Hey there, interwebsters! It’s been a long while since I’ve updated with substantial information on my life so, get ready. As of November 6th, it has been FIVE months in country which seems impossible. In training, everyone told us how excruciatingly long these first three months in site would be but nope, wrong. They are almost over! It boggles my mind every time I look at a calendar.
I guess I will start with work. Things are finally starting to pick up. Currently, my life is a constant struggle of being begged to teach English. I’ve learned that I am not cut out to be a language teacher; it requires so much PATIENCE. It’s not that I don’t have it, I guess I’m just not passionate about it at all. At. All. But hey, I’m getting better at it and I know that one day, people will get bored of my English classes, they will just stop showing up (can this day come soon), and I can start doing the things that I came to Peru to do. Anyway, I am so fortunate to be in the site that I am in because the high school and health post are so wonderful, so open to working with me. My recent hobby is playing trombone with the music professor a couple of times a week. I’m terrible at it but he thinks I’m onto something so we’ll see where this goes. He thinks I’m some sort of prodigy for pulling off a C scale with minimal errors. Watch out, guys, after so many years of practice on piano and flute, I’m going to come out of Peru as a famous trombonist. Just watch!
The latest project was a 3-day event for all of the 4 Pasos Adelante (Steps Forward) youth groups in the districts of Huaytará. After lots of paperwork and planning (kudos to my site-mate, Alli for pulling everything together), the volunteers in those districts and their youth groups came down to Huaytará for the camp. The requirement to participate was that all of the kids in the groups had completed all of the sessions of Pasos (self-esteem, alcoholism, drugs, and sexual education). The idea is that after the camp, they could all go back to their communities and be peer educators, teaching what they have learned to their other classmates. The camp was a 3-day event that included a lot of training sessions, games, a bonfire with smores and housing at the local hostel. I kind of felt like a summer camp counselor for a minute. The first night, we stayed up sitting in front of the doors until 2am, waiting for it to get quiet and the next day, all of the kids were asking “uhm, are you going to supervise tonight? Where are you sleeping tonight? What time are you going to go to sleep?” as if we did not know why they would ask such questions. Silly gooses! Overall, the large amount of planning and stress was worth it and it turned out really nice. I think all of the kids had a good time and got to meet some new friends and I know that I had a good time, too. Here are some pictures from the camp:
The volunteers - David, KCM, Alli and myself
"The first congress of adolescent leaders - ‘Steps Forward’"
Playing games in our Pasos shirts
The Huaytará Pasos group
December is rapidly approaching which means that our Community Diagnostics deadline is rapidly approaching as well. Commence minor freakout. I think I explained a couple entries ago what the diagnostic is so if you’re curious, check it out there because it pains me to think about it for too long. Basically, it’s a long report complied of all of the observations, research, survey results, and interviews conducted in the first three months of site in order to be able to understand the true needs of the community and why things are the way they are. I have a lot of information collected, it’s just a matter of getting it out of my disastrous notebook and into a nice, neat document with graphs that I don’t know how to do because I am incompetent in such things. Immediately after Thanksgiving, we are headed to Lima for about a week for more training and to present all of our diagnostic reports to each other. Once that is over, I’m going straight to the nearest mall to treat myself to approximately 6 slices of pizza or a Whopper from Burger King or both but no one will ever know.
In non-worky news, I can happily announce that I moved host families and I’m now in an amazing situation. I won’t go too in-depth with what happened in the other house – I’ll just say it wasn’t working out. If you’re curious, you can ask me in another occasion that is not public all over the internet. I now live in my own rented room, smack-dab in the middle of the plaza which has it’s pros and cons. The pros are that I’m super close to everything, the room is ginormous (is ginormous an actual word? Microsoft Office definitely did not underline it with red which tells me it is a real word but I swear I thought it was invented in Elf but what do I know), it has it’s own bathroom (don’t fool yourself, the water is still ice cold but it’s fine), and it’s obviously a lot more independent. The cons, I will say, are that it is a tin roof so it becomes an inferno during the day but I can deal and that because it is right in the plaza and right above a restaurant, the huayno music gets blasted starting around 6:00 AM and does not stop until 9:00. Also, I have included a wonderful huayno song from the Huancavelica area just in case you’re dying to know what huayno is like:
Back to my new crib, I am renting the room from a lady who has a pharmacy in Huaytará and with whom I get along really well. Firstly, she is really funny and says “of course” a lot, she like disco music so that’s an automatic 10 points, she has traveled a ton, she loves coffee and she is single with no kids. I typically eat my meals with her and I plan to spend Christmas with her and her family in Lima. I already feel 1,000x better in the new place even though it doesn’t have much furniture other than a bed. Last week I spent hours upon hours sanding the paint off of my walls and then painting it. Here are the results:
Ouhhohhuh also new group of trainees that arrived in Peru in September are already finishing up with training and swear-in as volunteers in 2 short weeks. There are 3 girl volunteers coming to Huancavelica to replace other volunteers. This week in Lima (did I mention I am in Lima for a training and a meeting?), I have gotten to spend time with them and get to know them a bit. I’m ultra-excited to have a full-time site-mate in Huaytará and I really super like all of the girls. It’s going to be sad to say goodbye to my current site-mate, but I’m glad there will be someone there when she is gone to keep my company.
The last thing I want to leave with you is that 3 weeks ago, I got food poisoning from who knows what and while walking to the plaza, I projectile vomited 7x in a row onto the very public street in front of men, women and children. No one expressed concern but everyone expressed interest. That’s life, though! Everything I do is a novelty even if that means puking on the street.
