EMU Cross-Cultural

Farewell from our Lesotho community

On Friday, our last full day in our homes, our mothers threw us a large farewell party held at my house. As I was dressing in my Shoeshoewe (traditional Basotho cloth) shirt from Soweto my sister Manapo burst in the door holding a beautiful red Shoeshoewe dress that she insisted I put on. She put my hair up under a matching headdress and wrapped me in a Seanamarena (traditional Basotho blanket). When I was finally ready for the party, I was surprised to see that all the other mothers had dressed their children in traditional clothing as well. Most of the village was present, the children standing around gawking at the funny-looking Basotho: all in Shoeshoewe, thick wool blankets, and boys wielding Molemo sticks. However, I believe that our group has never looked better. We were happy to be together.

It was a proud moment for our mothers and special for us to be dressed in their clothing, singing and dancing with them.  We ate traditional food of sorghum and dinawa (beans) and sour porridge (leshelisheli). Our beaming mothers presented us with the gift of a hat. For me the party was a celebration of unity, a chance to revel in the relationship our group formed with the community.  The following morning I was sad to leave my little Lesotho homestead, but I couldn’t help but smile as my mom carried my backpack towards the Malealea Lodge joking to all the villagers “I’m going to America, see you in five years!” she refused to hug me goodbye, insisting that she’d see me at the send-off. The three weeks in Lesotho truly flew by even though in the village the concept of “hurry” is foreign. Life without many distractions from God and relationships is precious – something for us all to strive for.

-Laura Hershey


A day in Lesotho

I was awakened at three this morning to what has become a familiar sound.  Someone in my room was using the midnight express (the bucket one uses when having to use the toilet in the night so you don’t have to go out to the outhouse). Without opening my eyes I rolled over and fell back asleep, thankful that I still had a couple hours left to sleep. At 5:30 I awakened again, this time to the sound of my host mother rustling her covers. Trying to get out of the nest she sleeps in next to my bed.  After getting past my sleeping brother, and stepping through the maze of suitcases, she made it to the only other room in the house: the kitchen. I dozed off and on for the next hour, at times being aware of the noises of my mother bathing and then preparing breakfast.

By 6:30 the rooster next door was crowing continuously and the sun shone brightly through our window.  It was time for Eva and I to crawl out of our shared bed and make our way to breakfast; our favorite meal of the day. Our host brother jumped out of bed as soon as he saw us head for breakfast.

The morning was spent at a garden over the mountainside. Six people from our group worked with ladies from the village to build a “keyhole” garden. Though shoveling and digging became tiresome, we were encouraged by the bright smiles and songs of the ladies.  The bright blue skies and the majestic mountains provided a splendid backdrop.

At noon we headed home for lunch, which was followed by an exhilarating hike to a gorge with a river running through it.  The mountains are steep and rocky, making the way slow and difficult.  Wherever I go here I am amazed at the sheep and mountain goats, skipping on the mountains and precipices with ease. At the bottom of the gorge, our difficult path was rewarded by clear, deep pools of frigid water, which refreshed and renewed us, invigorating us for the return hike.

I now sit by an oil lamp and watch as Eva and the rest of my family play cards while we wait for supper to finish cooking.  Soon it will be time to once again snuggle up in our family bedroom, for in Lesotho we go to bed when the sun does.

– Audrey Sims

Conversations on the farm at Mohalis Hoek

October 16

In a society with no Facebook, YouTube, _MG_6919 Call of Duty or The Bachelor, it should be no surprise that good conversations will flourish. This past week was no exception to that rule as I found myself growing closer to my peers and my Savior. The whole group had gathered on a farm; hard work and good times were sure to follow, and some great conversations were bound to come our way.

My first conversation was with a young man who worked on the farm. He had a lot of questions about what it meant to attend a Christian university. Truthfully, I was a bit embarrassed to tell him I was only required to attend one class that was focused on the Bible. Later when he found that I wanted to be a missionary he expressed some frustrations with many missionaries who don’t seem to be willing to work in the really difficult and dangerous places of the world. Perhaps God was speaking to me through this young man, only time will tell.

