We previously posted some pictures of us at the cross on the hill an hour or so above our town. Well, we were invited by the mayor to go up to the cross with some other people to reinforce the base and prepare it for the upcoming celebration (Carnaval). Why did it need to be prepared? During Carnaval, each community takes its cross (Yeah, every community has an official cross), and carries it to the local chapel—in the case of Paria and its caserios, the chapel about 50 feet from our house in the plaza. Then, with all the crosses seated in the chapel, the priest has a service for the crosses. I don't think people are allowed to go to it, but in our town there's probably room for some. However, later during Carnaval, all the communities surrounding Huaraz then carry the crosses down to the church there. During this service, there are so many crosses, that even if people were allowed to and wanted to go, there apparently isn't room enough. I tried to ask as non-offensively as possible why the crosses needed a service, and did the priest come up with a new sermon every time, or does he just repeat the last one, or is there a special one said only during that day, but the only answer I got was, “I'm not sure. It's just the custom here.” I suppose there are some pretty weird traditions we have in the States too, but I'm not sure we live up to the craziness here.
Another custom of Carnaval is giant water and flour fights. Right now there are just sporadic groups of kids wandering around with water balloons and buckets full of water, but apparently on “War Tuesday” which I think is the equivalent of Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras/whatever other names exist, there are gangs of 30 or 40 kids a piece that will drench you if you give them the opportunity. This past week, we were walking through one of the tiny parks that hide in the middle of some of the blocks in Huaraz, looking for a Mexican restaurant that supposedly is in there somewhere, and we saw a group of 10 or 12 kids with buckets walking slowly toward us. We started to turn and walk away, but then it appeared to me that they were moving a little faster, so I sprinted. Well, I didn't warn Menda, and as soon as I started running so did the kids, so she ended up getting hit, but she seems kind of proud of it now. “I got hit with water during Carnaval!” I think I'd still rather be able to say, “I avoided getting hit with water during Carnaval.” Either way, the Superbowl is this Sunday, and we're going to head over the apartment of our PCVL with the other volunteers to have a little party, and it just so happens that her apartment building has a roof adjacent to the park where we were chased by those kids. So what are we going to do? Buckets, balloons, hoses, you name it. We'll be prepared next time.
A few weeks ago, we were walking over to the health post to get the contact information for mothers with kids under the age of three (so we can start the encuestas we've been avoiding for weeks now) when we were approached by a guy who I guess had heard of us through our host cousin. His name was Christian, and he heads up a group of locals who work to promote tourism in our communities. We set up a meeting for the following Sunday (at 7 AM) not entirely sure what to expect. A lot of times in Peru, people are really enthusiastic about doing something, but come the time to actually do it, they are busy, or forget, or I don't really know, because they ultimately don't show up. Well, Christian did show up, and so did two others from their group (including our host cousin) and the meeting went extraordinarily well. For one, they acknowledged that Menda was present and directed questions toward her. Not always a given. For two, they wanted to get started on English classes for aspiring guides far sooner than we were able to accommodate. We told them late March, after our community diagnostic, after our “Early In Service Training” in Lima, we could begin classes. This is a huge difference from a lot of other experiences we've heard about from other volunteers. People love to talk big here, make grand statements, but between raising kids, maintaining 4 or 5 chakras, and working other small jobs here and there, no one really has the time to do the things they want to do. This group is young, enthusiastic, don't yet have families of their own, and have the time to work with us, not only on English classes but reforestation, tourism, cleaning up the community, et cetera. Once again, I feel as though we've really lucked out. We also had the teniente gobernador of a caserio of Paria come and visit us at our house randomly in order to set up English classes there as well. Two English classes set up for after EIST and we're probably going to add another in a third location eventually. Maybe that one will fall into our laps as well.
Another encouraging meeting we had was with a technician at a tree nursery nearby. They have three huge properties full of 9 or 10 different species of trees, about half of them native, and it's all funded by the government of our district. If you want a couple thousand trees to plant, all you have to do is request them, and they'll be delivered to the location of your choice free of charge. We went to the nursery with another volunteer who lives fairly close to us, and even with two males present, the technician also paid attention to Menda, answered her questions, recognized she was able and knowledgeable.
