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.
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!
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 :)).
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.
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.
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)!
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.
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.
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.