Week 1 and Done.

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How do you make Taken 3 funny?

… You give Liam Neeson a jolly, middle-aged Spanish voiceover.

Since training ends around 5 each day, there is usually a lot of time to kill before dinner which is usually around 8 or 8:30.  So what do we do in this time?  We watch Spanish-dubbed movies, of course!  The first night, I watched the most recent Dragon Ball Z movie with my host brother and I was quite surprised with how well the Spanish dub captured Goku’s silly personality.  We also watched Los Vengadores (The Avengers), one of the Resident Evil movies, Taken 3 (obviously), and most recently Lucy (it’s a really weird movie).  You can essentially get any movie you want here, BlueRay or DVD, for only a few Soles (pronounced So-lays) from any of the various street vendors.

taken 3 spanish
Image from: http://tinyurl.com/zksuzju

Additionally, each night this week we have been watching a sweet Peruvian singing competition called Yo Soy, where contestants compete to see who is the best impersonator.  Most of the contestants sing in Spanish, but there is one contestant who mostly sings English songs like Come Together.  The Grand Finale of the show is tonight, and my host dad hopes the contestant Sandro takes home the title.

In addition to watching movies, I found out that my host parents and older host brother have seen a lot of older American sitcoms, some of which I hadn’t even heard of before.  Some of the ones they mentioned were Paso a Paso (Step by Step), Salvado por la campana (Saved by the Bell), Matrimonio con hijos (Married with Kids), El Principe de Rap (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), and my favorite, Tres por Tres, which somehow translates to Full House!

Full House
Image from: http://a.abcnews.go.com/images/Entertainment/GTY_FULL_HOUSE_150421_DG_4x3_992.jpg

At least for my family, even though I think this applies to many Peruvian families, movies and television seem to be a family activity, a way for everyone to bond.  I’m looking forward to watching more Spanish-dubbed films with my family and occasionally having to explain some English words as best as I can.

MGB

Mi Familia Anfitriona (my host family)

This past Sunday, Mother’s Day both here in Peru and in the States, we finally met our host families who we will be living with for the duration of our 11 weeks of Pre-Service Training.  I have a host mother and father, three host brothers, a sweet little dog named Bartola, a cat, a parakeet, and seven guinea pigs (called “cuy” here).  We all seem to get along really well, and they were very impressed with my Spanish, even though I don’t think I always make sense.  Mother’s Day was spent settling into my room, showing pictures from my life in the US, and visiting/eating with my host-mom’s family who live in the area.  She has two sisters who live only two blocks away, and each is also housing a Peace Corps trainee.  It was definitely an overwhelming first day, jumping straight into full Spanish immersion, but I survived it unscathed.

Bartola, sporting her little yellow dress because it's been a tad cold here lately.
Bartola, sporting her little yellow dress because it’s been a tad cold here lately.

As the week progressed, I got to know my family a bit better and they got to know me more.  The food has been wonderful, and they have been so accommodating; I showed them some pictures of me eating Ketchup when I was younger and they went out and got me some ketchup packets for my first meal, even though it was essentially stir fry.  Each day my host mom packs me a lunch for training, which is usually some variation of rice, potatoes, meat, salad, and vegetables.  She also packs me a new Peruvian fruit to try each day, so be on the lookout for a blog post covering all the new fruits that I’ve had the pleasure of eating.

So far, my experience with my host family has been incredible and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better over the coming months.  It’s going to be a sad day when training ends and I have to leave them to go to my permanent site.

MGB

“Government issued friends and family”

While the retreat was busy, it was also very fun and a great introduction into Peru and the Peace Corps experience.  We had diversity exercises, safety and security meetings, and reviewed many of the expectations of Peace Corps volunteers, all the while diving into Peruvian food which, if you haven’t heard, is incredibly tasty.

 On Saturday, we had our first of many breakout sessions with our Peace Corps sectors. I belong to MAC (Manejo Ambiental Comunitario ~ Community Based Environmental Management) and our program coordinator is Diego Shootbridge, an enthusiastic, straight-shooting Peruvian with years of experience in environmental work. He broke down the focus of our sector into 3 areas via an easy to remember mantra:  Education, Trees, Garbage (look out for a blog post with this title in the future).  He talked about his expectations for MAC volunteers and his high hopes for us, MAC 25, the last MAC group to be sent to Peru (save the best for last, I hope!).

