The other international travel experience I've had was primarily cultural, with a drop of medical and public health, and it was to Peru. I took a cultural anthropology class in the spring with Dr. Schmidt. Although my emotions about the class essays and topic of native peoples in Peru fluctuated between fascination and "I'm over it", the experience in Peru cannot be matched and I'm so grateful I went. Everything we learned about the Quechua people- their history, traditions, food, music, coca leaves, clothing, and language- was there in our faces the entire trip. We worked in the field with them planting and harvesting potatoes, fava beans, and planting native trees. We learned about their water sources and saw how their respect for their gods- which includes Pachamama (in a way, is what we know as Mother Nature) allows them to preserve the environment. And yet, they are still threatened by climate change.
If I learned one thing from them, it's that potatoes are life. I mean that literally because they eat it in every meal and have created desserts out of tubers which is just mind boggling because they're delicious. But climate change is forcing them to cultivate their 1,367 varieties of potatoes higher and higher in the mountains. One of the technicians in the community of Parque de la Papa named Asentó, asked us, "where are we going to plant next- the sky?" This question really opened my eyes and made me feel awful for taking long showers and not doing more to recycle because those simple things could preserve a culture... and save the only earth we have. Without their non-GMO, completely delicious varieties potatoes, a huge chunk of their unique Inkan culture is lost. It also sparks a lot of eco-tourism, and therefore, revenue for their local economy that allows them to be self-sustaining outside of the Spanish government.
So in addition to meeting the amazing Quechua people who took us in as brothers and sisters, I learned so much about climate change and my role in it. I hope I can share it with more people with another blog or maybe open forums. But one way or another, I feel it is imperative to use that experience to heighten the awareness about our individual contribution to global warming, while simultaneously eradicating the typical view that native Americans, including those in the US are dumb, backwards, or dirty. They are some of the strongest, most intelligent, and innovative people I've ever met, and hopefully I've encouraged someone to go and experience this unique culture as well.