Chelsea en Perú

An attempt to describe my 27-month journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru.
CONTACT ME!: cwolpert1@gmail.com
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DISCLAIMER: The thoughts and opinions expressed in this blog in no way represent those of the US Government or the Peace Corps.
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"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace." - John F. Kennedy

In case you have not seen my “2 Second Video” project that I posted to Facebook about a month back, here’s that for your viewing pleasure. I tried to take 2 seconds of video a day for a year after swearing in on August 16th, 2013, but my computer pooed on my in March so the video ends there. Here you can get a little taste of my Peace Corps experience. Enjoy! 

In my last blog I promised that I would describe my work in site so here I am, trying to stay true to my promise even if I am a couple of weeks later than I said I would be.

I’ve probably explained this in earlier blog entries, but since I haven’t posted anything about work since last year – :O -, I’ll give you all a little recap of the program in which I work. I am a Youth Development volunteer and we work promoting three goals: healthy lifestyle (self-esteem, nutrition, exercise [I wouldn’t call myself qualified in teaching about these two], and prevention of teen pregnancy, STDs, and HIV), preparation for the world of work/college, and finally, volunteerism/leadership. Since the goals are pretty broad, we can basically do whatever projects in which our community shows interest as long as they are working within on of the 3 goals.

“Wow, Chels, that’s so interesting. Tell me about your projects!” Ok, I hear you, my people. As you may or may not know, much of our first 6 months of site is just kind of chillin, observing, getting to know the institutions, how things work, etc. After we write our huge “diagnostic” of the community (if anyone wants to read a 30-pg document about my town in Spanish with lots of fun charts, I’ll email it to you), we can start to think about what projects would benefit the youth in the community. After our Project Management training around month 6, we can finally begin to do real work. Well, here I am at month 11 in Huaytará with 2 “primary” projects (projects that fall under the goals) and 2 other fun projects.

The first project is a continuation of what the previous volunteers of Huaytará started last April, called “Pasos Adelante” (Steps Forward). It is an initiative that PCVs are working on all over Peru with community counterparts. It is a 12-week course that covers self-esteem, values, sex/gender, pregnancy, contraceptives, STDs, HIV/AIDS, alcohol and drug-use, and goal-planning. I was introduced to the project last August in my first few weeks in site as the first cycle of the course was coming to an end. In October, 15 teens from the local high school that completed all 12 of the courses with my previous site-mate “graduated” from Pasos Adelante and became peer educators. In March, my new site-mate and I began the second cycle of the course with about 10 solid new teens from the high school. The courses are exactly the same except this year, the peer educators who completed the course last year are giving all of the lessons. We have class every Friday and after yesterday, we are 11 classes in. It’s been really hard to be consistent since there are an insane amount of community celebrations that conflict with our class, but we’re finally reaching the end. Once we complete make-up courses, we will hold a graduation ceremony in September and a youth camp for the “graduates” in November here in Huaytará.

Pasos Adelante is by far my favorite project because it is a lot of fun to teach after you get over that uncomfortable embarrassment of demonstrating condom use to 15-yr olds. The lessons incorporate a lot of ice-breakers and non-traditional ways to teach non-traditional topics. I also care a lot about the project because teen pregnancy is not just a phenomenon seen on “16 and Pregnant”, but all over the world. In many schools in Peru and especially in smaller communities in the mountains, sexual education does not exist and often times teenagers are hearing about contraceptives for the first time with us. We can’t really know if the teens will actually apply what we are teaching them, but the hope is that they will!

The second project I am currently working on is something that I’m doing with two other volunteers in different communities in Ica. It doesn’t have a fun name, just “Vocational Orientation”, but it’s proving to be a success already after only having the first class in April. The idea is that in Huaytará I give a 15(ish) week course on college/professional job preparation while my 2 PCV friends in Ica give the same 15-week course in their sites. Our original plan was to have a college fair in August to celebrate the end of the course but due to our grant falling through for the time-being (maybe because we’re severely unorganized?), we have pushed the college fair back to the end of the school year, in December. College fairs are virtually unheard of in Huaytará so when I told the kids that they would get to go to a college fair and in Pisco on top of that (city 2 hours from site on the coast), I got instant participation from the students. I should mention that since Pasos and Vocational Orientation alike are offered after-school, it is sometimes hard to get them to come. I started out with 50 students, but now that the shine has worn off, I have a solid group of about 20.

It’s not the greatest picture but here is an iPhone picture of me in action.

I equally enjoy this project even though I’m not nearly as passionate about basic financing, scholarships, or resume-building. According to the results of surveys I gave to 100 students in the high school, 78% wish to continue their studies after high school. Now I don’t know how accurate my next statement is, but when the project was still in its writing-phase, a teacher friend at the high school told me that out of 2012’s graduating class of 40, only 12 went to university and of those 12, only three completed their first year. Again, I don’t have the ability to fact-check these numbers, but regardless, there is some truth to it; there is an overall desire to go to college but due to lack of resource, information, motivation, family support, or another unnamed reason, they end up not going. That is why I chose to work in this goal in my community.

