Sunday, June 12, 2011

Semana Santa and more


This blog includes two months of activities so my memories may be a little jumbled but again, these are some of the more standout events.

First we will go all the way back to the end of April and the holiday trip that was Semana Santa. In the States I would be working or studying during the days leading up to Easter, but in Peru, Peace Corps volunteers get four free days of vacation for “week of the saints.” I was lucky enough to spend my time in Mancora, a small but very popular tourist town located on the beach in northern Piura. The town has three or four main roads dotted with artisan shops, cevicherías, inexpensive hotel resorts, and a variety of other exotic restaurants with food we rarely get to try in Peru. There was always something to do in Mancora, but somehow going out to eat was always one of the favorite activities. The type of restaurants we ate at had food that volunteers rarely see in Peru. My taste buds were more than satisfied after our trips to local cevicherias (fresh fish), one Thai restaurant, Mexican food, and some good old fashion cheeseburgers by the pool at the hotel.
The food was amazing but it was only one of the things that made the trip great. The day we arrived from Piura city another 15 or so volunteers trickled in to our English speaking resort and the vacation was on. In addition to the pack of volunteers that roamed around Loki resort I had two Peruvian friends, Pako and Juan Alberto from Piura, who came up to spend the vacation weekend with me. I was under the impression that these friends, who don’t speak more than ten words of English, also had other Peruvians they were going to hang out with. After the first day it was pretty clear that I was going to have to split my time between volunteers I hadn’t seen in a month or more and my Peruvians. At times it was difficult to have them around because I felt obligated to speak a little Spanish, but all I wanted to do was hang out with my English speakers and express myself without having to think about it. I also felt bad because I didn’t want other volunteers to feel uncomfortable only speaking English at dinner that my Peruvians would tag along too. For me it became a seemingly effortless transition to switch between Spanish and English, but social aspects were different in that I had these two guys hanging around that nobody really knew but me. The benefit of having my Peruvian friends was the automatic welcoming I received into other groups of Peruvians. While all these thoughts popped up a few times a day I was on “my vacation” and ultimately I was going to do what I wanted to do.
In my travel experience I’ve found that hotels and hostels are just about the same anywhere you may be. All I need is a clean bed, maybe a shower, and somewhere to store my valuables I certainly haven’t stayed at any 5 or 4 star hotels in Peru, but Loki hotel and resort was close as I have gotten. Loki is a gated resort which includes access to the beach, hostel style rooms (4 bunk beds to a room), hammocks, outdoor computers with internet, a bar/restaurant (w/ karaoke and other music), a beautiful centralized pool, and a lounge area with a pool table and ping pong table. The list of luxuries Loki had went above and beyond what I need in a hostel and I have to thank Ana Maria as well as other Peru 16 volunteers for setting us up at Loki for the trip. As soon as I checked in at the front desk I felt a small hint of culture shock. The staff was a mix of Peruvians and random other nationalities and very few of them actually spoke Spanish or if they did my Spanish was better. Everyone was speaking English and everywhere I looked there were tourists that would stick out and be in the minority almost anywhere but Mancora. I was placed in a room with my two Peruvian friends, and five Israelis. Once my bag hit the closet the fun began.
Pako, Juan Alberto and I took a trip down the main Mancora strip to a local cevicheria about a mile away. I should mention the main road in Mancora is part of the Pan American highway so there is always a steady flow of people in and out of the town every day. We ordered three mixed plates of fresh fish that would have turned any occasional sea food eater into an enthusiast. This was by far the best ceviche I had tasted in Peru and give credit to Pako for directing us to the hidden gem of a restaurant. This would have been enough to keep me happy the rest of the day, but then, in walked four knock out Crystal beer models dressed exactly the same as they are in their billboards and flyers. Of course we got a picture with the lovely ladies and I scored a free beer shirt through a little bit of sweet talking and a lot of begging. I filled the rest of the first day with a beach trip and nighttime karaoke at the hotel bar. I can’t go without mentioning my favorite aspects of the Mancora beaches, the beer runners and chicken sandwich lady. There are beer runners that bring your cold beer to your towel (S/.5= $1.75 for a 650ml bottle) for S/.5 and when you get a little hungry you can have the best chicken sandwich in Piura. Karaoke was a blast and a great opportunity to hang out mre with my volunteer friends. That night would also be the last time I slept for the rest of my 3 days of vacation.
It was a relaxing day to swim around in the pool and play some ping pong. Another beach trip was a must, but this time it was with my volunteer friends. Throughout the day I would check in with my Peruvian buddies if I hadn’t seen them in a couple hours or if they just need some attention in the form of their own language. I began hanging out more and more with the Israelis from my room that day and by the end of the trip we became good vacation buddies. There were opportunities to make friends with other tourists at the hotel including groups from England, Ireland, and other parts of Peru. For the tourist groups from outside of Peru it seemed like Mancora was towards the back end of a backpacking loop that started in Brazil or southern parts of South America. Almost all the groups had plans to go to Ecuador, Colombia, and then on to the United States. It was always a pleasure to hear about adventures that I someday want to be a part of, and I realize that after talking with many of these groups Peace Corps will be just the beginning of my adventures.
The second night was when things started to get a little blurry for me. I remember it all now, but in the days following the vacation, pieces of the puzzle slowly came back to my throbbing head. After a little pre-gaming at the hotel we took the fun down to the beach dance party. There were about 5 little dance clubs/bars on the last street bordering the boardwalk and the beach and every one of them were blasting different cumbia or reggeaton music. When one place got too crowded, as they often did, or if you didn’t like the music you could just slide on down to the next one. The dancing crowd was a full mix of volunteers, tourists, and Peruvians, but that night I focused my attention on a particular group of Limeñas. That night I branched out with Pako and Juan Alberto and we had met a few girls from Lima. I don’t know what they were drinking, but it whatever it was made it appear to them as if I was a great dancer. I have never received so many compliments about my dancing in my life and there is a good reason for this. I like many white boys from Montana lack the smooth dancer gene. If the chicken dance, the YMCA, and three or four swing dancing moves become the next big thing I’m ready to break it down. For now, I am thrilled that I have learned to successfully dance to Peruvian music. The night was great but it wasn’t totally void of drama. Around three or four in the morning after I had put in a long 4 hours of hanging out and dancing with one girl I found myself enchanted by another that I had seen and talked to earlier that night. After a small quarrel within the group, my new favorite Peruvian and I snuck out the back door of the outdoor concert and made our way down the boardwalk to enjoy the sunrise on the beach. This concluded my first sleepless night in Mancora, if you don’t count the half hour in a hammock at 8:30AM.
The following day the resort held team Olympics. The health program volunteers formed one team and the water and sanitation group another. In addition to our two Peace Corps teams the hotel staff had an undefeated team and other travelers like my Israeli friends joined in. There were competitions such as volleyball matches, fat suit sumo wrestling, tug of war over the pool, and more. After the Olympics I decided to go down to the beach and go for a swim with the Israelis and a few other American guys I met that day. The night rolled around again and before I knew it I found myself back at dance party on the beach. The second night couldn’t have gone any better. I found Fiorella and her friends and accompanying me was my buddy Juan Alberto. We were hanging out in a group of six people by the end of the night, me the only non-Peruvian of the group. One dance party after another, a chill session on the boardwalk all finished off by another sunrise on the beach with a beautiful Peruvian woman made this night and this vacation one of my top three experiences in Peru to date. The others would have to be training in Ancash and swearing in as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Mancora certainly wasn’t free and I paid for it in more than just soles after the
trip. Since my immune system was completely down from not sleeping for over 50 hours and possibly from the consumption of a few drinks, I became very ill. At first I thought this is just a normal crash after a long fun weekend, but for a month I continued to move from illness to illness with only a few precious healthy days interspersed between my energy draining sicknesses. The list of symptoms/illnesses is as follows: Flu with high fever and lack of energy (5 days), cold (1 ½ weeks), rest (1-2 days), stomach bug with diarrhea (2 days), cold (4 days), migraine headaches (3 days), rest (1 day), stomach bug with diarrhea (2 days). The worst part of the whole situation was that I had no computer for this entire month of bad health. My computer cord broke the moment I took it out of my bag when settling back into my room after vacation. That night I found a scorpion and a snake in my room when cleaning up. Maybe that was the sign for a bad May. I laid there watching one of six TV episodes on my iPod over and over again for weeks. The only new entertainment I had for this month were the small number of podcasts I could download when I was in the city for a day. Other than just entertainment I had no access to many of the files saved on my computer that I needed for work and no way to do work at home. The only alternative I had to get computer work done was to use the dusty old computers at the school in my town whilst continually being prodded by students.

As I write this I am healthy and have been healthy for about a week and I am struggling to get back into working out, but I can at least get out of bed and get work done. I am still awaiting the start of the construction on my room, which has been in the works for months. The money is here and the all the tools and materials are ready with the exception of one tool, the maestro Elidio. People are very busy and hard workers in the valley in which I live. Because of this I have patience waiting for my maestro to finish his other work, but it has been beyond frustrating at times when I come back from a trip and expect my window to be put in, my floors done, and the walls put up, and I find the process hasn’t even started yet. The new date for the room remodel is now the first week of June. I will sleep in the living room for a few days in a fort made from my bed, suitcases, desk and every other item in my room (more stuff than my host family has all together.

My home life has been interesting, at least to me, apart from just the delayed construction. My dog Ruby gets smarter and smarter everyday and she continues to be my best friend in site. Nothing can match up to the unconditional joy I feel when I come home from a long day of work in the school or health post and I see my puppy’s face running up to me, excited to play or just lay down next me and enjoy the sunset view of the valley. I have never trained a dog before so I am proud of every new trick my dog learns here. She now fully knows; sit, lie down, stand up or jump up (two legs), come, outside, and stay. Soon the training starts on fetch and roll over.

Other events around my house in the last months included my birthday and the breaking of the “slipper code.” One day my host day had a large wart removed from the bottom of his heel. I was there for the house visit procedure the nurse performed and I even supplied gauss and bandages from my med kit. This, I had no problem with. What did bother me was the favor my dad asked of me later that day when he wanted to borrow my down slipper to wear around the house. I am not an overly neat and clean person, but the slipper is one type of shoe you never share. The only time this is acceptable is if you’re in a car accident in the middle of winter, stranded in the forest, snow blanketing everything in sight, and for some reason you don’t have shoes in the car. You have to walk out to find help or you have to wait for help to come, and the car’s heater is no longer working. Then and only then would it be acceptable to wear someone else’s down slippers. Where I live the temperature averages between 60--90 daily. I didn’t know where I was going when I came to Peru and because of this I brought slippers just in case. The point is, my host dad’s feet are dirty all the time and this isn’t even including the bandaged wart wound. I’m not judging, dirty feet are part of working in the fields all day and living in the campo. When my host dad asked to borrow my slippers he already had the slipper half way on his foot by the time I could say anything, and what could I say? I couldn’t explain to him why I didn’t want his foot in my extremely warm, and in hot weather, sweat producing down slippers. All I could do was sit and watch as my slipper code was broken. My dad returned both slippers to me five days later, insides and bottoms worn out and in my mind my slippers were ruined forever, or at least until I forget about it 6 months from now. This slipper borrowing was also tough for me because it wasn’t the first time in my house I’ve had other things returned to me broken.

Mother’s Day came and went, almost as quickly as my birthday. I have missed my family and friends over the last 9 months, but these two holidays were especially tough for me. Granted, I wasn’t crying or feeling depressed, but the two days felt lonelier than other days. My birthday was a lack luster day as far as flash and excitement. I visited my site buddy, Jillian, in Chipillico and enjoyed a fresh papaya/apple/grape juice in the plaza before heading over to the internet café for a couple hours of facebook and email catch-up. I took advantage of the time I had and stopped off in a chacra outside of Chipillico where took a nap and had a great half hour conversation with an old man about everything under the sun. A friend then gave me a free ride back to my house and that night I shared a box of wine with my host dad and little sister over a meal prepared especially for my birthday with a fresh chicken and vegetable salad. I missed my friends, but as I think about it now last year’s birthday wasn’t anything special and you can’t always celebrate your birthday in Hawaii or have a crazy 21st birthday party with all your friends. Maybe next year I’ll go all out and head to Colombia or somewhere, we’ll see. For Mother’s Day I was in the city hoping to receive a package from my mother in the US. I have realized maybe half the work my mom does to help me out in my life, but that day was an especially strong reminder of how much I still rely on my mother for support from home. Support in the way of packages with food and supplies and also emotional support. I try to call people back home and keep good contact, but often times I’m not great at this. That said, I always make sure I call my mom when I’m in the city with internet access. I couldn’t talk with my mom or grandmas that day and I found myself in a situation where all I wanted to do was give them all overdue big hugs.

A few days after my birthday was the dreaded site visit from the director of the Peace Corps Peru health program. Emilia Villanueva, the director and my boss, came to my site with the regional coordinator and two other administrative workers from the office in Lima. They all met my family and we had two meetings with community leaders and work partners to discuss our plans for the next year I will be in site. The meetings went well and the visit was a success. More than anything else, I was proud of the compliments I received about how much my Spanish has improved and how well I speak now. It’s hard to think back to training in Lima where I was terrified of sitting down to lunch with a group of my Spanish speaking superiors. Now, I thoroughly enjoyed their company and had something to contribute to almost every conversation.

More to come soon...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

March- Month of Travel

A lot has happened in the last month or two since my last blog, this is me trying to remember some of it. February was supposed to be the month of rain, as was March, but as beautiful and green as the campo is right now I’m still waiting for the endless days of rain. In the rainy season it has only rained five times for more than an hour and more than a pleasant mist. I bought a giant bucket to collect water from my roof and use it to shower; unfortunately my bucket sits inside my house holding dirty canal water used for flushing our porcelain latrine. I was told by other Piura volunteers that the year before it rained almost every day and so I am hoping we are just on an every other year rainy cycle and next year I’ll get to experience the washed out roads and the necessity for knee high boots.

When I wasn’t working I spent more than half my time hanging out with my puppy Zoey. The little adorable ball of fluff learned the commands sit, stay, come, outside, shake, and she was learning lay. This was a great form of entertainment for me because first of all, I am big time dog person, and secondly I have never trained my own puppy before or for that matter I haven’t ever had a puppy that is solely mine before. I went to a week of training in another department and my puppy Zoey and her brother Shrek both became sick with fevers and they both died a day before I got back. I had a few days of mourning and on the third morning of being back my host dad brought me a new little friend. I now have another little buddy named Ruby. Just as smart as Zoey and it turns out they are half sisters thanks to the busy patriarch of the dogs Blanco senior. Ruby is beginning the same intensive training program that worked for Zoey I just have to keep this one alive. If it’s not too clear, there is no neutering of pets in the campo. I explained to my sister that if a dog bites a human there is a good chance that dog is getting put down in the United States. We discussed this after my family’s dog bit a woman earlier that morning. If a dog ever really bit me and did damage I would have no problem putting it down. I love animals but bad dogs are bad dogs and they don’t deserve too many chances to bite me when I’m running. I’m keeping my fingers crossed to make it through the two years without a dog bite, but the odds are against me.
As for work in the last couple months, progress is a slow process. I plan a date and time to plan for a charla with the 2 nurses in my town and when I go to the health post neither of my socios are there. I spent most of my days walking around the community doing house visits, normally chatting with the women of the household for at least a half an hour and then performing my health survey. I have a few favorite houses, but one house I loving stopping at more than others is a house I pass every day on my way down the mountain. Whenever I stop and chat, the little old lady runs and makes me a snack like mangos or cheese and crackers and then she has her grandchildren bring me a pepsi from the store. This family is a perfect example of the Peruvians I love. Most Peruvians are always sharing and always trying to make you feel comfortable and when I leave the house of this family I always leave happier and content with my choice to join Peace Corps Peru.

I want to hold sessions in the Center for infant and adolescent development but I can’t hold sessions until we find a local. The local we want is a classroom in the school, but the new classrooms are still under construction so there is a lack of classrooms at the moment. Work in the library is on hold because the library in Potrerillo is a one room building that could be confused with a backyard tool shed and all the toys for the development center are currently being stored in this little building. The other project I want to start is my incredibly large viviendas saludables (healthy homes) project. The project will include at least 20 educational sessions with the mothers of the community leading up to the improved kitchen project. If the mothers attend a certain number of chats, bring their houses up to the healthy standards with little home projects I have laid out for them, and comply with all house visits they will be one of the lucky families to earn a cocina mejorada and more importantly hopefully they will have changed at least on health behavior for good. I can’t change the whole community but small populations can change and in turn be examples for the rest of their neighbors. This project in still in the works and I look forward to starting it, but right now it seems as though I will be going it alone.
School started in my community again and it’s a great relief to have some quiet time away from my brother and sister in the mornings. I love spending time with my family, but after living with roommates all throughout college at times it’s tough to be back in a home where privacy is next to non-existent and there are rules to follow once again. I gave a short speech in front of all the parents who have kids attending the school and discussed how I will help teach English classes and other subjects as well as the importance of my projects starting in the community. Starting in April I start teaching two classes a month about children’s rights, puberty, sexuality, and self esteem. After those classes end I will begin classes in the high school about puberty, sexuality, relationships, maternity, prevention of STIs and HIV, and life direction.
One day I went swimming with some local boys in the river my town and another day I made it over to Jillian’s site to go for a swim with her and her host sister in a another great swimming hole. The trip to lake has been in the works for some time now and as soon as Jillian and I find some ducky inner tubes in Piura we are going for a lake day. The temperature remains in the 80s-90s everyday so this is a possibility for a couple more months still.
The 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps offered a chance for the volunteers to meet community partners from the site’s of other volunteers from all parts of Piura. There was a great mix of volunteers and Peruvians including as well, the country director for Peace Corps Peru and our regional director for the department of Piura. There were speeches, photos, a well made video about Peace Corps, and of course drinks to toast to the occasion. The anniversary served another purpose of bringing all the volunteers in Piura together which provided for a fun night out the bars for a little r and r. I almost didn’t remember the reason why this trip was my favorite trip into the city. We took a day beach trip Colán in the district Paita. We spent a relaxing couple of hours swimming and sitting on the beach before we had fresh sea food a five minute walk from the shore.

My family was excited about the mirror I bought for them, mainly because it is the only mirror in the house now besides the one in my room. My sister hung it right next to the front door and now it’s a custom that everyone uses it before they leave the house. The other large improvement to my living situation is the solar shower I received from my awesome mom. My entire host family now uses the solar shower and my brother and I even built a shower room on the side of my house, complete with a towel rack and a shelf for soaps and shampoos.

March is the first month since training my schedule has been packed with trips. The first trip was to the department La Libertad for a week of training. The first day we arrived in Trujillo, La Libertad five volunteers including myself and our health program volunteer coordinator went on an all day ruin tour. Our bus left from Piura the previous night at 2:00 AM and made it in to Trujillo at 8:30AM leaving us a whole hour to get ready for day of site seeing. Our first stop was the ancient city of Moche. We meandered around recently constructed museum and then took our tour through the archeological dig sites that included a large pyramid like structure and several smaller housing structures. For lunch we were taken to a touristico restaurant with entertainment and delicious food. Midway through our meal another volunteer, Brittany, and I were dragged up on stage to compete in a marínera dance off. We received huge free Pisco Sours for being good sports, a prize well worth five minutes of embarrassment. After our lunch we continued on to other historical sites including Chan Chan and then we ended our day in Huanchaco, La Libertad. Huanchaco is a smaller town thirty minutes away from the center of Trujillo and our hotel happened to be located a two minute walk from the beach. Our training was held at the hotel, but the first few days were tough to get through. Go from working a few hours randomly throughout the day at site to sitting through presentations and participating in small group activities for 8 hours, and you can bet almost every volunteer is going to be snoozing through some less interesting parts. The staff at training saw this after a couple days and decided to give us a two hour lunch break to hang out around pool or go for a dip in the ocean. What makes the Peace Corps so great is that even our instructors were joining us in the pool and enjoying the time off. The snack breaks that split up other parts of the day were great chances to catch up with all the other volunteers that I hadn’t seen in over 3 months. Besides these break times whenever we were free the volunteers were making up for lost time and sharing stories about their respective sites. At night we found great places to eat alongside the shore and we stumbled into a couple of real laid back bars that kept the nights amusing.

The day I returned back from my ten day work trip was by far the worst day I’ve had in Peru. My mood remained cheerful, but the combination of things lost and broken piled up that day like they haven’t done since I’ve been here. That morning I had two meetings in Las Lomas. One meeting was with the Mayor and the other was with the Director of the Health Center. After the meetings with the help of another volunteer Eric, I realized my phone was missing. When I called my phone I found it had been stolen in Trujillo and had been sold to a woman in the campo at least 15 hours from my site and there is no way to ever get it back. I moved on thinking I can get a new phone, no big deal; I have another phone I can use for a while anyways. Later I returned to site to the news that my puppy had died along with my family’s other puppy. Just when I started to forget about my puppy I looked over at my three week old bicycle. The back tire was mangled. My host dad decided he would borrow my bike again and on his third ride on my bike he crashed and rendered my bike useless until they have money to fix (a.k.a.- I’m paying for a new tire if I ever want to ride my bike again). I thought the bad news was over until I looked in my bag a noticed I left my Ipod charging cord somewhere on the trip and my Ipod use therefore dead and useless. My brother arrived home and decided he would give me another thing to complain about. The beautiful single teacher in my site that wanted to get to know me left to teach in another district. If all these things were easily fixable I wouldn’t have been so agitated but everything takes so much longer to get or to do down here it’s hard not having a quick reset button or at least a Wal-Mart to go and replace all my stuff (minus the puppy).

Just when I though all my traveling in March was over I had to take a side trip to Lima for a few days to get a new passport. I can never sleep on the 15 hour overnight bus trips, but I still enjoy the trip nevertheless. While in Lima I made my way into the office everyday as well as a few scattered trips to the gigantic above ground bunker looking structure that is the US embassy. I had only planned on being in Lima for two days, but my trip that started Monday night in Piura stretched all the way out till Thursday evening in Lima getting me back to site Friday afternoon. Coming from such a small town, cities like Lima are always a little overwhelming, but there is always something to do. I was proud that after one day I learned the public transportation system, and with a little extra travel time planned for just in case, I could make it anywhere in a city of nearly 8 million. The other favorite part of my trip was the notable work and attitudes of the Peace Corps staff. Even if I was speaking with someone I had met only once in my service, almost all the staff members knew my name and what program I was in. The Peace Corps office runs because there are volunteers, but we wouldn’t get anything done without the help of such a great group of people in Lima running the behind the scenes game.

One other small adventure arose out of the Lima trip. Wednesday night I was invited to play in a small 5 on 5 game of fútbol. The game went well, the score was level, when my feet left me and my face tried to break through a thick layer of cement floor. I got up and kept playing only to realize later a few seconds later that I had a gash on the underside of my chin pooling blood. Out of all the places to be for an accident to happen I was in the best. I was right next to two staff members and one of the Peace Corps doctors met us at the hospital a half hour later. Peace Corps doctor Jorge stayed with me for my appointment and took me back to my hostel across town afterwards. The four stitches I received will just be another reminder of great times spent in Peru.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lost in the Campo

In Piura, especially in the Chipillico Valley, the most common question a gringo receives is “Estas acostumbrado?” or “are you accustomed/adapted?” I have to say after two months in site I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else for the next two years of my life. Days are slow here sometimes and my schedule depends on completely on me. If I want to go and knock out twenty encuestas after teaching summer school classes I can do that or if I’m not feeling up to it I can go and read under a mango tree in the chacra by the river or work on a charla I want to give later that month. I wake up every morning and start my emotional roller coaster and this is the only thing left to which I’m still adjusting.
Since catching up with everyone at the volunteer meeting in the beginning of January I have made it a goal of mine to stay in site until the February meeting. It has been a tough few weeks but I have enjoyed so many little things in my community, bonded with my family, and made new Peruvian friends that I hope to keep for two years and beyond. I have continued playing soccer for the town team, although missing a couple games due to other commitments. Our season will end the last week of January due to the rain that’s about to get here and turn the chacras vibrant green and bury the rest of the valley in mud.

Jillian and I have been busy with youth summer classes four days a week since the middle of January and these classes will continue until mid-February. We’ve had classes, in which we have taught hand washing, English, proper nutrition, art, and sports. We split the week, two days in my site and two days Jillian’s site in Chipillico . The classes usually last around two hours and vary between 10 and 20 students. When I go to Chipillico we eat lunch at Jillian’s house, which is always considerably tastier than the food prepared at my house. Some days I make it to the internet cabina and get in an hour of email and facebook, but the price of internet in the only internet cabina in the valley you can imagine is a little steep. Really it’s only 2 soles per hour (roughly 30 cents), but when you receive a volunteer stipend and you need to buy a dresser, a bike, other small things for around the house and save money for trips around Peru little money here and there adds up. Other than connecting with people on facebook chat Jillian and I have another way to stay sane in the valley. At least once a week we like to explore and find a new beautiful place to enjoy the sunset and talk about our successes of the week and the things that made us want to strangle small Peruvian children.
One of my favorite days this month was one day after class when a small group of girls from our summer class in Potrerillo took Jillian on an adventure through the chacras to pick mangos and other fruit. We spent hours wandering through a maze of rice fields, groves of mangos and plantain trees, and precisely designed canals. I made the trek back to my house that afternoon with a backpack stuffed full of mangos, as I do very often now, and a grin on my face that nothing could erase.

I’ve met two men in my town that speak English well and want to practice any time they see me. I have a practice/teaching session every Sunday with my new friend Hermes (42), in which we discuss our cultures and go over any new questions he or I have. We meet at my friend’s house and share our materials and after he usually has dinner prepared for me and sometimes a night out with the guys. Sundays are the usual drinking and social days in Peru and it couldn’t be more plainly obviously than in the campo. You see drinking circles all day and if you are male and aren’t feeling like drinking that day then its best you stay inside or have a real good excuse. I usually don’t mind drinking a little so there are many times where I go out and am social with people in my community. I bounce around from drinking circle to drinking circle trying the different variations of homemade liquors. My goal is not to get drunk but to converse with different people and let them know who I am. The first night out with Hermes and the and a few of his friends I ended up recruiting one more man in his thirties who wants to learn English and so slowly my practice sessions for adults may be growing. The other man who speaks English speaks it almost fluently and comes to my house at least once a week on business and I enjoy catching up with him and getting help with my Spanish questions that I can’t get across to other Spanish speakers.

Doing my encuestas is a struggle some days, but they are starting to come together and make more sense every week. I go with a health promoter or by myself to houses in the community and discuss/observe conditions in their house as well as health conditions of the family. The biggest problems usually turn out to be back pain and respiratory problems. In most cases this is probably due to the fact that the women cook with wood on the ground or on a low platform in a small room without any windows or other sources of ventilation. Because of this, the project I want to take on in my community is cocinas mejoradas (improved kitchens). This project will be part of a larger plan viviendas saludables (healthy homes). One more month of encuestas gives me another to visit houses and get to know more people in my new community.

