2013 Report

FIELD SCHOOL – Students’ Reflections


We initiated the year with our fourth New Year’s course as an intersession seminar, where we worked closely with the voluntary women’s associations of the Communities of Shilla and Shumay within the Province of Carhuaz to address issues of transparency in local government and identify capacity building needs for each organization, in conjunction with our ally civic association, Forum Solidaridad Peru (www.psf.org). We continued community support throughout the year on themes of agrobiodiversity in the face of Climate and Culture Change and the return to organic native grain propagation, focused on quinua, kiwicha and cañihua, particularly in the Quebrada Ulta, within the District of Shilla. Our May through August courses emphasized both Field Methods and Quechua Language practice and skills development in context. Professionals, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, participated from the US, Puerto Rico and Canada, with a wide range of majors that included Global Health, Medicine, Biology, International Communications, Social Work, Spanish Language, Latin American History, as well as Anthropology and Archaeology.


“Andean culture places a very strong emphasis on community relations and reciprocity. Maintaining good relations is key to one’s wellbeing – health and healing here are as social as they are physical. These relations and means of reciprocity are not only interpersonal, but also among people and their environment, natural and spiritual.”
“One of the most important notions of Andean thought that I keep connecting back to every facet of their culture and society, is their conception of boundlessness. There is no sense of systematized boundaries between self and other in the traditional Andean mode of being. I feel as though this is largely tied to their mode of reciprocity and subsistence living. Everyone in the community grows to LIVE together as one being with the land – their mother (Patsamama). The weight of another is felt and pulled by all.”
“The environment here is given as much respect as living beings, maintaining good relations with the land is considered a proper way to live, it is not done because it is profitable.”
“It is striking how willing people are to help others in the community. When we were at the one room schoolhouse the kids would try and help those who were shy or too young to fully understand and participate in the activities.”
“Andean people highly value the roles and ways of knowing of women. Many girls learn from their mothers, grandmothers and other women, the traditional ways of planting, harvesting and preparing foods, as well as medicines. Their knowledge is highly valued for their connection with the earth deity, Patsamama, and their kin. Knowledge is not solely a mental capacity but also a spiritual and physical capacity, for example, women may have knowledge in their heart and hands.”
“Our teacher, Martín, explained the closely connected and reciprocal relationship of man, nature and deities in Andean culture, I observed these relationships in action throughout the various communities we visited.”
“Andean people live and interact closely with their food and medicinal sources. Wild and cultivated herbs are used for healing the body and summoning back the soul.”
“I learned about the personal bonds that form between a healer and his or her clients, and about the bonds formed through reciprocal relations, such as the gift exchange during the Fiesta de San Juan.”
“The idea of reciprocity seems central to Andean culture. Whenever you give something to someone here, they give you something back. For example, when we went to the community of Shilla to harvest quinua with María we brought oranges, bread and cheese, and they returned to us quinua, potatoes, beans and squash, plus they shared the food we brought to them with others.”
“Professor Martín taught us about the four dimensions – patsas – and how the same elements exist in each, with the river flowing through all dimensions. Andean culture views nature and deities as interacting with humans. Nature can take on characteristics of god, humans of nature and gods can have human qualities. The entities are fluid and constantly connected.”
“An important feature of Andean thought is time. Everyone knows when everything must be done, yet rarely did I see anyone with a watch. Daily time is measured by the sun and moon. As Martín explained, time in Andean thought is cyclical and all time dimensions (past, present and future) simultaneously exist.”
“I’ve grown to have an appreciation for the Andean way of life, so different from my own, though in many ways better and more logical. This way of life stems, in a large part, from their relationship with the environment they’re in, which can be described as challenging with the extreme conditions. However, it accentuates the richness of life the people possess, illuminating the beauty.”


“If anything, I have learned that there is no one single reality nor singular truth. The agrobiodiversity is reflected in the landscape and the people and their traditions and customs. There is an overwhelming amount of diversity that I believe makes this place truly unique and majestic.”
“The practice and development of Agrobiodiversity in the Andes is valued as a form of insurance (mitigation of climatic risks) and to maintain a varied diet.”
“For people to be healthy, the community needs to be healthy; for the community to be healthy the health of the land must be maintained; a healthy land is necessary for bodies to be healthy. It is a system which perpetuates and strengthens agrobiodiversity and social well being.”
“As a student of biology, I am fascinated by the setting and the local environment. I am astounded by the incredible diversity in the vegetation in the region. Within a relatively small area, one can find tropical fruits, succulents and desert cacti, evergreen conifer trees, as well as lichens and mosses such as those found in subartic environments. I was surprised to learn about the influence of altitude upon crop propagation, and the delicate balance between plants, altitude and global warming.”
“Not only the extensive variety of tubers and maize, but the local culture boasts a diverse system of beliefs as well. With respect to healing, for example, I’ve seen the entire spectrum from supernatural beliefs in the guinea pig and ‘shoqma’ practice to heavy reliance on herbal medicines to complete faith in biomedicine.”
“The sheer amount of agrobiodiversity found here is crazy to think about. Walking from one part of a mountain to another you can see all types of native trees; the knowledge of which plants grow together and are used together, as well as how different plants affect the body, is very impressive.”