There! Those are brief descriptions of my 2 main projects. Other than those, we also have a little dance club that practices traditional dance once a week, but it’s kind of a mess since there have been a lot of town parties lately. We are also getting an adult English club on the ground since I am personally asked 3x a day if I will “pleeeasseeeee teach me English señoritaaa por favorrrrr”. And finally, at the request of very involved student, I also am trying to get an Art club started on Saturdays. It would be a club where students can practice drawing, singing, poetry, writing, lo que quieran whaver they want.

A break for some pictures from the most recent community celebration of Huaytará’s patron saint. John the Baptist.

A few of my students at the parade:

This is the little adorno of the Virgen del Carmen that was in Pisco’s church this past Tuesday. We also just celebrated her day in site.

As PCVs, our aim is to work with professionals in our communities to ensure that when we leave, the projects will be continued. It’s much harder to do than it sounds. It is easy to forget that the people we are working within site have real jobs and other commitments; it can still be extremely frustrating when they promise you 50x that they will show up to your class to help teach and in the end, after calling several times, they don’t show. Nonetheless, we’re trying our best to get more community involvement in all of our projects.

As Youth Development volunteers, it can be discouraging to work in a program in which there is no tangible measure of change. In other programs like Health or Water Sanitation, PCVs can build healthier kitchens (cooking with gas as to cooking with firewood) or provide cleaner water and know that they are leaving that behind. For us, we are teaching these abstract ideas like “it’s good to have self-worth. You’re important! Yay!” or “Practice abstinence until you find the right one! Use a condom! Yes!” where we often have no idea if what we are teaching is actually getting through to them. Peace Corps in general is trying to come up with better ways to monitor and evaluate these types of changes, but it feels disappointing to have no idea what you’re really leaving behind with these kids.

We all come into the Peace Corps hoping to make a difference. I don’t think any of us are naïve enough to actually believe that we are going to change the world, but to change a community nonetheless. When we arrive to our communities and have the realization of how slow the behavioral change process is, some, myself included, become a bit disillusioned. I have been talking about this a lot lately with my PCV friends, the expectations we had arriving into our country of service and the guilt we feel later when we do not believe we are doing enough or when our projects fall through. What I need to remind myself is that every single PCV’s service is utterly different. Some will get a ton of work done, some will not. Some will have municipalities that support them, some will not. Some will become fully-integrated in their communities, some will watch a ton of TV on their laptops. I cannot speak for the whole PCV community, but I think many question if what they are doing is enough. Ultimately, we need to remember that we are dedicating 2 years of our life for the betterment of ourselves and of others, and we are all trying our best. We are all part of an incredibly unique experience in which we learn and grow, we share with others, and we change perspectives, our own included! In order to feel satisfied, I need to drop those expectations of what the typical Peace Corps service should be and “aprovechar” (take advantage of) my own.

If you cannot tell by the previous paragraph, I recently went through a bit of a slump due to problems with my municipality and just feeling discouraged in general. After resolving some problems, I’m back up again and wanted to share those thoughts on Peace Corps with you. Again, I don’t represent everyone in the Peace Corps; just sharing a bit of what my friends and I have been struggling with lately.

If you made it this far and didn’t fall asleep, congratulations! Here’s a picture of my cat, Techo, relishing his new jacket I bought for him after he went to the vet this week. 

WARNING: Be forewarned that this is the longest entry in all of the Internet land. I will not apologize because you don’t have to read it if you don’t wish to.

After 2 weeks of bliss outside of Huaytará, I find myself back to real life, swinging in my new hammock with Techo by my side (did you know I have a cat now?). It’s been since January since I’ve written which is deplorable so I hereby promise to write another blog post within the next 2 weeks that summarizes what work I did in the past 6 months and what I’m doing now.

SO LET’S GET TO THE FUN STUFF

Joe is one of my very best friends from college. He decided in January that he was going to come visit me in May. Here’s how that went:

Joe’s flight landed in Lima around 6am on May 19th after a delay. Upon his arrival, I extended his travel nightmares by taking him directly to Ica to meet up for lunch with my friend Lindsay. After lunch, we headed to Huaytará in a car from hell. It was so warm in the car that it actually might have been from the center of the earth. We spent 4 days in Huaytará hanging out, going on walks, and eating Peruvian food.

