The Northern Coast

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fiestas Patrias

This weekend is Peru’s Fiestas Patrias, or Independence Day celebration. July 28th is the official day of the celebration, so in traditional Peruvian fashion we all celebrated on July 27th so that no one had to work on Friday and could spend the holiday laying around.

I was surprised that my town didn’t really go all out for this celebration as they have for their town anniversary, saint anniversary, and other celebrations. It is literally the biggest holiday of the year. Apparently everyone would rather celebrate in other ways and go on vacation.  But they did have the traditional “desfile” (pronounced “des-fee-lay”) or parade/march.

For how many desfiles I’ve participated in, I realize I haven’t really talked about them on here. Well for one thing, desfiles happen with any large celebration, and they involve just about every institution and organization in town. In general there is just one strip of street around the park they close off for the desfile, and every school and organization has its turn to march along the strip carrying their banner. Everyone wears official uniforms or colors that represent their particular group. There is a band that plays to give everyone the beat to march to, and often within the schools there is a competition on who does the best goosestep. (My school always wins!)

Since I work with a couple different organizations in town, I end up “marching” with at least two groups during the celebrations. I always march with the municipality and with the public school I work with, and since I'm my own entity I dress up but I don't wear any official uniform. 

The weather is incredible these days—sunny and warm enough to wear shorts and a t-shirt, but cools off enough at night to wear a sweater and even pants. I absolutely love it!

Everyone hanging out in the park waiting for the desfile

The band, starting the desfile off and setting the beat

A private school waits in queue for their turn

The band in its place

One of the organizations in town marching with their banner

A credit union (or bank cooperative). Some places have Señoritas or "Miss---" for their organization to represent them in events like this one. I've never seen this girl before the desfile, but she gave quite a few people whip-lash.

Under the small awning are all the big-wigs in town--the mayor, the priest, and other important authorities, along with the elected "Señorita" of our town

The public school I work with getting ready to march

Everyone who's invited to march gets their turn

This guy has the best seat in the house

The kids from my school doing their best goosestep

More marching.

The kids along with the director. A lot of these kids are in my youth group

I decided to jump in for a photo

Someone using their tablet as a camera. I've also seen it being used as a phone.

The police finishing off the desfile.
Today in Lima there was a big desfile that was shown on TV, and my host family has been eating special meals all weekend long. Otherwise things have been pretty quiet in my little town, and it's been a really laid-back weekend. Everyone must have left, because usually this celebration can get a little out of hand. I mean, I can't complain really. Usually fireworks are set off every morning at 5 a.m. and continued until 1 a.m., but not this year. Considering that I know that is how they usually celebrate, I'm kind of weirded out. Where's all the ruckus? 

Solar-easy-bake oven

During Camp VALOR our environment volunteers taught the kids about solar ovens. I then got so excited about the idea I decided I must have one of my own, and that I would make it a fun project to do with Justin when he arrived. My excitement was so great that I actually led Justin to believe I was more excited about the solar oven then I was for his visit.

The thing about baking in Peru sucks. In most homes where a family has an actual gas oven and stove, they use the oven part as a cupboard. Baking just isn't really part of the culture. All meals are cooked on the stove top as it takes a lot of resources to bake, and if you want bread or a cake you go to the bakery. For those who do want to bake, there is the electric "bubble oven", which looks kind of like a small, round, outdoor grill but with one electric heating unit that only lines the edges. It cooks unevenly, its awkward shape makes it hard for square bake ware, and my host family freaks out every time I use it as they think I'm going to burn down the house. 

So when I told my host family, "I'm going to make an oven that uses solar energy," (AKA--free energy) they got really excited. And when Justin finally got here, all hard feelings aside, he got a little excited about it, too. We spent an entire evening working on it and reading up on different styles and ways to make an inexpensive but functional solar oven.

There are a couple different styles, and they’re all fairly easy. We went with a simple box solar oven design, like the one we used at Camp VALOR.

First off get two cardboard boxes; one that’s slightly bigger than the other by a couple inches on the sides.
Justin readying the boxes we got for free at my local bodega
Line the inside of the smaller box with aluminum foil, except for the bottom which needs to be black. We used black construction paper. This can actually be a little tricky, because you don’t want to use anything like tape or glue on the inside of the box to keep the aluminum foil and construction paper in place, as it may become toxic once it’s heated up. (See step 2 before starting any of this!)
Inside box lined with aluminum, and black construction paper on the bottom.

Place the smaller box inside the bigger box, insulating all of the space between, bottom and sides, with newspaper. You’ll want to take into account how much of the inside box will stick up once padded underneath, as you want both boxes to be the same height (Justin and I didn’t realize that until after, so we had to make adjustments AFTER putting all the foil on the box).

Justin and I decided to line the outside of the larger box with black construction paper just to get things a little toastier. 

I decided to decorate the back of the outside box with leftover paper scraps
You also want to make a back panel (extra cardboard with aluminum on it) to be placed behind the box and reflect additional light back in.

To finish it off, the oven needs a lid of some sort to put over the box. It can be glass or plastic wrap. Justin and I chose glass, as it’s a better conductor of heat, it will last longer, and it was less than 4 soles (less than $2) to have a piece of glass cut to size.
First solar-oven experiment--BROWNIES!
As far as cooking/baking ware, it needs to be all black, AND it needs a lid. The more ways to trap and attract heat, the better.
Our make-shift lid-- a manila folder with black construction paper on one side, aluminum on the other

Pre-heating the oven.
Setting up the backboard

Now, they say solar oven baking takes at least twice as long as regular baking. Well maybe that is true with the fancier solar ovens, but we found a lot of things factor into the solar oven baking process. To name a couple: any cloudiness at all, time of day, and location of the oven. For instance, placing the box in an area that will eventually get shade (D’oh!). We left our first concoction in the sun for more than 2 hours, and came back to find it partially shaded, and partially cooked.

See the shadows already creeping in? Bad location.

Half-baked, womp womp!
So, with all my experience and wisdom gained from our first try, I waited for a really sunny day for my second attempt. Yesterday I woke up to blue skies so I got to work. This time I started earlier, let the box “preheat” longer in the sun, and placed it in a location I knew would get sun all day (but still needed adjustments from time to time). This time I tried chocolate chip cookies.

Let me tell you, that solar oven got hot! When I went to check on the cookies I almost burnt myself!

Notice I said almost. One thing that is different with solar oven cooking is you can’t burn the food you’re cooking. With chocolate chip cookies they are usually crispy on the bottom, and if overcooked they get too hard. Well, even after my cookies were cooked all the way through they were still gooey (and so freaking delicious I could hardly contain myself).

So so so so so so so so so delicious! Host-family approved!
It did take a long time to cook them, though--much longer than twice the baking time. Granted I kind of got distracted with other things and would forget to check on them, but I left them in the solar oven for at least 6 hours.

I’m hoping to get some better baking ware one of these days and get a real lid. I’m sure once it’s summer again the heat alone will cook whatever I put in the solar oven. But until then, I’m going to keep experimenting. It may be a little optimistic, but I’m thinking cornbread next time.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Okay, okay, I get it.

To all of the volunteers who came before who told me about the seamlessly-endless time spans in which you were lost, bored, and without anything to do—I get it.

To all of the blogs and articles I have read about the paradoxical and complicated lifestyle of a Peace Corps volunteer who leaves their country with high aspirations to change the world and came across hurdles and walls they never imagined existed—I get it.

I thought I understood before, but apparently everything before now was just child’s play.

In my first year of service I have had some pretty frustrating times. People warned me that I would do everything in my power to make a difference-- hell, I would do everything in my power just to hold a meeting-- and things would still not work out. And I did have those moments when youth didn’t show up to meetings, when counterparts in my community made promises they couldn’t keep, and when even both of those things weren’t a problem a Peruvian holiday would magically pop up and, “Well, whad’ya know? We can’t do anything for the next week because we’re celebrating the anniversary of a flood, and then the anniversary of the day the water receded.”

