Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Godforsaken Rollercoaster

I will go for weeks - weeks! - of loving my life here.  I am sure I will stay a third year and in fact may just stay in Peru for ever.  Doesn't the old world sound so boring and tame?  Doesn't the freeness and insanity of this place make me feel amazing?  Isn't the jungle calling my name to go stay in forever?  And then one day, today, I will just wake up with it all gone again.  (I am blaming Jaime Oliver for this because nothing else was different about last night.)  I wake up and I just don't want to face it.  I don't want to hear the same stupid stories on the stoop.  I don't want to watch everything around me fail with a dull plop of apathy.  I don't want to see everyone not care and just keep waiting for things in their community to change, for someone else to do it.  I don't want to be the circus freak yelled at on the street at least once a block - still.  I am just done.

It was the last day today of yet another section of Future Planning courses with the kiddies at the high school.  I skipped up this time to make sure I get all the seniors done before the end of the school year in two months.  So I had sixty "high school seniors" in a room for a couple hours today, working on college savings plans.  I am always a bit demoralized on the last day of this course, as it is The Day with the Math.  It hit so much harder this time though because I went a few grades up.  I thought for sure it would be different.

All they have to do is put the total amount of money they need and the number of years they will save.  They then turn this number of years into a number of months and divide the total to get the amount they need to save each month.  Not too tough right?  I am pretty sure any one of us could pull this off by the age of nine at the latest.  In our heads by the time we're 11.  We are working with simple round numbers.

They couldn't do it.  I mean a few could.  The ones with parents wealthy enough to take them in for special schooling in the city during vacations.  Two of them.  The rest were calling me over for (exact quotes,)

"How may months in two years?"
"Well, there's 12 months in a year..."
"Yeah, but how many in two?
"Well you just multiply 12 by 2."
"I can't do that."
"It's 24."

or, with one who is much better at this...

"How many months in 10 years?"
"Multiply 12 by 10."
"Ok, 12... 24... What's next?"

and many other such forehead slappers.  It's these times that I just don't know what to do anymore.  It took over an hour to get all of these students through writing down and doing the math on one goal.  They had to wait for either me or the one calculator to get to them.

After, I called my friend Ellen, lamenting the fact that I am in this slump today.  She was feeling it today too and we talked about the whys and the hows.  These kids have been in school for four hours a day for the last ten years.  They do have math class.  The thing is, the professors just write the problems on the board, with the answers, and the kids copy them down.  The same as every other class.  It is unlikely the teachers even know how to do the math.  When the kids read, they have some solid basic literacy, but absolutely ZERO reading comprehension.  They can read Green Eggs and Ham aloud to you (I am talking 15 year olds here) but afterwards, they have no clue what it was about.  None.  Just words on a page.  They know how to read them, how to say them and, maybe, if you ask about one, they can tell you what it means.  But string them all together - waaaaay too much.  And then you just wonder what the hell you can ever do.  You just want to run to Lima and run screaming into the Ministry of Education asking them what the hell they think they're doing with their teacher trainings?  But you can't.

Things I have had for breakfast, just this week: sheep tongue, intestine stuffed with stomach lining, river clams.

Tomorrow will be better.  Next week I will be back to my good ol' staying-here-forever self.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I know, I know. Almost two months. Here then...

Oh, god. Too many things.

I left this in Ancash, in Huaraz, in a bar called Trece Bujos. Giant Jenga, Shot-Skis, and amazing friends. Hung out with volunteers I hadn't seen since training and made an awesome new friend that night too. I heart Huaraz.

Ben and I then had a chill day and then hit the Cordillera Negra on horseback to get some good shots of the Cordillera Blanca.

Large mountains camoflauged by clouds...

That's my horse, Canelo.

We then decided to leave Huaraz and spend the last couple days back in Lima. A good friend of mine had just finished service and was on her way out, so we got to spend a couple of days hanging out with her and some other Lima buddies.

When vacation ended and Ben took off, I hurried back to site to try and do as much work as I could, knowing I had less than two weeks before I had to head back to Lima. Turned into one of my hardest times yet, work-wise. I had to run around finishing up shopping for my Kids to Kids mural/astronomy project, have obnoxious meetings with the Mayor about the library, and teach a Vocational Orientation class to all four sections of Second Grade at the high school. I got thoroughly screwed by the school, teachers and the director abandoning me in classes and even the other teachers going into my classroom after hours and stealing a couple hundred soles worth of school supplies I had bought. I was super ready to leave when I took off to Lima again, even though it was so soon. One year slump hit hard.

School girls hiking up the hill with water buckets between classes.  Have to do this when they go to the bathroom.

Marching classes.  So.  Many.  Afternoons.  They cancel so many of my activities in order to work on their marching.  More important than reading, yes.

My Science Club geeks working away.

Festival time was starting in my town when I left. Luckily, I managed to miss the whole thing.

Teaching too many at once.

Mom rustlin' up the grub.

Jose took me out for bday beers before I left site.  There was no electricity that weekend, but as long as there are candles, the bar stays open.

Birthday cuys.

Mid-Service Meetings and Med Checks. Already. So I was able to arrive in Lima on my birthday, which was beyond excellent. A bunch of friends and I spent the day at Mistura – the largest annual food festival in South America. It was AMAZING. A rare beautiful sunny day in Lima, hanging out with my favorite people, sitting on the grass in the sun all day listening to music and passing around amazing foodstuffs. In the night, we went out to shoot pool at this grubby little dive that I love and apparently everyone else hates. There was a dinosaur exhibit in the park and I got to hop the little fences and get pics with the dinos til I got chased out by the guard. Couldn't ask for a better birthday.

