Monday, February 25, 2008

The Continuing Search for Motivation

Motivation can be a difficult part of the Peace Corps service. Some people are easily motivated, while others need some kind of inspiration. When I graduated from college I worked three jobs. I didn’t necessarily need the money, and I didn’t necessarily make a lot. I think I just wanted to be busy. Here, in Catilluc, every day is battle to find the motivation to do something, anything. I spend four plus hours every morning alone in my room trying to find the motivation to brush my teeth, get dressed, and be a part of my new community. I’m not sure exactly why it’s so hard to go out into Catilluc proper and start my day or my work. And when I’m not in Catilluc, I am so motivated to try a million projects and interact with the amazing people who live here. And then I return, and I feel weighed down by the burden and responsibility. I’m hoping this is a temporary result of having too much responsibility put on my shoulders by everyone around me. Responsibility that my training and education tells me is not really mine.

One of my greatest fears about development work is making the mistakes of generations before me. There is really no way to apologize for colonialism and imperialism. There is no way to apologize for the mass murder of cultures and societies in the name of development. Now, I’m not na├»ve enough to think I have some kind of special power that could change the way Peru exists as we know it, but isn’t it the small deaths that lead to the bigger ones. If I just took the full responsibility of the CAID for the next year and a half and then watched the doors close after four years of Peace Corps intervention, would that be a small death or just me being “overly-dramatic”? Or would it be better to walk away from the work right now, and not enable the irresponsibility of others (not that they are irresponsible in all areas of their lives, just in this organization)? And after nine months in country, I have very little to show for my time.

The above sounds so pessimistic; and I honestly don’t feel pessimistic. I feel realistic. Like now is the time of my journey to take a serious look at what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I am making so me very strong friendships that I would honestly miss if I left tomorrow. The other day I was returning from Llamapampa (a local caserio – 45 minute walk) with my “mama” in Catilluc and it was starting to lightly rain. Now Mama Casilda (as I call her) is no spring chicken. She must be in her 50’s at least (which in this culture makes you look much older than you are), but we started to run. I was surprised by this behavior because I don’t think I’ve seen a Peruvian run yet. But Mama Casilda has this giggle that is infectious, and I found myself running and giggling with her in the rain. Every time I eat with them (which is very frequently as my host family is nowhere to be found) she insists that I need to eat more. Of course usually one plate of plain white rice is plenty sufficient, but I find myself trying to please her because she’s so sweet. Of course I’m gaining weight because of it, but it doesn’t matter at this point. Weight can always be lost, but I would never want to lose her respect especially over a measly plate of rice. Little by little I’m learning new things about myself. Little by little I’m finding that I can be content even in difficult situations. And little by little I see rays of sunshine in this very rainy time of year and time in my work.

Mama Casilda with a sheep head. I love her laugh, and we laughed a lot this day as well.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bad Days and Good Days

So my last blog reported on me having another bad day and another bad conversation about the frustrations of development work in developing countries. BUT the next day, was one of the best I've had at site. I spent most of the day with community members, some good friends, some old friends and I'm laughed a lot yesterday. I'm thankful that the time between good days and bad days is decreasing. I still wonder if I'm helping or hindering the process, but I believe that's a normal question. And for the time being, I can deal with the ambiguity of it all.

I received a call this morning from the community phone. We don't have phone lines in our houses. We just have on community phone where everyone receives there calls. Oh! And we don't have cell service either. So I received a call from the Peace Corps office in Lima telling me that my APCD will not be coming to visit my sites. Allegedly the sierra (the mountains - where I live at 10,000 feet) has received more rain this year than normal. Roads are washed out and travel has become very difficult. Also to make travel even more difficult, there is what seems to be a strike of Agricultural workers. They are blocking road ways in protest and some people have even been killed - probably accidents. But that's the reality of strikes in Peru. I bring this up, partly for everyone to understand the realities of life over here, and partly because one of my closest friends in coming to visit me in a couple of weeks. I'm really hoping the strike will reach an agreement or I will be unable to get to Lima to pick her up. The last time we spoke, on the phone, all she said was "Yeah there are things I want to do, but mostly I just want to hang out with you. So please just get here. That's all I'm asking." And because of the's hard to fly. And because of the's hard to get anywhere on land. Here's hoping two weeks solves the problem.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

...And we're back.

It rained all of yesterday. It was my first taste of the true rainy season, and let me tell you it was kind of miserable. I usually love the rain. What is that Garbage song, "I'm only happy when it rains." In this case, it was tough. It didn't help that I had another tough discussion with my counterpart. It seems like we're all still frustrated with the slow progress in the CAID. I feel like I'm taking on a giant share of the responsibility, and I feel like that is unfair. One of the cultural problems in Peru is that everyone is afraid to accept responsibility until something goes well. Apparently there's a long history of the person responsible getting fired or in trouble when their project isn't successful. Needless to say, no one is assuming responsibility for the future of the CAID, and I believe that hinders the success.

One of the reasons I joined the Peace Corps, rather than another organization is that I knew I was going to a) be taken care of b) receive proper training c) work within the context of the local community and costums. I can't take part in "c" without the help of someone working along side of me. In fact, I hate the idea of working alone in a foreign country with only moderately decent foreign language skills. That's not development work, that's imperialism...and I have no interest in being a colonialist or imperialist. But of course, I'm faced with that inevitable questions: Am I helping or hindering the progress of the CAID by being here? I don't have an answer, but my APCD will be visiting on Thursday and I hope we have nice long talk where she can give me clarity on the matter.

Until then, I have to live with the ambiguity of it all. And now that internet is back up in the colegio, I hope that I can blog a little more frequently with my answers to the above and any other questions that come up along the way.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Getting to Know the People of Catilluc

The past two weeks have been impossible to do anything on the internet. I can't wait until school starts in March so that I have slightly more consistant (and faster) internet access.

Last time I blogged, two weeks ago, I forgot to mention that I went to a special wedding during Carnaval as well. Below are Esther and David. Esther is one of the technicos (think pharmacist) at the Centro de Salud in Catilluc, and David is a hometown boy who owns a bunch of cows and has his degree in sociology. They have actually been living together for over 11 years and have four children.
Esther and David have been two big, big advocates for me. David with his background understood from the first moment that I was probably a little timid. Esther told me, about a month ago, that she didn't like me when she first met me, but after I met David and David defended me she took a step back and realized that her initial impression of me was probably more my timidity (especially with Spanish) than my snobbery. Since, she has turned out to be a good friend who his very honest with me. That helps because Peru is a country of saving face, and it's hard to save face when you don't know what you're doing wrong.

So they invited me to their wedding. It was a very simple ceremony. It was a very Catholic ceremony with their younger daughters being baptized in the middle of it. The role of the padrinos (God parents) was promenent as they sat at the front with the couple the entire ceremony. The priest was very bossy. He kept telling people to control their children (a first for me in Peru), from where they could take photos, when the congregants were reciting a prayer he made them do it over - loader, and he even yelled at a couple at one point. That would never fly with a bride in the US, but Esther and David just sat there calmly. It was really just an honor to be invited.

Progress in the moving area is slow, but moving along. My new family has put in the door to my new room and the woodwork of the windows. They are going to put up plastic on the ceilings (you guys know how much I love rats) and glass on the windows and electricity. What I really need is stairs. Next chance I get, I'll take pictures and post them. For now, enjoy this picture with me and my soon-to-be host father.

Here's a picture of Ricardo and me at the Minksa. I took it self-portrait style.

That pictures comes from a day of volunteer work in the community. The former Andean tribes had a quechua word for these group activities. It's called Minksa and it was used in ancient times to call people to come together and help one member of the tribe or another. It is still used in Peru to bring people together, in this case, to clean the town and the lagoon.

Here's some of the men from Catilluc getting ready to dig a larger lagoon.

Like I said, hopefully I get to post more frequently when school starts again and I have internet fromt he colegio.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


My good friend Alex and me at our favorite bar in Cajamarca

I write tonight from a Peace Corps Superbowl Party. It's a little crazy to be taking part in such a US institution while listening to the play by play in Spanish. But as I write Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers just gave a pretty good little half-time show and the undefeated Patriots are leading the Giants by 4. If you're reading this now, you probably already know the winner, and so do I. FLAG!

I'm actually able to watch the Superbowl because many of my PC friends old and new have converged on my capital city to celebrate Carnaval. A time of drinking and getting soaking wet or starting paint wars. So as people are celebrating Mardi Gras in a hopefully recovering New Orleans, those who can't afford to go to Rio de Janero for their last hurrah before Lent come ad hang out in Cajamarca, Peru.

We had so much fun. We started off the day by a quick breakfast, but before we knew it the streets had converged into madness of music, shouting, water, and paint. I didn't even make it back to the hostal from breakfast before I was attacked with paint thrown in my hair, on my clothes (luckily I had dressed for the occassion), and I had cream paint rubbed in my face. I eventually made it into the hostal to really prepare. We spent the rest of the morning filling water balloons and painting our faces. My friend Alex (again), me, my friend Lillian (third year volunteer), and my good friend Sarah (Peru 7)

When we felt adequately prepared we dashed to the streets to pelt or paint anyone in our way, and to receive a little in the way of water and tint for ourselves. We had so much fun, and we danced and made merry. Before long we were out of ammo and headed back to the hostal for round two. This time I filled a bag just for myself and took the streets with my Peru 9 crew to show these Peruvians how to throw a water balloon. I am now convinced that the Olympics needs a water balloon event. I'm pretty sure Team USA would win any year the Chinese didn't. I was impressed with the skills of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and, to be honest, my own. I hit an old lady on a balcony by splitting threw here protective doors. And before you go all "Old people abuse" on me, she started it by throwing a bucket at us. So much fun. When we weren't throwing balloons or squirting water guns, we would throw paint. Sometimes you would load it on your hand and rub it all over someone's face or handprint their back. All the action accumulated in the Plaza (remember every Peruvian city or town has a Plaza de Armas). Here we threw more balloons and used a water balloon launcher before we danced and started throwing paint on everyone. It was such a blast. My friend Bron and I returning to the Hostal to load up on amo with the rest of the crew.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. And if you think about coming to visit me. Carnaval would be a good time. Now I guess the only question left is: what do I give up for Lent?