Wednesday, August 24, 2011

For the Love of Cumbia

Hi everyone,

So I realize it has been a while (okay, almost 4 months) since my last blog. I have been very busy in that time with work projects, though recently I have also been busy catching up with the entire TV series of Lost. I have so much to share that I don't even know where to start, so I will start with something easy (and to me highly amusing): translations of the names of popular cumbia bands.

Cumbia is the most popular genre of music in coastal Peru, which is unfortunate because to me reggaeton, musica criolla, salsa, huaino, and the other types of traditional and modern music they occasionally listen to here are all much better. But the people love cumbia, so cumbia is what we listen to. Here are a few popular groups in my region, for your listening pleasure.

Corazon Serrano - Mountain Heart
Agua Marina - Marine Water
Marisol - okay, this is just the name of an individual woman (which is pretty cool because most cumbia is performed in all-male groups), but it means Sea and Sun
Grupo 5 - 5 Group
Hermanos Yaipen - Yaipen Brothers (I would like to point out that only a few of the many guys in this group are brothers)
Karicias Sensuales - Sensual Caresses
Sol Andino - Andean Sun
Corazon Sanjuanero - San Juan Heart
Sexteto Internacional - International Sextet
Caribeños - Caribbeans
Armonía 10 - Harmony 10

This is just a small sampling of bands that are nationally or locally popular, but it is a great example of how unabashedly cheesy Peruvian culture is. Listening to the lyrics just strengthens that impression, and unfortunately a number of songs showcase blatant sexism. At first I absolutely hated cumbia music, but after 9 months in site of being forced to listen to it almost constantly, I have gotten pretty familiar with a lot of songs. I have a good idea of which songs are sung by which groups, and I have learned a lot of the lyrics. (And a little pat on the back for that--I think that understanding songs is one of the most difficult aspects of learning a language.) Unfortunately many of these songs are also pretty catchy, and I have even begun to like some of them, or at the least differentiate between which ones I dislike less than the others. Having attended half a dozen cumbia concerts helps quite a bit.

I'm hoping to get a more substantial update posted soon, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chachapoyas Bound

Two weeks ago I got to take my first real vacation in the 7 months I’ve been in Peru! We don’t get to go on vacation or have visitors during training or our first 3 months in site because we need to focus on training and integrating into our sites. We build up 2 vacation days for every month we are in site, and we get days off for a number of Peruvian holidays and a couple of American holidays. Most of those are only 1 day, so you can’t really do anything, but we get 4 days a piece for Easter weekend, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving where we can travel without using vacation days. I have been eligible for vacation since the beginning of March, but I want to save up some days to visit home at the end of the year and to go on longer trips to interesting places in Peru. I get to go to Chiclayo, the capital of my department, a couple of times a month for meetings and to run errands or meet up with friends, and I have been to Trujillo, a nearby (relatively speaking) departmental capital for conferences a couple of times. Other than training in the Lima area and visiting other peoples’ sites in Lambayeque, that is all I have seen of Peru. So, this Easter weekend, I finally got to travel somewhere new, and I didn’t have to think about work the entire time!

The dilemma was deciding where to go. The majority of people from the Peru 16 group (the Environment, Health, and Water & Sanitation volunteers that arrived in September 2010) were going to Mancora, a beach town in the department of Piura. I have heard good things about Mancora, and want to go there at some point, but going there during Semana Santa (Holy Week) just sounded like a Spring Break-style nightmare. Then 3 of my friends (one environment and 2 health volunteers, all from Peru 16 in Lambayeque) said they were going to a place called Chachapoyas, and wanted to know if I wanted to come. When they said it was at the edge of the jungle in the Andes Mountains, and that there were ruins nearby known as “The poor man’s Machu Picchu,” I was in.

So after a busy month in March of doing surveys, writing my community diagnostic, and going to Early In-Service Training, and an even busier month in April with brushing up my community diagnostic, looking for sponsors for our weekly radio program, going to a lot of meetings and trying to start projects, and going to a renewable energy workshop in Trujillo, I packed my bags and headed out the morning of Wednesday the 20th (but not before I finished making copies of invitations to my big, town-wide presentation of my diagnostic and my plans for the next 2 years and handing them out to town officials!). I got to Olmos, met up with some friends, and headed on to Chiclayo where I spent the afternoon running errands and talking to friends and family online. Luckily my altitude sickness medication had made it to the post office by the time I got there! Once I get to about 8,000 or 10,000 feet, I start feeling the kind of headachy, nausea, tired, altitude sickness feeling, and I got pretty sick when I went to Pike’s Peak, at about 14,000 feet, as a kid. In my one trip to altitude during training, I found that the medicine helps with this feeling, though unfortunately it doesn’t help with respiration when you are walking uphill.

We climbed on our night bus at 8:00 pm. On the trip to Lima, you can take a very comfortable bus with a seat the basically fully reclines and a perpendicular leg rest. This was not that bus. The seat only reclined about a third or half-way, and the leg rest was at about a 45 degree angle. After dinner, we had the pleasure of watching a very violent and poorly-acted Evangelist movie from Mexico from about the early 80s. Assuming the “flight attendant” was a devout Evangelist (they are a common religious minority here after Catholics, and are not allowed to watch movies or listen to music that are not Evangelist-themed), my friend and I did not want to offend her by asking her to change the movie. (For the record, I am not against religious-themed movies, from any religion; this was just a very poor quality movie.) We had a 5-minute conversation on the subject, and decided to ask her to put English subtitles on, knowing that this movie would definitely not have subtitles. She happily agreed, and it turned out that the movie indeed did not have subtitles. We then asked if maybe we could change the movie, but she said all the movies she had were from the same production company. Darn. At least I had an interesting book to read.

By the time our bus arrived in Chachapoyas at 6:00 am, none of us had slept much. I already have a hard time sleeping when traveling at night, and riding on a double-decker bus through the mountains with all the twists and turns and changes of altitude did not help. Neither did stopping in the middle of the night to let half the passengers off. Luckily our hotel was within easy walking distance from the bus station, and with the help of my friend’s guidebook and directions from a couple of locals, we made it there without any trouble. Even luckier was that our room was available. I got to have a hot shower, and we all passed out for a few hours. When we got up, we took our time finding lunch and figuring out what to do for the rest of the day. We met up with 2 other health volunteers and one of their friends, a girl from Finland, and climbed a few stairs to get to a look-out where you could see the whole town. Chachapoyas is the departmental capital, though it is very small, only about 20,000 people. It is very quaint-looking and not very touristy yet, though it had a reasonable restaurant and tourist-store selection.

Next we grabbed a cab to a tiny town called Huancas, where there was another look-out over an entire valley. He dropped us off outside of town, and we hiked up a hill to where there was a little look-out tower, and an observation deck on the side of the mountain. On the other side of the canyon you could see a big 5-tiered (depending on how you count it) waterfall. I took the opportunity to play with the black-and-white and sepia settings on my new camera (thank you education and work credits on my tax return!). I also bought my one souvenir of the trip (I know, not even any postcards!), a cream and colorfully-striped wool shoulder bag that was supposedly made by a local group of single mothers.

The town had some great environmental slogans painted on the walls: “The Earth has a fever…we cure it by planting trees.” “Trash isn’t what is thrown, but he who throws it.” Compared to Lima and the department of Lambayeque, what I saw of the department of Amazonas, or at least the area of Chachapoyas, was very, very clean. I don’t know if people don’t throw their trash all over the place like they do here, if the municipalities hire more people to clean up the trash, or if there is just more rain, and thus more plant life to cover up all the trash.

