Jungle Shenanigans

It seems I’ve neglected this blog for quite a while, so I’ll start by talking about the most pressing and important news…after 7 months of silence we finally received cell phone service! It was almost better than Christmas. I was in my site mate Gisel’s town for its 90th anniversary (we had to be in a parade for this celebration and carry the peace corps banner, but decided against marching in the hitleresque manner that seems to be the fashion for parades here) and I guess they decided to finally turn on the cell phone tower that had been completed3 months before. So we are finally on the grid again after being some of the only volunteers in all of Peru to not have cell service. 

I also recently returned from a trip to Iquitos, the largest city in the world that can’t be reached by car, to celebrate my site mate Gisel’s 30th birthday. The city is built on the banks of the Amazon River and became a rich place during the rubber boom at the beginning of the 1900’s, and so now it has a derelict charm about it. The first couple of nights we stayed in a hostel build on a dock floating on the river. You could look through the cracks in the floorboards and see water, which was very cool. Our first full day in Iquitos was the day of their annual city celebration to commemorate their patron saint. So we got to eat a lot of tasty jungle food and enjoy the steamy weather after many chilly months of sierra weather. We also took a several day jungle tour and got to see a myriad of strange jungle creatures, including my favorite, an earthworm that was over a foot long and an inch thick. One of the nights we were even able to hike in a ways from the river and camp out in the jungle. Our guide entertained himself by telling us stories of the Chullachaki, or rainforest dwarf/spirit who tries to confuse people in the jungle and get them lost. My favorite part though is that Chullachaki means ‘feet of different sizes’ in Quechua, so I was amused by the idea of a little dwarf with one big foot and one little foot hopping around the jungle trying to confuse tourists.

After getting back from the jungle trip work has picked up a lot. I’ve been trying to start several projects for the past 3 months and this week miraculously most of them are actually getting off the ground. I am most excited about a garden project that I am putting together with my health promoters. We have 30 families selected, have chosen what we are going to grow, and the best part is that we are not going to use Peace Corps funding options at all. My health promoters wanted to fund the project locally, which is awesome, and so we are going to have a pollada, or sort of a Peruvian chicken barbeque, and a soccer and volleyball competition to raise money. With the money we raise, we are going to buy seeds of vegetables that have significant amounts of vitamins and minerals, germinate the seeds in a the garden of my one of my health promoters, and then hand out the small plants after we do several trainings with the families about how to maintain gardens and prepare more nutritious meals. I’m excited because the whole idea of the project and how to fund it came from the community, so hopefully that will make it a more sustainable project.

Other than this project I’m starting up a sex ed. class with adolescents in my community, making an early stimulation room for activities with mothers and children in the health post, and doing trainings for all of the health promoters in the district with my site-mates. It’s nice to finally feel busy after several months of rescheduling meetings and chasing down community leaders. 

What I am most excited about though at the moment is the fact that my buddy Zach is coming to visit me at the end of July. It will be nice to have someone from home see where I live and what I have been doing. I’m planning a 3 day trek through the Cordierra Blanca with him, so hopefully he acclimatizes fast, haha. It should be beautiful though, apparently on this trek you pass by 5 or so beautiful glacial lakes (which will help me get a leg up, albeit a very cold one, in the Ancash lake jumping competition) and get great views of several of the beautiful snowcapped peaks in the area, including Huascaran the 2nd tallest mountain in South America. If you’re reading this Zach, I thought another thing you should bring, dark chocolate, just saying, I would ask for a Chic-fil-a sandwich, but that probably won’t travel too well. 

For those of you who have made it thus far, thanks for still reading my blog, and call me sometime on my piece of newly acquired cellular phone technology! 

Rainy Season Continues

It is time for rainy season to go.  We had our good times, it is nice to read or sleep when it is raining outside. There is however, only so much reading and sleeping that you can do before you get bored. Rainy weather is also not conducive to doing work which would involve slogging through the 5 inch deep mud-pits that the roads have turned into. It is simply time for the rain to go away for the next six months so that I can actually start getting some stuff done. The people in my town tell me two more weeks of rain and then blue skies. I don’t believe them. They also said we would have cell phone service by the beginning of March. Well that didn’t happen (the cell phone company built the tower on an Incan burial ground…whoops) so I have taken the information that I get from Peruvians about pretty much any subject with a grain of salt. It is not that they are liars; they just like to please people. So if you ask for directions, you will get a seemingly simple answer, which will turn into a two hour expedition to find what you were asking about. So we shall see when the rain stops, but I’m not holding my breath and I have plenty of reading material stocked up.

