The Urubamba weekly market bustles with life in front of me. Women amble past-- holding babies wrapped in bright, colorful mantas on their backs while also toting heavy bags of corn or potatoes. Men driving mototaxies down the narrow, well-swept streets use their horns to indicate their approach and I watch as the steady stream of people calmly and casually part, allowing just enough space for the moto to pass. Children scamper past me on mud-stained bare feet, giggling and playing in their brightly colored clothing. Their wind-and-sun-burned cheeks glow a rosy-red and their laughs fill the space between us. Piles of produce line the street and people are busy buying, selling, and exchanging goods. Some things I recognize--potatoes (but only a few of the 4,ooo varieties they grow in Peru!), corn, garlic, cabbage--but some things are foreign to my curious eyes. Most locals are unphased by my presence, others are amused or equally curious. They smile, laugh, wave me closer. With my wide-angle view, it's clear to see that I'm far from home. It's easy to spot the differences--to feel,...foreign. But, when I slow down, sit, and zoom in, I'm reminded of the humanness that connects us--the minuscule details that defy culture, language, and location. For a few moments I allow myself to get lost in these details. I stroll back through the Plaza de Armas and notice a boy kicking around the futbol. I motion for him to pass it to my feet--which he does without hesitation. We continue to play, allowing the common language to unite us. The universal language of soccer has allowed me to communicate in so many different countries and Peru proves to be no different. As I say goodbye to my new soccer friend, I notice a funeral procession moving towards the church. All attendees are dressed in black and they take turns adorning the casket with beautiful flowers. Musicians lead the way and all have an aura of utmost respect. The pain and feeling of loss is evident in those present. I take a moment of silence and am again reminded of the humanness that connects us. Back in the Plaza, a small child, uneasy on his feet, waddles back and forth in chase of a pigeon. As I watch his out-stretched arms zig-zag around the plaza in sheer determination, I feel myself giggling from the inside out. His dad and I are able to communicate through our shared amusement. Slowly, I'm forgetting where I am. Am failing to see the differences or feel the foreignness. Language and cultural barriers are temporarily set aside because, as it turns out, I speak the language of futbol, and funerals (grieving), and children. I love these moments. Time and time again I find that when I slow down, look closely, and open my heart, I notice that the differences that make all these countries, cultures, languages, and people unique, are made even more beautiful by the small things that connect and unite us. I revel in these small things and love the however-brief feeling of interconnected-ness.
Saturday, August 15
I got my first "official" job when I was 16. It was at this job, in a pet shop, that I first fell in love with macaws. Copa taught me to read his moods, his body language, and his sounds. I learned exactly how and when I could hold his beak and pull him in close for a kiss. I also learned when to keep my distance. I never lost sight of how powerful his beak could be. I learned to laugh at his harsh words ('shut up' was his favorite) and giggled along with him when his perfect imitation of a "meow" or "ruf-ruf" left customers baffled after their fruitless search for the dog or cat. B.G. taught me patience and trust. I spent hours with him, slowly gaining his trust and learning to trust him in return. Again, never losing sight of just how powerful that beak could be. Slowly, but surely, he began to move closer to me during each interaction. Eventually, he would bend his head down and ruffle his feathers slightly, indicating to me that it was safe to scratch the top of his head. And, finally, in one of our parting moments before I left for college, he climbed gently onto my arm and perched there comfortably. I moved him closer to me until his beak gently grasped the collar of my shirt and he tucked his head under my chin as I scratched and kissed his ruffled-feathered head. In those teenage pet shop moments, I never stopped to think about how those beautiful birds got there. Never stopped to think about where they came from. Clipped wings, filed beaks and trimmed claws just seemed necessary. Normal. It was what I knew and I was so thankful for the experience those birds, that shop, gave me. 16 years later, as I sat perched atop a canopy tower in the Peruvian Rainforest, I learned to love these majestic birds in a whole new way. I never once saw Copa or B.G. fly. Never experienced the contrast of their colorful wings against the green trees. Never witnessed the strength in a single wing flap or got a sense of just how huge they were. It was here that I learned about their monogamy and witnessed them flying or sitting in pairs. Always. It was here that I learned that, if their mate was captured or killed, they would never find another. Never reproduce. Never recover. I learned the purpose of that white, salty stone that always hung in bird cages and witnessed the magical site of dozens of parrots and macaws converging on a natural clay lick to satisfy those salty needs. My recent experience in the rainforest doesn't change my experiences in that pet shop. It doesn't make me regret the bond I formed with Copa and B.G. and it has not turned me into a pet bird-owner hater. It just opens my eyes. It reignites my love of animals and nature and allows me to appreciate just how vast and valuable and beautifully fragile it is. It gives me a whole new lens in which I can use to view a sliver of my world, our world. And for that, I am grateful.