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...