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.

IMG_2472

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.

IMG_2473

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.

P1070914
My 5th and 6th graders in their Marinera costumes.
P1070919
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.

IMG_2437
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.

IMG_2439
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.

—————————————-

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

Advertisements

From Tree Nursery to Tree Planting: Part 1

Sometimes I work at the town landfill. And in actuality, it is often rather fun because apart from disposing of lots of trash, they also make a lot of compost, have over 20 vermiculture beds, and have an old, unkempt tree nursery. This is the story of my fun times at the landfill, and how we launched an impromptu reforestation project.

This post is the first of a series that will cover one of my larger projects here in Caraz; building a tree nursery & consequently planting the trees grown. I will be publishing one post in this blog series/week over the next month or so. This series will cover all aspects of the project, starting with planning, the actual creation of the nursery infrastructure, the plant production, and finally the most rewarding component: tree planting. I hope you enjoy the series, and be sure to check in each week for the latest installment in this great tree-venture.

—————————————————

Way back in July of 2016, the gerente (boss) of the Gerencia de Servicios a la Ciudad y Gestión Ambiental (Department of City Services and Environmental Management) of the Municipalidad Provincial de Huaylas (Provincial Municipality of Huaylas) and I were approached by a group of students from the local university. As part of their studies, the students had to create a work plan to address a local issue in the community. This group chose to address some of the environmental issues facing Caraz, notably the dirtiness, contamination, and abundance of trash often found at the town market.

Now, you might be thinking, but wait, this is supposed to be a series about trees, why are you talking about trash in the town market? Well, over a few meetings, I worked with the group to develop their plan about the trash in the market, but during these visits, it became clear there was a desire to do more. And so, my boss at the Municipality talked the students into become a somewhat more formalized entity, a group of sorts that would collaborate with the municipality on environmental activities and projects. Thus formed the Club Verde (check them out in this other post).

So, now that we had a committed group of young people, we began to brainstorm some plans for potential collaborations, other than addressing the trash concerns in the market. One of the big ideas we settled on was to do a big reforestation campaign, planting lots of trees around Caraz. However, we had one big question: where are we going to get all of the trees?

Well, we quickly realized that we were going to have to produce our own trees if we wanted trees to plant. But where? In the end, we settled on the town’s landfill since it conveniently had old, unused tree nursery infrastructure, as well as an abundance of organic fertilizer (compost, humus), which would be essential for tree production. And so, the stage was set: we would reactivate the landfill’s tree nursery.

But what does “reactivate” a tree nursery mean? Tree nurseries aren’t robots or computers. Well, it depends. Tree nurseries require many components to function: a water source, a system of irrigation, a source of organic material for the soil substrate, germination beds to grow the plants, shade (young plants can burn with too much sunlight), regular workers, etc. In our case, most of the infrastructure was present, but was just old and unkempt, having been left unused for several years. Consequently for us, “reactivating” the tree nursery meant first and foremost a LOT of cleaning.

Across two to three visits to the landfill, the Club Verde, some of the landfill workers, and myself spent most of our time de-weeding and reforming the once immaculate germination beds (long cut-outs where the trees are grown). After a lot of work, we managed to get 6 germination beds up to snuff, meaning we could commence with the following phase of the project.

P1050905
De-weeding and digging out the germination beds.
P1050903
Lots of shoveling was involved

Check-in next week for phase 2 of the tree nursery reactivation project.

Until next time,

MGB

2 years in Perú

Today, May 7th, 2017, marks 2 years since officially landing on Peruvian soil (I think our plane touched down at like 10-11pm). While I haven’t officially reached 2 years in my site of Caraz, Áncash (gotta wait until July 25th, 2017), to commemorate this occasion enjoy some of my favorite photos of scenery that I have taken in my beautiful department of Áncash.

Enjoy the photos!

