Sunday, May 23, 2010

I'm still here…

And my life is still cuter than yours :)

So I admit, it’s been a while since I updated and way more has happened than I am going to accurately remember or detail here. To honest, part of the reason for not updating is that I had a little bit of a rough patch and I figure no one wants to read melodrama as I ponder the effectiveness of my time here as a volunteer. Suffice it to say, every volunteer feels useless, frustrated, annoyed, and just generally over it all at some point (usually points) throughout their service. Basically I started the school year with projects, goals and a lot of ideas which I saw slowly falling through after a month. I have yet to find a way to be effective and useful at my special education school. Most of what other volunteers work on in special education, ie promoting inclusion in the school district, my school already does on its own without my help. And my city is far too large to really do effective home visits and community projects, etc. Following an awesome vacation for Easter, I seriously began to question what I am doing in site, and had my concerns about staying.

However, after a good bit of stressing and over analyzing life, I have to an acceptance of where I am and what I am doing. I am not thrilled with everything going on in site, I’m not sure that I ever will be, but I have decided for now to focus on things that work, devote attention to a large scale project at the special ed school instead of trying to work with individual teachers, and just appreciate the fact that I still love La Molina and my kiddies enough to never really be able to leave early.

So enough philosophizing – a few anecdotes from the last few months of my life, you have missed a lot:

Semana Santa~

I took my first large scale vacation here in Peru for Easter week. I headed out from Piura Saturday night at 6 pm – 36 hrs on 3 buses later I arrived with Virginia in Puno. Memo – that is a lot of busing and it sucks. Don’t ever do it. Take a plane. Vale la pena. Anyway, Puno was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. As soon as we got off the bus this women offered us a cab, which had she not been a girl we would have walked away creeped out, but it turned out she organized tours and pretty much booked our next two days in Puno on the cab ride to the hotel. We spent the next day out on Lake Titicaca (the highest navigable lake in the world) visiting the floating islands and the natives of Isla Taquile. The people on the floating island have been completely changed by tourism in the sense that their whole day seems to revolve around presenting their way of life to visitors rather than actually living that way anymore. My boss in Piura insists that they actually sleep in Puno and not out on their handmade reed islands, but I refuse to accept this fact. Call me naïve. We also got the entertainment of an “English Speaking” tour guide who informed us of the “free times” and various other interestingly pluralized events. We spent our second day wandering around Puno in the morning and enjoying a surprising amount of good coffee. Side note – it’s freezing in Puno. I have lost that weird ability I had to never be cold in Boston. Piura killed it. While walking around, we decided to visit a lookout point up the hill we saw in Lonely Plant. It did not look that far standing in the plaza. Lesson learned: everything that involves climbing stairs at 4000 meters is far. Everything. Despite our need to take breaks every 6 steps (and they had benches this often) the view from the top was worth the climb. In the afternoon we visited ruins outside of Peru. I think the awesomeness of ruins is generally lost on me, but the location was stunning so well worth the visit. Also, the look on the other tourists faces when Virg and I insisted we could have the tour just in Spanish was mildly entertaining. I’m pretty sure they are all still convinced we didn’t understand the question.

The Plaza de Armas of Puno - The Floating Reed Islands on Lake Titicaca

Handmade Reed Boat - A girl who knew the principles of making sales

Lake Titicaca

Damn Stairs - The Condor at the Lookout

That's very high


Alpacas, Virginia thought they were cuter than the kids

Silustani Ruins

From Puno, we headed to Arequipa for a few days and met up with an assortment of other volunteers from around Peru. Apparently Arequipa was the place to be for Semana Santa. Arequipa is a beautiful city, especially for Peru. It has a very European feel. We ate some great food and I had to a chance to catch up with a lot of other volunteers. One word of warning if you ever travel there for Easter weekend, in observance of Good Friday to the city does not serve alcohol. That did not prevent our Mexican restaurant from bringing us tequila shots in tea cups, but I’m just saying. After a lack-luster bus tour of the city, 6 of us took a small bus out to Colca Canyon – the second deepest canyon in the world. Other groups chose to hike down to the base and spend the night before hiking back out. What can I say, I took a bus, I took pictures, I was there and I still have working knees and all my toenails. (not everyone can say that…) If I went back I would probably do the hike, as the bus tour did get trying at times, but it was still an awesome trip. It’s crazy how different one region of Peru can be from the next.

Monastery - Plaza de Armas in Arequipa

It was Patrick's Bday

Good Friday - Peace Corps Style

My favorite people - Good Food

Bus Tour around Arequipa

Colca Canyon

Traditional Dance at Dinner

The don't get any cuter - Seriously

More Colca Canyon

Watching Condors - The largest flying birds in the western hemisphere (or something like that...)

Lest you think I am done, this is Peru after all and what trip would be complete without a transportation strike. The miners blocked the highway into Lima and we could not leave Arequipa to get to a training session for Peace Corps. All of us had community partners coming in from site, who arrived to Lima a little lost and one of whom did not have money for food that evening. It was a mess to say the least. Eventually the 5 of us stuck in Arequipa got bused down to Tacna on a sketchy bus line, arriving in Tacna at midnight. We had the next day to kill in Tacna so we found a tourist map and hit up everything on the map in one afternoon. I have seen all there is to see in Tacna, and it was awesome. Definitely take a trip there, honest. After a typical Peruvian adventure we arrived a day late to the training session. Never plan in Peace Corps. It’s not worth it.

The Many Wonders of Tacna

25 years in the Priesthood ~

My host brother Santiago came up last week to celebrate his 25 years in the Priesthood. My entire family gathered for a mass at his former Jesuit high school and a reception afterwards. I know that I clearly live in a different social stratum than most other volunteers, but sometimes I forget just how much this is the case. I should have realized when I was waiting to leave, my host parents said they were about to go, I informed them I could go with them and my host mom looked me up and down and said you are ready to go? Oh… ok. I was not dressed up enough I suppose. What can you do. The mass was classy and all, but the really kicker was the reception. Peruvian party: stacks of cases of beer and plastic cups, very loud cumbia music, dancing. My Peruvian Party: wine served in actual glasses on silver trays by waiters in white coats, no music, casual conversation and mingling. Oh and tiny hors d'oeuvres. Seriously? Where exactly am I living? I don’t think this is what Peace Corps had in mind for community integration. But my family is really adorable so you just have to love it.

Me and Santiago - My Host Family

The Mass

General Goings On~

I have been working on a disability workshop with a local high school class. We had sessions on what disability means, causes of disabilities, and how to work with individuals with disabilities. I think the kids enjoyed that the classes were interactive, and I am endlessly fascinating. I’m not sure that anyone really has become more accepting of disability, at least outwardly. But I would like to think at the very least, next time they see someone with a disability they may stop and remember the silly white girl who talked to them about treating all people equally and act just a little differently. I can have hope. In addition to the workshop on disability I have started teaching English classes at the school. Again, I’m not sure how much effect I am having on their English learning, but my activities are more interactive than their previous classes of copying vocabulary lists and writing poorly structured translations for homework. At the end of the day, I’m pretty confident that I am merely creating the next generation of boys who will call out obnoxious English phrases at white people on the streets. But, I miss teaching high school so I’m at least having a lot of fun.

My kids learning how lip reading really is

More disability related dinamicas

As far as the special ed school goes, I have started developing a project to implement a multisensory classroom with adapted computers and other technologies and materials to stimulate tactile, visual, and motor development for students with severe special needs. It’s actually a pretty cool project that the school really seems to be backing me up on. It’s a long term project, with most of the training of teachers coming next year, but its gives me a focus at the school which I LOVE. We have our first meeting to elect the committee of parents and community partners in 2 weeks. Fingers crossed for everything to work out.