When we got back, we visited a small museum where they had several mummies and a number of other artifacts such as pottery, simple weapons and tools, and fossilized shells from when the area was part of the sea floor before the Andes erupted. Another girl and I went to the fruit market, and wandered around looking at the shops and sites a bit. That evening we all split a few small pizzas and a plate of pasta alfredo. Good pizza and pasta are hard to find here; these weren’t quite like home but still pretty good. A group of ragamuffin traveling musicians, I think from Italy, came in, which was entertaining at first, but we were all glad that we were about ready to leave. We also booked our tours for the rest of the trip. When my friend was trying to make arrangements for us, she came across a hostel that looked nice. They had worked with Peace Corps before, and quoted us a lower than normal price, forgetting at first that it was a holiday weekend and that they would normally raise the price a little bit. My friend asked them to honor their original price, and they said they would, but if we took a tour to please take it through them. We said that would probably be fine; we’ll play it by ear.

During our travels that day, we had checked out the transportation system in town and consulted the guidebook. We debated about what we wanted to do and when we wanted to do it. In the end, we had decided to take a tour to Gocta waterfall, hire our own cab to go to the Keulap ruins and hire a guide once we got there, and we were undecided about the third day but we figured we’d do that on our own as well. We started talking to the people at the hotel, and they quoted us a good price, lower than what they had listed, for the waterfall tour. We knew we weren’t acclimated to the altitude yet, and from my experience in Marcahuasi during training, I knew I wouldn’t do well with much hiking and I didn’t want to hold up the group. The guy in charge showed us a picture, and said it was an easy, flat, two-hour walk from “here” (a small town) to “there,” the shelf between the two tiers of the waterfall. He told us there would be a “procession” of locals because it was Good Friday. We thought would be a good cultural experience, but we asked if we would be able to hang around afterwards to relax after the procession left. I asked, “Since we are 4 people, would we have our own car? That way we could go down to the lower part of the waterfall, and possibly swim or put our feet in the pool, and chill as long as we liked.” He said, “Yeah, yeah, of course, you can stay as long as you like.”

Then, of course, they started pushing us to do other tours. They had a Keulap tour, and a tour to Pueblo de los Muertos, Karajia, and Valle de Huaylla Belen. They quoted us lower prices than what they had listed for both of these tours as well, making each day close to the same price as it would have been if we did it on our own. We asked about other costs, and they said 2 of the stops on the 3-stop day had a S/. 4 entrance fee, and none of the days included lunch. One person then started giving us the guilt trip about how they had given us a low price, and they were trying to help us out. I pointed out that they had saved each of us S/. 45 by lowering the price of the rooms, so if we each spent at least that, we would be covered. What they were proposing would cost us each S/. 133 (only about $50, but that‘s a lot for a Peace Corps volunteer), when it normally (supposedly) would have been S/. 200. We all thought this sounded pretty good, but I didn’t like how pushy they were being, and we couldn’t discuss it amongst ourselves right then and there like we would have normally because they spoke a decent amount of English. And of course they wanted us to pay for everything up front.

So we discussed it over dinner, and finally decided that it would just be easier, and about the same price, to go ahead and do all the tours. We ran into two 3rd-year volunteers who were staying at our hotel and had done the 3-stop tour that day, and they said it was cool. We were concerned though about one of us getting sick, either from the altitude or the normal Peace Corps stomach issues. They gave us the “yeah, of course we’ll return your money, no problem” bit. I asked them to write that up for us and sign it. They wrote out a receipt for the first tour, but they just wrote my name on it and they wrote it out for the standard full price. We protested about the price he wrote down, but he explained that it was for one tour for all four of us, and not all of the tours for one of us, and that he knew it was a lower price, he was just writing out the standard price (don’t ask me why, but if we needed money returned that would screw them over and not us, so whatever) I asked again for the guy to write a note on there that said the would return the money if necessary. He just kept writing, and was starting to move on to the next one, when I finally just said, “Here, let me see that.” I wrote in the other 3 girls’ names, and a little note that said if someone got sick or there was a problem their money would be returned. My friends made fun of me for how picky I was being, but I have worked in retail long enough to know how dishonest people can be and how they can screw you if you don’t have paper to back up your verbal agreement, and I have lived in Peru long enough to know about the lack of customer service and how many people try to take advantage of the “rich, white, tourists.” Due to all of this, my friends felt the need to give me a new nickname: Ball-Busting Sara. For many people from my home town, they might have a hard time picturing that side of me, but I have to say, though a bit vulgar, the nickname’s pretty accurate. : ) Then one friend felt the need to shorten it to Busty, which is not at all accurate.

Anyway, we get a good night’s sleep (the hotel itself was pretty and had comfortable beds) and go downstairs the next morning. Turns out, we do not have our own car, but are sharing a small bus with 11 other people, including the two 3rd-years from the day before, and a guy from England that they made friends with. I am already fuming at this point, knowing this means that we will not be able to take our time, but will get herded along with the group. Then, about 20 people pass by on the street singing, and one guy is carrying a cross. Is this the big procession we heard about? I decide to keep my grouchiness to myself, and just see how the day goes. We finally get going, and drive about an hour to a small town. No sign of another procession. Then we are told there is a S/. 5 entrance fee. This gets one of my friends riled up as well, because it was definitely not mentioned the previous night. A woman came around asking for lunch orders, but the price was a little high, so I just decided to share a bowl of soup with someone. Luckily I had bought some trail mix and other snacks in Chiclayo, and some bread and fruit in Chachapoyas. That provided me with cheap and healthy breakfasts and snacks that day and the next day, and lunch that day.

As soon as we started walking, it became apparent that the trail was not flat. There were a few flat spots, and a few gently sloping ups and downs, but it was mostly fairly steep ups and downs for long stretches. Luckily it wasn’t along the side of a cliff where you could fall to your death, but there were a few large stretches with lots of loose, slippery rocks. As I suspected, as soon as started going uphill I started breathing heavily. I had to stop very frequently to catch my breath. Luckily my friends were very understanding and supportive, and at least one would almost always stop and wait with me. Occasionally they had problems as well, because we are all used to hot, flat, sea-level dry forest and none of us had fully acclimated yet or was expecting that strenuous of a hike. Our guide told us at the beginning that we would walk at the pace of the slowest person, and that no one should go ahead because they might take the wrong trail. Well, he started out at the head of the group and never looked back. He had left us behind within the first 10 or 15 minutes. You better believe I was cursing him, and the blasted guy at the hotel who told us it would be flat, in my head and out loud for a large part of the hike. I’m sure my friends got tired of hearing it, even if they agreed.

About 2/3 of the way in we caught up with the rest of the group at a rest stop, and I asked the guide, partly nicely and partly grouchily, why he had left us, and told him we were having problems with the altitude. He apologized, and from then on he kept a much closer watch over us. He was actually pretty nice and knew a lot, and since he was a local guy that didn’t earn much, we ended up tipping him at the end of the day. There was at least one Peruvian couple in our group that was struggling also, and the guy spoke English pretty well. He said that they didn’t think the trail would be as “exhausting” as it was either. But, the trail after the rest stop was a little easier. When we stopped to take a picture at one point near the end, I headed out before my friends assuming that they would catch up quickly, but it turned out to be an easy downhill slope, so I ended up getting there first. It felt pretty good to make it after that 2.5 hour ordeal.

Gocta waterfall, by some measures, is the 3rd tallest waterfall in the world, counting the two tiers. However, somehow it had escaped the notice of the Peruvian government and the international community until very recently. It has only been open for tourism since 2006. So it was still really nice and tranquil. The town was small, without too much stuff to cater to the tourist industry. The trail, though rough, was small and unobtrusive enough that you could not see it from the outside. We got passed by quite a few tourists going in both directions, but there were times when we couldn’t see anybody else on the trail. When we got there, there were probably 30 or so other tourists. From where we were at the pool at the bottom (another wrong statement by the hotel staff, but it was okay, we wanted to go to the bottom and not the middle anyway!), you could just see the bottom tier. I think it must be a relatively small amount of water because the pool and subsequent stream of water were not very big. The arrangement of rocks made the spray and rivulets do all sorts of interesting things. The day had warmed up nicely, probably to the 70s, but it was pretty chilly with the spray of the water.

