Sunday, January 4, 2009


In early December I wrote about my trip to Apolo to visit the homes and families of UAC-CP students and graduates.  Agronomy thesis student Edwin Zapata served as my guide and Quechua interpreter for the five day adventure.  And his family served as my hospitable hosts--despite their simple (to say the least) living conditions, I felt very much at home.

Edwin and his abuelita on the road between their home and the town of Apolo.

While his parents and siblings all speak Spanish, his 73-year-old grandmother speaks only Quechua.  At meal times, I sat at the kitchen table with Edwin and his parents while his two younger brothers and one younger sister stood by the table or sat on one of the low stools along the wall.  Their grandmother, however, always sat stoically on the floor, on her matt made from woven leaves of a banana tree.  "That's what she is used to," Edwin's father explained when I expressed concern that I was perhaps sitting in her place at the table.  "She grew up sitting on that, sleeping on it."

Edwin's little sister and his grandmother sit near the family's wood-fueled adobe stove looking on as Edwin's mom fries plantains for breakfast.

Though she was a very quiet woman, Edwin's abuela would occasionally say something in Quechua and family members would laugh and then conversation in Quechua would ensue.  I savored the moments, rare as they were, when they would all speak Quechua. I realized that it gave me a break from having to pay attention to conversations and, instead, allowed me some time to focus on their body language, their facial expressions.  And I swear, they laughed more, smiled more frequently when they spoke in Quechua.  I had no idea what they were talking about, but I loved being with them, observing and listening as bursts of laughter exploded amid conversation.

Edwin's grandmother sits on her matt outside the family's home.

On the final day as Edwin's grandmother sat outside the family's house on her matt and watched me bid farewell to family members, she asked Edwin's uncle to give me a message. "She says, 'Thank you for coming to visit us...and thank you for what you do for my grandson,'" Edwin's uncle said.  In response,  I asked Edwin's uncle to tell her: "Thank you for sharing Edwin with us.  It's a pleasure to  know him." 

Then, speaking that unwritten, universal language with which we had communicated for the previous several days, we smiled at each other and shook hands.

No comments: