After Puno we all crammed into a Minivan for the trip out onto the Chucuito peninsula and our second project: Karina. We are housed by two siblings, Orlando and Beatriz. Beatriz’ husband was killed in a taxi accident and so valued us hugely for the effort we can put into helping her farm: picking potatoes, sickling peas etc. This allows her to focus more on stocking and maintaining her shop in the school, one day fulfilling her dream of owning a restaurant. Indeed, we thought farming would be the sole activity of the two weeks. Alejandro came to us on the second day with good news: he had negotiated a deal with the local secondary for us to teach English there! I believe this was more helpful than anything else we could do for two reasons. Firstly, no locals, including the English teacher there, speak English. It was us or no one. Secondly, we all have perfect English accents and were excellently placed to do the intensive two week course the school needed. We planned our lessons over the weekend, and set to work. Unfortunately, all the kids speak either a bit of English or none at all. As a result, we started each grade from the same baseline: useful phrases like ‘I do not understand’, and common greetings like ‘pleased to meet you.’
Even as our confident first graders surged through numbers and animals, progress with others was hampered by Peruvian scheduling. As in Corporaque, everything here happens in its own time. We planned around volleyball games and trips to Puno, in spite of the fact classes end here just after midday. It never felt like enough time, but every grade now has a thorough grounding in the essentials of English, which they can build on with tourists or future Leapers. The teachers will not, I don’t think, do more.
Mother’s day was a fun little break in classes in the middle of the week. It’s big both here, and in Alejandro’s home country of Ecuador. In Karina, they hold an all-Mum volleyball game each year. The women come to play in their traditional bright dresses and layered shirts. It’s a very positive atmosphere. The indigenous women NEVER get embarassed, and it is traditional for husbands and kids to cheerlead, loudly from the sidelines. I remember the whole affair seeming far more meaningful than the card and mediocre lunch I did for my Mum earlier this year.
We spend the afternoons helping Beatrice and Orlando in their fields. The work is easy. We pick potatoes, clean and de-root okkas (think carrots, but trying too hard,) sickle peas, and drive the animals into their pens for the night. This work is vital to the family. We’re filling the hole in labour that allows Beatrice to spend more time on her shop at the local school. This in turn raises capital for her dream of owning a restaurant. Orlando has also found time to take us hiking. Karina sits right on the shore of the lake. The landscape is as sweeping and beautiful as Coporaque’s was aggressive and epic. From the top of one hill we are able to see right across to the reed beds of Uros and the lights of Puno in the distance.
Opposite Karina’s little bay sits the very solid, very not-floating island of Taquile. We’ve found time to pay it a visit. It’s rather Mediterranean, with olive-green shrubbery, and crystal clear water. The natives have some of the most distinctive traditional clothing of any culture here. We didn’t want to be rude and take pictured, so Google it! The men wear a self-knitted red and white cap if they’re single, and a red one if they’re married. Only the men knit, and they’ve found eager purchasers of their wares in floods of tourists that arrive every day from Puno. Once again we were happy we had Orlando as our guide. Our purpose here thankfully has little in common with that gaggle. They all puff up the mountainside clutching samples of ‘muña’. This is actually a herb Orlando’s put in our tea for most meals…
Our food here is tasty, but very vegetable-based. We use Beatrice’s shop to stock up on sweets to fill us up a bit more. Last weekend, Beatrice’s family visited and slaughtered one of Orlando’s sheep. Eating it was quite an experience. Cuts of meat here have few parallels to those in the UK.
Our families couldn’t have been more welcoming, and I hope we’ve left the community a little better educated than when we began. Our greatest leaps in Spanish have undoubtedly happened in Karina. I recognise not all our teaching will stick, nor were we perfect teachers, but the impact we’ve left here WILL last, even if it’s only in the odd ‘see you tomorrow.’