Hometown: Charlotte, NC Highschool: Providence High School Major: Romance Studies (Spanish and Haitian KreyĂ˛l)
Fall 2014: Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Home
Summiting a 20,000-foot-high, active volcano in 28 hours, 15 of which we spent walking in daylight and 5 of which we spent stumbling along in the pitch dark, guided only by our head lamps and ingesting energy from frozen Snickers bars and encouragement (the volcano Misti â€“ Arequipa, PerĂş).
Descending 500 feet below the Earth to the worldâ€™s only underground cathedral constructed entirely of salt (El Catedral de Sal â€“ ZipaquirĂˇ, Colombia).
Floating down the Amazon River in an intertube (Madidi Jungle â€“ near Rurrenabaque, Bolivia).
Trekking through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, carrying my life in a bag on my back, so high that the cold and the lack of oxygen snatched my breath away (on the Lares Trek â€“ near Cusco, PerĂş).
Falling asleep in the 10-person, bunkbedded dorm room of a hippy hostel smack in the middle of the South American iteration of Charlotteâ€™s North Davidson district, complete with graffiti, hole-in-the-wall eating joints, and young yuppies and dreads-headed revolutionaries (Hostel Casa Bellavista â€“ La Candelaria, BogotĂˇ, Colombia).
Waking up in a tent somewhere between Cusco and Machu Picchu to a hot cup of coca-leaf tea brewed by our trek guides â€“ helpful at combatting the effects of altitude sickness and the drowsiness of waking up at 5 in the morning (Lares Trek â€“ near Ollantytambo, PerĂş).
Playing â€śWagon Wheelâ€ť at our Peruvian universityâ€™s annual talent show (here's a link to our performance along with footage of our first months in PerĂş) â€“ bringinâ€™ a little slice of North Carolina to the Arequipa, Charlotteâ€™s sister city and my home for most of my time in South America (La Universidad CatĂłlica San Pablo â€“ Arequipa, PerĂş).
Playing (losing to) my two younger host brothers in Wii bowling, Wii archery, Wii basketball, Wii surfing, and every other Wii game we played (the Vizcarra household â€“ Arequipa, PerĂş).
Sitting in the grass with Everardo, my eight-year-old friend with autism, who loves giving kisses and taste-testing every stick, block, stuffed animal, and play-dough ball he finds. I met Everardo along with his family of forty other children with special needs and the twelve nuns who care for them at a home on the outskirts of Arequipa (San Benito Cottolengo â€“ Tiabaya, Arequipa, PerĂş).
And eating, although using that word to describe my consumption of nutrients in PerĂş is like calling Machu Picchu a nice example of Inca masonry: accurate but inadequate. When I first arrived at my host familyâ€™s house, my host mom promised that sheâ€™d never repeat a meal while I was there. Every afternoon thereafter, she greeted me with a huge embrace, the customary Peruvian cheek kiss, and a piping hot plate of some combination of fresh veggies, carne, potatoes, rice, and corn that, true to her word, I had never seen before.
These experiences punctuated my 4-and-a-half month acquaintance with South America, but they did not comprise the majority of my time there, nor did they define my experience.
For in between the one month of trekking, the floating, the summiting, the descending, and the eating, I spent the most of my time â€“ three and a half months â€“ studying. By December, I understood 99% of the professor I only could make out 73% of in August (see previous e-mail update). From him, I received an introduction to the history of PerĂş. I conducted a comparative study of the United States and Peruvian education systems in my education seminar, wrote a research paper, and presented my findings to my class, all in Spanish. For our final theatre project, we adapted and translated Shirley Jacksonâ€™s short story â€śThe Lotteryâ€ť and performed it in front of our Peruvian classmates. In my anthropology of religion class, I researched â€śinculturatedâ€ť theology, that is, the â€śre-imaginationâ€ť of Christianity by the indigenous Christians of Peru, Bolivia, and Guatemala.
Halfway through the semester, I moved in with a new host family. Just like the first, the Vizcarras accepted me as a brother, son, nephew, and grandson â€“ depending on which family member you asked. The initial warm welcome gave way to comfortable rhythms. I spent Sunday afternoons chopping up wood with my uncles, weekday evenings getting schooled on the Wii by my four- and nine-year-old host brothers, and Saturday nights playing music with my 19-year-old host brother and his friends.
In 2014, Iâ€™ve been outside the country I call home for seven months. Iâ€™ve flown on 13 planes, spent time in 5 countries, and learned to speak 2 new languages. The time away, without a phone and disconnected from my communities and responsibilities in the States, has been rejuvenating and necessary. Now I feel ready to take on another semester in Durham.
Even though Iâ€™ve been back in North Carolina for nine days now, Iâ€™m still not sure what integrating back into my church, Duke, and my family will look like.
What I am sure of is what Iâ€™ll tell you if you ask me about my trip. Sure, Iâ€™ll start with all the sights I saw, the food I ate, the treks I hiked. But if you want to hear more, Iâ€™ll linger on what defined my time in South America: my â€śfamilies,â€ť a word one anthropologist defined as â€śthe people one breaks bread with." These were the people I loved and laughed with during my 140 days in South America; the people I miss even now.
Perhaps you and I will get to share this conversation as we break bread together ourselves.
Un fuerte abrazo,
P.S. Liz Stevens, one of my peers in the program, filmed and edited this video of our time in Peru. Check it out.
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