Saturday, November 7, 2009

Coming to you live from Cusco

Hello friends, family, and loyal blog followers!
I am currently writing this blog from Cusco. I know I have been slacking in the blogging process lately, so rather than hash out the last two months of service, I have decided to dedicate this blog to showing you some photos of what I have been up to since my last blog. In order of least recent to most recent, here are some photos for your viewing pleasure...

Every month the volunteers in my department meet to discuss various topics. One of them (a less serious topic) was the newly implemented idea of arm wrestling to finalize decisions. Whenever we are in disagreement about anything or have a problem deciding on an issue, we will designate one person from each side of the debate to arm wrestle over which side will win. As you can see, we only do this to keep sane...
This is a photo taken at sunset in my site. I was sitting on a bench while waiting for a friend. This street is what draws the tourists to my town. Located on it are small artisan shops filled with baskets, and other woven goods, as well as food vendors, and the Melchorita. The people of my site believe that the Melchorita was a woman saint, located on the street is the remains of her house. People come from all over to spend time there, pray, and tour her living quarters.
Here I was celebrating another volunteers birthday, Peruvian style. Most celebrations consist of a circle of people passing a bottle and small cup around, each taking a sip and passing it along. After hours of this we continued the tradition by eating a ton of food and dancing until the wee hours of the morning in a small living room.
I stay busy by teaching three English classes a week, one for adults, youth and children. Here I am teaching the children how to count in English. It was semi-successful. I didn't really want to teach English classes, but it is nice being able to help those who are serious about learning. And I have to say, I have never enjoyed singing the ABC's quite like I do now...
As the weather is warming up, Summer is definitely here. I have even managed to take some time out of my busy busy schedule to lay on the beach (note the sarcasm). The beach is only ten minutes from my house. Can't complain.
Here is a shot of Chincha, a medium size city located 10 min. from my site. The last week in October was "Tourism Week" in Chincha. Basically a made up holiday by the local municipality to try and create more tourism in the area. A good idea if you ask me. However tourism is still lacking in my area as compared to some others, but we are getting there. Anyways, the week of festivities include a huge concert in the center plaza on Thursday night, and a parade to mark the end of the week on Sunday. This photo is of the center plaza of Chincha where people were lined up as the sun was setting to watch the parade come down the street. Every group in the parade was a dance group and each took turns performing in front of the large crowd. I was certainly mistaken as a tourist throughout the week, but it was slightly entertaining because people were thanking me for being there :)
The photo below is of two members of the agriculture association signing the official rules of the association. I recently conducted my first taller (workshop) for an association I am working with. The association is called something like Small Agricultures of Organic Avacado from Topara- High Part (but in Spanish of course). The name is really long and I never seem to remember it correctly. Anyways, this group of 32 people live up in the Sierra of Grocio Prado (my site). They live a campo style of life, meaning they have no electricity or running water, and everyone owns their own farmland. This association has won a $20,000 prize to help fund their project of growing organic avacado. They are all fairly uneducated (outside of the vast knowledge they have when it comes to farming), and they don't really have any idea of how to run a business. So here I am, a resource for them to use along the way. The project timeline is two years, which works out really well, because that's exactly how long I will be here. I hope to help them learn how to work together as an association to make this project work, and more specifically help in teaching business themes such as marketing, accounting, organization, finance...etc. This first taller was about business organization. I talked a bit, then we would do some sort of dynamic, and repeated this a few times. By the end we had come up with the roles and responsibilities of each member of the association, as well as an official document that lists the rules of the association (of its members). They (and I) were very happy at the end, and felt like the association was a bit more organized, and now everyone was on the same page as far as what their role was in this project.

This photo below is a typical Cusco street. Cusco is located in the mid-southern sierra of Peru. As most of you know, Cusco is the starting point for anyone looking to visit Machu Pichu. So to start, let me tell you that my trip to Cusco does not (regretably) include a venture up to the "7th wonder of the world" (or is it the 8th wonder???). That being said, I have to say that even without a trip to Machu Pichu, Cusco is an amazing place. This is a business trip. I was invited to come up by Julie, the director of a dining room for poor children (aka: comedor). She also happens to be my Alaskan friend who happens to live in my site, weird, I know. We planned the trip to Cusco so that we could look at a couple of comedores in Cusco that are running successful programs that we are looking to emulate at the comedor in Grocio Prado. Aside from the business part of the trip, we have spent our time walking up and down the beautiful Mediterranean style streets of Cusco. Being here makes me feel like I am not in Peru anymore. Unlike where I live (Grocio Prado), Cusco has a little bit of everything. It is a very old town known as the "living house of the gods". It is antique at first sight, walking the streets are local Peruvians in the traditional Inca garb. Mixed in with this Peruvian culture is a modern, laid back, hippie generation of locals and foreigners. I have seen everything from yoga studios, to Indian food restaurants. This beautiful mountainside city is one of the neatest places I have ever been, and I cannot wait to come back.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Boredom, loneliness, and just plain fun.

