Ambassador’s Visit, dancing dancing dancing, eating cranberries

November 27, 2007 at 6:21 pm | Posted in dancing, food, friends, party, Peace Corps, US of A | 2 Comments

Last week I went to a beach 20 minutes outside of Trujillo for something called Reconnect, which is Peace Corps’ way to ensure that the June class of volunteers don’t go insane on their first big holiday away from friends and family. We found an ex-pat who cooked up a great thanksgiving dinner for $7 a plate – heaping with all the traditional goodies. All in all, it was really fun. I’ll spare you the quintessential ‘great to see everyone, lots of bonding, blah blah blah’, though there was all of that. I did have a great time, and I love my group, but the best thing to come out of reconnect was my return back to site. It was easy and painless and I was really excited to be back. That probably sounds silly to you, but after spending a week at the beach with great people having great times, I was expecting a difficult transition back to volunteer life.

Yet, here I am! Happy and sane. Three cheers. Quite a bit was going on the week before I left for Trujillo which I’ll attempt to catch you up on. We had a two day workshop with the artisans on team-building exercises which was very educational for me. With thirteen different artisans working in four different lines of work, conflicts of interest are bound to arise. More problematic is the sense that a lot of people are out for themselves and don’t want to put in the extra work needed to be part of a team. I must have said a half dozen times, being part of this association is more than just turning in products on the first and fifteenth of each month. We’ll see if that gets through to anyone.

The Friday before I left for Lima/Trujillo, the US Ambassador P. Michael McKinley came to visit my site. He was in my region to open an archeological conference and visited four volunteers while he was here. I wrote a bit about the ambassador when I detailed my ‘graduation’, and I am a big fan. He is honest and direct and to-the-point, but very open and amiable. He really eschews all the pomp and circumstance involved with his position and prefers to spend his time interacting with people and learning as much as he can about this country to best do his job. Among other reasons, this is why I was so excited for his visit; in the short time I’ve spent with him, I’ve found him to be quite a compelling man, and was excited to introduce him as a representative of the US. He was in my site for an hour or so and took a short tour of the museum, but spent most of the time chatting with the artisans and finding out more about their lines of work. After telling him a bit about the association, he asked: “does Peace Corps give you guidelines about what to do with your group, or do you figure it out when you get here?” I talked a bit about the haphazard process we use to diagnose problems and come up with solutions with our groups and within our communities and he seemed genuinely impressed (or maybe he is good at sounding impressed?). Here is a photo of him being impressed:

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I am so impressive!?!?

Okay, back to business. An additional interesting development of the last few weeks is the formation of a new dance group here in Tucume. I somehow managed to land the role of Vice President, though I’m still not sure what exactly that will entail. Nevertheless, we are practicing three days a week and in January we are going to practice every night so we can put on a show in February for the big fiesta they have here in Tucume. I love it. I am so happy. This is what I was meant to be doing with my life. I mean, I know I’m supposed to be a lawyer or whatever, but I am really loving this. So, everyone here grows up learning these dances, so I have some catching up to do. But the president and the guy who started the group says I have ‘buen ritmo’ which is a good start.

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Little Miss Inikuk

November 13, 2007 at 8:20 pm | Posted in dancing, family, music | 2 Comments

Friday was the ‘Miss Tucume’ competition. My sister Vicky was a contestant:

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This year they changed things around a bit and incorporated a lot more prehispanic themes into the event. They called it Miss Inikuk, and the contestants had to give a short speech in Mochik which is an antiquated language of the region. Each girl also danced a short marinara and there was a ‘question and answer’ session which I think was fully pre-scripted. It was really interesting and cool and even though my sister did the best, she did not win, but we all had fun nevertheless.

