End-Of-Year Musings

December 21, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Peru is a third world country, but I’d say my ‘third world’ experience has generally had more to do with infrastructure than a lack of basic needs. I think a big part of that is due to the fact that I live in a relatively large town of 9,000 people, 40 minutes from one of the most rapidly developing capital cities in Peru. As a business volunteer this has been great for me because materials exist, a market exists, and the artisans I’m working with can focus on their developing their trade knowing there is enough at home to buy food and necessities.

The fact that people are born into different lives with different opportunities has been in the back of my head since day one. For the most part, this has been a source of inspiration for me. Peru is in an exciting period of economic development, and I am lucky enough to live in a town that represents a microcosm of that development. I’ve had my fair share of failures, but it is exciting to see people taking advantage as new opportunities open up to them. I think you quickly adapt to the changes and poverty, and it becomes part of your everyday. Last week, though, I had a disheartening and eye-opening experience, one that made me step back and take stock. I was out in the casario where I teach once a week, and around midday a small boy fainted from starvation and heat exhaustion. He had gotten up early to help his parents in the fields, walked to school around 8:00 am in the hot sun, and hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day. With one of the teachers, I quickly carried him outside for some shade and fresh air, and scurried around to find some water and something to eat. I am not familiar enough with his family situation to know whether this was due to negligence, or a true lack of resources. Regardless, it was heartbreaking to see him barely be able to sit up in the middle of the day, let alone participate. I guess I’ve always known that this situation exists for most of the kids I teach out there, but reality gives you a good slap in a face when a child faints right in front of you.

Life can be unfair, but it seems that a newer and stronger word is necessary for the fact that a little boy cannot wake up, eat breakfast, and go to school in the mornings, just like I did as a kid. The quality of education can vary, the quality of breakfast can vary, but the guarantee of a roll of bread or a glass of milk, and that he won’t be dragged out of class for a week each month to harvest crops seems like it should be within reach! Incidents like that one make the bottom-up type of development work I’ve been doing seem a bit futile. I know, in the end, it is not. I have changed lives and created opportunities, but only for a small percentage of the people in my town. I have to believe that the changes I’ve made will eventually trickle out to more people and touch more lives. Still, with all I’ve experienced, and all I know of the world, it feels like I should be able to do more, and help more.

I know times are tough right now in the states, and I’m hoping that for this holiday season all my faithful readers realize that what you might be lacking due to a rough economic year is probably the cherry on a very big sundae to many around the world, and to take stock and realize that you still have a lot to be grateful for. So, on that note, enjoy the holidays, and have a happy and safe new year. I’ll ‘e-see’ everyone in 2009!

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Something To Be Thankful For

December 13, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I had another great trip with two high school friends over Thanksgiving rounding out a November of travels and finishing the month with 19 soles ($6) in my bank account (!). Two of my oldest friends flew down and did Cuzco on their own before we all met up in Puno, which sits on Lake Titicaca, an enormous lake shared by Peru and Bolivia. All the Peruvians say that “Titi” is the Peruvian side and “caca” the Bolivian side. To me it all looked beautiful. We spent only a day in Puno, a little over 24 hours, getting up early to head out to see the floating islands. Back when the Incas invaded (according to our guide), several of the locals escaped on rafts, grouped them together, and they eventually anchored. Now there is a community of 52 floating islands, all made from reeds from the lake. Their huts are constructed with all organic material, and some of the islands even have solar powered electricity. It was one of the more impressive things I have seen in my time here. From there we went to another island, Taquile, which, given the description, seems a bit like a communist utopia. Everyone works, everyone contributes, and everyone receives from the communal ‘pot’. A group of authorities oversees the island, its inhabitants, and all their disputes. The most interesting thing about Taquile was that people use clothing to communicate about certain characteristics – whether they are single, married, or dating, whether they are working or studying, even whether or not they are in a good mood on that particular day.

At 9pm we headed out to take an overnight bus to Arequipa. Upon arrival at the bus station, the bus company, Cruz del Sur, informed us that the bus had been cancelled. They gave us no warning, and in no way tried to contact us. We frantically searched for seats on another bus that was leaving that evening, finally settling on Sur Oriente, a company I wasn’t familiar with. This was a huge mistake. In retrospect, we probably should have stayed another night in Puno, and waited until the next day to travel to Arequipa. At 3 am the bus ran up over the guard rail and after some very bumpy jolts came to a halt. We were traveling over large mountain passes, and no one knew if we were on the edge of an abyss or about to tip over into a gorge. Miraculously, the idiot bus driver managed to crash on one of the very few parts of the road that had some give on either side, so we ended up on a tilt with two tires blown out, but otherwise safe and unharmed. One of the passengers told us that the bus driver had been drunk, and had fled on the first car that had driven by, taking with him the key to the luggage compartment. So there we were at 3am on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, freezing and without our bags. No cell service, no police, no help, no nothing. After about an hour, some men had figured out how to break into the luggage through the top floor of the bus, and one by one pulled out our suitcases. Then more waiting, attempts to hail down buses and cars driving by to see if they would take us the last hour of the ride into Arequipa. Bus after bus passed us by, and finally one stopped. The men who had helped with our suitcases pushed us through the crowd and helped us get onto the bus.

