miércoles, 7 de marzo de 2012

Goodbye South, Hello North!

In case you haven’t heard the news, I moved! I moved because I was looking for more work and more than a little bored in my lovely, picturesque town of 800 people. I am really glad that everything worked out as it did. My experience in Arequipa was so unique and really intense. It felt like I was back in time 500 years ago at times, manual farm work, cooking over cow pies, no heat, no internet, you eat what you grow, etc. It was amazing to see an environment that still exists like that. It was just beautiful. But, there comes a time where maybe the novelty of just the experience wears off and I got bored with the lack of work and really wanted to be busy and productive!

So I moved towns about three months ago. I am now in the department of La Libertad, near the city of Trujillo. My new town is much larger, about 10,000 people. There are many small businesses and also many people eager to work hard. It is a breath of fresh air of work wise. Life is much easier and modern. Overall it has been a very positive change. I am much happier on a daily basis because I feel like I am able to plan and execute projects and see results. I think volunteers are motivated for different reasons and I am not just here for a cool cultural experience (although I want that too). I want to make a change. I want to help in some way and see effects from my efforts.

In my new town, it is currently summer here so it is hot! In the upper 80s and lower 90s usually (and of course there is no air conditioning). Upon arriving here, I taught summer school. I taught three classes of English to elementary school kids and I taught business classes to the high school kids. I also have two radio programs- one where I play English music and talk about the culture from the US and the other where I teach business topics. THAT is a challenge! A half an hour on the air is a long time in Spanish I’ve learned. The other project is a business class for adults which I enjoy quite a bit too. Next up will probably be a more business classes, possibly in schools, and hopefully setting up some community banks. I don’t have a lot of time to start and finish big projects so it is kind of a challenge to squeeze everything in. We’ll see what actually gets up and running in the next four months.

Can you believe I only have four months left? You, dear reader, might but I can hardly. It has gone by so fast and so slow at the same time. I guess I thought it would never end and I have my plane tickets home already. Hopefully I will catch you there! Hope all is well on the home front too!

sábado, 17 de septiembre de 2011

I am alive!!!!

Hello lovely world! It’s been a long, long time! Since we’ve talked last, I reached a year in site which felt like a big accomplishment and more importantly have got a few projects started which makes me feel like rock star that has relocated to rural Peru (that is what I am, right?). They always say your second year is much more successful work wise and I am starting to feel that. It takes so long to figure out how to motivate people (okay, well other than free food and Inca Kola) and maybe I was the guiltiest party of all (because the free food and Inca Kola didn’t do it for me). It takes time to get used to everything and sometimes when you think you have, you realize you are just going through the motions. But now I think of my life here as my real life and wake up happy and ready to go, even if the day is back breaking manual labor in the farms. Not going to lie though- it sure is easier if that’s NOT on the agenda but this time of year is planting season and so I am out there weeding, plowing, and planting too. I thought that rural living in Peace Corps would include that but didn’t quite envision the part of me physically doing it. Oops- just missed that one minor detail. On the other hand, it’s a way to help out a family that everyone in my town gets a kick out of and loves to see. Brownie points basically.

I am working on what I thought would be a library but am realizing that it probably won’t be a huge library stocked full of beautiful gleaming books. It is going to be a little smaller (guess I am learning my envisioning skills aren’t always accurate) but it’s okay because just having some resources will be a huge improvement. And, the real emphasis is getting kids to utilize these new paper things that are SOOO BORING and, of course, change that mentality too. I received a small grant to start this and am also waiting for a few more shipments of books from an American NGO. Donations really do good things.

Also I learned how to make bracelets out of colored string and taught that in my site. It is so ironic because I didn’t even really want to do this, procrastinated forever to do it and then I ended up teaching the class (actually I was a student in the first class and my friend Mario taught that one) and it was crazy popular. So popular in fact that the one night class has been repeated three times and might turn into a club. All that stuff about letting the town chose the projects and not just complete your own agenda turns out to be true. And, I am also starting to teach two new classes: Introduction to Tourism and a new round of business classes in my town. More to come on this but just getting it all set up feels so damn good. It’s been a year long struggle to be able to say even this much. Well kids, it’s time to say see you later, or hasta luego, (you don’t say bye here or adiós) and go get ready for a fun night out of dancing- one of the best perks of living in this beautiful country and having this lovely job.

lunes, 18 de julio de 2011

Hello world...

Hello World! Hmmm…let’s see…well, really my life is kind of boring so I will try to pick something and make it into a real story with twists and turns and a grand finale. We harvested the crops in April and May (watch the video of harvesting barley). First you cut the barley stocks with a scythe and then you stamp on it to break the stocks and knock off as many seeds as possible. Next you beat the stocks to remove all the seeds and then you have to sort the broken bits of straw from the seeds. The farm work is super tiring and tough! I sometimes like the challenge and sometimes hate it because no one is their right mind really likes that kind of work for several hours. Let’s face it…I was never know for my incredible power and stamina in manual labor.  I think every single one of my friends who has moved my things will agree. This month is fairly relaxed as the harvesting is done and then planting starts again in late August and continues through September. I envision long weeks of all day labor but it shouldn't be every day (please, right???).

