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.