South Africa 3Later on in the week the conversations continued to both intrigue and challenge me. Conversations from non-violence to grace to Islam to politics all bounced up and despite varying opinions, they all seemed to bring the group closer together.

Perhaps some of you who are reading this back home should challenge yourselves to a few hours, maybe even a day or two with no electricity. You might be surprised to see what you will learn about yourself and your friends. At the very least, take the time to re-evaluate who and what really matters to you. You might be surprised by what you find out.

– Francis Sims

This past week, our group left our homes in Malealea, and went to live and work on a small farm about three hours away. We took a 22 passenger bus, all 33 of us plus our luggage packed in tight, from Malealea to Mohalis Hoek. We then divided into two smaller taxis that took us _MG_6860 through the bumpy paths of the mountains while listening to “House” music bumping at full volume the entire way.

The farm, an old mission house over 100 years old, is run by a small group of workers trying to farm in a way that works better the with land they have. Of the biggest problems for farmers in Lesotho is soil erosion, and with it the loss of much of their crops. In order for this to be avoided the less disturbed the soil is the better. And for this reason, all the labor is done by hand. No machinery is used for fear of disturbing and loosening the soil too much. Their goal is to make enough yields to be sent out and to show farmers of the area the benefits of their methods.

During the week we spent our mornings helping out with a variety of projects on the farm. We helped in setting up irrigation lines, digging holes for planting, building compost piles, seeding, and creating water lines. The afternoons were _MG_6729 then free for us to do as we pleased. There were several trips made to the river after lunch for a swim and partial bathing, some hikes and soccer games with the local team, but most of all a lot of rest in whatever shade we could find. The farm was littered with groupings of large lilac trees that perfumed the grounds. Many of my afternoons were spent under them reading, drifting in and out of little naps, and waking up to an early sunset making everything golden and warm.

I have to admit that our time there was the perfect break from our stay in Malealea. I was happy to step back from our home stays for awhile. For me it was perfect timing to catch up mentally from an unexpected overwhelming first week in my home. It gave me the energy to come back and pick up where I left off as I had time to realize what I had missed.

– Hannah Miller


Lesotho, the “mountain kingdom” – My children! You are home!

October 10, 2011

Being an outdoor nature person, I enjoyed our time in Soweto, but was definitely looking forward to the mountains of Lesotho. And let me tell you, they do not disappoint. Since the day we arrived in Lesotho, a group of us had our eyes on Mt. Fuku Fuku, which we were told was the highest mountain in the immediate area. We bided our time patiently waiting for a full free day to climb. It finally came last Friday, and while others planned other hikes and activities, a group of five of us set out for Fuku Fuku in the morning.

In the village at the base of Fuku Fuku we were met by a small girl who knew two English phrases she would yell in a high pitched voice. One was “where you go,” and the other “sweets, sweets, sweets.” Using our little Sesotho, we answered both her questions telling her we didn’t have any sweets. However, since she didn’t know anything else to say, and it is a well known fact that all white people carry hiking bags filled with sweets, she just kept chanting. And so with smiles and waves we kept moving. We hiked the long ridge and after an arduous three hours, we made it to the top. We are proud to say we were only passed by one 6 year old boy and his mother, the only other people we saw on our ascent, and as to where they were going we are still not sure

The view was literally breath taking! Nothing but mountains and then valleys, with rift-like gorges separating all the small villages. We sat down with our long anticipated packed lunches as our reward for reaching the top. Far below we saw some Badisana (herd boys) with their sheep who started heading towards us upon their realization we are white. They reached us in about half the time we expected. As they came over the hill I started to recognize the isolation geographic boundaries can create.