                Of course I have been doing work, but mostly the indoor variety. I started working at the local secondary school about three weeks ago teaching health classes in all of the upper grades. It is a tough job to keep kids attention, and to my friends working in Teach for America, I don’t envy your job. The teachers insist on giving me a three foot long baton at the beginning of classes to keep order. I guess that corporal punishment hasn’t quite died out here yet. We have been working on self-esteem and self-knowledge for these first three weeks. It is an interesting topic to cover here because the Peruvian school system does not really promote any sort of creativity or individualism. So when asked what their favorite activities are, what they like about their culture, or what they want to do with their lives, I get a lot of blank stares. On the bright side, I know enough Quechua that they are afraid to talk about me during class. It is a work in progress for sure.

                I also have finally finished my 30+ page community diagnostic report about important health issues in my community and my proposals on how my town might start to remedy these problems. For a start only 40% of the community has a latrine or a bathroom, the rest use simple holes dug into the ground or their fields as a bathroom. Also about 75% of the community cooks over a fire on the ground inside their house without proper ventilation. So these will be some of the issues that I hope to begin to tackle in my two years here. 

                Another interesting development in Peru was the results of the presidential elections that took place on April 10th. The candidate that held most promise at the beginning of the race and the most moderate (former president Toledo) did not make it into the runoff elections. Instead two candidates from opposite ends of the spectrum will compete in June for the next 5 year term in office. One of the candidates, Keiko Fujimori (daughter of former president Fujimori who was indicted for various crimes and is now serving a prison sentence) is an extreme rightist. The other, Ollanta Humala, is an extreme leftist who has the support of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, and has called for a term of mandatory military service from all young Peruvians.  It doesn’t help that both Chavez and Morales both have kicked American organizations, including Peace Corps in the case of Bolivia, out their respective countries in recent years.  Most Peruvians who I have talked to are not thrilled about this choice. Democracy is still very young in Peru and extremists from either side could shake the country off of the relatively stable course it has taken in recent years. 

It is an interesting situation to be in. From an outsider perspective the United States has intervened in Latin American affairs many times in the last half century, and has made a mess of things every time without fail. However I now am paid by the U.S. government and am a representative of my country here. I enjoy living in Peru and do not want to leave, and so I can’t help but feel supportive of any presidential candidate who will be supportive of Americans working within Peru’s borders. I am not extremely worried however, and if Peace Corps ever left Peru for any reason, I could easily buy a few sheep and live the next couple of years under the radar as a shepherd. You always gotta have a plan B.


Lima and Trujillo Travels

So I am going to attempt to talk about what has happened in the last two months without taking up a huge amount of space, so bear with me. I have just returned to Huaraz after about 2 weeks out of site. We had a week of Quechua classes in Huaraz and then a week of Early IST or in service training where, for the most part, we discussed early childhood stimulation. In the country side of Peru, the idea that a child is a person has not quite caught on. Many children remain unnamed for the first several months of their lives, and they are constantly carried around on the backs of their mothers in mantas or colorful wraps that they tie around them. So we are going to be focusing a lot of effort working on these themes in the first stages of our work.

We had our training in Trujillo, which is on the coast of Peru about 10 hours north of Lima. The beach was nice, although we didn’t get to spend much time hanging out there, but the water was pretty cold and rocky. The local fishermen in this area still use boats made from tied groups of reeds called caballitos del torre, or little horses, that resemble large pointy toed medieval shoes. It was pretty interesting watching them surf in and out of the waves and paddle around catching fish. After Trujillo, I traveled to Cajamarca in the northern sierra of Peru to continue training at a current PCV’s site. Cajamarca is much like Ancash. There are rolling green hills and the people have very distinct types of hats which identify them as coming from certain places. The also produce a lot of cheese and dairy products, which are not easily found in Ancash. However there are no views of snowcapped mountains and the people to not speak Quechua which leads me to the conclusion that Ancash is most definitely better. The in site training was interesting but pretty time consuming. We visited a health center and taught sessions about early childhood stimulation and also made house visits to expound on the same subject one-on-one. All in all it was a pretty good experience and good practice for future work.

