Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All Kinds of Excitement

Hey Everyone,

I know it's been ages since I last updated this blog, but I promise I have some good stories to make up for it.

First, in March, Peace Corps celebrated our 50th anniversary. In 1961 President Kennedy signed the Peace Corps Act and gave the lead to Sargent Shriver (who also passed away this year) who made it one of the most unique and successful government agencies in history. To celebrate these 50 years of helping other countries and inter-cultural exchange, the US Ambassador threw a party at her residence for some 90 or so volunteers, our Peruvian counterparts, foreign and US diplomats, Peruvian government officials, and other random folks. It was a really ritzy event and I met lots of interesting people. Even the former president, Alejandro Toledo, and the current first lady were present! It was a good time and fun was had by all!

Back in site, I have begun working with a counterpart to create a group of youth leaders. Our goal is to form a group of teenagers who take leadership roles within their communities and actively participate within the communities. It's been getting off to kind of a slow start, but such is the way business is conducted in Peru. After enduring countless cancelled meetings, no-shows, and other bumps, we are finally working with a group of kids. I hope to get them designing and implementing their own community projects very soon.

I have also continued teaching English classes. The English classes are my favorite part of my job. The kids earnestly want to learn English and I feel it's the one area where I have expertise (take that everyone who has ever called me a 'Grammar Nazi'!) However, rather than teaching my own independent classes, I have partnered with the English teachers in the schools to offer the kids a focused complement to their classes. I've also introduced some neat learning techniques into the classroom. I've been learning Arabic on Rosetta Stone and it inspired me to come up with some creative lessons that the kids love. English is definitely my favorite activity here.

In even more exciting news: I got mugged! It's OK though because I beat-up the muggers and got my stuff back. It all happened when I was walking down the street in a pretty bad area of Lima. I didn't know it was a bad area and I wanted to get to know the city so I thought a walk would be fun, little did I know... I sensed a guy coming up behind me to my right and then his friends to my left and immediately behind me. I tried to evade them by making a sharp turn to into the street, but they jumped on me and one of them hit me in the nose, which stunned me. They got me on the ground and tried going through my pockets. At this point I was pretty stunned and just trying to keep them from getting my stuff. One guy kept saying "Saca la pistola! Saca la pistola!" but when nobody showed me a gun, and I hadn't been stabbed, I decided they didn't have any weapons. That's when I decided to fight. I started swinging my arms and hit one guy in the face with my elbow. Then I head-butted another. They weren't very big so I was able to drag them into the street where I was hoping a car would hit us and hurt them more than me.

They eventually got off me and when I checked for my stuff I noticed that my cell phone was missing. I looked at them and told them to give it back to me. They refused so I started running after them and screaming. They ran away down an alley. I came up to a couple who had picked up some pieces of wood. One guy threw the wood at me but I was able to just knock it away. Another guy started swinging the wood, but I could tell he was too weak to handle it properly so I started towards him and screamed in my craziest angriest voice that I was going to murder him. I guess he believed me because he took my phone out of his pocket and threw it to me. Then some people came out and helped me find a cab.

I ended up with nothing more than a bloody nose and some scraps on my arm and shoulder, but I got everything back! It was pretty exciting to get attacked by 6 Peruvians and then turn the tables on them. I bet that's the last time they mess with a gringo!

Besides getting mugged, life's been pretty chill down here. We're going into Winter now so it's getting colder, but it's not really that cold at all. I'll try to be better about updating this blog in the future.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

