The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing. -David Foster Wallace
I went to the market this morning to buy one chicken breast. I was late for work, and the woman buying ten whole chickens disrupted my groove, vibe, and schedule. This type of thing happens a lot—someone buying X amount of meat, and I waiting irritated.
But then I breathe. I look at the people around me. (Pues, I have to because I don’t have a big rectangular screen to distract me.) I look even more, and I feel a lil body squeeze me from behind. Fernanda hugs me. I feel the Resurrection.
It’s in these blitzes at the market, on the bus, running to the bus, in front of classroom hell-raisers, that I am usually stuck in the idea that the situation is really all about me. I think about MY work schedule, MY dinner, MY time, MY privilege, MY gifts, MY sacrifices. This is my “default setting,” and I am the center.
I need to get better at disciplining my thoughts. I’m working at it. Maybe one day, even Stateside I can “experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred.” It’s crazy that even here without big screens and black SUVs, I’m still stuck in the rat race, in my own perceptions. What good comes out of anxiety, grumpiness, or stress? Sometimes I reminisce on the pleasant familiarities of Costco’s free samples, big aisles, and structured chaos, but then I remember it’s really not even ABOUT standing in line and buying the food. It’s about the way I approach situations. I will feel irritated here or there. It’s about the way I want to enter into right relationship and gain inner freedom—with people, with society, with Creation, with myself, with God.
If I truly want to be a contemplative in action, I have to consider other possibilities. I decided to be a volunteer with a desire to reach out in compassion and expand my awareness of fellowship in the class and at the market. But even as I am exposed throughout my day that those around me face great challenges, I am still tempted by self-centered thinking. I must open up my lens of compassion, and think about the five kids that mothers have to feed; And see how selling seven chickens will help that casera (market vendor) get food on the table later today; and view Fernanda as a source of hope. In the end, I can be better at and am capable of making these meaningful connections with the fellow market vendors and shoppers. Thank you Fernanda for reminding me to develop my own way of thinking, to become AWARE of my surroundings and move beyond myself. Asking, “how are you?” and sharing a giant hug is a sure path from despair to hope; from isolation to freedom; from being blind to seeing.
In the beginning months of my service here, I felt the burning desire to form relationships with my kids. That’s why I’m here, right? I blurred expectations of being a charismatic, fun teacher while settling into the realities of being a first-year teacher. So, I now remember that the true work of a teacher is one in which she/he creates a space where we, the teacher and student alike, can share stories. To this point, I couldn’t begin my work of a teacher, friend, listener, mom, sister, and aunt until I pronounced correctly and memorized 360 names. And I’m not shy in asking those two second graders their names at least 10 times; I seem to always get Dayron and Dhaydon confused. In the class, on the bus, on the playground, in the “listening center” is where we exchange names, value our emotions* and our humanity to better understand each other. So, here’s to memorizing 360 names so that we may open the doors to our emotions, humanity, and compassion. Thanks to poet genius Thich Nhat Hanh for the inspiration:
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
*(current lesson where I’m trying to unpack emotional intelligence to 7-year-olds in their foreign language)
Compact moto-taxis, large trucks, honk-y taxis, rickety busses, whip past me on the main road.
Palm in the air, I dodge the large trucks and rickety busses as I cross the wide road.
A pack of dogs and flies dig ferociously through the freshly deposited trash bags on the side of the main road.
I plug my nose.
Men bathed in black car grease/oil shuffle past me.
I jump down a steep sidewalk step and barely sidestep the 10-ft-wide hole.
I walk towards an old man who whips out his pajarito to pee.
Mountains of stacked potato sacks wait to be boiled and peeled.
One man slides under a car. Two men perch over watching carefully.
Puneño migrants hunch over between their makeshift cardboard fortune-teller kiosks.
I avoid a puddle of dark liquid substance on the asphalt. (Tacna rarely receives rain, so it’s definitely not fresh.)
A dozen lubricentros display ads with women in sexy poses and minimal clothing holding Repsol oil. (An obvious connection).
Social commentary runs wild through my mind.
Men with leathered skin slice fishing net.
Weathered women sell buckets ranging in sizes big enough to fit my body and small enough to house a mouse.
I look to my right, and my amusement resumes.
Brayan, my 6-yr-old student, clutching a plastic tiger in his parents’ glass store flashes a wide toothless grin when I whisper to him our new secret: “’tiger’ means tigre in English.”
