A Cuy Lunch Outing in Chumpe-Pokes
Terry Visits the Family of the Willka T’ika Children’s Fund’s First University Graduate in Chumpe-Pokes Mountain Community
For over a decade, The Willka T’ika Children’s Fund has supported a school in the Andean community of Chumpe-Pokes. Thanks to generous donations from friends around the world and the proceeds of purchases made at Willka T’ika’s handicraft store, dozens of Andean families have been able to give their children a secondary education. Before the foundation was created, students only attended elementary schools and after age 12, spent the rest of their teen years working on their families’ farms or chakras. Today, not only are Chumpe-Pokes students graduating high school, but many now have the opportunity, for the first time in the history of their community, to attend university.
This year, Pokes’ first student graduated from the University of Cusco with a degree in Education. Many of our readers will recognize the name and smiling face of Pokes’ star student, Etelvino Quispe Huaman. When I first met Etelvino, he was only 12 years old, yet the determination in his eyes seemed to belong to a mature man. Etelvino made a strong impression on all of us who met him. He has always been bright, hard-working, creative and devoted to his family. So much so, that the founding teacher of his school, Jessica, took him under her wing early on and encouraged him and other students to apply to university.
Last month, Etelvino stopped by Willka T’ika to pay us a visit on his way home from his classes in Cusco. Despite the rigors of his studies, Etelvino never missed a chance to come home to Chumpe-Pokes and visit his mother, brother and sister. Like many other college students from the highlands, during the school week Etelvino lodged in Cusco. Fortunately, a couple, Mark and Shawn Pitts, who had come on a Magical Journey to Peru, generously offered to sponsor Etelvino through his university years.
Jessica and her family lived in Cusco, and offered to take Etelvino in as a boarder. Every Friday after class, Etelvino would hop on a colectivo, or shared transport van, and travel 90 minutes to the Sacred Valley. From there, he would wait for another shared car to drive him an hour up the winding dirt road from Lamay until reaching his family’s farm. This time, he stopped en-route at Willka T’ika to say hello to his benefactress who orchestrated the foundation, my mother, Carol Cumes.
Even though it had been a decade since I last went to Chumpe-Pokes, I recognized Etelvino immediately when he walked into Willka T’ika. His smile was even broader than before and his hair was neatly cropped. He sported a dress shirt and blue jeans and looked every bit the modern student. Instantly, he ran towards me, grabbing my hand with both of his. “Hola Señor Terry. Buenas tardes Señor Terry!” Before I could respond he was already pumping away at my hand, repeating “Muchas gracias. Muchas gracias.” For the next 24 hours, Etelvino would answer any comment with these words of gratitude. Clearly, he saw me as the proxy for the generous donors who had funded his four-year university education.
We invited Etelvino to spend the night at Willka T’ika and then offered to drive him the rest of the way to his community in the morning. His mother would be thrilled, he insisted, to have us for lunch. My wife Tristen and I were quite excited about the outing and woke up early to pick fresh flowers for our hostess. We left Willka T’ika right after breakfast, at 8AM. After an hour of driving, Etelvino asked the driver to pull over by a stream and let us out. The trail was pristine, with none of the bits of rubbish so common around the Sacred Valley these days. Etelvino beamed with pride while he pointed out the different plants and trees: Socma berries, sabila cactus, and recently planted cebada, or barley. There were acres of upturned fields for planting potatoes, all owned by his community. Thirty minutes later, we approached a young, weathered man clearing rocks from fields of barley. It was Etelvino’s brother José and he quietly came over to greet us. Unlike Etelvino, Jose’s Spanish was limited and he smiled shyly at us, clasping our hands with diffidence. I couldn’t help but think that without the Children’s Fund, Etelvino would have stopped school at age 12 and, like his brother, spent the next decade ploughing fields instead of studying and experiencing life outside his village.
Etelvino led us into a square adobe house where his mother was busy tending to a wood fire stove, encased in mud and stone. A bench covered with wool blankets awaited us inside. Etelvino’s mother’s face was one big smile, covered with folds of leathery skin. She embraced us lovingly, as if she’d been waiting for our visit for years. Pulling Tristen’s hand, she seated us next to two young girls who were helping her to roast two guinea pigs over the stove. One was Hilda, Etelvino’s younger sister and the other was his cousin.
Tristen’s eyes wandered to the large rodent roasting next to us and I shot her a look, squeezing her hand tightly. I’d warned her that we would probably be offered cuy, Andean guinea pig, and that turning away such a delicacy would be unthinkable. Staring at the fire, Tristen braced herself for the imminent meal, whetting her appetite with some freshly boiled potatoes and homemade cheese. After the Andean appetizer, Etelvino’s mother served us haucha, a delicious mixture of potatoes, spinach, and onions. The young girls giggled as they rotated the cuy on its spit, the skin growing crispier with each turn.
By the time they served us the cuy, it looked more than palatable. Etelvino’s mother had cut each guinea pig into quarters and it looked like a piece of duck, complemented with more potatoes. Contrary to rumor, the cuy did not taste like chicken, but rather a softer, gamier venison. I managed to eat everything on my plate and washed it down with a few mugs of maté de manzanilla, or chamomile tea. Tristen admitted later to almost enjoying it.
After lunch, but still only 10AM in the morning, Etelvino gave us a tour of the family farm. He showed us the small house he had built for himself. His plan was always to move home after his studies. We teased him that he was surely the most eligible bachelor in Pokes and he smiled, not denying it. “When I’m 30 I’ll get married,” he answered wryly. Then he led us to his mother’s cuyería, where two dozen guinea pigs ran around in small pens, fattening themselves on alfalfa. Like many Andean farmers, Etelvino’s family raised cuy both to provide protein to their diet as well as to earn supplemental income at the nearby market in Lamay.
We spent the next two hours visiting the school and then hiking around the lagoons above Chumpe-Pokes. By the time we finished our post-prandial hike, the increasing elevation had taken its toll. At over 13,000 feet, even the coca leaves we chewed were not enough to keep away the fatigue. By 2PM, we dropped off Etelvino at the local soccer field for his Saturday game of fútbol. He, José, the girls, and his mother bid us farewell, bestowing upon us gifts of hand-woven chullos (wool hats) and chalinas (colorful scarves), which his mother had personally knitted. When I asked her how long it had taken, she responded in Quechua “not long, only two months.”
With big grins to match those of our new friends, we descended the mountain with the warm feeling that comes only from eating a wholesome meal prepared with unadulterated love. Moreover, we were able to see the results of what a small, but impactful foundation, can achieve. Etelvino, we knew for sure, would go on to achieve great things for his community. Whether he would become a teacher, or continue his studies in another discipline, we had full confidence that he would make his family, and his donors, proud. In fact, we’d be surprised if he didn’t become mayor of Chumpe-Pokes by the time he turns 30 – just after getting married.