When AAA Roadside Assistance Isn’t Available…

The following article originally appeared on September 5, 2014  in the ‘In The Voices for Justice’ blog by Ignatian Solidarity Network. It can be found at http://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/09/05/jesuit-volunteer-reflects-aaa-roadside-assistance-isnt-available/ . Many thanks to Colleen Kennedy from JVC for her support and efforts in the process. 

 

“What we grasp, gives us knowledge. What we let grasp us, gives us wisdom.”
-Sr. Peggy O´Neill, S.C.

 

Before I came here, a mentor of mine had told me to be open—to change, to the adventure, to the stories, to everything. I find consistently that being open requires a holistic effort. Often, I am challenged in my experiences physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Despite the sometimes arduous task of being present, my most joy-filled moments thus far in Peru have been when I have been most opened, or to re-state Sr. Peggy O’Neill, most willing to be grasped. Whether that is jumping in a driver’s seat or sitting in a kitchen with women learning about their lives while peeling potatoes, these are the moments I will walk away from this experience remembering with fondness and fullness.

Part of my experience of Ignatian Spirituality and Jesuit-informed solidarity has been to open myself to find graces in the situation at hand, or the person in front of me. It’s to practice attentive listening, which could translate to attentive openness. The moments that have been most challenging have often come from a place of being closed to my community, to my students, to my friends, or more so, to the opportunity and experience at hand. They have been when I am too busy in my head or in my loneliness to open my hands and heart to receive the joy and life that surrounds me here.

It was a chilly Friday in the late afternoon, and surrounding us was a rich, golden sunlight that filled the hills of Andahuaylillas, Peru. Mycompañero, Alfredo, and I were going to Yuttu, a rural community of Andahuaylillas, for catechism classes, or better known as soccer and singing. Half way through the trip, the car broke down due to a cable that had become unplugged. The car was parked right in the middle of the road, and the driver wanted to turn the car around to roll down the hill to town. Since AAA is not yet present for roadside assistance in rural Peru, the men hopped behind the car to push and, at their request, I jumped in the driver’s seat to steer. After a five-point turn, the car was on its way to town, and Alfredo and I ascended on foot, laughing at the scene of what had just happened. On the way home, we hitch-hiked to catch the last remaining car back to Andahuaylillas: a political rally’s cattle truck. These are just examples of the testament to expect the unexpected here, as every day seems to bring silly stories.

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Just some dogs hanging out in the back of a truck in Anda.

Living with an openness to participate in the adventure, the silly story, or the meaningful conversations further expand my heart and perspective. By no means do I say I have the secret code to doing this all the time or every day, but it has changed my understanding of myself, of my life in Andahuaylillas, and the way I hope to move in the world after my time with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Here’s to open hearts, willing hands, and an eagerness to let it embrace us.

The crew from the Parish dances the Saqra, a dance about ‘little devils,’ for fiesta de San Pedro y San Pablo at the end of June.

Power of Powerlessness

The following article originally appeared on July 21, 2014  in the ‘In The Voices for Justice’ blog by Ignatian Solidarity Network. It can be found at http://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/07/21/jesuit-volunteer-reflects-powerlessness/ . Many thanks to Katie Anderson and Colleen Kennedy from JVC for their support and efforts in the process. 

 

There is no greater weight nor relief than knowing I am powerless. Lately these words repeat themselves in my mind. I spend time thinking about what I could be doing to create the most change, or dreaming of how the Peruvian government will open up their arms to embrace this marginalized population.  I try to imagine what their lives would be like without their family’s desire for success measured in monetary standards, and how their self-esteem could be improved by alleviating the pressure of this achievement.  Injustices like these have to be given up to God or to love or to hope, whatever that greater power is. Not in the complacent ways that says only God or time will fix this, but in the way that acknowledges that my arms are not long enough nor strong enough to carry this weight on my own.

For example, I eat lunch in the comedor, a large cafeteria in the Parish where over 300 kids aging from three to seventeen pile in daily for a hot lunch. Conversation topics that I have with the kids include how Brasil tied Mexico in the World Cup, ways of preparing cuy, and how different our cultures can be. Though I look forward to these moments with the kids, sometimes I cannot help but catch a glimpse of rotting teeth and become frustrated with the lack of infrastructure around health in this area. Or I will be in the classroom grading essays and the most basic Spanish words will have severe misspellings, a small manifestation of a blaring problem in the educational system. The lack of resources and opportunity stem from a violent institution that has racism and class-ism essentially written in its manifesto. These injustices have too much power in their grip over the individual in that moment, and I am caught powerless to change the reality. My eagerness to augment the injustice with laughter or silliness is challenged with the blunt, sheer reality that this community faces. In times like these, I find myself wishing my arms were longer to hold the truth or my students better or tighter.