In an evening we saw the worst (irresponsible drunken bus driver) and the best (strangers who busted into the luggage compartment to get our things, then ensured our safety by helping us get to our destination) of Peru. There were some Polish tourists on the bus, and after the crash they kept saying, “where are the police, where is the bus company, why haven’t they come to fix the bus”. I tried to explain to them that we were at that point in no man’s land, and that if they wanted to get out of there they would have to make it happen themselves. It’s scary knowing there is no authority coming to save the day, but heartwarming that people were there to help, people who don’t know me from Adam (or Eve). We arrived to Arequipa at 6am on Thanksgiving day, tired and scared, but otherwise unharmed.

Arequipa was beautiful, and I wish we had had more time there. To be honest, the rest of the trip passed as if part of a dream. My friends both freaked out (understandably) after the crash, while being the ‘host’, I did my best to hold it together. All things considered, we all handled the incident well. Except, after seeing my friends off on Sunday morning, that night I boarded my bus to take the flat journey back to Chiclayo, and I lost it. I guess it was the first time in a week that I hadn’t been in charge, didn’t need to be ‘in charge’ and thus, spent the first two hours out of Lima in and out of tears, explaining to my bewildered fellow passengers about my adventures from the days before. I think I felt responsible since I made the travel arrangements, and guilty for making my friends endure such an ordeal, not to mention terrified for what could have been. It was a very intense experience to have shared with people I’ve known well for over 12 years, and in the end it gave the three of us something to be very thankful for.

New Year’s Resolution

December 9, 2008 at 11:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I am making a New Year’s resolution to be a better blogger. I have 8 months left in Peru, and I want to make the most of it, and share more of it with my loved ones and/or internet stalkers. I really enjoy being a blogger, thought I don’t think I’ll keep it going after I get back from my travels. I mostly plan to work, study, and eat a lot of sushi. and twizzlers. and sour patch kidz. chips and salsa. good italian. drink water out of the faucet. bathe frequently. with hot water. wear a dress. see the next Harry Potter movie.

Hmm, maybe I CAN make a blog out of this.

Cusco

November 16, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I had a great trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu with three friends from Dartmouth. We all arrived on a Thursday and spent two days adjusting to the higher altitude and exploring the city. Cusco is definitely the most commercial of the cities I’ve visited in Peru (outside of Lima) which has its good and its bad. On the plus side, there are lots of artesania shops where you can find wool and alpaca products and great jewelry, and there are lots of good restaurants which gave me a nice break from the food in site. On the down side, you can’t be two minutes in a public place without someone interrupting whatever you are doing to try to sell you something. I had several instances where people tried to overcharge me for things, and I’m guessing it usually works. Between poor Spanish speaking skills, and trivial price changes on things that already seem ‘cheap’, most tourists either don’t notice or don’t care if they are charged a few extra soles. It got a bit frustrating, but otherwise it was an exceptional trip.

Early Saturday morning (4am early) we were bussed out of Cusco to kilometer 82 which marks the beginning of the traditional Inca Trail. I believe its around a 45 kilometer trip (around 28 miles) which is usually done over the course of four days. Unfortunately there was a transportation strike scheduled for our last day so we had to squeeze four days of hiking into three to be able to cover all the ground and get to Machu Picchu in time to get back out to Cusco. The trail is a restored and maintained version of what the Incas used to travel back and forth between MP and Cusco. It was mostly stones and a good mix of up down and flat. We started off at 8500 feet, by the middle of day two we were up to 13,800 feet, and headed back down to Machu Picchu at 7900 feet. The company we used, Enigma, was great and our guide was incredible. The four of us were a little quicker than the rest of our group (we were 10 in total) so during the day we would move ahead on our own, and then at meal breaks and when we would stop for camp we would regroup with the rest. We ran into very few other trekkers on the trail which I think was in part due to our timing (its the off-season) and in part due to the regulations the government puts on how many tourists can enter the park at a time. Trekking through the Andes is breathtaking and the changes in vegetation and climate as you change altitude was really incredible. By the end of the trek it almost felt like we were in the jungle.

