From strangers to friends

Last year, one of my sorority sisters told me I’m good at people.

I like to think it’s true, that I can strike up a conversation with just about anyone. Maybe it’s because of the inherent curiosity that comes with being a journalist, or maybe it’s because I’m five feet tall, have a high-pitched voice, and am not intimidating in any way whatsoever.

The thing is, I firmly believe everybody has a story to tell. It’s what we’re taught as journalists. I ask questions, and I learn about people—their likes, their dislikes, their studies, their habits, their personalities.

Since being here, I’ve met some amazing people and heard some incredible stories. Let me tell you about a few of them.

My host mom, Carmen, is a chef and runs a restaurant below our house. It’s open every day except Sunday for lunch and the food is so rich and delicious that I rarely finish it all. (PSA: I haven’t eaten guinea pig yet, but it’s on my list.)

El restaurante
Carmen’s restaurant is called Restaurant Valle Sagrado. Every day, she comes up with a specific dish to serve with soup. She spends a couple of hours each morning preparing for the lunch rush.
Inside Carmen's restaurant, where we have lunch most days.
We eat lunch at the restaurant most days with the family, which is always a nice break from classes and homework.

As a child, Carmen lived on a farm where her parents grew corn. She worked in the field and was surrounded by natives who spoke Quechua, so she learned the language. She never lets me help her clean up the kitchen, but she promises to teach me how to cook la comida Peruana.

She has pigs on a farm in a town about 45 minutes away, and she told me I could go with her sometime when she makes the trip there. She always gives me a cup of hot tea or coffee when I’m sitting in the living room and the first words out of her mouth when I get home at the end of the day are, “¿Que tal?” (“How’s it going?”)

Her husband’s name is Roger. He’s a pastor, and he reads the Bible with Carmen every morning. He spends a lot of time at the dining room table reading books and preparing for his sermon, and he always makes sure we pray before every meal. He had a look of pure joy on his face when I told him I follow Jesus, and we spent an afternoon sharing favorite Bible verses and stories about how God has worked in our lives.

Señor Roger’s patience is unreal—he gently corrects me when I use the wrong word in Spanish and makes sure my housemate, Sophia, and I get home safely each night.

And, of course, this brings me to Sophia. She calls the two of us “soul sisters.” I say we’re “kindred spirits,” but I suppose they’re one and the same. She and I have known each other for about four days now and we’re already finishing each other’s sentences. We hug every time we reunite (even after five minutes) and text each other from our bedrooms.

Sophia and I at the Cristo Blanco in Cusco.
On Sunday, we went on a tour of the city. Our first stop was the Cristo Blanco, which is a white statue of Christ overlooking the city. Sophia and I took a photo with a beautiful view of the city in the background!

Sophia is a business honors student at Texas A&M and hopes to pursue a job in marketing once she graduates. She loves Jesus, “Grey’s Anatomy,” and everything about Texas. She’s one of five kids, and that sounded like a lot of kids until I met Jessie.

Jessie is this sweet, petite 21-year-old who just graduated from the foster care system. She’s been with her parents for six years, and they’re in the process of adopting her. She has 12 brothers and sisters all from the foster care system, and her parents both work (so yes, you can have it all).

Jessie wants to be a counselor for kids in the foster care system and help them process traumatic experiences. She told me there’s only so much you can do as a social worker; as a counselor, she’ll be able to do more to advocate for them.

You never know who you’ll meet when you’re on a different continent. I certainly didn’t expect to meet my next-door neighbor for the first time, but I did.

Anna is in Delta Gamma at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I am currently a student and a member of Kappa Delta. Our two sororities are right next door to each other and often have events together, yet Anna and I never crossed paths until last Sunday.

This is the first of many photos where Anna and I are throwing what we know.
This is the first of many photos where Anna and I are throwing what we know.

While in Cusco, we’re taking the same classes and have become running partners. Either Anna has an unreal amount of patience or she runs as slowly as I do, because she always sticks with me on our short one or one and a half mile runs. She’s an engineering major and she’ll be finishing up her Spanish minor while in Peru.

And of course, I can’t write a blog about the people I’ve met without mentioning the three boys next door, whom Sophia and I have decided are going to be our body guards and escort us wherever we go. (Sorry, boys.)

Our host parents’ son lives in the apartment next door with his wife and 4-year-old son. They host Christian, Hunter, and Tim.

Christian is an International Studies major minoring in Spanish with dreams of studying law and doing human rights work. In fact, while he’s here, he’ll be working with a human rights organization.

Hunter is a mechanical engineering major minoring in aerospace and Spanish who, in his own words, wants to “build things that fly.” He’s also a DJ back home—he has a business card and everything.

Tim is majoring in Spanish Education at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He’s not taking any classes while he’s here; instead, he’ll be doing service work for two months.

Between you and me, the three of them are super sweet fellas who know how to rock it on the dance floor when it comes to la salsa.

I could keep going.

I could tell you about Logan and how his obsession with dystopian novels got him a gig as an extra in the movie “Divergent” (and he has the Dauntless tattoo to prove it). I could tell you about how LaTristia got red highlights in her hair before coming to Peru and has probably gotten more compliments on it here than she did in the States. I could tell you about Josue and Albert, our host parents’ ornery 13- and 15-year-old grandkids who love “Star Wars” as much as I do.

But if I wrote about everyone I’ve met so far, this wouldn’t be a blog. It’d be a novel. So I’ll stop here, for now.

Here’s what I’m getting at: everybody’s story is different, but each one is worth telling. There are nearly 50 people here with ISA right now, and with these few stories, I’ve barely scratched the surface.

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