Friday, December 30, 2011

New Table(s)

For two hundred soles, Roger bought two new tables. One for us to eat on (instead of the boulder the kitchen is built around), and one for Yerferson to use as a desk where he can learn to read (this seriously part of the problem, he has no consistent place to do his work). Roger was very proud of these purchases, and we all showed great pride while making a big fuss over setting them for the first time for our Christmas meal. Here is the new tables, the old table, and the few shots from Christmas dinner:

This is our old table, that will not be removed anytime soon.

This is our new table, in the new dinning room, which was previously our mud room.

The Christmas dinner setting.

Clockwise Staring with Yeferson: Yefer, Dina, Roger, Brice, Liz, and Jeny (she usually smiles better. I think the flash tricked her). 

It's as easy as riding a bike...

Yeferson is 7 and his parent's have decided that its time for him to see the world, so they did what anyone would do, and gave him a fixed up/used bike... but to Yefer it's not a used bike, it his bike. After proudly placing about a dozen Power Ranger stickers on it (all of which fell off in less than a day, making the driveway look like some sort of Power Ranger sticker graveyard), he was ready to (learn to) ride. With the occasional push from his mom, dad, neighbor, or big brother. he's doing pretty good at balancing for about 5 meters before hitting a rock or pot hole and falling over... he still hasn't figured out the pedaling part yet.

Here' a few pictures of Dina teaching the Y-man to ride:

P.S. Yefer's bike only has one good break, that is too hard for him to squeeze; so basically it has no breaks. With that said, I've seen some pretty spectacular crashes that make me think I should try to fix the breaks when I get back... I'll keep you posted.

Posh Core

There's a joke that is pretty universal in the Peace Corps about the "Posh Corps". Its a term that is usually used in sentences like: "I'm serving in Posh Corps, I've got... name a basic luxury" (a flush toilet, hot water, a shopping mall in my capital city, etc.). And compared to most Peace Corps countries, Peru probably IS Posh Corps; however, this term came to mind when I saw Kyle's new living situation*:

Yes, this is an American-style suburb. It's the work of an Italian NGO, that is tied into a particular church. It was very surreal for me to turn a corner past an adobe built house and find myself staring at something that wouldn't look out of place back at the states. It's almost like an erratic housing cluster (see previous erratic discussion).

*A little back story on Kyle, is that this is his fourth, and probably final, housing attempt. His past attempts at finding a home, and family to live with, have lead to some pretty crazy stories (with one involving a drunk man with a knife threatening him). Finding a good host-family isn't easy, which makes me thankful for my family.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Host Cousin Got Hitched

Last Saturday was my hosty-cousin´s (from Roger´s side of the family) wedding. Roger hails from the highlands above Caraz (the town of Antash), so the wedding had a much more traditional feel, as you can probably see by the women´s clothing. The event started with a Catholic mass at 8:00am, where the priest preached on the evils that alcohol can cause to marriages*. After the mass, a marching band came and paraded the couple through town (Roger, Dina, the boys, and I skipped this to go get their wedding gift wrapped in the market). Then everyone met at a vacant house for the reception. The reception played out like any other fiesta (party) I´ve seen here in Peru. There was food served (soup followed by rice and potatoes with chicken), followed by everyone awkwardly sitting around quietly talking, not dancing while the band played, and drinking heavily. After about an hour, after all the free beer and chicha (fermented corn drink) was starting to soak-in, the dance floor filled up. The dancing began around 11:00am and lasted until 2:00pm, when everyone was highly inebriated and the party was moved from Caraz to a Antash, the small village in the highlands. This is when I decided to make my exit. I didn´t partake in the libations, and there´s a point when the party turns ugly and it´s time to leave, we were well past that point. Also, I needed to be padrino for my other host-cousins middle school graduation the next day, and  I wanted to bring my ¨A game¨ for that.  

With Shaner and Vani getting hitched next June, let me propose the following venue for the event:

Watch the video again and besides noting the a stunning architecture, ample seating, and harmonistic band, envision Shane and Vani sharing the dance floor, like this beautiful couple, while the family sits on their respective cords of wood to watch the magic unfold. Shane just have your people call my people, and we´ll make this happen. But do it soon, before this place gets booked.  

Here are a few other pictures of the event:

Yeferson doing his best 007 impression. 
Yordan ready to break some hearts.

Family shot.

The priest presenting the new coupls
(the bride sporting a pretty simple dress).

The bride and groom outside of the church.

The Family 


Roger´s parents.

The family at the reception. 

The guests at their seats.

The guy in white (with his bucket of chicha and 2 plastic cups for everyone)
 was very demanding that people drink the chicha,
especially the women. I wasn´t a big fan of him.

The wedding gifts (This face of overwhelming glee displayed by the bride was evident all day). 

Liquid courage inables the crowd to cut loose.

The transportation used to truck (literal use of the term) the party up to Antash. This picture was taken as I escaped out the back.

* Roger and Dina returned the next morning and told countless stories about how drunk the people got at the party´s final location. The kicker was the story about the bride crying and storming off because the groom was drunk, wanting to fight the guests, and making obnoxious statements. It reminded me of a story about a wedding party at a ski area near Missoula (Marshall), where a fight broke out over the garter toss, and ended with the bride and groom declairing that they both wanted an anullment. Not how I want it to go when I tie the knot, but interesting how there appears to be a cross-cultural similarity there (Wedding= unhappy people= fighting... or am I missing a factor?)

T'is the Season

Since I've already introduced the proyector (projector), I figured this may be a good time to share one of it's many other uses: Teaching Christmas Songs to the kids. If you're looking for a way to have everyone in the class eating out of the palm of your hand, even the punks in the back, here's a hint: download Disney Sing Along Christmas Songs from Youtube. The kids eat this stuff up! They love to Disney and think English is fun, which for me is the perfect combination.

Here's a video of the Segundo Grado of Secondaria (They'd be something like Freshmen in High School) singing "Let It Snow":

And here is the grade above them ¨singing¨ ¨Jingle Bells¨:

Middle School Graduation (Promociones)

Graduation season is upon us, and they do it to the hilt here, with Kindergarten, Middle School, and High School graduation parties being the big ones. The Kindergarten party is today (I´m missing it since I needed to go to Caraz and type some reports), the High School party is after Christmas, and the Middle School party was last Sunday.

I went to the Middle School party, mainly because my host-aunt asked me to be the padrino (god father) for her daughter. I´ve learned to shy away from any padrino duties, usually because it involves sponsoring the kid, paying for her dress, and my first padrino experience was a little embarrassing (see ¨Viva the Queen¨ October blogpost), however, my host-aunt assured me that all I just had to walk Jacky into the party, dance with her, and be in a few photos. Simple, I could that.

The location was a restaurant outside of town. There was a band from Hauraz, great food (pachamanca or roasted meat), lots of people (most of them drank excessively), and la hora loca (crazy hour... where there are balloons and everyone dances).

Fortunately, I don´t have any remarkable stories to tell about this experience, other than it was a lot of fun and really boosted my street cred (or as the Peace Corps says ¨Ability to integrate into the host community¨). However, I should note that I observed a significant amount of social pressure for me (and others) to drink.    I don´t drink in site, and this is now pretty well known in the community, but they still tried to turn the screws on me to drink. Oh peer pressure, thank you DARE for teaching me it´s evils. 

Here are a few pictures from the event:

The teacher (in red) dancing with her students during the hora loca.

A few of the graduates. My host-cousin (Jacky) is on the right.

The 10 graduates receiving their commencement speech. 

Jacky bidding farewell to all (until next year).

Jacky receiving her medallion 

Jacky and her Padrino cutting a rug. 

My host family. Dina is on the left in the front. 

Jacky and her parents. 