On the last day we had to get up at 4am to make it to Machu Picchu by 11am, and hiking up to the Sun Gate when you can finally look out over the ruins was the way to go. As we made our way down to the ruins we passed lots of tourists who had arrived via train that day and had showered, put on makeup and jewelry, even brushed their hair! We were on day three of being sweaty and smelly. Two of my friends had plastic bags wrapped around their feet because their hiking boots got wet in a downpour. I was left with my black Microsoft shirt that says geek in binary code and a pair of black leggings; everything else was dirty or wet. Another friend had accidentally (or possibly purposely) brought her dad’s long underwear so was wearing what looked like a long white tunic over black leggings. We were a rag-tag bunch, but felt like we had really earned the experience, and were lucky enough to get a beautiful sunny morning to explore the ruins.

We were then bussed down to the local town called Aguas Calientes, where we paid a visit to the local hot springs. We took the train back to Cusco and arrived at 1am, exhausted and ready for sleep. We had the whole next day free in Cusco because we had been planning on still being on the trail. My friends made me go to a nice hotel where they forced me to drink expensive wine and eat expensive cheese (then they paid for it). It was great! And it was the perfect way to relax and wind down after a long and arduous hike. We spent the rest of the day exploring a neighborhood called San Blas, and then headed to a local pub to watch election results. We stayed up long enough to see Obama clinch the win, and then I was the only one who made it late enough to see his awesome speech. I spent a good part of the night in tears (happy tears) and woke up the next morning with a puffy face and a hope-filled heart.

Cusco Pictures

November 10, 2008 at 4:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

As I mentioned in the last post, I just got back from a great trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu. I just put pics up and a recap is soon to follow…..

http://picasaweb.google.com/danielle.howard/Cusco

October

November 8, 2008 at 8:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apologies to all my faithful blog followers. It has been a very busy few months between trips to Lima for work, artisan fairs, workshops, applying to grad school, and most recently an incredible visit to Cuzco. First things first, all is well with the artisan association. I know I left off at a bit of a cliff hanger. Somehow over the last six weeks, I have managed to make lemons out of lemonade and turn all that conflict into something good.

A few days after writing that last entry back in September, I called an meeting with the official and unofficial leaders of the group to discuss the issues the association was facing. Visibly upset, I detailed my fears about conflict tearing the association apart and my disappointment about putting so much time and heart into a group that appeared to be on the brink of disaster. I had tried everything, and I was running out of solutions. The artisans were nervous about my behavior; they are used to a gregarious gringa who always has a smile on her face, and had rarely seen me in such a solemn mood. They laughed when I voiced my concerns and waved them off. Apparently, the group faces this sort of conflict every year. Last year it got so bad that they took their products out of the store and went on strike, refusing to turn products into the museum. “This is nothing,” they told me, patted me on the back and sent me on my way.

So, maybe I overreacted. Shortly afterwards, the museum management took drastic measures to try to resolve the inter-association conflict. They took a lot of responsibilities away from the artisans (including working at the store and running the quality control checks) in an abrupt way with very little communication about their motives. I suppose the museum, having worked with the association for over five years, got tired of the bickering and disagreements, but their actions seemed more like punishments than solutions. While I suppose some of the immediate issues were resolved, as a result a big rift has developed between the museum and the association.

Upon seeing this rift, I jumped at the chance to urge the association to establish itself as a separate entity from the museum. Whereas before I could barely get the group to stay in the same room long enough to have any real discussion, since the changes implemented by the museum the group has bonded together with a common goal of becoming more independent. The last few weeks have served as a self-esteem, leadership, and business plan workshop all rolled into one, as the artisans took offense to the museum’s attempts to punish and control them, and to make decisions regarding their business without taking the opinions of the artisans into account. They now meet more frequently, have better communication regarding upcoming events and fairs, and have even petitioned the municipality for a space in town to establish an office and display some of their work. I have been out of town a lot lately for artisan fairs, a Volunteer Advisory Committee meeting, and to guest star at diversity day at training (as the Jew), and much of this progress has been made in my absence. This is the best early Hannukah present I could ask for. Until very recently I have had to push hard to make advances here with the association, and it seems that finally they have taken the responsibility into their own hands.