My work life is actually progressing quite a bit. Everyone wants the classes at night, at preferably six o’clock, all of them, so at night I’ve been quite busy. I wish I could do more in the day partly to keep busy and also because it is freezing at night right now but it really isn’t how my town works. In my most exciting work related news, I have one single student for a youth entrepreneurship class which old me would be frustrated with but new me is glad the class has gone so well. We have finished 10 classes out of 14, and are finishing the rest this month. It is incredibly hard to get that type of commitment usually. I ask you dear American would you really show up for some random course 14 times in a row and write a ten page business plan? Maybe but I would guess most people anywhere wouldn’t. Another cool highlight is that I am starting to work after hours with the English professors of my school to improve their lesson plans, try to get away from translation focused activities and get the kids speaking and participating more.  We just started our first class and they all showed up, even on time! As I have work and meetings in Arequipa city a few days this week, we are meeting next week again and I am really excited for that. I also have been doing some business consulting for a gentleman that produces small farming equipment and he has been experiencing some direct benefits from our work already! I really feel like the work has been picking up, as Peace Corps always tells us it will. I am ready to knock out another year and see what we can get done J

lunes, 16 de mayo de 2011

Getting into the swing (work wise)

So hello there, dear friend...it has been a while, no? Let me see, let me see...what is new...a ver... There are English classes and computer classes galore. Projects can be tougher to get off the ground but these two ones have flourished. Currently I teach computer classes at school after school and there has been a strong showing so far. We have only had a few classes so even if the attendance may taper off a bit over time, usually the kids are pretty pumped about computer classes and most keep coming. Previously I had my own computer classes in the town hall but they filled that room with bags full of cement for construction and that was the end of that version of class. English classes have been going about eight months now.  The kids don't have English flowing out of their mouths (to be totally honest) but they understand me (with gestures) more and more and we are trying to focus on getting them speaking more. They also are pretty good with random vocabulary (particulary animals, definitely their favorite topic).  The hardest part for the English classes is that they do not always consistently come or hardly ever bring a notebook so there is a lot of repetition and it can be really hard to move forward, building on what you have already taught.  I know that eventually it will stick but it would be a lot faster with a little studying (just stating the obvious I suppose). Sometimes after class we play games outside for a bit. The kids pretty much go bonkers as soon as I say the word game. It is good for them to play a bit and just get to be kids. Some kids, not all but some, carry pretty heavy work burdens after school on the farm and seeing them act like kids makes me happy. As for this teacher, I am going to be on an English teaching committee so hopefully I can help other volunteers to help with their lesson planning, etc. and pick up some tips at the same time.

When I am not teaching, not surprisingly, I have some free time. I try to keep as busy as possible. I think I am a master time killer. It is always possible to be busy but it is usually kind of boring busy. I have been cooking with my host mom a bit (to the right are humintas or pretty much small tamales that I made with my host mom) or I will hike up to a plot of land and pick corn or cactus fruit. Typically I make a morning lap around my town saying hi, looking for work, getting the morning news from the town`s perspective, etc. Things are undoubtedly picking up (term used loosely) and show the potential for more projects to come. With the town hall, we are trying to put on a workshop on how to make your own yogurt. There is also a bracelet making class in the works too. Business classes are starting soon too. In addition, we are working on a field trip for a group of artisans and putting in a library (my pet project) and starting a book club. All of these take time but I believe will all happen over time.

And, as for me, all these things are starting to feel more and more normal. I really had some crazy culture shock for a few months but I honestly think it had more to do with moving from a city to a really tiny town, than from one country to another. My town is still as beautiful as ever and waking up there is pretty amazing to think it is home. The picture is taken outside my room. Cannot wait to see my parents in June and show them all around! I am definitely looking forward to that!

jueves, 10 de febrero de 2011

Top 5 Reasons I’m Made for Maca, Peru and Top 5 I’m Portland, Oregon (All American) Baby

Okay, you are not supposed to compare cultures. You are supposed to be sensitive and acknowledge that one is not “better” but rather, simply “different”. This ísn´t a comparison...it´s simply the top 5 things I was just tickled pink with about my town and the things I really miss in Portland. These things are not universal to all of the US or all of Peru but are more town and city specific.

Side Peruvian:

1. We eat soup for breakfast. This is something as I kid I always did and my family treated me as if this behavior was weird. When other kids were searching for the box of cereal that sounded appetizing, I was reading the Campbell’s soup labels to decide if it would be vegetable or chicken noodle. Well, years later I now know it’s completely normal and eat soup almost every day. It’s like my host family and I were meant to eat soup together.

2. Dancing…Sorry fellow Americans but most people over yonder act as if going dancing requires a lot of motivation and effort and say they like it but never usually seem like they are in the mood to go (except me of course). This is probably exacerbated by the fact in Portland people love their microbrews, their pubs, their chill scenes…which are nice as well too. But, I love dancing and I love dancing all night long- whether it’s in my little town or in the city. It just makes me feel so good. So being expected to a cut some rug EVERY time you have any sort of social reunion is like a breath of fresh air to me.

3. Fresh food- That’s right. It doesn’t come in a can. It takes time to make and the ingredients are fresh. This fresh food can come in the form of my breakfast soup, or my homemade, picked from our farm, peas or beans or corn, or our family’s homemade quinoa bread. I also pick fresh mint from a stream by one of our farms and then make tea out of it. How cool is that?! But the other cool thing is you can head into the city and the food there is not processed or heavy either.

4. People not being so uptight- In the US that you can offend anyone with potentially anything you say. And you can sue for almost about the same. It is good to a certain point but we take it to a new level of silliness and unnecessarily tiptoeing. Bureaucracy Peru has but thankfully the political correctness wave has yet to hit.

5. Traditions and history- How cool to have a bit of history in present day?! My family still cooks over wood sometimes (I baked three cakes in a wood burning oven even!), they wear traditional dress, they dance traditional dances, they speak Quechua. People are proud of their heritage and it’s easy to see why- it’s beautiful and they are still living part of it. Everyone who gets to experience this thinks it’s breathtaking!

Side American:

1. Beer and wine- Two things I absolutely love and I love these American style. Wine isn’t as common here and you have to watch out because it’s not terribly uncommon to get the semi-sweet kind (blah if you are a purist wine lover!). Beer to me seems expensive (I make a Peruvian salary) and never is cold and isn’t all that great. Forget microbrews…I went to the only one in the country and I give it bad at best. The other volunteers seemed somewhat pleased and I knew they must be accustomed to Coors Light or Natty Ice…definitely not from the finest microbrew city that would be just downright offended by that beer. Can someone please pour a pint of Amnesia and cheers in my behalf?

2. The Peruvian hour- I know I am American because an hour is a set time to me. Here in the city an hour for a social event usually means the other person might arrive 30 minutes late but it could be up to an hour if they are running a little behind. For meetings in my town, they are set to often start at six and then sometimes don’t start until 8:30. Whoa people…that’s my bed time! The only thing that seems to be a real set time is for bus transportation between cities…they will leave you in the dust if you are five minutes late.

3. Heat- I miss heat a lot. I never knew how amazing heat was. I just thought that it was normal. Every night I get into a sleeping bag and then put five heavy blankets on me to duplicate the feeling of heat. For now I am good but I am scared of when dry season (warm days/freezing nights) comes around that I’m going to freeze.

4. Hot water- Okay, most Peruvians do have this but I don’t. I miss this possibly more than heat. Have you thought about how many minutes per day you spend in the shower? What would you do if you no longer have hot water? How long could you go without bathing? Would you rather not bath or would you rather bath in cold water (note point 3 as well)? My minimum is two times per week. A lot of the volunteers only shower once per week. I knew I was going to be dirty in Peace Corps!

5. Internet. I had to wait for transportation (1 hour and 15 minutes) to take a bus ( hour) to walk to the internet (5 minutes) to wait for this page to load (5 minutes) to post this. Tell me that wouldn’t get old…

viernes, 17 de diciembre de 2010

Artisan fair at the US Embassy to Home Cooking 101

Peace Corps and the US Embassy, located in Lima, once a year put on an artisan fair where each business volunteer can bring a few artisans to sell their products to the US Embassy employees. What a great way for the artisans to see different products from throughout the country and learn more about different business concepts- pricing, sales techniques, tailoring products to the market, etc! This opportunity is obviously pretty fun for both the volunteers and the artisans, many who rarely travel. Lima is a long trek and a completely different world from where we live! Airplane? Nah, I enjoy my two day trip via bus. In fact, Lima is 21 hours of actual travel time from where we live to but takes two full days for the crew from Arequipa to reach with bus changes and waiting time. I remember back when time was valuable…not so much anymore!

Back to the meat of the story…My artisan, Jesus, and his wife have a stand to sell their embroidered products to passing tourists in my town. He also works as a guide and speaks some English so we work together a fair amount on tourism opportunities here, his artisan work and practicing English as well. He’s great to work with and reliable so naturally I invited him to accompany me to this unique opportunity. The first day we attended a conference at the US Embassy with a few guest speakers and then the second day was the actual fair. It’s my understanding that attendance was somewhat down this year so Jesus and I didn’t reach our sales goals but we overall had a great experience. I can’t wait for next year! And, of course, it was also great to spend time with all the other volunteers, enjoy being in a city and just catch up.