Rock and a Hard Place

Tell me if you can’t relate to this: You walk at a quick pace to your latrine, with your toilet paper in one hand, flashlight in the other, with one objective in mind; however, after your arrival and proper positioning in a nice athletic stance (knees bent, butt down, head up), you see a spider the size of a silver dollar (not including the legs in this scientific measurement) dangling overhead. What do you do? Simple, you spring out of your stance and get a stick. The preferred stick should be without spines, the diameter of your pinky finger, and about a meter long. Armed with said stick, you herd the spider out of the latrine, or to a flat surface (where it can be quickly disposed of). But what do you do if your herding stick, is a fourth the diameter of the preferred stick, has spines, is maybe a foot long, and as you attempt to “herd” the spider, the weight of the spider is enough to fling it into the air, out of sight, but definitely somewhere still in the latrine. This is the rock and hard place.

My choice here is the rock. Walk away and try again another day.

…But let me tell you, there is nothing less satisfying than walking back to your room in the dark with your toilet paper tucked under your arm, flashlight in your teeth, flailing your arms at imaginary spiders because you have that creepy crawly feeling of something being on you. The worse part of it all is, knowing you didn’t complete your mission. Peaks and valleys, strikes and gutters, brown trout and whitefish.

Movie Night and Blog Posts Disclaimer

First, the blog post disclaimer: Those of you that have followed this blog from the beginning, may have noticed a couple of things: 1, My writing skills have started to suffer as it is now getting more difficult to accurately state my thoughts in either language. I guess that means my Spanish is growing, but it's depressing how many times I still can't express myself when talking to people in the community; and 2, I've started to post less post with more videos. This will have to change as the internet is somehow effected by the rainy season, making the uploading of videos a real time drain and not always possible. Therefore, at least until March (the end of the rainy season), look for more frequent (albeit shorter) updates with just photos.

Now for the important thing: Movie Nights, or Noches de Cine as we call them here. Basically, its all thanks to a used projector that I bought while I was at Early In-Service Training in Chiclayo. As with any good used projector salesmen, the guy pitched it as a projector coming from a home for the elderly, that the elderly needed to sell for some money. I'll admit, my first thought was "What? They have retirement homes here?" (and as I write this, I can't help to think that his story was a little flimsy... could it be stolen?). However, before I get too far off track, S/.500 later I am a proud owner of a used projector and the Health Promoter kids in Yuracoto get to host a free movie night once a week, usually on a Friday or Saturday.

 I have big plans of using Noches de Cine to gain a captive audience (perfect for 5 minute charlas about various teen related topics), and sell tickets or candy to raise money for the youth group, but for now its pretty simple: I show up with my laptop, speakers, projector, a movie I bought at the market,  a few questions for the kids to think about while they watch the movie, and we start at 6 o'clock sharp.

For the kids, its seems to be a big deal. Keep in mind that the nearest movie theater is at least an 8 hour bus ride away and relatively expensive. I'm willing to bet, none of these kids have actually seen a movie on the big screen before,which is kinda sad for me. Going to see a movie, and just veggin' out for a few hours, is one of my favorite pastimes.

Our first two screenings were: "Goal!"/"Gol!" and "Easy A"/"Se Dice De Mi". Goal (12 kids came to this one, 16 came to Easy A... we're growing in numbers!) was a good opportunity to talk about self-esteem, developing a good support system, and striving to reach your goals (Is there a pun there?). Easy A , a pop version of the Scarlet Letter, was a good way hit tons of topics, but we mainly focused on gender roles (Why does a guy get called a "stud", but a girl is called "easy"?), being a good friend, the ABCs of safe sex, and sexuality (Why the does the gay character in the movie get beat up at school?)*. Pretty difficult subjects for kids to think about out of context, but having entertaining movie to provide examples, really helps.

