Pour and Pass

July 29, 2007 at 7:33 pm | Posted in deep (shallow) thoughts, family, food, friends, party, pictures | 1 Comment

Yesterday we celebrated Peru’s independence day. The forthcoming thoughts are coming from a very sleepy and hungover cabeza, but here goes anyway: leading up to independence day we’ve been learning about the history of Peru, including the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, the decimation of the indigenous population, and the consequential fight for independence. From what I’ve gathered the indigenous population was very quickly wiped out on the coast but people, customs, and traditions still remain up in the sierra. The indigenous and particularly Incan spirit is still very much alive in Peru and permeates many areas of life, which makes you stop to think just what exactly you are celebrating when independence day rolls around. Regardless, the people of this country are truly proud of their past, both Incan and Spanish aspects, and that makes it so fulfilling for someone like me to come visit or live here and experience all the living history.

So I’m thinking over all this stuff amidst my lessons on verb conjugation in the subjunctive and am realizing just how little I know about my own country in the years before the Brits arrived. I know there is information out there, and shame on me for never taking classes about America before it became America, but there really is no presence of Indian influence in our day to day lives. Let me qualify that statement by pointing out that I grew up and attended school on the east coast. Anyways, the Incan presence here is one of my favorite things about Peru, and I hope to find more native American influences when I get back to life in the states; maybe it is one of those things that you don’t notice unless you are looking for it, but over the course of my education sometimes it felt like life began in 1492.

I’ve spent the majority of today kicking back and catching some zzzz’s. Last night a bunch of people from the group came over to my place to pregame before heading out to a party in my neighborhood. For all the un-hip out there (Mom and Dad), ‘pregame’ means to buy beers or wine or booze from a store and drink in someone’s house or apartment before going out to the main event. It is a good way to spend time with friends before getting to a more crowded place, and is also a good way to save money because drinks are inevitably going to be more expensive when you get to where you are going. A healthy crowd of Americans and Peruvians showed and we had a great time. I made a CD for my brother of pure eep-opp (hip hop) and we threw that on and got our dance on to some American hip hop and then to some Peruvian tunes. Before I knew it, it was 1am and people were heading home, so we never actually made it to the party (this is a not infrequent consequence of pregaming). I think I headed to sleep around 2:30 and my brothers crawled back home at 6am after going up to the party for a few hours. They are troopers. All three of us spent a large portion of today sleeping.

Drinking in Peru is a little different than in the states. Here like there, you buy a bunch of beers, but there is usually only one open at a time. One person takes the bottle and a glass, pours himself a serving, passes the bottle to the next drinker, downs his beer, then passes the glass to the next drinker. He, in turn, fills the glass, passes the bottle, drinks and passes the glass. So the bottle and glass go around and around until the bottle is empty at which point they open a new one. For some of us, it was weird to get used to sharing a cup with 2-20 people, but I personally think there are a lot more things that are harder to get used to (chicken feet in my soup). For the most part, men pass the bottle, when the bottle gets around to a woman, instead of giving her the bottle, the man next to her will pour her a glass, give her the glass, she drinks, hands back the glass, and then he serves himself and continues the chain. So people get drunk a lot slower, but they also just continue drinking well into the night/morning. I haven’t seen a drinking game or any behavior I’d associate with binge drinking since I arrived. However, when we trainees go out as a group, or last night for example when everyone came over, we stick to our good old fashioned tried and true form of one bottle per person. I think it is pretty funny for a Peruvian person to see someone sipping on an entire bottle of beer, particularly a woman, because they are used to drinking only a half-glass or a glass at a time. For this reason usually when I’m around Peruvian friends or family I try to stick to the Peruvian way of doing things, but if I go out to a bar or a party outside of my neighborhood with my Peace Corps friends I’ll usually drink my own personal beer.

I think the highlight of last night was me dancing around with a beer bottle on my head. This was my cousin Martin’s idea, and not mine. I started off with a glass, was doing really well, then got cocky and it fell and broke. Party foul. I moved on to a beer bottle and had better luck with that, but I don’t think I’ll be making that a regular part of my party tricks repertoire.

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How JEW doin?