Things like that happen, and as frustrating as they are, they are just part of living in Peru. I was not without anything to do. In fact, in the last couple months I became quite busy as I had started an escuela de padres (parent school—classes for parents on how to better communicate with their teen), a health promoters group, an English Club with my host mom, and I helped in different events in both my town and with other Peace Corps volunteers. Time was flying by, all of my hard work integrating into my community paid off, and I felt like I was getting somewhere.

And then the strikes happened.

The public school teachers have been on strike for 3 weeks now. They are marching in the regional capital demanding a pay increase, as they have not had a raise in something like 15 years.

So, the school is shut down. Kids are out of class. My health promoters group, which was held within the school, has not met in a month. English club, also held in the school, has not met either. Escuela de padres…you get the jist.

All of my youth groups I was once in charge that were outside of school have been on indefinite hold ever since my municipality went under construction in late May, leaving us with no location to hold our meetings.

I’ve gone around town talking to all of my counterparts and everyone I’ve built relationships with over the last 11 months and all of them tell me the same thing: “You’re not going to be able to get kids together to do anything. They won’t come. Just wait until this is over.”

I’ve heard so many rumors about when this will be over, I will lose my mind if it really takes that long. Some people say August 20th. My host mom told me in the past these strikes have lasted 3 months.

I know what many people are going to say. They’re going to tell me to get out there and pull kids out of their homes and do just about anything, just as long as I’m doing something. Believe me I want to, but where? With who? It took months for my other projects to get off the ground, and I worked really hard to get those projects together. And, I really believed in those projects. I don’t have it in me to start something from scratch again.

I wrote project plans, financial plans, pestered people, organized committees, made presentations, wrote countless solicitudes, went through every bureaucratic hoop and stroked everyone’s egos and pestered people some more. And then things got moving, and they were going great.

I just can’t do that again. I can’t push and shove and put my heart into more projects that I know aren’t going to go anywhere. I want to stick with the projects I started, and I want the teachers to go back to school, and I want to continue the amazing work that we started on together.

I used to think those times volunteers talked about when they spent endless days with nothing to do were under special circumstances. It was rainy season and everyone moved away. Their community didn’t understand their purpose as a Peace Corps Volunteer and didn’t utilize them. Their skill-set didn’t match the needs of the community. I thought I hit the jackpot and could maybe live out my second year of service in a much more productive and efficient way. I thought, “Hold on boys and girls! This second year is going to fly by!”

I learned in my first year of service that there are things that happen outside of my control, and no matter how much I want to accomplish certain things I can’t always succeed. But I’m realizing now I had no idea to what extent I could be held back from accomplishing anything. I didn’t realize that even when people do support you and do want to work with you, there will still be times when you can’t get anything done. There will be days when the best you can accomplish is stepping outside your front door, when the most fulfilling activity will be completing a workout (BTW, P90X may be the only thing saving my sanity right now). There will be days when you think you’ve hit rock bottom of feeling worthless, and then you get a little lower.

So RPCV’s and volunteers alike, I finally get it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go finish my P90X workout of the day and read a book, because at least I still have control of that.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

No-bake bodega cookies

I recently came upon the dilemma of needing some cookies. And by “recently” I mean a couple hours ago, and by “needing” I mean I was bored out of my mind and emotionally eating. Anyways, I needed cookies, and I needed them fast. In the past no-bake cookies had always served me well. Fast, easy, and a short list of ingredients, they were a quick fix. However, the last months have been marked with a peanut butter drought.

Ah, peanut butter. Once a staple in our childhood diets, it has now become a prized, precious, and evasive imported good. This comforting and coveted treat is loved amongst PCV’s (and any U.S. traveler, really) as it doesn’t need refrigeration, it takes forever to go bad, and it’s packed with delicious nostalgia and enough nutrients to convince ourselves it’s okay to eat by the spoonful. But, it’s pricey, hard to come by, and often guarded and hoarded away from sight of host family and fellow volunteers alike.

My first months in site I budgeted money just for peanut butter and nutella (racking up a total of 50 soles when bought together), but now that I’ve been here awhile and have adjusted to life in Peru, I just can’t bring myself to pay for it time and time again. Unlike coffee, which I spend more money on than my internet, but that’s another story for another day. Anyways, back to the cookies!

