Foto Friday: the Environmental Committee

So in the past, Peace Corps Perú had 5 different programs: Youth Development, Community Economic Development, Community Health, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, and Community-Based Environmental Management, my program.

However, all across the world, Peace Corps posts (countries) were asked to cut down the number of programs, and so Perú followed suit, eliminating the environment program. My group, which arrived to Perú in May 2015, was the last group of environmental Volunteers to come to Perú to work.

Environmental work is important in rural communities, such as the many in which Peace Corps Perú Volunteers work, because oftentimes the community’s health and livelihood is dependent upon its relationship with the environment. Oftentimes these communities lack basic services such as clean drinking water or a trash collection service, both of which can lead to community health problems. An unhealthy environment means an unhealthy community. Clearly, environmental work should be continued in Peace Corps.

So while the environmental program in it’s current for won’t continue, us MAC (environment) Volunteers began brainstorming last fall about how the environmental program could live on in some capacity in Perú since there is a need for environmental work to continue. What we decided was an environmental committee, the idea being a permanent committee consisting of Volunteers interested in environmental topics and promoting environmental projects among other Peace Corps Perú Volunteers. We wrote up a proposal, submitted it to the Peace Corps Perú staff, and waited. Finally, we received a supportive response from Peace Corps staff saying that they liked the idea, but that we lacked the funds for a permanent committee, but a short term one would be allowed. And thus the Environmental Committee was born.

We were given two different sets of meetings, first in April and the second in July (these past few days) to figure out a plan, organize resources, and leave something behind for future Volunteers to use. What we decided on was to create several presentations showing how environmental projects and themes can be incorporated into the other programs. Some of examples we came up with are the following: using recycled materials to create early-stimulation toys (Health), initiating recycling programs as an income generating activity (business), planting trees to preserve water sources (Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene). In addition to the presentations, we have been creating and compiling environmental resources to create more of less of an “Environmental Projects for Dummies: Peace Corps Perú” file. I was responsible for creating a guide on trash management here in Perú and compiling all of the accompanying resources.

The idea is that during training with the new Trainees each cycle, the Peace Corps trainers will present the environmental presentations, and then each Volunteer will receive a copy of the environmental resources folder, which has information on recycled art, how to grow and plant trees, how to make compost, how to start an eco-tourism group, etc. With this information, we hope that interested Volunteers will have the resources necessary to address environmental concerns in their communities.

This past week, we had our last meeting to finalize all of the presentations and accompanying materials and hopefully by the end of July or start of August, we will have a finished product to present to the Peace Corps Staff and hopefully all current and future Peace Corps Perú Volunteers.

The hardworking Environmental Committee in our only group photo

In the Peace Corps, we strive to develop sustainable work and projects with our host-community partners, but it isn’t so often that we get to tackle a sustainable endeavor with other Volunteers. I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve accomplished with the other environmentally minded Volunteers above, and I hope all of our blood, sweat, and tears, will lead to more environmentally conscious Peace Corps Staff and future Volunteers.

Until next time,


Martes de Música: Shaqsha

For today’s Martes de Música, we are covering a traditional dance of Áncash, the Shaqsha. But Mark, this is Martes de Música, not Martes de Baile, why are you talking about a dance on a post about music? Well, anonymous reader, that is because the Shaqsha is not just a mere dance, but also a way for creating percussion music.

You see, not any person can just go out and dance the shaqsha like it were breakdancing, the tango, or even salsa. In order to dance the shaqsha, you need to have the proper accessories. Below, you can take a look at a fairly standard attire for shaqsha dancers.


The first item of note is the crown, which is believed to have been used to poke fun at the royal Spanish family who once controlled Perú. The shirt and kilt-like clothes are also intended as parodies, mimicking the clothing worn by the early Spanish Conquistadores. In the hands of some of the dancers, you will also note whips, which could be a reference to the farming lifestyles of the past.

However, the most important accessory to the shaqsha is what you see around the legs of each of the dancers in the photo above; the shaqapas. What you are seeing is more or less a ton of small dried seed pods tied together with string which is then fastened around the legs and occasionally the arms of each dancer. The shaqapas are integral to the shaqsha, because as the dancer moves, the seed pods and the seeds inside shake, creating a vibrant and entrancing sound, a sound which is generally interpreted as “shac shac”, hence the name of the dance. So you see, the Shaqsha is as much as a dance as it is a musical style, with the shaking of the seeds creating a beautiful sound.


