Growth and Grief

 

Growth. Sometimes we can see it physically and sometimes we have no idea we are undergoing it internally on a personal level. Throughout my service, I have seen the physical growth around me.

  • My 3 month old baby sister, Bianca who cooed with her googly eyes upon my arrival has now transformed into a crazy little human, sprinting around the house, knocking on my door and repeatedly screaming ‘Nala’ in a possessive voice. She is now 1 year 10 months and the happiest baby I have ever seen. Ever.
  • The baby cow, Machito, who was born on my first Christmas here is now a full grown bull. This Christmas, another baby bull was born, Canela, and her horns are starting to come in this week.
  • Bundles of batches of ducklings, chicks and baby turkeys have grown rapidly and turned into our dinner in a blink of an eye.
  • Two harvesting seasons of both rice and corn have gone by and I’ve seen 200 sacks of rice be harvested, bagged and sold.
  • My own little Nala who used to fit in one hand is now a full grown pup running around with her dog friends every day and burying ginormous holes in this sandbox she lives in.

On the other hand, internal growth is confusing and harder to identify because we don’t even know its happening. I’ve been lucky to help my teenage sister through it when she took the ballsy leap to move to Lima to enter into the police academy at 16 years old. Along while helping my youth group leaders grow in their social and leadership skills when they conquered their public speaking fears and are leading sessions in sexual education.

Personally, I try to reflect on this experience and how I am possibly growing. However, this is impossible for me pinpoint. Growth comes when you lose something. When you lose habits that you’re comfortable with, the familiar – that’s what forces you to grow. So I hope by divulging in these past two years of what used to be unfamiliar but now familiar that something is prospering inside me… whether it will hit me tomorrow or in 50 years…who knows…not I.

As fast as the growing journey of life passes in front of our eyes, even faster can we be hit when that journey of life abruptly comes to an end and those around us can be taken away for unexplainable reasons. Grief, a shattering amount of pain by losing someone you loved. You feel at your weakest, and don’t know how to handle the emotions that come in strong waves, while everyone around you seems to carry on their lives in the most normal of senses.

Throughout my service, I have experienced and witnessed loss of loved ones. Early on in service I lost my own grandmother, Jeannie, whose spunk outshone everyones in the room even at age 86. Although she passed over a year ago, I believe I am still undergoing the grieving process because I am so far away that her absence has not fully settled into my reality. When I look back at it, I wish I gave myself more time to grieve within the moment. She passed away my very first day upon arrival into my community…I literally received the phone-call right after the community-welcoming parade had ended at my house. And because I hate when people see me cry, because I want to be perceived as a strong young woman I decided to hide the news for the moment. I tried explaining to my host family the next day, but with the language barrier and the discomfort of not knowing them yet…it just made me feel lost. I was unable to leave to go back for the memorial service because I was still in training. However, I was lucky to go back a couple months after for the celebration of life to commemorate her with my wonderful family. I don’t know where I’m at in my grieving process, and don’t really think I will until I come home to the states.

About a month after my grandmother passed away, I saw my own host mom, Marcela, go through the same loss when she lost her Grandmother. This was my first time experiencing how Peruvians grieve. Within hours of the death, family members and close friends go over to the house to sit with the body and weep over their loss. And when I say weep, I mean wailing for hours attempting to rid all the pain inside of them that words cannot express. Within 1 or 2 days, the family and community carry the casket from the house to the cemetery rather it is the one in the community (30 minute walk) or the one in the district (1 ½ hour walk). My whole family slept in her house for the whole week preparing chi-cha de jora and mass amounts of food for the community for the memorial mass. 9 days after the death, they hold the memorial mass where the entire community attends and afterward goes to the house to eat a two-course meal with unlimited amounts of chi-cha. Then 40 days later, they will do another memorial mass. Another memorial at 6 month mark, 1 year mark and every year on the day of the death for years to come never letting their loved ones memory be forgotten on a wide-scale.

Most recently, I saw the rawest sense of grief amongst my whole family, due to the unexpected passing of my host aunt, Elena. Elena was the oldest of the 15 children of my host grandparents, whom I live with. She was a sweet and calming lady, who always visited us from the regional city every Sunday. She was always going out of her way to make me feel comfortable in awkward situations, and welcome into the extended family context. She was a daughter, sister to 13 siblings, wife to a beloved husband, mother to 4, grandmother to 6 and a friend to many, which was measured, by the overwhelming amount of people at her burial.

At age 52, her death came as a surprise after she went into a coma after what we all thought would be a simple surgery that led to a blood clot in her brain. When I walked into our home after being out in community, I came home to my grandmother and she fell into my arms and started weeping that her Lena had passed. The next hours Marcela and I sat with her keeping her company while close family friends came over to give their condolences, and she continued weeping. We waited for next long hours to pass for my host-dad and aunts to come home from the hospital and morgue, as they had been with her at the moment of her death.

When the sound of the puttering moto-taxi approached our desolate street, the hollowed wails of my Tia Cucha and Julia echoed as they walked with support to fall into my Grandma’s arms. There really are no words to illustrate how much grieving pain they exerted in their cries that went on for over an hour. As my host dad, Juan, and Grandfather followed in the shadows of them I just hugged each of them and saw the pain in their eyes as they sat down and seemed to retreat into what they just experience and into the memories of Elena they would not be able to relive with her.