I am going to be honest, the first two weeks so far have been a confusing mixture of pleasure and pain. I can say that no one day is alike. So if you want an account of my daily life that would be somewhat difficult, but I will give it a go and tell you about an average day here in site.
First I wake up in the morning to the sound of Peruvian Wyno (sp?) music. It is the national folk music that my host mother cannot seem to get enough of. The name explains it perfectly, it sounds like a woman whining/crying in an annoying tone. But who am I to judge? My mother gets up around 5am every morning, regardless of what time she went to bed, and gets to work on God only knows what around the house. I can feel her vibes through the cement walls urging me to get up. I don’t quite know why, but sleeping-in here is very uncommon. And I know that she doesn’t like me laying in bed all morning, because she will say passive little things like, “wow you slept a lot” or “you were really tired” (mind you, I am up and moving by no later than 9am every day, usually 8am). So the pressure to get up forces me out of bed and I stagger out of my room hoping that there will be a ready-set schedule of work I must do today. No such luck. So I wander to the bathroom praying that water comes out of the faucet. The water supply here is shady, mostly because it is controlled by the city, and there is not enough to go around, so water comes when it is available. By now I have learned that chances are there will be no running water so I might as well not even go through the hassle of lugging my toothbrush and toothpaste with me. And yes, as I had thought, there is no water. So I walk back to my bedroom to look for a half-full bottle of water, if I am lucky there is one to save me. If not, then this means today I will be going to the gym in the morning rather than the afternoon. This brings me to the best thing to happen to me since coming to site, well one of the best. I found an awesome gym wedged in the back of a mini-mall. It reminds me of a gym in the U.S. which is an amazing feat. Most gyms here (unless you are in Lima) are made up of a tiny little room with outdated machines, and even more outdated staff. Not this gym. No sir, this gym has brand new machines, is good in size, has a spinning room and a dance room for classes like pilates, afro-peruvian dance, step-aerobics, ab-lab, etc… It also has a trained staff that are always helpful, sometimes a little too helpful, but hey, I kind of like the attention. The best part of all is it has running water with showers. This is why it makes it to the top of my “best things since coming to site” list.
Let me get back to my daily schedule. So by now my mom has noticed me wandering around the house and is in the kitchen prepping some version of bread, cheese, hot tea, and if I am lucky some surprise object like kalamata olives or avocado, for breakfast. I eat in a large room with no furniture except the large dining table that I am seated at alone. I wouldn’t mind being alone in the room except for the fact that people usually walk through, or by it while I am eating, making it very evident to me that I am eating alone, in this awkwardly large room (and now I think people are watching me). So here I think about all the things I can do with this day, and this is where my daily events start to change. Every day I try to do something different to feel like I have made progress here. Some days that something is very little. If I am really lucky, it is Sunday which means I can devote the entire day to doing laundry and not feel any pressure to do anything else, because that is a widely accepted pastime in this country. I have set up various meetings, and have been stood up on all occasions, but somehow that has not gotten me down at all. I have talked to some local artisans, and can tell that the “artisan association” is more of an idea than an acting organization in this town. So I have my work cut out for me. The one thing that people are certainly expecting of me is to teach English classes. I really wasn’t thinking I would do that, but as the days pass, and I run out of things to be doing, I am coming to the reality that I will certainly be starting some English classes here soon.
So for now I try to fill my day with whatever little tasks I think of. Some days I meet up with other volunteers nearby for lunch, which is a nice change of pace. I also went to Huacachina recently with a friend. This is an oasis located in what are the largest sand-dunes in all of South America. This place is amazing. Anyone that comes to visit me has to go, because it is only 2 hours from my site. Here I went on a 2 hour tour on a 9-person dune buggy. The driver was a neat local man, who drove really fast making tight turns up and down and on the sides of the dunes. It was like a roller coaster ride. Then he would stop randomly on the tops of dunes so that we could get out and ride down them on snowboards. It was so much fun. Not to mention beautiful and cheap, two great things to have together.
Meals are another nice thing because they take up large chunks of time. People here devote a full two hours to lunch. A custom I say we adopt in the U.S. I don’t think in my whole life I have ever spent so much time just eating. I usually skip dinner though, because lunch is so huge. It consists of a three course meal, soup, starter, and entrée. My mom likes to make certain dishes for certain days of the week. And she is a great cook. Every time I try something new, I say to myself she should open up her own restaurant in the U.S. I mean people down here just do totally different things with food. It is amazing. I am sure that Americans would love it (most of it). Although I do have to note that the dishes are not very healthy most of the time. Every meal is high in starches, carbs, and fat. Maybe that is why it tastes so darn good…
In the evenings I like to go to the gym so that I can work out, but more importantly, shower. It works to my favor, because I have only missed two days at the gym so far and I really am getting in shape. I have also been going to the Afro-Peruvian dance classes that they have 3 times a week. These are a lot of fun. This form of dance originated in the southern, coastal Ica region of Peru. They say that Ica has the best food, dancing, and wine in all of Peru. I believe it. The dance is like hip-hop dance meets belly dance, but focuses on big movements with the chest and hips. It is great for abs, and let’s be real, everyone knows I like to shake it. It also has a Latin salsa vibe, so basically, I LOVE IT.
Now I have only left out the one thing I do most, and that is nothing. I am mostly consumed by boredom for at least half of a day. I try to do constructive things like read my training material, or make lists of things I need to be doing. But the more I try to force it, the more obvious it is that I have not a lot of work to do right now. But that is ok. I really am trying to just spend time in my community getting to know people and understand how this place works. I have attended a few community events like the mayors wedding, and hanging out at the plaza. I spend a lot of time with my host brother, who has really taken a serious interest in learning English. He tries to learn a new sentence every day. Oh and I almost forgot, we have a puppy and my brother asked me what my dogs name was (he saw her in photos) I said Lou, so he named our puppy Lou. I changed it to Louie though, because it was easier for him to say. LOL. So although things are moving slowly, I really have to say I am happy and enjoying myself here. I definitely am getting in all the “me time” that a person could need in life.

This is a picture of me and my host family on our last day together

This is a photo of little Louie

Here is a photo of me at Huacachina

Another one at Huacachina, sand boarding

The beautiful oasis of Huacachina!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

...And then there were three

The last two weeks of training have finally come to an end, and I can now say that I am a volunteer for the U.S. Peace Corps. I definitely feel a sense of relief that training is over. Although it was a lot of fun and I learned a whole lot, it is not what I came here to do. Now I feel like my time here is really beginning. It has hit me that this will be my life for the next two years. And as long as it may seem right now, I know it will fly by and before I know it I will be writing my last blog entry. But for now, I will focus on the work I came here to do. I am feeling very motivated, and can't wait to get to started. However, let me get back to the end of training and what has been going on up until now.
I took my final language evaluation, finished my technical classes, and had some fun in between. Here are some photos of us in training, my group won second prize in the map drawing contest of Peru, also we threw a party for all of the host families and I taught the rest of the group the Thriller dance which we all performed one more time in front of all the families. They loved it.

I never thought that I would have made such close friends and come to love so many people in such a short time. I just said goodbye to all the people I have spent the last 11 weeks with and am about to start this journey all over again. The goodbyes began at swearing in where all of us volunteers said the swearing in oath and became official volunteers for the Peace Corps. It was a bitter sweet ceremony. I was so happy to finally be finished with training, but looking out into the crowd I saw all my host family looking up with smiles on their faces, proud that I was their "daughter", and I knew I was really really going to miss living with them. What has become my "normal" life here is now going to end, and I must start this cycle all over again. As the bus rode away my family waved, they were all crying. I was even crying.
The bus took us to Lima city where all of us volunteers would stay a night to celebrate before we left for our separate destinations around the country. We all went out that night and had a lot of fun. Our group became really close in these 11 weeks of training and I remember at the beginning thinking I couldn't see how we could really get to know each other in such a short amount of time, but it happened. Each person has their roll in the group, and I know that I will rely on their support over the next two years. The next day, region by region, they each filed into a taxi and by 10:00pm I was giving my last hugs, completely drained from all the farewells.
I walked back into the hostel where I would be staying for the next two nights. Because I live so close to the city of Lima, my travel to my site will be the shortest of everyone's, thus I don't have to leave until Monday morning. So here I am with Frank and Janelle, the last three left from the group. We will travel together on Monday to our sites in Ica. There I will begin my two years of service.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Site Visit

So I just got back from a 4 day visit to my new site Grocio Prado, Ica. Here I will spend the two years of my service working on various projects around the community. I met some of my community partners, the people I will be working most closely with. I still don’t know much more about any of the work I will be doing, but this is something that will develop over time. The first project I have is to conduct a community diagnostic (CD) to find out more about my community’s needs and where my work can be most beneficial. I have three months to complete my CD, so it is most likely that I won’t dive into any projects right away.
As for Grocio Prado itself, like I said in my last blog, it is not a very pretty town due to the destruction caused by the Earthquake in 2007. The town looks somewhat like a war-zone. The saddest part is that many people are living in huts constructed of woven mats. They do not have the money to rebuild their house, and the government hasn’t done a great job of helping the people of Grocio Prado to rebuild. However there has been (and continues to be) a lot of help by NGO’s and other organizations to rebuild houses and other buildings. The family I am living with was blessed enough to have absolutely zero damage occur to their house. Because of this they were not (monetarily) affected by the earthquake and have been able to continue in life without starting over. So needless to say, I am staying in one of the nicer houses in Grocio Prado. The house has 4 large living rooms that are each connected in a line, and off to the side of two of the living rooms are the bedrooms. I am staying in a fairly large room with two twin beds and a dresser. When I signed up for Peace Corps I was not picturing living in a house quite this nice. However, it should make life a little easier right? Here is a picture of my room.
The family I am living with consists of the father Elvio, the mother Maria, and their 18 year old son Elvis. They are very sweet people and were great hosts the entire visit. My father is a vigilante, or watchman for some place, I’m not quite sure… I believe my mom is a stay at home mom for the most part. Elvis is in a business tech program at the moment and seems to be a typical 18 year old. I actually feel the age difference between him and I which is scary because until now I thought 18 wasn’t a whole lot younger than me, but I guess time has passed without me noticing. He invited me out the first night I arrived but I declined because I was so tired. He never asked me to go out again after that, so I didn’t do anything each night I was there because I didn’t feel it was safe to go out alone. My father said to me right before I left that Elvis would be sure to “integrate” me into his group of friends as soon as I return. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or bad thing. I know his girlfriend is 15 so I can only imagine the ages within his group of friends. Hmmmm, we will see how this develops… Here is the outside of my house.
I also met the mayor of my town who is a WHOPPING 24 years old. He seemed nervous to meet me, and I could tell he didn’t quite know what to say. I also got the vibe that he was confused about what exactly it was I would be doing for two years. So I am in the process of perfecting my “what is Peace Corps and what am I here to do” speech (in Spanish). I could tell that my first challenge in site is going to be explaining what I am there to do. Since the people are so used to having NGO’s come into their city they don’t quite get the difference between my position and the position of an NGO. After my brief (and awkward) meeting with the mayor, I was hurried out of his office and into a taxi. Though this was no normal taxi… This was the chauffer of the mayor. He was told to take me on a tour of the town. And so he did. We drove around for 2 hours, and by the end I realized just how large my site was. The chauffer’s name is Alfredo and he is by far the best connection I made during site visit. He told me a lot about Grocio Prado, and showed me all the different parts, he even took me to a few artisans to talk and see their work. The tour took place on the 2nd day that I was there, and for the next two days every time I saw him he would ask if I needed a ride anywhere, or if I had any “dudas” (doubts) about anything. It was nice to have one person in town recognize me when I was walking down the street. Here is the municipality building in Grocio Prado.
The majority of my site visit was spent hanging out at my house, so yes, as I had predicted, there was not a lot of preparation for my visit and no one really took me under their wing to show me around and introduce me to people. However, I am glad I had the experience because when I go back in two weeks I will know exactly what to expect, and be much more prepared for it.
Some other highlights are that I live 15 min. from the beach, 30 min. from Paracas (a BEAUTIFUL tourist spot), and less than an hour from two of my friends. I also think I will get a bike to use because there are no hills and a lot of people in the town use bikes. How eco-friendly! My house is also 10 minutes from the city of Chincha which is big and has everything I could need.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Site Assignment

