One of the goals of Peace Corps (Goal 2) is to improve the understanding of the U.S. on the part of the host country, in this case Perú. In laymans terms, help Peruvians understand U.S. culture. Therefore, what better way to share U.S. culture than by sharing one of our greatest creations, the glorious spread known as Peanut Butter. When I left for Perú, I of course packed clothes, shoes, books, etc, but more importantly I made sure to back a good old jar of Jif Peanut Butter. A few weeks ago, after talking about Peanut Butter with one of my Peruvian friends here in Caraz, I decided it was finally time to crack open my personal Ark of the Covenant, so to speak, and share the glory that is Peanut Butter with my colleagues in the municipality.
Perú has peanuts (maní), and Perú has butter, but for some reason, Perú doesn’t have much peanut butter. Desserts here either contain chocolate, a milk-based cream called manjar, fruit, or a nasty pez-like icing, but as of yet, I have been completely unable to find any sort of dessert containing Peanut Butter, let alone Peanut Butter and Chocolate in any sort of combination (alright, technically the chocolate bars called Princesa are peanut butter/chocolate, but they have nothing on Reese’s). Consequently, I knew that they were in for a treat.
My stash of Jif, which was spread onto apples and crackers galore, was a hit among the entire office, leaving smiles all around. If the only legacy I leave behind after I complete my service is that of making my colleagues love Peanut Butter, I will deem my service an overwhelming success (I’m only partially joking).
With time, I’m hoping to actually make some Peanut Butter with some Peruvians and of course share other American Classics like S’mores.
So it has been quite some time since my last blog post, so I figured a general recap of my work over the last 2 months was long overdue, but unfortunately I’ll only be recapping what I did in September, because otherwise this post would be incredibly long.
I have been playing a lot of soccer and volleyball as of late, and most specifically with the Vaso de Leche group from my neighborhood. Vaso de Leche is a Perú-wide organization in which mothers of children under the age of 6 can receive free milk and Quaker from the Peruvian Government. Vaso de Leche is incredibly important because it helps to ensure that growing children recieve proper nutrition. In order to foster camaraderie among the various Vaso de Leche groups in my provincia (think county), the Municipality of Caraz organized a huge 3-part soccer/volleyball tournament. Being the local gringo, I was of course selected to help train my neighborhoods Vaso de Leche group, and so for quite a few weeks I was playing volleyball/soccer quite regularly with a group of 10-20 moms.
Despite all of our training, we didn’t rank in either Volleyball nor Soccer, so we’ll just have to train harder for next year.
As a way to get to know people in my host community of Inca Huaín/Yuracoto, I started English classes in my house each Saturday afternoon. While the first one or two lessons resulted in about 10-11 students, over the weeks the number of devoted students has dwindled to just 4. With these four students, all girls, we have learned Greetings/goodbyes, colors, animales, numbers, and just this weekend, fruits. These girls, including my host-sister, are really excited to learn, and their enthusiasm has really helped to keep me motivated. In fact, one of my proudest moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer came from a moment in which my 4 students took on the role of teachers, sharing their newfound English knowledge with some other children who showed up at my house with their parents for some sort of political event.
Apart from the English lessons in my house, I have taught English a few times in the local school where we have covered Greetings/goodbyes and a personal favorite, parts of the body, which of course includes Head-Shoulders-Knees-Toes. The kids really enjoy learning songs which is perfect for me since I love to sing songs. During one of the English classes, I gave the students some free time to ask me questions which of course led to questions about my family, my pets, my travels, where I live, etc. The diagram of our conversation can be seen in the image below.
One Sunday, I went fishing in the Río Santa with my host-dad and two local kids. Although I never got the opportunity to cast the net, I did help collect the fish out of the nets and of course, document the entire experience. The experience was quite fun, and I enjoyed seeing some new scenery (and finding some toads).
With all of the fish we caught, we had a lovely fish fry for dinner, and breakfast, and lunch, and dinner again, and breakfast once more, and maybe another lunch.
Trash Management Education:
One of the biggest environmental problems in Perú at the moment is trash management, and consequently, a lot of my work with the Municipality of Caraz has focused on this theme. Coincidentally, trash management is also the third goal of my Peace Corps Program, Community Based Environmental Management. Therefore, I have given some charlas (presentations) to local schools/students about how to conserve/protect the environment and how to properly manage trash. In these presentations, I talked about Climate Change, Environmental Contamination, the 3Rs (Reducir, Reutilizar, Reciclar), and how to properly segregate (organics, inorganics, reciclables, dangerous, etc.) and store trash for proper disposition. These two presentations were my first big presentations for students here in Perú, and I’m really looking forward to continue working with schools during the next 2 years.
During two Saturdays in September, the Municipality organized two community clean-ups, focusing on a different barrio (neighborhood) within Caraz each weekend. The clean ups started bright and early at 6am each morning, and continued until about 11-11:30am, involving mostly just workers from the municipality (although more community members participated in the second event). We cleaned up everything from trash to food waste, and construction waste to the pounds and pounds of dust that abide in Caraz due to the unfinished roads in the upper sections of the city. I successfully managed to break the broom given to me for the clean-up, which happened to be the third broom I have broken in less than 2 months. Oh, and I was also interviewed during the first clean-up event and the footage was shown on the Municipality’s TV cannel.
September 21st was the International Day of Peace, and so to celebrate, my Municipality put together a big parade, which is the #1 way to celebrate any event in Perú. I got an awesome white shirt, got to hold a sign for my Gerencia of the Municipality, and was also on TV again (although only in passing this time). How fitting that a Peace Corps Volunteer got to march in a Peace parade?
As you can probably see, I have been very, very busy the last few months. I have learned a lot, started working on a lot of different projects, and this has only been the briefest of glimpses into my activities thus far. As some of my projects develop further, I will be detailing them up here on my blog.
So Friday was a big day for me and all my fellow Peace Corps Perú 25 trainees. Friday was swearing-in day, the day we took our official oaths of service and became fully-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers. It was certainly an emotional day for me and all of the other trainees.
We started off with a few short wrap-up activities in the training center before gathering all of our belongings, packing them into some combis, and shipping off to Lima to the Peace Corps Office. When we arrived in Lima, we had some time to say hi to some staff and grab a bite to eat before we hopped on a different bus to head to the U.S. Ambassador to Perú’s house. For lunch, my good friends Jamie, Wes, Morgan, and I grabbed food at Subway; after 3+ months, a meatball sub with pickles and onions never tasted so good.
On the bus ride over to the Ambassador’s house, the emotions were slowly, but steadily rising. When we finally arrived, we popped inside and assumed on seats on stage as the audience began to fill with Peace Corps staff, NGO workers, current Peace Corps volunteers, and of course members of our amazing host families. Before the ceremony began, I was able to hop on over to the bathroom, and I must say that it was the nicest bathroom I have ever seen in Perú.
Once the ceremony began, the anticipation among the volunteers was tangible as we drew closer and closer to the big moment. The ceremony kicked off with the singing of the Peruvian National Anthem and the Star Spangled Banner, and I’m ashamed to say we all messed up our National Anthem, mostly because we didn’t realize there was no introductory music, and it just started right away.
During the ceremony, we heard speeches from our incredible Training Manager, Enrique Liñan, a representative of the training host families, the US Ambassador, Bryan Nichols, and the Peace Corps Perú Country Director, Parmer Heacox. They shared words of wisdom, and advice, and after the speeches we were officially sworn in by the Ambassador and Parmer, who later gave us our official Peace Corps Volunteer certificates.
After all of this, the big moment came, the moment in which I, the President of Perú 25, had to give a speech to my friends and now fellow volunteers, and all those in attendance. My speech is below, but it’s in Spanish, so sorry to all of my English-only followers.
While my speech marked the end of the Swearing-In ceremony, it also marked the beginning of the tears. The following 45 minutes or so were wonderful and emotional. I hugged my host-mother several times, took lots of photos, received lots of compliments on my speech from staff/fellow volunteers, chatted with a volunteer who served in Perú way back in 1965, and enjoyed lots of snacks (water, chocolate chip cookies, taquitos, ceviches, causa, etc.). It was hard to say goodbye to my host-mom, and though I didn’t tear up as much as some of my fellow volunteers, it was still an emotional experience nonetheless.
The bus ride back to the Peace Corps office was heavy, but we did our best to enjoy the time together. We had some great games of “Would you rather…” and “Would you marry someone who is perfect in every way except…”, I shared my Swedish Fish, and I enjoyed some final face-to-face conversation with my boy Jamie. When we got to the Peace Corps office, there were more tears, lots of hugs, lots of photos, and lots of goodbyes. I’m going to miss my training group so much, and I wish I had had more time to say goodbye, but I’m looking forward to visiting them, especially my Amazonas amigos, over the next 2 years.
From the Peace Corps office, I headed to my hostel with few other Volunteers who also weren’t leaving that night, and then went out with two volunteers from Ancash who were in for the week. We went to an amazing burrito place in Miraflores (Lima) called Burrito Bar, Barranco Beer Company, and then Wong (a Target-like store), where my fellow Ancashino Kevin and I bought some stuff we would need at site. Within Wong, I found something amazing: Turkey Hill Ice cream. I have absolutely no idea how or why there is Turkey Hill Ice cream in Perú, but all I can say is I bought myself a quart of Cookies n’ Cream and it was absolutely the same as what I know from the States.
All in all, swearing in was an emotional day, and I’m definitely going to miss my friends (who I hope will call me frequently), but I’m also very excited to get to my site and begin to work in my community.
Since I haven’t quite figured out the wifi situation in my site yet, it might be a while before my next post. Also, I’ll eventually update this post with some photos once I get them from other volunteers and Peace Corps staff.