The Northern Coast

The Northern Coast
The Northern Coast--photo by Zack Thieman

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The internet is robbing my soul.

So, getting the internet in my room couldn't have come at a worse time. I'm presenting my community diagnostic tomorrow for all of the town authorities (assuming they all come) and, well, I've been a little distracted.

Its just after not having unlimited internet for so long, I kind of got a little out of hand. I watched a billion youtube videos (because all of you people kept posting stuff on facebook that I couldn't watch!), I stalked everyone I could think of to see what they've been doing for the last 10 months (if you're reading this...I probably stalked you. Nice photos, by the way), I chatted with various different people, watched movie trailers, listened to music, downloaded podcasts, read blogs, read multiple NPR and BBC stories, and...well...just been very distracted. And emotional.

Is it possible that the internet can make you every emotion possible within an hour? Or is that just Peace Corps?

Also, while my host dad's claims aren't completely unfounded, he has now decided that if I am in my room I'm not depressed (remember? my "Sh*t my host dad says" post?), I'm just a slave to the internet. If I am ever in my room (even napping or say, actually working) I am instead surfing the internet and being a zombie. I walk out into the kitchen from my room smiling and saying, "hola," and he will just stare at me, a critical eye, and the second I'm out of site he says in a loud whisper, "Amanda is spending way too much time on the internet. She has it in her room and now look, she doesn't do anything else."

Well, I've actually been pretty good today and my diagnostic is looking pretty solid as a presentation, and when my host mom proof-read it for me it had probably the least amount of spelling and grammatical errors of anything I've ever written in Spanish, EVER. That means a lot to me considering; A) I'm used to being above average on those things in English and can't say the same for Spanish, and B) I CAN HAZ LEARN SPANISH GOOD?

Some highlights of things I've been perusing...

My good friend Kyra's Etsy Page. Man, that girl is beautiful! So proud of her and her awesome jewelry. And also, her daywalker fiánce and his glorious red beard (as seen in their fuh-reaking amazing engagement photos. MY FRIENDS ARE MODELS.)

Wrecked Metals from Josh Clason on Vimeo.
This vimeo of Wrecked Metals, a hotrod and chopper shop in Boise, Idaho, owned by one of the Farm Boys, Matt Whitlock (and one of my brother's friends), which makes me extremely homesick because it shows Boise and reminds me of my brother (as he's a Farm Boy, too).

This video that's been floating around on the facespace from other volunteers. Aside from the hand holding of men (which is not a cultural norm here, although I understand it is in Africa) this is pretty much spot on.

Okay, that's enough for now. Now that I can post things whenever I want, I can make these as short as I want.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Life these days

Last week was the March Equinox, meaning temperatures are supposed to start dropping. All day I went around saying, “It’s the first day of autumn! It’s the first day of autumn!” and no one really knew how to respond, or was at least perplexed as to why I kept bringing this up. “Well, it sure doesn’t feel like it,” the secretary of the high school said as all of us wiped sweat from our foreheads and fanned our faces.

And sure enough, it’s still really hot. I’ve already decided that if someone were to make a Lifetime movie of my time in Peru, the actress would A) never wear makeup, ever, B) have a constant shine or gleam to her face and occasional bead of sweat fall off her brow, C) always be pitting-out or have boob-sweat visible on her shirt, and D) speak in an American-accented Spanish with frequent grammatical errors—the whole movie. She is also not allowed to wear more than a handful of outfits, which have to look more and more stretched and worn out as the movie goes on. But, no one is going to make a movie of my time here. While I think this little adventure has some good quality storytelling aspects to it, it’s not that interesting.
Things have definitely been slow lately, as school has started but I am still in planning stages with teachers and directors on my actual involvement within school. Thankfully this month I’ve had some opportunities to get out and actually enjoy the outdoors. I was worried January through March was going to consist of me trapped in my house hiding from the scorching sun and simultaneously roasting and suffocating inside, as my house is literally like a brick oven. My friend Zack and I (who lives in a site close by) made it a small tradition in the last month of summer to ride our bikes to the beach in my district on Fridays and spend the day exploring and hanging out. The beach town is about 11 miles from my town, and it is a small and desolate place. We pretty much have the entire beach to ourselves except for a couple fishermen. The highway out to the beach town is fairly desolate too, with a few small towns and villages on the way. The highway, as in the asphalt, was just laid down in the last few years. Before that it was a dirt road that I’ve been told would occasionally become obscured by the wind and drifting sand. Every time Zack and I rode through any of the small towns on the way to the beach everyone in town would stop what they were doing and watch us dumbfounded. Small children playing would stop to point and shout, “¡Mira!” Zack made the point that we are probably the first white people to ride our bikes out there, and I think he’s right. We’re probably also one of the first people to ride our bikes all the way to the beach from my town, as it is not really part of Peruvian culture to ride your bike for anything other than short errands or transportation to work, and if you need to go further you take public transportation. We got three bike rides to the beach in before the end of summer and our schedules filled up making it impossible to have such a day. It was really nice to do something that I probably would do in the U.S., like ride my bike with a friend on a summer day. 