The following hours were filled with coordinations for the burial accompanied with breakdowns from my aunts and grandmother. The other 10 siblings of Elena, my host sister, and numerous other cousins who live in Lima left immediately when they received the news that Elena had passed on the next bus out from Lima to Piura (an 18 hour journey on bus). And when I say ‘immediately’, they literally just came with the clothes on their back and wallet. The next day they had arrived for the burial ceremony, which was held in Piura city because it was where she had lived with her children and husband. Her brothers carried her casket accompanied by hundreds of extended family members and friends. We carried her casket from the house for about 30 minutes to the cemetery where she was buried. Everyone in the family touched her casket and said their tear-filled goodbyes as she is put in the ground, and her husband gave a heart-wrenching speech, which didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

The next days in our house changed every moment as they prepared for the memorial service. Sometimes it was calm and sometimes it was overwhelming. I tried being there as much as possible rather it be from just sitting with them, helping make mass amounts of food, going out on errands for something they forgot or just being there – I felt like a part of the family. It was an odd place to be in because I felt like I was grieving their grief, rather than my own and kept thinking how this could have been anyone in my life.

Growth and grief, both are natural cycles that have no rules. We face them together. During a time of loss, we are going to grow because we are losing part of our heart to someone we love. The familiarity of them always being there has been stripped away, but forces us to step forward into a new capacity.

As always, this experience keeps pushing me to see different parts of myself and those around me. Some of the lessons I’ve taken away through these experiences is how the people here come together and turn their dark grief into a collaborative light to be together. They don’t cower in their shadows alone, but fall into eachothers emotional depths and own their grief. They rise above their fear of separation from their loved one, and face the illusion straight on holding hands with those who fear the same thing. They know they became something together from their relationship with that person, and will become something even greater from the strength they have to exert to get through this tough moment.

 

Franch visits Chatito

A big thank you to one of my best friends from college, Alex Franchella (more commonly known as Franch), for coming to visit my weird little life down here. Words cannot express how awesome it is having people from your life back in the states take the time out of their travels to come experience your bizarre Peace Corps life in a tiny Peruvian desert town. Here is her guest blog post on her couple days in my community. 

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How could I put into words the feelings/anticipations I had during my journey into Jamie’s village, Chatito? I couldn’t. Jamie and I had already been on our fair share of adventures throughout Peru – Lima, the Amazon and jungle. Not going to lie either I was having a difficult time adjusting between the language barrier, Peruvians and overall culture. I was in shock and couldn’t be more thankful to Jamie for helping me through it all. Now it was time to visit the place she has called home for the past year plus.

My experiences in Peru thus far had become a compilation of shocks so I decided there was no sense in visualizing what Jamie’s village would be like because I knew I’d most definitely be wrong. Proven that fact as we made our way through the desert on a bumpy dirt road in a moto, we were surrounded by palm trees and green rice fields. Definitely didn’t expect to see so much green in the middle of a desert. I was greeted warmly by her extended family, including Nala, and introduced as Jamie’s “prima” (cousin), which I still find hilarious. Getting the tour through her home and village, I tried to grasp the fact that this was Jamie’s home. You’re constantly covered in sand, stray dogs everywhere, houses made of straw, mud or brick, it’s constantly hot, no running water, bucket bathe-ing, force flushing the toilet, a farm in her backyard… Despite all these crazy elements, I realized almost immediately how truly happy and in tune Jamie was with her surroundings/community. It was amazing to see Jamie interact with everyone in her village and how excited they all were to have her back from vacation.

I shadowed Jamie for the next few days and was able to get a real sense of all the work she is doing for Chatito’s community. She has a few projects going on and it was cool to see all the progress she has made with most of them. She works closely with their local hospital and school. Her days are filled with constant activity whether it be sorting through recycling, holding community banks or meeting with various people such as the school psychologist to help promote healthy lifestyle to the children. The people she is working with seem to really want to partake in helping Jamie make life better in the community and I can see they look to her with so much respect. I noticed that getting things done in Peru is anything but easy yet Jamie has found a way to make it work.

Throughout the time I was there, I was introduced to so many people who were friendly and welcoming to me. Although I can’t tell you exactly what they were saying, thank God for Jamie’s translating! Her Spanish is incredible. I’d say completely fluent but she will argue against that. I experienced things I never would have dreamed of including witnessing a chicken being killed and then eating it at lunch. I’ll tell you one thing, they start their day very early. I’m talking at about 5am. Well that’s when the roosters are up and a loud speaker blares throughout the village announcing what is going on for the day. Jamie’s earplugs really came in handy. I was able to watch her host mom through the process of making chicha, which is beer made from fermented corn. Tried some it as well and it’s pretty good. Jamie’s a huge fan. Didn’t surprise me considering it is beer! Bucket bathe-ing seemed so foreign to me and never would I have thought I’d be so excited to do it every night. Honestly it’s something I looked forward to, so refreshing!

Like all my time in Peru, my visit to Jamie’s home was surprising but in a good way. It was comforting to see how easily Jamie fit in with her host family and community. I will never forget their kind hospitality toward me. I couldn’t be more happy or fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Jamie’s village and see her work firsthand. Everything she’s done and is continuing to do for the community is truly incredible especially with the different elements she battles daily. Being in Chatito for only a few days I have so much respect for her and it sounds sappy but I couldn’t be more proud to call her my friend. I was so sad to leave and know that soon I would be separated from her but knowing and witnessing all that I did I know that for the moment she’s where she’s meant to be.