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That leads me to a knee-slapper of a story! My host-mom, Mari, wanted to make Joe a traditional meal so she spent all morning boiling the purple corn down to make it into “chicha morada”, the most Peruvian drink you could ever have besides a Pisco Sour. As we sat down for lunch with Mari and the Tia Casimira, I poured Joe a large glass of chicha. He wasn’t fond of the flavor, but I told him to suck it up and drink it anyway like a good friend. 6 bites into our pepián (meal consisting of ground corn, tomatoes, and chicken), Joe announced that he was not feeling so well. I complemented his statement by declaring that I needed to vomit. We sat there at the table awkwardly for approximately 4 minutes, trying to decide in English how we could escape to vomit without offending my host-mom’s cooking. Eventually, I just told Mari what was up and ran gagging to my room, projectile vomiting into the toilet just in time. Not long after, Joe was barreling in behind me, ready to empty his stomach into the cold porcelain bowl. Upon barfing up all of our purple corn drink, we felt immediately relieved. We were sure to tell Mari how sorry we were and assured her that it was definitely not her cooking (it was). “Don’t worry!”, she said, “I know it’s not my cooking. It’s probably just because you drank a lot of yogurt earlier”. A couple of hours later, we headed to her pharmacy to say hola and see what was crackin’. That’s when the Tia Casimira confessed that she threw up thrice after doing the dishes. That’s also when I collapsed to the ground from laughing and Joe nervously asked if Mari was trying to poison us all. Mari composed herself after a fit of laughter, wiped the tears from her face, and declared that she, too, had violently up-chucked immediately after eating, while Joe and I were experiencing our own struggle-fest. She admitted to lying to us about throwing up and about the food being okay, because she felt so badly about us feeling badly, that she didn’t want to make it worse. Makes sense! So, in the end, the purple corn was moldy and we all got sick and it was the most hilarious thing that has ever happened to me. Hope you weren’t eating something while you read that.

That was surprisingly Joe’s last lunch in Huaytará.

In a crazy coincidence, Brianna, a good friend from the ole Seneca East High School, happened to be coming to Peru not just to visit, but to also volunteer in the jungle at a butterfly house during the same two-week period. Thus, we all traveled to the jungle together. She flew in late on Friday, May 23rd, and by the 25th, we were on a plane to Tarapoto, a city in the mountain/jungle part of Peru. From Tarapoto, we took a 3-hour car to Yurimaguas, a port-town on the Huallaga river. This is when the adventure begins to unfold…

Firstly, we arrived in Yurimaguas around 5pm, thinking there was plenty of time to buy some snacks, water, and our hammocks before heading to the dock and finding a boat to sleep on. That probably would have been the case if we hadn’t found the most talkative moto-taxi driver in all of Peru, Efraín. Efraín and his posse off moto-taxi friends surrounded the car as we arrived. Since he was the friendliest and least-pushy of them all, we decided that he was our friend and we would have him drive us to run our errands. Worst. Decision. Ever. It took us TWO hours to do those three things because firstly, he kept stopping every 10 km to say “did you know that Yurimaguas is in the jungle? You are going to Iquitos. Did you know that is in the jungle?” Yes, thank you, Efrain, I am aware that we are in the jungle for the fifth time! Eventually we bought all of our necessities and had Efraín take us to the dock. It had already gotten dark so when the moto struggled to make its way up the muddy road, a hoard of burly men surrounded the car and each one shouted at us “get on our boat! We’re sure to leave tomorrow morning!” “Señorita, you definitely want to get on his boat because it’s terrible. Get on mine!” We were in a very vulnerable position and I did not feel safe, so I told Efraín to turn around and take us to a cheap hostel. That’s when Efraín warned us not to trust any of the workers at the dock because they’ll all lie to us to get our money. We’d already figured that out, but appreciated Efrain’s advice. We rolled into a 5-star 15 sol/night ($6) hostel that you can see below. That was when Joe realized his new iPhone 5S was gone. Did Efraín snatch it up? Did it fall out in the car? It will forever be a tragedy and a mystery.

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So you can see what a $6/night hostel looks like…

The next morning, we showered with river water and headed to the port early to find out which boat would actually be leaving that day. A seemingly honest worker led us over to the boat that was allegedly leaving on that fine, Monday morning. We rounded the muddy corner to the dock to find the oldest, rustiest, ugliest boat in all of the land awaiting us. Perfect! “It’s probably fine” I said as the man hung our hammocks up for us on the open top deck. We hung out on the boat for a couple of hours as we waited for it to load its supplies (did I mention these are cargo boats?) and leave dock. As promised, we did leave that day! At 1pm, we were already heading up the Huallaga river. Almost as soon as the journey began, the journey died; about 2 KM offshore, we ran into the brush and got stuck. As it turns out, the boat did not function well. It could go forward, but it could not back up; Quite the surprise from a boat so extravagant. Thus, a small motor boat came to pull us out and we were back at dock once again. “We’ll leave at 5pm!” they said. 5 turned into 9 which turned into midnight which turned into the next morning. The delay did bring some good. We met some fellow dirty tourists on the boat to hang out with for the night. 3 Americans bros, 1 Swiss girl, 1 girl from Barcelona, and 1 guy, Juan, from the Philippines. We spent the night sharing stories on the dirty boat floor.

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"Hanging" out on the boat.

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Sunset on the Huallaga as we waited to leave dock.

