Cuerpo de Paz Training Peru

Arden muttering Spanish to herself while hiking the ridge high above our host community. Note the dust laden Lima air in this hyper-dry climate.

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.

The National Congress in Lima, with riot gear clad mounted police out front. These guys have recently been doing battle with protesters in violent clashes over attempts to close an informal market called La Parada in a tough part of town. (3 deaths plus one horse who had to be put down).

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.

Our host-family, the Castro-Leons, at home in the living room (3 brothers not shown). They built this home by carving out the rocky hillside and slowly added floors to accomodate the growing family. We couldn’t have asked for better hosts.

Host brother Rafael teaching Arden to make Ceviche. We’ve been eating like kings.

Homemade Ceviche, a local specialty, including fried fish and sweet potato.

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.

Host brother Manolo holding his neice, Anacristina, whose one-year birthday party was a big bash.

Our host niece, and Arden’s best friend. They play bannanagrams and sing songs together, and she calls us “Tio y Tia” or aunt and uncle.

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.

The coolest moto-taxi in Huascata.

A niece from our extended host family was confirmed along with over 300 others in this mass event at a local school, standing room only.

Lima school kids taking photos of gringo tourists taking photos of Peruvian school kids on a field trip to the museum.

Our home near Lima for 10 weeks during training, Huascata, Lima, Peru.

Our future home for the next two years, Poroto, La Libertad.

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:

This “Improved Cookstove” that Read and crew learned how to build will reduce wood consumption by 50%, eliminate smoke in the kitchen, and hopefully save the cooks back from squatting over a fire. This is a major priority in Peru now.

Read getting busy with donkey dung, mixing it with water and soil to make mortar for adobe brick construction.

This is the stove recipient’s backyard with a host of animals and latrine.

Every town has a “Comedor Popular” where anyone can come and eat a healthy meal for less than $1, including the Peace Corps Peru director visiting us at our remote training near Canete.

Poverty is a huge issue despite the fact that this a country with bountiful food and resources.

Local Peace Corps volunteer named Goyo, showing us the mass of unearthed graves that robbers have pillaged. This pre-Incan site (over 500 years old) has yet to be studied by archaeologists for lack of funding, and tragically is just open and unprotected with pots, weavings, and whatever else was not valuable.

Just some of the piles of bones unearthed.

Pre-colombian tapestry left to rot in the elements by grave robbers.

Read’s training included cleaning out the slightly slimy water tank high on a hill above a small town, several hours south of Lima near Canete. The whole system is gravity fed, including piping in the source water for nearly a mile, no pumps needed.

This biodigester takes cow poop and water to produce methane gas (enough to keep a stove burner going for 4 hours per day) as well as very high quality organic fertilizer and pest controller, while getting rid of poop and saving the ozone.

Arden and her Peace Corps Health crew learning about gardening.

This water system was defunct until a Peace Corps volunteer brought community leaders together to get it up and running. A two-year project means thousands will get clean water, and locals will maintain the systems.

This high altitude town (above 10,000 ft) hosts an annual Festival de Agua, including cleaning out their reservoirs to appease the gods. It dates back hundreds of years, possibly pre-Incan. Read and his crew attended to learn about community water systems and local culture.

Four teams (red, blue, gold and green) compete in week-long activities, including chanting and singing in Quechua.

The empty reservoir is supposed to be cleaned out by locals, but really it’s an excuse to party. Here, one of four festival leaders is castigating (literally whipping) a drunken reveler. Custom includes penalties for not having coca leaf, ash, tobacco, or Chica (fermented corn drink) on hand.


Two generations of goat farmers, cooking over a wood fire, with an improved wood-stove behind.

Pollo Seco (chicken with cilantro sauce) for 20, cooked over wood.

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.



11 thoughts on “Cuerpo de Paz Training Peru

  1. This was awesome. I read the whole thing. I can hear Read saying “She wears the pants”. Why are you making this sound so fun?? I have two kids under four!! Bless your journey.

  2. Hey hey! Glad to see that you have landed safely, secured a plum assignment, and re-kindled my favorite travel blog. Congratulations, and keep the posts coming… that is as long as your aged eyes can focus on the screen and your arthritic fingers can manage to type. I hope the Peace Corps youngsters will honor and respect their elders.
    Have a BLAST. Looking forward to your next dispatch.

  3. So happy to hear from you! Wonderful post and photos, yet again the armchair traveler can revel in your crazy adventures! Brave souls that you are. Good day for progressives here in USA. Abrazos

  4. Yes – so glad you are back on the blog — great stories, photos and news of your adventures. Lots of love to you both – miss you here jere

  5. Read and Arden I’ve enjoyed reading and looking at your adventures in Peru!! I did a hiking trip decandes ago in Peru, so some of it looks vaguely familiar Thanks!, Sue

  6. Love the stories and information on the local culture, Peace Corps work, and your lives. Thanks for doing this blog! Great memories, reminders of my time in Peace Corps in Kenya…not too different in some ways in terms of host families and training, poverty, issues of cook stoves/fuel wood/deforestation, water, etc… Glad the good work goes on and you are experiencing this on-the-ground FUN! Much love.

  7. Wow, thank you so much for a wonderful story and inspiring photos! It made me dream of you both before I even had a chance to read it! ( Arden was feeling overwhelmed with the twin baby boys you two had,but she was excited about what she was learning about herbs.She showed me a cupboard full of brown bottles of herbs she had collected.You were both overwhelmed but excited about all you were learning.) You two are doing wonderful things,and I’m thrilled that you are sharing your journey.Keep up the good work! Love Nan Sent from my iPad

  8. Hi read and Arden! I so enjoyed reading this post. What a cool experience you are having. I love that the others are happy to have older people with them. What do they know?? We’re all still 35! Happy birthday to you sweet Arden! I hope you can celebrate with some delicious Peruvian meal hablando espanol todo el tiempo! Miss you guys but I love reading about your amazing experiences! Cuidanse:) Xo Emily, brett and Nevé

    Sent from my iPhone

  9. Great to hear the progress and assume by now you’re in Poroto. Please check your email for Christmas news from Alan and Karen, just back from Ecuador and the Galapagos and primed for Peru next…make sure we have your e-mail. Alan

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