Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Animal Farm

This entry is about animals in my life. It's very different than living in the States in a city. I live with a ton of farm animals and this is their story.  My family has pigs, chickens and guinea pigs near the house.  Their goats live far away in the mountains but we have those too.  But all around, there are donkeys, cows, sheep, horses, dogs and cats in addition to what the family has.  And as a general animal lover, it's been fun. However, there are antics of these animals of which I was unaware before moving here.

First, I thought roosters crowed like once when the sun came up in the morning.  Not true. They crow all the time- day, night, and constantly. Annoyingly. Donkeys also make a shit ton of noise. They bray all the time and show all their nasty teeth while making one of the most horrible noises I have ever heard.  Oh, and the pigs. The goddamn pigs. They get tangled up in their little leashes and make noises more deafening than donkeys and roosters combined. And they are filthy. I understand why groups of people don't want to eat the damn things. They do roll around in shit and eat anything.  And they're really, really ugly. The ones around here are hairy and it's all wire-y and nasty.

But the animals are not just annoying. I do love living around animals. They're funny. Watching baby goats and sheep play is really hilarious. They jump around and are so cute. They really make me happy. And baby cows are awesome. When they come out, their white fur is like bleached white. It changes to like a vanilla color as they get older and more weathered. But baby cows like to play with other baby cows. Also, very cute.  I really can’t tell you how many phone conversations with other volunteers I’ve had talking about baby animals at site.

Our chicken, Catalina, likes to lay eggs on top of our family's cupboard in the kitchen. It takes three weeks to incubate the eggs and then once they're hatched, she'll still sit on them for a week before introducing them to the world.  But baby chicks are also pretty funny to watch. I like to name all the new baby animals and my host siblings think it's pretty funny beacuse that’s something they don’t really do maybe because so many of them die.  We have a lot of names from the Little Mermaid and Lord of the Rings.

And I actually killed my very own guinea pig the other week. The knife was so dull that I had to saw at its neck, which sucked. And as it was bleeding out, it peed on my foot. Nice revenge. But it sure was tastey.

And my kitties are growing and doing well. Getting kind of big, but are healthy and happy. I can't get them spayed here yet, but I bought a birth control shot and my nurse at the health clinic came into my room and gave my cats the shots. Ghetto pet care but I'm doing the best I can...

In general, I am really enjoying living among animals with which I’ve never lived befote in the States. I eat meat here but see how happy most  of their lives are in the campo which aligns with my values fine. But I’ll probably go back to not eating animals or animal products, but I really like the taste.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Something's Happening at Site

I`m finally getting a rhythm here in Peru. It took this long (I`ve been at stie 11 months!) but I think I got it finally. That`s normal I hear, especially for being the first volunteer in my site. I had my doubts till recently; failed projects, meetings nobody came to, etc. But something changed. I`m not exactly sure at what moment it was, but it had something to do with two things:
1.    I can finally offer something except education. I`ve written a grant (hopefully the money starts flowing soon…) for 33 stovetops to build improved kitchens (cocinas). I have 45 families in total in three communities. One is where I live and the other two are tiny communities accessible by foot only.
2.    I took my two adolescents taking my sex ed course to a leadership conference we put together in August. They`re fairly motivated to teach others, paint murals and make radio spots.

The cocina project is huge. It´ll take me pretty much the rest of my service to
complete. The mothers in the project must attend six classes, one a month for six months, in order to receive the cocina. This is a big item for them; it costs about 170 soles here and their equivalent to Medicaid pays them 100 soles per month for food. So it`s be practically impossible for them so save this kind of money. And I like the project because they have to be involved in the process. It`s not just a gift. They have to build the adobes for the cocina and work with me to build the actual cocina. The classes will stretch through the rainy season and we`ll be building the cocinas from about April through August.  I finished my first three classes (the same but in each community) last week. Out of about 45, I only had 4 mothers not come to the first class (most on time). This is legendary here where they don`t have planners, calendars or even watches.  It`s actually fun. My biggest challenge is language. And it`s not Spanish anymore. Most of these mothers don`t speak Spanish. Just Quechua. And yeah, I know a few phrases, but I doubt I could ever teach a class in Quechua even if I studied my ass off for the next year. You can`t guess words in Quechua like you can in Spanish. But, that`s why my host mom comes with me- to translate and make me legit. The classes are about nutrition, hygiene, gardens, building corrals for their guinea pigs, early childhood stimulation and how to make their home healthier.
    And for the adolescents, they`re teaching what I taught them to four others right now. Then we`ll have six peer educators to teach classes during school hours about sex and sexuality. Like I mentioned before, they don`t know shit about birth control and ITSs. This is the first sex ed class ever for this school. Hopefully the teen pregnancy incidence will decrease a little….
    I´ve been working my ass off making a huge garden. It`s a lot of work, but hopefully we`ll have a shit ton of vegetables here during the rainy season. All I can grow at this altitude and climate. I`ve been digging through a mountain of rocks.
    And I`m still teaching in the primary school every day. The kids are kinda growing on me, I must admit. It`s still not my favorite thing to do but I`m completing my classes and probably won`t take more on. Except in the art realm. I have ideas for this….more to come.
    And I still teach boxing but only private lessons to one girl. She`s really got some potential. I use Ace bandages to wrap her wrists. Maybe I`ll bring some back from the States.  If I can find them.
    Speaking of that, I`m visiting home for New Year`s and early January. I`m flying in to New Jersey to see Alex and then to StL to visit my parents. I can get some cold Diet Dr. Pepper, some cold IPAs, some hot ass mother f*ing showers or BATHS and drink from the faucet. It`s all about liquids for me. And temperature control. Those are the comforts of home I miss the most.
    I`m taking violin lessons. I have a teacher here teaching me the traditional music of the area. I`m not learning how to read music and they use Do Re Mi instead of C D E so it´ll be interesting. And I`m doing research to see if I can afford a harp, That´s the other instrument of this region and they`re relatively cheap and I can take lessons here too. Some day I gotta figure out how to bring back two cats, a guitar, violin and possibly a harp. Shit. But worth it. This is where my creative side is taking me and I`m rolling with it. I think I really miss live music. If I have to make it myself, so be it.
    It`s now my second Halloween, second Thanksgiving and second Xmas coming up for my life in Peru. But I think I´ll see some of those Stateside next year. Vamos a ver.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Holy Crap!

