The Northern Coast

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Year 1 - Peace Corps Peru Video

The following is a video made by Kim Ayers, a fellow 17er and Lambayeque volunteer, on her first year in Peace Corps. Kim is a small business volunteer and lives in a larger town (small city?) not too far from my site. So while some of the parts of her video show life in a bigger site, they also show a lot of Lambayeque and shared experiences we've had together (you may even glimpse a shot of me in the video).

If you can't tell, hitting the year mark is a HUGE milestone. I just got back from a week in Lima of having med-checks, in-service training, and making a presentation of my own first year (sorry, I'm not so good at making awesome videos). While I still have a year left, I'm suddenly filled with this sense of urgency to aprovechar every second I have left. The second half of the wildest journey I've ever been on has commenced, and while it's definitely a roller coaster, I don't want to get caught clinging to the safety bar with my eyes closed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A seasoned volunteer?

Last weekend some of us current volunteers met the newbies (I hated that word when it was being used to describe me) from group 19 who will be joining us in the lovely department of Lambayeque. There are nine of them (the most being sent to one department in their training group), all youth and small-business trainees, and they are all currently finishing up their week-long site visit.

When we met them it made me think a lot about my site visit. It also made me realize I am now what some may consider a seasoned volunteer. I can't believe it's been a year since I saw my site for the first time and met my host family. I shook with nerves as I had to give various speeches at different events throughout town. The northern accent threw me for a loop and I couldn't understand anyone. I also spent my last day during my visit laid-up with food poisoning and my host family fretted over me, probably thinking, "Oh sh#t we broke the gringa!"

In that week alone I had some high-highs and low-lows as I felt extremely lonely, extremely lucky, and above all, incredibly awkward and uncomfortable.

So glad that's all over!

Or...I guess it's not really over, just less extreme. Some things change and some stay the same, but overall I'd consider myself acostumbrado (accustomed). 

Here's to another year of conquering loneliness by making more friends, appreciating this once-in-a-lifetime experience for what it is, and embracing the awkward and uncomfortable.

And here are some photos from this time last year!
Group 17 Lambayeque volunteers at the capital municipality on Socio Day, meeting the people who would introduce us to our communities and hopefully help us in our future work.

First time meeting my host mom!

This was a welcoming ceremony in my town with all of the municipality workers (about 50 people). The mayor (to my right) introduced me and gave a big speech, half of which I didn't understand. I was so overwhelmed.

Giving my first speech in my town. My Spanish has come so far since then!

Me, the mayor, and a ton of glittery flowers. Everyone laughed at this moment, realizing how tall I was compared to him.

First visit to the public school I work with.

Preparation of goat for a meal at a school event. My first of many.

My room when I first moved in. So empty!

PS: On a completely separate and unrelated note, the newborn cuy from my previous post sadly, but not surprisingly, died after none of the mothers would take it in. I've already decided should this situation arise again in the future, I will either need to harden my heart or immediately offer to buy the baby cuy.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Don't play with your food.

Yesterday morning my host sister came over much earlier than usual and brought with her a small cardboard box (which I assumed had food in it) only to find a small, practically lifeless cuy (guinea pig). I guess I was half-right about the food part.

My host sister has been trying to raise her own cuy these last few months. Her last two “starter” cuys died within a week. This is, I believe, her second go around with two pregnant mother cuys. She said she went out in the morning to check on the cuys and there was a newborn cuy all by itself between the two mothers. No other babies, just one, and no one was claiming it.

Funny thing is, newborn cuy don’t look newborn. They have all their hair, their eyes are open, and they’re the size of a hamster. She brought it over to the house fully expecting it to die but wanting some help from her mom. My host mom wasn’t around, and I knew by helping her revive the poor small thing I would only be contributing to a meal further down the road, but I couldn’t let it suffer. 

I touched the little cuy and the first thing I noticed was it was cold. Very cold. So remembering a trick my friend Jess had learned from her veterinarian boyfriend to warm up a stray kitten, I filled two empty bottles with warm water, put a t-shirt on top and nestled the cuy between them. I then covered the box with another piece of cloth.
The little cuy and its mop top

My host sister told me I was going to kill the cuy because “cuy are cold-weather animals that die in heat”. Well, maybe they die in the heat of mid-summer coastal Peruvian sun (I think anything would), but it’s a newborn animal that was forsaken and cold. So I ignored her.

After awhile in the warmth it started trying to lift its head. I also noticed it shook and twitched every time my host niece screamed like a banshee (as two-year-olds will do) so I brought the box into my room.

I wasn't getting attached, I was just doing the right thing and taking care of it.

...or I was getting way too attached.

We tried feeding it milk with a syringe (sans needle, obviously) but it wouldn’t take much. My host sister tried shoving alfalfa in its face and said, “a good newborn cuy would eat alfalfa right away.”

I started to see why her first cuys died.

After deciding I would no longer listen to anything my host sister said about taking care of cuy, I went to Google. Newborn cuys need so much care; hourly feeding, “stimulation” to go to the bathroom, and they need to be introduced to appropriate foods at specific time in their growth.

I looked up new feeding options for the newborn cuy, and of course cows milk is not the best. After reading various different message boards, it seemed cutting the milk with water and adding a tiny bit of sugar would help. I tried the new mixture and the cuy not only drank all of it, but was voluntarily drinking it as opposed to having it forced in its mouth.

My host sister asked if it was eating and I told her about the mixture I made and she said, “That’s ridiculous, cuy don’t drink water.”

“Uh…what?” I didn’t own any guinea pigs growing up, but I do know mammals kind of need water to survive. And that wasn’t the point of giving it water either, it was to cut the cow’s milk.

“You don’t give cuy water. People who raise cuy only give them alfalfa, and they get their water intake from that,” she said.

I tried to not get distracted from the main point.

I tried explaining the reasoning behind cutting the milk with water to her, but being as my Spanish isn’t that great it came out more like, “The cows milk is too strong for the cuy. I put water in the milk to make it less strong, the internet said.”

My host sister started to write the cuy off for dead, but within the day it already made huge advances and seemed like it was going to be okay, it just needed some TLC. The only problem was none of the mothers would take it in and it needed a cuy to teach it how to be a cuy. It really wouldn’t survive amongst other cuy if that didn’t happen. And thus began my delusional thoughts of asking to keep the cuy and raising it in my room.

It would be so perfect! Cuy are anxious animals that like dark, sheltered areas. It wouldn’t even need a cage, I would just corral off half my room with cardboard and let it run around free. I have cement floors so I could care less if I have to sweep up cuy turds. It would be used to me because I’d have handled it since it was a baby and it would snuggle and make its cute little chirping noises….
I have no idea if it is a girl or boy. You need an expert determine the sex of a newborn cuy.

…But…a cuy is a cuy. It’s not a pet. My host sister spent money on the mother cuys so they could have babies and she could raise cuy to someday eat or sell to be eaten. It would be like me asking a rancher to give me his calf because it was abandoned by its mom. I guess I could technically buy the cuy off her, but for some reason that makes me realize the seriousness of such a pet. And while I have ample time to take care of hourly feedings and such until it grows strong enough to eat alfalfa and vegetables…what would happen in a year when I get ready to leave? I would have this completely domestic cuy that loves humans in a culture that only has cuys for eating. Bringing it back to the U.S. would be difficult, and leaving it with my host family would mean it would definitely end up as a meal.

Last night my host sister had plans to “sneak” the cuy into a cage with another cuy mother and try to trick it into believing it was its own. She wasn’t optimistic.

“Well, if no one wants it and it’s left for dead, give it to me because I like the cuy!” I said frantically as she was about to leave. As she left all I could think of was how her care-taking techniques sucked, and if she really cared about it she wouldn't write it off as dead already. But then I remembered, she's raising livestock, and I'm thinking about a pet.

I can’t believe how attached I got to that cuy in one day.
This is about when it hooked its adorable not-fully-developed claws into my emotions and affection for small defenseless animals.
I think this just goes to show how deprived I am of animal companionship. I rarely have the opportunity to be around an animal in a non-hostile situation. Stray dogs chase you, cats skitter away in fear, roosters will try to peck your eyes out if you go near them…

I just miss having a pet. And I’m pushing the idea of the cuy out of my mind as much as possible because I couldn’t bare the thought if it died last night when I could’ve taken care of it.

Besides, if I ended up with a cuy for a pet, how could I continue to eat them for meals?