Another fun part of the bike rides is it helped in my current plans to organize a “bicicletada” out to the beach as part of the town anniversary celebration this May. My host dad presented the idea to me after finding out I am training for the Pacasymayo Half-Marathon, which is in a town in La Libertad that was started by a volunteer (along with a 5K, 10K, and full Marathon). We’re not going to make the bicicletada a competition though, as the main idea is to get participation and people out riding their bikes. I took the idea to a group of youth environment promoters to give the bicicletada a healthy environment and healthy lifestyle theme, and of course involve youth in the planning of the event. The idea must be pretty popular, as the other day I ran into the mayor and he told me he had heard about our plans and wanted to get involved. (Which, in itself makes me giddy, because that means this might actually work!)

The next few months are going to be interesting, as they are going to be the true test of whether all of the plans I’ve been working on recently are going to come to fruition. This April I am planning on starting a health promoters group Pasos Adelantes, which is a Peace Corps created program to train a youth group on healthy lifestyles and HIV/AIDS and pregnancy prevention. The youth group then does their own presentations with their peers and classmates as well as run events in the community to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.

Partnered with that plan is to start an Escuela de Padres (classes for parents) that are twice a month to work on better communication with their children and talk to them about important topics like values, morals, responsibility, s-e-x, and just showing affection and love towards their children in general. On the coast it’s a little better, but a lot of Peruvians don’t show very much affection towards their children and even worry they might make their sons gay by hugging or kissing them. I am working with some of the teachers in the high school on this project, including my host mom, and it is the plan I am both most excited about and most afraid of. 1) I’m working with parents on behavior change; 2) I’m relying heavily on community members to make this happen. 

I’m still working with the NATS (niños y niñas, adoloscentes trabajadores) a youth group of children workers. We meet every Saturday and go over varying topics like self-esteem and right now we’re starting on leadership and teamwork skills. They are so quiet and have a hard time interacting within the group setting, and I think I kind of intimidate them. But, they come back week after week.

I’m also still working with the dance group once a week on vocational orientation. I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but these kids are my favorite. They welcomed me into their group my first week visiting and have consistently wanted to spend time with me in the last 7 months I’ve been here. They’re older, between 16 and 22 years old, and they’re also my friends in site. I don’t just see them at our meetings, but I hang out with them every now and again. They don’t shy away from me and they don’t treat me like a novelty item either. They are the young leaders in the town, looked up to by other kids and trusted by authority figures. Some of them are also the kids in charge of the youth group of environment promoters. They have connections in the community that I need in order to get stuff done. They’re motivated, they’re young, and they really care about their community. They rock, period.

As to what things I will be doing regularly in the schools, I have yet to make any solid plans. I’m having a hard time because I have come to realize working in with every age group in the high school is kind of impossible. If I spread myself too thin just so I can make an appearance in every class and let them all know I want to work with every single one of them, then I am just doing quantity over quality. Not to mention, just like anywhere, some kids aren’t motivated to do extra work or projects. I really need to pick a group and focus on them, and while in some cases it is obvious who that needs to be, it is hard to have to tell kids I’m not going to work with them as much.

Well, I have Internet IN MY ROOM now, which means I should be able to keep this blog updated a little easier, as well as stay in touch. It hopefully will not mean a drop in productivity. I mean, I’ve had internet at my fingertips for years until I got here. Funny how being somewhat deprived for awhile makes me feel overwhelmed to have access to it within the comfort of my own bedroom. This could be dangerous.

I’ll try to post some good anecdotes and stories in the future.

Miss and love everybody!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thank God for Moms

Last few days have been rough. It's taken a lot of restraint to not do any of the following:
  • Scream at my youth group/people around me.
  • Walk away from my youth group, never to speak to them again.
  • Punch children in the face.
  • Punch every Peruvian man in the face.
  • Lock myself in my room for a week.
Now, you might wonder, "What on earth could provoke such a response from mild-mannered, sweet Amanda?" (Okay, maybe not the last two things, but you're still probably curious). Well, it's not just one or two things, but quite a few things built up. Luckily for my own sanity, I am somewhat able to identify some of the reasons why.

