by Kaitlin Harlow
After I got home from Central America, I went to Peru for a little over three months. I saw beautiful places in the sierra and the costa, made amazing friends, sampled some of the best food on the planet, and learned more about education and international development than I ever expected–all through volunteering with a nonprofit named Building Dignity.
I learned that one secret to teaching is to make a fool of yourself in such a precise way that the kids are laughing and at ease but also still invested in the activity and not ignoring you. It’s an art form. I also learned Spanish (for real finally because it was the language I spoke 95% of the time) and all about the unpredictability, loneliness, and triumph of backpacking solo.
I spent New Years dazed and confused by the staggering wealth of Miraflores and downtown Lima, a radiant afternoon in Machu Picchu, a weekend off in the poor man’s Galápagos wishing I was a sea lion.
There was La Semana Santa, high in the mountain town of Ayacucho, where the sun was so bright it left my retinas burnt for a few days and the easter celebrations so crazy I almost got run over by a bull.
There were at least 5 full days on buses.
Here’s what I wrote about Peru after my first month, straight from my journal:
“I love it here though. I love buying cheap food at the market (or just hanging out in the market for fun), I love the family that lives below me, I love the independence of cooking for myself and googling 2-ingredient recipes even though it has resulted in some serious culinary lows (including scrambled eggs mixed with rice and moldy plantains), I love walking to and from work and waving at the sheep lady in the park, I love peruano food and speaking spanish and getting to know the kids and having them yell my name, I love saying ciao and kissing people on the cheek, I love working for wonderful people like Miguel and Emily, I love fresh baked bread that costs 5 cents a roll, I love living next to an ice cream shop…….!”
My incredible experience in Peru was all thanks to the NGO I worked with. They’re called Building Dignity and are located in Villa el Salvador, a district about an hour by bus outside of Miraflores and Plaza de Armas and all that. It is pretty much another planet from the manicured parks and Starbucks of Lima centro. While I was there I regularly stuck my crappy digital camera out of pockets and backpacks on my daily walks around Villa, trying to subtly film my life at that moment but also–ideally–not get mugged. I compiled the shaky but genius footage that resulted into the following video about a day in the life in Villa. I hope you enjoy it because I spent like an hour awkwardly recording voiceovers in my room. You’re welcome.