Feliz Día de Amor!

Nothing says love quite like waking up to the murder of a big fat pig at 5:00am, and then eating its skin for breakfast. It was actually delicious as gross as it sounds…and that’s about as farm fresh as you can get, am I right?

On that delicious note, Happy Valentines Day and Feliz Dia de Amor to all my loved ones! I feel extremely lucky this Valentine’s Day, and somewhat spoiled with all the love I have both here and in the US. This year I have experienced many new and different forms of what ‘love’ is, and it has been rather refreshing. And here they are:

Soul food 

Everyday people show their love here with food. It is what they do here; they plant, grow, harvest and raise everything they put on their plates and are willing to share it with anyone they feel a connection with. Although I am living in extreme poverty, I never have been hungry; in fact, I am eating more here then I was eating in the US. Food is a sign of love here and they will pile as much on your plate to make you a little bit more ‘gordita’ (chubby), which is a term of endearment here. My Peruvian mom has successfully achieved this, as I have become a little bit more ‘gordita’ due to the massive amounts of rice – thus the community knows I am loved!

As I walk the streets, many people invite me into their house for a plate of food or give me a bag of 20 mangos to take home with me. An example of the love behind soul food was exemplified at my host grandmother’s funeral reception. My mom, aunts, cousins and neighbors cooked for 6 days massive amounts of food and chichi de jora (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicha_de_jora) to serve in honor of the matron of their family. At the end of the mass, over 100 people or more came to the house in which my mother and aunts served them all in rapid amount of time, and never even sat down to eat a plate for themselves. When I asked my mom, about this selfless loving tradition she replied saying that her grandma still had so much love to give and the best way to do this was feeding those who knew and cared about her. Quite a beautiful thing if you ask me – Nourish the body, and nourish the soul of yourself and others.

They have so little material wise, but are so willing to share their abundant amount of love with others…even with a strange white girl like myself. Food is the symbol of human connectedness and love, they share it to foster their hopes and dreams for themselves, others and their community.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Virginia Woolf

Casual cow leg hanging outside my bathroom, eaten later on
Casual cow leg hanging outside my bathroom, eaten later on

The long distance love

It is possible, and a beautiful relationship 🙂 with friends and family. I have not lived at ‘home’ in Columbus, Ohio due to college and travels in over 5 years, but I have formed many close relationships with family and friends in which the continued connection abroad makes where I am feel like home. The love of all of these relationships continues to flourish despite the distance, and makes me feel grateful for the beautiful unbreakable dynamic of a strong friendship and strong family dynamic. I honestly feel spoiled with love by the amount of phonecalls, letters, packages, peanut butter, facetimes, messages, and vibers I receive from those back home. It honestly means a lot more then I probably let on when I hear from you. Thank you so much for your support, and I am sorry for the lack of communication on my part. I am lucky to have such patient friends and family, and I just love you guys all so f**king much! See some of you in a couple weeks on my quick trip back to the US!

“True friendship doesn’t need daily conversation, doesn’t always need togetherness, as long as the relationship lives in the heart, true friends will never part. ” (cheesy, but I like it)

The best fam around
The best family around
Mi amigas mejores
Mis amigas mejores

Peace Corps Love

The bond formed between volunteers is hard to describe. We are all very different and obviously peculiar people that have set out on these crazy journeys, each with our own beat of the drum. Despite the differing background, we all seem to have some type of moral goal or compass overlapping with one another. The friendships that have formed here in such a quick amount of time are what get me through some of my toughest days. It is a hard thing to describe, but I have shared things with some of my closest friends here that I have not shared with others. We also witness each others ups & downs, and transformative journey while being one another’s support system down here. The things we cannot describe to other people back home, are understood with a glance across the table here to another volunteer. And that is Peace Corps love.

“Friendship isn’t about who you’ve known the longest. It’s about who walked into your life and said ‘I’m here for you’ and proved it’.”

Peru 24 Volunteers, killing it
Peru 24 Volunteers, killing it

The Selfish Love

I am in love with myself. Weird I know, and rather pretentious? Maybe… My friends know I am already rather confident, sometimes overconfident if you get a couple drinks in me. But I have been discovering my many many flaws, insecurities, and inner-conflicts throughout my time here. And I love them, because I get to work on ‘my ideal self’. So far my time in Peace Corps is a ‘self-improving’ time. I get to analyze my character, morals, values and change them through the long hours of solitude and strange situations I find myself in. And I love who I am now, but I love the transformative process I am going through even more.

 “We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” – Max DePree

And that my friends is a little bit of refreshing love. Remember it is everywhere!

Happy 29th Anniversary to my crazy in-love parents, Big Jimmy and Little Susie! As I grow older, I can only hope I am lucky enough to find a relationship even a tad similar to yours! You are my heroes, big hugs and kisses flying across the seas to you!

Cutest couple around
Cutest couple around

Un abrazo,

J

Live with Less

First off, many apologies for the delay in updates to both family and friends . I am just completing my second month of service in site (December & January). The meaning behind the Peace Corps time warp is very real – meaning the days and weeks go by rather slow, but the month’s are flying by. I honestly do not know how to put into words the past two months. I have seen crazy things that have now turned into normal sights. I have felt strong emotions I have never felt before. I have fell in love with a family that selflessly opened up their home to me for 2 whole years. And I have re-confirmed my desire to serve for the next two years. It has been awhile since I wrote, so this may be a rather lengthy post, as a brain-dump for myself and for those back home who are interested to know what my life is like here. If you read until the end, you may be rewarded with some funnies.

To encompass my first two months in site (December and January) I wanted to share a journal entry from my 10th day in site that I re-read the other day and believe reflects my feelings here:

December 12, 2014 – “10 days into my service, and I am genuinely writing with a smile. These past first days in site have been everything from tiring, beautiful, annoying, humbling, eye-opening, self-evolving and more. There are times I feel on top of the world, and other moments I am lost and don’t even know how to express myself in a foreign language or what direction to walk on the 5 streets in my town.

Despite the ups and downs, I have already had times I know this experience is going to improve my character and self in ways I do not even know yet. I am finding joys in the most simple things, in which in the past I may have ignored or taken for granted. My host family and the children bring these feelings of gratitude and motivation almost everyday.

Another tough part comes in the actual volunteer work. I am my own boss in site , and have to be super self-motivating in choosing how to start this persevering climb to what hopefully becomes positive change in the community. This really is a day by day task, and you never know how the day is going to end up. I do not believe I have accomplished much yet, and hope the relationships with the community begin to flourish to begin a change.

  • NOTE: I do have community partners, but in terms of meeting Peace Corps goals it is up to me to set up and foster this working relationship

The things I was scared about coming to site such as having water only 2 days a week, bucket bathing, the heat, and food are just little points of concern now and are building the colorful background of the beautiful journey and complex painting of my peace corps experience.”

Two months later and I am still experiencing many of the same feelings. Although, I have started some of my projects with support from the community. Every day is different in its own beautiful way. Entonces…I will try to give you a general overview of what I do/what I have learned in my first two months…and I know I still have so much to learn.

The day to day: Let us begin with the morning schedule. I usually wake up around 5:00am everyday to the sound of the emisora (loud speaker) of my community playing music and stating the announcements of the day. The song ‘Mi Chilala’ will permanently be in my head for the rest of my life, due to its consistency waking me up and its constant playing on the radio throughout my day, if you want to experience with me feel free to set it as your alarm :): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1SzPjQmzAY

I roll out of my sandy bed (still have to desperately hand wash my sheets…do not judge me), and walk outside to my latrine (outside toilet) and answer my bodily needs. At this moment, I usually run into my mother and best friend in site, Marcela, who has already been up and at it for an hour caring to the several farm animals, getting food prepped for the day, cleaning the water bins (on the days we have water), and selflessly doing numerous other chores that makes the lives of the 8 other family members that much easier. She redefines the meaning of a housewife, into a badass and a smart one at that – along with the majority of the women here, they are some of the hardest and most resourceful workers I have ever seen.

