Sunday, August 29, 2010

La Madrugada (¡Ahora con fotos!)

I am finally here at site, getting here on Wednesday after journeying the fabled Hero's Quest in order to arrive. I hear it's official that a few of us out in this area are the very most remote of the Peru volunteers. It took me days to get to site this time... 16 hours of cama cama and ten hours of dirt roads later, falta muchas break-downs but including a lovely man next to me barfing in a bag, and an extra night in a hotel in order to catch the 4am combi for the last crazy stretch... and now, finally, I am exactly where I want to be. I arrived to my house just in time to met the town pastor, eat a late breakfast, and get delivered a solicitud. It seems my work is really starting off at breakneck speed. This was from a campo gentleman who had come from afar because he had heard of my impending presence and was sent to request help organizing a group of bee-keepers and cuy farmers. I am so in.

After I agreed to meet with his group in Chancay Baños on Sunday, I went to catch a quick rest as that last windy and crowded stretch of road had been my least comfortable ever and had been less than optimally placed in the middle of the friggin' night. I woke up in time to grab lunch and then hit the town with my little sister, Iris, to do some very important market and hardware store scouring. It took awhile to find a bucket of bright red paint for my room, and quite an extraordinary number of strange looks. People here really like to whitewash inside. So boring. So, we got all our paint supplies, a lamp, and many other little things, and headed back home with our wares and with ice cream cones in hand. I already don't know how I'd survive without my sister – even with her disturbing Beiber-fever.

I then rushed off to a Fair Commission meeting, which didn't actually take place due to the extraordinary circumstance of this being Perú. I spent the rest of the evening and a large percentage of the next day deep in planning mode. Felt like the beginning of a campaign. I made electronic and giant hard copy versions of a three-month plan. It took eons, as usual. I realized during the process how glad I am to have a background in planning and organizing while jumping into this immense project with very little instruction. I thought about it as I did it, but even more over the next day, as I spoke with my compañeros on the phone, that this is a HUGE gap in our training. Seems that everyone I have spoken with is feeling at a loss of how exactly to begin. They even told us that this is the biggest problem with getting to site. I don't know why they don't just teach the basic set of planning tools that we all learned back home. I am going to see what I can do to get this implemented. I am glad I feel like I know exactly what I am doing and what is next, it's a pretty decent comfort when I am sleeping on straw covered in a sheet and washing myself from a bucket.

Friday morning I went to Ashley's site, an hour away. The drive is amazing – absolutely breathtaking. She lives on the other side of the range from me, and the climate is totally different. You go over the pass and you are suddenly in the gorgeous canyons and sheer golden and red cliffs of northern New Mexico and Arizona. You follow a beautiful whitewater river the whole way there and pass through little oases of farms pulled straight from visions of Shangri La. So, of course, the first thing we did was go on a hike. I am not even going to bother trying to describe how awesome the hike was. We'll just go with the literal interpretation of awe-some. I was actually there for an afternoon meeting with our artisan group, but I was stoked the only buses went so early in the day.

When we arrived to the meeting, we found out that there is this wonderful man from the Peruvian government who is already doing our job for us! Suddenly we understand why our random group of mountain women are the most well-organized artisan association we have encountered. This guy sat and taught them the very stuff I was planning on teaching them as soon as I finished my diagnostic/improved my Spanish. And he did it very well. It was also quite educational to watch. I have a new work partner and will be spending more of my time focusing on the less organized groups. Fantastic.

I stayed the night in her town and the annual town fiesta was in full effect. One thing. They built a six story high structure covered in crazy spinning and flying fireworks with flame waterfalls and other finery and then they pretty much burnt it down. I love them. Another thing. Women don't drink in towns this small, so while the men got hammered, we pounded coffee and partied like no tomorrow. Yet another. Gringas are the most interesting thing on Earth apparently. At one point, I got up on a bench to take a photo of the crowd and as soon as my flash went off (the town electricity of course went out as soon as the party started) a bunch of flashes went off back at me. They all took pictures of me. Look! A gringa! There is also epic staring. Standing and staring, one foot in front of you. Also. They say that being in Peace Corps involves lots of embarrassing the hell out of yourself, so we embraced it and let them teach us a traditional dance while hundreds watched and laughed. This involved a giant sombrero. Last thing. These people party. We went to sleep around 2am and it had barely started. Definitely still raging when we woke up at eight.