In college, I fell in love with this quote from St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” While I am here to accompany my students, and often feel powerless against the injustices they face, I must remember that my arms still have some capacity to reach and to hold, to chat about the World Cup and to give high-fives, to correct a few spelling mistakes and to share the same food. Perhaps by delving into powerlessness, we discover our greatest powers.

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Status: Six Months and the Living is Good

It’s been a little over six months since I left the good ol’ town of Spokane and headed down south for the good ol’ town of Andahuaylillas. Though small in size, Andahuaylillas has been a BIG change for me in just about everything. But it’s also demonstrated to me that there are shared values, struggles, and dreams in humanity across the world…which is a humbling and steadying realization (more on that later).

My experience so far has lived in an odd dichotomy, influenced by the learning curve of transitioning, cultural adaption, and slow and steady realizations. Freedom, yet with control. Control, yet with freedom. Realizing the openness and opportunity to engage in each day, but the limits of what culture and work-site politics allow me to do.

The mornings are full of juggling hope and doubt for the coming day. Some nights, I go to bed with the idea of “I’m going to be here for another 18 months!!” Other nights…the emphasis is quite contrary. “I’m going to be here for ANOTHER 18 months???”

Some days, I miss the comforts of a Stumptown cup of coffee and a Northwest berry pastry. Other days, I’m content to have a piece of pan huaro and Nestle cup of coffee with evaporated milk. Sometimes, I realize that I’m legitimately in a relationship with crunchy Peanut Butter. Our long distance relationship (LDR) is challenging and leaves my taste buds longing for something I just can’t have. Other days, I stuff my face with popcorn or potatoes and it’s no sweat (I swear…you’ve never had potatoes until you’ve had Peruvian potatoes).

There are days where I miss the access to the news, the conversations around world events and the stimulation of getting into a heated difference of opinion. Other days, Justin Bieber gets arrested or Tracy Morgan is in a car accident and I’m so grateful that I don’t have access to newspapers or television or internet as freely as I did.

Some nights, I SO DEEPLY DESIRE a fireplace to sit in front of and play Sudoku. And then there are days where wool socks and alpaca blankets work their weighty magic with their fuzziness. Side note, currently we are in the dry, winter season, and with no heating in the house, I often catch myself daydreaming about this one.

Then there are the days that I associate with certain foods or activities…Like pie with Christmas, or green bean casserole for Easter; grilled veggies and burgers and good beer (meat or bean) for the kickoff of summer. But these desires are relatively surface level, because more than anything when I start thinking about these, I miss the people and the places that house these memories.

But I also am extremely grateful for the time away. I’d like to think I’m growing in ways that I previously only had little time for. For example, I love to cook. And I’ve gotten to spend a fair amount of time throwing things together in the kitchen. I’m improving at playing the guitar, writing, and doing pushups thanks to one Yoga video and one Jillian Michaels video. I’ve become addicted to Game of Thrones, and now get to read a lot more for fun—from Tina Fey to Barbara Kingsolver to David Duncan (everyone who is from the Northwest, go read ‘The River Why’).

Here, the world is a vacuum. Andahuaylillas is Andahuaylillas…the Quispicanchi Valley is its own entity. Not many things besides the tour busses pierce the bubble that it is. World War III could start up and no one would move an inch. It’s provided immense time to reflect and get to know myself better, while also getting to know the day to day life here. Patience has not only become a virtue, but a necessary way to live life because one would go bonkers without it.

Maybe most importantly in these last six months is how my definition of success has changed. The definition and standard that I legitimately and internally hold myself to has been reshaped.  As my program coordinator put it, this is not an environment that facilitates success. The resources, the discrimination, the history here make obtaining the success that I have been used to much more challenging to obtain. My success-oriented self struggles with observing and feeling this, and at times, the powerlessness around it is debilitating.

In the times though that these moments are overwhelming or I’m just feeling a little bummed out, I find myself needed to step back from the loneliness it provides. While I entered into my time here seeking to accompany people, I didn’t expect them to be the ones accompanying me on my journey. My friends, students, and co-workers seem to lift me up relentlessly. I am gently reminded of the necessity of interdependency in human relationships through them.

