If you are wondering how to develop meaningful and lasting relationships with indigenous communities, here are several suggestions of how to immerse yourself.
Learn the Language
Simply learning how to express basic salutations can go a long way towards helping you connect with a community by speaking its language. And if people are speaking a native language within Peru, chances are that it’s Quechua, with more than 8 million speakers.
If you’re in the jungle near Pucallpa, you’ll meet many people who speak Shipibo. Other languages that you might encounter in the jungles are Matses, Ashaninka, and Machiguenga. Even though these are some of the main ones, there are more than 150 languages currently spoken in Peru.
When I say learning the language, I do not mean that you need to learn how to speak fluid sentences in order to effectively be learning a language. All that you need to do is be genuinely curious. Ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and be ready to laugh at yourself.
Connect through Creativity
One of my favorite ways to engage with locals is by busting out my kit of art supplies when children are nearby. Ask people to draw pictures of important animals or plants for their community. Ask them to draw their heroes, or to illustrate an important local myth. And do the same thing yourself. Use art and creativity to express your story of where you come from, and why you might be here.
Live with a Local Family
If you find yourself off of the beaten track, it is usually not hard to find a family willing to house you and feed you for a few nights. By living with a family, you can deeply get in touch.
Get to the street markets
Take in the sights, sounds, and smells of your local street market. But don’t just go in order to make purchases, or to have a meal. Go there with the intention to connect. Ask questions about new fruits, or foods that you encounter. Engage with others by speaking the words that you know of the local language. Start a conversation with a vendor, and as always, ask lots of questions.
Get into the country (or deep into the jungle)
When we are traveling, it can be easy to get swept up with the desire to be in movement in order to see more sights. But I don’t think it can ever be a bad idea to slow down so that we can awaken to the nuance of our experience. A great way to do this is by heading out into the country in order to spend a few days in a traditional village. In doing this, we’re more ready to be open for a genuine connection with others.
Embrace community-owned tourism projects
Though it’s sometimes hard to escape from the marketing influences of the mainstream tourism industry, we can make a more positive impact on indigenous communities, and the environment, by only choosing to work with tourism operations that work directly with indigenous communities. Ideally, it is best to choose tourism operations that are run and owned by indigenous people. If this is not possible, make the choice to work with tourism operators that have strong relationships with indigenous communities.
Be available spontaneous magical moments
Magic is always happening around us. We just need to open our eyes to it, to be playful, and prepared for surprise. In order to do this while traveling, be open and curious. Be ready to have conversations with locals. Be ready to have fun, and to be open for what you will encounter, and who you will meet.
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