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.
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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.
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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

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Officially a Volunteer

So Friday was a big day for me and all my fellow Peace Corps Perú 25 trainees.  Friday was swearing-in day, the day we took our official oaths of service and became fully-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers.  It was certainly an emotional day for me and all of the other trainees.

We started off with a few short wrap-up activities in the training center before gathering all of our belongings, packing them into some combis, and shipping off to Lima to the Peace Corps Office.  When we arrived in Lima, we had some time to say hi to some staff and grab a bite to eat before we hopped on a different bus to head to the U.S. Ambassador to Perú’s house.  For lunch, my good friends Jamie, Wes, Morgan, and I grabbed food at Subway; after 3+ months, a meatball sub with pickles and onions never tasted so good.

On the bus ride over to the Ambassador’s house, the emotions were slowly, but steadily rising.  When we finally arrived, we popped inside and assumed on seats on stage as the audience began to fill with Peace Corps staff, NGO workers, current Peace Corps volunteers, and of course members of our amazing host families.  Before the ceremony began, I was able to hop on over to the bathroom, and I must say that it was the nicest bathroom I have ever seen in Perú.

Once the ceremony began, the anticipation among the volunteers was tangible as we drew closer and closer to the big moment.  The ceremony kicked off with the singing of the Peruvian National Anthem and the Star Spangled Banner, and I’m ashamed to say we all messed up our National Anthem, mostly because we didn’t realize there was no introductory music, and it just started right away.

During the ceremony, we heard speeches from our incredible Training Manager, Enrique Liñan, a representative of the training host families, the US Ambassador, Bryan Nichols, and the Peace Corps Perú Country Director, Parmer Heacox.  They shared words of wisdom, and advice, and after the speeches we were officially sworn in by the Ambassador and Parmer, who later gave us our official Peace Corps Volunteer certificates.

After all of this, the big moment came, the moment in which I, the President of Perú 25, had to give a speech to my friends and now fellow volunteers, and all those in attendance.  My speech is below, but it’s in Spanish, so sorry to all of my English-only followers.

Swearing-In Day Speech

While my speech marked the end of the Swearing-In ceremony, it also marked the beginning of the tears.  The following 45 minutes or so were wonderful and emotional.  I hugged my host-mother several times, took lots of photos, received lots of compliments on my speech from staff/fellow volunteers, chatted with a volunteer who served in Perú way back in 1965, and enjoyed lots of snacks (water, chocolate chip cookies, taquitos, ceviches, causa, etc.).  It was hard to say goodbye to my host-mom, and though I didn’t tear up as much as some of my fellow volunteers, it was still an emotional experience nonetheless.

The bus ride back to the Peace Corps office was heavy, but we did our best to enjoy the time together.  We had some great games of “Would you rather…” and “Would you marry someone who is perfect in every way except…”, I shared my Swedish Fish, and I enjoyed some final face-to-face conversation with my boy Jamie.  When we got to the Peace Corps office, there were more tears, lots of hugs, lots of photos, and lots of goodbyes.  I’m going to miss my training group so much, and I wish I had had more time to say goodbye, but I’m looking forward to visiting them, especially my Amazonas amigos, over the next 2 years.

From the Peace Corps office, I headed to my hostel with few other Volunteers who also weren’t leaving that night, and then went out with two volunteers from Ancash who were in for the week.  We went to an amazing burrito place in Miraflores (Lima) called Burrito Bar, Barranco Beer Company, and then Wong (a Target-like store), where my fellow Ancashino Kevin and I bought some stuff we would need at site.  Within Wong, I found something amazing: Turkey Hill Ice cream.  I have absolutely no idea how or why there is Turkey Hill Ice cream in Perú, but all I can say is I bought myself a quart of Cookies n’ Cream and it was absolutely the same as what I know from the States.

All in all, swearing in was an emotional day, and I’m definitely going to miss my friends (who I hope will call me frequently), but I’m also very excited to get to my site and begin to work in my community.

Since I haven’t quite figured out the wifi situation in my site yet, it might be a while before my next post.  Also, I’ll eventually update this post with some photos once I get them from other volunteers and Peace Corps staff.

MGB

4th of July, Peruvian Style

So a little over a week ago was a very special day in the United States, a day that is usually filled with friends, family, grilling, hazardous fireworks, and an overabundance of Red, White, and Blue clothing.  One of the sacrifices of serving in the Peace Corps, is that you miss out on all the hometown fun of celebrating Independence Day, or as we all just call it, the 4th of July.  However, as part of our Peace Corps training in cultural integration and exchange, each neighborhood of volunteers had to organize a 4th of July celebration to share with their host families.

Each group of volunteers was tasked with creating a typical American dish or two, preparing some traditional 4th of July decorations, and some games.  However, the responsibility wasn’t all on us, as our host mothers were also tasked with preparing some traditional Peruvian foods and organizing some Peruvian games (which turned out to be very similar to games we have in the US).

Thanks to fellow Volunteer Diana García for providing all of the following photos.

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Diana’s house all decked-out for our 4th of July Celebration

The volunteers in my neighborhood of Moron decided we wanted to go ALL OUT for 4th of July, so of course we decided to GRILL!  We prepared several American dishes to share with our host families.  Our menu included:

  • Hotdogs with ketchup, mustard, caramelized onions, and buns
  • Cheese quesadillas with homemade Guacamole (palta, tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro)
  • Kebobs of bell peppers, sausage, onions, tomatoes, and pineapple
  • Dirt (pudding dessert) or as we called it, Compost!

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Not to be outdone, our host mothers prepared a hoard of food that could probably have fed a small army.  They prepared:

  • Three causas (think uncooked potato salad lasagna)
  • Chicha morada (a delicious drink made from purple corn and fruit)
  • A jello/flan combination dessert (flan on the bottom, jello on top)
  • Arroz con leche (rice pudding) and mazamorra (jam)

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Then, after we had finally finished off most of the food and were rather stuffed, another neighbor showed up with a very delicious cake.

In between stuffing our faces with all of the amazing food, we had a mini olympics of games, which I had the honor to kick off by singing the National Anthem.  I had to sing the National Anthem solo not because the other 5 volunteers didn’t want to sing, but because the other 5 volunteers in my neighborhood didn’t know all the words….for shame!

So, what do you think of when you think of Peruvian party games?  If you thought tug-of-war, three-legged races, sack races, and a lime-on-a-spoon relay race, then you were right!  It turns out that Peruvian party games were so similar to ones we have in the US, that there really weren’t any new games us Americans could contribute haha.

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Tug-of-War

After several bouts of relay races and some 3 v. 3 soccer games, we ended the evening with some cultural exchange of dances.  Our families taught us some Huayno as we listened to traditional Peruvian music, and then we showed them how to do the Cotton Eye Joe and the Wobble, among other dances.

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Teaching the Wobble

The second goal of Peace Corps is to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and I think our 4th of July celebration accomplished just that.  All in all, it was a very long (8am-6pm) and incredibly fun day, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we had an amazing time sharing part of our US culture with our host families.  I’m looking forward to celebrating 4th of July (and other US Holidays) with my host-family in Ancash and continuing to share my US culture, as I learn more about my new Peruvian home.

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Post-party posing

-Mark

P.S. The best part of the day however was watching Perú take down Paraguay in the Copa América at the end of the day to nab the #3 spot of the tournament.  They played great all throughout the tournament, and actually won the awards for best team of the tournament as well as best goalkeeper.  Here’s to hoping for a great run for them in the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil!

The Hills Are Alive…

with the sound of happy MAC aspirantes (trainees).

So this past week, all of the trainees went off to various parts of Perú for Field Based Training.  All of the MAC volunteers, myself included, left the overcast and dusty skies of Chaclacayo to head to the fresh, clear skies of the city of Jauja, in the province of Junín.

We left early Monday morning on the swankiest bus I have ever been on, to start our ~7 hour journey to Jauja.

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My seat on our Cruz del Sur bus, complete with my own personal touchscreen.

There is only one road from Lima to Jauja, and it is a steep, windy one that curves its way up one side of a mountain range and then down the other.  At its summit, the road is the highest in all of Perú, meaning altitude sickness is a definitive concern, but also that you get a close-up of some gorgeous snow-capped peaks.

Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.
Snow-capped peak at the top of the mountain range.

Fortunately, the altitude didn’t give me any problems during the journey (or for the rest of the week, for that matter), and we arrived safely and without incident around 3pm.  Upon arrival we checked into our hostel, and then I went out to grab a snack with some volunteers; we got a giant avocado and 7 pieces of bread to share for the equivalent of $0.66.

