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

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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 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