A New Culture

By Sara Swisher, Monitoring and Evaluations intern

Before coming to Awamaki to complete a summer monitoring and evaluation internship in Ollantaytambo, Peru, I had never been outside the United States. I wasn’t sure what to expect but one of my goals was to learn about a new culture. I felt I really achieved my goal when I went on the volunteer weaving immersion in Patacancha, a Quechua community an hour away from Ollantaytambo.

Patachanca is recognized as its own nation with its own court system, police force, and laws. Patachanca’s status is comparable to Native American reservations in the United States. In Patachanca we stayed in homestays in pairs of volunteers. My host mother was named Jesusa and was an artisan in Awamaki’s Songuillay cooperative. She made the best soup and rice and potatoes. My host father was named Ronaldo who worked within the community. He was always cheerful and asked me all kinds of questions about the United States. They have four children, Martha who was the only girl and the oldest and three younger boys. I couldn’t understand the boys’ names because they were Quechua names.

My family was so kind; Jesusa always asked me if I liked the food and how I was doing and Ronaldo always asked me if I was warm enough. My roommate and I talked about how kind it was for them to open up their home to us, something people in the U.S. rarely do. I really enjoyed the meals I shared with my host family and watching their family laugh and spend time together.

Not only did we stay in community members’ homes but we also got to learn how to weave. Weaving is a sacred tradition in the Quechua community. At the age of five, girls start to learn how to weave from their mothers. Everything that is woven is woven by hand and from memory. When you look at the beautiful textiles the women weave it’s incredible to think that it came all from memory. I felt incredibly lucky that I had the opportunity to learn about the process and how to do it myself. I learned how the women used different plants and insects to dye wool and alpaca yarn and then it was my turn to learn how to weave. I got to pick my own colors and weave a bracelet and headband with my teacher Magdalena. Magdalena showed me how to weave the pattern but the process was so intricate. Most of the time we just laughed at how I couldn’t remember how to do it.

At the weaving immersion, I felt incredibly lucky to have volunteered with Awamaki. The weaving immersion was such a unique experience. Not a lot of people get the opportunity to learn about Quechua culture and I thank Awamaki for helping me achieve my goal of learning about a new culture.