It’s been six weeks since we left home with 108 weeks to go. Once in awhile we look at each other and announce with glee, “We’re living in Peru!”. It still feels dreamlike and unreal, like we could wake up at any moment to find ourselves tangled in the bed sheets inside our rammed earth home in Colorado, anticipating winter and cold. Instead we’re currently living an hour east of Lima at 2,500 feet in the dry foothills of the western Sierra, where it never rains, and a cold day is in the low 60’s.
For ten weeks, we’re training with 55 other volunteers, most of them under 30 years old. The second week of training one of them looked at us and earnestly announced to the group, “I’m so happy we’ve got some older people here because we can learn so much from your experience”. We almost fell out of our chairs. Language continues to be a slow steady challenge. Before leaving Colorado, the Peace Corps conducted phone interviews to place us in learning groups. Half-way through the interview a nervous Arden tried to crack a joke. When asked about her “mejor amigo” (best friend) she said her “mejor amigo y mejor enemigo (enemy) es mi esposo Read”. When asked why, she blithely replied that “sometimes we argue” but used the verb “hit”, thus telling the confused and mildly alarmed interviewer, “sometimes we hit each other” although she confidently assured the interviewer it was no big deal. Despite the Peace Corps concern they might have a domestic violence case on their hands, we are now happily living with our host family including two parents, three of four grown sons, a daughter-in-law, four-year old granddaughter, two parakeets, two mama rabbits, eight baby rabbits and two guinea pigs who mysteriously disappeared last night (soon to be someone’s dinner). Hot water is a luxury we dispensed with our last night in the U.S. (tepid to chilly showers here promote water conservation). While Sunday mornings might be cherished sleep-in time for us, the neighbors may be blaring music at 6:30am. The quirky little details of being a foreigner provide constant entertainment (“I’m pretty sure its beef, but I’m not exactly sure what part of the cow we’re eating.”). We relish long dinners of soup and animated conversation about politics, history, Peruvian cuss words and culture. Read even manages to insert multiple-tense sentences into the conversation on occasion while Arden still stumbles over concrete single-subjects including, “What do people think of the mines/ the president/ Sendero Luminoso”, “What is in this good soup”, and, “I like the color of your walls”. Much to Read’s dismay, she also asks the same questions over and over which the family patiently answers while looking to Read for help.
We’ve been integrated into all aspects of family life. Construction projects allow Read to spend time shooting the breeze and teaching the boys how to say, “She wears the pants” when they talk about their relative’s demanding wife (“pisado” in Spanish, or “under her heel”). Arden learned the fine details of making Peruvian ceviche, and “ahi” (spicy salsa). The parents both come from the andes where Quechua is spoken. The dad, Virginio, frequently gets visits by panicked mothers from the neighborhood with sick babies cradled in arm (once at 4:30am). He performs a healing ritual by passing a raw egg over the skin of the sick child, then breaking it into a glass of water and reading the yolk. Many people practice natural healing remedies; modern medicine is one thing, but without paying respect to the spirits, good health is unattainable.
The Peace Corps training schedule is rigorous. Arden is in her milieu leaning about family health. Read is among a dozen engineers studying water systems, sanitation, and how to do it with next to no resources. We have class eight hours a day and come home to a packed evening of dinners with people revolving in and out (cousins, nieces, etc.), Peruvian TV game shows or tele-novelas play in the background while we attempt homework before dropping into bed to start the day over. As one volunteer said, “you are on 24-7”. Part of our current “magical-realism” dreamlike state is being surrounded by people in a busy urban environment where we understand 40 – 60% of what is being said, with barking dogs, crowing roosters, and honking moto-taxis. We thus plod along and trust the process, guessing blindly when to laugh while listening to humorous anecdotes. The most exciting part of our day is the bus ride from Huascata, our home barrio, to Chaclacayo were the training center is.
We just got confirmation of our soon-to-be home for two years; Poroto, La Libertad, about an hour east of Trujillo, Peru’s second-city on the coast eight hours north of Lima. It is called the land of eternal spring, and hosts a Pineapple festival every August. Arden is grateful that this region is spared the infamous Andean rainy season that brings life to a saturated and muddy halt up in the sierra. We anticipate dry inland mountains, lush irrigated valleys, and coastal culture in a small town of about 2,000 people at about 2000 feet elevation with temperatures ranging in the 70’s – 80’s. Due East, the highway climbs up to 14,000 feet and remote cloud-forests. One hour West is the coast and the city of Trujillo, which with 300,000+ people is Peru’s 4th largest city, known for its culture, colonial architecture and ceviche. By all measures, it looks to be a plumb assignment, and we couldn’t be happier.
Here’s more photos of the interesting things we’ve found so far:
DISCLAIMER: The information and opinions expressed on this blog are strictly the views of the authors and in no way represents the Peace Corps or the United States Government.