sábado, 31 de diciembre de 2011


I am ready to ring in the New Year with a group of great new friends. After spending the holidays in the land of mustaches, aka Mexico with close and extended family, coming back to Peru felt like coming home. I am feeling excited to be in this country and to finish my service in Amashca-there are new prospects on the horizon. The coming of a New Year is always like the shedding of a skin, leaving behind the unnecessary and carrying forward the new lessons learned and the strength to put our growth into action.
At this point there are many unknowns, but I welcome them as I welcome the sunshine.

sábado, 17 de diciembre de 2011

La Chocolatada

This title refers to Peruvians favorite pastime during the holiday season: hot chocolate with paneton, a type of Christmas bread that comes in a box. In the mountains the weather has become rainy and the morning fog and evening clouds cover the snow capped peaks for most of the day, it's all very "North-Westy."

Many volunteers are traveling for the holidays visiting family and friends back home. I too, am fortunate to be traveling to Mexico for a visit to the familia. I look forward to seeing my grandmother and eating copious amounts of tortillas.

The last several weeks have proven to be fairly productive, with the close of the "Amigos y Libros" program with the local high school seniors in my school. For our finale, they put together a puppet theater production for the elementary aged kids. On December 21st they celebrate their graduation and release into the wide world. Some will continue their studies, some will stay and work the family land, others will head for the cities in search of work...usually in a factory of as a domestic. I'm proud of these kids.

Come New Years I will have about 7 months left of service, which will go by fast. These are the last 7 of the 27 total months. I will have many decision to make. Should I stay a 3rd year? If not, what next? Grad school, NGO work? Where to live? There are many uncertainties, and the situation in the US right now is somewhat scary economically. I think of all my friends back home and wonder how they are doing a midst all the unknowns that they also face.

Missing home is definitely a feature of the holiday time, so this goes out to all of you in Oregon, in Canada, in the Ukraine (I know someone out there is reading) and wish you a happy holiday season. I'll be ringing in the New Year back in the Peruvian Sierra and will send a big shout out from the mountain tops.


P.S. Papa, I made stollen again!

viernes, 25 de noviembre de 2011

Awesome Photos by Katie Halasz

Back in July the newest group of Youth volunteers cam to my site, Amashca for their "Field Based Training." One of those volunteers took these amazing photos. I hope you all enjoy!

miércoles, 23 de noviembre de 2011

What the @#$% am I doing here?

As many of you know, I have been living in the Peruvian Andes for about one year and three months, which leaves me nine months of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Thus far diary-like form of writing, and focusing more on what is going on around me, rather than what I am doing. In this blog I do hope to shed some light on what I have been doing here, as a volunteer both in work and in leisure.

So what the @#$% am I doing here? I have asked myself this question many times, and in various lights. But really, my job as a Youth Development volunteer has encompassed a range of activities. My goal is to work with youth and those who influence them; teachers, parents, health workers, etc. In my first year of work I had several short lived projects including a world map mural, “summer school” program, and a girl’s self-esteem group. Currently, I have been helping in the school with a project called “Amigos y Libros,” (Books and Friends) that meets twice a week. Created by another PCV, this project consists of a series of workshops in which high school kids learn to read stories to their younger elementary aged peers. They are taught how to project their voice, read clearly, use gestures and fun voices, and to ask the kids relevant questions. When the workshops are done the kids get into the classroom, usually two at a time to read to the youngsters. This has worked very well. The high school kids have greatly improved in their out-loud reading skills, and the little ones enjoy the stories and picture books. The teachers also learn that reading does not have to be boring and repetitive. Our finale for the year will be a puppet theater written by the older kids on topics such as hygiene and taking care of the environment.

Most recently, with the help of other volunteers, and the local health post I have finally begun the greatest challenge as of yet in my service: teaching sex-ed to rural Andean high schoolers, scary! We had a series of charlas the other week, and plan on using the upcoming World AIDS Day as a launching point to form a Youth Health Promoters group. These are kids that will be trained in all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, serving as leaders in their communities; because really, where do most kids get their information on sex? From each other of course! The health promoters will be a group of kids who have correct information, and this information will bleed out into the wider community.

Up next I will be planning another round of “Vacaciones Utiles” (utilitarian vacations, doesn’t have quite the same ring), which will meet twice a week in the hope to give the kids of Amashca fun and educational ways to spend their vacation time.

In my free time (believe me, there’s plenty of it) I enjoy hiking around the beautiful landscape, chatting with neighbors, yoga, cooking (and eating), the occasional art project, reading (I’ll be posting my reading shortly), and yes, I admit, a daily dose of TV (I have learned there are so many good shows out there!) This helps keep me sane and happy. I also talk with other volunteers, write in my journal, and dance huayno with my little host sister. All good stress relievers.

As a side note, I am looking for illustrated children’s books for grades 1-5. Preferably in Spanish (or Quechua if it’s out there), but if the text is simple they could be translated. You can contact me at elke765@yahoo.com

miércoles, 16 de noviembre de 2011

Part II: Epic Adventure

The Raft Race Continued:

Building a raft is much more difficult than you may think. First, you need to make sure it is going to float. The right sized logs are everything. Each team was given eight logs; this to be our “home” for the next three days. The whole process was a mad-grab for logs by each of the 48 teams; some fighting broke out, “that’s my log!” It got a little ugly. I for one knew nothing of raft building. A couple of Peruvian women approached us and offered to help us lash, nail, and get our raft together for the price of S. /100 (Soles). My three team members (all strapping young lads from Oregon) said nah, we can do it! So we tried, and tried, and three hours were still hacking out notches for the crossbars (on either end) with a dull machete, which instantly gives you blisters. While all this was going on, it was upwards of 95 degrees, humid as a bathhouse, and lunch was simply not arriving. We were all starting to lose it.

While the boys struggled with the machete, I tried to secure some rope for lashing. This was supposed to be provided for us by the organizers of the event, but there had been some problems, beginning with the fact that the president, a woman in her sixties, was in the town on the other side of the river, getting plastered. She had apparently given cash to an “assistant” to supply all the participants with rope, but this person (maybe seeing an opportunity?) never showed up, pocketing the cash. This little fiasco would set the tone for the rest of the event. Despite all this, our team of four kept plugging away. With the generous help of our neighbors (a team of locals who would end up winning the race), we got our raft notched up for the crossbars, found rope (also thanks to a generous team), and with much help, got our raft lashed together, and the legless chairs nailed down. By this time it was dark, and finally “lunch” arrived-alleviating some of the stress-then it began to rain.

Also thanks to the above mentioned negligence, drinking, etc. on the part of the organizers there weren’t enough tents for all the teams. We ended sleeping in a makeshift covering that originally had served as a shade structure. Others, were not so lucky, they ended up sleeping (or not) on their raft, good god. Thankfully, the day’s events (which had started with leaving Iquitos left us exhausted enough to catch some shut eye until dawn). Side note: dinner arrived at about midnight.

The next morning was the big day, all the teams launched into the water, ready for a long day of paddling. We got our raft in the water, at this exact moment realizing that it didn’t really float too well. The back right hand seat was basically submerged, but in the moment we didn’t think it would be too bad. They sounded the bullhorn and off we went! The minute I dipped my paddle in the water for the first push I knew this was going to be a trial and a half-the water felt heavy and thick as mud as it resisted against my paddle-I was sore after a few minutes. We paddled and paddled, even passing a few teams, and were feeling pretty optimistic despite our rafts defects. Then it started to rain. I was soaked through in about 5 minutes. About this time the currents started to convolute us, you can see them snaking through the enormous river sashaying this was and that. At one point we were dead center of the two banks, not moving at all. We crossed back over, heaving our half sunken raft that we had affectionately named “Zoolander,” because he had a hard time turning left. We were all tired, having paddled about five hours at this point; I had an emotional outburst at one point exclaiming, “We should have spent this money on a jungle tour!” (I told my team, “I am allowed one emotional breakdown per day”). Then we saw the docking point, thank God. We arrived, at about 3:30pm to a small jungle community named Nueva Esperanza. This was nice; to see what a tranquil Amazonian village is like, as it gets invaded by 300 foreigners.

The next morning our team, sleep deprived, sunburned, and mosquito bitten, and sitting in a sinking raft incapable of steering to the left, was not so eager beaver. But a wave of calm washed over us. We knew we had no chance to dominate this river, so we opted to go with the flow. Our strategy: stay to the left bank, paddle as little as possible. For most of the day this worked quite well. We had fun; we saw pink river dolphins, birds, and a crocodile. We ate oreos and shared funny stories. The sun was relentless, we got a little dehydrated, but overall we stayed positive. Our safety net was that we could get towed in by the coast guard be it that we didn’t make the next post.

