I’ve definitely reached my absolute low-point and need to move up from here. There are so many contributing factors, however the most prevalent are:
(1) Expecting to be professional in a most backwards, corrupt, unmotivated and ill-trained society.
(2) Peace Corps goals being sent from Lima
(3) Also being expected to act as a professional while living with a host family with the most rudimentary resources
(4) Not taking time for myself/doing things for myself
(5) Living at high altitude, rain and the cold
(6) Cyclical sickness
(7) Not having any social support network in my home environment
Addressing issue 1: I’ve had this discussion with my Health Director, that for anything to be seen through, I have to do it myself and babysit. It’s completely ridiculous and tiring and I’m trying to find a way to remove myself from this situation. For example, we were supposed to have a Multi-comité sectoral meeting, meaning, that all the ‘leading’ institutions in the district were to meet (institutions meaning schools, health post, myself as an organization, etc. – there are 7-8 in total). I thought I had made a win in the previous meeting by setting the standard that we at least need to meet monthly to improve the communication. Setting aside the first part of the meeting to give a report from each institution’s side and leaving the latter part of the meeting open as a forum for discussion, and for letting this meeting be open to the public (as observers and in the latter part, as participants, if desired) made sense to me. Again, this would improve communication, coordination, and encourage citizen participation. Of course this whole scheme was botched when the alcalde (mayor) wasn’t here for the next meeting date we selected and when trying to reschedule for the next week, that the secretary neglected to send out letters of invitation for the following Wednesday. The secretary told me to my face that he would, but when I didn’t receive any notice, I followed up with him, and he said I had to hand in another oficio/letter to initiate setting the meeting. The Peruvians have so many formalities for doing things – sending an oficio for this, sending one for that, when verbal agreements should be sufficient in many circumstances and especially in as poor of a district as we live in, with the so very few number of computers, printers, 1 copy machine, lack of paper, and power... The following Monday and Tuesday ended up being días feriados for some holiday so the secretary had no motivation to send out oficios these days. Least to say, the meeting was postponed unconditionally. It is nearly impossible to try to plan a work chronogram. Something that should be able to be done within a week takes months, years or never here.
On that theme, the system is so corrupt that it is not uncommon for ‘professional’ workers to not be paid for months at hand, but because they have no other real option for employment, some continue to work, but rather half-ass. For example, the health post. Our health post was recently converted from a ‘post’ to a ‘center of health’ – however, we will not be endowed with funds until August. How can that make sense? We are dealing with a public system – our patients to not pay to be seen, but rather for the number of patient charts, we get paid by the state, sometimes…
Point 2, Peace Corps goals/expectations being sent from Lima… I want to laugh, or rather yell at the person on the other end when they say, “Oh, send me that by e-mail, with this form and this attached”. That could all be so easy if I had internet access. I live in the Sierra where there is no internet and 99% of the population doesn’t even know how to use a computer! Let me get right back to you… I have to take a car (if there is one and I don’t have to walk 2 hours to catch it) to the closest place with internet (2 hours away if it isn’t raining). Getting to e-mail is extremely stressful. Many times I don’t want to even bother because of the amount I have just from the Peace Corps. Also as part of our ‘curriculum’ of work, we have goals to fulfill, which in some sites are realistic and in others, are not. I would love to fulfill them here in Mache, if I could get any support and/or interest and with “community partners” that didn’t have to be babysat to see if they follow through with their jobs. If the authorities and the people don’t want it, they don’t want it. It takes so much to raise a finger – especially from the authority side. From the people’s side, it is understandable to some extent, because this is all they know and agricultural work is so draining – to try to organize themselves to do other work, when they have families that are barely getting by is above and beyond at times, conceivable.
Point 3 – living in a rudimentary situation. We get water in the morning for a couple of hours and have to collect it in buckets to be saved for use throughout the day. We have a latrine you have to walk to or slide to or forge a stream to get to… To wash laundry – well my going rate usually is 3-4 hours. And to cook – to try to eat healthy foods (boil water and wash them, or clean them with water treated with bleach) – it just takes forever. Oh to shower – boiling water (takes an hour), then showering from a bucket – time consuming. I showered once with the water – it was not just cold, it was freezing. I’ve been escaping to the health post to shower, since they have one, but I have to make it just barely warm – making it any warmer requires too much electricity and knocks out the power in the area. Being a part homemaker and professional – extremely challenging – extremely hard to have time for myself, for example to go running, and time it just right to avoid the heavy rains in the rainy season (that start after 12 pm or go on all day). I’m probably just taking this job too seriously and need to significantly lower my expectations, if only the expectations on us volunteers in the more rural, rudimentary sites could also be lowered…
Point 4, 5 and 6 – taking time for myself, living at high altitude, rain and the cold, and cyclic sickness
As aforementioned, it’s hard to escape from daily chores and work-work. And with the high altitude, rain and the cold, you have to plan things carefully. The high altitude makes you more tired. It either rains all day for a series of days, or the rains come right after 12, midday, and lasts until 6 pm so you have to plan accordingly. And the cold – strongest obviously when there is no sun – morning and night, indoors overall since rooms just tend to maintain the cold like ice boxes, and immediately when the clouds come rolling in. So among those factors, the ideal hours of practicing healthy habits (running and doing yoga for me) are when house duties and work are expected. I’m trying to lessen the priority I have for work so I can escape to being healthier. I also like to practice good hygiene, but it seems currently I am being limited to one shower a week. If I move to a new house with a shower, I could frequent them more often… I have a cyclical sickness – so many GI issues that I thought I never would have. Basically in many circumstances, I have just lost complete control – will spare the details. Which I have to say is absolutely horrible if you don’t have a shower nearby. Need to go to Lima soon to see a GI specialist.
Point 7. Amongst all these trials and tribulations, I really have no support network where I live. I’m realizing how much I need someone to talk to on a daily basis to release negative sentiments and be able to see things in a more positive light once again. This is not to say I don’t have friends – but when you irregularly run into people during the day, you fall into more superficial conversations, and you can’t spew into more serious subjects. It’s like having to put on a happy face constantly because it’s not the time and place to seriously relay your emotions. However, my happy face has worn off, and when I feel horrible, I have become incapable of sporting the ‘happy face’, which some people haven’t taken so kindly to – I do not have a connection with my host family to be able to comfortably talk to them, and most of the time we just see each other in passing. A lot of this results from my host-mom (well, she’s really not like a mom at all, so I’ll just call her by her name, Juliana). She’s extremely particular, perfunctory, meticulous – hence the most likely reason her husband no longer lives with her, but rather in Trujillo (the capital city of our department, 3 hours away). It’s not to say she’s not a respectable person, she’s just extremely difficult to live with… very stubborn… not a caring, warm person, but rather just very dry and distant. Anyway, to try to integrate into her system is nearly impossible – she’s extremely busy attending to her animals, her 10-year old son, who’s not really her son who she ridiculously babies, and now a newborn – an illegitimate child recently left here by a member of her mother’s family – a whole ‘nother story. Anyway, I’m just kind of this outsider, who literally and figuratively has her room apart – and cooks by herself. I’ve really become distanced which is unfortunate. I finally told her a second time I have to move, which she was a little bit more receptive to this time. I felt horrible the first time, definitely torn up, because I have a lot of respect for her family, and I don’t want her to gain a poor reputation from our most gossip-centralized small town, but I’m learning sometimes to act in my best interest. Really hard.
Anyway, I’m hoping to overcome these most self-deprecating catastrophes… Oh how dramatic! It could be a lot worse, but again, a lot better….