Monday, February 17, 2014

Acostumbrandome. Otra vez.

Well I think I’ve kept the suspense going long enough!  You all probably gave up on me posting any more to this blog, didn’t you?  I’ve decided since I’m still in Peru, I might as well keep it up, so here’s a stab at a new installment…

Leaving site was probably the hardest thing I did in my entire two years of service.  I was really ready to leave, but also really sad to say goodbye to everyone, maybe forever, and at least for a very long time.  I’ve had the good fortune since then to see a few people in Lima – my host mom and her sister, an older couple I used to visit and their daughter.  But most of them I won’t see unless I go back on vacation.

There were many goodbyes – one at my final presentation where some of my counterparts/friends went out and bought a couple bottles of wine to toast when we were finished, one with everybody from the school and the nearby health promoters, one from 4th grade English, and some less formal occasions during the St. Peter and St. Paul party in my last few days.  My host mom and I also prepared Thanksgiving dinner together – she made chicken and rice, and I made the weird stuff (broccoli salad, glazed carrots, and sweet potato pie).  My brother was not impressed – there were trees on his plate, and the carrots were sweet.  My host mom and grandpa liked it, though.  Getting on the bus that last morning was so hard – I cried for a while, not the whole 7 hours, though, and was broken up for days afterward.  Now two months later, especially when I’m suddenly reminded that Peru used to be so much cooler out there, I still get a little teary eyed.

So now I’m living and working in Lima, and it’s all so different.  It’s this weird place where things look nearly North American or European, but it’s still distinctly Peruvian.  While much improved, we still operate on the hora peruana.  It’s still necessary to remind someone 4598 times to do something for you (still better than the 293872897 from before).  But we still do invitar-ing (yay!) and we still welcome everyone with smiles and love, and we still take time to enjoy the really important things in life, like a long lunch with friends/co-workers for Valentine’s Day (known as Friend’s Day here when it’s more convenient).

The most difficult thing to adjust to, though, has been the pace.  Having to find food and cook it for yourself 3 times a day sure does fill up your time!   And then my commute just went from 5 minutes to 1 hour, and my work week became a steady minimum of 40 hours.  Plus I actually have to work out now, I don’t just get my cardio in while I’m walking from one house to the next.  It’s like night and day from what I was doing.

It’s also interesting working from the office.  I honestly didn’t have much contact with the Peace Corps office during my service, and if I did, it was mostly to just inform them of what I was doing, not really to ask for any input.  Even so, I turned in all the requested documentation, and showed up on time to all my meetings (except that last PCVC training where I confused the dates because of some confusing emails).  Now being the person receiving all that documentation, I realize that was being pretty responsive.  It is definitely difficult managing the different working styles of different volunteers, and keeping track of so many people’s activities.  We’re currently working on training up volunteers in a selected few types of activites, but the nature of Peace Corps is that you serve your community in whatever way best fits them, and reconciling that sort of organic process with a more mainstream development agency approach to working on improving very specific indicators and providing solid evidence of your progress is a challenge that’s going to demand some creativity to overcome.

Working with my counterparts is also a challenge.  Having worked on a local level, I have some ideas of what needs to be done to really make an impact on chronic malnutrition where it is the most common.  However, I feel like I just skipped about 10 years of climbing the Health Ministry ladders and now to understand how to effect those kinds of changes on a local level by implementing a national strategy is mind-boggling.   Unfortunately, much (I would argue too much) is expected of my colleagues at the National Center for Feeding and Nutrition, and they don’t really get to spend a whole lot of time figuring this stuff out.

In the non-work arena, I’m now living in an apartment in big building in a busy, central part of Lima.  The traffic and crowds stress me out, which I have not really experienced in a long time.  I really like my apartment, and the location is pretty darn good (aside from being pretty far from the Peace Corps office).  It’s close to some ridiculous parks, good restaurants, and plenty of entertainment, which is great for when I’ve just gotten paid. J  We also are close to a farmer’s market that sets up on Saturdays and Sundays, and my roommate and I ran into Peru’s most famous chef, Gastón Acurio, while we were getting some produce this past Saturday.