The sun began to set, and a large dark cloud was building on the horizon. We had been on the water for ten hours, and really had no idea how much farther we had to go. We passed a man sitting on the side of the bank who said that we were still far away from the end. We started to get a little nervous, just then, we saw the coast guard boat, and in a final push we paddled to the boat. The main organizer, who had taken the place of the drunken lady, welcomed us on board. We lashed on the rafts and took off. Man we were happy to be off that raft! The sun started to go down, and a light rain started, thunder and lightning clapping in the distance-nature was now in full force. That’s when we found out there were still at least ten other rafts still on the water. What a disaster. By now it was dark, the river looming large and languid, its two banks separated by at least a half kilometer. Where were the boats? The rain was obscuring the spot light from the coast guard’s boat, the crew began to yell orders and a sense of urgency and fear fell over us.

The first team we spotted was stranded on the side of the bank, their camera flash going off and on frantically, their raft floating in the increasingly choppy water. Then there was another team, and another, our rafts were abandoned as the scared wet participants clamored on board. We made it to Tamshyaku, the medium sized town serving as our refuge for the evening. Tired, recovering from our scare, we ditched the refugee-style camp in the school gym to look for accommodations elsewhere. We met a man who offered us a small but dry room in his home for a very reasonable price. We took bucket baths and slept as soon as we hit the mattress.

This was the end of the race for us. Our raft abandoned, our arms and spirits exhausted, we rode on the crew’s boat back to Iquitos the next day, sipping beer and chatting with the rest of those who had to be rescued the night before.

We arrived to the last marker, watching the amazingly fast local teams come in first, nearly as quickly as we had on the boat. A man who had been taking photos for the event approached our team with a newspaper, “check this out,” he said. To our surprise, there we were on the cover of El Comercio, the most widely distributed newspaper in Peru. The last team, on the front page, ha! At least we survived.

The Dense Jungle
Raft building in Nauta
The Team

miércoles, 19 de octubre de 2011

15 minutes on the Amazon

October 6-9 was the annual Great River Amazon Raft Race, held now for 13 consecutive years, the race is the longest of its kind. The beginning post is Nauta and the course traverses 180 kilometers to Iquitos, the largest city in the Amazon jungle of Peru (and notably the largest city on earth that cannot be accessed by road). There were a total of 46 teams, each with 4 participants, from across the globe. To describe this experience the word ordeal must be used. Arriving in the jungle, the first adjustment is heat, humid, tepid heat. Then, in the city, are the "mototaxis," as cars are not popular (lacking roads and all) the zooming mototaxis are everywhere. Going out into the jungle one hears an assortment of sounds: birds, insects, monkeys, everything is alive.
Here is my version of the events:
In preparation we had to secure the goods necessary for this event, the most important being lightweight paddles (they supply you will newly cut, but heavy paddles, not conducive for three days on the river). My team and I ended up in the markets of Belen, the floating city, and much behind in development and safety than the rest of town. Here, open sewers and outdoor barbershops line the streets. We made a friend who attached himself to us, somehow knowing exactly what we were there for. He took us across the river (my teammates named this "Rapeville"), to talk to a guy who "knows about paddles." Here we entered the mysterious paddle underground. We ended up meeting a very nice family, who supplied us with four suitable paddles of various sizes (our safety was never in question). The advantage to buying a used paddle is that a)this is what the people of the area use everyday, and b) they are properly "dried out" from use, and therefore lighter. After this, our new friend took us to "El Chino" for some plastic chairs (no one sits on wood logs for three days straight). Luckily, "El Chino," a good looking Chinese born immigrant with awesome tattoos, sold us the chairs at a reasonable price, and (to the amusement of his workers) cut the legs off for us...who needs legs on a raft? After buying some snacks, such as Oreos and "Granola Economica," we were ready for take off.
Day 1) We all met in the Plaza 28 de Julio in Iquitos, took a bus to Nauta (about 2 hours), to a welcoming ceremony held by the local municipality. Picture 200 gringos in a tent that also doubles as a microwave. From here they took us across the Maranon (the headwaters for the Amazon) to a mudflat area to build the rafts.

