Reflections on the end: 20 lessons learned

My Peace Corps Peru service is rapidly coming to an end. These two years were tough, but I found out I was tougher. It was everything and more. There were many friendships formed, wonderful moments, rock-bottom moments, long laughs, many tears shed, successful projects, failed projects, and everything in between. There were times when the extreme simplicity put me at ease and drove me crazy at the same time, while the overwhelming fishbowl attention made me want to pull my hair out and also relish in my fame in my small community. The everything in between made it all worth it, and I somehow created a beautiful life down here with wonderful people who are making it very hard to say goodbye. I don’t know if I will ever know how much change I did or did not bring to the community, but I do know that these past two years have changed me and I have learned some lessons. Many of them, I had already learned throughout my 24 years of life, but in someway or another they were reaffirmed throughout my time here.

So here are some lessons learned from one of craziest, weirdest, and most unexplainable experiences I have thus far accomplished in my life:

1. Smile: Even on your worst day, you don’t own all the problems in the world. Our most powerful tool as humans is our smiles, because it is the only universal language. This is crucial when you do NOT speak the local language. My smile helped me through many awkward situations, asking for many favors and saying thank you when my words didn’t suffice for the overwhelming generosity constantly shed on me. Smile to show kindness, and you will receive kindness.

                       “Let your smile change the world but don’t let the world change your smile”

2. Instead of asking ‘What’s in it for me?’ begin asking ‘How can I help?’. What benefits others, will benefit you. When you start asking this the little seeds of help you are planting will grow and come back to help you in the end when you undoubtedly will need help.

3. Don’t practice judgment. Do practice empathy. Everyone has his or her own story and issues that we cannot see on the outside. Instead of judging someone’s attitude, behavior, etc. try with all your might to empathize with them, and you may be able to help them.

                         “The greatest cruelty is our casual blindness to the despair of others”

4. Wake up with a new pair of eyes. When you catch yourself taking things for granted, take a step back, blink and see everything for the first time all over again to appreciate it from a new perspective. This helped me numerous times during service when I would get extremely frustrated with numerous things. It’s a step beyond the ‘take a breath’ method.

                      “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscape, but in having new eyes.”- Marcel Proust

5. Surround yourself with people you want to emulate. And hopefully some of their best qualities may rub off on you. Broaden your arms to a wide ray of people of different ages, races, languages, social classes and backgrounds. Through these relationships you will see more, grow more and have more fun. I was lucky to encounter numerous different people both in my community and the peace corps community who are some of the best people I have ever met and have already taught me so much, and embody a characteristic that I would like to imitate.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or a say a commonplace thing….but burn, burn burn like fabulous yellow candles exploding like spiders across the sky.” – Jack Keruouc, On the Road

6. Immerse yourself. Don’t be afraid to jump in there, make mistakes, and ask a ton of questions – this is how you get to know a place fast and become a part of it as well. My Peace Corps experience changed the way I travel to go beyond the touristy sites and the top layer to understand how the locals live and their culture and why they did so and so. I now enjoy speaking the local language, having conversation with strangers on buses, wandering through both the good and bad neighborhoods and taking a breath. I still love tourist sites, but the immersion adds so much more. Immerse yourself in life.

7.  Do not wait for the moment, take the moment and make it perfect.There comes a point where you can’t wait for other people, and you need to make things happen. Don’t wait, just do it. And most likely great things will happen. If not, at least you got the ball rolling. This goes for all areas of life. 

In any given moment you have two options, step forward into growth or step backward into safety

8. Be an example for others. Your example is a secondary way of teaching. You can talk the talk all you want, but it is how you walk what you talk that people will note. This was a constant challenge for me during my service, as I had to remember every little thing I did was being watched meticulously and I had to try to be my best self, which on some days (or many) is not that great. There were definitely moments I was not a great example, and moments I like to think that I was. Always room for self-improvement.

“El mundo cambia con tu ejemplo, no con tu opinion”- Paolo Coelho

“The world changes with your example, not with your opinion”

9. In the end we all become stories, make them good. Going off being an example for others, make special moments and relationships with people that will become a story for the both of you.

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

10. Listen to your mother. She knows best. Both genetic and host mothers have been confidants these past two years. My mother back home has been a life-line helping me through any struggle or running any annoying errand I asked her her to do. She is my everything and always will be. My host mother is my mentor and genie about everything and anything in my community. Whenever I had a doubt or question about anything whether it be from being a godmother to a child, starting a new project or what pilgrimage group to go with – her opinion meant the most to be because I admire her values very much. Both of my relationships with my mothers have allowed us to learn from one another, listen, talk and grow together.

11. Make Mistakes. Screw up. Fail. You will try not to, but you will. These failures will lead to your successes. You are allowed to be a masterpiece and a work in progress simultaneously.

Your best teacher is your last mistake

12. Be your own home. No one is in charge of your happiness, except you. You need to be your own fortress of peace when no one can else help you through tough times. There were moments during my service, no matter how integrated I was, when I felt alone. When I received bad news or even good news from home – I felt far away and unable to share it with the people I wanted to be with at the time. I DO rely on people a lot (i.e. host family, real family, best friend in site, best friend out of site, etc.). But in the end, in certain situations you will find yourself alone and need to know how to make yourself comfortable when no one understands where you are coming from

13. If nobody notices your wonderful work, do not be sad, glory in your greatness – Honestly, this was a tough part of my service because I am used to being recognized for a ‘job well done’. But after putting tons of effort into a project and many times going unnoticed as the main leader or even a thank you or a recognition from anyone I would find myself frustrated. This is the first time in my life I am not walking out with an award in my hand for my efforts. But I am walking out more rewarded in this than any other experience, and I am glorying in my greatness.

“When you do something beautiful and nobody noticed, do not be sad. For the sun every morning is a beautiful spectacle yet most the audience still sleeps.” – John Lennon

14. Be proud of yourself. And your insecurities. Being the foreigner in my town, I had numerous odd comments made towards me about my looks, background, education, etc. – both good and bad – and had to proudly own who I was. Here in Peru, people are not afraid to tell you have gained weight, don’t look your best, etc. and at first it threw me off guard – but now I just own up to it – “Yes Senora, I gained 5 pounds in a week because I ate like an animal the past week.” Be proud. You are great.

15. Do what makes you happy, and if you can share it with others. Fall in love with taking care of your wellbeing, and spreading the wealth. One of my best experiences was sharing my love for yoga with my community, and having a couple other people fall in love with it as well.

