mi Familia

Posted on September 7, 2012


August-September 2012

About Familia

I’ve been living here in my town Palcamayo in this nice country home with my host family the Diaz Rojas’, since December, nine months now. This part of my Peace Corps experience has entered my life and being in a way that I know will be a part of me forever. Very recently, things changed around the house dramatically. As with any major event, it’s brought about strong reflection, a new self-awareness, and a strengthened sense of my family and my connection to these people I call home.

When I first showed up to present myself as the Peace Corps volunteer who’d be living in their house for the next two years I brought a gift. I had seen a humongous avocado, the biggest I’d ever seen, for sale at a stand in Chosica. Immediately I figured it would be the perfect present by symbolizing a bit of me, as avocados are my favorite, and my hope for a good fruitful relationship with my host family. Little did I know just how receptive of me they would be, and how kind and happy they would prove to be for my being here. It showed in the way my host sister Alisu placed the huge pit in water. We’ve been watching it grow in the kitchen ever since, and it’s roots have begun to curl in the bottom and the stalk has reached tall adorned with five strong leaves. So now, nine months later it’s ready to plant. And now, nine months later, my sweet host mother has just passed away. We’ll soon be putting the avocado tree in the ground as a memory to Mama Aida, a symbol for her spirit continuing on, and also a symbol for my permanence within this family as well. Just days before she died I left to work in another region, I said goodbye to her and later she told Gladys, my other host sister, “Laura has gone, but she will come back, I will be leaving, but I’m not going to come back..” Her words, her wishes were at last granted. Her suffering had ended as her body stopped trying to live.

My grandfather back home died a couple years ago. I remember that’s when the realization of the importance of family came to me.

I remember sitting in the airplane looking out the small window onto the vast upper crust of sky, where the bright blue backdrop held these billowing white clouds and I sensed that he was among that unspeakable beauty that we tore through on the way to Indiana.

Once there we drove through the Midwest’s dilapidated parts. I imagined my father’s childhood as kids ran around porches, and the land stretched long and flat forever. I was dressed in the restriction of shiny black boots and fancy clothes, all borrowed, with my long blond hair contrasting the uniform blowing in my face. It all felt so different from my life in California. It always did whenever we’d venture to these states for family functions.

I felt as if I were in a movie, especially as we walked out onto the lawn of the cemetery, crunching the winter snow beneath my feet. The place was stoic to say the least, sprawling for miles, with gray stone sculptures marking the graves, and leafy trees lining the roads. I watched as my dad’s family, my family, trickled together slowly like blood through tired vessels, towards the small church, which sat doors open to us with a warm glow eluding from the wintry property.

I remember the somber heaviness that was held together with importance and respect. It pervaded the event from the moment we endured words in the small church to the placement of the triangularly folded American Flag that was placed on his casket honoring his work in the war decades ago. I watched my three tall brothers carrying the heavy box, dark but glimmering with brass adornments, towards the perfectly cut rectangle in the ground. It wobbled over their shoulders, but they each held their faces and the burden and a sense of duty. I cried a few times that day, and that was one of them.

Family is maybe the only thing that can be grasped, visualized, and understood with any certainty in life. Life provides us with a plentitude to question and be unsure about. People we meet may let us down, or lead us astray. Family is a safety net that has always been there for me. It’s the answer to our questions of what our purpose is here. I feel that support and love and two reasons for our existence, and two things family is sure to give and sure to get, no strings attached.

So now here I am, thousands of miles, voluntarily, away from my family in Indiana, California, South Carolina, Florida, and New Jersey…but I’ve found an incredibly strong a sense of family living day to day out here in the Peruvian campo. In another form these people are my family.

My host mother took me under her wing and saw right through to my core. She never looked at me as a strange “gringa,” and I never felt out of place, only supported and cared for. In those first months here at site I would come back to the house each day to find her in the kitchen, where we would talk about Palcamayo, my day, or Peruvian recipes, and then she’d always make sure I was fed. Yet, we didn’t always have to talk, sometimes I could just sit with her while she knitted and feel better and less estranged. I value her for making me feel so welcomed and comfortable in the house and in the town.

Unfortunately she was sick then (osteoporosis and arthritis) and her conditioned only worsened since my being here. Towards the end, in the final months, she was bedridden as her muscles and bones had deteriorated and failed to work anymore. Her entire body was shutting down and she couldn’t stomach anything. I’d sit with her and witness her happiness fading. She asked when it’d be over, the pain, her life, but her sweetness remained and her wide frightened eyes were heart breaking. I did what I could to help, and took out my book on Ayurveda to search for a possible cure. I bought some sesame oil and massaged her aching body. It was a relief she counted on, and so I’d enter her room almost daily and massage her thinning arms and twisted arthritic feet. I wished I knew more, but the entire family thanked me for the relief I could offer. Others in the town started to ask me about this “cure” I’d brought for their own ailments. My host dad joked that I was a curandero.

 Last week I was getting ready to leave for the city of Huancayo, which I frequent. Gladys told me Mama Aida was not very doing well that morning. I went up to her to sit with her for while, see how she was, and say goodbye before my trip. She couldn’t help how her ailing body had taken over her existence. Her stomach wanted to throw up and her movements followed suit, but nothing came up. I sat with her for a while trying to soothe her, and then as the Father came up the stairs to pray for her I said my goodbye and left.

“Laura has left, but she will be back, pero me voy y no regreso.”

She was right.

I got five missed calls from Alisu on my phone when I arrived in the small town of Tomás with the other volunteers. Mama Aida had died. Overwhelmed with sadness I just started walking away from the town, back to Huancayo, back to my family.

Family is the people we welcome into our hearts and lives with trust. This trust is that they will be supportive through the positive and the negative. It was hard as a kid for me to take criticism and harder as an adult as it comes more as a surprise. Yet, accepting someone with that is a special thing, its in trusting that they will see our downfalls and though point them out do it to teach us and keep us in their lives.

I stopped in Huancayo for a few days to get grounded. Although I am close to my new host family, they aren’t my real family and they do things within a culture that isn’t my own. I was nervous for what to expect, but I knew I could be strong in the situation and handle it. My American friend let me know this and let me see I could be myself for two days before running head on into the unknown. He took me in and helped regain a sense of normalcy, and the touch of reality that life goes on, and that I must be the strength for my family. It was all what I knew, but in the fragility of the event I couldn’t through to the clarity. I’m thankful for him, for caring enough about me to give his wisdom and supportive friendship. Powerful friendship begins to blend into family and so my family has just continued to grow.

Mama Aida, Papa Agosto, my sisters Alisue, Melba, and Gladys, Raul a.k.a Chino my brother in law, and Monica, Roy, Keiko, and Neil my nieces and nephews, mi abuelita, and the many tías y tíos y primos that surround me here in Palcamayo. Then there’s my family in the U.S. my mom, dad, my three brothers, Matt, Mark, and Dylan, my sisters in law, my niece Taylor, my nephews Luke and Oren, and my three youngest nieces Millie, Josie, and Stella Mae, my aunts and uncles, and cousins. My closest friends and my Peace Corps family all are supportive and important to me now and forever.

As my family expands so does my heart in this world, because I’m being contently understood, loved and supported. I am allowed to be me and am given space to be the version of me and show the worst and be okay with it. I feel that every edge of my shape becomes clear and is accepted by the growth of my family tree. Like that avocado seedling, which we’ll soon put in the earth, the spirit of family is forever growing strong and tall.


Posted in: Uncategorized