I was first put in contact with the Otra Cosa Network as part of my MSc in Environmental Change and International Development in order to conduct research for my dissertation. Having spent the last few months researching environmental concerns surrounding the local Totora reed, used in the construction of Huanchaco’s famous Caballitos de Totora, I was very excited to finally see and experience the town for myself, and my first day with the organisation didn’t disappoint.
The day started with an induction at the volunteer house where all the new volunteers had the opportunity to learn about the different projects that Otra Cosa are involved in, ranging from environmental projects, which I will be helping out with, to the empowerment of women. You could see straight away how invested the staff are in the success of their projects and their desire to make a difference within the local community. Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming, making us feel comfortable and at ease as soon as we arrived.
Having learnt more about the organisation and been given some top tips for adapting to life in Peru, it was time to go on a walking tour of Huanchaco. Huanchaco is nothing like any place I have ever visited before, a combination of surf beaches and the desolate beauty of the surrounding desert. What I’m most excited about is the number of restaurants serving fresh seafood everyday and the salsa night on Thursdays (assuming I can convince my gringa hips to even vaguely move to the rhythm). Having looked round the town I also have some pretty big plans to become a pro surfer in the next 6 weeks. If you’ve ever felt that way inclined, Huanchaco definitely seems the place to start.
After meeting the staff and looking round the town I was feeling pretty great about spending my summer here, already upset that I’ll only be here for 6 weeks, however one thing still loomed large in my mind: my dissertation. Dissertations are a pretty stressful time in the life of any student and though I have been researching my topic for the past few months, the practicalities of conducting my research was definitely making me nervous. The operations manager, Jenny, had arranged to meet me that afternoon to go over what I wanted to research and who I wanted to talk to before introducing me to my translator who will be helping me conduct my interviews.
As soon as I spoke to Jenny about my research she was able to tell me about organisations and members of the local community who I could set up interviews with. The range of people I could speak to regarding my research was much greater than I had initially anticipated as I wasn’t sure how accessible some of these key informants would be. I was then taken for some lemon meringue pie with Jenny and my translator, Carlos Antonio, who is also a trustee of Otra Cosa and a wealth of knowledge and contacts regarding Caballitos de Totora. Soon I was finding out about conferences over the coming weeks discussing the Caballitos, the fisherman’s festival at the end of the month where the Caballitos are out in force, and the potential opportunities to arrange for me to see the Caballitos being built as well as going out on one myself. Although the stress of doing my dissertation will never fully subside until it is handed in, I’m now thoroughly excited about the prospect of conducting my research and utilising the knowledge and contacts that Otra Cosa can provide me with. All in all, my first day with Otra Cosa has really helped calm any initial nerves that come with arriving in a totally new country and environment and I absolutely cannot wait to get started on both my research and helping out with the HELP environment project.
Written by Elizabeth Barker, Research/HELP Environment