Expecting a completely open summer and multiple options available for travel, May was a month I packed my bags to escape. My first planned stop was home, the next one completely unknown. With various ideas scattered across the globe, I’m not really certain where my pushpin will land on the map. I wish to have a new adventure living amongst locals, immersed in their words and delicious aromas. This could put me just about anywhere. To my surprise, a volunteer opportunity to spend the summer in Piura, Peru with the company, Run by Rural, arrives in my e-mail inbox. Hurrying to book tickets, pack my bags, and get vaccinations, a call to my grandma, Nonie, foreshadows my future misunderstandings in a new culture and country.
Nonie: Now tell me honey, what are you doing for the summer? Will you be going home?
Me: Actually, it looks like I’ll be assisting a company in Piura, Peru.
Nonie: Oh honey, that’s great! What’s the name of the company?
Me: Run by Rural.
I exercise patience with Nonie. She’s hard of hearing and often needs me to repeat . . . Just about everything.
Me: Run by Rural.
Nonie: Run by what??
At this point I’m pretty sure anyone else would think I’m verbally abusing my Grandma, but this type of conversation is pretty typical for us.
Nonie: Oh! Rural. Rural means country! So, the name of the company is Rural.
Me: No! It’s Run by Rural.
We loop through and repeat this conversation about four times. I give up fully explaining Run by Rural to Nonie. I can only handle repeating, “Rural” so many times.
Upon arriving in Piura, I find this repetition follows me, except this time I’m Nonie. I feel comfortable recognizing words and reading and writing, but as soon as someone speaks, I freeze. I don’t have time to consult my pocket dictionary, so people repeat the words that melt together and fly off their tongues. I use small words or nod. I strain to hear everything among the loud taxis and moto-taxis in the street. Sometimes I begin to cry, thinking, “A new country, culture, and language, what was I thinking? Why would a company like this choose someone who only stitches clothes and gets people dressed?” Other times I remind myself, “I had an open summer and wanted adventure. I wanted this, and I’m going to take it and run.”
What exactly did I want? What exactly did I get? My involvement is with Run by Rural, a company that uses education to empower local artisans in Catacaos, Peru who use paja toquilla straw to weave hats. Run by Rural aims to use values of cultural exchange, environmental sustainability, use of local sources, and economic independence of the artisans. They embody the basis of Fair Trade, but want to take everything one step further in the Artisan Sector/Handicraft Industry. My goals for the summer? To help design and develop new products that will catch the attention of buyers in America to help the artisans of Asociacion Virgen del Pilar expand into the world marketplace. I also do this with promoting in Social Media and blogging, some of my new favorite things. It’s a perfect fit, even of I am still finding my way through Piura.
Although I have occasional doubts and look down in silence, wondering how I can relate to my colleagues, girls in their early twenties with better degrees from better schools, all bilingual. I feel intimidation, wishing I had been given more opportunities to study abroad in college and regretting I hadn’t fully stuck to a foreign language. But, like them, I remember feeling the pressure of post-graduation jitters: Now what the hell do I do with my life? The truth is, no one knows. Some do, but everyone at some point has to figure out the next step, even Bill Gates. And, like my colleagues, I want to empower these artisans to become independent and show the world the value of their beautiful work. It keeps each of us going on among the uncertainties and unexpected daily occurrences in Piura.