So….Six month status update? Doing fine, and slowly sinking into the reality of my life here, not just a service commitment. Peanut Butter and all that air at sea level are missed dearly, but the sunrises and mountains are pretty incredible. I feel incredibly lucky to be here and look forward to the surprises, the frustrations, and the joys that the next 18 months hold for me. And while the dichotomy is a strange thing to stand in front of and hold, I know that the people and places I call home are doing fine without me.

To any teacher, professor, classroom instructor…

Dear any teacher who ever had the pleasure/pain of having me in class,

Bless me teacher, for I have sinned. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been a student in class, and two months since I’ve moved to the other side of the teacher table in front of the whiteboard. I now take back all of my comments about your sloppy hand-writing, your mis-reading of my sloppier hand-writing, and all the days my companions and I egged you on to watch a movie….I don’t get teaching fully or nearly as well as you…But I understand now a lot more.

A few months ago, I started my career as a teacher. I can say confidently that teaching high-schoolers is NOT part of my vocation. Classroom management, discipline, lesson-planning, developmental psychology, patience…it’s not my forte. While I know that some of these skills will develop in the coming months and two years, there is also an inherent natural ability and passion for this that I do not possess. And, while my day-to-day complaints do not necessarily express this, I know that my role thankfully is not judged on test scores or how many folks learn about Christianity.

I teach four out of the ten classes Religion in the high school at Fe y Alegría °44 (there’s two classes to each of the five grades). Now, for those of you who went to a private high school, or even a private University, and had to take Religion classes…you know that sometimes this subject is not entirely riveting nor stimulating. Talking about Church doctrine can be pretty boring on a basic level–this from the Theology and Religious Studies major. So, I can’t necessarily blame kids if they want to sleep, or flirt, or talk, or do Math homework, or throw things, or fight sometimes in my class.

I also can’t blame them for the roller coaster of hormone changes their body is on, nor the lives and realities that they have at home, nor the social pressures and societal norms being forced on them at this age, nor the the basic differences and understandings of the classroom that I have from the States and they have from rural Peru. These situations just require a new level of creativity and patience on my side…like sometimes jumping up and down in class, totally acknowledging how clueless I am sometimes, and trying to tell knock-knock jokes in class. But, I’m learning that if I can just get my kids to laugh a little bit in the way that means they’re paying attention to me, or if I can get them to just start writing a little bit or imagining something different…then I feel pretty good.

To be clear, they’re not all bad, nor are any of them bad in general. For example, I love it when the kids from the other classes that I don’t teach come to me asking if I could teach their class (makes me think that the gossip around Profe Jacqueline isn’t all bad as I sometimes  often dramatize it to be). Or when we’re talking about vocation and listening to the call of God or our hearts or whatever and something hilarious happens…Like the time we chatted about Simon Peter fishing unsuccessfully and Jesus tells him to throw the net to the other side of the boat to catch more fish. I asked my kids, ‘What would happen if Simon Peter hadn’t listened to Jesus?’ And one shouts out, ‘He wouldn’t have eaten ceviche that night!’ And another follows up, ‘He still could have eaten arroz con leche (a typical Peruvian plate) though!’ They’re funny and creative, I just have to slowly learn to keep up with them…which will come poco a poco in time.

Basically, I apologize and thank you for your patience, dear former instructor of mine. I apologize when I was in 3rd grade painting on other kids’ faces with watercolors, or for falling asleep in History of Classical Music in high school, or for never reading in any of my English classes except in college, or for turning in less-than-my-best Accounting Excel sheets or Theology papers, or for maybe using colorful language to describe you….I’m sorry. I now know that I shouldn’t have done that to make your life hell-ish at times. I also know now that you cared a lot more about me than I probably guessed or felt at times. Thanks for caring enough about me to keep me in the classroom, and for demonstrating to me that it’s not always remembering all the subjunctive rules or what the glasses in the Great Gatsby meant, but it’s about developing a holistic set of skills and learning more about myself and the world.

You rock. Keep giving it your best, even when your students are a pain in the arse.

Learning about solidarity on a new level,

Jacqueline

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh…that Voluntourism!

