miércoles, 10 de marzo de 2010

Following a herd of sheep and a hot shower (02/09/2010)

Working here provokes a love hate relationship – there are days that are fantastic, where you are floating on cloud 9 and your outlook is gleaming, bright, and positive, and days where you want to dive off the deep end and disappear into the nebulous and retreat into your comfort zone. It’s hard to weigh in as to whether people really appreciate you, things, and interactions – here. I feel like some days I’m making an impact, making valuable connections and that it’s well, worthwhile, for me to be here. And other days, I feel like why do I even bother? I feel like everyone around me could care less, that I am not wanted here and am just wasting time. It’s like showing up to the health post, the municipality, or hosting a meeting in a community and they barely acknowledge you’re there. You start a conversation, and their attention is easily diverted, they give you the head turn, and away they go. In the meeting, they show up, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 50 minutes late, or not at all. And then they just sit there and stare, some bicker about the topic at hand, and then they go back and forth, not really deciding anything. Some kind of just sit there and laugh at the spectacle, or some just blankly stare, absent, with vacant on-looking eyes. However, then there can be a complete, or close to a complete, success, where there’s a meeting with health promoters that you have worked so hard to recruit from all your caseríos. We had 29 health promoters and mother leaders show up to training for this month’s theme – la gripe y infecciones respiratorias agudas (IRAs)/ the flu and respiratory infections. Así es.

As far as medical attention goes… it’s been a challenge to observe. Once coming into the health post, I witnessed a 7-year-old girl, with third-degree burns from cooking oil. Sitting naked on the exam table with a surrounding gawking audience of the health post personnel, she was bent over crying in agony, with loose flabs of skin hanging from her hip and several other boiled circles of skin on her stomach and legs. She was just sitting there crying with a lamp spotlight on her nudity and pain, and her audience scolding her callously for her crying. God just let her cry and give her some relief! I was on my way into the country side to visit some families in the neighboring caserío of Olaya, and I could do nothing for this girl.

Later that night, after coming back from Olaya, I ran into her and her mother shortly after they were departing from the health post. I was at least able to converse with her mother, perhaps consoling her to some extent, and comfort the little girl, giving her a bit of smile, and a most gentle embrace (avoiding the burns). After they headed off, I was en route to fulfill a guilty pleasure of a shower (thanks to the health post), where I could receive my therapy – to retreat from the world, be warm, and think – my means of putting myself back together.

Don’t let the bed bugs bite (02/06/2010)

So I had this conversation with Megan, where do you draw the line if you keep a blog – how much can you express without it becoming too personal, but then at the same time, express the experiences of a real person? Hmmm, that’s an interesting question… and also if you are ‘representing’ an entity, like the Peace Corps, how truthful can you be? I always like to be honest, straight-forward, forthright. Cut the crap and lay it out because then you can communicate most effectively, most efficiently, and I think, well for the most part, people appreciate your directness. If you have well-developed opinions and are honest about them, then shouldn’t they be appreciated?

It’s so hard living and working in a different culture when you can’t quite express the rapid fluidity of your thoughts, which is even difficult in your own native tongue. I can’t wait until the day I can tell off the alcalde, but in the most well-composed, professional way possible. Ha, that will be the day. At least while I’m doing my diagnostic with families, I have gained the ability to help them to relax by joking with them. Picking up on the campo language and playing with it, that makes a better day.

So when does this really turn into a diary or an account of events? Megan decided she didn’t want to keep a blog for fear of dispelling too much personal information. I’m thinking I’m just going to cut my losses.

A couple of honest accounts. My body is covered, I mean covered, with small bites coming from my bed. My fingers and toes are fat, my chest itches, waist, every place possible. So far I’m just dealing, but I need to drive out whatever bugs are infesting my bed. Oh, and I figured an abnormal GI tract was to come, with the adjustment period in a new place. But no, it’s continuing, and to the point I’ve pooped or ‘soiled’ my pants 3 times now. I never thought I would deal with this as an adult, thought that I could have complete control, but oh, as the horrible cliché says, never say never. Never should be eliminated from use in many contexts. I need to figure out what is plaguing my system, probably what plagues everyone’s system here. I can’t escape it. During training, they guaranteed everyone would suffer from diarrhea, and that a good majority would poop their pants at some point during their service. I’m putting the effort forward, practicing good hygienic practices – boiling the water, chlorinating the water, but I also need a water filter, since the water can get so turbid here when it rains. Clay water filters were only conveniently provided to water and sanitation volunteers, who have the water and sanitation training. Ironic. I mean I have some, but not to the extent they received. Poco a poco/little by little, I’m making small strides and learning the hard way. In a way, I guess you have to start with yourself – making your own self-improvements and having your lessons before moving outward. Understanding how other people live, truly, before being at all able, to perhaps, improve some aspects of their lives. Recently we came across a boy, 7-8 years old?, with half a fist full of worms in his liver, oh joy.

Como Gitana (02-03-2010)

After conversing with a friend who used to work on the carreterra/roadway (he no longer does, since he hasn’t received pay for over 2 months – asi es en el Perú/that’s how it is here in Peru), we decided that we are both gitanos, traveling from one place to the next. He was feeling a bit lonely, but that’s how the wandering life leads, sometimes you are surrounded by a plethora of people, and other times, very alone. But, you learn to enjoy, to love your alone time, and find it utmost productive, to regain your strength, and do the activities that you find fulfilling and most enlightening. I’ve learned to love my alone time, and can see a clear balance between knowing when alone time is needed and when socializing is necessary (too much alone time can also drive you crazy). Sometimes I definitely need to be in the company of others to gain perspective and not be so self-consumed in my own preoccupations and patterns of thinking.

If it makes you happy… (01/31/2010)

Some people just make you happy, just bring you pure bliss. And you can recognize this, when you meet them, there’s a natural connection, and it’s as if your kindred spirits just immediately become intertwined, like two dangling pieces of string. And you should just let it happen, not question it, and let it make you happy. I think American culture projects a lot of deprivation, a lot of self-denial, as if you didn’t deserve happiness, or you should always be looking for something more, something higher. I am learning the importance of appreciating every step of the way and that perhaps I don’t have to have such an ascetic attitude, even if I am in the Peace Corps.

I think one of the hardest aspects of life is focusing on the positive rather than the negative. It is so easy to dwell on the parts of life that aren’t playing out smoothly (which is usually out of your control anyway). So why not brood over what is going right? Why not be absolved with what is going beautifully? I have a terrible habit of focusing on what I perceive as my in competencies or my weaknesses. I need to let this go and be happy with what I have and appreciate what positive characteristics I can exude. On that note too, stepping back and enjoying life’s simple pleasures and not feeling guilty about it. It’s okay to occasionally dance, enjoy some music, eat something rich, buy something you desire, adorn your bedroom with something simple so you have comfortable surroundings … every once in awhile…

And with interactions with other people – it’s hard to decide. Should you just let go of those that constantly drain you? That constantly see things with a negative clarity and always see the glass half empty? I feel like you should always give them an opportunity, to try to show them the light, but make sure your light is burning strong enough so you don’t lose your light in the process. Perhaps make sure you are always still in touch with those that are also burning bright, your closest and dearest friends, that are also attempting to do the same. And constantly remind yourself of the following because it makes life so much more enjoyable.
There will always be some who will complain about what they get,
And others that will always be thankful,
Be the latter.

Dusk (01/26/2010)

I have to say, one of the most beautiful – one of the most impressive – times of day here are at dusk. Around 5 to 6 pm, an orange haze settles in, with the mystique of rising clouds through the valleys. In the early afternoon, usually following the rain, thick fog creeps in, to the point, at times, where you can’t see more than 15 feet in front of you. And with the incoming dusk, the fog lets up, and you can start to once again see the peaks of the mountains and be surrounded by this curious orange light. My first evening here I was absolutely intrigued and I continue to be intrigued every ensuing evening.
Another beautiful part of my surroundings is the garden Juliana has in our courtyard, filled with some flowers, in particular, some roses, hydrangeas, and lilies, and herbs. I have so much to learn – I’ve always wanted to learn more about different plants and any medicinal properties they might have. I recently connected with a ND/MD who is doing research out of Cusco. She’s trekking into some of the jungles to work with the aboriginal people to record medicinal plant use. I really hope to pay a visit, down south, soon in the future. Back to the garden – we also have a secret garden :) I love it. Exiting from a side door of the room found below mine, and walking down a sort of grassed ‘alley’, you can enter through another secret door entry way, behind our home, into a bit of a sanctuary. Protected by some eucalyptus trees, there’s a bit of a grass plain bordered with wild and planted flowers, and it’s beautiful. I’ve retreated here a couple times now to read, when the sun was shining bright, and to doze off in the sun’s warmth – my photosynthesis.
I recently received feedback from another volunteer who is about a few hours away about flaws in my character – a double-edged sword – good feedback to receive, but something that can be hurtful. She feels I am too stringent about my schedule (which I ironically wrote about recently) and feels this imposes on others, can lead to their under appreciation, and a projected over self-confidence. I sincerely appreciate frankness, feel sad she feels this away, perhaps along with others, and obviously have important components of character to work on.

Furious (01/22/2010)

Okay, I’m calmed down now, sort of, but I wasn’t beforehand. Perhaps the aspect I might be working on most here may not be so much salud/health, but just communication. Pure communication. It’s ironic because I was told by my brother, Derek, yesterday, that what I expected to accomplish here may not at all be what is actualized. I get so caught up with what I’m doing, allowing my emotions to intertwine with my work drive, that when what is at hand blows up in my face, my persona is also exploding. I’m not sure how much this is perceived from my exterior – I really wonder how much others perceive I am fuming or overwhelmed with despair.
I am sick of authority figures playing their cards of control and not leaking any of their motives to their citizens. They act as if they are doing a favor to their ciudadanos/citizens when their ciudadanos show up at the municipality (for example) to ask for support. The personnel from the municipality take their sweet time to attend to them and do it with a superior complex. No, it shouldn’t be that way. They should willingly serve them because that is their job. They are not there to reign and carry out what’s solely on their agendas, but rather, act on the behalf of their people, as representatives of their people, including them in the decisions they choose to carry out. Crazy, I know. But, I guess how many political figures actually do that? Good question. So sad.
I thought by working on a smaller level, with a smaller populace, and direct access to the municipality, communication would be a little bit better. Wrong. It still struggles, to be modest in speech. A simple attempt for coordination was asking support for the Vacaciones Útiles I am heading up (classes for kids during their winter break). It’s taking them weeks to get back to me. I have to beg and plead for something that’s good (well, at least what I think and many others think is good) for the kids of these caseríos. I wish the municipality could just give me a straight up answer – yes or no as to whether they want to support this effort. Simple. Instead, I have to wait weeks before they even look at the solicitude I personally submitted, and then have them tell me, almost half-way into teaching, that they want another list, a reduced list, of the materials I absolutely need. Ah no. What I submitted is what I need, and it’s their manner of waving me off again. If they don’t want to provide any support, okay, well, then I can’t purchase all the materials I would like to have. I’ll make do. But, please, just give a direct response. I’m done with passivity, the brush away with the hand. I am providing these classes for free and purchasing the materials currently and previously used on my behalf. And time and time again, I’m told I’m crazy, for being a volunteer, and providing free services – perhaps their not as valued as much?
And then, I’m asked by a regidora why don’t I charge the kids for the classes? Really? That’s an interesting question. I hoped she could answer that one for herself. A good fraction of the population can’t afford sufficient clothing and nutritious food, so how are they going to willingly give money for classes? It’s hard enough for some kids just to attend the classes since they are expected to attend to the animals, the chakra, and many live more than an hour way, up a mountain. There are some who are so separated from the people they are ‘representing’. I didn’t want the classes to cost anything because I didn’t want these classes to be exclusive to only those who could afford them.
Okay, so the alcalde still just shoves my list to the side of the desk while I overhear that cocinas mejoradas/improved kitchens, latrines, and biohuertos/vegetable gardens are being brought to the communities of Mache by an organization called Sembrando-great news! I know it is a program through a NGO that I had just begun starting to coordinate with, but they’re telling me it’s through the government. Anyway, I have to overhear this, from the other room, instead of them directly telling me this is going to happen. And they know these are some of my primary objectives for being here. It would help if they could communicate and coordinate this. Whenever I try to talk about work topics, or projects, the alcalde provides a very indirect response (like a flutter-of-a-hand response) and responds with stupid, disrespectful questions, like if my hair is naturally curly, if I have a boyfriend, how to pronounce a word in English… I humor him, respond to whatever question or comment with a laugh, converse about whatever unimportant topic for a moment, and then, try to return to my purpose of being there. And he’s still not receptive, puts me off, later, later, tomorrow, tomorrow, next week, next week. How does he get any work done, I don’t know. And, you know, it’s only kind of important that the health post is aware of the installation of these oh so crucial aspects of home life – improved kitchens, latrines, vegetable gardens – and I end up being the one to relay the message. Communication sucks. Separate identities/organizations carry on with whatever their doing without any coordination. How convenient.
Oh and then back to the list of supplies, finally, the alcalde pulls it up, after I was rather frank with him, to let him know that I wanted to know before this weekend, since I was returning to the civilization of Trujillo, and I could buy the materials there, and he proceeds to look at each item, and make a check next to an item, saying, “Supongo puedo comprar esto” – I suppose I could buy this (since he too, is going to Trujillo). But, really, I already bought a few of those things, and I need financial support, and the things I haven’t bought, he wouldn’t know how to buy because he doesn’t know what the specific projects call for. And, most likely, he won´t have or make time to personally buy those items when he is in Trujillo. So in the end, I convey this to him, and then he ends up giving a ¼ of what I asked for. And then, as if it’s a service, oh and give half of that to your friend in Lluin (Megan, the other health volunteer, about an hour away, who is also teaching and asking for support to buy materials). How indirect could he be. I appreciate frankness – just honesty – open communication, please.
Not sure how much I am negatively portrayed now in the municipality. I can’t stand fake smiling and sucking up to someone who clearly isn’t interested in what his job description entails.

The sensitivity of life (01/14/2010)

I am at a loss, with how so many lives could be taken away – and in the immediacy they can be taken – with the shifting of plates, manifesting in unaccountable destruction. And, the irony, of how more tragedy can strike already the most vulnerable and suffering. A journalist (Rocio Silva Santisteban) in Trujillo reemphasized the cliché of how conditions can always get worse – “es nuestro premio consuelo cada vez que nos encontramos en el penúltimo lugar de alguna citación terrible: ellos siempre estarán peor.” You think things couldn’t get worse, shouldn’t get worse, that plaguing a people couldn’t possibly happen even more, but that unfortunately isn’t the case. And to those who were working toward the betterment of those circumstances – also being lost in this earthquake. My prayers, thoughts, and efforts in the work I am pursuing are dedicated to those lost on both sides – some names of individuals: Molly Hightower, who was working with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, and Brenden Beck, working with USAID.