A Smashing Cultural Exchange

As I’ve said many, many times here on this blog, as well as to many Peruvians, the Peace Corps has 3 main goals. The first has to do with providing technical assistance, while the 2nd and 3rd goals have to do with cultural exchange. Goal 2, specifically, involves sharing U.S. culture with our host-country counterparts, who, in my case, are any and all Peruvians. One of the main ways I have fulfilled this goal in the past has been by sharing some American dishes with my host-family and neighbors, as well as frequently sharing music and photos of my life in the United States. However, now that I am living by myself full time in Huaráz as Áncash’s PCVL, have my own apartment, and have regular access to wifi/electricity/many other amenities, I decided it was time to aprovechar (take advantage) and add one of my personal loves, video games, to my Peruvian life.

So, when I returned to Perú after my month-long vacation in the United States in August, I brought back a little piece of my childhood, namely, my GameCube. I honestly never thought in my wildest dreams that as a Peace Corps Volunteer I would still be able to play video games, let alone my very own GameCube, but since the opportunity presented itself I couldn’t let it pass. While I’ve had my Game Cube with me for the past 2 months, it took a while before I found the chance to actually put it to use.

That opportunity finally came a few weeks ago when I held a class on trash management with the Hinchas de la Conservación (Conservation Fans), an environmental group consisting mainly of university-aged students who support SERNANP and Huascarán National Park in various outreach opportunities (presentations, theater shows, recycled art projects, etc.). While many of the Hinchas are environmental engineering students, my counterpart at SERNANP (she coordinates the group) and I decided it would be good to train them on various environmental topics so they could better represent the interests of the park.

And so, on Saturday, September 30th, we had our first class during which I gave everyone a 19-question pre-test and then proceeded to teach them all the basics about environmental pollution, trash management, microplastics, and the creation of mini-landfills. This was to be the first session of five in a series about various environmental topics, however, it ended up being both the first and last session since we are in the process of recruiting new members for the group. But don’t worry, the environmental education classes will continue once the new members join the group in November.

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The Hinchas learning about trash decomposition times

Anyways, after concluding the session, as a surprise treat I broke out my GameCube which we hooked up to the large TV in the SERNANP office.

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My GameCube’s first go on Peruvian soil.

As you can see, something was off with the color, but otherwise, everything worked really well. I decided the Hinchas’ first foray into the world of GameCube should be with the classic, Super Smash Bros. Melee. While the controls can be a bit challenging at first, especially for those who have never before played a video game (like most of the Hinchas), most of them figured it out rather quickly and had a blast. Favorite characters included Fox, Captain Falcon, Donkey Kong, Mewtwo, Samus, Yoshi & Kirby. Those who picked Captain Falcon had the most success since his Falcon Punch (just press the B button) basically kills anyone who doesn’t know how to play.

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And the winner is…Yoshi!

Unfortunately, after playing for about 30 minutes, the screen went black and I noticed a strange burning smell. Turns out, I forgot once again that Peruvian voltage is higher than U.S. voltage, and so the GameCube power cable got burned. I should have known when we had problems with the color from the start, but you live and you learn. It was a sad moment, but I’ve ordered a new cable (as well as a power adaptor) which should arrive soon via a nice friend, and I’m hoping that only the cable was burned, and not the actual GameCube itself.

Anyways, despite the minor electrical mishap, I was really happy to be able to directly share a bit of my childhood with some of my Peruvian counterparts/friends, and I’m hoping this was just the first of many future Super Smash sessions. While it might take a while before the Hinchas can put up a good fight in Super Smash Bros. Melee or Mario Kart: Double Dash (assuming my GameCube didn’t die), I’m hoping some of my fellow Volunteers can give me a good challenge en lo mientras.

Until next time,

MGB

P.S. My title was both a reference to Super Smash Bros. Melee as well as to one of my favorite childhood cartoons.

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Year 3 Begins

So it has been a while since I last updated my blog (about 3 months), and in that time a lot has changed. After finishing up my service in Caraz at the end of July and then spending a week or so getting adjusted to my new role in Huaráz as PCVL, I got to go back to the United States for the month of August for vacation.

I had a great time being home and took advantage of the time to see a lot of family/friends, to go hiking, to eat lots of food (I gained a lot of weight), to go to the beach, to catch up on some movies I had missed while in Perú, and to go see the solar eclipse.

