Expectations and Observations

My service has challenged me in a wide variety of ways. I have struggled to develop a routine and find my role within my service organization. Whenever I would take the initiative and ask what our purpose here was, our boss would say “Just observe”. This was very difficult for me to accept because I came to get involved in the community and help out in any way I could. It was really hard for me to set aside my expectations of what service would look like. The reality was that I would need to be more flexible than I expected. I would need to adapt to “observing” rather than “doing”.

During my first week of service, the municipality I work for sent me and my service partner to speak to the mayor on their behalf. Our hearts raced and we became flustered as we tried to figure out what we were going to say. This was especially difficult when we had no idea what our colleagues at the municipality expected us to say on their behalf. We were sent in a truck to meet the mayor at a ceremony celebrating the Indigenous sun and harvest of Inti Raymi. We drove to a high-altitude location and when we arrived at the ceremony we were greeted with crystal-clear views of the city below surrounded by the beautiful mountains and diverse landscape of Ecuador. We met and spoke with the mayor for a split second before settling in to observe the celebration of Inti Raymi. It was ironic how brief our meeting with the mayor was after worrying about it so much on the drive there.

At the center of the ceremony was a large indigenous flag surrounded by fruit arrangements. Everything was connected by flower petals and at the center was a large fire pit, where some of the fruit was sacrificed at the start of the celebration. We were encouraged by the leaders of the community to take a moment, set aside our thoughts, be present in nature, and thank nature for all it has given us. We closed our eyes and waved our hands to the north, east, south, and west. We felt the wind pass through our fingers, the ground beneath our feet, and the sun kiss our skin. We listened to the sounds of nature rather than our rambling thoughts about work or other stressors. After that moment of silent reflection, we joined together and danced around the fire to music. I not only felt united with nature but also felt united with the people around me. At the end of the ceremony, we were blessed and given fruit as a gift to represent the energy that we as people hold.

This experience taught me to embrace the unknown and enjoy the moments in front of me. I spent so much time on the way to the ceremony being stressed about having to meet the mayor and being frustrated that we were being sent on what seemed like a “random field trip”. What the experience ultimately brought to life was the meaning and value of the Indigenous concept of Pacha Mama that we had learned about throughout lectures and readings during the Study portion of SST. I finally learned the value of experiencing, observing, and just existing in a different culture. I’m grateful for the adventures I have experienced and the flexibility required of me in my service placement.  I have learned to set aside expectations and the drive to be “productive” and truly experience the beauty of just observing.


Images of the ceremony below have been edited for privacy reasons.