I had been helping the municipality plan the event and they gave me the job of delivering gifts at the end. Before announcing the winner, each participant was awarded a small gift. I thought I’d just be handing the gifts out to the host from backstage, but 30 seconds before delivering them I was informed, arms full of regalos, that I’d be going up on stage to hand out gifts to each girl. So there I was with a heaping pile of boxes in my arms up on stage in front of hundreds of people. Of course the host takes the opportunity to chit chat with the gringa and my ability to speak spanish (or speak at all, for that matter) ran out of the complex and left me there all alone (well, with the gifts). I finally mustered up something along the lines of: “I’m so happy to be here, it was such a beautiful ceremony, in my country we don’t have such a complex and rich history of culture and traditions, I really enjoyed seeing the dance numbers and hearing the speeches in Muchik”. It probably sounded a lot worse than that though, like “me gringa, you dance pretty.” The host decided to delve into a little spiel about how the English came to America and wiped out the Indians and everything they lived for, while the Espanoles came and took all the gold but left behind a good chunk of culture. Okay, fair enough. I was already feeling pretty awkward and that didn’t help the matter. But, I survived and made it off stage to the sound of cheers which was cool. The next day walking around town I suddenly had doubled my number of friends, and by friends I mean people who yell ‘HELLO DANIELA HELLO HELLO GOOD MORNING GOOD AFTERNOON GOOD NIGHT I LOVE YOU OKAY BYE BYE’.

Such is life in my little town in northern Peru. All in all it was a really great experience. Enclosed is a short video of some sassy children dancing the Marinara. Enjoy and check out my photos on Picasa.

PS today is Alex Friedman’s birthday but I probably won’t post this until tomorrow or Thursday. What can I tell you about Alex Friedman? Sometimes when I say that name, people cannot tell if I’m talking about a girl or a boy. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALEX FRIEDMAN!!! I hope you always remember the time we got so sunburned in Puerto Rico that little children would run away from us screaming when we passed them in the street.

Giddy Up

November 9, 2007 at 10:37 am | Posted in espanol, friends, horses, micronegocios, Peace Corps, pictures, tourism | Leave a comment

It appears that I forgot to write about my day out in Sipan. The Senor de Sipan is Peru’s own version of a King Tut, and was discovered back in the 80s. Sipan is a site about a half hour east of Chiclayo and my friend Bailey is volunteering there. She is mostly working with the museum on tourism but is also working with a group that makes algorrobina which I guess is sort of like tasty tree sap.

The professor I’ve been working with out in the casario, Los Riojas, had last Thursday off of work and invited me to go out to where his parents live to check things out. He, his daughter, and I along with his two sisters and his niece all left from Chiclayo around 10am on a combi out to Pucala. For reference, Tucume is situated north of Chiclayo and these sites were east. We headed out to the local stables in Pucala to ride some horses. I’m not sure about the last time I rode a horse but it was probably in the fourth grade with my friend Jaclyn back in Great Falls. I have really been missing out all these years – it was so much fun! There was one point where I accidentally picked up the whip-like-thingy (pardon my lack of horse vocab) and the horse I was riding started galloping. I couldn’t figure out how to get it to stop, and everyone was yelling at me to drop the whip-like-thingy so the horse would stop running, but seeing as how I don’t know how to say ‘whip-like-thingy’ in English, obviously I couldn’t understand what they were saying in Spanish. I finally figured it out and we slowed back down to a trot.

We then hiked a good 45 minutes to get to Sipan – to get there you first walk through some farmland which was really beautiful, then you hike down to a river to cross it. It only came up to my knees, but it was so hot out, I got pretty soaked on purpose. Then we hiked up through Bailey’s town called Huaca Rajada and then to the site museum where they discovered the Senor. Unfortunately for the town, they removed most of the cool stuff, but left some bones and ceramics. They moved the rest of it to the museum in Lambayeque called Tumbas Reales. My friend Bailey made a good joke and said it should be called ‘Cosas Reales’, because all the tombs are still in Sipan, but all the things or ‘cosas’ are in the museum. The joke potentially is not so good in written format. Apologies.

It was a really cool day between the horses and the pretty hike. Bailey gave us a tour in Spanish of her site which was awesome and then we all had lunch together. I think, for Bailey, being able to show people around her town really made her realize how many friends she has made there and how much she has learned about her site in such a short time. Here is a shot from the tombs – I think all the stuff in there is fake, but it was cool nevertheless to see where they had dug everything up. More pictures are up on my picasa site.
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First Team!!