BIENVENIDO, OCTUBRE!! I love the coming of a new month. Let me tell you, folks, September was a rough one and I’m not even going to pretend that it wasn’t. I think that coming into site after training, I definitely did have the expectation of loneliness, homesickness, the general struggle to adjust, but wow, I guess it’s different to expect it than to experience it.
Seeing as how it is now October aka the month of the funnest holiday, I’m dedicating the rest of this here post to all of the myths, legends, beliefs, customs, and whatever other ridiculous things I’ve heard since coming to site. They range from silly to weird to a little frightening but they’re definitely all outrageous. Hold on to yer knickers!
This is a good one. In the mountainous, rural part of Peru, there exists a belief of a beautiful, tall, white creature with no specific facial features (sounds kind of like slenderman, right?) that creeps throughout the mountainside seeking children. Why? So it can drink their blood to maintain its beauty. It is kind of a funny joke to enter a classroom and say “ohh here I am, I am the pisthaco!” but the truth is the belief exists strongly. I know at least one volunteer who had various problems in her site in the first few months because everyone called her a Pisthaco behind her back and was afraid to leave their children alone with her. And if you’re not a pisthaco, you’re a spy for the CIA.
Patasca is a really common stew that exists, again, in mountainous areas of Peru. It’s kind of a special soup that you eat for birthdays, after harvesting/planting the fields, etc. It’s composed of corn and beef and is always cooked over a fire throughout the night. The first time I ate it in site, my host grandmother asked me, “do you know why you make patasca over night? It’s because the kernels are too embarrassed to grow (aka absorb broth) during the day so they do it at night so no one will see them!”
3. Mountains are spirits and those spirits are men
Another common belief is that the mountains are all their own god and that we should pray to them to make us better and to protect us. Clearly, those gods are all men, living in a machista society. Well, when I went to help herd vicuñas about a month back way up in the mountains, several people were sure to tell me to carry my garlic to the mountain to ward off the bad spirits because “the mountain will not recognize you and it will make you fall down”. I think this belief/legend has traveled from generation from generation since the Incas, just like I’m sure many of these have.
4. Cold = Evil
According to many Peruvians, cold represents evil (don’t you think it would maybe be the opposite) thus, we must turn our refrigerators off at night and we must not walk barefoot. My first week in site, I was really struggling to convince my host family that I would, in fact, be alright if I left my room at night to use the rest room (all of the doors of the house point to the outside and I walk approximately 7 seconds until I reach the bathroom). They were fighting with me to put a bucket in my room so I wouldn’t have to leave at night. According to them, if you leave your bed and subject your warm body to the cold, outdoor air, “your face will fall”. They claim to know of someone whose face fell when he went outside at night. Sorry, folks, but that sounds like a stroke to me but what do I know.
5. Knitting is bad luck
I’ve literally heard this no where else but in my own house so who knows if they are making it up just to mess with me or to get me to leave them alone… One day I entered the kitchen with brand new knitting needles and yarn, crazy excited to start a new scarf and all at the same time, my host mom and grandmother started shouting at me “are you crazy!? You can’t bring that in here; it brings bad luck to the business!!!! have you ever seen grandma knit in the house? NO! That’s because she knows better, blah blah blah”. Therefore I have never knit in the house since (that they have seen [and as far as I can tell, the business is doing fine]).
6. One should not sell salt at night
Bad luck, end of story.
7. Don’t sleep next to fig trees
This is my favorite one that I’ve heard. According to the police officer I heard it from, you should never ever fall asleep in the vicinity of a fig tree and here’s why – every time a baby is aborted, the soul of the would-be baby seeks the fig tree for the milky substance that the fruit produces. The fig tree ends of caring for the aborted baby souls, but the devil takes advantage of these vulnerable souls and turns them into little demons. He who falls asleep next to it will experience bad dreams, body aches, etc. but could even be possessed ouuhhhh.
Something I’ve heard endlessly about since coming to site is witches. I guess in the states, they were just something you dress up as during Halloween, but here people take their witches seriously.
For example, in one of the annexes of Huaytará, there was apparently a girl who was going home to see her mom as a surprise. When she got near the house, she saw her mother’s head floating by itself above the house with no body, whaat. So she went inside to see if her mother was okay but when she entered, she was sleeping safely in her bed. YO MAMMA IS A WITCH, GIRL, RUN.
I also hear that witches die really slow, agonizing deaths to make up for all of the pain they caused when they were alive. They live in holes, eat their own feces, and scratch their faces off until they waste away. It kind of sounds like a meth addict to me.
The fear is real and apparently there is a brujo that lives in Huaytará but no one will go visit the house with me.
On the subject of witches, there’s also seemingly an annual, international witch meeting that happens HERE in PERU!! It supposedly happens in Chincha, a city in Ica. You see, voo-doo became super popular throughout South America because of the Spanish, who brought slaves over from Africa to work in Peru. The slaves brought voo-doo with them. So, every year all of the witches of all of the world fly on their broomsticks or whatever method of transportation is preferred and meet in a part of Chincha to discuss the next year’s witchery.
Anyway, those are just a handful of the best that I’ve heard since coming to site. I’m sure that you could find even better stories if you went to a place more rural than Huaytará. I hope you all enjoyed my attempt at scaring you. mwuahuahahaa. I’ll probably post a serious entry about my life in site next month but if you can’t wait until then, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook. I love communication! Happy Halloween month, everyone!
PS this was written really sloppily and in a hurry, sorrz.
Hey there, interwebz and interwebberz! I’m halfway through my third week in site and thinking, hey, it’s probably time for an update on the blog. Actually, this is now the second time that I’ve written this blog entry. I wrote out such a nice, eloquent entry on Sunday to post yesterday and after waiting an hour and a half for Internet at the store, I realized it wasn’t on my USB. I came back to discover that it was not on my hard drive either so, surprise! I get to write it again. I’m sure that just means it will be twice as good.