Four women pull out two 5-liter buckets of oil setting up their fried dough stand.
A family of four sits in the back of a so-not-legal-in-the-States-truck selling mango juice to the man working in the plumbing store.
I pass the open parking lot with a bed plopped in the corner occupied by a snoring napper.
A group of tired men crouch on a bench outside of the cemetery armed with black backpacks, (Stuffed in those packs are live lizards. If you´re lucky enough, you get to witness the men dismember the lizards and slap them onto a brave patient´s wound. Legend has it the lizards will cure.)
Simona, my flower casera, sits amidst her surplus of flowers with bright eyes, a metal smile, and braids down to her bum.
“Hmm…no one whistled at me today…it’s a good day,” I think to myself.
And finally Fe y Alegria’s portero Ricardo greets me at the school’s towering red gate. He asks if I’m going to play soccer this Friday with the teachers.
I respond with an LOL and say I’ll participate in the post-game confraternidad.
I made these observations on May 9, 2017 on my daily 15-minute walk from lunch at the Hermanas de San Jose back to work at school. I borrowed this idea from poet Mary Howe. Howe shared this type of exercise she assigns her college classes in an “On Being with Krista Tippet” interview. I hope to continue this writing exercise to help me comprehend the wacky-ness I observe coupled with the curiosity and awe I feel.
Before entering Peru, I was nervous about the machismo that my friends and travelers had warned me about. I thought I’d be distraught by the end of each day from the aggressive catcalls. And while I’m not immune to this form of street oppression, I’ve been surrounded with a lotta female strength. And furthermore, while Tacna’s not on Huffington Post’s “Top 20 Places You Should Travel as a Hipster,” if you do visit (even if just the bus terminal) you will quickly learn of the importance Tacna places upon female leadership in its recent history. Tacneñas served as the backbone in the war against Chile guiding their husbands and sons towards la patria for their Peru. In fact during my morning commute, I pass six statues of women in various heroic positions: arms sprawled out, torch in the air, and baby on back. Each day, I experience my own version of heroic women leadership and kinship.
And since I haven’t given a proper introduction to my life here, I’ll introduce you to the women who’ve helped transform Tacna from a foreign city to one in which I’ve begun to say “I live and thrive here.” In bits and pieces, I have begun to celebrate the women that sell me basil and eggs, the women who dedicate their lives forming the next generation at Fe y Alegria, the women who collect my bus fare, the women who harvest our food, the mothers who allow me to enter into their lives in counseling sessions, and the women who let the whole bus know they are breastfeeding their baby. I do this by living, observing, eating, laughing, and praying with the women that follow:
Hermanas de San Jose. Each day I work, eat, and pray alongside two rad Sisters of St. Joseph. I have the privilege of witnessing two people continually say “yes” to God’s call whether that means accompanying our school’s director after they both retired from said position, chatting with a lonely kid at recess, preparing breakfast for hundreds of hungry kids, giving new life to our school’s Campus Ministry team, and more. Hermana Maria Inez joined the religious life because she wanted to dedicate her life to give. And this life for Hermana Zaida became the way in which she would learn how to value each person around her. To me, it’s amazing to see two people joyfully live out their vocation as female leaders in the Church. I feel blessed and nourished each day when Hna. Zaida and Hna. Maria Inez accompany me. Because of their example, I hunger to live a Christianity that means to do.
Host Family. For the first month we live with a host family helping us integrate more deeply into Tacna life. But I didn’t fully appreciate this host family relationship until I moved out. With my own keys, I get to pop in and out as I please. These strong women that make up my host family—Maria Luisa (or Malu, my mom), Javiera (7 year old sister), and Rosita (live-in family friend)— support me through long workweeks and homesickness, care for me while I endure weird sicknesses, cook Saturday lunch for me, and make me feel completely at home. Malu, a single mom and teacher, overwhelms me with her love and catches me by surprise with her sixth sense as to how I’m feeling. Javiera often swamps me with her playful energy and reminds me of the importance of being a kid. Rosita, a full-time obstetrician and director of Tacna’s Jesuit spirituality center, offers comedic relief with her frankness and tips on self-care habits like…how I need to shower more and wear more scarves to avoid catching a cold. With so much on their plates, I am continually humbled by the room they carve out to show cariño.