“The people of the Andes exhibit a high level of resourcefulness, especially in the face of Climate Change. They are so in tune with the ebb and flow of nature that they can readily adjust to changing conditions, learning to plant higher and higher as their climate becomes warmer.”
“The altitude was quite noticeable as well as the frost in the morning contrasted with extreme midday hot sun. It impressed me how long and high people walk in extreme heat wearing knit sweaters and carrying heavy bundles in their ‘llikllas,’ seemingly without breaking a sweat.”
“The predominance of Quechua speakers in the market and small pueblos exemplifies the mixture of tradition and change that exists in the valley. Many youth we met only spoke castellano, although a surprisingly significant portion also speak, or at least understand, Quechua. For example, Rosa who I got to know at the haberdashers shop understands all the Quechua speaking women who come for hat repair, even though she is decidedly more ‘modern’ or ‘cosmopolitan’ in her social presentation.”
“Even as Western influence seeps in and appears alluring to the younger generations, traditional knowledge is still to be found, as demonstrated by the elementary school kids who could rattle off multiple uses for different herbs and plants. Because they live ‘with’ the land, rather than merely ‘off’ the land, they know a lot about sustainability.”
“I guess what I’ve learned about the environment is that it is changing. This became super apparent and real when we walked the distance that the glacier has receded in the last 10-15 years up to the lake.


“I learned about hands on learning, rather than just talking in the abstract, illustrated on our hike with Martin to his community and our medicinal herb walk with Don Pancho. Actually seeing, feeling, smelling – makes it easier to remember concepts, because you associate them with more than only words on a page or from a college lecture.”
“I found that my best observations occurred during casual conversations or spur of the moment encounters. With my field notebook always on hand, often I would pause afterwards to quickly record salient points. To build meaningful relationships and new contacts it is best to be engaged (not staring at your notebook), while they are talking. Making eye contact and giving affirmations is central – people like to feel like they’re listened to, that what they are saying is important. The more you make the interaction about THEM, and not about your project, the more meaningful it will be.”
“I learned to be open to different kinds of learning/knowing. Quechua/Andean culture in general looks at things very differently from “Western” culture.”
“It became evident to me that a complete integration into the society will yield the best results. The best information can come from the most offhand, casual conversations, which are more likely to occur if you’re living among and surrounded by the culture of study.”
“The most important thing I learned about field work was to expect communication problems, and therefore being creative with how you phrase questions can help circumvent not knowing a term or how to express an idea. Just understanding what people are saying is not usually enough because they expect feedback, for you to ask more questions, and sometimes I was at a loss for how to continue.”
“I am glad to have been placed in this immersion setting – I feel that I have learned a monumental amount of Spanish vocabulary in three weeks, and I believe that my comprehension and speaking skills have grown considerably.”
“One of the most important things I learned about doing field work is how to balance yourself in different situations. I often struggle with the issue of traveling “too open,” plunging myself into a new environment and trying to absorb absolutely everything – then ending up feeling energetically and spiritually exhausted. Here, I learned how to shift my perspective from being only an observer to becoming a more integrated part of the community.”
“I have learned that field work is fairly tough, and can be pretty exhausting at times. Sometimes a question can be too complex or an idea misunderstood. I learned to be friendly, patient, persistent, and to ask a lot of questions as well as use more than one means of expressing your idea or question.”
“An important aspect of each field work encounter is what comes afterwards. What you choose to follow up on, whether or not a contact is available for another interview, and especially reflecting on everything you’ve learned, particularly while still in the field.”
“I came to realize the importance of flexible schedules when it comes to field work. You have to be able to anticipate that not everything will go according to plan, that collaborators will cancel suddenly, or new directions will emerge. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to make the best of unexpected situations, because if you cannot adapt quickly field work becomes very stressful, and being clouded by your own stress can cause you to miss new opportunities.”
“I learned that one of the best ways to overcome nervousness about doing field work in new situations is to be forced into unexpected scenarios where you have no choice but to interact with people. By being thrown into the deep end of the pool you find that swimming is not as hard as you thought.”
“I learned a lot about Participatory Action Research (PAR). I had never experienced PAR before and I thought it was fantastic to have the participants themselves determine what is important.”
“I incorporated the PAR approach into my research at the one room schoolhouse and by doing so it made the activity more meaningful for the participants and I ultimately discovered new aspects that I hadn’t even conceptualized at the start of the field school.”
“As a result of this program, I’ve grown a lot as an individual and anthropologist, learning more about my interests, abilities and weaknesses. I hope that I can continue to use Participatory Action Research (PAR) techniques to conduct research in the future.”


“La Casa de Pocha epitomizes the cycle of life, and thus reciprocal relationships people here have with the environment. There’s an undeniable beauty in the way human waste is used to fertilize the beautiful white calalilies in the garden. The compost pile and our return of the tuna (nopal) cactus plants extract after we consumed them, illustrate the give and take nature of Andean peoples’ relationship with the environment.”
“The most inspirational idea for me is the solar oven. It seems so simple and doable without sacrificing the quality of cooking. I would like to incorporate this in my life.”
“I was surprised by how HOT the solar stove and oven can be. I was truly fascinated when Pocha placed a piece of newspaper on the stove and it burst into flames! The solar hot water system seems more complicated, but I would like to learn how it works.”
“Coming to the ranch I was skeptical about the myths and mystical powers surrounding medicinal plants. However, now I’m a believer. I now realize that my belief in biomedicine also is an example of faith – I don’t understand how it works or even what I’m consuming. Belief in herbs makes more sense to me now. Especially, as I’ve learned, growing the plant and harvesting it yourself seems so much more reliable and natural, as we’ve practiced here at La Casa de Pocha.”

“This field school at La Casa de Pocha has definitely taught me about my own consumption and what that means and its consequences. Becoming aware of that is a huge first step.”


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Posted on: September 22, 2017admin

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