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.


Christmas Time

December 31, 2007 at 10:11 pm | Posted in family, food, friends, party | Leave a comment

I experienced some firsts over the last few weeks of December. At the beginning of the month I helped my family put up Christmas decorations in front of their house; it helped being ‘tall’. Back in August I committed to a Lima visit over the holidays, so headed down there on an overnight bus on the 23rd and arrived at my old Yanacoto haunts on the 24th. It was really great to see my old family and all my old neighbors. Other volunteers went back as well, so I killed a few birds with one 12 hour bus ride and got to see a bunch of people all at once.

We prepared a turkey (using a medical needle to inject white wine – hopefully it was unused) and took it over to the local panaderia to bake in their oven. At midnight everyone shoots off fireworks and other assorted noisy goods, which was really amazing because the place I lived in Lima was up on the side of this huge chain of mountains and it made for some beautiful fireworks. Then we ate dinner, which typically consists of turkey, and then panettone and hot chocolate. Panettone, I suppose, is the Peruvian equivalent to fruitcake, but it tastes better because it is Italian. They are all over the place during the holidays. Afterwards a bunch of people came over to the house and we danced and drank ( just a little) like the old times. I don’t really ever drink in site, so it was fun to have a few beers with friends and family down in Lima. I adore my first family and it was great to see Alfredo and my Lima Mom.

On the 25th, people are pretty chillaxed because they usually stay up until 5/6/7am dancing and drinking. I made it until 4. Around midday I headed over to another family’s house where my friends, their families, and I prepared Pachamanca. This is an interesting dish, Pachamanca translates to: don’t fill up on soda beforehand. First you heat up rocks over an open fire in the ground for a few hours. You then clean away the fire, lay some leaves to avoid the dirt and soot, replace the rocks, and overlay the heated rocks with all kinds of foods: marinated chicken, pig, guinea pig, apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, pineapple, and ground up corn wrapped in banana leaves called humitas. Okay, whatever else you want to throw in. You cover it all with more leaves, then dirt, and let it sit and steam and cook for a few hours. Then you dig it all up and eat it. IT. IS. DELICIOUS. Here’s a shot of us digging up the food.


The last time I made this dish I think we put a cross on top, but I don’t remember whether or not they did that this time. Pagans.

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).


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!

Chanukah Gift #2

December 5, 2007 at 11:58 am | Posted in food, sick | 1 Comment

When I was getting my coffee this morning in the kitchen, I looked down and saw in a big yellow bucket what I thought to be a live potato.  After a double take I realized, much to my dismay, that the live potato turned out to be two pigeons. I have between now and 2pm to come up with some reason why I cannot eat lunch today.

My Chanukah Gift

December 5, 2007 at 11:53 am | Posted in bugs, family, food | Leave a comment

Yesterday my life took an entertaining new turn, my brother Christian (9) has taken to killing flies, which are in abundance now that it is summer, with his hand on a table or wall and then trying to wipe them on me. Though, I suppose finding one smeared across my pant-leg is infinitely better than finding one in my soup.

Come Visit Me, A Howard Original

December 2, 2007 at 10:05 pm | Posted in dogs, family, food, friends, horses, language, music, party, Peru, sick, tourism, travel | 4 Comments

(sung to the tune of Rod Stewart’s ‘If You Think I’m Sexy’…play the video, then follow along with the new and improved lyrics)


azucar, oooh


ooh ooh ooh


You sit alone, reading my weblog
Peru sounds nice, except the trash and stray dog(s)
The climate is dry, the food cheap and delicious
The culture abounds, for you Peru is waiting


If you want to visit me
And don’t fear diarrhea
Come on azucar let me know

The flight will be expensive
But then once you get here
Everything will be dirt cheap


To Machu Picchu, I cannot escort you
It’s far away, and I’m basically penniless
Northern Peru, to you has lots to offer
Pyramids, Ceviche, and a cute jewish curly haired spanish speaking guide

So hop a plane to this third world country
At last! you can watch me dance the festejo


If you want to visit me
And like eating rice
Come on bebe let me know

We’ll go horseback riding
And we’ll hike the pyramids
We can go surfing if you are paying!


There is ancient stuff here too
Not quite as famous as the south
Come on friend/relative/complete stranger
You might want to pack some diapers


(saxaphone solo)

(time to break it down)

We will pick fruit and eat it off the tree
Guanabana, Chirimoya, and other stuff you’ve never heard of
If it’s not rainy season, we’ll go to the mountains
Ride around on donkeys, and do lots of cartwheels

One other thing, you’ll have to remember
Carry around some TP because they don’t have it available in public restrooms

IIIIIFFF you want to visit me
And like being relatively tall
Come on azucar let me know

As a special bonus
You might get to feel a tremor
Ah, I see you are booking your ticket right now!


shuu gar

if you really need TP
i’ll carry around some extra
come on sugar let me know

really really really need TP! just let me know

(whispers): TP TP TP TP TP TP

(2x) I’ll bring the TP, you’ll bring the TP


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:

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.

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.

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!

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