The Northern Coast

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

Sunday, June 1, 2014

10 Months Post-Service; El Tatuaje

Back in the beginning of my Peace Corps experience I first went through a two-and-a-half month Pre-Service Training (PST) that felt more like an extended summer camp than training to be a "change agent" and US ambassador working in development. Let's face it, PST is nothing like actual service. We had long hours of training followed by plenty of homework, we went everywhere in groups, and were packed sack lunches by our training host families. We had a mini internal government comprised of our peers with presidents, vice presidents, treasurers and the like, and the big issues they had to govern were over class rings and t-shirt designs.

Yes, the first months of what I considered to be one of the most adventurous, daring, independent things I've ever done felt like I was back in high school.

And back in high school, I would've been a contender, if not a winner, of a t-shirt design contest. So when just that was proposed I started thinking of something I could draw up in my rare and brief free time. Even with my sheltered first weeks in Peru it was very clear the country is quite proud of their rich and extensive culture and heritage, not to mention archaeological sites (which are a huge point of tourism) such as Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines. The Nazca Lines are these grooves in the ground that span hundreds of feet and connect to make designs that can only be entirely seen from neighboring hilltops or airplanes. These designs are of various different animals and geometric shapes, and are estimated to have been created 400-600 AD. Within moments of entering Peru you're certain to see t-shirts and other knickknacks etched and painted with these designs, most commonly the monkey or the hummingbird. Seeing as how Peace Corps has its own symbolic bird, a dove, I saw the ripe opportunity to not just put a bird on it, but two birds on it.

Aerial view of the hummingbird Nazca line
Retro Peace Corps pin, but the design still represents Peace Corps today
I was quite proud of what I came up with, something simple yet self-explanatory to anyone in Peace Corps Peru. But just like high school, I kind of got distracted, and the next thing I knew we were voting on t-shirt designs and mine wasn't one of them because, well...I forgot to enter it.


But soon enough I started to realize I liked the design enough that maybe it was a good thing I didn't enter it into the contest, maybe the design was meant for something else?

And so I elaborated, I doodled, I played around with the same essential design. Then one day I was inspired by some of the embroidery I had seen on artisan work sold in Peru, leading me to outline my original design with vibrant flowers. And after that moment I knew this was going to be my tattoo.

Drawing by me! Amanda Rodgers

I'm one of those people who's always wanted a tattoo, but could never justify spending the money on it. Every time I save up enough money to get one something comes up where that money could be better spent. Eight years ago I had a tattoo fund that ended up going towards my study abroad in Costa Rica, and after that I realized I will always want to save money for experiences versus things (even if those things are on my skin). So, needless to say, I had no tattoos, and even though I really wanted this particular tattoo, I did not get it as soon as I'd hoped (such as during my service or immediately after finishing it) because experiences (and bills) just kept coming up.

I've been home 10 months now and this last month was my birthday (my first in the US in three years) and my mom and dad offered to pay for my tattoo as a birthday present. Yes, I'm a grown-ass woman and my parents paid for my first tattoo. The price of living has pretty much locked down my funds for the foreseeable future, and I was never going to spend the money on myself, so it was a pretty awesome birthday present.

Finished product, by Kassi Lampe at High Priestess Tattoo. I love it!
I haven't talked to my host family about the tattoo yet. I imagine my host siblings would think it's cool, my host mom would think it's pretty but refrain from comment, and my host dad would throw an absolute fit. When my friend Becky visited Peru (her guest blog post is Memories, mammaries, and diarrhea; A guest blog from my BFF Becky) I was lectured by proxy for all of her tattoos. In Peru once you get a tattoo, you are no longer allowed to donate blood again--ever. Also, in the campo blood banks are not much of an option, so any blood transfusions or donations come directly from someone with the appropriate blood type, more often than not your family members. Therefore, if you get a tattoo, you can no longer give blood to your family in a time of need. Despite my attempts to explain to my host dad that in the US tattoos are not regulated the same way and the blood donation system is completely different, his experiences and beliefs wouldn't let him see tattoos as anything but a selfish, reckless act. So, that phone conversation is going to be interesting.

I decided to have the tattoo on my arm because I want to be able to see the design I created during some of the hardest times in my Peace Corps service. I could go on and say a bunch of mushy stuff about how Peace Corps changed my life, about how a day hardly goes by that I don't think about my community, host family, or volunteer friends, or how much stronger, compassionate, and capable I feel as a person after serving....but you probably all already knew all that. And as long as I have skin on my arm and eyes to see, I'll have a constant reminder.