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Photo by Teva Corwin (2018 Summer Photo Contest Entry), Peru 4-Week.

Wow, I’m lucky.

I am truly in love with Peru. As much as I miss the comforts of having parents to come home to that understand without me having to explain, being able to take a car to the grocery store, coming home to my own bed at night, and getting to see my sister’s face every day, I’m already dreading saying goodbye to this place and the people that make it so special. However, I have my host-family and the women at Tika (my placement) to thank for making this place feel like home.

Thus far during my time at Tika, I’ve brought new ideas to the organization; however, I’ve undoubtedly received more from working alongside Guadalupe, Mari, Maribel, and Rosi than I could possibly give. In a tangible sense, I’ve learned how to weave (a little bit), and the small amount that I’ve improved is due only to my inability to retain the process, rather than a lack of hours that the women at Tika have dedicated to teaching me. From a philosophical perspective, I’ve learning that being hardworking, while remaining flexible and relaxed is possible. I struggle to balance work and relationships, but the women at Tika always take time in their busy days to sit, talk, laugh, and share a meal together. Furthermore, I’ve learned how to be genuinely hospitable, making guests from any place feel welcome and treating strangers with love and compassion. One day, when a family of tourists from Germany came into the store, sick with food poisoning, Guadalupe forewent her usual demonstration so that she could prepare a medicinal tea for the customers and give them head massages that they swore healed them. In addition, my coworkers have effortlessly shown me how to care about understanding a person for who they are, rather than where or what they come from. From my first day my coworkers were eager to teach me about their histories and weaving processes, so I would feel like part of the family. They engaged me in conversations, asking me about my opinions and experiences here. However, they didn’t ask me about my biological family or life in the U.S. until they got to know me as a person. With time, they showed interest in my life at home, but it felt nice to first be understood in an individual way. Finally, Guadalupe, Mari, Maribel and Rosi are the most generous people that I have ever known. They have a passion for teaching and sharing with others, yet they never expect anything in return. I won’t try to begin describing the countless cultural experiences that these women have shared with me.

In terms of what I’ve been able to return to the women at Tika, I’ve established an inventory system using an Excel spreadsheet to make this collection system easier and more sustainable for future use – given that taking inventory by hand monthly is too time-consuming for the busy lives that the women at Tika lead. Furthermore, I’ve begun making a website for the business, on which I’ll post photos that I take of the women and my Tufts peers this weekend; I think my coworkers are really excited for this, as it will provide publicity for their business. Finally, I hope to create price tags for the items at Tika, to dissuade customers from bargaining, because the products are already very fairly priced. However, when I think of what I’ve given and received during my time at Tika, the contrast in the value of these things is obvious. While the contributions I’ve made are useful for the company, they’re all material. In contrast, I’ve received lifelong lessons from my coworkers. Accepting the reality that I’m the true beneficiary in this situation, I can only hope that genuine reciprocity will result from the friendships that my coworkers and I have developed.

Each day that I have the opportunity to work alongside these incredible women at Tika, our relationships grow, and the amount of time that we spend laughing increases. Over time, the trust that I’ve developed with my coworkers has led to me to open up about some of my most vulnerable personal struggles, which for the first time in my life, I’ve found shockingly easy to share. Mari has a unique ability to empathize and make one feel loved without saying a word;  Maribel effortlessly makes me feel completely understood before I even open my mouth to express myself or share an experience. Guadalupe and Rosi have a contagious laughter that makes those around them feel instantly comfortable and included, and they never pass up an opportunity to initiate a good, shared laugh. In return, my coworkers (and trusted friends) have been generous in sharing their own challenging pasts; yet in spite of each of the difficulties that they’ve faced, they are such joyous, appreciative, selfless people.

If I could go back and thank my past self for deciding to press the “send” button on that email to Jessye and Mindy that confirmed my decision to participate in this program, I would – a million times over. Again, I am truly in love with Peru, and I simply cannot think about saying goodbye to this place and these people; I’m already planning out a return visit here – maybe even as a temporary place of residence. While I have loved every hike that we’ve taken as a group, and I wouldn’t trade the incredible daily views that come with living in the Sacred Valley, it is truly the people that make this place so special; I especially have Guadalupe, Rosi, Maribel, and Mari to thank.