Señora Antoña. My friendship with Antoña covers the whole gamut. She shares stories about her time as a young missionary in the Peruvian Amazon and her life as a mother of seven, she teaches me slang, cooks mouth watering Aji de gallina (my favorite dish), and even exchanges recipes about the latest Peruvian dish I should tackle, and always offers sage advice. Most of our friendship involves just hanging, baking, and laughing, which is a much-needed break that falls smack dab in the middle of the day.
Inez and Teodora. When life got me down during Mes de misión– that month I got stuck living with high schoolers and working on Peruvian farms, I found respite in Inez and Teodora. Inez served as our farm boss and teacher. Coupled with Inka Cola and incomprehensible inappropriate jokes, Inez encouraged us to work harder. Teodora aided us in the kitchen. She always appeared ready to help in the midst of distress like when we were left cooking potatoes in a mud oven under the pouring rain. God bless them both. I’m thankful for this human connection, and for their earth connection for harvesting food with love.
Community Mates. These are my confidants in Tacna. Our girl Dorothy (Day) gets it right, “the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” When you speak a foreign language for 75% of your day and are nudged every minute by cross-cultural mishaps and exchanges, I am replenished when I come home. It is here where I see the importance of girls sticking together, like when we write a Michelle Obama inspirational quote on the wall to remind us to strive to be our best selves. These friendships expand into other layers of my life—they make being a better teacher, improving my listening skills, unpacking the inner-workings of my burgeoning Catholic faith, becoming an excellent bucket-flusher, and always having some fun attainable. I feel safe and challenged with Shannon, Maddie, and Kristin. Their commitment to justice, faith, simplicity, and wisdom inspire me. This community nurtures my inner Pillsbury, and meets me where I’m at.
But society teaches girls many different things about friendship, and the dynamics that rule it. Pop culture portrays women as monsters, ready to pounce on the weakest link. Girls are encouraged to build themselves up by tearing others down. Think Mean Girls and Princess Diaries. But pop culture also often teaches that female friendship is a strong bond. For example, Moana, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and Clueless show that by building each other up we empower each other to be the best women for each other. Part of being in loving female kinships is letting go and letting your friends be who they are meant to be. It is in valuing these friendships that transcend economic, age, cultural, language, hemispherical, and racial barriers that help me abandon cultural myths and embrace relationships with mutual respect and value.
I’m lucky I get to celebrate with these nasty women every day. And with gratitude, thanks for bringing me consolation.
I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I walked into Mes de misión with few expectations, a nervous heart, anxious excitement, an unidentified yet eager desire to grow… and plastic bags shielding my feet from my drenched boots due to the daily downpours. To say the least, I was extremely unprepared. I have a lot of updates—life with my host family, Christmas celebrations Tacna style, New Years on the beach, move-in to Casa Fred Green—but I’ll try to keep this post succinct and paint as vivid of a picture with words and photos of my Mes de misión experience.
To give you a little background, each year JVs accompany groups of high schoolers from two schools in Tacna on a month-long summer service project called Mes de misión. This tradition emerged in 1971 when students, with the leadership of Fr. Fred Green (the patriarch of Jesuit projects in Tacna, namesake of our community’s house, and currently the oldest living Jesuit in Perú), from Colegio Cristo Rey and Colegio Miguel Pro volunteered in an earthquake-shattered town in central Perú. The tradition has lived on ever since bringing Tacneño teens, with the support of JVs, to different lifestyles and cultures where they witness social injustices facing their fellow Peruvians. This year we headed two hours east to a Sierra town of 60 called Talabaya.
And it was here that I was reminded of my reasons and desires to accept the JVC invitation—to leave the familiar, to set out on a truth-seeking journey, to accept each person along the way as my teacher, to face and forgive some difficult realities about myself, and most importantly to surrender to God. These truths were not withheld from me.
Objectively speaking, we lived in accordance with JVC’s four pillars of simple living, spirituality, community, and social justice. For example, my one pair of workpants broke the first day leaving me with a single pair of pants, I counted the days I’d gone without a shower, we slept side by side in sleeping bags sharing a small classroom, we cooked and shared every meal together, we participated in and led Examen prayers and reflections, we lived without modern-day technology, we deepened our exploration of service-learning, we cried and broke down in front of each other, and I read Dean Brackley’s Discernment in Troubled Times. And although we did all this, it ain’t to say it was easy. Almost everyday I had to tell myself in the midst of walking up a steep mountain, or cutting ten onions, or shushing the girls at bedtime: “Well, no one said following Jesus would be easy!” or more surprisingly I’d turn to a community mate and say: “I’m actually seeing Jesus in Lucas* [or insert another name here] today.” I began to see what I view as the face of Christ in students like Lucas, Talabeños, and fellow JVs. They walked valiantly and transparently, they made a mistake and asked for forgiveness, they wrestled with their imperfections while coming to terms with their creation as image and likeness of God, they taught me more of what it means to be human.