So I said to myself, “Do I really need peanut butter for no-bake cookies?”

Some might call blasphemy and sacrilege that I would even utter such words, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Upon looking at my current no-bake recipe I realized peanut butter, while an integral part of no-bake cookies tastiness, is not what holds the recipe together. I could replace the peanut butter with other flavors and still have a cookie.

Using ingredients found at my local bodega, here's my recipe for a twist on no-bake cookies that I think you’ll like. I wrote this out for my fellow PCV friends who are searching bodegas all through the campo for simple tasty meals and treats, but I can guarantee those of you back in the motherland will love them as well. I personally ate 10 in a row. 

Cinnamon-Orange No-Bakes

Almost everything you need is pictured here, except for the sugar.
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar (Original recipe calls for 2. Seems completely unnecessary to me.)
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (you should only need one orange to do the job, depending on how zesty you want to get. Hopefully your campo kitchen has a grater of some kind).
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (Cocoa Winters is the best for the job, and I usually use more than 2 tablespoons, but I like the rich cocoa flavor).
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (If you’re in Peru making this recipe, you’re going to need to use a lot of cinnamon—it’s super weak here. In the states I would say about 1/2 tablespoon, but I used about 1 in my batch, if not more.)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups oats (3 cups is the what the original recipe calls for, but I don't measure, I just pour until it looks good.)
  • pinch of salt 

    1. In a medium pot mix together the milk, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, and orange zest.
    2. Put on stove at medium heat and bring to boil without stirring and let it do its thing for about a 1 ½ minutes.
    3. Turn off heat and mix in vanilla, pinch of salt, and oats.
    4. Spoon out scoops of cookie mixture onto a plate or wax paper and form into cookie shapes.
    5. Wait for the cookies to cool down and scrape out the inside of the pot and lick the crap out of the spoon, cause you’re not going to want to waste any of this!

I may have eaten half of them before thinking to take a picture


Sh*t My Host Dad Says; The Sequel.

I’ve almost been living in site for a year now, and it seems like it’s time for another round of “Sh*t my Host Dad Says.”

I really feel my relationship with my host family has strengthened in the last year. I’ve bonded with my host parents through various events, and I could not feel more blessed in my living situation here in Peru. Now that my host siblings aren’t around as much anymore I get a lot more one-on-one time with my host parents, and more time to sit and talk with my host dad.

My host dad and I have talked about just about everything under the sun. I appreciate the time we’ve spent together discussing and arguing over all the big and little things in this life. Aside from some cultural differences and beliefs, I’ve come to find we agree on many important topics, such as integrity, education, family, and friendship. I really respect my host dad for breaking the typical Peruano stereotype in many ways, and treating me as part of the family.

He also says and does a lot of funny shit.

So without further ado, some funny and ridiculous crap my host dad has said over the months.

International Women’s Day
HD: Women’s day…when will there be a MEN’S day?
Me: Every other day of the year.

On Safety
HD: With all of these earthquakes, there is no telling when the ceiling can fall down on your head. Every single person needs a helmet! They need a helmet to grab at any instant, am I right?
Me: Sure, I guess.
HD: No, listen to me, when an earthquake strikes, and it can strike at any minute, the walls can crumble down on you, am I right? What if you’re in bed? You need a helmet at the bedside to put on. So, get yourself a helmet.
Me: I do have a helmet [bike helmet].
HD: Then where is it?
Me: Where’s yours?

[Note: No major earthquakes have had an epicenter near my area in recent years. This was in light of an earthquake in Chile.]

Lock the door and throw away the key
(We have this conversation at least once a week.)

HD: Amanda, I’m leaving the house.
Me: Okay.
HD: I’m locking the door, don’t let anyone in, okay?
Me: Okay.
HD: Don’t let a soul inside the house. I’m locking the door, keep it locked, don’t let anyone inside.
Me: Okay.
HD: Nobody.
Me: Nobody.
HD: Nobody at all.
Me: Nobody at all.
HD: Not anyone.
Me: I know, not anyone.
HD: Nobody.
Me: Nobody, not a soul, not a single person is entering our house, okay I get it.
HD: Okay, good.

