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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Figs & Figuras

Doña Pilar is in the backyard harvesting figs when I get home. I join her, reaching for higos on branches that Mom can’t reach. “¡Cuidado!” Mom lovingly critiques my technique – I’m reaching for figs that are too high. She warns me that the acidic fruit will sting if I let it fall down on me. Mom grabs a little wooden chair and props it up on some uneven, just-tilled soil. “Sube,” she gestures at the wobbly surface for me to climb up and pick a cluster of perfectly purple higos. I refuse – “¡voy a caer!” – then Mom readjusts the silla into an even more precarious position and asks me to climb up again. Reluctantly, I clamber onto the chair and teeter as I grab the plump higos that practically fall into my hand they’re so ripe. I pass them to Mom and jump down from my precarious perch back onto solid ground. “¡Eso!” mom praises my harvest and plops herself onto the silla to rest, hands me an higo, and in slow motion, I watch the silla (and Mom) fall over, flailing. Mom erupts in roaring laughter as I help her up with my sticky fingers.

My time in Tiquipaya has been like a fig harvest – confusing, sticky, precarious, and delicious. At first, at my homestay, on the trufi, in Spanish class, and on the porch during weaving, I felt like an impostor, totally out of my North American element, flailing to grab a hold of higos, conversations, loose lana, and the norms of my host family. There was lots of laughter during family dinners, not because I was trying to be funny, but instead because the few Spanish words I’d manage to stutter together sounded like gobbledy-gook. Despite hours of practice, I couldn’t understand how to weave together a figura or express myself genuinely in Spanish.

At the two-week mark, I started to feel a little more at home here – after accidentally taking trufis to the mountains and to a university, I felt confident with my ability to get unlost and/or get on the correct trufi in the first place. I realized that I have a knack for being self-deprocatingly hilarious in Spanish, especially when explaining to my host fam why I’m so late to dinner – whoops! I took the trufi to Montecito again! (In my defense, both the trufi home to Colcapampa and to the mountains are #127).

Three weeks later, I was sad to go. The night before I left, my 20-something brother called my Spanish fluid, Mom trusts me to fry the plantains just right, and I have woven together my experiences here into a beautiful chuspa (sin figuras) that definitely made Doña Leti proud. How will I carry these beautiful moments in Tiquipaya with me through the rest of our travels here and beyond? Some things will be easier to preserve – I will keep speaking Spanish and trying to weave figuras. But how will I remember nights joking around the dinner table with Sergio, Alfredo, and Nadi? Where will I find higos as ricos as Doña Pilar’s and someone as genuine, hilarious, and kind to harvest with? I guess that’s kind of the point – what makes many moments so special is that they are fleeting and flailing. All we can do is savor them when they happen and seek them out as we move through the world.