I know I am just getting started, but I am reaching the limit for anyone' s attention span, including my own, therefore...to be continued. But here's a link to keep your interest:

domingo, 11 de septiembre de 2011

Photos: Santa Cruz Trek

The Peru 15 crew at the 4,700 meter summit
On the other side of the pass, a burrito takes a break

Heading back at dusk through the Llanganuco gorge

sábado, 27 de agosto de 2011

Face to Face

There are times when the last thing you want to do is deal with conflict, with negative feelings, with hurt and pain. Being as it is, the world is conflicted, hurting, being torn to pieces; what can we do? Each of us is capable of kindness, of compassion, and generosity, but often we feel so bogged down with our own concerns to find this place of peace within ourselves. Perhaps if we could let it sink in that this is really all we have to do, the world’s troubles wouldn’t seem so great. We can work, move through life’s events, both good and bad, confront issues, resolve problems, all the while maintaining a connection with our true selves. None of us are “useless” or adding to the problem as long as we maintain in our intentions this thread with our own and other’s humanity. Each of us can acknowledge that the path of life is the path to peace and that we don’t have to buck and revolt in order to find this.

We can create the spaciousness in our lives required, regardless of how busy we are. Taking time to acknowledge a moment, to observe, to take a breath; this can be done in any situation. There is a grumbling happening on a global scale; many things are not OK. Together, we can be with this unsettled, ungrounded world, and be not-OK together. As a human population we can relax into life with its shit and love and disease and healing. What a sigh of relief this could be, to allow the messed up nature of things, knowing that we are meant to be here, sitting with it all. This certainly isn’t a petition for apathy or laziness, quite the contrary; it takes a lot of work to be able to sit with all that we feel and experience, without judging it.

I recently read a book by Pema Chodron, a renowned Buddhist teacher from the US. This is my take on some of her teachings, and how I interpret them for myself and for a global movement for change. My favorite line of hers is one in which she says that we should “Give up Hope.” She says this in the context that we are all chasing something, a better personality, a better job, a different family. Just give it up and sit with it as it is, “hoping” for something better is potentially leading us on this destructive path. It’s very un-Obama, but I please ask you all to just Give up Hope.

lunes, 8 de agosto de 2011

Think again

Lately, I have had much time on my hands as there are two weeks of vacation from school, and my days have returned to the unstructured nature in which I began this experience. This, combined with a broken computer has afforded me much time to contemplate, and to rethink some things that I had begun to take for granted, and to read...a lot.
Recently, I stumbled upon an article in an old edition of the Peace Corps magazine, which focused on the re-emergence of an agricultural focus in international develoment. During the 1980's, with the Reagan administration, there was a push towards more technical and business assistance in the Peace Corps, and away from agricultural and environmental programs. While technological and business programs are still encouraged, environmental programs are going strong, and agro-forestry is making a comeback.
In rural Peru, the life of the small scale farmer is becoming increasingly precarious. Prices are generally low, the work is hard, access to water is sometimes scarce and the use of pesticides and fertilizers drives up the costs of producing a decent crop, not to mention contamination. All these issues have driven people out of the villages and to cities, both near and far, breaking up families, and causing the growth of the urban poor. Fewer and fewer of the upcoming generations are committed to working the family land, and are in search of something "better."
Currently, I am reading the Grapes of Wrath, a wonderful American classic. Reading this book while living in Peru is giving me an insight to the thoughts and emotions faced by the community. While this isn't the dust bowl of the early 1900's, the sense of insecurity, and of injustice thrives under the surface of everyday life. I mentioned this story to my host mom and how the earth became dry and inhospitable. She responded by saying this was what may come one day to this area, a fight for water, unforgiving soil, mass exodus. I hope she's wrong.
Nevertheless, this has opened my eyes. While committed to my work with youth, the realization has set in that this aspect of life cannot be ignored in my work with the community. Everyone contributes to the cycles of harvest and planting, growing and watering. Perhaps the next step is to find my place in this daily cycle. I believe that while committing to learn about living off of land, I can come to understand more about my neighbors, the country, and the direction we are going globally.

domingo, 31 de julio de 2011

Fiesta Cruz

I recently had the opportunity to go on an amazing trek here in Ancash, the Santa Cruz trail that leads up from the valley into a gorge, over a 4,700 meter pass and down another glacial gorge. Two nights of camping, three nights of hiking, carrying tents, food, water; it was quite an achievement and very rewarding, especially due to the lovely company of 8 other people, both Peace Corps and non-Peace Corps. Most importantly it reminded me how special this landscape is, and how fortunate I am to be surrounded by it daily.
Here are the photos.

P.S. Due to technical difficulties, photos are on the way!

viernes, 24 de junio de 2011

Oh Canada

Another side of the volunteer life is travel. This weekend I have the privilege of going to British Colombia for 10 days of Northwest summer, wedding festivities, and time with friends and family. Wow. Many emotions come up when a trip like this is on the horizon. It has been over one year since stepping out of Peru's borders, since hearing English all around (besides other volunteers), seeing clean streets, amazing grocery stores, and general order. This is not to berate Peru for its faults, but simply to state the glaring differences that make up this reality from our reality in North America. I have this twinge of feeling that I have forgotten some of this reality, and that sitting there in the airport (LA is my first stop) it will all come down on me like a pile of bricks. Yesterday I awoke in my room, in Amashca, a small mountain town in the Andes, and in a short 24 hours I will be in North America, with familiar faces, navigating a world I know, but seeing it again for the first time, with new eyes, eyes that have been surrounded by peaks, and polleras, dust and cuy, since last June. So wow, because although this transition may be more seamless than I anticipate, going "home" will never have the same flavor as before.

domingo, 12 de junio de 2011

The Other Side

A few weeks back our monthly regional meeting was organized in Pomabamba, which is found on the other side of the cordillera blanca, about 8-12 (depending on the transportation you use) hours from Huaraz. There are about 11 volunteers in this region, called the cordillera Conchucos. Things are very different, with hardly any infrastructure and towns with very few ammenities. There are however, beautiful landscapes and another climate that borders arid and mountainous with tropical microclimates; if you continue east you eventually end up in the Amazon jungle, and eventually Brazil. Peru yet again amazed me with the variety and beauty that it contains within its borders, enjoy the photos!

Volunteers in the Pomabamba Plaza The road to Piscobamba

Lago Llanganuco, muy bonito!

Again Llanganuco, but from far up heading to the pass
Cute little kid pic from my site

lunes, 6 de junio de 2011

Road construction o’mania

There is road construction on the road that goes from the nearest town, Carhuaz, past my site, through the pass “Punta Olymica,” one of the highest in the world, all the way to the other side of the mountain range, to a town called San Luis. The project: to pave this road. Time projection: three years. Meanwhile, transportation is being restricted to certain times, between 6pm and 7am, and between 12pm-2pm, Mon-Sat.

There is road construction going on in front of my house as well, on the seven block road that more or less leads to the end of the community; at this time, about five blocks of it are paved. The project: to pave these two blocks. Time projection: three months. In addition, my neighbor, about three doors down is tearing down her house; it looks like a warzone. Meanwhile, the room next to mine is being used as storage for all the tools used for this project. Most of the work of tearing up dirt and rock, digging holes, and general labor is being done by local laborers, both men and women. There are about 20 workers outside of my house at about 7am getting their tools and readying themselves for the day ahead. Unfortunately for me, I awake along with them and the clamoring of steel to rock, banter in Quechua, and other noises. I walk out of my door and as if I had just arrived in town I am stared at, there are comments and clicking noises that signal: the gringa is beginning her day.

Ah, the trials of living in a developing land, in much of the wealthy nations we simply take concrete for granted, its nice smooth finish making walking, driving, and getting around a pleasure, rather than an obstacle course. The reality is that all this construction, while good for the long term signifies much of what is not going well down here; it is a pain to get around, it takes a long time, you have to wait for the right time to catch a car, the roads (while on the way to improvement) are rocky and make maintenance on any vehicle frequent and expensive. And who lives out here, in the rural areas? People who are already poor, lack adequate resources in their communities, and in order to access a market, a hospital, a “better” school, have to endure the transportation equivalent of jumping through hoops, and it all costs.

I decided to write about this because of my mom. While I was feeling irritated and sorry for myself that the rest of my service will be in conducted amidst the rubble, wreckage, noise, and cat calling that comes along with construction, she found it all to be quite hilarious. Of course it’s MY house that becomes the home to 20 wheelbarrows and picks axes, and me who gets taunted in Quechua each day by a sassy lady. Well, at this moment in time, I am saying, " what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger," and I can dream of the still mornings to come in some cramped city apartment, or the meanders down an overdeveloped strip mall. Perhaps the tradeoff is to know that there is an open land surrounding me, where crops and dirt rule, where there are no roads, no asphalt, only wind, trees, animals, the occasional person, tiny against the landscape, and the open sky.


I wrote this next piece for a Peace Corps Newsletter for Volunteers called "Pasa la Voz." The subject is what it is like to live with a Quechua family.