16. Always be reading something. In the Peace Corps, I had a lot of free time to read and reaffirmed the importance of constantly reading for both pleasure and work. Rather it is always having a book on hand, reading news or publications– reading is a great way to actively rest while learning something and escaping from your real world into the pages for a moment each day.

17. Chase your dreams, not someone else’s dreams. This specifically applies to my next steps after the Peace Corps. I can already predict the repetitive question coming from everyone ‘So what are you going to do now’?’ The answer is ‘I do not know’, and I am very confident in that answer. I know what I would ideally like to work in and where (cough cough: international development in Denver, hire me!) . I have many personal goals and dreams I still want to reach in the coming years, and I hope to keep this clear in my mind whenever social pressure starts to boggle my decision-making process . But for now, I am going to go on one of my dream trips to Patagonia, Chile and Argentina for a month or so.

                      ‘Can you remember who you were before the world told you who to be?’

“I cannot fathom how tall your trees could grow if you stopped chopping the tops in fear of someone else cutting you down” – Tyler Knott Gregson

18. Make time to watch the sunset (or sunrise) and start every day. My favorite color is orange because my favorite moment of the day is the firey sunset. Taking this time coincides to taking a break when you need it. Allow yourself the freedom to rest, think and dream about yourself in whatever form that may be for you. And don’t forget to look up at night to count the stars.

19. Never settle. My biggest fear in life is settling for something lesser than what I can obtain. This has been confirmed during my time here on far and wide scale. Define your needs and wants, and don’t accept anything that falls short to fulfilling them – rather it be within your career, hobbies, friends or significant other – never settle for less.

20. All wildness is finer than tameness. Be weird. Be you. This stems from the infamous Big Jimmy Hackbarth’s quote he would tell me everytime he dropped me off at school:

 “Be good. And if you can’t be good, be bad.”

That being said, I will be coming back from this two year experience not quite the same self that I left with.  It was a struggle but without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength and everything I learned from so many people. It is easy to say I have learned these things, but I need to challenge myself to put them into practice. So I will be testing myself, self-correcting, failing and hopefully succeeding – as is life.

See you all soon, but not to soon!

Jamie

That one time I was a pilgrim

When you think of pilgrims in the US, you may think of the people dressed in black and white garments arriving on the Mayflower and Thanksgiving dinner. Pilgrim, or ‘peregrino’, has a whole new definition where I live. The pilgrimage to Ayabaca is a annual religious expedition in which thousands of people walk from their town to Ayabaca. Depending on where you are coming from your journey can range anywhere between 3 to 12 days, or even months if you are walking from Lima (an 18 bus ride away). The whole reason behind the pilgrimage is to visit and celebrate Senor Cautivo. Senor Cautivo is a religious statue said to be miraculously constructed by 2 mysterious people deemed as angels (click link for more info). Many people go on the pilgrimage every year to repent for their sins or ask a petition from God – most people go in car, other people who are crazy enough go by foot, and some even go crawling on their knees.

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Walking with our homies on our last day

My siblings, Carla and Christian, and I all made a promise to one another to go my last year together to walk with our community. I set this goal to reflect on my two years in Peru, to make a memory with my host siblings and to prove to my community I could do it. And I somehow convinced my badass of a best friend, Annie, to come with us too.

A pilgrimage is very different from a hike in many aspects. One of them is the fact you go with an ‘hermandad’, which is a close-knit group of people from the same community who have been preparing for the month prior to go together. There is a president who is charge of maintaining the whole group ‘morale’ as well as leading the ceremonies and chants you do upon certain legs of the trip. The rule is that you go at the pace of the slowest person in the hermandad, and take care of anyone that is having any issues. We were in a group of 18 people, and I 100% would not have made it without our hermandad getting me over numerous lows in the journey.

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Our hermandad walking out of Chatito. 1st hour of 1st day.

The journey from my site, Villa Chatito, is 5 days. Overall, it was a very long, beautiful, exhausting and the most inspiring journey I have ever gone on – and honestly did help me reflect on these past two years. We began the journey by foot literally from my house through 180 miles of desert terrain and hiked up numerous mountains to reach our destination of Ayabaca. To put it into perspective, the return trip in bus was 7 ½ hours in car from Ayabaca to Chatito – think of somewhere that far away from you, and that is how far we walked (for many that would be Columbus to Chicago).

When I say ‘5 days’ I mean walking over 20 hour days a day. We would wake up to start walking at 1:00am when the moon and stars were all at full force to take advantage of not walking in the sun. Annie and I thought this meant we would sleep during the day to avoid the burning sun, but we were so very wrong. We walked continuously from 1:00am until 8:00pm, with minimal and very short breaks – which were necessary to eat or go to the bathroom. That is over 18 hours of straight walking a day…not something my body was accustom to. Which explained the sprained swollen ankles at the end of it all.

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Pilgrims with a selfie stick!

The first two days were the most difficult as it was pure desert and your viewpoint would not change. It would take you about 6 hours to get to the point you were looking at, and then once you got there you had another 6 hours to go. While this is happening, we are walking along the side of the highway where cars are speeding by at 100 miles an hour getting to where we want to get to in a fraction of the time. But it wasn’t about our speed, it was about our journey. But honestly, I will never walk through the desert again for two days non-stop unless I find myself in hell.

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The 5 girls of the group – note the tambourine in hand, which we carried the whole time.

Once we got over the desert and into the green oasis, it honestly was a very beautiful journey. And we had a lot of time to think. The rule is to walk at the pace of the weakest link. They deemed Annie and I as the weakest links at the beginning for our ‘gringa-ness’. This was rapidly denounced when we made a 6 hour advance on the other group who left from our town shortly after us. On our final day, we arrived into Ayabaca at 11:30am, and the men in our group who had walked to Ayabaca for 24 years had never arrived before 11:30pm. So we showed them!

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Our whole hermandad on the 3rd night – where we slept on top of a mountain on this tarp underneath the milkway. 
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Some of the pretty views (before phone died)

The final moment when we reached the top of our last mountain was very emotional. I have never wept in my life, and I wept of pain (because my ankles were balloons) and for fear that this journey would literally never end. The two teenage boys next to me looked at me in fear and just helped me get to the top. Once we got to the top, our president had us all form two lines facing one another and gave a motivational speech about our journey together which left everyone in tears and giving one another hugs before we began the journey down to Ayabaca.

