Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sorry For the Delay

Two weekends ago we had our Mini Field Based Tranings (FBTs). I went to Huancavelica, a department not far from (the department of) Lima, but a lot higher up and the poorest of Peru. We left at 6 in the morning to head to Lima, so we could catch vans to Huancavelica. We stopped about halfway through the 8 hour trip to stop at a site of a volunteer. While there, we split up into groups of 4 or 5 and went to do a check on the improved stoves that had been installed in houses within the community. (For more details on improved stoves, see Amanda´s contribution a few weeks back.) It was a little overwhelming, but the family was wonderfully gracious and welcoming. I also checked out a church that had been destroyed during the 2007 earthquake. Sad, but pretty cool looking too. We then had lunch at a restaurant at which I will never eat again. The food was great, but apparently not sanitary. After another four hours of travelling, during which I began feeling sicker and sicker (I assumed due to the altitude), I was ready to just crash. We got to the hotel at which we´d be staying for the next three nights, I ate some food at the restuarant there, played some Liar´s Dice with the volunteers with whom I was sharing a room, and thought I was feeling well refreshed... Then midnight came around and the next eight hours were just hell. I had to get up every 20 minutes, and didn´t sleep a single bit. The next day, I missed the planned activities, rested the majority of the time, ate 10 or 12 crackers, and drank as much water as I could stand (not much). The following day, I was cautious about what I ate, but seemed completely recovered, and I was able to participate in leading an early childhood stimulation sessions and help in building an improved stove. The session was hard because all the kids were different ages, and the activities planned just didn´t work at all for some of them. The stove was fun, but also frustrating because I saw a lot of further improvements I could make. The design was good, but every region has a different size standard for adobes, so I feel like our stove, although technically constructed according to plan, just didn´t have the structural integrity it could have had. Oh well. In site, I´ll have a lot more control over things like that. We had a few last sessions with the facilitators the next morning and headed back. Altogether a pretty good trip despite the one night.

So we got back, had a day off, then launched straight back into the rigorous daily routine to which we´ve now become accustomed. But there was a treat that Friday as well. We found out our departmental assignement, and we´re going to Ancash! Talk to most any Peruvian around here, and this is the most beautiful department by a strong majority. Many people I´ve talked to regularly vacation there. What more? Amanda will be working in Huascaran National Park, which means our host community will be nearby. Huascaran National Park is like the Rockies of Peru. It´s gorgeous. Just Google it. With Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines, and more ruins than probably will ever be documented, Peru has a lot of distinctly Peruvian things to offer in the way of tourism, but it has some simply incredible natural attractions as well. I´m incredibly excited. We officially find out our host community in one week, but, past the name, I don´t really know what will be gained by this. I know we´re living in a basin near one of the most incredible parks in the world, and not much else really matters.

Today we both gave presentations in classes in communities around where we live. I gave a session on autoestima to a class in our homepueblo and it went incredibly well (or so I think). The class liked my group´s activities, and I was reminded again just how at home I feel while standing at the front of a classroom. It´s nice to reaffirm that every once in a while. I threw in the wall of compliments thing we did on some of the Mississippi trips so they had something to leave up in their classroom to help them practice the things we talked about. I translated it into Bolsillos Llenos De Amor, and I could barely esape at the end, as they all rushed over to claim their pocket. (A quick note of explanation: Everyone has a pocket in which people can leave anonymous notes saying something about them that they like, a good deed they observed, or really just anything positive.) I also got a seat on the combi, had my second day of Quechua class - so much fun, and managed to snag the last alfajor for Menda from a local bakery. All in all, I had a superb day.

Also, Menda and I talked with a volunteer finishing up her service who started a program called Iron Man Iron Woman that is so remarkably close to Spring Initiative that we had to tell her about our friends in Mississippi and the incredible things they are doing. We brought up the possibility of her collaborating with Spring back in the states, and, go figure, she sounded very interested. I don´t know how we managed to become friends with so many exemplary people at our age, but we´ve definitely reached our fair share.

I´m out of time at the internet cafe. Until next time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Heiroglyphs and Sangria

Last weekend a group of volunteers hiked up the mountain behind our community, because there are some ancient heiroglyphs drawn out in the rocks and dirt. Think Nazlca Lines but on a smaller scale (still huge though). We first hiked up there, climbed a small hill, and there was a decent view from there, but we decided to go big before we went home and climbed the mountain next to it as well. We found out afterward that you didn´t actually have to climb straight up the mountain, that there was a gradual path on the other side of it, but I enjoyed the scampering up the rocks. Most fun I´ve had in a long time. Unfortunately, the heiroglyphs are a little to subtle to show up clearly on Google Maps, so I won´t link to it.

