Saturday, November 22, 2008

Life Goes On

Huscaran - the second largest mountain in the Americas.

One of the biggest challenges of life overseas, or in this case in the Peace Corps, is that as you are facing all of these great new adventures in a new culture with cool people, all the cool people you left behind in the States (or elsewhere) are having great adventures that you are missing. For example, my friend Brenda emailed me today to tell me she will be having her fourth child in just three short days. I have barely been a part of her third child's life and now I'm over here and won't even be in the same country (let alone the same state or city) for the delivery of this child. And sometimes this thought makes me very sad.
But maybe what makes me even more sad is the passing of my good friend Noah Ginnings at the age of 26 after a 7 year battle with brain cancer. I recieved the news Thursday afternoon via email from another good friend and have pretty much cried the last two days. It's hard to lose someone, but it's even harder when you have no one else to mourn with, no one who knows who you are talking about and what impact that person had on your life.
And these are only a few examples other friends have had babies, gotten married, found new jobs, started dating, broke up with the love of their lives, etc. And yet, what I do now, where I live now has become the new normal. I wake up to the knowledge that I am often more concerned with how my PC friends are doing, or if my counterpart's grandson has been released from the hospital, and how my Spanish is fairing in any given setting. All adventures. I guess sometimes it just feels like a shame that we only get to live one life at a time. And sometimes, I guess that's more than enough. But right now, for me, it's just not enough. I want to be able to hold my brand new niece or nephew (Brenda's child, yep, she's like a sister) shortly after s/he is born. I want to attend Noah's memorial service and cry my eyes out with others whose lives he touched. But I also want to be here hanging out the with the students at the school Virgen de las Merecedes and cracking jokes with my host family at dinner.
The next step, of course, is that I return to the States and I start to miss out on the adventures here in Peru. I find myself thinking about this more than I should while I'm still living here. I'll miss the graduation of my favorite class of students to work with, my host sisters will get married and have children - hopefully after they finish university, and my host grandparents will pass away (also hopefully after some time).
I did sign up for this, and the double life is one we live whether we want to or not. So, I guess I write this post to say "keep in touch." I still want to be a part of your lives, and I write this blog to keep you firmly in mine.

Yes, I live here. Don't hate.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dia de Los Muertos

My host sisters in front of their grandfather's grave.
November 2nd this year was El Dia de Los Muertos and unlike last year when I was headed to Cajamarca to say good-bye to another volunteer from Peru-9, I attended and really appreciated the beautiful sentiment that comes with a day like this.

A private moment for Mama Antu.

Now we have Memorial Day in the United States, and the month before I came here I made my first trek to the family grave site with my ailing granny and family (including my older sister) to put flowers on our family's gravesites. But really, here in Peru (and maybe most of Latin America) this is a special day set aside to remember those that they have lost. I went with my host sisters Yuli and Yoshina and we met up with my host grandmother, aunts, and uncle in the cementary. We started at the gravesite of my host mom's brother Javier and I watched as my host Aunt Gloria carefully decorated and sprinkled water on the headstone. This took at least 30 minutes. Then we went to my host mom's grandma's site and the same commenced.

My Tia Rosa in front of Javier's grave.

I wish we took things like this more seriously. I really think that this is a celebration of life and way of remembering those that have passed. I think I'll start to take Memorial Day more seriously. I know it's supposed to be about our troops, but I think we should remember all life and what our ancestors have given to us, plus the lessons we have learned thanks to them.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Peace Corps Love Lives

I’ve been meaning to write a blog like this since the first few months at site. I think about all the things that you guys (all five of you that are still reading my blog) would like to learn about, and I have to think that one of the things I would want to know, if I were you, is about relationships in Peace Corps.

