Monday, September 17, 2012


Week three of classes, senior year. The busy-ness is fully underway, the assignments piled up already, the meetings and classes fighting to find space in the new MPlanner.  Friend reunions have been full of squeals and hugs and long-overdue catching up.  The days are beginning to feel a little chillier, still allowing for tees and capris, but no longer necessitating tank tops and shorts.  Campus is bustling with students rushing to class, advertising their clubs and organizations on the Diag, and getting together with friends.  The band can be heard practicing on weekday afternoons, that beautiful ‘Hail to the Victors’ wafting from the south side of campus.  And how sweet is that first time back in the Big House with 112,500+ friends I haven’t seen in a while.  The band marches, the team runs onto the field, the flag goes up during the National Anthem and the stealth bomber flies over, making the crowd go wild with enthusiasm, excitement and pride.  Nothing else compares.

Michigan Marching Band - UM v. Airforce Halftime Show

But as I experience it all (always accompanied by “this is my last time doing x”), Cusco slips farther and farther away.  A short month ago I was in Peru, enjoying trips to the campo with my family, going out at night for one last Cusquenan weekend, saying goodbyes to my work friends, eating all of my favorite foods in all of my favorite places one last time.  This American world seemed so far away from me then, and now that world is surreal.  I actually lived in Peru for three months?  And now that life is still going on without me?  No es entiendo como es posible...

Upon my (rather tear-filled) return to the US, I have been blessed with some time to reflect on my own, and with many friends and family members with whom I can unpack my summer aloud.  Wonderful conversations with those who know me the best have helped me to begin to digest it and what it has meant to me, while pictures and facebook chats with those back in Cusco help remind me that it was all real, that it all actually happened.

My bags, ready to leave Cusco, even if I wasn't

So what have I unpacked so far?  Well there is the bag of souvenirs which grab my attention first and which I am quick to share with others.  These souvenirs are the highlights of my trip - the weekend trips to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa; the fun nights out and days exploring the city; the events and expositions I took part in through work.  They are the relationships I formed over the three months - with my loving family, with my incredible co-workers, with the Americans from my program, and with the random other Peruvians I befriended along the way.  They are the pictures and stories of all the adventures big and small.

My family on Ale's 16th birthday, two days before my departure

Next I unpack all the clothes.  And let me tell you, there are a lot.  You see, I have those I went with, the ones that are just “so me”, but I also couldn’t help but change my style a bit while abroad.  A different country is a good time to branch out and take on a new look, right?  And of course, that old holey pair of jeans didn’t quite fit in the suitcase with all the new items I had to pack, so I left them behind.  While all of this is quite true literally (abuela’s makeshift jean patch just wasn’t cutting it), is also pertains to a different kind of way that my style developed.

Some things stayed the same about myself, the core of who I am, those clothes that are just “so Amy”.  My morals and my faith, though tested beyond what I’ve ever known, are still the same.  My passions were only made stronger through my daily practice of Spanish, my inspirational co-workers, my individual interactions and connections, and the way in which I soaked in the music, culture, and experience of all things new and exciting.  I am still the same quirky Amy with the same goofy humor and the smile that just naturally takes place on my face.  Perhaps we can call these the essentials in the outfits - the undergarments if you will - the foundation upon which I build the rest of the outfit, the rest of me. Take those away and it’s a little difficult to start with any outfit.

Quality time skating with my sister in Tupac Amaru
(note the new skinny jeans)
While I was abroad I bought my first pair of skinny jeans.  I just stuck out so much there with my non-skinny jeans (I’m convinced it was all the jeans’ fault.  It had nothing to do with my height, accent or blonde hair...)  Sometimes certain experiences just make me long for a change of style, you know?  For example, in previous posts I have written a bit about how Peru’s culture is one focused on relationships.  The people there have shown me that it is good to spend the day with my family or friends, even if that means that house project doesn’t get done this weekend or I don’t get a perfect score on that exam on Monday.  Coming back (in my grand total of three weeks of school so far) this has helped me to realize that it’s okay to say no to certain things in order to focus more on self-care and relationships.  So healthy.

