Sunday, June 27, 2010

This is what they meant.

I got a call this evening from home that a great friend of mine was killed this morning in a car wreck or something.  No details.  I just hung up.  I was crying and I don't know the Spanish to explain to my family why.  I just stumbled out into the night and walked to another volunteer's house.  I am so thankful for the friends I have made here that sat with me this evening for a couple hours.  I barely know them, but they know English and I just needed to be able to sit with someone.  I don't have any money so I can't call home.  There are so many things I need to do.  I feel so helpless and far away.  I need to talk to specific people and I just can't. There is no one online right now.  All I can do is talk to this void.  I don't know how I can go to bed.

They told us we would be too far away and things would happen back home and that it would be heartwrenching and impossible and I didn't think it would happen so soon.  Or so awfully.  Please someone tell me what to do now.  I want unconsciousness.  I want this to have not happened.  I want to be home and I don't.  I want so many things.


Four hours of photo uploading later, here's a blog.  It is a good thing, as I got all of my homework done while waiting!

Everything is still mindnumbingly spectacular.  Things are very hard and there is much struggle and stress - but you know that's the kind of stuff I thrive on.  So, everything is going swimmingly.    I am reaching the point of being unable to convey experiences well in words.  So, I will just mostly give pics, which also do not do these marvelous happenings even an ounce of justice.

First, last weekend's Father's Day feast:

There were a lot of potatoes, as always here.

There was a huge amount of maize being ground up.  A huge amount.

I got recruited to this task.  That's my neighbor friend Leonardo on the right.  He helps me with my Spanish and even taught me some Quechua.  He was my first non-family local friend and he's pretty great.

These are guinea pigs.  Known here as Cuy. They taste like rabbit and this is a feast's worth.

Racks of lamb and other meat chunks, marinading in a huge tub.

The heads got cooked seperately.  My mom loves to grub a cuy head and a chicken foot for dinner.

My mom, Mery.

This is the ground up maize.  We put it in corn husks to make little cakes and breads.  The larger tub is the sweet stuff, ground with anise and cinnamon and raw sugar.  The little tub is salty and savory for breads with dinner.  This is my mom and a couple aunts.

We had unidentifiable organs to snack on while we cooked.

My uncle preparing the planchamanca fire under the pile of rock; it heated up for hours.

My dad, after a couple of holiday beers.  He's the nicest dude.

Me sharing a couple beers with dad and his brothers.  You only drink one beer at a time, with one glass.  You pass both bottle and glass around.  When it's your turn, you fill up your glass, pass the bottle, drink the beer relatively quickly, spin it in your hands (like you're warming your hands), and then fling the remaining foam on the ground next to you and pass the glass.  Except me, since I am a girl, the guy before me fills up the glass and gives it to me and passes the bottle to the guy on my other side.  I do get to participate in the spinning and flinging however.  It is considered extremely strange to drink beer right form the bottle in this country.

The potatoes disappeared and were replaced with these large pea-like-but-very-starchy things that we eat a lot.  Peruvians eat everything they can find that is starchy.  In large quantity.

Now to the planchamanca.  Move the rocks, which are so hot that a 2x4 bursts into flames if you touch one with it.  Pour the potatoes into the bottom of the pit and toss the pot of slightly fried cuys on top of those.

Drop some of the hots rocks back in.  Toss in the large meats chunks, some random corn husks, and more hot rocks.  And how about we just slap a whole chicken on top of that pot...

More hot rocks and then our hundreds of little corn husk cake packets.

Then the peas and a pile of inedible greens.  Apparently these greens were the food of the cuys.  Who presumably will no longer be needing them. Then some paper.

Then just bury it.  ALL of the food is in this hole.  There are about 25 family members here at this point.

One hour later...

My awesome dinner.  I ate it all.  Except the third potato.  Seriously, Peru?  Three potatoes?

Also it was my cousin's bday, so more cake later.  The store bought cakes here are the best cakes I have ever had.