We went on another hike in the morning and then it was about time for me to return home. Ash is jealous of my site because it is bigger so people don't stare as intensely or yell “Gringa!” quite as loudly as I walk around. I am jealous of her because it is so much easier to make friends. People here aren't nearly as interested in talking to me. I already miss all my friends from her site – William (who is just like Pablito!), and his funny friend Diana; Arturo, Ashley's rockstar cousin from Lima; Diego, the brilliant little boy who gave me a regalo before I got on the bus; and even John, the suspiciously friendly cop. They were waving me off as the bus pulled out. It was the sweetest.

My baby sister ran up the road yelling, “Co! Co!” when I got home though, so that worked. I busted ass for the rest of the day getting my room how I want it. I painted it bright red, which makes my parents crack up every single time they walk by the door. It's a crap paint job. Tip: when painting a room in a house made out of mud, just realize that chunks of the wall will continuously fall off as you go and just keep going. Oh well. Then I cleaned and decorated. Then I wrote this. Man. Every day. So full. I am exhausted. Good night.
By the way. A tortilla isn't a tortilla. A tortilla is scrambled eggs, sometimes with some spinach in them. There are no tortillas. Mosquitos are also having an identity crisis. A mosquito is actually any small bug, while those filthy little bastards that suck your blood are zancudos. Somos Perú.

Post Script. Wow. I was going to post that blog this morning, but instead got pulled into the whirlwind that is Perú. Today, I believe, would have tried even someone who had a mountain of patience. For me, a rank amateur on the patience front, it was a great test of will. I learned a lot. I learned that even if you wait for your town doctor for two hours in the morning on a random curb in order to go on a trip an hour each way to a caserio, this doesn't mean you won't wait for him for FIVE MORE HOURS after the meeting. But, I enjoyed the rain, I enjoyed the company of my sister, my mom's friend Percy, and the cab driver, Edison, I enjoyed a bit of my book, I gave another speech in Spanish and even fielded questions, I received gifts of mountains of fresh honey from my new association, and I spent a lot of time focusing on slowly breathing away my frustration. I mostly enjoyed watching the good doctor eat dinner quite drunk when he finally returned from whatever he was doing. This guy is definitely the most brilliant and hilarious Peruvian I have come across (for my compañeros, this was Mark and Jorge's love child of hilarity). This doctor told me that Peruvian serve up the hot sugar water to help the diabetes and the platos full of grease for your cholesterol. He also told me that my life wasn't worth living without love and to find a boyfriend and stop working so much or else curl up and die. He is now off to hit the town and play matchmaker. I got home to a million voicemails from my mom, as of course she finally got through and the caserios have no cell service. Ugh!!!

I just bought the ingredients for an amazing American breakfast in the morning – tomorrow is my mom's birthday and I am teaching a six am cooking class for one of my presents. They are very excited. I hope they own a spatula...

Before shot of my room

After - Much better!

My awesome family

Random choice of many pics I have of how awesomely gorgeous this place is:

Post Post Script:  After originally posting this, I went home and took up journaling.  For now on, I plan on keeping my activities there and focusing on pictures here.  I feel like I am torturing the void when I post this crap.  Love you all out there in the tubes.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Al Fin

Today I become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Training is over. Ten weeks in and now it is actually time to join the Peace Corps. This afternoon we all head in to Lima with our bags all packed and wearing our finest whatever-we-could-scrounge-togethers and we go to the US Embassy, where many fancy people will be waiting to mingle with us, and where we will take an oath to serve our country abroad for the next two years. Whew. I am so excited to get to work and so sad to be leaving this lovely little community we have built together.

