Festival Preps

January 16, 2008 at 8:36 pm | Posted in dancing, friends, party, teaching, tourism | 1 Comment

The big party is about to get going here in Tucume. According to townspeople, men and women from all over the world to come and experience the joys of the Tucume fiesta. I believe this will be much like other Peruvian fiestas; religious undertones, children doing cute stuff, drunk people, cumbia ’till you drop, etc. I’m excited though, I’m going to be the co-MC of a concurso de Tondero, which is a competition of a typical Peruvian dance. I’m MC-ing with the same guy who did the Miss Inikuk competition; apparently I wowed him with my near-speechlessness at the last big event, and he asked me to be his co-animadora. Here’s hoping he doesn’t talk more about the English and the Native Americans.

I’m also helping to plan a “Noche de Folklore” with the Casa de Cultura (house of culture) which is coming up next week. We have invited singers and dancers from around the region to come and perform. Interestingly enough, most of the meetings to plan these events revolve around finding ways to fund them. Most of the groups who put them on are doing it, in part, to fund their own organizations. None, however, has saved up enough to actually prepare for the event, so everyone is scraping around for dollah dollah billz.

I started teaching my English classes last week and will go ahead and toot my own horn and say that I did awesome. Not to say that anyone learned anything, but at least we had fun. No, I do think some good Engreesh was learned by at least a few. I’ve also gotten started on a big and not-so-fun project that involves entering every sale the artisans have made over the last three years into a database to eventually be able to analyze their sales, their goods, their prices, etc. Oh excel, how I’ve missed you. I need the data soon to be able to get some potential financial backing, which is why I’m doing this myself. I hope, in a few months, to teach some excel to the artisans so they can continue on without me, because that is how I roll. It will make everyone’s life so much easier, and the museum just purchased a new computer that we can use which is helpful.

Yeah, so, life is good. It is hot here, and I have grown to love the cold showers. I still hate dogs, and while I usually still really like doing my laundry, sometimes I don’t like it. My dainty little hands get rubbed raw, but I continue to find it quite relaxing.

Happy Birthday(s) to my Nana and my Pammy— two of the most beautiful ladies I know.

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New Yeahs

January 3, 2008 at 1:28 am | Posted in dancing, food, music | 1 Comment

New Years made me realize how much I miss rap music. And all my friends and family. Mostly, though, rap music. Here is how NY goes down in Peru: at 11:48 you start eating grapes. Twelve, to be exact, one each minute up until midnight. So, you’ve got your countdown. Then, you burn a doll. People stuff clothes with straw and fireworks, paint or draw someone’s face on it (typically a soccer player), and set it afire at midnight. So, you’ve got your fireworks. Then it’s on to dinner, though first some people step out with an empty suitcase to take a stroll around the park. I don’t really know what the equivalent of that would be in the states. Dinner is a big meal, once again: turkey, chicken, or pig, along with panettone, empanadas and hot chocolate. Did I mention you are supposed to do all of this wearing yellow underwear? Yellow for luck, green for bling bling, red for love. Then you get to dancing and drinking (I got to dancing, no more) and this is where the rap music comes in. I’m sure he is, like, so 2007, but I miss a little Lil’ Wayne in my life. And a lot of T.I. I actually do like Peruvian music, but I miss my beats from back home.

So now it is 2008, which means I’m into my second of three calendar years in Peru, with more than seven months behind me. I’m feeling good, and understanding, now, why it is a two year commitment. You just can’t get anything done in the first few months because you are too busy trying to figure out what is going on around you. Seven of 27 months completed seems like a lot. That is of my total time in Peru. Four of 24 months still seems like a small dent if that, referring to my actual time in site. Time flies, or crawls, depending on whether its a good day or a bad day. But, at the least, I can always pop on my iPod and pump tha Carter to make all my woes seem far away.

Happy Anniversary

December 18, 2007 at 7:34 pm | Posted in dancing, food, friends, horses, micronegocios, travel | 3 Comments

So, I know the world is dying to know; I found the pigeon soup to be truly gross. It was not honey brown like a chicken’s skin, but black and sad-looking. The meat was really soft and almost creamy. Yuck. I hope to never again see two little pigeons looking up at me from the yellow bucket in the kitchen. A little over a week ago I hit my six month mark here in Peru. Six months! Six months is a long time, and… a very short time. Last week I went out to visit a friend – another volunteer – who has a year and change under her belt. She has an awesome site right on the beach. We went on a short hike to get to this beautiful secluded beach where there were lots of pebbles and tons of pelicans and no people. Even though I have an irrational fear of birds, pelicans up close are amazing looking creatures. It was a great afternoon for me.

My friend and I have similar approaches, similar attitudes when it comes to site and work and Peace Corps, and it was good to see how happy and settled in she was. While I’d consider myself content, I can’t say that I don’t look to August 2009 with some…yearning. She put it well when she said: ‘you eventually start to feel like this is actually your life’, which may sound odd to the interested reader, but at times it does feel like I’m in some weird transitory state and I’m going to wake up tomorrow and jump back into wherever I left off back home. I don’t feel like I’ve established a life, a routine, or real friendships here in site and it was good to hear that all comes with more time, because I don’t feel like I’m real part of this community yet, but still an outside observer who occasionally gets invited to birthday parties.

I went to a two day workshop with one of the artisans last week as well, which I really enjoyed. These workshops usually touch upon stuff I already know about, but its great for me to see the activities they use, because I can then turn around and use them with the artisans or kids I’m working with. I’ve had the same experience several times with workshops I’ve been to, where we all get there on the first day and people are like, ‘who the heck is this gringa?’, and by the end we are all working together on projects or activities or whatnot and I no longer feel like the weird white girl.

To change gears a bit, when I was in Lima for my first three months, I had a ‘cousin’ who lived down the street (the nephew of the lady I was living with) and it turns out he is from Tucume. He came back here to visit his family this week and took me out on one of their horses to get to know more of Tucume. I live in the pueblo – or main town – but Tucume has 26 casarios in the surrounding area (smaller, poorer ‘villages’) dispersed throughout the campo, and I rarely get the opportunity to visit because I don’t feel safe going alone. The one exception is Los Riojas, where I teach once a week, but I go out there with another teacher, never alone. I love getting out of town and out into the middle of nowhere, and I’m really starting to like riding horses, so it was a really great afternoon. Three hours on horseback exploring the countryside is nothing but good for the soul (though quite bad for the unaccustomed butt).

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I’m starting English classes in January with the artisans out at the museum. The artisans initially had requested nine hours a week, but we knocked that down to two, at least until the big February festival is over. I’ve also committed to six workshops over the course of the next six months starting in January with leadership and team building. I sort of feel like I’m running my own little business school down here, but I guess that is sort of the point, since I’m a business volunteer. Hopefully I’ll have a good set of lectures filed away by mid-year. Then I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m guessing I’ll have time to figure it out. I’ve also arranged to trade english classes for salsa classes with one guy in town, so I won’t have to do the only two steps I know every time a salsa song comes on.

I’m leaving for Xmas in Lima with the first family on Sunday and then will be back on the 27th. I hope everyone who is reading has a great holiday season, and if I don’t get around to posting until then, a very happy new year. Be safe!

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.

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.

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.

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:

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!!!!! 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.

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