The dance itself is incredibly energetic, involving lots of hopping, jumping, screaming, and foot pounding. Honestly, it looks absolutely exhausting, and I can’t imagine how shaqsha dancers manage to keep up their energy in the intense sierra sun. The dance is generally performed during religious festivals here in Áncash, with the shaqsha groups being accompanied by a small group of musicians playing wooden flutes and drums. The photos above are from a religious festival celebrating the Virgin Mary held at my local school in Yuracoto, I.E. Estenio Torres Ramos.

Shaqsha is my absolute favorite dance here in Perú, and I’m hoping to eventually try it out with the help of some of my students in Yuracoto. With one year left in my service, I feel like I should be able to squeeze in a little time for a practice or two (or five). So to finish out this post, I leave you with a video of some Shaqsha performed in Yuracoto last week so you can fully appreciate this entrancing dance and enjoy the melodious sounds of the shaqapas.


Until next time,





A Castle made of Fireworks

Last week in Yuracoto, my local school estaba de fiesta (was in party mode). You see, the school’s  patron saint is la Virgen de Carmen, also known as the Virgin Mary, and apparently her day of celebration is the 16th of July. As I mentioned in one of my other posts, anniversaries are a BIG DEAL here in Perú, and so naturally the entire week of the 11th leading up to July 16th was filled with different religious and non-religious activities in the school.

One of said activities that I attended was the víspera, which literally means the “day before”. In this case, víspera means the night before the main day of celebration, or the evening of the 14th of July. So what happens at a víspera? Well first people from the community slowly trickled into the school, sitting and chatting while a student group performed a traditional dance from Áncash. Then, the altar containing the image of the saint was brought out, and everyone gather for a brief mass. A women, one of the madrinas (literally god-mother, but in this case sponsor) for the event, read from the Bible, led everyone in prayer, gave a brief sermon, and then led everyone in some Catholic hymns.

At the conclusion of the brief mass, speakers were rolled out and I, being the only one with a laptop, was put in charge of the music. I managed to play some Marc Anthony before students restricted me to just cumbia and huayno.

After a while, as it grew later in the evening and as the student groups continued to dance, we grew closer to one of the main attractions of the evening, the lighting of the firework castle. You see, I thought we had fireworks figured out pretty well in the U.S., but after attending a few events with fireworks here in Perú, I think they have us outclassed at least in terms of ingenuity. It is pretty standard here in Perú that for really big celebrations or anniversaries, you buy some fireworks. But Peruvian fireworks are not the tiny ones we buy for our homes around 4th of July, nor are they the giant fireworks displays we see way up in the sky. Here in Perú, they make structures out of bamboo, attach fireworks to them, and then set them off.

A “palm tree” firework with its spinning parts.

Of the standard Peruvian firework regime, my favorite would have to be the Toro Loco (Crazy Bull), which is essentially a small bamboo frame reminiscent of a bull’s head to which many fireworks are attached. You then grab the Toro Loco, hold it over your head, and light up its fireworks as you run around at your fellow community members, shooting out sparks and smoke. Safe? Absolutely not. Fun? Absolutely.

So while this fiesta was unfortunately missing a Toro Loco, what it did have was a Castillo, or Castle, of which 1/6th was mine; the castle cost s/. 300, and I donated the missing s/. 50 to pay for it.

The Castillo right after being lit.

Around 10:45pm (the víspera started at 7pm), we finally lit up the castillo and I managed to get everything on camera. Check out the video below and enjoy your first (probably) experience with Peruvian fireworks!


Until next time,


Foto Friday: Frisbee

So after 2.5 months of planning and pestering, my site-mate and I finally have an approved Plan de Trabajo (Work Plan) to create an Ultimate Frisbee Club here in Caraz. This week, we have begun the advertising process for the new sport by visiting some of the local schools and handing out some awesome flyers made by my very own sister back in the U.S.


So why did we decide to start an Ultimate Frisbee Club? Well, we have several motivations.

  1. Because Ultimate Frisbee is fun and is not a widely known sport here in Perú.
  2. Because Goal 2 of Peace Corps involves teaching Peruvians about U.S. culture and what better way than sharing a treasured sport.
  3. To provide healthy activities to pursue in one’s free time so kids don’t just go home and watch T.V. or play video games in an Internet Cabina.
  4. To promote gender equality among the young people of Caraz.
    1. Perú is home to a lot of machismo, which is the belief that by nature men are superior to women. We hope to incorporate educational sessions and activities within the Frisbee classes to tackle machismo, gender inequality, low self-esteem, and other issues present in the youth of Caraz.
  5. To introduce the concept of Co-Ed sports.
    1. In Caraz, boys play soccer and girls play volleyball, and there isn’t much overlap. We are planning to present Ultimate Frisbee as a co-ed sport to foster positive interactions among young boys and girls, positive interactions that will hopefully be transmitted to friends, classmates, etc.
  6. To make sure the young people of Caraz know they are called Frisbees and not “platillos voladores” (flying plates).

The first class in on Monday, August 1st. Who knows how many will sign up? Who knows how many will show up? At this point, it is all in the air, but at least we are moving forward. Look forward to an update about the first day of classes in a few weeks time.

Until next time,


Peace Corps Perú: Airing the Dirty Laundry

When you read my blog, and learn about my experiences, you are only getting a small glimpse of Perú. My experience here in Caraz, Áncash is not universal to all of Perú, just like my experience living in Pennsylvania cannot define what it is like to live anywhere in the United States. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we each have our own reality, our own experiences, and for me, Perú will be what I experience in Caraz, in Áncash. My Peace Corps experience, therefore, will be different and unique from that of every other Peace Corps Perú Volunteer. To highlight a little of this diversity of Peace Corps sites and the diversity of Perú, I have decided in this blog to highlight a mundane task, something we probably take for granted in the U.S.; doing the laundry.

Washing ones clothes is a nearly universal activity. Most everyone has clothes, most everyone eventually gets them dirty (especially Peace Corps Volunteers), and most everyone then has the need to get them clean again. So in today’s post, we are going to take a brief look at 4 different Peace Corps Perú Laundry situation, starting with my own.

Volunteer: Mark Goldy-Brown

Program: Community Based Environmental Management

Site: Yuracoto, Caraz, Áncash

My site is very dusty, and so I find that I am constantly in need of washing my clothes. However, the frequency of washing varies, usually depending on when I find a free 2 hours to dedicate myself to the task. Right now, I would say I wash my clothes every 3-4 weeks, sometimes longer, sometimes less.

Personally, I enjoy my clothes washing set-up. We have  a large cement sink, where I can easily pile all my clothes, and soak them for 30 minutes in nice cold water + detergent. After they soak, I grab each piece of clothing and rub them vigorously to remove dirt and to build up some suds. Because of all of the dust, my socks are usually a nice shade of brown and so I have to rub them with a bar of soap to get them nice and bright. (Sometimes if I’m in a hurry, I skip the soap and just let them stay a little brown. They’re socks after all, who is going to see them?).

After the rub down, next comes the cold rinse. I usually rinse each item furiously, wring it out thoroughly (I’m going to have great forearms at the end of service), and then smell it too see if all of the detergent has been removed.

Once rinsed, I pile all of my clothes in a large bin and hang them up on our clothes line. Since my site is sunny and hot most days, generally my clothes are nice and dry within 2-3 hours.

While at first I wasn’t a big fan of washing my clothes by-hand, I now rather enjoy the process; it is quite relaxing and gives me time to listen to music or a good podcast.

Volunteer: Emily Clark

Program: Community Economic Development

Site: Eten, Lambayeque

Emily lives on the beach, so it is even hotter there than in my site in Áncash. Here is a brief story from her about her first experience washing clothes in site.

“On the 3rd floor of my house the first time I washed clothes I got a ridiculous sunburn, like lobster style. I have a huge red balde/Tina that I filled up with water and not nearly enough detergent and threw everything in, with my music playing to make the task a bit better and bearable. Sloshed everything around and wrung out what I could after rinsing and threw it up on the clothes line. Two hours later I had finished with sore wrists from wringing stuff out. Definitely didn’t wash out all the soap nor have I since – some clothes will not last long I can tell. I caved when my room got a case of fleas and took everything to Chiclayo to the laundromat.”

So for Emily, she also manages with hand-washing, but has the opportunity to use a laundromat or her aunt’s washing machine from time to time. Coming from a sierra site, for me, water is quite abundant. However, living on the coast, there is often a shortage of water, and so many families have tanks such as the one in the picture above which serves as a water storage, generally for bathing. My host family during training also had one of these water containers which usually held the water to be used during showers, and every so often, a truck would come to refill it. Emily tells me that from time to time she and other Volunteers in Lambayeque take advantage of the abundant laundromats to get their clothes nice and clean.

To hear more about Emily’s Peace Corps experience, check out her blog:

Volunteer: Brooklyn Adelman

Program: Community Economic Development

Site: Contumazá, Cajamarca

Brooklyn is a Volunteer working in the Department of Cajamarca, which is another mountainous Sierra site like Áncash, but further north. Her clothes washing set-up is quite similar to my own; she’s got a cement sink to hand-wash her clothes & a wire clothesline to let them air dry.

Brooklyn’s set up is fairly typical of many homes in the sierra, but another common practice is taking the laundry down to the river or the water canal to clean it out. I have seen countless mothers in Áncash who bring a bucket of laundry to the water canal, where they slowly go through the motions of cleaning and washing, bit by bit.

To learn more about Brooklyn and her Peace Corps experience, check out her fantastic blog at:

So there you have it; 3 Volunteers and 3 slightly different realities for cleaning the dirty laundry here in Perú.

When reading my blog, and really when reading any Peace Corps Volunteer’s blog, it is important to remember that you are only seeing 1 person’s perspective, and that 1 perspective cannot capture the diversity of an entire country. As people, I feel like we have the tendency to make generalizations, maybe because they are easy to make or maybe because they seem to make the world simpler, easier to understand. But, we can’t let ourselves fall into that trap. Besides, how boring would the world be if an entire country could be summarized into a few loose generalizations. Serving in the Peace Corps has only reinforced my belief in the importance of learning about, embracing, discussing, and celebrating diversity in order to achieve a better future.

I hope you enjoyed a brief insight to the mundane tasks of Peace Corps Perú Volunteers, and that perhaps you gained a little insight into the diversity of experiences we have in our country of service.

Until next time (aka tomorrow),


P.S. I would like to wish a very Happy Birthday to the best mother in the world!

Martes de Música: Marisol

On today’s Martes de Música, we visit a powerhouse cumbia voice belonging to the one, the only, Marisol. It is quite simple to recognize a Marisol song, one because she screams her name, but also because she has a very distinctive, powerful voice, that you can’t help but take notice of.

Marisol is quite popular, and regularly travels across the country belting out cumbia, and the occasional Huayno classic. In fact, at the beginning of June she was hired by Caraz’s largest school, Micelino Sandoval Torres, to perform during their anniversary celebration.

On a side note, anniversaries are very important here in Perú. While in the States, we usually only seem to celebrate the “important” anniversary years such as the ones ending in 0s and 5s (25th, 30th, 50th, etc.), in Perú, anniversaries are celebrated EVERY year. And anniversary celebrations are not a 1 day affair, oh no. Anniversary celebrations, especially for schools, tend to consist of a week long schedule of activities including sports tournaments, food fairs, several parades, masses and religious ceremonies, nice lunches, and of course, a final, big, all-out party (if they can afford it). While anniversaries are extremely fun, they do tend to disrupt classes, which isn’t so fun. Fortunately I have had the opportunity to witness and participate in several anniversary events here in Perú, and I can imagine I will be witness to several more before my service comes to an end a year from now.

Given the fact that I am a big cumbia fan and also work on environmental issues in the school, I of course attended the concert, which happened to be the day before my birthday. She blew the roof off the place, and even wished me a happy birthday thanks to the sneaky intervention of my friends. Well, I guess she didn’t exactly wish me a happy birthday since she said, “Felíz Cumpleaños al gringo que tiene un corazón caracino” (Happy Birthday to the gringo with a Caraz heart). Either way, it goes without saying that Marisol and her orquesta gave me a good start to my birthday.