Proper Training
Host dad: You're training for a 21k race?! [Half Marathon]
Me: Yeah, for July 1st
HD: Well, you're really going to have to take care of yourself during the next 2 months. No drinking or smoking!
Me: You know I don't smoke [and he's NEVER seen me drink]!
HD: You also need to stretch really well. We need to hook your arms and legs up to two motos and have them drive in opposite directions.
Me: Um, I don't think that's what I need to do.
HD: Amanda, I was a PE Teacher. I know about these sorts of things.

When I was your age…
Host Dad: You’re getting lazy, you haven’t been running lately, have you?
Me: Yes I have! I just didn’t run yesterday.
HD: Well, I didn’t see you. What has your farthest run been so far?
Me: Almost to Tupac Amaru and back [total of 12 miles].
HD: That’s nothing. I used to run all the way to the beach and back in my youth [total of 22 miles].
Me: I don’t believe you.
HD: I did! I ran all over the countryside all the time.
Me: Yeah, right.
HD: How old are you?
Me: 26.
HD: Yeah? Well when I was 26 you weren’t even born.

(My host dad knocking fruit out of a tree)
HD: Grab them! Get em! Pick them up!

HD: Gather them! Gather them!
Me: Ahhh! They're going to hit me in the head!

Strangers with Candy
(At breakfast one morning concerning visiting my friend Zack’s site)

Host dad: Okay, when you are visiting Zack, if someone- are you listening to me?- if someone offers you candy, put it in your pocket.
Me: Okay...
HD: Listen to me! Put it in your pocket, and wait for them to leave, then throw it away. DO NOT EAT IT!
Me: Um, yeah, of course. I don't eat candy from strangers.
HD: DO NOT EAT THE CANDY if you don't know the person!
HD: Okay, good.

(I had a cold and had taken some Nyquil to help me sleep. I ended up sleeping 12 hours and into mid morning).

HD: [knocking at my door] Amanda? Amanda!!
Me: What?
HD: Amanda!? Amanda?!
Me: What?! What?!
HD: I thought you were DEAD! I thought something HAPPENED TO YOU! Don't be mad at me!
(After I got up and explained to him I had taken medicine to help me sleep he started lecturing me.)
HD: The next time you decide to take pills that help you sleep, you tell me! You usually wake up so early and today you didn't and I didn't know what happened! So tell me if you're taking medicine. And let me borrow some.

Buck up!
Host dad: What’s wrong with you? What do you have?
Me: I don’t know. I don’t feel good, my stomach and body hurt.
HD: Do you have a fever?
Me: I don’t think so…
HD: Well, for the love of God, get a thermometer and find out! What’s the point of just thinking about it, I don’t want to hear,  “I don’t think so.” Get a thermometer and get done with it!

On Family
(It is really uncommon for a woman my age to be single and childless in most of Peru. My host parents are some of the only Peruvian’s I’ve met who are pro-waiting to get married and have kids. That being said, it’s still common to talk about it.)

Host Dad: You want to have kids someday, right?
Me: Yeah, I think so.
HD: How many? Three, right? You want three.
Me: Eh, no more than three that’s for sure.
HD: But more than one, right?
Me: Yes, more than one.
HD: Well, you have to have three. Because if you have just one and something happens to you and your husband, that kid is all alone in the world. Or if the kid dies, then you have no children. If you have only two and one child dies, then you come back to the same problem. That’s why you need three, so that there is always someone to be around in case someone dies.
(This conversation continued on with talk of miscarriages and having children).
HD: You shouldn’t have any problems having kids though, you’re athletic, I’m sure your ovaries are strong.

Say my name, say my name…
(After having lived with my host family for 3 months)

HD: Hey, what’s my name?
Me: Martin…
HD: [big grin] That’s right!

I thought this was funny, because to me this meant he thought I didn’t know his name after I’d been living there for 3 months. Then, on Justin’s recent visit my host dad asked again…

HD: Hey, does your boyfriend know my name?
Me: [in English] Justin, he wants to know if you know his name.
Justin: Oh crap, you just told me this earlier..uh….uh….
Me: [whispering] Martin.
Justin: Oh yeah! Martin!
Host Mom: No it’s not.
Me: What?!
HM: His name is Victor. Victor Manuel.
Me: But…why does everyone call him Martin?
HM: His mom started calling him Martin when he was a baby, and it just stuck. But it’s not his name.

The whole time my host dad just sat there with a big grin on his face and his laughing eyes. With all the times we’ve joked, I’ve never heard my host dad laugh out-loud before, but I think that was the closest thing to it. 

Justin (with the hat my host dad gave him), me, and my host parents.

My host dad taking a more "slimming" picture after seeing the other photos and feeling he looked fat.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Justin's Peruvian Winter Trip

Remember when I said, “El Barbón volverá” (the Beard will return)? Well, it didn’t.

But Justin did!

Justin came to visit me for the second time and he gave me the best birthday present a girl could ask for—a somewhat clean shaven face that allowed me to see my boyfriend’s smile again! Justin kept it a secret, including from his family, and shaved in the Portland airport on his way down. As I waited for him to step out of the tiny single-terminal airport and into my arms, I grew worried that he had missed his flight, as I could not see a massive beard or anyone waving at me at all. It wasn’t until he was five feet in front of my face with a smirk and a hood over his head that I realized my boyfriend is, and always will be, a tricky bastard.

I know there are some avid Beard fans out there who were living vicariously through Justin as he let the beard grow with wild abandon that not many men are allowed or able to, and there has been somewhat of an outrage in the dismantling of this icon of pure rugged manliness. And to those people I send my condolences. I also remind them, it’s a beard, and, you didn’t have to kiss that beard. Besides, he’s already growing it back out.

Justin’s visit was highly anticipated by many, as I told everyone in town of his visit. My host family was happy to see him again and joked that I actually have two boyfriends, as he looked nothing like they remembered.

I was very lucky that he had figured out a way to come visit me for a second time and there were many highlights to his visit. I wanted him to write a guest blog while he was here, but we were fairly busy and Justin is a perfectionist so the task was very daunting for him. So here are some of my personal favorite highlights:

¿Justin Bieber?
Last time Justin was here, his experience was shrouded with attention over his beard. Well, now that Justin’s face wasn’t completely overtaken by what could’ve been mistaken for a wild animal, he was getting a much different kind of attention. Justin spent some time in site with me and followed me around as I worked in the schools and in the municipality. His first day stepping onto school grounds during the girls’ school hours was quite memorable. Girls stared, whispered, giggled, and called me over to ask me who my “friend” was.

“He’s my boyfriend,” I said.

This was followed by high-pitched screams and “ooo”s worthy of tv show audience tracks.

“What’s his name?” they asked.


“Like Justin Bieber?!” they asked exasperated.

“Yeah, only cuter,” I responded.

By this point a mob of girls had gathered.

¡Beso! ¡Beso! ¡Beso! They chanted (kiss!kiss!kiss!)

I refused, of course, to which they chanted, ¡Abrazo! ¡Abrazo! ¡Abrazo! (hug!hug!hug!)

Once again, I refused.

“Can I hug him?” one girl yelled out.

“Sure,” I said.

Poor Justin didn’t even know what was coming. One by one, the girls darted out to give him a squeeze and run squealing back to the shelter of the pack. One girl hugged him three times. Then I remembered I had a camera (Justin brought down for me) and I stepped back to take a picture. At this point, almost all of the girls ran to Justin for a big group hug, knocking him into the wall behind him. (And now I can't find the picture, and I'm very angry about it!)

For the remainder of his time in my site, he was stared down by every girl in site, and girls couldn't stop talking about his pretty blue eyes.

“They just keep staring at me,” he said.

Welcome to the club!

Pacasmayo International Marathon Poster Children
One of the reasons Justin came to visit at this particular time of year was to run the Pacasmayo Marathon with me. Well, after having issues with my Achilles tendon and not feeling confident with training for the full, I decided it would be best to run the half marathon. Justin was happy to run with me either way, so he trained in Oregon while I trained here.

The Pacasmayo Marathon was actually started by a Peace Corps volunteer a few years back as a 4th of July race, and has turned into quite the event run by Peruvians. The town of Pacasmayo is in the department of La Libertad, and is actually fairly close to my site. However, the geography of the area is much different.

While I trained on the panamerican highway with not a single hill in sight, the route for the race was very hilly on a variety of terrain, some of which I would consider closer to trail running. I didn’t do as well as I would’ve liked, and I may have screamed and cursed at the 10 mile mark, but Justin and I ran the entire race together and finished holding hands. Little did we know our lovey-dovey finish would cause quite the commotion, as our picture is now on the website and all over facebook with comments like, “How lovely for a couple to run together and not be competitive with one another.”

I don't know who even took this picture, it's just on facebook.
Overall it was a great experience, and it was a good opportunity for Justin to meet a lot of my volunteer friends from different departments.
Pre-race, most of the volunteers getting ready to run (photo from Monica Chase)

Love at first sight
After the race in Pacasmayo, Justin and I headed to Ancash to see the mountains. Justin is a mountain man through and through, so it only seemed appropriate that he visit one of the most beautiful departments in Peru with its snow capped peaks, breath-taking mountain ranges, and glacier lakes.

Literally, breath taking.

Huaraz, the capital, sits at around 10,000 feet in elevation and even day hikes reach heights of 13,000 to 15,000 feet. And since I live at practically negative sea level here on the coast, it was a little hard on my body.

Of course, Justin fell in love with it immediately.

Within two hours of being in the city of Huaraz, as we sat in a popular café sipping tea and looking out over the mountains he declared, “I could live here.” (there were a lot of “if’s” in his requirements for living there, but he meant it all the same).

Since Ancash is a place you have to see to believe, maybe it’s best I let pictures speak for this part of the trip (even though they never do it justice). 

There were many great aspects to Justin’s visit, but for me it meant a lot that Justin was able to spend more time in my site and see my day-to-day life and work. He was able to sit in on some of my classes, helped me teach English, and helped make meals and treats for my host family. And even though he doesn’t speak Spanish, my host family likes him and can tell he is a nice, genuine person from his actions.

And whether or not we move to Ancash someday, I know Justin will have more opportunities to spend time with my host family in the future, because I will always come back here to visit. Maybe by then he’ll speak Spanish.

¡Camp VALOR es lo mejor!

As I posted earlier in April and May, the first weekend of June this year was our Camp VALOR, an all-boys leadership camp held by Peace Corps volunteers in each individual department. Many people close to me (and even just fans of my blog) donated to Camp VALOR, and I want you to know your contribution made a huge impact on our camp! And, due to some other volunteers not being able to make it to camp, I was allowed to bring four boys, where as each volunteer usually brings only two! I was so excited for the opportunity to bring more boys, and very excited about the program for the camp.

I chose the boys based off my own observations and suggestions from my host mom (a teacher at the high school). We selected boys who were good and respectful students and who hadn’t had opportunities to be involved with out-of-school activities/leadership events. They were a little shy, and probably got passed over time and time again for more vocal and outgoing boys who had proven themselves leaders. You should’ve seen their faces when I told them I wanted to bring them to the camp. Just like the girls I brought to Camp ALMA, many had never stayed the night away from their family, or even away from their house. They were beside themselves. And actually, it caused quite a bit of commotion in the school. Word spread like wildfire that I invited certain boys to an overnight leadership camp, and soon I was approached by just about every boy that had the guts to come talk to me.

“Amanda, I heard you’re taking Alex to a camp.”

“Yes, I am.”

This would be followed by them just staring at me. I’m sure they just wanted to opportunity to pasear and goof off, but I invited the kids to my health promoters group if they were so interested in getting involved (and that actually worked for some of them!). 

Every camp has a theme that we focus on, and this year it was Camp VALOR the Iron Man edition. One of our 16er health volunteers created an “Iron Man/Iron Woman” program in her site where adolescents challenged themselves with exercise and running/hiking, learned about healthy lifestyles and HIV/AIDS prevention, participated in vocational orientation lessons and read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and also had an element of historical education and literature as they read the Diary of Anne Frank. She had a lot of success with her program in her site, so she proposed to have our Camp VALOR work along this same theme.