A New Year and Lots of Work

Well it's been less than a month since my last update, so I consider that being on top of things. The new year has been great so far. I started giving English classes, began a summer school project, my movie nights are getting bigger, and I've met lots of people who want to work with me. On top of all this, my dad got promoted from librarian to Sub-Director for Social Development for my city, so now I have a great connection in the Municipality.
The mayor of my town began his second term on January 1st. With the new term, every in the Municipality and the city seemed to be energized and ready to get down to work. This was great for me and my work.
The mayor asked me to speak at a flag-raising ceremony one morning. The ceremony took part in the central plaza and I got up and spoke for a few minutes in front of everyone. It was a really good opportunity to further my work in the town, because a lot of people knew that a gringo was in town, but didn't know who I was or what I was doing. After I spoke, the provincial governor, a group of artisans, and a group of university students who work with youth all came up to me and expressed interest in working together. I was very fortunate to have this experience, because all though I thought I had already met a lot of people and made a lot of connections, I saw that there were still more people to work with.
Now that my dad is the Sub-Director for Social Development, he has a lot more power to get things done and can help me more with my projects. The first big project we are working on is a Summer school (remember it's Summer down here in the Southern Hemisphere) project for children in one of the poorer neighborhoods of my city - Villa el Milagro.
I am working with an English teacher, Judy, from Villa el Milagro. She is fantastic and has a lot of energy. We want to have four youth groups. One group that does theater, one for art, one for dance, and one for folklore music. We have already started the theater group and now we are collecting kids for the other three groups. I bought some origami paper the other day and learned how to make a paper crane, so I want to do that and a recycled art project with the art group. I'm not too excited about the dance group, mainly because I am a terrible dancer, but Judy assures me that she is a fabulous dancer. The folklore group will be fun. We are trying to get instruments now.
I am also teaching English classes. I have mixed feelings about these classes. On one hand, I feel that English is one of the most effective, sustainable ways I can help my community. On the other hand, I could easily devote all of my time to teaching English, because it is what everyone wants, and ignore other avenues of youth development. This tension became painfully obvious my first class, when 40 students showed up. The next class, 60 showed up. And that's just in the morning section. I also have an afternoon section which is only for teenagers. In that class I have 15 students.
I enjoy teaching the classes, but the morning class, which is 11 and under, can get a little hectic. All the kids are really enthusiastic about learning English so they each ask a million questions. This makes it impossible to attend to all the kids appropriately. I don't want to make two classes because I don't want to devote all of my time to teaching English, so I think I am going to worry less about teaching English in the morning class and just do fun games and projects that involve English. This way, the kids will be more manageable and will learn a little English at the same time.
My afternoon class is great. There are 15 students between the ages of 13 and 18. It is obvious that they really want to learn English and they work hard. I look back at my childhood and realize that if someone was offering Spanish classes for free in my neighborhood during Summer vacation, I would never have gone. But these kids show up on time, pay attention in class, and are actually excited to get homework. I couldn't imagine that happening in the States. These contrasts between American society and that of other countries really makes me wonder what the future holds for The United States.
My movie nights are also going really well. We have moved them from the library to the Municipality (City Hall) because the audiences were getting too big. On the last movie night, we showed Pan's Labyrinth. The kids seemed to like it a lot. However, all did not go according to plan. We had some last minute technical glitches. After running around the city looking for the appropriate equipment, I finally got the movie going (albeit half an hour late).
Besides the Summer school, English classes, and movie nights, I am also going to start working on a community center for youth. I have met a man who wants to work with me and we are going to start planning this week. I'm still not sure if our visions line-up exactly, but that's what planning is for, so I'll see.
I also want to find a way to sell my mom's artisan crafts in the United States and other markets. She makes really pretty, good quality wallets, hand bags, and other accessories, but the local market doesn't offer much potential. I'm thinking about just starting a blog to showcase the goods and take orders. I'll keep everyone updated on that as well.
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Peruvian X-Mas