My Inicial Boys

La Molina is going as it always has. The kids are great, the parents are uninvolved. I love being there. I am trying to start a library out there though, so that may mix things up a little.

My World

I had my first birthday Peruvian style as well. My host fam thought my birthday was March 20th and thus made me a birthday breakfast and sang 2 days early. But, who would have the heard to correct them at that point? So for future reference my Peruvian birthday is March 20th. All of my Piura girls from Peru 13 came in as well as a few other volunteers in Piura. Dinner and dancing and a cake with smiley faces. Overall a nice way to welcome 23.

Well that sums up about 3 months in a nut shell. I will try to do better. Honest.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Waning of My Peruvian Summer

Your life is not as cute as mine

With school starting tomorrow morning, I have officially reached the end of my first Peruvian summer vacation. Like any good teacher, I am welcoming the start of the school year, since, as a result of some plans falling through, I have had a less than packed summer and am looking forward to feeling busy again.

Now, this is not to say I have not enjoyed myself this summer. We kicked of February here in Piura with the annual ALMA camp, which is a 3 day long leadership camp for teenage girls. Each volunteer brings 1 or 2 girls from his or her site, the best and the brightest, and the girls spend the weekend participating in activities and games, and listening to women speakers from around the region. We had talks on sexual health (complete with a classic condom/banana demonstration and race), feminism and career planning, and we had an open panel of successful Peruvian women. We also had the girls think of ways that they could implement these topics in their own communities. My girl, Monica, seemed really interested in working to better La Molina, and I am hoping that something will develop from the program. Monica is a really amazing girl, sometimes I am so impressed by how mature the kids are around here. She’s only 14 and she spends most of her free time helping around the house with her 5 little brothers and sisters. This summer she is working as a housemaid for a family in Piura. Thankfully she is only working for the summer and will return to school next week. (On a side note: drawback to being the city volunteer – because Monica is working, she is only in La Molina on Sundays and can’t come to the ludoteca. Therefore, when I needed to make sure that she would be able to attend ALMA, which is a 5 minute question, I had to wait 20 minutes for one of the rare combis that run on Sunday, drive 30 minutes to La Molina, ask my 5 minute question, make awkward small talk with the fam for 20 minutes, wait another 20 minutes for the combi to come by and drive 30 minutes home. Time required to ask “Can you still make it to ALMA? Here is what you need to bring…”: over 2 hours. It’s times like these I envy volunteers that could do several laps around their town in the space of 2 hours). It was really amazing to see all of the girls participating in ALMA, and I was really glad to be a part of it. We are planning on another camp for teenage boys sometime around June.

Me, Monica, Heather and Cynthia about to leave for ALMA

Steph and I getting to know the Green Team

Yup, condom races

The Piura 13 Girls and My ALMA group

All the girls and the small group leaders

All the girls wanted a picture with Ryan...

A few days after ALMA, I headed out of my dry coastal city up to the mountains of Cajamarca for Carnaval. As I have mentioned before, Carnaval is the month before Lent where Peruvians like to throw water at each other for some unknown reason. For one weekend right before lent, Cajamarcans go batshit crazy and throw paint and motor oil and god knows what else on each other. And I, being of sound mind, traveled 9 hours away to be a part of this. I was able to visit my friend Viriginia’s site in Cajabamba, Cajamarca where we partipated in some local Carnaval activities included the obligatory queen contest here in Peru, where our friend Evan was the escort. We then headed off to the city where I kicked off the festivities Friday night with drunken dancing in the Plaza with hundreds of Peruvians. In the sierra of Peru, they have a dance called Huayno

which basically involved a lot of stomping your feet and jumping around. During Carnaval, they have a dance called Carnaval (crazy I know) which is Huayno but with hand holding. (Sample the glory of Carnaval music here: Being the good coastal city girl that I am, I had never in my life danced Huayno, much less Carnaval. However, a few drinks and a Peruvian guy to toss me around and all of a sudden I was a pro :) The next day was a ridiculous mess of paint slinging battles and water gun fights. It’s basically every 8 year old boys dream. Around 3pm it started to torrentially pour; so, wet, paint covered, and freezing, I ran back to the hostal to shower and stayed in my warm bed until time to venture out for dinner. That night I went to a large-scale Peruvian house party and felt like I had regressed slightly back to college but had fun none the less. On Sunday, the locura had calmed down to just water balloons and water buckets being dumped from every available second story porch. This would not have annoyed me so much had it not been clearly an attack on the gringo population, and me being what my friend Anne referred to as “Super gringa.” I had an amazing time, but by Sunday afternoon I was more than ready to return home and not be attacked again with water until next year. Not to mention the fact that in Piura, getting hit with water is kind of awesome (reminder: it is realllllly hottt) In Cajamarca, its generally cool and often cloudy. Getting hit with water makes you Cold. Why this tradition took off in Cajamarca and not Piura will forever escape me…

The drive up to Cajabamba, Cajamarca

The first thing I see upon entering Virginia's house

Around Cajabamba - gotta love the hats :)

One of my fav pics of Peru

Carnavales in Cajabamba (That party is in the Town Hall)

The queen and Evan

Baños del Inca, just like the Incans did it I'm sure

Cajamarca takes this stuff seriously

Let the battle begin...

Piura Girls :)

Now, while it may seem that I have been off traveling for a large part of the summer, I have also been working I promise. Unfortunately, my preschool class fell through after about 3 weeks of only one kid coming. Then one day, his mom dropped him off at 945 and came to pick up up at 130. Unremarkable except for the fact that the class was from 9-11. Your math is correct, that would be 2.5hrs late. Then she didn’t come the next day, or the next day. Then I stopped coming. It seemed to be a logical fallout. But, with my extra free time, I have been hanging out in La Molina, going to their summer classes and helping out. Aside from the English teacher awkwardly hitting on me in front of everyone, I had a lot of fun. A few days I ended up there alone so we had some origami classes and I taught my kids to play Flip Cup (with water don’t worry). Look at me bringing different cultural traditions to Peru! During the last week of summer classes, Heather, Ryan, Glenn and Jen, all volunteers from Piura, came out with me to visit my site and meet my minis (the lil Peruvian kids). My kids pretty much thought I was the coolest person in the world since I had so many friends. And I mean, they are right of course.

Summer Talleres in La Molina

Heather with a few of my fav lil dudes

My minis Loved Glenn and Ryan, even though Ryan hides behind little girls in dodgeball

Part of the La Molina Crew

We discovered a rooftop bar in Piura...and attempted to take pictures of the view
Classy no?

A Night Out, Piura style

We also discovered the glory of the pool in's tough up here

However, occasional serenades can be awkward...

To close out the summer my kids presented something from each class on the last day and Jen came out to watch.

The Closing show for the summer classes: Art, theater, dance, and Cajon

Afterwards, I finally went out to visit Jen’s site, which is only about an hour away, but feels like a whole different world.

Jen's site: Loma Negra

Jen with her host bro Wilito

The Yunca in La Molina (strange tree chopping down tradition, still not quite sure I get the whole idea)

I am getting very good at filling water balloons with water bottles


So, I have a great idea, let's give boys a machete and have them take turns hacking at a tree until it falls down on the kids standing in a circle around obvious dangers there!!
But at the end everyone gets school supplies, so it's all good.

I am looking forward to the coming school year. Projects for the year include writing improved IEPs for all of the students at the special ed school, revamping the Escuela de Padres (a program for educating the parents of my students), more work with the teenagers in the inclusion program, and the creation of a disability prevention and awareness workshop for the local high school which I am hoping to translate into a long term teen volunteer program. Big plans and a busy work schedule, but I finally feel like I am finding my footing …six months into site.