We decided to try to get horses on the way back, because another girl at that point was having leg problems in addition to my breathing problems, and we were all just pretty tired and not wanting to hold the group up. Well, they couldn’t go on the last part of the trail, but they could meet us at the rest stop. When we got there, we found out that only two of the horses were almost there, and that the others were on the way, but we would have to wait 30 minutes. We didn’t want to wait, or spend a lot of money, so we said not to send the other two, that we would take turns. Some parts were a little treacherous, and the guys they sent to lead the horses rushed them on a little more than I would have liked. I am not great at riding horses, but I have done it enough that I would rather have the reigns in my own hands, or at least trust the horse to pick its own way along the trail. But, there wasn’t anything too bad, and we made it quite a bit faster and didn’t feel like we were killing ourselves with the hike. They way the turns worked out I finished the trip, albeit slowly, on my own two feet.

That evening, we had a few words with the management. My friend said she could be in charge of talking to them, which was probably for the best because she was nicer than I would have been. She said, just for future reference so that they can improve their tours, that there was an entrance fee and that the hike was not flat, it was actually very strenuous. The lady starts protesting that people are always very happy with this tour, and that there is always an entrance fee. We said that the waterfall and everything were great, we were just told the wrong things. We asked what other expenses there would be, and they had told us just lunch. I added that we were told we would have our own vehicle, which was not the case. Then, and this is the lady that was being the most overbearing and pushy the previous night, that we should wait and talk to the guy in charge when he got back. However, by the time we showered, rested, and got dinner, none of us had the motivation to take it up again, especially knowing that it wouldn’t change anything.

The next morning, we got up bright and early to make it to the 8:00 am departure time. In true Peruvian fashion, we got there maybe a minute or two early and were the first ones there, and we didn’t leave until about 8:30. We made it to the first site at about 10:30, but that included a rest stop at a mini-museum where we also paid our entrance fee and ordered lunch. They wanted an exorbitant price, so we decided we would risk it and just find another restaurant when the time came. We continued on to the first stop, Pueblo de los Muertos. We had been promised by some other volunteers that this day would be much easier than the previous day--the hikes were intense in some parts, but much shorter, only 30 or 45 minutes total. Well this hike was about 45 minutes, going down the whole time, and in some places slightly treacherous. There was a really nice view of the valley, though.

We ended up in a small cliff-dwelling community. You could still see the basic structure of the walls of the houses, maybe about 12 or 15 houses. I would guess that they were between 500 and 1000 years old. In one spot you could still see the bamboo or sugar cane or something they used to provide structure to the adobe walls. There were interesting symbols inscribed in some of the walls, and bones placed strategically in others (though who knows were those really came from and how old they were). There were two huge mortar and pestle sets for grinding corn flour and other things. In several other nearby niches in the cliff you could see tombs and sarcophagi. After only about 20 minutes we had to leave, and it was another tough, more than an hour long climb back up. Our guide was nice enough to offer to carry my bag (it was small and not very heavy, so at first I declined, but then I caved in and was glad I did). He also shared my interest in stopping to look at cool bugs. Peru has really colorful beetles and lots of other interesting insects.

From there we headed back for lunch. Maybe because it was the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we could not find an open restaurant. We had been told we were running late and wouldn’t have the full hour for lunch. We spent a good 20 minutes looking for a restaurant, and were about to go back with our tails between our legs and see if there was any extra left of the expensive lunch, when we finally found a little place that was open. There weren’t a lot of options, but we got a decent lunch for less than half the price, so we felt like the venture was a success. It’s all about the little things here! We drove another hour or so to Karajia, a small sierra town. A sign promised 1 kilometer to our destination, and we were told it was an easy walk. More like a 1 kilometer walk along a dirt road between corn and potato fields, and then a kilometer of hiking down another rocky mountain trail. The discrepancy was to be expected by this point, which made it both funny and frustrating.

We arrived at another site in a cliff where there were 6 sarcophagi housing mummies and representing various gods and kings from long ago. Originally there had been 7, but at one point there had been an earthquake (the guide might have said in 1998...but I don’t remember) which knocked one down. I was getting pretty tired by the hike back up, and the blisters that had starting forming the day before were full blown. As some of my friends can remember, I spent a lot of time and effort, and eventually a lot of money, looking for the perfect running shoes to take to Peru as my official Peace Corps sneakers (I only took 4 pairs of shoes with me). While these sneakers are pretty comfortable in general, it turns out if I walk in them for more than an hour or two, they give me blisters. Guess I should have just brought my trusty, comfortable, 10-year old Asics with me, even if they are starting to fall apart.

We finished up the day with a brief stop at Valle de Huaylla Belen (a river valley). It is a popular area for camping and trekking. On the way back, we got to see a really pretty sunset over the mountains and forests. Sometimes, it pays off to be behind schedule. : ) I should also mention that we spent most of the day listening to a CD of popular American music the tour guide had, mostly from the 60s and 80s, with my friend sitting up front as the DJ. I was worried the Peruvians would be offended by this, but they seemed to prefer our music to the limited options on the radio. My friends were all singing along, which is not really my thing, and one of my friends was trying to get the whole group to sing karaoke when we got back. Thankfully, this didn’t happen. I was tired and just ready to chill by the time we got back. Overall, this day of the trip didn’t offer well-developed or jaw-dropping cool tourist attractions. It was more of a chance to see a good chunk of the area on the drive, do some hiking (okay, I wasn’t happy about the amount of hiking at the time, but if I had been prepared for it, it probably would have been nice), see some traditional, picturesque mountain towns, and stop by a couple of historical/archaeological sites along the way. It was nice to get an idea of the “real” Amazonas, as opposed to the sugar-coated, tourist-driven version that a lot of these places end up becoming. I would definitely visit the city of Chachapoyas again, and travel to other tourist destinations in the area. If I ever do so in the future, it will be interesting to see if things have changed.

On the last day, we finally made it to Keulap, the biggest tourist draw in the area. It is the ruins of a fortress of a pre-Incan culture. Eventually, the Incans conquered their society. Later, the Keulap people made a pact with the Spaniards to help bring down the Inca Empire. However, they ended up getting smallpox from the Spanish (by accident or by design?) and were almost entirely wiped out. They had no written language, so we don’t even know the name by which these people called themselves. Keulap is based on a word from Quechua (the language of the Incans which is still spoken through much of the sierra).

The drive itself that morning was about 1.5 hours, but it took longer because we made a couple of stops. We stopped in a small town along the way to order lunch. As usual, it was kind of expensive, we had just about run out of snacks and there didn’t seem to be many other options in the area, so we went along with it. I also finally got the chance to order something I have been wanting to try for a long time… Next we stopped to pick up a couple who had just finished a trekking tour. Turns out they were from Holland. Because there were only two seats left in the van, the guy ended up sitting in the back and the girl ended up sitting by my friend and I. She was really interesting to talk to. Turns out they were doing a 6 month tour of South America. Besides speaking Dutch, they were fluent in English (for a moment I thought the girl was British or something because she spoke English so well), and spoke a little Spanish, German, and French. Oh, to be European and automatically have to learn more than one language.

