I am writing you because you have grown to be my best friend during my time in Chacas, but I know you will not remember me. When I leave, you will be just 2 and a half years old and the only thing that will be left of me is the puppy beanie baby you carry with you wherever you go. Despite our short time together, I will always remember you.
I remember the first day we met. It happened to be my very first time walking into my brand new home in Chacas. Ninfa, your mom, was sitting on a lamb skin covered, miniature chair by the wood burning stove. She stood up slowly with a smile on her face, greeted me with “Señorita!” and kissed me on my cheek while supporting your head as you dangled from her exposed breast. I wanted to take a photo of this beautiful baby and mother, but was too timid to ask in my broken Spanish, so I just followed my host mom to my new room and slept for the rest of the day.
I quickly learned that Ninfa worked in my host mom’s bodega every Wednesday to help clean, cook, and manage the store while my host mom went to work with her knitting group. Ninfa and I slowly got to know each other, but you barely paid attention to me for at least 6 months.
We finally bonded one day over our mutual love for animals. I remember the first time you looked up at me with your big brown eyes and demanded “Mishi!” I knew enough Quechua at the time to understand that you associated me with my cat and you wanted to see her. I picked up my mishi and placed her in my lap as you giggled and pulled at my mishi’s tail.
From that day on, you always greeted me by asking for my mishi. You also loved looking at dogs with me. We even topped off our love for animals by watching The Lion King in Spanish.
The best part of making a new friend was being able to speak English with you. Living in a country where I don’t often get to use my native language can be draining at times, but you always play along with my English. You nod your head in total agreement and laugh at my hilarious puns. You are even saying “Hi!” and “Bye!
I value our friendship so much and I was terrified I would lose that when I decided to move out of my host mom’s home. Luckily, you and Ninfa visit me regularly at my new apartment. You always insist on having a cup of tea with your mom and I, but you scrunch your nose with every spoonful because of how hot it is.
Because I know that you will not remember me, I wanted to leave behind a message for you with a few of things that I have learned by being your friend.
- You are fortunate to have the mom that you do. Your mom loves you and your sisters more than anything. She is a 28 year old women with 3 intelligent and spirited children and she has done everything in her power to provide for you despite difficult circumstances. She is living in a society where her worth is undervalued. She is creative, kind, intelligent, and beautiful and she has suffered in a life where she could not receive the education she deserved because she is a woman. Your father comes home after drinking all day at work and she protects you. She has big dreams and your future is her biggest.
- Keep kissing yourself in the mirror everyday. Every time that you come over to my apartment, the first thing you do is run to my bedroom where you kiss yourself in my full-length mirror. As women, we face harsh criticisms that attempt to make us feel inadequate. I have spent years of my life feeling too fat, too ugly, too quiet, too opinionated…you aren’t. You are just right and no one deserves to make you feel otherwise. As my dad used to tell me “anyone that makes you cry is not worth crying for.” But, if someone does make you cry, you call me and I will come right back to Peru to tell them how wrong they are! Keep loving your beautiful self, baby girl.
- Never forget your Quechua. The kids you will grow up with will think that Quechua is not “cool.” Their parents will try to do what’s best for their kids by only teaching them Spanish and avoiding Quechua in the homes. But, let me tell you something- Quechua is cool. It is your culture and it deserves to be heard. It represents a heritage with 2,000 years of history and hardship and that makes you special. Yes, Spanish is important to learn, but your history is just as important to honor.
Finally, thank you for all the happiness you have brought me over the past 16 months in Chacas. You have turned some of my hardest days into some of my best days and I am always going to be grateful for that. Know that you are loved from all over the world!