The last month has been full of traveling between Lima and the mountains (yes, even higher up than Anda!). While the first and final weeks were spent in Lima finishing (you read it…I finished it!) visa paperwork, the two weeks in between were spent in Ocongate, a small town southeast of Andahuaylillas. Here, Quechua seems to be the primary language and Alpaca ribs are on the comodor menu often. My fellow JV and I were charged with the task of teaching 2 English classes. My group was the basic level, consisting of 20 kids (17 boys….) ages 8-14. To give you a better idea of what my class looked like, water guns were a regular, English was often the back burner, Quechua conversations were often, and my hair stuck straight up. While I can’t say if the kids actually learned much, I can say we had a good time. They even went on what was their first retreat for many of them.

During my time in Ocongate, I read an article that was circulating around Facebook on Voluntourism (click on the link to visit). Several of my friends had posted it with a few comments in agreement with the message. As an international volunteer who owns a shirt saying ‘Serve Local,’ I have my opinions on it and am eager to continue the conversation posed by the author.

The author captures an important, fundamental idea in volunteering/voluntourism: If initial desires are to ‘help’ those who reside in the ‘3rd world,’ or live in ‘developing nations,’ the intent is forthrightly problematic. Our skills that appear impressive or desirable on a resume in the USA might not always be desired abroad, given language, cultural differences, or varying levels of access. For example, global health access is lacking in a dire way. Yet, a fully educated North American nurse who goes to northern, rural Guatemala is rendered nearly powerless without any previous cultural understanding of the way Mayan women view their bodies.

If we choose to enter a marginalized population to ‘help,’ we foster a power dynamic that implies the original way of the populations needs fixing. This becomes fundamentally problematic in terms of perpetuating cycles of power and privilege that prohibit eventual fairness in so-called ‘equality.’ The author recognizes this, stating: “Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is … detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the ‘white savior’ complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches.” Patterns of poverty and discrimination will continue to manifest and become exponentially worse if current forms of volunteering, aid, or international charity are left unchecked (fortunately, I’ll limit my scope to volunteering tonight).

What the author fails to do is dive into the depths of this complex, yet important conversation around how volunteerism can provide a window of opportunity to develop in understanding of populations too often deemed as ‘the other.’ Through accompaniment, education, and questioning, volunteerism can be transformed from a quantitative experience of ‘how many photos were taken,’ or ‘how many buildings were raised,’ or ‘how many people told me how nice I was,’ into a qualitative experience measured through the way our hearts and hands were opened. This is obtained by gathering knowledge prior to the volunteer experience, and a metaphorical, though sometimes literal, taking off of the shoes before entering into a community. Formation and an open heart are of key importance to entering into a volunteer experience.

Some of my fondest memories in the story of my own personal growth are held in the awkward, yet necessary situations of trying to respectfully understand ways of life different from my own…based on a difference of access or social location. These are the moments where race, weatlh, privilege, countries of birth, and languages are not forgotten, but put aside to witness one another in our common humanity. It’s the conversations where I have entered into a community, taken off my shoes, and opened my hands to recieve. I have nothing to give other than accompaniment and the curiousity to understand, but I have everything to recieve.

Many agree that the idea of ‘helping’ does little for social change in the grand scheme of things.The late, great Dean Brackley SJ quotes which explains “In the [United] States, the great challenge for Christianity is now downward mobility, if that makes sense. The challenge is not to help the poor to join the rich; it’s to help the rich join the poor. That’s where our salvation is.” While salvation can be, at times, a loaded religious word around fire and brimstone, if we are challenging ourselves to uproot social inequality, it works out quite well. My favorite, Gustavo Gutiérrez, compliments this idea with the language of Liberation Theology: “If there is no friendship with them [the poor] and no sharing of the life of the poor, then there is no authentic commitment to liberation, because love exists only among equals.” These words are a call to action to learn, dialogue, and be willing to change as a result of cross-cultural interaction.

Since I can only speak from my experience, I want to disect my current volunteer position. I will be a high school teacher in a Fe y Alegría in Peru. While my subjects that I will teach are still to be determined, they will be either in English or Theology. I’m fluent in English and have a degree in Theology, yet my teaching experience has been racked up only in the last few weeks in rural Peru (basically, next to nothing). I have grappled with the pros and cons, and, as nearly anyone who is close to me can attest, I nearly turned down this opportunity to pursue a job or other possibilities in Seattle, where I am more familiar with just about everything. Yet, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have reframed what teaching will be in light of conversations with my bosses, my program, my community, a Paulo Friere book, and myself. Teaching will not be a formal endeavor, but one that seeks to listen, observe, and accompany.  It will be a hands-on, ears open, messy experience that will seek to build capacity rather than a construction.