So we finally got there and get out of the van, and immediately see that there is going to be some hiking involved. We had been promised by two other pairs of volunteers that no, there was absolutely no hiking. You just get out of the car and you are there at the ruins. Those liars! At this point though, we just all groaned and laughed. Of course! Of course, the trip would not be complete without this final insult. Next we got in line for our tickets. A tour guide from another group and several tourists pushed their way in front of us (in general, Peruvians are pretty bad about cutting in line, but this was worse than usual). We started protesting. My friends had been teasing me the whole time about my insistence on making known our complaints about things not going the way we had been told. But by then, they were all tired and fed up as well, and all 3 of them started chewing out the tour guide, saying how rude they were being, and how they were cutting the Peruvians in front of us who had been waiting for a while. It didn’t make a difference to them, or the guy doing the registration, but the guy in line in front of us thought the whole thing was pretty funny. He spoke some English, and ended up making friends with us for the day. Also, it turns out there were like 4 different registration books, for students, nationals, international travelers, and who knows what else. So the registration guy had to dig out a different book for some of the cutters, and then a different book for us, slowing the whole process down even more.

Once we started walking, it turned out it was just a short climb and then a short walk, maybe a kilometer. The altitude was just enough higher that you could feel the difference, but it was such an easy walk that it didn‘t really matter. This is about the amount of hiking I had been expecting the previous day, and the previous day’s hikes were more of what I was expecting the first day. : ) Oh, Peru. Also, the whole way was paved with stones and there were several benches at intervals. So this walk was actually very pleasant. There were wild orchids along the way, and many of the paving stones had fossils of sea life from when the area was a sea floor before the Andes erupted.

The fortress is about 100m wide, 700m long, and 5-20m high. We entered through the gate where the royalty, warriors, and priests had entered. We climbed a number of stairs to get to the main part of the complex. You could still see a lot of the foundations of the houses, and they had reconstructed one to resemble what it would have looked like when it was inhabited. They constructed the houses in a circular fashion because they are more resistant to earthquakes. One really interesting thing was to see was a house that had three different foundations--the original circular one, the larger rectangular one from the Incan reconstruction of the house, and the Spanish renovation with two wider doors instead of one narrow one. You could also see different patterns in the stonework of different houses to represent the different clans in the community, such as the serpent, the puma, and the condor. Most of the houses had several holes in the floor to accommodate the water drainage system that still functioned throughout much of the complex, to store there food, and to store the mummies of their family members. One house had a long, narrow stone cage where guinea pigs were raised. Among the numerous houses, there was a religious building, a tomb, and a guard tower, which was originally surrounded by a false floor that would cave in under the weight of the intruders if they made it that far in their attack. The royal housing complex and guard tower were located on a second, higher level. The guide also pointed out the gate where everyone else entered--you know, commoners, llamas, food.

I think we just got to see about a third of the complex; presumably a lot of it was still being excavated, studied, and reconstructed. Unfortunately it started raining on us about halfway through, but luckily I had thought to bring my poncho with me! Undoubtedly this was something that my mom decided to buy for me at some point. I had never worn it, but came across it when I was packing up my last apartment and packing my bags for Peru, and decided to throw it in--it was small and light and might come in handy. I then came across it for again while packing for my trip to Chachapoyas, and thought the same thing. I had even remembered to throw it in my shoulder bag the previous day. So, this poncho did indeed come in very handy, but then I managed to forget it under the seat in the van where I had put it to dry on the way back!

On the way back, we stopped for lunch, and I finally got to try cuy--guinea pig, that is. I had heard before I came to Peru that it is considered a delicacy here. Guinea pig was originally domesticated here in the Andes a couple thousand years ago. The guinea pigs here are a little different than the pets in the US. Their heads are a lot more pointy, and they are much less cute and cuddly looking. Traditionally cuy was the main source of animal protein in the mountains for poor people, but lately it has become more trendy. In a lot of places it would cost around S/.30 for a whole cuy, instead of about S./8 for a whole chicken. Since I have gotten here, I have been wanting to try cuy. I have seen a lot of guinea pigs being raised to be eaten or sold, but I have never been served it or seen it much in restaurants. This place just served a fourth, so I didn’t have to contend with the head or the little paws. It turns out the skin is really thick and tough--about like cured leather or something--and there is very little meat. The meat is pretty tasty though, maybe somewhere between the flavor of chicken and pork. I would definitely eat it again, but probably only if someone else went to the trouble of skinning it and putting all the little chunks of meat on a skewer or something.

We made it back to Chachapoyas with plenty of time to check out of our hotel and wander around looking for snacks to take on the bus before it left at 7:30. One of the interesting things about Chachapoyas is that it definitely has a tourist industry, but it is a small enough town with a small enough tourist industry that we kept seeing the same people over and over. There was a very interesting mix of tourists: several groups of Peace Corps volunteers, a number of Peruvians (mostly from Lima, many of whom spoke decent English), and a number of Europeans (the Italian vagabonds, the British guy that made friends with some other volunteers, a Finnish girl that was friends with some other volunteers, the Dutch couple, and several groups of Germans). I didn’t see any other people from the US, though I’m sure the mix varies depending on the time of year.

One Peruvian couple from Lima was on the same tour as us all three days, and they ended up being on the same bus back to Chiclayo. We also ended up on that bus with the British guy, the Peruvian guy that we met while registering for Keulap, and a group of 3 young Germans that we had seen at various points throughout the trip, including when we first boarded our bus from Chiclayo to Keulap. I ended up being seated next to the one young German guy in that group. It turns out that him and his two travel companions were also volunteers living in Peru. They lived in Chiclayo and had been there for about 9 months. They live with host families like we do. The guy I talked to taught computation, and the two girls worked in other similar programs. He told me that in Germany, all young men have to either do a year of military service or some other kind of public service, so he chose to do this volunteer program for a year after high school. He is 19, a few months older than my little brother. Crazy. I couldn’t have done a job like this at that age. But it was nice to compare notes about things like food that Peru just can’t quite, such as sandwiches, pizza, steak, ham, salad, pasta, cheese, and bread. We ended up speaking to each other entirely in Spanish, because I don’t know any German, and he, being European, of course knew some English, but he told me that he’d been working on Spanish so much that he could still understand English pretty well, but he couldn’t really speak it much any more.

When we left Chachapoyas the bus was only about half full; we stopped an hour later to pick up the rest of the passengers. A guy sat down across the aisle from me, and immediately struck up a conversation, even though I was already in the middle of one. Peruvian men are usually very interested in young white women, and Peruvians in general are very curious about what the heck we are doing here, and assume that of course we want to tell them about it. It is a good chance to tell Peruvians a little about the US and the Peace Corps, but I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say that I’ve had this conversation at least 500 times since I’ve been here. Sometimes it is hard, especially on vacation, to make yourself have a conversation you don’t feel like having with someone you don’t know, but then you smile and have it anyway, because you are representing your country and you want to spread the word about your work.

So this guy tells me how he just finished some bike tour, and how he is a physical therapist in Trujillo. He asks if I ever have neck pain, and explains that I have a long neck, and then demonstrates these exercises that I should be doing. At this point I’m thinking, alright, who is this guy? Who does things like that? He wanted to exchange phone numbers, you know, just so I could make an appointment next time I’m in town. I told him I’d give him a call, but I couldn’t give out my number, it was only for work. The German guy chips in at this point, in English, to be careful about who you give your number to, to which I replied in English, yes, absolutely. At this point, go back to trying to concentrate on dinner and the movie, which was a lot better this time. We stop to get gas, and the Peruvian guy gets off to get a snack. I pretty sure you’re not supposed to do that, but I wasn’t going to say anything. We start moving a little later, but I was paying attention to the movie and didn’t really notice. A few minutes later the steward comes up to the German guy and myself and asks if there was a passenger in the next seat. We said yeah, he got off a little while back. Oops.

The bus stops, and German guy then reminded me to check my stuff. I had two bags under my seat. Usually I am pretty careful with my stuff, but I had let my guard down a little bit once we were on the bus, so someone really sneaky might have been able to snag my bags with my computer and passport. Luckily everything was still there, and a few minutes later the Peruvian guy comes huffing and puffing back on. Apparently he had gotten a moto when he realized the bus left without him, and managed to make it back on when the bus stopped. And he seemed to lose interest in chatting after that, so the rest of the night passed uneventfully, except that we were careening rapidly down mountain curves the whole time. The bus was already uncomfortable, and with all the stories you hear about buses going off cliffs in South America, I couldn’t really sleep. And then we got back into Chiclayo at the unseemly hour of 4:00 am. My friends and I decided to grab a cab, and see if there were any rooms left at the hostel we always stay at. Luckily there was, and we got a discounted rate since we would only be there until mid-day. We managed to get a few hours of sleep and run some errands before heading our separate ways.

