Monday, December 13, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Everything was going just as planned.
In retrospect, I should have known. I should have known that something was going to go wrong. But I was too excited by my Dad’s arrival in Peru to be skeptical. And even if I had been skeptical, I never could have anticipated what was about to happen…
Before I go on, I just need to say – I want all of you to come visit. So please do not hold this story against Peru, it really is a beautiful wonderful place full of beautiful wonderful people. This is just too good of a story not to share.
Back to the story. We got on our bus at 11pm and settled in for a short seven hour ride. We’d fall asleep in Lima and wake up in the beautiful land of Ancash.
Around hour five of our seven hour bus trip (4am) I woke up and realized the bus had stopped. “Weird,” I thought, “This is a direct bus, it shouldn’t be making any stops.” I mentally shrugged and went back to sleep. An hour later I woke up again and realized that we were still stopped. “Maybe it’s a flat tire.”
Around hour eight of our seven hour bus trip (8am), I woke up and we were in the exact same place, and we knew that something was wrong. Dad pointed out that you all you could see on the road were other stopped buses. Passengers from all of the buses were gathered in small groups and sitting on the guard rails along the side of the highway. We went outside to join the group and see if we could figure out what was going on. What we found out was this – some people were unhappy with something so they had blocked the major highway and weren’t letting anyone through. In short, we were stuck.
Around hour eleven of our seven hour bus ride (11:00am), Movil Tours (our bus company) tried to gather all of the passengers from its various buses stuck along the highway. They stated that they wanted to turn around and head back to Lima. This was probably a very good idea. But some of the people in the group got angry and demanded that Movil had a responsibility to get us where we wanted to go. Movil gave in and the stand off continued. A lot of people gave up on the buses and started walking back towards Lima, hoping to find a taxi to bring them back to the city.
Around hour thirteen of our seven hour bus ride (12:00pm), the police finally showed up along with some government representatives. The people who were protesting had a small, peaceful parade past all of the buses and we were on our way. Unfortunately, some of the people we met along the side of the road were not as friendly, and one person threw a rock at the bus, cracking the window of someone sitting further back.
Clearing the road
We were on our way until hour fourteen of our seven hour bus ride (1:00pm), when the bus slowed and then ground to a halt behind twenty or thirty other tour buses. Another road block had been put up and we were once again stalled for an indeterminate amount of time.
Around hour seventeen of our seven hour bus ride (4:00pm), I started growing bitter. I only had seven short days with my Dad and we were wasting one on a bus. Almost as important, I only had four nights with hot showers and I was wasting one on a bus. Didn’t these people know what they were doing to me? (Yes, I do realize how selfish that sounds.) I turned on my iPod and moped for a while.
What do you do when your bus is stuck on the road for over sixteen hours? Not a whole lot. We walked around a bit, played Scrabble on Dad’s Kindle, listened to a dozen RadioLab podcasts, watched season six of The Office until my computer battery died, and slept.
It wasn’t very fun.
Around hour nineteen of our seven hour bus ride (6:00pm), I became very happy for three things. One, that Dad and I had splurged (ie, spent $35) on the best seats on the best bus that runs from Lima to Huaraz. Two, that my Dad – the most chill, laid-back person I know – was with me. And, three, that my little sister, Monica, was not along. Now, I love Monica dearly. But one of us would not have survived this bus trip.
Around hour twenty of our seven hour bus ride (7:00pm), the other buses started moving. “We’re on our way!” I thought. People guessed we were probably one or two hours from Huaraz and I still had hope that we would arrive in time to check into our hotel and get a hot shower. But our bus didn’t move. All of the other buses moved but our bus stayed put. You could hear the driver trying to get it started but it just wouldn’t go. My hope of hot showers started to fade.
At this point, we were hungry and it was getting cold. The bus didn’t have more food and we only had a few granola bars, half a roll of Ritz crackers, peppermint LifeSavers, and two Nalgenes of water. Inexplicably, the stewardess had gone through the bus and taken all of the blankets provided from the night before and with the bus not working no heat was running. We were entering a cold, sierra night with nothing but jeans and long sleeve t-shirts.
Around hour twenty-two of our seven hour bus ride (9:00pm), our bus finally started moving. It didn’t take long for us to catch up with the other buses that were moving at a crawl as they picked their way around rocks in the road and dangerous mountain curves.
