8 months in Peru. 5 months into service in my small community in the Northern Desert of Peru. September, October, November, December, January, February, March and April…gone. Time really does fly, even when you are working within the hora peruana. As I look back on my past months, I guiltily feel like I have not accomplished that much…
Some times I feel on top of the world, and some times I feel as low as the dirt that is collecting on my skin. And these contradicting feelings can happen within the same hour. There are days I am running around getting shit done, and other days where I can’t get anything done besides sweeping the mouse shit out of my room. But I am learning to trust this odd spiral of a journey, the failures and the unknowns, even when I do not understand it…which is 99% of the time.
It is true what that cheesy Peace Corps slogan says, that it is “the toughest job you will ever love”. And it is the toughest because it goes far beyond a ‘job’; it is so much more than that. It is a life experience that is really hard to describe and encompass all the emotions, challenges, successes, tears, smiles, relationships and situations to those back home and even to those in the community you are serving in. But that is part of why I do love it, because this is such a unique learning and growing experience. The Peace Corps effect is an unspoken secret. People back home and in my community may think they understand what I am doing and experiencing, but really there are depths and bureaus of this ‘job’ that I don’t even know yet how they may be affecting me.
The tough side of the job does come with so many moments of failure, but these come with small successes. The Peace Corps is an experience in which many of your accomplishments go unseen. And many of these accomplishments will only be seen or experienced by you, and no one else will acknowledge them. I have not made any huge difference in my community, but there are little successes I try to hold close and remember when I am feeling lost or like a failure in both work and life.
What are these small successes?
When I am able to facilitate 3 hour sessions over various self-improving themes with a group of teenagers and have them share feelings they may never have told anyone else. Even if they do it bashfully and in the quietest voice, they shared with us.
When I look around at the 50 teens that are actively participating in the ‘Steps Forward’ project. And feel inspired by the teens that participated with the past volunteer, and see how ambitiously they are helping in the sessions and hope I can have this same outcome :).
When I can walk into my district municipality and the authorities are coming up to me rather than being ignored and waiting for hours, and giving me their responses to projects (even if it is not the response I would like), and trying to figure out a way we can still work together.
When a mom chases me down the street asking me to come over to help her make the doll she forgot to finish during the toy session during Christmas. She may be a little delayed, but rather later than never.
When my host mom consecutively puts the micronutrient powder in Bianca’s food to help improve her growth and development.
When my little sister chooses to drink boiled water rather than drinking chi-cha de jora, after explaining to her 100 times the importance of hydration.
When I am not treated as an outsider at a party, and people aren’t running to go get me a seat anymore. This used to happen way to much, and now it is more rare and it feels good to be treated normal.
When I feel the overwhelming love I have developed for my host family, and am reminded how beautiful human relationships are in any culture and also my ability to adapt to situations I never imagined.
When two teenage girls tell me that they started doing yoga on their own, after the session I did in their gym class. And when I walk in on my little brother practicing how to spin a basketball on his finger after I showed him with proudly my Viking Magic skills.
When I make my little 8 month year old sister giggle and when she reaches her little chubby arms to me when I come home.
When the kids in the pen-pal program run up to me on the street and say they have another drawing they want to send their friend.
When I see my neighbors on the corner have stopped burning their excessive amount of trash on the street, ever since we started the cleanup campaign.
When my brother comes home with plastic bottles he found in the street to recycle.
When I facilitate a meeting or conversation with different members from the main institutions in support of the cleanup campaign, and yield community participation from all of them and within a week!
When I finally bought a guitar, something that has been on my bucket list for far too long. And taking on the challenge to learn it upside down due to my emaciated ring finger.
With these successes though there have been many many failures…far too long of a list to share. But without failure, there is no success. Yes, they may seem very little and insignificant to many – but they add up and lead me through the day, week, month and ultimately my service.
So as I begin my 9th month in Peru (the term of a pregnancy…scary), I hope I have built a foundation to advance a bit quicker in the coming months. In April, I started up two projects and hope to start more. Here is a little work overview for those interested:
- The ‘Pasos Adelante’ or ‘Steps Forward’ project started last week and will continue for the rest of school year. I will be working directly with a group of 13 teenagers, and supporting a group of 26 others in themes ranging from self-esteem, alcohol and drugs prevention, gender equality and sexual education. The main goals are to empower these teens while also preventing teenage pregnancy through informative yet fun and participative sessions. After receiving 10 sessions, they will then turn around and give replicas of these sessions to their own classrooms building leadership skills and learning important life-skills and lessons. The past volunteer was very successful in her work within this project, and I have the lucky advantage of having the help of the teens she worked with by having them help as co-facilitators within the sessions. Overall, I am working with 49 youth within this project in collaboration numerous institutions and programs…something I have never done. But after the first successful session, I am rather excited to see how they will progress.
- A couple days before Earth day (April 22nd) I proposed we do a cleanup to my main community partner. She then elaborated and thought of a whole campaign in which we can incorporate the municipality, high-school and health post to clean up the streets, large construction depositories and organize recycling. The main goals are to better the environment but also prevent common illnesses such as respiratory infections that are caused by the common practice of burning of trash, and also to prevent Dengue that is rapidly spreading through the north of Peru. We quickly wrote the project plan with all institutions, and began the campaign last Saturday. It did not go perfectly, but it went and we cleaned up a good amount of streets. We are going to continue this Saturday and throughout the month of May. We hope it will turn into a year long initiative and eventually form a trash pickup system, and if that goes well a recycling system.