Drum roll please..... She is going to Ica!!!!
Yup, you heard it here, I will be living in a small town in the province of Chincha, in the district of Ica Peru for the next two years. What a relief it was to finally see where I will be focusing all my hard work for the foreseeable future. I found out that my town was devastated by the earthquake that struck Peru in 2007, and the community is still recovering. So the town is "not that pretty" as I was told by the volunteer who visited my site the day before. But I don't mind that one bit!
I will be the first volunteer in the province of Chincha since before 2002 (maybe the first ever?). And for this I am EXCITED. I also found out that the house I will be living in is (unusually) large and nice for the area. The same volunteer also told me that I would "love my house". For this I am RELIEVED. However, I am trying to bajar (lower) my expectations until site visit.
I will be going to Chincha for 5 days on Monday! I cannot wait. Although I am a little afraid because I don't know how prepared they are for me. Will I be sitting around twiddling my fingers for 5 days, or will someone take me under their wing and show me whats happening in Chincha? As we like to say in Peace Corps "vamos a ver..." (we'll see...)
The only other info I have for now is that I might be working with a group of artisans, a secondary school, and some sort of small agribusiness project. Rather than pretend like I know what any of that entails I will save the details for another blog, when I actually know what to say.
As for other news, I have been battling a series of cough, runny nose, and a massive cold sore on my mouth for the past week and a half. Lets just say I have seen better days... Thankfully the other trainees were able to look past my rough appearance and still treat me like I was not a freak. Only a few jokes were told (to my face at least). The faces you get from people when they feel sorry for you are pretty hilarious. What is even more entertaining are the looks I get from the locals because every time I cough they get a look of utter fear on their faces. What is going through their mind? Oh let me tell you, "That gringa is about to give me the gripe!!!" Or in plain english, "that American girl is about to give me H1N1!!!". For some reason Peruvians are convinced that all of us gringos are contaminated with H1N1 and we are bringing it into their country. Crazy thoughts.
I am still recovering, but feeling (and looking) much better. They say that the sicker you are during training the better. This is because your body acclimates itself to the new germs and by the time I go to site I will be like a rock! Or so I hope. Hey that reminds me, if anyone wants to send a care package, multivitamins are on the top of the list for me, because apparently Peace Corps Peru doesn't supply them to the volunteers. Ahhemmm.....
Anyways, everything else is going well. I have a few more blogs I am working on right now, hopefully will post them in the coming week. Sorry no pics this time. If there are any topics you would like to know more about please let me know. Sometimes I think I overlook things that people back home would be interested in knowing about. Hope all is well back in the states. Tell America I said Hola!!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I just got back from a week of Field Based Training (FBT). The point of FBT is to put trainees in the site of a current volunteer to see what life is like out in the field. During FBT I had the opportunity to teach a class of 33 tech school students about the basics on running a small business. At the end of the three days of class, the students had the opportunity to run their own business simulation by taking out a loan from the “Peace Corps Bank” and running their business for one day in an effort to pay back the loan the next day and also come out with some earnings of their own. Thankfully each of my groups came out ahead and hopefully they learned a thing or two as well. It was challenging trying to teach a business class in Spanish but at the same time, I felt very at home because I had a lot of experience tutoring these same topics during college.
I also learned a lot about what life is really like for a volunteer. The town I spent the majority of my time in was a small village up in the highlands of Cajamarca. The land there was beautiful. You couldn’t look in any direction without seeing a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains. The people in this town were much more traditional as well. I could tell that the culture has not yet evolved the way it has where I am living in Lima. It was a nice change of pace. The people were very calm and it seemed like a much safer place where everyone knows everyone (reminded me of home).
During my time there I also managed to play in a game of football (soccer). It was team “gringo” against a team of local students. They seemed to be very entertained that the gringos had two girls playing on their team. In countries like Peru it is not very common to have women playing soccer, especially with men. We played hard, and I found it difficult to breathe because the air at that altitude was much thinner. My soccer playing skills are limited to say the least. I wish we had been playing volleyball, but apparently only women play that here… We even had a bench full of gringos cheering us on which was hilarious. The prize for the winning team was a little male goat, and we were determined to win it. We really wanted to be able to bring a goat back to the training center to show our accomplishment…
Needless to say we lost, but only by one point. The goat went to another team. However, we made up for it by performing a dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to an audience of all the students from the Tech Institute we were teaching in. We wanted to perform it as a way for all of us trainees to show our appreciation to the students. I choreographed the dance one morning, and then taught the dance to the other trainees in my group and we performed it at the closing ceremony. It was even more hilarious than the gringo soccer team. Hah! It also felt really nice to choreograph and perform a dance again. It has been about two years since I last took a dance class. For this, I think I will definitely be including dance classes in the work I do in site. I really miss it, and I think it would be a great way to keep busy, and get to know the community. Also I think young girls here might be interested to learn American styles of dance (fingers crossed).
Now I am anxiously awaiting my site assignment. I will know on Friday of this week where I will be spending the next two years and what kind of work I will be doing. Wish me luck! (This picture is with another volunteer, myself, and two of the students we trained during FBT)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Living in a cloud of dust

This week has gotten off to an interesting start. But maybe I should begin with last week. I had a fever last Monday and wasn’t feeling too great for a couple days, but that was over by Wed. I have been keeping busy with classes. We went on a field trip to Lima two weekends ago, and this past weekend we began working at a local agricultural university. We are going to go there every other weekend to learn about planting in Peru. This should help us when we get to site to begin a garden if we so choose. I am very excited about this. I don’t have any gardening skills but hopefully this will be the start of a new hobby for me. I also broke out from an allergic reaction. This was strange because I have never been allergic to anything in my life (I think it was a spider bite). After 3 Benadryl I was good to go.
This week began with a holiday called Feriado, it was in celebration of a saint. I had the day off from classes. So my day consisted of me “cooking” lunch for the family. I really didn’t cook though. I don’t think they were ready to let me loose in their kitchen just yet. I’m pretty sure they believe I don’t know how to do anything on my own. And for those who know me, know just how much I like to do everything on my own. This has been a hard adjustment to make to say the least. I just try to do as much as I can to keep myself sane, like go out with other volunteers, work out, and do my language homework (even though there isn’t really any reason to do it except out of boredom).
Anyways, I “cooked” spaghetti, but again, since I wasn’t really allowed to cook they pretty much did all the work while I stood around suggesting what we could do next. The best part was at the end when they thanked me for cooking lunch. I laughed and shook my head, because I didn’t know how to say anything that I really wanted to say. I wish they would have let me cook, because I really can cook. If they knew I could do some real work then they might not perceive me to be such a helpless American.
Today we were supposed to have classes, but there is a strike going on with all of the public transportation drivers. They are in opposition to some law so they are marching through the streets as I type this. There are about 14 of us who live in my town and we were all supposed to walk to class today since it isn’t safe to take a taxi and all the busses are not going. So at 8:00am about half of us met up to begin our walk. We live at least 5 miles from the training center so this was not going to be a short distance. We got all the way down our hill when one of the other volunteers brother came rolling in on his bike to tell us we didn’t have class after all. This was good to know, now that we were all the way down the hill… We turned around and walked right back up. It was a good morning workout.
That’s the other thing I have had to get used to. Communication in Peru is very limited. Rather than planning a head for things people here seem to take a “wait until we cross that bridge” approach to life. For this I have found myself waiting numerous times for someone to show up, or I have been left without notice about many things. This is just the way it is. I know that I need to be flexible in order to survive the next two years, so this is just good practice for me I guess.