Before this training we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps in Huaraz and in Lima. I was lucky enough to get my name chosen out of a hat for a spot at the Lima celebration. After our celebration in Huaraz, I traveled with some other volunteers to Lima. The party was at the U.S. ambassador’s house, which was beautiful. The free food and drinks definitely served as a good social lubricant and there were plenty of interesting guests to talk to. In attendance, other than the ambassador, there was the first lady of Peru, the second in command of the entire Peace Corps and the director of the Latin American wing of PC. Former president of Peru and current candidate for the presidency, Alejandro Toledo also showed up for about an hour. Toledo’s presence was interesting as well because his family had hosted a Peace Corps volunteer when he was a boy, and this volunteer had helped him to get into Stanford when he grew old enough to attend college. Among the other guests were former Peru volunteers from the 1960’s, a time when they would just drop volunteers at their site and wish them luck without giving them much assistance. I met an older volunteer who had a site in the jungle and in the mountains who, every season would travel between the two on motorcycle.  Things have change a lot over the past 50 years!

The second most exciting thing that I did in Lima was to go to McDonalds and eat a big mac. It was awesome… and that’s all I have to say about that.

Another interesting thing that happened to me at site before going to Lima was that I got to witness a woman give birth. I was hanging out with the doctor from our health post, who is 24 and also serving and obligatory year out in the mountains, when a man ran up and told us that his wife was about to give birth. The doctor invited me along to see the process. It was a horrifying and amazing experience. I actually got to hold the baby right after he had cleaned it off and cut the cord, and that was pretty cool. So now that I have seen that process, I hope to never have to see it again!

I also finished up my community diagnostic before leaving for the coast. I surveyed 180 families or almost everyone in my town, and collected a lot of good information about health and nutrition. Now I plan on making a presentation to my mayor, community, the local school and whoever else will listen to my ranting. Hopefully I will be able to get funding from my municipality to do an improved cooking stove project or a latrines project. However that will be a little farther down the road. Right now I want to focus on teaching health in the school one or two times a week, training my health promoters, and maybe working on a youth group. We will see how this goes in the coming weeks, but before all of that I need to finish the written report of my community diagnostic. Well that pretty much sums up what has been going on in my life recently. Hopefully the next update will come sooner than two months from now!

On Quechua

                Over the past two months I have been immersed in a household that speaks mostly Quechua, and this has given me a unique opportunity to begin to learn a bit of the language of the Incas. It has also given me the opportunity to see how the language is structured and to see some of the anomalies that exist within it. First of all in Quechua there is no special conjugation to show extra respect, like there is in Spanish and most other Romantic languages. Also there is no word for please. This explains some of the lack of politeness that I experienced at first. After learning this fact it was easy to see that this difference in manners was not lack of respect, but the lack of a specific word. It is a funny thing to discover that our actions and general outlook are, to a large scale, governed by the words we have to describe the world around us. Another interesting fact is that Quechua in different areas of Peru different greatly. For example the people that I work with in Ancash (mid to northern Peru) cannot understand people from Cuzco (in southern central Peru) even though they are speaking the same language. Even as the Incan empire united most of the sierra of Peru under one language, the Andes Mountains have, over the succeeding 500 years, divided it again into dialects.

                Another interesting thing about the Quechua that Peruvians speak in this part of Ancash is that it is largely mixed with Spanish. Sometimes when I am sitting at dinner listening to an endless stream of Quechua, I can actually understand a bit of it because I hear some key words in Spanish that my family has forgotten the Quechua equivalent for. It is actually sort of sad because I can see the degeneration of the language as it is happening. People over the age of 65 or so in my village do not speak Spanish at all, they only speak Quechua. People around the age of 45 or so usually speak mostly Quechua, but can understand Spanish if you speak to them. Some of them though have a hard time responding back in Spanish. Almost everyone under the age of about 30 speaks Spanish pretty well (but with some pretty striking grammatical errors sometimes, ex: my host siblings get the Spanish words for him and her mixed up a lot, even the 20 year old). They can speak Quechua as well, but have forgotten the words for a lot of things, and so they substitute Spanish words. Many of the children that I know who are under the age of 8 or 10 do not know how to speak Quechua at all. They only speak Spanish and when their family has conversations they cannot understand. This is the case of my seven year old host brother, who knows less Quechua than I do.