Though it probably sounds like I have a lot of complaints, I actually really enjoyed this trip. I got to relax, see some cool sites, and enjoy good company. The complaints are just so funny to share with everyone back home, and it is both despite of and because of all of these roadblocks that the trip was so fun and memorable. Thanks to my travel companions for making this a great trip! I can’t wait for my next vacation! Happy Easter everyone!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Noise, Noise, Noise

One of my least favorite things about Peru is the noise. In the more urban areas, just like in the rest of the world, there are always horns honking. For a long time, much of this honking seemed completely random. However, with some observation and the help of one of the Peace Corps drivers during training, I have learned to differentiate some of the honks. There the ones that signify, “Hey buddy, get a move one,” when a light turns green, for example. The more forceful ones are of the, “Hey jerk, you just cut me off!” variety. Then there are the honks to acknowledge a pretty girl or to greet an acquaintance. In the countryside, the mototaxistas honk their horns going around a curve to forewarn anyone coming from the other direction. You also hear this at intersections in the city, because there is a lack of stop signs, as well as a lack of adherence to most traffic rules.

What’s worse is the music. I like most of the reggaeton, salsa, musica criolla, and other types of music in Peru. Even the American pop music is alright because it reminds me of home. However, I’m not a huge fan of cumbia, which is what they listen to most of the time out in the campo where I live. I have been told that cumbia is the most popular genre of music in Latin America right now, but that Peru has really bad cumbia. I really wouldn’t mind listening to it, except that the radio stations play the same songs over and over, and basically everyone here listens to music louder than I appreciate (I am a little bit of granny in that sense).

However, any time any one is feeling a little festive, they crank the music up louder than that. If there is some sort of fiesta (high school graduation, church reunion, town dance, baptism, etc), they have a DJ or a live band, and the speakers are turned up so loud my ears literally hurt and it takes me a day or two to hear properly again. I think this is about par for the course for any sort of concert or music festival, but at least when I would attend that sort of event in the US, I felt like I had some sort of control over where I sat/stood (i.e. how close to the speakers), and I could always leave if it was that bad. I never really feel like I have those options here.

Similarly, people usually have their TVs turned up louder than I would choose. This also goes for when I have gone to bed. There is absolutely no sense here of “Oh, someone’s trying to sleep, we should turn the music/TV down.” I guess people here just grow up with loudness from the time they are in the womb, so they have learned to sleep through it. At the parties where the music is so loud that I can’t hear the person next to me speaking, there are always babies and young children passed out in their mothers’ or other female relatives’ laps.

I was woken up recently at 6:30 in the morning to, again, music playing more loudly than I would like generally, but especially for that early in the morning. Any time of day between about 6:00 am and midnight you can hear music, if not at your own house, then at a couple of houses nearby. And if it is loud enough that you can hear it 100+ meters away, then you can imagine how loud it is at that house. However, it is interesting to note that pretty much everyone likes the same music here. In the US, young people, middle-age people, and older people usually have very different tastes in music, and those tastes vary a lot from person to person within each age group. Here, it is all cumbia all the time. Younger people might put on some reggaeton occasionally, but the parents will still listen to it. Everyone enjoys the same radio stations and the same cheesy concert DVDs of their favorite local cumbia bands. Everyone dances at all the events that have concert/dance components, which is pretty much all of them. And everyone turns up the music too loud.

In addition to horns honking and music playing, there are also the animals. I have sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and dogs living right outside my house. Throughout town, there are also goats, donkeys, horses, cows, ducks, and cats. As animals do, they are generally wandering around, looking for food, and making some sort of noise. Sometimes you will hear a rooster crowing. Growing up in the country this is a familiar noise, but that doesn’t make it any less loud and annoying, especially if you are trying to sleep. Then, occasionally you hear a donkey braying. There is no way to really describe this awful, loud, complex series of noises, but many times when one gets going, the rest of them within hearing distance will start up. This is especially annoying at night, and they have actually woken me up before.

Sometimes you will hear a dog barking, but then, similarly, many times that will set off the other dogs. What’s worse is when they start fighting. The dogs here are generally a lot more aggressive than the dogs back home, I think because they are raised to protect the house, family, and animals, not for companionship. They are also a little bit abused and neglected compared to what most people from the US think is appropriate. So, if another dog wanders into their territory, especially at night, watch out. My host family’s dog, King, was tagging along with me the other day when I had to walk to the other side of town. We walked past an area that I know has a couple of small, aggressive dogs, so I tried to walk on the other side of the street. Before I know it, there are like 6 dogs attacking my poor dog. I tried to throw rocks at them, but of course I didn’t get to close, and I was too flustered to have any sort of aim. Luckily, King managed to escape after a couple of minutes and run off toward the house without any real injuries. I hear this sound of yelping, snarling, barking, and scrabbling around in the dirt far too often.

Then, there are the bugs. I grew with the sounds of crickets and other insects during the summer. However, I never really had to deal with them in my bedroom. Here, I have a door to the main living area and a large outside door in my room. Both of them have cracks around the edges of sufficient size to let in all manner of insects. Right now, we are in the middle of a June bug infestation. As soon as it starts to get dark, they start swarming inside by the hundreds, especially if the lights are on. I have taken to just lighting a candle in my room to do my work in the evenings, and that helps a little bit. Depending on the how recently it has rained, there are also lots of mosquitoes. I get a few crickets, moths, katydids, and other random insects. Luckily, my mosquito net protects me from most of these bugs, but I can still hear them all in my room. For the most part, they are not loud, the they just make those creepy scraping, flapping noises that bugs make. It is surprisingly distracting when you are trying to sleep.

So, thank goodness I came to Peru with my I-pod and my ear plugs. I always like to have music around, but I was never of fan of ear plugs. I don’t like how they feel, they always fall out at night and I’m afraid they’re going to get lost, or I’m afraid I won’t hear my alarm, etc. However, I had just a simple pair of foam ear plugs that I came across when I was packing, and decided to throw them in (along with an eye mask, which I also never really like but have used here on several occasions). Boy am I glad that I did. They aren’t great, but they block out the quiet noises and take the edge off the loud ones. Between the music, the host family talking, the animals outside, and the bugs inside, I use either my I-pod or my ear plugs pretty much every night. Should any of you ever visit me, make sure you bring your ear plugs, and get ready for the noise!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Door Sweet Door

I have been in the my site in the campo of Lambayeque for two weeks now, and overall it's been really good. I'm in the regional capital this weekend for meetings and to shop for more of the stuff that I need for my room. I've also been enjoying the free wireless internet (and hot showers!) at the hotel. I could probably write a short book about my first two weeks in site, but for now I think I will stick with a story that exemplifies much of my time here.

I visited my site for about 3 days about 2 weeks before I moved there. During that time, I had to make an arrangement with the family for how much I would pay them every month for room and board, and how we would fix up my room. They had already put cement over the adobe brick walls, which is nicer than I expected, and they told me they would have cement laid down over the dirt floor by the time I got back. I have a large window in my room, which had metal scroll work so no one could get through, but lacked glass. I also did not have a door. I told the family that I at least needed screens on the window to keep the bugs out (and I planned on getting a better curtain) and that Peace Corps required me to have a door. I said that I could pay for it up front, and then take a little bit out of the rent each month until it made up the difference (that's what Peace Corps told us to do). They just kind of said, 'yeah, yeah we'll figure it out when you get here.'