The next morning I woke up with an advanced case of conjunctivitis. I would have never been able to tell if my eyes hadn’t been caked shut with a green goo. I might have contracted it from the clean bathrooms? When Brianna and I investigated the bathrooms the night before, we both gagged from the amount of fecal matter on the floor and walls. The heat of the bathroom combined with the sight made for a smell, well… I shall go no further. For the amount of people packed on that boat, it came to no surprise that the bathrooms were so horrific. The second level of the boat had wall-to-wall hammocks tied together with maybe 2 inches of space between each one. It was a scene out of a scary movie. That is when I thanked the old gods and the new that I was on the open deck. Anyway, I went into town with Joe to pick up some drops for the pink eye and I was less diseased by the next day.

Around 9am, the seemingly honest mister that hung up our hammocks came to inform us that we should move boats because our’s was not going to leave that day. Not knowing who to believe, we decided to follow the swarm of Peruvians over to the nicer boat. Just stepping foot onto “La Melissa” made me feel instantly cleaner. The sides of the boat were not rusting out, the back of the boat actually had railings, and the bathroom walls weren’t caked with human poo; clearly it was a huge step up. As it turns out, the first, jankier boat left dock a couple of hours later. Our Filipino friend, Juan, stuck on board because he had already paid the captain and the captain wouldn’t give him his money back. “Bye, Juan!”, we shouted, privately praying that his ship wouldn’t go down and he wouldn’t get eaten by a crocodile. Don’t worry! We later found at that they made it okay.

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The first boat had a minor rust problem but that’s all.

La Melissa left dock at 3pm on Tuesday, 30 hours after we arrived the day before. Just a short little delay! It should take 2 days to reach our destination, Nauta. The ride itself was pretty uneventful. We saw some beautiful sunsets, played a lot of cards, read a lot of chapters, ate some decent boat food, and avoided confronting our body odors for those 2 days. We arrived in Nauta at 1am on Thursday morning, pleasantly surprised to find that our tour guide was at the dock waiting to pick us up. While waiting for the boat to leave in Yurimaguas, we hastily booked a tour to go to the Pacaya-Samiria reserve. The guy had a business card, so we thought that was legitimate enough. And apparently we had good judgement because the tour guide was there waiting, to our good fortune because I don’t know what we would have done if he hadn’t been there. He told us he was taking us to his house to sleep for the night and we would leave early the next morning.

We were so excited to be in Nauta, dreaming of the prospects of showering. When I asked our new friend, José, if his house had a shower we could use, he furrowed his brow and explained that he lived in a young community that didn’t have electricity or water. How presumptuous of me to assume that a jungle tour we had paid for would provide a shower! He did offer us the option of bathing in the local river. “Nah”, we said. We peed in a hole in the ground after putting our stuff down and headed for bed. Brianna and I howled at laughter at the situation we were in as Joe probably cursed me privately for what I had gotten us into.

The next morning, I woke up the biggest hot mess I have ever been in my entire life, my hair matted to my greasy face. Upon witnessing my frightening appearance, Joe and Brianna decided we should take José up on his offer to bathe in the river. We gleefully gathered our towels, soaps, and fresh undergarments and hopped downstairs to inform José of our decision. “Vamos al río!”, he shouted and led us down the path to the river. What we did not realize, was that the entire community would also be present at the river, washing clothes and dishes. At this point, I was so dirty that I wouldn’t have cared if Spain’s entire attractive soccer team was there to watch the event. I had no shame; I got down to my underwear, slipped in the mud as I tried to get in the water, and awkwardly jumped/fell in. As Joe and Brianna prepared themselves, more people started piling out of their homes to watch the show. After one of the most refreshing cleaning experiences in the past year (and that’s not even sarcastic), we gathered all of our things and headed out for the reserve on José’s small motor boat.

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About 45 minutes into the trip, José stopped the boat and welcomed us to the union of the Ucayali, the Marañon, and the Amazon river. We had finally made it to the Amazon! He did some circles in the boat and made some funny noises to summon river dolphins. After watching them come to the surface and disappear again for about 15 minutes, we were on our way. Around 11, we made it to Vista Alegre, the community in which we would be staying during our tour. Here’s a pic:

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After a delectable lunch prepared by José, we were back on the boat, headed to the Pacaya Samiria (name derived from the two rivers, Pacaya and Samiria, that meet around the land or something like that) reserve to go on a little hike. Once we were off of the Amazon and onto one of the smaller rivers, the views were breathtaking. The water was mirror-like because of its stillness. Wild parrots and macaws flew high above the trees on either side of the river while we continued further down, deeper into the jungle.

