love is like a toyota – it can’t be stopped August 4, 2010
June was crazy July 14, 2010
Usually when I don’t update for a while it’s because there is nothing much to report. A lot of the same old routine, book reading, and simple living. This time, the time lapse comes from quite the opposite. June was insane. Insanely busy, insanely productive, insanely fulfilling.
To start, two of the weeks of the month were spent out of site doing a tech exchange with the volunteers in Ancash. All of the volunteers from the reserve went to Ancash for the first week of June. We saw a few gorgeous parts of Parque Nacional Huascaran, saw some volunteers’ sites, and met with the SERNANP authorities of the region to evaluate areas in need of improvement and get some tips on working better with SERNANP in our sites. Except for getting violently ill and pooping and puking all over the mountain, it was a rousing success.
Passing back through Lima on my way back to site, I was presented with the opportunity to attend an embassy meet and greet with Hillary Clinton. I stayed a few extra days in Lima and took full advantage of the opportunity. Needless to say, she and I didn’t become best buds or anything, but I got a picture with her and that’s pretty awesome.
I also got to meet with the archaeologist that was going to come to my site to work on the museum. She is really nice and I got all kinds of excited about the project.
After the Hill-dawg meet and greet I got back to site with just enough time to unpack, repack, and plan a game for the kids during their juegos escolares (something like inter-scholastic olympics – basketball, volleyball, and soccer). Another volunteer and I basically set up a table in a high traffic area and offered out candy to people who could answer environmentally themed questions correctly. I feel like people really learned a lot, and it was the most I was going to be able to do with the school since there were no classes.
A few days later, the Ancash volunteers arrived to the reserve. We visited all of our sites, did a few really cool hikes, went horseback riding up to one of the lagoons in my site, and also had the obligatory meeting with our SERNANP. It is always refreshing to see your site through someone elses’ eyes. It really got me thinking about doing a third year (more on that later).
When the volunteers left, the archaeologists, along with a Response volunteer working with the Red Cross arrived. The response volunteer and I let a fairly successful First Aid Training course for the community. The rest of that time was spent with the museum project. We went through article by article, photographing and filling out forms for every single item in the museum. These forms will then be turned in to the Instituto Nacional de Cultura as part of an application to make it a nationally recognized museum. We went on an awesome five and a half hour hike, which involved rappelling and climbing up the mountain to see where the mummies were found back in the 1920s.
The archaeologists are coming back in a few weeks to start the process of restoration, after which we take more photos (before and after shots) and turn them in as part of the application to the INC. It’s all around ridiculously exciting and fascinating work.
In the meantime, I’ve been working on a project to put in public trash cans in three key locations throughout the town. It’s been like pulling teeth, and admittedly I’m doing most of the work myself, but once they’re installed, as long as people are using them properly, I have no problem thinking of it as a sustainable project. We are maybe 2 full days of work away from being completely finished.
In addition to all of this, I’ve been meeting with our mayor and the mayor of another town working on a contract to get them to help with the development of sustainable tourism in our town. We took a trip up to our annex where I was able to participate in a town meeting discussing whether or not to allow a mine to operate there. Angry spanish is apparently my forte – having argued the shortsightedness of allowing a mine in a natural reserve, the environmental side effects, etc., most of the people seemed convinced, for now – there are more meetings to come.
All work in town was interrupted on the 24th, however, due to the town’s fiesta patronal. It is the annual fiesta of San Juan Bautista. On the 23rd, around 9pm, I get called over the loudspeaker to go to the municipality building. It’s rare for anyone to be called that late at night, so I immediately start freaking out – thinking some kind of emergency back home is happening. I frantically arrive at the municipality only to discover that what they really want, is to con me into leading the fiesta. “All you have to do is dance with this man for a few days – no problem”. Little did I know that the party started at 3am every day for three days and went on until 10pm. I would also be required to wear a traditional dress and play a game called “avoid the women whose sole job it is to get you wasted”. I lost this game on the first day, leading me to fall on the cobblestone street, in front of the town, twisting my ankle and messing up my knee. But my middle name is Rally, so I made it through all three days, dancing in the middle of circles, fending off beyond wasted Peruvian men – the usual party scene. And let me tell you – there is no single activity better for fostering community integration.