So in short, there are a lot of challenges, but some perks as well.  And I love a good challenge, so once I get myself up to speed and re-adjust to the old North American pace, life should be good.  For now I’ll just have to de-stress with some of that Piuran chocolate I bought last week…yum!

 The Vaca Loca at the St. Peter and Paul party
 Last Dance in Sicchez
 Finally took a picture with most of my host family at 12am on my last night living with them...
 My Final Presentation
 My Counterparts at the Presentation
 Farewell Gift from the English Teacher
 Last English Class with 4th Grade
 Goodbye Lunch at the School
Last Picture with my Peer Eduacators

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ya comienza el fin

I only have 7 weeks left in Sicchez!  I was thinking on the bus ride up here that that was probably the second-to-last time I will go up the mountain to Sicchez in my two years.  Wild.  Clearly I have not in any way mentally prepared myself to say goodbye.  It’s so overwhelming!  There are so many people to say goodbye to, and still a fair amount of work to finish up, and just what do you say after living in a tiny town for two solid years and then leaving for almost-ever?!  For the next three weeks I’m just focusing on the easy stuff – final house visits, final peer educator classes, final meetings with parents, preparing a final report.  Then I’ll get down to the hard part which is giving away my stuff, packing, saying goodbye, having a goodbye party, etc.  At least there is a plan!

In the spirit of finishing things, I just finished the 5th book of the Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones) and I don’t know where I got the idea that it was the last book of the series but it totally is not.  I’m pleased not to have to abandon the universe, but still kind of wanted to finish up and move on, kind of in parallel with the rest of my life.  Guess I’ll just have to go back and watch the rest of the HBO series so I don’t forget who’s who.

And now for something completely different.  This past week I made a trip to Lima for various work-related purposes (although no one in Sicchez believes I wasn’t on vacation), so I was in Piura for a few days last weekend and this past Sunday.  Both of those times I made trips to the market, once to help some other people find clothes and shoes, and the other time to get my usual vegetables and fruits, and also some shoes (my grandma shoes finally got too stinky to tolerate) and yarn for my host mom to crochet me a poncho.  It was really fun to go with other people for once – it’s been a long time since I’ve convinced anyone else to join me – not only because I finally had a reason to share my extensive knowledge of the market, but also because I didn’t feel so nervous like I do when I’m alone.  Usually my rule is to get what I came for and keep moving so that I’m harder to follow and rob, but with a group I felt like I could stop and actually browse the clothes and shoes and stuff for a while.  Still most of it didn’t fit us, but at least we could try it on!  My November trip to Piura will probably be my last hurrah in the Piura market – then it will be time to find a place to satisfy my marketing needs in Lima.

I got stuck in Piura today because I booked a ticket on a bus that didn’t actually leave for Sicchez.  Why they didn’t tell me I was going to be the only person on it I don’t know.  But on the bright side I got some pictures printed and some work done that I otherwise wouldn’t have finished.  And I just went to see a Peruvian movie El Evangelio de la Carne (The Gospel of the Flesh).  It was really dark – I feel like I lost a lot of faith in humanity after watching it.  It was one of those movies like Crash where there are several stories happening simultaneously that all come together at the end – a police officer trying to save his wife from an unidentified disease, a barra brava member (like a gang of violent soccer fans) trying to get his little brother out of jail before he turns 18, and a counterfeiter with a dark past who wants to join the Brotherhood of el Señor de los Milagros.  Despite the dark and depressing nature of the story, I was really glad and kind of proud to see such a distinctly Peruvian movie that actually had good acting, was well produced, and didn’t paint some semi-utopian picture of life in Lima to minimalize the issues people actually face there (like what you usually see on TV).  But, for the sake of everyone that lives in Lima, I hope the extent of the adversity the characters were facing is far from typical.  They were into so many criminal activities I don’t know if I can remember all of them!

Tomorrow it’s back to Sicchez for the last 3.5 weeks.  I still can’t believe these two years are coming to an end!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hace los tiempos!

‘Twas the night before last
When all through the house
Many a creature was stirring
Including a mouse
When out on the patio there arose such a clatter
I stumbled from my bed to see what was the matter
And what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a sack full of corn and 3 hungry donkeys.

