Caitlin Doughty in Perú, part 4

154Arrival back into the United States has snapped me back to “reality” – academic e-mails, air-conditioning, over-priced metros, costly produce – aspects of the “developed” world that I did not miss in Peru. Face-to-face conversations, dung-fire warmed homes, three sole taxi rides and free, organic potatoes are all relics of the summer which already seems so far away. Thank goodness I diligently wrote a journal while in Peru; otherwise, I might imagine that I’d dreamed the entire experience. While I was in Peru, I found it relatively easy to adopt the culture. I became less stressed and anxious and found myself not focusing on controlling those things that I had no control over – if the bus stopped in a town for an hour (for no apparent reason), I simply took out my granola bar and munched away while watching others go about their business. On the metro in DC, my mind plots revenge as the Red Line is delayed, yet again, due to track maintenance.

My last weeks in Peru involved living in another community, participating in meetings between communities on joint conservation and tourist efforts and traveling to Lima to interview ECOAN’s current major donor, Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM). I hit my stride. I knew enough about the culture and project to finally ask the right questions and people knew me enough to be comfortable getting into serious conversations. In Patacancha, the last community I lived in, I was finally able to do interviews by myself. Five-minute interviews became 45-minute interviews. One-sided conversations became comprehensive, knowledge-sharing conversations. People asked me questions about ECOAN that revealed gaps in their relationship. In fact, many people thought ECOAN was an internationally based organization! The improvement in my research created an internal struggle: I wanted to stay in Peru and continue gathering knowledge, yet simultaneously, I wanted to return to the United States, see loved ones and change my research focus towards finding a job.

The relative ease I was feeling in Patacancha changed abruptly when I traveled to the sprawling urban metropolis of Lima. My Peruvian guides (also visiting from Cusco) decided that the best places to show me wouldDSC_0282 be Miraflores and Jockey Plaza – both large, sterile, shiny malls filled with iStores, Dolce & Gabbana and Hush Puppies. I felt more out of place in my stained jeans and hiking shoes in the malls than I did as a tall, white, pants wearing female in rural, Quechua communities. My struggle with the culture shock followed me into my interviews with FONDOM leaders, where I interviewed fast-talking men in suits. A simple question from me resulted in a 30-minute response of which I followed maybe 30 percent. ECOAN struggles with the rigidity of FONDAM’s proposal structure while FONDAM continues to demand the utmost perfection. There are disconnects between what FONDAM demands and what ECOAN needs in order to achieve results on the ground. Articles by Tania Li and David Mosse from Carol Carpenter’s class came flooding back to me as ECOAN’s field staff (95% of the employees) complained about how FONDAM did not understand realities on the ground.

Now back in New Haven, I am set with the task of piecing together the summer into a respectable, publishable article that makes linkages between my case study and conservation and development theory. No doubt this will be a useful exercise and help me combine my “book studies” with my practical experience. The funny anecdotes, frightening moments and awe of my summer experience will be translated into academic jargon. But what I enjoyed most in Peru, the people I learned, laughed and lived with will stay pure in both my writing and my memories. I cannot thank any of them enough for the logistical, emotional, informational support they provided. Hopefully, through my writing (and subsequent visits) I will be able to give something back. Isn’t that the goal we all have for our summer experiences?


Caitlin Doughty

Caitlin Doughty is a Master of Environmental Science candidate at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, focusing on climate adaptation and sustainable development. She can be reached at

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  1. Pingback: Sage Magazine – School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Summer Blog ’13

  2. The clearly stated information, simple explanation of a multiple of many experiences shared by an observant caring young person—truly enriching. I wish her well in the future.

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