The Opposite of Fun

October 29, 2007 at 1:53 pm | Posted in food, sick | 3 Comments

I got the worst bout of food poisoning I’ve ever had in my entire life on Saturday night. I think the guilt lies with a plate of ceviche I ate earlier on Saturday.  The last time I was this sick was a night after a sell dinner at my old job, after an exquisite meal of escargot and stuffed quail at a fancy French place in DC. This time, however, I felt more crappy overall, but less guilty because I was only puking up $1 worth of food instead of $100. I don’t want to get into too many details, but it was a night of non-stop pain, no sleep, and I averaged six pukes an hour for about seven hours.
I’m much better now, whatever it was is finally out of my system. I learned my lesson. At least until the next time I’m craving ceviche.


Good Tip

October 28, 2007 at 1:03 pm | Posted in food, Peace Corps | Leave a comment

If you didn’t already know, it is unsafe to drink the water here in Peru if left untreated. This is the case for visitors and natives alike. Therefore, to stay hydrated, volunteers have three options. One is to buy bottled water. Bottled water in US standards is generally pretty cheap (about 33 cents for a bottle), but the cost can build up over time and they don’t really give us enough to cover that in our monthly stipend. Another option is to boil water. Depending on your source of fire, this too can be costly. Imagine how much gas, wood, or charcoal you would go through to boil enough water to drink over the course of days. Additionally, boiling with wood or charcoal can give a smoky unpleasant taste to the water. The last option is something called the sodis method. You leave a clear plastic water bottle filled with untreated water out in the sun, and the sun’s rays disinfect it leaving you with clean nice tasting water. Here are the details:

– it has to be clear plastic, not colored plastic
– remove wrappers
– no bigger than a 2.5-3 liter bottle
– if the bottle is very scratched up, it won’t work, needs to be clear, clean plastic
– It must get non-stop direct sunlight so roof access is usually necessary
– put it up on your roof, or in another place where it will receive direct sunlight all day, you can remove it at the end of the day
– if it is cloudy, it is recommended that you leave it out for two days
– if you are getting the water from a lake or river, you need to filter it first to ensure that it is clean of dirt and particles (worst case, run it through a t-shirt or something)

That is it! Cheers!

Dany gets her Groove Back

October 22, 2007 at 8:52 pm | Posted in friends, micronegocios, Peace Corps, teaching | 4 Comments

The title of this entry refers to the fact that I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately regarding my service. Mostly this derives from the fact that two of my closest friends from training went home about three weeks ago, which was, frankly, really upsetting. Additionally, the abundance of down-time, and my inability to be immediately effective, especially compared to my last job, has finally hit me. I’m still getting used to it – I feel guilty when I spend two hours of an afternoon reading a book. I had anticipated this, but am nevertheless still dealing with it mentally and emotionally. However, ever since my trip to Lima, things have been on the up and up. For one, spending time with good friends was a big plus. Additionally, the fact that the fair was such a success for my group and for me was another boon to the old heart and mind.

Today I had a day-long meeting with the artisans. It was a good lesson in Peruvian-reunion-protocol, as people trickled in around 10:15 for a meeting scheduled for 9:00am, and only half the group showed. Nevertheless, it was a successful, but long meeting. Relevant points were, for one, upcoming fairs, as well as personal and association-wide accounting, marketing, and English classes. We have now committed to four fairs in the next four weeks, all of which I’ll be attending. One is 20 minutes away in Lambayeque, the other 20 minutes in the other direction in Jayanca, one right here in Tucume, and the last in Lima. I made a small dent in what will come to be, I believe, one of my most tasking projects here in explaining that they need to smooth out their accounting process. They have a system, and it gets the job done, but it is SO haphazard, and to any outsider it looks completely disorganized. If they are going to be investing more in fair/exposition attendance, they need to be a lot more organized with their money because these things are costly. We spoke as well about their marketing, with two important suggestions. One, I thought it might be a good idea to put together some sort of book or catalogue that details with pictures their process of production. Everything is handmade, but some of it is so well-done, it looks machine made. It would be nice for gringos like me to be able to see some sort of documentation of the process and what goes into making the products. As well, I asked that they include some pictures of their products being utilized in the home. Sometimes a tourist or buyer needs a little inspiration given the products we have, and if they could see it in someone else’s home, maybe it will help them visualize where it might go in their own abode.

So, these are the sorts of things I’m helping with, at least at present. As I’ve said, they are already formalized, they already have great products. They are not, however, ready for exportation. The little steps in-between are where I’m trying to help with outside-of-the-Peruvian-box ideas (though things that may be obvious to the reader). As they become more organized, more well-known, and save more money, we can start thinking about exportation but I don’t see that happening for at least another six months to a year. Maybe more, I’m a newborn at this stuff. To aid in this, I’m going to put together a little presentation about personal accounting, because I have a sneaking suspicion that a few of the artisans might actually be losing money with the way they run their system now. I’m also going to try to throw something together about marketing, to try to squeeze more ideas out of them, so I’m not supplying all the brain juice in this operation.

