(Written on 6/24)
It was just my first day here in Baños del Inca, Cajamarca, Peru and Melina and I have hit the ground running. Upon arrival at Casa Blanca (HELP International’s house in Peru) we were greeted by every fellow volunteer with kindness and thoughtful questions. We introduced ourselves and conversed with the 12 other volunteers over dinner, and proceeded to get briefed by our country coordinators Grey and Lia. To finish the night Grey, Lia, Melina and I walked to the pozos (personal bath houses). These are located on the same ground that Incan royalty used to bathe in the natural hot springs over half a thousand years ago. The pozos are clean, have huge faucets, and provide a square marble tub bigger than a 10 person hot tub. We cleaned up, and headed back to Casa Blanca for much needed rest.
Morning came quick and I underestimated the overnight temperature drop at this altitude. When I woke up it was 39 degrees. We ate a quick breakfast and caught a bus up a mountain to provide health screenings for a rural agrarian community. The altitude was so high it was incredible how it seemed laboring to walk at a fast pace while maintaining adequate oxygen intake. Our group met up with multiple local women and their children to take vitals and measure them, while their community patriarch hung around and took a nap against a shed. Melina and another fluent Spanish speaking volunteer then lead the women along with a now awakened and enthusiastic man in basic exercises with stretching to end it. The patriarch was then glad to lead us through the hills back towards an area with a bus stop. A mean sunburn accumulated on my neck and ears throughout this occasion without knowing what a combination of high altitude and beautiful sunshine was doing to my white body. Melina was helpful with the aloe application.
In the afternoon I went with Lia, Amber (NYU undergrad), and Andrea (Notre Dame undergrad) to a rural school outside of Cajamarca to read and write in Spanish with elementary school aged children. Every student in this school is a child laborer who’s educational opportunities are few due to their work obligations. These Peruvian chicos y chicas were joyful, energetic, and excited to express themselves with a pen and journal. This was the best Spanish speaking experience in my entire life. The children loved talking with us all while not knowing how much they were helping us practice our Spanish speaking skills. Holding conversations with these children was uplifting knowing connections were being established with a mutual understanding of our developing language skills. It brightened my day witnessing these young minds being engaged in their written elaborations. “Ustedes son inteligentes” was my go-to positive feedback. These children are so passionate to learn despite their unfortunate occupational situations. They do not make excuses regarding their circumstances, but show grit and perseverance to reach their full potential. No complaining nor entitlement. Pure humility and optimism. This culture has refreshed my soul.
These Peruvians have blessed me. We are just one full day in, and Melina and I have used the pozos twice already. Glory to Jesus for this opportunity.