Well, on August 16th, all 35 of us took our oath and became volunteers. It was an impressive event. I even washed my hair and wore make-up! That’s how you know it’s an important day. Here are a couple of pictures from that day:
The first picture is myself with the Youth Development technical trainers, Mariu and Anna Maria.
The second is my host mom or sister, Judy, and my friend, Lindsay with her sister, Johanna. They’re all my sisters now!
By August 19th, I was all settled into my site even though saying goodbye to all of the other people in my training class and my host family in Lima was difficult. I spent the first couple of days getting my room together. I bought some of the most janky, dirty wooden crates from the market (that are meant to store fruit) for 1 sol each. I then spent approximately 6 hours sanding them down to be decently smooth. They now store clothing, books and food. I sometimes still get minor splinters when taking out clothing but I live for the danger.
Work wise, I have gotten to know a lot of great assets in the community such as the Emergency Central for Women (works mostly with family violence), the staff of the Health Post, the elementary and high school, the police station, the mayor, a guard named Porfirio who is my new best friend and I’ve also met a lot of cool people just walking around town. I don’t know most of their names, but they don’t know mine either so it’s allowed. There’s also a man here who is building a youth center that will be a phenomenal person to work with in the future. I spent most of my time in the high school or in the Health Post. I’ve mostly been observing classes in the mornings and hanging out with teachers during recess. I feel lucky to have such accepting and interested teachers at the high school.
My site-mate, Alison, has been here for nearly 2 years now and is ending her service this December, but she already has a youth group established at the Health Post. It’s a group that meets once a week to discuss important topics such as values, alcoholism, drug-use, ways to prevent STIs and teen pregnancy, etc. I’ve now been to one of the meetings and the kids involved are all very outgoing and excited to spend time with us. I will lead the meeting on my own this week.
In other news, I’ve been reading a lot in the plaza, I started to run but I’m godawful. the altitude doesn’t help me out any, either. With my new short haircut and habit of never wearing make-up, people sometimes confuse me for a boy. I don’t really mind because it gives me something to laugh at when they realize I am, in fact, a girl. We also got a new puppy! It was a surprise to me; I never know what is going on in this house. But yesterday, I came home and there he was, just laying out in the grass. He is approximately 10 times smaller than King Kong (the other dog, a huge black lab) and comes from the same mother. His name is Godzilla. I’ll try to upload a picture if it lets me.
Lastly, I want to explain a bit what exactly it is that I’m doing here in Peace Corps as a Youth in Development volunteer. I feel like throughout the entire 10 weeks of training, I updated my blog, but never actually took the time to explain my role here:
Well, my program clearly focuses on youth. The program has three goals that it works on promoting for the youth:
1. Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle (Nutrition, Physical Activity, Self-Esteem, Values)
2. Preparation for the World of Work (Interviewing, Resumes, Career Fairs, University)
3. Community Volunteerism
The first year alone is dedicated to promoting the first goal and in year two, we can move more into goals 2 and 3. There are number of ways that you can reach out to youth; we can enter classrooms to teach about these topics or we can promote them through youth groups. It’s all something we figure out on our own as our service develops.
Now, the first three months in site are devoted to integrating into the community and getting to know the resources within it. It’s a lot of interviewing/surveys, a lot of observation, a lot of just sitting around and letting people see that you exist. At the end of the three months, all of the information that was gathered will be put together into a monster “community diagnostic” that will be turned into the Municipality, the school, Peace Corps, wherever you may think it be necessary. There will also be a presentation given to your community to show your findings. This way, you not only gain credibility among your neighbors and co-workers, but you are able to analyze what it is that the community actually needs and hopefully come up with a plan with your counterparts on how to provide for those needs. So, that’s basically what I’m doing now. A lot of sitting and smiling on benches.
Yesterday I actually had a great conversation with a psychologist that will help my community diagnostic. We were discussing the problem of family violence here in/around Huaytará. I made a comment about how alcoholism is probably a big cause and she agreed, but added that the terrorism that took place in Peru in the 90s is the bigger cause. I had no idea that terrorism so deeply affected the area of Huancavelica, but it did. She even shared a personal story with me from her childhood when her father, the mayor of a district of my site, was almost murdered by the terrorists but was warned just before they came so they were able to escape to Ica and begin a new life. Her story floored me. I had heard these types of stories in training, how the terrorism has affected Peruvians, especially those in the more rural areas, but I didn’t really grasp it until I heard it from someone who experienced it. I don’t know how true it is to say that terrorism caused more family violence, but I imagine that seeing how the terrorists got what they want by using violence may support her hypothesis. It was an eye-opening conversation and definitely helps me understand why some people may be less likely to trust an outsider. That was a heavy topic for the blog!
A lot of people have been messaging me for my mailing address. Now, I don’t really recommend mailing large items because it tends to be pretty expensive, from what my mommy tells me so just save your money and come visit me instead. However, love letters, photographs or haiku poems are always accepted. Here is the address:
Casilla Postal #52
Serpost Ica, Peru
That’s really about all I have for now. Here are some pictures to make up for all of the text in this post:
Here’s an unedited picture of a Huaytarino sunset. Isn’t it ridiculous?
And lastly, here’s a picture from a hike I went on with my new friend, Aldair. He likes David Guetta, dancing and reading. He’s 15!
