Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Legend in the Making

While I wait for my water to boil let me share a little story:

This afternoon I went to Huaraz, the capitol of Ancash, to buy some groceries. To get to Huaraz, I needed to walk down the mountain for about forty minutes. Now, I’m going to try to not exaggerate this story, but this was a seriously steep downhill walk. Definitely okay to walk (I’m planning on doing it again tomorrow) but I remember thinking, “I do not want to have to walk back up this mountain.”

(You could call that foreshadowing.)

So I did my shopping in Huaraz, bought approximately twenty pounds of fruits and vegetables, and went searching for the combi my host dad had told me about. I didn’t have very specific directions, just “look for the blue combi outside of the market”. Well, I looked. For an hour. Finally I got on a combi that was going to a city near mine and that I knew would pass the road that would take me to my town.

I assumed that a taxi or combi would go up the hill. My host family had made it sound like there were cars all of the time. I didn’t think it would be a problem. So I started walking. Back up the hill that I did not want to walk up.

After about fifteen minutes of walking straight uphill, I was ready to give up. It had been a long day (I can’t even go into the craziness that was the morning but let’s just say it involved a party, a Catholic mass, and a lot of people laughing when I misunderstood their Spanish and accidentally agreed that I wanted a Peruvian husband). I stood at the edge of the dirt road, started crying, and thought “I don’t want to go up this mountain. I want to walk back down to the main road, get a taxi to Huaraz, get on a bus to Lima, and fly home.”

And then “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye came up on my iPod and I simultaneously realized two things. First, that I did not want to leave in Peru Bobby Bear and a number of embarrassing photos of my friends. And secondly, that Peace Corps volunteers in the 60s dealt with way worse stuff then this. They went months without English, electricity, or chocolate. This hike, with my twenty pounds of vegetables, would have just been a morning stroll. I’m in the Peace Corps now… time to toughen up.

By the time the song came to an end, I had come to my senses. I am not a Peace Corps volunteer in the 60s. I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in 2010. And I have a cell phone and a friend that lives close by. I called John William and explained my situation.

Let me recap. I had been walking for 45 minutes and was maybe a quarter of the way home. I had twenty pounds of vegetables and fruit. It was going to be dark soon. And it was raining.

John William asked if it was a safety threat, stating that if I felt at danger he would drop everything and get a taxi to come pick me up. I wasn’t feeling too worried yet, but was keeping an eye on the setting sun, it goes from light to dark very quickly here. I was feeling pretty silly for getting myself into this situation in the first place and told JW that I would call him if it got to dark and he said he would call back when he finished his business.

I lumbered on.

Suddenly, I saw some bright lights coming up the road behind me. The famous combi had finally arrived! I flagged it down, praying that there would be room for one more person. Thankfully there was one, small seat at the very back. As I squeezed my way through with my overflowing bag, I knocked my head on the ceiling as I heard someone say “It’s Ellie!” I was the only topic of conversation for the rest of the combi ride. Unfortunately, I have no idea what was said since it was all spoken in Quechua.

I can only imagine how I looked: Cold. Wet. Red-face. Huge Trader Joe's bag of food. In the middle of nowhere. In the dark.

This is the kind of story that will spread like wild-fire in a small community. Between this new adventure and the fact that someone in the community has been telling all of the kids that I know magic (because, yeah, that’s been happening…), I am a legend in the making.

You can see new pictures here:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I Survived Pre-Service Training!

I survived Pre-Service Training!!! Some important statistics:

Days since leaving Wisconsin: 73

Books read: 8

Seasons of “Gilmore Girls” watched: 5

Approximate hours spent watching aforementioned seasons of Gilmore Girls: 81

Days I was too sick to leave bed: 2

Approximate number of e-mails sent and received: 106 (thanks!)

Care packages received: 5 (thanks!)

Letters received: 11 (thanks!)

Times I thought about killing the chickens in the backyard so they would be quiet: 33

Approximate hours spent in Spanish and training classes: 320

Trips to Lima: 5

Times we’ve gotten lost on our way back from Lima: 2

Jars of Peanut Butter that I paid way too much money for: 1

Times I’ve locked myself out of my bedroom: 7

Blog entries: 11

Delicious hamburgers eaten next door: 9

Pages filled in my journal: 63

Photos that were hanging on my walls: 55 (plus 2 maps, 1 poster, 5 envelopes, 1 self-esteem exercise, 16 cards, 4 string people,1 article from The Onion, and 2 magnets)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ancash is Better!!!

The department in red is in Ancash!

The slogan of the Peace Corps program in Ancash is "Ancash is Better!". Here are some reasons why:

- The highest mountain in Peru is in Ancash

That's Huascaran as seen from my site.

- It’s only eight hours from Lima

- As a haven for backpackers and hikers, the capitol city, Huaraz, has amazing food

- There’s an Ultimate Frisbee league out of a cafĂ© in Huaraz every Friday morning

- Because the current Ancash PCVs love theme parties

- Because when I look outside my window and see the mountains I realize that I’m going to love living here even though… I miss my family and friends, my host mom only speaks Quechua, and our version of running water involves getting water from the stream that is running past our house

My fan club! My host niece is on the far right.