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Carla, Christhian and I in Ayabaca after the long journey

We walked into Ayabaca how we left Chatito, chanting songs with our tambourines in hands. The line to get into the church was overwhelming and wrapped around the whole plaza. We were able to go straight into the church and skip the line since we were pilgrims. We saw Senor Cautivo, and it was more stunning to see how much people worshipped him for their own reasons. Afterwards, we slept in the plaza until mass where we were interviewed for why we came on the pilgrimage. In the end, we all got on a bus back to Chatito through the night and woke up to one another in our home, where we all arrived a little different than how we left.

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This line went around the whole plaza of people waiting to get inside – luckily we were able to skip

There are so many weird and amazing anecdotes from this 5 day journey that it is hard to summarize – But here are some of the high-lights:

  • The whole town sees off the hermandad when leaving for the journey. The 5 girls in the group were given tambourines to help sing the songs on the way out. Little did we know we would be holding these tambourines for the next 5 days. I awkwardly carried mine in my hand for the first 2 days, before thinking to strap it up to my backpack. Also I would like to note Annie and I were the only girls (2 out of the 5) who carried their backpacks the whole time.
  • We adapted to being homeless extremely fast. We were able to fall asleep anywhere when we were given the opportunity – form the side of highways, sidewalks, mountain paths, etc. The ground was our bed, and we were relieved anytime we were able to rest. We bathed in a stagnant creek and a running river where it felt like paradise at the moment. And we slept on tarps underneath the open sky. It was beautiful.
  • Somehow nobody else was hungry. I on the other hand was constantly starving and found myself eating at any moment I could. It was crazy seeing how people had set up shop in the middle of no where to sell food to you at any hour of the day. Also, a huge shout out to the people who do the journey in car to give free food and drinks out to all of us pilgrims. As well as our families, who journeyed out on the third day to replenish our food supply and lighten us all up a bit.
  • Although nobody else was hungry, they all were thirsty. And if you know anything about my town, you should know when they are thirsty they do not want water – they want chi-cha de jora, which is the corn-based alcoholic drink. Thus began the chi-cha mystery, where the men would pull out liters of chi-cha from their backpacks, we would finish it, and then they would find some random person to refill it. Never did we take a break after 11am without a sip of chi-cha to give us ‘fuerza’ or the strength we needed to get to the next break. This was actually very much appreciated.
  • Out of our 18 person group – 16 of them wore flip-flops the whole time. They thought Annie and I were crazy for switching between running shoes and flip-flops (and maybe we were). A bunch of us ended up getting hideous blisters in which our ‘doctors’ popped them and stitched them up with a piece of yarn that stayed there to continuously drain the liquid. So I walked with about 5 pieces of yarn in my feet for the majority of the journey.
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One of the pieces of yarn sticking out of my pilgrim feet
  • My sister, Carla, and I could’ve been a period commercial. Not only was it both of our time of the month, and we were being extremely active and not letting anything stop us – but we also used kotex pads soaked in alcohol stuck to our flip flops to help with our giant blisters. Works wonders!
  • We were a walking replication of ‘Stand by Me’ Peruvian style and without the search for a dead body. The majority of our group consisted of 13 year old boys and this was their first time ever leaving Villa Chatito. It was too cute and we should have documented their journey.
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Part of the Stand By Me crew
  • Annie and I were woken up from napping in the plaza like homeless people to be interviewed by TVPeru with their cameras already in their face. We did it, and literally have no idea what we said.
  • Annie and I almost made it the 5 days without having our group worry about us until the final hours. We were waiting for the bus in freezing Ayabaca so we decided to go get something to ‘eat’, or what we considered getting a well-deserved beer. We told them we would be back by 9pm. At 8pm, Annie gets an call from an unknown number, which ended up being my sister, Carla, because my phone was dead. Carla had to go through the trouble to call another volunteer to get Annie’s number. She told us to come back to the plaza. Upon arrival, a police officer approaches us asking if we are ‘Anita’…took a moment but yes I guess Annie may be Anita. Moments later one of our buddies runs up to us saying they had been searching for us frantically for an hour, and had informed all the police. We found them all super relieved to find us, which led to this hilarious photoshoot of them. Some great and very kind people we were able to walk with these 5 days.
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Carla, my host sister, very relieved she did not lose us!

 

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Our whole group after doing our search party while wrapped in blankets

Overall, this is just a brief glimpse of what this pilgrimage really was. Everyone did it for different reasons but in the end there were a million memories made, many friendships formed and a journey I know I will never forget with a community I could never forget.

We built more than a court

A couple weeks ago, 14 strangers from Kaiser Permanente took their vacation to come serve and build a ‘Courts for Kids’ for a week in Villa Chatito. These strangers quickly became new friends and a team. Everyone with their own domino lives, falling step by step forward, landed in the place I now call home. For those 7 days, underneath the blazing sun, our goal of working hand-in-hand with the community to build a multi-use sports court came to fruition. Behind that goal there was a larger purpose, to live in the same conditions of the community, eat the same food and learn from one another’s cultural and life experiences. They essentially became temporary Peace Corps volunteers for the week, living with host families and seeing all the ins-and-outs of this lifestyle while immersing themselves with the culture. And I had the pleasure of being the bi-cultural ambassador for both Peru and US at the same time – teaching everything I knew about both cultures to both audiences – as well as translating 24/7.

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Kaiser Permanente Group

Some people come into your life at a precise moment, when you did not know it was needed, and open a door you didn’t even know was closed. And they swing it open and let the breeze in and truly are a breathe of fresh air. For me, this group of people and project did just that. When the sun went down and the sky became speckled with stars, we took time to reflect as a group on the experience we were all undergoing each day. Throughout this fleeting week, I was able to see my community for the first-time all over again through their curious lens and to answer questions I have not thought to ask myself. They enlightened me to not take this experience for granted, and keep looking at everything curiously. Having them here for the week allowed me to express my views, and it was rewarding to have it reflected back at the same time.

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Construction team & volunteers first meeting

This project began over a year ago, after I stumbled across the opportunity on the Peace Corps Facebook page. I pitched the idea to my best friend, Magaly, who is also the female sports leader in the community. She loved the idea and became the main counterpart I worked with it – without her this project would not have happened. She gave so much. We quickly pitched it to key authorities and a contractor to begin the application and budget bid. A few short months later we received news we had received approval from Courts for Kids, and they would be coming down in July. Surprise, surprise!

Welcome parade
Welcome parade
Colegio welcome
School welcoming event – VIVA!