So we’re in July. A man from Washington D.C. is coming to the reserve to evaluate the success of the environment program in Peru. It’s pretty stressful. I’m looking forward to the restoration process of the museum, working in the school a little bit again now that there is time, finishing the trash can project, starting construction of the landfill, continuing my nutrition classes, and working with the tourism committee.
Although I have no yet made a final decision, I am seriously considering staying for a third year. It feels good to finally be busy and integrated. It seems wasteful to leave just a few months after having made this much progress. I want the real PC experience that everyone else got – two years in one community. I only have one. Plus, if I stay, I will also be able to have PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) responsibilities for the new volunteers coming into the reserve, which will help to stave off boredom in the inevitable down times. On the other hand, I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss taco bell and I’m getting a little tired of being single. I also recognize that Peru is still Peru – dangerous and machista, but breathtakingly gorgeous. Grad school will still be there in a year. I don’t know. When I’m 80, will I be happy I stayed?
Until the next time I have a second to breath, sleep, and write,
we already possess what we seek most fervently May 20, 2010
I’ve been busy lately. Really busy and happy and traveling a lot.
Last week I had an incredibly successful HIV Prevention activity with the kids in addition to my normal classes. The idea was that since there is only 1 television channel, no internet or cell phone and no radio, their main form of media was traditional huayno songs. And lately the songs have been getting off-message with lyrics like “Un choque fuga no mas, no quiero verte jamas, porque problemas seras” – basically translated to something like “Just a one night stand, I never want to see you again, because you will cause problems for me”. Not quite the message I wanted these kids to be taking as an example. So I decided to have them compete, by grade, in writing their own hyano song about HIV prevention. And it was incredible. They were all on message, they were excited, and they did a great job. I’m currently in coordination with a professional singer who has agreed to record the songs on her next album. Success.
I’ve also made great progress with the museum project. I’ve gotten in touch with an archeologist. She’s a professor at one of the Universities in Lima and is willing to come help us out. The municipality will pay for her expenses while she is working here, but she is going to come teach us proper care of the mummies, maybe do a study on the cultures of the mummies (I’m not holding my breath for a carbon-14 dating since it’s so expensive), and she’s going to help us establish tourist routes to archeological sites in the area, which there are plenty of. We’re also going to try to go around again an collect more relics – I have a feeling people will trust us more if there’s an archeologist along for the work. This should all start happening within the next few weeks.
Other than those two awesome major steps forward, I’ve been continuing the almuerzos saludables classes with the mothers and I’ve been meeting tourists in my site and traveling.
Oddly enough, my site has received an influx of foreign tourists, a Swiss Family Robinson, a german couch surfur, and an Australian kangaroo, all in one week! This is probably a sign that things are about to explode here. And I need to start working more with the families that own hostels to make sure they’re ready for it. It’s also refreshing to speak to foreigners. Conversations over wine about how littering and enjoyment of the view are fundamentally incompatible, about standards of living worldwide, and life in general – levels of conversation impossible to have with people who know nothing outside of our little town.
After meeting the tourists, I went with some people from SERNANP on a hike to one of the archeological sites, called Wakis. It is basically a ghost town. It was hard to get water up to their location, so in 1914, they moved the whole town closer to the river. It’s only about an hour of quick hiking and I think it’ll be a great tourist attraction once we get the archeologist to convince the mayor to put a little money into fixing up the path.
From there we went to a celebration of one of the other town’s anniversary’s. There was a lot of loud music and drunk people and my host uncle serenaded us throughout the night. It was probably the most fun I’ve had at a Peruvian party in a long time.
From there, on Monday I had to travel down to the coast for the first in our series of meetings on PEPFAR, which has just been expanded to the Lima/Ica region. It was an interesting experience. A lot of press was there, but not many representatives from our municipalities were able to make it to sign a contract agreeing to put an emphasis on projects of HIV prevention. We’re probably going to try again somewhere closer to site, to make it more feasible. And then there will be a 2-3 day workshop in Lima in July. I think my site is pretty ahead of the curve on the topic as it currently stands, so I’m not too worried about it.
12 hours of travel in each direction just to get to the meeting. Less than a full day on the coast and then back to site for just one day. Forget being productive at that point. I slept all day. I didn’t even do yoga. I read. I was pure and simple EXHAUSTED. And it feels good. Finally! Being busy.
After a day of recuperation it’s back on the combi and off to the capital city where I will be participating in a two day congreso on environmental education, taking a day to run errands in the city and then back to site for a week of work.
