Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Glossary of Peace Corps Terms

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

Laundry Day

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.

My mistake.

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.

Teaching colors
Working on an art project - always hectic and crazy
Playing modified Pilot to Tower (or Sharks and Minnows)

Each kid had a sheet with a different color and when their color was called they had to run.