Here are some photos of the “hill” that I live on and walk up and down every day. This picture does not do it justice, but my walk up to my house takes about 10 or 15 minutes. It is all dirt, as you can see... I live in a cloud of dust, but I love it.

I have been trying to get some videos up on here but the internet takes hours to upload a video, so I have yet to figure that out. I will try to get some more photos up here soon.
Love and miss you all!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

One week down, Ten weeks and Two years to go

This is the end of week one, and so much has happened. It certainly feels like it has been more than one week. When I first arrived in Peru with the 36 other trainees (we will become volunteers after 11 weeks of training) we stayed for two days in Huampani, a retreat center about 30 min. outside of Lima. We were prepped for safety, language, traveling, and anything else we needed to know before we were handed over to our host families to take care of us. On Sunday we were taken to the training center, a large gated in house in a (seemingly) wealthy neighborhood.

Our families came to pick us up at the training center. The time leading up to this was spent touring the training center, getting in some last minute lectures, and eating lunch. I was nervous to meet my family for the first time. Was I going to be able to communicate with them? Would they be nice? Would the even like me? Well before I could finish thinking up all the worst-case scenarios, they were standing in front of me. Alan and Kenya, my host brother and sister came to pick me up. They were in high spirits and excited to meet me. This was a good sign…

We drove up to their house about 15 minutes away from the training center, they seemed to be astonished at the amount of luggage I had, and I was immediately feeling like I had brought way too much stuff. I was embarrassed, but now, only a week later, I definitely don’t care if they think I brought too much, because I know I didn’t bring enough…hah.

Anyways, I was led into the house where I met my host mother Elena, and Kenya’s two little boys Efrain, and Arturo. I also met Grecia, who, as a typical 14 year old, was not so excited to meet me. That didn’t last long though, I have spent a lot of time with Grecia in the past week, and I definitely feel closest to her so far.

Other than getting used to living with a new family, I have stayed busy through training. In a typical day, I get up around 6am (unless I haven’t already been woken up by the crowing chickens, and howling dogs all over town). I debate whether or not I am going to take a freezing cold shower, or just go without. I think I opted for the shower all but one day because it acts as a replacement for my morning cup of coffee. That’s another thing; it’s hard to get a good cup of coffee. They only have instant. After getting ready, I go out to the dining room, where my host father Nestor has prepared some type of Peruvian breakfast, usually a white roll filled with anything from jelly to avocado, to hot dogs. My favorite so far has been a fried egg and cup of warm soy milk.

Next I grab the lunch that he has also made for me, and when Peruvians make lunch they don’t just make a sandwich, they prepare a hot meal. Every day it has been different, but one thing that never changes is that there is always rice in the meal. After grabbing my lunch I run down the street to meet up with some other volunteers who live on my street, and we all walk down the hill together to jump on a Combi. It costs .50 Soles, that’s probably less than a quarter in American money. A Combi is like a bus, but smaller, and looks like it will break down any minute. They pack as many bodies into the Combi as they can, and since each Combi is run privately, they all race down the roads trying to beat each other to the next stop. It is quite the adventure… After about 10 minutes we are spit out of the Combi, and then walk another 5 or 7 minutes up to the training center. We spend the whole day going to all different classes such as language and culture, safety, small business development, health, etc...

Around 5pm we get done for the day and then I head back home. I get back around 5:30pm, usually do some homework, try to go on a run, and jump on the computer at the internet café across from my house. I eat dinner whenever I am ready, and my host mom has usually prepared some variation of soup, rice, chicken/beef, and potatoes. It is always good. I hang out with the family for a little while, watch a tele-novela or two, and by then it is 9pm, and I am ready to crash. I am asleep by 9:30 every night. This schedule is completely different from what I was doing only a couple of weeks ago. Each day I have realized more and more the reality of my situation here. It is not bad, but sometimes it is hard to realize that I will be living like this for the next two years.

