Rain, rain, go away…

It’s still rainy season here in Perú, that wonderful time of year where anytime from Late November to late April some amount of rain falls upon the Sierra. Why is it called rainy season, you may ask? Well, essentially the entire annual allotment of precipitation falls across 5-6 months and at no other point during the year (at least here in Ancash). During a typical rainy season, one can expect rain almost every single day, usually starting in the early-to-late afternoon, and continuing for several hours into the evening. Intensity can vary, but I want to be clear; it is very common for it to rain EVERY SINGLE DAY! For all intents and purposes, this year’s rainy season hasn’t been too bad (it only rained fiercely in March/April), but it has been long (still going strong right now).

However, Perú’s climate has been greatly affected by climate change, and the once consistent rains have now become more scattered; sometimes the rains don’t show up until January, sometimes the rains stay until May (like now), and sometimes the rains don’t come at all. This inconsistency creates many challenges for the local people, especially here in the Sierra, who are dependent on the rains for many aspects of their livelihoods. You see, the start of the rainy season coincides with the end of the school year, meaning that students have several months off in before classes start again in March. In rural areas, this allows for the students to help their families prepare and plant the family plots, taking advantage of the free rainfall. Since many rural families here in Ancash are dependent on agricultural production for food and for income, a consistent rainy season is necessary for the family wellbeing. To illustrate, two years ago many parts of Ancash received little to no rain which resulted in the loss of an entire growing season and consequently many economic and water crises for many rural communities and families. So you see, the cycle of life here in Ancash, revolves around the rains.

The rainy season is vitally important to everyone’s livelihood here in the Sierra, but it can represent a challenging time for our Peace Corps Volunteers. Since classes are out for the summer months and most Volunteers work with schools, we tend to have lots of free time but little other work. And for us Volunteers, our work is essential to our wellbeing. We have a phrase here in Peace Corps Perú, “Un Voluntario felíz es un Voluntario que tiene trabajo” (a happy Volunteer is one with work). Additionally, rainy season can make travel challenging or even dangerous, meaning one may be stuck in their regions for extended periods of time, isolated from other Volunteers, or unable to enjoy a vacation while the workload is low.  Landslides (huaycos) aren’t uncommon during the rainy season and in fact, during this past March, we had a large landslide take out part of the highway connecting Huaraz to Lima. And last year, during the El Niño Phenomenon, all coastal PCVs had to be evacuated due to heavy flooding, and those of us in Ancash were “trapped” because the highway to Lima had been washed out.

But, I think the most challenging aspect of the rainy season is just the rains themselves. A consistently rainy atmosphere can just depress the mood, especially since the rains are often non-stop, day after day. For some Volunteers, it can be days or weeks before they see a small glimmer of blue sky amongst the ocean of grey rain clouds. Try to imagine. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the rain, but I prefer my precipitation spread out in doses throughout the year.

Since I know a rainy season in Perú can’t really be understood until it is experienced first hand, I thought I should share two videos I took of the rains here in Huaraz from the last few months. To be clear, both videos were taken as the rains were waning, and not during the height of their intensity. The first is from my apartment, and the second is one I took walking home from work when the streets turned into literal creeks.

 

The aftermath of walking home in the heavy rain:

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Hope you enjoyed experiencing the rain here in Ancash.

Until next time,

MGB

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Last Christmas in Perú

My first Christmas in Perú was spent with my host family. My second Christmas was spent back with my family in the U.S. My last Christmas here in Perú was spent here in Huaráz and at the beach!

From my group, Perú 25, only 3 of us remain. And so, we all decided to meet up to spend a few days at the beach, have some great seafood, and catch the latest chapter of the Star Wars Saga. However, before heading out to meet my friends on the playa, I had some Christmas obligations to take care of here in Huaráz.

My counterpart for my 3rd year as PCVL is SERNANP – Parque Nacional Huascarán (essentially the Peruvian National Park office for Huascarán National Park). As an office, we had a Chocolatada (literally a “Hot Chocolate Party”, but essentially a Christmas party) where we sang Christmas songs, drank hot chocolate with Panetón, and partook in several Christmas games which included dressing up two of the Ingenieros of the park as Sierra women. It was a good time all around.

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Within our office, my main socia is the Environmental Education specialist, and we work with an environmental youth group composed of local university students (Los Hinchas de la Conservación) who help spread Huascarán National Park’s message. We meet almost weekly with the Hinchas to hold classes, learn about different aspects of the park, and to practice our various techniques/methods to spread our messages of environmental stewardship. However, we also do fun stuff.

In talking with my socia one day, I suggested that we should hold a Christmas party with a White Elephant Gift Exchange. It took a little while to explain how a White Elephant Gift exchange works, but once she understood, she was sold. And so, on December 23rd we held our Christmas party. It was a roaring success, and the Hinchas loved the concept of a White Elephant Gift exchange. We played by my special rules where people could bring nice gifts or gag gifts, all gifts must be wrapped, and gifts could only be opened at the end of the exchange. At the beginning of the party, everyone chose a number to determine the gift selection order. It took some convincing, but I eventually convinced some Hinchas to steal gifts from their friends rather than just picking out of the gift pile. Stealing always makes a white elephant more fun. We had lots of food, danced, sang huayno, and played some Super Smash Brothers Melée.

 

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Playing Super Smash Bros. Melee

 

 

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Group photo!

 

After a day of great fun, that evening I hopped on my bus and on Christmas Eve, I met my friends at the beach. We had lots of ideas of places we could go and things we could see, but we settled on just taking lots of time to relax (and go see the new Star Wars movie, of course!). Enjoy some pics of my Christmas beach adventure in Huanchaco!

 

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Beachfront at Huanchaco

 

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Christmas dinner…we made it work (Turkey, potato chips, & guacamole)

 

 

 

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We had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant to finish up the vacation

My last Christmas in Perú was a great one. Hope you enjoyed seeing how I spent it.

 

Until next time,

MGB

Location, Location, Location

While there are many things I enjoy about living independently in Huaráz, I think my favorite is my new view. My apartment comes with a lovely terrace area that gives an unparalleled view of the city of Huaráz and the surrounding mountains. I enjoy many a morning and evening watching the sun rise and set along the glistening peaks of Huascarán National Park. Enjoy some photos of my day-to-day view!

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Until next time,

MGB

3rd Year Update

It’s been a long, long, long time since I published a blog post, but I’m finally ready to get back in the game to keep you all updated on my last few months here in Perú with the Peace Corps. Enjoy this brief update, and the blog posts to come in the next few weeks.

Now that I am the PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) for my region here in Perú, my life and my lifestyle have changed significantly since completing my first two years of service in Yuracoto/Caraz. This newfound independence has come with many positive changes, but also with some negative ones. As the quote goes, “you never know what you got til it’s gone”.

I enjoy many perks of my new lifestyle: having my own, slightly larger personal space, having hot water, having control of what I eat day-in and day-out, and having regular internet access. Nearly anything I could want is available at my fingertips now. However, life is a game of give-and-take, and while I enjoy many aspects of my new life, there are also some downsides. I love being able to cook for myself, but this also means I have to plan out my meals and take the time to prepare/cook them, rather than just wake up to food as was the case when I lived with my host family. Additionally, while I have regular Internet access and hot water, I no longer have a host family nor a community to which I feel strongly connected. I miss seeing my host family every day, I miss knowing all of my neighbors, I miss the conversations we would have during the day, I miss visiting my students at my schools, and I miss being constantly invited to play soccer and volleyball. It’s been weeks since I’ve played either, mainly because it is hard to meet people to regularly play with living in a city as large as Huaráz.

Honestly, while it is nice having hot water and internet, I think I would willingly give them up to return to the strong feeling of community I had during my first two years of service in Caraz/Yuracoto. When I signed on for the third year, I intellectually understood that it would be a lonelier livelihood than what I had experienced before, but I didn’t really emotionally understand it until I started it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with my decision to stay a 3rd year with the Peace Corps. I love my role supporting my fellow Volunteers, I love being involved in the Site Identification process for future Volunteers, and I absolutely love my work with SERNANP – Parque Nacional Huascarán. However, it is a change, and after several months, it is a change that I am finally getting accustomed to. In a way, I think this greater independence and responsibility I’ve enjoyed so far during my 3rd year will help make my eventual transition back to the U.S. much easier than if I had just returned home directly after completing my service in Caraz.

So, I’m about 8.5 months into my 13-month extension, and if all goes well, I should finally be finishing my Peace Corps service here in Perú around August 24th. However, I’m hoping to be able to explore a bit more of Perú and South America before making my return to U.S. soil after service since I haven’t traveled much during my service. If I’ve learned one thing along this journey so far, it is that people and relationships are far more important than things. A person can learn to live without certain amenities, but it is hard to live without meaningful, human contact and valuable relationships.

Until next time,

MGB

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.

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