The first three months you are saturated with other US citizens, now effectively known as your training class. You learn together, party together, and stress out together. This, for many, is the best opportunity to hook up with another Peace Corps volunteer. There are always attractive parties in any given training class, but obviously like most relationships people connect because of their backgrounds and beliefs. And we’re all thrown together in this crazy experience, so we’re bonded. I have heard RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) say that they were hugely tied to their training class. I’ve met my share of people who met in Peace Corps and got married. Peru-9 hasn’t had many couplings (less than any other training class in Peru), and the ones that are starting to come out of the wood work have taken a long time to mature. I think part of the hold-up is that you could fall for someone in training and then be sent to the other side of this big country for your site assignment. And that is what has happened to others. I know couples that are only “together” when they are physically in the same place. Others have broken up at the end of training. Others just haven’t dated knowing that they would be separated by hundreds of miles of geography. And still others get together in training, break up at the end of training, but end up back together when they get to their sites; no matter how far away those sites happen to lie.

A few do actually manage to start relationships with volunteers in the field. I can’t think of many, if any, relationships across numbers (i.e. an 8-er with a 10-er), but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened and I just don’t know. I do know that once you get to your capital cities eager to start your “official” service, and then you go to your site which is incredibly isolated and lonely, you do start to see the other volunteers in your department through different eyes. I have seen this in my friendships. People that I was barely friends with in training have become some of my best friends based purely off of geography and who I could trust to be in the capital city at the same time I happen to be with a shoulder to cry on or enough soles to split a beer and a pizza (not like in the States – the pizza, that is). People tend to change when they get to site. How can you not when you’re faced with poverty and a life you have never known? And so sometimes volunteers start to meld together, they start to understand each other and develop relationships, again, based on their new background and beliefs. I have not been fortunate to have a relationship like this. I adore the male volunteers in my group, and they’ve become friends and more often than not, obnoxious little brothers – who I love and adore.

I have gone on a few dates with Peruvians. Now the stereotype of Peruvian men (maybe latino men in general) is that they are all machismos, very likely to cheat on their spouses or girlfriends, and who think that being with a gringa (light skinned, light eyes) is another notch on their belt. In other words, we are warned very early to be careful of dating Peruvian men. I’d like to think I’m a good judge of character and that (from time to time) I can see someone’s potential when no one else sees it. At least that’s what my mom always tells me. So I have had the distinct privilege of dating at least three really great Peruvian guys. They have all been very kind, sweet, and just the right amount of romantic (I’m not overly appreciative of romance in general, but I appreciate a guy who “gets me”). They also have a way of helping me with my Spanish. I always learn new vocabulary when I go on dates or meet a guy in a club (or outside one as one of my stories goes).

It would be interesting to do a comparison, but I’m pretty sure that more female PCVs marry Peruvians than male. Recently, I heard about two female Peru-8ers that have gotten engaged. I think another complication of the US Citizen-Peruvian relationship is the where do you live and how do you get them into the United States or find work outside of Peace Corps in Peru. I have heard that it can cost upwards of $2000 to get a Visa to get your Peruvian significant other into the States (and that’s before the plane ticket). This has been a major hold up for me as I’m afraid I’ll be the gringa notch on the belt that then proceeds to help him escape from his life in Peru so he can go the States and leave me. I’ve heard plenty of these kinds of stories as well. Although, I haven’t heard it happen to a Peace Corps Volunteer. Plus, once you get them into the States to start your life together (let’s imagine this is a good guy) then you have to deal with the racism, the looks your significant other would get while trying to learn a new language, and the cultural differences. How would a Peruvian male feel about a wife who could make more money than he does? Do you help said spouse get other family members into the States? Do you continually hope that one day his/her English will get to a place where they can go to school and get a college degree? All these and so many more questions need to get answered before a final decision is made. A number of volunteers have had serious relationships in PC knowing full well that they will break up and leave the significant other behind. This might sound harsher than it really is, but sometimes relationships are unavoidable as is the oncoming break-up.

This, of course, has back-fired from time to time. As relationships with Peruvians in site have caused major drama whether the young lady has said that the PC volunteer is the father of her child or just the gossip that comes with a break up, especially of the local PC celebrity in the community. It can be so extreme that PCVs are removed from their sites or have to deal with incredibly messy break-up situations (like attempted suicides or threats of arson from significant others’ parents). Relationships are always complicated, and I guess we should never enter into them lightly, but in Peru we tread even more cautiously. I currently, am not seeing anyone, but I do still have nine months, and anything can happen (but maybe this statement effectively jinxed it.) I’ll report if there’s anything to tell. I hope all five of you are doing well. You are missed.