Katie’s volunteer experience
When I think of spending a month in Pachachaca, Perú – living with a host family and teaching at the local school – many images and relationships come to my mind. There were many surprises in Pachachaca, but I actually think the overall lessons I personally learned and challenges I faced were, for the most part, predicted either by myself or by reading through Blue Sparrow’s website. I went into it thinking that this would probably be an incredibly exciting and different experience from anything I’d done before, while simultaneously presenting challenges I’d never encountered while travelling or in regular life back home. Both these preconceptions actually proved true for me; I have journal entries where one page I’m ranting about how amazing and incredible the day was, and on the next I’m going on about how much I miss communicating in my own native tongue. Though there were ups and downs, the consistent thing between all of my experiences for that month were how much they taught me and as a result, how much I learned and grew from my overall time in Perú. I’m actually not much of a blogger, and I think writing a day to day or even week to week summary of my time might be excessive, but I got some great stories I’m going to list here through my time in Pachachaca. For anyone looking to volunteer, I completely recommend it and would talk about the experience as really one of the best things I’ve done for myself, but I’ll also list some of the challenges so that you can have an idea of what to expect.
Not being able to understand everyone while they were talking! Obviously, though, my Spanish got a lot better through the month, so overall this was good.
Learning to take charge with the classes I was teaching – they were times when I’d need to round up the kids for class, because they’d be playing or doing something else.
Learning to utilize free time. After school got out at one, I pretty much had the whole day free, so I had to learn to volunteer to help out with the house or field, or find things nearby I wanted to do.
Being far from contact with family/people back home…however, I will say overall it was awesome being disconnected and it’s actually hard learning to re-connect now…I am terrible with my cell phone!
Hilarious/Random/Cool Stories Gathered from Pachachaca, Perú:
I am a self-declared foodie, so was naturally talking to my host mom Magna right off the bat about all of the Peruvian food I was aiming to try. I’d mentioned cuye, or guinea pig, and I think it speaks to how accommodating and welcoming they are that after offhandedly mentioning this in conversation, Magna had prepared cuye for me by the second afternoon I’d stayed with them. What made the cuye (delicious, for the record) especially great was that I ate it sitting on a bench in the kitchen that held nothing else but…live guinea pigs beneath it. I refrained from feeding them scraps because, hey, that’s just cruel…
My first weekend, I decided I wanted to go with my host brother, Luis, up the mountain in Pachachaca to take the sheep and cows to graze. This was a daily activity for him, part of “what you do” as a member of the household. Of course I thought of it as hiking, as in Vermont if you’re ever going up a mountain the main objective is exercise and getting more in touch with nature. So, that morning I was prepared with my hiking boots, backpack, water bottle (and backup waterbottle), snack, and reading material for the top. Luis wore his everyday clothes and normal shoes, and still beat me by a long shot to the top…weirdest part for me was definitely holding on to the tail of the bull for help getting up the mountain. Apparently this is normal, but unnerving nonetheless. At the top, Luis showed me a game called boliche usually played with marbles, that he played with cactus fruit we found at the top.
My last few days in Pachachaca were especially memorable, as school was closing for Christmas holidays so we had a lot of end-of-the-year events going on (traditional dances, Christmas hot chocolate and panetone, parent’s day), but I also got some send-offs from my host family. One of my host sisters, Ada, showed me how to make panqueques, which are basically beauuutifully fried sweet pieces of dough. I failed miserably in attempts to make fun shapes out of them (the dough is surprisingly hard to keep together once in the pan), but Ada proved a rockstar chef and they were delicious. My other host sister, Rocio, gave me an awesome last night by insisting I needed to see their New Years tradition of burning a life-size doll made of old clothes. She made a huge doll after coming home from school on my last day, and that night we burned it together in the backyard. Best part was learning how to fire jump ☺