Around hour twenty-seven of our seven hour bus ride (2:00am), the stewardess came around and returned our blankets. This was a high point of the evening because until now I had been curled in the fetal position, shaking, and using the head rest covers to try to stay warm. It was miserable. Now, it was slightly less miserable. We were still moving at a crawl.
Around hour twenty-nine of our seven hour bus ride (4:00am), I gained some (very) false hope that we were in Huaraz. People outside were yelling directions to the bus and I could see bright street lights. “We’re there!” I thought, joyfully.
Nope. Another road block. We weren’t moving.
When we woke up again around hour thirty-two of our seven hour bus ride (7am), a lot of people had decided to give up on their buses and walk the rest of the way to Huaraz. We asked around and most people said the walk would take an hour or an hour and a half, so after calling the Peace Corps Safety and Security Officer to make sure it would be safe, Dad and I headed out on foot, each carrying a backpack and wheeling a fifty pound piece of luggage.
Around hour thirty-four of our seven hour bus ride (9am), the sun was blazing and we were still walking. Everyone “knew” that the last roadblock would be “just around the bend” but after each bend another roadblock would be ready and no taxis would be coming.
We soldiered on.
As we walked, we talked to some other walking refugees. All of the Peruvians we talked to profusely apologized for their country and what had happened. Most helpful, one woman chatted to us about her views on the current political situation in Peru and told us the reason for the strike. To the best of my knowledge, this is what is happening:
In both Arequipa (a southern department) and Ancash (my department) there is a lot of mining activity. In Ancash, the main resource being mined is gold, which means that the mining companies are currently making bank while slowly destroying Peru’s natural resources – scarring the mountains, polluting the rivers, and killing the animals and crops that depend on both. Ancashinos want to reclaim their land from the foreign companies (mainly owned by Chile, Spain, and Canada) and manage it more responsibly. They were planning on continuing the strike for at least 72 hours, but would stay longer if they didn’t receive the attention they wanted (which they really haven’t since it the news hasn’t made the front page of either of the national papers).
Okay, so that all makes sense. It really does and I understand their point. But road blocks? Throwing stones at buses? Really? How is that going to accomplish anything? Imagine if a group of people were mad about something and put up blockades on I-43 and I-94 and blocked all traffic going to and from Milwaukee. The police and/or National Guard would move in before you could blink an eye and the whole thing would be over. In many ways, Peru is still a fledgling democracy and is like a toddler. To me, it felt like a whole state was throwing one big, political temper tantrum.
Anyway, we continued to walk, fueled by promises that taxis would be available just around the next corner. But they weren’t. We met up with a nice gentleman who encouraged us with similar mistruths but looked out for us and tried to get us a taxi when he could.
At one point, we were approaching a road block that was being guarded by a group of men. As walkers, we hadn’t had any trouble crossing the blockades and we weren’t too concerned about this one. We were eying it up and trying to figure out how to get our luggage across when twenty police officers in full swat gear came walking up the road. The men guarding the road block started throwing rocks at the police officers. They all, understandably, scattered when one of the officers started shooting his rifle into the air. The officers took off on foot to pursue the road block guards. We stood and watched for a minute and then continued to walk.
At some point, I called my Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, Sophie, and she arranged for a taxi to meet us at the last road block. Where was the last road block? We didn’t know.
At around hour thirty-six of our seven hour bus ride, some random dude came up to Dad and started talking in Spanish. Dad, of course, answered in English. I hadn’t heard what he said, so we laughed it off and kept walking. Fifteen more minutes we were promised. We were jaded at this point. We believed no one.
Soon, the guy caught up to us again, but this time he approached me and asked if my name was Beth. It was the guy Sophie had called. He said he had parked behind the last road block (could it really be true?) and that we would be at his car in a few minutes.
At around hour thirty-seven of our seven hour bus ride, we finally arrived at our hotel. 32 hours on the bus, 4.5 hours walking, and .5 hours in a taxi.
I promise, this stuff doesn’t happen too often in Peru. And if it does, you’ll have a great story.
(Lots of picture updates on Facebook thanks to fast internet and free time. Check them out: Random Assortment, Thanksgiving, Early In-Service Training (more interesting then it sounds), and Dad's Trip.)
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Or Some Things You May Not Know about Life in the Peace Corps Peru
1) I am too impatient to wait for the rain to finish so I’ll walk down the street in the pouring rain while my Quechua speaking companions stare at me from their door frames. I guess there is too much “Wisconsin” in me to let a little think like weather keep me from where I want to be.
2) I am very paranoid. When you’re the only outsider in a small town it’s easy to think everyone is talking about you. When people look at you, say something quickly in a foreign language and then laugh, it’s even easier to believe they’re talking about you.
3) Drinking cold drinks at night makes you sick, as does forgetting to wear a scarf and hot showers in the morning. And it’s your own fault so don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for you.
4) Personal space is a figment of my imagination. Obviously it does not exist on combis or collectives but also when I am reading outside, drawing my World Map, or walking down the street. Small children, stop touching me for five minutes!
5) Even I have a limit to how much reading I can do in one day. Which is why I am sitting at my desk writing this blog entry in a notebook by candlelight because it’s pouring rain outside and we don’t have electricity.
6) Campo Social Studies: Everyone in the world believes in God. Except for the Chinese, who believe in Buddha.
7) That in my day to day life, I use a lot of water. I recently discovered this when we were without water for a week. Drinking, cooking, bathing, washing, laundry – water truly is a precious commodity.
8) One of the Peace Corps slogans is “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” For me, the toughest part of the Peace Corps isn’t the actual work (I love my youth group) but the isolation and all of the free time. If you really want to get to know yourself, join the Peace Corps. After two years, alone in the campo, you’ll either be comfortable with your own thoughts or crazy.
9) During a perpetual power outage, going to bed after dinner at 8:30 isn’t so bad. I actually view it as a treat. Until the battery on my iPod dies and I’m stuck in bed at 8:30 without the diversion of a good audiobook.
10) Bowel movements are acceptable dinner conversation. And coffee conversation, and late night at the hostel conversation, and call a friend to chat conversation. Peace Corps volunteers talk about poop… a lot.
11) I can adapt to more than I ever thought possible. Soup everyday – check. No electricity – check. No internet – check. No showers – check. Pit toilet – check. No Target stores – well, you can’t expect me to adapt to everything.
12) A letter, e-mail, or package from family or friends can really make my day, or even my week. And knowing that my parents are a phone call away makes an immeasurable difference.
13) Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Skippy Peanut Butter are the two best processed foods ever created. As my friend John William said, “This Mac and Cheese couldn’t be better if it had been made by Jesus Himself.”
14) There are things about Peru that I will never understand no matter how long I live here.
15) That when you join the Peace Corps your world becomes very small. You expect the opposite to be true – you move to a new part of the world, you meet people from across the States, and you immerse yourself in a new culture – there should be loads to talk about. But without a common history and updates on world events (Did they ever stop that oil leak? Is Obama still president? Did Feingold really lose the election?), most Peace Corps volunteer conversations end up being about life in the campo, Peace Corps policies, and Peace Corps gossip. And, of course, poop.
16) People will say anything here to please you – even if it couldn’t be further from the truth. This may be nice at the time but does not bode well for my general state of paranoia.
17) I will meet the friendliest people on collectives. On my last trip back to site, a friendly woman talked to me the whole trip – more than any adult at my site has engaged me thus far. Unfortunately, she doesn’t live at site and I’ll probably never see her again. But it made one packed like sardines ride a lot more enjoyable.
18) It is a sad, but true, fact that watching construction vehicles go up and down the road in front of my house is often the most exciting part of my day. It is especially entertaining when we’ve had rain all afternoon and the road is completely mud.
19) Eating potato skins will probably kill you. Beware!
20) It’s okay to go to the bathroom anywhere. Without shame. Even if that means urinating on the door to a latrine instead of going inside.
21) Nothing will ever go as planned. So I’m going to plan on things not going as planned and then, maybe, they’ll go as planned.
22) Peru is a breath-takingly beautiful country full of kind and wonderful people. But, as L. Frank Baum eloquently put it, “There is no place like home.” I can’t wait to be in Wisconsin again.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
So, I could continue to regale you all with stories of my transportation mishaps. But then I would have to change the name of this blog to Beth’s Transportation Adventures in Peru: Or How I Constantly Get Lost But Somehow Consistently Get Where I’m Supposed to Be. So instead of my latest story of combi problems let me answer a frequently asked question.