If I had to describe what it’s like to live with a Quechua family, I would start with bewilderment. This is how I felt much of the time for the first several months. When I first arrived to my site, my room was filled with 50+ bags of nitrate ammonium, a commonly used fertilizer. I had yet to buy a bed, and I was given a straw mattress on the ground. It was cold and I won’t lie, I thought the smell of the fertilizer was going to give me permanent brain damage. Of course I began negotiating with my host dad regarding the removal of the fertilizer. A month or so later, he and my host mom moved it all in one go. Each bag weighs about 100lb’s and I helplessly watched as my 29 year old “dad” moved all the bags by himself.

My host dad works in the local preschool by mornings as a maintenance man/teacher, and a combi driver in the evenings, my host mom, also about 30, works in the fields most days. My first few days I observed an unusual pattern; after breakfast I would be in my room and hear the door close, after this, no one would be home all day, sometimes until after dark. There was no menu spot so I was left to fend for myself in the food department, casually stopping by my host family’s relative’s houses around the lunch hour, hoping they would invitarme to some papas. It didn’t take long for me to purchase a gas stove and get my cooking on. Many things are simply left unsaid, and even if you ask, or try to prod, you may get the most vaguest of responses, along the line of “mas tarde”, “ahorrita”, a shrug, or the ubiquitous, “claro.”

Meals with the family were an interesting affair. On many occasions I found myself sitting with my host mom, with many gaps of silence, wondering, when were we actually going to eat? I check my watch, 9pm; my stomach says, “food now please!” But it wasn’t until my host pop rolls in after his combi shift that the plates are served. The kitchen is a tarped off area in the back patio, a low bench serves a seating for all as my host mom tends her cocina de leña. Dinners were usually potato soup, yerba (tea), and a piece of bread. Quechua conversations dominated, especially if grandma or grandpa stopped by, which happens frequently. I would stare off into space, willing myself to understand the strange sounds.

While I was vigorously pursuing the completion of my CDS I did many community walks, trying to get a feel for my new home. Sometimes I would step out my door and hear gasps, followed by “griiinga!” Yes, there were times I wished I had a cloak of invisibility, or at least a pollera and tall wide brimmed hat, the local garb for women in this part of the sierra. I started exploring the landscape surrounding me, the endless ups and downs of steep hills and valleys mirrored my emotional states in the early weeks of my service. But the more I trekked around, spoke with people-sometimes having to use gestures and super basic Spanish to communicate-the more I began to learn. At first I felt self conscious to just wander around while everyone was doing hard labor day after day, but this faded after accompanying my host family to their chacras a few times. Yes, I harvested potatoes, picked peas, and cultivated hard earth. I got blisters and felt exhausted from the work and the hike just to get to the field, but I got street cred; cooking and eating in the chacra, I made friends with my host family and showed that I wasn’t too delicada. These days I’m happy just to pasear and people are used to me doing this, but the days I spent in the fields were certainly important.

The people in the sierra are timid-a hug qualifies as a tap on the back-you have to approach the mames and tetes and strike up conversation, but people are curious, and are usually happy to speak with you and have plenty of questions, such as:

· Where are you from?

· Are you single?

· How old are you?

· How many hours to your pueblo? Response: “I took an airplane, about 8hrs.” Response, “aaaso!” or “beeestia!” Then…

· How much does the pasaje cost?

· What crops do they grow in your pueblo?

· How much do you miss your mom?

· How much does she miss you?

· Will you stay forever? Response, “no, two years.” Response, “how about if we find you a husband?”

· Are you used to the cold?

· Are you acostumbrada yet?

It has been a challenge to become accustomed to a new way of life, an unstructured work schedule, new foods, climate, culture, language, etc. I feel lucky however to have been placed in the Quechua speaking sierra, how many extranjeros get this experience? Each day I get a deeper understanding for life in this small town, and at the very least feel equipped to tell a good story.

domingo, 10 de abril de 2011

Ley Seca

Today is the presidential election for Peru. There are five main candidates, representing different agendas, ideas, and personalities. Truthfully, I am not very informed on the differences between these politicians, only knowing some of the details regarding what changes may be in store for this country. Interestingly, in the rural area on Ancash, the candidate with the most pull seems to be Ollanta, the rogue "socialist," who may or may not be friends with Hugo Chavez. The socio-political climate in South America has been shifting steadily towards reclaiming corrupt government systems, nationalization of industry, and greater social equity. While we have seen both successes and failures, in countries like Brazil, Venezuela, and Bolivia, the fact remains that a new human consciousness is emerging in this part of the world. The poor and disenfranchised and recognizing these changes and their potential power on the world stage.
P.S. The title of this blog refers to the law in place during the three days prior to the election: no sale or consumption of alcohol allowed.

domingo, 3 de abril de 2011

More Photos

Escuela de Padres

Harvesting Potatoes
Reading Skipping Stones Magazine

Good Morning Vietnam!

