Quechua Training

Perú has two official languages; Spanish, which was brought over when the Spaniards arrived to South America as conquistadores, and Quechua, which was the language used by the Incan Empire. While there are many different languages spoken in Perú today, Spanish is the most popular language, with Quechua following behind, being spoken mostly in the sierra regions of Perú. Since I am living in the department of Áncash, which contains a large portion of the Andean Mountain chain, Quechua is spoken quite regularly. Consequently, as part of my language training to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, during my first 3 months of in-country training, I received extensive Quechua training with the other Volunteers coming to Áncash. By the end of training, I had received a cursory overview of most of the grammar of Quechua, and was ready to put my new language to practice. However, in my site, Quechua isn’t spoken as regularly as in others, so my knowledge slowly began to wane throughout the months in my site. Occasionally I would practice with my host family, but I was never in a situation in which my knowledge of Quechua was absolutely vital for an interaction with another community member. Everyone speaks some Spanish, and I found myself relying more and more on my Spanish, neglecting my Quechua training.

However, in mid-December I got another booster to my Quechua lessons in the form of another 3-day Quechua taller (training) in Huaráz with my teacher from training. Although I was quite out-of-practice, I still recalled quite a bit of information and communicated quite well with my teacher and the other Volunteers who were in attendance. We reviewed grammar, learned new words, and went out to the market in Huaráz to practice. Practicing was hard; we are very basic Quechua speakers, and it felt imposing to walk up to people selling food and attempt to speak to them in their native language. Eventually, I got over the nervousness and had a very nice, but simple, conversation with a señora who had sold us some food. Throughout the conversation, I found myself improvising and creating new structures and thoughts based on the things we had reviewed, and I was proud of my simple conversation. My teacher even said he was glad with my progress, even though I know I still have a long way to go in my language studies. Even though my knowledge of Quechua probably won’t make-or-break my Peace Corps experience, I still plan on studying, practicing, and learning more so that I can become as fluent as possible in this wonderful language.

And it is a wonderful language. Although all Peruvians tell me how similar Quechua is to English, it really is a thing of its own, with the only similarity to English being the fact that adjectives go before objects instead of after, as it mostly is in Spanish.

While English and Spanish are S-V-O languages (subject-verb-object), Quechua is a S-O-V language, meaning the verb comes at the end of the sentence. For example, the sentence “I am eating bread” is in the S-V-O format, but in Quechua it would be reordered to “I bread am eating” or “Nuqa tantata mikuykaa”. Apart from this different grammatical order, to add description to a word or action in Quechua, you do so, mainly, through the addition of suffixes. For example,

Mishi = cat

Mishi + “kuna” = Mishikuna = Cats

Mishi + “yki” + “kuna” = Mishiykikuna = your cats

Mishi + “yki” + “kuna” + “wan” = Mishiykikunawan = with your cats

So, as you can see, you can make pretty long words in Quechua by adding various descriptive suffixes to the ends of words, be they nouns or verbs. Consequently, this is what makes Quechua a challenge, because a simple word like cat can be modified in many different ways to express different, yet similar meanings. And then of course, you have to wait until the end of the sentence to learn the verb, and sometimes find the context of all of the words that came before. That being said, with practice, your brain adjusts and learns to listen carefully and adapt to the different grammatical structure. While I still have a long ways to go in my Quechua-learning journey, I am excited to keep going so that, perhaps by the end of service, I’ll be the gringo who can give a presentation in Quechua, and not just ask about where you are from.

One final Quechua fact.  Quechua not only was used by the Incans, but also by an individual a long time ago in a galaxy far far away:

Yes, Greedo from Star Wars is speaking Quechua in this scene with Han Solo.

Best,

MGB

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Officially a Volunteer

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.

Swearing-In Day Speech

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.

MGB

4th of July, Peruvian Style

So a little over a week ago was a very special day in the United States, a day that is usually filled with friends, family, grilling, hazardous fireworks, and an overabundance of Red, White, and Blue clothing.  One of the sacrifices of serving in the Peace Corps, is that you miss out on all the hometown fun of celebrating Independence Day, or as we all just call it, the 4th of July.  However, as part of our Peace Corps training in cultural integration and exchange, each neighborhood of volunteers had to organize a 4th of July celebration to share with their host families.