OK, so that last part didn’t rhyme, but I thought the rest was fitting.  That mouse, by the way, fell from the ceiling at breakfast this morning, probably partially intoxicated with rat poison and was poked with a hot stick until it went outside to the cat’s waiting paws.  I didn’t see what happened next, but I’m guessing it wasn’t good for the mouse.

I just got back from another vacation (yes, I just took almost an entire month off, but part of that was a work meeting and job interview!), this time with friends to Trujillo.  Highlight of the trip was definitely going to this bar that plays 80s and 90s rock music.  It’s probably one of the only places in Peru where anyone would have a clue who Alanis Morisette was on “Yo Soy” (I don’t know who won last season, but I would like to mention that I’m proud of Tony Rosado for making it there – how is he the first cumbia singer in the finals?!).  Since we were there on a Saturday, there were live cover bands and 2 out of 3 of them were amazing!  It was so much fun – somehow a mosh pit even formed out of 5 people (not sure it really qualifies, but it’s the closest I’ve been to the real thing in 2+ years).  Apart from that, chicken fajitas for lunch, apple pastry with a café au lait chocolat (ordered in Spanish, not French) for breakfast, and pineapple chicken with Christina’s host mom were other important highlights.  I think I define my vacations more by the marked improvement in cuisine than the change of scenery anymore.

Today I was trying to do house visits, but failing for the third day in a row because of the harvest (no one’s home!).  So since I was as close as I ever get to the health post that my sitemate was working in (Ty ended his service last month), and I needed a small piece of information from them, and I had time, and maybe I should make sure they aren’t dropping Ty’s projects entirely, I went over there, thinking I would be in and out in 5 minutes and that I would have to painstakingly inquire about Ty’s projects because no one would be thinking about them.  Wrong!  As soon as I walked in the door the doctor asked me if I knew about when these materials were coming and who was responsible for bringing them and what stage the project was in and so on, but I really don’t know anything except that they need to build stoves.  So we went to see the project committee president who didn’t really know any more but had a few helpful documents.  In the end there are still a lot of question marks, but I was impressed that they were proactive about talking to me…sort of.  I really don’t know when this would have been brought to my attention if I hadn’t walked up there on a whim today.  Apart from that I agreed to demonstrate how to use a condom to a bunch of high school students I don’t know with the doctor, which I am glad to do, but only much later realized how…interesting that could get.

I got the job!  I’m going to be staying a third year in Lima as Peace Corps Volunteer Coordinator for the health program!  Now that it’s for-sure happening I feel so much more confident that it’s the right decision – I was having some doubts for a while there.  But living in Lima will be so much more exciting than living out in the boondocks up here, and I’ll get to do all the traveling I neglected in the first two years, and I’ll get to do a little bit of travel to do site visits, and work in some kind of Health Ministry office a couple days a week, and it’s going to be awesome!  I’m super excited. J

Last night I judged a beauty contest.  Generally beauty contests are not my thing and I don’t really approve of the idea, but they needed neutral judges and the organizing commission was made up of a bunch of my friends, so I agreed.  The contest was organized to select the Queen of the District Anniversary, so there should have been lots of contestants, but there were only two.  I was surprised more girls didn’t want to at least try for the title because being the reina is kind of a big deal – you get to preside over (sit in the front of) all the events, get all dressed up and crowned and wear a sash, everyone talks about you in a good way, and you only have to address the crowd once!  Maybe the cold deterred them? 

So anyway, there were two candidates, a 15-year-old from Sicchez and a 20-year-old from Oxahuay who works in the Municipality.  During the contest, the candidates had to present themselves, show a traditional outfit, demonstrate an artistic talent, and answer questions about the district/province/country while simultaneously displaying their grace and femininity in an evening dress.  A panel of three supposedly neutral judges then evaluated them on their oral expression, physical expression/presence, elegance, traditional dress, artistic ability, evening dress, and cultural knowledge.  I really thought the older girl was the clear winner throughout the competition – she was poised, confident, spoke naturally, and I felt challenged herself with the marinera she danced.  The younger girl also did well – she had an impressive traditional dress and even made mote con chancho (my favorite!), but she didn’t even answer the closed-ended cultural questions completely and did a selva dance that let her shake her booty but was not at all challenging for her.  But most of all, she looked like a teenage girl.  If you’re picking the female representative of the best of your district, I think you want the refined woman over the silly girl.  However, and by now I’m sure you know where this is going, the silly girl won (by just 2 points!) and couldn’t even think of anything to say in her acceptance speech except “Thanks, parents”.  I was disappointed.  Guess I should have given the older girl a bigger margin on my score sheet!  Of course today I had to answer for that when I went to work in Oxahuay – people even skipped saying hi today to ask me what happened!

