Friday, December 24, 2010

Esperando a Papá Noel

Christmas time is so different here. It pretty much just started two days ago. People finally threw up lights on a few buildings, trees in a couple of windows, and started singing Christmas songs left and right. Also, hot chocolate. So much hot chocolate. A Christmas party here is called a “Chocolatada” and consists of barrels of hot chocolate and mountains of these fruitcake-like desserts called Panetón. I am drinking hot chocolate as I write this. The best hot chocolate on earth - made with fresh cacao from the jungle.  Happy Christmas Eve. It's a hot one out today.

I have been told that phones won't work well right around now, due to overload, and that international is practically impossible. They say even Skype will be pretty unreliable. So I write my blog to say hi and happy holidays and I miss you and everything else.

I have been having a pretty fantastic time. I got a deck of Uno cards in our volunteer White Elephant gift exchange in Chota last weekend and now my family is thoroughly addicted. Also, we have really taken up cooking together – the really do like stew, though they think it is INSANE to ever leave skins on potatoes, and chocolate chip cookies are a hit, even if there was no butter in the market that day and the margarine made them melt everywhere. So we are spending a ton of time together, which is great.

I am learning jerga (slang) now and also a lot of Peruvian jokes. And seriously, the jokes here are worse than the ones my father tells at home. I think I have finally crossed a line on my Spanish and am able to speak pretty easily with most people. I am getting more friends quickly now.

Jose: How do you say frijol?
Me: Bean.
Jose: How do you call a bean with a capa?
Me: With a cape?
Jose: Yeah.
Me: A superbean?
Jose: (Laughing HYSTERICALLY) How did you know that???

I am still not sure what happened in that conversation. I think it was a joke that somehow crossed the space-time-translation barrier.

Pretty much all of my plans for summer classes got canceled, so for a minute there I had absolutely nothing to do for the next three months. When they kept telling me that almost everyone moves to Chiclayo for the rainy season, they meant it. My town is about to go ghost town for a while. Makes it hard to teach kids when they are just not here... And even my artisans don't work for the break season. Just no one does. So I am using the fantastic old Peace Corps fallback of clubs. People do like clubs and I can always use the clubs to get things done. Hiking club, running club, and youth business club first. And it would be great if anyone wanted to send me a hackysack, Or three. Then I could combine hackysack and juggling. That would be a huge hit.

I have one big idea, largely dependent on the coolness levels of the new mayor who starts January first. I have my hopes high for an awesome relationship with the new Municipalidad team, with full expectation for a crushing. But I am developing proposals of community-wide projects we can work on together. Fingers crossed. Then, I really hit a lucky break when my best friend, Jose, who is a one of the big shot docs around here, was approached by a woman looking to start a non-profit and wanting him to be the head doc. He – it turns out – knows a local gringa with a degree in Non-Profit Management, an extreme surplus of time, and who will work for FREE! So, hopefully, I will be helping these nice people write business plans and set up an ONG here in Santa Cruz. Finally, something that sounds interesting and fun, with cool people, that also covers the Peace Corps strange desire to have me work in business. I am just not a business-y person. But I am most definitely a non-profit-y person. I went to college to learn exactly how to not make money and have proven extremely successful in my field so far.

The other night, I was hanging out with the kids from the Fiscalia (I am unsure as to what would be the American equivalent, but it was essentially a bunch of District Attorneys and Forensic Medics) and they were preparing their skit for the Fiscalia Xmas party. It was a song a dance routine to a rap version of a Peruvian Christmas song. I then went with Jose to the internet to try and help him download it for them to play in the background. It turns out there are very few people in the world currently seeding any rap versions of any Peruvian Christmas songs - actually, zero. Shocker. Anyways, I did find it on YouTube. So this is my Christmas present to you. And this is what my friends were half-drunkenly dancing around and learning. They are awesome.  And I have had this stuck in my head for DAYS.  Si me ven, si me ven...

I love you and miss you all. Feliz Navidad. Today, cooking all day – I slept in and missed my chance to kill the turkey (tears). Then Christmas starts at midnight. At midnight, we eat and open presents and everything else. It's just like what we always tried to talk our folks into when we were little. Looks like in Peru, the ingenious plan of every child has won. Tomorrow everyone just keeps partying. At any hour of the day, today and tomorrow, everyone is rotating between attending mass and drinking and dancing in the plaza. Oh, Peru.

(Oh, and I tried, but they were right. Internet sucks right now, no photos for you.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

¡Eres La Muerta!

