Friday, July 27, 2007

I went to Peru and all I got was this stupid parasite

Let me start off by saying there is no official diagnosis at this point, but my symptoms are leaning toward a potential parasite.

Here's what Wikipedia says: In some people, intestinal parasites do not cause any symptoms, or the symptoms may come and go. Common signs and complaints include coughing, cramping abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and diarrhea. In more serious infections, sex loss, skin-itching, fever, nausea, vomiting, or bloody stools may occur. Some parasites also cause low red blood count (anemia), and some travel from the lungs to the intestine, or from the intestine to the lungs and other parts of the body. Many other conditions can result in these symptoms, so laboratory tests are necessary to determine their cause.

I definitely have many of these symptoms. Not the more serious infection symptoms. So hopefully I'll get to the bottom of this with our fabulous Doctors here in the Peace Corps.

Until then, I think I'll name my parasite - Pepe the parasite. What's the old Marilyn Monroe quote: "If I'm gonna be alone, I'd rather be by myself."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Chincha Part II

On Wednesday we went to Laran a town just outside of Chincha and we worked with a much poorer subset of children at a Campo (farm) de niños. This was a different experience because we were working with an environmental volunteer who liked working with kids and one of her projects involves working with these kids on recycling and cultivating a farm. Her name is Abby and she’s amazing. Anyway, we paired up with a couple of the children and went out into the community to collect recyclables. Let me just say this, we could have done this all day. There was garbage on every street corner, but we certainly grabbed a lot of recyclables and brought them back to the campo. Then the trainees (us in Peru 9) put on a sketch about hand washing and we did an activity where we put a little oil on the kids hands and they pressed them on a sheet of clean paper to see how dirty their hands were. Then we actually washed hands and ate oranges. I liked this kind of environment for working with kids. This is definitely more of a community-based approach, which I’m starting to believe I want to see what it’s all about.

On Thursday we worked with kids in a cemetery. These are street kids of their own kind. Many of them living in the cemetery with their parents who work in the cemetery selling flowers, candy, or washing the graves while some of the kids selling candy on the streets of Chincha. These kids were very active and somewhat difficult to manage, but it’s not that big of a deal ultimately. I’ve certainly dealt with tougher in the United States. We performed the same skit from Wednesday and played similar games to those we played on Tuesday, learning from our mistakes I must say. Both Wednesday and Thursday we had glitches with water, but that’s part of the learning curve I guess.

Friday was the big event. We took a collection of children from all three sites and held a festival for us, planned solely by us (except for the details – thanks ladies of Ica you rock!) By far one of the coolest experiences I have had is riding the bus with all of those kids and the looks on their faces and the sound of awe in their voices. Definitely a true Peace Corps moment…need to put that one in the heart to call on when it gets tough out there.

We did a new skit this time. It was one that I’ve seen done a number of times, but the kids really liked it. And we played various games with various dynamics. To say the least it was fairly difficult with so many kids and so many volunteers, but so worth it. One of the important reminders we received came at the end of our time there, as another group showed up and proceeded to leave shortly after the arrived. Allegedly, a group of 70 students decided to jump on a suspension bridge that our group had crossed nearly an hour earlier. Needless to say the suspense bridge couldn’t handle the jumping and collapsed taking the kids with it. There were some serious injuries, teeth gone, bloody bodies, broken bones, but thankfully no deaths. It’s a reminder that we are responsible for the safety of the children we come into contact with.
I’m sick today. It’s not fun to be sick, but it’s kind of fun to think I have a parasite…how’s that for a cliff hanger?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chincha Part I

So a week away from the training center for Field Based Training, and now I have all of these new emotions and thoughts to sort through. Field Based Training (FBT) was supposed to be a time of seeing what happens in the field and what kind of work will be good for you. There are two kinds of work found in Youth Development in Peru. The first is working with a Center-based organization, think orphanages or group homes. The second involves Community-based work where a volunteer works with three or four or more organizations, schools, churches, etc. in a given community, but all in all, the volunteer is largely on his/her own. I was part of the group sent to explore center-based work in Chincha, Ica – south of Lima.