Hanging out with my family or returning home is always a bright spot during my days here. I enjoy washing my clothes in the canal with my mom or sister on some days (the same I place I bathe temporarily while our house gets cements walls caked on the outside, preventing my shower area from being rebuilt). Other days I have gone on hikes with my family up into the hills behind our house in search of fire wood for my mom to cook with. These hikes provide a beautiful view of the valley and there happens to a lagoon and waterfalls that nobody ever explores but me. This has become my refuge when I want to relax in nature and I take advantage of it often. I have many memorable moments with my host family here thus far, but one of my favorites has to be when I came back to my house after more than a few beers to find my dad and a family friend with a crate half full of more beers. We danced and drank until 11:30 (the campo’s 3:00AM) until of course, we finished all the beer. Another great time was my sister’s birthday party we had the day I got back from Piura. We enjoyed dinner with Pepsi and celebrated with friends and family over music and gringo dancing. I like bringing back movies from Piura for my siblings and it’s always a big event when we get to watch a movie on my laptop together in our pseudo-living room.

Everything about my house remains more or less the same. I have a small gas stove kitchen set up in my room with which I usually cook one meal a day. I love going to the market in Las Lomas (a larger city and hour drive away) to buy veggies and random odds and ends, but I try to get more shopping done in Piura because the price difference is so vast. Because of the lack of desire I have to clean and dress any meat here I have become closer to being a vegetarian than I ever thought I would. I like the food I eat but I have not cooked meat and I don’t plan on doing so anytime soon. The pieces of meat I get from my host mother consist of goat or chicken and are usually strangely cut and contain more fat or connective tissue than meat. As I write this I am salivating just thinking about a big juicy cheeseburger in Piura a week from now. My door has provided a great level of privacy for me when I just want to shut everything out and watch tv series after tv series in my room. Privacy is something I have never had a lot of in my life and I know I will never take it for granted, especially after these two years.

I have attended Mass in the valley three times in the month of January (I can now say the Hail Mary in Spanish and parts of the Our Father). I put this part in mostly for my mother. This beats how many times I went to Mass in the States in the last four years, but I here I do it for the same reason as I did in the States, my family goes. I like the feeling of community you get when you go to church and it a prayer now and again doesn’t hurt anything either. We went to two different memorial services for two young boys that passed away and we made it to a regular mass in the church one community over. At all the services there was food afterwards as is the case with almost any event you go to in Peru.

As far as additions go to the family and pets we have had many people come and go and it seems like there are news animals running around every week. My father’s sister and nephews came to stay with us for a few days and the boys ended up staying for a week and a half longer than their mother to work in the fields and spend time with their cousins. My house has two bedrooms and a half bedroom connected to the living room or main area you walk into when you enter the house through one of two doors. I felt bad having a large bed while the boys slept on a tarp in the living room and my parents and siblings shared twin beds, but wasn’t about to give up my clean bed and room just yet. The boys were fine with sleeping on the ground and it made me think about all the people I know in the US who wouldn’t be able to sleep on a hard bed let alone a tarp on the ground. Plain and simple most Peruvians are much tougher than most (not all) Americans. Another week we had a family friend stay, as well as my father’s uncle and I’m sure there will be more in time.

All my dogs love me now and all it took was someone showing a little kindness and friendship to them. The dog as a great friend or pet exists with pets in Peru, but you only see it in the urban areas like Lima, Piura, or other larger cities. In site they are used to guard the house and gather up the goats in most cases. Anyways, the attitudes of my family members towards our dogs have become nicer and nicer in my time here. Blanca, our mama dog had five little white puppies and three have made to the walking and squeaking stage. My favorite and the puppy I’ve claimed is a little girl pup I’ve named Zoey. I plan to train her in English and Spanish and she will be my little shadow for the next two years and hopefully make the trip back to the US with me as well. As I am writing this blog Zoey is actually sleeping in my lap. In addition to the puppies we also have a new cat named Miche or we call him Botas Blancas (white boots). This is very funny in Peru because botas blancas as also a very popular folk song in Piura about a man who comes to town and steals all the men’s wives and girlfriends. Almost all the goats are pregnant from one male goat who hangs out up in the mountains and we ate our fighting roosters and got two different roosters for the big fight in June. These roosters are often times tied up right outside my room in the house. Again as with family members I’m sure more animals will rotate in and out with the exception of Zoey, Botas, and the other dogs.

Other random fun times from the month of January:
 Swimming in the canal in Chipillico with Jillian and the young children her family
 Other drinking/social circles in Potrerillo
 Good random conversations with Peruvians on the way to or coming back from Chipillico
 The day trip to Sapillica
 Planting rice with my brother and cousin
 Fishing for crabs in my lagoon sanctuary
 Running in the valley in the mornings since I received my Ipod
 Studying Spanish (It’s great to learn it when I can apply it)
 Meeting with the mayor of the district of Las Lomas
o More professional than fun, but it was a big deal and important for work
 Seeing tarantulas (as long as they are far away from my house). I hate spiders and they scare me but it’s a rush.
 Trip to Sapallica with Jillian and my dad to meet all my extended host family
o Very beautiful scenery and the first time I wanted to put on a long sleeve shirt in months (the feeling only lasted for about a half hour)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