So, what exactly does a Peace Corps volunteer do? I’m sure you’ve been wondering. Actually, a lot of days, I am still wondering.
Every day here is different. So instead of trying to generalize what every day is like I decided to take pictures of today… an average Wednesday.
Well, I forgot to bring my camera to breakfast so I don’t have pictures of my tea and bread. But I promise it wasn’t too exciting so you’re not missing much. I also don’t have pictures of myself hitting the snooze button for forty-five minutes before waking up at 7:45.
Brushing my teeth with my Nalgene bottle – camping style.
After breakfast, I kicked back in my hammock and finished reading Born to Run.
After reading, I walked down to the colegio and past this common sight – a pig tied up by the side of the room.
I went to the colegio to make copies of a coloring sheet for my afternoon youth group and to hang up a poster advertising an art day next week.
After the colegio, I went to the health post to talk to the women who work there.
After the health post, I returned home and did some household chores:
I filled my tippy-tappy,
went to the store and tried to buy butter for lunch (they didn’t have any),
thought about doing laundry but couldn’t because the canal is still dry,
prepped for youth group (this sometimes involves actually creating a lesson plan but today it just meant that I had to color some example sheets),
and did my dishes.
Then I cooked lunch on my propane stove.
Which was delicious! Mac and cheese, with tomatoes, onions, and saltine crackers (instead of bread crumbs), a pear, and water. I don’t have a refrigerator so once I open a carton of milk I need to use it within a couple of days. I’ll probably be having this same lunch for the rest of the week.
After lunch, I sat outside and read for awhile. You might be able to see my “reading rock” next to my door… my book is on top of it. It’s a little less comfortable then it looks.Then, I had youth group. We practiced our colors in English and the kids did a color by number sheet.
After youth group, I talked on the phone to a Peace Corps friend (so happy for free minutes) and ignored the kids who were knocking on my door. I’m trying to teach them that when the door is closed they need to leave me alone. After twenty minutes of knocking, they still didn’t get the hint.I played Trouble with some of the kids from youth group.
And had fun with some of the kids who were watching the “really exciting” game.
I ducked out of the highly competitive Trouble game to talk to another Peace Corps friend who was in Huaraz and had called to report that the package from my parents still hadn’t arrived at the post office. Oh well, hope springs eternal… maybe Saturday!
I watched some 30 Rock, played Solitaire, and wrote an e-mail to Mrs. Hafeman’s third grade class, my World Wise Schools pen pal.
Then, it was time for dinner – spaghetti and rice! Delicious for the mere fact that it wasn’t soup. After I finished this plate, our 18 year old neighbor/relative came over with my 2 year old niece and brought tamales. I’m usually not a fan of anything with tamale in the name but these were actually pretty delicious. I finished my meal with a cup of tea.
And now, I’m back in my room writing this blog entry. When I finish, I’ll probably crawl under the five blankets on bed (I pull at least one over my head) and read using my headlamp for awhile. I can almost guarantee that I’ll be sleeping by ten, if not before. Oh, the above picture is everything that I wear to bed at night – sweatshorts, sweatpants, a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, two pairs of socks, and my knee high wool socks.
That was today… not too interesting but overall, pretty productive (by Peace Corps standards, at least). It was wildly different from Monday (when I had a cooking lesson from the daughter of a woman I met on a collectivo) and Tuesday (when I read for at least seven hours) but that’s part of being in the Peace Corps. You never quite know what each day is going to entail. Some days there is a lot going on and some days you have seven hours to read.
You can see more photos (and a lot of the same ones I posted here) at: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2218069&id=69204952&l=ee9fa948bf
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Peace Corps Peru has begun to develop its own language that is a mix of acronyms, Spanish, and Peruvian slang. To make the writing and reading of my blog a little easier, I’m going to create a glossary. (I got this idea from another Peace Corps volunteer - thanks Kelsi!) If nothing else, this should make phone calls with my parents a little easier.
Ancash: n., place – this is the beautiful department that I am currently living in. Ancash is better.
APCD: n., person – Assistant Peace Corps Director – there are five APCDs in Peru, one for each sector. This person works out of Lima and makes important decisions for their program. They also develop sites and choose which PCTs go to which site.
Barter: v. – you’re supposed to barter in the mercados here to try to get the best deal. This involves a lot of back and forth when you and the vendor both demand really ridiculous prices and then finally decide on a reasonable price somewhere in the middle. I think my Mom will really enjoy bartering in Peru because she loves to get a good deal.
