Please excuse the late publishing of this post. We’ve been without internet for 4 weeks.As we write this, we’re slurping down a pineapple while wiping the sweat off our faces, listening to the “reggeton” pulses of a nearby “chocolotada” which is a hot chocolate and present party that the health posts, municipalities and schools throw kids this time of year. Usually they involve a clown, young women in short skirts, knee-high boots and Santa hats who liven up the party, a variety of games, hot chocolate, sweet bread or “paneton” and, of course, free gifts which inevitably means shoving and complaining about wanting the hot wheels racetrack instead of the barbie doll. Just like in the United States… 🙂 It is hard to believe with the temperatures in the mid-90’s and climbing that it is Christmas. We figure if Santa Claus lived here instead of the north pole, he’d be a lot skinnier, wandering around in a thong and a pair of flip-flops.
We arrived in site about a month ago, after a hectic last couple of weeks of training outside of Lima (click here for a short video). We swore in at the Ambassador’s house with 50-something other hopefuls, spent the night dancing and feasting at the director’s house and the next day boarded buses to the outlying areas of Peru to begin our service. We arrived in the northern coastal city of Trujillo groggy after an all-night bus ride, spent the day frantically shopping for stuff for our new home, and the next day loaded it all up and arrived at our little blue “casita” that will be home for the next two years.
Family-wise, we have our own small home which is a score in the Peace Corps world, on a pineapple farm as a part of a large extended Evangelical family. Our house shares a wall with the Evangelical Church so we are treated to sermons from 8 – 10 pm five nights a week. Further up the street is a Pentecostal Church which hosts ceremonies once a month beginning at midnight and lasting until 5:00 am, complete with drum banging, singing, and loud keening. Ear plugs are a blessing.
Our host mother helps run a small “tienda” near the Kindergarten, thus during the school year we breakfast there with a gaggle of 6-year old’s and their moms. During the summer, our mom gets up at 2:00 am to take the pineapples to market in Trujillo. Arden went with her once to see what the process of selling 400+ pineapples was like and in the middle of the market fell asleep slumped over with her head on her knees, much to the amusement of her host mom and the other vendors.
We are waiting for boredom to set in; so far we’ve had a wild ride. We celebrated the pineapple festival the first week of December which our host family helped spearhead, complete with a pineapple queen and parade. Parades, official ceremonies and public speaking are important parts of Peruvian culture and it never hurts to have a couple of gawky odd-looking gringos thrown in for the “freak show” appeal, thus we’ve been hauled up on stage with other dignitaries and presented to mildly amused audiences.
Every region has their own accent, thus the language process begins anew. Arden often has no idea of what is being asked of her but bravely answers questions just to keep the conversation going, sometimes completely off mark. Question: “What do you think of the heat here?” Arden’s answer: “Oh I absolutely LOVE what you’ve done with development in some of the pueblos, it is such a model for the state”. Peruvians being the polite people they are will nod and walk away, leaving Arden mildly confused and Read thoroughly embarrassed (How do you say, “My wife has a mental disability”, in Spanish?). People also often have no idea what we’re saying which makes us realize that we are “those foreigners” who speak with thick accents. As our friend Atila says, language fluency is that ever-receding shoreline, especially for the adult learner.
Work-wise, we inherited a youth group of 16 young health promoters and are spearheading summer school programs at three schools in addition to carrying out community diagnostics on the needs and resources in the community. Arden also facilitated two educational sessions with health promoters that she put over 20 hours of preparation into (and lost sleep over). Every community including the outlying pueblos or “caserios” boasts one or two volunteer health promoters. Currently three new health promoters are in training and will facilitate informational sessions with mothers on nutrition, early childhood stimulation, hand washing, preventing cooties, etc. so Arden will work with them over the next couple of months.
Read is working with various different spring-fed gravity-delivered water systems, each serving communities from 25 to 250 households. There is no shortage of conflict and controversy over broken pipes, design problems, and mismanagement, as well as political strife, much of which gets lost in translation. Read had someone show him the water source for the town, only to find a runaway pig couple had made their home at the source in the mud (the male was none too pleased at the intrusion and squared off to charge Read). The real work will be problem-solving the human side of things, to get to the technical solutions. Toilets (or absence thereof) will come later.
Every day is a roller coaster ride. We never know what’s going to happen when we walk out the door. Meetings can be two hours late, or changed without notice. What was supposed to be a simple sit-down with an official can turn out to be an important meeting with multiple officials, some with a bone to pick (“Why aren’t you teaching English in the school in our community?”). Food trumps all, so a tour of the water system can get sidetracked by a stop in a nearby restaurant for two hours (“it was meat, but I have no idea what animal, or what part”), after which everyone is too hot and tired to continue so they head home to take naps. Surprises abound as an old guy who stumbles into the clinic with a sick kid turns out to be the president of the water system in a far-off “caserio”, who would have been impossible to track down were it not for serendipity.
When we stop to ask directions we can end up in conversation for an hour, getting critical information about the community, much of which will later be revealed as only half the story. And Spanish will forever be the hurdle, or the source of great fun/embarrassment. At the end of dinner, Read asked if he should throw his scraps of rice and fish bones in the pig bucket or out the window for the dogs. Confused by the response, he asked, “Las conchas no comen pescado?”, which was supposed to mean, “The pigs (chanchos) don’t eat fish?”, but really meant, “The (conch) shells don’t eat fish?”. As it turns out, “conch shells” is a vulgar term for female genitalia, thus the mother and daughter laughed until they cried and bring it up regularly at family gatherings. One of the daughters also stepped on a guinea pig and broke its neck. A concerned Arden asked about breaking the animal´s “cuello” (neck) but instead said “culo” which means “butthole”.
So when life gets you down, or the holidays seem to be a bit much, just close your eyes and imagine being a four-year-old martian visiting planet-Perú constantly putting your foot in your mouth and not knowing it while smiling politely like a mute idiot, hoping that someday, someone will actually understand you and realize that “Hey, these guys just might come in handy!”
Feliz Navidad y que le vaya bien en el Año Nuevo 2013