On a different note, two days after getting home from the nicest part of Lima and still in the process of readjusting to my little, humble village, I woke up, peaked out my window at the weather and saw my sister and my mom hovered what was clearly a dead carcass. I guessed it was a sheep but turned out to be a pig. My first thought was “How did I sleep through THAT?” followed immediately by “I wonder what I’ll have to eat now…” We fried this little piggy up and it was became chicharrón, fried pork I suppose in English. I’m not a big fried food eater, nor a big meat eater, but it was pretty tasty. But the best part of this story isn’t the killing of the pig…it’s the NEXT day when I came home to find the pig’s head on the kitchen table and my mom going to town on sawing that thing in half. I just thought it was kind of funny so I took a shot of the pig's head next to the saw next to the knife next to the food next to my coffee cup....mmmm.... An artisan fair in Lima doesn’t sound or feel like what you’d picture Peace Corps to be but a pig’s head on the kitchen table just made me feel like a real Peace Corps volunteer again!

lunes, 1 de noviembre de 2010

Cleanliness debrief

I don’t know why I feel compelled to write about cleanliness and hygiene, except for that today I spent quite a bit of time cleaning. Since that’s apparently on the brain, that’s what I’m going with!

First and foremost, I have a showering routine down finally. This incredibly basic event was a thorn in my side until I figured out what works best (for me) because before I had been showering in ice cold water once a week and going to the hot spring once a week. The hot spring sounds great and all but they do an awful job at water conservation which is a huge issue where I live so I don’t feel super great supporting that business regularly. So my new water conversation friendly routine goes like such: fill up 3 2.5 liter bottles full of glacier water and place them in black bags in the sun. Showering must be done in the mid afternoon for optimal temperature (although a newly purchased tea kettle/water boiler will provide flexibility on showering hours). I shower once every three days and can’t help but laugh because that sounds so gross in American terms but really it’s not that bad. I even kind of like not showering every day, which is ironic because going days without showering was one of my greatest pre-arrival fears. I am finding out that you can get used to most things.

In the US, I hated doing laundry. I didn’t mind starting loads of laundry but the folding the clothes and putting them away was such a drag. I often prolonged it and made it worse though by delaying taking the clothes out of the dryer and then thinking “Oh shoot, I have to fluff the clothes again.” And, of course, I let the laundry pile up massively before I would even get going. Man, those days of luxury are long over! I am now proficient at washing my clothes by hand. It usually takes me about one hour per load and the max I ever do is two loads per week, partly because I don’t have many clothes here and partly because I don’t wash things after one wear unless there is a really compelling reason. When you wash every piece of clothing by hand, your definitions of clean suddenly shift. It’s also impossible to procrastinate on laundry here as you’ll run out of something- usually heavy socks for me. So when you guys over yonder are getting up and going to work and you think of me, I might just be hunched over a tub of cold water, scrubbing away.

On a different note, I have a camera that claims it is “Dust proof”. When I bought it, I was interested in the other promises like “Water resistant” and “Shock proof” but little did I know “Dust proof” was what I should have been concerned with. Dust is everywhere. I sweep my floor all the time and dust my dresser but it is instantly dusty again. Because many of the roads are unpaved and there is often a lot of wind (at least this time of year) in the afternoon, dust is absolutely inescapable. When I first got to site, I thought all the plates were super dirty but now I realize that a lot of them are stained by the dust. Did you know this was possible?! I do now but not before I volunteered myself to wash the dishes and from that I learned that I can get them no cleaner looking. I still wash dishes a lot as I like being in control of the cleanliness of the plates.

I realize this theme may interest me more than you, poor reader. In terms of American standards this stuff all sounds really basic and weird to care about but it’s crazy how you have to unlearn every routine or basic task you have every learned and relearn it in a different way. We really do take little routines for granted until you get stared at a lot because you always do things weirdly. (Why are you washing your clothes in the afternoon? No one washes their clothes in the afternoon! Why did you throw the toilet paper in the toilet? It goes in the waste basket! Why did you put all your garbage in a bag? You have to separate the paper and the other parts!) Thankfully, I am starting to get things down the American in rural, Peru way too.

(PS- the reasons why are the following: The clothes don’t dry in time if you wash them in the afternoon but they will be fully dry by the end of the day if you wash them in the morning. The septic/sewer systems in Peru cannot handle paper. It will clog the pipes. And as for the garbage, my family burns the paper. I still haven’t figured out what they do with the rest. I smuggle my garbage out of my house and throw it away in a garbage can in a different town usually- ridiculous I know.)

The pictures are of my family on the farm! My job was to hoe.