Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fideo con Albahaca, Ajo, y Queso

Thunder hits pretty reliably right as we sit down to lunch. I can tell time by weather pretty well here these days. If it's sunny, the sun has risen within the last couple of hours. If it's cool and cloudy and drizzling, the sun is about to set. If the streets are flooded and there is an absolute torrential, blinding, mind-bending downpour it's about 3:30 and I am canceling my classes, again. The night are clear and cold.

My classes are so smooth now that I find I need more projects again for the first time in a few months. Every afternoon, I teach class from 3:30 to 6, but all the class plans are well-developed, all the worksheets are made and printed and filed and easy to find, and I am comfortable enough that I can just walk in, put on the powerpoint, joke around, take questions, and get through the day. Over 60 kids have cycled through my courses now, even with the constant cancellations (two weeks for Easter, really?)

So, I decided it's time to really start fighting for that library project and it's time to hit the streets finding more groups to form into community banks. The library project has been oh-so sluggish. I have everything prepared. People at the Muni are calling it my “awesome project.” I have resources listed and grant applications ready to go, I am just having trouble with my committee. Finally got it all together just the other day – have names of the enthusiastically interested and a good solid workplan that people are getting on board with. Thing is, I don't want to align myself with the wrong crew again, so I may need to back off a little. Finally getting used to the scandalous nature of this country. I spent most of my time before working with the Gerente, or City Manager, who absconded with a bunch of bags of cement a few weeks back. Had to then work my way into new contacts, avoiding my previous affiliation with the now-detested figure of the cement-thief. And now the head of the library committee is the wife of the mayor. Once burned and I am holding back on further meetings while I wait to find out if they are actually going to impeach him...

My most-successful-bank has it's three-month meeting tomorrow. All is going so smoothly. Tomorrow I will tell them they are all grown up and graduated from needing me at all. This means it's time to really move on and bring in the half-formed nonsense banks scattered around and to follow up with the inquiries I have received from other potential start-ups. The bank project is so simple and effective. Everyone loves Micro-Finance. I am setting a public goal right now of having, within 3 more moths, 3 more functional banks with a total of at least 60 members. I think it's possible. Just gotta step up my game.

I spent all last week in Lima. Seem to have busted something in my back. Which is strange because it just hurts in my leg. I guess I have a pinched nerve. They put me on a TON of drugs for awhile – like muscle relaxers and pain killers three times a day. I am off those now and the pain is reduced substantially, but still there. So we are gonna do a little physical therapy. With how much the drugs helped, I think the physical therapy should do the trick. So, that'll mean quite a few trips to either Chiclayo or hopefully Chota. I don't like leaving site that much, but if I can just get this fixed, I will be pretty happy. I think it probably came from falling in holes. There are holes in the sidewalks everywhere in Peru – and I mean holes a few feet deep and just big enough for your foot to pass through. I fall in them a lot; I think spend too much time looking up. I am fortunate to have not broken a leg yet, and I plan to stop falling in holes now.

I have funny conversations a lot here. People are always asking me, about everything, “Do they have this in the US?” Yes, we have tomatoes. Yes, we have rice. No, we don't have lucuma. There is always complete surprise at the Yes answers and a knowing smugness at the No answers. My favorite though was the other day when someone asked me if I had any pizza while I was in Lima. I said, of course and they followed with the standard, “Is there pizza in the US?” I was a little surprised at this one and was like “Yes, of course, we eat a lot of pizza!” The woman was really shocked. “You have pizza there?!? Well, it's so much better in Peru, right?” I gave my standard lie and told her it was and she walked away happy. The pizza here is a pathetic excuse for pizza. Extraordinarily pathetic and doesn't quench even a tad of your craving for pizza.

Another fun part of conversation is just what is appropriate to say. When you need your waiter or waitress you just yell - “Joven!” if they're young, “Chino!” if they're Asian, or “Gorda!” or “Flaca!” pretty much the rest of the time, though the differentiation between fat and skinny is not always obvious and I get called both daily. I avoid the racial terms – I don't care if it's considered simply another identifying feature here, I'm not participating. Another one - if I pull out my laptop in public, I have to expect at least 10 people just to walk up to me and ask me how much it cost. Or anything else I own. How much did that cost? Can I have it? Can you get more from the US to sell here? WHY DIDN'T YOU BRING A BUNCH OF STUFF WITH YOU TO SELL? People are really upset about that sometimes. It's very strange.

Besides the obvious ones, food and family, the thing I realized quite awhile ago that I miss most is anonymity. I mean, I can't wander around Eugene all day without running into people I know. I don't mean that kind of anonymity; I don't mean being a stranger. I mean the more basic anonymity – that the people who don't know me, also don't notice me. That strangers have no interest in me and that people can't just find me anywhere in town just by asking where the white girl is to anyone on the street. I want people to stop asking me questions some days.

Then again, I am sure that when I get home, I will miss some of that.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Quiero Descansar

I am so tired. Really tired, right now. But it's time to get this done. Also, they are setting up a Yunza outside, so I know sleep is about to be taken off the table (Will the Yunzas never end? Are there such a thing as better earplugs?) A whole lot has been going on, as well.

Life is so good. I know I am parroting myself here, but what a cool job. It's time for the 13ers to decide whether or not they are staying a third year and it's funny to watch. There is a vast range of reactions. I know a large handful that are just saying, “I am going home immediately on the first day allowed.” There are a chunk almost as large saying, “Well, this is home. Why would I want to go to the States and get a way less cool job?” And then there are the variety pack, those signing on for just a few more months, and those who really haven't decided. I even had a conversation with a Volunteer I know currently in the middle of his fourth year. I asked, “Well, aren't you cut off soon? No one is allowed to sign up for a fifth year...” (Yes, Peace Corps has term limits, for staff too.) He replied, “But I can extend my fourth year.” Whatever kind of awesome bureaucratic loophole that is. If I had to pick right now, I wouldn't go anywhere. This is the life. But don't freak out yet, Mom, I swore I would come home after just two and I will.

TEACHING IS HARD. I have always had a lot of respect for teachers, but never like this. I don't know what I am doing! Teaching is crazy. Teaching in the wrong language is crazier. Doing it full time... I just got home from a Clausura – where I graduated 26 of my 11 year olds, with certificates, soda pop, and saltines. They completed their 2 week course on Planning Your Future (how strange is that?) The course was twice a week for two weeks. Two of the other days a week, I have my older kids, 15 and 16, for Youth Entrepreneurship. These classes are all two hours in the afternoon. Planning a two hour class takes a LONG time. Planning it well, takes practice. Turns out half the time that I can't get nearly the amount done that I thought and the other half that we are going to end up outside playing icebreakers and team building games because I didn't plan enough. Turns out I SUCK at discipline. Who wants to be that guy? I don't even want to talk about my morning classes teaching English to 7 year olds...

Really, though, we are all having fun and the learning curve is steep. I start this week with the next group of over two dozen 11 year olds. Each two week period I will move on to the next, until the kids in town have ideas beyond “tienda-owner” or “mototaxi-driver.” The older kids course is a 6 week session that I am currently planning on just doing twice in a row. These kids volunteer for this, while the younger ones are required to attend my short course. After my two six-week courses, I get to form a team of my best students to create a business plan for a national youth business plan competition. I plan on us winning. The kids can win the funding to actually start their business plan. Since I have seemingly been assigned to be the Human-Form Economic Stimulus Package for this community, I think I am gonna try and own this project. Win. Banks are still going well. Need to update my numbers on that tomorrow...

I have been out of town for a week again. Yet another Peace Corps training in Lima. I feel like they drag us out for these things sooo often. No more until I go in for the business plan competition in August however. So I get to hunker down for awhile. And tomorrow, I have more things to do than humanly possible – between the library project, the 2 business courses, the community banks, and the English courses, I am a nutcase. The funny thing is, it's not even that many hours, especially considering some jobs I have happily worked in the past. I don't know why it feels busier. Probably a mix of language barrier issues (which I am convinced never go away,) cultural frustration issues (as I am also convinced the norms of Peru were designed to make me crazy,) and the fact that everything is such a rollercoaster ride. In fact, speaking of rollercoasters, my mother has been back and cooking me her absolutely wonderful but almost pure starch food for just a month now and I am seeing that I already noticeably need to get back to my workout routine. Suck.

The big awesomeness: the library project. All I can say so far is that I have seen extreme enthusiasm and a mention of possible available community funds. I am having a big meeting about it tomorrow or the next day, so I will update very soon! I have looked deeply into grant resources, pitched the idea around town, and recruited some enthusiastic and brilliant young team members. Here we go, Children's Library-Tutoring-Center-Science-Museum! This is going to be awesome. I could obviously use help with a name.

Any suggestions?