It sure has been a while since I wrote anything here. It seems that the Christmas season is just as busy down here as it is in the States. I finally found a moment to sit down and write something, so here it is.
It's a bit strange for me to decorate a Christmas tree in 80 degree weather. But I can't say that I would want the blizzard that just dumped 30 inches of snow back in the States. Meteorological misgivings aside, my Peruvian Christmas was very fun. We decorated the house and at midnight ate a dinner of pork, mashed sweet potatoes, and unmashed regular potatoes (Did I mention that potatoes are big in Peru?). Then we went to my aunt's house and sat and talked with some visiting family for a couple of hours.
For someone who never had a big family and always downplayed Christmases, this was pretty fun. I can't think of any awfully alien Christmas traditions, but there is one that was noteworthy. It's called a chocolatada.
A chocolatada is put on by a community, school, parents group, church group, or anybody who loves chocolate and wants to do some good. Usually it takes place in a school with economically disadvantaged kids. The group will invite anywhere from 50 to a few hundred kids. Then they bring toys, food, and, of course, hot chocolate! They pass out the toys and food to the kids and then give them their own cup of hot chocolate. Usually there is some kind of show to entertain the little ones. The shows often consist of middle-aged women in skin tight spandex dancing to Christmas songs and playing games with the kids. I also formed part of the entertainment for the kids. I couldn't go more than 3 minutes without some 8 year old asking me to lift him up and spin him around.
I went to about 5 chocolatadas and I never want to see hot chocolate again. Well at least until next Christmas.
After the new year I am going to start giving English classes to the kids in the community. I didn't do this originally because I was focusing on my health classes, but now those are over and I need to start something else. I am also going to start planning my main project with my dad.
The municipality is building a new library in the central plaza of my town. It will be on the second floor of a house where Pedro Ruiz Gallo, a Peruvian pilot and war hero, was born. My dad (the librarian) and got the idea of putting a cultural/youth center in there too. This would be a place where kids could come learn instruments, join a book club, play chess, get help with homework, or just relax with their peers. It would be a central hub for the youth in the community. Once it is in place, we want to have monthly events put on by the kids. These would be poetry recitals, musical presentations, plays, art shows, sporting events, etc.
I'm really excited about the prospects of this new project. I think it will give the kids something to do and get them more involved in their community. I'll keep everyone posted on the progress.
That's all from me for now. I'll try not to let another 2 months pass without an update.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Weddings, Archeologists from Utah, Health Convention

Why hello there, friends! It's time for another on-the-ground report from Peru! The land of the Cuy. I have had some pretty amazing experiences over the past few weeks. I'll tell you about them:

First, I attended my first wedding ever. It was fitting that it should be a Peruvian wedding, because I don't think anything could top it. The bride was the host sister of one of the volunteers in my deparment. She became kinda pregnant one day and, well, being good Catholics and such, decided to get married. They were a really sweet couple and they looked good together.

After they signed the necessary legal documents at the municipality, we all left in the back of a pick-up truck to go the party. The party was at the house of the bride and my friend. Her house is quite different than mine. Whereas I have electricity, running water, an indoor toilet, she has neither of those things. It was good to see her situation, and although she couldn't be happier at her site, I felt lucky to have what I do at mine.

Peruvians are very convivial people. I chatted with one of the groom's relatives for a while before the party started. He told me about the crops that his family plants and how long it took him to get to the party (Peruvians love small talk). Then everything got under way. The bride and groom arrived, performed the perfunctory dances with family and friends (Myself and other volunteers were invited to dance with them, being the honorary gringos and all, but my friends declined, and I wasn't listening when the MC asked us).

Then came the food. We ate some pretty good lamb and tamal for the first course. Then the specialty of the north of Peru, goat was served for the main course. I devoured all of this food and a guest bought an Inka Cola (bubble gum flavored soda - I think I'm the only volunteer who considers it delicious) for the other 5 gringos and myself.

Once we ate, the chelas (cervezas) came out. We all danced, drank, and laughed for a good 7 hours until about 5AM. That's when the fights broke out. Some friends and I watched from the safety of a bedroom as the groom and one of his friends exchanged punches in the house, two groups of drunk guys rumbled outside, and a new mom beat down a guy with an empty beer bottle in one hand and her baby in the other. Though there was some blood, I don't think anyone got seriously hurt and I awoke a couple of hours later to find a few of the guys who had been fighting drinking champagne and playing guitar on the front porch. All-in-all, it was a great first wedding for me.

