Monday, December 16, 2013

Home Is Where the Heart Is.

Well, WE MADE IT. All of us (with exception to Leesha, Laurel, and Hannah K. who are doing some solo-travel) are safely back, tucked cozily into our homes with our families, dispersed throughout the States. We’re filled to the brim with home cooked food and a multitude of emotions. On one hand we’re incredibly ecstatic finally be back, running to hug our families, squealing with delight upon reuniting with dear friends, receiving a happy lick from our excited dogs. But on the other hand, melancholy thoughts often drift into our minds when we’re reminded of life in Peru. It seems for every happy thing we re-encounter in our lives here, there’s something we miss equally as much in Peru.

We’re happy to reunite with friends and family here,
            But we miss our friends and family there.
We’re happy to eat pb&j’s, and drink tap water,
            But we miss manjar and jugo de fresa.
We’re happy to speak in English guilt free,
But we miss Spanish words and phrases that are sometimes the best/only descriptions we can find.
 We’re happy to walk in winter wonderlands,
            But we miss our Arequipean sunshine.
We’re so very happy here,
            But we truly miss it there.

It seems that we’ve allowed Peru to nestle itself deep into our hearts. That country, with its sunny weather and even sunnier people, has become home to 22 college students, whether we realized it or not. Home is an interesting concept. More than a house, home is where we’re completely comfortable. Home is where we’re embraced and accepted by family and friends. Home is where our hearts warm up. Home is here, and home is there.

And that is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Maravillas de Peru: Faces of Arequipa, Peru

Maravillas de Peru: Faces of Arequipa, Peru: FACES Volleyball drills on Saturdays It’s exam week, and I signed up to write the blog this week so the students can study.  ...

Faces of Arequipa, Peru


Volleyball drills on Saturdays

It’s exam week, and I signed up to write the blog this week so the students can study.  Before I write any more, I need to say that I’m the Calvin professor for this group (and I’ve written up a couple of the exams they’re taking!).  And I want to say “Mil gracias” to each student in this group and to the group as whole, because they have made the time here truly extraordinary.  My husband Neal and I will be taking home as many great memories as they will.
But it’s not just a week of academic exams.  It’s a week full of bitter-sweet emotions as we examine where we’ve come from, what we’ve done, how we’ve changed, how we say good-bye, and where we go from here.  We’ve come a long way, faced challenges, enjoyed incredible moments, and now we ask what we will do with all we’ve learned.  And we’re looking forward to seeing family and friends back home.
                As we finish up the semester, I want to share some of the “faces” that we’ve come to recognize during our semester.  They’re so much a part of our lives here that at times they don’t appear newsworthy.  But they are important.
               First of all, here are the faces of the Peruvian profs who teach the special classes for Calvin, along with their faithful students.
                Profe Talía Pareja, with her linguistics students

                Profe Lizet Valencia with her literature students

                And Profe Juan José Lizarraga with his history students

And here are two faces that greet us every morning as we enter the university:             
                San Pablo (the Universidad Católica San Pablo is named after him)

                And la Virgen María, constantly visible from my office door.

                Next, I’d like to show you several students at their Ethnographic Study and volunteer sites.

Hannah D. and Lauren at their respective schools.  (And Jae did her ethnographic study at the Iglesia Fe Bautista.)

Michael at the Mario Vargas Llosa Library (note the face of Vargas Llosa) above the book stand.

Jamie (and also Laurel) visited the “ancianas” in the home for elderly women.

Anna D. did physical therapy with children at the Clínica San Juan de Dios.  (Leesha and Carmen B. did rounds with doctors at the same clinic.  And Hannah K. and Lori worked with Down’s Syndrome children at Unámonos.)

Lindsey and Emily S. learned about alpacas and the clothing industry at Incapalca.

Finally here are the faces of Fifí and Fufú, whom I pass every day on my way to school (though their faces are usually down in the grass).