Here we are again! The last few weeks have been somewhat of the same routine: breakfast, training, dinner, sleep. I would say the most exciting thing that happened was the revealing of everyone’s sites where we will all spend the next two years, working in the community and living with host families. It was a long awaited and highly anticipated event. Overall I think most people were pleased with their assignments, including myself. Drumroll – I was assigned Huaytará (pronunciation: Why-tar-AH) which is a province of the department (in Perú they have departments, not states) of Huancavelica. Huaytará has several districts that extend along the mountains, but my site is in the same district of Huaytará at approximately 2,650 KM above sea level (8,700 ft) and with a population of about 2,500. I am replacing another Youth Development volunteer who has already left but there are approximately 8 other Health volunteers scattered throughout Huancavelica. At first I was struggling with all of the places in Peru starting with “CH”; Now I’m struggling because everything seems to start with “HU”. Confusion, everywhere.
After finding out sites, I was pretty anxious to leave the center in Chaclacayo and go to site visit so that I could have a better idea of what Huaytará is all about and to meet my host family. Fast-forwarding a couple of weeks to this past weekend, the regular Chacrasana peeps including my host sister, Judy, and the neighbors went to a free concert of Grupo 5 for the 192nd anniversary of a place called Santa Eulalia. It was a nice way to spend our last Saturday together.
On Sunday, bright and early, I awoke at 5am to catch the taxi that would take myself and three other girls to Lima. Our bus left the station at 7 and we arrived to the city of Ica, the capital of the department of Ica and the city of eternal sun, around 12:30. Since the program in Huancavelica is relatively new and small, it is grouped with the programs in Lima (also small, fading out) and Ica, two other neighboring departments (appropriately named LicaH). For this reason, I traveled with the three girls who will be in Ica and we spend the first few days of the week together.
Highlights: meeting some of the volunteers who are currently in Ica and getting to know them, really delicious ice cream, hot showers, the nice weather and having time to go to Huacachina to go sand buggying and sand boarding. Huacachina is an oasis of sand. It’s a legit desert and it was the first time I had ever seen so much sand in one place. It astounded me! Probably needless to say, I was less than talented at sand boarding and was really afraid that I would break all of the bones in my body so I just went down the dunes on my stomach. Here is a picture:
That was Monday. Tuesday was a very important for all of the Peru 21 trainees – socio day. Essentially what happens is one counterpart from your community with who you will eventually be working comes to the capital city (in my case Ica city) to meet with the trainee and have a small session on what Peace Corps does. We were warned that it would be one of the more awkward days of your Peace Corps service. Mine wasn’t too uncomfortable. The counterpart that came to meet me is named Juan Carlos and he is the administrator of the local high school. Since there was already a Peace Corps volunteer in Huaytará, he is well-versed on what we do. He seems eager to start working with me and we even made a thorough plan of what I can do the first week in site. I was lucky enough to even have two members of my host family come all of the way to Ica city to meet me: Grelyn and Lázaro. Grelyn is sweet, curious 14-year old girl who will soon become a close sister and friend. Lázaro is her grandfather who lives in Ica city with his wife but 5 days of the week, he travels all of the way to Huaytará to be the secretary at the high school so, I will get to know him pretty well. My first impression of him is that he is funny and pretty interested in getting to know me. Though, I think he seems funny because I can’t understand him hardly at all because he mumbles. So I just laugh.
After socio day, Grelyn and I made the long, curvy trip back to Huaytará. Taking the bus from Ica city to Pisco (another city in Ica) was cheap and easy – only one hour. From Pisco, there is a van that leaves for Huaytará once it is full (we had to wait one hour). This particular van was full of 18 humans. I counted. 11 adults, 4 young children (all sitting wherever they could fit), and 3 babies in their mothers arms. So comfortable and relaxing, that van ride. I thought it would be a great idea to just pack as much crap as possible into my suitcase so it would be a little easier to return for good. Good logic? Yes. Easy to do? Of course not when trunks don’t exist. We arrived to the van and the driver took my 3,000 pound suitcase and tied it to the roof of the van with a piece of twine. Boy, I felt really secure about it being up there when the driver hurdled around those blind curves in the left lane at 60 mph. Alas, it, and we, made it in one piece despite my skepticism!
When we arrived to the house, it was already nearing 10pm so I couldn’t see any of the landscape. I met the family as soon as I got off. My host mother is named Judith which is a little ironic because that is the name of my current host mom/sister (hermama) and it doesn’t seem like that common of a name. She works at the health post which will be great later down the road when I want to do work there. My host dad is named Edgar and he likes to joke a lot which is something I like. I don’t understand his job too much, but I know that he works at the regional government building and oversees finances. I also met my little hermanito, Ibrahim, who is 7 years old and is FULL of energy and witty jokes. I was cracking up within 5 minutes of meeting him! For those of you at home who know my cousin Bryce, that is who he reminds me of. I am lucky enough to live in a house that has a POLLO A LA BRASA restaurant in it which in English is rotisserie chicken. For some reason that I have not yet figured out, it is super popular here along with Chinese food. As soon as I arrived, I was served a huge plate of french fries and rotisserie chicken. I can’t complain.
When I awoke the next morning, I was amazed when I opened the door and saw this incredible view from my door. Look at dem mountains!:
The view from my door.
This is the house. Note: this is a very large house and it is still under construction. In addition to the pollo a la brasa restaurant, my family has constructed several extra rooms to rent out to people. Three are rented out to a doctor who has a pharmacy in the front, not pictured. The little side house on the left is the kitchen.