My father, Juan, has already left for the chakras (farm), which right now he is attending to alone because my grandpa is in Lima visiting his other 12 children (my father is one of 13 children…and that is rather normal to find here…respect for my abuelita for birthing that many children and still going strong). He comes home at 9 to feed the horses, eats breakfast fast then heads to work in the blazing heat until 4. I am also very impressed about how he works so hard as well. My family grows camote (sweet potato), rice, corn, mangos and platanos depending on the season. We have three chakras, which I have yet to visit, but hopefully will soon. My family is resourceful in finding ways to make money off of this. Right now is corn harvesting, and they have been making chi-cha jora constantly (an alcohol drink made of fermented corn kernels, it is the drink of choice here and most time replaces water…describes a lot of the health problem as well).

After my 5:30 wake up, I either return to bed for another hour with earplugs or I am feeling up for it go and do yoga on my patio looking at the donkey that constantly is having weird anureism attacks. Either way, my mornings are my favorite part to the day, because it is a clean start and really the only set routine I have right now. My mom serves me breakfast, which usually consists of fresh eggs from our chickens and hot water that I put in my chai tea packets that many of you have been sending, thank you very much J .

From here, my afternoons differ from the day. I can either be found in the health post, walking the streets surveying people, prepping materials for my summer school classes, interviewing authorities or napping :). Even now when I am teaching classes three days a week, I always feel like things, people, situations, and myself are constantly changing. So now I will go into a little about the work aspect behind my position here. This past week I have been being both a health promoter (like a community nurse) and a self-made ‘profa’ – short for professor… both occupations I have no formal training in, and now have overwhelming respect for both of them for being in their shoes for a month or two.

As a peace corps volunteer, I am living alone in a small rural community of over 3,000 people in the lower desert of Piura. Most of the homes are made of dried palms and thatch, with dirt floors and what most of US people would consider close to camping. There is only water 2 days, and combined with the living conditions and poverty this leads many children to develop chronic malnutrition. Unlike NGO’s, Peace Corps is unique in which the volunteers actually work and LIVE in the community. Which means I am living with a beautiful family of 8, in one of these hard to describe outdoor-inside houses. So far, I can say my host family is the best part of my experience.

Although we have goals to meet and many directors to report back to in the main Peace Corps office (18 hours away), we essentially serve as our own boss in to how and by what terms we will fulfill our goals and also which secondary projects we want to take on. I am still dumbfound how the US government trusts me with this…

But FIRST, before we start any project the utmost important community diagnostic must be finished. Our whole first three months of service in site is dedicated to surveying, interviewing and analyzing the community in a sense to build a community vision for what is really needed and wanted in the community. From here I will begin, tackling two of my goals according to my findings.

Goal 1: Health prevention for rural children under three years old. The focus is on improving areas of growth and development, prevention of diseases and early stimulation.

  • I will take on a ‘Healthy Homes’ project in which I will work with 30+ mothers on recovering their children’s nutrition and training them on health practices. After beginning my surveys of the mothers of family, I can see this will be a large and challenging yet project, but is very needed to improve the community health.
  • Right now, I have been surveying mothers with children under 3 to analyze the health situation in comparison with the health post statistics. Once I have finished this I will have a clearer picture of how to implement the project, with whom, and where to get support.

Goal 2: Instilling healthy behaviors in teenagers, focusing on the prevention of sexual diseases and early pregnancy in teens through sexual education.

  • I will continue the program the past volunteer implemented of PEPS/Pasos Adelante, in which you train teenagers to be advocates of healthy behaviors and train other teenagers as well.

Along with our main goal projects, we are encouraged to start up secondary and complementary projects as needed or wanted. I have started teaching my ‘World Map’ classes, consisting of English, geography, culture, and environment lessons. Each week we travel to a different country, and learn about the culture, geography and I somehow incorporate English into it as well. Overall, they are learning a lot about the world, and their place in it! At the end, we are going to paint a world map mural on the high-school wall to continue learning the importance of being cultural aware, even when you are in a small campo town.