Bicicleta: n., jerga – technically bicicleta is Spanish for bicycle but it is also Peruvian jerga for diarrhea. Having a silly jerga term for such an unsilly thing makes it much easier to discuss with the PCMO and, (unfortunately), other PCVs. I would love to take a ride on my bicicleta but I’m afraid I’d have to run to the bathroom due to bicicleta.
Campo: 1) adj. – someplace very rural. Usually means that there isn’t running water, a bathroom, or other basic amenities. I knew my site was super campo when I saw a pig, cow, bull, chicken, and sheep walk by the front door. 2) n., place – someplace very rural. I live in the campo. 3) n., place – a soccer field. The neighborhood kids love to bring me down to the campo to play games.
Castellano: n., thing - what people in the campo call Spanish… I don’t know why. “Hablas castellano?” “No, I speak Spanish.”
Chacra: n., place – the fields. My host parents work all day in the chacra so I can understand why they go to bed at 9.
China: n., jerga – a china is worth fifty centimos. Change is extremely important in Peru because everybody wants it and nobody seems to have it. I hoard chinas like they’re gold because when you’re bartering it’s always helpful to have the smallest change possible. The cobredor tried to get me to pay 60 centimos but I refused to pay more than a china.
Chisme: n., thing – gossip. Peruvians and PCVs love chisme. Mostly because they have nothing else to talk about.
Cobredor: n., person – has a lot of responsibilities on a combi. They need to be short enough to stand up in a van, remember who has and hasn’t paid, remember the names of all of the stops and where everyone is going, and look out for people who would want to get on the combi. In other words, a cobredor needs to be an amazing multi-tasker. The cobredor didn’t hear me yell so we were six blocks past my stop before I was able to get off.
Colegio: n., place – a school. I’m happy that the colegio is letting me use a room after school for my youth group.
Collectivo: n., thing – just like a taxi but it waits until it is full of people who are all going to the same place. The collectivo definition of “full” is a little different then the American one – in the States we would consider a car full when it five passangers, here a full collectivo needs to have at least six people but usually has nine or more. The collectivo ride wasn’t too bad until we picked up three more people and I had to sit on the emergency break for the remainder of the trip. (True story)
Combi: n., thing – the Peruvian solution to public transportation. For more information on combis, see a previous blog entry. Whenever I am feeling miserable and crammed onto a combi, I imagine what it will be like for my Dad when he visits. This always makes me laugh.
COS: Close of Service – 1) n., event – the conference that takes place three months before completing Peace Corps service. 2) v. - when you finish your Peace Corps service you have reached Close of Service. I will be COS-ing in August 2012, three months after my COS conference.
Early-IST: n., event – Early In-Service Training is the conference that takes place after three months at site. All of the Youth Development Fifteeners get to meet up and talk about what we’ve been doing at site and our plans. I can’t wait until Early-IST because I’ll be able to see all of my friends again!
Enrique: n., person – Enrique is our Safety and Security officer. Enrique is always concerned about our safety and we always ask “Would Enrique approve?” Plus, he gives us suckers if we visit his office in Lima.
Fifteener: n., person – someone from the Peru 15 training group. I am a Fifteener.
Huaraz: n., place – Huaraz is the capitol of Ancash and is the home to amazing things like a mercado, pizza, showers, the post office, and internet. When I go to Huaraz, I feel like I’m back in the real world.
“I’m on a Combi”: n., thing – This is a song that was written during our lock-in/sleepover at the training center. It was a group effort and is based on the hugely popular song, “I’m on a Boat”. I sing it whenever I am stuck on a combi or feeling homesick because it always makes me laugh. T-Pain just called to see if he can buy the rights to “I’m on a Combi”.
IST: n., event – In-Service Training takes place after ten months at site. At IST we talk about our last year at site.
Jerga: n., thing – slang. My favorite piece of Peruvian jerga is “pata” which means both duck and friend.
Luca: n., jerga – a one Sol piece of money – also worth two chinas. Peruvian paper money doesn’t start until 10 soles so this is also a coin. Peruvians are always impressed when I call one Sol a Luca.
Mercado: n., place – the mercado can be crazy and intimidating but it’s where you can get the best deal on almost anything, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. Things are cheaper in the mercardo but its much more time consuming.