My final reflection that I’ll offer now is to quote Mary Oliver: 

“Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.”

At the end of a volunteer time period, much changes. The aesthetic and environments change, but most importantly, our hearts and minds are opened and broadened. Ignatian pedagogy deems this as a time for reflection and furthered action. From reflection of the experience and noticing what was important, what was different, and why was it like this, we arrive at the ‘what now’ stage.  We are charged with using our privilege and access to conversations that influence others–whether this be via government policy, consumerism, or disrupting cultural norms–to advocate for change. Our volunteerism takes on a different appearance, but rather, we must ‘tell about it.’ Fortunately, this is not confined to only going abroad or only in your own backyard.

No one says it better than Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal activist and artist in Australia, who asserts, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Our liberation, our salvation, our hope for the future depends on crossing cultures, borders (by neighborhood or state or country), and experiences by opening ourselves to the rawness of humanity.

 

Cakes, Cuy, Chickens, & Curiosity

It’s been exactly two months since I landed in Andahuaylillas, and so far, I feel pretty strongly in saying I’ve done nothing too much. My experience thus far has very much just been sitting with folks, learning names, becoming more comfortable in Spanish, and absorbing the context. I’m thankful for the time to absorb and become more curious with my observations. We’ve been saturated in information and cultural experiences, and yet I feel like I just got here yesterday and still haven’t done a thing. Admittedly, we’ve done a lot, but just not in the formal sense of ‘doing.’

I currently write this from the comfort of one of the Jesuit residences in Lima. My compañera de la casa, Victoria, and I are in the arduous and political process of obtaining our worker visas right now. To help pass the time, I wante to share a few snapshot stories of what I’ve been up to. Next Monday, I’ll head up into the mountains for a few weeks to help teach a few English workshops and a community  retreat before school starts in March.

1. You never know who will knock on your door. For example, there was a woman from Belgium lost in Anda who had grabbed a local policeman with here little knowledge of Spanish asking for the volunteers. They show up at our door, the policeman flustered with her Fren-ish (French version of Spanglish?) and the woman speaking quickly in French. Turns out, wrong volunteer house. But, through a mix of 3 languages, we figured it out!

2. Another favorite…A few weeks ago, I was the the only one at home, quietly relaxing and reading a book. There was a knock at our door, to which I answered a girl I’ve never seen before asking for the two second-years of our community, Sarah and Theresa. We get to chatting, and she’s looking for English help. I say this is one thing I am good at (or is it well at? Just kidding). We end up sitting down for an hour and writing a speech to give to her English class at her University in Cusco. The new joke in the house is that I sit down with any strangers and offer free English help to anyone and everyone. It did end up that she is our good friend’s little sister.

3. Throughout the year, there usually end up being large feast days for important Saints at least once a month. In January, we had the feast of St. Sebastian. There are huge parties, customs, and dances or activities that the whole town partakes in for the day or two of celebration. On St. Sebastian, there is a horse race, though donkies are ridden as well, around the plaza to try to grab oranges from a rope. My community mate ended up borrowing a horse to join the race. She did so well that she won a chicken, or a rooster (TBD), who now resides in our 10X7ft concrete patio in a chicken coop with a spiral staircase. S/he’s a pretty smart chicken, and enjoys spiders and cockroaches, so naturally we get along well.

4. Birthdays here are fun and messy. My birthday was a few weeks ago, and, even as the new kid, I was treated with just as much love as the rest. We recieved a call from the Parish that they had a cake and were ready to sing at anytime. I thought I was prepped for what was about to happen, but instead ended up getting my face pushed in the cake by the Jesuit…a tradition that after the 3 rounds of the Happy Birthday song in English and Spanish, the birthday person has to ‘taste the cake.’ In the process of tasting the cake, the Jesuit snuck up behind me and I got a face full of sugary, cherry frosting.

5. Cuy…We’ve all heard of it, and we’ve all imagined it. And I finally had my first one. Cuy is Guinea Pig, a dish often offered in the Andes. Folks originated eating it because of it’s quick source of protein, lack of space that it requires like other domesticated animals like cows or pigs, and it’s quick reproduction cycle. Its high level of protein and low cholestoral and fat amounts result in a pretty satisfying meal. Not to mention, it tastes like Chicken! Previously, the only time I had eaten in was in a Calzone in Cusco when I visited a few years ago (Sidenote, calzones means underwear here. People had asked me many times if I had tried Cuy…and whenever I said that I had eaten it in a calzone, I’d always recieved a puzzled look. Some  hand gestures and explaining usually straightened things out, but just goes to show that Spanish has a variety of adaptions based on your location). The Cuy was pretty tasty, since I ended up licking the bones clean! It’s customary to eat every part of the Cuy except the bones and teeth. I felt a little bit like ‘A Christmas Story’ with the family at the Chinese restaurant for Christmas and the duck, but this time I don’t think the Cuy was smiling at me.

