This is the fifth in a series of blog posts written by Elizabeth Williams, the daughter of Kathy Williams, director of communications for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville. Elizabeth provides a fresh and witty travelogue of their trip to Peru September 29–October 13 2019.
Yesterday, we returned from the mountains. Can I just say how very sad I am to have left that beautiful place. I fell in love with San Miguel. I could honestly see myself living there. Don’t worry it’s not gonna happen…at least any time soon. We had such an amazing time. It’s hard for me to put into words the impact these people made in my life, and in just a short amount of time. The people were so unbelievably kind and welcoming. Everyone we met acted like they had known us for years. The way of life there is so different and really puts things into perspective for you. The people live so simply, but in their hearts they live so deeply. They have such beautiful souls. I obviously cannot tell you every detail about the past 5 days we spent there. I mean I could, but then you would be reading a novel, and I don’t think y’all want that. So, I will try my very best to summarize our experience. TBH it will probably still be a novel. Sorry not sorry. It’s 5 days packed into one post. Only the dedicated fans will read all the way through.
Thursday, we left for San Miguel by plane. It actually was not a tiny plane like I had imagined. It was a very large plane. Three seats on each side and only an hour and a half flight. When we arrived to Cajamarca, a family met us in order to help us get to the “bus station”. I say “bus station” because one, it was not a bus, it was a 15 passenger van, and two it was not really a bus station at all. It was a tiny space that could fit a couple “buses”. The family who met us was sweet. They brought us coca tea. This helps with altitude sickness. A lot of people often chew on the leaves themselves. Hopefully, I do not get drug tested back in the states, because it apparently shows up on the test that you have done cocaine. Wowza…
The ”bus” ride was interesting. Very windy and uphill all the way. Sometimes the road would disappear and it would just be like dirt and gravel. Or the road would be cracked and broken with a mini waterfall running through it. But man, it sure was beautiful. We were literally in the heart of the mountains. The houses are right on the road. They are adobe houses. They look run down, but this is what people know and are used to. To them it is normal. They call this area where all the farming is, the campo. We saw tons of chicken and cows. We even saw some donkeys and pigs. I really enjoyed looking at everything. We would soon come to find out that people walk from the campo to San Miguel. A lot of the children walk two hours both ways to get to school. On market day, Sunday, the people from the campo walk anywhere from an hour to two hours to get to San Miguel to sell their produce. Really puts things into perspective for you. The women from the Campo wear these traditional dresses and hats. I LOVED it. The men also wear the hats. It’s actually very smart because it keeps the sun and rain off of you. Everyone washes their clothes outside in buckets or by the river and hangs them up to dry outside. There are no washers, dryers, or dishwashers. And the water is cold. Call me dirty, but I only took two showers in the five days we were there. The reason being that the water is cold…Shew that will wake you up AND make you thankful for having hot water at home. AND make you feel like a spoiled brat. I’m telling you people, the way of life is different there.
When we arrived to San Miguel, it was dark and rainy. Not a very nice welcoming, but none the less we made it! Padre Cayo (Father Cayo) the associate pastor of San Miguel parish, insisted that we stay with him. He goes by Cayo. This man never stops working for his people. He is so kind and welcoming. We ate all of our meals with him and the cook, Carolina. The other priest, Padre Juan (try to keep up with all the names here), was in a remote village for a few days having Mass for someone who had recently passed. These remote villages in the Campo don’t have priests. In San Miguel, they have a cook for the the priests because they are always on the go attending to people in their community. Like seriously- Always. On. The. Go.
Ok, next order of business. I am going to talk about all of the beautiful people we met.
Carolina is an amazing cook with a beautiful spirit. She told all of these stories with such animation. Of course, it was all in Spanish. I didn’t understand every detail, but I got the gist of it. I honestly just loved listening to her talk. She also says things so poetically.
We got to know Carolina over the course of our five days there. She is married and has four children. She moved to San Miguel from the coast. They only planned on coming for a month because her son was sick and needed the fresh air of the mountains. Well, now they have been there 8 years. Her youngest just turned one. She is the sweetest, most cutest thing in the world. Her name is Jessia. Pronounce the J as an H.
