It is hard to believe that I have been in Cusco, Peru for a little over a month now. Also, this is my first blog post in my time here, half because I actually forgot that this existed, and half because I’m more of a pen and paper kind of girl anyway. So I thought I’d write more of an overview of my experience this past month. Then, granted I have the time and the energy, I plan to go back through my journal and share my thoughts along with some pictures of how amazing this experience has been thus far.
So, let’s get started shall we?
I cannot express how nervous I was to be in a different country where the language, culture, and geography is completely different than anything I can say I am familiar with. My family was nervous for me to participant in this program, as they should be. I mean I am the youngest and the only girl, but I’d like to think that I am also the most adventurous. So, new country, new language, new adventures? Bring it on.
Upon arrival to Cusco I immediately felt the stress of always having to translate things in my head, and praying I’d be able to respond fast enough to carry on a conversation. Unlike the rest of the members of my group, I only had three semesters of Spanish to lean on. I had always done well at reading and writing the language, and now the biggest challenge would be speaking. Obviously there were times where I felt lost or even like I had no clue what I was doing here. But, my directors believed in me and my rapid learning of Spanish, so I had to remind myself that I deserved to be here just like everybody else.
Each day I became more confident with myself and naturally things became easier. My Spanish has improved so much and it is so fun to have conversations with new people. Cusco is an amazing city full of history and art; and occupied by beautiful resilient people. I have to admit, I press pause every once in awhile on my way to work, in the Plaza de Armas, or in a taxi midway through another adventure. I stop to look around at my surroundings, to take note of what I am feeling, and to acknowledge how amazing my journey has been that it led me to Peru. I have had so many moments of pure wonder and appreciation for Ni’hoodszáán ( madre Tierra, Pachamama, Mother Earth).
To be completely honest, the sole reason I applied to Dukeengage Peru was because of the focus on the Indigenous population. As a North American Native (a proud member of the Navajo Nation), I have always been curious about what life is like for our brothers and sisters in the south. Growing up on a reservation is entirely different from the common upbringing in the U.S., and is often described as living in a different country. We even have inside jokes of dual citizenship. I remember leaving the reservation for college and having a major culture shock. I expected the same to happen here, but in a strange way I feel accustomed to some of the norms here. For example, most homes here are not heated, and we are in the winter months, so it is a challenge. Majority of homes across Indian Country deal with this same reality. So I wasn’t taken too much by surprise. It even reminded me of home, huddling around Shimásaní’s (grandmother) stove in the winters. The people here are warm and welcoming, quick to offer you food or tea before you even sit down. This kind of hospitality makes me miss home. Many of the conversations I have had with locals revolves around culture, history, and the emphasis on respecting and protecting the land we walk on and the water we drink. The relationship with the land is what is most important. I’ve come to the realization that indigenous cultures may differ, but there is always teachings and customs that remain equivalent.
Taking Quechua language classes, visiting museums and Inca ruins, and talking to my Peruvian family about their heritage and lifestyle has been more than I ever imagined I would be doing. It has also been great to have the chance to share and educate Cuzqueños on Northern Native Americans, and more specifically the Navajo tribe. They give me a piece of their culture and I give them a piece of mine.
On top of everything, I have been blessed with a beautiful Peruvian family that I have grown close to over the last month. It is a little scary how much alike my parents are to my actual parents back home on the reservation. They have really made this feel like home. On the weekends I go to the market with my mom. We sit and have tea while sharing our cultures and conversing about whatever comes to mind. When I come home my sisters (3 and 9 years old) are waiting at the door for me. We do puzzles, I teach them english words, and we watch Peppa Pig. My father always has a story to tell, and he loves talking about politics-we have great conversations! I can’t imagine living in Peru with anybody else.
I always dreamed of traveling when I was a little girl, but my idea of that was literally anywhere off of my reservation. Never had I imagined I would one day be standing on Inca land. I have been blessed with the opportunity to be apart of this humbling program. It is times like this that I can’t help but be appreciative for the sacrifices of my ancestors, the support of my tribe, and the endless love from my family and friends. I am not supposed to be here, but I have a habit of doing things I’m told is impossible. Ahé’hee’ Diyin Dine’é for protecting me on this journey.