Sad News

June 26, 2007 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I’m sad to report that one of my favorite people from the group has decided to leave Peru. My friend Michael is heading home tomorrow via Lima and probably a few pit stops along the way in the states. After some conversation, I think he is doing what is best for his current situation but that leaves me no less bummed about the fact that he is taking off. Some people in the group went out for an little bit tonight for a last hurrah which was really bittersweet. The selfless part of me is glad that he is doing what is right for him, and the selfish part of me is just plain old sad that he won’t be around anymore….and then there were 33.

Michael, if you get a chance to peruse my blog, it was great having you here for the short time and thanks for the deep talks and the mediocre jokes (j/k – they were good jokes). Take care of yourself and I’ll see you in Rio in ’08. Also – let me know who wins the MOD bet.

A day in the life

June 25, 2007 at 11:19 pm | Posted in family, food, friends, Peace Corps | 1 Comment

I thought I’d give a run down of what a typical day is like for me because I’ve been getting a lot of questions about that. Let me preface this by saying that right now, and through the end of August, I’m in training. I’m not in-site and I’m not a volunteer yet. I have to go through three months of language and technical (for small business development) training before getting sworn in as a volunteer. So right now I’m living about an hour outside of Lima, with a family, and am training with the entire group of 34 volunteers that make up Peru 9 (9th group to enter since Peace Corps return to the country in 2001). So, here goes:

Wake up between 6-6:30 am depending on what time I have Spanish class. Usually will go for a run and do some exercises, and then ‘hop in the shower’. I put that in quotes because depending on the day it will either be a freezing cold shower w/ running water or a slightly less freezing bucket shower. We get water on Saturdays and Tuesdays so usually have running water Sat, Sun, Tues, and Weds. My current route consists of running up and down a giant hill, and until I either get more comfortable w/ dogs or get someone else to run w/ me, it will continue to be that route b/c there are no doggies.

After the shower I’ll get my stuff together and eat some breakfast with my Peruvian Momma. I usually get papaya which is really good, and often bread with something; egg, jam, etc. If I have to go to school that day, I’ll walk down the hill and catch a kombi which is the informal bus system here. It costs 50 centimos to take the bus to school which is equivalent to 16 cents. The buses are always PACKED and I’m convinced that if anything bad ever were to happen to me, chances are it would be some sort of wreck with these buses that have people shoved in there like sardines. Usually they don’t go fast enough for anything to happen but since my bad accident last summer I’m still a little nervous in moving vehicles. Alternatively, on some days we have Spanish class in our houses so my group of four will go to one person’s house for the morning for class. They do this so we can go out into the community during class and practice with people in the neighborhood which is cool.

Then, if I’m at the center, I’ll bring a lunch. My favorite lunch is bread w/ avocado and a little salt. I think I could eat that every day. If we have class in the ‘hood, I’ll come home for lunch and that is usually more substance and is hot. Often it involves some combo of rice, potatoes, and chicken but is always tasty. I have beaten it into my Mom’s head that I like more vegetables and less rice so she is now used to serving me half the portion of rice and cooks a lot of meals w/ veggies which is a treat. Her cooking is great though – no matter what she is making.

In the afternoon we will either have technical training or some sort of safety/security/health workshop or lecture. So far, as I think I’ve mentioned, we’ve had one on diarrhea, one on dental care, and one on the bird flu (which has yet to come to this side of the world). The technical training is equal parts lecture and outside practice. Last Friday, for example, I went to the municipality in Chosica to meet with someone from their social development office. The head administrator (who is right below the mayor) came out to talk to us, which was a pretty big deal, and told us that he had several spots where he thought we could serve when we were ready to begin our two years of service. We carefully explained to him that we were probably heading to other provinces in Peru and that the decision was not up to us. After hearing that he was pretty much done with us and passed us off to another guy so we could learn a bit more about the municipality.

Classes end around five and then I’ll hop back on the death bus to head home. From door to door it is a 30 minute trip; half in bus, half walking. Once home, I try to head out and talk to people in the community, or hang out with my family, or do homework and study. Last Friday I went to a taller which is a workshop that was put on by the local university; it was a lecture about sex ed for parents (how to inform/talk with your child) and then we learned how to make these super tasty chocolates (food is always a good way to get people to come to your events). Today I went to the local bread making shop and helped make bread in exchange for some conversation and info from the fellow Jimmy who works there.

So money-wise, they pay our families 20 soles a day which amounts to about $6.35, and then we get 8 soles a day for transportation and incidentals which is about $2.54. That doesn’t sound like a lot (and it is not), so to give you a better idea of what that means in terms of day-to day spending, it costs 1 sol to get to and from school each day (50 centimos each way), 1 sol for an hour of internet use, 1 sol for a bottle of water, 4 soles for a beer, etc, etc. Food is taken care of with the family stipend so 8 soles a day is usually enough except if I want to go out on the weekends for a beer or two. I usually save enough during the week for this.