Carolina has been through a lot. She could have a negative outlook on life, but she doesn’t. When she was 3 her Dad died. Her mom remarried to man and he already had two sons. Her stepdad did not care about her because she wasn’t his daughter. He wouldn’t pay for anything for her or her mother. At 7 years old she started working. She would try to sell things on the street. Whatever money she made, she would give half to her mom and keep the other half for herself. Despite all of this, Carolina has such a beautiful outlook on life. She tells her children that while they may not have much, they have life. And that is more than enough to be thankful for. God gave them life and that is a beautiful gift.
One morning while we were eating breakfast, she asked my mom and me if either of us had had an operation. We were like yes….? She said to be very careful because she had a dream that one of us had had an operation, and we needed to be careful with our medicine and our diet with that medicine. Hmm ok. Very scary. Trying not to freak. But she said not to worry, just be very careful. Hmmm ok Carolina, sí. She also said that my mom and I were going to have a very good year. Ok, that’s better news. She said she sees things through her dreams. I really believe that some people have a gift like this. She said she got it from her grandmother. Her grandma can see things by looking into people’s eyes. She said she never seems it out, it just comes to her in her dreams. She asked us if a recent family member had just passed. We said no not really. Then she started describing this family member and said that they were watching over our house while we were gone. She said they especially we’re watching over a small box that had jewlrey in it. I immediately got goose bumps and became speechless. My beautiful grandmother, who I am named after, died 7 years ago. She left me a beautiful jewelry box with her perl necklace in. I keep all my jelwrey in it. Tell me that is not magical. She said to not be scared because it was a good presence. She also told me that I would be taking another trip soon where I would meet a lot of people. She said I still have so many dreams to fulfil. She’s right, I do. I don’t know about the trip part though. I don’t know where I am going. Maybe she means I’ll be moving there. Haha jk…?
Carolina told us that she can tell my mom and I have a positive energy about us. She said she can just feel it. And she thinks Jessia has the same gift as her. She gave many examples. I know it sounds crazy through writing, but I believe her. She said Jessia never goes to people and she was shocked the first time my mom went over to her stroller and she put her arms out to be picked up. She did the same to me. We bonded from that day on. She would just stare. Like I mean intently stare at you. Carolina said she was observing us. See below for a cuteness overload.
Padre Cayo was a great host. He made sure we had everything we need. He was very hospitable. He insisted we eat every meal with them at the Parish center. A little confusing, but there was a parish center and then the actual parish. Two different buildings. We stayed in the parish. We had our meals in the parish center. Every morning we ate breakfast ate 8 am, lunch around 1-2 pm, and a light snack around 7-8 pm. I don’t really know why I am telling you all this info. Anyways Cayo NEVER stops running around. He really cares about his community and is very helpful. His phone is always ringing. Also, he is a natural gardener. Most homes in San Miguel are built was a courtyard in the middle. The living quarters of the parish had a courtyard with beautiful flowers and plants that Cayo had grown himself. I loved admiring it. He also runs around and fixes broken pipes for people and things like that, you know typical priest things.
We met Padre Juan briefly Monday morning before we left. My mom squeezed in a quick interview and then he was off to another village to minister to the people there. I’m telling you those two never stop. He had to have back surgery a while back. He had slipped disks in his back from ridding on the rough roads for hours go get to different villages. (Apparently the roads are a lot better now). I mean talk about a dedicated priest who cares about his people. From the very short time we shared together, I could tell he was a special person.
We met another friend of the sisters who is named, Ana. Ana is joyful and always laughing. She gave us a tour of the Rehabilitation Center. This is a center that the sisters started and have kept up with. Amazing work is taking place there. The center is for people with physical limitations. My mom interviewed the physical therapist. What a sweet person. I know I keep saying that about everyone, but it’s so true. She said her biggest struggle is trying to get the parents to keep bringing their children to physical therapy. She said parents tell her they have tried everything and they don’t believe what she does will work, but once they start seeing the changes they keep coming. There are also superstitions about people who have handicapped children. When asked about her biggest achievements, she told us a story that made us all tear up. When we first got to the center there was a physical therapy appointment taking place. It was a little girl who was learning to grab things, and when we checked in on her later she was walking with the help of the therapist. The therapist told us that when this little girl first started she could not walk or say a single word. The mom had to carry in her arms. After a few appointments she started to learn to walk. Now she is walking and saying words. What a beautiful, beautiful story.
