Taking Home a Piece of Peru
“Life isn’t about the material things. It’s about spending time with the people that matter,” says Katie Dessauer, who lives in the West University area.
A rising senior at St. Agnes Academy, Katie made the decision to journey to Peru in early June. Along with 12 other St. Agnes incoming seniors, she embarked on a Rustic Pathways trip to serve the community of Pachar. Throughout the week she spent in Peru’s Sacred Valley, she gained insight into the culture and left with memories that hold the warmth of the experience.
Katie’s motivation to go on the trip came from two main factors. Her friend Isabel Goza had been on a Rustic Pathways trip to Thailand the previous year, causing Katie to want to go on a similar trip. Secondly, she wanted to go out of the country and experience a culture different from her everyday life.
Going into the trip, Katie didn’t hold too many expectations or fears. She said, “I was more excited than fearful. We weren’t told what we were going to be doing there though, so that made me a little anxious.”
Upon arriving in Pachar, the village where the girls spent the week, Katie immediately noticed the fact that it was totally surrounded by mountains. She said, “The mountains provided me with a sense of protection. I was totally in awe because of how different it was from Houston.”
The main service activity of the week was digging a deep trench that would later have pipes laid inside of it. The pipes would become part of a system used to connect several wells located around neighboring villages. Katie said, “The work experience was special because the people who lived in the town worked with us every day.”
While in Pachar, the girls stayed with host families, people in the village who graciously provided them with meals and a place to stay. One of Katie’s favorite moments of the trip was when her host mom caught sight of the LSU tiger pillow pet she had brought with her from home. Katie said, “Her face immediately lit up when she saw it. She cautiously asked me if she could pick it up and proceeded to give it the biggest hug.” Katie said that this interaction immediately helped her bond with her host mom because of how she “was made so happy by the simplest things. She was ecstatic.”
Katie clearly identified a stark difference between North American and Peruvian culture. She said, “Everyone there was so friendly. Anywhere you go it’s expected that you greet people, even if they’re a stranger.” She explained that this was different from North American culture, as we often bypass strangers and only greet those we already know. Katie also commented on how hospitable the town of Pachar was. “They completely and wholeheartedly welcomed us into their community,” she said.
Though adapting to the culture was easy in some aspects, it proved to be a challenge in others. Katie said the most difficult thing was overcoming the language barrier. Though she knew a good amount of Spanish, being fully immersed in the language was something she had never experienced before. For example, Katie’s housemate Lauren Roth, who knows little to no Spanish, was trying to explain to their host mom that she has a pet rabbit named Stu at home. Rabbit happens to be a part of the Peruvian diet, so their host mom assumed that Lauren was talking about rabbit “sopa”, or soup. Thinking that her host mom was referring to her rabbit’s name, Lauren agreed. Katie, however, stepped in to clarify the difference. She said, “I emphasized as much as I could that this was a conejo doméstico, a pet rabbit.” In general, Katie found hand motions to be helpful when she was unable to find the Spanish words for what she wanted to say.
Certain interactions, however, transcended the language barrier. The St. Agnes girls visited a girls dormitory in the town of Ollantaytambo. The dorm provides a place to stay for girls who are receiving education in the town nearby. Katie explained that these girls don’t have access to education in their hometowns and sometimes walk up to four hours to return to their communities on the weekends. Katie and her friend Brenna Walker brought a volleyball from home, but they were unsure whether the girls at the dorm would have much interest in it. However, the volleyball created an instant bond between the St. Agnes girls and the Peruvian girls.
Katie said, “It was the best common bonding point. Volleyball just happened to be their favorite sport. They were so excited and we played a mini tournament all day.” After the tournament concluded, the Peruvian girls shared part of their culture by performing a choreographed dance to a Peruvian song. In return, the St. Agnes girls shared a piece of American culture by performing a choreographed dance to the song Footloose.
Reflecting on the trip, Katie says, “I learned that I genuinely love experiencing other cultures and connecting with people who may seem different than myself but in reality just happen to live an ocean away.” Overall, she says that she “learned so many lessons that you can’t learn in a book.” She emphasizes the importance of not becoming overwhelmed by America’s materialistic culture. “Don’t take what you have for granted,” she advises. “The people we encountered had practically nothing material-wise and were completely content with their families, communities and lives.”
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