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Eventually we docked in the muddy bank and proceeded into the trees with José as our leader. Because rainy season just came to an end, the ground consisted of very thick mud that we struggled to trudge through while José skillfully marched forward like the jungle native that he is. We stopped every once in a while to learn about different types of trees, swing on ropes, observe worker ants, or take pictures. About an hour into our hike, it began to downpour torrentially. To our misfortune, at that exact moment José decided we were lost. And the logical thing to do when anyone is lost in the rainforest during a rainstorm is to start running to try to find your way back. Since I am the most uncoordinated person on earth, made worse by our bulky rain boots, I of course managed to fall face-first in the mud while trying to keep up with Josecito. Brianna and I again howled with laughter once again at our circumstances while Joe beckoned us to hurry the hell up since José was clearly waiting for no one. The rain let up after thirty or so minutes and José found the path again. “Once I was in the jungle with a bunch of Belgians and I got us lost for 7 hours!”, he told us. Our guide was clearly very experienced.

The hike was definitely the highlight of the day, even though we got back to the community covered in mud and soaking wet. After playing a game of volleyball with some of the girls in the village, we ate a nice dinner and settled into our 2-inch mattresses on the ground. Although it was only 8pm, there was not much else to do since the mosquitos were so carnivorous and the community only had electricity two days a week. We fell asleep listening to the sounds of the enormous bats flying around, distant cawing birds, and crowing roosters. Around midnight I woke up with the troublesome feeling that I was about to poo myself. As I mentioned before, there was no electricity in this village so when I went outside with my flashlight, I experienced the darkest darkness ever. Since I was groggy and lazy, I decided that it wasn’t necessary to walk all the way over to the poo hole across the street and behind the neighbor’s house. I found a grassy part near our house that I thought suitable for the matter. I was mildly aware of surrounding wildlife, slightly concerned that snake would bite my butt but paying no attention to the bats. Mid-pee, a pterodactyl-sized bat swooped down around my head and I felt it’s twiggy feet brush my hair. I shrieked in fear and began running to the house, pants around my ankles and all. Once I was safe in open living room, I pulled my pants back up (without having done my business) and headed back up to our bedroom, obviously unaware of the man sleeping in the hammock just a few feet away. YOLO. Four short hours later, I woke up with the same dreadful feeling and decided to suck it up and walk to the poo hole. I was not attacked by bats of any kind and I did not shit my pants so all was well. The worst part of the whole story is that when I told Brianna at midnight what I suffered through, she said “ok” and fell back asleep. Thank you for being a friend.

The next morning José told us we were going to fish for piranhas and find some monkeys. After cruising around in the boat for an hour or so, we did just that! A family of wild howler monkeys were literally hanging out in the trees when José started to make some whistling noises to call them closer to us. He threw a bag of bananas over to the brush to lure them. One by one, adult and baby howler monkeys precariously swung their way over to the bananas and gobbled them right up. Seeing wild monkeys eat bananas from only 20 feet away was one of the wildest things I’ve ever witnessed. Here’s a pic:

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We then tried fishing piranhas but lost interest quickly when Brianna and I realized we were the worst fisherwomen ever. Joe was successful in catching 2 lil fishies, who suffered horrible pain when José ripped their fins off before throwing them back into the water. The piranha fishing pretty much ended our 2-day trip to the reserve and José had us back to Nauta to catch a car to Iquitos (capital city of the jungle) by 4pm. Once we got to the car stop to go to Iquitos, there were no cars, of course, so we climbed into a stuffy, crowded bus and sat on top of Peruvians the whole way to Iquitos.

The days that followed in Iquitos were way more “tranquilo” and clean compared to the previous days. We stayed in a relatively nice hotel, with running water, electricity, and wifi. In the days that followed, we treated ourselves to higher-end restaurants (high-end when you compare it to the cargo boat’s food at least) and lots of treats at the bakery. We checked out the Belén market, which was by-far the largest market I have ever been to, with jungle fruit juices for only 1 solcito and lots of street meat.

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Brianna and I drinking our market juice to-go.

Another highlight of Iquitos for me was seeing “La Isla de los Monos” or Monkey Island in English. It’s an island about 1 hour out from Iquitos that rescues monkeys from homes and markets in order to readjust them to the wild and eventually send them back out to live in the jungle. There were 8 species of monkeys on the island and over 200 in total that lived there. The spider monkey was my favorite! The monkeys fell in love with Joe and climbed all over him. Check out some pictures from monkey island:

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On our last full day in Iquitos, we also investigated the manatee refuge center on the edge of town. Similar to Monkey Island, it is a small reserve that takes in turtles, monkeys, otters, and river manatees and help prepare them for life back in the jungle. The manatees ate lettuce and bananas right out of our hands! They’re skin was a lot smoother than I had imagined and their little whiskers had the funniest texture.

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June 2nd was our day of departure. We took Brianna to her dock and said our goodbyes (remember she is staying to volunteer) and took the longest moto-taxi ride to the airport. Our flight was delayed, but we eventually made it back to Lima and spent the night at the Hilton right in the heart of Miraflores.

The next day was filled with training sessions for me and a lot of lounging around for Joe. Later that night, I sent Joe off on a taxi to the airport and he landed safely in the US the next morning. It was so great to have visitors, especially in my site. I loved being able to show off my community, my work, my kids, everything.

