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Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.

I’m a Church Goer

La Jastambo has quickly become home for those of us on the Andes and Amazon trip. I’m genuinely really happy here. There is hardly any free time, which is hard, and internet access isn’t always a luxury we can afford (literally), but the days are packed with educational experiences and funny (occasionally awkward) moments with my homestay family.

The friends that I’ve made in my group are so kind. Each and every one of them adds a layer to our dynamic. I’m grateful because it really feels like everyone is here for a reason and nobody is taking it for granted. Being surrounded by their positive energy every day can, at times, make the harder parts of this program seem like a piece of cake.

I’ve really been enjoying La Jastambo. Surprisingly, something that I don’t mind doing here is going to church. I’m basically an atheist cultural Jew, so religion isn’t my strong suit. But alas, on select week days I have been attending for about 2-3 hours. And in all honesty, it’s pretty comical. I say that knowing full well the importance of religion in all aspects, and I know how much it matters to my host mom that I am respectful and present with her in church. However, because I come from a starkly different background, I speak a different language, and I am primarily atheist, being with my family in the church and watching the hectic shenanigans unravel is very entertaining.

In church, I watch three singers belt out Quechuan lyrics amongst frantic guitar, charango, mandolin, and electric base players. Combined, they create the most foreign and enticing music that sounds random and at the same time so in sync… It is music that completely contradicts itself by nature. I wish I could post a video of it on here.

The singers cry as they sing to their god. It would be a gift if I could understand what they are saying. But Quechua is an Andean language, a native and confusing one, and I’m not sure how well I could get it translated through to my subpar Spanish. My friend Lucy is studying it as her ISP, so in a few weeks I might just ask her.

When the preacher comes onto stage, he too speaks in Quechua, with some Spanish mixed in here and there. He, I kid you not, will scream into his microphone. He wails prayers and thanks his god. He too will cry. You would think that he wouldn’t have to scream into a microphone that is already amped up pretty damn loud for a room of twenty people, but I think he is speaking directly to his god, and his intense vocals are a way for him to emphasize whatever it is he’s saying. This is just a guess, but part of the fun of my experience in this brand new culture is hypothesizing the purpose of various actions preformed by the wide expanse of people that I encounter.

All throughout the service, children are quite literally set loose to run amock on their own accord. My own brother, 8, laughs a little too loudly next to me in our booth, which makes me feel uncomfortable. It reminds me of when I was young and acting obnoxious in Temple services with my own brother. We did not have a grasp of how disrespectful we were being as we laughed too loudly and played as those around us prayed. This new experience of discomfort, sitting next to my host brother as he mimics my old behavior, has incentivized me to apologize to my parents when I get home. I guess that here in La Jastambo, if you’re a child, you can get away with these antics quite easily, but the looks that we sometimes get make me want to disappear into my seat.Other children can be observed climbing through the white booths, napping in various places, laughing, playing, shouting, causing lots of chaos right next to their parents who are intent on praying and listening… It doesn’t help that as you walk into church, you are offered big cups of colorful, sugary Jello. A few weeks ago, on our walk home, my friend Maddy said that her little brother had three full cups. You could quite literally see the sugar high in his eyes as he walked/bounced alongside us. Talk about incentive to go to church…

Next to me, my host mom will sit with her bible. She has made a point of helping me chant in Quechua. She’ll help me to find the section of the Bible that the singers are reciting, and she’ll aid me in following along with my finger. The sections change often, so we never stay on the same page for very long. My ability to say the words I come across is not excellent. However, I think that it’s really cool to be able to attempt to sing alongside her, and I know that she loves sharing her religion and language with me (It’s important to note that she speaks both Spanish and Quechua). While sometimes I’d rather be a silent observer, I’m always happy to sing with her.

During each and every song, the whole congregation claps along to the beat. Most of the people in the crowd seem to be a bit rhythmically challenged. Everyone is always clapping at different times, even though the beat is pretty clear. I watch as those around me twirl and stomp their feet (often times they’re stomping out the devil which is pretty intense to witness). Sometimes, a person behind me will start praying or singing on their own accord in a much lower, more aggressive tone. The clapping, slight dancing, and random chanting adds a layer to the wild energy.

The last thing that I notice every single time I go to church, something my friend Henry originally pointed out, is the fingers of the white Jesus painted on the wall behind the singers. His fingers fold in all the wrong directions and his nails look like a four year old drew them on. They’re wrapped around a baby goat, but they’re rotated a little too much. It makes me laugh.

If it’s late, and it comes time to rest our heads upon the chair booth in front of us and pray, I will politely mimic praying and fall asleep for a few minutes against my headrest. For some reason, attempting to chant Quechua with my mom and clapping to the beat of the music for two hours really tires me out. After church, I always go straight to bed.

In writing this, I’m kind of starting to realize that I genuinely really do like going to church. In part, I like to make my family happy and I go primarily because I care about their interests and would like them to know that. But in addition, I have gathered so many new observations to take home with me in that small, hectic, loud room.

The pictures I’ve attached don’t have much to do with church. I added a picture of my brother Said and I. I also added a picture of our spaghetti sauce that we made this one night in Pal Mar. We were having tough time trekking, but we all pulled together and cooked as a group in a fashion that we considered, as Dragons puts it, preforming. Also there’s some pictures of the trek in Pal Mar. If I manage to get a picture of the church (aka white Jesus and his fingers), I’ll be sure to post it to the yak.

(Also Jillian if you read this, thank you for subscribing to the yak. I love you and miss you very much. <3)