Throughout the months prior to the group’s arrival, the committee and myself had to buy all the materials, begin construction with the contractor and workers, select/train host families, plan all the meals, plan excursions and cultural events. The group came down at the perfect time to celebrate Fiestas Patrias, Peru’s independence day, in which the community proudly took them in and asked them to close out the parade. They were able to witness numerous cultures and historical stories that were represented by the kids throughout the day. Beyond that, they were also able to learn how to make ceviche, dance some Peruvian dances and play numerous games with kids.

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Fiestas Patrias Parade – closing it out!
Fiestas Patrias
Site mate and great friend, Claudia and friend, Viviana, and her kids
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Face-painting everyone for Peruvian pride!
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Dance class with my friend, Percy

Collaborative giving was the catalyst behind this project. From the beginning, people from both sides – the NGO ‘Courts for Kids’ and Villa Chatito – were constantly giving. Time. Dedication. Work. Kindness. Compassion and acceptance. Community and love and cooperation. A simple unison made together not only to build a place for kids to play, but to build a friendship amongst one another. So many people gave so much for this court to come together, and I could not be more grateful.

Over 20 community members gave their work, time and expertise as construction workers to help the volunteers complete the court on time – also while taking off a week off from their job. The main contractor selflessly gave his salary voluntarily as an example of community service to others. The project committee members gave their commitment for months prior to the project to coordinate all logistics. Numerous community members gave construction machines, gasoline and materials to have the foundation ready before the Courts for Kids group arrived. The municipality gave 5,000 soles worth in materials to complete the court. A family gave up their living room to become our storage unit for the materials, and are meeting spot for the all things court related. Seven host families opened up their homes to host the volunteers, and showered them with compassion. Five senoras cooked and poured love and pride into their delicious Peruvian foods. The whole community gave numerous welcome ceremonies, showing how proud they were to host them for the week teaching the customs and ways of Villa Chatito despite the language barriers. Countless kids gave their efforts in helping in anyway possible to build the court; rather it was shoveling sand or leveling the cement. Many of my Peace Corps friends came in for the day to help with the construction and translation – life savers! Courts for Kids donated $5,000 for construction materials. The Courts for Kids volunteers gave hard-dedicated work to complete the court on time that was shown through their sore muscles, all while being a wonderful of example of service. The CFK volunteers also gave up their comfort zones and jumped into the unknown. And of course, bacteria gave many of the volunteers a bit of diarrhea….woops!

It was a long couple months, and there were several moments I did not think it would actually happen but after a year of planning, soliciting materials from the municipality, training committee members and motivating community participation to volunteer themselves – we can officially say ‘WE DID IT!’

The construction itself was hard work partnered with long days. We became a well-oiled machine with everyone excelling in different roles from shoveling sand, pushing wheelbarrows, pouring cement and more. Surprisingly, everything went as smoothly as it possibly could. We may have had some bumps in the road, which didn’t surprise me by working in a developing community. Such as the  water not coming one day, so this made it a bit difficult to mix cement. This left us to go the local canal, climb down the ladder and fill up buckets and bins to bring back and forth from the construction site. Or running last minute to buy Styrofoam boards to fill in the cracks, and have them fly away in the moto-taxi. Leaving myself and my moto-taxista hunting for them in 4 feet tall plants. These little bumps in the road did not stop us from progressing like work-mules and finishing the court.

Wheelbarrow crew
Wheelbarrow Crew
court before
Beginning stages

wheelbarrow

water transport
Brining in water from the canal
PC volunteers
All my helpful Peace Corps friends
Backwalk
Back-walks by julieanne

One of my favorite moments of the project was the last day of construction when we had ‘finished’. The Courts for Kids volunteers all went home after cleanup but I stayed to go get bars welded with one of the workers for the goals. When we returned from the errand, my wonderful guy friends had put up the goals and when I pulled up they all raised their arms up and cheered that they had finished! My heart filled with joy, and I walked down to the court with a smile from ear-to-ear to shoot the first basket and give each of them a well-deserved hug. One of the best parts was working alongside many of the men who were friendly acquaintances and developing them into respectable friendships, all while they confidently taught me a thing or two about construction.

Goals up!
Goals are up happiness

We celebrated the completion of the court with an inauguration ceremony with the community members and authorities. Many speeches were given, and the big mayor from the district came in to present the Courts for Kids with a medal of appreciation. After all the words of appreciation were given, and I poorly translated them – we broke the champagne bottle and played a game of each of the sports we can play on the court – soccer, volleyball and basketball. We ended it with a bit of dancing and sharing a meal with the people we had been working alongside all week.

talking
Speeches on speeches
champagne
Champagne showers!
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Panaroma of Inauguracion
Final court
Final product!
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Attempting to kick first goal …. missed
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First basketball game
volleyball net
First volleyball game – with ginormous bamboo posts hahah
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The men! Strangers that became friends

Here is a video of me speaking at the inauguration, and getting a bit choked up of how happy I was with everyone. I did not realize how difficult and awkward it is translating yourself from mediocre Spanish to mediocre English.

During the ceremony, I felt extremely grateful for my community. Many times I may get wrapped up in the negative that is happening around me, but in this week all I could feel was the love and pride these people had to be hosting a large group of foreign visitors all working towards a common goal.

Yes, we built a sports court and so much more. Behind any successful development project, there is more than the cement and work that go into it – but building up the people who were involved. The project committee learned how to make a budget and project plans while coordinating a large-scale project with multiple stakeholders. The community volunteered themselves and saw the power of community development when they have a hand in it. The construction workers built confidence in their skill and teaching it to a group of people who had essentially no idea about construction. The host families experienced a cultural exchange and built friendships with the volunteers. And the Courts for Kids volunteers hopefully left with a larger worldview and a fond impression of the beautiful yet quaint Villa Chatito.

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The after shot!

The past weeks the court has been being used like crazy. Everytime I walk by it people are playing either soccer or basketball. And we have made afternoons dedicated to volleyball as well. It is more than a court, but a community gathering spot and a memory of a week many will never forget.

WE DID IT!