For us hiking Fuku Fuku was a big ordeal. We gather up backpacks, hiking clothes, sun screen, cameras, food, water, and a first aid kit. All of which we feel we need before we can be prepared for the mountain. These herd boys on the other hand, in true Basotho fashion, leave early each morning herding their animals up the mountain with nothing but their boots, staff, and a blanket around their shoulders, such a different lifestyle, even though for a few weeks we are only separated by about 5 miles.

After a few pictures with the herd boys we started descending the mountain. As we were walking someone said, “This is awesome, we should have a worship service up here.” And I realized this is worship.

– David Jantzi

October 10, 2011

Lesotho, the Mountain Kingdom, is a place of beauty & grandeur and now a place that I can call home. I have experienced immense love and hospitality from the people here and am learning more each day.

My roommate, Anna Weaver, and I had the unique cultural experience of washing our clothes in the river with our host family. Initial uncertainty turned to delight as we saw the way our host mom and neighbor wash their clothes and take pride in the way they are able to remove any trace of dirt (seriously!). Basking in the sun on the rocks with the water flowing by and hearing the joyful sounds of children playing, our host moms chatting, and sheep bells ringing, I felt so peaceful and thankful that I am able to have this experience.

In Lesotho, I have found joy in teaching our host sisters songs, and then waking up to the sound of them singing those songs outside our window. I have found love in the actions and words of my host mother when she says, “Bana baka! Lehae!” – My children! You are home! I have found peace in the endless mountains, bright stars, and quiet moments. But most of all, I have found God in all of it – the “Dumela” as I walk down the road, the grin of a child, the majesty of the mountains – and I’ve realized more each day that His presence dwells deeply in the hearts of all people and the beauty of nature.

– Heidi Bauman

Community and national pride


Hello EMU! I am in AFRICA!

There are so many experiences I have each day, from teaching 1st graders to chatting with my neighbors on the streets of Soweto. I really enjoy the pickup games of soccer we have with the locals here. Sometimes they are organized on a field just a block from my house but I can always count on kids playing on my street after they get out of school. It brings such a sense of community to this neighborhood.

An activity that I really enjoy with my family is watching sporting events. We watch the rugby world cup and other local soccer games on T.V. One thing that amazed me as we watched the rugby game was that my host family didn’t even know the rules to explain them to me but they loved the game all the same. There is a sense of national pride that goes beyond my understanding.

As I live with these people, I can observe these values of community and national pride. Each and every day there is something to learn from these people and I have grown to love them.

Sala Hantle & Khotso (Stay Well & Peace)

– Todd Hooley


Thank you, Soweto

Oct. 1, 2011

One of my of host sister’s concerns when I left Soweto was that she wouldn’t have anyone to eat her curried chilies with.  Anyone who knows me at least a little would assume the departure of my appetite to be a blessing, but not for Dimakatso.

I love to eat.  I know that makes me sound like a pig, but it’s the truth.  And in my defense, I’m more than just a mindless eating machine.  The healthy eating habits I grew up with have been flourishing ever since I started dating a vegetarian.  I like good food, and I enjoy trying new things. Since there is a pretty good chance I will not be spending the entirety of my life in America, I am working on becoming a person who can feel at home anywhere.  I have been very encouraged to find myself at home here in Africa.  A big part of finding home here was not learning to eat in a new culture and a new home, but learning to be fed.

This summer I journeyed to the Oregon Extension, which among other things, was an adventure in feeding myself.  When I was not in class, I was either cooking or reading.  Not only did I need to buy my groceries and prepare my own meals, I also had to plan out a research paper and track down the information I needed to write it.  I learned to feed myself on both of these levels, and felt very accomplished.  However, independence is primarily an American value, and being able to feed myself is almost useless in a culture overflowing with hospitality.

Learning to be fed is learning to trust.  Sometimes, it would have been faster to make myself a lunch, but it’s about relying on other people and not needing to have everything under control.  It’s less about consuming and more about accepting undeserved hospitality.  Being able to feed myself only makes me feel at home when I am on my own.  To be at home here, where I am far from being on my own, I needed to let myself be fed.  Once I opened that door, believe me, Africa was more than willing to feed me.