Here is a list of the things that make life difficult:

No light in the bathroom, so after dark I must always use my headlamp

It is winter time here, which means I don’t know when I will be hot or cold an any given moment

My language skills are getting me by, but dang I miss being able to express myself like an intelligent adult

My diet is completely different, and consists of mostly starches and carbs, which I believe is the reason my body is rejecting me right about now

The bugs are big, they bite, and they are always around

I live in a cloud of dust

My 7 year old host brother thinks he is way smarter than me

I feel like I am at the same education level as my three year old host brother

People here don’t drink cold beverages, and rarely drink anything with their meals, so I am always the weird Gringa that drinks water all the time.

I must always carry toilet paper with me, because it is not likely that any bathroom will have any (except the bathrooms at the training center…ahhh… it’s like heaven there)

I never feel completely clean

I miss the U.S. for its hot showers, good television, and respect for each other’s “bubble”

I miss my family and friends

Here is a list of the things that make life awesome:

I am learning so much every day, more than ever before in my life

My host family is amazing, they keep me sane, and make me realize that people around the world are all the same

The other trainees I have been with since the beginning are my lifeline, they know what I am going through, and I don’t think I could do this alone

The food, for the most part, is delicious

Things are so inexpensive here

Peruvians definitely take advantage of public transportation, something I think we Americans could learn from

Life is simpler, and therefore the smallest things make me happy

I find that nothing can upset me too much if I don’t let it

Each day is an adventure, which is all I wanted when I signed up for this…

After talking with locals about the work the Peace Corps does here, I am sure that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing in life

So as you can see, with everything comes the good and the bad, but for the record I have to say that overall I feel great about this first week. Let’s hope it stays this way J

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Leading up to Peace Corps

I just began counting down the DAYS until I depart, up until now I was counting the months and weeks. Time has really flown by, let me begin with my graduation...
I graduated on May 9th, my entire family (minus Willoughby) came to Charleston to witness the event. Although it was a long and boring ceremony, it was nice to know I was done with school. Afterwards Kelsey's and my family went to our apartment, and hung out at the pool to cook up some burgers/hot-dogs, and just enjoy the day. It was a relaxing celebration, just how I had hoped it would be. I was so tired though, that at one point I fell asleep in my bed, leaving my whole family to entertain themselves, and then when I woke up (at 11pm!), there was silence in my apartment. Needless to say my family gave up on waiting for me to wake up so they went back to the hotel to get some rest of their own. I felt so bad, but I know they understood. I had driven back from Savannah the night before to pick up Hedy from the airport, and I didn't get home until 2am, then I woke up for the ceremony at 7am. Anyways, it was a good day, and we ended it by taking a birthday cake I had baked to the hotel to celebrate my dad's birthday at 11pm.
After my family's visit, I had to pack up my entire apartment, and study for the GMAT. I had about 2 weeks to do it all, and with some help from Kelsey's mom, Joe, Goodwill and Craigslist, I was able to make it out of there with only 1 car full of my belongings.
Next I headed up to Boone NC with Joe and his family to spend Memorial Day weekend in a cabin on a mountain. It was so nice up there. We went fishing, biking, sat around the campfire, and relaxed in the Hottub. I couldn't have asked for anything better.
Joe and I drove back to his house on Monday to spend our last day together before I left. It was a good day, not very sad (as I had expected), but we just enjoyed eachothers company and then I was on my way. I only cried once :)
I then headed up to Charlotte where I visited my friend Lauren for one night, we spent the whole time catching up, and the next day I was off to drive up to Ohio.
The drive took me 10 hours. It was easy, aside from the rain. I made it to my grandma's house in Tiffin Ohio around 10pm. That was last night.
So here I am hanging out with the Grams, just getting the last things together before I leave for Peru. This is probably the 7th time I have tried to re-pack the two bags I am taking with me. It is an impossible mission to fit what I believe are the "necessities". Why is it that bags can only be 50lbs? It should be 55lbs, the extra five is a whole pair of shoes, or two more pairs of pants at least!
I am in good spirits, and excited about what is to come. I just hope I will be able to carry all of my luggage...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Info on the Peace Corps (PC)

Some of you may not know a whole lot about the Peace Corps, so I thought I would post the welcome letter I received when I found out I was invited to serve. It gives a short explanation, so here ya go..

Congratulations on being invited to serve as a Peace Corps
Volunteer in Peru! We look forward to your arrival and to
working closely with you over the next two years.