While the students learn from the daily manual labor and form relationships with members of Talabaya, the ultimate goal is to live in and create a community born out of love. Like JVC, Mes de misión strives to develop stronger students, humans, and Christians through sleeping in one classroom, cooking together, sharing prayer, reconstructing andenes (farm platforms), discussing ideas and issues, and more. And we asesores (group leaders) accompanied the students through each workday, hail storm, questionable meal, fake fart, and awkward quinceañera The difference, however, is that these students did not get to choose to enter a microcosm JVC experience. Yet, I felt incredible empathy with the kids, and three fellow JVs, because we too struggled together just as much as we laughed. And when I woke up in the morning sore from a long day’s work, I had to motivate six sluggish kids to reconstruct an anden, which consisted of piecing together fallen rocks into a small platform like a game of Tetris. But this was also a great way to relate to the kids. Together we missed our families, chocolate, suffered frequent stomachaches, learned how to listen, struggled to understand our Talabeña friend/boss Ines, and also had no clue how to reconstruct andenes. I was easily reminded of my acceptance of and love for the four pillars of JVC.
It is now three-weeks past our return from Talabaya, and I’ve needed this distance to gain an appreciation for surviving a beast of a month. In all honesty, I had no idea how much I’d struggle and grow. It really isn’t until you’re stripped to your core that you discover what makes you tick or even what your heart desires. I look back at my journal for specific ridiculous stories, traces of emotions, and moments of surrender to Her will. To give you an idea of a typical entry, here’s Day 12:
“Today I found two of my group members slaughtering and subsequently dissecting a frog. I saw Lucas* dangling the frog in the air and Cleo* clutching a pico (pickax). They were guilty as charged, and I sure didn’t need any more imagination on the killing itself. Unfortunately, we are almost halfway through Mes de misión and this is the exact opposite of what this month should be about. We are supposed to grow as stewards to each other and Creation, especially as we work alongside Señora Santa on a farm that’s been in her family since this was Chile territory. But fortunately, this incident ended in a healthy group conversation initiated by Paula* (a 14-year-old group member). My group showed vulnerabilities to each other, and even apologized for their persistent bullying. And this gave me hope that we’re here to be stewards for the benefit of all, as Dean Brackley says.[i] This includes but is not limited to each other and frogs.”
I reacted impulsively on Day 12. But it was this instance that also brought grace and a “seeing the face of Christ” moment. Like myself, the majority of my group was frazzled, upset. As it turns out much of the group discord stemmed from problems in Tacna. No surprise there, but it was humbling to sit in a circle and listen to each move beyond their surface and share. By no means did this completely change the course of their work ethic, but I noticed a change in respect; I noticed more laughter. The barriers between the cool jocks, yu-gi-oh nerds, and gossipy girls disappeared. The shy kids opened up their social groups; while the loud and usually brash students demonstrated stellar teamwork skills. On the last day, I saw students walking across the school handing each other appreciation notes. And if working with kids, especially in a nontraditional context, is about building relationships, then we must share each of our stories and vulnerabilities, including myself as In a world of separations in Peru and the USA, I felt the healing powers of humility, generosity, and bridges.[ii]
While transforming as a community, we slowly all began to appreciate the small-town charm and hospitality of our new neighbors in Talabaya. We gratefully shared a meal—goat milk, lamb soup, sopapia (fried dough)—in Tito’s humble home. We played soccer against local men and women. We exchanged laughter and gossip with our new friends Ines and Teodora. We accepted a daily bag of canchita (popcorn-like snack) in return for our work. We listened closely to stories of puma attacks. We learned about the fascinating work in the chacras and history of the town during Chilean occupation. And we also asked about the challenges and joys facing our neighbors today.
I walked out of Mes de misión with muddy boots and pants, greasy hair, a coffee and chocolate craving, an urgent need to shower, a newfound fondness for puberty-raged teens, a redefined desire to live simply, a discovery of Peruvian Rock, an alpaca selfie, and more. If you had asked me on Day 11 if I was enjoying my time accompanying teenagers, I would’ve given you a hard ‘no.’ But now if I was asked about one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced (thanks Kristin), I’d easily add this Mes de misión to the top of my list. And now I am eager to enter this JVC invitation with trust, surrender, and perspective.