My first day at site was great. While the coast is in winter, the sierra is in summer. At night it is pretty chilly, like Ohio’s fall at night, but during the day the sun is really strong with beautiful clear, blue skies amd puffy, white clouds. Ibrahim was sure to show me all around the house and introduce me to the pets including their pet pig, a handful of chickens that just walk around all of the place, the neighbors baby lambs and their dog, King Kong. He deserves that name. He is really friendly but he already put a hole in my cardigan from his “playful” bites. He greets me with a literal bear-hug (because he is not a dog, but a bear) and licks my face. And then bites me arm. Nice.
That’s Ibrahim and King Kong. They’re about the same size.
My new favorite friend and I.
Pancha, the pig, lazing around in the backyard.
There is a lady named Linda who comes to the house every day to cook all of the meals (fancy!) who I got to know decently well yesterday. She promised me to teach me how to knit sweaters. I also met Judith’s mom, another grandma that I know have. She is quickly becoming my favorite person ever. She is constantly concerned about my feet that never wear socks, saying, “you’re going to get the flu if you don’t cover your neck and your feet!!” as I stand, sweating in the hot sun. And whenever I sneeze (which I do approximately 50 times a day if you know me at all), she says “see! I told you!!”.
After spending these few days in site testing their food, I can see that I need to do three things: modify my portions with them, get use to eating funky foods and starting cooking breakfast for myself or I will potentially add the weight of a small child to my already curvy hips. For breakfast I was typically served a HEAPING pile of rice, some sort of meat or a fried egg, AND french fries. I’m not saying it is not delicious, but I am going from rarely ever eating breakfast, to a breakfast of a portion that my brother would eat. Secondly, I am going to try some really odd foods. The weirdest concoction I had over the week was a soup that surely has a name that I’ve forgotten that consists of chicken stomach, chicken feet and chicken hearts. I could eat the hearts, no problem, because they’re so tiny that you can almost just swallow them without thinking about it. I nibbled at the stomach and tried to sneak it to the dog. Failed. The feet though, that’s what I struggle with. I just imagine little chickens running around with their disgusting little dirty feet all over feces and other unknown substances as I stick the entire foot in my mouth and bite the “meat” off. The worst thing is you can, like, feel the toenails on your tongue as you’re trying to eat it. I know that there are so many chicken feet in my future and I don’t know how I feel about that. At least they’re fresh? The good news about food is that the yogurt in Huaytará is really delectable and that there is not ice cream place (which is really more bad news than good news but at least I won’t spend all of my money on 2 ice creams every day).
I think I have 3 favorite experiences from site visit and I will briefly explain all of them:
The first occurred my second night in site. As I was drinking tea and preparing for bed, my host dad lugged two ginormous pig legs onto the kitchen table. He proceeded to get a saw out from nowhere, probably his back pocket, and began sawing the leg into pieces. The table began to rock back and forth violently and soon my tea was becoming a wavy sea of boiled water. I stood up and steadied the table for him and nearly vomited as I watched him saw the leg. Blood was everywhere. It was like that scene in The Shining all over again except I was the little boy on the bicycle in the hallway and the two legs were the little twins girls that get washed away with blood down the hallway. I think that’s a good comparison. I went to bed wanting to never eat meat again.
To my misfortune, my desire to never eat meat again would not be possible for the next day. It was the 15th anniversary of the Gerencia (regional government of Huaytará), where my host dad works, and everyone was invited over to eat Mr. Piggy for lunch, rotisserie style. I helped clean up the room, set tables, prepare plates, and other things when 30 men and women dressed in suits starting trickling into the dining room. I was frolicking around the kitchen when my host-dad told me he wanted to introduce me. “WHAT WHY”, I thought, looking at my less-than-professional clothing and my hair that hadn’t been brushed in a few days. No matter! My host-dad introduced me and I gave an impromptu speech that probably was a little embarrassing but I received a warm welcome anyway. I sat with them and enjoyed Mr. Piggy (which later made me sick because I never eat pork) and declined their numerous offers for shots of pisco. Those Peruvians.
Lastly, I just super enjoyed spending a lot of time with Grelyn and Ibrahim. We played a lot of tennis and frisbee and went for a lot of walks. Grelyn took me around the town and gave me a very informational tour. She is quite knowledgeable about the history of Huaytará. The main tourist attractions that exist here are the church, Inca Wasi, and the outlook. The church is interesting because of its history. It has three periods: that of the Incas, the Spanish and today. Upon entering, you can see the original stone that was built by the Incas that has windows and other half windows in the wall where they placed their offerings. Later, the Spanish finished the church and it still used today. Grelyn was explaining that they even found a tunnel under the church that the Incas apparently used to escape from the church to Inca Wasi when the Spanish arrived (Inca Wasi [meaning House of the Inca in Quechua] are some ruins outside of Huaytará that I have yet to see). The outlook is a little gazebo at the top of the town that looks out on the mountains and on Huaytará:
Ibrahim, Grelyn and I. It’s not the best picture but it’s all I have.
I arrived back to Ica on Friday evening where I got to know more volunteers of LicaH and celebrated Natalia’s birthday. After a regional meeting yesterday, we headed back to Lima and now here we are! There remains only one week left of training, which is kind of mind-blowing when I think of how quickly training passed us by. On Thursday we will have a party for the host families at the center and on Friday, we swear-in and become official Peace Corps Volunteers.
Hola a todos! Looking back on my last post, I see that I’ve neglected my blog for nearly a month. Oops! Instead of hurting myself trying to think back that far, I’m just going to talk about what’s currently going on.
So, about two weeks ago the secret was finally shared with us all and we found out who will spend their service in the coast and who will spend it in the sierra (mountains). I am beyond thrilled to share that I will be in the SIERRA come August, when I move to site. We will be given our actual sites this Thursday, a day for which I am way too excited.
