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Adventures of a Peace Corps Volunteer

Blue Sky January 23, 2011

Filed under: First year in Peru,November — Claire @ 10:48 pm

     ¡A Dios! it’s been a LONG time, and I apologize. Guess we all know of a good new year’s resolution for me… Anyways, here comes a long succession of blogs based on events of the past three months (eek! I really am a slacker!)

To begin where I left off, I guess I’ll touch on the highlights of November…


     Thanksgiving might have been one of the tougher holidays here in Peru for me had I not traveled with some of the volunteers to Ancash to celebrate…The Peru 15 volunteers in Ancash planned a wonderful Thanksgiving for us all, and I know that I was grateful for all of their hard work. While it was not the same as spending the holiday with my family stateside, it was probably one of the most memorable Thanksgivings that I have ever had!

   We arrived in Huaraz, Ancash on Thanksgiving morning and immediately ate the most wonderful, American-inspired breakfast (waffles and real coffee) at a cafe called California. I feel that I must note that I very much enjoyed their American, hippy music as well (was rocking out to Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers there–happy). Since I am used to living at sea-level, I then proceeded to take the day kind of easy, attempting to get the internet on my computer to work so that I could skype with family in the states and drinking tons of water to battle the effects of the change in altitude (over 3,000 meters). While we did not have a traditional Thanksgiving meal on the day of, we did make a very American (albeit slightly unhealthy) meal of pizza, mac & cheese, fruit salad and brownies–yeah, be jealous!

     The Friday following Día de Acción de Gracias (such a mouthful in Spanish!) we spent a majority of the day planning and buying ingredients for the Thanksgiving extravaganza that we were to throw the following day in John William’s site, Jangas, Ancash. I  bought a ridiculous amount (had a slight miscalculation to the metric system) of a squash called zapallo to make a pumpkin pie substitute, and spent the rest of the afternoon messing around with it to figure out an effective recipe. Mad shout out to my amazing, rock star of a mother for all the years of preparation making “punkie pies” from scratch–you are thanked from all the volunteers who were there for our celebration!

     Early Saturday morning we headed (large pot of cooked zapallo in hand) to Jangas to partake in a Turkey Trot organized by John William and Beth. Since, as many of you know, I’m not much of a land animal, and especially not a runner, I opted to walk this event and enjoy the beautiful scenery and mountains of Ancash, Peru as well as some time to catch up with my fellow walker, Analise Doyle. We were the designated pack mules of the bunch due to our lack of desire to run, and thus we took our sweet time. For awhile, embarrassingly enough, the ambulance appointed to the race drove on our heels (I think they were worried we might over exert ourselves at such a strenuous pace! Haha!). We felt extremely awkward in this scenario, so Annalise finally convinced them to go on ahead of us (only moments afterward did we wonder if we made the proper decision, two gringas walking along a busy road in Peru alone…No worries, though, as they came back for us once everyone else had finished the race since we were moving at such a snail pace! Haha! Oh well, never been all that competitive…)

     When Annalise and I finally made our way to the town plaza (we actually took a shortcut and still arrive at least 15 minutes after everyone else) the awards ceremony was in full swing. Following the awards ceremony, we headed to John William’s home to begin our cooking fest. All in all we spent over nine hours cooking a feast for 30 Peruvians and ourselves (about 50 in all). It was quite the spread: 2 turkeys, roasted camote, homemade apple sauce, a variety of steamed veggies, fruit salad, the largest pot of garlic rosemary mashed potatoes you have ever seen, stuffing, 2 zapallo pies, 2 apple pies, and banana pudding complete with hand-whipped whipped cream. A-MA-ZING! We pulled all this off with a few untraditional techniques such as: using a Nalgene bottle weighted with a bit of water as a rolling-pin, using everything from lasagna pans to metal skillets as pie plates, hand crushing cloves for the zapallo pies (Erin, Brian and John William rocked out this horribly monotonous task–thanks!!) and cooking multiple dishes in a huge adobe wood-burning oven at the local bakery. It was slightly stressful, but so fun cooking this massive amount of food and figuring out innovative methods when typical tools and ingredients were unavailable. Afterall, what are Peace Corps volunteers if not flexible and resourceful?

     Although it was anything but typical, I believe that Thanksgiving 2010 will be a memory to last a lifetime. It was such a wonderful experience to be able to share the traditions and typical food of the EE.UU with Peruvians, and definitely memorable preparing it all. While I know we were all incredibly happy to partake of traditional holiday food as a manner of feeling more at home, I believe that the best part of the whole Thanksgiving extravaganza in Jangas was compartiring with Peruvians. The general feeling of peace and thankfulness in the dining hall that evening was uplifting and perfection for the meaning of the holiday.

Early In-Service Training

     Immediately following our three-day Thanksgiving break, all of the volunteers of Peru 15 Youth Development reunited in Yunguay, Ancash for a week of in-service training. We stayed at a beautiful center in the middle of nowhere, Yunguay with some amazing views of Huascaràn on clear days. Breathtaking.