The next week was just boring meetings and doctors appointments that turned into a strange clusterfuck. For someone who had gone to med checks believing myself perfectly healthy, they sure did manage to find things wrong with me. First the dentist decided that a cap on my tooth that was supposed to be replaced many years before, but had been neglected due to lack of insurance need to be replaced NOW. Tried to get him to wait for rainy season, but he insisted, so Cuerpo de Paz went along and made me stay a couple weeks just for that. On top of that, my sore shoulder that Doc Jorge had told me was just “drunk arm” and I slept on it wrong and it would be better in a week, was still sore a month later, causing another non-emergency emergency. Seeing as how I couldn't move my arm the first week after I hurt it and it was almost all better at this point, I assumed it was in the clear. They however were shocked to hear it still hurt at all and sent me in for an MRI. Turns out I had a little tear in something-or-other and they started sending me in to daily physical therapy. So, I was stuck in Lima.

Luckily, I managed to sneak out a week later or so to run home and take my girls to ALMA. ALMA is each department's annual girls leadership camp. I had to run home (17 hours) pick up my four girls, gather donations to pay for their transportation, repack all of my belongings to prepare for camp, another stay in Lima, and a jungle trip, take the girls to Chota (3 hours), and from there to Cajamarca (5 hours), to the Baños del Inca, to the retreat center where we have the camp. Camp was a couple of amazing days, explained below in only pictures, and then I had to put the girls on a bus home and hop another straight back to Lima (16 hours more.) Over 40 hours of buses in just a few days and only 22 hours in site.

My girls in the Chota plaza.  Yes, they are all four wearing track suits.  They regularly tell me I really need to get some.  It's the height of current style.

Team building games.

Creating the egg babies they have to carry all weekend long.

The whole group.

I kidnapped egg babies I found unattended and held them for ransom.

Dead baby.

Sex vs. Gender charla.

Large group condom demo.  With wooden dildo.  Wood.  Ha.

My small group condom practice.

Yeah, I ate the banana.  And the girls played with their condoms for a good half an hour.

Panel where girls got the opportunity to ask questions of women leaders in various professions and then to talk with three teenage moms.

Quiz games.

University tour.

Everyone who wasn't a Jehovah's Witness got to go swimming!

Skits of girls pretending to be drunk boys and practicing shooting down advances.

Introducing s'mores.

Back in Lima. More dental, more physical therapy. And then, vacation! Right in the middle of my medical crap. Awesome. The Cobbs hit town, picked up two friends from the airport (Mike and Felix, woot) and we all headed down to Huancachina for a day of dune buggy and sandboarding insanity. And insanity it truly is. I was honestly not to hyped on the idea. It really doesn't sound all that cool. It was really, truly wild. Apparently you cannot flip a dune buggy. No matter how fast you go, no matter how steep a drop off you fly down or how much air you catch or how much insane spinning and tilting you do. We did not die. To my deep surprise. Sandboarding: almost as nuts. Throwing yourself off three hundred foot almost-cliffs, head first lying down on a snowboard. The last dune was so steep and so huge that you couldn't see over the edge – it just looked like a drop off. When you see the others get down to the bottom, they are just little specks. But they are still alive. So you jump. You can use your feet to break, sticking them down in the sand to slow yourself down a little. On that last one, I got going too fast to break. Tried to put my feet down and it was like power sanding the tops of my feet. So I just kept going faster and faster until I flew past everyone at the bottom and halfway up the next dune. It was a very good time.

Adrenaline exhausted, most my clothes soaked from being shoved in the pool, and slightly in love with that little oasis town – possibly the most tranquilo place I have yet encountered in this country – we had to head back to Lima the next day to fly out to the jungle.

We spent a week in the jungle, including a three day raft race. We built our own rafts and paddled our asses off for a brutal 180 kilometers from Nauta to Iquitos. I will describe this in my next blog. It deserves it's own space. One of the most amazing times of my life.

At the end of the race, we flew back to Lima. I had yet another dentist appointment and had to stick around a couple of days to deal with the fact that I had managed to incur first degree sunburns down the fronts of my ultra-white legs. Blisters and open wounds and skin sloughing off. It was pleasant. It also healed remarkably fast. Three days later I was back north, in Chota for a regional meeting, gauze off the legs, no more ibuprofen for the shoulder, and teeth all shiny white and brand new.

Now I am back in site, completely overwhelmed with the ungodly amount of work I have to do with more than a month away. I have been spending these first couple of days just putting myself back in order. Washing WAY too many clothes by hand, cleaning my room, dealing with backed up email and reports and other bureaucratic shit, and trying to lay out a winter-long plan. I have no plans the next few months to leave this place again, besides my standard sanity-jaunts into Chota to have a beer and American food with my family of vols there.

I have a trip planned for Thanksgiving and one for New Years. Until then, I am planning on finishing Future Planning classes with the rest of the Colegio students, launching the 7 (yes, SEVEN) new banks I have lined up to start, opening the silly business-that-can't-win with my entrepreneur girls, and completing my maps/model-solar-system/telescope project with my Science Club. And, of course, the epic library battle will continue...

I will write up the jungle race soon, I swear. With lots of pictures.  Love you.