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that a very thick cement floor had indeed been laid, and even painted. The had put textured frosted glass panes in the window, though one had broken in the process. We'll see how long it takes for that to get completed; right now I have a piece of cardboard. I have mixed feelings about the glass: it blocks the nice breeze and nice view, but doesn't block much light, and still isn't 100% private. However, it's their house, and it does look nice and keep a lot of the insects and dust out. I still didn't have a door, only an undersized curtain. Most people in rural northern Peru don't have inside doors since it gets so hot and that would block ventilation. I have been told that people are still respectful of privacy, but I haven't found that to be entirely true.

I decided to wait a little while and see if the host family brought up the door, or just went ahead and put one in. I stopped by a hardware store in the big town 30 minutes away, but they said that surely I had a carpenter in my site; it would be really expensive to get one in town. A week went by, and I got a phone call from one of the administrative staff (in Spanish, and I actually managed to have a semi-intelligent conversation) about my window and door. I told her the windows were in process, but that I didn't have a door, yes, I would ask about it that same day. I was then able to tell my host parents, "I got a call from my boss this morning, and she says that it is a rule of Peace Corps that I have to have a door with a lock. Is there a carpenter in town I can talk to?" They said, 'oh, no, you'll have to go back into the big town for that.' Well, crap. Turns out they were going into to town later that afternoon, so I was able to ride in with them.

So my host parents ended up taking me to this carpenter's shop and going in with me. At first I was a little uncomfortable, because I wanted to be able to haggle and firmly stipulate the kind of lock and door I was looking for without a judgmental audience, but then I decided I was glad to have both a male presence and a native Spanish speaker because the shop owner seemed a little shifty. I ended up decided to buy a door from him, even though it was a little more than I was expecting to spend. We get some money for settling into our sites, and I still had a decent chunk left. He said it would be ready at the end of the week; I managed to talk him into one day earlier because I would be gone the day he initially said. I told him I would go ahead a pay half, and made him write out on the receipt my stipulations of the kind of door, the kind of lock, and the time it would be ready, so I would have proof if he didn't follow through.

Friday at noon was the big deadline. I attended first communion ceremonies that morning (and somehow got nominated to be the one to take everyone's picture as they took their communion, even though my camera's not that great and I wasn't entirely sure of what was going on). The ceremony and festivities continued for a while, but I finally managed to excuse myself by 1:00. I wasn't too worried, people don't really have the same sense of keeping to a schedule here. Fortunately I didn't have to wait too long for a moto taxi (basically a motorcycle with the back taken off and a metal frame/plastic cover 3 seat cab added), and got into town by 1:30. I also had my 5-year-old host sister in tow. Her mom was out of town for the day, and the dad and 16-year-old sister seemed otherwise occupied, so I volunteered/got volunteered to take her to the first communion and then into to town with me.

First stop was ice cream, then a short walk to the workshop. Big surprise, when I got there, the door was not finished. However, he was clearly working on it. He told me two more hours. I said, "Come said noon," in my best Peruvian fashion, and he said "Okay, one hour." I agreed, and said we'd be back. I planned to go to the internet cafe to check my email and facebook account, and try to send a couple of emails that I had been working on during the week. But my host sister, who can be pretty headstrong at times, said, "Let's go see my uncle," and started walking confidently in that direction. I said alright, thinking we were going to his house, and wondering if she would be able to navigate there.

A few blocks later, we cross the highway and arrive at a restaurant. Turns out the uncle and his wife own the restaurant. My host sister strides into the kitchen, surprising her uncle, leaving me hanging at the doorway awkwardly trying to introduce myself. It turns out they were very nice, and told me to have a seat. They offered me some soup, and even though I had already eaten, I said "Okay, just a little," not wanting to be rude and thinking there's always room for some soup. Well, they bring out a big bowl a soup, and shortly later, some sort of beverage I didn't recognize and an entree plate with rice, noodles, and chicken. The food was good, and I didn't want to appear rude after their generosity, so I manage to stuff most of it down. We chatted for a while, and after almost an hour-and-a-half I said we had to go.

Guess what? Door still not done. The guy said he was finishing up, and he would take us out in his moto, so I told him we were going to wait in the moto. A few minutes later he comes out and asks if I have big nails at home. Well, of course I didn't, so he sent us to a hardware store a block or two away to buy a 6 nails. I spent the extra sol and bought 8, just in case. As we are finally loading up, I am assuming he's going to put the door on top of the moto or in the back cargo area. Wrong. He slides it in on the floor in front of our foot. I am taller than many Peruvians (believe it or not) so that didn't leave me much leg room. My knees are still a little sore from being pressed up against the door on the bumpy 30+ minute ride. Not to mention that his moto lacks the plastic covering that most motos have that adds wind protection and the impression of safety.

About 5 minutes out of town, I hear the engine start to sputter, and sure enough we run out of gas. Luckily the next gas station was only about a kilometer away, so we wait while the guy walks to get gas. By this point, I could have gotten very impatient, frustrated, mad, or upset with the situation, but I just had to laugh. They have drilled into us during the application process and during training that you have to have patience and flexibility to be a Peace Corps volunteer, and after 3 months here, I pretty much knew how things would play out (running out of gas still surprised me!). Fortunately my host sister was being very patience and good-natured this whole time. We entertained ourselves by taking pictures of the nearby fields and the kid playing across the street. The guy managed to get a ride back, so we didn't have to wait for long.

The ride was slower going and more cramped than usual because of trying to avoid jostling the door and tools off the moto. Luckily I knew my way well enough by then that I could give the guy directions. Finally we get back to my house. It takes the guy a few hours to put it in because he has to shave the door down to size a bit. In the meantime, my host sisters and I watch "The Transporter" in Spanish.

Overall the door looks really nice. The guy did exactly as I asked in terms of having the door open on the side and in the direction I wanted. He had to leave a little gap at the top and bottom because my host dad wants to be able to run electric cords through (I'm not sure for what else; I have a light and an outlet), so that cancels out some of the noise-blocking ability that I have been looking forward to. One side of the frame is at kind of a funky angle, but the door shuts smoothly. The lock seems solid enough. Hopefully it meets the regulations. I now finally have the privacy that I am accustomed to, and don't have to worry about standing in a back corner when I have to change. My host dad came home at one point, and supervised as I paid the second half of the price. I'm not sure whose idea it was, but my host dad told me I had to pay an extra S/.8 for the trip out. I had already paid so much, and was just so ready to be done, that I didn't argue.

So, now I have a door. I had to jump a few hurdles to get it, but I feel pretty accomplished for negotiating the situation, and getting the outcome I wanted, without freaking out or feeling too terribly taken advantage of. I feel a lot more confident now about my ability to handle situations on my own, and probably won't have to rely on my host family or other volunteers as much for similar things in the future.

A little glimpse into my new life, with more stories on the way!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I'm leaving, on a night bus...

Hola todos!

Sorry for the delay in my update, and sorry in advance for the lack of details. I am leaving tonight to move to my site in Lambayeque, so, once I get moved in I'm sure I'll have some free time to write a nice long post.

In the will be quite a long trip to my site, and somehow I have to make it there essentially by myself with two large bags and three small bags. I have a lot of household items to buy once I get there, including a nice mattress and storage shelves for all my clothes and other junk. However, today I had the good fortune of finding a nice, big, fluffy down pillow for S/. 11, or roughly $4.

Once I get to my site, I will have to contend with a latrine that is about 50 yards from my house and only a hole in the ground (though at least it has a cement floor) and a makeshift bathing stall in the backyard. However, I have a nice big room with a bed. Hopefully they will have the cement floor, door, and better curtains installed by the time I get there, though I'm not counting on it.

On Thursday we had a Thanksgiving celebration for our host families. We had prepared a skit, a traditional dance, a modern musical number, a slide show, and an embarrassing Spanish quote guessing game for the entertainment, along with pictures of us in recycled newspaper frames for our families, and lots of snacks.