Lately a big shift has taken place in my experience living in Peru. I’m beginning to feel more and more comfortable here in the community of Amashca, a small town of 1,200 people in the high altitude of the Andes Mountains. Life isn’t always easy here however, and there are moments when the sites of some of the “ugly” begin to grind on my western trained psyche. These are the familiar sites of underdevelopment: trash in the landscape, small children playing with broken toys (or just a rubber tire), unsupervised for long stretches, animal feces everywhere you go, dark and dingy kitchens with open fires, and then there’s you, passing through, taking it in, but also not taking it in, because it’s raw, and a little scary.

Why is it scary? Our purpose for being here is an attempt to make shifts not just within our selves, but in the world that surrounds us. What we see, the sometimes garish scenes of poverty, is representative of what any idealist aims to change. Slowly, it becomes clear, that most of this will remain, at least during the two years we are present in these communities. The shifts we hope to make are mostly invisible to the eye, and perhaps, that is what matters most.

There is one family, with which I am becoming closer, I go and visit their two room home (one part living/sleeping area, one part kitchen) frequently to chat over soup, play with their four kids, or just smile and say hello. The father of this family, Francisco, is a mild mannered, thin man. He and his wife Esperanza dedicate their lives to the fields, planting potatoes, oca (another tuber), corn, peas, and other crops. They have one milking cow, a few bulls, pigs, and burros, and when there is milk Esperanza makes queso fresco to sell. Their kids, age four, ten, thirteen and fifteen, help out with tasks after school; this is normal life for them, even the four year old is accustomed to long two hour hikes up to the high slopes where potatoes grow best.

This family has gone through some tribulations, Esperanza had an operation to get her gal bladder removed, and although almost a year has passed still experiences some pain. While generally liked in the community, they lack any important connections in the local municipality, or businesses. Esperanza scans her house, the small adobe structure which utilizes a huge boulder as the far wall, and says, “Look at my house, it’s like this because of my health, that’s were our money has gone.”

But this family is not impoverished of strength and values. This, Francisco makes clear by always insisting I sit down for a meal, that his kids say “hello” and “thank you” and by treating his wife with respect. While Francisco’s understanding of the world revolves most intensely around the pueblo, the crops, the forces of nature, he understands that there are systems of injustice at play that dictate much of his well-being and that of his family; crop prices, controlled by an unfair market system is a piece of the oppressive hand that keeps this family in an uphill struggle. Esperanza’s ill health was met by a discriminatory health system that puts patients like her, indigenous Quechua speakers, on the back burner, only until a medical crisis is their adequate intervention.

To have the ability to share in their lives, and to hear their stories puts a face on all the academic work I did in the past, learning about the “sub-altern,” the more than 2 billion people on the planet living off a few dollars a day. It helps me to understand that life goes on, happy, sad, joyful, tragic, whether you have a bank account or not. But what is striking is the growing awareness, due to changing global information and the shrinking of the planet, that Esperanza and Francisco have of what is out there and unavailable to them and their children, and there is a tinge of grief that comes along with this awareness.

The other day Francisco said to me, “When you go back to your country, tell our story.” I don’t have the ability to eradicate poverty, but I have the ability, and the privilege to observe and bare witness to the lives of those who surround me. And here, thanks to the newest and latest technology am bringing it home as it unravels before me.

"One sees clearly only with the heart, anything essential is invisible to the eye."

-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

jueves, 27 de enero de 2011

Recent Community Pics

Recycled Art Projects
Rosa and Sayda Celebrating Choclo Sale in the Chacra
My Host Dad Jaime Enjoying Choclo
Kevin's Project
Gratuitous Chicken Pic

Kichwata palanki Huarazchaw

The "Peru 15" girls at Laguna Churup
Lovely Thai Dinner
Me and Verito at Laguna Shallap
Mind Boggling Valley en route to Shallap

