Saturday, July 23, 2011


I might be going crazy.

Eleven wonderful members of Peru 17 are currently in Ancash on Field Based Training. In case you don't remember, FBT is the wonderful week during training when the Peace Corps releases all of the Trainees from the Training Center and sends them to visit Peace Corps volunteers in the field. I went to Piura for FBT and had a great time and hoped to help the 17ers have a great time in Ancash.

I’m pretty sure they're just going to remember me as “that crazy volunteer with the rat”.

Let me back up. Last week Wednesday, I was in the grips of insomnia and heard the sound of something scurrying across my floor and chewing on something. I grabbed my phone and shined light in the direction of the noise but didn't see anything. Every time the light went on, the noise stopped but as soon as it was dark again, I could hear something moving about again. But I was in bed and it was cold outside of bed so I decided not to investigate. I think my blasé nature of realizing a rat was in my room is best summed up in this text message to my friend, Patrick: “In bed. Can't sleep. Bored. Pretty sure a small animal is running around in my room...” Then I accidentally sent Patrick six blank text messages as I repeatedly and accidentally hit reply/send trying to shine light towards the noise.

I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen the rat. I thought I caught a glimpse of it one evening while lying in bed but, again, I was already in bed and decided to let him be. Plus, what am I going to do with a rat? Seriously? Other then scream like a little girl, of course. So my already high levels of avoidance have been able to grow exponentially this past week – it's been surprisingly easy to ignore the fact that there's a rat living in my room; he doesn't bother me during the day, I ignore him at night. It's been a good arrangement.

Yesterday, Thursday, over a week after the first night I heard him, I finally named my room mate... Charlie. Charlie the Rat. Within hours I was talking to him. “Hey Charlie.” I would say when I walked in my room. “Good night, Charlie.” I said when I went to bed. I realized that I was starting to crack and some sort of strange Stockholm Syndrome was taking place. This rodent was taking me hostage in my own room and I was starting to sympathize with him. Something needed to be done.

Today the 17ers came to visit my site. Officially, they were there to hang out with my youth group but I really had one goal in mind... we were going to find Charlie and get him out of my room. I recruited the help of a few brave souls and then sat on top of my desk, feet off the ground, in case my new friend came running across the floor. Those braver than I tore apart my room but found no signs of a rat. They did discover a hole in the wall, which they boarded up, requesting an update the following day.

So now I’m laying on my bed, and my hyper attentive ears are hearing everything. And I mean, everything. A few minutes ago, I glanced over at my food shelves and I would swear that I saw something move. I would put my hand on a Bible and go under oath that I saw a tail wagging about. So I did the only reasonable thing... I opened the door to the main house and called up to my host sister, you know the one who just had a baby, that there was a rat in my room.

My host mom, a wonderful, weathered, take no prisoners Quechua woman, came charging in my room, grabbed a broom, and prepared herself to kill Charlie. But when she examined the shelf I thought I had seen him on, there was nothing there. Nothing! My auditory delusions have progressed to visual ones. My host mom asked me to keep my ears open (no problems there) and let her know if I saw anything else.

And, as I write this, I know that I hear something moving around my room. It's just me and Charlie tonight... again. Whether or not Charlie is an actual animal or just a figment of my imagination is yet to be determined.

Updates in Action: So I finished writing this blog entry and had, more or less, convinced myself that I was hearing and seeing things. Amelia, my host sister, and Narcizio, the baby daddy, stopped in my room to talk and we were just chatting about this and that. Amelia and Narcizio were standing in the doorway facing into the room and I was standing in my room facing them. Suddenly, Narcizio exclaimed that he saw Charlie. Okay, he didn't actually say Charlie but he said that he saw the rat. Vindication! We all stood and stared at each other for a second before Amelia ordered him into the room. I handed him my broom but by the time he and Amelia reached the shelves (I'll admit I was hanging back, preparing to scream like a little girl, if necessary), Charlie had disappeared. Narcizio identified another hole that Charlie might be using to enter my room and I grabbed some cardboard and duct tape to try to block both holes.

On the way out, Narcizio assured me that I didn't need to worry – he was just a little rat. A “chiquito”. A baby. No reason to be alarmed. So Mom, if I haven't taken care of the Charlie problem by the time you come to visit in a few weeks, don't worry. If we hear something running around my room at night, it's really no big deal. It's just Charlie, my little rat friend.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Long Way Gone

I've read a lot of great books during my first year in the Peace Corps. 63 of them to be precise. And some excellent pieces of literature really stand out to me, including The Motorcycle Diaries (Ernesto “Che” Guevara), Mountains Beyond Mountains (Tracy Kidder), and All the President's Men (Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward). But no book has affected me quite as deeply as Ismael Beah's beautifully written autobiography, A Long Way Gone. When I started my blog, I promised myself that I wouldn't use it as a forum to review any specific book that I’ve read. This book transcends that promise.

I’m currently in the middle of an extremely stressful week. The Peace Corps crew out here in Ancash is putting on a fund raising event this weekend and, since it's the first time doing this particular event, we're learning as we go. As we hit (and successfully problem solve) one road block after another, I find myself getting more and more stressed and the amount of time I spend awake each night tossing and turning is growing exponentially.