Anywho, the 35 of us were split up into 5 groups, based on our program and our location. Those from Youth Development (me) going to the sierra (me) were sent to ANCASH. If you haven’t heard of Ancash, go to Google right now (no seriously, right now) and look up some pictures. It is a beautiful part of Peru that lies to the north of Lima and has plenty to offer for those who like the outdoors. Sometimes I would just stop, look up at the mountains, drop my jaw a little bit and say, “Peru, you are just ridiculous”, and keep going on with my day. It is the second most-visited site of Peru, next to Machu Picchu. Here is a glimpse:
1. From the roof of our hostel in the capital city of Huaraz
2. On a scenic walk back from a visit to the thermal baths and on the way to school
3. The monster mountain, Huascarán, the tallest mountain in the tropics, behind the iglesia in Mancos.
Yeah. It’s that ridiculous.
I’m sitting here, trying to sum up one jam-packed week into one blog post and I’m a bit stumped on how to do that. In total, we visited four sites: Mancos, Huallanca, Carhuaz and San Miguel de Acos, however, I was really riding the struggle-bus on Sunday night/Monday because of some altitude-sickness. Because of a really rough fever that I couldn’t shake, I didn’t get to go to San Miguel de Acos on Monday but I really enjoyed the other sites we visited. Some small, some big, some hot, some cold, all gorgeous.
Throughout FBT, we were sent to a handful of different high schools in said communities and each was uniquely distinct. A couple of schools we went to were in the very middle of the community while others were a substantial bus ride away, tucked into the mountains. I can tell you that “teaching” (I don’t know if I can really call myself a teacher) in the sierra is pretty different from teaching in Lima. This is mainly because the children of the sierra are a lot more shy than those in bigger cities and they are a lot less likely to want to participate, from what I’ve observed. However, they are ALL the most adorable, sweet, curious and lovable children in existence. I think that what surprised me the most is that some of these young children have to walk 2 hours to and from school each day. It is astounding to me. One volunteer told us that in her community, girls’ attendance is so low because it is expected for them to stay at home and help or because of teen-pregnancy, which is more common than I expected and something I would like to focus on more.
Here is a picture of some compañeras and some chicas that attended a Pasos Adelante session on HIV/AIDS in Huallanca:
There was one thing that happened in transit from Hullanca to Huaraz that I will consider as an eye-opening experience for me. On Wednesday, the volunteer coordinating everything informed us that there would be protests on Friday in Huaraz and for this reason, we would avoid being in Huaraz that day. On Thursday morning, we woke up at 4AM to get on a bus back to Huaraz, to catch another bus there. Around 6AM, we encountered some people in the road, burning tires and trees to block traffic; we were witnessing parts of the protest starting earlier than scheduled. I couldn’t see very much, but people were throwing trash all over the road, holding signs, chanting, throwing large rocks. I also don’t know much about what it was about, but from what I understand, they were protesting the mines for not keeping their promises (for jobs or benefits, I assume). After sitting and waiting to move for about 30 minutes, the police came to break it up. They shot off rubber bullets to disperse the crowd and even set off tear gas. As we drove by, we had to close our curtains and duck down, just in case more rocks were thrown. It was really shocking to see such a harsh reaction to all of it and it made me feel really badly to see people running from the road. A harsh reality.
On a happier note, we spent Friday in two schools with a super chevere lunch break in between. Liz and Jamie, the volunteers that coordinated everything, took us to some thermal baths near a river. We spent an hour running from the crazy hot bath waters into the ice-cold mountain run-off water and repeating. It was exactly what we needed and probably my favorite part of the trip. and BEAUTIFUL. Did I mention Ancash is beautiful?
On Saturday we had the entire afternoon free! It was glorious. Liz took a few us up to some Wari (pre-Incan culture) ruins near Huaraz called Wilcalwain. We got a really informative tour and some awesome views. We hiked back to Huaraz for about an hour before hopping on a bus as the sun went down.
Overall, I really super duper loved my week in Ancash. The food, the people, the scenery, the ICE CREAMS, the teaching experiences, the volunteers, everything! After seeing sights in both Cajamarca and Ancash, I am absolutely certain that I will love whatever site in the sierra in which I am placed… which I will find out Thursday! Until then, chao!
Beginning of week 4 - here we go! This past week has been pretty eventful, starting on Tuesday.
After receiving our very high-tech cell phones, the group headed to Cajamarca left for Lima to catch the bus. On the way to Cajamarca, I was lucky enough to get to ride “VIP” along with several others so the 15-hour ride was bearable. I slept like a Peruvian baby. We arrived Wednesday morning and met the volunteer, Nick, who would be hosting myself, Andy and DD, two other trainees. He lives in a smaller site called San Pablo, about 2 hours outside of the city of Cajamarca. As it turns out, he is from Lima, OH and went to school at the University of Findlay so it was pretty cool to be able to relate with him on random Ohio things.
We stayed for 2 nights with his host family in San Pablo, who were very accommodating and were sure to provide us with plenty of blankets (everyone talks about how terribly cold it is in Cajamarca when literally it felt like Ohio’s spring when we were there aka perfect), plenty of stories and some pisco. Overall, we weren’t able to actually do much shadowing due to the town being on feriado the whole week. I can’t remember which holiday they were actually celebrating, but basically the whole town was shut down in order to party and celebrate. Some of the highlights of the trip:
Day one we went to a show in the stadium in which some really fast Peruvians dressed up ridiculously in order to tease a bull and make people laugh. I enjoyed the reactions from the crowd more than the actual show. It was colorful!