Well the anniversary has come and gone, and it was a good time.  The young reina made a decent speech and looked pretty, the dentist intern proved he really can sing (and so well), and everybody got their dance and drinking circle on four days in a row.  I feel like I did an act in the pre-verbena on Sunday because when anyone mentions that they always bring up how I served sandwiches (which subsequently has me serving tamales at the next big party in Oxahuay…).  Also Sensual Karicia (one of the most popular cumbia bands) came for the big dance and I got to be right at the front, so that was pretty cool.

The doctor made an interesting comment to me before the school/civic parade on Wednesday; she asked if I thought the anniversary was being used as an excuse for the Health Center not to work for two days.  First I was surprised because I’ve never heard anyone here complain about not being able to go to work, and as someone who also works seven days a week a lot of the time, I had no complaints about a couple of forced days mostly “off”.  At the time I was just surprised by her comment and her reasoning appealed to the American in me so I didn’t have a good response.  Later I thought about it some more and realized why something told me her reasoning was a little off.  First, if the Health Center did not participate in the activities during the anniversary, it would seriously undermine the general population’s trust in them.  People would say they are unfriendly hermits who don’t know anything about the local reality and be even less willing to participate in house visits and charlas and less likely to follow the doctor’s advice.  You really have to show your humility by getting out and participating in the community in order to be at all effective in preventive health care here.  Secondly, everyone is at this big party during the two days the Health Center doesn’t open normally so they would be sitting in there doing nothing if they weren’t participating in the activities.  How boring would that be?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Aqui estoy, regularcito

Just as I’m about to write here that I have nothing notable to write about because life in Sicchez has become so normal, the following happens:
-          I find a dead squirrel stored in the living room.  Later I find out it’s for stuffing with ash and putting in the corn field to scare off the other squirrels.
-          On the way to a house visit I encounter the mother of the mother I’m working with filling water jugs…topless.   And shameless, I might add.  It was beastly hot so I guess she decided to have a rinse while she was at the faucet.
-          Our one-month-old robot cat (not really a robot but moves like one!) eats a piece of poisoned rat and walks around the kitchen like a drunk.  He even fell off his sleeping box several times and couldn’t get back up.
-          During a house visit, a drunk brother-in-law of the mother I’m visiting repeatedly says “Alright I’m going now” but continues to interrupt our conversation to ask me what I’m doing and where I’m from, so the next time he says “Excuse me” I say “Weren’t you just leaving?” and the women crack up.
So I guess life’s not so boring after all, despite the amount of television I’ve seen this month.  (If you’ve ever considered watching the 2000 Keanu Reeves/Gene Hackman football movie “The Replacements” don’t.  Unless you’re super bored.)

I finally got my bike back today!  It took way longer than I anticipated, but cost way less, too.  I’m so excited!  Now I can sleep an extra half hour on Tuesday and Wednesday.  When I was riding back through Oxahuay today for the first time in a couple months so many people yelled something at me as I went by.  Usually one or two people say something about how I’m going to get a sunburn wearing a tank top (I wear sunscreen but they can’t see that) or how I should bike more to lose weight (yet another opportunity to tell me how fat I am), but today I swear 9 out of 10 people I passed yelled out something to that effect and one guy told me he was worried about me hurting my back.  One girl even laughed at me, but she’s new and has been pretty rude so far anyway.  Then I passed a bunch of motorcycles on the way to Sicchez, one while I was talking on the phone and walking the bike so they looked at me weird for walking, and then another where I stopped at a waterfall because I was feeling wobbly (the handlebars are still a little crooked) and I’ve slipped in the algae and fallen there a couple of times (once I was even walking!) so I wanted a second to catch my breath and find the least green path across.  That guy actually stopped to see what was wrong.  Can’t I just be my normal weird self without all the inquiry?!  I still think this stems from the fact that not that many people ride bikes here, particularly not sedentary people like me, so they seem to think that riding a bike on any terrain, whether flat and smooth or uphill and rocky, is equally easy or that bicycle=motorcycle and biking requires little physical input.  I wish they were there to see how drenched in my own sweat I was when I got home!

