Berkley Intern, Arts & Cultures of the Americas, Africa & Oceania
My last blog should probably start by talking about the time I’ve had to reflect on my experiences, about how these experiences have profoundly changed me, and that I now have a better understanding of myself. But for me, such grand statements would not be entirely true. I have not had much time to truly reflect on all of my experiences. When people ask about my trip, I figure they’d rather hear about jumping of a 30ft platform into the Rio Mayo than may self-revelations.
Have I returned a “changed” person? Probably to some degree; but I must be honest that I was truly excited when my return flight landed in Atlanta (“excitement” is usually not a word associated with being in the Atlanta airport). As I told a few people, the first thing I was going to do was eat pizza and a cheeseburger, which I did, made all the better because it was prepared by my wife who I was apart from for 18 days!
One topic stressed to students of the KU field school throughout my time there was “reflexivity” – understanding how our individual backgrounds shape our perceptions and thus, our research. From conversations with others on the trip, it is clear that such self-understanding is not accomplished through a singular event. It takes a lifetime of experiences.
My most memorable experience occurred while returning from a hike to the Sarcophagi of Karajia. In the community where our hike began, a group of children was playing in the square. Our group left the village and hiked to the bottom of the cliff and along its base to get a better view of the sarcophagi. Unbeknownst to us, four young boys had followed us down. They proceeded to sing/yell a popular sound (apparently a virally video on youtube) on the other side of the trail.
On our return trip, the boys quickly dispersed back up the trail. But as I was walking, I heard giggling and saw them hiding on a ledge above me. I quietly moved along the wall and popped my head up right in front of these boys, who shrieked and took off running up the trail, continuing to sing their song.
This act continued for a while; the boys would run ahead, stop to sing, and then retreat when we approached. However, on one occasion when the boys were set to retreat, I sprinted ahead of them up the mountain, making sure they knew I now considered it a race! They followed me and periodically we would rest and catch our breath. Then someone would start running up the trail and the race was on (again). This continued the entire way up the trail!
While this experience could have happened anywhere, I think it was special to me because I truly felt connected with this group of kids. Often times I felt frustrated, embarrassed, or incompetent because I didn’t speak Spanish. Every time I learned and spoke a new phrase, I was immediately faced with a response that I did not understand.
However, I understood everything about my experience racing up the mountain. We were laughing and having fun. We communicated through the few words I readily knew: “agua” (“water” – which I gave to my tired friends), “no más” (“no more” – which I proclaimed after growing tired), “mis amigos” (“my friends”), and “uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis” (“one, two, three, four, five, six” – which we used to designate our position in completing the race). While I was told by the KU field school students that it was hilarious to listen to me speaking my four Spanish phrases, it was all the Spanish I needed at that point in time. At the end of the race, me and mis amigos shared snacks at the local store.
I’m still not sure how, if any, this experience has changed my self-understanding. Perhaps it’s breaking out of a comfort zone and embracing an experience. Or maybe it’s the rewards that accompany overcoming a barrier or deficiency. I don’t know. What I can say, is that my time in Peru is part of a body of personal experiences that have shaped my past and will continue to shape my future. While I may not have any revelations today, I am confident that whether next week, next month, or next year, my Peruvian experience will shape my actions and interactions.