This entry is all about poop. If you’re not interested in Peace Corps poop stories, want to keep your mental images pure or you’re already feeling nauseated, skip this entry. You’ve been warned.

So my family’s latrine, as I’ve pointed out before, is really far from the house. Like a football field away. Remember that I live in a tree house like structure and I have to descend a ladder to get outside.  And I keep forgetting to get a flashlight. And it’s dark as shit in the campo when the sun goes down. Also, the latrine is nasty. The hole is almost full.  Every time you got in there to take a shit, you can see mounds of other people’s shit below. And le

So about two months ago, I had a horrible fever for four days and couldn’t really get out of bed. I sweated through hoodies kind of fever. Surprisingly enough during this time, my poops were fairly healthy.  I mean, I probably have some level of diarrhea like between 25-45% of the time. So the days I have good poop are noteworthy and my friends and I usually talk about the good ones. Anyway, during the sick spell, I couldn’t get to the latrine. I had to figure out what to do about this situation. I felt so gross, nasty and had no dignity left at this point, so I looked around my room for options. Black plastic bags. Could I do it? I wasn’t sure, but that seemed like the best I could come up with.  So I positioned myself in my room, rested my knee against my wall and used both hands to hold the bag where a toilet should be.  And dammit all to hell, it worked. I couldn’t believe it but it worked. And really it wasn’t so bad. So I doubled-bagged the situation and placed it on my balcony. Well after about four days, my balcony was starting to look like the episode of Dexter where they unearth the Bay Harbor Butcher’s burial grounds.
Ok, so the fever broke. Now that the hell was I going to do with like five bags of shit?  And let me tell you, the double-bag system isn’t exactly air-tight if you know what I mean. So I had to get them out of my room undetectably and get them to the latrine without anyone watching and throw them down the hole. But I couldn’t just toss them down there; I had to make sure they weren’t in the line of site because I didn’t want to have to explain that to my host family. I decided to put them in a bigger bag and put that in my backpack on my way out one day. So I got a stick and threw the bags in the latrine and poked at the bags until they were out of sight on the sidelines.

Then I called the Peace Corps office in Lima and asked them if they could front me enough money to give my family to finish their bathroom close to the house they started to build. Luckily for me they came through. But not soon enough. I thought my bag days were over…

I don’t know how in the first six months or so I managed to only have to poop during the daytime hours. A few times afterwards, the minute the sun went down, I felt it coming on.  So I had to bag it a few more times after dark. Jesus.

Then eventually, as things take forever to happen here in Peru, I now have a toilet in the bathroom near the house. No sink or lights or a shower, but a toilet that flushes at least most of the time. I thought my bag days were over…

I was at my friend’s place in a site like two hours away for a meeting. Her bathroom is outside and through another door that opens with a key. We had separated to run some errands and she had the key to the bathroom.  I was in her room and was getting sick. I tried to change positions so mitigate the stomach pains to no avail. I started sweating I had to poop so badly. So I frantically looked around the room for a plastic bag. Back to my old habits.  I tied it up trying to figure out what the hell to do with it. I opened the door to put it outside somewhere and there my friend was, ready to come in with the other key. But it was too late.

Now I’m pretty sure the bag days won’t be over till I move back home.  And given my general poor level of hygiene, I mean, whatever.

¡Por fin! Success. Maybe.

Until recently, I wasn’t sure my community was going to work. I’ve had so many failed attempts at projects I had even thought about changing sites. I sat six weeks in a row in front of the school waiting for kids to come to my sex ed group with no one showing up (except Maria. Shes’s the best).  So ended up doing the course with Maria and Santiago. And it ended up being really fun with just the two.

And also, the health clinic, although nice enough people, aren’t doing any health promotion like they’re supposed to. Each community out here is supposed to train health promoters to be the first point of contact for people in non-emergencies. And they’re supposed to make house visits to check on things and offer advice. For instance, some people use their latrine as a pig house and shit in the fields instead. Not the point of latrines. Not at all. Health promoters would explain to them why that’s not healthy.

And I have no local government. My mayor promised me money for paint to finish the world map and promised me chairs tables and shelves for a library in MARCH. There are a lot of broken promises here.

I have been teaching in the elementary school. But I really don’t like it much. The kids adore me which is nice since there are a lot of assholes around (less in my site, more in Pomabamba). 

And for every meeting you’d try to have with anyone from the community, you’d have three events or meetings out of four to which no one showed up.  This is what I had been living on for the last nine months in site. Failure after failure really grates on you.  I was wondering what the hell I was doing here, etc.  The things that were making me happy were all external from work or even Peace Corps. I start to feel anxious to get out of my community after like two, two and a half weeks. Doesn’t take long before you just feel beaten down and useless.

However, the last couple of weeks have been different. I’ve started my Cocinas Mejoradas (improved kitchens) project and have been blown the hell away with the community response.  So in general, the women here without cocinas cook on the ground inside the kitchen by putting a pot on a few rocks and lighting firewood underneath.  If you’ve even been at a campfire, you know how that smoke gets in your eyes and burns. And how your lungs hurt a little after.  Imagine doing that (on a smaller scale, granted) for five to six hours per day from the age of 16 to whenever your respiratory illnesses kill you.  Building these stoves is something relatively cheap that makes a huge difference in the quality of life of these people. All you need is a plancha (likd glass bottles and adobes bricks and someone who know what they’re doing. You build an adobe table, more of less, and two edges of adobes on which you place the stovetop. It’s hard to describe… there is a space underneath the stovetop to place the firewood but the flames stay mostly covered and the smoke leaves through the back up the chimney.  It’s elevated so the woman can stand up instead of crouch over the fire, the smoke leaves the house and it uses less firewood (which they have to chop down, collect and haul to the house. Bad for the environment, tough for the family).  All in all, it’s pretty brilliant. Wish I invented it.

Peace Corps expects us to work with 30 families with kids under five (affects their lungs worse than older kids and adults) on this project.  I started doing house visits with 30 names of mothers with little kids.  A handful of families already had the plancha and chimney from the only other NGO that`s ever been out here (Peruvian NGO). But the NGO didn’t ensure the cocinas were built. So some families built pieces of crap or never even tried. They’re easy to build but you need to know how to do it. So, the families with the planchas were going to e freebies in my project. I’m writing a grant for this from USAID and the planchas and chimneys are definitely the most expensive parts. So if they already had them, why not let them participate in the garden part, guinea pig corral part and other sessions? So then I needed more families. I rose the age to six and under. Captured a few more. But there were two families in particular I really wanted to help. Super poor, no men to help out (one died, one’s a useless drunk ass) and cry every time I’m around. But their youngest kids were 10. So I rose the age to 10 and under. Now I have 44 families and will be requesting funding for like 34 or 35 planchas. The project grew before my eyes but the mothers are excited.

Like I said before, I can’t get fuck all from meetings I plan. For this project, I had mothers traveling from the far away little neighborhoods to make sure they talked to me. And they only knew about it through word of mouth. I was blown away. I never really had to do house visits because they all found me. And they`re excited about the other components of the project too. So the three worst health problems for kids here are:
1.    Malnutrition
2.    Respiratory infections
3.    Diarrhea

So I`m getting more seeds of vegetables for the families to grow gardens with a cooking class showing them how to use things like broccoli. Hopefully that’ll chip away at the malnutrition. And let me tell you, the malnutrition is really, really pathetic here. There are 10 year olds that look 7 and many women here who might hit 4’5’’. Maybe.

And the cocinas assuredly help with the respiratory infections. Otherwise, there’s no air pollution out here. Just from firewood.

And to help fix diarrhea (which I have a lot and I’m careful) which is a huge problem here, you gotta get the goddamn animals out of the kitchen. There are a billion ways to get diarrhea but having animals (like guinea pigs, ducks, chickens, etc) live in the kitchen is a sure way to make your family sick. They shit all over the floor, little kids touch the floor, mouths, etc. And simple handwashing is not always easy when there’s no water. Anyway, I’m going to help them build cages outside the house for their guinea pigs. It’s beneficial because it’s healthier for the family, they reproduce faster and it’s easier to collect their shit for the garden. And interesting, I have seen nutrition facts for guinea pigs and they’re incredibly nutritious. The protein to calorie ratio is better than chicken. The only thing is they’re temperature sensitive and die sometimes from the cold and they’re a bitch to clean for very little meat.

And also, the families are required to attend six sessions with me over six months to receive their cocina. We’re going to talk about all the health topics most fucked up here:
1.    Basic hygiene
2.    Trash management
3.    Early childhood stimulation
4.    Improved latrines
5.    Nutrition
6.    Dental health

I really hope these sessions do some good. My host mom has to translate because I’d say three out of the 44 mothers speak Spanish. A sign of girls not finishing elementary or secondary school.   And also, I just want them to participate so badly. I want this to be successful so I can feel like I’m doing something good for this community. Geez. Wish me luck yeah?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trash-burning Smoke Signals, Passenger Condors and the Burro Express

I wrote this for our newsletter and thought you might enjoy it...

As part of the Pomabamba Health 16 crew, we know a thing or two about the lack of technology. We’re the ones on the “other side of the mountain” from the other volunteers and our capital city.  Huaraz is technically our capital city, but it is 10-14 miserable hours on what feels like a mechanical bull from where I live to Huaraz.  There is America-fast internet there at cafes with coffee to make your nerves get nerves.  It’s beautiful.  But in Pomabamba, which is considered our bastard capital city (which is also smaller than some volunteers’ sites), things are slightly less… ummm… advanced?

Yeah. So in Pomabamba, there is total cell service. That’s not an issue in the raging metropolis of Pomabamba where the bank actually runs out of money with enough frequency to note the issue.   However, internet is something else.  I graduated high school in 2001 so I remember when internet was so slow that it was essentially useless.  You know, back in the 90s.  But those were more innocent times.  We didn’t need email to hear about committee meetings, turn in reports and figure out who’s hooking up back at home.  Honestly, I don’t remember how we did those things, but we managed, I guess. 
And only about half of the 10 of us have decent cell phone service.  A couple of those without  service have the ¨when I stand outside near the Oracle of Delphi, sometimes I get two bars” kind of reception.  So the real question is, how have I submitted this article?