The next day was when the fun began, because we kicked off the day by going to a nearby school to teach a 30 minute class about some environmental theme.  I had a fantastic group of third graders to whom I taught the life cycle of a frog.  They were surprisingly attentive, and got me very excited to work in the schools when I eventually get to my site.

Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.
Fellow Trainee Peter and I with our class of 3rd Graders.

After class, I played soccer with a bunch of the kids during their recreo (recess) and showed them how my waterproof camera worked (they were pretty amazed).  After classes, we headed over to a PCV’s house for a delicious lunch, after which we met up with his local Club Ambiental (environmental club) to go plant some TREES!  I paired up with an awesome kid named Luis (who happened to be the PCV’s host-cousin), and we planted 3 trees up on the hill.  We were a killer tree planting team, and we named each of our trees after different Avengers (Hulk, Captain America, y Iron Man).

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Luis and I with our second tree, Captain America.

After tree planting, we headed back to Jauja where we went out on the street for dinner.  A few of us found a great pizza place where I shared a delicious Napolitana Pizza with another trainee.

We started off the next day exploring the local Feria, which is basically a giant market that happens every Wednesday and Sunday.  I talked with a few vendors and some kids to learn a bit more about Jauja, bought some fruit, and also bought a trompo, which is basically a wooden top that all the kids play with.

Mi trompo
Mi trompo

Later in the morning, we headed to the pueblo of Sincos to listen to a presentation about compost and then help another PCV with a compost/vivero (tree nursery) project in a local school.  Our group worked to make a box for the compost as well as to prepare two camas (beds) for the future trees.  It was hard work, tearing out grass and picking the soil, but it was super fun to be doing some manual labor.  After we finished, we lunched at the volunteers house before heading out to the town of Tunanmarca to visit a small museum and some pre-Incan ruins.

Getting to the ruins involved a short bus ride up a small hill, and then a short hike up to the entrance.  In order to enter the ruins, our guide had to perform a really cool ceremony where he asked permission from Mama Patsa y Tayta Inti (Mother Earth and Father Sun, in Quechua) to enter the ruins.  After the ceremony, we all had to deposit a stone that we brought up the mountain with us in a small pile.

The ruins themselves were gorgeous, and the view from the hilltop was incredible.  It was amazing to walk around and touch the stone houses that had been built stone by stone several thousand years earlier.

The ruins were truly incredible, and you could feel nothing but peace walking through them, with beautiful scenery all around.  My time up there, among the history, will be something to cherish.

The next morning we all headed out to a nearby town called Concepción, to visit their “Relleno Sanitario”, aka a landfill.  One of Perú’s biggest challenges is solid waste management, and so it was nice to visit one of the few sanitary landfills in all of Perú, that will hopefully eventually serve as a model for other towns and cities across the nation.  The landfill serves about 25,000 people in the area, and is remarkable in that they separate organic and inorganic materials.  Organic materials are used to make compost on the premises which is either sold to local farmers or used to fertilize the áreas verdes (green areas) of the town, while inorganic materials are either recycled or buried.

After we finished touring the landfill, we returned to Jauja where we had lunch together with some other MAC volunteers from Jauja.  One of the volunteers was actually from Lancaster, so it was cool chatting him a bit about Pennsylvania stuff.  I actually sat next to his socio (in-country partner) Oscar, who was a guardaparque (park guard) with SERNANP (think USFW) in the Reserva Nacional de Junín.  I talked with him in-depth about my research experience with invasive species in college, and then talked with him at length about SERNANP’s efforts with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, which is in-danger of extinction.  I had heard about the frog when I first found out I was going to Perú, so it was amazing to be able to talk with someone who worked directly with them.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to make my way over to the reserve at some point during service to help out with the project a bit.

After lunch, and a brief presentation by Oscar about all of their projects in the Junín National Reserve, we headed to a nearby Lake to do some bird watching (there were flamingos, irises, and many other avifauna).  While everyone else was walking around looking at birds, I hung out on the shore to talk with the PCV from PA about his work with the Lake Junín Giant Frog, since I still had a ton of questions.  While this was going on, a few trainees and facilitators decided to cross a small land-bridge across a portion of the lake.  Not everyone made it across safely, as the lake claimed 3 victims (you can see the aftermath of one fall in the picture below).

The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.
The aftermath of Jon falling in the lake.

When everyone had safely reunited, we took our first group photo with all of the MAC staff (we look pretty good).  And before heading out, being the good little environmental guardian that I am, I picked up a few plastic bottles that were lying around on the ground.