     During this week I was fortunate enough to partake in two paseos to Caraz, Ancash where there is a Peru 13 special education volunteer. On the first paseo we took part in a desfile for World Aids Day–I mean, what else would we do in Peru for such an event?! We had fun making signs for this, though some were definitely not understood quite well as Peruvian slang and American slang are two very different things. I proudly bore a sign declaring “Sin preservativo, no amor conmigo” (basically kind of like saying ‘no glove, no love’), however, I must admit that I couldn’t help but feel like a gringa advertising myself for sex–safe sex–but sex nonetheless…We had one sign of with a smiling condom man, and had worried about how such a drawing would go over, that is, until we saw some of the signs from the local students with boxing-man and superman condoms fighting off sperm (great visual, though kind of the opposite of how condoms work…). It was a fun event, and I made good friends with a boy named Luis, one of the students at the special ed. school in Caraz, who, quite honestly needs to be in an inclusion program–if only accessibility wasn’t such an issue…It’s too bad that something like a wheelchair can be allowed to limit someone’s life so much here…

     On my second paseo to Caraz, we visited the special ed. school itself to learn about Christie’s recycled paper program. They are making some amazing crafts out of the recycled paper there, and have a very efficient system. The students have such pride and ownership in the project, and it was great to learn from and share in the project with them! They use all natural ingredients: herbs, flowers and vegetables for coloring; as well as coffee, seeds and leaves for decorations.

     During this visit, we also got to met with the Caraz representative for OMAPED (municipality representative organization for inclusion programs in Peru).  He and the director of the special ed. school then took us to the see the construction site of the new school. This is a project five years in the making and has not only classrooms, but a kitchen, a bakery for work project, and a therapy center with a small pool. Such an amazing achievement! Sadly, the dream has been realized a bit late to be taken full advantage of, as the push for inclusion will greatly lessen the number of students in the school. Hopefully the bakery project can still be taken advantage of in the afternoons for older children…In any case, it was exciting to see such an accomplishment, and the director was very proud to finally see his dream realized. Great to be able to share in their joy.

     On the whole, E-IST was a great opportunity to catch up with my fellow 15ers as well as a rejuvenating break that left us all energized and full of ideas to bring back to site. Now onto our projects and work to achieve sustainable social programs in Peru! It will be a long road–poco a poco–to be sure, but I look forward to the rest of my time here in Peru and the possibilities of work and change that can be made.


Subterranean Homesick Blues October 23, 2010

Filed under: First year in Peru,October — Claire @ 11:19 am

Holy cow! Two posts in one week, right?! Consider this more of a pseudo-post, though, as it’s more for entertainment purposes than anything else…

So, the idea has come to me that it would be rather entertaining to do a post on the marked cultural differences that I am experiencing on a daily basis. This in no way is meant to be judgemental, simply just meant to share some of the comical situations that arise when you are living in a culture completely different from your own.

1.  Whenever you have an incredibly yummy treat here, you must hoard it in your room for fear of others noticing it or else you will inevitably be asked (or rather told, maybe even demanded) in a pitiful voice, with face to match, “invítame.” This translates, as all you smart people might be able to deduce, to: “invite me.” You best invite too, for they will not let up. While I fancy myself a generous person, it’s hard to want to share at times the treasured goodies from home. So, as a result of this little difference, I have now become somewhat of a food hoarder.

2.  The idea of giving kids here a house key seems to be beyond comprehension. Now, I have no clue as to what they did before I arrived, but I have now become the glorified door-opener. I serve this role even when the boys return home at 7:45 on the mornings that their teachers don’t show. Asleep? No worries, they will incessantly pound on the door until I awake and let them in. When I mentioned that the kids in the states have keys to get into their homes after school, they are all shock and astonishment and cannot fathom such an insane concept as letting their irresponsible, completely dependent kids have a key and some small sort of independence.

3.  From what I have witnessed, Peruvians barely sleep (in the night, anyway). In both of my host families, they stay up until 1 or 2 a.m., then wake up at 6 a.m. every single day. Now, you might be wondering how they function after a week of this…Well, while they do not sleep much at night they tend to take long naps (2 to 4 hours) in the afternoon. This is made possible by the fact that most jobs are only morning jobs until 1 or 2 p.m. Now, being the gringa that I am, I still prefer to sleep about 8 hours a night and not much during the day. I do believe that my sleeping patterns baffle my family as much as their’s do me!

4.  Since I am currently living in a machismo culture (a reality that any Peruvian–male or female–will mention as well) I have had to get used to some of the side effects of such a culture including, but not limited to, cat calls. I cannot deny that as an independent woman from the states these cat calls can have a tendency to get under my skin if I pay them any mind. However. the lucky side effect of these cat calls being in my second language (in which I can hardly claim to be proficient) is that I can easily tune them out–kind of like white noise–and continue on my walk to wherever. I have had several conversations with Peruvian women/girls about this marked difference in behavior of men in the states and here. In one conversation a story was shared that one of the speaker’s friends, a pretty girl by any standard, moved to the states a while back. She quickly noted this difference in behavior as well, for as she walked down the street no one looked her in the eye let alone called out to her. She later remarked on this observation to someone concluding that she must not be pretty anymore. The person she was talking with just laughed, reassured her that she was indeed pretty, and proceeded to explain the cultural difference. I found this story amusing, as it highlights two points of view on this difference in culture.

5.  Another funny cultural difference that I tagged in my memory for future comment occurred one afternoon while eating lunch out with my host family. After lunch out, my host mother always asks to put the leftovers into a container to carry home. This container is usually a plastic bag. She then dumps all the leftover food from every plate into the bag and carries it home with us. A plastic bag?, you wonder. Yes, it does at first seem odd. However, the food is not for us, it is for the pet dog, Rufus, who lives on the roof.