Perhaps for Dimakatso, it’s not about the chilies themselves as much as it is about the act of sharing of them.  Thank you, Dimakatso, for feeding me your chilies.

-Michael Sheeler


Children laughing, singing, smiling-

Their white teeth shine brightly off of their dark skin.


Babies snuggled and held tightly against their mothers’ backs.

Only their little feet are visible as a women walks towards me.

Too small to site-see… Baby is sleeping.

Mother is holding, carrying, protecting. Love.


Gray slacks all lined up with plaid jumpers popping out from the line.

The blue v-neck sweaters show tattered white collars.

IMG_0436Black leather shoes with laces and buckles scuff the floor as they run into their lines.

Song… Rhythm… Praise.

Ah, the high pitched sounds of their traditional melodies fill the courtyard, making the headmaster very proud.


Nik-naks and lollys sold for lunch, downed with a frozen guava.

Sticky fingers braid my long hair.

In disbelief they tell me “it’s fake!”

Combing their fingers through the long strands, they smile and coo!


Brooms made from dried stiff grass sweep the red dust from the sidewalk.

She is bent down, almost as if that feels more natural than standing.

She is working as she knows how and from what she has been taught.

Scarves wrapped around their heads show off their beautiful faces.

Faces with eyes that would be tainted with makeup.

I see real femininity.

Even in their shoes which are worn so much their big toe sticks out… a glimpse of red toenail polish catches my eye.

Their beauty radiates from warm “Dumelas” heard on the streets and by their never ending smiles that make you smile in return.


The kitchen always smells of hot food.

The Aromat fragrance is now familiar to me… the sign of a good cook.

Papa is stirred one last time before it’s ready to accompany the spicy meat or chackalacka.

Dumplings or boiled bread soaks into the salty broth as we dip moist strips into the hot soup.


Music constantly hums in the air.

How I will miss the beats and rhythms of Pimville Zone 2.

Even late at night the continuous sound of the bass lulls me to sleep.

The dogs also bark to their own unique syncopated rhythm.

At first it drives my head a bit crazy but eventually it just stays with me.

It becomes a part of my peace.


Drums beating.

We’re all dancing in circles.

This is church!

The water in the glass cup has God’s power.

Or so they say.

We sip, then pray honor and love.

Isn’t that what we’re called to do?

My mind becomes challenged to let go.

I struggle to release the fears and judgment, but soon the word which is familiar slowly opens my heart to these loving people.

I’m clapping and I find myself not wanting to stop,

as if the beat is empowering me to try harder and seek deeper for my creator!

My God, my Father.

Now we go-



Soweto is my home.

My heart was settled in this place and for that I’m truly blessed.

To love a community more than I ever thought possible makes my heart hesitant to leave.

This is where I fell in love with South Africa,

and where a small part of South Africa fell in love with all of us.

Kea leboha.


-Madelyn Cooper

Soweto history tour and Emshukantambo High School

South Africa 2South Africa is a country of boldness and vibrancy, and it’s hard to believe I have been taking it all in for the past 18 days already! The people here are so welcoming, and I think that their past challenges have truly shaped their relational culture and hospitality.  My host mother (Mme Esther) shared a few of her past experiences with apartheid (including being taken to jail three times and participating in the 1976 Soweto Uprising), and I believe that she has so much to teach the world about true forgiveness and freedom.

South Africa history really came alive for me when the group went on a tour of Soweto this past week. Soweto is home to five million people and it was refreshing to experience life outside of Pimville Zone 2 for the day. Some personal highlights of the tour were visiting the Regina Mundi Church and the Hector Peterson Museum.

