Star Wars Fever

So I’m a big nerd/geek, whatever you want to call it. I enjoy reading fantasy series, still play Pokémon, have seen the Lord of the Rings multiple times, see every Marvel movie as they come out, and avidly enjoy Doctor Who. Like most people who share these interests, I had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new Star Wars movie for over a year. But unlike most Star Wars fans, I am currently in Perú in the Peace Corps, which presents some challenges when wanting to go see the latest movies, especially if you want to see them in English.

The department of Áncash, where I am serving, is chock-full of snow-capped mountains (for now), but unfortunately a little short on movie theaters. Our regional capital, Huaráz, despite having a wide selection of international foods, does not have a movie theater. I still cannot fathom why a city so large does not have a movie theater and I hope that someone will construct one there during my 2 years of service. So, in talking with other Volunteers, I discovered that the nearest movie theater in Áncash was in the coastal city of Chimbote.

So, on the evening of December 18th, I traveled from Caraz with a friend from Huaráz and a friend from Caraz to Chimbote on the bus line the Yungay Express. We arrived in Chimbote at 2:30am, and immediately grabbed a taxi to my friend’s house, since we would be staying with his family who currently live there. Now, if I had to describe Chimbote in one word, the word I would choose is fish. Lying on the coast, Chimbote has a huge fishing industry, a fact hard to miss given the overwhelming fish odor that permeates the city for the greater portion of the day. On top of that, Chimbote is really HOT, which only makes the smell even worse.

After we grabbed some ZZZs, my friend gave us a tour around the city, taking us to the few “touristy” sites. After whiling away the morning on the streets of Chimbote, we returned to my friend’s house for a hearty meal before setting out to accomplish the principal mission of the trip: see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We grabbed a cab to the mall, identified the movie theater and then purchased our tickets, for Star Wars: El Despertar de la Fuerza. If you didn’t notice, the Star Wars title is in Spanish, because I saw the new Star Wars movie in Spanish.  When I saw the Star Wars Crawl appear in Spanish on the screen, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing in the theater.

 

despertar de la fuerza
Image from: tinyurl.com/j9jc2w6

I was sincerely hoping that I would hit a stroke of luck and find a showing in English, but deep down I think I always knew that if I managed to see Star Wars, it was going to be in Spanish. Despite not being able to hear the iconic voices of Han Solo and Leia Organa throughout the movie, I thought the film was fantastic. This Star Wars movie, for me at least, managed to capture the magic of the original trilogy, and throughout the entire movie I was just overwhelmed with wave after wave of nostalgia. It was incredible, despite it being in Spanish, and I wanted to watch it again and again. I’m hoping to catch it in English sometime in the near future, but for now my Star Wars fix has been adequately met, and I’m already making plans with other Volunteers to see the next installment (this time in English) in 2017.

If you somehow haven’t managed to see the movie yet, I recommend that you get yourself to a movie theater ASAP.

Best,

MGB

Advertisements

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

Ancash: they say it’s blue.

So unless you speak Quechua, you probably didn’t catch the significance of my title.  In Quechua, Anqa = blue, and adding “sh” to the ends of words adds the meaning “they say” or “se dice”, so Ancash (or Anqash) literally means “they say it’s blue” in Quechua.

So why kick this post off with a Quechua lesson?  Because Ancash in the departmento (state) of Perú in which I’ll be living for the next 2 years, and they speak Quechua in Ancash.  Specifically, as noted in my previous post, I’ll be living just outside the city of Caraz, in the Callejón de Huaylas.

So this past week was Site Visit week for all of the trainees of Peace Corps Perú 25, which means that we all got to spend a week at our future sites, to which we will be moving after we officially swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers in just 2 weeks.

For the Ancash volunteers, we got on a bus in Lima at 11pm on Saturday, July 4th, and arrived in the incredible city of Huaráz, which is the capital of Ancash, at about 6:30am on Sunday.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by 3 amazing Ancash Volunteers who took us to the Peace Corps approved hostel in the city.

After dropping off our stuff, we headed out to an amazing breakfast place called Café California, which is owned by an American from California, which means that they had US BREAKFAST FOOD!!!!!  I had my first pancakes in over 2 months and they were delicious.  In general, Ancash receives a lot of international tourists who come for the gorgeous hikes and mountaineering, which means there are a lot of expats, which means there are a lot of great international food places.

Café California
Café California

After breakfast, we headed out on a scavenger hunt throughout the city which involved finding some locations that would be useful to us as volunteers, whether to nourish our stomachs or actually provide support in some other capacity.  One of the stops was the Huaráz market, to which I returned later to prepare a canasta (basket) as a gift to my new host family, who I would be meeting on Tuesday morning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the city on our own, and chilling in our hostel which has free wifi and HOT SHOWERS!  It is the best.

The view from the roof of our Hostel.  Mt. Huascarán is the tallest mountain in Perú.
The view from the roof of our hostel. Mt. Huascarán is the tallest mountain in Perú.

Monday was an important day, because it was Socio day, or the first interaction we would have with our future host-country counterparts.  I had two socios come, Edwin, a CTA (science-technology-environment) teacher in the school down the road from my new home, and Miguel, the jefe de Ecología y Medio Ambiente de la Municipalidad de Caraz (boss of ecology and environment in the Caraz municipality).  They both were great, and we spent the majority of the morning going over Peace Corps policies, the role of a volunteer in the community, and other such things.