We are currently finishing up a month-long workshop with a company called Strategia, which was contracted by Backus, a beer distributor. Backus has been working with small communities of artisans as part of their social development program and Tucume was lucky enough to receive their help. The workshops have covered everything from teamwork to cost analysis to planning your business, and it has been a great experience being able to take part in the workshops. The consultants come during the week to give their workshops, and then at night and on weekends I have worked with the artisans to put what they have been learning into practice. We are winding down the last workshop, and then will pull everything together next week to develop concrete business plans for some of the artisans. I myself am learning a ton, and, having lived here for a year am able to serve as a liaison between the consultants and the artisans to make most efficient use of the knowledge of the former and the experiences of the latter.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

September 12, 2008 at 8:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The artisan association is falling apart. I wish I could get a better perspective on what has been going on and know if this is a phase, or if this is something I should be legitimately concerned about. For the record, I am extremely concerned. I suppose this is the point of working a two year stint in Peace Corps. Right when you think you have all the big problems solved, the books are immaculate, the fair invitations abound, the artisans can finally pronounce the ‘th’ sound, a whole new crop of problems pop up, just in time for spring. There have been several nasty intra-association arguments over the last few weeks which have led to the resignation of the president, constant threats from management at the museum, and the apparent rapid deterioration of the association that I have dedicated much of my life to over the last year.

I think the problems stem from the fact that when the artisans get angry with each other, they don’t try to work together to find a solution. They constantly are looking for an authority to lay down the law. They have looked to me and I have tried to stay out of that role; I don’t want to be sheriff of this town. When the president deliberates and comes up with what was in my eyes a good solution, inevitably someone gets upset and goes running to museum management, sidestepping the association all together and inviting real problems. Once the museum director gets involved, she makes decisions that no one is happy with, but because she is the authority figure to so many of the artisans, they comply. We are left with bad decisions, unhappy artisans, and devoid of a leader.

My plan is to use the director’s decisions to rally the group to unite, to come up with reasonable solutions that appease everyone, and to try to reestablish some semblance of order and authority. I think it is back to square one with the leadership, confidence, and team-building workshops. At least this time around, I’ll have a more substantial foundation to base my activities on. “You are part of an artisan association, products are disappearing from the store, blame is flung left and right, you have to find a solution: GO!”

Maybe we have to reach bottom before we can make our way back to the top. Two weeks ago the association was one of about 20 groups to be invited to participate in a fair at the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Council) SME (Small and medium enterprise) conference in Chiclayo. I went along to work as a translator, but it was great to see my group there among some of the best artisans in Peru. On the outside, through our work over the last year, the artisans have achieved local, regional, and national recognition, a huge accomplishment for a country known for its handicraft. Nevertheless, internally we are a mess, and its only a matter of time before it starts to show on the outside.

Go Skins.

August 22, 2008 at 8:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I recently got back to site from mid-service med checks and presentations. It is standard for volunteers to come into their capital city after one year of service to visit the doctor, the dentist, to see their old friends, and to give some presentations on their work. The trip to the doctor went well. The only problem was, a day after arriving in Lima I came down with a big case of sick. Apparently, now I’m fine with Peruvian food, but cannot eat American food (curse you Ronald McDonald! You and your tasty chicken nuggets!) I had one cavity which I’m not too upset about, and I had the opportunity to present to the newest group of volunteers (Peru 11) and they laughed at all my jokes, so can’t complain there.

Well, it was great, really great, to see everyone. All seemed happy with site, happy with work, happy with their lives. This is good because apparently most groups have one or two more people leave after the one year mark, but I have a lot of fe (that is faith) that the rest of Peru 9 is going to stick it out to the end. I enjoyed seeing everyone and spending time with everyone. I hate to stray into the land of cliches, but I do feel like everyone in the group is like family. It was fun to celebrate everyone’s hits and commiserate over the misses over the last year. One of my favorite parts of getting together is how we all try to top each other with wacky stories about host families, animals or insects, getting sick, or other adventures. For one, we have a poop your pants club and over 50% of the group is a member (I, for the record, am still waiting to join…any day now!)

Before leaving training last August, we all wrote letters to ourselves (mine starts: Dear Future Danielle, ) to be opened during mid-service meetings. This is a great idea! I should do this every year! If you are reading this, you should go home tonight, write a letter to yourself, stash it somewhere, and then find one of those online birthday e-mail reminders to remind you to open it one year from today. I asked myself a lot of questions, and gave myself some helpful tips (some excerpts):

– if you haven’t yet done so, learn some jokes in Spanish
– be careful of ladrones (thieves)! (this was written right after I almost got robbed)
– did you cut your hair? is it ugly?
– maybe you should learn how to play soccer? maybe not.
– did the ‘skins win the superbowl? This is their year!!! (whoops)

…etc etc etc.

