It Only Took 3 Seconds…
Usually it takes 3 days, but this time it only took 3 seconds…
After almost 8 months of homelessness and 4.5 months in foreign countries, I have to admit to myself, and to you, that the first 3 days in a new place sometimes have me riding on the “poor me” train.
Although I have all of the anticipatory excitement pre-arrival, sadness and nostalgia often stand waiting for me in the arrivals area as I look around at all of the happy reunions and remember the new and old friends I have left behind. The pit of homesickness continues to gather in my stomach as I am bombarded with apprehension over the strange faces and customs surrounding me. (If you read Risk Taking 101 – you’ll know how I feel about change – especially without my pillow and duvet.)
Maybe you can relate to those little travel irritations that bubble under my skin – the lumpiness of a new bed, the middle of the night stumble as I grope dark doorways searching for the bathroom, or the nagging tightness in my jeans as I search for gluten-free options that don’t include rice, potatoes, french fries or the risk of picking up a parasite.
Thankfully, day two dawns with a sliver of optimism, a swift (self-imposed) kick in the ass, and a reminder to embrace every moment of my adventure. As soon as I can get away, I lace up my sneakers and head out to explore my surroundings. With every step, the unfamiliar starts to feel a little more like home and by day 3, I have found a corner cafe with the perfect cafe con leche (latte), traded a smile or a story with my host family or another volunteer, and captured a few moments to share with all of you on my faithful traveling companion (my Canon T1i).
So, what do I mean when I say it only took 3 seconds this time?
I’m not talking about settling into Urubamba, Peru. I haven’t figured out a way to speed up that process – especially when jumping into the deep end of the cultural pool (i.e. sitting at the dinner table with a local family, eating traditional food, while Spanish whips mostly in one ear and out the other.)
No – this 3 seconds happened on the afternoon of my third day in Urubamba and the first day of my volunteer placement with ProWorld. That morning, I had an orientation with the cleaner burning stoves project, and I have to admit – I was impressed. I had no idea that indoor air pollution is a leading cause of death in the developing world or that the stove ProWorld has designed is literally saving lives in the communities of Peru.
That afternoon, I set off, on foot, for one of those tiny hillside communities – perched high above Urubamba. Up through the narrow streets of the town, I took in the faded buildings stacked against each other and wound my way to where the pavement ended and gravel began to crunch beneath my sneakers. Twenty minutes of heavy breathing later, the road veered to the left and I saw her standing on the trail. Her backpack tight against her shoulders and her uniform coated in a thin layer of dust, she stood as if she had been expecting me and waited while I picked my way over a couple of big rocks.
When I came up beside her, she joined in the ascent. With intense concentration, I rolled the few words in my Spanish vocabulary off my tongue. She covered her mouth to hide her giggles at my awkward attempts at conversation. When I asked if she spoke English, she blushed and continued to giggle.
Onwards we walked, past squat houses with Spanish tile roofs faded to a rusty brown; through hillsides blanketed in a patchwork of vivid green; and up to the centre of the tiny community of Chicon. When I pointed towards the community centre, my new friend waved goodbye and I ascended the last few steps on my own.
With my breath heaving in my chest, I surveyed the circle of local women at my feet. Each one of them looked up from her knitting and rose to greet me with a kiss on the cheek. Within 3 seconds, I felt as welcomed to their fray as if I had spent my childhood chasing the sheep through the mossy hills. My fellow volunteer, an alum of 9 months, explained my presence in Spanish and they each turned a beautifully weathered face to me and smiled with such sincerity that I felt like a bedgraggled traveler coming home.
Home to a community of women who meet twice a week to knit their way towards a better life. Women who sell their wares, through the ProWorld Women’s Artisanal Program, to people, most of whom they will never meet, both locally and internationally. Their one of a kind scarves, ponchos, hats, and purses will leave this hillside community behind and travel much further than the artisans ever will. The profits earned will help educate their children or feed their families and this twice weekly activity will continue to strengthen the bonds of this community and provide an outlet for these women from the daily rigours of life in the Andean mountains.
As I paused for a moment to take in the beauty of those mountains, I sank to the cement wall and wished I could stay forever. It took only three seconds for these unassuming women to open their circle to me; three seconds for me to fall headlong into connection and community; and three seconds to remember why every uncomfortable or homesick moment on the road is 100% worth it.
Here are a few more images of Urubamaba, Peru: