In no particular order, here is the stuff that has happened over the past month or so.
As some of you may recall, about three months ago I thought I had twisted my ankle but had actually broken a small bone in there somewhere. I got the X-ray a few weeks too late, and there was nothing they could do to set it, so I took some pills, rubbed on a cream, and stayed off of it as much as I could for a month and a half. Immediately following the month and a half, I walked an obscene amount, my ankle started hurting again, so I went to Lima, got an MRI, and set up an appointment in Huaraz to have a doctor read the MRIs and figure out what should be done next. I got my foot wrapped in some type of long-term sticky gauze to immobilize the joint, took some more pills, and have been getting magnetic therapy. Yes, it sounds like quackery, but supposedly it helps soft tissue injuries to heal faster. I’ll finish up my last of ten initial sessions today and have another consultation with the doctor to see what she thinks. I’ll also be able to finally remove the gauze stuff from my ankle, which at this point is only mobilizing Menda to sit as far away from me as possible due to the smell. Wish me luck.
The cherry trees Menda planted with her class in Jinua continue to grow. At the last count, I believe 17 had sprouted.
This past month has been filled with lots and lots of training. About a month ago now, we had the training for PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief). We were supposed to bring two community partners (or socios), and although I thought it likely I would end up with no one there, I ended up with three. We made a plan for starting my Pasos Adelante group (a program focused on helping teens making smart decisions in their lives) and got up to date statistics on HIV, AIDS, STIs and more for our region and Peru in general. I walked out of it definitely feeling a little more prepared and a little more supported in my efforts. After PEPFAR, the Lehmans were here for four days – which I’ll talk about more below, and then I had to go to my next set of trainings: In Service Training and Project Design and Management. For the IST portion, we had to have a community partner come along. Mine ended up unable to come, but as I wasn’t alone in this, I didn’t feel terribly out of place without my own Peruvian at my side. That being said, I was a bit bored. A lot of the activities we did were for the sake of the community partners, but the volunteers had already received more in depth training on the same stuff during our first ten weeks in the country. The day where my group got to build an improved cook stove was definitely time well spend though. During Early In Service Training, we got to work on these too, but this last time was a little more informative I felt. However, the highlight of IST I would say, not for reasons of usefulness, was definitely the day where we talked about training peer educators. The information wasn’t new, but we did some dinámicas (active learning games? I’m not sure how to translate that) which were just wonderfully uncomfortable. I wasn’t too pleased at the time, but it’s a great story now. The first involved every volunteer standing up and exchanging massages with their community partners. A shoulder rub, no big deal, right? Except that after the shoulders came the head. Just kind of bizarre. Still, that doesn’t begin to compare to the awkwardness of then grasping the shoulders at the side, and then running your hands down to the ankles. I had as my partner another volunteer who didn’t have a socio, so we just kind of laughed about it. Some of the others had socios of the opposite sex though, and they were none too pleased. Awkward dinámica number two: While music was being played (after the Peace Corps organizer asked the person leading the sessions to involve no more dancing), we had to dance with our socios – to a slow jam no less – with our hands behind our backs and a balloon pressed between our stomachs. When the music stopped, we had to press toward each other until the balloon popped. I, once again, was partnered with a volunteer and simply pulled out a ball point pen and popped the balloon. Others weren’t so lucky and ended up thrusting into their partners. And since we’re on the topic, I shared this experience with another volunteer, and he responded, “That’s nothing.” He had had an even more awkward experience during a training in his site. Everyone stood in a circle, passed around a doll, and had to kiss the doll in a location of their choosing. Then, after this was already done, the facilitator instructed everyone to then turn to the person on their left and kiss them in the same place. The volunteer ended up kissing an old man on the ear, and the person to his right had to kiss his foot. The worst part about all of these is that they didn’t connect back to any point. A dinámica should demonstrate some aspect of what you’re trying to teach. If it doesn’t, it’s just a pointless activity that stretches the day out, or in some scenarios proves painfully awkward. Next came PDM, and although we heard a lot of useful information, by the end of the second day, we were clearly all reaching our limits. The focus was on behavior change theory: all the barriers we’ll face in convincing people to wash their hands, boil their water, stimulate their baby, etc. and how best to overcome them. It’s really interesting stuff, and under other circumstances I think I’d have been really engaged, but I was brain dead by then. I walked out knowing that I should use behavior change theory during my service, but I just don’t think that it will work... Get it? The efficacy of the action is my barrier... Nevermind.
Last weekend I took the TESOL exam. If I passed, I will receive official certification for teaching English as a second language. The extreme irony is that it is one of the most poorly constructed courses of which I’ve ever heard. Instead of sending in small assignments along the way with a final test that covers some of the material at random, there is one gigantic test to evaluate the students. A test that with no less than four volunteers working on it together still took nine or ten hours. And the real bummer? It’s through an online company that may or may not be taken seriously by future employers. We weren’t told about that when we signed up. Oh well.
And now for the best part... We had visitors! The Lehmans came and visited for four days. They got to see our site and the pre-Incan ruins therein, Nicholas got altitude sickness, we all went up to see a melting glacier, and, best of all, they brought us American candy and barbecue sauce from the loving folks back home. On the way to the glacier, we stopped to see the Puya Raimondi, a plant unique to the Andes that blooms every hundred years or so and dies immediately afterward. It has several thousand flowers when it blooms and tens of thousands of seeds are released. Menda wanted to make sure I mentioned that she saw it first on Planet Earth, and then we got to actually see it. The glacier sitting at 17,600 feet, called Pastoruri, is a sad story. Less than a decade ago, you could ski there, build snowmen, etc. Now, you’re not even allowed to walk on it because it’s so small. In all honesty, it wasn’t that impressive to see for someone who has dealt with winters in Illinois and has seen giant snow-plowed mountains of ice and snow, but for the impact that climate change is having it is tragically important. In the streets of Huaraz, they still sell scarfs and hats with images of people skiing on them. How long before anyone even remembers what that is here? But we didn’t let that get us down. The visit from the Lehmans was such a breath of fresh air. I can’t imagine what it was like for Peace Corps Volunteers in the 60s, without blogs, phones, occasional (even if slow) internet, and all the other things we don’t have to do without. Still, it was incredible to be reminded that we’re not as alone as we sometimes feel. Thank you.
I think that’s about it. As always, feel free to drop a question in the comments, and our address is in the side panel! Send us something! A letter, a Jimmy John’s menu, anything. Send us some pictures of you, and we’ll put them up on our wall. It’s not as good as a visit, but it sure does add some comfort and love to our lives. We miss you all. And here are some pictures from the aforementioned activities: