Priya with her Cuscan host mum and sister at the Christmas market.

Christmas in Cusco

Priya’s time as an engineering volunteer in Peru came to an end this Christmas. Here she talks about handing over the work to her successor, and her plans to travel before heading back home…

This month has really been about trying to ensure the sustainability of my work by finishing off handover documents for my project and reporting all the current issues with the filter production process, along with their solutions.

I’ve trained another long-term volunteer to continue recording data for filter production, and hopefully she’ll also pass the investigative methods on to future volunteers. I have tried to express the importance of continued investigations to the permanent staff, and now all I can do is wait and hope that my work will prove sustainable.

Christmas time

During the Christmas period, ProWorld organises ‘Chocolatadas’ in the remote communities they work in, and I attended one to give a helping hand.  

Chocolatadas are traditional events that involve making vats of hot chocolate to give to community members, along with individual panettones.

A similar tradition happens in the centre of Cusco. On Christmas Eve I visited the Plaza de Armas with my host family to see the Christmas market. There was a strong stench of urine surrounding the plaza, as hundreds of people had spent the night on the streets after travelling from the far-off Andean communities to experience the Christmas celebrations. These involved volunteers handing out hot chocolate, Ppanettones, sweets, cakes and presents to the children.

Christmas time with my Peruvian family was a lot more eventful than I am used to – in fact it’s really Christmas Eve that is celebrated here. Each home makes their ‘nacimiento’ or ‘nativity’. They place ornamental figures of various animals, all which face towards a manger where Mary and Joseph and the three wise men await the birth of baby Jesus.

We had many baby Jesus figures that had been collected over the years, so we placed all of them in the manger at midnight. Then we went onto the rooftop of the apartment to be greeted by the sounds and sights of hundreds of little fireworks – almost every household was releasing their individual bursts of light.

We then returned into the family home for our very own Chocolatada, as we ate panettone and drank hot chocolate.

Moving on

After six months in the heart of Peru, it began to feel very much like home, largely thanks to the extraordinary kindness of my host families – both in Urubamba and Cusco. Along with this, my mixed Asian appearance allowed me to fit in quite well and avoid the general hassle that tourists normally get.

On numerous occasions, I was mistaken for being a Peruvian, and by the end of my stay, people were even asking me for directions on the street…although as I responded with my British accent and bad Spanish, they quickly recoiled, understanding their error.  

Nevertheless, I’m ready to leave behind Cusco and Urubamba, and am keen to start my new adventure, travelling deeper into South America where I hope to learn more about the culture and traditions of this fascinating continent.

My next stop is likely to be Bolivia, amongst the poorest neighbours’ of Peru, but with a relatively similar Andean culture. Time permitting, I’ll head into the North of Chile soon after before heading back to Peru to meet my friend who is coming to visit. Together we’ll hike the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and explore the microclimates that I have yet to experience – Peru is a large country with jungle, coast and mountains, and I have only lived in the Andes.

After that, my plan’s pretty flexible, and we’ll see where it’ll take me – but my flight back home is from Buenos Aires in Argentina, so by the end of March, I’ll have to make it there.  

Lasting memories

I’ve seen things here that will stay with me for the rest of my life – whether it was the first glimpse of a traditional dressed wind-burned girl in the mountainous communities, the guilty yet adorable smile of my colleague’s son when he knew he had damaged a filter, the warm words of my host family as they explained ‘what is mine is yours’, or the beautiful sights of condors flying above the snow-capped Andes. I’ve certainly had a once in a lifetime experience!

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