 It seems to me that the language is degenerating quickly, but the thing is that this symptom goes hand in hand with more exposure to the outside world and more development. It’s obvious why the older people in the town do not speak Spanish, there was not road through Huamas for most of their lives and they never experienced much of the outside world. To contrast this, television was introduced here within the past ten years, and with it the newest generation has been exposed to a more Spanish speaking environment. The development in the part of Peru has happened startlingly quickly (right now they are building a cell phone tower to cover our area, and I am rejoicing) and it has been very effective at raising the standard of living. It seems though that language and culture have suffered much because of this fact. I guess though that this tradeoff is happening all over the world and the only thing to do is to try and help to salvage as much of the culture as possible before it slips into the void that the globalization of information and technology has created.

Over the past several weeks I have been working on my diagnostic of the town I live in. I have visited almost 100 households so far and given a survey to each to learn more about issues of health and nutrition in my town. What I have learned so far is that I will really need to start a latrine project because a large majority of the population uses the bathroom in their fields. As you can imagine, it is not exactly conducive to healthy living when you are plucking vegetables out of the same soil. I have 4 health promoters who accompany me to each house to translate, but the families really are surprised when I through in a couple of words in Quechua. They are all convinced that I will learn the language in a few months, but there is a big difference between knowing the word for guinea pig in Quechua and being able to form sentences. Whatever helps the cause though!

Back in Time

I feel as if I have been beamed back into the time when my Grandfather was a boy. The lifestyle where I live in Peru is so different from that which I have known it is astounding. However it is amazing how fast you can accustom yourself to a new way of life, if it is necessary. To illustrate my point, electricity was not brought to my town, until about 10 years ago. Television followed about 6 or 8 years ago, and the first internet café opened in my town 6 months ago. Now, there is a carratera (Spanish for highway, but don’t be deceived because it is a dirt road, and in the rainy season it is pure mud) but before about 1984 no road existed. It people wanted to travel to the nearest big city, Yungay, they would have to walk for 2-3 days carrying what they needed on their backs or on the backs of their donkeys. During the nights they would spend the nights in several sets of large caves that are between my town, Huamas, and the city. Of course things have changed for the better and a good amount of development has taken place of the past 25 or so years here, but when you compare what was going on in America in 1984, the comparison is so stark that it seems ridiculous. 

As I said, this part of Peru has undergone a lot of development, especially in the past 10 years or so. About half of the people here, usually the older half, wear traditional dress while the other half dresses in a more Western style. It is completely normal and very common to see people driving their herds of sheep, cows or pigs down the “main highway”. Motorcycles are pretty common here, but you frequently see people riding horses or using donkeys as regular transport. This animal transport is an interesting juxtaposition against the big busses that run along the road here a couple of times a day, scattering anything and everybody in their path. The most interesting this to me though is to see the men carrying their Eucalyptus wood plows down the road, hoisted over their shoulders like oversized wooden muskets. They hitch these wooden plows to a team of oxen and plow their fields in the way that I am sure my Grandfather would remember. This is the only way to plow here, there are no rototillers. 

Almost everybody cooks over a fire as well. Even the families I know that have a gas range use their wood stove to cook for the most part, burning their fragrant Eucalyptus wood to make…well mostly potatoes. There is something comforting about having all of your food cooked over a fire, it’s like eating on camping trips, but every night of the week. It’s about as cold as the weather outside in my kitchen as well, so it is not that far of a cry from perpetual camping! The important health issue here though is if the wood stoves are ventilated and have chimneys. Many health problems can arise when families have open fires that they cook over in their kitchens without ventilation. Mainly respiratory infections or constant coughs, but the residue that smoke leaves on surfaces, like kitchen walls, is a carcinogen as well. Luckily my family has a cocina mejorada or an improved cooking stove. Although many if not the majority of families in my town to not have this luxury. So as I am more able to organize projects here in the future, my hope is to have a decent sized project addressing this issue. This however would start 8to 9 months in the future, so I’ll write more about it when I cross that bridge.