That’s about it for now! Hope all is well!

 

Abrazos,

Jacqueline

 

My Top Ten Thus far….

I like lists, and I like giving quick snapshots of what life and transition have held for the past few weeks….so I made a top ten. Enjoy!

1. Bring a rain jacket and wear lots of sunblock. The weather here can be bonkers hot and then quickly turn to a downpour at any given second. It’s the rainy season, but I’ve got a tan/burn arleady going on.

2. PeptoBismal and I have become close friends. I take it with me everywhere I go. I think it enjoys the sites and sounds of Cusco. As repayment (because what healthy friendship isn’t a two-way street?), it helps me out when I feel sick or down. Companionship.

3. I was prepared to engage in a mad hunt for hot sauce for my food. Fortunately, I’ve found a pepper that does the trick: Rocoto. It’s hotter that a jalepeño, but less than a habañero. We cut it up and put it in soups, sauces…you name it. It’s pretty tasty!

4. When I came to Anda, I was anticipating on not getting to spend a lot of time with dogs. I’ll probably end up writing a blog post on him, but Yogi has stolen my heart. He’s a street dog that the whole town adores. A quick story, Yogi came into Christmas day mass, laid across my feet/in the aisle, and proceeded to turn over on his back for a belly rub at the feet of the Priest during Communion. His actions are endearing, as is his ability to digest chicken bones as well.

5. Piccarones. They are these fried gifts from God that have a sweet potato dough, look like a fritter and cake donut’s child, and an orange, honey topping. It’s become a favorite food of mine.

6. The mountains here are incredible…both their physical appearence, their spiritual presence in the faith, and the history they hold. Anda is right around 10,500 feet above sea level, and the mountains surrounding us reach up to around 13,000 feet. Literally, every morning I wake up in wonder seeing how the clouds rest like pillows on the peaks. They seem to guard the valley we live in and act as protectors of the people. Also, they hold a special place in the unique and beautiful faith that the community has….more on that later though.

7. I’ve become more and more grateful for the shoes I brought. The streets of Anda are similar to cobblestone, but with river rock. I can honestly say that I think the most dangerous aspect of the town are the streets…they seem to wait eagerly to trip you.

8. Dancing….This has easily become one of the things I love most. A typical party or gathering here always includes food, dancing, and Inca Kola (a cream soda, bubble gum flavored pop). The dancing includes everything from traditional Andean songs to Eurythmics to top 40 songs of the past few years. Yes, the wonderful people of Anda have seen my dance moves and continue to see them as my jiving, Elvis-inspired hips bridge language gaps. They also have begun to teach me more traditional dances and how to have a bit more self-control when dancing.

9. Speaking of language, it’s been a slow but steady climb to learning more Spanish. Quechua laces conversations here, but is a complex language to learn (folks have likened it to Korean..). I’m picking up a few words here and there, such as Cusqi (curious), Wonki (woman who can’t cook), and Chaska ñawi (loosely means ‘star of my eye’). Thankfully, people here are extremely kind and generous with understanding the language barrier, and often help me out till we understand one another.

10. While I thought I had left my job at Campus Ministry in Seattle, turns out I was wrong. I’m now in charge of the acolytes in Anda and a few other towns in the valley. Thankfully, all this entails is hanging out with a super energetic bunch of young boys (ages 7ish to 15ish). They make fun of my Spanish (in a sweet, playful way), I beat them in card games, and they will teach me how to play soccer. I’m super excited for this opportunity. In January, we’re going hiking with one of the Jesuits. Awesome.

Overall, it’s been, and continues to be, a true transition. But I wake up with confidence and energy since I’m pretty convinced this is the best JV site in the world. How often does one get to move to a more rural, smaller community? The next few months allow for me to continue transitioning and practicing Spanish before I start teaching (subjects TBD) in March. I’m feeling grateful, hopeful, and dancing every chance I get.

Un abrazo a tod@s,

J