Bonita es La Selva

July 1, 2008 at 10:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My trip to the jungle was incredible. The highlight, by far, was Monkey Island a.k.a. the happiest place on earth. The monkeys are there to welcome you when you step off the boat. They climb up onto your back as you head up to the main clearing to accompany you with song and cheer. Up above, more monkeys await you to take your sunglasses off of your face and scurry up the tree leaving you shades-less but entertained. My family and I went on a week long jungle tour with a company called Explorama which was started by a Peace Corps volunteer (!) who was in Peru back in the 60s. We spent six nights at four different lodges situated along the Amazon and Napo rivers north and east of Iquitos. The accommodations range from sleeping on a wooden platform under a lean-to out in the middle of the jungle with a latrine to a luxury lodge with enclosed rooms, air conditioning, hot showers, a pool, jacuzzi, and water slide. For the entire week we were paired up with a guide and activities included mostly jungle hikes and boat trips. Our guide was born and raised in the jungle and spoke at least 5 languages. He knew every plant, every bird, every bug we saw, and had lots of good stories about jaguars and poisonous snakes that were fun to hear, but weren’t really something I would want to experience first hand. The food was delicious and well prepared. Aside from the monkeys, we saw giant iguanas, tons of different spiders and insects, tarantulas, pink river dolphins, a capybara, a taiper, anteaters, sloths, turtles, alligators, and piranas (caught when we went pirana fishing and eaten later that night for dinner!).

We visited a couple of different villages along the river, and got to meet and greet some locals. The people, as I’ve found in most small towns in Peru, were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Some years ago Explorama build a canopy walkway which consists of hanging bridges placed between trees. The walkway is 1/3 of a mile long, and is a great opportunity to see the jungle from the unique vantage point of up above. It was build for biologists but was recently opened to the general public. That was definitely another highlight of the trip. We also visited a local shaman who is contracted by Explorama to share some of the history and traditions of curaduismo with the tourists. The potential for healing and medicinal usage of the plant life in the Amazon is really incredible. I wish there was some way to bring more research and development into the area without exploiting the local resources and the local know-how, though from my understanding, the resources there are not very tightly regulated. I spent a great 26th birthday with a serenade of ‘Feliz Cumpleaños’ with my four favorite people in the world. There were so many once-in-a-lifetime experiences we had over the course of the week – I wouldn’t change a thing about the trip.


Back from the Selva

June 26, 2008 at 5:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I´m finally back from a long trip. I went down to Lima two weeks ago to take the GMAT, and then headed to the Amazon for a week with my family followed by a few days in Lima. It was a great trip and I´ll have a big update all finished within the next couple of days. Thanks to everyone for all the birthday wishes and to my awesome family for an awesome awesome trip.

It’s Like Rayeeain On Your Wedding Day

May 28, 2008 at 9:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Irony sets in as I had what could potentially be my best Peace Corps day ever after writing that whiny and depressing blog entry yesterday. First I had some good visits with some of my favorite families in town. Even if it has only been a few days since my last visit, they always say: “Daniela! What a miracle that you have remembered us!” Something I used to find irksome, but now just find endearing. Then I headed out to the museum and while I was waiting to print out my english lessons for the day, I had a really candid and informative conversation with one of the artisans about some of the problems the association is having. Only recently have I felt like I was really being ‘let in’ so to speak, and these types of conversations really help me direct my work and my efforts. The rest of the morning I put together a mini-proposal, and when I want back in the afternoon for my classes, I spoke with some of the artisans about my ideas which would be revolutionary for the artisans and their business, and I think some of them are finally understanding where I’m coming from and how they can benefit. I’m not sure if I can get into it just yet online, but eventually I’ll elaborate on this big secret revolutionary project that I’m working on (besides the one where I use exciting adjectives to make my life sound more action-packed than it really is).