Her's a picture of my kids enjoying "Easy A":

* The questions I used for the screening of ¨Easy A¨ came from this website.     It´s a mix of a review with analysis of the gender role issues in the movie. If you´ve got time, feel free to check it out:

Easy A and the History of Sexuality

The Cuy Gotta Eat.

On my way back from my host-cousin's wedding (see future post), I decided to take a detour and walk around the chacra behind our house. I really enjoy this place, especially at the end of the day, when the sun is setting. On this time out, I ran into Franklin and his mother (my neighbors) picking herbas/weeds for their cuy to eat, so I decided to help. They were much better at it than I was (and quick to tell me that the pile of weeds I had picked for the cuy would kill them, most of them were poisonous), but after 45 minutes we (they) had gathered a nice pile of herbage for the their cuy. The mother was too shy to have her picture taken, but here's Franklin and the cuy's food:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nice kicks!

I vividly remeber when Adam and I would get to go to Payless Shoes, near the old Black Sheep Sporting Goods store in Missoula, to buy our new shoes. It was a big deal for us, as we usually picked out the coolest looking pair, and then tested them by running around the store jumping over the stools, to varify that they made us run faster and jump higher. So when Yeferson got a new pair of ¨Air Surfs¨ (S/.13 or about $5)*, I couldn´t help to recognize his excitement for getting to go to school on Monday and show them off. Here´s a quick video I made before he headed to school on Monday:

* He really wanted a pair with lights in them, but Roger in Dina had to deny this request as they cost twice as much and the lights usually stop working with in the first week of use.  I too remember getting this same response from the fianciers when I wanted a pair of Reebok Pumps. Somethings just never change.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Laguna (Lake) Paron Camping Trip

I was originally planning on passing my Thanksgiving on the coast in Huanchaco, a beach town outside of Trujillo (8 hours from Caraz, Ancash and the place we went for Field Based Training during week 10 in Lima); however, due to the following reasons, I decided that a camping trip was what I needed to do (items listed by weight that they carried in me making my choice): 1) Money was getting real tight in November. I’m not sure what was the cause but for some reason, November wasn’t an easy month for my budget; 2) My site is located on the fringe of the Cordillera Blanca, and I’d be a fool to travel 8 hours away from that and find myself wishing I was closer to the mountains; 3) I’ve been there before; 4) I had Early In-Service Training planned for the November 27 to December 3rd in Lambayeque (3 hours to the north of Trujillo… a coastal city with crippling heat), so mountain time seemed needed.

The trip was great. I went with 2 other PCVs, Jeff my “site mate” (he lives 2 hours away), and Patrick (a Peru 16er who lives near Huaraz). We met Thanksgiving morning in Caraz at 9, and readied ourselves for the next 2 nights. This involved renting gear (one tent, a fuel bottle, a sleeping bag, 2 sleeping pads: 57 soles for 2 nights), buying food at the market (top ramon noodles, veggies, cheese, bread, lunch meat, a slab of beef, candy, honey, and a few other random items I can’t think of: about 25 soles each), and catching a collectivo (van-taxi) to the town of Paron (45minutes/5 soles each).

The collectivo was a fun ride with a bunch of Sierra women who were talking about us in Quechua (since there is no Quechua word for “Gringo” the topic of their conversation was easily deciphered); however, this stoped when Patrick clued them in that he knows a few words in the native tongue (putting doubt in the air about just how much do these gringos understood… in my case nothing). Also, we passed through Antash, half way to Paron, and this is my host-father’s home town, so it was nice to see the setting of so many of his stories.

At Paron, (Kilometer 15), the collectivo stops, and you have to walk the other 17 kilometers to the national park entrance the lake. There’s a guard station and a fee to use the road (5 soles) but in my opinion it was worth it. If you take a cab the rest of the way, you need to pay something around 80 soles. So the hike it was, which isn’t bad. Instead of sticking to switch-back infested road, the trail is nice bee-line that cuts along the creek bed most of the journey. We started walking at noon, took a rain forced lunch break at 1:30pm (Jeff was rocking pure cotton on this trip), and arrived at the lake around 5:00pm.