After visiting the tree nursery, we visited a guy whom the other volunteer had met in Huaraz who owns a hotel, or owns a property and is constructing a hotel. He's originally from Lima, but recently settled in a little town about a half hour walk from Huaraz, and, with the guidance and encouragement of his wife, started to construct this absolutely gorgeous hotel. The name of the place is “La Casona de Marián,” and there are beautiful gardens, 17 rooms, a chapel, and an incredibly gracious and welcoming owner. There are some pictures of the place included in the link at the bottom, and given its proximity to our site, this will probably be the hotel of choice for any of you who come and visit us. The other great part about this meeting is that he's very interested in exchanging promotions between our site and his. Marián is a small town, beautiful, but without much draw for tourists. It's close enough to our site, that we can have information about his hotel at the pre-Incan ruins in our site, and he can have information about the various attractions at our site in his hotel. Another great contact, and another meeting in which Menda felt included.
So three meetings, all in which Menda had her voice heard. Put bluntly, this is not the norm. The usual interaction, no matter how very little I had to do with planning a meeting, arranging a class, or writing up a report, usually ends in me being the only one addressed. It's not something intentionally done, it's not vindictive or purposefully demeaning, it doesn't happen every time, but it happens frequently enough that changing our community's attitude toward women and their roles has become the center of my focus and my primary goal for the next two years. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a woman staying at home with the kids, taking care of the house, and cooking. Likewise, if a man works Monday through Saturday at a job and Sundays in the chakra, that's his choice. However, the impact that these long-defined roles have had on gender equality is devastating, so even though these offenses are usually done without mean spirit or spite, they still do a lot of damage. It's not outright sexism, just as in the States, most overt racism has had its day and most people are repulsed by it. However, in some ways, the beneath-the-surface, day-to-day, largely-unnoticed varieties are worse, and they're certainly harder to combat.
Apart from meetings, we've been incredibly busy with vacaciones útiles (literally, useful vacations, but, in English, summer school). Four times a week we've been teaching a group of rambunctious, occasionally well-behaved youth with ages between 3 and 13. We originally intended on teaching 8-17, but the older kids don't show, and the youngest ones are usually in the care of their siblings, so if they can't go, neither can their brothers and sisters. We've set up the classes with each week having a different theme. Basic introductions in English, the human body, biology, recycling, and we're going to be doing geography/world cultures, music and dance, nutrition and exercise, and one more yet to be decided theme. We're slowly learning how to teach in this very different environment. Kids here don't learn the same way. Everything is rote. Whenever we introduce a new game or activity, it takes the kids a while to figure out that this is something they can do. We tried watching WALL-E (in Spanish) and they couldn't handle 80 minutes of sitting still. Then again, the next day we made paper beads out of magazines and flowers out of bottle tops, and they worked for two and a half hours straight without problem. Another challenge is the age gap. Eventually, Menda had the bright idea to separate the kids with certain activities, so they're working with others more or less on par with their level. Before, the easy stuff had the older kids misbehaving, and the harder stuff had the younger ones bored and loud. It's been fun though, and I've even gotten pull out the guitar a few times. I found some bluesy chords that accompany “the hokey pokey” quite nicely and wrote a gypsy jazz version of “head, shoulders, knees, and toes.” We play various games with the frisbee on a regular basis, and the kids have caught on quite fast.
Speaking of ultimate, there are weekly pickup games in Huaraz to which I'll eventually start going. Right now, we're too loaded down with stuff we're doing and the many other things we're supposed to be doing. We're in the midst of our second week of Quechua classes, we're teaching 4 times a week, we're supposed to be interviewing people with our encuestas so we can finish our community diagnostic by the beginning of March, we have a correspondence course we're taking on teaching English as a foreign language in which we're yet to start the readings and assignments, and Menda's about to start sessions with a Spanish tutor. Still, it's far better to be busy than idle, and it feels good to be making small amounts of progress here and there. A quick side note, “llamakaa” (pronounced like the Jewish hat) in Quechua means “I am a llama.”
We also went to a wedding this past weekend for a couple at our church. They brought in 5 musicians from Lima and they not only played the wedding, but our church service the day before and a concert at the cultural center in Huaraz. It's the first (and quite possibly last) time we've heard classical music while in Peru. The orchestra of which they're a part is only two years old, and they have to import their musicians, because there just aren't many Peruvian classical musicians. The lead violinist was from Michigan, the second also from Michigan though his parents are Brazilian, and the pianist was from Cuba. (The violist and cellist were from Peru I believe.)
This entry is getting a little overly long, so I'll close with an observation we made after walking around earlier this week in search of a place to eat. Peru: The land where every vegetarian restaurant serves hamburgers and a place called The Mediterranean serves paccha manca and lomo saltado but no hummus or felafel.