This is my first project and it has been a blast. Overall, I have two classes ranging in ages from 7-12 years old with 53 students in total. I have never used so much patience in my life, but also have never experienced the wonderful creativity behind children in a classroom. This week I taught yoga to the students, and next week my friend is going to come teach the Samba for Brazil. And through all of this they are learning countries they have never seen/heard of before, along with basic English skills!

Beyond work, my social life here consists of my host family, town children and the health post workers. My best friend is site is my host mom, Marcela, and my little sister Ariana (I prefer to call her Ari). I do feel like a celebrity from time to time, as I walk the streets and they yell your name and run up to you to hug you. When the little kids run up to you screaming your name, that’s when your like ‘Alright, hell ya, let’s do something good for these cool kiddos.” Since I am working in collaboration with the health post, I consider many of the workers to be my friends as well. They threw us a birthday party the other day, and are always making me laugh. They are all very supportive and good-hearted people.

Overall, I am very content in what I am doing and where I am living at this point in my life. There are days I feel lost, and feel like I wish I had the old google alerts of when I had my next meeting, instead of knocking and yelling on the door of the local municipality leaders to hand over a solicitud for materials. But then I remember those mundane hours, and cherish the sweaty walks from house to house in order to have a simple meeting take place next week. I have already learned so much here, and have so much more to absorb. I am constantly learning language, culture, social and work related lessons, from everyone in the community. And that is all from my side of world :), I will try to write sooner next time!

But to end on a funny note…here are awkward moments that happen to me in everyday life for your amusement:

  1. When I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (and there have been numerous nights I have been running back and forth), I have to walk through my parents room…thus waking them and the baby up. I have yet to use the bucket they gave me to prevent this.
  2. This led to my host mom telling my regional coordinator on his site visit that I cannot eat lentils or drink milk because she has picked up what makes me run to the bathroom…thanks mama marcela
  3. The baby bull and I our in a stand-off war. Last week, I entered the house alone and there he was standing in our kitchen staring me down. He ran in circles and kept trying to enter and charge at me. This has now happened 3 times with me. We shall see who the winner is in the coming months.
  4. We lost our puppy during the festival of negritos and haven’t been able to find it since…we think our neighbors may awkwardly have it
    • This negritos dance I speak of consists of men wearing scaring masks and talking in high voices, in which they scared the shit out of me 2 times.
  5. All our ducklings randomly died one day…no explanation.
  6. Last week, my mom revealed she thought I was 33 this whole time (I am 23)… This is confusing hence I had my birthday here in which we celebrated and have had numerous conversations on how we are exactly ten years apart (she is 34).
  7. On that note… I don’t think I ever shared that when I arrived to site my little 7 year old sister, Ariana, I asked my sister how old she thought I was and she said ‘44’…. Maybe the sun is really aging my skin…who knows.
  8. I have seen a large amount of people’s private parts while walk the streets due to the fact that they squat to pee and poop about anywhere…this is due to the lack of water and sanitation systems (WASH we need you here).
  9. I’ve seen 2 cows carcasses being gutted on the side of the street, and was invited to watch it. I partook for about a minute and excused myself. Surprisingly, I am still a heavy meat-eater after that appalling site.
  10. At events, I am usually the tallest women there and sometimes the tallest person. This is the first time I have ever been in this position, and man do I feel awkward.
  11. To have people answer their doors here, I have become an expert at the custom of knocking (with a coin is more effective) accompanied with yelling ‘ SENO’ for five minutes until they come to the door. I no longer feel ridiculous doing this.
  12. I constantly a film of sweat on my skin, and seem to be the only person who thinks it is necessary to drink water.
  13. Who knows what culturally inappropriate things I have said and or done…but one day hopefully I will know and figure it out, and apologize for my wrong doings to those I have offended!

Also, THANK THANK THANK YOU!! To everyone who has sent me love down here in Peru from cards, photos to packages, everything has been so beautiful and I appreciate it all! I miss you all!

Voy y vengo 🙂

Jamie Lane

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