Foto Friday: Pastoruri Glacier & Climate Change

If you didn’t know, Perú is ranked #3 in terms of countries most at-risk for the effects of climate change. Even only having lived here for a little over a year, the evidence of Climate Change is quite apparent; the once consistent dry and rainy seasons are now changing significantly from year to year. On top of this, an abundance of anecdotal evidence from rural communities as well as verified scientific data, shows that in many parts of Áncash and all of Perú, temperatures are more extreme than before, and weather patterns are different. In Perú, the most notable evidence of climate change would have to be the melting of glaciers along Perú’s Cordillera Blanca, which is a part of the Andes Chain.

During Holy Week in March, I had the chance to visit some touristy locations in Áncash with a few other Volunteers. The first place we visited was the Pastoruri Glacier, perhaps the most prominent example of the effects of Climate Change here in Áncash. Believe it or not, the Pastoruri Glacier used to be a skiing destination here in Perú, but as you can see in the photo below, there isn’t much left to ski on. To give you an idea of how big the glacier used to be, most of the black areas in the photo below used to be covered in ice and snow.

P1040468
Pastoruri Glacier in Huascarán National Park, Áncash, Perú

The Pastoruri Glacier is such a prime example of the effects of climate change, that they even established a Climate Change Route at the visitor’s center and along the walk to the Glacier in order to educate visitors about the effects of Climate Change in Perú.

As an environmental Volunteer, it is disheartening looking up at the various snow-capped mountains in Áncash, knowing that in 20, 30, 50 years, they might have all disappeared or at least become shadows of their former selves, as has Pastoruri. Climate Change is a global concern, but I think we, as humans, often think it is such a large, overwhelming problem, that there is nothing we can do on an individual level to contribute to the solution.

However, there is one simple way in which communities all across the world can “fight” Climate Change; plant a tree. Most scientists agree that Climate Change is occurring due to the increase of CO2 (once trapped underground as fossil fuels) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So how does planting a tree help? Well, trees absorb CO2 in order to grow, and therefore serve as Carbon Sinks, taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and instead “trapping” it in their woody bodies. Plus, when we plant trees, we get all of the other benefits such as increased Oxygen production, soil conservation, shade, water conservation, water purification, etc.

So maybe it is too late for Pastoruri, and maybe it is too late for the rest of the glaciers here in Perú, but I hope that we as a global society can do something to curb the speed of Climate Change, whether that be by planting trees or switching over to renewable energies.

Until next time,

MGB

P.S. Get out there and plant some trees; fighting climate change one tree at a time.

 

Foto Friday: Stars

One of the nice things about living out in the campo here in Perú, would have to be the absence of light pollution. Sure there are some lights here and there, but the light pollution is no where near as strong as from my home in the U.S., which by many standards would be considered quite rural as well. And so in the absence of most man-made lights, the natural lights of our universe are able to shine even more brightly.

Stars.

Living here in Perú, I have looked up and seen more stars than I ever have in my life. I’ve even seen an abundance of shooting stars, which makes me realize that they aren’t so rare, and in fact the rarity is the presence of a clear, dark, unpolluted night sky in the U.S. However, the most exciting thing I have seen looking up into the vastness of our universe, has been the Milky Way Galaxy. Prior to joining the Peace Corps and moving to Perú, the only time I had ever seen the Milky Way was in photos from books or videos from the internet. Now, I can look up nearly every night and enjoy its beauty.

I have tried my best to capture a proper photo of the Milky Way and the vast arrays of stars I see at night, but unfortunately my digital camera is not up to snuff for capturing the subtle light of the beautiful celestial bodies above us. However, with some fiddling, I was able to capture a familiar site to many, the Big Dipper Constellation (Ursa major to some). While I can’t see the Big Dipper all throughout the year, when I do manage to see it, I am comforted in knowing I could see those same stars back from my porch in the U.S.

IMG_1618
Can you see the Big Dipper? If not, trying putting your device at maximum brightness and look at the bottom center of the photo.

For whatever reason, looking up at the night sky has always brought me peace and calm, and this is even more the case here in Perú. Much like the music of James Morrison, whenever I am feeling the stresses of work life here in Perú, gazing upwards at night and just watching the stars all around, gives me great tranquility and satisfaction.

For those of you who can, I hope you take a few minutes each night to ponder the beauty of the stars above us. Living here in Perú, I often think that it would do us well back in the U.S. and elsewhere to turn off the lights from time to time, and just appreciate the light of our universe.