The past couple of weeks. After site assignments, it was time to go actually see where we'd be living for the next couple of years. I got on a bus with some compañeros and headed off to Cajamarca. Sixteen hours to the city. Then a bus to Chota, further north. Six more hours. It is so beautiful in the Chota area that the trip is more than worth it. We stayed the night in Chota in preparation for meeting our socios in the morning. Our socios are the people who have requested Peace Corps assistance and who represent whatever organization we may be working with a little or a lot at our sites. They are also known as counterparts.

My socio is also my new mom. Her name is Rosa and she is the President of an association of women artisans called “Mujeres Virtuosas.” At our little “Socio Day” we did all sorts of dinámicas and other little Peace Corps-ish things to discuss the expectations and roles of the Volunteers and the Counterparts.

In the evening, I headed off with Rosa onto another bus to get to my site. Four more hours. This puts me a total of 10 hours from my capital city. This makes me officially WAY in the boondocks. This is awesome. I am in a perfect paradise in the sierra but nestled perfectly between la costa and the selva. This means I have huge green mountains, tons of tropical plants and minor junglyness, and perfect weather – 75 degrees and sunny every day. And who knew of this forest that is a stunning mix of ponderosa pines, banana palms, and tall eucalyptus? There are calla lilies and hydrangea growing wildly through the fields. The bougainvillea is taking over. Everything is gorgeous.

My family is super-fantastic. My mother, Rosa, is an amazing woman. She is 35 years old, from the deep mountains of Cajamarca, and seems to be a strong and amazing organizer. She just got back from an artisan fair in DC! Next month, she is going to Japan for 20 days for a leadership conference! Who is this crazy awesome little Peruvian woman? She is very interested in me teaching classes on women’s empowerment and self-esteem. My father, César, is older, in his 50's and a giant of a man. He is a teacher and he is superbly easy to understand. He told me the Inca legend of the camote (sweet potato) over breakfast. What a great guy. He wants me teaching classes at the high school to boys to teach them to respect women and how to be good fathers. He is pro-gay marriage, which is practically unheard of here.

I have two little sisters. Iris is 14 and so far we get along famously. She even cuddled up with me to watch a chick flick in her room one night. I haven't had a little sister before and I think it's going to be great. She explained to me all about the square root of negative one and walks around town with me helping me understand the campo Spanish better. My baby sister, Sylvana, is a year and ten months. She is the cutest thing you've ever seen and likes to hang out in my bed and pretend to read while I am sitting and reading. She can count too. By the time I leave, I will have been in half of her life. Weird, huh?

My house is also the artisan's workshop. There are always a bunch of women around – weaving, knitting, and caring for children. These are going to be my friends and they seem rather great so far. My house is small and rustic, but I think it will suit me fine. We are very close to a bustling (though stinky) market with tons of fruit and vegetables. Running water for just a little bit every morning, so I will be bucket showering for two years. No flush toilet either. I really am going to be in the Peace Corps now.

I had meetings with the mayor, the directors of the two high schools, and the guy who runs the health center. Mostly just an introduction and whatnot. I went and met my cops too. This is a hilariously intentional way to live a life. I had two radio interviews. My Spanish is still pretty awful so this was really fun. I think I can survive anything now. I went to a big meeting at the Ministry of Agriculture, where I was made a vocale on a commission with my city to help plan the town fair. My friend Ashley, who lives about an hour away, happened to be visiting me right then, so she is a vocale now too. Our fair is going to have food and artisenia booths, a bull fight, live animal shows – including something that involves putting the best cuy in a dress and then killing it and eating it, music, dancing, gauchos, and who knows what other awesomeness. I am pretty stoked on this project and my next meeting is in just a few days. All of this was in 2 days. Because I travel so far, I only got two days at site for visit week.

It seemed a little silly in theory that we were traveling all the way back for just one more week of training, but I was super happy to be able to come back and be able to try and wrap my head around the whirlwind of my new life. It was also amazing to get to hear about everyone else's weeks. This week has just been about closing down shop. Final language interviews, final medical briefings, admin briefings about logistics, lots of paperwork, photos taken for our Peruvian Ids, writing ourselves letters, party for the host families here, and Bridge to Service, whatever that means (haven't done that yet).