That was a good day.  I promptly passed out after all that food.  It was on then to another week of crazy classes all day long - four hours Spanish, four hours Small Business Development.  Evening yoga and dance classes.  Evening hikes.  I don't have many pics of this, but I have some friends who do and I'll try to steal some.  My friend Chris took a video of that ridiculous dance class that I need to steal from him.  Here's a couple random pics from the week:

My original Spanish class - prolly also my best friends here.  Chris, Cassandra, and Ashley.  The classes have been shuffled slightly since then.

At La Taverna after class one day.  Cassandra and mi amigo, Mario.

At the end of week two, the business program members got to head out camping.  The youth team (whom I will from this point forth refer to as Puppies and Kitttens and Rainbows) was very jealous.  Our trip was AMAZINGLY awesome.  Start with a three hour, very harrowing, narrow, steep mountain bus ride.  Up to about 11,000 feet.  The altitude really threw us all for a loop.

The pics do not convey the awesomeness of this bus ride.

This is the town we were headed to, San Pedro de Castas.

My friend and fellow Oregonian, Royce, me, my fantastic language coach, Sarita, and my cohort Chris.


Everyone in this tiny mountain town was this cute.  All the old ladies wear these hats and I can't wait to get to site and get my own.

Then we had a couple hour steep horse ride up to 13,000 feet, where we were camping at these great rock formations and ruins.  Peruvian saddles are interestingly small, the stirrups crazy short - knees up to the horses back, and the ride was straight up and very, very rocky.  It was less than comfortable but super fun and in that altitude the hike would have made us all sick.  Plus, the town couldn't manage to come up with enough horses for the 23 of us, so three language instructors and Chris rode these itty-bitty burros with their feet practically dragging and no saddles and it kept me laughing the whole way up.
Leaving town:

By the time we got up, it was dark and a few of us went on a hike.  We found this rocky outcropping up high over a cliff where you could see forever.  It was amazing.  I, of course, forgot my camera.  So.  I set my alarm for 5am, when it was about 20 degrees out, and watched the moonset and sunrise.  I hiked out to two different high point cliffside views that were so, so beautiful.  But I forgot my camera then too.  Two others were with me, so maybe I can steal photos from them...

Anyways.  The next day, we met a Peruvian Hare Krishna hippy kid hiking around and he showed us where the ruins and rock formations were and some of us hiked with him for a few hours.

There was this little back country casita.  Peruvians are so friggin' short.

But then my batteries died.  So this will have to do for now.

After this we hiked back, had lunch, and got back on our horses.  The ride down was rougher on the knees.  I carried Biznieto's backpack on my front too, because his tiny little donkey couldn't handle it.  When we went back to town, most everyone sat in the hotel watching the World Cup game.  Some of tried and failed to go to the cheese factory (which was pretty much a shed with a cow) and me and Chris succeeded in going to a museum.  There were the creepiest awesome mummies there that I have ever seen.  And there were bones just laid out on a table.  I poked a skull in the eye socket.  Chris has fantastic pictures that I will try and steal some of.  We then hiked up to a nice lookout above the town and subsequently almost missed our bus back down.  The bus ride down was less cush than the not-very-cush bus ride up.  But it was all fun and harrowing and we even stopped and I bought a ghettos little roadside cheeseburger.  And din't even get sick from it.

Today, I have a ton of homework.  It is pretty much done-ish now.  I am going to try and go meet with the mayor and the local church father today with some buddies.  We promised the local little kids that we would play a game of soccer with them today too.  I also need to prepare a class I am teaching at the high school tomorrow with fellow musketeer Ryan.  So busy.  This blog is going to continue to sink in word count, but I will keep uploading pics.

Gonna go pick some aloe for this vicious, vicious sunburn.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I had every intention of blogging tonight.  My week was insane.  I think I am busier than I was a couple of months ago, or maybe it just seems a hundred times crazier because it's all in the wrong language.  I don't know.  But it's nuts.  Last weekend, I had my first ultra-fascinating Peruvian party and feast experience for Father's Day.  I have a ton of pics.  I am going horseback riding and camping at some ruins tomorrow - so there will be a ton more.  I suppose I will try and do them all at once on Sunday, though I seem to have promised a huge pack of local children that I would play futbol with them on Sunday....