Until next time,

MGB

Sawdust Rugs: A surprise cultural event

This past Sunday as I was with my family in the Caraz market selling fruit, I decided to head down to the Plaza de Armas to try and get some money out of the bank. As I was walking down to the Plaza, I noticed that the streets to the plaza had been blocked off and that large masses of people had gathered. Curious, I walked closer and discovered that the main streets around the central plaza were covered with alfombras, or rugs. However, these were not typical rugs made out of fabric, but rather temporary “rugs” made out of dyed and dampened sawdust.

IMG_1546
A few of the rugs made by the student groups.

As I began to make my way around the various works of art, someone called out my name, and looking around I found a group of students from my local school in Yuracoto. Now, another school in town is in the midst of their 111th Anniversary celebrations, so I naturally assumed that the alfombra contest was just one of the many activities the school had organized. However, one of my students filled me in, telling me that the “competition” was in honor of a religious holiday during which they celebrate many Catholic Saints, and therefore independent of the school anniversary. Students from all over Caraz and the campiña organized into groups to design and create their alfombras.  I spent a while talking with my seniors from Yuracoto about their alfombra and the whole process they went through to make it. They explained to me how everyone chipped in for the materials (4 bags of sawdust at S/. 4 each, lots of dye, and transportation), and then how they all met up in Yuracoto on Saturday to dye the sawdust into the proper colors; many of them still had green and red hands come Sunday morning. On Sunday, they all met up in the Plaza at 6am to begin construction of their alfombra, which first involved drawing out the design with chalk, and then painstakingly placing the damp sawdust overtop. My student said it took about 3.5 hours to finish the whole thing; I was impressed with the commitment given there wasn’t even a prize or anything.

IMG_1544
Pre-procession rug (made by the seniors of Yuracoto)

So what is the point of making the alfombras? Well, the alfombras seemed to have served as a way to show of artistic talents, to contribute to the religious holiday, and to maybe show up your rival schools to some degree. However, like many things in life and nature, the alfombras were ephemeral, and after having been displayed for a mere 2 hours, the beautiful alfombras were quickly disfigured by a large procession of Saints who emerged from the church to continue with the religious celebration. At least the rugs wasted away doing what they were meant to do: getting walked on.

IMG_1560
Mid-procession rug.
IMG_1570
Post-procession rug.

And then, as soon as the procession had passed, what remained of the alfombras were swept up into colorful piles of sawdust, a poor vestige of what they had been only minutes before.

I am hoping that the students in Yuracoto will give me a heads up for next year’s celebration, so that I can get in on the Alfombra-making. I would love to get some experience making an alfombra here in Perú (maybe the Peace Corps logo???), because I think it would be a fun concept to bring back to the US.  It could also be a great Goal 3 project for those working in the World Wise Schools Program.

Well, what started off as a normal Sunday in the market turned into an awesome cultural surprise, and reminded me once more why I love my Peace Corps experience.

Until next time,

MGB

 

Martes de Música: Huayno

If you are going to review Peruvian music, no analysis would be complete without mentioning Huayno, the traditional Folkloric music of the Andes. Huayno is a beast of it’s own, and incredibly popular, especially with the older, more traditional people of the Andes, with most of the younger generations enjoy Cumbia or Reggaetón instead.

Huayno is probably unlike anything you will have heard before, generally involving a variety of instruments accompanied by a form of very high-pitched singing. Most of the songs, as far as I can tell, revolve around love, and often involve male and female singers singing back-and-forth, with an occasional breathy conversation between them about how they betrayed each other and need to move on; it depends on the song. Additionally, most have a hype-man who will introduce the singer and occasionally shout phrases like “eso, eso”. For a clear description of Huayno, check out this wikipedia article.

While I prefer cumbia like most of the younger generation, Huayno has grown on me during my time here in Perú. To ease you all into your first Huayno exposure, I have selected a song from Dina Paucar, one of the most famous folkloric singers in Perú, often called the “Goddess or Queen of Huayno”. The style of the video below, is also quite typical of most Huayno videos here in Perú, involving lots of dancing in traditional clothing in front of beautiful locations. Without further ado, I give you Dina Paucar.

Please note that the foot stomping dance performed in the video is called Huayno, and is the go to dancer for most of the fiestas I have attended here in Áncash.

Hope you enjoyed the Huayno,

MGB

Lake Hopping

Last weekend, I organized a trip among some other Ancash Volunteers to Laguna Parón, a huge glacial lake about 1.5 hours from my site.  This lake is quite important to my site because it provides all of our drinking water.  However, this lake is also famous internationally because it is home to the mountain of the Paramount Pictures Logo.

paramount-pictures-artesonraju

The mountain from the logo is called Artesonraju, and unfortunately, due to cloudy weather and some trail closures, we were unable to get a glimpse of the famous peak.  However, at least now I can respond “Sí” (yes) whenever I am  asked “¿Conoces Laguna Parón?” (Have you been to Laguna Parón) in site.

Below, you can find a photo series documenting the beautiful trek.

P1030769
Combi ride up the mountains pre-hike
P1030779
View of Laguna Parón before we began to walk around.
P1030792
Had to take this one just for Mom.
P1030797
Taking a brief break in the hike.
P1030811
Looking back towards the entrance of Laguna Parón.
P1030827
A little stick bug we found.
P1030830
Cheesin’ in front of the nevado.  Unfortunately, no one wanted to go further along the lake.
P1030835
This tree is a Queñual, a typical tree of Parque Huascarán. I love them.
P1030845
A marker honoring two former Peace Corps Volunteers involved in the founding of Parque Huascarán.
P1030798
A final panoramic of the lake.

Perú is gorgeous (at least Áncash) and I’m so lucky to be living here for 2 years.

Feel free to come visit!

Until later,

MGB

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

First Week as a Volunteer

Well, with the conclusion of the work day Monday, I have officially completed my first week in site as a Peace Corps Volunteer! So what did I accomplish? Well, lots of random things, to be honest. This past week (July 26th-August 1) was Fiestas Patrias, a celebration of Perú’s independence, which meant that the schools were out for winter vacation, events were going on everywhere, and the municipality and many other offices were closed. So, I hung out with my amazing host-family and did a bunch of cool stuff, and did eventually find my way to the municipality office. Some memories of the week:

Monday:

  • Helped around the house
  • Played basketball in Caraz with my host half-brother
The clouds were beautiful my first day back in site.
The clouds were beautiful my first day back in site.

Tuesday:

  • Visited one of my family’s beautiful chacras (fields), which was just a  short walk down the street.
  • Re-used some plastic bottles to do some crafts with my host-sister

Wednesday:

  • Met my half-host-sister Leslie and played lots of “voley” in the backyard
  • Visited the “cementerio” which is a cemetery on some ruins called Inca Wayin (House of the Incas in Quechua). Only a 5 minute walk in my backyard, and gorgeous! Plus, pottery shards!
  • Dinner in Caraz at my family’s favorite Chifa (Chinese food) place

Thursday:

  • Celebrated my host half-brother’s 21st Birthday with his family in Caraz. I finally tried some Pachamanca, and then enjoyed some cake which was coated in what can only be described as Pez icing. It tasted just like Pez.
  • Brief visit to the municipality to set up a meeting for the following week.
P1020298
My office is in a soccer stadium, and we have a pretty incredible view just outside. I am working in the Gerencia de Servicios a la Ciudad y Gestion Ambiental (Office of Services to the City and Environmental Management).

Friday:

  • Visited the Inca Wayin ruins on the OTHER side of the street.
P1020285
A wall is most of what remains of the Inca Wayin ruins.
  • Watered our chacra by diverting water flow using giant rocks.
  • Practiced tying some knots. There will eventually be a blog post about all of the knots I’ve learned.

Saturday:

  • Moved lots of bricks and vomited a lot (I’m better now)

Sunday:

  • Market day! On Sundays, my host mom sells fruits in the huge market in Caraz. I took the opportunity to put my settling-in allowance to good use and bought some things to furnish my room; a mirror, a trashcan, a laundry bag, a hanger, a radio, some nice rope, a spring mattress, and a BUNK BED! First one ever, so now there is no excuse for people not to visit!
  • Somehow we managed to fit two bunk-bed bundles and 3 mattresses on one moto-taxi. I wish I had taken a picture, because it was a sight to see.
My beautiful bunk-bed (camarote)
My beautiful bunk-bed (camarote)

Monday:

  • I spent the entire day reading the 140 page PIGARS (waste management report for the city of Caraz) that my municipality put together.  This document is vital to all of our waste/trash management work for the next 2 years.

Other random notes:

  • Everyone wants to learn English.
  • I had a very successful pillow fight with my host-siblings
  • Feeding pigs slop is fun but strange
  • One of our dogs is pregnant, and I might get to keep a puppy
  • The icecream and raspadillas (think snow cones but with ice from a mountain) are delicious here.
  • I can see thousand of stars and the Milky Way every night (before the moon comes out), for the first time in my life, and it is incredible.
  • I constantly feel like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown because it is pretty dusty here during the winter.

In contrast to week 1, week 2 was incredibly busy, with me going to the municipality to work every day.  Overall though, life is going well here in Caraz.

Mark