We’re looking forward to seeing your faces soon on December 14!
                 Marilyn Bierling, Dec. 5

Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving thanks...and thinking about goodbyes.

I think I'm speaking for all of us when I say that yesterday was the most unusual but memorable Thanksgiving day we've experienced yet. While our thoughts and hearts often turned home to the states, thinking of our loved ones, we were truly blessed to have a wonderful Thanksgiving here, with friends that have become like a second family.

The first odd thing about Thanksgiving here is that no one here realizes it IS Thanksgiving, and thus everyone goes about their work or school day as normal. We definitely were all feeling a bit sorry for ourselves as we sat in classes, thinking about our families gathered together at home.
But after classes, the fun began! We headed over to the San Pablo's culinary school's kitchen and dining area for the evening. In addition to our whole Calvin group, we invited several faculty from the San Pablo, as well as a group of Peruvian friends, making a group of about 40 for dinner. What a wonderful evening it was.
Let me assure you, however, it was not without hours of preparation! We had a chef help us with the turkeys and mashed potatoes, but the rest was left up to us students. I think each of us has a new appreciation for our moms and grandmas who have slaved away year after year for this special day. Check out the pics from the evening.

Decorating for the party...with Volcano Misti in the
background as always!

We students made a poster of our many
blessings for which we are so thankful!
Making Bonkets, definitely a hit with the Peruvians!

Some serious turkey-carving going on. 

We shared an explanation about Thanksgiving with 
the group, complete with hats for dramatic effect;)

Good food and good friends.

Pies and pastries, the result of much labor and love!

A really special time during the evening was when we all took a few minutes to split into small groups and share things for which we are thankful. Many mentioned thanks for what a blessing this semester has been, for our wonderful host families, and for friendships that will continue to last even past these four months. I think I speak for each one of the group in saying that this semester has blown us away in so many ways. We ultimately give thanks to the One from whom ALL blessings flow.

I remember when I signed up at the beginning of the semester for a date to write this blog, looking at the week of November 25th and thinking it was so far away, at the end of our time here.
And here we are, nearly at the end.
How does one begin to think about saying goodbye to a place that we've come to call home these past four months? We've learned so much, grown so much, become so attached to so many.

I was reflecting the other day on how much we have have learned and grown, in ways both small and big! Check out this list:

After four months we've FINALLY gotten used to not throwing toilet paper in the toilet!  And not to forget to take the toilet paper BEFORE going into the stalls.

We've learned how to take combis to school or other activities. (Ok, there may be a few exceptions to this one, like Carmen and Megan who got lost for 1.5 hours on a random combi...)

Now we don't think twice about kissing others on the cheek when we meet, greet, or leave. (Watch out -we're so used to it, we may accidentally pull one on you when we get back;) )

We've learned how to get good bargains in the market, not gypped like the typical tourist.

We've grown accustomed to absolutely stuffing ourselves at about 1 or 2 in the afternoon and then eating a light meal late at night.

We realize that we no longer stress about talking to people we meet about the city - we easily converse with them without thinking twice.

We've learned about ourselves, our struggles, our strengths.

We've grown to appreciate all of you back home even more because we've been separated.

We've learned about God, his amazing creativity, his love, his beauty.

We've learned about each other and become a close-knit group that wouldn't be the same without one single person.

We've learned to make friendships across cultural barriers. And how rich and sweet they have been.

Our Peruvian families have become just that - family. If we thought we loved them in the first month, we really love them now.

And now we leave?

By talking with many people in the group, it's safe to say that agree that our emotions have been all over the place lately. Excitement. Sadness. Panic. Uncertainty.
One moment, as we daydream about reunions with friends and family; we can't seem to wait any longer. Christmas time beckons us home.
But the next moment, as we think about the goodbyes that must happen, a tight feeling fills our chest. We think about leaving this culture that we've grown to love and be a part of, and in a panic we think, "But i'm not ready to say goodbye."