Tuesday was the more important day, in my opinion, because that was the day we met our new host families, the people who would be housing us, feeding us, and forming our new Peruvian family for the next 2 years of our lives.  My host-parents are named Edwin and Elli, and we hit it off right from the get-go.  They are both incredibly nice, and not only do they speak Spanish, but they also speak Quechua, so I will have lots of time to practice all the Quechua I have been learning when I’m permanently in site.  Edwin makes and sells bricks, used to drive transportation trucks, and is the president of our neighborhood of about 450 families (I quickly learned that he seems to know everyone, and he is even good friends with the mayor of the town).  Elli works around the house cooking, tending the chakra (farm/fields), and also sells fruits once a week in the large market in Caraz.  Based on my observations throughout the week, they seem to have a great relationship and divide the household labor fairly evenly, which isn’t always a common sight in Peru.

After we finished family orientation, we hopped on a colectivo (van) and began the ~1.5 hour journey from Huaráz to Caraz.  The journey was incredibly scenic, with giant snowcapped mountains to my right, and imposing mountains to my left.  When we arrived in Caraz, and eventually to my house, I knew I was in the right spot.  The climate is perfect (warm during the day, not too cold at night, and the water from the faucet is naturally warm).  When we got to my new house, I met the rest of the family which consists of a 9 year-old sister named Cielo, and a 4 year-old brother also named Edwin, who we just call Junior.  I was also happily surprised to discover that my host-dad had four children from a previous marriage who ranged from 21 to 28 years of age: more friends!

My host-brother, Edwin, in our backyard.
My host-brother, Edwin, in our backyard.

The rest of Tuesday was spent settling into my freshly painted room, meeting our 6+ dogs and various farm animals, and enjoying some wonderful food as I got to know my new family.  I hit it off with Cielo and Junior right away, and from the first meeting I knew that we were going to have a fun 2 years together.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Wednesday, the work began.  The purpose of the site visit wasn’t only to meet our new host-family, but also to start to get to know our community, which means doing lots of presentations.  My Wednesday morning kicked off with a visit to the Caraz Municipality, where I thought I was just going to be introduced one-by-one to some of the important directors.  Boy was I wrong!  When I arrived, I was guided into a room full of municipality workers, and given a seat at the table in the front of the room.  After a few minutes, a vey formal presentation began, during which I was asked to give a speech about Peace Corps, my role as a volunteer, and what I hoped to accomplish.  It was a tad overwhelming, and the whole thing was filmed/photographed, so there very well might be an article published about me sometime soon in Caraz.  However, I think it went over very well and the workers seemed to resonate with my words.

P1020178
View from my room; bricks, mountains, and all.

After that, the rest of the week ran rather smoothly.  I visited 3 local schools, of which 2 seemed very receptive to working with me on environmental education.  I also quickly realized that everyone, and I mean everyone, wants me to teach English. The schools, the municipality, my host-dad, etc.  I am happy to help out with English classes when I can, and to work with the English teachers to improve their pronunciation, but I made it very clear that I was not a teacher, and that my environmental goals take priority.

In addition to visiting schools, I visited the Health Post in my community of Yuracoto, where I met the doctor in charge and offered my support for any work they might do in the schools, such as with sex ed, promoting self-esteem, or environmental education.  I also met the director of the UGEL, which is an organization responsible for overseeing the schools in each community within Perú.

Some other highlights of the week were:

  • Sharing meals with my host family.
  • Eating Manjar Blanco, an incredibly delicious milk-based cream spread.
  • Watching Ben-10 with my host-brother and Combate with my whole family.
  • Feeding our chickens and ducks.
  • Eating ice cream and a snow-cone equivalent in town.
  • Visiting the municipality’s vivero (tree nursery) at which I hope to plant lots of trees (hopefully with students).
  • Visiting the municipality’s “zoo” which has ostriches, a monkey, and some farm animals.
  • Seeing my office space in the Office of Services to the City which happens to be in the town’s soccer stadium.
  • Seeing the stars and the Milky Way every night.
  • Learning some new Quechua words from my host-parents.
  • Visiting some ruins within Caraz and seeing some ways to spruce them up a bit.
  • Picking up my host-sister from school and meeting her friends, who kept asking me how to say certain things in English.
  • Finding a great potential new socia who is an English teacher in my host-sister’s school, and who already has a TON of ideas about how to make the school much more environmentally conscious.  Plus, she has a son who runs a tourism-by-bike business in Caraz, which I want to check out.
  • Finding toad eggs & tadpoles in my backyard, and teaching my 4 year-old host-brother about the life cycle of a toad.  I’m hoping we can raise some in the house when I get back, and possibly use them for a school project.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Overall, Caraz is absolutely beautiful and I’m really looking forward to my tranquil lifestyle on the outskirts of town.  I really have a wonderful set-up in my site, because there are SO many opportunities for work, both in the city and in the surrounding rural areas.  The municipality needs a lot of support in promoting their environmental programs, the schools need a lot of support, and there is a lot to be done to promote environmental advocacy and eco-tourism.  I’m really excited to get back to my site in two weeks, so I can finally get started with my work.  There is still a lot to learn about my site, and still a lot of preparations to complete before getting started, but I know now that I’m ready for this, and that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

-Mark

P.S. I expect lots of people to come visit me, because Ancash is gorgeous.

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.

P1020032
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.

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