Mathias Nilges, St. Francis Xavier University
Even after half a dozen very thorough showers, there is still Cuncani dirt in my callouses and underneath my fingernails. Cuncani refuses to let go. The same is true of my feelings and thoughts. Here, too, Cuncani, its people, its animals, and its landscape have left traces that, I hope in this case, will remain with me for a long time. And in some ways, I sense that some parts of me are still there. It is impossible not to be deeply moved by this part of the world and its people, people who live and work in a region that is both stunningly beautiful but also harsh and unforgiving. In conditions that had us shivering and huddling together for warmth in our cushy down sleeping bags at night, the people of Cuncani work to support their families and communities with few resources and little outside support.
Life in Cuncani is hard. And yet Señor Martin and his family welcomed us with such great warmth and with constant smiles and kind assistance that we felt not just humbled but often also embarrassed–embarrassed about how little we could do to help, embarrassed by the strength, resilience and resourcefulness of our host that showed in every action how easy and antiseptic our own lives ordinarily are. We left deeply touched and impressed by the people of this region, people who want and need support, but people who are also immensely proud of their heritage and culture, their region and way of life and who fight to preserve these aspects of their existence. We went to Peru to visit and work with people in some of the most remote areas of the country, those people who have been forgotten by the nation’s otherwise so successful poverty relief efforts. After having spent some time with some of these families, I wonder how I, or anyone, could ever forget them.
Addendum: I must add that no aspect of our amazing trip would have been possible without the help and support of the wonderful people of Nexos Comunitarios. Their organization deserves our attention and support, and I encourage everyone to look them up, support them, to work and collaborate with them. What a wonderful, inspiring, generous, and all around impressive group of people. Thank you, Maricarmen, in particular. You’re an inspiration.
Second addendum: though I will say this repeatedly at future public events, already at this point: I had the privilege to go on this ISL trip with the best group of students imaginable. They are all impressive young academics and some of the most kind, thoughtful, and caring people that I have met since coming to StFX. It was a joy to travel and work with this group, especially because they made everything so easy on me. Really, they didn’t need me around at all. And that’s probably the ideal impression a group leader should get: that no group leader is needed because the group members are so good at what they do and have grown into a unit of friends in ways that were heart warming to watch. Thanks for letting me witness the growth of your friendship, your work, and your analytical thought process over the course of this trip, Natasha, Laura, Emma, Elizabeth, Magie, Katie, and Carmen!