Oh, so the last thing we talked about were English classes which we will start in January three times a week for three hours a session. I think I need to start preparing NOW for this, because I have no idea how I’m going to fill nine hours a week of lessons. I guess I’ll start where I always start: with a little “baruch atah adonai, please don’t let me be a complete failure at teaching English to grown-ups, Amen.”

My trip to Lima

October 22, 2007 at 7:17 pm | Posted in micronegocios, Peace Corps | Leave a comment

Last week the Peace Corps sponsored an artisan fair in the American embassy in Lima. All business volunteers, as well as youth, health, or environment who work in towns with artisan associations, could attend. The American embassy in Lima is fortress-sized. It looked like it would take ten minutes to walk from one end to the other (perhaps more, guesstimating was never my forte). There was a workshop which was about commercialization but ended up being a lot of pictures from Crate and Barrel catalogues. This is the second time I’ve been to a workshop run by a Peruvian for artisans where they showed such types of pictures, and the second time that I’ve heard the following (paraphrased): the home and decor market in the US has thrived since 9/11 because people started staying in their homes all the time and were afraid to go out. They try to make their homes feel safe and comfortable with pretty little bits and pieces from Crate and Barrel. I’ve heard this twice in one month here in Peru from experts, and was never aware of it while living in the states. I still don’t know if it is true or not, but interesting nevertheless. In any case, I could have gone for a bit more relevancy in the talk but you take what you can get (read: there was a free lunch).

The fair was all day Friday, and I was lucky enough to be at a table inside. Half the groups were outside under a tent that was a little bit leaky and it was cold and raining all day. Yuck. My groupo did pretty bueno with the sales. There were between 35 and 40 groups there and I think it was a hit for everyone (especially since CdP covered the travel and hostel expenses). Experience level ran the spectrum, so for some it was another opportunity to make a profit, while for others it was a good learning experience. For me as well, it was a great way to learn how to sell, what sells, how to set up a table, how to ‘haggle’, etc. The group I’m working with sells products from four different lines, silver jewelry, pressed aluminum, batik (dyed fabric), and woven products from native cotton. The cotton products are cool because they dye the cotton with everything from aloe vera to avocado seed- the colors are subtle but beautiful. I digress, there were a few other groups there with similar products to ours, some with ceramics, some selling food (algorrobina, honey, chocolate, yogurt), and an assortment of other artisan groups. It must have inspired my group, because in a meeting today we committed to four other fairs in the next four weeks. More to come.

Mazel Tov

October 21, 2007 at 10:52 am | Posted in family | Leave a comment

This post has nothing to do with Peru and is dedicated entirely to my cousin Harris and his new bride Betsy.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of spending time with the Newmans on the Jersey shore. BBQs at the house, July 4th at Tak, catch on the lawn, and merciless pillow fights in the den. Of course the best times were when the entire extended family showed up (always unbeknownst to Aunt Nancy until 30 minutes before) and we somehow squeezed everyone in the house at 3 Green Terrace for a feast to end all feasts. I am the third oldest cousin on my Mom’s side of the family, after Harris and Ryan. Since they were always bigger and older than me, Harris and Ryan would do really cute ‘cousin-y’ things like hold me down and fart in my face, or ‘forget’ to look for me when we would play hide and seek at the beach. As of late, the camaraderie has manifested itself by way of continually pointing out my lack of ability to ride waves, and my knack for missing the ‘wave of the day’.

Harris moved to DC when he was a freshman in college. He was always over at the house, usually sleeping off a hangover, or having help with his homework. He became a lot more like a big brother in those years which brought mostly pros, but had its few cons as well. One in particular that comes to mind is the time he showed up at the restaurant where my homecoming date had taken me to spy on us and check up on my date. He was always looking out for me though, and I’m proud to say that he has the bitchy teenager stamp of approval. It was a lot of fun having him around and he even served as the ‘grown-up chaperone’ for one of my parties so he definitely had his uses.

I think I had my uses as well; there was a time when a girl who lived in Harris’ apartment building really liked him and he was completely uninterested. She came by unannounced one time when I was staying over, so he introduced her to me, I stepped out to use the restroom, and while I was gone Harris used the opportunity to tell her that his cousin didn’t like her at all and she had to leave and never come back. I remember the day before Harris met Betsy; we were out to dinner in NYC for our birthdays and he was telling me about a date he had the next day. About a month or two later I was back in New Jersey for some beach time and Harris brought Betsy to Tak where we met for the first time. We clicked from the get-go, and bonded over a political debate one evening in the Newman household where we stood together as proud defenders of all things liberal.

