Sunday, October 08, 2006

3 weeks done!

Every day I am still stunned by the mountains that rise dramatically all around us. Before arriving I knew that Peru is a very mountainous country, but I was unsure how dramatic the landscape would be this close to Lima. Today was a gorgeous day with a blue sky and minimal dust and I again noticed how incredible they are.

The mountains are really this close!

Climate-wise, it’s incredibly dry and dusty. The plants and trees are covered with a layer of brown-grey dust. Outside of Lima, where we stayed our first two days, it apparently has rained only once in two years. Where we live now it rains in December – February but it is not celebrated because the rains bring “huaycos” which roughly translate into mudslide, avalanche and flood all rolled into one. Happy happy joy joy. The only defense against the “huaycos” is to run like hell to places they have determined to be safe and huayco-free. Apparently the neighborhood we are in now is in extreme danger in the case of huaycos. Dan & I are fortunate to be leaving here at the end of November so are likely to miss the rains. Sadly our host families have to endure it every year.

Family: We live in Sta. Eulalia about a 10 minute up hill walk from the training center in a big house with the Huaman family. They are really sweet and very hard working. Living in the house are Leonore and Abel and their daughter Mirta, 31 and her daughter Adrianna, 11 months old. There are also two sons that live in the US. The family has a small store in front of their house, similar to a mini-mart, a small pharmacy next to it and a cattle ranch up in the sierra. They also have a few bulls nearby on a property about a 10 minute combi ride from the house. Their backyard is a jungle of fruit baring trees – 2 avocado, banana, stone fruit, apple, and some others. To my great surprise they also have artichoke plants and as it is early spring here, they are baring their flowers. One of their avocado trees is a variety I have never seen before – each avocado must weigh at least 5lbs – they look like a small watermelon. Also in the backyard are two turkeys and a duck --. I call these dinner. Abel has promised Dan that he will teach him how to slaughter a duck – oh boy! I’m really happy he didn’t make me the same offer.

This is where we live!

Our backyard - with Adriana's freshly laundered toys

Food: Almost any volunteer or trainee in Peru will tell you that their host families want to feed them enough every day to last a week. This is a slight exaggeration, but we get very well fed. Breakfast tends to be light. We get little bolitos of bread, with anything from queso fresco (like fresh mozzarella) to avocado (palta in the local idiom) to margarine and home made strawberry jam. Some days our host mom, Leonor, will fry us an egg, more often we get a big cup of avena, a thin hot cereal, heavily sweetened, usually made of quinoa, boiled then ground in a blender, and cooked a little more with milk. Because we requested it early on, we get coffee, in this case instant. Some people make café pasada, filtered coffee that comes out like motor oil, which gets cut with hot milk. We haven’t had the heart to ask this of Leonor because she is so good to us and coffee is clearly not her thing. Lunch is the big meal, and everyone packs in the carbs. White rice is obligatory. Someone asked to not have rice and she got a mountain of pasta in its place. Just eat your rice and be happy about it! This is usually accompanied by some concoction of chicken and vegetables, or chicken and a sauce based on mashed potatoes. Mondays are lentils or beans. The big plate often comes with soup, which often has potatoes involved somehow. Salads are usually cooked vegetables served cold with a dressing of lime juice. People don’t eat many green salads because they have reasonable fear of contamination in the lettuce. Leonor told us that she loves green salads, but she will only eat lettuce that comes from her own terreno, grown with water that she trusts. She served us some last week, and we all reveled in the luxury. Dinner is a smaller rerun of lunch, and only happens on Sunday because we are here. Sunday lunch happens later, and honestly, I could skip dinner along with everyone else, but you just don’t turn down food. One of the cool things about Leonor is that she likes the foods of the sierra, and because she knows that we are interested, she serves them to us. She was visibly tickled that we like choclo, the local large grained corn, and she was pleased and surprised that we liked olluco, an Andean tuber that she served with a tomato based sauce. Those who know and love the avocado tree we lived with in Los Angeles will appreciate her pride and our pleasure at the sight of the enormous ten inch long, two and a half kilo avocados that come off the tree in the back yard. We have been carving off one of these monsters for three days now. Huarochiri is famous for avocados (which I am coming to think of automatically as paltas) and cherimoyas. Life could be worse. Oh yes, one of the assignments for environmental action this week was to sample and report back to the class on sundry Peruvian organic foods. This included a variety of gaot cheeses, and some gaunanbana jam. Don’t cry too hard for us.

Giant avocado next to my small digital camera case - it's hard to tell but this baby it about the size of my head!

Dogs are everywhere in the street. Every morning I pick up a rock or two on my way out the door in case I need to scare off one of the neighborhood four-leggers. Mostly the dogs are just protecting their property, but sometimes they are just being annoyingly aggressive. I’ve taken to carrying around pieces of bread as a peace offering, but when I throw it to them they think it’s a rock and they flee. The other night Dan & I were walking home with a few pieces of cake from a birthday party and encountered an angry dog. Since I was not carrying a rock, I threw a piece of cake at the dog thinking that I could make a friend. The dog, mistaking my act of kindness for an act of aggression, turned quickly and ran in the other direction. Oh well, we didn’t need more cake.