On Friday, we wrapped up our training. In the afternoon we had a nice swearing-in ceremony. The ambassador even came and spoke. We had to swear an oath that is essentially the same as the one used by the military. It felt a little weird to say something along the lines of 'protect and defend the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic' when talking about the Peace Corps, but at the same time it felt important to join the long and broad traditions of foreign service.

So, wish me luck in settling in to my new site, and hopefully I'll more to share soon!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Drumroll, please.

Here it is folks, the moment we´ve all been waiting for! This week we finally got our site assignments!

I will be in the region of Lambayeque, in northern Perú.

My site will be in the northeastern portion of the region, in the dry forest (bosque seco). Apparently, this type of ecosystem is very unique, and the only place similar to this particular forest is in Africa (Namibia, I think my director said). The weather there is pretty warm, and, obviously, dry most of the year. I won´t have to worry about altitude, because my site is at less than 500 feet above sea level.

My town has about 800 people (similar to my hometown in Kansas!). At least at first, my main counterparts will be the director of the school and a municipal worker. My host parents are both in their early 40s, and I have three host sisters, ages 21, 16, and 5. I´m still not sure if I will have electricity, but apparently I do have water in my house. However, I´m told I will have to use a latrine which is a little way away from the house and I will have to take bucket baths. If there is a shower, at least in the warm weather I won´t dread taking a cold shower!

One other volunteer from my group will be in a site about 20 minutes away by car, so that will be nice, and several other volunteers from previous years will be within 30 minutes or so. Another volunteer from my group will be about an hour away, another about 3 hours, and one more about 4 hours. The county seat, for lack of a better term, where I will probably have to go to use the internet, will be around 30 minutes away. The regional capital, Chiclayo, where I will have to go regularly for meetings, is about 3 hours away by bus.

Next week we are going on field based training as a group, and then on site visits to our individual communities. I am very curious to learn more about what is next for me!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Inca Kola

I heard some good trivia on the news tonight:

Perú is the only country in the world where the Coca-Cola flavor of soda doesn´t have the highest sales. Here...why, it´s Inca Kola, of course!

Inca Kola is a very sweet, syrupy, neon yellow ´gaseosa´. I like it, but a glass a week is plenty for me. Most people here love it. I´m also not crazy about the Coke or Pepsi here. I prefer Crush Naranja orange soda. I have always liked orange soda, but this brand has an extra kick here. I try to keep it to one half-liter bottle a week, though. :)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Preview to Site Assignment

Yesterday I had a ´chat´ with my boss, the Associate Peace Corps Director who is the head of the Community Based Environmental Management Program. We all talked to him the first week about how training was going and our preferences for sites (mountains or cost, city or countryside, isolation, types of projects, amenities, etc). At the time, I tried not to have too many preferences--it takes flexibility to be a good volunteer, and I trust that the staff know more than I do about successful site placement. However, I did state that I couldn´t be too high in the mountains (more than 10,000 feet or so) because I get altitude sickness, and we talked about my interest in alternative energy projects, women´s and youth empowerment, and cuisine.

So, this week was supposed to be more of the same before site placements are finalized and we get our assignments next week. However, apparently he is already basically finished with his ´game of chess´. He is also infamous for not being able to keep it a secret once his decisions are made. He gave me some very telling hints about what department I will be placed in, but I am sworn to secrecy until it is official. Also, we had our first Environment trainee go home on Tuesday (Health, at the other training center, has already lost 3), so things could still change.

However, I can say that he promised me a site that wasn´t in the mountains. He also told me the names of three other people that will be in my cluster (people that live close enough that you could make a day trip of a visit). I will be the first Peace Corps volunteer that has lived in my site, which I think will be both positive and negative. Apparently the mayor in my town is very receptive, which is rare, as well as the school. My town has about 300 families, which would make it around the same size as the town I grew up in. He said I will have running water, but I probably won´t have electricity (I think I won´t know for sure until I get there). I will have 3 school-age host sisters, and my house will be part of an extended family complex that is near the school. I´m hoping that I will get to work with the alernative energy project that is starting up next year, but he didn´t really say.

Yesterday we did our first practice sessions of teaching in the schools. My partner and I did a 30-minute session on trash, recycling, and composting for 4th graders, and I think it went well. Today we all brought in a day´s worth of trash from our host families, and did a big waste characterization study. Tomorrow we are traveling to Asia...a town on the beach a couple of hours away. With a different partner, I somehow have to explain global warming and its effects on Perú in 15 minutes to 13-15 year olds. Then we get a free lunch on the beach, and depending on the weather, we may get to go in the water.

That´s it for now, but tune in next week for the news of my official site placement!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Learning a new language is an interesting journey, especially when you are learning the specifics of the way a particular language is spoken in a particular area of a particular country during every day life. Here are a few of my observations.

When I was learning Spanish, I learned that the word "aqui" meant "here" (literally the place here, but also many of the other uses the word "here" has). In Peru, however, the word "acá" or "over here" is used most of the time instead.

The word "ahora" means "now". "Ahora" is used here, but "ahorita" is used more often, which specifies "right now". Apparently this term is very Peruvian, and not really used elsewhere. I have been expected to do a lot of things here "ahorita", without much warning or time to get ready. :)

The word “tranquilo” is used here quite frequently. It seemed strange at first, because in the US we use the word calm a lot, but tranquil is pretty much reserved for things like pristine mountain lakes. “Tranquilo”, or “tranquila” for the feminine, is used here both as an adjective and as a command. For example, “Acá es más tranquila de Lima” or “Here it is more calm/quiet than Lima“, “El es un hombre tranquilo” or “He’s a laid back guy“, or “¡Tranquila!” or “Calm down!”.

Literally “rico” means a rich person, or sometimes an expensive thing. However, it can also be used to describe delicious or tasty food. Food is rarely described here as being good, delicious, really good, okay, bad-tasting, or anything else, but simply as (emphatically) “¡Es rico!” as (a little doubtfully) “Si, es rico…” or rarely as “No, no es rico.”

One of the Spanish words that most English-speakers know is “bien” or “good”. It took me a while to figure out that here, it more often means “very”. I kept getting confused and wondering if I was hearing things correctly when I heard things like “bien feo” or “good/very ugly”, “bien bonita” or “good/very pretty”, and “bien frio” or “good/very cold”.

In a similar manner, "bastante" as I learned it and as it is written in the dictionary means "enough". I kept getting confused when my host sisters asked me if I had "bastante tarea" or "enough homework". Eventually I realized that "bastante" is used more often to signify "a lot" or even "too much". Hence, this past week I have indeed had "bastante tarea"!

One of my favorites. The term "claro" or "clearly/of course/that´s right" is used in Perú pretty much as it is used elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world, and it is used fairly often. It always makes me feel like a bit of a genius when I am making a statement or confirming the answer to a question, and I get the response of "¡Claro!" spoken quite emphatically, like I have made a great revelation.

I have also found myself forgetting a lot of English words. I will be talking about something in Spanish, going along just fine, when I will get stuck on a somewhat uncommon word. Then, I will rack my brain trying to figure out the word in English, with the hopes that they will recognize the word in English, it will sound very similar in Spanish, or remembering the word in English will help me describe it in Spanish. At least once a day (and usually more), either in my Spanish class or at home with my host family, I will sit there for about 30 seconds trying to think of a word. Sometimes I eventually think of it, but a lot of times I just end up saying the equivalent of “Oh, I don’t know, anyway…” in Spanish.

Overall, I feel like my Spanish is coming along pretty well. I can now understand almost everything my host family says (at least if I am paying attention), compared with only the basics at first. My speaking ability is improving, but more slowly. I can convey pretty much anything I need to, but I know I will have some of the verbs conjugated incorrectly (it’s hard to think of conjugations quickly while you are trying to speak!), I will have to improvise some terms, and I will have to supplement with gestures or facial expressions.