The weird thing about training is that it is so structured. We are generally busy from 8am-5pm each day not counting transport time. The two shocks when I leave for my site are going to be a) not having any of my friends around to speak english to and b) having my time be totally unstructured. I’m not too concerned about it – but it will definitely be different and an adjustment.

If you are reading, happy very late birthday to my cousin Harris and my cousin Rachel. I love you guys – hooray for geminis.

Howard, Howard, and Howard

June 24, 2007 at 11:58 pm | Posted in family | 1 Comment

If my career in international development goes kaput, my backup plan is to get a job at whatever company my brother(s?) has (have) started by then, as there is no doubt in my mind it will be uber-successful. Over the last two weeks they built a balance beam over our pool to use for jousting and sword fights. How freakin’ cool is that?

stevemike

You are what you eat

June 22, 2007 at 3:18 pm | Posted in books, food | Leave a comment

I read a really great book for my old book club right before I left the states called the Omnivore’s Dilemma and have already talked several people’s ears of about it. The book details industrial food production in the US as well as the organic industry and concludes with an interesting section about hunting and gathering an entire meal (boar, veggies, and mushrooms). I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it; it really opened my eyes to what it was I was putting into my stomach every day.

A major theme of the book was the idea that it is really easy to separate what it is your are eating from whatever your food was before it became food. Be it meat, veggies, or a fried egg, we rarely think about how it was grown, raised, nourished, killed or pulled, stored, transported, packaged and marketed. We are privy only to the part between the grocery store and consumption so have some idea as to how the food was prepared (if you cook for yourself, that is). The book goes into the chemicals going into food production, the poor treatment of animals, and the high costs to the environment given such a low cost to the consumer, but also touches upon the idea of having some respect for what you are eating – specifically the life of the animal.

Over my week and a half here in Peru, I’ve definitely developed a new appreciation for the meats (including chicken) I am eating. Today I sat down to lunch and had four eyeballs staring up at me (two little fishies) and I actually hid the heads with some rice before I finished my meal, which is what triggered this train of thought (or is it a chain of thought? I’m forgetting how to speak English). I mentioned in prior posts the dead pig getting it’s head cut off, and watching the guts getting yanked out of a chicken, and could ‘stomach’ all those things pretty well and continue to eat chicken or pork later that day or night, but the events of the week definitely gave me more to think about as I sat down to those meals. I can’t really say whether I enjoyed these meals more or less than had I bought prepackaged sausage or chicken breast back in the states, but I definitely feel more a part of a food chain here after these few experiences. Does that make sense? I like the fact that there are fewer steps here that are outside of your control as a consumer. You consume what is fresh and what is locally available, and as strange as it sounds I feel a little better about the food I am eating. It will be pretty fascinating when I get out into the campo in a few months and can experience the birth, nourishment, and death of whatever it is I’ll be eating (unless of course it is all arroz y papa which is entirely possible).

…so said the philosophy major.

My Birfday

June 19, 2007 at 7:29 pm | Posted in food, friends | 2 Comments

Turning twenty-five is like getting a B on a report card. It is not great and it is not terrible, it is just sort of there and asking to be ignored. I think once I hit thirty I’m going to start counting back down instead of up. Apologies to anyone reading this over the age of 30. Anyways, aside from the actual age, my birthday here in Peru was about a million times better than I was expecting. I was actually expecting nothing (so that math might be a little off); I haven’t gotten too sad or nostalgic while being here and am just taking things one day (chicken, pig head, snake, rabid dog) at a time so was expecting the old birthday to be just like any other day. I did wake up feeling a little down in the dumps which surprised me and then got over it pretty quickly and headed off to school. A couple of people actually remembered and wished me a happy bday (probably b/c I had announced it the day prior) which was lovely and then around 8:30 I was lucky enough to get another rabies vaccination (#2 of 3). Happy birthday to ME!

Later on in the day we had another hour long health presentation (the first was about diarrhea – not sure whether or not I touched on that) and this was was about brushing your teeth. They pulled me out of the presentation b/c they said I needed another shot. I argued about that b/c it was for a shot that I already had (measles or some other random ailment) and when I got back to the presentation sans the vaccine everyone was waiting w/ a cake to sing ‘Feliz Cumpleanos’. For the non-Spanish speakers out there, that means “happy birthday”. I am embarrassed to say I actually teared up a little as I was a bit taken aback by the cake and the song and all the love and hugs.

