Editor’s note: Meghan Hurley ’07 is working for two years in Cusco, Peru. Her work mainly focuses around empowering and assisting women and children in programs that are run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. This is an article she wrote recently after three months of her two-year volunteer program. In Peru one of her assignments is to work in a bakery and she speaks of some of her co-workers here.
“Excuse me, do you know where I can buy masking tape?”
My whole volunteer experience here in Cusco, Peru can be summed up in the implications of this simple question. My time in Cusco has brought on many feelings of insecurity, unfamiliarity with my surroundings and a general feeling of being lost that can be represented by this question.
My community member Catherine and I wanted tape to hang things on the wall. Now at home, all I would have to do is go to my kitchen and get some. If it wasn’t there, I knew probably at least 10 places where I could go and buy some, very easily. Here in Cusco, however, things are a little different. We had no clue where we could go to find it. So, first we tried to call people to see if they could tell us where to buy tape, but no one answered. Then our landlady said that she would show us to a place where we could get some. However, we got there and they didn’t sell it. So we were left standing in the rain, with no idea where to go to find tape.
This is a common feeling, having no idea where to find the simplest things, no idea where to go. Not even a clue if I should turn left or right because nothing is familiar. Frozen in the street, trying to remember the reasons why I wanted to come here.
When I am fed up with not being able to find a store that sells the tape, or hangers, or a cooking pot, when I am asking myself why I am here if all I do is continue to make mistakes and not understand what is being said to me, when I feel like all I want to do is hop on the next flight home to my mom, I remember the reasons I don’t just throw in the towel and return to my easy, privileged life in United States where there is a store that sells tape on every corner.
They are Florencia, Lourdes, Wilfredo, Manuela, Urbana, Tina, Magdalena, Ana, Oswaldo, Maruja, Laura, Lucila, Sergio, Madeleyne, Yanet, Eliza, Efrain, Isabel, Fredy and Cintya.
These are the people I am privileged to work with everyday. They have opened their lives to me. They are patient with my constant questioning, always help me to correct the mistakes I make in Spanish and have made me their friend. If all they need me to do is sit and talk with them, to joke around, to offer advice, or to just listen, ok. I can do that.
I know that Maruja always waits to the last minute to do her homework, so I know that Sunday nights, she will need help. Urbana doesn’t like cucumbers, so when Sister Janet isn’t looking, I put hers on my plate at lunch. If I’m ever bored, I know that Florencia will always have something to talk about and she’ll make me my favorite juice, a banana smoothie.
We have only known each other for about three months, but we have created strong relationships. They trust me with their pasts, their troubles, their secrets. I am honored to have been given that kind of trust and I know that I can trust them in the same way.
I still haven’t figured out where to buy tape, but I have a lot more people in my life now that I can ask, and I know that they will always point me in the right direction.