Peace Corps is an exciting and rewarding adventure in any
country, and I believe that we have a particularly strong program
awaiting you in Peru. Peace Corps returned to Peru in 2002,
after an absence of 27 years, and since then has grown to 140
Volunteers, established good working relationships with a variety
of counterpart agencies, and built an excellent reputation.
We can promise you a beautiful country, hospitable and
receptive people, a well-thought-out assignment, and many
development challenges. What we can’t promise you is that it is
going to be easy. There are numerous cultural and institutional
obstacles to training and motivating people in a country like
Peru. Some people in your community will be resistant to
change, others suspicious of your motives. But with hard work
and commitment on your part, you will be amazed at what you
can accomplish. Numerous lives will be changed for the better
because of your service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

In addition, you will have a once-in-a-lifetime cross-cultural
experience. Living with a Peruvian family, you will become
part of your community (which may be anything from an
urban barrio to a rural hamlet), participating in community
activities and sharing special moments with newfound friends.
Both you and the Peruvians you come in contact with will be
enriched from the experience.

You will have 11 weeks of training before you are sworn in
as a Volunteer. The training will strengthen your language
proficiency, technical skills, safety and security awareness, and
community integration. Take full advantage of this opportunity.
Both during training and throughout your service, there is a
highly committed staff to support you. All of us share your
excitement about coming to Peru and making a contribution
to the development of this country. We look forward to
meeting you soon.

Best regards,
Michael Hirsh,
Country Director

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It finally came

I recently received the long-overdue package stating that I was invited to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru. After a year long, arduous application process, it seemed too good to be true. Was I dreaming? I never thought this day would come...
I started to seriously consider joining the Peace Corps when I was in my sophomore year at Western Washington University. I had heard about the Peace Corps and thought it sounded interesting, then one day I was sitting on a bench somewhere on campus (waiting for a bus I think), and just having one of "those days". I was sick of school, sick of my roommate, sick of rainy Bellingham, and couldn't wait to be done with school. Just as it had been when I was in High School, graduation seemed like a myth at that point in my college career. It was at that moment that I overheard a girl on her phone talking about how she was graduating at the end of the semester and she was planning on joining the Peace Corps. I will admit I listened to her conversation intently. She was so excited and did a great job of selling the idea to me, so I decided right then and there that I wanted to join the Peace Corps as well.
I transferred to Charleston Southern University in Charleston SC during my Junior year, where I spent the next three years. This brings me to today, where instead of trying to speed up time, I am slamming my foot on the break in hopes that time will stop flying by so quickly. I have definitely grown a lot during college and many aspects of my life have changed, but the one thing that never changed was my desire to join the Peace Corps.
After attending some information sessions and doing some of my own research about the Peace Corps, I decided to start my application in October of 2008, and submitted it sometime in September. I then waited until I got my interview, which was over the phone. It went very smoothly other than the fact that I felt extremely egotistical, talking about myself and how great I was for 1.5 hours. I finally received my nomination on December 18th, and this is when the real process began. I had to complete an intense medical and dental review, which I think I completed sometime in February. I then waited, very impatiently, which is probably not a good sign because they tell you that you must be very patient to be able to handle the challenges faced in the Peace Corps (something I hope to work on in the next two years). As I waited I realized that I had no back-up plan, so if I didn't get an invitation to join the Peace Corps within the next month, I was looking at a situation in the near future of no job, no home, no money and no idea of what I would do next. I had considered applying for graduate school just in-case, but I thought it would jinx my chances of getting in, so of course I took the easy road and made no 'Plan B'.
So now one can imagine just how relieving and yet surreal it was to see those words, "Congratulations, you are invited to join the Peace Corps...". Hallelujah!
To make the moment even that much more special, I happened to be on the phone with Penny when the Fed-Ex man knocked on my door with that big, beautiful, blue Peace Corps invitation packet. Penny is one of my dearest friends, who had just left to begin Peace Corps service in Nicaragua on January 20th. Right before he knocked we were talking about my application status, Penny was doing her best to reassure me that I would get the invitation, and I was doing my best to be pessimistic. I heard the knock and said to her, "maybe this is it... Does it come Fed-Ex?" She immediately replied, "yes, yes it does come Fed-Ex, that is it!". As I opened the package and read the letter informing me that, yes indeed I was invited, it was as if Penny wasn't so far away after all. I could feel the sigh of relief on both ends of the phone (probably for different reasons though...). I now knew the answer to what I had been waiting for since October! Penny was ecstatic, and wanted to know why I didn't share her excitement. I couldn't really explain it, but the excitement was there, it was just covered by disbelief, and anxiety. It took me about two days until it finally settled in and the excitement really started to build. I received the invitation only two months before the departure date. So needless to say, I have a lot to do before I am ready. Not to mention staying focused on my schoolwork and graduating, but I am really struggling with deciding what I will bring and what I will leave behind. I can't imagine having only half of my wardrobe with me. I guess this is the beginning of my new simple life. Although it sounds scary, I am honestly excited to 'shed' myself of this American lifestyle that I am so accustomed to.