Looking back, the jungle trip was probably the dirtiest, sketchiest, and most ratchet vacation I’ve ever taken in my life, but it also happened to be one of the bests and I cannot wait to go back for more muddy, humid adventures! Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far!

Hello, faithful followers! For Peace Corps Week 2014, I’ve submitted this video for the video contest, “Cultural Windows: What I Wish Americans Knew About My Host Country”. The contest has a limit of 2 minutes, making it difficult to squeeze in everything I wanted to.

All of the people featured in the video are from my site in Perú. I hope that you can all help out by watching my video. Enjoy! 

As I type these words, I listen to the cold, heavy rain bounce loudly off of my tin roof. It has been raining basically non-stop since I got back to site after our magical escape to paradise in Máncora. Oh, and speaking of my egregious tin roof, I learn something new about it daily. Not only can it be an oven and a freezer in the same day depending on the temperature, but I’ve recently been thrilled to discover that the plastic bottles hanging from the ceiling don’t actually collect all of the dripping water that comes through the holes. In fact, there is a wealth of unprotected holes in my ceiling that allow water to fall freely onto my floor. I have bowls and buckets all over my room. Where am I? Is rainy season over yet? Help. Anyway, feliz año! I hope 2014 brings you all of the things that Santa didn’t. Personally, I’m hoping that 2014 brings me more pizza, a friend to visit, prosperous projects in site, and a wizard to help guide me in making decisions for my increasingly hazy post-PC future.

I must admit that since returning to site, things have been dreadfully boring. Our summer school program doesn’t start until January 20th and there isn’t a whole lot to do, especially with all of the rain, so I’ve been pretty lazy. I started watching House of Cards, I read the latest Khaled Hosseini book (And the Mountains Echoed – highly recommend), I made particularly fluffy pancakes… My life has really become something to brag about lately.

Anywho, the purpose of this post is not to discuss my enthralling, healthy lifestyle. I’ve been meaning to do some sort of cheesy, cliché “~*2013 reflektionz*~” post but I had no motivation. I still don’t really have any motivation, I just know that it’s 9:02pm on a Wednesday and I’ve run out of other things to do, so, you’re welcome.

A year ago this month, I was invited to Peace Corps Peru. In early January, I received an email saying “you’ll receive your host country within the next two weeks”. The email game that followed was the most agonizing – a constant, habitual checking of my email account approximately every 8 minutes for the next 10 days or so. I was batshit anxious during that time, with only a loose guess of where I would be going in the world. Then the mystical day came. I was lingering after Dr. Kaltenthaler’s Intelligence class, mindlessly checking my email for the 15th time that day when my eyes widened, my breath faltered and I realized the long-awaited email had arrived. I was practically hyperventilating as I opened it and I had to stifle a scream when I realized I was invited to serve in Peru. IN PERU. Literally the Peace Corps lottery winning ticket. I hurdled down 3 flights of stairs in Olin and frantically tried calling my mom once I got outside but she didn’t answer so I called my dad. And then as I told him, crossing Exchange Street, I cried tears of joy and everyone around me looked at me like the freak I was/am. It was an extremely jovial day and everyone jumped up and down a bunch with me.

A lot of stuff happened between January and June when I actually left for Peace Corps but it’s all kind of a blur. I do remember graduating, so that’s good. Also, that was like, the worst day ever. I felt like passing out as I crossed the stage. My cap kept rubbing painfully into my scalp because my head is 4x the size of a normal human’s and my allergies were on level psychotic that day so my eyes were red and irritated. Thus, I am the actual definition of “hot mess” in all of my graduation pictures. Can I get a re-do for that day? May passed quickly but I enjoyed a splendiferous vacation in the Smokey Mountains with my fam and a nice going-away party.

Now, looking back, it’s hard for me to believe that I already have 7 months of Peru living under my belt. 7 months ago, I was a terrified, second-guessing chica arriving to staging in our nation’s capital with absolutely no idea of what Peace Corps would be like for me. Today, I am still figuring that out, but I do know that I am awed by all that I have learned about myself, about the culture I came from, about the culture in which I now live, and how incredible the world can be. I don’t think a day passes in this country in which I am not surprised or that I do not learn and that, my friends, is something for which I am very thankful. In these seven months, I have learned what is means to be alone, to be privileged, to be discriminated against, to be curious, to be a strange outsider who doesn’t wear shoes or jackets - but, in the end, I’ve also experienced what it means to be accepted, to feel loved, and to feel like part of a new family that opened their arms and their hearts to me. In this short amount of time, Peru, you have changed my perspective on so many things.

Examples of things I’ve learned:

-Roosters crow at all hours of the day, not just in the morning. They do tend to go nuts around 4am though.

