Inaugural Post: Introduction and Some Thoughts

Hello and welcome to the blog that will chronicle my year in Ayacucho, Peru as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Here you’ll read about the peaks and troughs of my experience, if you please. Put simply, this will be a constructive outlet to tell what I am seeing, of the work I have done, and how I have grown. To start, let me tell you a bit about myself and my year in Peru.

My name is Kyle Coombs and I just graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN with a major in economics and minor in linguistics. I specifically focused on development economics and indigenous languages while studying at Mac. During a semester abroad in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I studied Quechua, which is the most-spoken indigenous language in South America, including Peru. I’m excited to use what I remember in Peru, but do not expect much success as I have been told that the Peruvian and Cochabamban dialects are fairly different. All the same, I cannot wait to continue studying the language and will hopefully enroll in classes.

I am hoping I can use the language for positive work in Peru. I will be working with the Agricultural Development Center or Centro de Desarrollo Agrepecuario (CEDAP).

Now I’m still learning what this appointment entails, but let me tell you what I have learned and a bit of what I have extrapolated from my own research in the last weeks. First, I’ll be headed to Ayacucho. No, that’s not a sneeze, but the name of a small city in southern Peru in the Andes Mountain Range. With a little over 100,000 people, the city has a large Quechua-speaking population, the most-spoken indigenous language in Latin America. I studied another dialect of Quechua while abroad in Bolivia, so I’m excited to apply that learning.

I don’t know much about CEDAP beyond what I have researched, but from what I can tell I will be working with them in the field of indigenous land rights. As some of you probably know, indigenous groups are usually the first to have their rights to land stripped. Indigenous groups traditionally work in subsistence agriculture, so loss of land tends to be both economically and culturally crippling.

This issue is compounded by climate change, which has caused many ice caps in the Andes to melt in recent years. These ice caps provide the primary water source for communities in the Andes through a process of seasonal melting and refreezing. As the melting accelerates, water grows more scarce, as does land with access to water.

CEDAP combats this by researching and promoting sustainable water use through new crop variants and irrigation techniques. I’m extra-excited for this opportunity because it combines my coursework in economics and linguistics. Few opportunities allow me to work directly in the field and give back.

That being said, I am still nervous for the upcoming year. I’ll be spending 11 months as the only member of my program placed in Ayacucho. Those I’ve spoken to said the program often pushed them to their limits spiritually, emotionally, and physically. You struggle with whether you are making a difference, whether your work is the best way to spend resources, and of course you struggle with navigating a different culture than your own. But they all add that if given the opportunity, they would do it again in a heartbeat.

I’m hoping to use my Quechua outside of the classroom while working with indigenous groups. I am apprehensive about this though. Of course, it is a challenge to work in another language, but I am more worried about the potential issues revolving around my status as a privileged white male speaking Quechua. I will go into this at greater length in another post, but I worry about the possibility of appropriating another culture. I derive my interest in Quechua from both my desire to communicate across boundaries, but also a fascination with languages of the world. It will be important for me to recognize when it is appropriate to speak Quechua and when it is inappropriate. I will not face this struggle with Spanish as that is a language of imperialism.

I have already faced this choice with the name of this blog, which I pulled from study of Quechua. It means “Kyle is in Ayacucho.” Unlike the silly portmanteau that is my url, this title is using Quechua to draw attention and for the purposes of “catchiness.” Yet it was the best idea I had at the time of titling the blog, so I stuck with it. I decided it was worth the use of the language, but I am conflicted on this. I am also very open to your suggestions for new names or thoughts about this title.

One thing I am fairly certain of, I will not be blogging in Quechua unless specifically asked to. I may blog in Spanish at times, but that will be the extent of my linguistic variation. It does not feel appropriate and would serve little purpose other than showing off. To quote a Macalester professor of mine, “That’s at worst [appropriation] and at best kinda douchey.” I’d love your thoughts though, as they will help me inform my own opinions.