Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reflections of One Year

I actually wrote this post at our one-year-in-country mark, but today we had our one year anniversary IN SITE. Although, technically this is my second site, and I haven't been in Jangas for one year yet. Anyway, enjoy:

At the beginning of June I officially lived in Peru for one year. That year has had its ups and its downs. I have lived in three different locations with three very different families. I loved Yanacoto and my family from training. Loly is still one of my closest friends, even though she now lives in Argentina. I liked, then hated, and finally loved my family in Catilluc. Maybe the greatest lesson of my time in Catilluc is that everyone deserves an extra chance and extra efforts because sometimes those people with all their extra chances just go on to prove themselves to you. And you also then get many chances to prove yourself to other people. On the other hand, I loved my community in Catilluc and then hated it there. During my months in Catilluc I felt like I was being taken advantage of, manipulated, and everyone expected me to do their work or the work they wanted me to do. And on top of it, they felt like they could gossip about me regardless of the truth. Yet, I don’t think I would change my journey to this point.
I am so thankful to be in Ancash. I now have a great and supportive family. They have been beyond kind to me, and they are always ready to share a laugh or at least a smile. Every night at around 6pm, I go to the kitchen to watch and help my host mom cook dinner. At around 8pm, my host sisters roll in from school, and shortly after my host dad drives his combi into the yard, and we eat and watch a Mexican telenovela called “Victoria.” I’m glad that my Spanish is starting to improve because I can actually follow the story-lines. That and I can communicate slightly better with my host family and the people I want to work with. I have a long way to go with my Spanish, but I sure have come a long way from where I started.

In this past year I have learned a lot about Peruvian culture and myself. Here’s a brief list of the things I have learned:

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times – Catilluc and the nine months of growth through challenge has taught me that I can survive anything. But more importantly, I have learned to hold on in bad situations.

Peace Corps makes strange bedfellows – I have become friends with people that I probably wouldn’t have given a second thought to in the United States. This has therefore helped me learn more about myself and open up my mind to new ideas and opinions.

You can poorly speak two languages – my Spanish is no where close to where I need it to be, but now I’m losing my English. Add a little Quechua to the mix, and well…I can barely communicate.
Friends and family back at home are so important – I always knew this, but I have received more support and encouragement from those who have known me and love me than I have at times from PC staff or other Volunteers, although both are supportive in their own right and own ways.

Here’s my checklist of cool things I’ve done this year:

I have danced cumbia, huayno, salsa, meringue, and other dances…very well.

I have danced marinera…very poorly.

I have made friends with people from Peru, US, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Spain, England, Ireland…to name a few.

I have seen Huascaran, the second largest mountain in the Americas.

I have seen the Pacific Ocean from the Southern Hemisphere.

I have become a member of the Women in Development/Gender Analysis and Development Committee.

I have met a person from every Peru group since we re-entered Peru 5 years ago.

I have dated a few really cool Peruvians and a couple of duds.

I have walked among ruins, was rained on in Machu Picchu, and took self-portraits all over Cusco.

I have stared into the deepest canyon in the world.

I have received phone calls and counseled other volunteers in their times of need.

I have found people to call and counsel me when I am in my times of need.

I have attended Catholic Mass and celebrated Catholic celebrations that I had never heard of before.

I have had an egg passed over my body to tell me that I’ve had evil eyes cast upon me…an Andean tradition to identify ailments.

I have missed my friends and family dearly, but have yet to really miss my life in the states.
And maybe most importantly, I have lived, laughed, loved, cried, and survived…maybe even thrived here in Peru.

Thanks for all of your support in this year. I really have less than a year left now.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Final FBT Chapter...Finally

Friday was the big day. The trainees would work with 200 students from Colegio Virgen de Las Mercedes in Jangas in the areas of self-esteem and team building. They decided the day before that they would break up into teams of two with a stronger speaker and weaker speaker as teammates. And the students broke into grade levels and moved around to the different groups. Leanna and Alex did a team over-under game with a ball (I hope you can imagine what I'm talking about). Milene and Kelly did a self-esteem exercised where a box with self-reflective questions on it was passed around the music and when the music stopped the student with the box had to answer one of the questions. Erin and Elizabeth did the spiderweb game where you receive a ball of twine, say your name and something about yourself and then pass it to someone else, keeping part of the twine. When everyone has participated you have a spiderweb with the twine. Jason and Margret did a number of team building exercises like sitting on each other's laps in one big circle. And Kat and Glenn put together a puppet show (in less than 24 hours) about a young girl who learns that beauty is found on the inside not on the outside.

Who knows if the students really enjoyed it, but I was speaking with two of my favorite teachers and they were asking me about using games in their classes. I hope to springboard this into a class for teachers to lean how to use icebreakers and games to teach and review themes in their classes. I've already spoken with my main counterpart at the school and the Directora and they're both on board.

Afterwards, they ate lunch and met a friend of my fellow Peru 9-er Jake's (who lives across the river from me) and heard more about the issues facing the youth of Peru. The trainees said they really learned a lot from this discussion, so I'm really glad that we had this talk in place. The friend did a really good job of highlighting for the trainees all that young people in Peru deal with, their misconceptions about sex, the lack of support and help from the local and national governments, the difficulty getting into and then paying for college, etc. The trainees later stated that it was a real wake up call for them about what exactly they will be dealing with their two years in Peru.

After lunch we went on a tour of Jake's artisan studio. Jake works with ceramicists here in Ancash. He is a Small Business Volunteer, and it was good for the trainees to get to see what he does. Then we followed it up with a conversation about working across cultures. The rest of the night they had free to hang out and do what they pleased, after working so hard that day, they deserved it.

The next day, our final day together, we all became tourists and headed up to this gorgeous glacial lake called Llanganuco. It's a glowing crystal blue, and we all walked around it, and a couple of the trainees even had the courage to jump into the ice cold waters (with bathing suits, of course). We had more sickness on Friday, some people dealing with altitude sickness and some with food that hadn't agreed with them. So not all were present for our little excursion. We then returned to Tarica where they all got packed up and then we headed into Huaraz for them to get to know this gorgeous capital city.

Me and Jake at Llanganuco. Isn't it beautiful? By the way, before you all email me - we're just friends.

When I knew the last combis would be heading out of Huaraz, I said my good-byes and left. They wouldn't leave until 11:00 that night. All in all, I had a great time. I made a bunch of new Peace Corps friends, and I learned that I really like that aspect of training. I would love to be a trainer in the future, but it is all so dependent on schedule and getting the job.

I have since seen the trainees, and as of yesterday, they have been sworn in and are now officially volunteers. They had their big ceremony yesterday. Congrats you guys! I have so enjoyed getting to know you.

And now onto other topics.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Third Installment of the FBT Chronicles

Alright, so after a very long silence, I’m back in Jangas. I want to finish talking about FBT before I post about my thoughts after a year in country, my vacation for Fiestas Patrias, and my time in Lima for our one year med checks and program updates.
I left off with us still in Caraz…
All 14 trainees, 2 volunteers (Vishal and myself), plus the two trainers left Caraz early Wednesday morning to Carhuaz and then we all caught a combi to Shilla, Vishal’s site. A quick note about Vishal: He’s one of my good friends from training. We had the same language class together and we both lived in Yanacoto. So it’s been cool to move to Ancash and to be nearer to him and to Frank, both of whom I rank as really good friends. Shilla is a very small town of around 1,000 people who still speak a lot of Quechua. He has the most amazing view of Huascaran, and the people there are very friendly. They all greeted us as their donkeys passed by carrying food for the guinea pigs. The trainees didn’t get much time to settle in; they quickly threw their stuff down in Vishal’s house and headed directly to the colegio. The night before, as the trainees were planning, they made the decision to split up into two teaching groups based on language ability and those that had the courage to discuss sexuality with a group of 16 and 17 year olds that they didn’t know.
The lower level Spanish speakers taught a Nutrition class, and they did a really good job. They had a great class planned with activities that had the children moving, running, and learning about the four food groups. They used a house as a metaphor for the importance of the food groups, and they had a “check for learning activity” where the children had to find the foods scattered outside and come back to their groups to place their food in the proper place in the food pyramid. The kids really seemed to enjoy this activity. I was impressed with the activities this group chose, and I plan on stealing a few and using them with the kids here. The advanced speakers had the difficult task of giving a charla on sexuality. They used magazines to talk about the images used to portray sexuality. They then talked a little about a definition of sexuality, and then they answered what questions they could about things related to sex and sexuality. This was really just a starter class getting the students amped to work with Vishal more in depth on this particular topic. With this group, I was impressed with their courage to tackle this topic especially in a mountain community – which are known to be a little bit more conservative and closed.
After both groups finished teaching, we settled into the hostel where we ate some lunch and the trainees enjoyed the rabbits hanging out in a lofted caged area. After lunch, Vishal lead us on a hike just outside of Shilla. It was a really beautiful hike with a gorgeous view of the surrounding area and of course Huascaran was just in your face. Maybe the best part is that I spent the entire hike with Isa, the tech trainer (who was one of our language trainers), and we talked about a lot of different things from how training was going to what I would be doing in the future. I really got to know Isa well on the hike, and she tried to talk me into becoming a trainer in the future. The truth is, I would love to, but it all depends on how it all ends here and what I do in the year after I finish. When we returned from the hike, the trainees wrote their first solicitudes (these are important, bureaucratic documents that really are a pain in the ass of any volunteer – they help you get things). They also planned their sessions for the next day. Later that night we ate dinner with Vishal’s family, and many of the volunteers ate their first cuy. The trainees returned and went to bed, and many of them passed a sleepless night because of the cold Ancash night.
The next morning they got up early, ate breakfast, and we headed to Jangas. The trip was very quick and the trainees got settled into their third and final hostel while I headed into Jangas to arrange some last minute details. We re-met around 9:00am and the trainees got to know the colegio where I work. They also got to meet some of my favorite teachers, and they also got their first bump in the road.
I wanted to give them a real-to-life volunteer experience (which means that something would fall through or everything would change) and that’s exactly what we got. Within the first few minutes that we got there, we discovered that the Director of the school needed to change the times for the culminating field day event as the students were preparing for a parade; also, she decided that instead of a few classes doing the field day event on Friday, the whole colegio would participate. This would mean that this group of trainees would work with 200 kids within a two hour period. Luckily, they still had a day to figure it out, but that’s truly what happens. I will often walk in to a class to do one thing and end up needing to prepare myself for something else. Or even more commonly, I get used to having to put off a class because the kids are preparing for a parade.
Even while working through the administrative details for the next day, they still had a class they had to teach. Again they broke up into groups based on Spanish language ability and they taught classes on self-esteem. When they finished with those classes, one of my counterparts (Professora Elba) and I gave them an opportunity to improve their lessons and give the same one again to another class. Both groups took the opportunity and improved their first classes a little bit. I was very proud of them for accepting the challenge, and I know it was a great experience for the students as well.
The rest of that day they either planned for their field day or we took a tour of Jangas. My counterpart, Milton, and some of the youth from the association took them around Jangas and into the Cordiellera Negra to see the view of the Callajon de Hualas. I really enjoyed this part of the trip as I felt like I needed breaks throughout the day from planning and organizing. Plus, it gave me more of an opportunity to get to know the trainees on an individual basis. This has become so long and boring, I think I need to write a Part IV. So forgive me, I’m going to have to post again another day to finish the last two days. I’m somewhat backed up on blogs. I have more things to talk about than I have time to post. More to come!