At the end of the month, I’m headed to Lima to coordinate with the huayno singer about recording the songs before heading up to Ancash for a 5 day tech-exchange with the volunteers that live there. I’m excited to see their sites – I haven’t been to Ancash yet and it’s definitely on the list. More on that later.
Hope all is well.
Sending home lots of love,
her former and present lives were so different that she couldn’t even hold one in her mind as she lived the other May 14, 2010
To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to die one hundred deaths. And I have been marked. And I have changed. To talk about this past month is to talk about health and productivity and success. I wouldn’t even recognize myself from this past rainy season. So what’s been keeping me busy? Teaching at the school, mostly. I teach for most of the day. I start each day with Science, Technology, and Environment classes, where we do environmental education mostly, but more technical subjects are not overlooked. I’ve been helping out in the english classes as well, mostly with pronunciation. Beyond that, I fill in whenever needed in other classrooms. I’ve been doing environmental story time with the primaria, reenforced with drawing and poetry. And I’ve started my HIV prevention program again this year. I’ve expanded it down through the second grade of the secundaria – 13 year olds are old enough to hear about this kind of thing. And the parents, teachers, and director agree.
Beyond teaching, I’ve been working closer with SERNANP on the political side of their work. Coordinating with local and regional governments, trying to get more recognition, and planning their Plan de Gestion for the next 10 years. Finally, something in the area of my degree. But this doesn’t take up too much of my time. This work is done at rare meetings and in conversations with the higher up bosses of SERNANP who are not stationed in my site.
So what else am I doing? My new program of Almuerzos Saludables (Healthy lunches) with the mothers in the communities. We all get together a few times a week and try out a new recipe. It’s either a recipe I come with, or a Peruvian recipe they already use a lot, that we try to make healthier – by using less sugar, less oil, less butter, substituting potatoes for rice, or preparing the meat with less grease, etc. And then, so they don’t get bored, I’ll throw in some fun things as well – like pancakes! We are currently limited by our lack of stove, but that might change soon and once it does, we can make breads, to substitute that plain white hard old dry bread they eat with breakfast and dinner every day. Zero nutrition. So as it turns out, I’ve taken quite an affinity to cooking. Here’s one of our recipes: (The mothers like to name them)
300g of rice
100g of carrots
100g of green beans
100 g of peas
100g of cauliflower
1 teaspoon of butter
2 limes, sliced
100g of shredded cheese
2 ½ cups of water
2 ½ teaspoons of salt
3 cut tomatoes
2 laurel leaves
Wash the vegetables and cut them into cubes. Wash the rice and leave it to soak for 15 minutes. Melt the butter in a medium sized pot and add the cut vegetables except for the tomatoes. Leave them in for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir together. Add the water and the salt, the tomatoes, and the laurel. Stir well and set it to boil. When the rice is ready, serve in a warm plate, decorating it with the shredded cheese.
So there it is. Our cooking sessions turn into impromptu conversations about nutrition and the women love the company while cooking. They can’t always get together in one place, so sometimes I work with just one woman in her house.
So in addition to keeping busy with work, I’ve made a few other significant lifestyle changes, thanks to which I feel healthier, stronger, more energetic, and balanced.
I’ve lost my sweet tooth – no more sugar or sweets (except on rare occasions); I meditate every morning; I walk 10km 3-5 times a week; I have gotten serious about my yoga practice with daily sessions of 30min- 1 hour; I have cut back seriously on my coffee intake – from 2 cups/day down to one/week; I eat pomegranates as much as humanly possible – in addition to having tons of antioxidants, they’re the most delicious food ever made in the world; I have a mostly raw diet and have switched from 3 heavy meals/day to about 5 small meals, including snacks of almonds and carrot sticks instead of potato chips and chocolate. Etc. Etc. Etc. Long story short, I feel a million times better.
Still no word from the doctor about first aid training, but I’m gonna see if I can find some resources online and just do it without him. Also, no news yet on the museum. I’ll keep you updated.
Oh, also in really cool news – I was offered a job in the office of the congresista by ex-president Fujimori’s brother and I got to meet Antionio Brack Egg, minister of the environment. Separate Occasions. Both pretty big deals.