December in Peru

One month into service and to a large majority of my town I am no longer referred to as gringo. I walk around now and hear William, another normal buenas dias or que tal, or something about if I will be playing soccer next Sunday and how many goals I will score. I see this as a huge success and it has been a great month getting to this point. A very important aspect of me gaining trust with my community has come through playing on the town soccer team and playing smaller games throughout the week as well. We are through three games with a record of 1-1-1 with two goals netted by me so far. I love getting out and playing, but the game is completely different than US soccer at times. In the US there seems to be much more strategy and ground play. In Peru 75% of the game the ball is in the air. There is a kick it long and over the top approach that is ensuring that I get all the exercise I can handle as a striker/mid. Every Sunday it’s a whole day event in the valley of Chipillico. There are at least six teams and there is enough time for three games a day. There are food carts set up for the crowds that come in from the surrounding communities. After our game we usually stick around to check out the competition and shoot the breeze. I forgot to mention I also have my own jersey and new pair of dirt soccer shoes, life is good.
My first week here consisted of me walking around the valley and handing out letters of who I am and what I’m doing here to leaders of the community. I have to thank our APCD for that idea. It was a great way to automatically make connections with important people in the community without having to spend too much time searching for them. When I met all the people I could find in one day I had the opportunity to sit under a tree by the river and read a book/take a nap for a few hours while I waited for people to return from the fields. I get these chunks of time quite often in site right now. It seems like everything just moves a little slower here and this is especially true around the holiday/summer season. People go away to Piura, Lima, or wherever they may have family taking a significant portion of the population with them. When I have times to relax in the valley I couldn’t be happier with the views I have of the surrounding mountains and the endless chacras of rice, corn, and mangos.
My house, like everything else in Peru, is under construction at the moment, but things have improved since I first arrived. I have a beautiful wood door with a nice gold painted lock on my room now. The door compliments my desk, new mattress and my kitchen table quite nicely. This said, nothing can really make my suitcases full of clothes laying on the ground look any better, especially not the ants that have made their home under the bags. The outside of our adobe house is being cemented over and painted along with the cement floor in my room. With my shower area destroyed because of the wall work I now get to enjoy bathing in the canal at our field further down on the mountain. Yes, this canal is the same canal that I get my water out of to cook, drink, and wash my clothes in as well. It is also the same canal that pigs grunt around in during the day trying to avoid all the chickens and ducks waddling through the same water. My latrine is fully functional with a nice porcelain toilet. One thing I never really appreciated in the states were porcelain toilets, but seeing what some other volunteers are using has made my thankfulness for this luxury sky rocket.
I lucked out to be placed with a family as caring and easy going as my host family here. There have been two small drinking sessions with my dad on two very deserving occasions and both times provided to be great entertainment. The first time I drank with my host dad was the night after he gashed his leg with a rice cutter the day before and was having a little pain medication. The other time was around the holidays and we were just celebrating with friends. Both times we ended up back at the house providing entertainment for the rest of the family. There are times when we are just sitting around the house that deserve pictures and these tipsy moments were a must.
Some of the best times have been hanging out with my little brother and little sister taking pictures and goofing off for the camera. Almost every other night we break out my other remaining piece of technology and watch a movie as a family until my parents drift off to their bedroom calling it a night. Other bonding moments with the family include playing Mancala with my sister, using my binoculars to look around the neighborhood, doing laundry with my mom in the canal, playing games with my siblings every day, and simply chatting with them all the time.
Having a site mate has been another great part of my placement in the valley. I got lucky with a good site mate and it is going to be a great 2 years working with her. Jillian and I see each other at least twice a week and live only an hour walk apart. Thursday night chill out is a tradition that will continue for the next two years and keep me sane I’m sure. A tranquil couple of hours relaxing in a field by a creek with a sunset view does your system some good. Whenever we have needed to go into Las Lomas or into our capital city Piura, it is usually a combined decision and it gives me someone to travel with as well. We did make our way back to the capital city 3 times this month and every time was a great stay. We buy all the things we need for back at site and get to see other volunteers from the department that happen to be in town at the same time. Piura has everything you could ask for in semi-large city. There is a movie theater, bars, clubs, restaurants, malls, markets, supermarkets, hostels/hotels with hot water and internet, and an endless supply of clothing stores and pharmacies. As amazing as Piura is it’s getting tougher to miss time at site. I want to be at site more after a month because I have made those connections, I have responsibilities in site, and I have work to be getting done.
Christmas was a little different down here but I can’t complain. Christmas Eve we put a cement wall on the side of our house and at night we had some great hot cocoa and watched a movie as a family. Presents were non-existent and there were no suspicions of Santa Claus, but it still felt like Christmas is supposed to. We put up Christmas lights I bought for the family and we even had a little manger up on the wall next to a green thread and popsicle-stick x-mass tree. That night after our festivities I headed out to a dance I was invited to a week earlier by a couple of local girls. The dance was a pricey ten soles but it didn’t disappoint. I danced until 2:00 in the morning and spent Christmas day making up for lost sleep and rest.
As for work goes, I have a few things started, but everything seems to be more in the planning stage for another week or two. The first three months in site are for getting to know the community through our diagnostic and any other tools we choose to use. I have helped give two charlas, one about early stimulation and the other about safe water. In January with my site mate I start vacation classes four days a week for the youth in the communities of Potrerillo and Chipillico. Are classes will be whatever we want them to be so we chose the topics of Art, English, Health, and Sports. I will be starting my community diagnostic in January and I’m sure I will have more opportunities to give charlas to members of the community. I also plan to start a youth health promoters club soon in to February. When my first three months are up, I want to move into the beginning stages of a larger project Health Homes. Healthy Homes will include many small subprojects and education sessions but the project will all be building up to an improved kitchen building project that will get women away from cooking on the ground in a room filled with smoke and give them an easier and healthier way to cook for their family. More projects will come up as time goes on and I look forward to any of these new work opportunities.
In the beginning I had these feelings at least once a day where I would just stop and realize how amazing it is that I am getting paid to live here and work with these people in the beautiful place. It may be when I step out of my front door to the view I have or it may be right after a great day of meetings and conversation followed by a nap by the river. I still get those feelings now and I hope they continue throughout all of service.
Spanish is sometimes still a frustration for me at times, but I am speaking much better than I ever thought I could. Since I lost my Ipod I haven’t really had any music to listen to while I walk so my walk have just been filled with time for practicing Spanish and going over it in my head. It may have been one of the best things to happen to me for my Spanish, but it still stings a little especially when my hard drive crashed on me too.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Last month in Lima

It’s been over a month since my last blog and more has happened during this time than all of my time here in Peru, much more than I can really fit into a little blog. We did site visits in Piura and our other respective departments, we have gone through more intensive training, and we have experienced more of the social life in Lima/Chosica. I write this blog, for the first time from my room in Potrerillo. I am writing now because it is the first time in many weeks in which my time is my own. I finally have a chance to sit down and not worry about where I have to be in an hour.

Highlights from the last month:
Site visits were emotionally and physically exhausting but I couldn’t have asked for a better site placement. My house is a 20 minute walk up a steep hill which provides me with a raised view of the vibrant green farms below and the gargantuan Andes Mountains that surround our valley and lead to the high sierra. Within the first fifteen minutes of meeting y host family my host dad gathered to roosters together and held a mini cock fight in front of our house. My room has a dirt floor, adobe walls, no door, a light, and a hard straw mattress bed. We don’t have running water, but we do have a latrine, but nowhere private to bucket bathe yet. I spent three days meeting over 50 people from my community and the surrounding caserillos on a round-about tour given by the previous site’s volunteer Douglas. I enjoyed welcome parties and chatted with my family as much as my language would provide and one of the nights the 4 volunteers of Chipillico valley got together to share their exciting new experiences.
As well as our time in site we spent time in another site giving presentations and small non-formal education lessons to mothers and health promoters in the site of a current volunteer in Piura. After all of our site visits we came back to the Piura City where we enjoyed normal food, hot showers, and cable television in our hostel rooms. I love Piura City. Another 15 hour bus ride and we were back in Lima ready for more training.
Harry Potter midnight premier was a great chance to dress up and have some fun. I have never dressed up for a movie in my life, but I figure the Peace Corps is a great place for firsts so I cut out my glasses, made my shirt into a Quiditch jersey, and we arrived at the premier on our brooms an hour later. The problem with a midnight premier of Harry Potter in Spanish during training is that my brain doesn’t exactly function in Spanish past 9:00 at night. These factors lead to me falling asleep for over half the movie. To make up for my little nap we went to Harry Potter in Lima in English, which is hundred times better, the jokes just don’t translate into Spanish and maintain any of their joviality.
Thanksgiving was a little out of the ordinary this year, but the trainers at the center gave a us a small slice of home by preparing a large buffet breakfast with sandwiches, empanadas, and yogurt. Later that day was the host family celebration. The afternoon was filled with dance performances, music duets and solos, food prepared by the trainees, and gift giving to our families. The day was a success in my mind because I only rarely thought about hunting, Cowboys football, and the usual thanksgiving feast.
The next day was our swearing in ceremony at the other training center. The ambassador of the United States to Peru came for our ceremony and we were able to take pictures with her before commencement and receive her inspirational words of wisdom. The day gave me a chance to dress up in my suit for the first and probably last time in Peru. My host family came to both events which meant more to me than I thought it would. My host family from Chaclacayo was very accommodating, but I didn’t realize how much they cared for me until the day I was leaving and my host mom started to tear up when we were saying goodbye. These tears were intermixed with her calling me a hijo (son). I remember the first day I met my host mom; I was terrified of a little 5’2 woman and all I could spit out was my name and some random facts about my family back home. If my relationship with my first host family grew so much in 3 months I have a lot to look forward to with my host family in Potrerillo.
When we arrived in Piura we were one less in the Health program. Joanne made the choice to go home and she was a much happier person when she did so. I’m jealous at times because I think of the things she is enjoying; driving a car, seeing family and friends, eating any food you want, the list go on and on. Joanne has one much in her life already and I wish the best for her.
Before we made it the Chipillico valley another girl from our group decided to go home as well. This was especially hard for me because this girl was probably my favorite girl in the Health program and she was going to be living 30 minutes away from me. It was the right choice for her because of personal reasons but it doesn’t make it any easier and the valley and I will miss her for the next two years. She will do great things back home and I can’t wait to hear from my new friends back stateside. At the end of the day we are “Volunteers” and we can leave at any point, but the test is to push yourself and make it through all the hardships and I just hope I have the strength to get to the finish line. It’s only the first week here and I think the best way to go about it is to take it one week at a time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ancash Trip and Site Placement