All work done in the fields here, other than the plowing, is done by hand. As I walk to my site-mate’s town an hour down the road, I always see farmers with their whole family clinging onto their scarily steep fields harvesting potatoes by hand. This is hard work, as I recently leaned when I helped my site-mate Sarah clear a piece of land of jungle sized weeds and other miscellaneous objects (shoes, glass, plastic bags, dolls, and of course the most common object here, rocks). It took us both working about 4 hours to clear a 12 by 6 foot piece of ground. I can only imagine the work it would take to do more. 

The upside of all of this is that I am eating the freshest and most organic food that I have ever eaten, and probably will ever eat. After you clear out all of the rocks, the soil here is incredibly fertile. The veggies here are delicious, and I am lucky that I have a host-family that grows a wide variety of plants. Another health problem in my site is that people either just grow potatoes and corn, or they grow these things with other vegetables, but end up selling all of their vegetables to buy more potatoes or corn to plant. I see another project in the making here, but I have to practice my gardening skills for a bit before I have any right to give much advise. Years of forced child labor picking beans or blueberries during summer vacations didn’t exactly whet my appetite for gardening. But I’m sure that my Dad will be pleased (and Ian and Zach will probably be surprised and skeptical!) when I say that I am actually going to start my own garden behind my house here, I already have the seeds and the space. You can plant and grow most crops all year round here, so I’m going to get a lot of practice.

Along with getting to eat fresh vegetables at every meal (my diet is about 80% vegetarian actually) I get to eat the freshest meat as well. This is a blessing and a curse. After witnessing my first slaughtering of a pig, I sort of lost a bit of my appetite. However when I ate said pig (my host sister had named it Deborah) I found that it was the most delicious pork that I’ve ever had. We also recently had lamb for dinner, when I had never eaten very much of in the States, but I found that it’s probably more tasty than beef in my opinion. Of course the bad side of killing an animal here is that eventually you will run out of the good parts of meat and have to eat the…other parts. Least favorite breakfast thus far- pig skin soup. It’s about as tasty as it sounds. Although fried pig intestines surprisingly aren’t half bad!

Since I was traveling during Christmas and New Year, I missed the pilgrimage that members of my town make to “La Puna” on both of these days. La Puna is a steep cliff/small mountain that overlooks Huamas. So on my return from New Year’s vacation; I hiked up with my three host brothers. They said that they were going to take me the easy way. Well I would hate to see what the hard way looks like. We hike pretty much straight up for 2 and a half hours and hiking at 10,000 plus feet is not the same as hiking at regular elevation. At the summit though, I was awarded with some beautiful views of Contrayerva, one of the snowcapped mountains that surround my site. There also happens to be the ruins of an ancient pre-Incan town on the summit as well, and that was really incredible to see. Apparently it’s possible to find some pretty nice artifacts there as well, because you could see where people had recently dug under the ancient thresholds of doors to look for gold artifacts. My host brothers informed me though, that to do this without saying the proper prayers and rituals would cost you your life. So I won’t be doing any grave-robbing. Funny enough, on my trip to Huaraz for New Year I sat beside an archeologist that was working here in several different sites near to my town. Apparently there are 3 or 4 sites within walking distance to Huamas, so I will definitely be visiting this archeologist to get the grand tour!

At this point I have been in my site for 7 weeks and am now starting to give my surveys to all of the families of Huamas. It is a tough endeavor though because I still do not speak enough Quechua to translate my survey, so I am using the help of my town’s health promoters. It was an adventure hunting all of them down but I finally arranged a meeting, which was an interesting experience. The promoters talked almost the whole time in Quechua, I guess thinking that it would be better to make sure that all of them understood what was going on, rather than speak in Spanish. However, this was pretty frustrating because my vocabulary in Quechua is encompassed in about 100 words. However after an hour of waiting for them all to show up and 2 hours of debating, we finally made a schedule for who was going to accompany me on what days to translate. It is going to be interesting working with these ladies for the next two years. They seem very dedicated, but I have to make sure that when I give instructions, important points aren’t lost in translation.