A few days later (or before; I can't really remember. The days just kinda blur together.) My dad mentioned that he had met some archeologists from the University of Utah who were digging around some ruins just outside of my site. Him and I went there to the ruins the next day to say "hi." The ruins are of a church built about 100 years ago. They sit right on the edge of the beach about 100 meters from the ocean. The church was built on top of an older structure laid down by Spanish colonists. The colonists in-turn built their structure over that of one of the Mochica people. The Mochica leaved in this area before the Inca and their language is still spoken by some native Etenanos (Ciudad Eten Native = Etenano).

It was interesting to see some gringos in my site and speak English. There are about 8 of them here for the semester and they will be returning in December. I'll probably go visit them again, because they are finding some really interesting stuff. They uncovered about 6 grave sites and still have lots more digging to do.

To top off my interesting couple of weeks, I got to attend a conference of the regional health department and help give a PowerPoint presentation (I hate PowerPoint, but that's how they do things here so I had to go along) on the work that my community partners and I are doing.

To my delight, the meeting took place at a Lebanese restaraunt! Unfortunately (predictably) we were served regular Peruvian fare, but I asked the owner, and he told me that they do indeed serve Lebanese food. I will definitely be returning to try it out.

My two partners, Rebeca, the obstetrician, and Glenny, the professora, have been working on health issues in the schools here for the past 3 years. I was really lucky to inheret such a strong project from them and the previous volunteers with whom they have been working.

We spent all day yesterday putting together the presentation. It was split into three sections. Rebeca spoke first about the past projects they have been doing over the years. They entailed an artisan class for young mothers, a group of mothers who made papa rellenas (a dumpling-like dish) to sell, and a student march to mark World AIDS Day (December 1st if you're wondering). Then Glenny took over and spoke about some of the health classes they have been giving various themes like AIDS, teen pregnancy, and mental health/self-esteem issues. I finished it off by talking about our latest project that will combine all of the past themes and try to measure the how much the kids have learned through a serious of surveys.

I actually like speaking infront of large groups of people. I find that my Spanish is better when I have to project my voice and keep the attention of an audience. There were about 50 nurses and obstetricians and I had a lot of fun speaking to them. Because some of them had worked with other volunteers, they knew about the Peace Corps and were more than welcoming to me. This experience really made me grateful for what I get to do down here in Peru. These people work everyday with health issues in often dire conditions and here I am, some 23 year old kid who studied polisci in college and has no professional public health training, let alone in a developing country. Yet, they wanted to hear what I had to say and treated me as an equal in their field.

It's so cool meeting new people and living in a completely different culture. I'm extremely lucky to get an opportunity like this and I wish everyone could do it.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

16-10-10 Fun in Cayalti

It's been going pretty well down here in Lambayeque, Peru. The other day the high school at which I worked held a big event for our health promoters who won a contest in which they presented a skit on the dangers of teen pregnancy (see earlier posts). The event was a huge success and ended with the adults drinking sangria in the school's library (any excuse to have a drink in Peru). The celebrity who was connected to the contest, the 16 year old Peruvian singing sensation Kevin, was also in attendance. He sang a nice little song about not getting pregnant and all the girls fell into hysterics and swooned. A hundred hormonal little girls literally plowed over me as they rushed Kevin for his autograph. I guess the only gringo in town just doesn't cut it for them anymore. I also met a TV producer who interviewed us and said he would like to come back to my town to document an upcoming recycling project I have in mind for the kids. The event was really fun and got me excited to do more at the school.

The day after that, I traveled up to Zaña and Cayalti to help to fellow volunteers with a job/college fair they held for the kids up their way. I had been to these two towns before on an earlier visit while I was still in training and it was nice to go back and see the volunteers up there and their host families. I had to take a 20 minute car ride to Chiclayo and then take a combi (which is like a little van that they pack to the brim with people. I got a nice seat up front so I was relatively comfortable.) for the hour-long ride up to Cayalti.