November 8, 2007 at 1:42 pm | Posted in family, futbol, US of A | 1 Comment

Congrats to my brother Michael who made first team all district defensive back even though he is and will always be a cute little munchkin and plays for the smart-kids school. You make me proud to be a Howard, kiddo.

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Strastvoiche

November 8, 2007 at 1:02 pm | Posted in language, micronegocios | Leave a comment

A Russian tourist came into the shop yesterday and I was kicking myself for not remembering more from my two years of Russian classes in high school. All I could pull up was ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘I love you’, ‘I speak Russian’, and the now-defunct Soviet national anthem. He did get a kick out of that though – its always been a good party trick. Luckily the guy knew a little more English than I knew Russian so we could converse that way and I helped him buy a batik fabric for his home.

Knock Knock Knocking

November 7, 2007 at 2:22 pm | Posted in dancing, death, family, food, party, religion | 1 Comment

Last week my host Mom asked me if I was interested in going to a mass with her on a Friday morning. I accepted the invitation a) because I rarely turn down invitations here as I’m still getting to know my way around and b) my family rarely (if ever?) goes to church so I figured it was an important and potentially interesting occasion.

It turns out we were celebrating the birthday of my host Dad’s mother who had passed away a few years ago. The mass was about 45 minutes long, and everyone was relatively somber. As we left the church around 10am I started heading home and my HM (host mom) pulled me the other way and said we had to go to the house and pay our respects. I stepped inside the house and the living room was set up the same way as it would be for a party; chairs lined up against the wall circling the room. Uh oh. We take a seat and sure enough five minutes later everyone has a plate of fried yuca and pork in their hands. Did I mention it was 10:15? Fair enough. Next thing I know a bottle of Yonque (I’m not sure on the spelling nor exactly what type of liquor it is – but it tastes like whiskey) is heading my way. Whenever I’m at a party I try to situate myself between two timid, quiet, keep-to-youself kind of people because they are less likely to pour you a heaping glass of name-that-alcohol despite your most determined protests.

I’ve already explained Peruvian boozing style but if you missed it, one bottle and one glass is passed around, men pour for themselves, and usually will pour for the women sitting next to them. Sometimes I am able to get the bottle and pour my own drink instead of having someone pour it for me. My little trick is to pour 2-3 drops of whatever is being passed around and then pretend like I’m taking a big gulp, so it seems like I’m drinking more than I really am. So I usually end up drinking a lot of backwash and little booze – but I actually prefer that to the alternative (getting drunk in the middle of the day). You cannot say no. You just can’t. So my solution is to make-believe.

Anyhoo, I was okay with the Yonque because it apparently dissolves all the fat and grease you just consumed so you don’t gain weight (so they say). But the Yonque was followed by a bottle of wine, and then more Yonque, and then actual whiskey, and then beer after beer after beer. People started dancing which is always awkward for me because no matter if I dance well or poorly, everyone is watching the gringa. At the beginning of the festivities there was a speech in remembrance of the woman who had passed away, but otherwise it was a generally happy occasion. Celebrating the birthday of a dead person in and of itself was weird and new for me; the fact that it was such a jovial day really turned me on my head.

Earlier this week we celebrated the day of the dead here in Peru. I headed out to the cemetery around 8pm with my HB (host brother). My HS was already there. It was PACKED, and to get there you walk through all these tents that were set up outside selling food and booze and playing music and games. Wacky. We get inside and HB starts praying at the grave of his abuela (my late HGM). HS turns to him and says ‘what are you doing’; he was praying at the wrong grave. I thought that was hilarious. So, once again, a day to celebrate the dead was something new for me…and WHAT a celebration it was.

If nothing else, I suppose having music, drinking, and dancing as distractions can ameliorate the sadness one can feel on such occasions. At first, both at the party and at the cemetery, I was really taken aback by this approach; it almost seemed synthetic in a sense. I’ve thought about it a lot though, and I’m not so sure. Maybe it is not a distraction, but instead a much-needed reminder of (hallmark alert) the good things and good feelings there are to live for, and exactly why death is such a momentous occasion. It certainly beats sitting around alone and crying and feeling depressed. Maybe a person needs both to mentally and emotionally take in the events surrounding the death of a loved one.

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