I have come to realize that when I attend a in-service training from Peace Corps, it does not come without it's downfalls. At trainings I am spending time with my fellow 17ers who share a common goal and sense of purpose in our work,  and we are running on a very structured, punctual schedule and I am pumped full of ideas, motivation, and new goals to achieve, and it's like I am once again reminded of the endless possibilities in the world and the power one person can have in bringing change.

And then I get back to site. 

Then I am quickly reminded that Peace Corps isn't like that. Peru doesn't work that way. There is no 8-5 day with everyone plugging away being productive. People don't care as much about the things you're working on as you do. People think it's important, but that's why YOU'RE there, so YOU can do it. People want me to teach them English. Wait, scratch that, they want to learn English through osmosis of me being there (but for them to be there would be too much to ask. Attend class? Why?), because Lord knows actually studying and practicing is too much to ask. This usually results in a bit of depression, and a lot of, "What's the point?"

We can have all the training sessions we want about the new and amazing things we can achieve in our sites with our counterparts and in our communities, and get all the happy fuzzy feelings of the possibility of accomplishment, but the reality is this is an uphill battle, and sometimes as a volunteer you are the only one pushing the cart filled with changes needed to make those dreams come true.

In other words-- back to square one.

And aside from all that, I just had a situation with a youth group that is too long to explain, but the jist of it is they organized an activity while I was gone that I never would've endorsed because of the obvious sexist bull-crap involved that is so ingrained in them, and then when the activity flopped I became the scape goat. Next time I see them, they're getting a gender charla and a "take-responsibility-for-your-actions" charla-- if we ever speak again.


The reason for this post:

Obviously, I've been feeling down (I know, so soon after my last "hopeful" blog post).

Times like these, receiving things from home is a godsend.

Today I received a package from my Mom that was filled with so many goodies I could feel the black, cold place where my heart once was slightly warm up again.

What you are seeing is 2 kids magazines (English, of course), JIF Peanut Butter/Chocolate packs, mini Cadbury Eggs, Wherthers, Crystal Light packets, and a dress.

It fits!

It's the small things. Thank you, Mom! Your packages mean more to me than you know. Thanks for everyone back home who is so supportive, and has been sending me care-packages, letters, postcards, etc. It means SO much to me. I have a spot on my wall where I put everything I get in the mail (Seriously! Every postcard/picture/drawing--longer letters get put in an envelope that I'm saving) and I'm sure I will have to start moving to another wall soon.

PS-- Obviously take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. Yes, this is truly how I feel right now, and yes, this is a real reaction I have to events. Somedays, I just want to throw my hands up and say, "I quit!" But, next thing you know, I'll be riding unicorns on rainbows holding hands with all the children of my town and singing, "We Are the World." As my friend Sue said, "I do not like this roller coaster. This roller coaster is the worst roller coaster ever, I want off!"

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What lies ahead

I had my cards read in my site.

My best friend in my site, Kathy (pronounced Kah-tee), a 16 year-old and recent high school graduate, came over to visit me while I was sick (if it's not giardia, it's sinus infections, and now I have ear infections in BOTH ears due to the paint that got in them during carnaval!). While she was over she mentioned taking her cousin to a woman here in town who reads tarot cards. I had no idea there was a person who read tarot cards in my small town, although I shouldn't have been surprised. Like I've said before, Peruvians can live the duality of being faithful Catholics and getting cards read or visiting shaman. 

My curiosity was piqued, so I asked Kathy if she would take me to the woman. A few days later we met up and her and her boyfriend walked with me to get my cards read.

We hardly walked 200 yards past my house when we turned left, walking on a sand path to a house set back from the road. While we walked Kathy said the woman had lived here several years, and while her mother was working in the municipality she had helped the woman learn how to write in Spanish.

“She writes very strangely,” she said, “in symbols, like Arabic.”

As we approached we saw a man and a woman sitting on a patio talking, and we all walked up and greeted them. In the U.S. I think I would be embarressed to walk to a stranger's house uninvited and interrupt whatever they were doing to ask them for something, but that's not the way it is here. It was not strange that we walked on her porch and greeted them with kisses with no pretense of why we were there or knowledge of whether she was open for business. In Peru, every home-business is always open for business. 

The man and the woman greeted us without any hint of being bothered by our intrusion. The woman had a handkerchief tied in her hair, looped earrings, and a gold tooth-- simple things that might make you think of gypsies. She did not look Peruvian and her skin was olive-toned, but if no one had said anything, I may have assumed she had Spanish heritage. Without any questions Kathy simply told me to walk into the house with the woman while they waited outside.

We walked into her living room and she motioned to a table with two chairs.
“¿Como puedo ayudarte?” she asked with the hint of an accent I couldn’t place, but her ¨r´s¨ seemed thicker.

“I heard you read cards,” I replied, “and wondered if you had the time to read for me.”
She smiled, looking not just pleased but complimented in the request. She grabbed a notebook and flipped through it. It was filled with random notes and the writing Kathy had mentioned, much of it symbols and markings I was not familiar with. She wasn’t finding what she was looking for in this notebook, so she went and got another one.

She asked me my name and where I was from so that the spirits of my homeland would come and assist with the information. She wrote my name in a way I have never seen my name written, the “a’s” were a curly vertical scribbles. She asked me what brought me to Peru and I told her I was a volunteer working in development.

She pulled out a set of cards that looked older and more faded than any cards I had ever seen. They were not big and square like cards I have seen friends and other readers use, but rectangular with curved edges, the pictures on them barely visible by what had obviously been years of handling, black smudges almost engulfing the entirety of some images.

“What do you want to know about? Love? Work? The past?”

“Work, and my life in Peru,” I said.

She shuffled the cards some more and then had me cut the deck three times.

Upon having the cards in three stacks she motioned to the last stack I had placed.

“Comprometida,” she said with raised eyebrows. “Promised,” in some contexts it can mean fiancé or engaged (¨betrothed¨). I acknowledged that I did have a boyfriend, but said nothing more than that.

She picked up one of the stacks of cards and started laying them out like you would a game of solitaire. She said if my boyfriend hadn’t already visited me, he would. She said he is faithful and so am I, and that I would not leave him for any Peruvian because, well, they are all ugly. (her words! not mine) Also, we are exclusive and in a serious relationship, but after laying down a few more cards realized that marriage is still a ways off, and while we may be commited, I am not engaged.

“You are very stressed,” she said. She talked about how I have accustomed myself to Peru more or less, but that I worry about a lot of things. I worry about my time in Peru, about my safety, about the health of my family, about my health. She said the stress from work was fear of not accomplishing anything. She told me to take caution, but that my family is fine, I will be fine, and I will have lots of success in my work and with whatever I want to do.

“You are not a woman who sits back and watches things happen,” she said. “You will succeed with whatever it is you want to succeed in.”

She repeated the main themes of the reading: my boyfriend, with whom things are good and will continue to be so and who will come and see me; the stress and worry that I carry with me over work and distance from home, but that things are good at home; that my work will be successful, and that I will achieve whatever I want to achieve in my time here.

It was a short reading, a simple one. And while she very possibly could’ve gotten almost all of that information from gossip in town about the gringa who will live here for 2 years and had a big hairy boyfriend come visit her, it didn’t change how I felt about the part I came there for. To have someone acknowledge that I am stressed about my capabilities in my job and tell me that it will all work out fine is something I will always be happy to hear. “Mucho exito” she kept saying over and over again. “Lots of success.”

Afterwards we chit-chatted about Peru for a moment and she said it was a nice place that she thought I would continue to like, as she had in her 11 years here. When I asked her where she was from she said, “Turkey.”  I asked her how long she had read cards for and she said since she was a little girl. Her whole family does it and she had been taught since childhood. I think I found a real gypsy.

I thanked her for her time, told her I would like to come visit her again sometime, and walked out onto the patio. Kathy and her boyfriend stood up and we all said our goodbyes and walked off.

It was an interesting experience, and the first time I had ever had my cards read for me in Spanish. When I told my host family about it my host mom’s eyes grew big, intrigued as she had never had her Tarot cards read. My host brother mocked me, saying anyone could’ve fed her all the information about me.

It’s very possible. But even so, the possibility that someone fed her information so she could give me good news makes me smile. (And I had a ¨follow-up¨ reading with a friend that confirmed a lot of what she said.) It couldn't have come at a better time, really. I got my cards read from her just before the new school year started and another in-service training in Peace Corps where we worked developing projects and writing plans for the year. 

The brunt of my service lies ahead of me-- the chance to make a difference and get things off the ground is near. I've spent my time in site making connections, I've more or less figured out who will help me and who won't, and now I have to put all these factors in my favor and create a plan with people in my community that will stick. The time for standing back and watching is over, we are in the thick of planning mode, and next month we'll see how it all works. 

I have a slight feeling that I'm setting myself up for big losses and broken spirits if things don't work out. This is one of those moments to hope for the best but expect the worst. And don't get my wrong, I definitely expect the worst. But there's something different about things this time. I can't seem to shake the optimism. Even with possible and foreseeable setbacks and roadblocks, I am excited about the months to come. Lets just hope that ¨mucho exito¨ really does follow me in whatever I do.