I feel like mostly we are saying goodbye to each other. I have some epic friends here. Fortunately, many of them will be nearby. Quite a few will not, however. Either way, we won't be seeing other volunteers very often no matter where we are, as it is time to get down to business.

This night, however, we all stay at a hotel in Lima. This will be my first night actually hanging out in Lima. Wish us luck. There is no internet where I am going in the mountains. There is an internet cafe where I can pay. I will write my blogs in documents and see how often I can still stay in touch. Shoot me an email if you want my phone number. I will update my address soon but for now it's fine to keep using the same one – stuff will get to me relatively quickly. I am breathing deeply.

I am joining the Peace Corps.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mi Hermano Perdido

It's been a rough week - the very definition of emotional rollercoaster.  I have cried this week and I have also been so excited that I literally almost threw up.  Let's start with the good stuff.

WE GOT SITE ASSIGNMENTS THIS WEEK!!!!  I will be living in the town of Santa Cruz, in the department of Cajamarca for the next two years.  I will be living there with a family of four and working with a group of artisans.  I have two sisters, one that is 14 and one that is only 2 years old.  My host mother there is also the President of the artisans association and reportedly a pretty amazing woman.  I am the first volunteer ever sent to this town.

This is all very exciting and somewhat away from what I expected.  I had requested to live in the smallest town possible and this place has over 10,000 people.  I had hoped to work in agribusiness and instead will be helping an already decently well-formed business group.  I am in gorgeous mountains, as I had hoped.  Even better, I am in the same department at Ashley and Biz and Ellen, so I will get to see them all often.  I am confident that I will love my site and my work, even though they aren't exactly what I had requested.  I just may have to garden on my roof is all.

The build up to finding out site assignments was crazy.  We found out on Tuesday and many of us barely slept the night before.  It was like Christmas Eve times a thousand.  The morning of, we had to have classes and a huge taco feast before we found out.  I had gotten myself so worked up by the time we knew that I had overproduced adrenaline and had to spend the next few hours trying not to throw up.  It was absurd.

The next couple of days we went over expectations of our counterparts and our new host families, and discussed more safety and health stuff.  Our standard days, but now we were divided up by region instead of program.  It is becoming clear that many of us will likely never see each other again.  On Thursday, we got cell phones, which was extraordinarily exciting.  We can now communicate with each other without having to wander around to each other's houses constantly.  Of course, I have to walk out to the street to use mine anyways.  Directly after receiving these, we took off to Lima to meet some artisans and then have a pizza party at Papa Johns after.  It was time for us to say goodbye to our amazing tech trainer, Bron.  She is off to grad school in Switzerland.  We will miss her.  There were tears at this point.

Right when we got to pizza, we received some devastating news.  Our new cell phones starting ringing with people back in the center, in youth development, telling us that our friend had been fired and was being sent home.  I think I mentioned him in my first blog - the biggest class clown of our group.  He is a huge personality and at first when I met him I couldn't say anything but, "This guy..."  Once you got to know him a little bit, however, he was one of the coolest, kindest, and biggest-hearted dudes out here.  I think our superiors never really got to know him.  I think they were worried about his brash exterior.  I think they really blew it by sending him home.  He would have been spectacular at site.

He was also in a serious relationship here, with another friend of mine.  She has decided to leave as well.  I wish them both the best of luck and hope they come back and visit us both.  It has been pretty sad around here the last couple of days and it feels as if the higher-ups aren't particularly willing to answer questions about it.  Suppose we all just need to watch out for ourselves.  We already miss our friends.

Friday night we had a sleepover at the training center, which was pretty rad.  Today I leave to visit my site for a week.  I am nervous.  I am excited.  It is time to really test out my Spanish skills, meet my new people, and find out what it really is gonna be like.  Soon I will be a real Peace Corps Volunteer.  When we coe back in a week, we have one more week of debrief, then our swearing in at the US Embassy in Lima.  And then it's on.