Each group of volunteers was tasked with creating a typical American dish or two, preparing some traditional 4th of July decorations, and some games.  However, the responsibility wasn’t all on us, as our host mothers were also tasked with preparing some traditional Peruvian foods and organizing some Peruvian games (which turned out to be very similar to games we have in the US).

Thanks to fellow Volunteer Diana García for providing all of the following photos.

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Diana’s house all decked-out for our 4th of July Celebration

The volunteers in my neighborhood of Moron decided we wanted to go ALL OUT for 4th of July, so of course we decided to GRILL!  We prepared several American dishes to share with our host families.  Our menu included:

  • Hotdogs with ketchup, mustard, caramelized onions, and buns
  • Cheese quesadillas with homemade Guacamole (palta, tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro)
  • Kebobs of bell peppers, sausage, onions, tomatoes, and pineapple
  • Dirt (pudding dessert) or as we called it, Compost!

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Not to be outdone, our host mothers prepared a hoard of food that could probably have fed a small army.  They prepared:

  • Three causas (think uncooked potato salad lasagna)
  • Chicha morada (a delicious drink made from purple corn and fruit)
  • A jello/flan combination dessert (flan on the bottom, jello on top)
  • Arroz con leche (rice pudding) and mazamorra (jam)

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Then, after we had finally finished off most of the food and were rather stuffed, another neighbor showed up with a very delicious cake.

In between stuffing our faces with all of the amazing food, we had a mini olympics of games, which I had the honor to kick off by singing the National Anthem.  I had to sing the National Anthem solo not because the other 5 volunteers didn’t want to sing, but because the other 5 volunteers in my neighborhood didn’t know all the words….for shame!

So, what do you think of when you think of Peruvian party games?  If you thought tug-of-war, three-legged races, sack races, and a lime-on-a-spoon relay race, then you were right!  It turns out that Peruvian party games were so similar to ones we have in the US, that there really weren’t any new games us Americans could contribute haha.

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Tug-of-War

After several bouts of relay races and some 3 v. 3 soccer games, we ended the evening with some cultural exchange of dances.  Our families taught us some Huayno as we listened to traditional Peruvian music, and then we showed them how to do the Cotton Eye Joe and the Wobble, among other dances.

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Teaching the Wobble

The second goal of Peace Corps is to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and I think our 4th of July celebration accomplished just that.  All in all, it was a very long (8am-6pm) and incredibly fun day, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we had an amazing time sharing part of our US culture with our host families.  I’m looking forward to celebrating 4th of July (and other US Holidays) with my host-family in Ancash and continuing to share my US culture, as I learn more about my new Peruvian home.

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Post-party posing

-Mark

P.S. The best part of the day however was watching Perú take down Paraguay in the Copa América at the end of the day to nab the #3 spot of the tournament.  They played great all throughout the tournament, and actually won the awards for best team of the tournament as well as best goalkeeper.  Here’s to hoping for a great run for them in the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil!

Where in the world is Mark Goldy-Brown…Site Assignment Day!

This past Wednesday was a huge day in Peace Corps world, well at least in the world of Peace Corps Perú 25 trainees.  This past Wednesday was the day we received our site assignments, or in other words, the location in which we would be living and working for the next 2 years of our lives.  This day has been long awaited by everyone in my training group, and I must say that it was definitely the happiest and most energetic day of training thus far.

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Site Assignment, 8:30am

We kicked off the morning with a little stalling for time from the training staff, since all of the regional coordinators (they will be our first line of staff support at site) were running a little late.  However, the stalling was appreciated because we watched this hilarious video about Peruvians bringing their culture to Perú, Nebraska, and the hilarity that ensues.

Now, on to the good stuff.  So around 8:40, all of the regional coordinators arrived and we finally were able to get started, of course going alphabetically by departamento name.  First up was Amazonas, followed by Ancash (where I knew I was going), then Cajamarca, Junín/Lima, La Libertad, Lambayeque, and Piura.

If you can’t tell from the photo of my Anca$h crew, I was super happy.  After the excitement of finding out who was going to Ancash with me, I managed to calm down and glance through the dossier of my future site, which is…..

Caraz, Ancash.

