Greetings, all. As you may have guessed from the title, Paria is the name of the place we will be living for the next two years. It’s a town of around two thousand people, a half hour from Huaraz and a short drive from Huascaran National Park. This coming week, we’ll be leaving on Wednesday to go on a field based training trip to various places, and after 4 or 5 days are then traveling to our future site and staying for another several days. We then return back to Chaclacayo for a week, swear in, and ship off to our new permanent residence. From the brief notes we’ve been given about our new home, we think we’re going to have two rooms to ourselves (unusual for volunteers), probably separate from the house proper, that we can make into a bedroom/study and kitchen/living room/dining room. It’s not furnished, so we’ll probably have to use a pretty big chunk of our settling in allowances, but then again, we also have two of these, whereas most volunteers only get one. It also means we’ll be able to customize everything to our tastes with a little more ease. And while the latrine may not currently have a door according to the notes, that’s supposed to be remedied before we get there. Regardless, it’s safe to say we’re pretty excited. The only down side is leaving our current host family, with whom we’ve grown very close. Well, that and the massive amount of laundry that’s stacked up over the past two months. I think it’s safe to say that I’m the only grandchild that spends more time doing laundry than my grandma. All respect, Grammie, volume-wise you most definitely still have me beat, but four or five loads in two days when we’re washing by hand and drying by sun probably even exceeds the amount for which you would have patience.
I’m really excited for the swearing in, not only for the obvious reason of being done with training, but because my host mom is going to be one of the speakers. She was asked by Peace Corps staff, but she politely declined, because she said she would be far too emotional. However, I had a fellow volunteer (a native speaker) help me with a completely over the top, guilt-ridden letter of petition filled with the signatures of volunteers and staff, and I managed to change her mind. She makes such an impression on people – many of whom have met her only once, that it took me only five hours to conceive the idea, solicit help from the other volunteer, and gather a full page of signatures (many with notes of encouragement). She told me about being asked to speak during lunch, and after classes that day I presented the petition to her. I’m happy not only because she’s my host mom, but because it will be the first time they ever had any host mom speak at the swearing in. Up until now, it’s always been the men. I’m glad I could play some small role in making it happen.
Thank you to everyone who called, emailed, or sent cards for my birthday. We had a small, tranquil celebration with lots of cake, music, and good friends. And if you forgot about either one of our birthdays, belated wishes are still appreciated. That being said, we only have another three weeks at our current location, and the mail can sometimes take that long, so email would suffice. It’s nice to hear from people no matter the medium. Also, in light of our pending departure, I’m taking down the current address, and I’ll put up the new one as soon as I figure out what it is. As a side note and reference for the next two years, I’m finding that I think the best gifts are books. Peace Corps recommends that packages be under a half kilogram and sent in a padded envelope, but that’s perfect for a paperback. Go to a used book store, grab something you think we might like, and surprise us.
Last Saturday, all the health volunteers went the Universidad Agraria in Molina. We learned about and made a compost pile and barrel of biol. They really stressed the advantage of using estiércol fresca de vaca (fresh cow crap), and we even got the opportunity to shovel it. Lots of it. Most people will know what a compost pile is, but I didn’t know what biol is. What you do is take a big barrel; fill it with fresh cow crap, water, sugar, and milk; stir it up; and put on a lid with a valve that can release the gases produced as everything breaks down. When finished, it’s a completely natural liquid fertilizer that a farmer can sprinkle over his crops, and it only takes around a month to produce. It actually wasn’t too bad a day once you get past the smell of it all. There was a payoff though. In addition to fields and fields of organic crops, they also produce their own yogurt and ice cream. I ended up spending far more than I ever intended on ice cream throughout the day, the first time on lucuma ice cream and the second on mango ice cream. It was definitely worth all the crap earlier in the day.
Yesterday, health volunteers had yet another Saturday session, but this one was in my own community and didn’t end up taking all day – only about an hour. There’s a guy in Yanacoto who raises cuyes (guinea pigs), and he walked us through which crops to grow to feed them and the basics in small animal husbandry. Technically, this no longer falls under Peace Corps Peru’s goals, but as it provides a quick, inexpensive, and pretty damn cute source of protein, it’s not a bad piece of knowledge to have tucked away. Of course, it’s quite possible, even likely, that the people of Paria will know far more about raising cuyes than I ever will, but it couldn’t hurt to know a little something about it. The guy had maybe 12 pens about a meter by two meters, each filled with 10-15 cuyes, and considering the speed (from birth to pregnant in a month and a half) and frequency (up to four times a year) at which cuyes are able to reproduce, the fact that you only need one macho per seven embras, and that each litter can have up to five cuyitos, it’s safe to assume that there’s a pretty healthy consumption of cuy in my community. Given that we’re not even living in the sierra yet – where putting cuy on the dinner table is a far more regular practice, we can also conclude with some certainty that we will most definitely be eating quite a bit of it over the course of the next two years. Cuy: the other, other white meat.