I love my cousin like a brother, and couldn’t be happier to see him with such a loving, strong, kind and intelligent woman. I feel lucky enough to have gained Betsy as a friend, I can’t believe we also get her as part of the family. My one regret in joining peace corps and heading down to Peru is that I cannot be there to celebrate with you guys. I hope you like your gift – the pottery comes from a small group based up in the mountains of Piura, Peru. For now you’ll have to settle for a photo because I am too poor to ship the ceramics back to the states in a manner that ensures their safe arrival, but they’ll get there soon enough.


People are good

October 15, 2007 at 10:42 pm | Posted in family, friends, micronegocios, Peace Corps | Leave a comment

As I mentioned in the last post, I went to Lima this weekend for a Peace Corps sponsored artisan fair. By that I mean that only groups who are working with a volunteer were at the fair. It was a really great way to meet all the other business volunteers in Peru, as well as to see some of the other work that people are doing. There was a workshop on Thursday, and the fair was on Friday. On Friday night my artisan headed back to Tucume and I stayed in Lima an extra night to catch up with some of the other volunteers. A friend of a friend of a friend lives in Lima working for an NGO, and we had been put in e-mail contact but had never really met before. A few days before arriving this weekend, I shot her an e-mail to see if she might have a place for me to crash, since I dropped so much money last month staying in Lima for the high holy days. Her parents were in town, but she said she had an extra bedroom I could stay in, and offered for a friend as well. So after the fair on Friday, Rachel and I waited and met Ali at the Peace Corps office. We then went to the enormous grocery store called Plaza Vea and bought boxed wine and ingredients for rice krispie treats (and added pretzels which was a huge success – try it). The three of us headed over to Tania’s apartment where we met for the first time. Our plan was to leave our things and go out and meet up with the rest of the group around midnight as they had headed back to Chosica for a few hours. Tania was there with her parents, but gave us an extra key and said she could meet us out later. So, we came in, put our stuff down, and plopped down on the couch to introduce ourselves and get to know each other before we got going.

Before I knew it about two hours had gone talking…about politics, world events, rice krispie treats. Tania and her parents have lived all over the world and all three are incredibly smart and interesting people. I hate to compare the evening to a night with my Peruvian family because things are just so different, so I won’t. It was refreshing, though, to sit around with friends and family and exchange ideas and opinions about things happening outside of the bubble of my little town. We ended up staying there the whole night continuing to talk and then we watched part of a movie, Volver, before going to sleep.

The next morning Tania’s dad made a spanish tortilla, or omelet, which has eggs, potatoes, peppers and onions. They had a week-old Sunday Post that her parents had brought, and we sat around for almost three hours (!) reading the paper, sipping on coffee, and eating a delicious brunch. It felt so much like home, it was almost dangerous because it made me not want to leave. Once in a blue moon you meet people who make you feel so good to be a part of this world and a part of this race. I know that sounds uber-cheesy, but they had no reason to take us in and treat us like three more members of the family, especially considering it was a rare time for them to spend with each other, but that is exactly what happened. By the time I left on Saturday afternoon, I felt like I was saying goodbye to friends I had known for years. As a peace corps volunteer, having spent the last six weeks feeling quite alone in the world, I cannot explain how much that meant to me and my two friends, I can only say it and hope that somehow it can be understood, and hope that someday I have the opportunity to do the same.

A Very Charlie Brown October

October 8, 2007 at 9:47 pm | Posted in dancing, kids, music, pictures, teaching | 1 Comment

I finally took my camera out to the casario I’ve been working in. This week we taught German; we’ve been switching off every week, but I think next week when I get back from Lima we might just separate and teach both languages and then switch classrooms. We are going to try it and see how it goes. In any case, now I’m learning a little German as well as continuing with my Spanish. I put some pictures up of the classrooms on my picasa site, as well as some shots of a windmill where the town gets their water from. The windmill was broken when I took the shots and the town hadn’t had water for two days! They store some water in big trash-bin-like containers for situations like that so I believe that is what they were using. There was an anniversary last week so after classes there were some games and some dancing. I took a short video of the kids dancing, and it really reminds me of a Charlie Brown cartoon for some reason. How adorable are these kids:

I really am loving teaching out there. I also spent a few days last week working side by side with one of the artisans who makes pressed aluminum products, check it out:

!!!!! I made that! It may look easy, but it was all done by hand, the design, everything. No mold, no nothing – it was really difficult. If you look closely enough at the picture you can probably see a ton of imperfections. The artisan I was working with makes them perfectly and in the time it took me to make one, she made ten. It was a really great learning experience and I’m proud of what I made. The box came ready made but I stained and shined it to get it ready for the shelves. Then I pasted on the aluminum piece I had worked on. Then she gave it to me as a gift! So I have it sitting next to my computer right now as I type, to remind myself that I’m not all numbers and geekage.

