Yesterday I was standing here, above the plaza of a very small town high and deep in the Andes mountains. I was surrounded by strange and beautiful plants, playing children, friendly people, Andean music, the smells of local food, and the view of high, proud rolling mountains blanketed by a bright blue sky and huge white clouds. I was thinking about the people in my life who have helped me become the person I am today, the person that is standing here in this incredible place, and I was filled with an indescribable feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the people who have come and gone and my life throughout the years and have helped inspire me to recognize, open and appreciate parts of myself that I have been able to grow through in order to come and be in this place. I am part of an incredible experience, and incredible God, spirit, life source that breathes and moves through all things and brings everything to their place. This life is in me, in the people I love, in the strange plants, the cows in the field, the children playing in this plaza, through the mountains, the skies, the sun and stars, and galaxies and universes that I can't comprehend. I am here living as a part of this and I am so grateful.
I am so grateful to be living this experience, to have had the opportunity, the encouragement, and the motivation to come to this place. I am surrounded by wonderful people who have welcomed me with open arms: my host family, the people of the church, the people in the organization I'm working with, and random people I'm meeting every day. I've been given permission to integrate myself into this community and to allow the impact of my presence here. I've been invited to use my knowledge and skills to help do amazing work here.
I am working with an incredible organization here called Paz y Esperanza. This is a large organization with locations in different cities in Peru, as well as Bolivia in Ecuador. Here in Andahuaylas they have two projects. One is working with women in the rural communities around Andahuaylas who are facing gender inequality and domestic violence to be able to exercise their social, economic and political rights. The other is the Intercultural Bilingual Education, a project which works with schools, teachers and parents in small communities to improve the education while also maintaining the culture and native language of the communities. Most of my days are spent traveling with Paz to different communities around Andahuaylas in order to do this work.
My experiences this far have been diverse, challenging and beautiful. I've seen sites that have been breathtaking and painful. I've eaten food I never imagine myself eating, such as guinea pig and animal organs I'll refrain from naming.I felt emotions in extremes and patterns that I've never felt before. I've been taught new ways to do many things. My first day here, I was taught a new way to sliced tomatoes, because my method of slicing tomatoes was not correct for the type of salad I was helping the ladies at the office make. So I awkwardly relearned how to slice a tomato. This experience has become my metaphor for my life here. This was only the first of thousands of learning experiences and change. I've also been taught new mealtimes (dinner is around 9:00pm), a new type of currency (soles), new streets, product brands, forms of transportation, Spanish, and a new way to greet people (a kiss on the cheek). I have experienced the most intense feeling of fear in my life, as well as some of the most amazing feelings of wonderment and joy. I have consistently been learning new things and having to retrain the way my brain processes, and this isn't going to stop! This is the year of rewiring, reprogramming, reeducating myself.
I've only been in the city for three weeks, and it already feels like home. I am consistently being affirmed by my experiences that is exactly where I am meant to be. I am growing into a new version of myself, a better version of myself, and this journey has only just begun!