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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

Sorting Herbs

I hear Maxi in the background of my dreams every morning. She wakes before sunrise, tending to her little colony of animals, cows, chickens, roosters, ducks, guinea pigs, all the while wearing her plethora of brightly colored skirts, layered one on top of the other like blankets spread over a winter bed. She will work in her gregarious way until long after sunset, stopping only to eat and chat in Quechua with neighbors, maybe pausing in the afternoon for the occasional sitcom or dance competition on la tele.


I watch her daughter, Liset, leave every morning for university before I wake, and return every evening just after I crawl into my bed for the night. Now it is Saturday and I see her pad around the house in slippers and p-j’s preparing a breakfast of bread, butter, marmelade, and some sort of deliciously warm, blended fruit concoction, while her mother milks the morning cow. Maxi walks into the kitchen, ha acabado sacando la leche, going over to her pajama-clad daughter to plant a huge kiss on her cheek. I see the pride in her eyes as she looks at her university attending daughter. They converse in Spanish, for Liset does not speak Quechua well, though she can understand it.


I lay on the mattress set out in front of la tele in Maxi’s living room, happy and tired from a large lunch of noodles, papas, y pato from the farm out back. The T-V plays Miguel’s favorite movie, while he wanders around the house, at times standing inches from the television, mesmerized by the picture, and at others pausing in the door frame to watch curiously his aunt have her hair washed by a friend as they chat in Quechua and prepare for la boda. The movie as I soon find is none other than a Christmas film, displaying colorful animations  of reindeer dawning Santa hats, and little elf-people shouting Christmas carols at the tops of their lungs–all in Spanish!


We sort through the yerba buena, Liset, Maxi, and I, tying it into massive bundles to sell at market. It is tedious work, sorting through the mountains of mint and another miscellaneous herb, separating out the weeds, grass and other plants mistakenly thrown into the wheelbarrow with the herbs when they were harvested this morning. I enjoy the smell of the mint, though, and the gentle trickle of conversation between the three of us while the T-V rambles on quietly in the background is soothing and reassuring. I am tired and relaxed, though still mindful of the work, which herb is good to sell and which to throw to the side, which paths to take and explore and which to toss to the side. The scene is as if from some sort of dimly lit dream. I miss home, I suppose, but home is home and here is here, and I can say for almost certain that I would not rather be any place in the whole world but here, sorting herbs on the living room floor with my host sister and mother. We discuss whether Liset will ever come to the States, and I promise to leave my contact information, contemplating the haze of far off plans–we all agree we cannot say what will happen in the future. At times I wish I had a camera to capture this moment, but it will forever remain a trickle of memory on the mountain of my experience. Only here, only now, can I drink from it.