 

 

Overall, I had a fantastic time, but on September 1st, the time came to get myself to the airport and get on a plane back to Perú. Honestly, it was harder to leave this time than it was at last Christmas, but once my plane landed and I was surrounded by Peruvian Spanish once more, I felt at ease. I spent a day in Lima eating some tasty ceviche before catching a night bus on the 2nd to Huaráz.

Being back in Áncash was wonderful. The clean mountain air. The beautiful snow-capped mountains. The beautiful Sierra clothing. Coming back to Áncash after a month in the U.S. was quite refreshing, and I quickly remembered all of the reasons that I decided to stick around with the Peace Corps for an extra year. When I arrived at Huaráz, I went to chill at our Peace Corps hostel to drop some things off and relax before heading up to my apartment complex in the afternoon. When I got there and talked with the owner, she said my apartment was still occupied (turns out the person wasn’t leaving til October 1st, not September 1st like I had been told originally), so that I would stay in one of her older daughter’s old rooms for the month. Not what I was expecting, but if I have learned anything in the Peace Corps, it is how to be flexible. And so, while inconvenient (less privacy, no place to cook), I’ve been through more stressful and awkward things when working in Yuracoto/Caraz, so it was no big deal.

So after moving my stuff in, I treated myself to a nice dinner and then prepared for the upcoming week. On Monday and Tuesday, the Regional Department of Education of Áncash was hosting an Environmental Education Congress for teachers, students, and science/technology/environment teaching specialists from all over the Áncash region. The Environmental Education Congress is one of the many activities included in the  National Plan for Environmental Education sponsored by both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of the Environment that must be implemented in each region (state) of Perú. While the implementation of the Congress fell under the purview of the Regional Department of Education, the planning involved various institutions, including SERNANP (the Peruvian National Parks organization), who is my partner organization for my 3rd year of work with the Peace Corps. Consequently, I was involved in some of the planning of the Congress and was asked to give a presentation during the Congress about my work with composting/vermiculture with the schools of Caraz & Yuracoto.

So, on Monday, September 4th I gave a presentation about the benefits of composting to about 50 people representing teachers, students, etc. from various schools all across Áncash. The presentation went over well, and the entire first day of the Congress was a huge success.

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The mesa de honor at the start of the Congress

Day 2 went swimmingly as well, and I ended up giving another unexpected presentation at the end of the day about the environmental plan I co-developed and co-implemented with the teachers at Micelino Sandoval Torres in Caraz. The coordinator of the school’s environmental committee was originally going to give the presentation, but unfortunately, she had to leave early. For the first year of implementation and coordination, I think the inaugural Environmental Education Congress was a big success. There were a lot of interesting presentations, from both different environmental experts as well schools, and I hope that the event inspires the teachers and students who attended to continue implementing new environmental projects in their schools and homes.

So, all in all, my return to Perú and Huaráz started on a high note! In the next few days/weeks, I’ll be updating you all on how the rest of my last 1.5 months have gone and what I’ve been up to.

Until next time,

MGB

Last days in Caraz

Friday, July 21st, 2017, was my last official day as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Caraz. The day had finally arrived, the day I had to leave my site, and make the move to Huaráz to begin my 3rd-year role as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in Áncash. While I had been thinking about my departure from Caraz for a while, imagining exactly how I wanted to things to go, like many things in life, the reality was far different from expectation.

At the end of June, due to some unfortunate circumstances, I had to move out of my host-family house. I had 3 weeks left of service, and I had to spend them living in a hostel, not being able to give an explanation to any of my neighbors why I had left “early”, and hiding the fact I was now living in Caraz from the majority of my counterparts in Caraz so they didn’t ask me questions I wouldn’t be able to answer. This was certainly not how I imagined spending my last 3 weeks, my last 3 weeks which should have been filled with talking regularly with all of my neighbors, with playing lots of volley and with watching lots of movies with my host-siblings, with helping to feed the pigs and with playing with our 6 dogs.

The first few days after moving to Caraz were challenging; I only had one bag of clothes, I was fairly sad, didn’t have much of an appetite, and I wasn’t very motivated to go to work. In fact, for the first few days, I spent most of my time working on my final community report, since I could do that holed away in my room. While I like Caraz, its amenities, and my socios who live there, my support system was back with my host-family, my neighborhood, and my students in Yuracoto. I missed them.

But, within a few days, I adapted to my new situation. I accepted that, despite my desires, this was how I would be spending my last 3 weeks, and with that acceptance came a bit of Peace. This was just another part of the unexpectedness of Peace Corps service, and my situation really made me understand the importance of the Peace Corps Core Expectations. Expectation number 3 states, “Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service”. I found the flexibility to adapt and get myself out of my short slump.

