What’s it like to be a volunteer in Cusco, Peru?
A typical day starts with breakfast with the family and out the door by 8:30 am when Patty, the kids’ Spanish teacher arrives for their five hour lesson. I walk along the mortar-less Inca walls towards the Plaza de Armas and observe the day beginning in the ancient Incan capital. The women who work at the produce market push carts with large sacks of fresh fruits and vegetables, a woman in indigenous dress hangs handbags and blouses outside her store and down one alley, a man relieves himself against ancient stones.
I pass by a busload of tourists waiting to visit the famous Korikancha and as I approach my work, the Centro de Textiles Traditionales de Cusco (CTTC), I say hello to the man who sells candy in front of the building and then I’m buzzed into the front entrance. There are about a dozen people who work in the main office which sits above the retail store and museum on Avenida El Sol, and I have to greet each one with a “Buenos dias” and a kiss on the cheek. My office is basically a picnic bench in a communal area that is frequently where indigenous women weave, crochet and spin yarn with their babies eyeing everything from the slings on their backs. The women are genial, speak a bit of Spanish and all smell like they’ve slept in a cornfield. Most of the mothers look like they are 15 years old and will drop everything and lift up their blouse to breastfeed when their babies start crying. Sometimes they let their infants crawl around on the dirty floor and I’ll occasionally be working when I feel a tug on my leg.
I boot up my laptop and inevitably have to re-start the wireless internet router which dangles precariously from a loose nail high on the wall. I’ll then make some manzanillo tea from the tea and coffee station outside the Director’s office. Since I typically leave by early afternoon each day, Jenny or Paula usually come by to tell me what I’ve missed the previous afternoon. My main project is to budget a large conference for weavers that the CTTC wants to host. Everything they want to plan is in a large spreadsheet on my laptop, and every time there is a change of plan, I have to make sure that it is reflected in the budget.
By mid-morning, I’ve done a little work and had a 5-10 minute chat with most of my co-workers and I go outside and walk around the corner to the bakery and buy a dozen warm onion rolls, fresh from the oven. I’ll lay them out in the communal area and they will quickly disappear.
Much of my work is impromptu projects that require financial analysis. Jenny will often come by with a request, like “Senor Jason, we have to ask for money and the foundation wants financial statements. Can you do this?” or “We need an insurance policy for our antique textile collection, but we have no idea how much it should be…can you help us?” The combination of my budgeting work for the weavers’ conference and requests like these always keep me busy.
By one or two O’clock my day is done and pack up my laptop, say my “hasta luegos” and start walking home to my apartment. Typically I will pick up some bread at the bakery or some causa (a delicious savory, potato pie filled with chicken and avocado) at a deli around the corner. As I walk into our apartment for our late lunch, Patty is wrapping up Spanish class with the kids. So goes another working day for a volunteer in Cusco.