How do I begin to say goodbye? After six months in Peru,
my time as Q’ente’s Textile Programs Field Coordinator and Community Liaison has drawn to a close. It seems unfathomable that I will no longer hike into mist-shrouded villages with a backpack full of bread to share. I won’t sit on a stool by the cooking fire and warm my hands while a woman in a bright woven skirt ladles me steaming soup and potatoes. I won’t get to hear the guttural tones of Quechua or breathe in the now-familiar smell of damp alpaca. I won’t admire beautiful textiles spread before me and deliberate over which incredible piece to purchase this month.
Although I will no longer experience these things, I know that my time in Peru will remain with me forever. I have seen and learned so much over these past months. More than anything, I have gained a deep respect for the Quechua people of the Peruvian Andes. The weavers and their families welcomed me into their homes and lives. They succeeded in making me feel incredibly at home in a country, language and culture not my own. When I think back on my community visits, it is the villagers’ warmth, hospitality and generosity that I remember.
I have also gained an even greater appreciation for the weavers’ craft. Now that I have seen or participated in every stage of the weaving process, I recognize the true value of each textile. When I wrap the shawl I purchased for myself in Pitukiska around my shoulders, a wave of images floods into my mind. I see Melchor and Narcisa shearing an alpaca behind their house one crisp morning. I remember spindles in perpetual motion, dangling from a woman’s hand as she herds sheep, stirs a pot or nurses a child with the other. I can smell the steam rising from the dye vats and see women counting threads as they painstakingly weave the designs passed down to them from their ancestors. I see Maruja's face in the weaving meeting as she shyly smiles and accepts the money I pass her for my shawl, while her baby peeks out over her shoulder. These images are so clear in my mind, and as I reflect on them I know that I don't really need to say goodbye. I intend on staying involved with Q'ente from Canada, and I hope that I might one day sit by the same firesides high in the Andes, surrounded by old friends.