Sister Sue, who goes by Sue, was amazing on this trip. I have so much respect and admiration for her. As I have mentioned before, she has lived in Peru for 40 years. Well, she lived in San Miguel for two years and makes trips there to visit Sister Kathy and the town. Sister Kathy has also lived in Peru for 40 years. Talk about amazing. Sister Kathy was out of town while we were visiting San Miguel. She actually arrived late last night to Lima and is staying here for a while. Everyone loves Sister Kathy in San Miguel and I can see why now. She also does sooooooo much work in that town. She is always on the go.
I felt like I was with a celebrity in San Miguel with Sue. Everyone knew her. They would say ”Ah Madre Sue” or ”Madresita Sue” which means like Mother Sue or Little Mother Sue. It was awesome. They love the Ursuline Sisters in San Miguel. Everyone we met asked about Sister Kathy and when she was coming back.
Sister Sue is the best tour guide and translator ever. She is so caring and always puts other peoples needs before her own. She is very independent and such a strong woman. I love her so much. Shout out to Sue for being one of the coolest ladies I know. I think I will start a fan club for her.
Ok I’ll stop fan girling over Sue… for now. Sue took us to a place where they make the bread of San Miguel. It was legit. The ladies make the dough, roll it, and bake it in the oven. They pull it out of the oven with a long paddle thing. There is no sign marking that this tiny, delicious smelling room is a bread store. You just have to know about it. So mysterious. Sue told us that when the bread is ready, they put a broom outside their door. Sadly, there was no broom outside.
Sue also took us to see her friend, Martina, who is a weaver. Pretty sure we bought the whole store. Kidding, but we did buy quite a bit. It was all so beautiful and incredible that it was done by hand. She had us try on traditional poncho she weaved and hats. I was cracking up. She also makes scarfs, placemats, table runners, you name it. She invited us back the next day at 10 am to have coffee and to demonstrate for us how she makes her material. Like I said, everyone is so kind.
Another thing on our agenda was to attend the Associates meeting. There is a group of people called the Associates of the Ursuline Sisters. They are all over the world. Basically it’s a fan club for the Ursulines. Haha kidding. Kinda. They are lay people who want to be connected to the sisters through small groups, prayer and retreat. It’s a support group for people to stay spiritually connected. There is a group in Louisville. My mom just became an Associate in July!
We met with the Associates of San Miguel and they are the sweetest ladies. They all told me how sweet and cute I was. I mean they’re not wrong. They also told my mom her hair seemed like Gold. They’re not used to blond ladies. Anyways, my mom interviewed the whole group. Part of her job. You know, the real reason we came on this excursion. Well, you will never believe what happened. Actually it’s not hard to believe if you know my mother (sorry mom). And it’s really weird because 10 minutes before it actually happened, I thought you know what would really be unfortunate? If my moms video camera died in the middle of this interview. And people, I am not kidding, her video camera died. Cue the awkwardness of my mom having to stop Sue mid question to tell her the video camera died, and then Sue having to translate to all the ladies what had just occurred, and then all the ladies talking at once and asking what batteries the video camera took, and then one of them running off to a store to get the batteries, and then sitting in awkward silence for a while with them staring at my mom and me laughing at how stupid we are because this stuff always happens to us, and then the ladies started chatting amongst themselves, and then said lady returning because that store didn’t have batteries, and then the ladies all talking at once suggesting a new place, and then same lady leaving again, and then more awkward silence and staring at my mom and me while we continued to laugh, and then chatting amongst themselves, then said lady returning with batteries, and then the interview was back in progress. Cue sigh of relief. I’m pretty sure the ladies didn’t care at all. I tried to reassure my moms with this fact. They all seemed relaxed and they got to talk to Sue, who they love. It was fine.