Papas: n., thing – potatoes. Today a mom in the community thanked me for playing with her children by giving me a bowl of papas. I really appreciated it but if I eat one more papa I’m going to turn into a Mrs. Potato Head (but without all of the cool accessories).
PCMO: n., person – The Peace Corps Medical Officers are our official doctors. Thankfully, the PCMOs are only a phone call away, 24/7.
PCT: n., person – A Peace Corps trainee. Being a PCT was a lot of fun because I had internet, hot water, and a toilet.
PCV: n., person – A Peace Corps volunteer. I officially became a PCV at the swearing-in ceremony at the Embassy when I promised to protect the United States from ‘threats, both foreign and domestic’.
PCVL: n., person – A Peace Corps volunteer leader is a third year that lives in the capitol city and provides support to PCVs. In Ancash, we have two PCVLs: Rabbit and Sophie.
PDM: n., event – The Project Design and Management conference occurs after four or five months in site. PCVs are asked to bring a socio to help plan a project for the PCVs time at site. PDM isn’t the most interesting conference but it’s very important if you want to receive grant money.
Peru 15 (13, 14, 16, etc.): n., thing – The bi-annual groups that come into Peru are each given a number. Currently, Peru 12 through 16 are in Peru. Peru 12 will be COS-ing in November and Peru 16 will officially become volunteers in December. The rest of the Peru groups are cool but Peru 15 is the best.
Plaza Vea Money: n., thing – Plaza Vea is the Peruvian version of Wal Mart. When you buy something at Plaza Vea, you often receive one centimo coins. Since these are absolutely useless and only actually seen at Plaza Vea they are now referred to as Plaza Vea Money. Plaza Vea money is worth less then fake, plastic, play money. It also looks and feels like fake, plastic, play money.
Primaria: n., place – the equivalent of the elementary school. 25 kids from the Primaria show up to my youth group every Monday and Tuesday. They always claim that there aren’t any rules in their classrooms…
Quechua: n., language – one of the indigenous languages in Peru. I hate it when everyone speaks about me in Quechua.
Regional Meeting: n., event – Regional Meetings occur every month in the capitol city. Regional Meetings are a great opportunity to see the other Ancash volunteers.
RPCV: n., person – Returned Peace Corps volunteer. I’ll be an RPCV after I COS.
Sectors: n., thing – the different programs that are working in Peru. There are currently five sectors in Peru: youth development, small business development, health, water and sanitation, and environment.
Secundaria: n., place – the equivalent to middle and high school. It’s sad that kids are done with secundaria when they are only 16 years old.
Socio: n., person – Socios, or Community Partners, are people in our community that the Peace Corps identified for us to work with. My socios work at the health post, the colegio, and the municipality.
Sol: n., thing – the Peruvian currency in the Nueva Sol. With the current exchange rate, one Sol is approximately worth 40 US cents. The spending power of a sol is on par with one US dollar though since, just like with a dollar, you can buy a chocolate bar or bottle of water for one sol just like you could buy the same things for one dollar in the States. And yes, a chocolate bar or a bottle of water is what I use to compare spending power. I used a sol to buy my favorite Peruvian chocolate bar, a Princessa, which is subpar chocolate filled with a little bit of fake peanut butter. If you pretend, really hard, it’s almost like a Reese’s.
Stage Seven Bicicleta: n., thing – One of our wonderful PCMOs, Jorge, introduced us to a chart which explained the different possible stages of bicicleta (the jerga term, not an actual bicycle). The worst one was Stage Seven (I’ll let you use your imagination). “Stage Seven Bicicleta on the carratera” is one of my favorite lines from “I’m on a Combi”.
Tippy Tappies: n., thing – possibly the best invention in the history of the Peace Corps. A Tippy Tappy is used when you don’t have access to running water and want a way to wash your hands. Tippy Tappies are extremely easy and cheap to make and are super effective. Having to use a latrine didn’t seem so bad once I made a Tippy Tappy.
Now when you come to visit me in Peru you can talk just like a PCV. Hopefully this will help my blog entries make a little more sense.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
I have a lot of issues with the Spanish language. The informal v. formal forms of “you” (tú v. usted), having to conjugate verbs, and the fact that my limited vocabulary makes me sound like a poorly educated third grader. But the fact that there isn’t a direct translation for “awkward” is definitely the worst. Incómodo is about as close as it comes and it just isn’t good enough.