We'll see how this goes.  Everything is awesome.  Really, really awesome.  Pics will arrive.  Need sleep ahora.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Respuestas y Mas Photos

I am going to answer many questions now, or at least attempt it.  I had no idea what I was really getting into, so was not able to tell anyone much before I came.  I still don't know a lot.  I am a Small Business Development Volunteer in Peru and that is all I knew coming in.  To answer a few things though:

1.  The small business situation here:
        The Peruvian economy is pretty interesting.  It has been getting healthier over the last few years but still has a very long way to go.  There are many, many small businesses.  And when I say small businesses I mean a woman selling rolls out of a sack or a small family that runs a fruit stand.  Micro-businesses are technically one to ten people but most often seem to be four or less and very often only one.  Businesses this size are almost all "informal" - not paying taxes or getting benefits, not trained or aware of any methods of organization or expansion, and barely surviving.  73% of businesses in Peru are informal.  This accounts for 88% of all employment.  It's almost everyone.  This has lots of effects.  It's difficult and expensive to formalize because the few formal businesses have to pay enough taxes to support the entire civil structure (which is needless to say not in great shape.)  There are very, very high levels of poverty here.

2. Types of things I may be doing:
        I have been learning about all of this and more while simultaneously getting to meet/hear about the many Volunteers who are working in my program in Peru.  The work is crazy varied but I am very excited for all of it.  I can end up in a place where no one has been before and organize from the ground up.  I have heard stories of organizing groups of women in tiny huts who weave tapestries into one organization and formalizing so that they can export.  I have talked with people who have gone and found whole towns looking for another source of income but with only sketchy ideas, so helping them set up beekeeping and honey bottling, or fish farms, or other things like that.  I met a guy who organized elderly shrimp fishermen on the coast to form one organization and formalize to make health care and retirement available to them.  I have heard people organizing whole groups of various artisans to get a shop in the next decent sized town and take turns running it to reach larger markets.
        Sometimes your area is larger or already more organized.  One guy worked with another group of shrimp fishers to start farming the river shrimp with high level technical training to increase from 10,000 shrimp a year to a few hundred thousand and was helping work with them to contract with Peruvian supermarkets.  One guy I met was in a larger town and created a Chamber of Commerce.  Business volunteers also do a lot of simpler trainings and consulting with existing businesses to teach them to keep books and how to reach other markets.
        Everyone has numerous projects.  You have one or two main ones like the ones above or crazy different, seems most people end up teaching evening classes on English, and everyone gets involved with the youth in their community to work to keep them in school, teach them basic organizing skills young, help them get into college if they want, etc.  People also create sports organizations, teach people to garden and eat better, have knitting clubs or dancing clubs or whatever they are into.

3. How a Peace Corps volunteer gets placed, how projects start:
        A community has to formally request a Peace Corps Volunteer in order for one to be sent somewhere.  The Country Directors and Program Directors travel around and talk to people at length about it before these decisions are made.  Sometimes it is for more specific reasons and sometimes a village just wants general help.  This means when I get where ever I am going I will have what is called my "local counterpart," the person who will be my main go-to contact until I get my feet under me.  This person may or may not actually be helpful.
        When I first go to my site in a couple months, I spend the first three months working exclusively on integration and on a community assessment.  I go around and meet as many people as I can and find out as much about my community/area as I can.  I will talk to doctors (or whoever does that sort of thing there) about health, nutrition, population, infant mortality, etc.  I will talk to the teachers about rates of matriculation, curriculum, ages of students, etc.  I will find out how the local government works and talk with everyone in it extensively.  I will find out how the local criminal justice system works, how the retired survive, etc.  I will learn the culture, customs, and history and see how well I can become a part of the community.  I will likely bathe in a bucket and wash my clothes in a river.  It will be rad.
        As I do my community assessment I will find out what people want.  I can't just pick a project.  While I think bee-keeping sounds rad, the ideas will have to come from the people who will be doing the work long into the future for it to work at all.  So, I really will have no idea what I am doing for quite a long time from now.  So, I will prolly end up working with some organizations.  I may help some people create organizations.  I will prolly work with every sector of public governance and I will likely work with every generation and every type of business available at some point or another.
        This is a pretty vague answer, but I am strangely comfortable with it.  In fact, quite thrilled.