Until Next Time,
for not so vile that on the earth doth live but to the earth some special good doth give April 29, 2010
Earth Day was April 22nd. And it was a success. I started the morning by going to the kindergarden and talking to them about earth day. Then we drew flowers and trees. It was adorable, as usual. When that was over, I went to the secondary school to kick off our activities for the day. We started with a talk about how important it is to protect the environment – how they are living global climate change, with lighter rainy seasons, hotter days, and melting glaciers. They got surprisingly excited about it – how they are the future of the world!
We then moved on to the next activity for the day, which involved each student and teacher writing a message to the world. They would then come up to me, read it out loud, get a sticker, and we would post the message on a huge plywood circle I had painted green for the occasion. By the time we were done, both sides of the circle were covered with the kids’ messages to the world.
Then we started the competition. The primary school kids had to draw something relating to earth day or saving the environment. The secondary school kids had to come up with at least 5 ways in which they can change behaviors to treat the earth better. As always, activities such as these yield both amazing and ridiculous results. My favorite from the primary school was a world with a bunch of violent scribbles in it. When I asked the little boy what it was supposed to be, he looked up at me with his innocent 7 year old eyes and said, simple, “the world in destruction”. Amazing. And my favorite way to “save the world” from the secondary school – simple: make all the gringos disappear. Awesome.
While a few of the teachers, the director, and I, were going through the entries trying to choose a winner, the kids watched a video about the various micro-climates in the world. With that, ended the school day.
I had planned to give a charla and show a movie for the community later in the evening with the parkguards, but they decided to not be in town. At all. So that didn’t happen. Regardless, the day was a success and by the end of it, at least everyone knew it was earth day!
I’m starting to fall into more of a routine at the school, getting to know all of the new teachers, so that feels good.
Also, I was chosen to be point person for the reserve for PEPFAR. For now, that will involve going to the meeting in Lima in July with a few people from my community. Hopefully, I can get the other volunteers excited about it too, so I’m not the only one doing HIV prevention work in my town. More on that later.
Hope everyone had a happy earth day!
only after disaster can we be resurrected April 16, 2010
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written and a lot of things have changed.
Early February brought a trip to Cajamarca for Carnavales. Drinking, dancing to huayno, throwing paint and water-balloons, and seeing PC volunteers from all over the country – it was a great time.
The week following Carnavales I received a site visit from my APCD and a woman from the environmental department at the embassy. We brainstormed ideas for future projects and I got to show off the museum. It was constructive and reinvigorating, getting me motivated for my last stretch of service.
Then with barely time to accomplish anything, it was early March, which meant a trip back to Michigan to meet my baby niece and spend amazing time with family and friends. This was more necessary than I ever thought. It was a time so full of love – it brought me back to my reasons for being in Peru, to my roots and core values, it refreshed me and got me excited about finishing the job I started. (Side note: Things I love about America and Peru should have more of: bathrobes, drinkable tap water, comfortable furniture, taco bell, and smells of home).
Immediately after coming back from America, I got really sick (I think I probably caught something on the plane). I spent the next week in site in bed, throwing up and coughing, on antibiotics and herbal remedies made by my host mother. It’s also fair to note at this point that I have a habit of allowing emotional turmoil to manifest itself physically so this could have been a reaction to leaving home again (although obviously the bacteria was very real).
I finally felt well enough to spend a few hours with the little kids (3-4 year olds). We did a “Where the Wild Things Are” session, in which I read the book to them in Spanish and then we drew forests with monsters in them. I got to teach them how to draw trees! I also learned that there is an autistic child in the kindergarten class. He is really closer to 7 years old, but keep getting held back. I was really impressed with how much attention the teacher gives him and how much inclusion there is with the other kids. I think I’m going to spend a bit of time working with him, too.
Suddenly April was upon us. And with April comes Semana Santa (Saints week – easter week). PC Volunteers get a few days off to travel this week without having to request vacation days, since people don’t usually work on these days anyway. So a group of us decided to take a trip to the Selva Central – the Jungle. We traveled to La Merced, Oxapampa, and Pozuzo. It was a really active trip, with hikes to waterfalls and bird watching areas and even a trip to a bat cave! Also, interestingly enough Pozuzo and Oxapampa turn out to be Austro-German colonies in the middle of the Peruvian Jungle. Apparently, after the Napoleonic wars, a law was passed in Austria and Germany that people living in poverty were not allowed to wed. This was an attempt to curb the spread of poverty through the region. Simultaneously, in mid 1800s, a German (duke?) was traveling through S. America and made a deal with the Peruvian government to bring over hundreds of Germans to help populate the Jungle and prevent Brazil from coming in and capturing the land. Two years later, several hundred Austrians and Germans got married and made the trip to Peru. Four or five generations later, we have Oxapampa and Pozuzo – two very developed cities in the middle of the jungle, populated by light-skinned, blue-eyed, bilingual German-Peruvians.