Caraz Plaza de Armas
Caraz Plaza de Armas

Caraz is the capital city of the province of Huaylas (think county), and is located in what is known as the Callejon de Huaylas, or the Huaylas Valley, which is a valley formed between the two mountain ranges that divide Ancash: the Cordillera Negra to the west, and the Cordillera Blanca, to the east.  Ancash is an incredibly beautiful departamento and well renowned for it’s snow capped peaks, glacial lakes, and absolutely incredible hiking and trekking.  Also, Ancash is coincidentally the first province to ever host Peace Corps Volunteers in Perú, way back in 1962.  But, I’ll talk more about Ancash in a future blog post.

My site, Caraz, is known as Caraz Dulzura by most Ancashinos (people of Ancash) because it is well renowned for its sweets and ice-cream (music to my ears!).  The city has about 28,000 people, with about half living within the city itself and the other half in the surrounding rural areas.  The weather is fairly mild compared to other Ancash sierra sites because it lies in a valley, and is only at ~2200 meters of altitude, but there is still a strong rainy season that lasts from about November to April.

Laguna de Parón
La Laguna Parón: the largest lake in Ancash, which is located about an hour outside of Caraz.

In terms of my job, I will primarily be working with the Municipality in Caraz to help implement a solid waste management program that they just recently started.  They have a location designated for a landfill, but still need to improve the facility as well as launch a city-wide trash separation campaign to educate people about how to separate their trash (recyclables, organics, waste, etc.).  The municipality even has it’s own radio and tv channel, so I hope to eventually hit the air (in Quechua and Spanish) to teach people how to segregate trash.  In addition to working with the municipality, it seems likely I will be working with some of the local schools in areas of environmental education, tree planting, and maybe even teaching some English.  With my site, it seems like the possibilities are endless right now, but I’m sure I’ll have a much better idea of what I want to do, and what I can do, once I move out there in a few weeks and get started.

Now, while my work will center around Caraz, I will actually be living in a smaller community about 15 minutes away by bike with a host family.  While I haven’t met my family yet (I will in about 2 weeks), I do know that I have a mom, dad, little sister (9), and little brother (4).  I was really excited to find out that I would have little siblings because I brought Play Doh and bubbles with me from the states, but haven’t had anyone to give them to yet.  I’m hoping that my host family will speak both Quechua and Spanish so that I can continue to practice both in site, but I guess I’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out!

If you have any questions about my site, leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them based on the information I have!

Look out for blog posts in the future about my site/Ancash once I actually arrive, and until then.

Peace,

Mark

P.S. I hope you guys caught the Peace/Peace Corps pun.

The Hills Are Alive…

with the sound of happy MAC aspirantes (trainees).

So this past week, all of the trainees went off to various parts of Perú for Field Based Training.  All of the MAC volunteers, myself included, left the overcast and dusty skies of Chaclacayo to head to the fresh, clear skies of the city of Jauja, in the province of Junín.

We left early Monday morning on the swankiest bus I have ever been on, to start our ~7 hour journey to Jauja.

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My seat on our Cruz del Sur bus, complete with my own personal touchscreen.

There is only one road from Lima to Jauja, and it is a steep, windy one that curves its way up one side of a mountain range and then down the other.  At its summit, the road is the highest in all of Perú, meaning altitude sickness is a definitive concern, but also that you get a close-up of some gorgeous snow-capped peaks.

Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.
Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.

Fortunately, the altitude didn’t give me any problems during the journey (or for the rest of the week, for that matter), and we arrived safely and without incident around 3pm.  Upon arrival we checked into our hostel, and then I went out to grab a snack with some volunteers; we got a giant avocado and 7 pieces of bread to share for the equivalent of $0.66.

The next day was when the fun began, because we kicked off the day by going to a nearby school to teach a 30 minute class about some environmental theme.  I had a fantastic group of third graders to whom I taught the life cycle of a frog.  They were surprisingly attentive, and got me very excited to work in the schools when I eventually get to my site.

Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.
Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.

After class, I played soccer with a bunch of the kids during their recreo (recess) and showed them how my waterproof camera worked (they were pretty amazed).  After classes, we headed over to a PCV’s house for a delicious lunch, after which we met up with his local Club Ambiental (environmental club) to go plant some TREES!  I paired up with an awesome kid named Luis (who happened to be the PCV’s host-cousin), and we planted 3 trees up on the hill.  We were a killer tree planting team, and we named each of our trees after different Avengers (Hulk, Captain America, y Iron Man).

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Luis and I with our second tree, Captain America.

After tree planting, we headed back to Jauja where we went out on the street for dinner.  A few of us found a great pizza place where I shared a delicious Napolitana Pizza with another trainee.