I have also come back with a new realization of how blessed we are in our society, in that even the poorest of the poor here is rich in comparison to many in Peru.  I say this not to suggest that we are better or we are doing something right that they are not, because I don’t think that’s necessarily true.  I just say this because I am grateful for every aspect of my life that is a result of wealth - my university education, my iPod, my heated home, my parents’ cars, my fully-stocked fridge, etc etc etc - in a way that I was never before.  Now, I have always been someone who is thankful for the privileges and blessings in my life, but I’m telling you, the appreciation and awareness is deeper.  

When I was packing, I didn’t have much room in the suitcase to begin with, so I had to limit the comforts in my wardrobe to ensure I had enough essentials.  For example, my big-kid security blankets are my sweatshirts, but as they are bulky, they were limited.  I couldn’t take all of the comforts of life with me, such as my mom and dad, my vibrant church community, or my best friends.  With limited access to those who really help me to feel most comfortable in my own skin, I was forced to re-evaluate who I am for me, without that ever-present support system.  This was a struggle I wasn’t prepared for.  I hadn’t thought about all of the ways in which my community creates and sustains me.  When my security blankets were left behind, I had to re-evaluate who I am, at the core, for me - just me.  Not who my family helps me to be, not who my best friends help me to be.  Just me.  Granted I still had some ties with them (thank God for the internet) and they were still able me to ground me when I felt lost or overwhelmed, but it was a challenge that enabled growth.  I think this was an especially important experience to have before I become a “real person” in May, because I am now back in a place where my support system is abundant, I have all of my hoodies in the closet again, but I know what some of my weak spots are so that I can work on them this year while I still have these comforts.  (The fun part about coming back was remembering what it is like to have a closet full all those clothes that I couldn’t take with me to Peru.  I am so much more grateful for those blessings now that I know what it is like to not have them in my daily life.)

Once I pull out all the clothes, I move on to the other belongings taking up space in my bags.  My work binder is something new that I came back with, full of information accrued over the three months at my internship.  Flipping through the contents, I am reminded of how much I loved going to work every day.  It showed me that I will love whatever I do post-graduation as long as I feel like I have a purpose, or am part of something greater that has purpose.  I always enjoyed going to the office because I knew that I would be part of a little organization doing big things, whether it was planning an anti-discrimination educational campaign in the city or helping an individual who is hurting and isolated because he or she was abused.  APORVIDHA touches numerous communities, gives hope to so many who are marginalized, serves as the voice of justice in the region, and improves lives.  And I was privileged enough to be a part of it!  How cool is that?  No wonder going to work gave me life.  This purpose is something I need to look for in my future career.

My APORVIDHA family (sans Juvenal) with their goodbye gift for me

The internship also taught me other lessons, such as that I like a mix of office work and work out in the community.  It confirmed some aspects about my future, providing me with a comforting reassurance about my current path.  For instance, I loved the tasks that included planning events and that required attention to details and organization.  Also, social justice, human rights and sociology are exactly where I am supposed to be.  I feel like I am living to the fullest when I am able to reach across boundaries that traditionally separate people - cultural differences, language barriers, racial diversity - and connect with humans on a deeper level, as the brothers and sisters we are.  I am certain this is will be a theme throughout my life.

In addition to the work reflections, I unpack a personal journal full of events, emotions, thoughts, and opinions that happened while abroad.  The binding is busted because the journal is so full.  It currently sits on my nightstand and I enjoy picking it up and flipping to a random page, reliving whatever day I happen to open to.  This is something I will continue do for a while to remember all that happened physically, emotionally and spiritually while abroad.  I am convinced this is not something I can unpack at once and then put on the bookshelf for another day.  It is going to be a long, continual process of self-reflection, conversations with others, and continued writing and contemplation as I journey on.  Cusco lives on in me, my relationships last, and every day I am influenced by this summer.  I have some serious decision-making to do as graduation approaches (Latin America? domestic service? migration rights? Cusco again?), and ever since my return I can’t turn off thoughts about the next step, aware that in many ways I am a different person than I was in May.  These thoughts will grow and evolve a lot in the next few months, as will my reflections on my Cusquenan life.  