Timeline of Project:

  • August 2015: Pitched Idea & Applied with counterparts
  • September 2015: Heard back from Courts for Kids with logistical questions
  • October 2015: Courts for Kids confirmed project adoption, and approval from Peace Corps Grants coordinator
  • November 2015: Pitched project to district municipality for support with other materials, and formed local project committee
  • March 2016: Received funding form local municipality
  • June & July 2016: Crunch-time. Buying materials and starting construction foundation. Choosing host families, coordinating with numerous senoras to cook, planning cultural events, ceremonies, snacks, water, airport transportation, excursions, etc. etc.
  • End of July: Courts for Kids volunteers are and court is constructed and inaugurated! Time to play!
  • August: Finish the border of court and paint and keep on playing 🙂

Let’s end this blog post with a weird anecdote…while we were painting the goals a goat walked by and gave birth on the run and left her baby there. Here are the weird photos….

Goal running after birth
Goal on run after giving birth
goat baby aftermath
Kids pondering on what to do with baby goat. They ended up taking it back to its mama

Growth and Grief

 

Growth. Sometimes we can see it physically and sometimes we have no idea we are undergoing it internally on a personal level. Throughout my service, I have seen the physical growth around me.

  • My 3 month old baby sister, Bianca who cooed with her googly eyes upon my arrival has now transformed into a crazy little human, sprinting around the house, knocking on my door and repeatedly screaming ‘Nala’ in a possessive voice. She is now 1 year 10 months and the happiest baby I have ever seen. Ever.
  • The baby cow, Machito, who was born on my first Christmas here is now a full grown bull. This Christmas, another baby bull was born, Canela, and her horns are starting to come in this week.
  • Bundles of batches of ducklings, chicks and baby turkeys have grown rapidly and turned into our dinner in a blink of an eye.
  • Two harvesting seasons of both rice and corn have gone by and I’ve seen 200 sacks of rice be harvested, bagged and sold.
  • My own little Nala who used to fit in one hand is now a full grown pup running around with her dog friends every day and burying ginormous holes in this sandbox she lives in.

On the other hand, internal growth is confusing and harder to identify because we don’t even know its happening. I’ve been lucky to help my teenage sister through it when she took the ballsy leap to move to Lima to enter into the police academy at 16 years old. Along while helping my youth group leaders grow in their social and leadership skills when they conquered their public speaking fears and are leading sessions in sexual education.

Personally, I try to reflect on this experience and how I am possibly growing. However, this is impossible for me pinpoint. Growth comes when you lose something. When you lose habits that you’re comfortable with, the familiar – that’s what forces you to grow. So I hope by divulging in these past two years of what used to be unfamiliar but now familiar that something is prospering inside me… whether it will hit me tomorrow or in 50 years…who knows…not I.

As fast as the growing journey of life passes in front of our eyes, even faster can we be hit when that journey of life abruptly comes to an end and those around us can be taken away for unexplainable reasons. Grief, a shattering amount of pain by losing someone you loved. You feel at your weakest, and don’t know how to handle the emotions that come in strong waves, while everyone around you seems to carry on their lives in the most normal of senses.

Throughout my service, I have experienced and witnessed loss of loved ones. Early on in service I lost my own grandmother, Jeannie, whose spunk outshone everyones in the room even at age 86. Although she passed over a year ago, I believe I am still undergoing the grieving process because I am so far away that her absence has not fully settled into my reality. When I look back at it, I wish I gave myself more time to grieve within the moment. She passed away my very first day upon arrival into my community…I literally received the phone-call right after the community-welcoming parade had ended at my house. And because I hate when people see me cry, because I want to be perceived as a strong young woman I decided to hide the news for the moment. I tried explaining to my host family the next day, but with the language barrier and the discomfort of not knowing them yet…it just made me feel lost. I was unable to leave to go back for the memorial service because I was still in training. However, I was lucky to go back a couple months after for the celebration of life to commemorate her with my wonderful family. I don’t know where I’m at in my grieving process, and don’t really think I will until I come home to the states.

About a month after my grandmother passed away, I saw my own host mom, Marcela, go through the same loss when she lost her Grandmother. This was my first time experiencing how Peruvians grieve. Within hours of the death, family members and close friends go over to the house to sit with the body and weep over their loss. And when I say weep, I mean wailing for hours attempting to rid all the pain inside of them that words cannot express. Within 1 or 2 days, the family and community carry the casket from the house to the cemetery rather it is the one in the community (30 minute walk) or the one in the district (1 ½ hour walk). My whole family slept in her house for the whole week preparing chi-cha de jora and mass amounts of food for the community for the memorial mass. 9 days after the death, they hold the memorial mass where the entire community attends and afterward goes to the house to eat a two-course meal with unlimited amounts of chi-cha. Then 40 days later, they will do another memorial mass. Another memorial at 6 month mark, 1 year mark and every year on the day of the death for years to come never letting their loved ones memory be forgotten on a wide-scale.

Most recently, I saw the rawest sense of grief amongst my whole family, due to the unexpected passing of my host aunt, Elena. Elena was the oldest of the 15 children of my host grandparents, whom I live with. She was a sweet and calming lady, who always visited us from the regional city every Sunday. She was always going out of her way to make me feel comfortable in awkward situations, and welcome into the extended family context. She was a daughter, sister to 13 siblings, wife to a beloved husband, mother to 4, grandmother to 6 and a friend to many, which was measured, by the overwhelming amount of people at her burial.

At age 52, her death came as a surprise after she went into a coma after what we all thought would be a simple surgery that led to a blood clot in her brain. When I walked into our home after being out in community, I came home to my grandmother and she fell into my arms and started weeping that her Lena had passed. The next hours Marcela and I sat with her keeping her company while close family friends came over to give their condolences, and she continued weeping. We waited for next long hours to pass for my host-dad and aunts to come home from the hospital and morgue, as they had been with her at the moment of her death.

When the sound of the puttering moto-taxi approached our desolate street, the hollowed wails of my Tia Cucha and Julia echoed as they walked with support to fall into my Grandma’s arms. There really are no words to illustrate how much grieving pain they exerted in their cries that went on for over an hour. As my host dad, Juan, and Grandfather followed in the shadows of them I just hugged each of them and saw the pain in their eyes as they sat down and seemed to retreat into what they just experience and into the memories of Elena they would not be able to relive with her.

The following hours were filled with coordinations for the burial accompanied with breakdowns from my aunts and grandmother. The other 10 siblings of Elena, my host sister, and numerous other cousins who live in Lima left immediately when they received the news that Elena had passed on the next bus out from Lima to Piura (an 18 hour journey on bus). And when I say ‘immediately’, they literally just came with the clothes on their back and wallet. The next day they had arrived for the burial ceremony, which was held in Piura city because it was where she had lived with her children and husband. Her brothers carried her casket accompanied by hundreds of extended family members and friends. We carried her casket from the house for about 30 minutes to the cemetery where she was buried. Everyone in the family touched her casket and said their tear-filled goodbyes as she is put in the ground, and her husband gave a heart-wrenching speech, which didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.