July 27, 2007 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Peace Corps, religion | 1 Comment

The other day we had a diversity panel at the center where volunteers from different races, religions, and sexual orientations came to speak about troubles they’ve had in Peru. Racism definitely exists here, but most people I’ve met are pretty open minded, this is subject to change as I move further from the urban areas. The catch is that sometimes people will say things or use diminutives that would be found really offensive in the U.S. that are a regular part of life here. As far as tolerance of homosexuality goes, I think this country is about 20-30 years behind the U.S. Maybe more, but I’m coming from the epicenter of the gay community in DC (holla Dupont), so my perspective on what is ‘normal’ in the U.S. might be a little skewed. Nevertheless, it is sad sometimes when people talk about homosexuality and they use some pretty ugly words. I’ve spoken out against this a few times but you have to pick your battles, the last thing I want to do is alienate myself from my friends and colleagues. Adjusting attitudes about race or sexual orientation is a good example of a time when I want to make a big change using a big statement, and I’m quickly learning that this is an unrealistically high expectation. At the end of the two years if I can teach a few children to be more tolerant of others, I’ll have to consider that a success.

Religion: I think almost everyone here is catholic, the number 90% keeps popping into my head, but I could be making that up. Unclear. In any case, I’m not an extremely religious person, but I’m proud of my past and of my family and our traditions and my judaism is not something I wanted to leave behind in the states. On the other hand, I was a bit worried about it coming here because it is something that distinguishes me from nearly the rest of the population in Peru. There are no other jews in my training group, so this is something I hadn’t really thought or talked about since arriving here. One of the girls on the diversity panel was jewish and she spoke a bit about being jewish in Peru and what that has meant for her. She has not run into any serious troubles or issues, and some of her stories were actually amusing. It sounds like people equate any odd activity or behavior with her being jewish. For example, she was walking through town with some kids one day and they all jumped over a puddle in the road, she stepped around it and continued walking and then all the kids deduced that she was not able to jump because she was jewish. She quickly righted this assumption by going back and jumping over the puddle, and that was the end of the story, but I thought it was sort of funny. She also said that she and a couple of other volunteers go into Lima during the high holy days to attend services. This is something I’m hoping will happen again this year as the high holy days are right around the corner, and it would be nice to be able to celebrate. Also, I think it would be really cool to attend services in spanish, and to hear hebrew spoken in Peru.

the pics – on picasa

July 27, 2007 at 6:18 pm | Posted in pictures | 2 Comments

Uploading the rest of the pictures now. Enjoy!!

Touchy feely mushy stuff

July 24, 2007 at 11:12 pm | Posted in deep (shallow) thoughts, friends, Peace Corps | 2 Comments

First I want to say goodbye to my pal Samantha who has called it quits with Peace Corps. She decided to head home yesterday and is flying out tonight or tomorrow. I think it has been difficult for her to adjust to life abroad and working with Peace Corps but she was a trooper and stuck it out for over six weeks. I’m proud that she got through the field based training last week because it was a good barometer for what life might be like in site, and I think it gave her a good final opportunity to weigh costs and benefits of continuing with Peace Corps. Good luck to you Sam and definitely stay in touch.

The big drama in my life as of late has been waiting and wondering just where in this big country I’ll be working and living for the next two years. Today we had our final ‘conversations’ (they feel more like interviews) with the small business director and learned a bit more about potential sites. With Sam gone, the business group is down to fifteen people, and I think there are eighteen sights total. A couple of people have a pretty good idea of what they want and I, true to form, have no clue. Everything sounds interesting to me, and I can find pros and cons in every type of job and every type of sight (mostly pros). Some of the questions we’ve had to consider are:

  • type of work: artisan groups, beekeeping, tourism, agriculture, weavers, ceramics, etc
  • new or replacement volunteer: do we want to replace a current volunteer and continue with an ongoing project, or start somewhere new from scratch
  • location, location, location: sierra (mountains) or la costa (coast)
  • size of community: small (~1,000 population), medium (~5,000), or large (~8,000-12,000)

I have wavered between both extremes on all of those questions; I think all types of work could be interesting. I would have more tangible successes if I took over for someone on an ongoing project, but it would also be nice to start things off fresh and really leave my mark on something. Sierra is beautiful, the people and cultures and traditions are fascinating, but it is cold half the year and rains the other half. On the coast, the people are generally more open to newcomers and more open to change, but it is hotter than hell during the summer. In a small community, I could get to really know the people well, and really become an integrated part of the community, but with a larger community I’d have more resources available to me, more opportunities for side projects, and it sounds unimportant, but a wider variety of foods (especially fruits and vegetables) available to me.