Closing Remarks:

     Well, that’s all I can manage to recall on this topic for now, though I am sure there will be posts along the same line in the future. Honestly, this is one of the reasons that wanted to serve in Peace Corps, live in a another culture for an extended period of time, to learn and become a part of that culture. I believe that when I first got here I probably could have written at least a dozen stories on such a topic, though as I assimilate into the culture these occurrences become a part of every day for me–they no longer seem out of the ordinary. I think this is what I love best about my work currently: living in and becoming a part of a lifestyle different from what I am accustomed to. This experience is opening up my world and mind to different manners of living and simply being in society.


Don’t Let It Bring You Down October 21, 2010

Filed under: First year in Peru,October — Claire @ 7:00 pm

Work, or Attempts of it…

     So, ever since the elections in which the current alcalde (mayor) of my town lost, my work (and any slight progress that I had made) at the Colegio Especial has come to a stand still–or, maybe even backtracked. Right after the election, I noticed a distinct alteration in the mood at the school, teachers were organizing their classrooms and working on their own projects while students were (besides being yelled at when acting up) left to themselves. Over the past week, though, the situation has rapidly deteriorated. There are now only two teachers working at the school (before there were 6), which means one per classroom, with no aides this means that the students are often left unattended when the teacher needs to aid a student to the restroom or elsewhere. The directora is helping out as much as she can, but it is clear that work there is spread pretty thin, and I am in their way as they do not feel they have the time nor attention needed to implement any new ideas that I offer up.

     I’m still more than a bit confused about why so many of the staff has up and disappeared. The explanation given was that they were going to be chosen to remain on staff the following year by the new alcalde, though why this would take them from their work at the moment is beyond my comprehension. I guess that this is the sort of confusion and disorganization that implicitly follows when a school is run by political parties rather than as its own entity, separate from politics… ¡Somos Perú!, right?

     For now, I have switched working gears from the Special Ed. program to the more general Youth Development program, however I will be working more with the directora as the annual Christmas party for the students approaches. I figure since she cannot continue visiting houses with me (which, let’s be honest, wasn’t really going anywhere) we will just meet with the parents when they come to us. She has time and again told me how the families come but once a year, at Christmastime, to receive their free goodies; while I had hitherto not paid much attention to this fact, in light of the current situation at the school, and ever the opportunist, I got the directora on board to hold a meeting with the parents while their children are enjoying the party. I guess we’ll see how this pans out in a month or so…

A Change of Pace

     Anyways, for the time being I have basically put my work with the Colegio Especial on hold in favor of working on projects through which I am actually making progress. Last week I worked with the health post a great deal. One of the enfermeras (nurses) and I gave hand washing charlas at a jardín last for World Hand Washing Day (Oct. 15). We also worked together prior to the charla to make Tippy Taps (an upside-down 3 liter soda bottle filled with water, bottom of the bottle cut of and turned inside out to serve as a soap dish, which can be used when there is no running water to wash hands with fresh water) to give to each aula (classroom) for the students to use in washing their hands. The charlas went as well as any charla can when given to 3, 4 and 5 year-olds, and it was nice change of pace to work with the enfermeras as they are eager to aid me in my projects.

     I also began assisting one of the obstetrices with her sex ed. charlas at the colegio in the pueblo joven of Fujimori Fujimori. While I had planned on mainly working with the schools in Salaverry proper, when the obstetrice told me that she had begun giving charlas at this school, I decided that if I began work with her on her pre-existing project it would be a natural transition for her to then work with me at the rest of the schools later on. The charlas were definitely interesting for me, and I served primarily as an observer as I did not want to upset the material being taught (the obstetrice had mentioned to me prior to the charla that the school had set some limits for her). After the main charla I simply injected thoughts that had occurred to me during the charla on points that I wanted to hi-lite for the students. It was a slightly boring affair as they simply read from pamphlets provided by the ministry of health and answered questions, but I got a feel for the type of information being presented to the students as well as began working more with the obstetrices and psychologist. I believe that they are eager to alieve the high rate of teenage pregnancy and therefore excited to work with me on my projects as well. I hope, with their aid, to begin a program to train students on how to be health promoters to their peers, as we all know that teenagers are much more likely to confide in their friends than they are to their parents or other adults. With such a program I can touch on all three goals of the Youth Development program as well: health, leadership and job preparation (by holding interviews to determine who will be a promoter). Here’s hoping this project works as well as I believe it will!

     In addition to aiding the obstetrices with their work at the colegio in the pueblo joven, I have also begun my work at the public colegio in Salaverry, Miguel Grau. This school is currently constructing a new building, and I believe that it is the ideal location for the world map project that Peace Corps promotes. I have gained permission from the director, but we cannot begin actual work on the map until summer vacations as the construction is not yet finished; however, with the aid of the director, I have already begun work in forming the group of students to work with on this project. Since I do not want the project to begin and end with just a map on the wall, I have already begun sessions with the students to work towards cultural awareness and geographical knowledge. The students that the director recommended were the brigederes (elected student leaders), and since I do not want the project to solely focus on those students who already have opportunities offered to them on a regular basis, I have asked these students to bring some of their friends to the next meeting (tomorrow). However, even if these students never invite others to the group at least I know that I have a group of responsible and eager-to-learn students.

Home Life

     Last Thursday night I elected to join my host parents and the priest on their outing to a theme park, Playland Park, in loo of  attending my usual youth group meeting. It was an overall funny outing for me as my host mother and I were the only ones in the crew to ride the majority of the rides available. My host father and the priest were both frightened of every single ride. Mind you, I am living in Perú, and these rides are more the garden variety carnival rides seen in the states. We managed to convince them to ride the roller coaster (which is more likened to a kiddie coaster in the states), and they both elected to sit side-by-side in the back of the four person cart rather than brave the front seat. I looked back during this ride to see my host dad gripping the protection bar for dear life with an absolute look of fear on his face–so funny! I kept teasing them, telling them that they were “little boys,” however this taunting was turned back on me when they realized that I am scared of haunted houses–haha!

     Over the past weekend we celebrated my host mother’s 42nd birthday. As the day approached, I realized that the family lacked any sort of plan for the celebration, for despite my constant questioning as to what we were going to do I was constantly answered with shrugs. My host aunt confided in me that they did not have the money for the celebration. After they had gone so far out of their way to make my birthday special, I could not bear to see this happen to my mom, so I told my dad that I wanted to buy the birthday cake for my host mom as her birthday present. He accepted this idea, and I knew it wouldn’t come across poorly since I said I wanted it to be my gift to her.

     Manuel, my oldest host brother and I ventured into Trujillo on Saturday morning for me to run a couple of errands as well as buy his mother’s birthday cake. First order of business was Serpost, but surprise of surprises, it was closed. So we decided to hop into a cab and go to Plaza Vea (Peruvian version of Target or Wal-Mart) as I could buy the cake and a few other items that I wished to purchase there. While there, I also stumbled upon some pumpkins so I bought two and plan on carving them with my family this weekend. I m definitely looking forward to sharing a tradition from home as it also acts as a way to alleviate the homesickness I have been feeling lately in longing for the beauty of Autumn.

     Amway, we ended up celebrating my host mother’s birthday at my host father’s parent’s home. Two of his siblings also live in the home with their parents, and they also have two babies, so it was a lively occasion! One of the babies is 1 and a half years old, a beautiful child with wonderful curiosity. The other is nine months, not yet walking but is already being trained how to use the toilet–oh the ironies of Peruvian life! The kids are babied into adulthood–can’t even get a glass of milk for themselves at the age of 13–but rushed into this life-stage change…


     While my original aim of work with the Colegio Especial has veered off path for the time being, I seem to have found meaningful work to do elsewhere. I also hope to focus in on writing my community diagnostic in the coming weeks, which means some visits to the municipality–wish me luck! In the beginning  of November I will also start giving charlas twice a week at Imaculada, the school where my host mom works and my brothers attend classes. There are only two classes of Secondaria at the moment, but I have been warned that they are rambunctious and lacking in respect–here’s hoping that my gringa power might come to the rescue! Meanwhile, I am looking forward to a possible beach trip in Lambayeque (the district just north of mine, 3 hours drive) for Thanksgiving with other volunteers. Also, we have early in service training in Ancash with all of the Youth Development volunteers just after thanksgiving, following which Steve will arrive in Perú for a month-long stint. Lots going on and lots to look forward to–I’m thinking the month of November might fly by!


Move Along Train October 10, 2010

Filed under: First year in Peru,October — Claire @ 4:53 pm

It has been awhile since my last post, I know, but I find it hard to have much to write about when work is moving rather slow (I beginning to believe that this is the Peruvian standard–poco-a-poco, no?). Though I am still at a bit of a loss as to what to write about, I figured it was about time for a new post, and hope that the words will come out of my fingertips and onto the page with some sort of fluency…

Attempts at Productivity

Currently I am working a great deal with the directora of the Colegio Especial in an attempt to visit the homes of the twenty-some-odd students who fail to show up to school on a daily basis. They are on the roster, and claim to be students of the school, but I surely have yet to even glimpse their sweet faces! So, in the mornings (at the insistence of the directora, and to my dismay as I know parents will more than likely not be home) I have been going on long walks with the directora to various homes. Typically no one is home, though we have had a few instances where the students are home and their parents away. One girl was even left out in the street without a key to her house while every family member was away. I know doubt can guess that thought pattern of her caregivers was: “Well, she cannot burn down the house if she is locked out of it!” Mind you, this student is older than twenty, though has a mental age much below that, and is often exploited to complete housework for her family as well as receives very little hygienic care (she was wearing dirty clothes and her face was quite dirty when we happened upon her). Unfortunately, I cannot claim that this type of maltreatment is uncommon in Peru…

I hope to continue these visits over the following weeks–though, hopefully with more success! My aim is to figure out if the claims of the directora that the reason that many of these students miss school is due to lack of funds for travel to and from the school. If this proves to be true, then I hope to work with the municipality to gain transportation for these students, for the school is a municipal school. Please send positive vibes my way–I’m gonna need all the help I can get in this undertaking!

When I am not working with the Colegio Especial, I am often working with the health post. I offered to help them recently with a promotional week and fair that they were having to prevent teenage pregnancy. I attended and aided with a sex ed. charla of sorts at the only public school here, Miguel Grau. The only manner of prevention that was really discussed was abstinence, and I found the charla sorely lacking in useful information; however, it was a good opportunity for me to witness the manner of education be offered (the few times that it is!). I think I impressed the enfermeras (nurses) when I spoke somewhat forcefully to the class when they were paying poor attention and laughing at my poor spanish speaking abilities. I decided to regain control of the lecture to pause, wait for attention, and forcefully state that I was learning Spanish to be able to communicate with them specifically and that I deserved more respect from them. Let me tell you, that shut them up! I think that the enfermeras were stunned that I could accomplish such a feat too! Though, I must say that I wasn’t that surprised at my success, I have worked with teenagers with behavioral issues before, after all…

On Friday of that week, the health post had planned to have a fería for teenagers about prevention of teenage pregnancy. They enlisted my aid in this because they have seen what attention I pay to the issue. I thus prepared a neat dynamica (interactive learning game) about AIDS, and was quite excited to use it. The first aspect of the fería that caught my attention as being a bit off was the fact that the nutritionist and dentist were included while the psychologist failed to show. Secondly, I noticed the large number of anti-abortion signs that they had made to post around the arena (I did not feel entirely comfortable being made a part of this platform, but comforted myself with the knowledge that it is actually illegal here). Thirdly, true to Peruvian tradition, no one showed. Three of the four schools in town were gone on paseos (field trips) and the fourth school, Miguel Grau, had failed to tell the students to attend the fería before they left school for the day. I could only laugh about it later with my family, as I had turned down the invitation to join in their paseo in order to work with the fería.

Along the lines of continuing with sex ed. programs, I hope to begin aiding one of the obstetrices with the sex ed. charlas that she has begun at one of the schools in the pueblo joven of Fujimori Fujimori with the aim of a smooth transition and aid in my charlas at the other schools in Salaverry. However, true to Peruvian tradition, she did not show up for her charla this past Thursday when I intended to begin aiding her. Here’s hoping that she shows for her session this Tuesday!

I have also been attempting to work with the promotora program at the health post, through which women of the community come to the health post and receive charlas on different health issues and are then expected to impart this information to their friends and neighbors. This is the same group that threw me my second birthday party. Three hours late. I think I can leave it at that reminder for you to understand how productive my work has been with them!

A Little Fun Along the Way…

I think the most rewarding aspect of my work as of late has dealt with my involvement in a local youth group. This group is composed of locals in their late teens to early twenties and is self-governed by them as well. They are a social organization with the main goals of social aid and planning and presenting various religious celebrations. They are also the closest thing I have to friendship at site. They have readily accepted me as a member of the group, and poco-a-poco as my language skills develop I am beginning to fit in well with them. I know that they will be a great help with future projects as well.

Anyways. this group, Elite they are called, threw me a belated birthday party of soda and chips at the meeting the Thursday after my birthday. We also had a chocolatada (hot chocolate and bread with butter) at the pueblo joven of Fujimori Fujimori this past Thursday. It was a rather successful event, and the eight or so gallons of hot chocolate as well as 200 bread rolls were gone with in a matter of a half hour. It was a fun event, and I felt more closely bonded with the group afterward. They then invited me to join them on a night out that night as the following day was a feríada (holiday).  I readily accepted this invitation, realizing that I would not be able to work much the following day either, and joined them on their night out. It was fun and tranquil, and I participated in my first ever Peruvian drinking circle–haha! It’s really just nice to know that I have a group of people who I can be chill with and not have it feel like work all the time. We had a paseo planned for today, Sunday, but our transportation fell through, so here’s hoping to a ¨rain date” in the near future!


Ain’t Life Grand September 21, 2010

Filed under: First year in Peru,September — Claire @ 11:41 pm

I have now experienced my first birthday Peruvian-style, which involves a great number of hugs and dancing…

It began at 12 am on Sept. 20th, as I sat in the candle-lit living room with my host dad and mom listening to Simon and Garfunkel because the power had gone out for the third time in 12 hours. All of a sudden, my mother gets up and and rushes to give me a hug because it is 12 am, the official start to my birthday. My father, too, gives me a hug and wishes me “Feliz Cumple.” He is followed by my aunt.

The First Cake

Not knowing quite what do with myself in the morning, as I awoke to the power being out yet again, I decided to head over to the Special Ed. school to visit with the kids and possibly meet with the directora to plan for some possible work. While she had written down my birthday during a previous meeting, I figured that she had probably forgotten by now and we might be able to actually work…This, at first, seemed to be an accurate estimation; however, she paused mid-sentence during one of her long rambling speeches about the goings-on at the school and stated, “…Clarita! Feliz cumpleaños!”  She then hugged me and instructed each of the students to do the same.

I was then led to the second, younger student, classroom where a party had been set up…for one of the students…yep, I became a party crasher at the start of my birthday…

As it turns out, the young student with West Syndrome (a very rare and interesting disorder–if bored, you should research it) share’s my birthday day and her mother (one of the few active parents at the school) had brought a lot of food to have a party with the other students. While I felt awkward at first being a party crasher of sorts and stealing the student’s thunder, their excitement and welcoming attitudes soon assuaged my discomfort. The party was great fun, lasted 2 hours, with a great deal of food passed around, lots of dancing, and of course hugs!

At the end of the festivities, a group of well-dressed, official-looking adults entered the classroom. It turns out that they were officials of Rotary Club in Piura (why Piura, I haven’t a clue as there is a chapter just 30 minutes away in Trujillo). They were very excited to meet me, actually had a clue of what Peace Corps was, and wanted me to join on their tour of the school. Apparently, the Rotary Club is largely responsible for supplying what few physical therapy supplies there are in the therapy room at the school. They were troubled by the news that the Alcalde wants to use the current school building for a hospital, excited for my involvement at the school, and eager to help out, especially if I am there to document their work to bring back to the States and show Rotary Club in there the work that they are doing in Peru. Call me an opportunist, but I think I just might use my Peace Corps/Gringa clout to help the school receive more assistance than normal! Maybe a car to use to carpool students to and from school??

The Second Cake

Setting the stage:

Last week I had my first meeting with the Promotoras de Salud at the health post. This occurred after no one had shown for the meeting the week before, and was even an hour late in starting this time (normal by Peruvian standards). It is a group of women from around Salaverry who meet weekly to learn about different health concerns so that they can then assist in educating their neighbors and friends–a method of knowledge dissemination, if you will. They are sweet ladies, and when they discovered that my birthday was to be the following Monday, they immediately decided that they needed to have an extra “meeting” on Monday at 3 pm.

Flash Forward to Monday, my Birthday:

Well, lunch at my house was late (per usual) and did not even get started until 2:45 pm, so I was in a crunch to make it to the health post on time, but decided to savor the lunch (Soltado with lots of veggies–just for me!–homemade wantons and homemade limeade) with my family and arrive a bit late as I figured the party would not start on time either (though the gringa in me was inwardly cringing at purposefully arriving late to a meeting).

I managed to arrive 20 minutes late–go me! No one was there. No surprise. One hour passes, and still no sight of a single promotora–lots of screaming, sick kids, though…Another hour passes. The nurse in charge of the promotoras takes pity on me and leads me to a room so that I don’t have to watch screaming babies anymore…No I get to sit awkwardly while a woman works on her computer and I wait for my birthday party. Let me tell you, there is not many more uncomfortably awkward feelings than purposefully waiting for your own birthday party to arrive, all the while wondering if it even will…I found myself weighing the decision to leave about every half hour. If it had been a regular meeting, I would have been long gone by the 2 hour mark; but this was for a party that they wanted to give to me–How bad would it look if I was not there when they finally showed?! Not really seeing any other alternative, I waited…

Finally, at around 6 pm, three of the promotoras arrived with a torta (cake) and gaseosa (soda). It was an awkward, but friendly little gathering with hugs and generous-sized slices of cake for all. They sang me happy birthday (both in English and Spanish) and I blew out the question mark-shaped candle (they could not recall my age, or possibly had failed to ask…) atop of my cake. All in all, it was a sweet gathering, though I believe that the candle atop of my cake was the best representation of the event…

It Takes the Cake

When I arrived home from my awkward little gathering with the promotoras, I discovered my mother and brothers busily decorating the house with balloons and streamers while my aunt was preparing mountains of food. And, even though I was a bit worn out from all my waiting for the promotoras, I couldn’t help but be excitedly curious at the scene unfolding in my house…I had no clue who was coming over, though I was certain that it was not going to be just a party with my family based on all the work going into it.

At around 8 pm members of the padre’s (priest)  family started to trickle into our house. By 8:45 the padre himself had arrived–his birthday is actually the 21st, the day following mine–and we sat down to eat chicken sandwiches and drink coffee. Before we ate, my host dad made a toast to me with his own cocktail (pisco, sugar, strawberries and milk–surprisingly tasty). It was such a sweet speech, in which he pretty much stated that he was thankful to have me as a member of his family, and how appreciate who I am, my thoughts and attitude. I felt so wonderful in that moment. It was one of the fleetingly great moments that I experience occasionally here and reiterates my knowledge that I am indeed where I ought to be.

After dinner I was made to stand behind my cake for a photo op. I believe that we captured every combination of people imaginable during this time. They turned out the lights, lit the candles on my cake, and sang me happy birthday (English and Spanish versions). Then took a picture of me cutting the cake–it felt like a wedding without a groom…

We  followed this up with a dance party. I was made to dance in the center of the group with each person individually for photo ops–so embarrassing! the dancing continued until 12 am on the 21st, at which time we surrounded the padre and sang happy birthday to him (English and Spanish). The padre then had his photo ops with the cake as well as the birthday song (both ways), the blowing out of candles and wishing of a wish. At this point the party came to an abrupt halt with the arrival of the car for those party-ers from Trujillo.

Overall, it was a very memorable day. While I had originally gotten homesick just thinking of spending my birthday so far from my family and friends in the States, I realize now that I am blessed to be able to spend it with new friends and “family” in Peru. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful host family who went out of their way to make it a special day for me. I also feel blessed to live in a country that is so generous and hospitable. No worries Mom and Dad, I am well loved and cared for here in Peru too!


Honest With Me September 7, 2010

Filed under: First year in Peru,September — Claire @ 10:19 pm

So, it´s been close to three weeks since I first arrived at site, and while my work may not be what I personally want it to be at the moment, the one aspect of my life here for which I am incredibly grateful is my host family. I feel completely at home with them, and feel free to be myself and be honest, which is such a unexpectadly nice scenario for me. For example, while Peruvians on the whole do not like vegetable (especially without oil), my family makes me a salad every day at lunch and steams a heaping plateful of veggies for me every night at dinner because they recognize that I like them and that I feel healthier with such food in my diet. Tonight, the whole family ate steamed  veggies and fresh spinach at dinner, as they have been watching me and want to be healthier too. We also had quit the interesting  conversation at dinner tonight; somehow (I can not even begin to recall the instigator) turned to opinions on abortions, homosexuality civil rights of homosexuals, back to abortion, teen pregnancy and manners of birth control…Not gonna lie, this is definitely no the type of conversation that I pictured myself having around the dinner table in the machismo society of Peru…But it was great! It was fun to openly discuss my thoughts and the American laws on these matters with my family–my father, as it turns out, is far less machismo than my mother. While the conversation was a bit heated at times, no one begrudged anyone the right to speak his/her mind, and it was an intellectually stimulating and interesting cultural exchanging conversation…

After the conversation ended peacefully, we all got up, cleaned up the table, then my host parents and I hung the curtains that my host mom sewed for me in my bedroom. I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful host family. I realize that while my work in the community may not be where I want to be right now, at least I have a comfortable, welcoming home to return to at the day´s end. The work can very easily improve and evolve, but I recognize that having a good home base will be the starting point for such changes for me. So, here´s looking forward to future changes in my work with thanks for a solid home life!


Send in the Clowns September 1, 2010

Filed under: August (in site),First year in Peru — Claire @ 3:01 pm

Alrighty…So, I´ve fallen off of the blog band wagon for close to a month now and I suppose that I owe a  debt of one monstrous blog…Here we go, I will do my best to make up for my absence…

Since I last wrote, a great deal of changes have occurred on my life, most importantly, I am no longer an aspirante (trainee) but rather a voluntaria (volunteer)! We had a lovely induction ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru on Friday the 20th of August. I must note here that the U.S. Embassy here is a rather imposing building, and when I can finally get my pictures all loaded online, you truly must refer to them! It was a simple and succinct ceremony (Thank goodness! For while you can flush toilet paper in the U.S. Embassy, their air conditioning does not seem to be functioning…). The country director for PEace Corps Peru gave a short speech of introduction and was followed up by Kelsi´s host father from Chaclacayo speaking on the important role that host families play in our training (and beyond, to be honest). Next, we received a short speech from a man in the U.S. Embassy, who, as it turns out has been in this country even less time than we have and afforded us a compliment when he stated that we are “living his dream” by serving in the Peace Corps. He was followed up by one of Peru 15´s very own, Ryan, who spoke on the behalf of our group; last, but certainly not least, we were inducted as Peace Corps Peru 15 volunteers. I can´t begin to describe the feelings of this moment, as it felt surreal on the whole with moment of extreme clarity and realization…However, as we rode the bus to our hostel that evening I found myself fighting back tears as I watched Peruvian daily life pass by out my window, for I could not feel more grateful to be serving here in Peru, learning daily from the people here and attempting to give back a portion of what I have gained from my experiences here.

I have now been at my site in Salaverry, Peru for just over a week, and while I feel I have made very little headway on the Community Diagnostic that is to be done, I have had a very interesting week filled with a large variety of cultural experiences. First of all, on my first full day at site I called my counterpart at the health post, and she insisted on me joining a desfile (parade) for the health post at midday, despite my resistance and desire to simple settle and unpack my belongings. I feel the need to pause here and emphasize the importance of parades to Peruvians; they seem to feel that they are perfect for any occasion: saint celebrations, Independence Day, pest control… Anyways, I show up at the post at noon, only to be escorted to a school (actually my host family´s Catholic school) where a large group of small children were waiting, signs in hand, to desfilar (vt. parade) with us. This was quite a site to be seen, as the parade was actually about the peste bubonica (Bubonic Plague) that has been worrying the health post since before my site visit three weeks ago. The children all had signs, which I suppose were either made by their mothers or teachers, stating such things as “rats kill” and “keep your home clean” with a picture of a rat crossed out. It was all quite humorous to me, but I succeeded in fighting back my laughter of amusement and successfully completed the procession (sans band or any sort of attention-getter). Not sure of the effectiveness of the parade in getting out information about how to prevent the Bubonic Plague, but it was a good time…

And the Parades Continue…

 I feel the need to mention that both my host mother and aunt (who lives with us) are teachers at the parochial school in town, where all of my brothers attend, before continuing with my next parade scenario…As my first week began to unfold, my host aunt, Rosita, kept going on and on about the Virgen of Otuzco (a town in the sierra of La Libertad about 3 hours from here) visiting Salaverry, the neighboring towns, and finishing up in Turjillo. Side note, in Latin America each town has it´s own statue of the virgin Mary that is usually gaudily dressed and has day of celebration in her honor. Not being a Catholic, and especially not having much of a clue about Catholicism in Latin America, I could not even begin to guess the significance of such an event, so I decided to attend the procession for the Virgen in Salaverry on Thursday afternoon. Little did I know that this particular virgen is very popular and has quite the following! 

The procession began innocently enough with three different dancing groups: devils, gypsies and “negritos” (people wearing burlap sacks and faces painted black, I kid you not!). I was having an enjoyable time watching the typical dances on the side of the road with my host mom and aunt and their co-workers, and was quite excited to be experiencing something so cultural in my first days at site…then the virgin turned the corner mounted on the flatbed of a semi…At this point all hell broke loose (forgive the poor play on words), and all of a sudden all of Salaverry, it seemed, was flooding the streets and sidewalks to process alongside of the virgin. It was complete chaos! People were pushing and shoving their way forward, and I couldn´t help but get pushed along with the crowd for fear of being trampled. Thus, I was separated from my host family and pushed along as the procession continued. The truck bearing the virgin stopped at points to receive offering of flowers from various vendors, and every time it paused so did the procession of people. I kid you not, despite the craziness, they would all pause to stare in adoration at the virgin and chant “Viva la Virgen de la Puerta!” Also, as the procession continued, I stared wide-eyed as babies were passed among the crowd toward the virgin, then held up to make the sign of the cross in front of her…People also fought their way toward her to hold Bibles and photos up to her, kiss her, and steal one of the flowers from her offering. It was quite the experience to say the least!