The next days in our house changed every moment as they prepared for the memorial service. Sometimes it was calm and sometimes it was overwhelming. I tried being there as much as possible rather it be from just sitting with them, helping make mass amounts of food, going out on errands for something they forgot or just being there – I felt like a part of the family. It was an odd place to be in because I felt like I was grieving their grief, rather than my own and kept thinking how this could have been anyone in my life.

Growth and grief, both are natural cycles that have no rules. We face them together. During a time of loss, we are going to grow because we are losing part of our heart to someone we love. The familiarity of them always being there has been stripped away, but forces us to step forward into a new capacity.

As always, this experience keeps pushing me to see different parts of myself and those around me. Some of the lessons I’ve taken away through these experiences is how the people here come together and turn their dark grief into a collaborative light to be together. They don’t cower in their shadows alone, but fall into eachothers emotional depths and own their grief. They rise above their fear of separation from their loved one, and face the illusion straight on holding hands with those who fear the same thing. They know they became something together from their relationship with that person, and will become something even greater from the strength they have to exert to get through this tough moment.

 

Franch visits Chatito

A big thank you to one of my best friends from college, Alex Franchella (more commonly known as Franch), for coming to visit my weird little life down here. Words cannot express how awesome it is having people from your life back in the states take the time out of their travels to come experience your bizarre Peace Corps life in a tiny Peruvian desert town. Here is her guest blog post on her couple days in my community. 

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How could I put into words the feelings/anticipations I had during my journey into Jamie’s village, Chatito? I couldn’t. Jamie and I had already been on our fair share of adventures throughout Peru – Lima, the Amazon and jungle. Not going to lie either I was having a difficult time adjusting between the language barrier, Peruvians and overall culture. I was in shock and couldn’t be more thankful to Jamie for helping me through it all. Now it was time to visit the place she has called home for the past year plus.

My experiences in Peru thus far had become a compilation of shocks so I decided there was no sense in visualizing what Jamie’s village would be like because I knew I’d most definitely be wrong. Proven that fact as we made our way through the desert on a bumpy dirt road in a moto, we were surrounded by palm trees and green rice fields. Definitely didn’t expect to see so much green in the middle of a desert. I was greeted warmly by her extended family, including Nala, and introduced as Jamie’s “prima” (cousin), which I still find hilarious. Getting the tour through her home and village, I tried to grasp the fact that this was Jamie’s home. You’re constantly covered in sand, stray dogs everywhere, houses made of straw, mud or brick, it’s constantly hot, no running water, bucket bathe-ing, force flushing the toilet, a farm in her backyard… Despite all these crazy elements, I realized almost immediately how truly happy and in tune Jamie was with her surroundings/community. It was amazing to see Jamie interact with everyone in her village and how excited they all were to have her back from vacation.

I shadowed Jamie for the next few days and was able to get a real sense of all the work she is doing for Chatito’s community. She has a few projects going on and it was cool to see all the progress she has made with most of them. She works closely with their local hospital and school. Her days are filled with constant activity whether it be sorting through recycling, holding community banks or meeting with various people such as the school psychologist to help promote healthy lifestyle to the children. The people she is working with seem to really want to partake in helping Jamie make life better in the community and I can see they look to her with so much respect. I noticed that getting things done in Peru is anything but easy yet Jamie has found a way to make it work.

Throughout the time I was there, I was introduced to so many people who were friendly and welcoming to me. Although I can’t tell you exactly what they were saying, thank God for Jamie’s translating! Her Spanish is incredible. I’d say completely fluent but she will argue against that. I experienced things I never would have dreamed of including witnessing a chicken being killed and then eating it at lunch. I’ll tell you one thing, they start their day very early. I’m talking at about 5am. Well that’s when the roosters are up and a loud speaker blares throughout the village announcing what is going on for the day. Jamie’s earplugs really came in handy. I was able to watch her host mom through the process of making chicha, which is beer made from fermented corn. Tried some it as well and it’s pretty good. Jamie’s a huge fan. Didn’t surprise me considering it is beer! Bucket bathe-ing seemed so foreign to me and never would I have thought I’d be so excited to do it every night. Honestly it’s something I looked forward to, so refreshing!

Like all my time in Peru, my visit to Jamie’s home was surprising but in a good way. It was comforting to see how easily Jamie fit in with her host family and community. I will never forget their kind hospitality toward me. I couldn’t be more happy or fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Jamie’s village and see her work firsthand. Everything she’s done and is continuing to do for the community is truly incredible especially with the different elements she battles daily. Being in Chatito for only a few days I have so much respect for her and it sounds sappy but I couldn’t be more proud to call her my friend. I was so sad to leave and know that soon I would be separated from her but knowing and witnessing all that I did I know that for the moment she’s where she’s meant to be.

Long time, no write.

As my journal collects thick desert dust, the inevitable neglecting of my blog coincides with ignoring writing down my life. So much has happened since the last time I wrote, and time seems to be flying by as I only have 9 months left in my Peace Corps service. Yikes!

Where to begin? I cannot recap everything but let’s start with the New Year.

2016 New Years/24th birthday was the best one I have yet to experience in my life. I was lucky enough to ring it in with so many special people; my two best friends visiting from home, Sara and Liz, my wonderful best friends I have made through the Peace Corps, and my great boyfriend accompanied by the thousands of Peruvians and international travelers filling the Plaza de Armas and bursting off fireworks every millisecond that you had to take cover. Following the News Years celebration, we went on a 3 day adventure trek to the top of Machu Picchu jam-packed with downhill mountain biking, zip lining in the sacred valley, white water rafting the Urumbamba river and actually hiking up to the Machu Picchu entrance and than Huaynu Picchu. The last leg of our trip we went to Lake Titicaca in Puno to go island hopping, which was just as beautiful…I will let the pictures do the talking.

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After we hiked up to the entrance, and up the mountain in the background!
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On top of the world with my homies
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Before mountain biking in the most intense protection gear ever…
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Lake Titicaca Island Hopping – Highest navigable lake in the world
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Our last hike to the top of Amantani island to the pachamama (mother earth) shrine
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Host family on Amantani islands traditional dance

The best part of this trip was having Sara and Liz with me. It really meant a lot for them to make the trip down and explore my second country. Although we were unable to see my community, I feel like they are some of the few people that have a better understanding of my life down here compared to others…. You can’t convey reality through social media and blogging. It was a blimp in time, but everything all at once and a little hazy by how gassy Sara was the whole time.