Waiting for a combi back to site this afternoon, I finally cracked open A Long Way Gone. I'd been carrying it around all weekend but between running from one thing to another I didn't have time to start reading it. Finally I was sitting in one place long enough to pull out a book. It took approximately 9 pages for my heart to start breaking and for me to realize that whatever trials and tribulations I’m experiencing are truly insignificant.

A Long Way Gone is written by Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone's civil war. Beah is only twelve when the rebels attack and destroy his village and he's separated from everyone he's ever known and forced into hiding in the jungle, living off of fruit and terrified of his own shadow. Beah is terrified because “young boys were immediately recruited and the initials RUF were carved wherever it pleased the rebels, with a hot bayonet. This not only meant that you were scarred for life but that you could never escape from them, because escaping with the carving of the rebel's initials was asking for death, as soldiers would kill you without any questions and militant civilians would do the same.” (Beah, 24) Being recruited into this war meant being marked for life, both physically and psychologically.

Beah walks across the country seeking refuge and safety but within a year he is forced into the army's service. He chronicles the following years of fear and manipulation, drug abuse and brain-washing, in painfully graphic detail, giving a first-hand account of violence that much of the world could never dream of and would rather ignore. Beah sums up that part of his life by saying “(...) the problem (...) is the war that forces us to run away from our homes, lose our families, and aimlessly roam the forests. As a result, we get involved in the conflict as soldiers, carriers of loads, and in many other difficult tasks. All of this is because of starvation, the loss of our families, the need to feel safe and be part of something when all else has broken down. I joined the army really because of the loss of my family and starvation. I wanted to avenge the deaths of my family. I also had to get some food to survive, and the only way to do that was to be part of the army. It was not easy being a soldier, but we just had to do it. (...) I am not a soldier anymore; I am a child. (…) I’ve come to learn that if I am going to take revenge, in that process I will kill another person whose family will want revenge; then revenge and revenge and revenge will never come to an end...” (199)

It amazes and inspires me that Beah, who has experienced the true depths of human suffering, is also able to describe happiness in the purest and most poetic terms I’ve ever heard. When discussing life before the war, Beah states he was “so happy that I felt every nerve in my body had awoken and swayed to the gentlest wind that sailed within me.” (102) Beautiful, no? A Long Way Gone will break your heart and then slowly put it back together, piece by piece, as you come to terms with the extreme cruelty of mankind and the amazing strength of the human spirit. As always, Beah says it best: “I believe children have the resilience to outlive their suffering, if given a chance.” (169)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Maybe Baby

I recently posted a Facebook status update that said "Pretty sure my host sister just had a baby. Super excited!!!" The key words in that statement were "pretty sure". Because, despite the fact that I live with these people, there was uncertainty about whether or not my host sister, Amelia, was preggers. So I will present you with the evidence:

- One day I was at the health post waiting four hours for a meeting (a completely different story) and Amelia came in to see the OB/GYN. After a few minutes, Narcizio, a dude about the same age as me and Amelia, awkwardly entered the health post and joined the meeting.
- Amelia looked like she was gaining weight but it was difficult to tell due to the layers and layers of polleras (the traditional skirts that women wear here). Seriously, look at this picture... would you guess that Amelia was seven months pregnant? (just an FYI: that's my host niece, Judy. She may be my favorite person in this country.)

- There is some evidence that Narcizio moved in with my host family. This evidence mainly consists of me seeing him at various meals at various hours. And hearing his voice around bed time.
- Last Thursday, I was in bed reading at 11pm and assumed that my host family was sleeping because I couldn't hear anyone talking or the television. But when I turned my overhead light off I could see that the lights upstairs were turned on. Even stranger, a car parked outside of the house and I could hear someone leaving the house and, presumably, getting into the car.
- When I called Amelia on Friday she told me that she was in the hospital but that she was okay and would be home the following day.

When I returned to site on Sunday, I was pretty certain that Amelia had given birth. I was confused because I see Amelia on an almost daily basis and talked to her while she was in the hospital and she never once alluded to being pregnant. Is there really that much embarassment about being an unwed mother? Did they think I wouldn't notice a baby in the house? How unobservant do they think I am?

So on Sunday I went to my best source of family gossip - my four year old host niece. "Judy," I asked, "do you have a new brother? Is there a baby in the house?" "SI!" she replied.

I was hesitantly excited.

On Monday, my friend Sylvia came to visit and we had lunch with my host family. Amelia was missing but Narcizio was in attendance. "Where's Amelia?" I asked. Conspiritorial glances were cast around the kitchen and my host dad replied that she was resting. "Resting from what?!?" I wanted to cry. "Giving birth three days ago!?!" But I kept my mouth shut.

When we were done eating, Narcizio asked if we'd like to visit Amelia. "Yes!" I said, my eyes lighting up. Narcizio led Sylvia, Judy, and I to Amelia's dark bedroom. It took a moment to spot the tiny bundle lying next to Amelia in bed - a beautiful baby boy.

We have a baby in the house and I couldn't be more excited! Now I'm just hoping that Amelia and Narcizio get married because a) Narcizio seems like a pretty legit dude and it seems like he makes Amelia happy and b) I really want to go to the wedding.

Oh, the baby's name. I would love to share it with you but I'm not sure what it is. When I asked Judy she told me the name of the puppy. When I asked Amelia she had to ask Narcizio because she didn't even know. It starts with an "A". I'll let you know.

"Tener luz" means to give birth but it's literal translation is "to have light". I find that strangely beautiful.