Something funny happened when I first got on the combi. As I approached it a nice older lady welcomed me and helped me with some of my things. For some reason I thought she was the cobrador (which is the person who stands in the van with the passengers and collects their money and calls the stops) even though I have never seen a elderly female cobrador. So I wasn't thinking and after we had a conversation about where I was from and what I was doing in Peru, I went to sit up front. After a couple of minutes I noticed that some people had given her money. For some reason, although they never ask for the money up front, I thought she was the cobrador and that she was collecting our money. The trip cost S./3.50 (about $1.25) so I thought I would give her S./5.50 and get a nice shiney S./2.00 piece back. Well as most of you have probably figured out, she wasn't the cobrador and was actually just asking for money. After I gave her my money I realized that I made a mistake and had to awkwardly ask her for the 5 soles that I had just given her. I figured I should let her keep the 50 cents. She understood and gave it back and wished me luck on my trip.

I finally got to Cayalti and Zaña and the fair that my friends put on was a huge success. They really worked hard to get it down and it showed. A ton of universities and institutes came in to present the 500 kids or show who showed up with their options for the future. After talking with some of the kids I think this was the first time some of them had actually thought about what to do after high school. It was nice talking to them because I could relate to that overwhelming feeling of cluelessness that just about all high school seniors face.

This week coming up I have my host mom's birthday and a visit from some of the office personnel from Lima. I'll also be planning a series of classes about sexual and mental health for the young ones. I'll keep everyone updated on how all of that goes.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Teen Pregnancy Play

I have already written a bit about the teen pregnancy classes we have been giving. I also wrote about the competition that our high school health promoters won a couple of weeks ago. Well this past weekend they had another competition. The NGO Prenatal, which works to combat teen pregnancy in Peru, held a competition in which high school students would act out skits about teen pregnancy.

Our students decided to do a skit about a teenage girl who gets pregnant and the drama that ensues. It was a really great skit and the kids had a lot of fun. Four other high schools participated and they all did great. Well one was kind of weird, it ended with a clown on stilts and a balloon-dance party. But the others were really on point.

There was an intermission in which this 16 year old kid named Kevin sang a song about teen pregnancy. Kevin's some kind of national celebrity. Apparently he was on the Peruvian Micky Mouse Club and all the high school chicks went crazy when he sang. It was pretty funny.

Our kids ended up winning and now they get to go on a retreat to a resort-type place with a pool and everything. I think I even get to tag along which should be fun.


Sex, Sex, and more SEX

When I first applied to the Peace Corps, I said I would do anything and go anywhere. Well that was a bit of a fib. I knew that I didn't want to teach kids about sex. It's not that I have anything against little kids or sex, I just always hated sitting through those health classes back in middle school. I always felt like we were taking part in some politically mandated class that forced the teachers to talk about something they didn't want to get into.

Well as luck would have it, one of the first projects I get to do is a series of sex-ed classes! I actually chose to do this. My two best community partners are a teacher and an obstetrician and it seemed like a natural fit to do these talks. And the kids sure do need it.

Our first step was to find out how much the kids knew about basic sexual health. I made a one page survey with questions about STI's, pregnancy, and a couple of very detailed anatomical drawings. Then I passed out the surveys to 9th and 10th graders. The results were pretty bad. Most of the boys thought the anus was the vagina and the girls couldn't identify a scrotum to save their lives. They also thought that diabetes was an STI and that a condom can protect against infection 100% of the time.

As reluctant as I was to get into sexual education back in the States, I have really enjoyed working on this project so far. It is obviously something the kids need desperately and I have awesome resources in my two community partners so there is no excuse not to do it. Our next step is to take the information we gained from the surveys and make some lesson plans to teach these kids a thing or two about their bodies. Wish me luck!