Thursday, June 14, 2012

Homestay with Bartolo Licuy

It has been a week or two since my homestay with Bartolo Licuy and his family in the community of San Jose. The decision to be part of a homestay was suggested to me by CassWalker – the Internship Coordinator -- so that I could improve my fluency as well as learn more about the life viewed through the eyes of a Producer Executive Board member.
Most of my time during my internship experience has been devoted to working with the needs assessment that Fundacion Runa has been working on for some time now. The needs assessment has it’s basis on the questionnaire given to farmers during the harvesting of guayusa leaves. Fundacion Runa’s goal is to interview ten percent of the farmers they work with to get an accurate picture of what the needs of the farmers are. Needs that are specifically being targeted include education, nutrition, financial security, and areas of disparity in general.  The idea behind the needs assessment is that it would yield results which could then aid decisions made by the Producer Executive Board – a representative body of the guayusa farmers --as to where funds from the Social Premium Fund would be allocated. By taking advantage of the opportunity of staying with Bartolo – PEB member – I could really make a real world connection to the numbers that I would be working with.
In the beginning I didn’t really know what to expect of my host family and what my situation would yield. All I remember is that Cass dropped me off at the house and told me that I could return to the office whenever I was settled in. The first person to greet me from the family was Bartolo’s wife. Since the rest of the family was either at school or work, she took care of the house and the tienda that the family ran. She was an elderly figure who for some reason reminded me of my own mother in terms of her mannerisms. She was very soft spoken but at the same time was very independent. She showed me to my room which to my surprise was similar to my room back home. Then after settling into the room and doing a little bit of exploring in the immediate area I went to the kitchen so I could interact with Bartolo’s wife. Though I was nervous I knew that the only way to communicate with her would be to force Spanish to come out of my lips. From that point I didn’t care about the sentence structure but just spit whatever vocabulary I had in my head to convey a point. I formally introduced myself and told her why I, a student from the states, was here in a small Kichwa community in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Then she told me about what a normal day consisted of. Usually the day started of with breakfast and of course guayusa, immediately following children and adults went to their respective work place, then everyone would reconvene during the afternoon to talk and socialize as to how everyone’s day went by. She also warned me that the smaller children would probably want to play during the evening which I was excited about. After talking to her for a little bit in the kitchen, I went back to my room to lie down for a little bit as it was midafternoon by this point. When I came out of my room I saw that she was tending to customers at the tienda while holding one of her grandchildren. I decided the least I could do was help her out with the shop for a little bit. After which I headed off to the office and work on some data input of the needs assessment data.
When I returned to the house later that evening it had seemed like a party was ensuing in the house. I walked to the kitchen area while greeting everyone with a “Buenos noches”. Then the questions started. To give you a picture I was sitting on a chair in the kitchen when practically all of Bartolo’s family was in the room. Four of his daughters were there along with six to seven grandchildren who varied in age. All of whom, who were interested in who the new extranjero was and why he was here. So I explained to them that I was a student interning with Runa and wanted to learn more about Kichwa culture. What I found fascinating was how immediately after asking my name they immediately asked how old I was and if I was married. Once I sat in the hot seat I didn’t get up for another 3-4 hours. I listened and conversed and I wasn’t bored for a single second. Because everything was new to me and all I wanted to be was a sponge that could absorb as much information as I could. The electricity would go on and off, food would be served, and new people would come up to me to talk. They would share their stories and I would share mine. Even their lives were completely different from that of my own I knew that a human connection was ever present.
I had an especially deep talk with Bartolo in which we discussed respective histories of our people. I spoke of both American and Indian history as I have background knowledge of both culturally and historically. And Bartolo would talk of Kichwa culture and how it began and how it has weathered time. It was an inspiring conversation to have with Bartolo. And Bartolo reminded me of my now deceased grandfather in the way he was enthusiastic about his culture and want to inspire the youth. By comparing these different cultures we sparked new ideas and all of this was done through a language that was a second language to both of us. I stressed the importance of the PEB and how the representation of the farmers is really the base of Runa’s operation. To avoid exploitation as has happened in the past with tea in India I stressed that the PEB working with Fundacion Runa should be knowledgable of what is happening in an effort to prevent wrong doing. We recognized that what Runa was doing was helpful for the Kichwa farmers but by each part of Grupo Runa being knowledgeable of all activities we can move forward in a sustainable sense. This conversation supplemented with guayusa went on late into the night in a candle lit room at times when power would go off for hours at a time.
The interactions that I had with Bartolo and his family gave me a renewed sense that no matter what boundary or characteristic that all humans have an innate connection to each other. The interexchange of ideas was really something that I will treasure for my entire life. It was also an eye opening experience to also learn some historical background to how the Kichwa culture has evolved with time. And most importantly I got a glimpse of what world is viewed through the eyes of a Kichwa farmer’s eyes in small community of San Jose. 

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