Five days of Quechua lessons, and I have a mixture of words, that I'm not quite able to form into sentences, in my head. I am looking forward to taking this new repertoire to the community for some real world practice. In the past few days we have had the opportunity to learn not only the basics of the Quechuan language, but given a window into the culture that surrounds us.
There are two main branches of Quechua in Peru, one is based in Cusco in the South, and the other here in the Cordillera Blanca. In contrast to popular knowledge, it is most likely that Quechua originated in this region, this being supported by the fact that there are multiple sub-branches of the language up in the north, pointing to a longer period of evolution. While Cusco was the seat of power for the Incan empire, the heart of the Quechuan people began to palpitate here, amongst the snow covered mountains. And here we are, a group of US citizens, our job: to integrate into a culture with ancient roots.
As our group of volunteers grows in Ancash, our presence becomes stronger, the variety of experiences grows, and bonds form within the volunteers and their communities. There is an amazing group of individuals dedicating two years to serve in communities near and far. On the other side of the Cordillera Blanca lies another set of mountains known as Conchucos, where over 10 Peace Corps volunteers have recently arrived for the first time since the 1960's. Access to transportation and basic services is very limited, and the terrain is rough by any standards. These volunteers are adjusting to life and work under extremely challenging conditions, beginning a new journey. Witnessing this beginning has provided me with a reaffirmation of our work here, of the potential, whether it's focused on building relationships, or new after school or health programs, those of us engaging in this work are doing our best to engage, create and build a life that matters.
In the space when we can come together as a group we have opportunities to explore a mesmerizing landscape, treking to isolated glacial valleys and lakes, trying to take it all in. Enjoying time with friends has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this experience. Engaging with each other has helped to put it all in perspective, generate understanding, and build a context for this strange adventure-a little clarity amongst the twists and turns.
This entry is dedicated to you, friends, both near and far, thank you.

lunes, 10 de enero de 2011

Arg...this won't last long, I promise

Things I hate:
when people come into a cafe and don't order anything, oh, just lounging, browsing the lending library, you know, we're on a shoestring travel budget...arg

The combi from this morning, what I sat on did not qualify as a seat, not with a metal bar in my back and a kid sleeping on my arm while the guy next to me coughs up his lung and we lunge through one pot hole after another, arg

"Buenos Dias preciosa/guapa/gringa/etc," I am not your girl, nor will I ever be, leave me alone! All I want is a shower and some breakfast and this guy is leering into my space at 8am, it's too early for this S%$#! Double arg.

Here is my angry face

That's about it, not a long list, I'm sure there's more, but I'll spare you all before you swear off reading this blog ever again.

Thanks for letting me vent,

domingo, 2 de enero de 2011

Greatness comes in small doses

Another year has passed, we move into the sci-fi sounding 2011-the future is here! Briefly, a Peruvian New Year is not complete, with yellow undergarments, the burning of old clothes (to start fresh), and fireworks-loud ones. I will mention, the countdown did not happen on time-things are usually late, "La Hora Peruana" strikes again. But what I really want to get to, since it is a New Year-the beginning of what will be a full 12 months in this country-follows.

Favorite things about Peru: The giving nature of the people
Peru, being a country experiencing much growth and still lacking many basic services in the rural areas is at times difficult to traverse in regards to transportation, daily tasks, work productiveness, but all this becomes tolerable thanks to the Peruvians themselves, the majority of whom, whether city or rural folks, will go to great lengths to invite you to events/food, converse, even a roof over your head, making the experience of living in this country a fulfilling and enriching experience. Without this level of hospitality and generosity I don't believe Peru would have the same attraction to tourists, volunteers, even industry in coming to this diverse and multi-layered country.
Next:The Mountains
Like the ups and downs that life provides, the mountains reflect this undulation in their peaks and valleys. There's an understanding created by the forces of wind, rock and water that we are small parts of a greater whole, of a landscape that can be both fierce and forgiving, it generates a respect for nature, community and self. While there may be inconsistencies-the deterioration of values due to outside pressures-a level of pride exists even in the youngest of generations that comes through in the way people share, work, and carry themselves. Above all I am learning to be patient with the life process, whether waiting for a meal or a combi; mountains are rarely in a hurry.
Next: The Food
There's a practice called mindful eating where you really take your time with food, taking small bites, chewing slowly, experiencing the flavors. While never having been to Asia or even a Buddhist retreat of any kind, I can see the Zen in the way people eat in Peru. Slowly, small bites, no rush, it is inspiring to an American who can't wait to finish chewing so I can stuff another spoonful in my mouth. Preparation of food is also slow and methodical, the easiest route is not always taken, sacrificing a longer process for results. In the mountains much of the cuisine is labor and time intensive, whether it is barley soup, guinea pig, or boiled potatoes with chili sauce, it is done right with care and consideration to tradition.

There is much more to discover in Peru, in my work and travel, in friends, but so far this offers a taste of the best this region has to offer. Come visit.