4. My schedule:
        I will be in training for ten weeks.  Just finished week one.  I think I get my site assignment on Week 8?  When I go to site, I spend three months in community assessment mode.  Then I have one more week back here prepping/training more to launch into projects.  After six months on site, I come in with a member of my community for an intensive on Project Design and Management.  Some time(s) later I will have project specific technical training depending on my specific needs (How do you build a fish/honey farm anyways?)   After a year on site I will have my mid-service meetings and checks-ups, etc.  Then I produce some reports near the end and Close of Service is August 20th, 2012.
        They say the entire first year is an emotional and mental wringer.  They say no one even starts to get comfortable or feel productive until after at least a full year on site.  They say the first year feels all downhill.  They say I will want to come home every day and that maybe I will.  They say the second year, things start clicking.  They say that at the end of the second year, you finally feel like you are really doing something, that you are right in the middle of something when it's time to go home and that super many people end up signing up for a third year.
        Ha.  Be prepared for anything from me.  Preemptive apologies for emotional roller coasters.

        Whew.  Done with this answering questions thing for now.  Ask me more and I will try and answer them, but there is not much more that I know.  For everything they tell us, they tell us there are a hundred exceptions.  There are no rules.
        I am spending most of my time on language now.  I am having awesome conversations with my family.  My dad was talking to me the other night about how much he likes Obama, how he didn't like Bush, how he thought Gore was boring but smart and was sad about that election.  Then he casually asked how well I know Obama.  I said I didn't really but that I did once have dinner with him five years ago.  He nodded and continued the conversation.  I think he's pretty sure we all get to meet the president at some point and have dinner.
        Father's Day is apparently a huge deal here.  My family keeps telling me that we are all going to drink a bunch of beer and wine tomorrow and also that we will be cemetery hopping visiting dead forefathers.  So there's that.
        Right now it's almost 11am, I have been sitting at the kitchen table since 6:30, alternating between Spanish workbook and this blog, and we just finished the third meal today.  Everyone seems to come to the table once an hour and sit down for more food.  It's ridiculous.  Peru is totally weird.  My sister just went back to the kitchen to start preparing round four.  She knows I am finding this hilarious and is teasing me about it.
        The other PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) and I went out last night for some serious American partying.  We found an empty tiny dive bar and took it over all night.  It was for Julianne's bday.  The local liquor here, Pisco, is delicious.  I am staying in with my family practicing Spanish the rest of the weekend, but that one evening of all English last night was very nice.  Next weekend, me and all the other business trainees are going up to some ruins at like 13,000 feet and camping there.  We are riding horses to get there.  While we are there, we will be studying the structures of successful micro-businesses in rural tourism.  But also, it will be awesome.
       The jerga (slang) word for a bump on the head is chinchon and I have one.

Here are a million pictures, with captions:

My street

My neighborhood

My littlest bro

My house, bro and mom

Walking to Chiclacayo, to the training center, with other trainees and local kids on their way to school

The creepy fog really never does go away, this is on the morning walk

La Puerta Magica (the Magic Door), I walk through it twice a day - it's super magic

Un mototaxi - my dad drives one

Fire crackers kept going off during Spanish class, we came out and found the Christ procession, middle of a random weekday

The lady in the front was lighting smokes to light the bottle rockets with.  I like her.

They asked us to carry for a while.  Both these guys in front are Chris.  But the one on the right is Boston Chris.

Omar and I carrying on the back. 
 Except he's tall, so I wasn't really carrying anything.

This is what happens when we get out of the training center an hour earlier than our moms expect us home.

My sister is a Kindergarten teacher.  This means that sometimes she sits at the table and builds a couple dozen lions out of coffee cans and felt.


More Chosica

Me and the Jesus.  I don't feel like fixing this right now, so this is sideways me and sideways Jesus.

Since there is always something weird going on in the street in Peru, here is a random Chinese dragon.  Or, rather, slug.

Peru 15, Party 1

The birthday girl

My favorite pic from last night.

Ok.  More studying Spanish and I need to help my brothers with their English homework.  Hasta.