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.


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!

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.

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.

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.”

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.


September 26, 2007 at 8:04 pm | Posted in friends, music | 2 Comments

Happy Birthday to my heterosexual life partner and mother of my two cats, Sonyell Howantolo.
Okay – so because it is your birthday, I’ll be the afro-ed, gold-chained fellow and you can be the girl. But just this once:

Top Ten

September 24, 2007 at 5:12 pm | Posted in food, friends, kids, micronegocios, music | Leave a comment

I did a lot of top ten lists in college with friends, though they were usually written late at night and sometimes under the influence (and unintelligible).

Nevertheless, thus far here are my top ten best things thus far about site:

  • My afternoon coffee. As long as I can keep finding that lone coffee vendor in the sea of people selling coca leaves, I should be good to go.
  • Warm and tasty breakfast drinks every morning including soy milk, or this thing called Champu which is made from corn.
  • Being able to communicate in Espaneesh.
  • Learning how to make the products my artisans make, so far wooden jewelry and pressed aluminum.
  • Going to events and being able to see over everyone’s heads (I’m tall here).
  • A tall glass of freshly blended papaya, pineapple, melon, apple, or orange juice for the equivalent of 16 cents available all morning long.
  • Making friends with all the little kids in town.
  • Learning how to cook deelish Peruvian food.
  • 98.9 FM, a Chiclayo 80s station that is like a non-stop, exhaustive, and super awesome Legwarmers set.
  • Salsa salsa salsa: all the dancing I could ever want.
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