Some of the people in my group know exactly what they want, and I am sure of basically nothing. After my interview/conversation today, I am no closer to knowing where I’m going and I’m leaving the decision in the hands of Alfredo (the director), and God I suppose. I’m just trying to keep an open mind and to remember that I had only a little input into what area of the world I was going to, and zero input into which country I’d be living in. So to be told I’m headed to a specific locale for two years for my service isn’t much more of a stretch beyond that. Nevertheless, I am and I’ve been a bit anxious about this impending decision and I’ll be glad when it is all said and done. At the end of the day, what I’ve been told is important is not so much whether you are in mountains or coast, or whether you have running water, but how much you like your counterparts at work, and how much you can integrate into your community. Success in these areas will depend partly on the chemistry between me and my new friends and neighbors, but for the most part the responsibility lies within me to make the best of whatever situation I’m placed into, and to take advantage of all resources available to me. By keeping in mind that a lot of my success as a volunteer depends on my attitude and efforts, my anxieties about site placement are slightly ameliorated.

All will be decided by August third, about a week and a half from now. We’ll be having a talent show and then we’ll be getting our site assignments. Either that Saturday (the next day) or Sunday we will head out to our sites for a couple of days to meet our new families and get to know the community a little bit before returning to Chaclacayo to finish with training and to get sworn in. And then, voila! I’m a peace corps volunteer and you can write ‘PCV Danielle Howard’ on my mail, and I’ll stop shaving my armpits, and wear hemp necklaces and love all breeds of animals and humans and plants.

Back in the Saddle

July 23, 2007 at 9:06 pm | Posted in correspondence, family, food, friends, micronegocios, Peace Corps, pictures, travel | 1 Comment

I made it back to Yanacoto in one piece early Sunday morning. I was able to sleep for most of the 7 hour bus ride from Huaraz, and got to see Lima bright and early in the morning. It was dark, polluted, and rainy, at least the parts I went through, and I was ready to get out. A couple of people stuck around to hang out in Lima and apparently got trapped b/c of a parade. I went the cheapo route and took a 7am combi back to Yanacoto with Rachel and Greg, on which we luckily only had to spend half the trip standing. Got home around 8am, showered, and passed out for a while. It was a lazy Sunday in every sense of the word.

The trip to the department of Ancash was a rousing success from every angle. I got to take TWO hot showers (the rest were tepid), I saw some incredible sights (starting out with Harry Potter 5 before we left Lima last Saturday), was able to put into practice some of the language and technical skills I’ve been working so hard on the last few weeks, and got to spend good QT with my group. I spent two days worth of ‘salary’ to go see a subtitled version of HPV a week ago and it was the best 15 soles I’ve spent thus far. I loved the movie (I’m a huge HP fan), and it was actually really odd to do such a typical homegrown ‘American’ thing in Peru. When I walked out of the theater and heard people speaking spanish it actually threw me off guard for a minute. I thought Helena Bonham Carter made a great Beatrix Lestrange, though felt lukewarm about the choice for Dolores Umbridge. Am still loving Emma Thompson and that other British guy who plays Snape and got thrown off the Nakatomi towers in Die Hard 1. Alan something.

I ramble. I’ve posted lots of pictures on my picasa site, they start off in Chiquian at our hotel and then a hike we did in the early afternoon to a waterfall about 2 hours from the town. The views of the mountains, as you can see, are truly unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life; the contrast of green on blue on white was incredible. It is hard to believe people live their whole lives with this view out their windows. There are a couple of pictures of my students and the ‘Bank of Chiquian’ that we opened with Peace Corps money to make loans. As I believe I mentioned in a prior post, every one of the 13 groups was able to make enough money to at least repay their loans. A group of my students who ran a Bingo game actually made about 200 soles which is double what any other group made. I got to play the part of Vanna White in the bingo game and I believe there is a photo of that, as well as the makeshift bingo board. The first round, we realized that we were missing some numbers, so Greg and I made some bingo balls out of toilet paper and a red pen:

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I finally tried cuy, which is the Peruvian word for guinea pig, and is a delicacy here. It tasted pretty good, and apparently is the best source of protein you can get. Most of the people (outside of the vegetarians) in my group tried and it and I think it was well received overall,

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Yummy, no? The rest of the pics are from Huaraz, and some ancient ruins, and of Huascaran, which is the highest peak in Peru and second highest in South America. I’ve included my favorite shot of Huascaran below, but there are plenty more on my picasa site.
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How incredible is that? We visited a lake that sits right at the base of the mountain (about 3800 meters above sea level) and there are some shots of that as well. The colors there seemed as though they were from a different palette than what real life is made of. The water was this incredible green blue color, and contrasted with the orange bark of the trees, and the brown and whites of the mountains and snow. As per usual, words fail me, but I hope the point comes across in the pictures. Aside from the incredible sightseeing, the chance to go into a community and put into action all that I had been preparing over the last few weeks was a real confidence booster, and I’m proud to say that we were extremely well-received by the people of Chiquian. The students were hard working and enthusiastic and really put their heart and souls into their projects. I think every single volunteer walked away feeling successful and that should really give everyone a great platform from which to jump off once they get into site.

To close, thank you Mom, Dad, Nana and Papa for the continual letters. I love getting them and read them over and over again. I actually keep them next to my bed and read them sometimes before I go to sleep. It sounds silly, but it makes me feel much more connected to home. Thanks also to Susan for the lovely and inspirational card. I teared up a bit when I opened it at the center today and that was slightly embarrassing, but well worth it. Finally, THANK YOU PATRICK for the awesome books and t-shirt and card. I got one book of Spanish short stories and one of poems and both books have the spanish writing on one page with english translation on the opposite page. I can’t wait to read these and there is actually a line of people who want to borrow them, but I don’t know if I want to let anyone borrow them for fear of not getting them back!! I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. It is very appreciated so thank you, gracias, grazie, spaiciba, and thank you in whatever other languages I don’t know. I hope the pictures I posted can give you all some way of enjoying what I’m experiencing, as I’m enjoying all your thoughtful gifts and letters ever so much.

Heading home

July 21, 2007 at 9:06 pm | Posted in friends, micronegocios, Peace Corps, travel | 1 Comment

I’ve been wearing the same two pairs of pants for the last week or so. I’ve had an incredible time and have seen some amazing sights, but I’m definitely ready to get back to Yanacoto and wash my clothes and sleep in my bed and hang out with my Mom and bros. Right now I’m in Huaraz with half of the group waiting on an 11pm bus back to Lima. I taught a bunch of people Euchre so I’m a happy camper because I could play euks nonstop and never get bored of it. We get in around 5 or 6am and then I’ll catch a combi back to Yanacoto. 

Today we went up to a lake that sits at the bottom of Huascaran which is the highest mountain in Peru and the second highest in South America. I think we were up around 3800 meters, and couldn’t even see the top of the mountain because it was covered in clouds.  It is so incredibly beautiful here in Ancash, I lack the words to describe it but luckily I took a number of pictures which I’ll post early this week. The business simulation wrapped up really well and all of the businesses were successful (or were at least able to repay all their loans).

Going on very few hours of sleep this week, I’m going to keep this entry short, but will close with a photo that was taken after our sex education lecture last week. To finish up the class, we had a ‘condom race’. We had to get into three teams, and line up, and everyone had to practice putting a condom on a giant plastic penis (otherwise known as a dildo). This, as you can imagine, was hilarious. More hilarious was the dildo fight I had with my pal Angie afterwards; as you can see from the photo (dildo fight), I am obviously winning

Chiquian

July 18, 2007 at 5:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I´m having a great time here in Chiquian and it is incredibly beautiful. I can’t at the moment post pictures because I don’t have my computer with me, but I CAN type cool symbols like this: ñ and ¿.

I wish I could elaborate on this but I lack the internet time (usually I type my entries offline before posting them), but the best moment of my week was yesterday when we were in class and we drew a community map. It is a good way to delinate good and bad locales to open a small business or tienda. I was asking if the cemetary, which is far away from town, would be a good place to start a business (as a ‘bad’ example). One girl raised her hand and pointed out that it would generally be a bad place to establish a business, but would be a great place to sell flowers. To most, this probably sounds silly or insignificant but I can’t tell you how good it feels to have someone ‘get it’ in so short a time.