The next day we went to see “Kuntur Wasi” which, in Quechua (I think?), means “Temple of the Condor”. They are some ruins near San Pablo that were not discovered until 1940 but not excavated until the 1980s. I’m not really positive about to which culture they belonged, but I do know that they are pre-Incan, so, pretty ancient. As you can see, everything that has anything to do with Cajamarca is insanely beautiful. Also, the mountains are so colorful because they all have different “chacras” (land for crops, basically) along the sides. PS it rains 5 months out of the years in Cajamarca. It is basically the Seattle of Peru.
That same day, we also went to Nick’s “aunt“‘s house to play on some rocks by her house and to see this wild swing she has. Literally it is a long piece of rope attached to the very top of a high tree that hangs down to the ground. There is somewhat of a drop-off from where you get on the swing, so that it goes out over the house and over the mountains. It was the most terrifying and awesome swing ever.
The last day we spent in the city of Cajamarca. We walked up a ton of stairs, had some great views of the city, and even went to the ancient Incan baths. The actual baths were outside and had signs that said the temperature reached 70 degrees celsius. I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit but I’m pretty sure you could burn your skin off.
All of us dirty trainees that had been avoiding cold showers for 3 weeks excitedly purchased some cheap bars of soap and shampoo so we could get squeaky clean in our own personal baths. I paid my 6 soles and marched up to my own little private bath, got naked and turned on the hot water. I was so ready for that bath! Here’s the thing - I’m an idiot. I anxiously awaited for my tub to fill up and while doing so, realized that the water that was coming out was of the temperature of lava. I curiously examined the smaller red lever that behind the big red lever which allowed the boiling lava to come out. I thought to myself that it MUST be the cold water lever, because there’s no possible way that people relaxingly wash their hair in this magma. I tried to pull it, but it was stuck. Logically, I thought that it must be some sort of emergency drain that would make the tub explode or something, so I didn’t try to budge it again. So there I was, standing naked, sweating profusely, with my greasy, nasty hair glued to my face in this steamy room. I attempted to put my foot into the scalding water to see if I could bear it and regretted it immediately. Basically, what I ended up doing was a “cup-bath” and just splashed water up onto my body to try to get clean. It was half-way satisfying. With 10 minutes left of my bathtime, I decided that I would try that other lever again. I pulled with all of my girl power, and alas, glorious cold water came rushing out. Of course, at that point, there was no time to enjoy it; there was no possible way that the lava water would cool down enough in that time for me to enter. I also was without a towel so I needed to give myself time to let my nasty sweat/cup-bath water dry. Upon exiting the private bath area, I found myself to look a hot mess amongst a sea of clean, happy volunteers. At least now I know for the next time!
That’s probably the last story I have worth typing out from out trip. We returned in the early afternoon on Saturday and met up with a friend of Andy’s host-brother. He was super nice and ended up showing us around Miraflores and Barranco. We crossed the Puente de los Suspiros, in which you make a wish before crossing, and we even touched the Pacific. The best part, though, was Danny, our new friend, making us all try “anticucho” - cow heart. I was really apprehensive to try it since I have these nightmare-ish memories of my grandpa pickling the gizzards of various animals, and that just is kind of not eat-able to me. I ended up super loving the cow heart and I would probably eat it 10x over again.
And tomorrow begins training week 4! If you desire to call me, your calls are more than welcome! Send me a message on Facebook or something and I’ll send you instructions on how you can call my cell. :)
Also, I apologize for the general lack of organization on this post/every post. You know me!
Today marks the beginning of the third week of training. Now that our days are becoming routines, time is starting to pass us by quickly. Every day is the same; wake up around 6:15 to (sometimes) douse myself in ice-cold water, eat some breakfast, catch a bus, go through 4 hours of language training, eat some lunch with the home-boys, have some specific assignment training, and head home at 5, sometimes after doing zumba or insanity. It’s typically dark by the time I get home since it’s winter here so usually stay inside, eat some dinner with the fam, watch some soap operas and head to bed around 9:00. It’s really an exciting lifestyle.
Since I last posted, our group has finally gone to Lima, I went to my first discoteca, gave my first “lesson” in a public school in Chaclacayo, and we found out where we are going for our shadowing trips this week. It doesn’t have anything to do with our actual placements, but we will get to see volunteers who are actually doing stuff in communities. Tomorrow around 2pm I’m leaving with several others to go to Cajamarca, which is in the north of the country and it is in the mountains. It’s going to be about an 18-hour bus ride so I’m fully prepared to hate my life, but it should be beautiful once we get there. That’s an ideal placement for me.
Since there’s nothing much else really to say, I’m going to note a few “minor” differences I’ve noticed since coming to Peru.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no traffic laws in Peru. I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone here drives like a maniac. Are there lanes? Sure! Do people use them? No way! We make up our lanes here and if I want to pass you, I’ll just do it even if there’s no room! That’s the mentality. Secondly, have you ever ridden on a public bus in Peru before? If not, you’re surely in for an experience. They are called “combi”s and they go from either East or West along the highway, making stops along the way for a pretty cheap fare. Now, these combis typically have enough seats for about 15 people and nearly every day I get on I think to myself, “wow, this is definitely the fullest combi I’ve ever been on” or, “this is definitely the maximum number of people”. but NOPE. That’s where you’re wrong, Chels! You see, there IS no maximum number. I think the drivers have little competitions with themselves to see firstly, how many people they can cram onto these janky busses before they start to yell at him and secondly, to see how close they can get to the car in front of them when slamming on the breaks. Common side effects from combi-riding include: pulled muscles (from trying to hold on for dear life when standing and the drivers break/accelerate quickly), nausea, giggling, getting ripped off and most importantly, having your butt constantly in/around someone’s face or vice versa (even better!).
