Saturday, May 21, 2011

What Do I Do Here?

I recently received a letter from my Grandma TenPas in which she wrote that she's still not exactly sure what I do here in Peru. I realized that this is definitely my own fault so I'm taking steps to reconcile it.

Currently, I have three main projects. Two of them have been going on for awhile and one is brand new.
1) Proyecto SUENA: This is a group of kids, ages 3-13 that meets every week. John William and I started this group together but the real leadership comes from a group of University mentors from Huaraz. We're hoping that through the kids relationships with the mentors they'll feel more comfortable with the dream of continuing their own education. We play games, do leadership activities, and are hoping to start a vocational training workshop to provide some additional structure to the group.

2) The Library: I don't even know if it's fair to call it a library... more like my bedroom where kids can check out books for two hours each day. When the school is done with it's construction I've been promised my own classroom. Once I have a classroom, I'm going to move the "library" there and start applying for books from NGOs (you need a library space before you can apply). This is a pretty informal project right now but the kids seem to love it.

3) Pasos Adelantes: In the up-coming weeks, I am going to be starting HIV/AIDS awareness classes/groups/clubs in my site and another town nearby. I've been planning both of these groups for a couple of months and finally got the go ahead from both Health Posts to get started. These groups are going to be with older kids (14-17) and are based on a manual that was written by other Peace Corps volunteers. I'm very excited to get started.

Okay, so formally, that's what I do here. But there's a lot that goes into each of those projects... for example:
- grant writing: I recently spent twelve hours writing two grant proposals
- meetings: To set up Pasos Adelantes, I scheduled and re-scheduled countless meetings. I would show up and the person the meeting was with wouldn't be there. Or they would call and cancel the meeting. Or I would go to the health post for our 9am meeting and end up sitting in the waiting room until 1pm, at which time I had youth group. Or... well you get the point.
- hang out: The biggest perk of being a youth development volunteer is that whenever I'm spending time with youth I'm doing my job. So afternoons playing Uno, throwing a Frisbee, or reading picture books to my host niece count as "work".

So hopefully that helps shed some light on what I'm doing here in Ancash.

A quick story:

This morning I was walking back to my house from the Health Post and stopped to talk to one of my neighbors and invite her to an up-coming meeting. I started playing with Rosmi, one of her daughters, who requested that we play the "Pretty Little Dutch Girl" clapping game... (my family should know what I'm talking about... I am a pretty little Dutch girl/as pretty as can be/ and all the boys around the block go crazy over me...). Of course she doesn't understand the words and, though I've thought about translating them I never have because how can you explain the lines "My boyfriend's name is Tony/he lives in the land of Bologna/with 48 toes and a pickle on his nose"?

Anyway... we were clapping and singing and across the street the neighbors were tying up a particularly unruly pig. It was making a good bit of noise so I was keeping one eye on the situation while trying to clap to the right beat. I'd look at my hands, then look at the pig. My hands. The pig. My hands... and then I looked up and they had killed the pig. Right there, on the side of the road, blood all over the place. My neighbor is just walking around with a bloody knife, there's a dead pig on the side of the road, it was ridiculous.

Probably the first, and last time, "Pretty Little Dutch Girl" will serenade a pig slaughter.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

First Twelve Months in Peru

A highlights video of my first twelve months in site. Sorry if it's a little long - I've just been having that much fun!

First 49

One of my personal Peace Corps goals is to read 100 books during my 27 months of service. After ten, almost eleven, months I'm at 49 books. I was going to wait to post this entry until I had 50 books but I'm in Huaraz right now and book number 50 (The Rider by Tim Krabbe) will not be making either of these lists. Because, in honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve decided to recap and review the Top Five and Bottom Five books that I've read.

Top Five:

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis (finished 9.21) – I sped read the first six books in the Chronicles of Narnia series and by far my favorite was this one. Perhaps it’s because I’m enthralled by travel literature and this book is a grand adventure. In general, I enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia series because CS Lewis is able to expertly boil down huge concepts into understandable terms.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (10.6) – I read this whole book in a day, it’s that good. I just want to say that I hate running (unless it’s on a treadmill which I know is weird). But despite the fact that my body yells at me whenever I try to go on a run I loved this book, a true and remarkable story, and would recommend it to runners and non-runners alike.

On the Water: Discovering America in a Row Boat by Nathaniel Stone (1.5) – My first finished book of 2011. This book is the true story of a guy who decides to row around the eastern seaboard of the United States, starting in NYC, going through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi River, around Florida, and back up the Atlantic coast. It inspired me to Facebook my Uncle Kendal and request a kayaking lesson for when I returned home in 2012.

