Friday morning, 23rd of September 2022, our bags were packed for Paru Paru, a rural community in the high altitudes of the Andes, around 4000 meters above sea level. Pablo Moreno, one of our instructors, had been to this place before, and he had experienced the freezing evenings and mornings at Paru Paru. “The place is super cold, there's no internet, and it's totally different from the city of Urubamba," he said with certainty: a clear indication for us to load our bags with heavy clothes that will at least make us survive for the four days we would stay in Paru Paru. He made it clear that our stay will be full of activities which included planting potatoes, doing adobe and mingling with the Paru Paru community. What was really on my mind was potato farming. I have tried a potato project before in my home country, Kenya, but it was never successful due to the intense droughts in Northern Kenya. It was like hitting a dead end. Therefore, this was going to be a learning opportunity for me, I spent the whole night of Thursday visualizing, completely in a fantasy world. I remember telling my fellow civic semester scholars to at least have some clothes that they don't mind dirtying because farming will require us to make our hands useful in the field.
My spirits were high as we departed the Sacred Valley, Urubamba, a small city with sprouting red iron sheets buildings, and drove off up the Andes hills heading to Paru Paru. I had AirPods on my ears and eyes wide open to spot and admire every plant, animal and landscape we passed by. The mountain slopes were yellowish, and due to the sun rays and their reflection by the bright stones in the hillsides, the grass was blended orange with green scattered trees and small rivers that moved down the hills to the Sacred Valley. The road was snake-shaped up the mountains which made the route long and gave us more time to keep exploring and taking pictures for our memories.
It took us two hours or more to arrive at the long-awaited Paru Paru. The dark blue lagoon which extended towards the North of the Andes ranges was the first to meet my eyes. I wanted the car to stop by and at least take some pictures for memories, without actually knowing that Celestino's family, our hosts, lived just by the lake. The car drove for like, 300 more meters and we all got out. A strong gust of wind from the lake blew against our faces, and we were already shivering as we made our steps towards Celestino’s homestead.
It was a community rich in culture and values. They embraced humility and kindness. They were so welcoming and this was a big difference between city life and rural life. As we entered through Celestino's Adobe and beautifully decorated gate, sweet ululations and undulations accompanied by dense applause filled the air. As each of us got in, beautiful flowers of different colors were showered on our heads with threads and flowers made necklaces, on our necks. It was a royal welcome for me and I believe the same thinking resonated with my fellow Civic Semester scholars. This community was one of the best cultures I have ever seen. Even though it resonated with my home village culture, I saluted the treatment we received for the four days in Celestino's home. It was my home away from home. Celestino did his best to move his family to this home. He worked in the mining industries before and in Lima, the Capital City of Peru to get money for his school and also to move his family from the small mud-walled huts to a more improved living house which we lived in for four days. This also showed another aspect of their culture, entertainment by the use of the flutes and the natural decorations that made the whole environment a living world.
Moreover, this community embraced learning. Among many the other young kids I was interacting with and giving snacks to, were Gabriel and Diego, two young and promising souls, aged 5 and 7. I was shocked that the two can speak two languages at that early age, Spanish and Quechua. I played with them most of the evenings and sang Quechua songs with them, even though I struggled to master a few lines. They know what their culture teaches them, to be responsible and learn from their environment. The two young boys learned two to three English words, mastering the names Tufts University, and ‘ Dragons’. They play soccer and are more skilled than some of my Civic Semester Scholars. I encouraged Celestino to transform his potato farm into a large-scale farm and use the profits to secure quality education for his children, including Gabriel and Diego.
This community does fishing, crop farming and livestock keeping. To the right of the house we were living in, are stone and Adobe-made pens for llamas, donkeys and sheep and down towards a small clean sparkling water river which sources itself from the lake is a new house for Celestino's brother. The house has more sheep and Guinea Pigs. We had a chance to have Guinea pig meat and the meat was so incredible. On the slopes of the Andes ranges that go down to form Kinsacocha and other lagoons to the other sides of the hills, are potato terraces. The terraces are clear that you could spot them at a far place but at this time there are no potatoes due to short rains. The mountains are orange, beautiful enough to make you admire them, walk over them and climb them for hours. Fishing is done in the lagoons and every member of Celestino's family is a master in doing fishing. They gave us an opportunity to do fishing on our second day but unfortunately, fishing was not our thing. I guess the fish could easily feel our excitement that came with noises and moved deep into the lake leaving us playing with our fishnets and water without catching any of them.
There's sharing of responsibilities. Both Celestino, his brother and the wives with the children all bring their forces together to make their visitors comfortable. Prepare the meals and distribute them and also attend to their usual duties including sourcing their animals to the mountains for grazing. As a group, we did not just pay a visit but we became part of this community. We planted potatoes that could be a portion of food for them in the coming days and shared our knowledge of farming which they can weigh and see if it can contribute to the improvement of their livelihood. I was so excited using the wood jembes, made from huge trunks of trees to make terraces for Celestino. Yazan to the left with me to the right digging potatoes’ terraces.
This community is Values-driven. Their deliberate actions of welcoming their visitors and treating them in a royalty way, it was a full indication of their roars of appreciation, love and humility. They're real definitions of resilience and determination. They turned a world that's hard to live in into a world that everyone on the globe admires visiting. Climbing the rocky hills could be death’s imagination to most of us, the howling winds and freezing colds could scare you away but they made it possible to live, cultivate and keep animals on it.
However, the world is full of challenges and the Paru Paru community is not an exception. First, they have no access to health facilities. I think the closest health facilities are at Urubamba, in the Sacred Valley which is a two or more hours drive. One of us got very sick because of the climate and the food and the only option we had was for Pablo Moreno to drive him to Urubamba for treatment. The internet connection is also unstable. You have to keep moving your mobile device in the air searching for the internet or go to some specific hills where you can spot the internet. The best part of the internet was keeping us away from our phones and indulging in real and deliberate conversations. I wonder if the government would ever chip in and help this community in its technology transformation. But with what I have learned so far in the Civic semester and from my own experiences of humble backgrounds deep in the rural village, is that quality education can help this community have better living standards.
As a Civic semester scholar, I came to learn much from this community. There's no field, either in academics or at home where there are no responsibilities. These responsibilities are guided by the cultures and values of the involved parties. For them to achieve all they have and sustain themselves, they had to stick to their beautiful culture of depending on themselves and utilizing their lands. Stick to their values of teamwork for the goodness of the whole community and to be kind to the world by allowing them to learn and also mutually give something back to them. Everything that was going on here at Paru Paru kept sending one big question to my mind, that question, what am I doing to make the world a better place? The Paru Paru community is a kind community, which shares its survival and farming skills with the world. What about us who have more opportunities to change many lives around the globe? It's a challenge and a driving force to do what is right for the world. It's an eye-opening experience about how cultures and values shape the people we are.
Cover photo by Pablo Moreno Romani.