-To appreciate when water comes out of the faucet because some days there isn’t any

-That just because juice cost 2 soles today doesn’t mean it will cost 2 soles tomorrow

-If you don’t eat food when you’re invited, you are committing social suicide

-That yeah, there are some jerks out there like in the entire world, but most of the time, Peruvians (strangers, even) go out of their way to help me out in finding directions, not getting ripped off, doing things safely/culturally correct, etc.

-Internet comes on fancy desktop computers from 1999 where you rent it by the half-hour

-Candy Crush after level 90 is virtually impossible

-Washing clothes by hand is tedious and annoying

-The car doesn’t leave for its destination until its full. “ahora now vamos, señorita. ahorita” is a lie. 

-9:00am could mean 9:00 or it could mean 9:20, 9:45, or 10:15

-To recognize the difference between bacterial symptoms and parasitical symptom

-A lot of absurd home “remedies” to cure sick people like passing the egg or the guinea pig over the body

-Enough Quechua to win kudos – Imotaq sutiki?

-Rumors spread faster in this mountain town then they did on a Thursday night in Gallucci Hall

-I’m not cut out to be a teacher ever

-Showering once a day is a myth. Showering twice a week? Now we’re speaking my language

-In the face of failure, try and try again

Being away from everything has also made me appreciate that teeny-weeny, undeniably hick village that I call home. I don’t know if I appreciate Republic, Ohio per se (I certainly appreciate Fatheads’s pizza and margaritas and the general feeling of being “home”) , but I indubitably appreciate the people that reside there. I am so freaking thankful x5million for my unbelievably amazing family and friends. My parents have been nothing but supportive of my decision to be in the Peace Corps and I know that not all PCVs are as lucky. I don’t know if I could be here without their constant love, support, and listening ear to my ridiculous, pointless stories I tell them every Sunday. Thanks, Rhonda and Ron! Ok, I’m not going to be corny any longer, I am done! Also, a Spanish lesson for the day. If you want to say corny in Spanish, it is cursi, FYI. Isn’t that a great word? It’s a great word.

There’s definitely a lot more I could say, but I think it’s best to keep things short and sweet. Thanks for the read, if you read this far, and may this year bring many opportunities, happy memories, cookies, and joys to you and your families. Chao for now!

-Charsky

Hey there, amigos. It’s been a while since the last post – my apologies! I also am going to go ahead and apologize for the general lack of content in this post. To be honest, my life has been anything but interesting for the past month or so. I spent nearly the entirety of November starting and finishing my Community Diagnostic. I’m not going to lie, it was REALLY HORRIBLE TO DO and I’ll tell you why. Here was my interaction with community members upon requesting information:

*Enters any office in sight in the Municipality out of desperation*

Me: Yes, hi *explains Peace Corps for the 1 billionth time* so one of the responsibilities of the volunteer in his/her first three months is to write this report. I’ve come to see if the Municipality may have any reports like such from previous outside organizations that came to work?

Them: *cue Peruvian whine voice* No, señorita. There’s nothing.

Me: Ok, that’s fine. Would you have any statistical information on the population? Anything at all?

Them: No, señorita. There’s nothing.

Me: Ok. Bye.

Repeat 12-13 times

So THEN I try to get my hands on the Operational Plan of the Institution (POI) for the health post in Huaytará because it is a public document that each institution should write annually. It should be a GOLD MINE for statistics, amiright?

Me: Hi, I’m wondering if you guys could give me a copy of the POI on my USB?

Obstetra: Noooooo, Chesly, we don’t have it anymore.

Me: What does that mean?

Obstetra: We didn’t write one this year because no one told us to. And the one from 2011 is lost.

Me: *cue peruvian whine voice* What do you meeeaaannn it is looooosssttttt?

Obstetra: The computers are all with viruses and we don’t have it anymore.

Me: Ok *pouts away*

So that was my experience. With everything. Even the internet, for poop’s sake, could not answer my questions or find me basic information. You know the situation is bad when even Google can’t help you out. In the end, the National Institute of Statistics and Information saved my life and I got 65% of my information from there (even though most of it seems severely incorrect but I don’t even have any cares to give about it). After several near melt-downs, being blown off for a number of interviews, reviewing a large number of surveys and struggling to remember the correct usage of Spanish grammar, the 30-pg. masterpiece was completed and I could’ve wept from relief. I turned it into the office in Lima and honestly haven’t given it a single thought since. Typical. Eventually I will present it to my community… Eventually.

SO THAT WAS NOVEMBER. I spent Thanksgiving in Paracas which is a beautiful beach dangerously close to me (less than 3 hours!). I went with my favorite PCVs, Lindsay and Natalia and I wasn’t very good about taking pictures, especially since my camera’s life ended abruptly in October, may it rest in peace. It was a perfect paradise and I wonder why I don’t just move there forever. Here are some pics:

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(stole this from Lindsay’s Face)

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Immediately after, we had a week long training back in the center in Lima. It was exciting mainly because all of the volunteers from our swearing-in group were reunited again for the first time after 3 months in site. It was a glorious sight! I loved hearing the hilarious stories about in-site fails from my fellow companions; it was reassuring to know I’m not the only one throwing up all over the place or who had host family problems. I won’t spill ALL of the delicious details on what we learned about in training but it was basically something like this: how to fill out a Volunteer Report Form, ideas for vocational orientation, managing sexual education, talks about poop from the doctors and requesting vacation. See? Exhilarating. 