But then we also realize that in a sense, we'll never be ready to say goodbye. Because we'll always be leaving a part of our hearts here. We'll be leaving people, a culture, a country that we've grown to love. And because of this there will never be a time when it will be easy. That's just part of saying goodbye.
It's like the quote that says, "How lucky we are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."

We've got a week a half left in Arequipa. Amidst a week of finals and busyness, we hope to find time to slow down, enjoy relationships, soak it in, learn, reflect, and enjoy the precious moments.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What would we do without them?

Just a few weeks stand between us and our return to the states. This is a fact that we try not to dwell on these days, as it causes us a flurry of conflicting emotions. We are blessed to have many great things to look forward to upon stepping foot in GRR being greeted by family or friends, going home to celebrate Christmas, starting life back up again at Calvin, and (most importantly?) eating peanut butter to our heart’s content. However, the heartache caused by leaving behind our Peruvian families and friends, this city that has become our own, this enchanting country, and this once-in-a-lifetime experience is already beginning to taunt us.

I don’t think I am alone in saying that one of the biggest blessings throughout this experience has been the people. Based on some of my classmates’ posts, I am sure you have some sort of idea of how great our Calvin group is. We love each other, speak Spanish, worship together, struggle together, share adventures, try new things, and step out of our comfort zones together. You may have also read about the blessings that are our Peruvian host families. Each of us has had a distinct experience filled with mostly ups and a few downs, but hey, that’s what makes a family a family, right? Personally, my host family has added so much love, learning, and laughter to my semester and they occupy a very special part of my heart.

But finally, I would like to address a third category of people: our Peruvian friends. I am so proud to be a part of this Calvin group that has done an incredible job at opening up to relationships that cross cultural and language barriers. It is so easy to stick only to each other, as the very small non-Peruvian percentage of the university, but I can tell that a lot of us have definitely taken advantage of the opportunities to branch out. We have made friends through our conversation groups (students learning English with whom we have been paired to meet and converse in both English and Spanish), through the committee of students who welcomed us at the beginning of the semester by answering our questions and giving us tours, through classmates in our direct enroll classes, through flat out walking up to people playing ping pong in the lawn behind school, and through meeting all of their friends.

I’m not sure that many (or any) of these friendships were instantly comfortable or that we immediately thought we would grow to be bosom buddies. Just like any friendship, they take time and effort. So imagine trying to create a friendship in a brand new setting in a foreign country, and throw a different language on top of the mix, and there you have what we’ve been facing. I believe I can speak for many when I say that these relationships have definitely been worth the efforts on both sides (don’t forget the fact that the Peruvians have had to sacrifice and put up with our hesitant and broken Spanish and our unawareness of certain aspects of the culture).

Here is a tiny itty bitty glimpse of some things we have done together and ways we have been blessed in this area:

I spent a weekend with my friend Gabi in her hometown of Moquegua. I felt so welcomed by her family and friends there that I was sad to leave after just three days. She paints my nails, teaches me the salsa, and reminds me to wear sunscreen when I go away outdoors for a long time and to bring a “chompa” or jacket when I leave and won’t return before the sun sets. She has been such a blessing to me. I have learned so much from her, we have been by each other’s sides through many things, and I feel like I can tell her anything that's on my heart.

Hanna says, “One evening Anna, Hannah, and I went to Merengue's Pizza with our friend Joyce and her boyfriend. I'm guessing it was date night for them, but she completely accepted our invitation to do something that night regardless. They chose the restaurant, and we got to try fruit pizza with cheese and milk which was delicious, and also real hot chocolate. We had so much fun, and it was obvious they truly enjoyed our company (even the boyfriend, being with 4 girls).”

A group of Calvin and San Pablo friends spent a weekend in the coastal town of Camaná. They enjoyed many of the town’s anniversary festivities and a day on the beach.

Yocely and Irvin joined us on our excursion to Puno and Lago Titicaca and a number of Peruvian friends joined the group that went white water rafting.