I think I am going to gain about 10 pounds over the course of the 2 months that it’s going to take to do this, because whenever you visit a family here, at whatever time, they feed you. A lot. Hopefully the absurd amount of walking that I will be doing to give my survey will counteract those heavy potato calories. However, it seems like everybody I meet here wants to fatten me up. So, in two years, I will most likely return to the U.S. in the shape of a potato.       

A Day in the Life of a Huamacino

                As I begin writing this page, I have just completed my first week and a half of being a sworn-in Peace Corps volunteer. I now live in Huamas, a little town of about 850 people in the Peruvian state of Ancash. Getting to my site requires a nine hour overnight bus trip from Lima to the capital of my state, Huaraz. From there I have to take a four hour (or maybe 6 hour in the rainy season) bus trip to my town. Part of this last four hour leg is crossing a pass over the Cordierra Blanca (part of the Andes range) at an altitude of about 15,500 feet above sea level. This pass is one of the most beautiful and one of the most terrifying places that I have ever traveled through. So, if you have plans of visiting me some time in the future, get ready to deal with traveling on a dirt road that hugs a snowcapped mountain and is bordered by 1,000 ft. drops.  On the upside, you get a breathtaking view of the tallest mountain in Peru! 

                Currently at my site it is the rainy season. This means that it rains every day for about five months. Many days though it will let up in the afternoon, or it won’t rain in the morning, so that helps to keep morale up! During the first three months of Peace Corps service a volunteer carries out a diagnostic of his or her community. This helps to ensure that you create and work on projects that are not only sustainable but are regionally and culturally appropriate to your area.  For Peru 16, the group of volunteers who just swore in, our timing provides us with a slight obstacle. In my site school ends for vacation (3 months equivalent to our summer vacation) in about a week and a half.  From then on until Christmas, people are unconcerned with work related things, including the diagnostics of PCV’s, and so for the most part I really do not have much to do until January.  So I have been doing a lottt of reading and since I missed it when it was on TV, I have submitted to becoming a LOST junkie. That aside, I am doing some interviews of community leaders in my town and helping to coordinate a competition for the most healthy barrio between the four barrios of my site-mate’s host town, but right now I also have a ton of free time.

                To give an idea of my location, Huamas is situated alongside of the carratera or highway (aka dirt road that turns into mud between Nov-March).  I live off of the road and up a hill at the center of the town. I can look out my window and see the school, church, store and several houses as well as all of the chacras or fields that run alongside of all of the surrounding hills.  In my host family there are a set of parents, Elena and Pablo, as well as 6 kids ranging from ages 7 to 28.  Also I think that there is a grandmother as well, but she doesn’t eat with us and I only see her every now and then, sitting outside or watching the chickens in the yard, so I’ll report back on that one.  The house is made of adobe and all of the floors are dirt. I am currently working on trying to put in a cement floor in my room because dirt floors in the rainy season are no fun. Otherwise my room is very big, with not much in it other than my bed and my clothes. She’s a fixer-upper.

                I have to say that my favorite times are meal times.  The kitchen is on the second floor of our house and everybody sits around this little table.  The food is generally pretty good; we have potatoes at almost every meal, and a good amount of rice, soup, aji (a type of pepper), cancha or toasted corn and meat every now and then.  Peruvians in the sierra do not drink cold beverages.  There is a widespread belief that drinking cold liquids will make you very sick, so everything that I drink here is close to boiling hot. Chamomile and anise tea or agua de manzana (basically apple cider) are the most common drinks here.  Actually this is a really good custom when it comes to my health because boiled water is the only kind of water I can drink.  The best moments are when I will throw out a word in Quechua and everyone will laugh uncontrollably.  They love to hear gringos try to speak the language.  This is an easy tool for breaking up awkward silences, so I try out my Quechua a lot. 

                I have two site mates who live relatively close to me, one from Puerto Rico and one from Upstate New York. In car they are about 10 and 20 minutes away and walking 1 hour and 1.5 hours way from my site.  We have had a lot of “planning meetings” recently, basically we ask each other if there are things we should be doing.  Finding that none of us are really doing anything at the moment, owing the bad weather and ill-timing, we instead work on our own mental health by exploring the nearby hills, eating plenty of tentalacion chocolate cookies, and making meals together.  Don’t worry, we will eventually be doing a lot of work, but starting out it seems like it is the same for all Peace Corps volunteers everywhere; there is just not a lot to do but talk to people and try to accustom yourself to a new way of life.