Regina Mundi church was a safe place for Eva Stutzman and Rebekah Graham read messages from visitors to a church where student protesters ran to hide from the police during Apartheid students to meet and discuss their frustrations openly. During the 1976 Soweto Uprising, black students marched in a peaceful protest against being forced to be taught in Afrikans. Violence eventually broke out, and the kids ran for safety in the Regina Mundi church. Here there were bullet holes in the roof, and a broken marble table from the police at the time. In the upstairs of the church there is now a memorial where people can write thoughts and view pictures of Soweto’s history.

Another challenging and moving part of the tour was visiting and viewing the pillars of South Africa’s Freedom Charter. I think that South Africa has a wonderful bill of rights, but it was challenging to see the equality and freedom expressed in the charter, and then to visit one of the poorest communities I have seen (Kliptown) only a few blocks away.  I have learned and experienced so many things since living in Soweto and it will be hard to leave these lovely people in less than a week. But for now, I am taking in everything that I can because these people are individuals who have already taught me so much about forgiveness, freedom and how to be rich in spirit despite my material blessings.

– Laci Gautsche

On Friday, September 16th our group went to Emshukantambo High School. It was a mild 15 minute walk from where our group was staying in Soweto.  The point of our visit was to debate racism with the high school students, but since we were visitors they insisted on giving us a show. IMG_0608 With the whole school in attendance we watched traditional Sesotho and Zulu dancing as well as modern dancing to popular Hip Hop. After their piece, our group sang a traditional African song, “Puleng We” in front of the entire school. Unfortunately, only the first four rows of students heard us, due to our lack of volume.

After the concert/show we crowded into a classroom to watch role-plays and songs performed by students of Emshukantambo.  Most of the role plays related to racism issues but a few were difficult to decipher, mostly because of a language barrier. Before we left, Todd, Leah, and Kimberly performed a role-play on racism and we debated racism with the school debate Team.

Sarah Grace Fitzsimmons samples a delicious chicken foot My favorite part was the traditional food. Local students brought home-cooked food for us to taste test. The food included chicken feet, sheep feet, split peas, dumplings, sugared potatoes, spinach, and soup.  I can say truthfully I tried everything, and the most interesting was the chicken feet.  The consumer of a chicken foot had to bite off the three toes, chew for approximately 10 minutes to separate the meat from the bones, and then spit out the bones.  The most delicious were the dumplings.

It’s interesting to see South Africa go through similar racism issues as the United States but at an earlier stage. Even the United States, who is still fighting racism at a later stage, can learn from South Africa, and the same goes from South Africa learning from the United States. I concluded the journey to a non-racist society takes time but one way to speed up the process is to educate others and understand a culture before judging it.

– Justin Hershey


Soweto, South Africa

Nervousness, frustration, excitement, joy, loneliness, love, fear… each of these emotions has crossed my mind at least once recently. I may have been on cross-cultural for only two weeks so far, but it is definitely already turning out to be an adventure! Honestly, I still have a hard time believing I am actually in South Africa. On the other hand, I have been greatly blessed with a loving host family and a wonderful roommate, so this is unknown land has quickly become my home.

Madelyn Cooper plays a game of netballHow can I even begin to find the words to describe this to you? Everything here is a new experience – the houses, the beliefs, the clothing, the food, and especially the people. When we first arrived in the Johannesburg/Soweto area, I was surprised to see that virtually every house is barricaded with a wall, barbed wire, spikes, electric fencing, a snapping, growling guard dog or some combination of all of the above. Not exactly the friendliest feeling of welcome! However, South Africa’s walls do not define its people. These are the beautiful people of “Ubuntu,” a message of love, community, friendship, and acceptance. Passing by someone and spitting out a quick “hey” is certainly not a proper greeting. Instead, the people here say hello, ask your name, and expect to hear an answer when they ask how you are doing. In short, the kindness we have experienced here has been overwhelming and touching.

South Africa. Wow…I am blessed to be here. A Black-Headed Oriole weaves a nest at St. Benedict's Retreat Center Whether playing with school children, visiting an African Independent Church (AIC) for the first time, reading about the 1976 Soweto uprising, or eating mohodu (cow stomach/intestines), I am so grateful to have this opportunity. I learn something new every day! We have already done so much in so little time… It’s hard to believe we’ve only just begun.