I think, based off of my limited knowledge, that center-based work is what we are used to in the states. It’s very similar to any work in any bureaucratic organization like social services or public schools. I imagine doing this work would be just fine for me, but after my week in Chincha I’m hoping for a community based site which shouldn’t be too difficult seeing as there are 14 community based sites and only 4 center based sites available for my training group. Let me explain:

We arrived in Chincha late Sunday night and checked into our hostel. Our hostel was nice and for a time actually had hot running water, which was a change for most of us. For the most part, we spent that first evening just hanging out and resting, a thing we actually get very little practice in during training. The bus ride over was interesting for me given that it was the first time I actually questioned why I had joined the Peace Corps for the first time. I know week six, not bad. I quickly brushed those thoughts aside realizing that Chincha was the first taste of the unknown outside of the safe confines of training, our training staff (although we did have a few trainers with us), and our total group of 30 from Peru 9. I thought it was an important moment though to realize that I was human and that I was going to experience some real emotions during training rather than staying so busy that I don’t have time to think about it.

The next day we met all of the volunteers currently serving in or around Chincha. There are only five from two sectors. There are two youth volunteers and three environmental volunteers. We toured the city and learned about how the city works. Later we had a volunteer panel where we heard about the experiences of the volunteers thus far, three of them COS (Close of service) in just over three months. All in all, I’m impressed with the volunteers they are great ladies (yes, five females). It’s always nice to hear about other volunteers’ experiences, but you do tend to hear the same answer for many of your questions…“It depends.” We also found out that this would be a working week, not the semi-vacation I had hoped for, but that’s okay. Now that it’s all said and done the experience was so valuable.

On Tuesday we went to Hogar de Niñas (Home for Girls) in Chincha to have a fiesta with the girls there. This is a center-based site. A rotary club from Cananda started the hogar. It’s a home for girls found on the streets, taken out of their homes for abuse or neglect, or girls that were sexually abused or exploited. I have been to orphanages before in other countries, and I guess this isn’t truly an orphanage like the ones I have been to as many of these girls still have parents, in fact their parents come and visit or call or possibly both. We played games with the girls all morning, and it was really fun. And it’s good to know that adolescent girls don’t change that much between the U.S. and Peru. Yet I found myself not wanting to work in that environment right now. I realized that the US system is much like that, and I could end up in that system for the rest of my life.
One of the major lessons I learned at the hogar is that throwing money at something doesn’t make it better. The community and the world have been incredibly generous with these girls, but what these girls really need are people who are willing to spend time with them. They need family.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gone for a bit

I just wanted to send out a quick post letting everyone know that I might be out of blog/email range for about a week, but we'll see. Our entire crew is breaking up into smaller groups to go to three different places in Peru for Field Based Training. I'm going with seven of my friends to the Department (I think that's what they call they're state type things) called Ica. It's just below Lima (the department not the city). I will try to email and post while I'm there, but if I don't get around to it I apologize.

Other than that, we had another day at La Agraria. This time we learned about beekeeping and cuy (guinea pig) raising. It is fascinating how nutritious and valuable guinea pig is to eat. I do hope I get to try some soon. We tried some fresh honey and man was it great. I've been somewhat addicted to honey since I've been here. Usually for breakfast I have a cup of coffee con leche (with milk) and two rolls with mantequilla (butter, but really margarine) and honey. It's wonderful.

Anyway, our time at La Agraria cruised by and then a few friends and I went into Lima for a little time. We decided we needed a quick pizza fix so we went to the Calle de Pizzas (Street of Pizzas) in Miraflores. The pizza was as close to home as I imagine anything can be here, but then of course I haven't visited a fast food restaurant yet.

Afterwords, we headed to a little Artisan marketplace so I could buy a purse to take with me to Ica. We found many other wonderful treasures too, but are wary about buying until we know where we are going in our site placements. Remind me to talk about site placements eventually. I found a cute little purse and we were off to meet a friend of one of the girls I was exploring Miraflores with. We are getting really good at asking for directions around here because we have to do it a lot. Eventually we arrived at our destination and had some great food for a really affordable price. In fact, we had a cold beverage, a sandwich with fries, a pastry, and coffee all for 22 soles (s/.). That's about $7. It was heaven. We returned somewhat late, but I still beat my family home from their daily activities.