Anyways, it’s funny how I feel like I have come so far and changed so much. In reading my letter to myself, I have the same concerns, I have the same goals, I have the same bad jokes. It makes me feel constant, and it makes me feel proud. I’m happy to be in good spirits, like I was a year ago. I’m really happy I’m not sick anymore; I wrote the letter during the time when I was making hourly trips to the bathroom for days on end, and now I remember how un-fun that was. Through all the emotional and physical ups and downs of the last year, I’m just happy to know I’m still me, the me that arrived here all bright eyed and bushy tailed one year ago. I guess I’m a little less bright-eyed, and my tail is slightly less bushy, but that is okay. I have a better understanding of where I am, of what I’m supposed to be doing, and what I actually do and do not have the capacity to get done. These are all good things! Plus, my Spanish is better.

The best part about mid-service med checks, and I think that this was the point, is it got me excited about what I’ve accomplished, and for what there is to come. Realizing that you have not two Septembers, but only one left in Peru gives you a good kick in the ass to get your projects moving, because from here on out, things are winding down. Now it doesn’t feel like passing the time until service is over, but that time is quickly running out.

Just take this stinkin’ fish

July 18, 2008 at 1:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I broke a cardinal (unofficial) peace corps rule this week and gave the people the proverbial fish. The artisans I’m working with were invited to a huge ten day fair in Kennedy Park in Lima where they will probably have access to the same number of tourists in 10 days as they would over several months at the museum here in Tucume. Kennedy Park is a beautiful park in the middle of the most touristy district in Lima (Miraflores), and the fair takes place during the height of the tourist season (your summer, our winter). They needed a catalogue to participate in the fair, and the one they had is a 3 on a 1-10 scale. We have discussed for months updating the catalogue, but I’ve hesitated taking charge of the project because without me, without my camera, without my computer skillz (that’s a purposeful ‘z’), they would not be able to make a catalogue or replicate what we would do together. I finally bit the bullet, and spent all last week and this week taking photos, writing up technical info sheets about each product including prices, measurements, and production capacity, and trying to write impressive and moving descriptions of the artisanal processes they use. I couldn’t send them to Lima with what they had, and time was running out, and it had to get done. I did work with two of the artisans on the information gathering portion of the project, but the majority of the ‘cutting and pasting’ was done by me. I think that companies usually hire someone to do this sort of thing, so in a way, they contracted a free fake expert to make a catalogue for them. Hopefully next time around they will have enough savings to hire someone (who actually knows what they are doing) to help them.

They warned us about this in training; often it will be significantly easier to accomplish something alone, than with two, three, or more people helping you out. Fight the urge, they told us. I guess I finally caved. I felt so accomplished and so quickly! Its amazing how long things take when you are collaborating and teaching and helping but *not* doing. When I was in middle school, I used to go to the local elementary school once a week to give homework help, and some of my work here is oddly reminiscent of those tutoring days. It requires an unbelievable amount of patience, especially when the solution or resolution is right there within your grasp, but you have to sit back and urge urge urge someone else to work towards it.

However, the infrequent and sometimes nearly imperceptible successes are real feel-good moments. It is an entirely different form of satisfaction than the one you get from the more tangible accomplishments. I’m hoping to have more of those as I move into my second year. So bring on the fishing lessons.

The Pacasmayo Marathon

July 8, 2008 at 11:18 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A capital ‘K’ Kudos to volunteer Steve who organized the Pacasmayo Marathon that went down this weekend. Steve is a business volunteer from my group, Peru 9, and for the last ten months has been working his tail off organizing a series of races that took place over the weekend, including a marathon, half-marathon, 10k and 5k. A bunch of volunteers were there to run the races or to help out, and there were a decent amount of Peruvian participants as well, which was surprising because running isn’t nearly as popular in this country as it is back in the states. I have only run one other race in my life, the 5K Turkey Trot with my little brothers back in 2006. I ran the 10k this time, and it felt SO great to come in and finish strong. I know a 10k is chump change to many people, but it was a big accomplishment for me, I had never run more than four or five miles before and only a handful of times had I even run that far. What a unique experience it was to run with all my friends along these beautiful cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was so fun, in fact, I could almost forget the fact that I was running a race and that I hate running. Three of my friends from Peru 9 and a handful from the other groups ran the full marathon, and to watch them come in was so inspirational. It’s hard to train here; there aren’t real running trails, there are lots of scary stray dogs, there are mototaxis in a hurry who will run you off the road, and for some there is also high altitude to deal with. To run any marathon is a big accomplishment. Here for some reason, it seemed colossal, and I almost exploded with pride as Greg, Wes, and Ali crossed the finish line.

The spirit of the peace corps volunteer was very nearly palpable that Sunday morning, it was one great day among many good ones over my last year here in Peru.

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