Had a big dinner with the extended family and my two gringa sisters Ari and Sam later that night (will eventually put up some pics of that) of ahi de gallina. Unsure about the spelling of that. But it is chicken in a tasty sauce with some arroz (that is rice). Had my first Peruvian pisco sour and was instantly a fan; it is a drink made with peruvian liquor called pisco and then lemon, ice, something a tad sweet that I forgot the name of, and lots of happiness. Dean told me to look out for it while I was here in Peru and he was right; those things can be dangerous. It was a great time and I realized that I’m *really* funny (even in spanish!!) after I’ve had a drink or two. haha. My peruvian Mom weaved a super sweet little purse and gave it to me and my peruvian bro gave me a necklace to match the one he wears. I am so in with the fam. I also received a bottle of pisco that hopefully will be put to good use at the next birthday or fiesta.

After dinner I headed over to Chosica which is the big town nearby to a discoteca and about 25 people from my group actually showed up which was shocking and awesome. My peruvian brother Jorge and my neighbor Raul came as well and laughed at all the gringos doing our weird gringo dances. We sort of took over the dance floor and Jorge told the barista to play hip hop (pronounced ‘eep ‘opp) and we got some Sean da Paul playing and it was all good. If Adam is reading this, he’ll appreciate the fact that they played ‘Punkie’ en espanol. So we had some beers and danced and had a really nice time. So, twenty five goes right below my Bat Mitzvah and then my birthday sophomore summer at Dartmouth and I won’t comment on that more but if you were there, you know what I’m talking about. If you weren’t there, you may have heard Sonia and I refer to it as the most eventful night of our college career.

But I digress, Thanks to everyone for all the birthday wishes, and thanks to all my Peru 9 buddies for showing me such a great time after only a week and a half of knowing each other. This post is super sappy and I’ll try to do something more intellectual or hilarious, or at least not totally self-involved, for my next one.

Oh! I was lucky enough to sit next to a woman on the plane ride down here who works with Operation Smile in Lima. She is hosting a really incredible event and if I can get my hands on the URL I’ll post some info on it. The short of it is she gets 50 Peruvian artists to work with children to make works of art: paintings, sculptures, etc. Then on Sunday there is a big art show and the proceeds from the sold art go towards operations for children with cleft palette. I’m going to help out with the set-up Saturday night which should be a great way to get to know some more about the organization. I’m really excited and lucky that Peace Corps is letting me help out for a few hours with this great event! More to come…

Chicken Gutz

June 17, 2007 at 4:27 pm | Posted in food, friends, micronegocios | Leave a comment

My work here will (eventually, after I learn to speak Espaneesh) be working with small formal (read: legal) and informal (don’t pay taxes) businesses in rural areas of Peru. So for the next three months while I’m Chosica/Yanacoto/Chacalayo my job is first and foremost to learn Spanish and to get comfortable with going up to strangers in the community and talking to them about their livelihoods, their problems, their hopes, their dreams, who they are rooting for in American Idol, etc. A few days ago we got an assignment to head into town and try to find the most unique informal business on the streets of Chosica. I went with Greg and Don, two fellows in my group, to the marketplace to see what we could see.

What we saw was a lot of dead animals for sale and their insides. The best/worst was when a dude walked by with a dead pig over his shoulder. A huge dead pig with all the blood drained out just drip dropping blood along the street as he passed. The guy stopped to cut the pig’s head off before he stuck him in a freezer (and almost closed a small child in there who was watching) and I wish I had been cognizant enough to snap a photo but I was too mesmerized. I did manage to catch a few shots of the insides of a chicken (more on that later) See below:

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All well and good (is my english getting worse? It feels like it), but we still had not encountered a really interesting informal business. We were lucky enough after a few hours to bump into a boa constrictor and his owner. We met this fellow who goes out into the jungle every few months and brings back various goodies such as snakes, tiger skins, plant juices and some other dead animal that I could not recognize. His main commodity is snake fat which is great for cuts and bruises (FYI). We spoke with him for a while about his business, his goods, his customers, his marketing techniques (pretty good when you have a six foot long boa constrictor in your ‘window’) and then he let me hold his snake. HIS BOA! Come on – mind out of the gutter:

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We had to move twice because the polizia kept telling him to go away. A lot of the informal businesses here in the city, much like in other cities, are constantly on the go; they cannot stay in one place too long or they will be told to move. This was a great find though. Others we heard about were a guy who sits with a scale in front of him on the sidewalk and you pay him a few cents to weigh yourself. Then he tells you if you are too fat or too skinny. Also, some dudes who sit in the park with typewriters and type up formal papers for people who cannot read/write/type which I think is a great idea.