And so, during my last 3 weeks in-site, I worked to finish up my projects, to finish my final community report, and to be present with my counterparts at the municipality, the UGEL, and the schools. Fortunately, I was able to see my host-family on Sundays when they came to sell in the market, so while my service wasn’t ending as I imagined, I made it work. Finally, on Friday, July 14th, I submitted my final community report, a summary of my two years of service to Caraz and Yuracoto, to my various counterparts.

Final Community Report (in Spanish)

With the submission of that document, I completed all of my remaining obligations to Caraz, and so my last week in site was incredibly relaxing; I hung out with students, I attended many of the tourist events organized by the municipality, and I spent time with my counterparts and host-family. Here in Perú, when someone is about to leave, be it for work, a job, etc., we have what’s called a despedida, or a farewell party. And so, on the Thursday and Friday of my last week in site, I had a lot of despedidas.

On Thursday night, my office at the municipality organized a lovely dinner, during which they all said nice things about me, and then gave me a small gift: a backpack. They said they got me a backpack because they always see me andando (walking) with mine.

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On Friday morning, I went to my school in Yuracoto for another despedida. During formation, the Director of the school said some nice words about me and my work at the school, allowed me to give a brief speech, and then presented me with another small gift: a mug. He said that he hoped whenever I used the mug in the morning, i would think back on them at the school; I certainly will. I’m hoping to go back to the school in September for its anniversary, and will definitely be going back in December for my seniors’ promoción (graduation) since I’m going to be a padrino (godfather/sponsor) for one of my students.

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After the school despedida, I had to go give a brief charla (presentation) about trees and reforestation to a bunch of teachers and students. I still can’t believe that I actually worked on my last day in Caraz, but así es Peace Corps. After the presentation, I had to sprint to the Primary school I worked at in Cullashpampa to attend their Día del Logro (open house) which would also serve as my despedida with them. The students, split by grade, performed dances from the Coast, Mountains, and Jungle of Perú, and then gave short presentations about each region of Perú at the end. Since I had the nice camera, parents kept asking me to take photos of their kids, but I managed to get a few photos of myself with some of my awesome students too.

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My 5th and 6th graders in their Marinera costumes.
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I managed to get a selfie in with one of my 6th graders.

At the conclusion of the event, there was a compartir (little party) where we had some food and I was able to say my goodbyes to the students and the teachers. The event went a bit long, so when I was finally able to sneak out, I had to sprint to my host-family’s house so that I could eat lunch with them. I of course arrived late, but they prepared me cuy (guinea pig), and it was a very nice final meal with them. After lunch, I hung-out with my siblings, packed up a few more things in my room, and then sent my remaining stuff to Huaráz with my friend who works with an NGO and has a truck.

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My last Picante de Cuy with my host-family while still being a Volunteer in Caraz

After lunch, I had to run to Caraz where I attended a meeting with my environmental youth group, Club Verde – Caraz, during which we shared an Inca Kola and talked about their plans for the rest of the year. They are a great group of kids and I know they are going to keep doing great environmental work in Caraz.

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A photo of Caraz’s Plaza de Armas which I snagged while waiting on the Club Verde.

Once the meeting ended, I went to my final despedida with three teachers with whom I had worked in my big school in Caraz, Micelino Sandoval Torres. We went out to a chifa/pollería (Chinese Restaurant/Chicken Restaurant) and just talked about what I would be doing in Huaráz and what they had planned in the school for the rest of the year. It was a nice meal, and a nice way to end my service in Caraz.

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Now, the shocking thing about all of my despedidas, was that there was not a single tear shed, even with my host-family. I think since everyone knew that I was only moving to Huaráz, and that I would be sticking around another year, no one felt the need to give real goodbyes since I was still going to be in the area. So, I guess full closure will have to wait until next year when I finally leave Perú for good. Hopefully, some tears will be shed then.

So, having said my goodbyes, on Saturday morning I gathered my remaining things and hopped on a combi (van) to Huaráz, where I semi-officially moved into my new apartment complex. Right now I am living in a small, temporary room in the complex since my actual “apartment” is still occupied, but once I get back from my month of special leave in the States, I will be able to officially officially move into my place. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the great views from the terrace, the chiminea I bought with the other Volunteer living in my building, and the ability to cook lots and lots of vegetables.

 

Overall, I’m very satisfied with my work in Caraz and I am looking forward to one more year of service as PCVL of Áncash.

Until next time,
MGB

Foto Friday: the Environmental Committee

So in the past, Peace Corps Perú had 5 different programs: Youth Development, Community Economic Development, Community Health, Water, Sanitation & Hygiene, and Community-Based Environmental Management, my program.

However, all across the world, Peace Corps posts (countries) were asked to cut down the number of programs, and so Perú followed suit, eliminating the environment program. My group, which arrived to Perú in May 2015, was the last group of environmental Volunteers to come to Perú to work.

Environmental work is important in rural communities, such as the many in which Peace Corps Perú Volunteers work, because oftentimes the community’s health and livelihood is dependent upon its relationship with the environment. Oftentimes these communities lack basic services such as clean drinking water or a trash collection service, both of which can lead to community health problems. An unhealthy environment means an unhealthy community. Clearly, environmental work should be continued in Peace Corps.

So while the environmental program in it’s current for won’t continue, us MAC (environment) Volunteers began brainstorming last fall about how the environmental program could live on in some capacity in Perú since there is a need for environmental work to continue. What we decided was an environmental committee, the idea being a permanent committee consisting of Volunteers interested in environmental topics and promoting environmental projects among other Peace Corps Perú Volunteers. We wrote up a proposal, submitted it to the Peace Corps Perú staff, and waited. Finally, we received a supportive response from Peace Corps staff saying that they liked the idea, but that we lacked the funds for a permanent committee, but a short term one would be allowed. And thus the Environmental Committee was born.

We were given two different sets of meetings, first in April and the second in July (these past few days) to figure out a plan, organize resources, and leave something behind for future Volunteers to use. What we decided on was to create several presentations showing how environmental projects and themes can be incorporated into the other programs. Some of examples we came up with are the following: using recycled materials to create early-stimulation toys (Health), initiating recycling programs as an income generating activity (business), planting trees to preserve water sources (Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene). In addition to the presentations, we have been creating and compiling environmental resources to create more of less of an “Environmental Projects for Dummies: Peace Corps Perú” file. I was responsible for creating a guide on trash management here in Perú and compiling all of the accompanying resources.

The idea is that during training with the new Trainees each cycle, the Peace Corps trainers will present the environmental presentations, and then each Volunteer will receive a copy of the environmental resources folder, which has information on recycled art, how to grow and plant trees, how to make compost, how to start an eco-tourism group, etc. With this information, we hope that interested Volunteers will have the resources necessary to address environmental concerns in their communities.

This past week, we had our last meeting to finalize all of the presentations and accompanying materials and hopefully by the end of July or start of August, we will have a finished product to present to the Peace Corps Staff and hopefully all current and future Peace Corps Perú Volunteers.

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The hardworking Environmental Committee in our only group photo

In the Peace Corps, we strive to develop sustainable work and projects with our host-community partners, but it isn’t so often that we get to tackle a sustainable endeavor with other Volunteers. I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve accomplished with the other environmentally minded Volunteers above, and I hope all of our blood, sweat, and tears, will lead to more environmentally conscious Peace Corps Staff and future Volunteers.

Until next time,

MGB

Martes de Música: Corazón Serrano

For today’s installment of Martes de Música, we return to the genre of Cumbia. This time, we will hear a song from one of Perú’s most popular Cumbia groups, Corazón Serrano, which means Sierra Heart or Heart of the Sierras.

The group originally formed in 1993 in Piura, a departamento (state) along the northern coast of Perú near the border with Ecuador. For the first 15 years, the group focused their concerts, image, and music around the northern coast of Perú. But around 2010, with the introduction of some new singers to the group, they became a “mainstream” hit in Perú, and quickly grew to widespread acclaim across the whole country.

Like most cumbia, the songs of Corazón Serrano are quite catchy, have a happy beat, and revolve around themes of love and alcohol. While most cumbia music sounds very similar, there is one easy way to recognize a Corazón Serrano song: a high pitched musical shoutout of the name, Corazón Serrano.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a Corazón Serrano concert in Huaráz with two other Peace Corps Volunteers, where we had a great time singing along to our favorites such as the song I present today. For our first introduction into Corazón Serrano, I present to you all one of their classics “¿Cómo Pude Enamorarme?” (How Could I Fall in Love?). The song is essentially about a woman struggling with heartbreak after her boyfriend left her for another woman.

Enjoy!

Until next time,

MGB