First off, a huge thanks to anyone who's sent us emails, cards, letters, llama riding manuals, alpaca puns, or any other reminder of our loved ones at home. It really makes a huge difference.
Also, happy birthday to Gayle, Patrick, Liesel, and Mom. We wish we could send you something.
Now a little about how we've been doing. We've often been told that we shouldn't expect much out of the first days/weeks/months/year, that if we're lucky, we'll really be on top of things right before close of service, and the next volunteer(s) in our site will maybe get started a little faster than us. This was said not to be discouraging but to be realistic. We're living in a community that has never had a couple of full-time volunteers devoted solely to the development of the area. There are lots of enthusiastic people here, but most of them have fields and families to maintain. We're going to want to move at a pace that likely far exceeds the desires of those around us, and we shouldn't expect too much. Put simply, it takes a long time to figure our what the community needs, how to organize the projects to address these needs, how to fund those projects, and how to get people interested enough to participate (keeping said projects sustainable for the long haul). This is all true, and though we technically haven't really started anything yet, we are incredibly hopeful for the projects we'll do in our community, and we've definitely been keeping busy.
One thing that we've been doing over the last couple weeks is settling in and getting our two rooms nice and homey. We've bought a cocina with a tiny horno – to bake chocolate chip cookies (more on that later), banana bread, or whatever else we may desire; hung our maps of Peru and Ancash on the walls; built some shelves out of bricks and (unfinished, raw, natural-looking) planks; plunked some rugs down on the floor; and hung some cards from home on the wall to remind us of you all. This coming Monday, our kitchen table, desk, and nightstand should be ready, and then it will just be hanging this and that on the wall as we acquire whatever we'll acquire.
As it's our first couple weeks, there have been a plethora of meetings to attend, even if just to introduce ourselves. This past Sunday we went to a town meeting where the directora of the museum in Huaraz spoke about tourism and the plans she has for Paria. At this meeting we were also able to talk to the regidores of Paria, delegados of the surrounding communities, and some of the community members who have an active interest in their hometown. We attempted to stop by the house of one of these people, the teniente gobernador de Recrish, on Friday, but he was out working in the chakra (field). However, we ended up walking around and talked to an older gentleman (who happens to be a relative of ours) who owns much of the land around the pre-Incan ruins and is super enthusiastic about ecotourism. It seems to go this way. Miss one opportunity, and there is immediately another in our laps. Another example of this is a meeting we were supposed to have with the mayor before the town meeting. He wanted to meet the night before just so we could go over and feel a little more comfortable with what we may say the next day. He ended up being occupied and unable to meet with us, so instead we played soccer and ultimate with some of the local kids. We even got a couple of girls no more than 5 or 6 to play ultimate, and they caught on ridiculously quickly. By the end of the game, all of the much older boys were passing to them too. It's hard to explain how good that all felt. This coming Sunday there's a town meeting in Jínua and the following Sunday another in Recrish (both caserios of Paria). We also met with the director of the school in Paria. This was probably one of the few discouraging moments we've experienced, as he didn't seem particularly interested in having us help out there. However, so fortunate has our time been in Paria that within minutes of the meeting, we talked with a promoter from an NGO who happened to be at the school too, and it seems she got a similar reception, knew we probably did too, and gave us a pep talk of sorts, encouraged us in our efforts, and exchanged numbers with us. We haven't given up hope for working in the school, but the director seems very protective of his students – historically not a bad idea, and perhaps after we've had other successes within the community, he'll see we're not there with any agenda apart from helping in any way we can. It's also good to keep in mind too that this is the sort of thing that most every volunteer experiences in their service; we just happen to live in a community that is wildly supportive of our efforts, but it's reasonable for people to be skeptical of the gringos in town, when much of the natural resources of Peru are owned, controlled, and profited on by people from other countries.
This past Sunday, not only did we go to a town meeting but a confirmation/first communion and a funeral as well. The confirmation/first communion was a long service – by the end I could barely stand, but it was nothing compared to the celebration in the town plaza that lasted well into the night. The funeral was very tranquilo, just a bunch of family and friends sitting around in the cemetery eating ice cream and some people drinking cervezas. I prefer it greatly to the usually over formal affairs back home. It also lasts for two or three days, though we only went on the last one.
I believe I've mentioned a little already about the church we go to with our family. It's a Seventh Day Adventist church, about the size of Cornerstone, and the people couldn't be nicer. This past week I brought my bilingual bible, and we were able to follow a little more of what was being said. Bible studies turn out to be not the easiest in a foreign language; the intricacies of language are difficult enough to decipher in English. This past Tuesday though, a bunch of people from the church came over to our house to make sweets. I guess they do this every Tuesday at various locations just to spend time together (and to eat sweets of course). A really nice tradition. This week, we made palitos de naranja or little orange sticks in English – basically orange-flavored, pan-friend dough. Quite tasty.
Another activity that's been keeping us busy is doing tiny programs about the environment with the kids of the early childhood stimulation center (read: preschool). This last week was our first, and we did it on plants and what they need in order to grow. The kids are really little, so our message was pretty simple: rain, soil, and sun. (Or in Spanish: lluvia, suelo, y sol.) We made little drawings of the three, hid them in the playground, taught the lesson, then had the kids go out and find one of each. After each had found all three, we had them pretend to be seeds, and after reminding them again of the lluvia, suelo, y sol they had collected, had them grow into trees. It was cute to say the least. I'm not sure what we'll teach on next week, but I have a feeling this is going to be one of those feel-good moments that reminds us not everything has to be grand and complicated for it to be a success. Simply forming a relationship with the kids has far reaching implications that (wait for it) plant a seed that if well nurtured will grow into something incredible. Oh yeah.