…And Yet Another Parade…

On Friday morning my host family´s school had the opening ceremony for their 9th annual Olympic games, and ever the opportunist when it comes to entertaining situations, I decided to tag along and witness the event. Boy am I glad I did! It was quite the spectacle that began with–guess what–a parade! Each grade from age three to Secondaria had their own uniform with designated team colors and mascots. The mascots were people dressed in “fuzzy” costumes–Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Scooby Doo were all in attendance! There was also a band and a group bearing flags of all the countries that participate in the Olympics (which, funnily enough, Peru is not one).

The parade ended at a sports stadium in town, and a torch was lit, and both the Peruvian National Anthem and the Anthem of Salaverry (I was previously unaware of it´s existance) were sung. Then the flag bearers (my oldest host brother included) then did a flag formation. This was followed by an announcement that all of the mascots were to come into the center of the court; and, I kid you not, they then proceeded to have a dance-off between the mascots. Winnie the Pooh won, in case you were curious. Each class then presented a dance that they had prepared ahead of time. I believe that the groups of 3, 4, and 5 year olds were my favorite to watch in all their cluelessness…Overall, it was a very entertaining spectacle and an interesting finish to my first week in Salaverry.

…One Final Procession…

Having already experienced the madness of the virgin in Salaverry, I cannot quite explain what compelled me to join the professors once more when they went to Trujillo Sunday evening to despedida (say good-bye) to the virgin, call it a momentary lapse in judgement or pure cultural curiosity, but I decided to join the crew on the paseo to Trujillo…Here I endured over five hours of Catholicism. First, there was a service on a stage constructed in the Plaza de Armas alongside the church that lasted over an hour and included a lot of chanting about the virgin. Then, the cool part occurred when a tower of cool fireworks display was ignited–never seen fireworks arranged in such a way! Finally, we stood in the street and watched at the same dance groups of “negritos” and gypsies danced and a person dressed as the devil bearing a whip kept us far enough back as to allow room for the dances. This lasted for close to three hours while we waited for the Virgen de la Puerta to reach us so that we could process with her; however, when 9 pm rolled around and she was still over a block away from us the professors decided to call it a night–thank god! We returned home by around 9:30 or 10 pm, with sore feet, hungry stomachs, and cold noses. While it was not the most fun experience that I have had in Peru thus far, I am glad that I went and experienced such an integral and fascinating part of the culture once more.

A Little Work Amongst the Chaos

It is now Wednesday September 1st, and I have been in Salaverry for about a week and a half. While it may appear that it has all just been one big party for me, I have actually tried to accomplish a few things…I have now visited the Colegio Especial three times. Each time I expect it to be less strange, but this has yet to occur for me. The first time that I went the directora gave me a tour, during which I met seven students–there are supposed to be close to 30 students in this school. She also proceeded to talk at me a with rather lengthy monologues (something that is very difficult for my moderate-at-best level of Spanish). She also told me that there are two students in inclusion programs, both of whom solely have hearing impairments. On my second visit, I came more prepared and ready to find out information that I need to know with pen, notebook and dictionary in hand. In this meeting, she began by informing me of a behavioral issue with one of their older students with Downs Syndrome (36 years old, actually) in which she is taking school materials home. When I suggested that she set the student down, explain that they are school items and ask the student where in the classroom she would like to put them, then make a daily routine of placing the items in the student-designated spot at the end of each day, she seemed in awe of such an idea. The idea of autonomy seems to be new here. Also, Peru does not have privacy laws, she went through the roster of students and provided me with each student´s name, disability, hometown, family situation, and possible reasons for lack of attendance. Today, on my third visit to the Colegio Especial, the directora finished the list of students for me, then attempted to go off again on a lengthy monologue. Luckily, I was able to intervene at an appropriate point with questions about IEPs, which it turns out they do not have. She lent me a massive text that supposedly deals with such material, but which I suspect might just be adaptive activity ideas. I also found out that there are three students in inclusive programs, all of whom solely have hearing impairments, and none of whom are in neither public schools nor schools in Salaverry. She explained, with great frustration, the role that politics plays in her school since it is owned by the municipality, and also the complete lack of preparedness on the part of the country for the mandatory inclusion programs.

I am still in the preliminary stages of getting to know the Colegio Especial, but I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me yet. I think it might be a good idea to do house visits with the directora to the homes of students who do not come to school; though I have yet to mention this thought to her. Also, the school is currently being shared with a colegio from one of the surrounding pueblo jovenes, and apparently is on the verge of being moved or closed down in order for the Alcalde to build a hospital as part of his campaigning. I have very little clue as to what I will be good for in this school, but think that I could possibly introduce the use of IEPs and also inclusive rec programs with the students from the conveniently located pueblo joven colegio. I just hope that I can make something good happen for this school…

I also have a lot a work ahead of me in the coming weeks as I need to locate and visit all the secondaria schools in town, meet the alcade, and just meet more people in general. While daunting at first, this is seeming more feasible to me with each passing day as I continue to get acclimated and become more comfortable with my Spanish. Also, this Sunday I will be attending my first Scout meeting. The priest at the local Catholic church, who happens to be a good friend of my family, has a Scout group (boys and girls here) that meets in Trujillo. I look forward to this meeting in part because it is another youth group to get to know and in part because I have been informed that there is a pool and we get swim time! Yay! Here´s looking forward to Sunday and hoping to achieve more work in the coming days! Chao for now!