Also, last night I finally had a successful meeting with this group of mothers who I have been trying to get organized with since March. They have lots of ideas for projects in town which eventually fizzle and are never brought to fruition which has been so. frustrating. However, they do finally seem to be on board for this micronegocio (microbusiness) that they want to start, where they will try to sell homemade cleaning products and natural foods like yogurt and wine. We are going to submit a proposal for a competition that the municipality is holding, and right now I have these little old ladies out and about summing up costs and competitive pricing. Hooray! The best part about working with this group is that I can say something that to me seems mundane or obvious, and they will all start to nod their heads and clap their hands as if I had said the most insightful thing in the world. In all honesty, I don’t know if we can squeeze a winning business plan out of their ideas in the short amount of time we have (I think their idea is good, but I mean, literally a plan that will win the competition), but it is still definitely worth it to go through the motions, and there are plenty of places to look for other start up money.

In Peace Corps training they draw a chart for you that is essentially a line graph with lots of mountains and valleys and tell you that this is what your emotional and sometimes mental state will be like during your two years of service. Sometimes I wonder if I actually kept a daily chart like that with a one-to-ten-how-good-am-I-feeling-today measurement, what it would look like. Yesterday was a 1, and today was a 10.

Nine down

May 27, 2008 at 6:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Sorry! Peru and my little blackMacBook don’t seem to get along, but things are back on track, and I’m back online and reconnected. Hallelujah.

Today marks my ninth month in site. I don’t remember where it was, or who told me, or what the context, but I remember hearing back in my training days, that the ninth month was the toughest one. I believe this information came from a current volunteer, presumedly one who had already been in Peru for a year and change. This is probably an unhealthy approach, but I often find myself comparing my own personal timeline in terms of milestones, breakdowns, and breakthroughs to those I’ve heard from more tenured volunteers. I wish I could remember better why exactly s/he said the ninth month was the tough one, but I’m certainly finding it to be so. Unfortunately, the problem for me is mostly cultural.

For one, it seems like sometimes people don’t listen to what you say. I’ll get an invitation to a birthday lunch and have to decline because I have english classes planned for the same time (oh, by the way I’m the teacher of those classes), and whoever is inviting me will just nod and say “yah, okay, so I’ll see you at 1:30”. Its as if there is this unwritten hierarchy of responsibilities and obviously I should blow off my English classes to go to a birthday party. After rearranging the class to be able to attend the party, I show up feeling not so great. Whatever I ate the night before is not agreeing with my stomach. So when the mountain of food (literally enough for three people) is placed in front of me, and I politely decline citing stomach problems, the plate is not taken away, but plate of ceviche is added to complement the rice, beans, and chicken that I already can’t eat. I sit there pushing the food around on my plate for a few minutes until the entire party is looking at me and asking why I’m not eating the food. Don’t you LIKE Peruvian food? It’s the best! It’s the best food in the world! What is wrong with you. Just eat it. Oh you are sick? Here take a shot of whiskey, then you’ll feel better. Now eat! Eat! Eat!

I thought this was a party. Where’s the fun?

I have also hit my saturation point with catcalls and street corner comments. At some point in the last few weeks, I just got fed up with feeling like a walking circus act, and I can’t get un-angry. I leave the house with a preemptive pissed off look on my face because I know what is coming. I used to be able to ignore it or even joke back, but I can’t do it anymore! I actually am having trouble holding in the big “F YOU” that is itching to get out. I don’t understand how people- human beings – can treat other people in that way. As a woman, and as a foreigner, I get the worst of it (at least, according to me, but some of my African American friends would contest that statement) because you get the inappropriate comments on your physique coupled with the inappropriate “Hello Hello” or “Yes Yes yes yes yes yes” or whatever other english word the person hollering at you happens to know. Okay, apparently there is a Peruvian superstition that if you see a dark skinned person you should pinch someone near you for good luck, and I can imagine it would get annoying to have people pinching each other every time you walk down the street.