Today I went out with Jessica to visit a farm of a nearby family; the sister of the woman she is living with. It was so incredibly beautiful, it almost makes me regret not choosing a more ‘campo’ site. It was so peaceful, calm, and natural. They raise cuyes, pigs, ducks, chickens, and grow rice and sugar cane. It was a family of 8, one of the boys passed away a few years ago, and of the remaining children, five were girls who all married and moved away. Now just two boys live there with their mom and they manage the farm. I think they have either 15 or 30 hectares, I heard both numbers. I didn’t want to leave! I do really love my site, and as far as work goes there is a lot more to do where I’m living now than out there, but it was still a revitalizing way to spend a Monday.

Tomorrow I’ll head to the museum to help the artisans pick out the products they want to sell at the fair on Friday and on Wednesday night I head out for Lima, where I’ll be until Sunday.

Get Smarty

October 3, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Posted in books, turtles | 2 Comments

So my host mom went to the jungle a few weeks ago to visit relatives and brought back a turtle. Every day I’ve been taking the turtle out to the park for a walk. Turtles did it right by setting really low expectations about their speed, but they can actually cover a decent distance in a short amount of time. Way to go, turtles.

I’m reading a book right now called Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid which I first heard about from my brother Steven, and I am almost smart enough to understand it. The author describes it as a ‘very personal attempt to say how it is that animate beings can come out of inanimate matter’. The chunk of my little brain that loves philosophy is really excited to read it, and the rest is terrified. I’m 35 pages in (out of 750), and each of those 35 pages I’ve read two or three times over. My synthesis thus far is that I like the style of writing because the author uses exclamation marks (!) when he is talking about mathematics (!!!). Okay in all seriousness, I haven’t really been involved academically with math or music in quite a while, and I left my collection of Escher prints back in the states, but the book has been interesting thus far though and I’m eager to see where this ‘metaphorical fugue’ takes me. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you think.


October 1, 2007 at 8:15 pm | Posted in micronegocios, Peace Corps | 1 Comment

Sometimes, regarding my job, it feels like I’m wearing shoes that are a little too big for my (albeit tiny) feet. I walked into a situation where I’m to work with a group of people who have pretty high expectations of me as an ‘experta’ in the field of micro-business. Which, to be honest, I’m not. Three months of Peace Corps training does not an expert make. I don’t think I’m a ‘bad’ volunteer; I’m smart, I work hard, I keep my eyes and ears open and learn as I go. However, I cannot walk into a new town, meet a new group, and within weeks be able to tell them how to export their goods to the US. I don’t really know the first thing about exportation except that it is hard to do. I’m trying my best to set realistic expectations while leaving out details that could be potentially bleak: “yeah, step one, I’m going to have to learn how to say ‘export’ in Spanish.” [okay, that was an exaggeration]

I’m learning slowly that, with the exception of a few very highly technically trained people, the job of a PC volunteer is to be someone who is resourceful enough to find out about the stuff s/he doesn’t know. It sounds like pretty much everyone stumbles through the first few months and then gets the ball rolling. I know that the eventual fruition of these weeks of ‘information-gathering’ will be worthwhile. Getting there has been tough though, especially because it is really hard to feel accomplished day in and day out.

What have I been doing as of late? For one, I’ve been working with the association on getting a credit card machine in their shop. Their market consists entirely of tourists. Tourists, who, before coming to Peru read all about the petty crime and thus do not carry big chunks of cash around with them. There is a flat monthly rate they will have to pay as well as a percentage of each sale, but I think it will be well worth it. The problem is that the museum pays the majority of their fixed costs and overhead which is making it difficult to explain to them how/why to incorporate this new cost into their pricing, because they will have to cover this one. There is a fair at the US embassy in a few weeks that we have also been prepping for. I’m still teaching out in the casario once a week, which is going well. Somehow, in only three weeks, I’ve fallen in love with the kids out there. I really look forward to Thursdays. Otherwise, I’ve been attending meetings, and continuing to get to know folks in my town. I’ve been cooking a lot as well with my new mom and have reverted to my pre-teen years in making threaded jewelry.

Here is an embarrassing fact: there is a song called ‘Heaven’ by Brian Adams that I LOVE and they play it a lot on the radio here. I sit in my room and sing along at the top of my lungs, until my brother starts banging on my door begging me to stop, which is fair, I suppose, given how terrible my voice is.

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