P1020139
Mount Huascarán as seen from Huaráz
P1020314
The valley visible from the cliffside behind my house
P1020368
The soccer stadium where my municipal department’s office is located
P1020382
The Cordillera Blanca as seen from Huata (Cordillera Negra)
P1020426
One of many beautiful sunsets I have seen from my house
P1020889
A panorama of Cuncash, Santa Cruz.
P1030014
Río Santa- for once not looking as contaminated as it actually is
P1030169
More sunsets from my backyard
P1030191
The entrance to the Quebrada Llaca (Llaca Ravine) outside of Huaráz
P1030214
Inside the Quebrada Llaca
P1030246
Laguna Llaca (Llaca lake) – the lake is formed from glacial melt and rainfall
P1030505
A dry field behind my house- reminds me of the savannah
P1030633
My host-siblings with a fiery sky in the background
P1030779
Laguna Parón (Lake Parón) – this lake provides most of the water to my town
P1030879
Snow capped mountains on the way to Punta Olímpica (Olympic Point), where you can cross the Cordillera Blanca to the “dark side”
P1040211
Yuracmarca, Áncash. My host-mom’s home turf, this region is only 1.5 hours north of me, but is basically a desert.
P1040231
A panorama of Yuracmarca, Áncash
P1040284
Laguna Querococha on the way to the ruins of Chavín de Huantar
P1040301
The archeological site, Chavín de Huantar
P1040444
Colorful, natural springs inside Parque Nacional Huascarán (Huascaran National Park) on the way to the Pastoruri Glacier
P1040461
At the Pastoruri Glacier, looking at other travelers
P1040468
The Pastoruri Glacier- once famous for its skiing, it is famous for its melting due to climate change
P1040514
Laguna Llanganuco- the reddish trees are called Queñuales
P1040557
A waterfall on the way to Laguna 69
P1040562
What we thought was Laguna 69; the real laguna 69 is way up there below the snow
P1040588
The real Laguna 69 – the water wasn’t too cold
P1050300
Laguna Parón once more. The mountain in the back is called Pirámide (Pyramid)
P1050366
Wilkacocha – a lake near Huaráz on the Cordillera Negra
P1050567
Caraz – my home for the last 2 years
P1050686
Another beautiful sunset from a site near Huaráz
P1050765
Mount Huascarán as seen from the town square of Mancos
P1050777
The Callejón de Huaylas as seen from a hike up to Huascarán
P1050803
Sunset during a hike up to the base of Mount Huascarán
P1050805
Sunset in the other direction
P1050842
First glimpse of Mount Huascarán in the morning. We eventually reached the “snow” line
P1050891
A contemplative selfie on the way back down the mountain
P1060230
Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
P1060244
Fellow Volunteer Kevin hiking in Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
P1060246
Laguna Tullpacocha at the conclusion of our hike into the Quebrada Quilcayhuanca
P1060299
Some cool clouds as seen from my backyard
P1060401
Laguna Churup- one of the most beautiful lakes I have visited
P1060914
The Campiña de Yanahuara – the place I’ve called home for the last 2 years
P1060925
From an excursion with three of my former students
P1060937
An abandoned church in the hills near my house
P1060989
A beautiful, moony night at my house
P1070239
The start of a sunset during the rainy season
P1070255
Fresh snow on the mountain after a heavy rainfall elsewhere
P1070330
One last sunset
P1070293
Mount Huascarán once more
P1070262
The municipal soccer stadium & Mount Huandoy, the famous snow-capped peak of Caraz

I live in a very beautiful region of the world and I am extremely grateful for the wonderful experiences I have enjoyed during my Peace Corps service. Here’s to one more year!

Until next time,

MGB

 

Earth Day 2017

Each year on April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. Why do we have a day to celebrate the Earth? Well, because the Earth is our only home (for the moment), and we need a yearly reminder that we should care for and protect this beautiful planet on which we live.

As an environmental Volunteer here in Perú, the different environmental holidays that occur throughout the year provide perfect opportunities to plan environmental activities or presentations with my host-country counterparts. One group with whom I have been working since last July is the Club Verde (Green Club), which consists of a bunch of young people from Caraz who are interested in improving the environment in and around the city. While they started as just a group of students from the local University, they are now a more formalized entity (Asociación Club Verde –Caraz) and I have been working with them on the implementation of their plans and ideas for this year.

As a group, they decided they wanted to implement some sort of activity for Earth Day, but after 2 meetings we had about a million ideas, but no one, concrete idea to execute. However, in the days leading up to Earth Day, they finally decided on two different activities.

The first was to plant flowers in one of the less-cared-for parks of Caraz during the morning of Earth Day. I mean, it’s Earth Day, so you are pretty much obligated to plant something, right? Here are some pictures of the process! Also, check out the Club Verde on Facebook!

P1070318
The flowers to be planted

 Planting the flowers

 

P1070325

P1070326
The flowers became a tad wilted, but that is completely normal

The second activity was a screening of two environmentally themed movies, one for kids and one for “young adults”. My site-mate, who is a Youth Volunteer, had started a Sábados de Cine (Saturday Movie Nights) with her youth group, and so she let us take over the process for the weekend. For the kids, we decided to show The Lorax, which was a big hit and has a great message. Deforestation is an enormous problem in Perú, and so I hope that those in attendance were able to take something away from the movie. For the young adults, we decided to screen The Day After Tomorrow, a movie that rather dramatically shows the potential consequences of climate change in our world.