After the interview we all had tea together and a plate full of desserts. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t finish the plate, because I definitely did. Meanwhile the other ladies wrapped up their leftovers in a napkin and put them in their purse. That’s a thing they do here. To be clear we didn’t eat dinner that night because we were all stuffed. We finished the evening with dancing. It was so much fun. I really enjoyed myself. Even Sister Sue was out there cuttin’ a rug. They tried to teach my mom and me a traditional dance, and I pretty much just failed at it. Oh well, there was no judgment and I had a blast. It was a beautiful night. Only in Peru do you make memories like these.
On Sunday, we went to Mass TWICE. That’s right, I am extra holy. Just kidding, I’m really not. We went at 11 am and then again at 7 pm. At each Mass, Padre Cayo announced is and welcomed us. I just stood there awkwardly and smiled. Of course everyone could see where we were standing in the pews. I could never blend into the crowd here in Peru. To do that I would need to shrink about 3 feet. Joking. But seriously, I have yet to meet a Peruvian who is taller than me. I am also very pale. After the 7 pm mass, Cayo put my mom and Sue on the spot. He asked them to come to the front and say a few words. LOL. I was dying that my mom had to do that. I’m not sure why he didn’t call me up, but I’m sure glad he didn’t. My mom did well though. She just have a short thank you speech to the everyone. Sue translated and then she gave her own thank you speech. We saw some ladies from the Associates group and other people we had met on the street at church. I honestly could not remember anyone’s name because we met so many people. But they all said hi and we got several photos. They all wished us well, told us how nice it was to meet us, and to have safe travels. Gosh, they are sweet!! Have I said that yet???
Before 7 pm Mass on Sunday, a friend of Father Cayo stopped by to bring him coffee. She sat with us a while and had coffee with us all. She was very sweet. She literally laughed at everything my mom said. She said it was because she couldn’t understand a single word she was saying. My mom was speaking English, and she would just laugh. It was so funny! She asked when we were leaving. We told her we were leaving the following day. She said she would find us and bring us some of the coffee. Wow. I’m just blown away by the kindness of these people. And I tell you what, she did find us the next day. She called Cayo and she found us at the bus station right before we left. She said she tried to catch us at the parish center but we weren’t there. She brought us the coffee! We got a photo together. Angelica was her name.
Monday morning we saw the Comedor at the Parish Center. The parish started this wonderful thing. But Sister Kathy has a lot to do with it. As I mentioned before, a lot of the kids come from the Campo to school. They walk anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. They don’t have enough time to walk home for lunch and if they brought their lunch it would be cold. It’s very important to have a hot lunch because it’s chilly and usually raining in the mountains. The comedor is like a soup kitchen. Children pay 50 cents everyday to get a hot meal. The meals are cooked by the mothers from the campo. There are several groups of moms and they are on a rotating basis. Each group only has to come about twice a year. The moms also walk two hours each way every day for the week that they signed up to cook. Father Juan said it took a lot of work to get it all organized. He has put a lot of time and energy into it. He has meetings with the moms where he brings a nutritionist and a physiologist to help with the well being of the children. It’s really an amazing project. The little kids come at 11:30 and the older kids come at 12:30. We got to see the moms preparing and cooking the meal. It was amazing. They peel potatoes so fast, and they do it with a knife! Maybe I should live in the campo for a while to get these life skills down…
A few random thoughts: 1) They only drink instant coffee or concentrated coffee. I may have to rethink my living there in the future. It was a struggle. 2) I have eaten enough bread and rice to last me a life time. We ate bread at every meal and rice at almost every meal. We even had rice for breakfast once. They eat whatever is left over from the day before. 3) I am very thankful for warm showers and washing machines. 4) Five days without internet was very refreshing. 5) Live simply and you will enjoy life more.
I think that’s a wrap. Of course there is a ton I left out. If you have made it this far, bless you.
Lots of love, Lizzy 💕