We are in training from 8am to 5pm (sometimes later) Monday through Friday. On Saturdays we attend a gardening class at La Molina – la Universidad Agrícola in Lima from 7am – 2pm. Sundays are our only full day off. As we mentioned in our last blog, training is really I N T E N S E

The view from Misti

Monday through Friday training is divided mostly between language and technical sessions (either Community Health or Environment)

During 16 hours of language training each week we discuss topics ranging from safety and security, to Peruvian history, our host families and real families. I’ve learned that it’s not wise to take a moto-taxi (even though I find them incredibly cute –smaller than the Rollerskate Festiva that we drove in LA), and when riding in a combi (that’s small bus for you non-pc/Peruvians) it is best to sit in the middle and not at the window – because people might reach into the combi from the outside and steal your bag. Classes are not always at the training center. The other day they sent us out into the streets of Chosica to learn about the upcoming regional elections. They paired us off and gave us two questions to ask anyone on the street. There goes the crazy gringos! My partner & I had to find out the candidates and parties running for election in Lima and Chosica. It was really fun and a good way to learn vocabulary. Of course, people thought we were absolutely insane. A man who ran an internet café took pity on us, and looked up most of the candidates running for mayor for Chosica. Wednesday we went to the market in Chosica to buy ingredients for a group lunch – something typical of Peru and something typical of the US. So what did we come up with? Pizza and Papas a la Huancaina (potatoes with a cream sauce) – it was carb overload! Oh, and then I had the Papas again that evening at a two year old’s birthday party.

Dan & I are having very different experiences with technical training. Each group trains with different APCDs and trainers.

For Community Health training we spend about half the time at the center learning how to facilitate various types of capacity building sessions, tools for community analysis and needs assessment. We also learn about communicable/non-communicable diseases and the most pressing health problems in Peru. The other half of the time we work on our Community Development Activity and Community Contact Experience. Additionally we are assigned to different health centers in the community to work at for 13 hours over the 10 weeks. Our goal is to do some sort of Charla (workshop) on some health related topic. On our first day, four of us arrived at the Centro de Salud in Ricardo Palma (a nearby neighborhood) to meet our contact and see what we could do/learn. The health post workers were all very busy with a campaign to raise awareness of (treatable) Bartonollosis, a mosquito-borne illness that is currently present in Huaochiri, our province. So they loaded about 12 of us into the back of a tiny ambulance and off we went to the plaza in Sta. Eulalia to pass out pamphlets on prevention tactics and do-it-yourself mosquito abatement.

We have also been participating in the national campaign to eradicate Rubella. We learned today that Peru is the last country remaining in South America to eradicate this disease. The campaign started on Sunday, Oct. 1st and continues until November 5th. Their goal is to vaccinate everyone between the ages of 2 and 39. On the first day, a few of us were invited to assist, so off we went (on our only day off!!!) to the health center at 8am. Things didn’t start as early as expected though because the highway between Lima and Chosica was closed for a few hours because of a national car race (think Tour de France but with cars). Several of the health center staff’s arrival was delayed by this closure, so Casey, Brian and I went in search of the perfect cup of coffiee. Except that the perfect cup of coffee does not exist in Ricardo Palma and instead we were left with steaming cups of milk and a teabag of coffee grounds. Oh well, at least the company was great! At about 10am, everyone was gathered and ready to set out into the community. Each of us trainees were assigned to a different nurse and health promoter and driven to different spots around the area to start vaccinating people. I think my greatest accomplishment that day was to entertain the hoards of children that surrounded us. I even made a little friend, a cutie pie named Carla, 6 or 7 years old. She saw some other volunteers on the street the next day and asked them if they knew me! She’s a doll. I also filled out the vaccination cards that each person receives as proof of their vaccination, the serial number of the vaccine and who administered it and on what date. It was really crazy the places we were vaccinating people – not what one would call a sterile environment. First we were on a dusty, unpaved street next to an outdoor food stand, then we set up shop around the corner in a bar, next to drunks and blaring music. From there we continued on into a shanty town neighborhood without proper sanitation or much running water. It really felt like “Hey, I’m in the Peace Corps!” Campaigns like this are really the “take it to the people” type endeavors. I doubt that many of these people would have the time otherwise to get to the health center.

Peru 8 - Community Health Volunteers

In all of our free time (read – not very much), we have been taking Afro-Peruvian dance classes twice a week. Really fun stuff, but more of a performative nature and not the social kind of dances most of us want to learn. Other than that we received 2 vaccines today (Friday) – Rabies and HepB. I’m hoping for no side affect since tomorrow morning we will awake again at 6am to start another long, but pretty cool, day.

Love you guys!

ps -I´m having difficulty loading pictures, not sure what´s up. If you want to see a few pictures, go to Brian´s Peru blog -the link is on the right of this webpage. His blog is amusing and his descriptions of our experiences are hysterical. [ed.note: problem solved, finally! 1/8/07]


Blogger Mike Sheppard said...

I just came across your journal about your adventures in Peru. I added a link to your page to a database I collected of Peace Corps Journals and blogs:

Worldwide Peace Corps Blog Directory:

If you know of any other volunteer journals and blogs I’d be happy to add them to the database.

Thanks for volunteering with the Peace Corps!

-Mike Sheppard
RPCV / The Gambia (’03-’05)

10:50 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

So....., just thought we would update you on our condition since you took us on that awful ride and dumped us off here in Encinitas. We are geting along well...these people who share this space with us are getting better and figuring out what we need. I don't think they have freaked out over us since we made it back here in our room. They even seem to have some fun with us when we decide it is time to play with them. Ernesto has taught them how to play catch....finally! It took these humans quite a while to figure out this silly game. I don't let them scratch my belly TOO often....just maybe every other day or so. We have been eating well.....Ernesto really looks fat and happy! The one human who always feeds us is always swating Ernesto away from the food and following me around with it...silly woman! We have not escaped from our home since the first week we were here...we don't even try to , we kind of like where we are! We miss you and wish you were here, but we know you are out helping others who need it more than we do. Keep us updated with the blogs....we love hearing about your adventures!
Fifi and Ernesto

8:45 PM  
Blogger Ellen said...

I think of both of you often, but had not take a moment to read your blog until today. You seem well- but in need of coffee?!?? I'd be happy to send some you know. . .

11:28 PM  

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