Calling Me Home

The Spanish language, as it exists in Latin America, has introduced into my life the necessity of self-discovery. I arrived here with the idea that language acquisition would be only a set of building blocks to the totality of being that I presented to the world; I am only now realizing it is not something to acquire, but the measure of how close I can get to the depth of the world and myself. 

It all started to make sense to me when I spent a few days alone hiking through the Colca Canyon. The silence between each footfall and the sheer emptiness of the landscape evoked the feeling of losing myself to the natural world and of all prior forms of communication that I had known becoming useless. On my first night, I stopped at a lodging in the small pueblo of Llahuar where there were only 3 other travelers staying for the night, two French women and a German man. We were all served dinner together and found quickly that the only language in which we could all cohesively communicate was Spanish. The richness of their company was something I needed after spending some time alone, and the ability to find a middle ground in language demonstrated to me for the first time the capacity of human nature for meaningful connection. The next morning, as we went our separate ways and I found myself alone again, I could feel the English slipping out of my head entirely and leaving behind only the ghostly familiarity of a Spanish fluent brain.

View of the Colca Canyon

I encountered a similar situation, though on a much more personal level, with one of the workers I have come to know very well at my service-learning placement at an alpaca farm called Awana Kancha. In my pursuit to learn Spanish during my time abroad, I found it a pleasant surprise when I met a woman on the farm, Augusta, who reminded me exactly of my grandmother. Incredibly loving, always telling jokes, and a laugh louder than life; the only difference being their mother tongues. While my relationship with my grandmother taught me to view the Spanish language as a capsule of heritage, it had always existed as an entity I could only admire from afar, until now. By being accepted into the Awana Kancha community, I have understood the deep emotional connection to family and language and the transcendental power of our expressions of love. While I speak with my family in English, Augusta maintains her family ties in Quechua, both languages representing centuries of historical precedent which thrives to this day. We somehow met in the middle, between two worlds, conversing entirely in Spanish, and I will forever cherish my relationship with her.

I must admit, I felt lost for a while, and maybe everyone does when they are young and find themselves alone in another country. The feeling like everything is foreign and everyone is a stranger. Now that I am at the end of my program and writing, sadly, my last blog post for this site, that feeling has dissolved away into a familiarity like I’ve met everything in the middle. I have met all those beautiful people I loved so much “back home” transfigured into a Peruvian reality. Even my home has turned inside out and come to meet me by my side wherever I find myself, and everything is just as it was. Like the taxi driver in Nasca who was my age and spoke to me and told me jokes the exact same way I could imagine my cousin would in English. And the young Cusceñan artists who have inspired my creativity and painted my eyebrows green just as I would expect of any of my true friends in the U.S. And always, Spanish is the conduit. 

While there is a lot I will miss about Cusco, I am grateful to take with me a new threshold for what I consider foreign, and the vision of my own transfigured self. I have an improved way of walking through the world now: one where every step is my home, and all the English just keeps slipping from my head.

Elias Lopez is a student at Western Washington University and an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in Cusco, Peru.

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