Nuñoa: Among the Golden Hills

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Fiona Jensen-Hitch, COL ’19

Getting my blood taken for an iron level test, during our few practice days before beginning the project.

This summer, I spent six and a half weeks in Perú. Five of these weeks were in the town of Nuñoa, nestled between two short stays in Cusco in the beginning and end of my trip; the first to allow our group to acclimatize to the altitude, and the second to allow us to release from field work mode before returning to the Unites States.

Nuñoa is a town of about 4,000 people, sitting above 13,000 ft elevation among rolling golden hills. The next biggest town is an hour away, but people live scattered all around and in between the two towns; this is the campo, or countryside. I left Philadelphia’s rising temperatures for winter in Perú, and the high elevation of Nuñoa meant that most of my bag was stuffed with long underwear, wool socks, and fleece.

I traveled to Perú to work with a Penn Anthropology professor, Dr. Morgan Hoke, along with a few other students. Nuñoa has been visited by anthropologists since the 1960s; originally, much of the main interest was in how the human body adapted to high altitude. Our team, the “Nuñoa Anthropological Project,” was in Nuñoa first and foremost to begin a new research project and collect data. However, we were also here to experience what doing responsible field work means, to learn about the community, to speak with them. I also hoped to ascertain whether field work is something I might decide to pursue either academically or professionally. And of course, I was able to practice my Spanish speaking skills. Fortunately, the people of Nuñoa forgave my struggles with vocabulary and tense, often offering the words I was looking for.

Keeping a toddler occupied while her mother participates in our project

We collected biological and ethnographic data for a research project centering around recent nutritional and food changes in the area, and how this is affecting the lives of the people in and around the area – their microbiome health, immunological health, food security, etc. We collected data such as anthropometric measurements, blood spots, iron and blood glucose levels, fecal samples, and breastmilk samples. We also gave every participant an interview centered around their food intake, income, work, family, food security, and other lifestyle information. Throughout our time in Nuñoa, our time was divided into attending participants and recruiting new participants. Every participant was compensated with a food package, as well as the results of their tests—both those that were immediate, and those that will need to be conveyed in a few months’ time.

The summer was one of the most incredible, complete, and quite incredulous experiences of my life. I now know that whether it is through grad school or not, I want to work with and for communities, to understand everything that affects a person’s life and health, and my career goals are now keeping this in sight. I am grateful to the Career Services Summer Funding program for supporting me in this work.

View of the campo from the top of a nearby “mountain”
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