*I altered the names of students to protect their privacy.
[i] Brackley, Dean. “The call to discernment in troubled times: new perspectives on the transformative wisdom of Ignatius Loyola.” (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2004).
Welcome to my blog! In this space I hope to share happenings and thoughts, and most importantly continue and deepen my relationships with those in the States and other parts of the world! With failed blog attempts in the past I purposely left little structure with this one, so I will blog when I feel called. Here are my first happenings and thoughts:
One of the first Peruvian jergas (slang) I learned was acogedor. I discovered the term after being asked multiple times how I’ve enjoyed my time here so far. I could easily say that the weather is beautiful, I like lomo saltado (a traditional steak meal), I love Chocapic cereal (think Cocoa Puffs), I am careful with the street dogs, I am eager to teach, and more. However, these likes and loves only scratched the surface of my week and a half in Tacna, Peru. I find more and more that I want to return, that I find it harder to leave, and that I want to venture to new places for the people. And why specifically have I felt such strong feelings about returning to South America? For this feeling: Acogedor,which means hospitality. And to me, I’ve experienced genuine hospitality between my ten-weeks in Ecuador to my short time here in Peru. I go because of people; And I am always sad to leave because of people. If you want to get to the root of why I am committing my two years to Jesuit Volunteer Corps it boils down to the fact that I want to love people, a community, endlessly.
“In the end it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”- Thomas Merton, from a letter written to Jim Forest dated February 21, 1966
Acogedor happens when the black street dog accompanies you on your two-block route from our current dormitory, the chapel, to our community house, Manzana D10.
Acogedor happens when your Jesuit Volunteer community greets you with an embarrassing welcome sign and smiling faces at the Tacna airport followed by a house-favorite, platano de isla (plantain) omelettes.
Acogedor happens when the Mercado Grau (our market) vendors greet you—the casera— like you’ve shopped for kilos of potatoes, cactus fruit, or plantains for your whole life right here in Tacna.
Acogedor happens when Sandra, a Fe y Alegria (my worksite) teacher, tells you she’s there to support you when you might have to teach 16-year-olds English starting March.
Acogedor happens when the Hermanas de San Jose (Sisters of St. Joseph) make a rare apple crumble while subtly hinting that you should join their order.
Acogedor happens when any Peruvian patiently listens to your not-so-quite fluent Spanish on your opinions of the United States’ newly elected president.
Acogedor happens when a current second year (shoutout Christie) shuffles you around to your new worksite then invites you to eat with her Peruvian family.
Acogedor happens when Christie’s host family offers you a Cusqueña (Peruvian beer) and an ice cream after lunch.
Acogedor happens when families and co-workers give you Inka Kola and empanadas–both a Peruvian staple.
Acogedor happens when the local Habitat for Humanity (where we reside) community blasts Zumba music in the plaza, which counts as our new nightly lullaby.
Acogedor happens when Edith and Martin, our neighbors in Habitat, invite us over to watch an hour-long documentary about Peru, but your eyes keep veering towards the pictures of all the former Jesuit Volunteers on their living room bookshelf.
Acogedor happens when I can one day return the favor to the people who have already given me so much!
We have been welcomed into a longstanding community of Volunteers, so I am grateful to past years’ and current Volunteers for the enormous love and acogedor we’ve been given for our first week. It is amazing to see how Peruvians welcome one another and foreigners into their homes. While I recognize the many privileges attached to us being Jesuit Volunteers and it no doubt affecting the provided hospitality, I feel immensely loved which is a darn good feeling in your first weeks in a whole new country and culture.
JVC- Hannah Petersen
Colegio Cristo Rey
A Southamerican PCH selfie of the soon-to-be community of five:
Jesuit retreat house from the inside:
The current community of seven:
Inside our community’s house, Casa Fred Green. I highly recommend my read: Citizen by Claudia Rankine:
Colegio Miguel Pro, where the JVs began in Tacna 20 years ago:
The neighborhood’s chapel that doubled as our dormitory for the first two weeks:
A neighborhood walk with my two first-year JVs:
The trio first-year JVs:
Our house, called Casa Fred Green, in the Habitat for Humanity community:
Plaza de Armas:
The first years in the center of Tacna, Plaza de Armas:
Inside Tacna’s Cathedral:
Alfajores, a delicious cookie filled with dulce de leche: