The Northern Coast

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Life happens

I’m not sure if you’re all aware of this or not, but I only have about 9 months left in Peru. Of my 2 years and some change of service, I’m down to ¾ of a year. This became much more real for me as we said goodbye to the 16ers closing their service and, aside from 3rd year volunteers, there was no one left that had been here longer than us. By the end of November, Peru 17 will be the “senior” group in Peru. Peru 20 is already well into training and will be doing site visits in a couple weeks. This does weird things to my emotions.

The same weekend of the 16ers despedida (going away party), I had a skype date with my boyfriend and some of his friends (the majority of which he has met while I’ve been gone). He was having a small get together at our place (well, now his place) and wanted me to meet the people he spends time with. I was on skype and Justin set his laptop down on the kitchen table so I could see everyone. The connection was awful and they could hardly hear anything I said, but I still got to meet everyone. Of the four people at his place, I knew one. So I “sat” at my kitchen table, looking into the place I shared with my boyfriend that still has my art hanging on the wall and my dishes on the shelves, and I was essentially the stranger at the table. You see, apparently life goes on even in your absence. And bizarrely enough, I came to this realization and broke down into weeping and sobbing.

I wasn’t emotional because my boyfriend has friends I don’t know. I became emotional because of so many things, I don’t even know where to start. Like how my life these past 16 ½ months has been a never-ending rollercoaster of change. How it took so long to find my place here, and soon everything from the friends I made to the life I’ve constructed will be gone, never to return to this state. And how I will return to a home I was so sad to leave, only to find it is both exactly how I left it and completely different, and I will be the one trying to fit back in.

A lot of things have happened back home since I’ve been here. Engagements, weddings, births, divorces and funerals. Fires have completely wiped out entire forests I once hiked through and worked in. People have moved towns, people have changed. You know, life has happened. It’s been happening here, too. When you’re an outsider looking in, it feels like so much has happened so fast.

It's strange because this feeling is not connected to homesickness. While a small part of me wishes I could participate in holiday activities back home, I know I’ll be there next year. Meanwhile my opportunities to be involved with things here grow less with each day. I know, 9 months seems like a long time, but is it? 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mom and Dad in Peru!

Dad, Mom, and me on an old bridge over el rio Zaña

At the beginning of the month I was lucky enough to have my parents visit me. It had been 16 months since I'd seen them (the longest I have gone in my entire life without seeing my parents) and there trip was highly anticipated, and not just by me. I told everyone in town they were coming, and my host family all but repainted the house in anticipation of their arrival.

Peru map in the high school--Dad is pointing to where we are.
It was so great to have my parents visit! I cannot express how good it was for all of us. I was so happy to show them where I've been living, the work I've been doing, and the people I am surrounded by. It also happened to be their first trip to South America, so it was nice to be able to travel with them as they were experiencing it for the first time. I was very proud and impressed with my parents for jumping right in, eating cabrito with their hands, riding in a mototaxi without fear, and walking over an old sketchy bridge suspended over the river Zaña. Not to mention I could probably write a separate post completely dedicated to my Dad and host dad's interactions, speaking to each other in completely different languages with no translator.

Some highlights from the trip:

  • My parents and I showed my host family how to make s'mores, and everyone from my host grandma to my host cousins tried their first s'more (and roasted marshmallow) ever.
  • My parents brought my host family gifts from the States which included things like Halloween candy, Sharpie markers, clothes for my host niece, and random memorabilia from back home. It was like a mini Christmas, and my host family really appreciated all of the different things they brought. 
  • My host dad and Dad had an unofficial "push-up" contest. My Dad won.
  • We participated in my town's patron saint festivities which were in full swing during their visit.
  • We went to visit Zack in his site and checked out all of the old Spanish colonial ruins.
  • I introduced my parents to new food and fruit specific to Peru.
  • We went to Kuelap in Amazonas (AKA "the poor man's Machu Pichu"), a pre-incan fortress at 10,000 feet elevation, believed to be built in 700 A.D.
  • We explored Lima together and visited parts even I haven't been to.
  • I had the opportunity to see Peru through my parent's eyes.  

Old Spanish colonial ruins in Zack's site
Visiting my "site mate" Zack. Everyone thought we were his family.
My host cousin, age 8, the very first in the family to try a s'more
In order to really see Peru through my parents eyes, I decided to have them answer a couple of questions for the blog. And by "answer a couple of questions," I mean I gave them a questionnaire to fill out. Can you tell I have been working a lot on measuring and evaluating projects in my site? Is my dork showing? From past experience it seems guest blogs are overwhelming and put a lot of pressure on my visitors (*cough*Justin*cough*), so I thought this would make it easier.

So, in the words of my parents, here are some of their thoughts on their trip to Peru:

What were your impressions of my site?
Your site is much as we expected because we already had learned about it from you. Our first impressions were how simple lives and activities seem in the community, but people’s basic needs are being met. Having a health clinic, bank/credit union, open-air meat and produce market, small “corner” stores and a variety of churches in such a small community was surprising. The community’s overall involvement in the festival/celebration of St. Francis that took place during our visit was not surprising in a Latin American country. The pageantry and participation of all ages from elementary students who made lanterns to a 100-year-old man who took part in the procession shows the devotion to their church/community. People seem happy, perhaps in more ways than people in the U.S. We take for granted how much we have in the states. You have done an excellent job in your blogs giving the reader a vision of life in your site and Peru.