Today’s song is essentially a break-up song. In it, Marisol sings about how she misses her love, how even seeing a photo of them together makes her cry, how listening to their songs pushes her to drinking; she wants to move on, but her heart won’t let her forget. If you can’t tell, it is a tad melodramatic, but such is the story of many Cumbia songs here in Perú.

So without further ado, here is Marisol singing Gitana, for your listening pleasure.

Hope you enjoyed the music and be sure to look out for 2 more posts this week since I missed out on my Foto Friday from the last.

Until next time,


Martes de Música: Reggaetón

So the musical genre Reggaetón is not a Peruvian innovation. In fact, when I asked my host uncle if there were any famous Peruvian Reggaetón songs, he simply said, “jaja no”. So if this blog is supposed to be about Perú, why am I talking about Reggaetón, you might ask?

Well, while Reggaetón did not come from Perú, it certainly came into Perú, and is currently one of the most popular musical genres among Peru’s jóvenes (young people). This past Friday, my local school held an event for Teacher Day, and I somehow got put in charge of the music (probably because I had my laptop). While I tried to get everyone interested in the english pop songs on my playlist or the few cumbia songs I had downloaded, within a short span of time I had about 15 different students come ask me to put on some Reggaetón.

So, what exactly is Reggaetón? Well, it is a genre that emerged from the fusion of Jamaican reggae music with pop music, first manifesting in Panamá and then hitting the mainstream and gaining popularity from further innovations in Puerto Rico. I would guess that most people are probably aware of the connection between Reggaetón and Puerto Rico, at least peripherally. Anyways, most Reggaetón music can be recognized by its killer beats, pulsing electronic sounds, and Spanish lyrics, which are generally rapped as opposed to being sung. Additionally, there is a sort of repetition to most Reggaetón songs, whether in beat or lyrics, which makes them great for dancing and quick to learn for those who want to sing along. If you were to hop into a nightclub anywhere in Perú, and possibly anywhere in Latin America, you would probably encounter several Reggaetón songs throughout the night.

So, to introduce you all to the world of Reggaetón, we have Ginza by J. Balvin which is the quintessential Reggaetón song of 2016. Seriously, absolutely ALL the jóvenes are listening to this song.

Hope you enjoyed the music!

Until next time,


S’more Cultural Exchange: 4th of July in Perú

The Peace Corps has 3 goals:

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained Volunteers.
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Simply put, each Peace Corps Volunteer’s responsibility is to provide technical support and training to the people of the country where he or she works, as well as to promote cultural exchange in said country. Consequently, a large part of my work involves teaching Peruvians about the United States, sharing my experiences of growing up there, and correcting misinformations, such as “all U.S. citizens live in mansions”. Teaching about the U.S. is known among Peace Corps Volunteers is known as Goal 2, and this goal can manifest in many ways such as teaching English, teaching a geography class, starting a Frisbee team, or, in my case as of yesterday, celebrating the 4th of July.

For the uninformed, the 4th of July is Independence Day for all U.S. Citizens, marking the day in which we signed the Declaration of Independence and officially declared independence from Great Britain way back in 1776. Nowadays, the 4th of July is celebrated in various ways all across the country, but generally with some sort of cookout (meat, desserts, and alcohol obligatory) and accompanying fireworks. Now, Peruvians obviously don’t celebrate U.S. Independence Day (they have their own independence day on July 28th), so in order to share a bit of my U.S. traditions with my host-family, friends, and neighbors, I organized a good-old campfire in my backyard. And what campfire could be complete without the ultimate campfire dessert, S’mores?

Around 5:30pm, some of the neighborhood kids started appearing and we got to getting the fire started. None, and I mean none of the kids, not even my host sister, believed I knew how to start a fire, but thanks to my brief stint in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, I proved them wrong, to their disbelief.

Gathering wood for the fire.
I more or less made a log cabin fire lay, but let my host-sister light it up.
After a short while, the fire got going and so the S’more prep began.

