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,