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larson (4.5) – I held out on reading this series for a long time. I’m not sure why because the first two books definitely lived up to all of the hype and I would even argue that the second book is better than the first one. I’m now impatiently waiting for Kyle’s family to arrive next month and bring the third book in the series.

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara (4.28) – I recently paid an arm and a leg to purchase a copy of this book while in Trujillo because I was out of reading material and didn’t want to face a long bus ride without the company of a good book. So I broke one of my quintessential book buying rules and bought a copy that advertised that this was “now a major motion picture”. Regardless, The Motorcycle Diaries is famous for a reason, beautifully written and full of observations about South America that are as true today as they were in the 1950s. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who has, or plans to, travel through South America, especially Peru. I feel like it’s a book that should be passed among friends, with notes in the margin and duct tape on the spine. So, if you would like to borrow my copy and write your own thoughts on the pages, just let me know.

Honorary Mentions: The Buenos Aires Broken Hearts Club, South Pole 2000, Almost French, The Autobiography of Vivian, and Ascending the Dream.

Bottom Five:

Dress My Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (7.21) – People love David Seadaris. I was unimpressed. Perhaps the audiobook is better. I wouldn’t know.

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (9.9) – I now know a lot about Australia. I have a stronger desire to visit Australia. But Bill Bryson is a wordy fellow and the book was a bit of a struggle at times.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (9.28) – I had heard a lot about this book before I read it and, once again, I was unimpressed. In retrospect it has an interesting point of view and some good information… perhaps it’s just not my type of book. Oddly enough, I would recommend it to people, I just have no desire to read it, or anything by Malcolm Gladwell, ever gain.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman (10.19) – Okay, this book had so much potential. It’s the true story of a family living in Poland during World War II who hid persecuted people in the zoo that they managed. It talks about German bombings, Nazis visiting the zoo and almost finding the hidden people, and escaping from Poland. It should have been so interesting but it was so mind-numbingly boring…

Honorary Mention: Cutting for Stone (never finished) – If you ever want to see John William and me fight bring up Cutting for Stone. I tried to read it but couldn’t get past the first chapter; he claims that the week he read it was his best week at site. If you have read this book or ever attempt to read this book and fail (understandable) send me an e-mail and let me know what side of the debate you fall down on.

So there you have it, my Top and Bottom Five books from the first fifty books I read in the Peace Corps. Let me know if you agree or disagree. And, as always, let me know if you have any book recommendations.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Living off of my Peace Corps allowance does not leave a lot of room for the finer things in life. I earn approximately $300 a month, or 1000 soles. With this money, I need to buy food, and pay rent, transportation, food, and youth group supplies. A couple weekends ago I splurged at Radio Shack on new speakers and Koss headphones (which, might I add, broke a few weeks later). And it got me thinking about my other occasional splurges… Remember that, when looking at spending power, a sol and dollar are or less the same. So when I say I’m spending 14 soles to buy a jar of peanut butter, imagine spending 14 dollars on peanut butter at the Piggly Wiggly back home. Yeah… ridiculous, I know.

1) Milkshakes (9 soles/$3): Nothing hits the spot like a chocolate strawberry milkshake from CafĂ© Andino. The first time I had one was when my Dad was down (I didn’t feel quite as bad ordering one because, well, my Dad was paying) and I was instantly hooked. A life saver after a long hike, when I have a sore throat, or when I’m craving a bit of home.

2) Peanut butter (14 soles/$4.50): What is life without peanut butter? When I don’t have my favorite peanut butter from home (Skippy reduced fat – creamy) I suck it up and buy Shurfine peanut butter at an exorbitant price. It’s usually half of my grocery bill for the week. It’s always worth it.

3) Skittles (3.50 soles/$1.50): I love Skittles. Enough said.

4) Exotic fruits (7 soles per kilo/$2.50): When buying fruit, I usually stick to apples, bananas and pears – the cheap options. But, every once in a while, I splurge on a half kilo of an expensive fruit - like plums or kiwi.

5) Coca Cola (1.50 soles/$.50): My only splurge at site. Okay, not actually a splurge but a treat nonetheless.

6) Showers (6 soles/$2): When I’m in Huaraz on a day trip, I always stop by the hostel for a hot shower. These weekly showers make me deliriously happy.

7) Dove shampoo, conditioner, and soap (35 soles/$12): My all-time favorite splurge. Since Aveda products are not available in Peru (I know, I’ve looked), Dove is the way to go. There is less expensive shower products available so I always feel a little guilty buying Dove but it’s worth it.

So, those are some of the things that I enjoy splurging on in Peru.