After the wonderful trip, I returned back to site to figure out what I needed to accomplish in my last year with a helper by my side, Glenn. It was his last couple days in country and since I had to get back to work he spent his last days in site with Nala and I before he headed off to his modern day life in DC. If you haven’t heard already, in December we adopted a puppy. A random skeletor street dog gave birth in Glenn’s host family’s house in the northern mountains of Peru, and I knew I wanted one right away. When I went to pick out my puppy only 3 of 8 remained from the litter, so I picked the chubby blonde girl relating to her because we both had little bloated bellies (her’s due to parasites, mine due to over-consumption of white rice). She was only 5 weeks old when we got her, which was frightening taking her back to a site where there are numerous street dogs sick with parasites and other contagious diseases they could pass to her. Luckily, she is now 5 months and thriving with only a couple of hiccups along the way! The town loves her and when she’s not by my side ask where she is. Nala’s vet and I collaborated to offer free veterinary care to dogs and cats in my sites whose owners usually would never pay for this type of treatment; and we gave sarna, parasite, and flea treatment to over 50 little pups and kits!

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Nala as a little pup as big as her toy
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Nala in her cone after her surgery, that became a trend
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Basking in her beauty

Other weird Nala story, I believe I am the first person in my site to have their dog spayed so she doesn’t get pregnant (this does not stop all the dogs from humping her relentlessly). Thus, after her surgery she had a cone on her head for about 3 weeks to prevent her from ripping out her stiches. During these weeks, everyones reasoning for the cone’s purpose ranged from anything from a sun-protector, umbrella, biting punishment and everything else besides she had an operation. When I would explain the real purpose, so many people were shocked dogs could receive such a surgery, and more shocked I decided to do this. However, the explanation didn’t stick and Nala’s cone turned into a trend (for the better or worse) for other dogs. First case: I was walking to teach English classes and saw a dog with a ceramic pot stuck around its head, and a Senora trying to break it off with a rock. When I approached her asking who put the pot around the pups head and why, she told me the dog’s owner because she thought it would help discipline her like I’m disciplining Nala (NO!!!). I could never find the owner, but eventually two kids broke the pot to get it off the poor pup’s head, and I thankfully have not seen him with a pot around his head again. Later that week, I saw two little kids making a cone out of cardboard for their dog, and I asked what they were doing and they said making a sun-protector like Nala’s cone. My life is bizarre sometimes.

I feel very comfortable in site both personally and professionally, and feel like I am finally in my groove. There are a handful of señoras that confide in me over personal things. I don’t know when the acquaintanceship turned into friendship but it is a very nice feeling. I am still playing soccer on the one of the communities team, which I have noticed one of the best way to integrate and gain respect amongst the men. I finally scored my first goals this tournament, and am described as ‘muy agresiva’ as I accidently push over 15 year olds… My host family is just amazing as ever. Carla, my teenage sister graduated high-school and moved to the capital of Lima directly after to join the police academy, which after 3 years of service will pay for her college education. My grandparents are also in Lima visiting their 10 children out of 13 that live there. So right now during summer time, the house is very relaxed and not as crowded which is pretty nice due to how hot it is here now (over 100 degrees, sweaty 24/7!) Bianca is almost 1 ½ years old, and cuter than ever. Her best friend and favorite word is Nala which she will shout respectively in a possessive deep voice until she is able to pet her…very weird and cute at the same time. My host mom Marcela has become very active in my projects taking on two leadership roles, 1 as the treasurer of our second community bank and the other as the vocal for our recently formed association of recyclers. She rocks, and I could not be more thankful for every little thing she does for me everyday (especially her fresh squeezed mango juice :)).

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My host sister Carla at her confirmation, soon after followed by her graduation
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Bianca and her BFF
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Little Bianca in my favorite form of transportation – the mototaxi

It may seem like I am constantly playing with babies, puppies and playing soccer but every now and again I do work. I usually don’t write much about my work, because it is hard to portray everything in little detail, and I don’t want to bore you readers who have already made it this far. Peace Corps has the advantage in which you can tailor your work to both your community wants and also your personal strengths to create cohesive and successful projects.

So here is a recap of past, current and new projects for those interested (mostly for Mama and Papa Hack):

Malnutrition Project: This is the main primary project we are asked as health volunteers to accomplish. The goal is to work with 30 moms with children under 3 in prevention and recuperation of malnutrition. I started this last July technically, but it has had its obstacles planning and training promoters and making time to visit over 30 moms on 2 separate occasions every month accompanied with group trainings. Some months the house visits are successful, sometimes not so much. There are 20 out of the 30 moms who are generally interested and actively trying to learn through the project, but the other 10 are not interested but are ones who need the most help. This is challenging, and I hope to really focus on those 10 in the coming months to reach their goals. My favorite activity we did so far in this project is Early Stimulation Workshops, in which we teach the mom how to make recycled toys and also how to properly play with their kids. This is the hardest project in my opinion because it requires a lot of patience and time, and you can’t see immediately any outcomes.

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Christmas party and recycled toy workshop
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Teresa and Junior with their santa rattle made out of plasttic bottle and corn! Little Favian is my biggest yoga fan

Peer sex educators: We ended the school-year with 13 trained peer sexual educators. They received over 14 after-school trainings and gave 3 group presentations to their classrooms in prevention of alcohol, self-esteem and values. This year they will start out the school year teaching about safe-sex. I give these kids major props for having the guts to promote how to put on a condom, STI symptoms and more to their class of teenagers. They are awesome kids and hope to be able to take them on university trips this year to start planning out their future.

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Some of my youth leaders and counterparts at the inauguration of district youth recreation building

Recycling Recollection System: Since the beginning of my service, this has been my biggest secondary project. The environment area is basically untouched in my community, and everyone thinks it is fine to burn all their trash in the streets or dump it in the farmlands. After doing numerous clean-ups and trainings to raise awareness in the community, we were able to solicit district support for a trash recollection system.  Long story short, after many months (or a year) of project planning, community trainings, promoter trainings, registration of houses, house visits and surveys we will officially be kicking off the recycling recollection project with support of the district municipality, local municipality, health post, high-school and health promoters. This week we officially inaugurated the first association of environment recyclers of Villa Chatito consisting of 18 women (12 health promoters, and 6 other exemplary women in the community). The women will receive an incentivized salary, which will be funded through selling the recyclables to a provincial vendor. In the coming weeks, they will receive their recycling segregation training to complement their training in health themes focused in prevention of malnutrition. On March 1st, the program will start with the sample size of 185 families (575 families in the whole population)!

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The beginning of the association of recyclers of Villa Chatito

Ecological Bank: Recently, an idea sprung amongst my counterparts who I have worked with  on youth and health projects. The idea is to form ecological banks among teenagers to raise money for field trips throughout the year and their graduation event. The project is similar to community banks, but instead of saving your own money each week they will be collecting recycling in the school to sell at the end of each month and save it throughout the year. The project has been approved to implement Ecological banks in 6 high-schools district wide, which will include collaborated environmental and financial education, with the overall goal of turning recycled items into money while empowering the students. This is an activity in the grand project plan of waste management for the district of La Arena.

Community Banks: My site-mate, Claudia, and I started a community bank a couple months ago with the 15 health promoters and mother leaders I have been working with the past year. A community bank allows members to save a small amount each week for 6 months. Through their involvement in the  bank they are able to take out low-interest loans, and after the 6 months they receive their savings and interest. A win-win in a town where banks charge 35% or more on loans. It also is self-empowering as there are leadership positions but everybody has an equal voice in the rules and regulations of the bank. All the members have really enjoyed it, which led to more members wanting to join and us starting our 2nd community bank with 20 members and growing last week. Thanks to Claudia, they are also receiving financial education classes, which is a drastic need here. I have really enjoyed this project, because it makes me realize really how important money management is especially at the extreme poverty level.

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Our community bank, done on the porch of one of the members
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2nd community bank opening while Camille was on tech exchange

Random activities: During these past summer months I have been teaching English and Geography classes again to both primary and secondary kids. This was one of my first projects when I got to site a year ago, and after many requests I gave in to doing it for a second round. Although I was reluctant at first to repeat the classes, I am very glad I am doing it and enjoying it a lot more this year as my Spanish is better and I am more comfortable teaching in a classroom. I also have been continuing with yoga classes, the majority of participants are kids and teens but I finally had my first mother show up last week so hope to have more dwindle in! Today, I went on a house visit to a mom and the little boy was showing me his tree pose and warrior 3 pose which got his mom to practicing – so that was a small win.

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A sneak peek at the common english class. 30 kids in two separate classes – yikes!

If you are still reading this lengthy post, congratulations you finished and more importantly thank you! Go drink a good beer for me.

Overall, I don’t know how I feel about having 9 months left. It’s exciting, relieving yet scary and sad that I will leave this place I now call home. But in the meantime, I’m going to try to forget about the timeline and live in the moment as much as possible.

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Salud! Swigging down my host mom’s famous chi-cha de jora (corn beer).

Cheers,

Jamie Lane

 

What a year

What a year? Time flies, eh. Any of you weirdos miss me yet? 🙂

September 11th marked my 1-year anniversary when I arrived in Peru for my in-service training (yes, a very weird date for the government to fly out nearly 60 Peace Corps volunteers). While, December 2nd marked my 1 year service anniversary as a volunteer in my small community, Villa Chatito, which is now my home. So I have been down here for about 1 year 3 months! Woo!

As I think back on my past year, a bundle of vivid emotional memories flash through my head similar to those montages they show in movies right before someone is passing away summarising their whole life. In some regards, I feel like I have lived a thousand different lives in this one-year and have learned more life-lessons than in my whole life. On the other-hand, I feel very confused about this past year. Without a doubt I have definitely discovered more about myself than ever before….which I suppose is bound to happen when you are the only foreigner living in a town of under 2,000 people and find yourself in very peculiar situations every single day.

This vivid memory montage is filled with daunting challenges, exciting successes, frustrating failures, genuine laughter, uncontrollable cries (and bowel movements), lazy binge-watching days, jam-packed busy days, witnessing heart-wrenching tragedies, feeling lost in myself, feeling on top of the world, popularising the high-five, sore feet from to much cumbia dancing, learning how to make delicious ceviche, eating pounds of rice, falling in love with my town, feeling pride when people compliment my Spanish, smirking to the millionth time people comment I am ‘acostombrada’ (accustom) to the life here, juggling 2 soccer teams, sweaty runs through the farmlands, being extremely frustrated with my town, feeling too respected, being very disrespected, experiencing genuine kindness and generosity from numerous strangers, extreme annoyance at the tardiness of ‘hora peruana’, applying hora peruana to my own habits, feeling right at home, self-pitying myself for homesickness, getting to know new friends of all ages, hearing the news over phone calls and skype of milestones back home (Chrissy and Kyle!!), feeling guilty for missing these milestones, little kids screaming my name across town, little kids screaming my puppy’s name ‘Nala’ across town, trying my best as a role-model, being a ‘public figure’, answering tough questions, countless repetitions of simple educational lessons, just being present and so so much more. (That is a run-on sentence if I have ever seen one…but screw grammar).

So yes, this year has been the cliché rollercoaster of emotions in which the Peace Corps loves repeating that we will experience at each training event. But a rollercoaster filled of lessons I will hopefully use in my coming year of service, and for years to come.

Comparing how weird I felt the first couple weeks into my service to how comfortable I feel now sitting on my porch with my little sisters after once again failing at playing guitar with my new little puppy at my feet and neighbours coming to visit on this lazy Sunday feels like going from 0 to 180. Honestly, I have not reached the 360 turn yet but pretty positive I will get there.

What have I done in a year? Some days it feels like absolutely nothing and other days it feels like I’m the mayor of this place changing some things for the better. (I will write more details about the progress of our community projects later on…not in the mood right now).

But overall, this has been one of the greatest challenging years of my life, and I didn’t expect anything less. And now into 2016 we go, and as I age with the year on the 31st I will be turning 24…yikes! But as the sun has aged me probably ten years down here, I may now look my age because I am still getting people asking me if I’m 18 or if I’m 40… so we will keep letting them guess.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and enjoy the cold for me as I’m sweating in 100 degree weather as we speak!

Start 2016 out with a bang! I will be with two of my best friends, Liz and Sara, and a bunch of my Peace Corps friends in Cusco J!

See you in a year or two!

Jamie

“Become friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.”