I am referring to my new life as Host Family Plus. I think it barely counts as Peace Corps anymore. I have running water all day every day. There are even rumors of hot water, though I have yet to encounter it. My bathroom floor is TILED (not dirt). I have a real gas stove and oven and even a REFRIGERATOR. So friggin' high end here.

I think I mentioned that I had to move, as my host family was moving. I ran into the mother of one of the friends I had made during the town fiesta – Robinson, who used to live in San Francisco and spoke pretty good English. His mom, Laura saw me one day and invited me over to lunch. I explained to her my situation and boom. Just like that. Whole new family, in super amazing house.

It is just Laura, who is a profesora of very little kids in a caserio, and her 13 year old son, Adrian. Robinson lives in Lima. He is coming to visit on Friday – but only I know that. Family surprise! Beyond the family though, she rents out other rooms here. So I have a bunch of roomies, all about my age. There is a doctor, a lawyer, a judge, and a cop. I am always hanging with the law and order crowd here, it seems.

It is very fun living with all of these people. The place is huge, so there is plenty of room for everyone. Everyone is super nice and friendly and including me in all sorts of activities. My new mom even hooked me up with a PIANO in my room to take my lessons on. My cop roomie, Edir, has been teaching me some crazy words from some far out jungle language, out where he is from. My mom and little brother regularly need to be explained to, that no thank you, I actually can't borrow the motorcycle to run my errands, but thank you for the offer, again. The judge does some excellent 3m drunken singing.

Besides that, my work has steadily been increasing in pace. Well, not very steadily. I did go ahead and make a lot of recycled paper with little kids and I am still plugging away at getting my summer courses ready. This week, I was supposed to spend 4 hours each afternoon helping in some adult literacy and vocational orientation courses, but that all has been canceled except for two hours on Thursday. My class with the little ones this morning was canceled (without prior knowledge of course) as was my meeting with the Colegio Director... that was supposed to be yesterday and then twice today but I still have yet to see him.

So this is pretty standard. The more I get scheduled, the more gets canceled. Luckily I am double booked for tomorrow morning – maybe I will actually have some work! It is an uphill climb, but I am slowly gaining more with each little slide back. Poco a poco...

I busted my camera. Just a little. It is still usable, I just can't see what I am taking photos of. But nevertheless, because of this I have gotten a little out of the habit of taking them. I will try to fix that, and start saving for a new one. I heard good rumors of deals in Lima.

I went to Chiclayo last weekend and finally obtained my bicycle! Why, yes, I do have my own transportation now! This is very exciting. While there, I also made a few new volunteer friends and got to meet the family of one of my site friends. I am starting to more quickly get friends at site. I am bored a lot less often now. It's amazing. Also, one of my new volunteer buddies – turns out we have a mutual friend at home. That was pretty random and shocking.

I really don't have anything very exciting to put in here. It's almost Christmas, I suppose, but you can't really tell here. I miss crappy Christmas music and lights displays.

Love you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

¿Huelga? No se por que no.

First thing being first – NOTE THE ADDRESS CHANGE IN THE SIDEBAR. It's just easier to go to the city than to little Chota-town. And if things are going to keep getting caught in the Chiclayo customs office anyways...

Today, at the elementary school I work at sometimes, a clown came. The very first thing he did was start breathing tons of giant balls of fire, completely filling the classroom with thick, nasty, block smoke, as everyone clapped and cheered. I wanted to jump up and give a Cocinas Mejoradas-type charla right then and there. Instead, I laughed and clapped. One thing at a time...

We had Thanksgiving. The best Thanksgiving ever. A few of us discussed that we had been worried, that this was it, when homesickness would finally start to kick our asses, Thanksgiving with no family. Instead, we OWNED this Turkey Day, even without any actual turkeys.

First, we rented an apartment for the night, on the beach in Pimantel. Beautiful, gorgeous, amazing place. And absolutely stellar apartment – fifth floor, beach front, actual comfortable furniture, and amazing views. Only 6 of us could stay there – myself, Rob, Mallory, the Cobbs, and Chris Boston – and the rest stayed at the nearby hostel run by the same folks who own the apartment.

We did our shopping early that morning in Chiclayo, in the outrageously large outdoor market, and cabbed all the supplies out to Pimantel. Shopping there was pretty insane, but the market folk were infinitely helpful and, I believe, infinitely amused. We had our haphazard list of supplies, which was really just a half-assed attempt at a menu that I scribbled down in the hostel that morning. We all stood in the market yelling out things we needed, and then quadrupling the quantities. “3 kilos of sweet potatoes! No, lemme see that... 5! No, give us 10! 10 kilos!” A few market people ran around gathering it all into piles for us and keeping a tally of the money. We bought people out. We bought everything. We bought so much we could barely carry it all between 8 people. And we had spent less than half our budget.

We immediately headed for the beach. It was one pm and we hadn't started cooking Thanksgiving. I started to have a moment of concern. I quickly brushed it off, grabbed a glass of wine, and started putting people to work. It took awhile to gather everyone together off the beach, but once I did, we found every available knife in the world and people started peeling and chopping potatoes and everything else. I won't go through all the details, but I spent the entire time coordinating this out-of-hand undertaking. Everyone pitched in. Everyone but me kept boozing it up. Finally, at about 7pm, people started screaming for food. We had gotten out one tray of about 40 deviled eggs a few hours earlier, which had been immediately inhaled, and besides that no one had eaten a thing. But they had had a beer or nine...

So Rob and I rushed out on the bird mission. We had decided at the market not to buy a turkey. Everyone doubted my abilities. While I still think I could have pulled it off just fine, maybe just had to spatchcock that bad boy, the back-up plan I must admit was a hundred times easier. Rob and I found the only Polleria in town and proceeded to buy all of their chickens. We bought 5 pre-cooked, cut into eighths, beautiful hot roasted chickens. This cost the entire rest of the budget, almost exactly. Perfect. By the time we returned, everyone had already forgotten how hyperbolic their hunger had been and they were back to having their own little apartment dance party. But a few soldiers had stayed in the kitchen, following the detailed instructions I had left almost an hour earlier, and dinner was almost ready.

Omar and Jeff turned into a table-moving, place-setting, food-scooping machine, and very soon we were all jammed in. The menu: Pollo a la brasa, garlic rosemary mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (with marshmallows), stuffing, nutritional yest gravy, pureed squash soup, massive salad with an amazing avocado dressing, rolls, and apricot bars for dessert. I can't believe we pulled it off. With a few leftovers that were scooped around scrambled eggs and some not-very-good homefries I made for breafast. Mallory gave us a few words to set it off (Yay to Mallory for arranging the entire trip!) and we all went around and said what we were thankful for. 

The rest of the night was just all of us enjoying seeing each other again, dancing and laughing and running around on the beach. We saw a beautiful sunset and were joined by a handful of Perú 12, 13, and 14 volunteers.

In the morning, as I mentioned, we had a quick breakfast ( I don't know how I stumbled from bed straight back into the kitchen) and then we cleaned up and moved out of the apartment. Ellen and I went to the market and bought them all out of coconuts and the rest of the day was spent sunning on the beach, our biggest concerns for the day after Thanksgiving only involving whether of not there was enough rum in our coconuts and whether or not we were going to stand up and join the football game.

Eventually, most everyone wandered off to a cevicheria, but Heather, Jimbo, Marina, and I just held down the beach. Eventually it cooled down and we moved back to the hostel. Supposedly, everyone else was out eating, but it turned out that was all a lie. They had actually met some kind South African and were partying at his flat. This apparently turned into some sort of disaster of epic proportions, with repercussions still reverberating throughout our country of service. I will just say I am glad I for once found myself in the mellow squadron.

All in all, it was a beautiful weekend. I got to see a lot of people I hadn't seen since training and that was just spectacular. I was however, happy to head back to site. When I left I had been mightily frustrated. Between parties and strikes, we were looking at a seven day work month. While I love chilling out as much as the next gringa, I love being able to work when I want to as well. I had even had to leave my site a day early for the weekend vacation, as there was a strike starting the next day that they were supposedly barricading the roads for. Pparently, they even slacked off at ever doing that.

This week though, has been one of my most productive yet. I have finally gotten myself up to a real-life full work week. I am doing some ginormous preparations for a 6 week course that I am teaching on Youth Entrepreneurship over the summer break that starts after Christmas. I am also getting ready to start courses for the English teachers here – as they are teaching some mighty poor English at the moment. I am starting a computer course for the teachers, as they have a computer lab that is sitting unused as NO ONE know how to use them and therefore cannot teach the children. Next week I am starting a group of kids on making recycled paper Christmas cards. Making the paper will translate into some half-baked enviro lesson and I hope to teach the kids some organizing skills to market out their cards.

I dunno. I think I found my new house and will move this weekend. I will share more on that later, as this is now plenty.  Also, I didn't take any of those pictures.  And there were some other cool ones, but it was taking UNGODLY LONG to upload (two hours for those few) so I am off.