– Rebekah Graham (A.K.A. Bohlokwa Mareas)  Sept. 15th 2011

The months and weeks I spent preparing for this trip could not have prepared me for the amount of joy and excitement I have experienced in just two short weeks! I have to pinch myself to believe I am in Africa. I have dreamt of coming to this continent for years and the reality is still sinking in. The people are warm here and my host family has accepted my roommate and me with open arms. I miss home, but I am not homesick because South Africa is already starting to feel like my home.

Todd Hooley practices Sesotho with a member of his host familyAfter spending a week at a lodge near Johannesburg bonding with the group and practicing Sesotho, we traveled to Soweto for our first home stay. Since arriving in Soweto our days have been busy and packed full. We have gone to schools, The Apartheid Museum, a club soccer game and even attended a traditional African Zionist Church – all the while spending time with our families and speaking Sesotho the best we can.

I am already sad to think that in ten days I will be leaving Soweto and the host family I have come to love. Each person that I have formed a relationship with will forever hold a piece of my heart. I hope to one day return to South Africa because I know the moment I leave here, a part of me will remain behind.

-Sarah Grace Fitzsimmons (Dikamano Mareas) Sept. 15th 2011

Climb to Machu Picchu

Lima, June 15, 2011

As our Perú cross-cultural came to an end we got to visit and see places you only dream of seeing. We started off with a train ride to Machu Picchu. On our journey to Machu Picchu we had time to relax on the train, play games, and just enjoy each other’s company. When we arrived and began our morning hike of Huayna Picchu it was amazing. I got to test my physical endurance and also got to spend more time with my cross-cultural leader and friends. Our average climbing time was 45-55 minutes.

I do not know exactly how everyone else felt when they reached the top, but I felt on top of the world both literally and figuratively. The time we spent on top of the mountain involved sight seeing, taking pictures, and relaxing before we had to begin our adventure back down the mountain. After concluding our all day trip, we returned to our host families for our last night in Cusco to then start our long journey back home to the United States with a few additional stops along the way.

After saying our goodbyes to our host families, we started our journey to Lake Titicaca which was absolutely amazing. We got to see the floating islands and the families that occupied them. I realized that they enjoy the simpler things in life and respect and greatly appreciate everything they have and the things that the God and “Lady Earth” have blessed them with.

From my experience in Perú I plan to take back with me their strong faith in God and their gratitude for everything they obtain in life whether it is big or small. I also want to remember what I have and be grateful for it. Peruvians work very hard every day and don’t throw in the towel  because things did not turn out their way.

I pray for the people of Perú and their country that they may prosper in God.

– Rasheeda Crews

Peru sights and sounds

Hola from Peru!!  We just finished our week of Spanish classes this Friday and it was a great week of learning for all of us.  We spent Saturday the 4th, in Chincheros.  This was a beautiful plaza.  Chincheros is a Q’echwa word that means city or place of bright colors.  There were many farming terraces there and they had a bell tower and a church.  Another place that just completely took my breath away.  After our visit there we had the best lunch so far at a buffet in the mountains.  They had bilingual parrots too!

We then headed out to the Ollantaytambo fortress, where the Incans fought their last battle against the Spanish.  This place was gorgeous.  There were over 300 steps up to the main platform.  When we got there we saw stones that were over 2,000 lbs.  It was crazy.  The tour guide stopped at the main level but 4 of us continued to the very top which was an 8 inch gravel path to one of the best views I have seen.  The charter buses at the bottom looked like ants.  It was incredible.  We headed down the mountain, hopped on the bus, and napped on the way back to Cuzco.

On Sunday, we had a free day.  Scott and I went with our host mom to the “best Cuy restaurant in all of Cuzco”.  Cuy is whole, deep-fried, guinea pig.  It was the best meal I’ve had so far, and the best meat I’ve tasted in my life.  We headed back home and Moira had offered to take the group back to Sacsayhuaman if anyone wanted.  The Ebersole brothers, Moira and I went up there and spent three hours going around and checking out the unique architecture.  We then hiked to the highest peak in Sacsayhuaman and watched the sunset.  It was beautiful.  We are starting our volunteer work on the 6th and we are all looking forward to it.

– Mitchell Derrow


First five days in Peru

Peru 1I can´t believe we’ve been in Peru for five days already! Time has been flying by! I hope to briefly reflect on our time here so far from my point of view, which hopefully expands across the group.

We were able to make it to Lima, Peru without any flight problems. The only small glitch is that when getting onto the plane in Washington, D.C., they required everyone in Zone 4 to check their bags. Well, our whole group happened to be in Zone 4. So we all checked our bags with the hope that they would arrive in Peru with everything in them. And they all did… except for Kristin´s. We waited and waited until all of the bags had been picked up, in hopes that hers would show up, but it didn’t. For some reason, they didn´t send it from Atlanta. So the next day they were going to send it to Peru and she received it Friday.

Thursday was spent traveling by plane from Lima to Cusco, meeting our host families (which we were all a little nervous about) and relaxing in order to adjust to the altitude. As I speak for myself, but hopefully most of the group, I love my host family. They were very welcoming and welcomed us into their house as if it was our own. ´´Mi casa es su casa´´. Brittany and my host family consists of Javier, the father, who works as an administrator at the school our trip is through, Maria, the mother who was a teacher but has not been teaching since she had her last child, Santiago, who is 11, and Sophia who is 2. Javier speaks a little bit of English but Maria does not speak much at all. We have been able to communicate with each other with the little Spanish or English we know, hand motions, and a lot of patience!

Since it is technically winter here, it gets very cold when the sun is down. However, during the day, when the sun is out, it is pretty warm. Our host families have laughed at us when we leave in the morning in shorts because to them it´s still pretty cold but it feels good to us. Some persons in the group have had to go to the market to buy llama wool socks and sweaters to sleep in at night since there is no heating in any of the homes.

Friday morning we all met at Academia Latinoamericana de Español, which is the school our trip is planned through. When we first got there, we took a written placement exam to test our levels of Spanish knowledge for our classes that began Monday. I believe we all were supposed to take an oral exam as well but only some of the persons in the group had to… I did not! After our placement exams, Diego, the head of the Academia, took us on a tour of Cusco to show us safe places to exchange our money, pointed out certain places in the city such as La Compañia, San Blas, and Plaza de Armas. He also gave us a brief history on the ´´evolution´´ of Cusco with the indigenous people and the Spanish. We all returned to our host families for lunch and then returned to the Academia at 3 p.m. for orientation.

Lunch in Peru is the biggest meal of the day for the Peruvians. In fact, many families don´t eat dinner at all. Lunch generally consists of a type of soup, followed by a meal of a type of meat and some sides. For example, my first lunch that my family fed me was a bowl of soup (which is what I expected to be the whole lunch) followed by chicken, potatoes, and mixed vegetables. And the portions aren´t small! I ate as much as I could until I was full and still didn´t finish my plate. My host mom commented, (in Spanish) ´´You eat very little! ´´ I responded ´´Si´´ but was thinking, ´´I ate a lot!! You gave me so much food!!´´

Saturday was our first day trip, which was to Salineras and Moray. It was about an hour’s drive out of the city and it was beautiful! We stopped once to take pictures of the countryside and the Andes Mountains. Salineras was formerly the Inca Salt pans but is still used for livestock consumption. How it works is that when it rains, the mountain soaks up the rain.  While the water is moving through the mountain, it picks up salt and other minerals and then runs out through a natural spring and flows into these mass amounts of shallow ´´craters´´. The water would then evaporate and the salt would be left to be mined. We were driven to the top and then walked an hour down through the salt pans.

