A true traveler approaches a foreign place with humility, with the acknowledgement that he is in someone else's land, on someone else's turf, playing by someone else's rules. He displays this humility by being open and aware, by listening rather than speaking, by receiving rather than delivering, and by accepting and responding rather than controlling and demanding. - Michael D'Orso
At the Llachon and Agato homestays, we were to be their guests, or rather, their family for a week. We got to help their families on their land while eating their food and respecting their customs. Sure we could have gotten a hotel room and taken day trips to Lake Titicaca or the Sacred Rock in Agato. But what we've learned on this trip wasn't learned from tours or touristy activities, rather from the communities around us and assimilating into their culture.
Our Llachon mothers taught us infinite kindness. Worried when a group member was feeling the slightest bit ill. Filling our plates until we couldn't eat anymore. We would try our best to imitate this kindness shown to us. Whether it was through cleaning up after meals or bringing week-old kittens inside to sleep in our bathroom when there was a storm. Kindness grew from the Llachon community.
Sebastian, a 4 year-old member of our family, taught us the fun in simplicity. Finding the fun in planting potatoes in the rain and making ramps with planks of wood. I learned the other side of the story to South America. When I look past the stereotypes of poverty and instead looked at the beauty of the land and their wealth of nature and wholeness.
The Agato community taught us the importance of family and culture. We immediately accepted their outreach of love and became part of their families. By dinner on the first night we paused dinner-making to have a half-Spanish, half-English dance party with our 8, 10, and 18 year old siblings. Not once did we see their smiles leave their faces.
One afternoon our little 'brother' Chesky (8) didn't have school, so he ran after us to join us at the Sacred Rock. We performed a Kichwa ceremony which was becoming a daily thing to feel at peace with ourselves and the world. Chesky, even during our individual moments, would not leave David's side. I cautiously gave him my hand as he scampered down the back side of the Sacred Rock. I had learned from my Agato family that family always came first. Walking back home with my little brother, ice creams in hand, it felt like he was truly part of my immediate family back in the States.
Often we were doing service-learning projects for these communities. But how I think of it now is "learning service". We aren't doing things for them because they need foreigners help, rather they are teaching us a new way, their way, to live life. What we gave can not even come close to compare to what we learned from them.