Sitting in the hostel at night after a collective grilled chicken and chips run, and the guys here including my son Omar and the founder of the Aldea Yanapay school, Yuri, are playing a game with a set of round cards that I’ve not seen before. The intensity has closed their heads into a circle so tight that a slight involuntary lurch forward from any one of them could give all seven concussion. My 4 year old daughter has her head lodged between the waists of Omar and Yuri, and is throwing everyone off with occasional random yelps of nonsense.
This is the community. Everyone has washed their dishes in the outside sink. Perrine has been passing her amazing Belgian chocolates round. The French ladies are so late with their beer run to the shops that a sangria, improvised by the Spaniards, has been drunk dry against all expectations. Spaniards, Columbians, French, Americans, Brits, Belgians, Germans, Swedes and Kiwis (not to mention this Palestinian) share this space. It has a distinctly communal feel about it, without the drugs. Not that opportunities on that count are lacking in Cusco, as I’ve been approached about once every couple of days by a dealer. But that doesn’t seem to have made its way into the hostel.
Every morning Paola goes out for a few hours to train for the Machu Picchu trail that she will be walking in a week’s time, and I get ‘quality time’ with the children. Which comprises mainly of a game of shower whack-a-mole, as the water from the showers is unpredictable both in quantity and temperature, randomly alternating between water, no water, hot water only, cold water only, and for moments just long enough to tease you into staying, the right amount of water with full control over the temperature. And into all of that I try to shuffle four children with barely enough towels, and a walk through the courtyard to and from the bedroom. This in itself is no small feat as many of the doors are at head-bruising height. At the end, I get to play shower Russian Roulette myself, knowing I will be either scalded or cold but definitely clean. Almost.
Breakfast for the children is from a very basic kitchen. I usually need to pop out to the grocer next door to replenish cereal supplies for their insatiable appetites. There is no feeling of risk doing this for a few minutes with the children roaming the hostel. Most of the residents are volunteers, many have made friends with our children, and a couple of them nearly had our youngest two leaving with them of their own volition. For sure, there are more physically comfortable places to stay, but the caring, the security and the fun mean that we will stay in the Hostal Magico a couple more weeks in preference to moving somewhere more luxurious.
The rest of the morning is spent with the children either doing some work or reading waiting for Paola to come back before we all to go out to lunch. We head to school for the day’s volunteering, leaving just enough time to go into town, feed the family, get back to the hostel, and beat a disorderly retreat to bed for the six of us. Simple days, but rewarding.
More rewarding, however, are the people we met while here.
But extra special was yet to come. A lady with one of the biggest hearts I’ve met, in fact so big I could scarcely see how it fit inside her slim frame, gave Alvaro a small leather pouch of Cusco and Machu Picchu. But inside, Marina had written him a little note entitled “to Alvaro on his ways out in life”.
“Alvaro. Each person has something special inside them. No one is better than anyone else, we’re just good at different things. Sometimes when you doubt yourself, remember that and believe in yourself, and that you can do it. Because you can! I know that because I met you and you are a very special guy! Never ever forget that! All my (heart) and luck to you. Marina.”
Marina, just for taking the time and thought to do that, you will sit in our hearts. All your other continuing kindness that we saw to us, to the people that you help in your various endeavours, to the children in Aldea Yanapay marked this out as not atypical from you. Thank you, and I hope our paths cross again.
She was not alone. As you would expect in a community of volunteers, most had a worldview that extended beyond their pockets, and were giving their most abundant gift, caring, alongside the one that they could never replenish, time. Amie, the photographer who wants to make a difference with her photos; Perrine, never failing over months of solid dedication to the kids there; Justin, who at the tender age of 18 had already given months to Cusco’s children. So many more whom I am committing the injustice of not listing for fear of making this blog post a list of all the volunteers. And that’s not to mention the fantastic staff, Flor, Sonya, Roxanne (the “mother” of the hostel), Claudia, and all the others ready to step in and help with our children at a minute’s notice.
We are not unhappy with our choice of hostel.