Well, that brings me back to now. I’m back at site and have started working in the schools again. Most of the teachers are new, so it’s a bit of an adjustments. We’re in full swing for planning for Earth Day (April 22nd). I’m organizing a first aid training session for the teachers, the kids are writing a huayno song about HIV prevention which we are planning on recording, and with the help of the municipality, we’ve organized a group of students as guides for tourists who come visit my site. Still waiting on progress from the INC and the landfill project, but poco a poco, things are moving along. And by the time I finish my service I may actually feel like I’ve accomplished something good!
A lot of my PC service has been shadowed by death. This isn’t to say I’m not a happy and productive volunteer, but honestly speaking death follows me with unusual frequency. Since starting my service, I have lost a great uncle and two friends under the age of 30 (colon cancer and drowning). I have watched a good friend deal with the grief of losing her father during her service and I have seen people die in car accidents, starting several weeks into training. There was the car that hit the girl crossing the street, where the cop couldn’t be bothered to help; the combi that hit the mototaxi, where the mototaxi drivers’ blood painted the combi red; the drunk taxi driver on a mountain road who hit a mototaxi killing a little girl; and that is just to name a few. Every time I witness one of these losses of life, be it as a friend, family member, loved one, or observer, I fear that I am slowly becoming desensitized to such loss. That I’m losing something inherently human about myself with each subsequent passing. I guess I no longer have that fear.
On a relatively short bus ride from my capital city to Tarma, where I was to meet up with other volunteers to begin out Semana Santa vacation to the jungle, I shifted from observer to unwitting participant.
Casually dozing while listening to Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” (which still haunts me), suddenly, the bus hit something and we almost tipped over. The only thing I was aware of was the adrenaline coursing through my veins and the fingertips of the elderly woman next to me digging into my leg. We quickly righted ourselves and startled, began wondering out loud what could have happened while the bus slowed to a stop. We slowly pile out of the bus to discover, a girl, aged 7 or 8. Brains all over the road, shoes scattered, face plastered, women screaming, disbelief.
Now we are stranded. The bus will be taken into custody by the police, the driver has been arrested, traffic is stopped, and the cops are doing their best to keep the dogs away from the body. There we are, a busload of people on the side of the road, forced to wait, looking at this body. It takes 45 minutes to find the girls’ father. He is a single father of 5, so he was at work when it happened. She was playing alone and ran into the street. The police attempt to console him by telling him that at least he will be payed by the bus company. Two hours pass – finally the coroner arrives to examine the body. Traffic slowly starts moving again and I get a taxi and get out of there.
This is definitely the hardest of deaths I have witnessed in Peru. Mostly because it feels like I was a part of it. It was an accident. There was no way the driver could have seen her or stopped the bus in time. She was hit by the front right corner of the bus and knocked to the ground and then we ran over her head with the back wheel. It’s not the driver’s fault. And it’s certainly not my fault, but I still can’t shake the feeling that it is, a little.
The lord giveth and the lord taketh away. That’s the general wisdom here. I was the only one crying. The rest of the Peruvians on the bus were worried about getting reimbursed for their ticket or commenting on how interesting her face looked splattered like that. And they were looking at me like I was crazy. I live in a site where the infant mortality rate is 50%. Death is common here. But I just can’t get used to it.
In an unrelated, yet equally sad story about death… A few weeks ago one of the park guards’ daughters passed away from a poisonous spider bite. This is petrifying on two levels. One – there are poisonous spiders in the reserve. I did not know. Now every time I wake up with a spider bite on my face, I freak out a little. Two – she didn’t need to die from it. Every health post should be stocked with the antidote. Hers was not. They rushed her to the capital city, but by the time they got there, 4 hours later, she was already dead. What’s worse: this isn’t the first time this has happened in the reserve. Last year, a child died for the exact same reason. Worried, I went to my health post to see if we, at least, carry the antidote. We do not. Because it is too expensive, apparently. More expensive than the life of a child.
And so ends the most depressing blog entry in history. My apologies. It is promptly followed by one much more positive. Look up!