Then, a business volunteer and fellow 17er found an NGO who owned a farm and worked with organic farming that would allow for us to have the camp there, and all we had to pay for were our meals in exchange for the boys to help with the work on the farm as they learned about healthier farming practices. This was a great trade-off, as the majority of families in our region work on farms.

I was part of the T-shirt committee, so I played around with a couple different designs to represent all that is part of being an Iron Man before I was asked to incorporate The Iron Man into the design, at which point I came up with this:
Camp VALOR Iron Man shield drawn by yours truly, Amanda Rodgers

And from these beginnings we had one of my favorite and most rewarding events in service!

At the camp we had teenage boys representing a variety of towns in Lambayeque (all from volunteers sites) and after a short meet and greet, they were all split into different teams, separating them from friends and volunteers from their site. For a second camp in a row Zack and I were team leaders together and we were team morado (purple), and there were six teams in total representing different colors.

The camp was a complete success, as the boys participated in different activities to promote the lifestyle of a true Iron Man, which we described as being physically and spiritually healthy, studious, intelligent, respectful, tolerant, caring for the environment, honest, a good listener, hard working, loyal, respectful of women, and responsive to the needs of their community. In other words, a well-rounded, successful individual who did not subscribe to machismo or bigotry.

Some activities the kids participated in over the three-days:
  • Career assessment exams/Career fair with Peruvian men invited from different volunteers’ sites.
  • How to make a solar oven and how it works
  • The nutritious power of sweet potatoes and yams (grown at the farm) and different ways to utilize them in cooking and baking.
  • Arts and crafts/painting small figurines.
  • Two-day futbol (soccer) tournament amongst all the teams. This was actually kind of funny, because Zack and I didn’t play soccer growing up, but we had to coach our team. They ended up doing pretty good! And, as you can imagine, the volunteers probably got more competitive than the kids did. Can you say, angry soccer parents?
  • Presentation on Sex and Gender/Gender equality
  • Round Robin sessions on goal setting, pro-active lifestyles, team building, empathy, and finding your ideal partner. Britt, a health 16er, and I were in charge of the last session, which we dubbed “The Love Station.” You would be proud of those teenage boys sharing their thoughts on love and friendship and finding the right person.
  • Organic farming/ composting/ recycling
  • Our PCMO came to talk to the boys about Sex, STD’s, Abstinence, Fidelity, and the volunteers held the infamous Condom Race.
  • Campfire with s’mores and scary stories (a very U.S. American tradition we introduced to them), one of my personal favorites.

It was a packed schedule, but it was a lot of fun! Each team competed for points through the futbol tournament as well as with behavior at each session and during meals. They were also able to enjoy a short play each night, Cuerpo de Pasion, a telanovela skit warning viewers of the travesties and consequences of unprotected sex.

By the time the camp was done all of the boys were old chums, and my shy boys weren’t so shy anymore. They talked and talked the entire way home about all the things they had done, the people they’d met, and the more “manly” boy I had brought said, “I got so used to everyone and everything so quickly, it made me want to cry to leave.”

I think you call that Success.

Here are some pictures from camp. I still didn't have a camera yet, so these are all from other volunteers. Thanks Kim and Jade, as I took the liberty to steal these off your facebooks.  

Equipo morado learning how to make a solar oven, photo by Kim Ayers
Futbol Tournament, photo by Jade Hillery
Poster I made for the camp, photo by Jade Hillery

Learning how to compost, photo by Kim Ayers

Cosechar'ing the sweet potatoes, photo by Kim Ayers

Learning about gender equality, photo by Kim Ayers

Talking about love and friendship, photo by Jade Hillery

"...and after that night, he was never seen again!" photo by Kim Ayers

Cuerpo de Pasion. That guy on the right is pretty handsome, don't you think? Photo by Kim Ayers

Equipo Morado! Photo by Jade Hillery
Camp VALOR 2012! photo by Jade Hillery