Monday, March 31, 2014

Parackin´ Out

This past week we were supposed to have gone to Arequipa, hiked the Colca Canyon, eaten some rocoto relleno and relaxed in what is supposed to be one of Peru’s cleanest and most beautiful cities.  Unfortunately, our plans were disrupted by some strikes, but we made the best of a bad situation, traded in our bus tickets and headed to Paracas, a nature reserve located on the coast of Ica and one of the country’s fastest growing attractions. You see, in Peru, when life gives you lemons, you hand them back and ask for limes.

Paracas has two main attractions, the first being Las Islas Ballestas, three small islands, maybe ten or fifteen miles off the coast, which various animals call home. You see a huge quantity of the guano birds, which produce inch upon inch of crap until some poor soul comes out and shovels away several feet of it to be used as natural fertilizer. There are also terns, pelicans, boobies, and even Humboldt Penguins. However, by far the most stunning sight is the countless number of sea lions lounging about: a couple thousand at the very least.

Number two on the “to do list” is the nature reserve. While dominated by mile after mile of sand inland and rocky cliffs along the coast, there are some truly beautiful beaches, and the dunes make for a beautiful backdrop. You can see the scattered attractions in a tour bus or a private taxi, but we decided to rent bikes – not thinking ahead of time what eight hours on a bike seat will do to a person who hasn’t been on a bike in nearly two years. We got back to our hostel sore and many hours later than we had planned, but it felt good to do something active and thoroughly exhausting.

Being on the coast in a touristy area of Peru, it’s only assumed that we ate plenty of seafood. Ceviche, fried fish, grilled fish, calamari, you name it. It was all delicious. What we hadn’t anticipated was to find a restaurant specializing in paella, one of the signature dishes of Spain. We have absolutely no experience in what paella should be, and it’s possible that a Spaniard would scoff at the Peruvian imitation, but it was damn good nonetheless. And the best part of Paracas? It’s home to another volunteer, with whom we were able to catch up and grab drinks (mine an embarrassingly tall and tri-colored concoction named after Machu Picchu).

Our original vacation was set for a week, but this included 17 hours of travel to Arequipa from Lima and 17 hours back. Paracas is just under four hours away, so we were able to spend around four days in Paracas and the rest in Miraflores. While there, we checked out a high-end chocolate shop, grabbed a burrito in Barranco, and accidentally found a third location of the chocolate museum we’d already visited once in Cuzco and once in Miraflores. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the particular chocolate dessert Menda was looking for, so we headed over to the Miraflores branch and somehow ended up walking out with a bar of dark chocolate weighing in at a kilogram. It’s probably sold for baking purposes, but who’s gonna say otherwise if we want to just eat it straight?

Parque Kennedy is the focal point of Miraflores, the neighborhood in which the volunteers usually stay when passing through Lima, and one of its many appeals is the curious quantity of cats roaming around. We had a few hours to kill one morning, so we decided to see how many photos we could take of different cats. We never got an exact count, but I think we hit somewhere between 80 and 90. Below we’ve included some of the better photos of them along with pictures from Paracas and a few from past entries that I never got around to uploading.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In Case You´ve Forgotten Us...

We are, indeed, still alive. I apologize for the extended absence, but I assure you all that we are as well as can be expected. We’re just about at the year and a half mark, and were I to write in detail of every little thing, you’d find yourselves in a particularly bad bout of déjà vu, for since late November (the anniversary of our having landed in Paria), it seems we’ve been stuck on repeat ourselves. Therefore, with this post, I will try to keep you updated while still shy of over-informed.

Summer School:
As some of you may recall, in the previous summer we taught two months of vacaciones útiles with each week devoted to a different theme and always a bit of English vocabulary. This year, we taught the same five courses for the two months straight with each day of the week assigned to its own subject. I taught public speaking, English, health and science, and Menda taught geography. Public speaking I cancelled after five weeks because no one was willing to prepare a speech beginning to end - even after being walked through step by step how to do so for over a month; English went reasonably well, all things considered; health was basically going through the healthy homes aspect of Peace Corps Peru’s Community Health Program; and the science class was definitely my favorite part. Rote learning is the standard in Peru, and I wanted to do a little something that showed the kids that learning can and should be interactive, so each week I prepared two experiments with which the kids could practice the scientific method and hopefully enjoy themselves as well. Menda’s geography class covered a different continent each week and, among other things, discussed the differences and similarities between the students’ lives and those they saw in videos from the Sesame Street Panwapa series.

English Classes:
Throughout January and February I also taught an adult intensive English class. Five nights a week, I met for two hours with three students and went through as much as we could cram in. I’ve had my heart set for some time on teaching high school English, but this experience makes me think that working with a more adult population could be very rewarding as well, maybe in a night school or junior college setting.

Peace Corps Projects:
Since my overwhelmingly unsuccessful attempt to teach sexual education last school year, I’ve modified my approach. I’m hoping to work within the framework of an already established class (personal, familia y relaciones humanas) with a younger group (that might still have some inkling of respect for authority), and use the scores on the post exam for a grade. Fingers are crossed. My job with the mothers took a hit after the health promoter I trained last November and December disappeared off the face of the earth. So I’m training a new health promoter during a one hour cram session and starting house visits with four mothers starting at the end of this month. Amanda’s trash can project continues to be both a daily encouragement and sucker punch to the nose. The community’s looking cleaner, people are by and large using the trash cans in the correct way, and it’s good to see something physical that our time in the Peace Corps will leave behind. But... There are always a few black sheep who are unhappy with any changes made, and they always bleat the loudest. We should be able to shrug it off , but it’s not always easy to remember that the happy majority don’t usually feel the need to report their satisfaction and appreciation for a job well done. It looks like yet another attempt by Menda to plant a bunch of trees has fallen through due to people’s unwillingness to dig their own holes. You’d think as many free trees as they’d like would be incentive enough, but they want the trees first on the promise they’ll dig the holes later. Another volunteer has had moderate success through the sale of stickers in Huaraz that fund payment to the landowners wanting to plant trees. Though we still don’t necessarily agree with paying someone to receive something for free, we certainly sympathize with the struggle all other volunteers face in trying to help someone who doesn’t really want to be helped. You do what you have to. Lastly of our current Peace Corps projects is GLOBE. Look it up. It’s an international climate change monitoring program that uses kids to gather the data. I built a GLOBE box last year, and I’m currently repairing an old one from another volunteer. With these two, Menda will be able to teach climate change in a very hands-on way to kids in two of the grade schools in our community.

I’m not sure if I’ve yet written about mid-service. Summed up, after a year in site, they pull us back to Lima, shame us into thinking we’ve not done enough, make us poop in a cup, and send us back to finish out the rest of our service. Not really, though. It was nice to see the faces we went through training with, I found the other volunteers’ successful projects to be more inspiring than discouraging, and pooping in a cup was... awkward, but we both came back with a clean bill of health.

As I mentioned last year in this here blog, during Carnaval, each community takes its giant cross and walks it down to Huaraz, a priest says mass over the crosses (apparently with no room for people), and then they’re walked back up to their respective sites. And then everyone gets drunk. And chops down some trees. And then drinks some more. Etcetera. What I didn’t write about last year was Martes Guerra (Mardi Gras), mainly because I was violently sick last Martes Guerra. Depending on where you celebrate this day, there are varying degrees of wildness. In Cajamarca, for example, gangs of youth roam the streets with buckets full of water, paint, used motor oil, or any other spare fluid they can find and proceed to dump it on their victim of choice. Advice from a volunteer who has gone to this storied event was to duct tape your shoes, but don’t wear a giant plastic hazmat suit, because it just makes you a bigger target. Once upon a time, they say that Martes Guerra was as crazy in Huaraz, but now it’s usually just water and flour that the gangs of youth throw on you. We were hanging out in the fourth story apartment of a third year volunteer, throwing water balloons and dumping buckets of water on unsuspecting people below. But as they say, it’s all fun and games until someone breaks a windshield with a poorly aimed water balloon. No, seriously. I had to pay the guy 250 soles, but he was really nice about it. He took it all in the spirit of the day, but just wanted his windshield paid for.

Other Activities:
We’ve been in Peru for a year and a half, but I’m only now starting to feel like I have the things I need to feel... normal, I guess. I may have mentioned this previously, but I started a book group among the volunteers. Each month we meet after our regional meeting, discuss the book chosen the previous month and choose a new one for the next. We’ve read Candide, Mountains Beyond Mountains, A Thousand Splended Suns, Bel Canto, Americanah and Tenth Of December. Ultimate has also started up again, and each Friday there’s a pickup game with various Huaracinos, volunteers and tourists. And to top things off, the new volunteer leader for Ancash is an experienced swing dancer, so the three of us are giving swing lessons and are hoping eventually to do a swing bomb (swing dancing flash mob) in the plaza de armas. Also, Menda has been meeting with a friend (from the church we went to for a while) to practice her Spanish (and the woman her English). She is likewise baffled by some of the obstacles faced when trying to help people in the campo. For example, she tried to donate her time teaching campo women to read only to find that they refused to be taught unless you gave them a gift of some kind – money, sugar, etcetera. It’s good to know that we’re not the only ones facing these kinds of challenges.

I think that’s it for now. As always, an email, phone call, letter or package will always be appreciated. As it usually takes a month or so to mail anything, your time is quickly running out to support us with gifts of pictures of candy.