The unpacking is continuous, and I am so thankful for the time and support system I have to help me through the process.  I am excited to see where the next year takes me, and the ways in which I will continue to grow, strengthen and change.  Forever I will be thankful for my amazing Andean adventures, and for all of the people who helped me to get there -  there are many!! Teachers, advisors, scholarship donors, program directors, campus ministers.  My Cusquenan family, co-workers and friends who made my experience amazing.  My friends at home have been there every step of the way, weighing all my options with me when I was deciding what to do with my summer, encouraging me through the crazy deadlines of application after application, and then being excited with me in every moment of joy.  In the same way, my family has been nothing but supportive and I am so blessed to be loved and encouraged by them, especially my parents who were totally selfless and incredibly helpful (as always) along the journey.  My time in Cusco, Peru was my biggest learning and growing experience, and my most incredible and beautiful summer.  A bit of my heart will always be Peruvian.

¡Te amo, mi querido Peru! Gracias por la experiencia de mi vida.

The sun setting on my beautiful Cusco

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Things I Have Found to be True about my Beloved Perú: Part 2

Hi there everyone!  

I have safely arrived back in the States, and after a long, exhausting trip, I am relaxing at home with my parents now.  It has definitely been an interesting week of change and adjustments.  It has taken some conscious effort to speak in English, to resist kissing everyone on the cheek, and to throw the toilet paper in the toilet rather than the trash bin. Certain comments people here have said make me chuckle, like about how chilly it is (feels nice and warm to me!) or how the sun is going down earlier (still 3 hours later than in Cusco).  Perhaps my favorite was when a kind woman picked up my dropped water bottle for me and said ‘not to worry, I just washed my hands!’  If she only knew the lack of soap I have lived with this summer...

Anyway, I will post some final thoughts about my summer soon, but I still have some digesting to do.  Until then, I will leave you with a continuation of the list I started at the beginning of the summer.  I kept the list going on paper, and in the process of unpacking, I came across the rest of it.  So here are some more observations I accumulated.  

(As she gave a shout-out to me in her Bolivia blog, I have to mention mi amiga linda, Courtney, who posted some of these in her list about her country of the summer, my neighboring pais.  We lived in very similar societies so reading her list reminded me to tell you about some things I’d forgotten about. Gracias, mamacita!)

31. Shoe Shiners - In many plazas, you can get your shoes shined for a sol or two from the men who wander around seeking out shineable shoes!

Shoe Shiner in Lima

32. No Hot Water - It simply does not flow from the sinks anywhere.  Luckily I could squeeze in about five minutes worth of hot water for my daily shower.

33. European Style with US Influence - The fashion for girls is skinny jeans (often colorful pants), heels (most Peruanas are quite short), and tight little shirts.  The men’s styles are comparable to that in the US, but they more often wear scarves and sometimes even manpris, though hardly ever shorts.  In this sense, the fashion was influenced by that of Europe, but Aeropostale and Hollister clothes could be seen everywhere, as could tees and sweatshirts with names of US universities, states, and tourist attractions.  I saw my fair share of maize and blue on gringos and Peruvians alike.

34. Juice Shops - I am going to miss these so much!  They are more common than coffee shops here, making it easy to get a cheap, healthy glass of fresh-squeezed juice from any mix of fruits you’d like.  Perhaps you’d prefer a smoothie?  A sandwich to go with that?  So yummy!

35. The Streets as a Urinal - As much as I hate to admit this about my beautiful city, it is true.  I have seen more people peeing in the streets this past month than my whole life prior.  And yes....sometimes the streets reek of urine.

36. Facial Hair - Not so common here.  It’s not unheard of or weird for men to have facial hair, but you just don’t see so many beards, goatees, or chin straps.