                Also, if you have never been a padrino at a promotion ceremony you should really try it out. A couple of days ago my host brother came to my room and asked me if I would like to go to my host sister’s promotion and be the padrino or godfather.  It seemed rude to decline so I said sure I would.  It actually turned out to be really fun. After kids here graduate primary school there is a big celebration and so we started the shindig at 1 and it kept on going until about 8 or 9 at night. I got to escort my host sister in and give her a diploma as well as eat a tasty meal.  Later I had to dance wayno with the other padrinos and had the pleasure of trying out the local beverage chicha, brewed and fermented corn made into a beverage.  Actually it wasn’t that bad, but it tasted a bit like campfire and some sort of fruit juice mixed together with a little twist at the end.  All in all it was a good experience. I’m glad though, that I didn’t get suckered into being the big padrino for the whole ceremony because I just found out that said padrino has to pay for the whole party (in this case our local mayor).  Can’t afford that on a Peace Corps salary!   

                To finish my rambles, I have a new address for those that would like to write or send me anything (I’m not saying no to Christmas cookies/other goodies or the possible pack of Twizzlers) my address is:


William Ruff PCV

Cuerpo de Paz

Casilla Postal 277

Serpost Huaraz

Ancash, Peru

South America


I actually would really appreciate pictures if friends or family have any that they would like to send. I am working on a picture wall in my room to make it a bit homier here and I have a couple of photos that I brought from home, but I have room for a lot more.



3 de Octubre...voy a extranarlo
I think that I will dedicate this entry to the exploration of the characters that live in my host community of 3 de Octubre. I have one more week to live here before I leave for my site and so I have been thinking a lot about what an interesting little mircrocosm my neighborhood is. First of all we have the guy who works at the corner store near my house. Every day after I get up here, my host mother has me go out and buy a bag of 'pancita' or little bread rolls for breakfast. I always go to the same guy everyday for one reason...he looks like the long lost, Peruvian member of Metalica. Long hair is not common here but he's got long curly hair, and always wears a black shirt with cutoff sleeves. He's a really nice guy though and sells bread like its going out of style.

Next there's the senora that lives of the hill from my house. One day all 3 of my host brothers and I were sitting in the living room and watching TV when this older lady starts screaming up from the street at us telling my host brother Gabo, who is 15, that she wants to marry him. At this point I realize that she is actually insane and regularly calls up to Gabo from the street to propose. He still has not accepted the senora's offer, thus she will go on waiting.

My host uncle is another character but of the most benevolent kind. His name is Elvis and he drives a taxi. In his taxi he has one and only one CD, the Black Eyed Peas. He listens to the CD all day, every day. He also teaches me Peruvian slang words, so I call him Professor Elvis, to be a little more proper of course. Then there is my host aunt Johanna 'shakira' Salvatierra. I swear at every family event that I have been to in the past 10 weeks she has made me get up and dance in front of everyone, usually with her. People love to videotape gringos dancing here, so Im probably dancing around somewhere on youtube.

Also, we have my host grandpa, who looks surprisingly like a Peruvian version of my own grandfather. He is working on building a house behind our current house and so he sings Peruvian songs at the top of his voice all day while he works. He also tells the longest fishing stories I have ever heard. I guess when he used to live in the sierra, he loved to fish, so now that he lives in the city he loves to talk about his exploits. Only they last ages and ages. I timed one of his stories on Sunday, and it ended at a whopping 45 minutes, and I was the only one left at the table. Everyone else had escaped to 'wash the dishes'.

Finally there is a lady that came up to me in the park today. I actually just talked to her. At first the conversation was pretty regular, she was asking about my family and life in the U.S. Then she suddenly asked about the possibilty of me marrying her so that she could go live in the United States with her brothers. I wasnt quite sure if she was joking and Im still not quite sure...so I might just avoid the park for the next couple of days.

That pretty much covers the characters of my beautiful little community. I am going to miss it a lot, even the dirty crowded combis that blast 80s Peruvian hair metal, the dogs and chickens that live on top of peoples' roofs, and the drunks that try to play in the community soccer games...with little success.

Hopefully the next time that I write, I will be writing about my new host community of Huamas, Ancash, elevation 10,000+ feet.

