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.