Maura with Nohemi

It’s been a week of transition down here in Ollantaytambo. Bianca left the dormitory for her summer job with Rustic Pathways, leading groups of high school students up giant mountains and to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. In her place we have hired Maura, a teacher from Cusco with experience working in a dormitory a lot like ours. It was a long and hard process, finding a candidate we all felt good about. We were having trouble getting candidates until Alex put an advertisement on the radio in Cusco about a month ago. About forty calls started coming in a day. Bianca and Alex took care of the first round of interviews, seeing four or five candidates a day for a week. Then we all met with the candidates they liked for a second round of interviews. From there we came up with three finalists. Each came to the dorm for two days. It was hard decision to make – and a new experience for me – but we felt that with the Maura’s experience, plus the fact that all the girls liked her instantaneously, she was the right way to go.

This is Maura’s second week in the dorm, and first without Bianca, but so far I’m very satisfied with our decision. She seems to care for the girls in a very motherly way. She has a relaxed demeanor and knows when to impose order and when to let chaos happen. During homework time she sits with the girls, helping and supervising.

She’s definitely a little overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for six adolescent girls. My job, I feel, is to let her know that the responsibility is not hers alone. That is possible, in a large part, because of the wonderful help we are receiving. Rachel is a student at Evergreen College who started to volunteer a few weeks ago and decided to extend her ticket for the summer to stay and help out. She’s at the dorm every afternoon tutoring, is spearheading our plan to sell crafts made by the girls’ families, and is willing to step in whenever an extra hand is needed. Sarah, a Reed student, has been tutoring and teaching a great course on botany. Joe arrived a couple of days ago, just in time. He’ll be starting the process of figuring how to best select girls for next year. It’s a great team, and we’re doing it together.

So, let me back up and tell you a little more about this crazy week. Right now I’m stuck at home in Urubamba, unable to leave because there’s a general strike and businesses are closed and people are throwing rocks at any cars daring to move. For me, it’s a lucky break. I needed this day to recover from a soar throat and fever I’ve been fighting off all week. Yesterday, I got out of bed to go to Ollantaytambo and try to figure out whether we should send the girls home before the strike hit. You see, the strike is supposed to be today only, but there’s always the possibility that it will continue. Then we’ll have the girls for two days without classes and they won’t be able to go home until Saturday. I really liked the way that we sat down together – Maura, Rachel, Joe and me – and collectively decided that it was better to stay, rather than risk sending the girls home and having them miss a day of school. Today, while I rest, the three of them are taking the girls to meet up with Alex’s Rustic Pathways group for a day of cultural exchange. We gave Maura the option of taking the day off, but she wanted to go. I don’t want to rush and end up broken hearted, but I like her, I really like her.