Now we head off on a new adventure to see new parts of Peru. I'm so lucky!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cooking with Edith

Today was a busy day. We started off by attending classes de idoma y cultura (language and culture). In this class we learned to cook two traditional Peruvian dishes. We cooked papas rellanos, these great stuff, fried potatoes, and arroz con leche (very similar to tapioca pudding, but a little better). My teacher Edith is the best. She’s been so supportive and helpful during this training period. We got to eat our product, and I’m telling you, I am one heck of a cook…when I have people directing me and cooking with me. This is one of many exercises we do in utter and total Spanish. It’s a great exercise, and I love to learn how to cook here. Peruvian food is so good. I have a feeling my Spanish will really improve when we get to site and we’re not speaking so much English. I’ve kind of taken the pressure off myself and feel a little better.
Another training activity, which is new to trainees in Peru, is that we have Youth Groups we go to and teach the objectives of the Peace Corps Youth Development Program in Peru. We are broken up into our "core groups" which for me includes two other people. Every week we go to a local school and play games, educate them about health, jobs, and other things. This has been the best learning activity so far. It is very hands on, sink or swim with the students in our community. Of course it is slightly difficult to hold a youth group when the teachers are striking, but that's a long story that I will save for another post. Talk about educational drama, this is pretty interesting.

We are also required to find a Community Contact (DCC) and find some way to build our community and do research at the same time (CDA) all while learning a language and cultural customs. It's no small task to be a Peace Corps Volunteer during training. Remind me and I'll try to talk about both of these activities down the road.

With all humor...I'd like to note that there is a sport down here that is almost unheard of in the United States. It's called "futbol" or otherwise known as soccer. Now I know we are all aware that we have a women's soccer team in the US (and they're pretty good), but I think we are unaware that we have a men's soccer team from the US. And apparently this "men's futbol team" plays in tournaments with other countries like Peru. Actually, they play a lot of tournaments that I've never heard of like the CopaAmerica or the PanAmerica Copa (which is allegedly taking place in the US - can you believe it). In fact, I'm pretty sure there is a "men's futbol" tournament at any given time of the year. Of course the US "men's futbol team" isn't very good which is why none of us have heard of them. They keep getting beat by countries like Argentina and Mexico. Didn't we invade these countries at one point? Anyway, just wanted to let you know about a little, unknown sport that is happening under our own noses in the US. Once again that is "men's futbol/soccer". All jokes aside, it's kind of fun to learn more about this sport. I wished I was here during the World Cup until I learned that Peru isn't very good in futbol/soccer either. Why do my teams always lose?
Take care, I love hearing from you.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Composting and Bautismo

So I didn’t get a chance to post yesterday because I had a busy day. But first…

Friday I found out that I moved up a level in Spanish. I have qualified for service, for now. I am at Intermediate Mid…which is the lowest level you can be to become a volunteer. It has motivated me to work even harder on my Spanish. So I spend a lot of time just working on verb conjugations. I’m surprised I moved up. But I appreciate it. I still have a long way to go in order to qualify for service.

Saturday was a big day for a number of reasons. First of all, we returned to La Agraria to learn more about organic garden. This time we learned about soils and how to maintain them. We also built our own compost pile. As you can see in the pictures we were motivated to have a very big compost pile. I think composting is really fun. I remember learning about in seventh grade biology class. My grandparents always had one too, and they always had a great garden. More than ever we’re learning the importance of hand washing and food washing. As you can see in this picture, after we get done planting, composting, and in general, playing in the soil, we have group hand washings and it actually takes awhile. Usually when we’re done for the day we hang out in Lima, but yesterday I…

Returned home to attend my little sister’s bautismo (baptism). I was so glad to come back. The ceremony was pretty comical. The priest was unintelligible. He was mumbling at 100 mph behind his book while children were screaming and playing behind me, cell phones were ringing, and three teenagers were gossiping and giggling. Not only did I not understand a word (which is fairly common), no one understood a word. Not even the Peruvians. My friend Danielle and I had to bite our lips in order to not bust out in the middle of this obviously important ceremony. All of Karen’s family and some of Loly’s friends came back to our house for dancing, drinking, and eating. I’ve attended a number of parties like this over the past month (yes, I’ve now been here for a month, miss me yet?). It was fairly crazy for a while, but it’s always fun.

There’s a tradition I want to talk about that happens at every fiesta or dance. Here, they have big bottles of Crystal, no not champagne, one beer made in Peru that tastes a lot like Bud light. The tradition is that you all share from one glass. I can hear you gasping from half a world away. So you get fairly used to pouring a little bit for yourself, drinking it, and then passing it on to someone else. I’m still learning about this tradition, as I learned last night, it is important to allow the men in the group to serve the women. And when one bottle is emptied and the next bottle is ready, you have to add a small portion of the new bottle to the old in the shared glass. Did that make sense?

I still love Peru. I feel more and more confident in my Spanish, but still have a ton of work to do. Please keep sending me your positive thoughts and prayers for Spanish acquisition.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

First Fourth for the Ninth in Peru

Yesterday I celebrated my third Fourth of July out of country, at least. I might have spent a couple in Australia also. I need to think about that. The staff did a really good job of making the day special. We broke into teams with our Spanish language instructors and played silly picnic games all morning.
This was my team "Los Matadores"

After the games, we ate a lunch of corn chips and guacamole, carrots and celery, and grilled chicken sandwiches plus coca cola. And what would a Peruvian Fourth of July be without Inka Cola? It wouldn’t be. Anyway, I had a great time. On top of that, my friend Cass was celebrating her 21st birthday. Her husband and host family threw her a big surprise party so a bunch of us walked up the hill to their pueblo to see her and celebrate with her. We had a blast.

Dodgeball...what a great game

And what´s the Fourth without a water fight?

Today we had our second language test. I don’t feel very confident about my interview. But I’m relieved to have it over with.

One of the things I forget to post last time was that there are currently 5 Peace Corps groups in Peru. Peace Corps 5 will role out in August (except those that have chosen to serve another year), Peace Corps 6 will leave in November (I think). Then PC 7 will leave August 2008. PC 8 in November 2008. We leave (PC 9) August of 2009. PC 10 will arrive in-country in September (remember they’re the group working in Health and Environment) and will leave November 2009.

Finally, here´s the picture of me eating my first ceviche.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A Quick Post explaining Peace Corps Peru

So, now that I've been in country for awhile, I'm learning a lot about what makes Peace Corps Peru so special. So for those of you who don't know, here's a quick note:

* Peace Corps has four ares of development: Small Business, Youth, Environment, and Health
* Small Business and Youth train together (right now) or during summer. Environment and Health train together right after we leave.
* Our trainers are the coolest. We have both language trainers who we can only speak Español with, and technical trainers who help us figure out how to do our jobs. Some of them are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV). Others are host country nationals who are incredibly helpful and supportive.
* When we arrived in Peru we had an orientation and were immediately interviewed in our language skills and put into groups. We are being interviewed again this week (week four of training) and again at the end of training, and one more time at the end of service. You have to reach and Intermediate mid to qualify for service. My first interview took me to an Intermediate Low (that was lucky). I only have to rise one level to qualify for service. Peru has never had a volunteer not qualify for service. They do everything in their power to get us through.
* Training is very hands on. We speak Spanish quite a bit, but we also have to develop contacts in our areas (note: networking), do community assessment and research, as well as work with youth or people in microbusiness. You jump right in.
* Rumor has it, that if you don't hate training by the end, you didn't do something right. A ver. (We´ll see.)

So, that´s my update for now. I am still doing well. I'll keep you posted when I think of other things. If you have questions, feel free to email me.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Another blog about food

Yesterday Peru 9 headed back to Lima, this time to learn how to grow an organic garden. This was the first of four classes we will have at a university called La Agraria. In Peru, it’s apparently a good idea to be able to grow an organic garden as a major portion of agriculture in Peru comes from small gardens. At least I think that’s what the lecturer said. We toured the grounds, started a garden on a very small plot of ground, started some seedlings (is that the correct term?), and learned about produce only found in Peru. I’m not sure if I’m excited about gardening or not. I like it, but only to a certain extent. It really is a lot of work.

After we finished with our lesson for the day, we ventured to Jockey Plaza. Jockey Plaza is a mall with a Cineplex and everything. It was kind of weird to be in the middle of Peru, to live with families that live with very little money and to go to a very materialistic place. And this time, it was only with about 20 soles. Which isn’t enough money for the kind of stuff we could buy there. We certainly have to deal with strange emotions going to a place like that. I want to return one more time next week to watch Ocean’s 13. They call it something else here.

Today was more parties. I went to one at my friend Elena’s house where we learned how to make anticucho (grilled cow heart shown below) and another one at my grandma’s house. We had arroz con pollo and ceveche. Which is a traditional dish of Peru. It was my first ceveche in Peru. I’ve heard amazing things about this, and actually had some last year at my friend Jairo’s house. Well, my first taste was no disappointment, but then of course my grandma is no slouch of a cook either. Anyway, the food was great. I think Peru’s food is fabulous. This is the second email I’ve posted about food.

Here´s a pic of my friends Frank and Greg cooking anticucho.