jueves, 4 de agosto de 2011

A New Running Path (08 October 2010)

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and an even longer time since I posted what I had written… blame it on the infrequent internet access and the poor signal I get (the going rate of access is about once every two weeks now). For the most part I haven’t felt like writing, I didn’t have enough energy or ganas. It resulted from little advancement in my health work in Mache, being harassed by a few male counterparts in my site, not having a healthy home environment, and my poor personal health…

I now find myself in a new site, at the entrance of a canyon in a more desert like climate, or the entrance to the Sierra as they say. Like I said, my work was not advancing in Mache – the social and political climate were hindering health promotion work. There are so many systemic problems there that without the collaboration of the existing institutions, advancement was nearly impossible. Anything I could have done would have been a reactive way to approaching the existing problems. I can’t function that way, I need to work with the causes and take preventative measures or else anything I do can easily be reverted and unsustainable.

Another reason why I haven’t written about this was because it was hard. It was hard to accept and is still hard to explain. At one point I was explaining the situation to my Health Director (APCD) while I was still in Mache, and she was the one who first brought up whether I was interested in changing sites. My immediate response was “No, no, no, no, I want to make this work.” And I tried. I put all my energy into it, vested my happiness on everyday’s gains and losses. I would say at first there were more gains than losses, which then started to equal out and then go in reverse…

I was rather shocked when my APCD brought up changing sites because I wasn’t even considering it and she is hard and solid. Once making up her mind (for example putting a volunteer in a site), she wants it to work and will do what it takes for it to work. She is not a pushover and usually has males crowing with their tail between their legs (very rarely seen in this highly machista/sexist society). I find myself to be the same way, as far as being stubborn about commitment, but I guess I am here to learn, and to learn what is realistic.

A volunteer and friend cautioned me to recognize the changes I can make (I’ve heard this before… from another dear friend who would bring up the Serenity Prayer…, Sevrina!). I took this to heart, and when still in the phase of spiraling downward of how I felt in my progress, I tried to keep this in mind, and not let was happening get to me, which I failed miserably at…

I was working with the health promoters primarily, capacitating them in a health theme each month (such as respiratory disease, hygiene, nutrition, composting, the environment, etc.) and was going to the different caseríos to also deliver these trainings to the communities with the health promoters. I was hoping to design the program so that there could be a training one month, and a follow-up period the following month so that what was being presented could be enacted on. Therefore I was in the process of instigating a project with families to mark changes such as the high cases of malnutrition (which exceed 70%), high case of diarrheal and respiratory disease, etc. I also was starting to work with the schools, forming youth health promoters and improving the school and community environment with those youth (clean drinking water, vegetable garden, composting/biodigestor/worm bin, reforestation, garbage and recycling, etc.). Outside of this, I was attempting to address improving the water system in the district – the poor access and quality.

I needed coordination from the health post, municipality and schools to advance in these fronts because flying solo isn’t wise and it should be part of their work load. Systemic changes need to be made so families could even consider preventative measures instead of just vesting all energy and resources to getting by day to day. They were inadequately equipped to face their struggles due to lack of education, access to and quality of healthcare. However, communication, coordination, genuine interest, respect, and competency were so lacking that I felt like I was pounding my head against a wall trying to get their cooperation. I was stood up and disrespected so much that I would easily be in tears at any point of the day. The other health volunteer (an hour and a half walk away) who works on the side of the district, and I were so accustomed to bitching about our setbacks, that all I was starting to feel was negative emotion. Then compounded by ‘professional’ male counterparts, who I had to coordinate with who didn’t see me as a professional at all and when trying to address work subjects, would always change to other subjects. I tried so many approaches to work with them that failed and I became so disgusted with them that I didn’t feel comfortable entering their compounds and tried avoiding them as much as possible. If they treat me that way, imagine how they treat native women in the district. And how they leave kids in different places… It came to the point where they started to then also work against me in my professional work efforts.

So site change. Looking for something new. Something to work with. A new running path.

Changing houses (July 18, 2010)

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….

Arequipa & Puno (July 2010)

Traveled to Arequipa and Puno – highly recommend it – more than anything, such a beautiful culture. Each part of Peru harvests different people, VERY different people, with different customs, traditions and languages. Wish there was enough time to spend the night with a Quechua speaking family on one of the islands in Lake Titicaca… nice to have a visitor from the States (Ken!) and share the company of a volunteer who has been converted to a Arequipeña at heart (Emma!)…

Exerting all my efforts (July 13, 2010)

It’s taken getting sick for the umpteenth time, making it to the latrine (sort of – I will spare the details), to realize I need to change my situation. I came to this final decision when cleaning up my bodily fluids with newspaper and bleach and feeling rather ungrounded, yet again, but this time not willing to accept it. I have been treated extremely poorly by many individuals in the Sierra town of where I work – the ‘professionals’ who work in the health post, municipality and schools. For being such an underdeveloped site, we do have these institutions, but rather a superficial representation of them – a most ominously, malformed skeleton of them. These institutions carry professionals brought in from other more developed areas/cities, and the majority of them (I will not say all of them) regard this place as the last place they would like to be in this world. But, because they need work, they need some sort of income, they get sent here, and are always in search of a better placement. So I get stuck working with people with the most pathetic attitude who could care less about the population they are serving. Again, I will not say this for everyone, and this isn’t how they act all the time, but for a good majority, and a good portion of the time, this is the case, and this is the crap I have to put up with.

As far as the functionality of it all… corruption runs rapid in the municipality (the local government). People lie, cheat and steal – and I guess this goes for most politicians. But, it has to be worse here because they can more easily get away with it? Especially when the grand majority of the adults here are uneducated or if educated, only up to the 5th grade of primaria (primary school). The money they do receive from the state, they invert into physical buildings – what is tangible. Obviously these physical devices of infrastructure serve nothing if they are not maintained or are lacking services within them. They utilize this spending to line their pockets (since they can more easily falsely report the cost of construction). For the amount of religious presence here (Catholicism and Evangelism) it’s rather disturbing how much corruption there is. Does a religious presence diminish what would be a little bit more of immorality? Besides the alcalde (mayor), who I definitely have words for, especially for how he treats females, those working in the municipality are in their early 20’s, likely because they can get paid dirt cheap, and probably so the alcalde can get away with more ‘activities’.

As far as school, kids are hardly in school. There are so many days off, fiestas, holidays, vacations, it’s ridiculous. And, when there even is school, teachers are sick, they just don’t show up, their transportation breaks down, etc. Aka, again, if there is a complete school day, hail to the heavens! Because the teachers are brought in from more urban sites (Otuzco – 1.5 hours away, or Trujillo ~3-6 hours away), again, they have little to no interest in staying, so right when the opportunity arises, they vanish. Extracurricular activites? Mmmm not so much. The current alcalde is getting into building schools, which sounds great, especially when kids have to walk over an hour to get to school, not have enough time to return home for lunch before having to go back to school, and they are extremely malnourished (making the extra exercise that much more taxing) – but not when selecting to build a school where only 7 kids can attend (all in different grades), and the teacher that is hired can’t even correctly teach the alphabet.

The health post has the same sort of game going on where all of them are from different places (primarily cities), have never had any experience or desire to work in a rural setting, and are constantly looking for better placement. They live here solo, while their families (spouses, kids, etc.) are in a different part of Perú. They are expected to serve as practitioners for all ailments, from the prostate to the kidneys, to the lungs, to the eyes (let’s keep going), since they are the only ones available. Least to say, there is a high turnover rate, and health professional are coming and going. It’s common for rural volunteers to see the cycle of perhaps 10 doctors in their site during their 2 years of service, and also experience times where there are no doctors so técnicos work as doctors... So far I have crossed paths with 4 doctors and also been here during a dry spell without any doctors. The funding here is so ridiculous also (we are part of the public healthcare system – Ministerio de Salud/Ministry of Health), that we can go months without any funds. How do we function? Good question. You can imagine that the sanitation practices are severely lacking…

We do have NGOs that come through every once in awhile that try to put in their temporary ploy of making the world better. It’s kind of like a whirlwind of an attempt which in this uneducated, slighted, unmotivated society. Typically no real sustainable, noticeable impact is made and accustoms people to expect free food, money, or things when these organizations sweep through, giving them less motivation for creating and working for their own improvement.

Perhaps I will spare you more details of this messed up world I am tangled in… I am definitely going through a low bout, experiencing negativity, cynicism, but am trying to learn how to pull myself out of it. Because that’s the challenge of it all right? Trying to figure out how to work in a place such as this… Constantly finding yourself saying, this isn’t working, so try this, and well, this isn’t working, try this, and this too isn’t working, so try this… and so on.

Ohhh, and in reference to the title, ‘exerting all my efforts’ – I feel like I have, by trying to take so many different approaches, that I am exhausted and rather need to recuperate. I am learning ways to make myself happy – like a volunteer recently said to me, which you hear over and over again, and which I thought was rather selfish before now, is that the most important thing you can do is make yourself happy. Only then can you draw more strength from your energy reserves. As a result, I am trying now not to work so much and take more time for myself. Will let you know how it goes… Still trying to change host families. Surely having a healthier home life will make my outlook much more positive and wholesome? Maybe to go so far as to say idealistic once again?

Learning to say no (June 16, 2010)

This is one of my biggest challenges – saying no – not only to those around me, but also, and most importantly to myself. I have such the bad habit of metiéndome en demasiadas cosas (getting myself involved in too many things). Hopefully the next two years will be the opportunity to acknowledge this and work on it. It’s so hard to control the onslaught of the plethora of ideas that pass through my mind. Especially when they can be so applicable to my surroundings and when there is so much dysfunction as to where I am working...

I haven’t written for some time honestly because I went through a mini-depression, kept myself over-occupied, and had a series of unfortunate events happen, including losing my computer and external hard drive. I never have the two together while visiting the ‘big city’ (the capital city of the department of La Libertad) since robberies are ubiquitous. I always leave my external hard drive back in the Sierra to have all my information and work backed up. But, because the cord to my external hard drive was busted, I had to get it replaced and therefore brought it with me to Trujillo, putting the ‘vice-president with the president’. The worst part is it’s my fault. I took a taxi through a shadier part of Trujillo at night to get to the house where the coordinator of a NGO lives with another volunteer and we had a load of things, personal belongings and materials for charlas (trainings), etc. I was guarding the bag with my computer under my legs because robberies can commonly take place through windows. Disembarking at night with no light in the taxi or street, we thought we grabbed everything, did the double-check, quickly paid the driver, and scurried away, trying not to let him on to where we were going for our safety. But… I left the most important thing that was in my possession – my computer and external hard drive. I thought I had grabbed everything, consciously did the double check, but the bag must have fallen further under the seat, which was hard to notice with the lack of light. After spending a couple of days scoping out the black market, posting radio ads and awards, I had to suck up a huge loss that I had never wanted to fathom.
Part of the work lost was my community diagnostic that I had been working incessantly on for some time.

Reading Into the Wild got me through it and I thought I could change my habit of over-committing myself, but I’m coming to that juncture once again where I need to reassess. It’s really so hard when you have so many interests and the community you work in severely lacks basic water and sanitation practices, health education and promotion, good nutrition (my best guess is ~70% malnutrition in children), youth development/education, artisanry, local business, awareness to the damage pesticides do to the soil and health, and, and…

However, after talking with another volunteer, and hearing the residual epiphany of others – you really have to pick 2-3 projects and stick with them, otherwise you seemingly accomplish nothing in your time. Coming the 24th of this month, I will have been 8 months at my Sierra site of Mache. Again, and again I think I constantly am busy working, but what have I accomplished? And especially, when I lost all this ‘information’ I was so steadily clinging onto –

Humor me (Mayo 28, 2010)

Fulfilling my nighttime routine – going to go fill up a bucket of water (it’s not turbid anymore because it’s no longer the rainy season! Yeah!), bringing it up to my room, heating it up with my little gas stove to fill my water bladder (a rubber bag I received from a Catholic nun that has saved my life), emptying my pee cup (or cut off pop bottle) to again attend to my necessity, putting on my thermal pants, wool turtle neck and socks, and Brian’s Tall and Large (since he’s 6’4”) Columbia Sportswear jacket, inside-out, since the fleece side is on the outside (how much sense does that make?) – not sure when I’ll ever give that back to him – it keeps me so warm! Then, brushing my teeth and washing my face with my tippy-tap (a 2 L bottle hung from the ceiling, upside-down, with the bottom cut-off that I fill with water) and next sometimes fitting in a little bit of yoga if I feel motivated/warm-enough and then climbing under my 8 blankets, including a down-comforter, to cradle my ‘water baby’ (the hot-water bladder). I wonder if I’ll ever miss this routine…

What stimulated the title – so I had been invited over for lunch on a Monday by the ‘Presidente del agua potable’/Drinkable water president (sounds like a big title, but really isn’t) in the neighboring caserío of La Primavera a couple of weeks ago. The president is a quaint man named Jaime, in his late 50’s who I‘ve become buddy-buddy with. I actually couldn’t make it that day, so I scheduled an early Monday morning run to let him know to see if we could postpone. As was to be expected by Sierra folk, he had completely forgotten anyway, so it wasn’t an issue at all to reschedule for the upcoming Thursday. Coming in on Thursday, I arrived, and he reacted as if I caught him with his pants down, because he had totally forgotten. Again to be expected. Slightly irritated, because it’s about a 45 minute walk to get to his house, and in the opposite direction from where I needed to go later on that day, I told him we could have a makeshift lunch (I had brought a sweet-potato, broccoli and carrot salad – something unheard of here). He insisted we ‘reschedule’, but I actually wouldn’t have been able to reschedule for quite some time (had to travel for a training seminar coming up). So we made do with rice, some beans and the salad I had brought. It turned out just fine, although I am looking forward to eating some cuy (guinea pig) hopefully sometime soon…