But this is not a competition! The point is, no one should have to deal with feeling like a freak because they are white, or have boobs, or are black, or asian, or are wearing tennis shoes and a fanny pack. People should just be more polite. I hate to say this, but despite the nice feeling I get from acknowledgment from my friends, neighbors, and even strangers here with a ‘Good Morning’ (something you don’t get much in the busy busy states), I think I prefer anonymity. The nice greetings are not worth the offensive hoots and hollers and cat calls. No way jose.

Back to Bucket Baths

May 13, 2008 at 3:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

For the last week, Tucume has been without water. There is a large holding tank up on top of the mountain right in the middle of town, and three times a day for an hour or two, the municipality pumps water and it gets distributed to all of the houses. There is an underground system built, and it usually works well enough. There are days when they won’t give water, but we’ve never gone more than 48 hours without water distribution. The pump in the tank broke a week ago, and so instead of distributing water to all the residents through the underground system, the municipality started to bring a truck in once a day, and all the Tucumeneans run after it carrying buckets, tins, and trash cans of various shapes and sizes to collect their water for the day. There is a giant hose that pumps out the water from the truck, and you are faced with the inevitable pushing, elbowing, and wet feet and ankles.

I have become expert at taking bucket baths with as little water possible, and am almost out of clean underwear, but it has been worth it to see the hordes of people running after this truck with their empty water buckets. I might even be getting back some muscle mass from hauling water to and from the house everyday. Plus it provides another great opportunity for people to sit around the park at night and complain about the municipality. I suppose this is what they mean by ‘community integration’.

It’s a Nice Day for a Cream and Yellow Wedding

April 17, 2008 at 8:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Last weekend my Peruvian brother got married. He is sort of my brother, I guess. He doesn’t live at my house and I don’t really see him too much. He is 22. Let’s call it a shotgun wedding? Sometimes I feel so constrained by the fact that this blog is a public viewing area. In any case, despite whatever pre-nuptial circumstances may have existed, I found myself very much in wedding mode once things got cracking. I arrived a bit late, but was there in time for the dancing to begin. Everyone was sitting around in a circle in a large room with lots of cream colored and yellow decorations. My bro looked sweaty and nervous, but cute all dressed up. The bride really looked beautiful, and happily nervous. I generally am in no-makeup-no-jewelry-baggy-clothes mode in site, so everyone was surprised to see me actually put some effort into what I was wearing. So what I’m trying to say is, I looked great.

I was there with my German site-mate and pal Jessica. It was great having her there; I spent most of the evening dancing with her and avoiding the short, drunk, babbling (or all of the above) men who would mosey over to ask one of us to dance. Its frustrating sometimes, I’m dancing with some dude, and he keeps trying to talk to me, or invite me to go see the ruins, or the WORST is when he is trying to speak English (Huat ees yoor nay?). You must understand that at every event or party or small get together, the music is blasting at maximum volume. You can feel your innards vibrating within your chest and stomach. My spanish is good, but trying to understand a slurring spitting drunk Peruvian guy over concert-level decibels is near impossible. Uh, no moving closer until you are two inches from my face does not make the situation better. Furthermore, I generally do not really want to hear whatever it is he is going to say. Though, every once in a while a nice guy will ask you to dance who is smiling and bopping around to the music and that is that.

As I was saying before the dancing tangent, I was a little skeptical about the wedding because of the circumstances going into it. There are a few couples here in Peru with Peace Corps, and they are fairly young (early to mid twenties) and often people will assume right off the bat that they have kids. Why? Well, why would two people get married so young unless there was a kid on the way? That is not a blanket characterization of young couples throughout Peru, but they get those sorts of comments from time to time. Generally, especially in the small towns, a common factor that goes into the decision to get married is the impending and unplanned pitter patter of little feet. What an unromantic reason to get hitched. But then, in typical girl fashion, I was (temporarily) swept away by the first dance, the hand holding and stolen kisses, the proud parents, and the supportive friends, eager to get their hands on some beer.

