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.


  1. You are so awesome! I'm so proud to call you my friend. Buena Suerte! You'll be in my thoughts Courtney.

    your friend always,
    Nick Coen

  2. You're such a big girl now! So proud of and happy for you. I'll miss our somewhat daily epic google chats - it'll just have to be letters now.