December 2012

Please excuse the late publishing of this post. We’ve been without internet for 4 weeks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs 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.

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Arden ready for battle with barking dogs, heading off to a small outlying community to hold a meeting with mothers with kids

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.

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Isabel Enriquez (our host mother) with judges tasting her specialy chicken dish during the local cuisine contest at the Pineapple Festival

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.

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Read and his queens

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery 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.

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The cool kids hanging out with la gringa loca

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.

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The long and circuitious route to one of the most remote communities, two hours hike each way, negotiating hidden trails in sugar cane fields and rocky hillsides.

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.

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With the local wage at less than $10/day, folks live the simple life, but at least have an abundance of mango, avocado, banana, papaya, etc. for subsistence

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.

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Carpenter ingenuity – a homemade lamination system for furniture building

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”.

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Flag raising ceremony parade with all the important people, including Mr. Pineapple and the smiling gringos (way in back)

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

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The rough life of a volunteer on a rare day off

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7 thoughts on “December 2012

  1. You guys rock! Thank you so much for writing up such an incredible journal. I’ve read it twice. Priceless. Abrazos to you both. (I hope that translates to a hug and not a crotch grab!)

  2. Arden & Read, what a great blog & video! Julia & I found ourselves living your lives, admiring & laughing all at once. And the Peruvians seem so good natured and with so little. Packing to go to the Baja. Drive to Chicago tomorrow & fly to Los Cabos on Sat. Hoping to avoid too many tourists & get some snorkeling & whale watching in. We’ll be back on the 9th and hopefully be able to talk that wkend or the next. We’ll both be carrying our cell phones; Julia’s 6084696506; mine, 6082381070. Love to you both, Dad/Mark

  3. OMGosh…Thank you sooo much…it is so gratifying to see and hear about your fabulous (and challenging) adventures. We all knew you two would not only rise to the occasion…but totally knock it out of the park…and you obviously are!! The people of Peru are so lucky to have you… and, I bet, already know you two “are coming in handy”!!! Please keep those stories and photos coming…sort of temporarily fills the hole you left here. XOXOXOXOXO

  4. Great blog post! I love the video of your typical day during training! Sounds like you guys are having such a great and interesting time:)

  5. A great post and captures the life of a volunteer oh so well — good to see much of that “serendipity” and you-never-know-what-comes-next has not change over the last 15 years. I think you have the added benefit of age and seem to be taking it all in stride and keeping the humor – nice! Btw, ran into Paul at a RPCV gathering here in El Salvador – he said to say hello and wants to be in touch, so I will pass along email. Abrazos! Besos!

  6. awesome write up and thanks for sharing. Peru was a real joy for us, and we would go back there in a heart beat. All the best to you both for 2013, and keep the blog journal going.

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