I guess Peruvian weddings aren’t that different from the weddings I’ve been to in the states (all two of ’em): a chance to get dressed up, and there is eating, drinking, and dancing. If you are lucky there are cute kids running around doing cute things. Your (if you are a girl) feet hurt by the end of the night. The families breathe a collective sigh of relief that it is all said and done. You hope it won’t end in divorce. The end.


April 4, 2008 at 11:07 am | Posted in bugs | 3 Comments

The crickets here in Tucume freak me out. I don’t even know if they are crickets; they look like larger, genetically altered versions of crickets. But they fly. They fly right into your face, or your hair or onto your back. They came out of their caves back in January when the weather started getting hot, and despite the fact that I’ve been living side by side with them for three months now, they still make me jumpy. When one flies by, I do the body shake, and run out of the room or the house. When one flies into my face, I still scream. I’ll be sitting reading a book, and one will go crawling by. I’ll mentally prepare myself for the attack, but I still FREAK when one lands on me.”It’s just a grillo,” they say. Whatever. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. I don’t like killing them, because they are really big, and they make a loud crunch. That ‘crunch’ echoes in my head all day and night. If I get up the courage to step on one, with a cringe I anticipate the crunch, and usually back down.

Crickets: 1
Howard: 0

Enter Fall

March 27, 2008 at 3:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Life is trucking along here in Peru. I’m used to being drenched in sweat, or walking under a sweltering sun. I’m no longer fazed by large frightening biting bugs, and will occasionally refrain from crossing to the other side of the street if a dog is walking my way (though if it is really big, or if there are two or more dogs, I’ll still cross the street). My English classes are continuing and are going well, though I’m moving into grammar and verb conjugation that I’m not quite trained to teach, so I’m scouring around for lesson plans on the internet. Grammar was always a favorite of mine, so luckily I’m not at a complete disadvantage.

My monthly workshops with the artisans (thus far we’ve covered a work-plan, leadership, self-esteem and motivation, and conflict resolution) are at about a B minus. Not entirely my fault; for one, only half of the artisans will show up for any given workshop, second, its hard to gage whether the things we cover are being put into action, or if there are a lot of nodding heads, and in one ear out the other. The big capital “G” Goal of a Peace Corps volunteer is to develop projects and programs that are sustainable, and that is something that is so hard to measure. First of all, you need lots of time to see whether behaviors and attitudes are changing, second of all, even after a stretch of time, it’s so damn intangible. It would be easy and so satisfying to find a buyer for the products, or to just create a web-page, or systemize their accounting for them. It would also definitely leave them in a better situation than they were when I arrived, but instead, I’m planning workshops and classes on accounting, on marketing, on conversing with clients, so they can take those big leaps themselves. The question remains…will those leaps ever be made?

For now, I’m still on-board with the prescribed Peace Corps methodology; throwing myself into the work, and at the one-year point (5 months away!), I’ll step back and evaluate how far (if at all) we’ve come. Outside of my work with the artisans, I’m definitely playing a more active role in my projects; teaching English to kids who will probably forget it within six months after I leave, planning nutrition and health lectures for (instead of with) the woman who delivers food and milk out to the poorer casarios, So I’m not exactly giving them fish, and I’m not exactly teaching them how to fish, it’s somewhere in the middle.

Last week was holy week here in Peru, and I celebrated, like any good Jew would, by going to the beach with my friends! We went to a little beach town called Pacasmayo which is two hours south of Chiclayo. It was a great little town, but a lot of the buildings and structures seemed abandoned and deteriorated. I guess they are in a flux of a declining fishing industry and a burgeoning tourist industry, but I hope they can re-invest some of what they are making from tourists into the town because it definitely has a lot of potential. It was a great time, and really relaxing. It is shocking to realize how much I have come to care for and appreciate my fellow volunteers after such a short time of knowing each other, but the bonds really make themselves known when you see each other once again.

