Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Objective Acquired

"I'm just going to set this down riiiight over here."
I thought I would expound a little on some of the various goings-on in my day-to-day life.  In doing so, I'd like to welcome you all to the wonderful wasteland that is our current botadero.  This 20 hectare piece of land in the town of Mesones Muro, about 30 minutes from my house, is where we've chosen to deposit, scavenge through and burn our trash "for years".  It is really quite scenic, sans the plague of flies and the 20 hectares of garbage, that is.  Oh, and don't forget that this is a dry and very hot climate, so I imagine the resulting pungent aroma can reach levels never before considered possible.

Fortunately, this was the first stop of our day and we had the foresight to leave early in the morning when the weather is more tolerable.  We used the transport provided by the municipality and set out through the considerably smaller town of Mesones Muro.

This is still on the outskirts of town, but the center isn't much more developed either.

Past the other end of this town, we came to an unpaved road which jostled us around as if our truck was in the hands of an excited toddler.  The area we ended up in was not only being used as a giant trash microwave, but also as a harvesting point for road building materials.  Ergo, we were bathed like chinchillas several times as various giant trucks passed us.  Those few inconveniences did not go unrewarded, however.

Some things can't be unsmelled. 

This, more or less, for 20 hectares - or so we were told.

You get the idea.
To those of you still remaining - I know, trash is a really captivating topic of conversation - I will give you a bit more information on the specifics that I have about this situation currently.

  • 20 Hectares =  200,000 meters square = ~50 acres
  • 3 contributing towns - Ferreñafe, Pueblo Nuevo & Mesones Muro
  • 19 metric? tons of garbage dumped everyday = 4 truckloads worth (shown above)
  • 1-2 tons burned everyday 
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that these are the first numbers I've been given regarding this particular dump site.  As I invest more of my time on this project, I am nearly certain those numbers will be slightly different in either direction.  Regardless, we didn't do much more there than merely investigate the situation from the inside of the truck.  To be honest, I wasn't sure there was much more we could have done - even when considering the many years experience I have in waste management, of course.

Once we got back to Ferreñafe, our guide Soledad, the woman in charge of Community Services for the municipality brought us to a most unusual zoo-ish like animal corral owned by my town.  Among its massive collection of maybe 30 creatures in all were tortoises, alpaca, cows and one lonely, confused deer.  We were brought here, more specifically, to see the space behind our flourishing wildlife preserve.  In the back there is a scattering of various trees about 10 years old.  As it turns out, this space had been used in years past as the dump site for Ferreñafe.  However, towards the end of March, it will be the site of our new Vivero Forestal (a.k.a. tree nursery)*.  That's not all, though!  It will also become home to my tree-growing activities.  I haven't submitted anything official at this point, but I've been told I can partition off a spot for my own use as well as all the materials I'm likely to need - minus the seeds, I'm guessing.  I'm actually rather pleased with this arrangement as I don't exactly live in the campo (word basically meaning a rural site) and had not found a space for me to use up until this morning.

 Up next, the non-operational "recycling plant".  Ferreñafe is conveniently located just a few minutes away from our capital city, so it currently isn't much more than a glorified sorting and storing facility.

The fact that we have something like this already reserved for recycling is pretty awesome in and of itself.

Here is where you put your hay mattress or plastic chair, as they're like substances.

Our farrago of various materials just waiting to be adopted by a loving processing facility. 
 With an equally impressive stated intention by our other guide that day, there are plans to re-open this building towards the end of March as well.  I need to be sure and stay on the things they have said and, if possible, involve myself in the projects themselves.  Rather than simply asking how things are progressing periodically, I'd like to be kept informed as a result of lending a hand where I can.  This place has some pretty good potential, speaking in terms of monetarily and environmentally, to my community.

After gathering what information was to be had from this visit, we drove across town to the current vivero forestal.  They're moving it because it is located on the inner corner of the town's soccer stadium.  Apparently, soccer and seedlings don't mesh well.  We've got a few hundred individual plants, trees and the like already growing at various stages and plan to move everything to the new location in a month or so.

We returned to my house a little while thereafter.  I spent the afternoon hours visiting Chiclayo to run a few errands and put my name on the list for Customs on Friday to get my package.  Turns out, however, remembering to bring the paper you need to turn in to the office is a crucial part of that whole process.  Fortunately, the entire trip was not for nothing as I found a good deal on a MUCH needed fan for my room.  Fingers crossed that I will no longer wake up sweating.

*Most towns in Peru have their own Vivero Forestal as a method of reforestation, revenue, bargaining material, etc.  In my experience so far, it is relatively important to have one being somewhat maintained.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

"So... what exactly are you doing?"