While the day was exhausting, it was great to be able to celebrate Earth Day through a diverse array of activities. In addition to my activities with the Asociación Club Verde – Caraz, I also worked with the UGEL (local branch of the ministry of education) to distribute about 200 trees to different schools in the province to be planted. We are also currently working to organize the production of more trees for a huge reforestation campaign in November.

Well, I hope this past April 22 you all took some time to appreciate this wonderful planet we call home. If you didn’t, there is still time to do something to help our planet, like plant a tree!

Until next time,

MGB

Carnaval Huaylino 2017

As I stated in my Carnaval post from last year, Carnaval is a huge celebration, likened to Mardi Gras, which celebrates the beginning of the Lenten season.

Once again, I was involved in the Carnaval festivities in Caraz this year! In addition to dancing in the big Carnaval parade, I also got to help out with the Shumaq Shipash competition, which is essentially a beauty pageant-type contest. For the contest, my role was simple; dress up in a suit and escort the contestants to the judge’s table. I was basically eye-candy, most likely have been selected due to being the resident “gringo”. Regardless, the contest and the parade were great fun, just as Carnaval always is. Rather than bore you all with another long Carnaval post, just enjoy some photos from this year’s festivities below!

p1070165
Decorating my municipal office’s tablada so we can dance with style in the parade.
p1070167
The wawas (bread babies) all got dressed up and labeled with names of workers in my office. Fortunately, I was spared.
p1070168
Transferring the tablada via moto-car up to the start of the parade! It weighs a TON.
p1070172
Some of the other groups waiting for the parade to start!
p1070178
The ladies of limpieza with our Municipal Office banner. A must-have for all Peruvian parades!
p1070174
Enjoying the parade, this time without my rented Peruvian sombrero.
p1070184
Some of my co-workers in traditional Sierra attire from the region. We go all out for Carnaval!
p1070187
This neighborhood went all out with their multi-sided tablada.

And that’s all she wrote for Carnaval Huaylino 2017. If my municipality makes a summary video like they did last year, I will be sure to add it to this post.

Until next time,

MGB

Gastronomical Exchange: Gingerbread House

As I mentioned in my recent post, when I returned to Peru after my brief vacation in the U.S., I made sure to bring back a LOT of goodies. Notably, I brought lots of candy and my cremas (Ketchup, BBQ sauce, & Ranch), but I also brought some gifts & knick-knacks for my host-family.

One of these presents was a Gingerbread House kit. Now, I’ve made a few Gingerbread houses in my day, but for my host-siblings this was their first one ever. At first, they weren’t too sure how to put it all together, but once I arranged the basic frame and cemented it in place with the icing, they took it from there.

img_2191

A few minutes later, I returned to find this beauty sitting on our kitchen table.

img_2192

I think they did a pretty good job for their first ever Gingerbread house.

Unfortunately, in the days following its creation, the house was slowly devoured, never to be put to use by a little Gingerbread family.

Until next time,

MGB

3rd Goal Presentations

Goal 3 of the Peace Corps Mission is,

To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

This goal can be accomplished in many ways, one of which being through blogging, such as  whatI am currently doing to share my unique experience here in Perú.

Additionally, when many Volunteers return to the U.S. for holidays, or after completing their service, it is quite common to give 3rd Goal Presentations, or in other words presentations about their Host-Country and the work that they do in their host-communities. Directly sharing one’s Peace Corps experience with an audience of attentive ears is perhaps the best way to share the Peace Corps message, and to foster intercultural understanding. Therefore, when I returned to the U.S. for Christmas, I made sure to schedule as many 3rd Goal Presentations as possible. Why you may ask? Well for one, so that I would have something to do during my vacation (I always like being busy), then two, so that I could get 3 days of vacation given back, and three, so that I could share my amazing host-country with friends, family & strangers (and maybe even inspire someone to join the Peace Corps). With the help of friends and family I was able to give about 11 different presentations, to a whole variety of groups: Spanish classes in my old high school, my grandfather’s Rotary Club, a college class, & even a brief T.V. interview with my fellow PCV Ella McDougall.

So here are some photos from my several different 3rd Goal Presentations.

p1070047
Presenting to students at Millersville University

Presenting at my Grandfather’s Rotary Club.

I even got to go back to my old high school and give presentations about Perú to about 5 different Spanish classes. The coolest part was that I was able to give some presentations in Spanish; after only a few days in the U.S. I was already beginning to miss speaking Spanish on a daily basis.

Sharing my love for Perú with people back in the U.S. was quite a memorable experience, and I can only hope to be able to share more once I finally finish my Peace Corps service in Perú.

Oh, and before I forget, a fellow PCV from Perú who also happens to be from Pennsylvania was home at the same time I was and we got to do a cool T.V. interview for a local television station. Check out the video below!

Until next time,

MGB