Culture Shock: Peruvians and Americans

A young boy ran by, throwing rocks at his small herd of piglets. He shyly smiled at our group1393884_771692342847931_481413038_n, quickly returning to his siblings. At this moment, Becca decided to give them each one of her soles in order to repay the children for letting us take their picture. The children appeared to cower as she approached them with her charming smile, but warmed up to her as Alejandra explained what the situation was. However, they smiled through their confusion, rolling their shiny coins across their tiny, dirt-encrusted palms.

We all snapped pictures of the children with our fancy, high-tech cameras, their eyes widening at the clicking and beeping coming from the devices. After their first photo shoot, I turned the camera around to show the children what we captured. They were shocked, and I realized this may have been the first time they had seen themselves in something other than a reflection in a window, or a glassy lake. As for our little Alejanda, this two year old girl may have seen herself for the very first time. I realized we may have made a dangerous mistake by talking to these children.

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Parque de la Papa is where we interacted with these children. An incredibly traditional area; a strong belief system placed in the natural environment, generations of knowledge passed down to individuals. This region focuses on trading, not monetary gain. The little income they have can really only be used in Cusco, although we did pass a few small shops driving through the mountain range. The sad realization is, that this was such an insignificant exchange for us in the grand scheme of things. Passing a single sole onto each of these children was such a simple task for the Americans to do – it hardly amounted to anything in our minds. But to these children, it was a life changing interaction. Their mothers may never be able to do what we did. While she can supply them with endless love, patience, food, and a home – money is a twisted material that can make all of those important aspects of life appear irrelevant, unnecessary.

Had we not been present at this moment in time, these children may have continued playing with their piglets, happily enjoying the bliss that is childhood. A dastardly chain of events may have come from this simple gesture though. This single sole may intrigue the children enough to pose for more pictures from the gringos that visit. Which will perpetuate this exchange, and increase the likelihood of them jumping onto the money train. It will carry them down into the city of Cusco, with varying jobs of modeling as natives of the highlands for pictures, or perhaps establishing themselves in shops. Regardless of the specific job, ultimately they may remove themselves from their native culture. All resulting from a single sole.

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A similar shocking realization occurred at Machu Picchu. While enjoying our tour of this wonder of the world, I lost track of Sonya’s voice as my eardrums were flooded with pleading voices. I looked around, and a gaggle of young boys approached me asking for a photo. So of course I obliged, crouching down for their mother to take our picture. I was incredibly overwhelmed, laughing with the children as they put their arm over my shoulders. They thanked me graciously, and scampered off to see the rest of the ruins. This interaction left me perplexed for the continuation of the tour. Why were they so impressed by a gringa?

I began observing all of the natives milling about the ruins. While I believed they stood out, I realized it was truly us who clashed. We were adorned in t-shirts, hiking boots, khaki cargo pants, all of the outdoorsy materials that come to mind when you think ‘hiking’. But everyone else was dressed to the nines. Sporting their boxy Beats headphones, “fresh kicks”, and even high heels. This last asset completely blew my mind – wearing heels, to HIKE? And not even just hills, but MACHU PICCHU?! After a short conversation with Mike, however, everything came together and made sense.

These children are coming from poor areas within Peru. School trips come to Machu Picchu, for while we see it as a Wonder of the World, Peruvians may view it as we see a national monument. Fun to come and look at, a neat tribute to their ancestors. For others, this is a sacred area, as many Apus are reflected in many areas of the site. This presents itself as an occasion to put on your best clothing, your best smile, and show off what you have. And this certainly put everything into perspective for me.

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We are an unrealistically lucky set of students. We were easily the youngest travelers visiting this beautiful mystery site, equipped with the best accommodations offered. Although I was excited to take pictures with the children we met at Parque de la Papa, and the boys at Machu Picchu, I truly believe we left a grander impact on their life than theirs on ours. Although they appear in different forms, the Peruvian children and the American young adults really shared a similar experience. For this is easily a sliver of my life – an incredible, life changing experience  – but still just a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of where I may end up, what I can accomplish. But it has planted the traveling bug in me, and I now desire to travel around the world. For some of these kids, it could have been the highlight of their childhood. Visiting Machu Picchu, seeing truly a work of art; receiving their first sole, seeing a picture of themselves for the first time. And this may have also redirected the course of their life. That’s the power of cultural divides. This just goes to show: no matter how many miles, languages, and skin colors divide us, we are all innately human. Our experiences, though they may seem heavily divided, are truly similar while looking through the right lens.

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Food for Thought

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A delicious, nutritious dinner of quinoa, butternut squash, rabbit, and beans.

The Chesapeake Semester has begun.  We were christened with the water kissing the shoreline of Chino Farms, located in Queen Anne’s county.  The group marched single file into camp as would little ducklings waddling after their mother along a river bank. After taking time to set up camp, equipped with tents and a makeshift kitchen, we scurried off to discover some flora and fauna of the farm lands. Food was certainly on our minds as we came back from romping around in the “wilderness”.

Dr. Schindler, professor of Anthropology at the college, joined us for day two of our camping trip to expose us to the foraging techniques used by people who lived in this area many years before. We expended a fair amount of energy clawing at the roots of cattails in the mud, collecting grit under our finger nails to obtain part of our meal. The robust, starchy roots were highly desirable due to their caloric density, and also how palatable they are. Following this, we padded around the surrounding area searching for more edible plants, uncovering an assortment of under ripe fruit, prickly pear cacti, seeds, and sassafras root (which made a delicious tea!). Considering the caloric densities of these foods, survival in this area would be difficult without supplementing diet with animals. Venison and poultry could be obtained in this area which would allow one to sustain themselves here. Dr. Schindler provided us with squirrel, duck, rabbit, and cow femurs for bone marrow to incorporate into our meal. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to crack open the femur using brute force and stone tools. I was shocked with the amount of force which was required to access the buttery liquid. I also consumed rabbit for the first time, which was also the first meat (besides fish, which began this summer) that I had consumed in four years, as I was vegan before starting this adventure around the Bay.

Preparing and cooking our dinner took hours – which was all accomplished through our fire and pots which were also provided by Dr. Schindler. The most interesting part, to me, was boiling the quinoa, squash, and beans inside of a pumpkin. You get to eat everything there – the cooking vessel too! After throwing stones in the fire to heat them, these were transferred into the pumpkin which brought the water to a boil. Aside from some grit and ash that made its way into the mixture, it was quite delectable, even without seasonings. This was the most connected to food I had been in a while – I was able to appreciate how much work went into retrieving calories and how precious they can be. Our western society has become absolutely detached from food – we have broken it down into individual aspects of fats, carbohydrates, protein. But this only needed to be analyzed so closely once we became sedentary individuals. People sitting on couches in sterile living rooms scanning through hundreds of television channels have to diet, and watch their weight, for they consume calories in vast quantities through junk foods. The calories are empty – think of potato chips. Light and crispy, but what do they actually provide? Fat and salt, but not other vital nutrients.Not to mention it would require a bag of potato chips to even begin to consider being satiated.  I enjoyed experiencing this deeper connection to the food I consumed through spending ample time collecting and preparing it. I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves to make connections such as this, or else we too fall victim to the advertising companies flashing pictures of the packaged snack foods and sealed packages of meat products, boasting about what they DON’T contain. Things such as “low calorie”, “no HFCS”, “low fat”; the list goes on and on. One of my goals throughout this semester is to make these connections throughout our journeys, and try to trace the food on my plate back to its home base.