I have a few other tales because I’m a bit backed up on the old blog here, so I’m just going to get it all down now and then try to post shorter posts more frequently. As I mentioned, I live in Yanacoto, and 11 other people from my group live here as well. A few of us got together on Saturday to play in a volleyball game against a group of mothers from the neighborhood. There was a big celebration for the Mayor of the entire community and we were a small part of the exhibition (Team name: Gringitos). We are a pretty athletic group overall and had one girl who actually played vball in college, Nevertheless, we got our asses handed to us. Those mommies were vicious but everyone had a good time anyways. I even dove for a ball (and missed). Went to a discoteca last night (Saturday) with some girls and danced the night away which was really fun and relaxing. I think my temporary problem of having two left feet has passed b/c I danced up a storm. Perhaps I will learn salsa afterall; I’m currently looking for classes in my neighborhood. Anyway, the discoteca was in a museum which was pretty cool and they played 30% American music but none of it was from after 1985, I felt like I was in Miami Vice or something, though I’ve never actually seen that show.

Today (Sunday) I helped my Peruvian momma prepare arroz con pollo which is a delicious dish and I got pretty intimate with the chicken innards. We bought the chicken whole (but dead and de-feathered, thank Adonai), and had to chop off the head and feet and cut it apart and take out the guts and clean and prepare everything. Okay, to be honest I spent most of the time chopping veggies, but I watched her deal with the pollo and I did help a little. Next time I’ll take out the innards, and I’ll document it with a photo.

Though this won’t get posted until tomorrow (Monday) I want to wish my wonderful Dad a very Happy Father’s Day and to let him know that he can call me and talk about the weather anytime he likes. I love you Daddy!! Here is a virtual gift; it is a snake’s head and is supposed to bring good luck (you probably prefer it in a photo than in your hand):

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My Address

June 16, 2007 at 5:13 pm | Posted in correspondence | 4 Comments

Here is the new and improved address; mail sent here will go directly to my training center in Chaclacayo (a little outside of Lima):

PCT Danielle Howard
Embajada Americana/Cuerpo de Paz
Calle los Cedros 647
Chaclacayo
Lima 8, Peru, S.A.

Keep ’em small. Anything over a few pounds I have to pay serious customs duties on and they only currently pay me (as I’m not yet a volunteer and only a trainee) the equivalent of $2 a day.

Livin’ in Yanacoto

June 16, 2007 at 2:08 pm | Posted in dogs | 2 Comments

I made it to Peru in one piece. Sorry for the delay in blog posts. I’m living in a town called Yanacoto which is part of a larger area called Chosica which is about 1 hour from Lima (east, I believe). I am waaay up in the mountains and there is more dirt, dust, rocks and DOGS than you could ever hope for. On the flip side, the weather is like whoa; it is sunny and 75 degrees every day here and it never rains (at least in the winter). It gets chilly at night – down in the 50s. I live with one senora named Jesusa who has four sons, three of whom are in Argentina to make some dough. One works here in Lima and he tried to teach me how to dance the other night, though somehow I arrived in Lima with two left feet. In any case, I’ll figure it out. Below is a pic of me (looking rather dumpy), and Jesusa and our casa in the background:

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and a pic of Yanacoto, take note of the super sweet mountains in the background:

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Que mas? I have a teeny little room but it is comfy and has everything I need (bed and dresser). I have to go through my Senora’s room to get to mine so there won’t be much sneaking out over the next three months. We are lucky enough to have electricity but the running water is pretty sporadic. In fact, I got back from my run the other morning to find zero water; running, sitting, standing, in buckets, whatever. So I stank for a little while until the municipality arrived with more agua. For some reason our toilet is broken so it eats up all the running water pretty quickly so I took another bucket shower today. In case you are curious: the *pro* of a bucket shower is that the water is a bit warmer than if you take a shower w/ running water. That is hella cold, but I’m getting used to it, and I still prefer it to my bucket shower.

Hands down the worst thing thus far are the stray dogs. They are everywhere – you cannot walk ten seconds without seeing two or three stray dogs and if you are lucky sometimes they are humping. J/K – that is not so awesome. As you (may not) know, I’m terrified of dogs and have been ever since I was a little kid. They chase you and bark at you when you are running but otherwise they mostly keep to themselves. I found a road I can run on with very few dogs but it is a giant uphill climb. Oh well, better than getting rabies. Oh, don’t worry, I got a rabies vaccination the other day so even when (if?) I get bitten I won’t die, I’ll probably just pee my pants or something.

There are also a ton of kids everywhere that stop me whenever I’m coming or going to chit chat. Then I start talking in spanish (and my spanish is not so good at present) and then they start making fun of me. And then we all laugh and then I stop laughing and they are still laughing. Alas. They are cute and at least I am on the same level as them language-wise (okay, a little below). I think one little girl named Judith has adopted me as her big sis which is super cute, especially because I don’t have any hermanos of my own. She is 11 and I can’t understand anything she says. So it goes, so it goes.

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