This week was kind of intense. We had four "interviews:" one with our language instructor, one with a different language instructor who then changed our language ranking accordingly, one with the instructors of our field, and one with the head of our field. I did, however, get a day off on Thursday unexpectedly, because the health promoters in Chaclacayo that we were supposed to be shadowing don´t actually exist. At one point, they had a bunch, but right now I guess there are only a few that are active. So I studied, hung out in Chosica with some other volunteers, and got sangria and french fries (with four interesting dipping sauces) at a restuarant next to the park before we all headed back to our communities.

Also adding to the chaos of the week was Menda´s birthday. Our host mom threw a surprise party, and it was just perfect. I took Menda out for pizza in Chaclacayo following classes, got a little tipsy on some sangria, then rode the combi back to Yanacoto, even splurging and taking a mototaxi up the hill. Yeah, we´re living high (pun full well intended, the hill we walk every day is huge). She had even complained at dinner that not that many people really asked anything about what she was doing for her birthday... well, they didn´t, but only because they already knew. A lot of fun though. Short and sweet. Pisco sours, popcorn, dancing, two cakes, and only a couple hours long - which is good because Menda had to get up a couple hours early the next morning for a day trip. And now, a guest paragraph from Menda talking about her trip:

On Thursday my environmental tech class took a field trip to Cuñete to learn about improved cookstoves.  A lot of the women in the less devloped parts of Peru still cook over an open fire, which causes long-term respiratory problems and consumes a lot of firewood, so one project option we have is building these stoves.  They are pretty basic, but they are well insulated and direct the heat much more efficiently, allowing people to use much less firewood. They all have chimneys so the women aren't breathing smoke all day while they cook.  

There were 3 current volunteers in Cuñete that have been working on installing these around their sites to teach us about the project.  Our group was assigned at a specific house that needed an improved cookstove.  We spent all afternoon working on it but still didn't completely finish it, but we got pretty close.  The stoves are built out of adobe bricks, regular bricks, and mud.  We had a really good time building it and and some cases unbuilding and rebuilding since keeping everything level and even was harder than I expected.  The design of the stove is really simple.  Just picture a brick and adobe block with a hole at the bottom of the front part that leads up to two big circular openings at the top lined with some iron so your pots don't fall in the fire, plus a chimney.

The women in the house spent half their time cooking in the next room over an open fire or watching the group of gringos in their kitchen learning how to build a cookstove in Spanglish.  The house was interesting - most of it was made of brick or adobe - but the room we were working in was made of woven straw of some kind and attached to the main house.  There was another similar straw room behind the house were one woman cooked our lunch.  When I went back there to look around, they showed me where they keep their cuy (guinea pigs).  I have never seen so many guinea pigs in one place in my life, and they were all different sizes.  Someone got a picture of me holding one; I´ll have to find that and post it.  I was also pretty excited about the teeny tiny kittens and baby chicks hanging out with us while we worked.  I still can´t decided if the improved cookstove building lesson or the kittens were the best part of the trip.

Also, another reminder about phone calls. It´s free for us to receive calls, and it turns out that calling through Google Phone or Skype is only around 20 cents a minute. You have to put down $10 initially, but that gets you a nice chunk of time. Email me or Menda for the phone numbers. And props to Allison for taking the time to figure that stuff out for us. She wins the first-to-call prize. We´re usually free after six during the week, and whenever you call on the weekends should usually be fine. Of course, this particular weekend is the exception. We´re both going on 4 or 5 day long trips that leave Saturday or Sunday and get back Wednesday night. We are indeed going to different places, but, hey, in-calling is free on our network, and the other volunteers are great. It´s also possible we´ll have reception in the places to which we´re traveling, but I wouldn´t count on it. We´ll do a big update after the trips to let you know all about them.

As always, feel free to leave any questions in the comments, and I´ll try to answer it in the next post. Oh, and we should know by the end of next week which department (state) we´re going to be living in for the next two years. They won´t be giving us the names of the actual communities just yet, but I guess I´ll take what few details I can get.