We started off the next day exploring the local Feria, which is basically a giant market that happens every Wednesday and Sunday.  I talked with a few vendors and some kids to learn a bit more about Jauja, bought some fruit, and also bought a trompo, which is basically a wooden top that all the kids play with.

Mi trompo
Mi trompo

Later in the morning, we headed to the pueblo of Sincos to listen to a presentation about compost and then help another PCV with a compost/vivero (tree nursery) project in a local school.  Our group worked to make a box for the compost as well as to prepare two camas (beds) for the future trees.  It was hard work, tearing out grass and picking the soil, but it was super fun to be doing some manual labor.  After we finished, we lunched at the volunteers house before heading out to the town of Tunanmarca to visit a small museum and some pre-Incan ruins.

Getting to the ruins involved a short bus ride up a small hill, and then a short hike up to the entrance.  In order to enter the ruins, our guide had to perform a really cool ceremony where he asked permission from Mama Patsa y Tayta Inti (Mother Earth and Father Sun, in Quechua) to enter the ruins.  After the ceremony, we all had to deposit a stone that we brought up the mountain with us in a small pile.

The ruins themselves were gorgeous, and the view from the hilltop was incredible.  It was amazing to walk around and touch the stone houses that had been built stone by stone several thousand years earlier.

The ruins were truly incredible, and you could feel nothing but peace walking through them, with beautiful scenery all around.  My time up there, among the history, will be something to cherish.

The next morning we all headed out to a nearby town called Concepción, to visit their “Relleno Sanitario”, aka a landfill.  One of Perú’s biggest challenges is solid waste management, and so it was nice to visit one of the few sanitary landfills in all of Perú, that will hopefully eventually serve as a model for other towns and cities across the nation.  The landfill serves about 25,000 people in the area, and is remarkable in that they separate organic and inorganic materials.  Organic materials are used to make compost on the premises which is either sold to local farmers or used to fertilize the áreas verdes (green areas) of the town, while inorganic materials are either recycled or buried.

After we finished touring the landfill, we returned to Jauja where we had lunch together with some other MAC volunteers from Jauja.  One of the volunteers was actually from Lancaster, so it was cool chatting him a bit about Pennsylvania stuff.  I actually sat next to his socio (in-country partner) Oscar, who was a guardaparque (park guard) with SERNANP (think USFW) in the Reserva Nacional de Junín.  I talked with him in-depth about my research experience with invasive species in college, and then talked with him at length about SERNANP’s efforts with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, which is in-danger of extinction.  I had heard about the frog when I first found out I was going to Perú, so it was amazing to be able to talk with someone who worked directly with them.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to make my way over to the reserve at some point during service to help out with the project a bit.

After lunch, and a brief presentation by Oscar about all of their projects in the Junín National Reserve, we headed to a nearby Lake to do some bird watching (there were flamingos, irises, and many other avifauna).  While everyone else was walking around looking at birds, I hung out on the shore to talk with the PCV from PA about his work with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, since I still had a ton of questions.  While this was going on, a few trainees and facilitators decided to cross a small land-bridge across a portion of the lake.  Not everyone made it across safely, as the lake claimed 3 victims (you can see the aftermath of one fall in the picture below).

The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.
The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.

When everyone had safely reunited, we took our first group photo with all of the MAC staff (we look pretty good).  And before heading out, being the good little environmental guardian that I am, I picked up a few plastic bottles that were lying around on the ground.

For my last night in Jauja, I ate lots and lots and lots of food and sweets, since it would be a while since I would find them so cheap.  On our last morning in Jauja, we went to the municipality for a presentation on solid waste management by the Director of the Environment for Jauja.  It was really interesting, since they were implementing their first ever recycling program that very Monday, and so the information he shared could be really helpful for starting up recycling efforts in site.

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Pre-final presentation selfie in Jauja.

All in all, FBT in Jauja was absolutely incredible, and it was very nice to get away for a few days and see a different part of Perú.  After this short trip, I’m extremely excited to get to my site in a few months time and get started (we find out our sites this coming Wednesday morning!).  The return journey was fun, and filled with lots of word games since our touchscreens were not functioning.  I was sad to leave Jauja only to return to little old Chaclacayo, but we were gifted with a surpise snow squall on the drive home that made everything cooler (literally and figuratively).

Until later this week (when I’ll be updating with a post about my PCV site)!

MGB

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