This is my first blog that has been hard to write. Not because it is deep and personal and not because something intense has happened, but it is hard because I am starting to only think about Peru and my tasks at hand. The last few weeks have been indescribable and so amazing that I have a hard time believing that this is my job. After another week of training and more experience at a high school in 3 de Octubre I was feeling pretty proud of myself for the progress I have made. I feel like my Spanish has grown enough to teach a short lesson in Spanish on the aspects of good and bad relationships, but I have so much more to learn before the students won’t laugh at me for my little mistakes here and there.
The next week consisted of more training with much needed Spanish classes and technical training. Sometimes it is hard to keep your eyes open in the afternoon tech session, but hopefully my brain is absorbing all the valuable information I will need in three weeks.

On Wednesday we left for Ancash, a department in Peru that is just above Lima and contains the highest point in the country, the summit of Huascaran (over 18,500 ft). I plan to summit this mountain before I leave Peru. The views here are some that most people I know will never see. The mountains are bigger and steeper than any in Montana and the fields that blanket the slopes of many hills are a welcome site to any visitor. We made our way up the mountain on hours of switchback roads that in United States would only be suitable for ATVs and motorcycles. After we passed through a tunnel at 14,000+ feet we took a long trip back down into a valley of Chavin. Chavin was a site to remember. It was a small city, but it had little tiendas and restarauntes throughout the whole the place. I stayed in the dude room with the five other guys and had a great time finally bonding with the other guys over guy conversations and World Series baseball. The first day in town was an acclimation day so we took a trip to the Chavin ruins on the edge of town and spent a couple hours wandering through old tunnels and ancient buildings. The thing that stood out the most is that some of these buildings were built thousands of years before Christ and also the Incas. The Chavin culture is unique and rich and our group was lucky to get to see the great link to the past.
In the morning we separated into groups and took off into the mountains for our field based training projects. Our groups met up at a school in the small community of Hauntar, a current site of one volunteer and the future site for a Peru 16er. We listened to power point lessons and received more tips on working with kids. Socio dramas with the youth health promoters followed and we had a couple of small group critical thinking sessions about what the kids want to do in a year. The leaked out more valuable information but on the part of the kids it was a lost cause because there happened to be a 3 day sporting tournament taking place at their school. Every student in the school either played in the few games that were going at a time or surrounded the courtyard for the whole day. Try getting any child to listen when they are missing their teams’ semifinal volleyball match.

Our second day we hoofed it up the mountain to a set of houses that in which the families were building latrines. On the side I worked on we spent the day digging through rock saturated ground taking turns between six or seven volunteers. Doing this work, I finally felt happy about what I was doing. Teaching in the classroom and giving informal charlas is ok and it’s something I will have to do hundreds of times during my service, but actually working with my hands and helping the family with the manual labor is much more rewarding to me. It gives you an instant level of satisfaction for helping to improve the lives of the family you are helping. In my mind it also earns more respect from the family as well. My work in construction and in other general manual labor around Montana prepared me for the dig, because digging a hole manually is the same no matter what country you are in.
My favorite project of the week was building the cocinas mejoradas in Challhuayaco. I was thrilled having another manual labor project where I was able put previous learned skills to work. The man who built the majority of the improved kitchen was so proud and excited that he wouldn’t let anyone else really get in on the work for much of the morning. For me it was better to learn the terms and the process first and also to see the beaming sierran man as helped to improve his living situation for his whole family. This man was another example of how amiable Peruvian people are. He opened his home to 7 strange gringos and showed us the ropes because he had met and worked with one volunteer during her two years of service in the area. When I got the chance to jump in and help I started by measuring off adobe bricks and placing them in the barro (barro is type of mud similar to cement used to retain heat which contains broken glass, straw, special mud, and sand) on top of the already well constructed base. Breaking an adobe with a machete and a hammer was my favorite part. Later I got to use my trowel skills to smooth out the barro inside and outside of the cocina to make it streamline and functional for the lucky family. At the end of project our APCD (associate program country director) Emilia came and had a quick chat with the man about how to use the improved kitchen and when they could start using it. This is part is possibly the most important because without good maintenance, proper use, and cleaning the purpose of having the improved stove would be lost.

Our plans for the last day of the trip were kept hidden from us until we arrived at a small community 3 hours from Huaraz deep in the mountains. The best way I can describe this place to people in the states is to call it what it seemed like and that would be a hippy commune. I mean no disrespect by saying this and in fact I really enjoyed the entire day. The people there spoke to us about learning to feel our through situations instead of always being stuck in your head and weighing yourself down with stress. In new community where I can’t always express my thoughts and feelings with my language it is important to keep a calm and loving demeanor. Body language is going to be the strongest tool I have for a few weeks or months in my community and the day retreat was a good reminder of this. Our activities included walking around the complex blindfolded to better listen to our other senses, leading blindfolded groups around the complex grounds without speaking (2 words for danger or slow down), and leading a partner through a mud pit that came up to our knees also without speaking. The hardest task of the day was crossing a beam suspended over the mud pit four feet below while of course blindfolded. Crossing the log represented taking the step to fully integrate into our new communities and let go of all the things holding us back in our old ones. If the experience itself wasn’t spiritual for some people they couldn’t complain about the beautiful view of snow capped mountains and farm quilted hillsides that continued into the horizon. It was a tranquil day by anyone’s standards and I’m glad I was able to share this time with the staff and other volunteers.