The best part of the week was going to a random high school in a rougher district of Lima where we then split into small groups and taught completely new faces of teenage girls how to properly use a condom. Nothing like entering a brand new classroom and whipping that out. “Hey, gals! I’m Chelsea but that doesn’t matter hey, here is how you should use a condom so you don’t get gonorrhea ok bye!” I answered a number of interesting questions such as “if I drink oregano water, will I abort the baby?” “if I pee, will I wash out sperm?” and many more that I won’t divulge online.

When it come to teaching, I am apathetic; it’s just not for me. BUT, I learned that I don’t mind teaching sex ed because not only is it completely necessary, but it is weirdly fun and I left the classroom feeling accomplished despite looking like a total fool (because when don’t I look like a total fool in Peru).

And, well, since getting back from training, I’ve honestly not done much in site. That’s not entirely true; I’ve watched a LOT of Friends and Parks and Recreation. The school year is winding down and classes at the Institute already came to an end so there hasn’t been much of an opportunity to do much in the school. My site-mate, Alli, has officially finished her service and (sad for me) left for the US on Sunday. I miss her already! No fears, I’m not alone. My new site-mate, Lauren (a health volunteer like Alli), arrived just about a month ago and we’ve already drunk plenty of yogurt together. Bonding!

Once the holidays are over, we hope to participate in the Municipality’s “useful vacation” program over the summer so we don’t keel over from utter boredom. That probably means we will be teaching more English, let’s be honest. Anything is better than staring at my hot, calamina (tin) roof all day.

Speaking of the holidays, I hope that all of you enjoy a very happy Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/lo que sea with your families and friends! I will be celebrating Christmas in Lima with my host-mom’s family. I met a lot of them the last time I was in Lima after training and felt right at home. The size of the family and the general close-knittedness of it all reminds me of my own family back in the grand old patria so I’m hoping that being with Mari’s family will make Christmas a little easier to spend away from home. Speaking completely honestly, though, it’s like 1,000 degrees on the coast now so I mostly don’t even realize it is Christmas-time here. When I was in Lima though, I did get a holiday frappuccino from Starbucks and let me tell you, savoring that delectability while simultaneously tweeting about the experience with the holiday tunes of Michael Bublé flooding my ears tricked me into thinking that for a second, I was back in the US. That’s definitely what constitutes the US, right? Michael Bublé, Starbucks frappuccinos, and wifi. Yes.

At home, we all have different Christmas celebrations. In my extended family, we always do a secret Santa drawing and on Christmas Eve, all 35ish of us gather and cram into my Grandma and Grandpa’s house to eat shrimp, ham, a plethora of desserts and to open gifts. While I am no longer enchanted by the magic of Santa, I always look forward to Christmas Eve because I love the way it brings together the whole family. Here in Peru, the traditions aren’t all that different (at least with my host-family). From what I am told, everyone gathers on Christmas Eve and at midnight, one must eat ham or turkey and open gifts. There is also a holiday treat called panetón that is all of the rage here in Peru for the holiday season. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to relish its deliciousness, but many opportunities lie ahead. It looks like a soufflé of dry bread with chunks of dried fruit throughout. Peruvians RAVE. They RAVE about Panetón. Walk into any grocery store and a thousand brands of panetones line all of the aisles. It’s horrifying. How does one know which brand to buy? Then there is the bag/box dilemma. One brand will make the exact same panetón and put one of them in a bag and put the other in a box. It probably tastes the same, no? The other day, I heard a nurse say that she was responsible for buying the panetones in the city and bringing them back (to a district of Huaytará) but the professors in that district told her, “if you’re going to bring back the kind in a bag, don’t even bother”. OH WE ARE PICKY, HUH. Basically, I want nothing to do with being responsible for buying a panetón ever in my life.

So that’s me. Maybe the next update will be more substantial but I cannot promise anything.

Oh, and here are some random pictures from Achievement Day the high school this week.

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The students danced “el negrito” in the main street and I was AMAZED at how good they were! 

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There was even live music! Look at dat harp

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’"

Introducing Smores!

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:

CLICK HERE FOR A DELICIOUS HUAYNO SONG

Enjoy!

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:

BEFORE

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!

1. Pisthacos

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.

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2. Patasca

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!”

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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.

8. BRUJAS

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.

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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 cwolpert1@gmail.com or message me on Facebook. I love communication! Happy Halloween month, everyone!

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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:

Chelsea Wolpert

Casilla Postal #52

Serpost Ica, Peru

South America

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!

OFFICIAL PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER STATUS

THAT’S ALL.