37. Kids Roam Free - Kids have so much more independence in Peru, wandering farther from their parents in empty streets or extreme crowds than US parents would ever allow...which is interesting because it is such a good formation of independence but then kids live with their parents so much longer than customary in the States.  It is normal to be in your twenties and still live with your whole family.
A little girl takes on the pigeons solo (this pic is also from Lima)

38. Water - Don’t drink it.  Even the locals don’t.  Boil or buy, baby!

39. Street vendors - Plentiful, these range from women, usually with a baby on back, wandering the streets with a cooler full of homemade popsicles to women stationed at mini city-approved grills of anticuchos and papas (yummm my favorite street vendors!) to the stands on wheels that take their place on the same street corners every day, selling Coke, penny candy (well, I guess we’d have to call it centimo candy), the paper, etc.  And if you are a tourist, I dare you to make it a minute in the main plaza or anywhere in the touristy areas without being asked if you want to buy something...a painting, sunglasses, a massage, a Machu Picchu tour, candy, chompas, jewelry, you name it.  We have a saying in Cusco:  ‘You don’t go shopping, the shopping comes to you.’  Be strong...just say ‘no gracias’.  A lot.

40.  Cafe - Actually quite disappointing.  Those of you who know me know that my blue coffee mug is always glued to my hand.  Well, in Peru they don’t have brewed coffee, just instant stirred into milk or hot water.  Still good, just disappointing in this continent of coffee beans.  And no one has travel mugs.  No one brings their coffee or other drinks to work like we do in the States. (Luckily we could make coffee in the office when we needed a boost.)

41.  Open-Air Boutiques - Roll up the big garage-like door and there you have it, your pharmacy with all your needs from shampoo to feminine products, right there on the sidewalk.

42. Chompas y Chullos - The way to stay warm around here! Chompas are sweaters of any kind, but most tourists will buy the fake alpaca type with busy patterns of llamas and Inca designs.  Chullos (pronounced chu-yos) are the type of hats with ear flaps and sometimes the little ball on top.  These usually colorful headgear are typical among Cusquenans and the indigenous in the pueblos as well.

This is a great example of a typical, colorful chullo:)

43. Coca-Cola - Even though Inca-Kola is popular, they still love their Coca-Cola, and so do I!  I actually got quite addicted to it there, and now that I’m back home, our Coke tastes pretty gross to me.  It has got to be made from real sugarcane or something there, because it is so much sweeter and better.

44. No Indoor Heating - Anywhere. Period. Don’t ask me why, but believe me, I am now so thankful for this blessed invention.  It makes a difference.

45. No American Cars - After an interesting conversation about car companies with my dad and brother, I began to realize the lack of American models on the road.  In fact, one day I almost stopped and pointed in exclamation when I saw the classic, gold bowtie on a Chevy truck.  It really stuck out among the Toyotas.  (I suppose only a Flint-bred girl, born into a GM-employed family would write about this difference, huh?:)

46. Pisco Sour - This is the national drink, served with nearly any meal in restaurants.  Be warned, it comes with a strong kick!
Here's to Peru! Salud!  (Which means, Cheers!)

47. You know you’re in a fancy establishment when... - ...there is toilet paper and soap.  Seriously, come prepared.  Kleenex packs and hand sanitizer are your best friends.

48.  Dish Soap - It’s solid, not liquid. Scrub with a sponge and voila!  It seemed less wasteful than our method.  (Oh and I never saw any dishwashers...)

49. Bricheros - These stereotypically long-haired bohemian Peruvian men make their living off of gringas.  Turns out there is a whole populations of Cusquenans who meet gringas in the bars and discos and somehow manage to win them over so much that the gringas are willing to pay for their food, give them a place to stay, etc.  It is a real subculture here.  There is even a book written about it, called ‘The Gringo Hunter’.  Boys, you are not safe either, because word on the street is that there are bricheras too.  Luckily in general bricheros are usually pretty easy to pick out...and are by no means representative of the Cusco population at large!

