lunes, 7 de diciembre de 2009

This is why I am here (12/03/09)

I just climbed a mountain overlooking my town of Mache and surrounding caseríos – I am taking advantage of the morning sun and the warmth that it elicits to see the view of where I will be working for the next 2 years. It’s a beautiful challenge I am finally embarking on – I felt ready for this during training. From the top of the cerro/mountain, I can grasp the size and topography of the campo/countryside. I think I will retreat up to here when I need to gain perspective.

After talking to my new host-mom (Juliana) and her visiting sister, Betti, in town to pursue her negocios/business, I decided to follow Betti home to the chakra with her burro/mule, weighed down with this week’s goods. About a 40-minute walk outside of ‘downtown’ Mache, we climbed, passing by a newly arrived family’s home of a tarp, supported by bushelled paja/straw. This family of four with a daughter and son, is starting to make their living in the chakra. Approaching Betti’s home, she defended me from her 5 dogs – her ‘protection’. For some reason, I can’t escape packs of overly aggressive dogs. I talked to one volunteer in the south, and he expressed his satisfaction from getting a good square kick to a dog’s face while on a run, hmmm… need to build up my defenses. After strategically finding our footing through the barro/mud and the animal dung of her livestock, we were joined by her husband, also in his 60s/70s, with poor vision and a lame hand. After the polite normalities of open conversation, we ventured into her kitchen (my prime motive for coming) to see her cooking conditions, since she had previously referenced the smoke. Sure enough, in the low-ceilinged kitchen (I had to duck to be inside), the walls were pure black. She has a ‘stove’ of leña/wood (wood-fired stove) with no chimney and hardly any ventilation. Besides already being aware of Juliana’s (my host-mom) cooking conditions when she frequently uses her stove of leña (she also has a gas stove, which is more expensive to use), I now am aware of the cocina mejorada project no. 2 I would like to actualize – with many more to come, I am sure. This is why I am here.

I think most people are aware of or can detect the health hazards of their practices, but this is what they know, this is their custom. A significant portion of the population (not sure what percentage), have only received up to primary school level education – learning to communicate effectively to this group of individuals and comprehend what is being said will be crucial for the ensuing years.

At site… in Mache! (27/11/09)

Third day here in Mache, and my hands are slow to type because of the cold. I will adjust, I will acclimate, “acostumbrarme”- I actually had to look up the English translation because I couldn’t think of it;) I wonder with the more advanced I become in Spanish (which I am hoping will be the case), the more I will regress in my English... hmmm. So third day here, and I met with a couple of albanils-carpenters to receive an estimate to cover the dirt floor of my room with wood or concrete, escaped to go for a run for the first time in about a week, and let me tell you, it’s a challenge at the high altitude, I took a luxurious (really!) warm bucket bath in the sun that reveals itself in the morn, did some reading/follow-up work with the health post, prepared a salad for my host family (neglecting to take into account my host-mom’s missing teeth and her difficulty in eating hard foods- ah fracaso- definitely feel encouraged to tackle dental hygiene here), made a couple of tippy-taps (from plastic bottles for washing hands and brushing teeth) since we don’t have running water at home, did a variety of other small projects/feats, and oh yeah! witnessed a birth (un parto) of a girl my age, going on her third child. It will be interesting to mark what can be accomplished in a day in the Sierra – everyone (volunteers) say you have a lot of time on your hands, but for some reason, I don’t feel like I will ever run out of things to do—

To back up a bit, since I haven’t written for ages… I finished training this last weekend, with a grand finale of a ceremony, being ordained now as a volunteer, as opposed to as just an “aspirante”. Strange how we formed our own mini-subculture at our training center, and now we are dispersed all over different parts of Peru. We received our assignments in week 8, and I was assigned to a site in the Sierra, about 3350 m+ high in altitude, to a community called Mache, population between 500-800, sometimes less, depending on the season. Mache has 24 surrounding caseríos or towns, one of which is Lluín, where another health volunteer has been placed (about 1 hour walking distance away). Within the last weeks of training, we had field based trainings (volunteers were split up into groups depending on their respective program - health, environment, or water-sanitation), and we visited sites of other volunteers. I ascended to the department of Ancash, in the Sierra to Musho where they speak Quechua, to where white mountains lie, peaked by Huascaran, and waterfalls cascade down from glaciers. However, I could only partially view this scenery because of the fog—but I am bound to return. In Musho and Mato (in the lower lying valley), we built latrines, cocinas mejoradas (improved kitchen stoves and ovens) and hosted some charlas (talks/lectures), such as on early childhood stimulation. I was ridiculously sick in many ways while in Musho, when trying to dig canals and pits for the latrine—including having a very distended stomach and strangely, burping excessively—couldn’t eat for a couple of days. Leading up to departure to our final destination of 2 years, I hopped over to baja Piura for another site training, to a completely different climate—flatlands, in the chakras, hot—seemed like I was in Cambodia, or Thailand, amidst rice paddies with white cranes, and tropical, with the palm trees lining the fields. The towns around these areas were of dirt/sand. With the very dry, arid land, it really doesn’t make any sense to have rice paddies there, since they require so much water, but they were put there at some point and many struggle to keep them going. Environmentalists are highly critical of these rice paddy fields, so poorly placed in the dessert. In Casa Blanca and another town, we constructed some biohuertos/vegetable gardens, attempted a cocina mejorada, worked with some young teens, and enacted in some charlas, this time with HIV/AIDS/STD’s. The on-site trainings were extremely different as far as topography, language, and the people go, but in common—excessive malnutrition in kids and some shotty living situations.

Back to the Chaclacayo area (where our training was), we worked in some outerlying towns that experience a great disparity in comparison to those living in the center. We paid some visits on behalf of a health post, and visited an older man who used to lay concrete, currently living atop a hill (I don’t know how he even manages to get up there, with such loose sediment and dog crap everywhere), suffering from tuberculosis. His ‘house’ consists of boards with some tin for a roof- dirt floor, covered with winged bugs, filled with moisture, and dirt covered belongings. Some of his grown children live just below him in their ‘homes’ with their kids with many kids. I’m hoping in the future, a couple of volunteers will be permitted to stay behind around the training center area of Chaclacayo/Chosica to work with the surrounding, poorer communities. As it currently stands, we all disperse after the 10 weeks to different parts. There exists decent infrastructure in the towns’ centers, but this is lacking in the outer lying communities. While at a health post in Quirio, I was talking to a few girls who were excited to know we were there, but then, to their dismay, we were there just for training, soon to leave. One issue they brought up was their hope in preventing individuals from killing their dogs and leaving them by or in the water canal since it serves as their water source. Definitely hoping we cease making a very temporary presence in these communities, utilizing them as ‘practice’ before leaving…

On a more positive note, I did achieve one of my goals of teaching yoga/body flow 1x/week at the center (and one time with my host mom at 11 o’clock at night the night before I left, I wish our schedules could have corresponded better)—so now, I’m hoping to bring some of this good spirit to my community in Mache – needing to learn how to teach in Spanish...

miércoles, 4 de noviembre de 2009

Compromise, Patience, and Conservation (sometime in October)

There are times when I am going to find myself with everything and other times, with nothing. It’s an interesting interplay- an interplay to keep in mind when becoming frustrated when resources run low. Things most certainly do not come on demand here, not that they did in the states, but the ease in which things could be attained was not so tedious. I am learning patience which was one of my primary objectives, and compromise. I feel that the two go hand in hand. I am learning a trail exists to attaining what is desired - where there is a general progression, perhaps in the direction of improvement – and how this needs to be maintained consistently or else digression will occur.

The simple everyday trials in patience: I cannot be well accomplished in washing clothes the first go around, or be accustomed to showering with cold water from a bucket with a small Tupperware container in the cold. It’s a gradual progression to learning the technique. Soaking clothes in one bucket (starting with the whites first), wringing them out, moving to the second pail with detergent and using a scrub brush, board and sometimes ‘special soap’ to scrub and remove stains, wringing clothes out, progressing to third bucket, wrinsing, wringing, then to fourth (to adequately remove the detergent), but performing the last wringing before putting the clothes on the line, while strategically placing the few number of ganchas, or clips, so that clothes do not fall into the dirt and/or fly away. And with the shower. Bending forward 90 degrees to wash hair first and wring it out before washing the rest of your body so, a) you can prevent a mop of hair from making you freezing, and b) you can start the hair drying process. I am so happy I chopped my hair before coming.

Okay, the application to more pertinent, and perhaps more important aspects of life. Learning Spanish, Peruvian Spanish that is, and well that changes when going to different regions… and doing presentations in Spanish on health related topics that may or may not be new in content. It’s easy to adapt to speaking a very basic level of Spanish - communicating enough to get by with transport, small purchases, and superficial level of conversation, such as the most meldrum of topics – the weather. But, if wanting to feel outside of yourself, because being introverted all the time can get tiresome, expanding to topics of politics, the environment, art, philosophy, religion, can really be stimulating and enriching. I can approach these subjects, and was able to earlier on, but keeping a steady pace, and varying my vocabulary - I need to work on these. And I so want this to come immediately, but outside of my already busy schedule of training, I need to allocate the time. Really focus on engaging myself to retain and exercise comprehension. At the end of the day, it is so easy to want to recede and shut off for the day, which may or may not be appropriate.

I don’t have much patience with myself for performing, and so I am working on this. I can’t be perfect on presenting a topic, such as self-esteem, lactation, nutrition, etc., in Spanish, when perhaps, I may still have been hesitant to approach these topics in English. I have to accept I may suck the first few times I present - just smile and laugh at myself, and hope my audience can be accepting. The first few times, I probably will suck, and that’s okay, I need to accept that, because I can get better.

Conservation of time and energy, there are time when they can be exuded and times were they are already exacerbated.

It’s a scary notion that some things just may not happen, even though you feel so strongly about accomplishing these things. You really have to dedicate yourself to prioritizing because those more predominating priorities will take precedence. And how to work with a realistic time frame because it always seems like the desired outcomes come later than anticipated…

Amores Perros (10/7/07)

So, it more solidly hit home today, being gone for 2 years, and losing contact with those back at home. It’s hard to convey how much I feel for those around me, and yet to set out on my own quest. We watched a radical movie in language class this morning- it left a resounding, unsettling, feeling - how alone we are - how one can just act in his own best interest. I went for a run with one of the language instructors and we compared different perspectives on how to receive people (well, kind of, while being out of breath and speaking in Spanish :) and, in summary, there are two ways you can receive other people - to simply reciprocate kind behavior to only those who treat you well and disregard those who treat you poorly, or conversely, to press further in those who seemingly treat you poorly and pry to find why they act this way. Perhaps, the latter can lead to a greater understanding, and promote an improvement in behavioral patterns in the future. One could seemingly consider the first method as easier, a way of settling, and the second as more time-intensive and well, work. It played out last night, after passing by some young teenage boys who rhetorically yelled out inappropriate comments while I passed by. I could have seemingly continued on my way, and ignored them, but because they didn’t seem threatening, I turned back around and approached them, expressing how I didn’t appreciate their disrespect, and continued into introductions and casual conversation. Being culturally sensitive, and rather taking into the age factor, I can try to understand how they were just poking fun, and on my account, they can see there’s more to just a face of a gringa passing by.

Some interesting developments this last week were visitors. The U.S. ambassador, Mike McKinley, made it a point to come visit us in Chaclacayo, accompanied by his bodyguard. This was a notable experience, and I guess, as far as political standards go and in the South American arena, an encounter with a celebrity. He was very well composed and seemed genuinely engaged in our interactions. He lunched with us for over an hour and afterward, spoke to us for a little over an hour. Some feedback included his favorite part of Peru being the people, and that the most valuable assets we could bring to rural communities would be the English language if we choose to teach and the internet/computer skills (I feel so hindered without a functioning computer!). These two assets in essence connect them to the outer world, affording them insurmountable opportunity. ‘Internet penetration’ (aka internet access), only reaches 4% of the population here, which I find shocking. One funny remark he made was how Peru is undergoing a gastro revolution and how we should take full advantage of this, by trying the rich delicacies restaurants have to offer. We all silently laughed and bit our tongues at this because, (a) our modest wages/stipend suffices as barely sufficient to eat at the cheapest restaurants, (b) we will be stationed in rural posts, and therefore will not really have access to restaurants, and (c) how our diet is consumed by rice and potatoes. And as a side note to the rice and potatoes, I am starting to understand how these foods came into mainstream staples – they obviously are an inexpensive option, are filling (which was greatly needed to take away the hunger pains of the poor), and serve as calorie dense food (especially needed for the labor intensive lifestyle). A couple of book s he recommended were Lords of Poverty and Bottom Billionaire – and therefore added to my endless reading list. He ended with the ‘moral superiority’ that we and the Peace Corps strive to uphold, and “to learn to recognize what you can’t fix.” Hmmm, brings me back to the Serenity Prayer Sevrina would remind me of senior year of college… I consistently get frustrated with life, and she would kindly nudge me and recite this prayer:)

Some other notable visitors were Russ (from U of P) and his friend Mike who I got to meet for the first time. We went hiking in San Geronimo and it was the first time I was able to escape the training bubble and see some lush green! And, share in real, feel-good conversation. It’s such a contrast to converse with someone who knows you from before. I love proactive encounters in nature – the two unfold so naturally.

A couple of observations to report - the Peruvian work schedule and transport, aka the combi. It seems like a lot of people don’t sleep here, at least not enough. The low to lower-middle class do an obscene amount of work between the home and actual paid work. They become accustomed I guess, to going to bed around midnight and awakening at dawn (4 to 5ish). I don’t know how they do it. And, on a lighter note, the joke is, if you think a combi is full, you can always fit 10 more Peruvians – some commutes have equivocated to disbelief, like really, we’re going to put even more people on here? I didn’t think it was possible.

jueves, 1 de octubre de 2009

Incorporating veggies into the diet (9/28)

Ah, some progress with my family! I prepared some fresh vegetables I had attained from the agricultural center on Saturday for dinner last night – I was SO excited for a spinach salad with some other veggies and herbs, let me tell you! My family liked it a lot too. This was somewhat counteracted by the arroz con leche (rice with milk) and the Peruvian equivalent to elephant ears for dinner, but have to start somewhere…

And tonight, my host-brother, Junior, prepared a salad for himself for dinner! Ahh, small strides. Had my interview with the Health Program Coordinator… looking forward to finding out where I’ll be placed (find out in week 8)!

Runner’s High (9/27)

We went to the National Agrarian University in La Molina last Saturday to get our hands dirty with some gardening and learned about the different plant life present in Peru. It’s incredible the rich diversity existing in this country, and disconcerting how the people predominantly turn to potatoes and rice for daily consumption. Two weeks in and I’m already sick of potatoes, white rice, and white bread… I am definitely a vegetable and fruit lover. Upon entering the agricultural scenery of the university, I was in food Heaven. From what I gather so far, a decent array of fruits and vegetables are sold in markets, but the majority are exported and are too expensive for the local populace to consume - unfortunately, it proves more feasible to sell the nutritious foods rather than consume them. This isn’t to say that fruit and vegetables aren’t apart of the diet at all, but rather they aren’t consumed enough… my opinion so far - and judging from the region where I live... I live with those from lower SES (socioeconomic status), and it’s coming to my reality the missing educational piece in nutrition and sanitation. I’ve been witnessing the lack of separation between food handling and dealing with feces, etc. - I’ll spare the details.

We’ve had a few talks already about the guarantee of having diarrhea if we haven’t already, and quite a bit along the lines of categorizing the severity - again I’ll spare the details. I’ve never so openly talked about this topic, and with such a large group of people, in my life. It was comical at some points, but we all kind of laughed nervously…

I finally sort of had a day off today which was rejuvenating. Besides hand-washing clothes and cleaning, I was able to escape for a run along a small canal toward the bottom of Yanacoto (the pueblo where I’m living). I feel like it’s so easy some days to be excited about my surroundings, and at other times, I can just feel down and out, and want to retreat to find solidarity. Running always helps put things into perspective and always serves as a foothold to discovering something new. I was surprised to find some community gardens around some homes or rather, shacks. There was some green amongst the dry loose, rocky dirt of Yanacoto! Wahoo!

I’m looking forward to my Spanish improving so I can start striking up more random conversations – I’m hoping to co-teach a yoga class in Yanacoto with another Peace Corps volunteer. I taught my first yoga/tai chi/pilates class to Peace Corps volunteers last Monday and I think it went pretty well:)

Well, there’s so much to do and learn that I shall never fall short of things to do- although balance is always key…

La Carreterra Central (9/25)

So I think my computer (or rather netbook) may have a virus or worm? That may explain why it’s not working… that or it just sucks, not sure… and my watch is being problematic, such luck.

Our language classes went into Lima today to gain more exposure to Peruvian culture and enhance our survival skills perhaps. I’m adjusting to living more conservatively - we receive about $2-3/day which translates to 6-8 soles (the Peruvian currency). We do normally receive our meals from our host families (they receive compensation for food and housing). Taking the combi back to Yanacoto from Lima was quite the experience which ended up lasting about 3 hours (should only be ~1-1.5 hours). Starting from Miraflores (a commercialized/Americanized sector of Lima on the coast where we ended with our instructor), 2 other girls and myself took a bus to the end of the avenue back into downtown Lima. During the ride, our bus broke down, but luckily for the driver, we were in heavy traffic, so he and the guy that collects bus fairs and hoards people on and off (el cobrador), were able to shut off the bus, reach into the engine compartment from the front end/glove box, and make some adjustments until it worked. This was the first segment of the journey. We transferred to a combi headed homeward bound (Yanacoto), and had a riveting ride on the Carretera Central (freeway). Weaving in and out of traffic—between other combis, cars, buses and people—and coming within millimeters, sometimes touching—we eventually made it back. The cobrador jumped on and off while the combi was moving, using the outside bar for leverage, to pick up and drop off as many passengers as possible, clinking the coinage he had in his hand. There are head bars above for the standing passengers to grab onto. Least to say, the night on the freeway was a spectacle of intertwining lights, vehicles, swirling dust, people, and vendors scrambling on and off vehicles (while pulled over momentarily) to sell snack foods.

Nothing is simple (9/21)

Using the internet (access, speed), having things work (computer, cords, electricity, using different sites)- impossible. Difficult. Most of the time, I don’t even want to bother. They really are keeping us busy here, which is good, just hard to fit in sleep. It seems like I’m more tired than normal- maybe speaking another language is more draining? I can say I miss having a phone to use for meeting up with others, reliable internet, and hot, or even warm, running water. Using a bucket of water isn’t too bad- but cold water, meh. I can’t imagine, or rather don’t want to imagine, bathing with cold water in less than 60 degrees- whoo, hoo (that’s my shiver sound). If stationed in the Sierra, that will be an interesting transition. But at the same time, the Sierra is the place I am opting for since the scenery is spectacular.
So one new part of life to become accustomed to…
Bathing in cold water and from a bucket that was just used for mopping ;) (as was the case with my host family…)

sábado, 19 de septiembre de 2009

Arrival (from ?)

We had orientation in D.C. the 9th-11th where all the Peace Corps volunteers gathered before departing together to Peru. There are 57 of us – from all over the states and predominately in our 20s and 30s. We arrived in Lima around 9pm Friday the 11th (Ken’s birthday!) and I think I may have brought the least amount of possessions, which so far has worked both to my benefit and left me hanging... We took buses to a retreat center in Chaclacayo about an hour east of Lima for the weekend. There we were assessed for our spansish skills, met with our respective programs (health, water and sanitation- ‘watsan’, and the environment). A few of us ventured out and went running along the river – felt so good, and danced at the local discoteca one night – such a hoot. Sunday, the 12th, we were divvied up between our host families. My host family has a mother (Ana Maria Ramirez) and three kids (Lizbeeth- 20, Junior-15, and Graice-5). They are wonder-filled and like all Peruvians I’ve met, most amiable. We are living in Yanacoto (un pueblo outside of Chaclacayo); Chaclacayo is where the Peace Corps training center and some of our classes are during training. Ana Maria is a busy bee- owns an internet café, works at the school of her youngest (escuela inicial), and is going to school to receive her teaching degree. Lizbeeth is going to university in Lima, and therefore commutes 4 hours roundtrip by 3 buses (or rather combi’s) a day to go to her classes! Don’t think I’ll ever complain about commuting to work/school again. Junior is a total sweetheart- we totally hit it off with similar interests. He’s so responsible- while going to school, he helps out with the internet café and the household, his youngest sister, and cooks! He always is sure I have what I need and shares a love for music, art, and sports.

We’ve started week one of ten for training- breaking out into our language classes, our programs/projects (mine is health), and meet all together as a group for certain activities. Again, such a dynamic group – the volunteers and instructors. Lovin’ it!

Getting to this point… (from 9/15/09)

Some background on the application process…

I submitted my application August 24, 2008, and shortly after, had an interview with the Peace Corps recruiter while I was “conveniently” in Seattle. Thereafter, I started the lengthy stepwise process to more supplemental application materials, extensive medical and dental clearances, a nomination for a health position in the pan-American region, more interviews, the final assignment, and departure date of September 9, 2009. Each step has surrounding stories to how they became, such as being counseled by an Ethiopian woman at lunch at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) when accepting the nomination in September. And… gracefully showing late to a Peace Corps meeting in D.C. in April with a visiting friend, when my name was surprisingly called to receive my final assignment. I have had guardian angels guiding me along the way when deciding to commit to Peace Corps service. By receiving the preliminary acceptances throughout the year, such as the nomination, it never was guaranteed: throughout the process, the acceptance to the Corps, the region, position, departure date, etc., could always change or never happen. The waiting, throwing myself into the nebulous, and trusting the feeling side of me instead of the rational side, was very testing. But, the instinctual feeling that it would work out in the end is finally happening. I have felt a draw to explore the Latin American region since elementary school, when awestruck by tropical rainforests, and a draw to the people since preschool, when befriending a Latina in southern California – we formed an unspeakable connection, especially since we didn’t speak the same language:) I feel engrained with this need and desire to explore and fulfill a pervading sense to serve. I’m hoping for Africa next… then India, the Dominican Republic, Tibet, Nepal… and perhaps the southwestern United States during grad/med school and the southeast for administering demonstration projects in health. I continuously feel restless to see more, experience more, and meet more people - I don’t feel like I quite belong anywhere for a lengthy period of time. Peru feels right for now.

On the cusp of reality… (from 9/9/09)

Or not, since how I’m sitting in the hotel room of a Holiday Inn. Just got to D.C. for orientation and it’s funny, along the way, I could tell from the passengers, that a couple of Peace Corps volunteers were among them. One accompanied from Portland, although we didn’t meet until we were at Reagan International Airport. And another jumped on during our layover in Chicago. What can I say, they just dressed and acted the part so I went up to them and asked when proceeding to the baggage claim.

I’ve really been excited coming up to this point. I continuously was asked if I was nervous/ anxious, but perhaps due to my naiveté, I did not feel either. The turning point was in the plane when doing some reading that arguably should have been done much earlier (thought I read the PC Peru Introduction booklet, but when my dad could answer some questions better than I could, I realized I really just skimmed through it). I started to feel a bit ill-prepared, but I am reminding myself I did the best I could in preparation for leaving for two years and I am where I am.

I always enjoy meeting flight attendants and the one on the flight was a male who had taught English in the past, near Busan, South Korea. So shout out to Erin and Isaac who were in Chungju for the past year! I naturally was excited to talk to him about the culture after travelling there this past March/April.

So here I am ready to set out for the journey, with a lot less baggage than others which I am proud of:) With all the support I received from family and friends, I was able to pack efficiently and mindfully. Still pulled the near all nighter before leaving (30 min of sleep counts for something), but in the good company of Derek and Anya. Hmmm, sounds reminiscent to leaving D.C. mid-August for the west coast with the support of Patrick, Peter, and Cristina. How lovely it is to have true love and support in your ventures.

I have to say the sendoff with having family and friends this past Sunday, was one of the most memorable, meaningful, and impressionable experiences of my life I will take with me.

Love you all!