We’ve considered things like trash-burning smoke signals, passenger Condors and a Burro Express to aid communication.   But those are just dreams. Dreams like finding funding from local municipalities.  However, in the last 6-7 months, we’ve figured out a few tricks. 

In the south, Gisel, Will and Sara have found an internet chacra.  I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but somewhere out there between maiz and trigo, they get signal.  And Facebook loads with less internet than html gmail.  The cell phone tower around there has been built. But it was built on an Incan burial ground. So it had to be moved. Now it’s moved and the volunteers there are pretty sure all they have to do is push a big red button and they’ll all have service, but no one’s pushed it yet.  I’m pretty sure they would have called us out of novelty but they haven’t.  But hey, if it’s an emergency, it’s only about a 12-hour hike from Pomabamba. 

You can never go to an internet cafe in Pomabamba with the expectation of actually using it.  First of all, you need to buy some candy to get through it.  I recommend chocolate and sprinkle-covered dinosaurs.  Second of all, you have to know it might take 11 minutes to open your gmail in html.  If you still have dinosaurs left and haven’t gone mad yet, you can probably read five emails in 30 minutes.  This is why I’m really, really good at my cell phone games, especially ZooZoo Club.  You can expect to reply to three of the five emails you’ve read.  It is possible at times to download a small Word document but forget about Excel or anything more than three pages.  On a really good day, like in the morning when kids are in school, you might be able to upload a small Word document, too.  But no photos. Forget about them.  Vacation request forms can be sent sometimes, but hey, that’s why we have Mari Elena’s number in our phones. 

Laura has discovered an interesting solution to get cell service.  She has found a corner of her room near the ceiling with service.  She tapes her phone to the wall with duct tape and when it rings, climbs onto a chair, answers the phone on speaker and yells ¨hang on a sec” and runs outside to her corner with service to talk. 

Also, Heather and Brianna have the internet sticks and actually get a little service in their rooms.  Since they can watch an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia while their email loads, it’s slightly less irritating. Then they call the rest of us with service about updates and news.

And, like many other volunteers, not having the internet for a while at a time really makes you think about stuff you’d otherwise look up.  For instance, I’ve had lengthy discussions about topics such as ¨why do gallinas lay eggs that aren’t fertilized in the first place” that could have been answered with a speedy Wikipedia search.  However, it became a half-hour discussion that makes you think in depth about biology.  It’s not all bad, but the conclusion is probably incorrect.   Stimulating, but wrong.  I still don’t know the answer. 

And when we’re in Huaraz, we’ll sit at cafes long enough when we’ll have to eat lunch and then dinner because we’ve been there so long we get hungry again.  Because we can, we often gchat with each other across the table instead of talk.  And when you only have a day to use the interent, things like the chicken and egg question become irrelevant. I’ll never know the answer.

And in most of our sites, electricity is nebulous.  Sometimes it’ll just go out for no apparent reason and we have no clue when it’ll come back on.  One time, I didn’t have electricity for four days but my alcalde said it might have been weeks before it would have been turned on again because we had to wait till the entire town paid the bill.  We’ve all had to come to Pomabamba to charge our computers, cell phones, Nooks and ipods to write those reports and not go crazy.  And sometimes just to finish season 5 of Dexter because everyone knows that if you start it, you have to finish the season no matter what.

If you call water issues technological, we have those problems too.  Sometimes we have to wear dirty socks because we missed the small window of water to wash them.  Once, I couldn’t get any water even to drink and there are only the tiendas in town where you have to know the lady who runs it to have her open it for you.  So, I just had nothing to drink for 12 hours. But on the upside, I didn’t have to pee in my bucket in the middle of the night due to dehydration.  At least three of us have piss buckets in our rooms because the bathrooms or latrines are too far to get to in a pinch. Or when it is dark. Or when we’re too lazy to walk bajar a ladder and walk through a chacra.

So how did I send this? Well, we definitely don’t have wireless. And my USB is way too f*ed with viruses from the computers to put it on there. I had to buy a blank CD to burn the Word document from my computer, put it on the other computer and hope to all hell there is good enough internet to attach it.  If you’re reading this, somehow, it worked.

But all being said, we’re all mostly happy here.  We’re isolated and rely heavily on the scraps of cell service we have.  We check in with each other often to make sure all is pretty ok most of the time.  Despite all this, remember one thing;  Ancash is better!

Geez I hate doing this.

Peace Corps´ budget has been cut like everything.  We have very little to work with here. You can donate to my specific projects. I hate asking people for money for anything, but if you feel so inclined, you can donate here: http://www.peacecorps.gov/.  But do know that a dollar goes a long way here and all would be used for the community and not wasted.
The link should work in a week or so...

Más fotos

 Mis hijas. Don´t know which is which here.
My room before. Dirt box.

 A view of my room now.  I´m messy at home, messy here.
 I like this because the kids look like they are dying of boredom because the nurse is talking about dental health.
Two of my favorite little girls in site, Maricielo and Chayla.

¿Qué paso?

Yeah, I know it’s been a while since I have written.  But it’s taken me a while to sort out what is really happening. It has been a tough couple of months for me and I have been trying to figure it all out.

To make this long essay easier on the read, I am going to divide it into sections:
A.    Why times have been tough
B.    Problems and solutions
C.    Things I am doing to stay sane
D.    Help me cook

A.    First of all, my host mom and Sarita left in mid April for Lima because my host mom (Rita) was really sick.  She has a lump on a breast and had terrible stomach problems.  I didn’t know it at the time, but she was going to be in Lima for six weeks. She returned June 1.  It was horrible without her.  I mean, first of all, I didn’t really know what was wrong with her due to poor methods of communication (it is expensive to talk on phones of different networks here), language barriers (medical stuff is a vocabulary set I don’t have much of…) and I was not sure if she was telling me everything to not worry me.  During that time, I was not sure if she had breast cancer, stomach cancer or what. She was in the hospital for two weeks on an IV.  I was not sure if she would ever be able to return to Ancash.  So first, I was worried about her health and had little information to go on.  Second, I missed her and Sarita.  Lunchtime didn’t happen for six weeks. I ate quietly in my room.  Third, Rita is my greatest ally for my work in Peace Corps. Her absence left me high and dry with the community. I have tried and tried and got fuck all done without her.  That will be a new paragraph.  Fourth, I greatly dislike my host dad. He is a general jerk.  I can’t look him in the eye because I have no respect for him and I fear him a little.  I want nothing to do with him.  During this time, he couldn’t feed his 13 year old son with regularity.  I fed Santiago more often than I didn’t because his dad wasn’t around (he’s a drinker and they get wasted  when they drink here).  Santi is a really great kid and I enjoyed spending a lot of time with him (like watching a movie every night—I like my alone time…), but it was really goddamn stressful for me. I had to buy twice as much food and climb the mountain with it. I had to cook enough for two every meal because I never knew when his dad would be around to feed him.  I had to think about what I would do if my host mom couldn’t come back from Lima. What would I do? With whom would I live? Would I have to move communities? It was horrible.

But, good news. They returned and she does not have breast cancer. She does, however, have a fuck ton of stomach issues including pancreatic disease.  The 4’9’’ woman lost 5 kilos (12ish pounds?)  which shows.  So now I can have a social lunch again, talk to adults, hang out with Sarita and have some evenings to myself.  And she can help with my work again. It’s really great having them back.

Also, things Stateside have been on my mind.  My mom had to cancel her trip to see me in July because the tickets are really expensive and layovers are terrible.  That sucks.  I have been gone for 9 months and that is definitely the longest I’ve ever not seen my family.  Thank god for Skype.  My dad’s was in the hospital with pneumonia, an infection and a stroke.  I was really worried about him and there is nothing I can do from here. Not even call. I hate that.  But he´s made an almost full recovery now! And my brother and Aubrey were in Scotland for my cousin’s wedding and my dad had to cancel his trip because of his illness.   And, sadly, my cat at home died. I knew she would while I was here but it still sucks.  She hadn’t eaten for a week or so and died in Scott’s arms.   Things like these are weird to deal with here.  In a way, they don’t seem real, like everything’s just part of my imaginary American life.  And in another way, it is all realer than ever because I just sit here and think and think and think.  Sometimes there is too much space out here. Too much time. 

B.     There are a lot of things that frustrate me about the culture here.  But in efforts not to go more nuts than I already am, I am trying to invent ways to deal with things. I will describe them below and ask for help on a few.

Problem: It feels like I’m always waiting for something. The culture here in the mountains is SLOW. And I mean that in the way that people show up for meetings hours late if at all. I’m a punctual individual and get really, really frustrated with this part of the culture. For example, right now, I have been waiting for two hours for a meeting to happen.  It was supposed to happen at noon, so I was going to prepare the presentation in the morning. And then at 9am, Rita told me it was supposed to happen at 10. So then I had to rush to finish my presentation and go to the health clinic.  No one was there. At about 10.30, two out of the 4 were there. An hour later, another one shows up.  And since then, we’ve been waiting for one woman to come. So now it’s 11.45 and I’m thirsty.  And I have no idea when or if this meeting is going to happen.  No one knows anything. I swear I spend 75% of my time waiting.  I have been learning patience with this sort of thing, but it feels like I’m wasting time just sitting. 

Solution:  Gotta bring something to do.  In fact, I am waiting right now. I talk on the phone, write, listen to tunes, read.  At least that way it feels like I am doing something.

Problem:  Every market day in Pomabamba, I get called `gringa` like a million times.  It is a racial slur in places (but here it’s more of a compliment) and besides that, it is just goddamn annoying to hear every week while I am trying to shop.  For the last few months, I have had to call a friend every Sunday so I don’t explode all over some Quechua lady.  People here think it is ok to just holler at me on the street.  “Gringa, loan me your skirt!”  ¨Gringa, where is your bata (other kind of dress here)?” Or just simply ¨Gringa!”  That is the equivalent of calling out at someone you don’t know on the street at home ¨Hey Indian person!” and that is all.  I know they don’t really mean anything bad by it but jesus, it is annoying. 

Solution:  Santi and I are now making bets on Sundays as to how many times I hear ¨gringa”.  Last Sunday, in 90 minutes, I heard it 48 times.  He didn’t count 3 because someone said ¨gringo” instead of ¨gringa”.  I will make an Excel chart and share it at the end of two years to see the trend in name-calling.

Problem: I am depressed every time I leave a class in the primary school.  The kids here are sooooo undereducated I feel like crying.  I mean, the American school systems have their issues, but relatively, we have our shit together.  I taught a self-esteem class last week with second graders (like 7-8 years old) and some didn’t know colors.  And they don’t learn to read here till third grade.  And so many of the kids just look vacant and empty.   They are expressionless and lacking any confidence at all.  And it had nothing to do with their genes; they’re not stupid. They’re just malnourished, under-stimulated and under-educated all of which slow brain development. 

Solution: This is one reason why I am here.  I will work with mothers to help better nourish and stimulate their kids. I can’t to a damn thing about the educational system.  I can’t think of a way to not get depressed after teaching kids. Any ideas?

Problem:  Participation and motivation to come to my classes is really pathetic. I’ll have a really great thing going and no one will come. I’ll have my classroom all set up and sit playing ZooZooClub (poor man’s Bejeweled) on my cell phone for 40 minutes waiting for anyone to show up.  I’m really good at the game, but shit. I would rather be teaching sex ed.

Solution:  Uhhhhhh….ideas anyone? I’m out.  It is also depressing.

C.     So the above are some issues over which I do not have control.  However, there are things I have done to keep myself somewhat sane.

First, I bought a kitten. Her name is Archimedes and she’s really adorable and annoying.  I forgot that kittens, although delectably cute are fucking irritating. I have been used as a scratching post for three weeks now and look like I ran naked through a field of rose bushes.  She likes to scale my pajama pants. They’re thin.  She’s really scaling my legs. And I can’t get her to shit in a litter box. In her defense, it is not litter. It is chicken food. I can’t find litter in Pomabamba. So underneath my bed is like a garden of cat shit. It’s really gross.  Help me think of solutions, please.  I mean it’s concrete and I even accidentally shit on my floor once, but I need her litter trained to get home with me someday.  But all this being said, I’m glad to have her around.  At least something loves me here and it feels less like I’m sleeping alone every night. Also, my friend Berney bought her sister.  It was an impulse purchase for her and three weeks later she realized she doesn’t like pets. So I’m going to adopt her kitten too. So soon, I’ll have two kitten sisters.  I think it’ll make Archi less annoying because she’ll have something else to play with.  I’m renaming the other kitten Persephone.  And I didn’t buy her because Star died. That was a coincidence. But it does help.

Second, I bought a violin. Woah, it is hard to play. But I’ve gotten better at the guitar than I ever have because I have more time to play then ever. And I’ve wanted to learn the violin forever and if I’m ever going to learn, it is gonna be now.  Luckily for me, the violin is vital in the type of music they play here, Huayno.  Huayno is the most horrible genre of music I’ve ever heard. Someday I’ll get an example to post so ya`ll can suffer with me.  But I can probably get someone here to give me lessons. I`m gonna come back Stateside playing that thing.

Third, I´m getting a new tattoo. It´s hard to describe, so I won´t.  But it´ll be good and it goes with my whole theme but with a Peru twist. I will post pictures someday. 

And I would like to thank you 2010 tax money. And for the violin and cat, too.  It is improving my life a lot and I certainly do not make enough in Peace Corps to buy these things on my allowance (which I didn’t expect). 

D.     Help me cook.

As my foodie friends know, I wish I were a foodie but I am not.  So I need your help.  I am going to list the ingredients I have available to me and my resources for cooking.


Fresh stuff
Always: Potatoes, carrots, red onions, green onions, tomatoes, key limes, spinach, cucumbers, apples, apricots, white peaches, mandarins, the best bread in the world, cheese that does not melt, eggs, yellow squash, bananas, ginger

Sometimes:  Yucca, lettuce, radishes, mangos, pineapple, green beans, pears

Stuff to buy in bulk:
Oatmeal, rice, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt

I use a gas stove with two burners. I have no oven, no refrigerator and nothing like a blender.

I make vegetable soup almost every night.  Help me get more creative please!

Friday, March 25, 2011

What the hell am I doing?

I'm about to get back to the campo after being out with training, Quechua classes, vacation and a meeting.  All in all, it's been great, but I'm ready to go back home to the tranquilo mountains. Every time I leave site I get sick, so I'm also excited to finish my round of Cipro so I can stop shitting my brains out.

The beach was sweet. We had three days of training in Huanchaco, La Libertad, but we didn't have a minute to go the beach. So I had to go back on vacation. The Pacific is beautiful there and the waves were a tick violent due to the tsunami. However, I'm a little tan for the first time in many years and I think I burned off most of my fly bite scabs/scars. What a fresh start.  We met some interesting characters and had a lot of frozen slushy beach-type drinks. For some reason a Pina Colada only makes sense on a beach vacation.

But after three days in the sand, I was very, very ready to hit the altitude again. Wash the remaining volume of sand from between my toes and get the stench of sunscreen off for good. Back to where it's harder to breathe. And now I'm in Huaraz and was reassured from talking with other volunteers in other departments how awesome Ancash is.

So what the hell am I doing at site?  Here are a list of (potential and possible) projects:
   Make a library for kids
   Work with women on topics of domestic abuse and self defense
    Make youth groups with the other volunteers and other kids
    Paint murals in my town on health themes
    Do house visits with mothers to teach them how to play with their kids for mental development
    Make radio spots on health themes
    Teach moms about improved nutrition for their kids
    Train people of the town to be health promotors
    Make a vegetable garden in the backyard of the health clinic
    Dental hygiene

So that's what I'm up to probably for the next year or so. It can take a while to get things going here, but these are going to be my priorities.  If anyone has any materials from work, etc. on these themes, let me know.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I taught her how to do Bekah's saddest face in the world.

Mas Fotos

Me and my siblings in my room. We drew robots and flies on the wall. Cool.
Me and my kids from summer school and the beginnings of our world map in the community.
A picture of a meeting with kids and moms. We were singing a song with the kids in a circle.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dar a Luz on the Mountain

On my second day at site, I was gathering alfalpha with my host mom when she got a call there had been an accident on the mountain. So we hiked to the puna where there was a mess of women wrapped in black mantas weeping hysterically. On the other side of the mountain, I peered into the ravine and saw a twisted body.  One of the women in a caserio’s husband fell of the mountain to his death. Not surprisingly, he was drunk at eight in the morning.  The widow is in her mid-thirties with four children and one on the way. Her source of chacra work had just died and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have a life insurance policy to help her raise the kids. I still don’t really understand how families in this type of situation survive.  I wondered how that type of stress would affect her pregnancy.
    A couple of weeks ago, I was hiking to a caserio with my host mom, a socia of mine, and the male tecnico at the health post.  I was going to do house visits and we were going to check on the full-term widow. We reached the puna and the spot where her husband died and met a woman on the mountain path.  Totally in Quechua, I found out through my translator mom that the pregnant woman was dying. I really, really didn’t want to see her and maybe her baby die as well. I thought about her other kids.  The tecnico started running.  I walked briskly for my clumsy American-sized feet were sure to slip on the narrow, rocky campo pass. We reached the woman about three minutes after the tecnico. She was lying in the pass with a new baby still attached at the umbilical cord.  She had delivered moments before I got there. The mother looked in bad shape but then again, she hadn’t had as much as an ibuprofen.  Her breathing was slow and there was enough blood that I was pretty sure she was never going to meet her new infant.  The tecnico tied a piece of string from a campo hat around the umbilical cord.  Then he went in there with his hands and removed the placenta.  He also put in an IV into her arm. Since I was the highest point at the time at a whopping 5’5’’, I was in charge of holding the IV bag.  
    The baby seemed ok. He didn’t cry much and was a bit blue, but I have no point of reference with which to compare and infant’s newborn state.   He was being held by one of the mother’s friends.  We buried the placenta under a rock and covered the blood with mud.  And then they had to get to the health post, an hour walk away. The tecnico put the mother on his back in a manta and we started hiking. I walked alongside the pair holding the IV bag.  The back of the tecnico’s pants were covered in blood as we inched along the path.  As we reached the part where her husband died, I knew what everyone was thinking about.
    I really don’t know how he did it because the descent is difficult with the rocks, but the tecnico safely brought the mother to the health post at my site. I was holding her baby as the doctor was checking the mother out. I welcomed it to Earth because no one had spoken to the baby since it’s arrival into the world. I asked if she wanted to see him and offered to hold him near her head. She seemed indifferent, but I did it anyway. I asked her if he had a name yet.  He didn’t. She didn’t want to hold him or anything and after a minute told me to put him over there on the table. After she was settled in and doing fine, she finally got to hold him.  She didn’t talk to him at all and just fed him.
     I guess it’s not too strange to not name a child here until days or weeks after birth.  For most Americans, the baby in utero has a name and has is typically talked to by the parents.  However, maybe it’s a coping mechanism here with higher infant mortality rates. Maybe not perceiving the fetus and newborn as a new member of the family until it seems healthy makes death easier.  Regardless of the differences in cultures around how a baby is treated during pregnancy and birth, it has been shown that early childhood stimulation helps make smarter, healthier babies and eventually healthier, smarter adults.  I’m not here to change Peruvian culture, but this experience taught me there is much work to be done educating mothers about how to stimulate their babies in utero and after birth.  I’m sure any mother in the world would want simple tips on how to make their babies healthier and smarter.  I look forward to starting this type of project.
    Update: I visited the mother and baby a week after the birthday. Both look great and healthy.  I have been present at two really huge events in this family’s life but can barely communicate with them (she speaks mostly Quechua).  I hope I get to know her and her family better over my two years.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


 This is my mom and sister. My mom's about 4 foot something and she's in our kitchen. You can imagine what kind of Snow White I feel like in there. Sarita, my sister, looks amazingly clean here. Usually she's the dirtiest kid you've even seen. She's cool.
 Here's my house! See the little balcony on the right? That comes off my room. See my ladder? That's what I fell off of.
See the little tiny blue thing in the distance? That's my latrine! This is taken from the treehouse ladder. Nice view, eh?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

El Diablo Está En Los Detalles

    So I’ve been here long enough now that (I think) most of the shocking new stuff is probably waning. Not to say something can’t surprise me, but after seven or eight weeks in the campo now, life feels fairly normal. A few observations and events stick out.