The teaching is going well and the student-run businesses open in about an hour, and stay open through Thursday afternon. I can’t wait to see how my group does. Most are selling food, but one group of students is running a bingo game which will be fun!!

The hardest part of the training was teaching excel…so to all the people taking a break from word or powerpoint or excel to peruse my blog, thank your lucky stars for the knowledge you already have with these programs. It was hard enough to teach a new program, but to do it in another language was nearly impossible.

It is cold here, but the cold is worth it. It is so beautiful, I feel like I spend half the day just looking out at the mountains….hopefully I’ve been able to capture it in my pictures.

Happy late bday to Julian and Stoller. Hi Mom and Dad–I love you guys.

Mier…coles

July 12, 2007 at 7:07 pm | Posted in family, futbol | Leave a comment

Last night we watched Argentina play Mexico in the Copa. My brother and sister-in-law were cheering for Argentina b/c they have lived/worked there, and my Mom was cheering for Mexico b/c Argentina beat Peru last week. I was also cheering for Mexico to maintain the equilibrium. My mom kept saying ‘miercoles’, ‘miercoles’ every time Argentina would do well, or Mexico would play badly. Miercoles means Wednesday in Spanish. I was really confused and finally asked her why she kept saying “wednesday, wednesday”. Well, the equivalent of the four letter word in english that starts with an ‘S’ and ends with a ‘hit’ starts with a ‘mier’ in Spanish and ends in ‘da’. So instead of saying *that* word, she just kept saying ‘miercoles’. So I started yelling out other days of the week when Argentina would score a goal. I thought this was hilarious, but elicited mere giggles from the crowd. Note to self: must work on Peruvian comedy routine.

One day to get sick, three days to teach

July 11, 2007 at 6:33 pm | Posted in friends, micronegocios, Peace Corps | 2 Comments

I want to send some Peruvian love to my favorite Jewish-Italian girl and mother of my two cats Sonia Tarantee. it was so great talking to you last night. So I already mentioned the business simulation training I’ll be teaching next week…we got our schedule today and will be leaving at 11pm Saturday night from Lima on a bus. Then we go up and up and up into the mountains of Ancash to a town called Huaras (methinks) and then another little town called Chiquian. If you have the time/energy/interest, check it out on google maps or earth and tell me what the altitude is b/c they actually factored in an entire day to get used to it. They told us to be prepared for headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, and difficulty breathing. Super sweet. At 5am Sunday morning they drop us off at some mountain pass and we have to wait by the side of the road for another bus to come get us and take us the rest of the way. We are staying at a hotel in town with HOT WATER (praise adonai), and have to walk 30 minutes up a mountain every morning to get to school to teach. I need to buy me some wool pantyhose to keep warm.

For three days we teach our classes. We will be teaching intro to micro-business, community market studies, feasibility studies, accounting, marketing, and something else that I forgot. Dame. I am so excited for next week. Even if I totally bomb some of the lessons, I think it will be such a great experience, and great preparation for the next two years. I’m partnered up with one other girl named Karrie and we will be working with 15 students for the week. We are pretty much on our own, and this is the first time that we really have the opportunity to take the reins and run with something. On the fourth day, the students head out into the community to try to sell whatever products they came up with. We’ll be giving them a loan and recollecting with interest! They will have to post collateral, and when they ran this simulation in Bolivia (this will be the first time in Peru) people left everything from a shoe to a family pig. haha! I can’t wait to see what the students come up with.

Today during my language/culture class, they paired us up and gave each pair 5 soles (about 2 bucks) to head out into the market and bargain for goods. The group that returned with the most goods would be the winners. My partner and I came back with 8 different things *including* a pinata that we bought for one sol. I asked the people if they had an old crappy one that they wanted to get rid of….usually they sell for 5 or 6 soles. I used this tactic as well to buy a really ugly pair of yellow underpants for 50 centimos (about 16 cents). We did pretty well, but came in second place to my friend Tom who brought back 26 teeny baggies of myriad spices. Oh well, still had a great time, and am one ugly pair of yellow underpants richer for the experience.

I Love Mail

July 10, 2007 at 6:57 pm | Posted in correspondence, family | 1 Comment

THANK YOU Nana and Papa for that awesome article from the times magazine about Peru, and of course thank you both and Mom and Dad for the loving words and updates.

Also… here is a video from a bday party the other day of my volunteer friends dancing. So hot right now.

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