[side note from me: As far as basic needs being met, I'd say "mas o menos." Over half of my town doesn't have running water between 9am and 6pm, everyone has to boil their water in order to drink it, and one of the biggest dangers in my site is lack of consistent health care. Many people who have been injured or needed medical assistance died while searching for a doctor, searching for transportation to the closest hospital 40 minutes away, or in transit to the hospital. But, my parents didn't get to see this aspect of my town.]
Mass celebrating the patron saint of my town, Saint Francis de Asis
Some of my fav students with my parents
Dancing marinera in the street in honor of San Francisco

"Paso de los Caballos" or "Peruvian Pasos" dancing horses
Candy vendor for the festivities
Sketchy ride for patron saint festivities
Did anything surprise you about the way I live in site? If so, what?
Not really. At least from the outside, your host family’s home seemed typical of other homes on “Main Street”. Inside, we were surprised how simple, yet large and comfortable the home is; the open-air kitchen brightens the house, the bathroom (even though it only has cold running water) is modern and the furnishings in living areas are comfortable. It is apparent you have been afforded a special place in their home and are considered part of the family.
We were a bit surprised yet pleased that you are able to continue running when that is an activity not common to the area or people in your community. It’s great you are able to involve youth in that activity, too.
My parent's roommate while staying at my host family's house
Host parents and real parents finally meeting!
Taking a jaunt through my site

Was my host family as you expected them to be? What were your impressions of them?
Yes, in many ways your host family was as we expected, again because of all that you had shared with us beforehand. Your host father and mother are very caring parents and treat you like you are one of their own. They will miss you when you return to the states. Your host sisters are not unlike young people in the U.S. We were sorry we didn’t meet your host brother. Your host niece is a typical 2-year old; adorable, talking up a storm and just a little spoiled. Grandma, aunts and uncles, family in general is tighter knit than in the U.S.
Lunch with the whole host family in the family garden
Mom helping my host sister make a s'more while my host cousins roast marshmallows. The shirt my host sister is wearing was given to my Mom by my high school volleyball coach back home. Go Challis Vikings!

Were there any differences you noticed about me? Do you think I’ve integrated into my community well?
No differences. You are still a wonderful person perhaps more mature with the responsibilities you have being a volunteer in the Peace Corps. You are accepted and have integrated well into your community. How many young people do you know who would give up 2 years, 3 months of their lives and move to a 3rd world country where they are the only English speaking person in town?

What was your favorite part of the trip?
Naturally, the favorite part of our trip was spending time with you, experiencing a few days of your life in Peru, meeting your host parents and extended host family. Traveling to other parts of Peru was a bonus.

What was your least favorite?
The least favorite part of our trip was when we arrived in Lima to check our bags for our 6:30 a.m. flight to Chiclayo. At the check-in counter we were told the flight was overbooked. Although we had assigned seats, we would not be on the flight. We had scheduled our flight from Lima to Chiclayo so we could arrive in your site and see the day’s festivities; watch the parade you would be in and eat lunch with your host family, a meal they had specially prepared for our arrival. After communicating to the young woman at the check-in counter why it was important for us to be on the flight, we had to concede she and her supervisor would not make that happen even with our pre-assigned seats. Up to that point our flights and connections had been on or ahead of schedule, our checked bags made it to Lima. We missed spending a day with you.

What were some of the differences in Peruvian culture that you liked? What bothered you, if anything?
How laid back people are, except for the person behind a wheel. No matter what type of vehicle; taxi, car, bus, truck, etc., everyone on wheels is in a hurry; honking (almost second nature), swerving in and out of traffic (4 lanes turn into 6-yes, there are marked lanes). The drivers seem to be in competition for who can get wherever first, but that’s apparently what it takes to travel Peru’s roadways!  We never saw any road rage or accidents through it all, unlike what we would expect to see in the USA when traffic is that hectic.
Taking a ride in a moto-taxi

What memories stick out the most from the trip?
Seeing how comfortable you are in your site and with your life in Peru. How well you can speak Spanish, talk to and understand anyone (how helpful it would be for everyone to be fluent in another language); you are at ease with the locals and they with you; traveling by bus, nice, clean double-decker buses that have “bus attendants” who serve meals and drinks, seats with movie screens; beautiful Spanish Colonial buildings in cities we visited; chance meetings with other PC volunteers; how safe we felt and how diverse Peru is. Every day gave us new memories.
The rich history of peoples and their associated civilizations was intriguing. From the ancient mountain top fortress cities, to the 400+ year-old church ruins, to towering modern buildings, Peru has some awesome features and national treasures. It appears the tourism this history draws is accessible and uncrowded to the outside visitor, but not taken advantage as much by Peruvians perhaps due to travel costs.
"Monte" "campo" or "chacra" whatever you want to call it, my parents enjoyed walking through the countryside of my site.

Walking around Chachapoyas, Amazonas
Kuelap, the ancient pre-incan fortress of the cloud people.
Riding in style on a "cama cama" bus to Lima--seats lay all the way down into a bed.
Dad says, "This door isn't big enough." Lima, Peru
My parents are active people and the boardwalk in Lima suited them just fine with its public exercise equipment.
What will you tell people who are slightly nervous of traveling in 3rd world countries about your experience?
What are you waiting for?
Most people see parts of 3rd world countries on television, the internet and in the printed media, at least through eyes of the person behind the camera. We realize no matter what we say about our experiences in Peru, we may not change some people’s impressions. We consider ourselves rather flexible and willing to try new adventures yet know that is not everyone’s cup of tea. We have limits to our comfort zones too, but a country such as Peru wasn’t a concern to us. 

In Parque de Amor (Love Park) in Lima, last day of the trip.
Thank you Mom and Dad for making the effort to come see me! Peace Corps has been an unforgettable experience, but the time my parents came to visit me will always be a cherished memory.♡♥♡