Peru 1After our long (and hot) but fun trek, it was time for lunch at a buffet style restaurant in the town close to the salt mines. There was a lot of food, some we weren’t so sure about, but we explored new foods and found new ones we liked and ones we never wanted to eat again! The afternoon was spent in Moray. Moray was the center of Inca agriculture for cultivation experimentation where seeds were produced for different ecological settings. There were 3 circular, extremely wide, ´´holes´´ that were approximately 500 feet deep. Each hole had 7 platforms built into it to represent the different ecological settings.

The whole group took a trail down into one of the holes, down the platforms, and to the very bottom of the whole. Then we had to climb back up. Man, was that exhausting. Did I mention that it´s really difficult to breath normally at this altitude?! With this type of hiking, we´ll definitely be in shape and skinnier when we return to the U.S!

Yesterday was our second day trip. For some of us, the day started very early. A group of us met at 7:45 a.m. to attend a Catholic mass at a large cathedral in Plaza de Armas. It was surprisingly a short mass, only lasting about 20 minutes, which was okay since I didn’t understand anything that was being said except for ´´Cristo´´. It was neat to walk through the cathedral and see the detailed architecture and lots of gold. Moira had visited the cathedral the day before to get some information about the traditions there so she was able to explain things to us.

We left at 9 a.m. for our day trip to Awankancha and Pisac.  Awanakancha was our first stop, which is a llama and alpaca breeding project. It is run by 14 indigenous groups that work cooperatively to make textiles. We were able to explore the site by feeding the llamas, seeing the step-by-step process of using natural dyes, and watching the women weave the wool. Jessica even got to experience being spit on by an alpaca!

Our next stop was in Pisac, where we were able to see how they had built platforms into the side of the mountain to prevent erosion and use as farm land. At the top of the mountain were Inca ruins. We climbed the mountain to the top. The view was so beautiful!

Lunch was eaten at another buffet restaurant with delicious food! The afternoon was spent at the Pisac Indian Market, where we were able to practice our bartering skills. We found out that the ´´walk away method´´ works pretty well. If you give them a reasonable price that they don´t accept and you start to walk away, they often will give it to you for that. The market was very large. We spent 2 hours there and only made it through ½ to ¾ of it, but we´re all coming back with great souvenirs!!

Today was our first day of Spanish classes. We were all separated into small groups based on our levels of knowledge of Spanish. Rochelle, Derek and I were in a class together today and we enjoyed ourselves. When originally thinking we were going to be in class for 4 hours, we thought we would go crazy, but luckily it went by fairly quickly! Our teacher is very nice and patient with us. I need someone to have patience with me when it comes to learning Spanish! I didn’t hear anyone complain about their classes so it sounds like a success!

The drivers here are crazy! Pedestrians do not have the right away. So be careful when crossing the road. Actually, just sprint across the road. Nobody really obeys the lane lines, horns are constantly honking for many reasons, and people cut each other off so much! If you’ve ever been in New York and seen the driving… Its 10x scarier here!

One last thing to write about before I finish up (although there could be a lot more!):  As we travel throughout the countryside and even in the city, I see God’s creation and all its beauty and I am mesmerized. The city is very beautiful in itself but parts break my heart as well. The amount of dogs running around homeless breaks my heart as I think about my two puppies at home. The amount of trash on the street and a lot of the living conditions also breaks my heart. Beggars on the street who are homeless and or injured break my heart. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am and am extremely grateful for this experience and my life back at home.

So now that I’m done writing this, I realized that it looks a bit long (and for those that know me, know I talk a lot). But in reality, what I wrote doesn’t hold half of the details of our experiences. So if I could sum it up in one sentence… The group is getting along great and we are having a blast with new experiences!

Steps walked Saturday and Sunday alone: 30,392+ (Thanks to Megan’s step odometer)

Number of times one of us has almost got hit by a car: Too many to count

Number of times we’ve heard a horn honk: Enough that we don´t think much of it anymore

– Julie Weaver