So in case you don’t know, to make a S’more, you need 3 basic ingredients and 1 specialized tool. The 3 key ingredients are Marshmallows, Chocolate, and Graham Crackers; Marshmallows and Chocolate were easy to find here, but with the Graham Crackers I struck out, and so we substituted sweet vanilla crackers instead (they worked quite well). Now, when you have your ingredients all ready, the next step is to find the specialized tool, aka the ideal stick; you want the stick to be decently long, but slender at the end so that it can pierce the marshmallow easily.

Now, to get started, you grab a marshmallow, pop it on the end of your cooking stick, and then warm the marshmallow over the fire. Personally, I prefer to cook my marshmallow by rotating it over the coals until it obtains a nice Goldy-Brown color, but others, including some of my neighbors, prefer the fast approach in which you just shove the marshmallow into the flame until it catches on fire and turns into a black ball of gooey sugar.

Friends and neighbors roasting their marshmallows.

Now, once you have your marshmallow nice and golden, you place it on a cracker, put some chocolate on top, and then top it off with another cracker to complete the perfect S’more.

The first S’more of many of the night.

Now, while many people are purists and prefer the straight up S’more of marshmallow, cracker, and chocolate, I like to experiment a bit. Personally, I enjoy substituting the chocolate for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (try it, it is glorious!), and yesterday we experimented even further buy coating one of the crackers with Peanut Butter before adding the marshmallow (just as good!).


So, while I didn’t celebrate 4th of July this year in typical U.S. fashion, I had a fantastic time sharing a bit of my U.S. traditions with my friends and family here in Perú. The S’mores were incredibly well received by the neighborhood kids, with responses ranging from dancing and hopping around the yard, to tiny voices screaming “Mark, Mark, regálame otro” (Mark, Mark, give me another one), to my host-brother crying when I wouldn’t let him have more until everyone had eaten their first. All in all, the kids made their way through 2 bags of marshmallows, two packets of vanilla crackers, and 3 bars of chocolate.

Activities such as making S’mores with my host-family and neighbors are just one of the many, many reasons why I love my Peace Corps service here in Perú. I mean, who else gets to say that making S’mores with children in rural sierra Perú falls under their job description?

Other PCVs, what plans do you have to celebrate 4th of July with your host-communities?

Until next time,


Foto Friday: Llama van

So this past Wednesday was a holiday here in Perú, and I decided to aprovechar and go into Huaráz for the day to talk to my U.S. family, hang out with my host-uncle, and get a cheap smartphone and data plan to better stay in touch with friends and other Volunteers.

Now, to get to Huaráz, I have to take a combi which is basically a large, white van in which they squeeze in anywhere from 5-20 people on tiny benches. In my site, Caraz, there is a station where these combis leave about everyone 5 minutes for Huaráz, so naturally this is where my story begins. Now, I hop on the combi in Caraz, and about 20 minutes later I have arrived at the neighboring city of Yungay, where my friend Diana works. At Yungay, there is a mandatory stop that all the combis must pull into, waiting their turn until they are allowed to continue the journey to Huaráz.

Usually waiting in the stop (paradero) is quite boring, but this time was filled with a little excitement. As I was sitting in my van, listening to music, I see a man walking around with a llama. Now, I assumed that this man had brought his llama out to provide a photo opp for the social media obsessed tourist or two that might be passing through Yungay. But, I was quite wrong. In fact, llama man was in search of a llama van, in other words, he wanted a ride for him and his llama, presumably to Huaráz, but I can’t be sure.

Prepping the combi for the giant llama

So, in a short span of time, the combi in front of me popped open its back door, and a man quickly compressed all of the seats to against the windows to make room for the llama. Now, this was a big llama, and despite moving about 2 rows of seats, the llama barely made it inside. The man needed to push the llama in a bit further to close the door, and knowledgeably asked the owner “La llama se patea?” (does the llama kick?), to which the owner said “No, no no. No se patea.” (no, no no, he doesn’t kick). Now let me tell you, that llama did kick, and it took a good 3 tries before they could successfully close the back door of the combi and send the llama van on its way.

They finally fit the llama inside the van.

One thing I’ve learned in Peace Corps is that you are surprised constantly. I can only hope that in the future I get to witness this spectacle once more.

Until next time,