The lake is located at 12,000 feet, in a tight and deeply cut quebrada (canyon) that dead ends at the base of some very impressive mountains. Laguna Paron is severely dewatered (even though it’s the largest lake in the Cordillera Blanca) and it’s a source of great contention in the region (in the photo slide show you’ll see a picture of graffiti voicing one side of the debate, and we walked past some kids on a field trip being preached at about the evils of money driven businessmen dewatering the lake). Sense the water level is so low, it wasn’t hard for us to find flat soft ground to pitch our tents; however, the lake mud did cake everything (making the guy we rented our gear from not too happy upon our return). We after quickly setting up our first camp, we then huddled behind a large rock as a strong wind brought some clouds up from the valley, which settled in on top of us (misting everything, and soaking our gear). However, being true campers we set to work readying our Thanksgiving feast. Patrick cut up the beef slab, Jeff cut the vegies, and I manned the stove, and after about an hour (partly due to water not boiling rapidly at that elevation) we had a mouthwatering beef stew! With the more news worthy piece being that no one reported any illnesses from the market meat that sat in someone’s back pack for the half the day!! Here’s a video of Thanksgiving night:

The next morning was a good start to a great day. We woke up to the high-powered Sierra sun that seemed to be amplified at 12,000 feet. After about an hour of lazily soaking in the sun, we decided to get our first Naked Lake Jump out of the way. Side bar:

A Naked Lake Jump (NLJ) is basically skinny dipping. However, it´s more than just that to the PCVs in Ancash, it’s a tradition/challenge that was started around 2005 by some past Ancash volunteers. There are some basic rules (it has to be a named lake, it has to be glacier fed, etc.) and it has produced some big time legions, with impressive stats. “Rabbit”, a previous PCVL (the L is for “leader”, meaning he stayed on for a 3rd year), holds the record with 22 reported jumps during his service. As for current volunteers still serving the high mark is around nine reported jumps. 

After the NLJ, we packed up for the 2 hour easy hike around the lake to the other side, where we set up camp for the next night. Here we found a pre-built wind shelter, where we ate lunch and took note of just how domesticated cows have become (believe it or not, I’ve seen squirrels on the University of Montana campus that were more wild then these cows). After lunch, we off-trail hiked to Laguna Chacra (1350 feet) for another NLJ, and then cut the trail on the way back down to Artesoncocha (another lake at 12,050) for our 3rd ,and last, NLJ of the day (brining my personal total of jumps to 4). That night I tried to fish the lake, with  no luck. After being skunkes, I spent the rest of the evening  huddled in our wind shelter witht the boys cooking our less impressive top ramon noodles with left over vegies. There is no video of this meal.

The next day we woke up early, and were on our way back to the town of Paron by 9:00. Jeff and I needed to catch a night bus to Trujillo from Caraz at 7:00pm, and wanted to be sure we caught the last collectivo from Paron back to Caraz (which leaves Paron at 2:00). We made good time and made it to the pick-up point by 12:30 thirsty and sore, but happy with the vacation. 

Random Videos:

Jeff is a good sitemate, future contributor to my upcoming fishing in peru blog (once I catch a fish), and all around solid guy; however, he does have one notable weakness: sunsets. Show the guy one good sunset and he´s instantly starts spouting lines from ¨You´ve Got Mail¨. Trust me, it wasn´t easy for Patrick and I to watch this tough gambler from Nevada melt like he did:

Patrick lives in a site that is bien campo (super rural), so in his past year of service, he´s picked up some very traditional cattle herding techniques, which he displayed for us on the following video:

Photo Album Link:

Laguna Paron Pictures

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bobcats vs Bearkats

I'm currently in an internet cafe in Caraz, and I doubt there is any question who I am cheering for in today FCS games (here's a hint: they don't were orange). Hopefully I don't jinx the hometown boys like I did last time.

