By Maren Misner, KF3

I’ve found myself lately in a state of peace I can’t seem to explain nor justify. But peace is much preferred to chaos, and I’ll take it, no questions asked. For the first three months of my fellowship I was based in Lima, traveling from there to the different branch offices around the country. While amazing to experience the intense variety of Peru, it can be unsettling to be in a constant state of movement- just as you get used to a place, you have to leave, wondering what you could have accomplished with a bit more time, what relationships you could have formed. So, with much eagerness and gratitude, I spent my last month in Peru in the amazing city I’d fallen in love with in December, Ayacucho. For the first time since I had landed in Peru, I was able to not only unpack my bags, but actually put my things in a closet, on hangers, in drawers! The excitement was too much! But Ayacucho proved to be much more than a place to simply ‘hang my hat’. It became my temporary home, complete with friends and family.

I was lucky enough to have my month in Ayacucho correspond with the country’s massive festival of Carnaval. I believe Carnaval is celebrated a bit differently in each city throughout the world, and here, in Ayacucho, they celebrate with water. Each day in the weeks leading up to this great celebration presented a challenge. The children nearby the house where I lived had a scope narrowed in on the gringos, and thought the best way to pass their summer vacation was to hide behind whatever door, wall, or car they could find, and spring an attack of water balloons whatever chance we gave them. And so it turned into a covert operation, constantly on the lookout for little hands clenching all too maliciously to purple and green balloons, ready to pounce. And then one would hit, and by the time you could shake off the shock and turn around, all that was left was joyful squeals, relishing in their triumph. Something had to be done. So dinosaur water guns were purchased for 50 cents. Although cute, they were not enough. And so, the right of passage to becoming a true Ayacuchano took place. Water balloons, and lots of them. And so it became, fully armed at all times before venturing into the dangerous streets, true participants in Carnaval.

It continued like this with no relief, being drenched became the norm. I became very good at repeating to myself ‘it’s just water, it will dry’. And then arrived the true Carnaval. No longer innocent water balloons, but buckets full, followed by baby powder and an insane amount of spray foam. And, to the unlucky, paint and oil. I could no longer reassure myself with ‘it’s just water, it will dry’. But somehow, even the paint was welcomed. Seldom have I laughed so hard, or seen so much pure happiness in every direction.

I had the great privilege to be a part of Finca’s ‘comparsa’, singing and dancing in traditional dress for six hours through the streets of Ayacucho in one of many Carnaval parades. Desperately trying to learn the Quechua (native language) songs, and proudly belting it out whenever the Spanish lines came along, we twirled through the streets, with spray foam and baby powder in hand, ready to engage in war with the thousands of awaiting spectators. It was fantastic.
Comparsa
The staff at Finca amaze me. I feel so honored to have been a part of something so important to them, and so sad to have to leave them so soon. The work they are doing has an incredible impact. Every socia I got to talk to willingly conveyed their immense gratitude for the loan officers and staff of Finca, that more than money, Finca gives them hope and teaches them how to live as strong and loving women. Skeptics ask if microfinance really works. I have not a single doubt. And it is so much more than finance. It is life.

I had to say goodbye to Finca last week, and they gave me a going-away party I’ll never forget, one that touched my heart and deepened my understanding of what the thousands of socias see. After my short visit to Ayacucho in December, I wrote a blog about the city, post terrorism. One of the things that struck me most was how, in a city that had been destroyed by evil less than two decades ago, there was no indicator that the town had ever been anything other than peaceful. Finca has been an alive presence for fifteen years now, and I have to believe that they are a strong factor in the community’s ability to rebuild and thrive. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the next fifteen years.

I was so sad to leave my temporary home and move once again to a new and strange place. But Guatemala has a story of its own, and a people who love it like Finca loves Ayacucho. And slowly, I’m seeing the beauty in this, and finding the courage to uncover the miracles that Friendship Bridge creates every day.

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