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!


  1. Sara,
    I so admire you for taking on this "adventure". I love reading your updates. Have a Merry Christmas and know that you're in my prayers.
    Rhonda McGown

  2. Thanks Rhonda!

    It´s always nice to hear that people are actally reading my blog. :) I really appreciate your good wishes. I think of everyone back home often, and I hope you and your family are doing well. Merry Christmas!