Here's the good and bad of it: Bobcats just entered the locker room on a blocked punt and down by 15 (bad news);however,  I don't feel that I'll be tempted to look at a last minute ticket for the possible MSU vs UM rematch (good news, because the cheapest ticket on is just a mere $2,720 or about 9 months of my current PC salary).

Early In-Service Training

After 3 months in site doing my community diagnostic (gathering information on my community through various techniques, determining areas of need, and making a possible plan for my service), we are required to meet for a week to present our diagnostic and receive some more training on future areas of need (how to fund raise, grant cycles, classroom management, giving safe sex/STD/drug and alcohol charlas, etc). Our Early IST was in Olmos, Lambayeque, a coastal city of about 15,000 people, 5 hours north of Trujillo (2 hours north of Chiclayo).

It was great to see everyone from training, and find out how their last three months in site have been. We’ve lost one girl from our group, but other than her, everyone seemed very happy with their sites. Each region had that their specific stories, for example: The volunteers in Ica (where the Nasca lines are) had their stories about the crimes in their capital city (sounds rough) and of the desert; and the volunteers in Cajamarca had stories of having to leave early, and not being allowed to return, to avoid a strike that is currently going on where protesters have stopped all highway travel in hopes to prevent 5 new mines in the area. Each region sounded like somewhere I’d like to visit, but I have to say I’m very happy that I’m in Ancash.

As for my diagnostic, the take away points were that we in Yuracoto have a nice and small community with a few key problems: Teenage Pregnancy/Lack of family planning (having 3 kids at by age 18 and not having a husband or a job = a difficult future), alcoholismo (alcoholism), poor basic nutrition and hygiene, and kids that do not have healthy past-times (small gang issues).

The training went well, and coincided with World AIDS Day (December 1st). So with all of us there, we did a “practicum” and helped the PCV in Olmos put on a pretty impressive AIDS day activity. It was in the plaza de armas (town square) and the PCV did a great job of organizing everything. The local Health Post was there manning booths where people could get AIDS/STDs information, free HIV testing, and sexual health consultations. The local schools participated in a talent competition with themes that revolved around sensitizing people to those infected with HIV/AIDS and preventing the spread of the virus *. Prize of a DVD player and some soccer balls were distributed. Shortly following  is a video of me at the event, but first here is a picture of me standing next to a giant walking condom that talked (might be a bit of a turn of at the time of need), and a few other memorable pictures:

Video of me at AIDS Day:

 The PCVs also presented skits. Our skit (the video of our skits wouldn't upload) was a parody of a popular game show that airs here. The premise is that there are two teams of teenagers (one red team, one blue team) that play to win free bus tickets for a graduation trip. As the kids get questions right, they get subir al bus (get on the bus). As with any game show, news show, comedy show, pet show, gun show, dog and pony show, etc. here in Peru there are always two girls that just hold signs and dance, don’t ask me why, but they are rarely afforded a chance to talk or wear clothes that cover much more than a 15% of their bodies (my buddy Nick and I played that role).

*The message promoted was “Recordar los ABCs”/”Remember Your ABCs” (Abstinencia, Brindar Fielidad, o ponte un Condon/ Abstinence, Be Monogamous, or use Condom).  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

They're Grrrrrrrrreat!!!

Uncle Pat worked for Kellogg's Cereals when I was a kid, and whenever he'd pass through Missoula, the house would be well stocked with cereal, and most importantly to me (at the time), Kellogg's swag. Most notably a "life-sized" cardboard cut-out of Tony the Tiger , assuming Tony's in the 5 to 6 foot range (I've never actually met him in real life), that became staple at birthday parties and garage sales.

Anyway, keeping with the tradition here in Peru, Yefferson has come to love our new toy, the Tony the Tiger Frisbee. He's still learning the subtleties of the art, but as with anything, I'm sure he'll only improve with time.