Today, we got moved to our new language groups. At the very beginning, I was put into the intermediate low group (level 4 out of 10). Friday, we had our second round of interviews, and today I found out that I had advanced to the intermediate medium group. I feel like both of those placements were a little bit on the low side, but I get a somewhat flustered and stumble over some things when I get put on the spot speaking Spanish. Plus, a level of only intermediate medium is required to be placed at a site. Now that I have officially reached that level, while I still have a lot of room for improvement, I don’t have to stress out about my language ability.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Final Packing List

For those who are curious, here is a list of EVERYTHING that I brought to Peru.
These all had to fit in two pieces of luggage (each weighing less than 50 lbs. and totaling less than 107") and a carry-on. Many of the items can be found here, but I didn´t know much about the selection, and a lot of things will be harder to obtain once I am on site.

Daily/Purse Items
Pocket-Sized Wallet
with Cash, Driver’s License, and Credit Card
Coin Purse with Change (most common here)
Passport Holder
with Personal and No-Fee Passports
Copy of No-Fee Passport and Visa
Decoy Wallet with Student ID
and a few American Dollars
Emergency Alarm
Collapsible Umbrella
Immunization Records
Mini Address Book
Mini Brush

1 Tank
1 Nice Tee
2 Short Sleeved Blouses
5 T-Shirts
2 Long-Sleeve Tees
2 Light Sweaters
2 Pairs of Twill Pants
1 Pair of Slacks
1 Pair of Bermuda Shorts
3 Pairs of Jeans
2 Skirts
Zip-Up Jacket
Multi-Colored Pashmina
Multi-Colored Skinny Scarf
Fleece Jacket
Fleece Scarf
Stocking Cap
Lined Leather Gloves
18 Pairs of Underwear
16 Pairs of Socks and Stockings
7 Bras
1 Pair of Long Underwear
1 Undershirt
Long Cotton Pants
Chenille Socks
1 Cotton, Knee-Length, Short-Sleeve Dress
1 Belt
1 Swimsuit
1 Sarong
1 Pair of Sneakers
1 Pair of Birkenstock Sandals
1 Pair of Teva Flip Flops
1 Pair of Black Flats

Nail Kit
3 Emery Boards
Shimmery Nail Polish
2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner
Face Scrub
Razor with 4 Refills
Facial Moisturizer
Body Lotion
Wide Tooth Comb
Toothbrush with Holder
2 Pairs of Glasses (Required)
7 Months of Contacts
2 Spare Pairs of Daily Contacts
Glasses Cleaning Solution
Contact Cleaning Solution
Contact Lens Case
2 Bottles of Eye Drops
1 Bottle of Allergy Eye Drops
Hair Supplies
Small Bottle of Texturizer
6 Claw Clips in Various Sizes
14 Hair Bands of Various Sizes and Colors
1 Barrette
12 Snap Clips of Various Sizes
20 Bobby Pins of Various Types
Makeup Kit
Loose and Pressded Powder
Eyebrow Comb
Eyeliner Sharpener
Eye Shadow Duo
10 Plain and Shimmery Lip Balms
Jewelry Case
6 Pairs of Earrings
Spare Earring Backs
4 Necklaces
2 Bracelets
2 Ankle Bracelets
2 Watches
3 Scarf Pins
2 Small Bottles of Perfume
Cotton Swabs
Cotton Balls
Large Bottle of Hand Sanitizer
Oatmeal Soap Bar
Mini Hand Soap Sheets
Sport Sunscreen
Aloe Vera
Lint Roller
6 Travel Packs of Tissues
Travel Toiletries
Mini Shampoo
Mini Conditioner
Mini Clarifying Shampoo
Mini Face Scrub
Mini Lotion
Mini Face Lotion
Mini Toothpaste
Extra Toothbrush and Holder
Extra Floss
1 Spare Pare of Daily Contacts
Mini Deodorant
Mini Hand Sanitizer
Pressed Powder
Eye Liner
Spare Tweezers
Mini Hair Spray
Mini Stick Sunscreen

25” Rolling Suitcase
55 Liter Hiking Bacpack
Overnight Bag
Kidney-Shaped Travel Purse
Mini Purse
Mesh Tote
Foldable Reusable Bag
Peace Corps Shopping Bag

Training Host Family
Calendar of Konza Prairie
Mini Calendar of North America
Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds
Site Host Family
Calendar of Konza Prairie
Mini Calendar of North America
Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds
Pet Tornado
For Kids
$1.00 in Pennies
Glow Sticks
Insect Bookmarks
2 other Kansas themed calendars
(I was told that Peruvians love calendars)

Mementoes from Home
Family Picture
Zen Calendar
Small Stuffed Animal
Photo Albums of Family, Friends, Home, and Travel

2 Decks of Cards
Korean Flower Cards
Mini Master Mind
Scrabble Tiles

A Sand County Almanac
A Wrinkle in Time
The Catcher in the Rye
Fahrenheit 451
Pocket Spanish Dictionary

Art Supplies
Folding Palette with Watercolor Paints
Rollable Brush Mat with 12 Brushes
Pint Canning Jar for Water
Rag for Blotting, Masking Tape
4 Small Pads of Watercolor Paper
Box with Pencils, Sharpies, Charcoal, etc
Box with 15 colors of Micron Pens
Box with 12 colors of Pencils
Sunprint Kit

Netbook with Sleeve and Manual
Camera with Sleeve and Battery Charger
Memory Card and Adapter, USB/mini USB Cord
I-Pod with Case and Charger Cord
3 Wrist Straps/Lanyards
Short Ethernet Cable
External Hard Drive with USB/mini USB Cord
5 Blank DVDs with Jewel Cases
2 512 MB Flash Drives

Travel Supplies
1 Outlet Adapter
Money Belt
Mini Laundry Soap Sheets
1 Liter Nalgene Bottle
~30 Ziploc Bags
2 Microfiber Washclothes
Small Jar of Peanut Butter
UV Water Purifier
Water Filter Kit
2 Pairs of Shoe Laces
Spare Sunglasses
Basic Sewing Kit
Reading Light
Ear Plugs
Eye Mask
Inflatable Pillow
Cocoon Travel Pillow
2 Combination Travel Locks

Homeopathic Sinus Medicine
Nose Spray
(They also provided us a very comprehensive medical kit)

Schrade Multitool
Swiss Army Knife
Interchangeable Screwdriver Set
Small Measuring Tape
Small Adjustable Wrench
Utility Knife
Gardening Gloves
Duct Tape

Office/School/Professional Supplies
Writing Utensils
14 Pens
2 Felt Tip Pens
2 Mini Pens
4 Mechanical Pencils
4 Pencils
Clic Eraser
6 Highlighters
120 .5 Pencil Leads
30 .7 Pencil Leads
Paper Supplies
Multitudes of Peace Corps Paperwork
1” 3-Ring Binder
Looseleaf Notebook Paper
3 Composition Books
1 Folder of Research
1 Legal Pad
1 5x8 Moleskine Journal
1 3x5 Moleskine Notebook
1 Notepad
5 Pocket Memo Pads
3 Accordion Folders of Various Sizes
First Aid Reference
1 Box of Business Envelopes
2 Dozen Blank Note Cards
300 Index Cards in Various Colors
3 Colors of Post-It Notes
4 Colors of Post-It Page Markers
Desk Drawer
Small Basket
3 Rulers
3-Hole Punch
Double-Sided Tape
Staple Remover
Push Pins
Binder Clips
Mini Triangle
Twist Ties
Paper Clips
Elmer’s Glue All
Extra Strength Glue Stick
Super Glue
Electric Pencil Sharpener
Key Padlock
2 Business Card Holders
Business Cards