Blood Sweat and Tears

September 15, 2007 at 10:12 pm | Posted in deep (shallow) thoughts, Peru, sick | 1 Comment

Today, for the first time in my life, in person, I saw a dead body. I was on a combi on my way back from Chiclayo, the capital city in my department, about 20 minutes south of Tucume. The components unveiled themselves one by one; first, I saw a small crowd of people coupled with whisperings in Spanish from the people sitting to my left and right. Next, a motorcycle on its side along the road. Then, as if in slow motion, I saw the feet, legs, body, arms and finally the head of the unfortunate rider lying on the ground. As we rode past I surveyed the scene a bit better and it appears he must have collided with either the truck or the car that were also parked alongside the road though those had no damage. I’ll never forget how much blood there was, or how red it was. Glowing red – as if it were part of a movie. Between the sights, the stuffy combi, the combination smells of people who probably hadn’t showered in a few days and the reek of the produce that had been brought on board, it took everything in me to keep my food down. I picked up bits and pieces of conversation from there on out. People discussed what we had seen for another few kilometers and then the subject changed.

Sometime within the last year I was out to lunch with a friend of a friend who had spent a significant amount of time over the last few years living in the middle east. I remember little of the situation – where we were eating or who the friend even was – but I remember the girl we were eating with describing how quickly death became a part of life. I remember her talking about becoming comfortable with walking out of her house every morning facing the distinct and likely possibility that day would be her last, how that feeling became almost routine. When I got home today and was recounting to my host dad what I had seen, he simply shook his head and remarked how unfortunate that accidents like that are common on the Peruvian highways. I can’t say that statement surprised me, given how insane the driving is here. Nevertheless, I felt so strangely alone in that packed combi the rest of the ride and for the rest of the evening. I was in such shock and was wondering why other people’s jaws hadn’t dropped.

So, the obvious subsequent paragraph would relate the above to a place that starts with an “I” and ends in a “raq”, though given my current function, I will sidestep that discussion for now and just say that it is amazing what the human mind can accustom itself to given enough time and certain circumstances, and how alarming are the implications of what it means when death becomes commonplace. Will the dozen or so drivers who happened to pass by within a short time and happened to see the aftermath drive any differently tomorrow? Probably not, but perhaps I can always hope for one or two out of the twelve.

Growin’ Up

September 3, 2007 at 9:31 pm | Posted in deep (shallow) thoughts, family, friends, kids, Peru, US of A | Leave a comment

Most of the Peruvians I’ve become friends with here have been under the age of 21. Emotionally, mentally, and otherwise I felt like a young adult back in the states, but here I’m still trying to figure out if that ‘age’ exists in a persons life. I’m referring to the time when you finish school and get a job and if you can afford it, an apartment. You are on your own to feed yourself, pay bills, and you can do with your time and money exactly what you want, and can be as responsible or irresponsible as you want. A lot of young twenty-somethings here already have a kid (or kids!). Depending on the socioeconomic strata in which they are living, (pre)teenagers start having babies as young as the age of 12 or 13 (this happens mostly in the jungle). But even in the more developed areas, people at 18,19, or 20 are having kids and it is not rare to start younger. I talked about this in an earlier entry and about the lack of sex education, but what I’ve been mulling over lately is more that period of time between graduation and getting married, settling down, and popping out young ones. For me, the last three years have been some of my favorites; I had a great job that I loved, friends that I loved, and for the first time in my life a disposable income. I want to live in a dozen different countries if only to see what people between the ages of 20-30 are doing with their lives. From what I remember in Italy, people live with their parents until their mid-late twenties and continue to study or get jobs. The break between life with Mom and Dad and independence is much more nuanced than it is in the states (Sonia, back me up on this).

From what I’ve seen in Peru, people get knocked up at a young age, get hitched, and the new family either moves in with the girl’s parents or the boy’s parents. The proud new parents and their babe all bunk up together. Depending on the economic situation, they will continue to bunk up until the kid is up to ten or eleven years old. I’m definitely basing this on anecdotal evidence and only a half dozen cases or so at that. My immediate list of contacts has spread outward starting with family members, and back in Yanacoto that began with a 20 year old boy, and here in Tucume it begins with a 16 year old girl. So perhaps this little investigation of mine warrants more time and effort. Aside from family members, I have had the opportunity to spend time with some of the older and more established citizens of Tucume, but those people are nearing retirement and have grown kids of their own. I’ve yet to tap the middle-ground, and it would be nice to befriend some people my age or even a little older, to see what we might have in common or what parts of our lives greatly diverge.

It is interesting trying to figure out where I fit in, or where I will fit in socially here in Peru. I purposely use the word ‘interesting’ as opposed to something with more negative connotations because, at least for the moment, I’m perfectly content strolling around with my 16 year old sister and her friends at night, or chilling with my 8 year old bro watching the Simpsons (pronounced los seensons). The beginnings of my community analysis here have uncovered that work is valued over education here in Tucume, and (I quote) that people live for the moment, for today and tomorrow, and not the future. So maybe all the people my age are working, or at home taking care of their kids? Today I have my first meeting with the artisan association I’m going to be working with and it will be interesting to see what the age/gender dynamic of the group is. I do think a lot of these questions will be answered as I spend more and more time here and get to know more and more people. Nevertheless, my short stay here in Peru has really made me appreciate the freedom and independence I was able to enjoy back in the states after graduating from school…not in the sense that I’m not enjoying myself, but more in comparison to what might have been had I been born here.  So, to all you yuppies out there, yup it up.

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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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.

Danielle Is Confused, Part I of ??

July 9, 2007 at 5:17 pm | Posted in deep (shallow) thoughts | Leave a comment

Had a long convo with my Mom today about the work situation here in Peru. There is no work, which is why two of my four brothers are in Argentina, and one was just there looking for work. People are going all over South America for work because they aren’t finding it here. This issue runs the spectrum, trained professionals as well as blue collar workers, skilled and unskilled, are out of jobs. While I don’t have handy facts and figures, I do know that Peru’s economy is doing quite well, and has been for some time (maybe 5 years or so). Where is the disconnect? Where is the money? One piece of the puzzle will surely be corruption, and another will be weak institutions, but still, why are so many people having to leave the country to find work?

Wishing I a) could understand Spanish better to delve deeper into this issue with my family and neighbors, b) could afford to buy the newspapers, c) have unlimited time to peruse the information superhighway.

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