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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Hot Potato? Try Frozen Tomato!

Today, I found myself in the  kitchen of the instructos´  hostel, Jackson to my left and Zoe to my right, standing just in front of the window. Both had huge smiles spread across their faces, mouths that hung open in anticipaton, and eyes that were fixed on a red mass flying through the air. When it landed safetly in Jackson´s hands, a collective sigh of relief was heard and then laughter rang out. Then the same, only this time, the flying object sailed through the air and landed in Zoe´s hands. Again and again, we passed the object around until we could hardly feel our fingers. Why could we hardly feel our fingers you ask? Simple! The object that sailed through the air repeatedly was a frozen tomato.

I have no idea how this game came about – who found the tomato, who´s idea it was to throw it once, and who´s idea it was to throw it again, but I do know that this little game kept us occupied for longer than I´d like to admit. Like five year olds playing hot potato, the three of us – eighteen year olds heading to college soon – stood in the kitchen, throwing the frozen tomato back and forth, shrieking with laughter. There was no cultural significance to this game we played, no traditional Peruvian dish (as far as I know) that would call for an entire frozen tomato, and no deeper meaning that I can think of. The best I can do is that we had fun – just a group of kids playing and nothing more.

Here I go trying to find a deeper meaning anyways – I think recently I´ve been overthinking things. I´ve been reflecting constantly and journaling during every free moment about the expereinces I´ve had and how they make me feel, which has definitely helped me get the most out of my time here in Bolivia and Peru. Sometimes, though, I think I overthink things so much that I try to find a deeper meaning in everything, which actually pulls me away from my experiece rather than enhancing it.

I find myself distracted because I’m combing through my file of  “big questions” like what am I doing here?, what is my purpose?, how does my presence here affect the community?, I know my travels have been really good for me but how  has it affected the people I´ve met and stayed with?, Have I helped break down or perpetuate the negative stereotype of someone from the US?, does it even matter?, and more, when really all I should be doing is walking through the market and looking at the fruits and veggies.

Nowadays, I can´t drink un jugo, get a cup of café, or eat a piece of chocolate without thinking about what went into it. I sit there thinking about the blistered fingers of a little boy or girl combing through coffee and cacao beans and I think of the heavy sacks of large bundles of fruit against their backs, pushing against their already curved spines. I obssess over the terrible working conditions, how children won´t get paid well, won´t get a good education, and will spend their lives wondering why it can´t be better, instead of just sitting their drinking my juice, marveling at how fresh it is, and carrying on with the conversation. I think it’s important to think about these kinds of things because if you don´t, I think that perpetuates the problem. It´s so much easier to go about life with a slightly naive perspective, not thinking about the bigger things, but it´s important to. I  just think I´ve been thinking too much.

I don´t say it out loud because frankly no one wants to be brought down by constant reminders of how colonized the world is, the presence and acceptance of racism and sexism as a way of life in the areas we visit, the arduous work that goes into things we take for granted every day, etc. But I´m always thinking it. I´m always thinking about it and writing about it. I think it´s because of this that I´ve been so tired lately. I´m just thinking too hard for too long. That´s why my little game of frozen tomato was so important. It lasted only about ten minutes, but during those ten minutes, I thought only about how cold the tomato was in my hands and how to throw it so that if Zoe by chance missed it, it wouldn´t sail out the window. I laughed the whole time and we commented on how silly it was, yet we continued anyways, stopping only once to switch out the tomato for a different one when we felt it warming up.

I think I need more moments like this one in my life. It´s not bad to think about things, to reflect, to journal, to question, etc. It´s important to try to understand things on a deeper level. But it´s important too, to let loose, to laugh a little, to not think too hard, and to toss a frozen tomato through the air every now and then.