I did a session in the preschool today to stimulate language learning with the 3-year-olds.  It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.  Trying to get 10 3-year-olds to form a circle is nearly impossible, especially when there are far more interesting painted rocks in the room.  What a disaster!  I tried to work with them on saying body parts but they couldn’t sing the song I had, they didn’t get Simon says (which I realize was pushing it, but I came up with this at the last minute), and when I tried to have them dance to “If you’re happy and you know it”, they started leaving the room.  I would make a terrible preschool teacher.  Which I already knew…I’m not really sure why I volunteered to do that.  For some reason the teacher asked me to come back though, so I may be helping to make puppets to act out Little Red Riding Hood or something in August…stay tuned.

Ghost stories are something I’ve never believed in, but I just sat through yet another rendition of Sicchez’s Best Ghost Stories at dinner and thought I’d share.  There is currently a man with a broken-down car apparently sleeping in his car which is parked on the mini-soccer field at the high school.  Reportedly last night he saw two boy-sized figures playing with a soccer ball only using their heads and when they were done they disappeared into the night crying.  There is also a weeping woman who haunts a section of the road just outside of town and at night she follows the couple that lives nearby.  Since I’ve come home in the dark a few times, they asked if I’d ever seen this woman, and no, I haven’t, but that must be because I use a flashlight.  There was also once a ghost haunting the health center when a nurse was there alone after hours and all the drawers mysteriously opened and shut themselves.  In my own house there was supposedly a ghost one night in which we had all gone to bed and then there was a knock at the door.  As I am opposed to attending people late at night, I didn’t get up to answer it, but my host mom did and I swear I heard her talking to someone who was looking for my host brother.  As she has told it several times, though, there was never anyone there.  The first time I heard the story she said there was a knock but no one was there.  This time she said she heard the door open, but when she went to look it was closed.  My host grandma backs up this version of the story, as the same thing has happened to her many times, too.  So there you have it.

In other noteworthy news, my parents came for a much-anticipated visit this past week!  Our itinerary included visits to Sicchez, Piura, Catacaos, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and Lima, via almost every form of transportation possible except boat (we covered planes, luxury buses, mediocre buses, rickety mountain buses, trains, taxis, and mototaxis).  We even had people with signs pick us up at the airports!  We also ate a lot of good Peruvian food including ceviche, causa, cabrito con tamal, seco de chavelo, cachangas/tortillas, alpaca, chicharron, lomo saltado, and, of course, pizza.  Overall I think the trip was a success, even if my parents might have been more impressed by the luxury bus with the fully reclining seats and front row view than any of us were with Machu Picchu.  Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t think it’s worth the exorbitant amount of money that one must pay to get to and even just enter Machu Picchu to see a larger version of the Inca ruins that you can see in any other part of the country for a tiny fraction of the cost.  I will admit the surrounding mountains were pretty impressive – they’re so steep!  I was, of course, most impressed by the cleanliness and organization of the San Pedro market in Cuzco, despite how overpriced it seemed.  S/.7 for 5 mandarin oranges and 4 granadillas?!  Also the architecture in Cuzco is pretty cool with the original Inka stone work on the foundations and the colonial construction on top (the conquistadors literally came out on top haha).  But the mountains down there are not that pretty after being surrounded by the lush green cloud forest of Alto Piura for a year and a half.  If you want real beauty, come up here.  The weather is also warm. J  And, obviously, it was good to see my parents again after 6 months.  We had a great time, even if I do get frustrated by having to translate (it’s really hard!) and flustered by being our travel agent/tour guide when there’s no professional around.

And finally, I’ve officially applied to stay a 3rd year in Lima as a Peace Corps Volunteer Coordinator for the Health Program – wish me luck!