Hello again, everyone.  Pardon my prolonged absence from writing in here.  This week I just passed my two month mark in site, and continue to acostumbrar, as they say.  According to those who have much more knowledge on the subject than myself, this part of Peru is finally beginning to demonstrate just how hot it can get.  Both pairs of black shoes that I wear almost exclusively are starting to come massively undone as I'm guessing the heat from the road melts the glue that used to keep it whole.  I'm told to look forward to next month when the only solace one can find from the mid-day heat will be to lie on the cool cement or tile floor of a well-shaded room.  Yaayy...

I recently walked into my house from spending the better part of the day with one of the several other Peace Corps Volunteers who live within an hour of my site.  He lives in an area just outside of the main entrance to the Bosque de Pomac, and he's been largely helpful in showing me around and filling me in on any questions or curiosities that I've had up until this point.  To give a little bit of background information on where I am and on some of the places I'm likely to mention, take a look at some of the map's I've included.

Map of my Department.  The shaded areas are the protected areas found within and just outside of my site.  To give a reference of time, to travel by car from my capital city of Chiclayo to my site is just about 20 minutes.  To get to the Bosque de Pomac is about another 30, more or less.
Here is a map of the many archeological sites found within the Bosque de Pomac.  The vast majority have been looted and the excavation of them has been minimal so far. 
(I live in the city of Ferrenafe.  The Bosque de Pomac is the 'protected area' that I will be working on with SERNANP.)

To go into more detail on the Bosque de Pomac, you should know that I work for a part of the Ministerio del Ambiente (Ministry of the Environment) called SERNANP (Servicio Nacional de Areas Protegidas - National Service of Protected Areas) that focuses on conservation, archeological preservation and general environmental education with regards to the Bosque de Pomac in my particular area.  Two years ago on the 20th of this month, there was a large police operation done to evict the people who had unlawfully taken up residence in the Bosque de Pomac - see link below.  This type of illegal settling is not uncommon in Peru - especially in rural and/or impoverished areas.  In fact, I've been told that the vast majority of the images people see of adobe houses constructed on what appears to be a rather inconveniently located area aside a mountain is often the result of illegal settling.  

What made this invasion worthy of police intervention, however,  lies with the archeological areas and natural resources located within the borders of that brown shaded region on the map above.  The Bosque de Pomac has significant cultural, environmental and archeological value to this area.  The specific kind of forest that makes up the Bosque de Pomac is very unique in that it is a dry forest which many native birds, plants, and tree species call home.  Additionally, the Sican people laid claim to this land and built Huacas (pyramid-esque structures built from slave labor and used for a variety of ancient practices including storage of valuables, religious ceremonies, protection, etc).  To make this area even more appealing to the invaders, the wood that makes up the dry forest is in demand to make one of the most popular dishes in all of Peru,  Pollo a la Brasa, which is cooked using the wood from trees found in the Bosque de Pomac.  Not only did the invaders cause an unbelievable amount of damage to the archeological sites in the way of robbing them of their valuables and destroying their archeological integrity, but they also deforested a large portion of the forest by selling the lumber and making way for crops, houses, and so forth.   I'm unsure of what finally catalyzed the event, but they eventually set out to evict those who were squatting on land that they had no rights to.  The sights of what unfolded are pretty powerful, especially in an area that I've seen to be fairly quiet - aside from the noise made by the political groups connected with the sugar industry, but that's another story for another day.  The settlers, unfortunately, were not the only ones who suffered a loss as a result of  the police's operation, however.  Sadly, during the operation two police officers were assassinated by a sniper who I imagine lived among those being evicted.  There is an absolutely incredible collection of photos taken during the eviction that can be found at this link (mind you, this all took place just 30 minutes outside my site):

(Warning: The 9th picture in the slide show might be hard for some people to look at.  Also, bit of interesting information, but the police officer in the picture of the truck with all the people waiting outside it is a family friend.)

Here is a map about the various risks present in and around the Bosque de Pomac.  In order on the legend, they are: Trash, Risk of Invasion, Overgrazing, Noise, Deforestation, and Archeological Erosion. 

Furthermore, an example of one of the Huacas, or archeological sites, can be seen  just below.  When I first glanced at them, I had no idea they were man-made as they're massive in size and not particularly representative of something carefully planned due to erosion and lack of preservation.

(Huaca de Oro)

Atop one of the Huaca's looking down at the dry forest. 
In addition to collecting this information on the Bosque de Pomac and what the SERNANP office is doing, I've been working on a handful of other projects in my site as well.  The second largest thing that has taken up my time has been working with an organization abbreviated by the letters UGEL (Unificados Gestion de Educacion Lambayeque - United Development of Lambayeque Education).  I've been working with them to develop a plan for the environmental education in the schools in and around Ferrenafe.  Recently, the Ministry of the Environment has put into place a set of criteria to be taught to the kids regarding environmental themes.  While that may seem like a good thing, the way in which they are monitored and scored is a far-from-ideal system.  I've spent the past month or so coming up with subjects that can be taught to various levels of classes and at the end of February I'm going to give a presentation to several teachers and school directors on how to include these lessons in their classes.  I'm hoping to be able to give some good examples of what type of activities can be done as well as how you can incorporate environmental themes into a variety of subjects.  I haven't stressed too heavily on this task yet, as the end of February has always been several weeks away.  We'll see how tranquilo this Gringo can remain as this month quickly disappears.  I have had a few meetings with people from the SERNANP office as well to see how we can all work together on this particular project.  I'll be teaching these lessons myself in one or two schools to start off.  In addition to the lessons themselves, I have been tasked with organizing a festival around Earth Day and putting together one or two marches (very popular social awareness activity for schoolchildren here in Peru).  

Aside from that project, I have been working with a woman who lives in my town to plant some things in a park located on the outskirts of my town.  This area, called Pueblo Nuevo is a poorer area that has a pretty dismal looking park as its town center.  Her and I are hoping to successfully jump through the various required hoops to ultimately build a nursery for this area in hopes of having the required material needed to liven up this scorched, dirt-road town.  Myself and a few other volunteers got together a few weekends back and planted about 30 different plants in the park.  Our aim was to not only show a sign of good faith, but to also demonstrate the cooperation of the various organizations and NGOs (i.e. Peace Corps, SERNANP, APROTUR (association for the promotion of tourism) to the mayor so he'll be favorable of the idea of future projects.  So, fingers crossed on that one, I suppose.  

Lastly, I had a meeting last week in Lima with both the outgoing and incoming Volunteer Coordinators for the Environment Program here.  Based on the outcome of that meeting, it looks like I will also begin work on a tourism-focused project that deals with Lambayeque.  As I've alluded to slightly above, this area is part of a large archeological route - Ruta Moche - which isn't exactly well organized in my neck of the woods.  There is a neighboring sector of tourism guide, organizations, and promoters from another city just South of us called Trujillo.  They are much better organized, and have, in fact, already begun expanding some of their programs into the Lambayeque area.  Based on what I understood from the meeting I had, myself and one other volunteer who lives nearby the other protected area Chaparri will need to come up with a report on the situation of things out here.  We provide the free and available labor that would be far too costly for someone all the way from Lima to execute themselves.  The Ministry of Commercialism and Tourism wants to have this area be more tourist-friendly and I'm interested to see what role I can play in that as time goes on.  

Work aside, however, things are going well for me in Peru.  Some days you feel like you're a hilariously small part in something so immensely incomprehensible and other days you feel accomplished and even sometimes vindicated from your own internal ridicule and questioning.  That incessant mental nagging can be as equally motivating as it can be debilitating.  
Fortunately, however, there exists a pretty solid network of more experienced volunteers to turn to as well as those like myself who can sympathize with the plethora of challenges and emotions we endure.  In the end, however, everything seems to always work out, doesn't it?  A mere 48 hours ago I was feeling completely overwhelmed with what lies ahead of me, and by this afternoon I felt re-energized and excited for the possibilities that await for me depending on the effort I put forth each upcoming day.  
Viewing your situation from many angles can also be helpful.  For example, as I was sitting in the Combi (about the size of a full-size van which holds ~20 people, no joke...) this afternoon on the way back from my site-mate's site, with the sun setting and the sky looking sleepy with a rare company of overcast clouds, I couldn't help but almost laugh at the thought of what I looked like stuffed inside this clown car.  I was lucky enough to be given one of the seats that face the opposite way of everyone else.  With my knees crushing the unlucky passenger in front of me as she refrains from even the slightest constraint in looking unhappy about my being there, and the other people looking at me like I am Santa Clause from those old Christmas M&M commercials where the Red and Yellow M&M unexpectedly run into Santa in a faint-worthy realization (*gasp* "they DO exist!!"); I just looked out the window and shrugged off everything besides the beautiful mountains, bright green sugar cane and rice fields, and all the other things that make this place an adventure.  My Spanish might not be great, and sure, I still have absolutely no idea about almost everything that surrounds me, but I'm here and I'm having a blast trying to figure it all out.  As the popular saying here goes...

Poco a Poco

Friday, December 3, 2010


Hello again, everybody.  I'm glad to report that I've safely and rather conveniently made it to my new home for the next two years - Ferreñafe.  We left from Lima on Saturday night after a pleasant last few words with my host family, a picture given to me of myself with the kids, and a rather traffic-filled road ahead.  There is this 'thing' here where they actually speak of two different types of how you can understand time.  "Hora Peruana" and "Hora Americana".  Hora americana is when one abides by (within reason) the time of important events and agreements.  Hora Peruana is one that, well, abides by no rule other than "if it comes, it comes".  Generally, you can expect to leave a half an hour late.  Terrace, a fellow volunteer headed towards Lamabayeque also, had phoned for a cab that was supposed to arrive at 5pm.  Our bus tickets were stamped 7:30, so we figured we were within reason for having no troubles getting to Lambayeque.

20 minutes late, the cabbie finally showed up.  [skip past much complaining over the horrendous traffic, lots of calls back and forth with everyone else already at the station, several trips ignoring blatant signs regarding the direction of a particular street].  We arrived, in all seriousness, 20 minutes after our bus had pulled out the station.  No big deal, in the end, however, as we were able to get on the next bus - sans the wine, food, and first class seating the other bus came along with.

I've spent the past few days here shadowing my closest site-mate as we went to the city of Lambayeque to give two presentations - on biodegradability rates, composting, and ecotourism.  I observed but was fortunate enough to at least get the papa huacaino that was given to us after the presentation was over.  I was also given this horrid orange soda that I imagine has the exact same taste as the cup of suicide juice drank by those crazy Heaven's Gate people.  Big Red has nothing on this (inside joke with family).

Tomorrow I imagine I will be going to the market with my parents in the morning.  There is a market in our town that has a pretty astounding variety of fruits, vegetable, animal things (everything), and whatever else you want.  Well, perhaps not everything.  I visited the "natural market" in Chiclayo the other day and found all sorts of weird and zany things.  If anyone would like a stuffed Capuchin monkey, leopard skin, or voodoo products, I'm your guy.  Not really though, if you want a leopard's skin, shame on you.

I think this week I will finally upload the several hundred pictures I have on hand.  They take time, people, and there is lots of sorting and organizing that go behind it.  They'll be up soon though, promise.

One last thing to comment on the work-side of things, I met with Vicente, my boss, the other day and it sounds as though I'll be spending part of my time trying to run larger awareness campaigns out to the bigger areas near the Bosque de Pomac
(dry forest, protected area, near my site).  Before they had been focusing on the buffer areas to these sites, but they want me to start working on some projects that would extend their efforts.  I also think that I might be working to help them do some work on some protected areas off the coast of Lambayeque.  I hope I find a pirate's ship.

I'll write more later, but for now I'm going to call it a night.  Love and miss you all, as always.

Oh, and new contact information:

Phone Number:  

here is what should work-- 011- 51-74 957-626-837

011 for all international calls
51 is Peru's country code
74 is Lambayeque area code
...then the rest is my number. (thanks, Mom)


Robert Guise--Cuerpo de Paz
Casilla Postal 208
Oficina Serpost S.A.
Chiclayo, Peru


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

24 Hours in Site

Hello again, Everyone!

I have now officially been at my site for a little over twenty-four hours and it has made me nothing short of ecstatic to spent the next two years here.  My host family is incredible and the people that I have been given as my Socios (i.e. counterparts) seem to be great thus far. 

I arrived to my house yesterday at about 4 or 5 pm.  My town is a 15 minute taxi ride from our Regional Capital city of Chiclayo which is perfect because often times those can be the only places where you can buy the things you will need (i.e. a bed, groceries, etc).  To give you a bit of an update, I actually ended up with a completely different family from that I had described in the previous post.  Good thing I said that that information was subject to change.  Turns out the previous family had only wanted a girl volunteer (suckers), so now I am with a new family. 

My family now has a mom, dad, sister, brother, and a live-in sister/housekeeper who used to live in the Sierra (mountainous region), but has been living with my family for quite a few years in exchange for education and housing (or so I understand the situation to be at the moment).  Within the first 5 minutes of being with my family, my mom already called me her new son, told me that we have complete "confianza" (a word that I understand to mean as trust/peruvian confidence), and showed me their absolutely incredible house.  The contrast of housing here is pretty remarkable.  One volunteer nearby just received electricity in her site about a week ago for the first time.  She was able to turn on a light switch for the first time in a year in her room and was exhuberant about the whole thing (understandable, of course).  I, on the other hand, have a house that is MTV Cribs worthy, especially for Peru.  The front of the house is adorned with these metallic purple gates and the inside is all white tile floors and littered with flowers and other nice arrangements.  My room has its own bathroom that rivals damn near every bathroom I have had the pleasure of using in the states and there is even a hot water shower and water that runs 24 hours a day.  Additionally, there is satellite TV and wireless internet at my disposal.  All of which, I am getting at an absolute bargain. 

My mom is a PR person for the Ministry of Health in Ferreñafe and the sister-in-law for the newly coming mayor of Ferreñafe (score!).  Her uncle is also the outgoing mayor for a nearby town called Pueblo Nuevo, and he was quite a friendly person to meet this morning.  I left his office with his number in my phone and an odd excited-dog like Peruvian hug (the kind where two arms go up in the air and crash down over you).  I also met with some directors of various schools, the head of the police in Ferreñafe, and many other people from the municipality who spoke lots of words to me.  "Mucho Gusto" is a fine way to get by with not saying much ... too bad it won't work for the rest of the times I will have to converse with them. 

There is also apparently a Japanese equivalent to the Peace Corps, so I was able to meet with the girl who has been here for a year and has been working on community development issues in and around Ferreñafe.  If you want to experience a very mind-tickling thing, try conversing with a native Japanese speaker in a language you both butcher equally.  Also, the Japanese inflections make for a very interesting dialect ... and I am now more accutely aware of how odd I potentially sound. 

One interesting thing about Peruvian culture (or perhaps, just the particular jokester I spent my morning with) is that everyone likes to ask if I have a girlfriend back home or something about a girlfriend out here.  I said that I was indeed without one at the moment (and try to explain that many women in the states are not to fond of the idea of having their significant other gone for 27 months), so my one Socio, Victor, made it his secondary duty (sometimes putting it ahead of actually explaining who I was, why I was there, and what I was there to do) to inform every female from the age of 18-60ish that I was 'soltero' (a single guy) and that they have two years to woo a relationship and trip to the states out of me.  I expect a grand amount of courting once I return in two weeks now, haha.  It was all in jest, but he was having one hell of a time of the whole show and I will admit it did allow for some comic relief throughout my intense staring and trying to understand the various conversations that were being had about me. 

Oh, and one other random thing that came up is that apparently my new host mom and I share the exact same birthday.  Random, right?

Chau for now,


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Site Assignments - i.e. ¨Life is Calling, how far will you go ... to tweet¨

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the delay in writing (again).  By the time I get home from training most days, I have other things to do or simply can´t decide on what exactly to write about.  Last week we found out our site assignments and I will be spending the next two years in a town called Ferreñafe, which is located in the department of Lambayeque.  My next host family consists of 4 other people:

1. Dad - roughly 60ish years old, agrocultural engineer.
2. Mom - also roughly 60ish years old, clothing designer/worker
3. Brother - 35 years old, Biologist for a local non-profit (or so my paperwork says)
4. Sister - 23 years old, graphic designer. 

I will be one of two volunteers from the Peru 16´s MAC group that will be living in a ´small city´.  What that means is that whereas other volunteers will have approximately 300-1000 people in their villages, I will be living in a town of just under 32,000.  I will be working at a headquarters for SERNANP which is like the protected areas and environmental agency for Peru´s govenment.  I will be working alongside one of the bosses for the Bosque de Pomac which is a dry forest nearby my site.  (I apologize if I come back in ten days and change all this info, but as of right now I think I have the majority of that correct).  The good news is that I will be in an area with all the amenities and my boss for PC mentioned something about me using facebook and twitter to help SERNANP do outreach and whatnot.  I have very little idea what exactly I will be doing, but I´m hoping they aren´t counting on my superb spanish skills to do any sort of PR stuff - ¨queso taco arboles, apartamento salsa siempre¨ tweets SERNANP. 

This past weekend the environment group went to visit a place called Marcahuasi, which is just over 12,000 feet above sea level.  The views were gorgeous and the town we visited beforehand - San Pedro de Casta - was equally enjoyable.  Another trainee and myself taught a lesson about trees to some very receptive 3rd graders who were, in my opinion, more content to stare at my orange-haired face than learn anything about trees, lol.  Again, I have pictures, but the computer I am using is too slow to upload them.  300 or more to come once I get a good internet connection. 

I leave in just under an hour to go to Lima´s bus station where we will catch a roughly 12 hour bus ride to the capital of Lambayeque - Chiclayo.  We will be spending tomorrow night in a zoo, followed by another night in the Bosque de Pomac.  I´m very excited to see where I will be living for the next few years and meet my next host family. 

Well, there is a very impatient four year old who is rather tired of watching her pet gringo write in an alien language, so I must be going.  Love and miss you all.



PS - thanks to all those who wrote me an e-mail in these past few weeks.  Always nice to hear from friends and family back home. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lima & Catfights

Well, let´s see here, the first post in Peru was 9 days in, and now I´m wrapping up week 4..

To be honest, not sure how to even begin summarizing the experiences and situations that have gone down in the past few weeks.  I guess I should first begin by saying that I apologize for not being able to update more frequently, but I hope you can all realize that I have other things to occupy my time other than sitting in front of a computer at the moment.


(aside from trying to figure out how to use this GD keyboard which turns the general ":" into an "Ñ" - among many others....)

My training has gone fairly well up until this point.  We are currently two weeks away from finding out where we will be living for the next two years, which is exciting WHEN I have the time to think of such things.  Tomorrow we have our second round of spanish "entrevistas", which have been a rainy zoloft commercial cloud above my head this whole week up until today when I actually had a one-on-one chat with my teacher.  After this upcoming week, we (the MAC - environment group, if you will) will be spending the next few weeks visiting Casa de San Pedro (approx: 15,000 ft above sea level), doing our Field Based Training ... somewhere in Peru; and also doing a site visit in a place obviously unknown to us at this point.  Thankfully, working for various non-profits have made me accustomed to feeling comfortable with absolute uncertainty. 

So, how about I share a story about when we visited a BEAUTIFUL area in the city of Lima called Miraflores.  The day was planned as a spanish class integration (to put it in my words) trip into other parts of Peru.  There were ... a lot of us there that day, and the point was to speak/interview people from Miraflores about things related to our program in Spanish.  The ... uh... interesting? thing about this is that by being a PCT in the environment program is that a lot (all??) of our questions seem to revolve around the simple question "what´s the deal with you burning your trash??  So, that being said, the novice spanish classes (myself obviously included) were let loose in the most upscale part of Peru known to me at the moment:

(snapshot of the afternoon)

"¿Uhhh... Hola, senor, tienes el tiempo para contestar mis preguntas?  Yo soy un voluntario del cuerpo de paz..... (yada yada yada)..."

(In English)

"Hey, do you have the time to answer a few questions of mine?  Great!  Thanks!"
"So what´s the deal with your trash out here, do you BURN IT or feed it to the animals??????"

(local): "¿Que?  (translation: wtf did this Gringo just ask me, I´m just trying to enjoy this park bench on a nice afternoon)

(me): "So your trash, do you like to burn it out here, or do you actually recycle this stuff??"

And so forth and so on.  Yup, I guess cultural integration out here begins with a friendly/awkward?? exchange of words about one´s garbage.  The good news to report is that in the wealty part of Lima, apparently they have a pretty respectable recycling program.  The other news to report is that I will forever know the smell of burning trash from where I live.  (I did say in my interview that I wanted to expand my global perspective and understanding, right...)

So, once the Oscar the Grouch session was over, we (and I need to be VERY SPECIFIC in the way I describe "we": 9 damn gringos who are ALL in the MOST BASIC Spanish classes in the program) were given directions IN $%&"·$% SPANISH about how to get home.  Oh, and BTW, Lima is about an hour and a half away from Santa Eulalia (or "absolutely everything we know about Peru at that point" as I like to call it).  So, after given copious amounts of Spanish directions and questions like "bien?" "¿entiendes" (I feel the need to also mention that at the VERY same time we were being given directions IN SPANISH, a bunch of Miraflores(ian) punk kid skaters were trying to jump down about 10-15 stairs on their skateboards, causing me to be inable to follow anything else than "is this kid going to loose all of his teeth??... OMG... here he goes).  (they were pretty impressive, in the end, FTR).  So, after being exhausted from talking trash (in the non-smack sort of way) with local Peruvians, 9 of us were left to find our way back home.  Welcome to GD Peru.

So, half of us thought the other half knew what our teachers were saying... NOPE.  In the interest of keeping your attention still, let me just say that after being given the Gringo treatment from the local taxi (colectivo) drivers.. (i.e. "Oh, these gringo´s don´t speak Spanish at all, how about 2084u203948203984230948203948 Soles per person to get home), we tried to take the public transit. 

Three and a half hours, one near fatal crash, one person pulled from their car in an attempt for street justice, we arrived in Chosica.  I had the pleasure of staning for a solid hour and a half/two hours while wating for everyone to get a seat. 

Once we arrived to Chosica (the Naperville to our Santa Eulalian Bolingbrook, if you will), we were again fortunate enough to not get anyone to stop and pick us up.  Swell, so we payed 8 soles for 2 people (approx 4x the usual price) to get home.  The best part about this whole experience was that when I got home (and my family of 9 assumed I was probably off getting drunk somewhere - a commonly held notion about gringos - was that I couldn´t really explain anything further than "choqua", punching one hand into the other, and then throwing my hands upwards and sleeping for the night).

Aside from that bit of cultural integration, things have been rather peaceful.  Last week we had our first Friday afternoon off, which was nice to spend by the pool and relax a little.  However, on Tuesday of this week, I learned just how much noise a cat (rather, two cats) and a tin roof can really make.  It is truly astounding. 

So here I was, peacefully sleeping with the sound of the nearby river aiding in my rest, when all of  a sudden a stampede of elephant-like cats began no more than 4 feet above my head.  I´ve become a bit accustomed to being awoken by animals in the early hours of the night/morning, but I truly hope to never hear those sounds again in my entire life.  From my understanding, the cat that "lives" here, Misha, was either being challenged to a fight to the death, or was being ... aggressevily pursued by a male gato con interest.  So it was, 4:30 in the morning when all the excitement happen.  (Oh, and while I am able, I feel I should educate you all that cats can make about 7,000 additional sounds than we know). 

Ok, so it´s super late in the morning and I´m exhausted from a full week´s worth of whatever we learn in training, when this cacophonous eruption starts directly above me.  In the blur of my understanding of events at that hour, I sit there for a while and think "are the kids going to be horrified at the dead pet of theirs, or will there be more ´joys´brought into this world in a few weeks.  After I listen for a while longer and can no longer lay there as a spectator (frightened/curious gringo awoken in a panic of unusual and unknown sounds), I decide to leave my room and investigate. 

"Do I need to find a chair and save the beloved?? family gato, or am I going to be interupting a part of nature that doesn´t generally exist from where I come from.  Please take note that this is all going on after being awoken from deep slumber, so my thoughts are not the most well-formed.

Sooo...when I get out of my room, my grandma Doris is out there throwing pitchers of water on the roof.  My first thought was, "where the hell did she get that?? the water is shut off at 7pm each night!!"  Once that thought was shook from my head, I tried to ascertain what was going on, while conversing in a language other than my own at the break of dawn.  I didn´t quite know the word for fight at that point, though I did know the word for fornicate.  I decided it was better not to be standing in our portico at 4:30 in the morning asking my grandmother something regarding "sexo".  In her usual nature, she said something incomprehensible and with much speed, laughed, then went on her way.  I was so confused and curious and worried for the cat who I thought had been brutally murdered until the next day when I got home and found her in good repair. 

Turns out, Misha is apparently a badass and who/whatever she encountered that night is probably wishing it had taken a different path across the tin-roofs. 

I surely have lots more to share, but must get to studying for my Spanish interview tomorrow.  Miss and love you all!!

(PS my e-mail is, write me sometime people)



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

9 Days in Peru ... 9 Thousand Things to Write About

Hey everybody,

It´s hard to believe that it has been nine days already that I´ve been here.  When I set off to leave for Peru, I really had very little idea of what to expect.  However, I really don´t think I could have asked for more than I´ve recieved from both my host family, fellow Peace Corps Trainees (referred to as PCTs from here on out), trainers and the country in general.  My apologies for not getting around to posting sooner, but as I´m sure you can all understand, other things have taken priority over hopping on the internet and blogging. 

We arrived in Lima at about 1:30am on Saturday morning due to some flight delays (I think the PC did this on purpose to get us used to having patience from the VERY beginning).  The flight from DC to Miami was about an hour late and thankfully there were about 80 of us waiting to get on the flight from Miami to Lima so they had no problem holding the plane for us.  When we first arrived, rather exhausted but excited for the most part, we had to wait (again) for our rides from Lima to a town about an hour and a half away called Chaclacayo.  Those first two days we spent at a retreat center in Chaclacayo (in the same town that the Health PCTs are stationed).  As many of you can see from my facebook profile, the place was absolutely gorgeous. 

The place in which the enviroment (MAC - spanish acronym for community-based environmental management program) and water & sanitation (WATSAN) PCTs are stayingh is a town about 15-20 minutes from Chaclacayo called Santa Eulalia.  Don´t bother google-ing it, because you´re not likely to find very much.  The town is also a very cool - and in a lot of ways exactly what you would think of a small town in Peru to be like.  Both Chaclacayo and Santa Eulalia are completely surrounded by brown mountains.  They don´t get very much rain here (substituted with earthquakes, apparently), so the place is very dry.  I have lots of clothing and shoes that used to be black to prove it. 

As I mentioned above, I really came out here with zero expectation of what my housing sitatution (among nearly EVERYTHING else) would be like.  In line with typical Guise karma, I have lucked out incredibly.  I live in a (kind of) two story house with 9 other people.  It has taken me nearly a week to figure out who is who and what relationship they have with one another (largely to blame on my gringo ears which fall deaf to their light-speed conversation pace).  There is a great-grandmother (who I think leaves her room ... never?), my grandma (who won´t be happy until I´ve been served my entire body weight in food PER DAY), my aunt (who I think is the one who "owns" the house - assumption solely based on the fact that I´ve been able to make out the words Casa de Lorena from one of my neighbors), my host mom and dad (27 and 28 respectively), two cousins (Kevin -5; Milenka - 11), and (exhale) my two host sisters (Hilary - 4; Miley - 3 months).  Oh, and then there is some weird gringo from Chicago who can only really express his gratitude for all this family has done by playing with the many kids. 