    I’m starting to get a little disturbed by how much killing, skinning, gutting, cleaning and eating animals doesn’t bother me. In fact, I get excited when I hear we’re going to slaughter another mammal. I’m learning a lot about anatomy, too. The other day, I help clean the intestines of a goat. I watched the process via the insides of the creature of turning grass into shit.  It’s cool. Intestines are really fun to clean out because they’re really stretchy, strong tubes. You stretch them out, put it under the faucet and watch the pressure clean out the food/poop. I’ll stick my hand in the grossest anything you put in front of me.  It’s really sweet to see how little time it takes for lungs to harden after exposure to the elements. They use every part of the goat. We skinned him, stretched the pelt on the side of the house. We ate goat head, feet and intestine soup. I’m really into intestines and liver but the head was a bit chewy for me. Couldn’t do it. Blood is my favorite part of the animal besides the meat, though. It’s so flavorful and I can almost feel my iron levels increasing with every bite. I’m gonna have to find a blood hook up in the States upon return.  
So I climb a ladder to get to my room. It’s pretty much straight up, about six rungs, homemade.  Typically, I ascend and descend carrying a bunch of stuff. The other day, my foot slipped and I fell straight off, backwards, onto my back and head. My mom ran over to me (she’s super sensitive) and almost started crying.  I was fine, just banged up. No blood. But I had to pretend like I was better than I was because she was so worried. I had to get up, wipe the mud from my ass and tell her I’m fine. But I have a pretty deep, beautiful bruise the covers most of my lower leg on the left side. I felt like I had been in a car accident. But, living upstairs is definitely better than living downstairs in the campo. I don’t have to deal with chicken rifling through my stuff in the mornings.
However, I have started naming the mice that live in my room. I have white plastic that covers my ceiling beams to protect me from the rain. In the places between the beams, the plastic droops down a little. When my mice play on those parts, they make a hell of a lot of noise. And now they’ve figured out how to come down and play on my floor. I can tell because of the noises during the night. They’re noises of mice playing in my trash can, near my laundry bag, my shoes.  I started naming them after famous mice/rats. I have Gus Gus, Splinter and Jerry.  My third year volunteer told me that if I’m naming my mice already, I’m going to be ok.  I was also told I had one of the toughest sites in Peru. Honestly, it’s not bad.  I mean it’s a far cry from having servants (at least one volunteer has them) or cable, but I didn’t join Peace Corps to have a more comfortable life than before.  I’m thinking about getting a little cat again for a completely practical reason this time. 
So what the hell I am doing?  Well, the kids are on summer break from school. I have two days a week of English class and two days a week of geography class.  The ages range from 6 to about 15, which I tough. We play games with vocab and sing songs.  My group is really too big to be very effective, but the point is more to get to know the community, let them get to know me and start gaining trust.  I really hate unstructured noise.  I can handle and hour or two at a time, but after that, I’m wiped. I like some kids, but in much smaller groups and with more similar ages. After the summer break is over, I’m not having open enrollment youth groups. It exhausts me.  And it’s hard to discipline in a language I’m still learning. And kids here are not made to mind. I have to tell my six year old sister to say please and thank you. And I do. I don’t care if my mom or dad think it’s rude that I do that.
Speaking of my little sister, she’s a trip. Generally I like her a lot, but she whines and is an attention hog. It’s hard to get mad at her for that because most girls in the campo has such low self esteem that they won’t speak. So it’s good that she’s loud and extroverted, but I can’t stand the whining. She does whatever the hell she wants and no one (expect me now) even attempts to discipline her. Thank the baby jesus I have a door now and she can’t come in and mess with my computer anymore. ‘Unstructured six year old dirty jam hands’ isn’t covered under my insurance. She’d have to steal it before I could get it replaced. Anyway, for the first month or so I was here, she started calling me The Queen. She was a princess (did I ever like princesses? Jesus, I hope not) and mom was the cook (self-proclaimed). I hated it. It felt like white worship and I’m really not into divine rule by heredity in general. I wanted her to stop so at first, I told her the Queen orders her to stop calling me the Queen. Didn’t work. Then I had an idea. I started dropping hints that witches were way cooler than princesses. All princesses can do is wear pretty dresses and wait for some good-looking man or beast to save the day and make her a complete person. Not good messages for little girls. Also, I’m starting to wonder how much of liking that shit is in our DNA. She has no exposure to TV, the toy aisle at Target or media in ANY way. And she still likes princesses and pink and purple. And my brother still makes guns out of sticks. How hard can you fight that as I parent? Anyway… So, I started casting spells on her that she liked. It started working and now we’re all witches. It’s cool.
I feel like I look like someone else. I’m wearing the same three outfits made of knit leggings, skirts and Old Navy sweaters. I can’t stick out any more than being of gargantuan size, blonde and have blue eyes. I have to wear my glasses which I hate. I don’t wear any makeup. My legs are still covered and swollen with bug bites (and bruises).  My hair looks pretty shitty and I shower once a week.  However, there are thermal baths in the town down the mountain.  They’re disgusting, but if you close your eyes and let the water take you somewhere else, it’s amazing. It costs 1 sole to 20 minutes. I know the water isn’t coming out of the center of the earth for me, but it sure feels like it.  But, I still brush my teeth at least twice a day and floss. Sometimes when my mom gets really close to talk to me and I can smell her breath, it actually, literally, not joking, smells like shit. Not just like rank breath, like shit. It almost takes my breath away. Constant reminder to keep up my personal hygiene as much as I can here.  However, two words: prison tats.
And I’ve been obsessed with American campo music lately. Lucinda Williams has been in my playlist everyday since I moved here. And Johhny Cash. And Bruce Springsteen. And Gillian Welsh. And John Mellencamp.  And Hank Williams. And Nick Cave. He makes less sense except maybe that Johnny Cash loved him.  I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with that, but I’m letting it ride.
I’m giving a public thank you to my former co-workers/current friends. They sent me a package with a book about mullets and a newspaper clipping of 50 reasons to love Minneapolis. You guys fucking rock. It really means a lot to me. It’s spendy to send stuff back, but rest assured I will.  And thanks to all of you who sent cards, too. It’s awesome getting shit in the mail here. I know my address looks fake without numbers and all, but it works. The town where I have my PO Box is that small.  And thank you so much for the phone calls. I always prefer those to emails (also cuz internet is like 1998 slow here).  I love hearing your voices. And sometimes, because the phones are kinda fucked, you have to keep calling back. And it the thing doesn’t beep, the voicemail doesn’t work.  Love it.