Jamie’s conversation partner invited her to join a group of friends to go mini-golfing and told her to invite others. So she invited a friend from class and Hannah B, and Hannah invited her conversation parther. Jamie says, “I love how it seems that here you can meet friends of friends for the first time and everyone just gets along and has a blast.” Jamie and Hannah had to swallow a little pride when one of the others who had never played before beat them.

Emily H says that her close friend “Azucena is incredible. She is the epitome of an optimist and showed me true friendship from the start. She is always very patient with my Spanish and loyal even on an off day. We have had many wonderful conversation and adventures together. I feel innumerably blessed by her trust even through everything with her mum. I am glad I was able to be with her in the hospital on the day her mum passed away. She continues to be an inspiration in the way that she has handled this enormous loss. I love her so much!”

Megan describes that she is “still just so overwhelmed by the amount of love and care they have to give. What's really been interesting this whole semester is viewing the different ways people convey their love. The peruanos do it in such a beautiful way. I have so much to learn from them!” 

Throughout the past few months, some of our friends here have become very dear to us. Through difficult times they are by our sides and we by theirs, we have fun and make great memories together, we laugh and cry together, we teach each other more than a textbook could, we have deep conversations, and we have learned the best ways to make each other tick. Through opening my heart to Gabi and the others here, I experience the best and worst part of the study abroad experience. We have no idea how we will say goodbye to some of these people. It makes my heart hurt just thinking about it. But they have enriched not only our semester in Peru, but also our lives as a whole.

It’s a wonderful thing, traveling and having connections in other parts of the world. But it’s even more wonderful to be able to call those connections friends.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mt. Misti: we came, we climbed, we conquered, we collapsed.

This past weekend, me, 11 other classmates, and Neal (profe Bierling's husband) climbed Mt. Misti. This volcano is unavoidable from the city of Arequipa. If I walk to the university, the city center, a friends house, or just down the road, Mt. Misti is in the background. From constant sightings, I have gotten quite an appreciation for Misti and it’s beauty, but my appreciation for it’s immense size was amplified after climbing to the very top. 
At 8:30 am on saturday we embarked for our journey. 4 by 4’s brought us to our starting point at 14,000 ft.
From there, we hiked for about 2.5 hrs. till 16,000 ft. 
 Upon arriving, we bundled up against the cold and camped for the “night”. I put night in quotes, because we woke up at 1 am to summit Misti, so a night of rest wasn’t completely enjoyed. 

We climbed in the dark until about 5 am when the sun started to rise. As we stopped breathlessly for a rest, we turned around and were stunned by a sunrise above the far off mountains. Needless to say, it was a sight worthy of National Geographic.

Our climb continued for six hours. During this time we took the guide’s advice and thought about nothing, but our next step. Looking up towards the peak was prohibited, because to see the extensive and steep path was disheartening. Also, thinking about the time till the summit was discouraged, because usually the answer was in hours. So we trudged on an only let our minds wander as far as “breathe, breathe, step, breathe, breathe, step”. 

When we finally summited at 19,339 ft., we collapsed. The climb had exhausted us so thoroughly that we needed to recover before taking in the beautiful scenery and relishing the fact that we had, in fact, conquered the Misti. 
(our group!)

The view at the top was stunning. We could see the smoking crater, blue mountains in the distance, Volcanoe Chichani to the side, and Arequipa below. It was an incredible experience to be on top of the Mountain Misti that always towers over the city of Arequipa. I proudly state that our entire group summited. Some suffered from the altitude more than others, fighting nausea and pounding headaches, but each and every one reached the summit.

Overall, it was a very hard and long, journey, but I think that the majority of us would agree that it was worth the suffering. I quote from my dear friend Megan Rozeveld who stated it perfectly, “The best miserable thing I’ve ever done." 
I conclude this blog post with two questions:
  1. Would any of us do it again? NO. 
  2. Was it worth it? Yes.