For my last night in Jauja, I ate lots and lots and lots of food and sweets, since it would be a while since I would find them so cheap.  On our last morning in Jauja, we went to the municipality for a presentation on solid waste management by the Director of the Environment for Jauja.  It was really interesting, since they were implementing their first ever recycling program that very Monday, and so the information he shared could be really helpful for starting up recycling efforts in site.

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Pre-final presentation selfie in Jauja.

All in all, FBT in Jauja was absolutely incredible, and it was very nice to get away for a few days and see a different part of Perú.  After this short trip, I’m extremely excited to get to my site in a few months time and get started (we find out our sites this coming Wednesday morning!).  The return journey was fun, and filled with lots of word games since our touchscreens were not functioning.  I was sad to leave Jauja only to return to little old Chaclacayo, but we were gifted with a surpise snow squall on the drive home that made everything cooler (literally and figuratively).

Until later this week (when I’ll be updating with a post about my PCV site)!

MGB

How do you make Taken 3 funny?

… You give Liam Neeson a jolly, middle-aged Spanish voiceover.

Since training ends around 5 each day, there is usually a lot of time to kill before dinner which is usually around 8 or 8:30.  So what do we do in this time?  We watch Spanish-dubbed movies, of course!  The first night, I watched the most recent Dragon Ball Z movie with my host brother and I was quite surprised with how well the Spanish dub captured Goku’s silly personality.  We also watched Los Vengadores (The Avengers), one of the Resident Evil movies, Taken 3 (obviously), and most recently Lucy (it’s a really weird movie).  You can essentially get any movie you want here, BlueRay or DVD, for only a few Soles (pronounced So-lays) from any of the various street vendors.

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Image from: http://tinyurl.com/zksuzju

Additionally, each night this week we have been watching a sweet Peruvian singing competition called Yo Soy, where contestants compete to see who is the best impersonator.  Most of the contestants sing in Spanish, but there is one contestant who mostly sings English songs like Come Together.  The Grand Finale of the show is tonight, and my host dad hopes the contestant Sandro takes home the title.

In addition to watching movies, I found out that my host parents and older host brother have seen a lot of older American sitcoms, some of which I hadn’t even heard of before.  Some of the ones they mentioned were Paso a Paso (Step by Step), Salvado por la campana (Saved by the Bell), Matrimonio con hijos (Married with Kids), El Principe de Rap (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), and my favorite, Tres por Tres, which somehow translates to Full House!

Full House
Image from: http://a.abcnews.go.com/images/Entertainment/GTY_FULL_HOUSE_150421_DG_4x3_992.jpg

At least for my family, even though I think this applies to many Peruvian families, movies and television seem to be a family activity, a way for everyone to bond.  I’m looking forward to watching more Spanish-dubbed films with my family and occasionally having to explain some English words as best as I can.

MGB

Mi Familia Anfitriona (my host family)

This past Sunday, Mother’s Day both here in Peru and in the States, we finally met our host families who we will be living with for the duration of our 11 weeks of Pre-Service Training.  I have a host mother and father, three host brothers, a sweet little dog named Bartola, a cat, a parakeet, and seven guinea pigs (called “cuy” here).  We all seem to get along really well, and they were very impressed with my Spanish, even though I don’t think I always make sense.  Mother’s Day was spent settling into my room, showing pictures from my life in the US, and visiting/eating with my host-mom’s family who live in the area.  She has two sisters who live only two blocks away, and each is also housing a Peace Corps trainee.  It was definitely an overwhelming first day, jumping straight into full Spanish immersion, but I survived it unscathed.

Bartola, sporting her little yellow dress because it's been a tad cold here lately.
Bartola, sporting her little yellow dress because it’s been a tad cold here lately.

As the week progressed, I got to know my family a bit better and they got to know me more.  The food has been wonderful, and they have been so accommodating; I showed them some pictures of me eating Ketchup when I was younger and they went out and got me some ketchup packets for my first meal, even though it was essentially stir fry.  Each day my host mom packs me a lunch for training, which is usually some variation of rice, potatoes, meat, salad, and vegetables.  She also packs me a new Peruvian fruit to try each day, so be on the lookout for a blog post covering all the new fruits that I’ve had the pleasure of eating.

So far, my experience with my host family has been incredible and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better over the coming months.  It’s going to be a sad day when training ends and I have to leave them to go to my permanent site.

MGB