The visit to Jaillihuaya to see firsthand the hydro-forestry projects occurring here was definitely a unique experience. It was nothing like I had pictured going in, but super interesting. I admire the dedication that Don Pedro and other community leaders like him have for bettering their environment. However, the most interesting part of the whole trip for me was the traditional communal meal, the aphathi. While I had to stay away from several of the main foods such as llama meat and a couple types of potatoes, everything that I could eat was surprisingly delicious. I especially loved the fresh farmers’ cheese with the sauce that tasted like something that would be on a southern tamale in the US…it was amazing. Also, the sweet root vegetables that are local to the region were fabulous.
The layout of the meal was something I am not accustomed to. I’ve been taught since I was little that it is rude to eat with your hands in general, but it is absolutely forbidden to pick at something from a communal table with your hands, ESPECIALLY more than once. This aphathi basically went against everything I’d ever been taught as far as social etiquette for eating, but it made for a really special experience. For these people, it is considered a sign of respect to be invited to a meal like this, which I thought was so cool for us to be able to experience since we are complete strangers. I definitely think that making meal time an intimate experience like this (where everything is shared) creates a really close-knit community. These communities are not very big, so meal times like these are probably huge social events where everyone is included. You can’t help but feel close to someone when you literally share one cup to drink from and use your hands to pass food to others. I enjoyed sitting on the ground and breaking off pieces of food to pass to people; no one was grossed out at all, it was just normal. I think the Americans that attended this meal received a new perspective on what it means to be polite, or at least I did.