My last volunteering project with Maximo Nivel Peru was by far the toughest. I spent a week up in the mountains with a typical Andean Quechua-speaking family in Umasbamba, a small Quechua community of no more than 100 families. The setting was very rural, with houses made of adobe mud, which was quite cold.
My hosts, the lovely Rafaella and her husband Zenobio, lived a very simple life with their two daughters and baby son. They also had several animals, two not-so-white dogs, sheep, guinea pigs, chickens, a donkey, and Lucy the llama. Their main sources of income were derived from their small-scale subsistence farming activities, weaving products, different jobs Zenobio was working at, and from hosting volunteers.
Working on the farm was a tough but unforgettable experience, to say the least. The jobs I did included cutting alfalfa, feeding the guinea pigs, peeling beans (six hours non-stop sitting on a cold floor) and potatoes, sorting corn kernels, scattering manure with my hands (seriously!), taking the sheep out to the field, and helping with food prep. Let me tell you that those tasks ranged from fun to exhausting.
One of the hardest things was the cold. By 6 pm, it would be pitch black and freezing cold, so once we had finished dinner at around 7.30 pm I would retire to my room to get into my sleeping bag. The cold was my main reason to say goodnight, but not being able to make conversation was another good reason. As there was no phone or Wi-Fi connection, it could get quite lonely out there; and due to the cold, I wasn’t able to read at night. I tried to read with my gloves and hood on one night, but my nose was so cold that I gave up and just curled up in my sleeping bag. I can honestly say that I’ve never been that cold in my life. Taking a cold shower wasn’t an option either, especially knowing that I was on anti-flu medication already. So, I will be eternally grateful to whoever invented wet wipes and dry shampoo! Trust me when I tell you that I showered three times after I got to my hotel after the project.
As I mentioned before, it was demanding but rewarding. Spending time with these humble, loving people made it all worth it. It certainly puts life in perspective! And knowing that their two daughters are enrolled at university, thanks to the support of us volunteers, is just fantastic. It makes it all worthwhile.