International Ladies Day

March 13, 2008 at 1:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

You must forgive  me for being a fair-weather blogger. Lately it has been too hot to sit at a computer long enough to write something either intelligible or worthwhile. I´ve taken to counting mosquito bites in the evenings and that is taking up most of my free time.

Saturday was el Día Internacional de la Mujer or International Women´s Day and I took part in a celebration in a small town 1.5 hours north of Túcume called los Olmos. You may perchance have seen or heard that northern Perú was getting unusual amounts of rainfall this year, especially on the coast. Apparently unusual amounts of rain make for a big parade of insects up in Olmos; you cannot walk ten steps without stepping on a giant cricket-like bug. I say cricket-like because here in Peru the “crickets” fly which is not so cricket-like.

The oddest part about the uncanny amount of bugs was walking into the church in Olmos and seeing hundreds of them either dead or crawling around on the floor, occasionally flying up and attaching themselves uninvited to someone´s back or ponytail. It all seemed very apocalyptic.

For the celebration, several representatives from the string of towns leading up to Olmos from Chiclayo were present. There was a parade at night with candles and another one in the morning with balloons and banners. My slight skepticism regarding the event was quickly overwhelmed by bubbling pride when people stepped out of their homes to cheer us along in the parade. In a country so full of machismo, where a woman cannot walk two blocks without getting catcalled or worse, it was heart-warming to see people cheer on the women of northern Lambayeque, albeit only for a short while. It was a small step, but a step in the right direction.

The woman I went with from Tucume is hoping to organize a similar fair in Tucume next year. I hesitate to get my hopes up because it is a lot of work and preparation, but I am praying we can pull it off because it would be an enormous accomplishment for me and for the town as a whole.

In other news, it turns out I am a pretty decent English teacher. On only 3-4 hours a week the artisans (those who show up) seem to be learning a lot. Unfortunately I do not really enjoy teaching English that much, but I suppose everything has its pros and cons. Last week I had class outside to take advantage of the afternoon breeze in what remains a VERY hot summer and some English tourists showed up. They were conversing in bits and pieces with the artisans which was definitely a feel-good moment for me, and for them as well I believe. One guy asked me if I was married, thinking the artisans would not understand him, and they all cracked up laughing. I love those goofy ladies. It made for a good laugh, and, hey,  I will take whatever I can get in teaching aids.

Taste Buds of Gold

February 28, 2008 at 3:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Today I went to an event put on by Backus, the biggest beer distributor here in Peru. They invited the owners of small bodegas and restaurants from around Chiclayo into the city for what could only be called a beer workshop. My Mom woke me up early and asked if I wanted to accompany her to the event because she didn’t want to go alone. “FO SHO!”, I replied. First we all gathered and sat through a 20 minute presentation about beer, and how not all beers are the same; some are for special occasions, some are for hanging out with your family, some are for the beach with friends, etc. Then we moved into this other room where they had 100 cubicles set up for beer tasting, one per person. You got a little scanner sheet like the kind you use to take your SATs, you are given a giant headset used to follow the powerpoint, and you are given 5 different beers to judge on color, smell, sweetness, and bitterness. I’m not a big beer drinker, but I kicked that little scanner’s ass and was one of only three people to get all the questions right! Three out of 100!!!! I got a gold medal, and told everyone I was going to send it back to the yoonaited states so my parents could be proud of their little beer drinking daughter.

After the beer tasting, we went into another room where there was more dancing and drinking. It was so weird – it started off as this professional distributor-to-client presentation and devolved into boozing, mini-sandiwch eating, and, of course, dancing to cumbia. I had a good time, and made lots of new friends who wanted to see my shiny gold medal. My plans for the day had involved doing laundry and writing letters back home, it just goes to show that every day an unexpected adventure (or tuna sandwich) awaits just around the corner!!

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