Our trip home brought us back to Lima at 6:30 the next morning on the holiday Día de Muerte. Thousands of people poured into the cemetery to put flowers on graves, to drink and eat, and enjoy the company of their families while remembering those who have passed. It didn’t seem nearly as reverent as thought it would be, but it’s a different culture and a different holiday that I don’t really know enough about to understand just yet.

Tuesday was site placement day!!! After being told most likely Cajamarca and being instructed to research to provinces in Cajamarca for possible future sites I was almost positive that’s was where I was going. I received a huge surprise and I am instead going to be living in Potrerilla, Las Lomas Piura. The beach is 3 hours away and I am tucked in the highland mountains. With me in Piura are 6 other health volunteers, four of which are within 2-4 miles of my small town of 1,500. I leave on the 3rd of November to visit my site for ten days and now I am out of time to write this because I have to finish packing before I leave in an hour.
More in a couple weeks,

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Out and about in Lima District-- Cajamarca!!! My new home!??!

October 6th-17th
I’ve done so much the last couple weeks and now I have been living in Peru for a month. Sometimes I have to take a step back and let that sink in because here everything has just become so routine. There are tough times when I miss people back home, hot showers, internet access at my house, and a list of other things, but overall the days are still great. Emotions are much more up and down here. I can go from having a frustrating morning where my Spanish isn’t exactly on target, but then in a couple hours I am in another type of session almost jumping out of my seat at the new techniques and technical info we are learning. Then I might go out with other trainees and have an amazing night and my Spanish will be back on at home with my family. The order isn’t exactly a pattern like this and everyday is different. The routine and all the random events thrown in here and there has made the last 4 weeks fly by.
Early on a couple of weeks ago we were introduced to SharePoint. SharePoint is an online resource and social networking site for Peace Corps Peru. All volunteers that have served in Peru since the site has been started have had access to SharePoint and have been able to upload helpful resources as well as smaller information, like what concert may be coming to Lima and soon and who would like to go, or maybe they are putting on an event in there province and need to get the word out to other interested volunteers. The amount of techniques and teaching resources is astonishing and beats any site I have ever seen like this and been a part of. I found out this week that I will be able to purchase a USB adapter that will give me wireless internet anywhere, all the way down to my room at my site. This will run a good 100 soles a month, but all things considered $35/month for internet in the middle of the Peruvian mountains will be worth it. I can’t pass up having SharePoint at my fingertips as well as the ability to communicate with people back home, and of course Google and Facebook.
I enjoyed another great night out in Chosica with a large group of PC trainees Wednesday and Saturday we got the group together again for Cubano Fest. After a couple hours of pregame hang out at the local bodegas in Santa Eulalia we all made it to an outdoor discoteca where we danced the night away even making it on stage to sing with the live band for a song or two. I also met a new Peruvian friend on the way to Santa Eulalia, a 26 year old writer named Diego who lives in Lima. It is nice to have a friend in Lima now like many other volunteers. When I make it in to Lima during service and need a friend to show me the town I know who I can call now. There are a few benefits of my room not being inside the main part of my house here. Being able to come home at 4:30 in the morning without waking up my host parents would be one of those benefits. It’s comforting to know that I know my surroundings well enough down here that at night and perhaps a little buzzed still I can make it home without a problem.
Saturday was also the first trip to Agraria University in Lima. We spent the day learning about different Peruvian vegetables and fruits among other things. We were taught how to make our own planters, how to make compost, what plants grow where and how, and we were able to do hands on work seeding plants and planting seeds as well. I knew a good portion of the gardening material, but in the end it really takes a long time and a lot of practice to know how each plant should be planted and the different care each specific plant needs.
For the first two days of the next week we had language training at my house. My parents went all out preparing snacks for my class and the convenience of sleeping in longer made the experience very easy and enjoyable.
We always have current volunteers come in from their sites to give presentations on their work and their specific areas of service and this week the youth and development volunteers came in and I was immediately interested. Working with kids has always been easy for me and once you get past their scared phase where they are awkwardly trying to figure you out it can be the most rewarding experiences out there in my opinion. There are a lot of clichés thrown around like children are the future, but down here in the work we might do it can often be much clearer truth. I sat on the edge of my seat listening for new techniques as well as initiatives that I could possibly be a part of in the not so distant future.
This last Thursday we went to the main offices in Lima for Peace Corps Peru. I had a meeting with the country director of Peace Corps Peru and we were given a tour of the whole site including introductions to every single staff member. After meeting the staff, other trainees and I are convinced that the Peace Corps has found the nicest, most helpful people in Peru to fill out their team. That night was the most anxious night for me over the last few weeks. I had my second language interview and my second interview with the Associate Program in Country Director (APCD) for the health program.
The interviews both turned out better than I could have hoped for. My language interview could have gone a tiny bit better, but it was leaps and bounds better than my first interview. In this interview I could actually have a conversation and not just throw random words together about the weather. My interview with my APCD was reviled incredible news. It’s not 100% official just yet, the Peace Corps always tends to have this game of suspense and ambiguity that they play from the very beginning, but with that said it’s looking like I am going to the department of Cajamarca. Cajamarca is north of Lima and Ancash, but it isn’t right next to Ecuador like some other possible sites for volunteers. It has hills and mountains in the two sites I may be going to and the beach is also relatively close. I might replace a volunteer who is in a site there now or I would be placed in brand new site. Peru’s largest Carnaval is in Cajamarca and the HIV/AIDS rates are much lower than all the other departments where volunteers are being placed. I don’t know my possible work still, but knowing a site and having two provinces to research in the next two weeks before I hear officially has given me a great goal to prepare for. Now that I know where I might be living for the next two years it can be a little hard to stay focused sometimes and not drift off thinking about how amazing it will be during classes. I was given much more information than most other volunteers, but everything is subject to change. We go to Ancash in a week and a half and after our five day trip in the Sierra many minds could change and many people could be mixed up again, who knows with Peace Corps.
Another trip to Agraria University topped off the great week of news and learning as we observed how to raise small birds like chickens, ducks, and turkeys. Not a big deal to people in the states, but here these birds can be the best source of food for your family or your community at site. The real fun started when we went to Mira Flores after Agraria and checked out the beach. It was my first ocean view in Peru and it didn’t disappoint at all. We were offered surf lesson and spoke with a very personable older vendor who had lived in the U.S. for two years 12 years ago. The beach trip put us all in a good mood for our next stop at OKTOBERFEST. I wasn’t sure if my brain was ready to handle three different cultures at the same time, but the night was a huge success and I now know why we are called poor Peace Corps volunteers, we always spend all of our money going out. While expensive, Oktoberfest was a blast. I went with different people than I have usually been out with and the entertainment and Cusqueṅa kept us going strong for hours before a few of us made our way out of the party to find some Chinese food and the way home.
 My first taste of cuy in Peru!