Parting Thoughts and Unanswered Questions
I’ve learned a thing or two in my time here in La Selva. Just as I felt when leaving my placement in Thailand, I am certain I learned and gained more than I was able to give. This is the guilt-inducing problem of the development volunteer, or at least it is for me. Every morning, waking up to hummingbirds outside my window and even that pesky rooster was a treat. Having the time to pause and reflect and disconnect was a beautiful gift. Getting to know the women of Mishky Cacao and others in the village and learning about their lives, hopes, hardships and dreams was an honor. Learning about a small organization such as Mishky Cacao and learning about the artisanal chocolate business was fascinating. Being a part of a community that lives off a land with as much biodiversity as the jungle was such an experience. And on, and on…
From the work perspective, it was time to wrap things up. While I was able to do some of the things I set out to do, I wasn’t able to make progress on several initiatives. And if I wasn’t able to make progress in 3 months of living here each day and spending time daily with the women’s group, then more time wasn’t going to change that. So in the end, while 3 months seemed, and is, extremely short, I also think it was the right amount of time to support a small group of women. CUSO typically operates at a higher level. Normally they would support a larger program that would then support smaller groups like the women of Mishky Cacao. And that perhaps makes more sense. With my placement, since we were new in the region and working with new partners, it was approved to support an individual group. This was extremely lucky for me as it made for a very unique experience, however from the perspective of making broader progress and sharing skills with further reaching impact it really wouldn’t be justified to stay any longer. I was able to further define my strengths and weaknesses, personally and professionally, and that’s something too. I leave content with what I was able to do. Perhaps it wasn’t as much as planned, but still worthy of a little pride.
The work part is all wrapped up and tidy, with a bow. But, there are a few things that remain a puzzle:
Why on earth would anyone think it delicious to mix 2 liter of soda and a can of condensed milk? And how do I go about not making a retched face when served this treat? This was a popular treat when we were working at the chocolate factory. I just couldn’t wrap my taste buds around a glass of frothy sprite-milk. My selective lactose intolerance came in handy on this one.
Will I ever be able to carry and balance anything on my head other than my hair and perhaps a hat? I know this happens in many places in the world but I was just amazed many times at the weight these folks can carry on their heads and the grace with which they walk.
How long does it take to come to terms and be at peace with Tarapoto? It never really grew on me, but I think it might be one of those places that take longer than 3 months to fully appreciate. Or not. I don’t know. I had a hint of what could be when I left to go to a small town fair with one of the ladies from Mishky and this small town was such a dump that I actually was excited to get back to Tarapoto. Something I didn’t think was possible. Who knows? I won’t be dying to get back to Tarapoto anytime soon.
There are quite a few Chinese restaurants in Tarapoto and every single one of the menus has “aeropuerto de pollo” on it. Airport Chicken?? I purposefully left that one a mystery!
In which direction should I start walking when directions to everywhere I want to be are exactly the same: A mysterious and elusive flick of the wrist accompanied by “aquicito”. (just right over here) Tarapotinos are not particularly helpful in giving directions or helping you find something and my friends and I had several laughs over how complicated it was to find the simplest of things, mostly because of the “helpfulness” of our host city residents.
Aguaje. It’s a super popular fruit and all day, every day, people are packing away the aguajes. On every corner in Tarapoto there is an old woman peeling off the hard shell of the aguajes and selling them ready to eat. And I just don’t like the taste.
How does one drink a baggie full of bright purple chicha and not stain one’s clothes? You are supposed to bite a small hole in the baggie and then suck whatever liquid out – but it never ended well for me. Never.
As I’ve already shared my thoughts regarding bananas in an earlier post but it’s beyond me how I was supposed to eat 10+ bananas each day. I just don’t think it’s possible. Luis got a brief taste of this during my going away lunch. We kept peeling and peeling plantains and throwing them in the pot and Luis kept saying “that’s probably enough, right?” Never enough bananas. Never.
What is up with the people who first designed and built the road between Tarapoto and Chazuta? I’m no engineer and even I could have guessed that the rock cliffs along the road weren’t particularly stable. Traveling this road, where boulders bigger than a car were often sliding into the road, was an adventure.
Each time the full moon came around I would say to someone in Chazuta “what a beautiful full moon”. Instead of the usual “yes, it is” or “wow!”, instead they always said “we have 10 days to prune the cacao plants”. I wasn’t able to grasp why that was or why pruning could only happen in the 10 days following a full moon, but I’m sure it has its reason. Forevermore I will see the full moon and say “how beautiful……time to prune!”