Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Combis...

So it is time for a quintessential Peace Corps Peru blog entry: The Combis.

The inexpensive public transportation system in Peru is unorganized at best. While there are really nice buses that travel long distances the buses that transport most Peruvians (and Peace Corps trainees) on a daily basis are a different story. The combis are small, crowded, hot, noisy, and crazy.

The first, and most important, thing to remember when riding a combi is that it can never be full. No matter how many people are on the combi there is always room for one (or five) more. There are many combi drivers that take the same routes so the drivers want to get as many people on their combis as possible in order to earn the maximum amount of money. An understandable business model but it makes for some interesting rides.

In the morning, the combi is usually pretty crowded by the time we get on. That means that we’re usually squashed into the aisle, hanging onto the bar for dear life. The combi picks up speed as quickly as possible and doesn’t slow down until absolutely necessary. The quick starts and stops usually send the gringos lurching all over while the Peruvians stand as still as statues. When lucky, I’m able to grab a seat next to a bored looking Peruvian but this rarely happens.

The combi team consists of two people: the driver and the money man (not his official job title). The money man stands in door of the combi and tells the driver when to stop. He collects money while the combi pitches around and yells at people to move faster when getting on or off the combi.

There aren’t any official stops on the combi route so it’s important to pay attention to where you are. The route is always the same but there is no guarantee that the combi will stop where you want it to unless you’ve told the money man (and even then it’s not a guarantee). There have been a few times we’ve had to back track since we’ve missed our stop.

The combi rides are crazy but I love them. One PCT accidentally fell into the lap of a Peruvian when the combi started when she wasn’t ready, great 80s music in English that allows us to all jam out, realizing that six more people are going to get on a combi that I considered at capacity, needing help from Peruvians to translate to the money men where we’re trying to go, realizing we’re being ripped-off but being too exhausted to do anything about it… just some of the highlights of a combi ride.

Come to Peru… you’ll never be happier that you own a car.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Okay… I’m pretty sure my name is now officially Bess.

But let me back up a little bit…

I arrived in DC without any problems and even found a girl on my plane, Erin, who was going to Peru with the Peace Corps. We were able to navigate our way to the hotel with minimal problems. Staging in DC went well – we discussed our anxieties and aspirations for Peace Corps service and learned about the logistics of travel the next day. After staging a group of us went to Chipotle and had our last, real American meal. I’m pretty sure I’ll be craving Chipotle for the next eight months.
The next morning we got up really early to head to the airport and had a few hours before our flight to Miami boarded and were able to catch most of the South Africa/Mexico game. Peace Corps trainees (PCTS) are really into the World Cup – I’m glad I asked Tim for some advice before leaving.

Unfortunately our flight from Miami to Lima was delayed by two or three hours. I filled the time reading magazines in stores, taking walks, and playing card games (including a few rounds of the game “Spoons” with travel toiletries instead of spoons). Instead of arriving in Lima at 9:25 we finally made it in at midnight. We got to the retreat center around 2:30 am and had a quick night before needing to be at breakfast at 8am.

Saturday consisted of some informational meetings that served to get everyone really excited about what we’re here in Peru to do. We also had two interviews – one to determine Spanish placement, and the other to gain information to give our homestays. Saturday evening we walked around Chaclacayo with two current Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) and they told us about their time so far in Peru.

Sunday morning we had a quick breakfast and then headed to the official Peace Corps training center. The facilities are really nice and include a big, beautiful yard to play Frisbee and other games. We had some more informational sessions and then learned what Spanish class we would be in. I’ll be Intermediate – Low which means I only have to jump one level in order to get to the mandatory level of Intermediate – Medium. My teacher, Ivan, assured us that this will be no problem and that we should probably jump two levels before we leave training.

All the information about my host family was relayed to me in Spanish so I’m not exactly sure what the situation is here but this is what I understand: My host mom lives in this house, along with her daughter, the daughter’s husband, and their daughter who is three. My host mom’s parents will also be visiting for the rest of this week. The house is really nice, with a big living room, a modern kitchen, and the promise of hot water. My room is off of the courtyard behind the house, which affords me some privacy. The chickens also live in the courtyard and it seems like they regularly escape their cages. I currently have my door open and I’m just waiting for one of those chickens to wander into my room.

My room is really nice. The walls are painted seafoam green and buttercup yellow. It has a bunk bed, a dresser and table. I took an hour to unpack and decorate my room and now there are pictures and maps hanging all over the place. I really like it and think that I definitely lucked out with my placement here.

But before I could unpack, I had a little adventure to go on. After my host mom and uncle (?) picked me up from the training center we stopped at the house to deposit my things. My host mom then asked me… something. I didn’t know what. I heard her mention “la nina” and thought that we were maybe going to get her granddaughter from school (which, in retrospect makes no sense since it’s Sunday). She asked if I wanted to come along and I said “yes”. Which brings me to my first PC survival rule: When in doubt, always guess what the speaker wants you to say. If they’re laughing – laugh. If they’re nodding – say yes.

So we all got back in the car and started driving. After driving a few minutes, I realized that we were not going to a school and had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. Soon, we pulled up at a plaza in a neighboring town that was having a big fair. We got out of the car and I was promptly introduced to ten plus family members. My host sister asked what my name was and when I told her “Beth” my host mom corrected me by saying “Bess”. I’m pretty sure my host mom thinks I was saying my own name wrong since the th sound isn’t very common in Spanish. So I’m think that I’m going to be called Bess at home for the next few months. When I met the little girl who I’ll be living with I crouched down and she gave me a big hug. Then she went and hid behind her mom and my host mom assured me she was just scared because I’m “so tall”. My host mom went and talked to some more relatives and I followed her around because my second PC survival rule states “Stay close to host mom when confused”.

We stayed at the fair for awhile and then returned home. Since then I’ve been unpacking and decorating. I also plugged my computer in for the first time since arriving in Peru and it gives a nice electrical zap whenever I touch anything metal on it. I’ll have to figure out what that’s all about. The electrical current doesn’t seem to be hurting anything but I’ll have to see what to do about that.
I spent a few hours with my host family, struggling through questions about myself, my family, and the US. I also found out that my family has internet (!) and received a Spanish lesson from my three year old host niece. She got out her “A, B, C and Animals” book and would point at the animals or letters and make me say what they were. And I thought Spanish class didn’t start until tomorrow! Supper was delicious – a chicken and cheese broth soup with chicken, pasta, and potatoes.

Things are great here. I’m happy to be in Peru and I promise that pictures will be up soon. All the PCTs are really nice and I think I’ll be making some great friends. Please send me an e-mail and let me know what you’ve been up to… I miss everyone a lot and would love to hear from you.

P.S. I wrote this entry on Sunday and already there is so much more to share. Another (hopefully not so long blog entry) will be posted soon!

Monday, June 7, 2010

-3 Days

It's hard to believe I'm leaving for Peru in three days. It seems like there is a lot to do yet but I just want to spend my time with family and friends.

My flight leaves for Arlington, VA at 8:13 on Thursday. My group will have orientation in Arlinton Thursday afternoon and then we leave for Lima on Friday morning. We'll have more orientation activities for a few days and then we meet our host families on Sunday. I'm excited but nervous to see where I'll be living for the next eleven weeks. My group, of around 56 people, will have training in a city an hour outside of Lima for the first 11 weeks. During training we'll be learning about health, safety, youth developement and a lot of Spanish classes.

I'll post with updates whenever I can. Please stay in touch through comments on this blog or by e-mail (mentinke21@gmail.com).