, most festivals and celebrations are free in the plaza, and snacks are usually one sol.

I will miss the sense of purpose I have here. It’s a purpose that focuses on searching: we learn from unexpected experiences, from planned visits to organizations, and from the tops of mountains, where we can see the world, or at least Urubamba, differently.

Traveling with the group is one of the best parts of this whole experience. Juan Carlos, our driver, has a wonderfully contagious laugh that always makes our expeditions more enjoyable, especially when we’re tired, grumpy, and carsick. When we aren’t traveling, we love to go out to restaurants, bars, the plaza, bakeries, clubs…you name it.

I will miss the blasting music and late night dance parties in the kitchen. Jordan has always played salsa, and I’m sure our neighbors can hear Yazan singing in the shower. A recent pastime for us has been storm parties. When there’s lighting, rain, and the power is out, we congregate in the outdoor (but it has a roof) kitchen space to sing, dance, and drink tea.

The stars here are amazing. After around 10 pm most of the lights in the nearby area will go out, and one of the best spots in all of Urubamba to stargaze is in our garden (basically our front yard). Now and then I’ll go out there and spend a few hours with Fatima, even sometimes when it’s really cold.

I will miss my roommate. With Mathew, I have learned to share everything that is mine, aside from female dancing partners. Sometimes, we get into arguments that last a few days. Once, I was offered my own room but opted to resolve my issue with him because walking away didn’t seem like the answer. He is very admirable in the way he thinks and observes. We both push each other, talking late at night about difficult things or doing over 200 push-ups because we both are so competitive and later feeling sore because we did too much.

Pablo Moreno is filled with wisdom that he shares with us through his captivating stories and experiences. He also makes us grilled meat for dinner on special occasions, which we usually have by the bonfire. I know he is missing his wife and kids a lot. When he tells us he will miss us after the program ends, I think of Munay, the energy of love.

I will miss Tsering’s singing, thoughtfulness, and kind words. She’s always available, even in the middle of the night, and has adapted very well to the easy-going, spontaneous nature of our group. She also has played a really important role in making sure some of us were able to bond, not just as “buddies,” but through forming legitimate relationships: heart to heart. Huge thanks to both of our instructors for their dedication.

When I came here, I didn’t know how to wash my clothes by hand. Nancy, the person who keeps the house clean, taught me one day as I struggled for well over an hour to wash about five t-shirts and a couple pairs of socks. Nancy and I became good friends, and I often talk to her about culture, daily life, relationships, and aspirations. I will miss her.

The North Remembers and So Should You

by Yazan, Civic Semester Participant

Whenever I’m faced with a cup of tea, I am immediately transported to my childhood. I cannot seem to shake the many scoldings I had for my abnormal sugar intake. I would always scheme to find ways to sneak in a tablespoon or two, aside from the one I was already permitted. That ephemeral feeling of an explosion of taste, a racing heart, and the exhilarating inkling invoking in me the power to do anything was what I thrived to pursue. Until one day, I was met with my mother’s stern words that would promptly change my thought process, “Too much sugar is bitter; too much of anything is bitter.”

Now, more than 10 years, 12,562 kilometers, and three flights from home, I marvel at the wonderfully clear skies that happily dominate Peru with a cup of sugarless tea by my side and a life governed by those 5 words relayed to me as an 8 year old. I take my wisdom with me on our many journeys and visits to this foreign land, always keeping an eye on maintaining this sacred balance. But it wasn’t until shortly after that where I realized the infallible ideology, instilled in me, might be in fact imperfect. It all started off at one of our first organization visits, Sacred Valley Health, when we were met with several young and brave women from diverse backgrounds situated in Peru to spread awareness about rising health issues within the region. An impeccable mission statement, a group of women eager to make change, and an attentive group of naive students trying to take as much as they could––I was ecstatic. Blood gushing, pen in hand, and eyes fully locked in. 5 minutes into the presentation, they revealed the staggering statistic, “More than 40% of children in Peru suffer from anemia.” My stomach sank, but I persevered. 10 minutes into the presentation, they revealed the financial struggles and burdens of having to run a clinic with minimal funding and minimal workforce and solely a vision; my right hand relaxed and the pen that was once held intensely fell freely into my notebook. 15 minutes into the presentation, they revealed the lack of aid and support of the Peruvian government for their initiative, thus only aggravating the burden on their shoulders. The epiphany only hit me, as we dashed through the rugged roads of the Andes: Those 7 women are the backbone of spreading healthy and sanitary habits to combat systemic issues within their region despite the lack of funding, despite the increasing rates of the issues their facing, and despite the impediments set out by the government. “Too much,” I said in my head––I grew bitter.

The following week, we went on another organization visit and the cycle of the first was repeated. I felt like a victim of a Monet painting, bound to the chains of short lived devotion and infatuation and sentenced to eternal bitterness at the gruesomeness, injustice, and inequality of the world we live in: “Too much,” I said.  That feeling incubated for a few weeks until our most recent visit––The Llama Pack Project. An organization dedicated to restoring the Llama back to its Andean glory since its replacement by mules ever since the Spanish conquest. The natural cycle of its preceding organizations was not broken and inevitably we were left with more questions than answers; I grew bitter. However, during my conversation with the founder shortly after, she underscored the importance of remembering both the sweet and the bitter. She called out the government for their incompetence, she scorned the Spaniards and all their colonial remnants, but she also highlighted the impact they are having in resituating the Llama back into Andean communities. With all the bitterness came action. Not fleeting (sugar high) action, but raw and enduring action. Weirdly enough, I was taken back to my favorite show and the line, “The North Remembers”. And now I spur on by embracing the bitter rather than escaping it.

By allowing my stomach to sink, by permitting my heart to race, by remembering and eternalizing the “too muches” of the world and by allowing that naive kid to explore the consequences of dabbling into more sugar than he can take, I am ready to finally enact change.

I remember, the North Remembers and so should you.

PS: Mama I swear I am cutting down on sugar. This is all metaphorical <3