- There is so much to do in my town and my community partners seem really motivated

- I am living in a town that has one telephone, no internet, and no sewage/running water (that I’ve seen) BUT I just exchanged cell phone numbers with the mayor of my town

- The women in my site legitimately wear traditional clothing – layers of colorful skirts, stockings, blouses, cardigans, shawls, big hats, and braids. I’ve seen plenty of women dressed this way in touristy parts of Peru but it’s just the norm here. I haven’t seen any female over the age of five in anything else.

- The stars. There aren’t any street lights in my town (or many lights, period) so the stars are amazing. Absolutely, positively, the most beautiful stars I have ever seen in my life. If everything else about being here sucked, those stars would make it worth it. Luckily, everything about being here is pretty awesome so the stars are just icing on the cake.

- I get to change my name. Not that there is anything wrong with my old name except for the fact that no Peruvians can pronounce it and all look at me like I’m really crazy and try to call me other things like Bess, or Patty, or Pen. Ellie, the normal Peruvian nickname for Elizabeth, is just easier.

- Because I get to spend two years camping (more or less). An explanation:

o My house doesn’t have running water so each morning I need to ask my sister to fill a bowl with hot water so I can wash my face and brush my teeth

o The sound of rain on a tin roof is really similar to the sound of rain on a tent

o Because I don’t feel guilty about sitting outside reading for an hour

o Playing outside with kids is considered a constructive day

o I go on hikes with my host sister

o Because my bathroom consists of a squat toilet

o I need to use a flashlight to go to dinner at night because it’s pitch black outside and in the hallway leading into the house

o All of our food is prepared over a fire

o Because I end everyday feeling sunburned

o At night, I brush my teeth outside with water from my Nalgene

o Seriously, I feel like I’m at a Spanish-speaking version of Terre Andrae, except with fewer amenities

My bedroom - I'll be buying some more furniture

My kitchen

The stove

"Inside" the house

The front of the house - the wood door on the right is mine

Pictures from my Site:

It's not going to be an easy two years but it's going to be rewarding and an adventure. If you want to see more pictures, check out:

Or, if you really want to see Ancash, book yourself a plane ticket. I'll meet you at the airport.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

An Advertisement for Ancash

"The point of a visit to Huaraz (the capitol of Ancash) is really to explore some of the most stunning scenery on the planet; the entire valley is characterized by spectacular snowcapped mountains, stunning alpine lakes, and tranquil meadows." - Frommer's Peru

Ancash doesn't really need my help... it can speak for itself:

So, yeah... that's where I'm going to be living for the next two years. I think I may be the luckiest person in the world.

I'll have more information about my site after I visit it next week. I'm really excited. I'm living in a town of only around 680 people, a 45 minute combi ride from the capitol city, and only a 40 minute walk from another PC trainee/friend. Huaraz, the capitol, is only an 8 hour bus ride from Lima and even has an airport for those who want to visit but don't want to experience the luxary of bus travel in Peru. It's a pretty amazing placement.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Welcome Peru 16

Before I left for Peru, I obsessively read the blogs of other Peace Corps volunteers to try to figure out what I had gotten myself into and what things I should pack. A new training group, Peru 16, is arriving in Peru in September and, in case any of them are reading, here are some tips:

- You can’t wear flip flops to the training center

- Training is just like school… bring a backpack

- Plaza Vea (a Peruvian version of Wal Mart) is a short trip from where we have training. You can buy toiletries, socks, art supplies, towels… don’t waste valuable packing space and weight on them. Bring some trial size stuff and head to Plaza Vea when you get here.

- Your host family will love to learn about your life in the United States. Bring photos of family and friends to show them. I also brought a map of the United States and my host mom loved seeing where I lived and then finding the states where her past volunteers lived.

- Bring a watch.

- I would highly recommend ear plugs. It’s impossible to sleep when you have a rooster ten feet from your bedroom that likes to wake the town at three in the morning. Or when the tamale man starts wandering the town at 5:30 yelling “tamales!” into his megaphone. Or when you’re on an overnight bus and someone is snoring super loudly. Bring ear plugs.

- Craving Peanut Butter is no joke. Even if you don’t really eat Peanut Butter in the United States you’re going to want some here. You can find it but it’s super expensive. Bring some Peanut Butter.

- Some things I couldn’t live without: my journal, the Kindle, my laptop, an external hard drive full of movies, DVDs of favorite TV shows, an iPod, my digital camera – no real surprises there

- Ladies, tampons are expensive here. Bring a good supply.

- If something was important to you or special to you in the States, it’s going to be important or special in Peru, too. If you enjoy photography, Frisbee, or knitting bring the supplies you need. I love wearing different earrings and I’m glad that I brought my collection to Peru.

- When packing, think layers. It’s always cold in the morning when I leave for training, usually gets warm enough for short sleeves in the afternoon, and then cools off again by the time I leave the center. I would kill for another zip up sweatshirt/track jacket.

- You can never have too many pairs of underwear. You can re-wear dirty clothes but dirty underwear - I guess you could re-wear it but… I wouldn’t want to.

- Peace Corps Peru is pretty awesome. Be excited.

Of course, this is all based on my experience. The health/environment/wat-san programs might run their trainings completely differently then youth development.

If you have any questions or would like to talk about anything send me an e-mail: mentinke21@gmail.com. I’d be excited to hear from you.