In addition to work, there was also a lot of play, and many moments that showed me what a special group of people I will be working with throughout training, and hopefully the next two years.  Some highlights of the weekend include several games of Cards Against Humanity (Peace Corps Trainees make surprisingly good CAH players), a mock-graduation ceremony for those who had to miss graduation because of service, birthday cards for the two birthdays of the weekend, a fantastic game of soccer on a concrete court (I had 3 goals, and most importantly an great time), a late night campfire complete with guitar, plastic trashcan drums, trumpet, and sing-alongs, and our training host family (familia anfitriona) assignments.

It was a great weekend and a fantastic way to kick off the Peace Corps experience.  I have definitely made some great connections and friendships among my fellow volunteers already, and I’m looking forward to developing them as time continues.

MGB

Safe and Sound

In case you didn’t know, I arrived safely to Peru.  Departure day started bright and early with a 7am check out from the hotel; with our matching Peace Corps t-shirts and mounds of luggage, we definitely overwhelmed the lobby.

Peace Corps takes over the lobby
Peace Corps takes over the lobby

When we finally arrived at Reagan Airport in DC to begin our travels, we had a chance encounter with the current director of the Peace Corps, Carrie Hessler-Radelet.  It was definitely a star-struck moment for me, and I think many other of the volunteers.

Carrole shaking hands with the Peace Corps director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet
Carrole shaking hands with the Peace Corps director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet.

Finally, around 12:30pm we were off, and after hours of travel, malfunctioning video screens on our Houston-Lima flight, and a final “American” meal of pizza and Panda Express, we finally landed in Peru around 11:30pm Thursday evening (May 7th).  After disembarking the plane, we found two Peace Corps Peru staff members with signs who took us through immigration via the Diplomat line (I guess they pulled a few strings) and helped us to locate our luggage.  For a few of us, the elite “Grupo 60”, it seems that there was some confusion with processing our immigration papers; while we should have received a stamp for 160 days, we only were given 60.  The lucky 25 or so of us that were members of Grupo 60 had to wait about 30 minutes in the baggage area while a PC staff member went to get the forms corrected.

Finally, after lots of waiting and anticipation, we were able to pass through customs and go out to meet the other volunteers.  As I cross the threshold of the door to join the other volunteers, I suddenly saw a bunch of people cheering and waving signs, and I think to myself, “Oh wow, I wonder who they are so excited about?”.  About half a second later, I realized they were all Peace Corps staff and volunteers who had come to welcome us to the country.  I was floored; what an incredible way to be greeted in a country that will be my home for the next 2 years.  I hope that I will be able to greet new trainees when I am further along in my Peace Corps experience. 

Once everyone had emerged, we began our 1.5 hr bus ride to the retreat center; please note that it was already about 1am by the time we got to the busses.  Needless to say, everyone was exhausted after a full day of traveling, and looking forward to a full night’s sleep.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to bed until 3:30am and retreat activities started bright and early at 8am, so a full night’s sleep wasn’t in the cards.  At this point, the significance of landing in Peru and arriving at the training center hasn’t set in, but I’m sure the reality of it all will slowly begin to sink in as training begins.

MGB

The Journey Begins

Well, the day has (almost) finally arrived.  After submitting my Peace Corps application almost a year and a half ago, I am finally about to begin my journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I am headed for Peru, the land of mountains, potatoes, llamas, and the Incas, as a Community-Based Environmental Education Volunteer.

This adventure has been a long time coming, after submitting my initial application nearly a year and a half ago, and spending the last 9 months living and working at home.  I am excited to be off (after a one night pit stop in DC), although admittedly the gravity of the situation still evades my grasp.  In the days and weeks leading up to my departure, I have tried to meditate on what I’m about to do, on how my life is going to change, yet each time I do so, I am met with an invisible wall, leaving comprehension just beyond my reach.  How can one possibly understand such a radical divergence from everyday life?

What I do know, however, is that this experience will be unlike anything I have faced before.  It will be full of challenges, tears, laughter, awkward cultural exchanges, scenic vistas, parasites, wonderful food, amazing people, and unimaginable opportunities.  I chose to apply to the Peace Corps because I wanted to be challenged, because I wanted to travel, because I wanted to use Spanish, and most importantly because I wanted to invest in, engage with and assist international communities in ways both small and large.  I will be gone for 27 months.  I will certainly miss my loving family, I will certainly miss my incredible friends, and I will certainly miss burritos (San Diego spoiled me, Brian), but I will certainly gain innumerable and invaluable experiences.

Here’s to new friends, grand adventures, meaningful work, and lots of fun!

Allons-y,

Mark