- I am also acting in numerous support roles in the school. I am supporting the English teacher in classes, and also helping out with gym classes by teaching yoga when needed. I also started up a pen-pal program with the 2nd graders here and with my elementary school back home. They are crazy kids who stand on tables and eat pasta with their pencils, but are constantly showering me with hugs and are very excited to have an American friend. Furthermore, we finally received the materials to paint the World Map Mural from the summer classes I taught and will be doing this over the July holiday. And, I also hope to revive the library projects the past volunteer started this month as well, and potentially find donated musical instruments for the students.
- I am also a support in the health –post and hope to be starting a project with malnourished children with their moms in the coming months. I was going to start it this month, but more foundation needs to be laid out before I jump into it.
There may be a lot of ‘I’ in these explanations, but I am not doing any of this alone or it would be impossible. I am always working with community partners from the health-post, high school, municipality or other social programs to reach community goals. If I did it alone, it would be ten times harder and not nearly as successful.
On another note, I find myself weirdly turning into a little campesina. I eat mostly all meat with my hands now. I sleep like a baby after seeing two mice run across my bedroom floor. I sweat like a monkey, and I think more than all the Peruvians. Speaking of monkey sweat, I think I eat 4 bananas a day (raw, fried, boiled or mashed). When I don’t have toilet paper, I comfortably use notebook paper. Some days, I do not force flush to save the water for more important activities such as bucket-bathing. I find myself believing some of their ‘creencias’ or myths… but I will never believe the one where they say you get sick from looking at the moon to long. I have not wore make-up or done my hair in god knows how long. Sunblock and mosquito repellent are my go-to cosmetics. I found myself preferring a bucket bath to a shower the other day when I had the option of running water. Mosquito bites are my new skin accessory. Also flys, are more attracted to me than men now-a-days. My other fellow campesina near by, Annie, and I traveled to our other friends, Lauras site. Her site is a bit more developed and as we sat in the meeting learning about community banks with her Peruvian members, all the flies were swarming us and no-one else…and we realized we desperately needed to bathe. … How attractive do I sound?
Other happenings in April:
- My little baby sister Bianca had an ‘emergency baptism,’ meaning she has been sick on and off for a while so my parents thought a possible cure was to start her Catholicism earlier rather than later. She is the most beautiful little baby I ever did see. We traveled to the district church together in the back of a pick-up truck, and returned to celebrate with family and friends afterward. My parents also sold their last pig to get her medicine and proper treatment.
- We celebrated both my sisters birthdays that fall on the 29th and 30th of April, with a coupous. What’s a coupous? When they bury a turkey, duck and chicken surrounded by sweet potatoes and plantains underneath the ground and cover it with charcoal to cook all day. They then unbury and we eat, it was amazingly delicious. My best friend, Annie and I baked a cake for them and we danced with my uncles and their friends all night. And by all night I mean 10 pm, which is far past our normal bedtime.
- I am living with two little mice lovers. They poop a lot. I do not know when or how they come in to do this but they do leave plenty of markings.
- My parents kindly put a door on my outdoor bucket bathing station, that was asked for by my regional coordinator due to ‘Peace Corps Policy’. I actually didn’t really mind the curtain, and now kind of want it back after being stuck inside of the bucket bathing area next to the chicken coop for 45 minutes, until my grandma finally came out to use the latrine next door and heard me banging for help. And just chuckled and continues to remind me how to close it without locking myself in.
- My department, Piura, is on a high emergency warning for Dengue, a deadly disease carried by mosquitoes. Other volunteers have had cases in their sites in which people are dying from it. So now I am religiously applying DEET every couple hours.
- Unfortunately, a young 13-year-old girl took her life in my site this past month. It was very upsetting to her family, the students, and the whole community. We walked her casket from the church to the district capital cemetery about 1 ½ hours away by foot. This is my first time partaking in a ceremony like this, and although the circumstances are extremely sad, it was also touching to see how much this girl had affected the community and how they all came together to say goodbye. Please everyone keep her family and friends in your prayers.
I continuously feel like I am learning more from the people in my community than I am teaching them. Which is cliché, but oh so true. And I hope I can make somewhat of an impact on these people, that they are making on me.
I know these next couple months will bring some moments of homesickness. I honestly have not been too homesick yet, but now I know I will be missing some of my favorite things as the American summer months approach. It will be my first summer not going to Lakeside (my favorite place in the world), spending time on the boat, going on unknown advertures, weekend trips with my best friends, summer concerts/live-music, and good summer brews. But I have to remember, those memories will always be able to be made again when I am back, and I am lucky enough to have enjoyed them. And I do live in a climate of ‘eternal sun’ and an endless summer, and am making unforgettable memories with unbelievable friends and family here. And am super happy to announce my family with be coming to visit at the end of August, and my best friends will be coming for my birthday/New Years Eve in December!
And please continue with sending the love from home. It has been amazing getting surprise packages and letters from many of you, and really helps with me not feeling so disconnected from the life back home I do truly love. THANK YOU TO THE MOON AND BACK!
I still have so much to learn, do, see, and experience. And glad I still have 19 months to take advantage of it, and continue to go on this crazy spirally road of adventure.