Field Based Training in Ancash
This morning at about 5am I returned from a 5 day trip up in the Andes in a region called Ancash. This was a really cool place and most of the people in this region speak Quechua, the language of the Incas, as their first language. Our first assignment was to make house visits and to check and see if families were eating health meals and using the imporved cooking stoves that they had received. One of the big problems in this region is that people cook inside their house with open fires and use no ventilation. You can imagine what kind of respiratory diseases many people, and especially children, have becuase of this fact. An improved cooking stove is made of adobe and sits on a platform at about the same waist height. Also, a chimney is connected to the stove so that all of the smoke is taken outside of the house. The house visits were hard though becuase most of the families that we encounterd didn't speak Spanish very well and so the health promoter that was with us had to translate  a good deal of what we said into Quechua.  We also worked on making latrines, which is another one of the big Peace Corps projects for this region.
On a different note, I also saw the tallest mountain in Peru, Huascaran, which is 6700 meters tall or over 20,000 feet tall. Actually the highest point that we reached during the trip was a mountian pass that was around 15,000 ft. above sea level overshadowed by a giant white statue of a very muscular Jesus. The people of this region dress very specifically, the women wear tall tan hats and multi colored shawls and skirts and the men wear widebrimed hats as well.
Today is dia de los Santos here so we are about to go to the cemetary and visit the graves of my host family's relatives. The tradition is to take their favorite foods, drinks, music, liquors or whatever and to generally have a big party in the graveyard. Should be interesting!

The First Month

It is always hard to start a piece of writing, so as to avoid this discomfort I'm just going to jump right in and start writing. I have been in Peru for one month exactly today. I have completed one month of training and I have 6 more weeks to go before I am placed at my site. Needless to say, my experience has been pretty interesting.
    I arrived in Chaclacayo, Peru a month ago and met my host family, the Anampa's, the same day. They are a great family with 3 sons (who are 10, 15, and 16) and we live in a little community called 3 de Octubre.  The first day that I got here there was a festival going on in the canchita or soccer field in the center of town (I have come to realize that we have community parties and festivals alot here). A lot of the community members were dressed up in traditional Andean costumes and doing different types of dances. I pretty much got thrown into being a part of the community the first day and I did plenty of dancing and drinking (another Peruvian favorite) to show that I was ready to accustom myself. It was a struggle but I somehow got through it. 
     We have Peace Corps training everyday and most Saturdays as well, and to get to the training center I have to take a ride on a combi, which is really crowded minibus.  This is when I feel closest to the people of Peru, mainly because we are packed together so tight that I can hardly move. In these combis, a nice gentleman,called a cobrador collects your money and urges you to get on and off the bus quickly, sometimes by leaving while you still have one foot in the bus. However in the afternoons when there is no reason to rush, I walk back from the training center and enjoy the beautiful weather we have here.
   The area that I live in now is basically a desert. The way that the Andes are formed excludes the coastline from getting rain most of the year. There are cerros here, or small mountains, but they have no vegetation on them and the look like big hills of dirt and rocks. In writing this may not seem too impressive, but I really havent seen anything quite like it before.
    The training that we go through is about half language and half culture and technical sessions. Our main goals as health promoters are to improve nutrition and reduce stunting in rural areas, promote breast-feeding, help to build and sustain improved cooking stoves and latrines, create groups of local health promoters, and deal with HIV and AIDS issues as well. 
    Onto the subject of my own nutrition, I have eaten a bunch of new and interesting dishes here. Peru is home to a ton of great foods and is a rising star in the gastronomic world, but you have to be prepared to eat rice and potatoes every day. There are also a couple of foods that I have tried that are a bit different than those in the U.S. First of all, cow foot and bone soup. That one was interesting. I can't say that I didn't like it, but it will probably take a little getting used to. Chicken hearts, lungs, livers, gizzards and feet are common fare here as well. The hearts are a little tough and the texture is pretty strange. Plus they look exactly like a little human heart, so this is a bit disconcerting as well. We also tried sangrasito or cooked blood with vegetables. This turned out a lot better than I thought it would and I actually kind of liked it, but the onions were a necessary touch. 
    So that's about all I can think to write up to this point. I will try to update this page somewhat frequently, but I'll probably take it poca a poca.  

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