On Saturday we decided to take a combi from Lima back to where we all live. It took about 2 hours and everyone and their brother was on the bus. You could call it an enriching experience but I just call it a bad decision.
Oh, thy washer and dryer, I swear I won’t take you for granite again! I never knew that washing clothes by hand could stretch out one’s underwear so much. I try to wear my clothes (not including ropa interior, obviamente) as many times as possible before washing them because I want to be as lazy while also maximizing the lifetime of my clothes. Washing by hand really isn’t that bad; it takes less time than I imagined it would, but the drying part really is unfortunate. Yesterday I washed some underwear, my towel and a few shirts in the morning and totally forgot to hang them up until later so it took all of today to dry them. It’s really convenient.
3. Food situation
I’m getting used to eating rice LITERALLY for every single meal. LITERALLY. That’s all.
4. Stray animals
Remember how on my first post I said that there were a lot of dogs? I’m just going to re-iterate that here. It’s not uncommon to walk down the hill to catch the bus and encounter 12 dogs minimum on the stroll down. I really don’t even know what dogs have owners and what dogs do not. The barking is constant but I’ve never felt threatened by one. Sometimes they look pretty sad, bleeding or something. It makes you feel pretty terribly to see them. Apart from dogs, you don’t really see too many cats. Lots of stray dinosaurs though.
5. Being disconnected
My family installed wifi last week which was both great and awful because I really didn’t want to get use to the idea of having wifi. I’m not complaining by ANY means; it’s great to be able to text my parents and FaceTime every Sunday but I also don’t want to have the expectation of having wifi in 8 weeks when we move to site.
On that same note, it’s definitely nice to just not have to “worry” about texting/calling people back, checking my email or checking Facebook. It’s a lot healthier to not do so, for sure. The life here is just a lot slower and people appreciate different things. That’s not to say that people don’t love their Facebook; when we asked in the schools what it was that people liked to do in their free time, 80% of the kids said “Facebook”.
I’d say that the weirdest thing is just not hearing the news and having not really a clue about what’s going on in the world. It’s not that I don’t have the opportunity to know, it’s just that it’s not as in-your-face here. I also read a newspaper the other day that said the US sent Marines into Syria which upon reading I immediately flipped out and checked legitimate news sources as soon as I was able. False, of course. It’s just strange!
I probably should post some pictures or something but I really am just feeling lazy. I posted some on Facebook yesterday, so just check those out! Chaofa, friendz! Nos demos
Howdy and welcome to another way exciting blog entry! Secondly, Feliz Día de los Padres! I’m thinking of my dad and grandpa always, but especially today. Father’s day is a pretty big deal here. There will be 30+ people in the house today, coming from all over Perú and I am even lucky enough to get to try guinea pig today. I will try not to think of the guinea pig pet from preschool as I devour it.
As of Thursday, we have been in Peru for one week and on Friday we finished our first week of training. That same day my Spanish class went to Lima to see a museum that happened to be in what was once the house of Simón Bolívar. Pretty impressive!
So, you might be asking, “what do you guys talk about in training, Chels?” Well, let me tell you! Poop! We talk about poop approximately 60% of the time each day. Since we are still adjusting to the types of food, the way it is cooked, and especially the water, diarrhea is a threat. It is known as the menacing “bicicleta” (because it makes you run funnily) and it is also the most popular excuse to use for being late to a session, whether it be true or not. We are always making bets on who is going to get the bicicleta from that weird looking Mexican food we tried the other day or the guinea pig I’m about to eat today. What a fun game! Enough about poop, though.
Here is a picture of myself and a few people from my Spanish class. I’m bad about taking pictures so this is from Facebook:
When we are not in training, we are with our host families. I’ve finally got the relationships down in my house. It’s swell. My host mom (who is more like a sister) is fantastic and I love spending time with all of the family before bed. We typically watch “al fondo hay sitio” together, which has become my new favorite show. I feel that I can talk to my host mom about anything and that is really comforting. One thing she is always asking about is my past and current love like. I’m like, girl, I wish I had more to tell you but I’m not that interesting romantically! It’s not just her that is interested in my love life; it’s the most popular question to get when meeting someone new.
Here is a picture of me and my host mom last night before going to a baptism (and yes, we are wearing each other’s clothes, in case you were wondering):
Speaking of baptisms, I went to my first mass in Latin America. It was quite an interesting experience to see the cultural differences in church-going activities. I actually felt like an idiot the whole time because I’m already tall (tall by Peru standards for tall) but was wearing heels, the only blonde, and looking awkwardly around at all of the other Peruvians, trying to pick up on the prayers. Nope. I felt like the priest was giving me dagger eyes the entire time. Over all, mass was a lot stricter than what I have experienced in the US and it made me want to giggle.
Living in a country that experiences nearly 80% of its residents claiming “Catholicism” as their religion, it’s a popular topic. That was one of the first 5 questions I was asked on the day I moved in, if I was a practicing Christian. It’s something that I was a little apprehensive about before we even met our families, because I knew it would come up. I’ve found that it is probably just easiest to say “my family is very Christian”.
The plus side of a very Catholic country is a lot of fun, religious celebrations! Last night was the celebration in Chacrasana of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A lot of volunteers held on for dear life in the crazy combi and walked all the way up our hill just to come celebrate with us! It was crazy awesome fun to hang out with them outside of the training center and we were able to dance a lot lot lot. Here’s a pic of the firework-type things from the party (and the sillhouette of two other volunteers):
Anywho, I guess that’s all I’ve got for now. There is a hoard of saxophonists blasting outside of my window so I’m curious to see what all of this commotion is about. Happy Father’s Day, everyone!