A lot of my life here could be summed up as awkward. Whether it be having to give an impromptu speech in front of the entire school, squeezing onto a crowded combi, or standing and smiling politely while people talk about me in a different language, my life is consistently awkward.
I think the awkwardness of my life can best be summed up by laundry day. There aren’t many roads in my site and my family’s house is conveniently located on one of the “busiest”. I put busy in quotes because it receives about the same amount of daily foot traffic as Aspen Ave in Oostburg or Doty St in Madison. Unless you count the sheep, cows, chickens, pigs and dogs, in which case the amount of foot traffic quadruples. But it’s considered busy at my site, which means that quite a few people walk by the house every day.
But I digress.
To do my laundry, I use the canal the runs in front of the house. For each piece of clothing, I need to 1) scrub the piece of clothing with soap, 2) rub it together to remove dirt or stains, 3) rinse it in the canal, 4) wring it out and check for remaining soap, 5) repeat steps 3 and 4 as necessary.
Needless to say it’s not a short process, especially when you let your dirty clothes gather for a week or more. (Hey, you wouldn’t be quick to do your laundry either if you had to hand wash it in front of the whole town.)
The mornings here are pretty cold so I’m not partial to starting my laundry in the morning if it means my hands will be freezing after fifteen minutes. So the last time I did my laundry I waited until after lunch when it finally began to warm up.
I decided to wash all of my clothing first, figuring that jeans and sweatshirts would be the more difficult things to get clean. The occasional townsperson would walk past and I would shake my head as they stared at me washing my jeans or t-shirts or whatever. Not a huge deal, though I could tell by the women’s smiles that my technique needed some help.
Just as I started washing my underwear, I started to hear voices. I continued washing and the sound grew progressively louder until a herd of children rounded the corner. I glanced at my watch and realized that school had just been let out and twenty or thirty kids would soon be walking past me as I hand washed my underwear.
“Fine,” I thought, “A bunch of kids will know what kind of underwear I like to wear. And yes, in a few days, I’m going to start leading a youth group that most of them will attend. And I feel like it’ll be a little harder to gain their respect once they know I have polka-dot underwear. But, it could be worse.”
As I was thinking this, a few of the neighborhood kids who I play with on a daily basis spotted me, started yelling my name, and ran towards me. I took a deep breath as I dropped the piece of underwear I was washing back into the tub. I figured that the kids would ask if I could play on the soccer field and then when I said no they’d head over there to wait.
“Puedes jugar, Ellie?” Rosmi asked. (Can you play?)
“No.” I said. “Necesito limpiar mi ropa. Posiblemente más tarde." (No. I need to clean my clothes. Possibly later.)
I assumed this would be a good enough answer and they’d head to the soccer field without me. Instead, Rosmi reached into my laundry tub and grabbed a piece of my underwear to start helping.
Awkward. Awkward, awkward, awkward.
I finally convinced the kids that I could, in fact, finish my own laundry and they scampered off to the soccer field with my promises that I would join them when I finish.
I wish that was the end of the story. I really do. But once you wash your laundry you need to dry it and that’s a whole new adventure.
I’m sure you can guess that my host family doesn’t have a dryer. In the center patio part of the house there are clotheslines but my host mom told me to hang my clothes over the second floor railings because it was going to rain that afternoon. Which left me with a choice: do I hang my underwear so that everyone who walks into the house will instantly see it or do I hang it off to the side. Obviously off to the side… or so I thought.
What I didn’t consider is that the railing off to the side is directly next to the staircase. Which meant that everyone who walked up the steps would get an up close and personal view of my intimates. Unfortunately, this didn’t just include my host dad, mom, sister, and niece but a whole host of weekend visitors including aunts, uncles, and some nephews.
Imagine having to wash your underwear in the gutter outside of your house. Imagine that a good portion of your town walks by while you’re doing this. Imagine that the neighborhood kids grab your underwear in an attempt to help. Imagine that you have to hang your underwear up by the dinner table in order to dry. And then imagine that your whole extended family comes over for a surprise visit and gets to see all of your underwear, on display, for the world to see.
Incómodo just doesn’t do it.
I’ve started an afterschool program which is as awkward as laundry day but much more fun. Here are some pictures from our first English lesson.