50. El Español Bien Claro - Cusco Spanish is known for being slow and clear, which I really appreciate!  I feel very comfortable and can hold my own in conversations with just about any Cusquenan now.  However, usually when I talk to someone from Lima or other Peruvian cities, or from other Spanish-speaking countries, I am quickly lost.  The speed is faster and each city or country has its own jerga, or slang, which could take months to get used to.  Cusco has been a great first language-immersion city for me!  (By the end of my stay, I even had a few locals ask me if I was Peruvian or Latina...that’s a great sign, right?)
The Cusco Flag waving brilliantly from the Plaza

Well, that concludes my list, although I could write forever about Cusco and Peru, especially now that I am home and incredibly nostalgic for the city, the Latino culture, my family and friends, the mountains, the fun times, the Spanish, all of it.  I am the luckiest, most blessed person on this beautiful planet.  I thank every person who helped me get to Peru, and I thank God for the amazing experience that changed my life.  More of these thoughts and reflections coming soon, in what will probably be my last blog post.  

I can’t believe it’s already over...

Thursday, August 9, 2012


For my volunteer abroad program, we had to find a creative way to share some of our reflections on our experience.  I'm by no means a poet, but I thought I'd share my finished product with you here to give you perhaps a better idea of some of my thoughts in regard to my work here...


Sometimes it's overwhelming.

The poverty.
           The discrimination.
                       The inequality.
                                   The prejudices.
                                              The ignorance.

It seems universal.
              How to approach a monster so immense?

In the States it bears its teeth:
         Who deserves health care?
Who is worthy to enter the country?
                  For whom should we provide a good education?
The teeth are sharp and innumerable.


In Perú, its the claws that are poised and ready:
            Which race deserves basic rights?
                   Whom should be allowed to eat today?
      Who will be shut out from society altogether?
The claws are sharp and innumerable.

And the conversations about such topics
         are equally challenging
with estadounidenses and peruanos alike,
                    though in unique ways.

Sometimes its difficult to admit that we
        are wealthy in comparison to others,
        are biased toward people who look like us,
        are homophobic,
        are socialized to treat women as weak and unable, 
        are unfamiliar with how others live, work, think,
        are affected by the power of society's norms,
        are prejudiced in some way...
                                                       ...o un montón de maneras.

As a young, liberal student,
        who am I to approach the topic of social justice
                  with my fellow estadounidenses,
                            especially those my mayor?

As a young, volunteering extranjera,
        who am I to approach the topic of social justice
                   with la gente del Perú,
                            especially those my mayor?

But if not me, who?

The monster is immense, universal,
          capable of casting a looming cloud if we let it.
Its teeth are as sharp and innumerable as its claws.

But it is not invincible.
        The task at hand, not impossible.
For while the monster is universal,
        so too is the hope.

From the northernmost part of the States,
         to the southernmost part of Perú,
Passionate people join hands and raise voices 
         to say: ¡No más!
                We won´t let these injustices continue!

¡No más de la pobreza!
¡No más de la discriminación!
¡No más de las desigualdades!
¡No más de los prejuicios!
¡No más de la ignorancia!

Hope is universal.   

Hope is immense.

¡Sí, se puede!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Arequipa: La Ciudad Blanca

Happy New Year, everyone! August first marked the first day of the new year, according to the Andean calendar. We celebrated with confetti and kisses all around at work that afternoon.

Anyway, as you know, a few weeks ago I went to Arequipa (I’m gonna be lazy and use shorthand from now on...Arkpa=Arequipa). After a full night on the bus, which was surprisingly comfortable and relaxing, I was greeted by my abuela (my dad's mom) Carmencita, who lives in the city, and la Lucia, who had flown in the day before. As Fernando works for an airlines company, his family can fly for free...his biological family, that is.

I spent the first day sleeping, and later chatting with a whole bunch of new family members... always fun to do in a foreign language. Finally at night, Fernando flew in from Lima after his work week ended there. We (Carmencita, la Lu, tío Pepe, and I) went to pick him up at the airport, then took a quick tour of the city at night, including a stop for salchipapas (cut up hot dogs and french fries, smothered in much too many condiments...quite tasty!) 

La Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

We spent the rest of the next three days together doing a mix of touristy things (for me) and family things (for, well, everyone). There were several great lookout points with incredible views of this AMAZING city, we enjoyed some delicious, loooong, relaxing lunches, and even went to a mall. It was actually a pretty cool experience to see a Peruvian mall (although not much different than those in the States) as Cusco definitely does not have one.

Fernando took me to a convent right downtown (no, not to get rid of me). It is for cloistered nuns, meaning the ladies do not leave the grounds once they enter. They have very limited contact with the outside world, such as their family (see Mom, it could be worse...). 'So really, Amy, why did you visit a convent?' It is actually one of Arkpa’s tourist attractions. We got to see about 70% (the rest is still in use by the monjas) and it was like a city within the city. The rooms were all set up like they used to be way-back-when (very basic) and the alleys made up a labyrinth of brightly painted walls and pots of flowers.

Fernando and I touring the convent of Santa Catalina
The more family-oriented experiences in Arkpa included a very long chat over coffee with Fernando one morning, playing on the roof with Lu and Carmen’s dog, and FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY watching the last Harry Potter (sinful, I know, to have waited a whole year, but better late than never...yeah? And better in Spanish...?)

Two disappointments of the trip included: 1. not getting to go to the famous Colca Canyon because the bus we were scheduled to take there broke down the night before, too late to make arrangements through another company, and it was my last day in the city; and 2. not getting to see my Arkpa friends whom Shauna and I met at Lake Titicaca. We tried, but our schedules never lined up right. It’s okay though....facebook saves the day again! I still talk to the boys quite a bit, felizmente.

The let-downs could never outweigh the awesomeness of the trip though. The city is probably my favorite big city I ever have been to. Period. I have been blessed to see a lot of big cities from Seattle to NYC to Paris, and while Arkpa isn’t Paris-huge, it definitely beats it, in my personal opinion. Now, by this point I have become very partial to my new country, so you may just have to come to Arkpa to decide for yourself. Until then, here are some reasons it is such a cool place:

El Misti
  • It is shadowed by three volcanoes, sleepily occupying the entire background of the city, meaning that there is almost always a white-capped giant in the pictures you take here. The most famous and stereotypically volcano-like in appearance is the elegant Misti, but Chichani and Pichu Pichu are not to be taken for granted either. Majestic. All of them.

  • And while I might say that the city is shadowed by these giants, the city was by no means dark. In fact, the climate is amazing there. It was sunny every day and warm, warm, warm! It felt wonderful to finally be hot during the day, and to not need a coat at night. Also, the palms all over the city make it feel like the ocean is less than the two hour distance away. ¡Rrrrico!

  • Modernity! This city is much more modern than my own here in Perú, as demonstrated by the presence of both malls and movie theaters. Its very clear European influence also makes it feel more modern than the Incan Empire Capital I call home. In some of the really cool plazas that are all over the city, I felt more like I was in Spain than Perú.
La Lu and I in the Plaza
  • Perhaps the most unique part about this city is that smack dab in the middle of it all - city blocks, honking cars and combis, tall buildings and bright lights - there were farm fields. Big ones and small ones alike, some agricultural, some full of livestock...all over the city. It was so bizarre and yet so cool. This is a big reason I fell in love with Arkpa. A part of me belongs in the city, but my heart is why not have both?! What a great idea! Hopefully you can kind of get an idea from these pictures.
Don´t be fooled by the volcano, the farm fields and the are still in the city
  • Finally, the whiteness (and I’m strictly talking the color of the buildings...). The city is known as La Ciudad Blanca, or the white city, as a good amount of its buildings are made from volcanic material, which is white when it hardens. So from the white-capped volcanoes to the plaza square, it is all white. (Unless it is painted in some fun, bright colors, as many are, making Cusco seem a little brown and drab in comparison. Not to worry, though, I am still a Cusqueña through and through.)
El Misti, looking over his Ciudad Blanca

Overall, what an incredible experience! I am so thankful I got to see this awesome city (in a fairly localized fashion) to give me yet another idea of what is Perú. The diversity in both the cities and people here is really spectacular. 

¡Te amo, Perú!