(One thing that I´m very excited to get clarification on once my spanish improves, is that I think my host sister Miley is possibly named after Miley Cyrus ... because they sure do love the Disney channel out here)

I will have pictures up soon, but in the meantime I feel a bit weird trying to express in broken spanish "hey everyone, line up so I can take pictures of you".  Quite possibly, however, my absolute favorite part of my day is hanging out con mi hermana Hilary.  She is probably the cutest, goofiest 4 year old Peruvian I know.  She finds a very painful joy in pulling my barba (facial hair) every chance she gets, however.  I´m not entirely sure if she is just a typical 4 year old, or if "ouch" also needs to be translated into spanish.  While there are lots of people who live in my house, they are not at all short on curteousy.  I also am one of the few lucky volunteers who have internet, Direct TV (in my room too, of all places), and indoor plumbing.  The only amenities that really differ from home are the lack of warm showers (you people better not be taking that for granite, BTW - there have been a few mornings when I literally shiver and gasp for air in a fit of hypothermia ... perhaps slight exagerration there).  The water is shut of each night at 7pm, though that is definitely not a well controlled deadline and also makes for some rather in-and-out visits to the bathroom at night.  I should probably also take this time to thank my mom for her wonderful insight on what to get as gifts for my host family.  They all loved them (MKE).

Training has been better than expected as well.  I pictured lots of boring lectures and incredibly challenging spanish class, however, so far it has not been too hard to manage.  I´m in what I like to call the "Super Gringo" spanish class (meaning conozco nada).  I´m very pleased/shocked at how quickly my spanish is developing.  Just nine days ago I was hardly able to pick out what people were saying other than the occasional ("no se", "el/la", and "bano"), but now I´m following MOSTLY everything my language teacher is saying.  When it comes to my host family, however, I´m going to just have to keep listening and figure out how to make as little of an ass of myself as possible when trying to talk.  The training staff is really great out here, and they keep us both entertained and busy (which are muy importante, if you will).  Last week alone we started a few compost piles (don´t tell mi abuela, but I might be responsible for about 1/3rd of the organic waste we use in the compost as I´m incapable of eating 70% of my body weight a day in food like an elephant - or whatever animal it is that eats an obscene amount.).  We also started a Vivero Forestal (tree nursery) on Thursday of last week, which was cool to learn the process of. 

The place we train at is called Valle Dorado and this year is the very first year that PCTs have used this facility.  Thanks to a significant increase in the budget allocated for the Peace Corps, certain programs in certain countries have been expanded.  Peru 16 is the largest training class they´ve ever had (some 75+ of us), resulting in them having to put volunteers in Santa Eulalia and have a second training facility.  The highlight of the entire facility (and I believe I speak for all PCTs here) is this hilarious looking llama named Panchito.  At first he was a bit skiddish around so many Gringos, but he´s since come around and yesterday tried to spend part of his day eating lunch (and pooping) with us.  I´ll also have pictures of him in the next few days, because it´s definitely one of the best things from Peru worth sharing at this point.  I hope my fondness for this llama is evident, as you all know I´m not one to generally spend so much time discussing a llama. 

The elections for mayor? is this Sunday, which has been the cause of MUCHO excitement EVERYWHERE.  It is quite a different experience than what we´re used to in the US.  For example, voting out here is mandatory.  And apparently if you don´t vote, you get beat up (effective, no?).  While we often complain of the continuous television ads during election season in the US, you should see the extent of advertising they go to out here.  I´m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that approximately 80% of ALL signs, walls, telephone/light posts are covered in political advertisements.  Additionally, they have about 30 cars a day that drive up and down the streets with giant megaphones screaming this or that about particular candidates.  It´s rather nice not only escaping the political election time in the US, but also not understanding Spanish enough to get bored with their incessant yammering.  I live about 3 blocks from the town square and there is currently a giant stage constructed where some candidate is having music/dances and I´m not quite sure what else.  In addition to all the loud speakers and whatnot, they also use about 50 lbs of dynamite-esque fireworks to startle me/make lots of noise in typical Peruvian-fashion. 

Well, I believe that just about covers everything that comes to mind immediately from these past nine days.  Oh, also GO BEARS. 

Love and miss you all.