We've definitely kept busy, but it gets late early here, so we have lots of free time in the evenings. For this we've acquired a bunch of shows and movies to watch and books to read. The movies and shows came from one of the countless little tiendas that has row upon row of bootleg discs. I honestly wouldn't even know where to find an honest copy of a movie. I don't think they exist here. We recently purchased Hey Arnold, all three MIBs, all four Ice Ages, all four Shreks, 10,000 BC, 1612, Helen of Troy, Conquistadors, and Tristan and Isolde. The equivalent of 22 discs of material was contained on only four, and we paid only ten soles (about four bucks) for all of them. There was also an unlisted several discs worth of some kids' learning show on the MIB disc which may potentially be useful. There are several places where we can exchange books free of charge (and a few that charge a refundable deposit) in order to keep a steadily flowing supply of reading material. California Cafe in Huaraz not only has one of the bigger collections I've seen, it's also the only place (shy of Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks in Lima) where we've found chocolate chip cookies – good ones too. We were beginning to think them impossible to find. The cookies here just aren't that sweet unfortunately. There are these crunchy cookies topped with sesame seeds that Menda has tried dearly to enjoy, but they just weren't cutting it. Right, books. The book exchanges are primarily for travelers, and most of the books are in English, so though it would be more beneficial to be reading in Spanish, we're just not quire there yet. To study? Yes. To relax? No.
In other exciting news, I bought a super sweet, Huaraz-style felt hat. My head was so big, I had to visit nine or ten places over the course of two visits in order to find someone that could sell me a hat that fits, and even then he had to stretch it under a heat lamp for several hours.
Menda is also learning to knit from our host mom. It seems simple enough, but the speed at which all the Peruvian women's hands move is crazy. I also showed my brother (and will show my mom) how to make thread out of plastic bags. They're floating around everywhere, and what better way to clean up the community than to knit little coin purses or other trinkets.
In addition to teaching Menda to knit, our mom continues to throw in Quechua phrases here and there, and we're slowly picking them up. We'll have two weeks of training come January and February with Peace Corps, but I think it's far easier to learn it in your own house at your own pace with your own family.
Thursday we hiked up to a hill with a giant cross on it a couple of hours from our house. We took what we thought was likely the correct route, but eventually headed too far north and decided to cut up and back through the chakras until we reoriented ourselves. We walked until we came across some dogs we decided better not to test, then cut up and back the other direction where we saw a farmer and his wife tilling their field with a pair of [what we're pretty sure were] bulls [though in hindsight we can't recall for sure]. As it turned out, the farmer is the very same carpenter in town that's making our tables. We were talking to his wife when we heard a big, “Don Carlos!” (referring to me). He's a distant relative of our family, and it was a pleasant surprise to see him way, way outside of town in the middle of some field we were cutting through. He pointed us on our way to the cross, we got to the cross, we took some pictures of the cross, and then realized that the snow-capped mountains beyond were a far prettier sight to see, though we hadn't really known they'd be so visible, as they're usually blocked from view by the hill on which we were then standing. We ate some food (kiwicha balls – Andean, super-energy granola bar in sphere format; canchita – tastes like popcorn, looks like something that will break your teeth; and chocolate – I was with Menda after all), drank some water, called our brother to tell him we'd be late for lunch, and started on our way back. It just so happens that from the top of the hill you can see a pretty clear, well maintained path back to town, so we took that and found out our hours-long hike needn't have been nearly so long. But it was a fun morning with beautiful weather, and I wouldn't change a thing. In the following weeks, we intend to hike up to the top of San Cristobal (the local mountain next to the cross to which we hiked) and a lagoon that's apparently hanging out up there. With so many beautiful hikes, the ruins of Willkahuaín, the thermal waters of Monterrey, and the charming people, our jobs as they pertain to tourism are becoming more and more clearly defined as the days go by. There's a lot to do but far more to look forward to.
The last thing I'll mention is something that Menda, I, and all of the other volunteers have silently observed on our own, only to realize that we're all doing it: the misprinted shirts with English phrases on them. At this point, I'm still not sure if they're misprints from the US shipped to other countries or if they're shirts manufactured here and just poorly translated. The support I have for the latter theory is the name of the entry: After Redention. Menda and I saw this on a shirt in Huaraz. After some thinking, I concluded that “redention” was undoubtedly supposed to be “redemption,” and that the meaning for “after” is very similar to “beyond.” Hence, “beyond redemption” becomes “after redention.” Were it printed in the US, that mistake would never have been made, but if consulting a dictionary, apart from the spelling error, “after redention” would appear correct to the non-speaker. On the other hand, it's not as though some punk-rocker looking youth with eye makeup was wearing this shirt, which leads me to believe that the shirt was chosen by the wearer solely because of the price, probably reduced due to the errors. We'll probably never have a definite reason or source for these nice little reminders that we're not the only ones who mistranslate things, but I'm thankful for them nonetheless. I'll try to keep mentioning the good ones on this blog as I see them.
I'll end the post with another reminder to send us emails, pictures, letters, postcards, used books, anything. It means the world to occasionally be reminded of the love so many people have for us back home. So keep 'em coming, and one of these days we´ll pay you back with some pictures of our own.