It’s been a while since our last blog posting, if only because time stands still here on Planet Perú. We were throttled out of our slumber when we flipped the page on our Colorado calendar to June to see photo of a kid kayaking in whitewater. It suddenly dawned on us that here in the land of perpetual summer, we’ve skipped an entire north american winter. There’s been no sub-zero blustery cold days of frozen fingers and toes, cars that won’t start, shoveling snow, and late afternoon darkness. Or if you ask Read, we’ve gone an entire season without white fluffy powder, runs throught the Mirkwood Trees, backcountry tours, and ice-skating near Leadville. Clearly the tension in our respective climactic preferences is being laid to bare, only now it’s Arden smiling and wiggling her toes (in sandals instead of ski boots) in the hot sun.
Seven months into our new life in Poroto (plus 10 weeks in Lima) and our routine is quite idyllic. Here below the equator, days are pretty much 12 hours of sunlight, with the front room of our little house getting lit up at 7am. It gets dark’ish around 6:30pm, and in between it’s warm, but not too hot (now). Mornings include espresso and smoothies (maracuya, mango, pineapple, and banana, all locally grown). Short sleeves are all we wear, and long pants to fit into Peruvian professional code. We step out the door to magnificent views of dry coastal peaks, fields of pineapple and sugar cane, with little kids in uniform scrambling off late to school, and the national anthem blasting over the loudspeakers. All the farmers are off to their fields well before sunrise, so only sleepy skinny dogs laze around the streets.
Arden spends her afternoons doing home visits with moms and kids under three, promoting nutrition, clean homes, and early childhood stimulation while coordinating her efforts with volunteer health promoters in surrounding communities. She walks everywhere, and is now well known (la gringa caminando) for her Izod-with-Peace-Corps-patch uniform (she has seven of them, all the rainbow colors). She also works in the high school next to our home, teaching sexual education, self-esteem and decision-making skills with the help of the health-post psychologist to hormone spazzed out teens. Her biggest success is the ever growing youth group at the health center, where she trains aspiring teen leaders how to teach these same topics to their peers, and provides comic relief with her slowly-improving Spanish.
Read’s world is much different as he tries to understand the long list of issues facing the fourteen different water systems in the district. If it’s not broken pipes, leaky resevoirs, or contaminated springs, it’s warring neighbors, crazy systems design, or complacent authorities that fill his day. Sanitation (toilets) is an even bigger issue, but will have to wait as things move REALLY slowly, and clean water is the first priority. Patience is the lesson learned, though fits of screaming frustration are not uncommon (behind the closed door of home).
Culturally, the challenges are abundant. When you speak in a big meeting, you are expected to stand up and flourish (florisar) your words with formality and praise, then gently inference to the topic at hand, followed by more flourishes of gratitude and humility for all in attendance. In small meetings it’s often impossible to get a word in edgewise as our Spanish is still slow enough that we get run over in the crosswalk. Machismo is yet another challenge as folks often speak directly to Read as he silently gives eye nods in Arden’s direction.
The Peace Corps’ formal training process is now complete. Both of us traveled to far off towns to meet with our cohorts and exchange the last of the technical manuals and most current building and training methods, sharing war stories of dealing with different local customs or just plain pooping in our pants (they say you’re not a PC volunteer until you’ve done so; Read is still holding out). We got to see vast bone-dry deserts (from the bus window), thick green jungle valleys (from the bus window while stranded overnight behind a landslide across the highway on a 27-hour journey). High mountains define Perú’s regions, making travel slow and windey. We treked four days in Huascaran National Park over a 15,000 foot pass while watching glaciers calve off into small avalanches, avoiding curious grazing cows (there are no large predetors in south america other than the rare puma who prefers the lower jungles). Monthly trips to the nearby beach provide surfing fun (Read calls it swimming with a surf board). So far we’ve spent most of our time, hanging out locally. Read is now captain of the local mountain biking team, trailing behind our 23-year old host family cousin and nine year old neighbor. The hills surrounding town are criss-crossed with trails used by farmers to get to their fields making for great late-afternoon tours. Read’s helmet is the butt of much ridicule, especially considering that the neighbor kid’s bike has no brakes, and he rides wearing car-tire sandals. On the steep downhills, he simply wedges his foot between the bike frame and the back tire to create friction and thus slow himself down (he can’t actually stop). You can smell the burning rubber on rubber as he whizzes by, wearing through his sandal tread to the metal imbedded in the (radial) tire sandal. All the kids on the block come by our house to borrow tools, patches, and pump as they have none of the above (nor do they have brakes, or changeable gears, sometimes not even bike seats). Though Read still can’t understand our host family cousin with his rapid-fire stacato Spanish (he works as a fare-collector on the local bus to Trujillo, hustling for $10/day), they hang out frequently if only as entertainment for each other.
Life with our host family is the focus of our social life. The lunch-time meal is the anchor of everyone’s day, with three generations sitting at a big table, eating heaping plates of fine campo-cuisine (country food). Conversation is lively, and Arden’s extrovert side is in full force. She loves to dive into family history, inter-relational intrigue, while asking questions about Peruvian customs and social protocol. They call us their oldest kids, and say we are a bit like teenagers trying to figure it all out.
In two weeks we head off to spend 10 days treking the famous “Huayhuash Circut” in Ancash including a half-dozen 14,000 foot passes. We hope given the fact we are now officially “flat-landers” we won’t pass out from lack of oxygen. Read’s family comes to visit in August and after that we will spend the next four months focusing on work and continuing to “mejorar” the ever-elusive and intriguing world of Spanish language.