I EXPOFERIA DE EMPRENDIMIENTO EMPRESARIAL

My biggest (and my only real) project in Zaña has been a series of classes to promote entrepreneurship, concluding with a business plan competition. I briefly wrote about it here.  It started in June/July when a socio* approached me and another teacher in the high school with a project idea. The objectives behind the project were to have the students learn something about business and entrepreneurship and to better their lives by giving them an idea of self-employment, with the incentives of scholarship and prize money. In our district of Zaña there are not many students who have the opportunity to continue their studies after high school, for a mixture of lack of financial resources and lack of motivation. Because of this, we thought that our incentives would be motivating.

I learned a lot throughout the 12 weeks of the course and we managed to overcome several hiccups along the way. Honestly, I was frustrated most of the time with the project and had really, really, really, very low expectations for the project fair. In the beginning, there wasn’t much interest amongst the students.  When we started, it was an after school program and we had about 20 regular students attending.  Then, because my socio felt we needed more participants for the competition, we rearranged the schedule and held classes during the last hour of school on Mondays.  Like that is probably the worst possible hour of the week, other than maybe Friday afternoon.  It seemed like we were doomed from the beginning.  Anyways, so, throughout the course a lot of the students were forced to attend the class because it was now substituting for their normal Monday afternoon period.

It was an awful feeling for weeks to know I was the reason these kids were sitting there in the auditorium, bored out of their minds. I would look at their faces while teaching and know that that seat, in that auditorium, half-listening to me drone on about something in broken Spanish, was the last place they wanted to be ever. And their attitude didn’t change much when my socios gave the classes, except they maybe could understand their Spanish better.

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SO EXCITED to learn

I’ll admit, there were several boring classes that were given. And there were several poorly given classes. We struggled to capture their attention. We were working with between 60 and 80 students, and making a class dynamic for that many people is incredibly hard. But nonetheless, one class, I decided we weren’t going to lecture. I bought large pieces of paper for each group, brought makers and colored pencils, drew my own example, and briefly explained logos and slogans. Then, we gave the students free time for the rest of the class to draw and develop their own logos and slogans. And all of a sudden their attitudes changed.

 

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sketching out their logo

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everyone working hard!

From that point on, we could see that some groups were actually motivated and excited to participate, but our work had really yet to be begin. We finished the classes and spent a lot of time tutoring the students and getting their business plans ready for competition day, which proved to be the real challenge. It took a lot of encouragement and a lot of pushing and a lot of constantly checking on what each group was doing, mainly from my socia Profesora Luz María, to complete the projects.

There were days that Luz and I spent basically the entire day working with groups. At one point, Luz and I actually told several teams to bring in materials so that we could physically help them with, as in do, their project. The next day, they didn’t bring in their materials. And that’s pretty much how it always went. Even up until 11 pm the night before the competition we were all answering phone calls and texts from students about what to do and how to complete certain parts of the business plan. OR just…what do we need for tomorrow??? It was like the past 12 weeks of explaining what would be evaluated during the competition hadn’t even happened!  I had really low expectations walking into the high school on November 25, 2016.

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my banner promoting the EXPO FERIA with the evaluation criteria- this was up for like two full weeks but somehow no one bothered to read the evaluation sheet? idk.

But when competition day came, we had 20 teams (89 students) with business plans!!! Before I even saw the final projects, I thought that that alone was a great accomplishment!

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I was so pleasantly surprised to see how well the groups had prepared for the event! So surprised, in fact, I felt stupid for doubting them. Teams had made products as demonstrations and to sell to the invited guests, other teams had constructed replicas of their businesses out of wood or Styrofoam. A hair salon had chairs and mirrors and were completely equipped to give haircuts! I’m not kidding you; I was in shock at how hard these students had worked and at how far they had come from the very beginning of the course.  It was also pretty cool that most teams who sold products actually recovered all of their costs!

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I am so proud of all the students who participated. Every group tried their best. It may have taken months and so much time trying to motivate the students, but in the end, it was worth it.  While talking to my socios after the event, Luz told us that one of the boys on a winning team came up to her in tears because it was the first time he had ever won anything.  He is the type of student who gets left out regularly because he’s a little bit unreliable.  Some of his team members were kicked out of another group and so they formed their group with only one week until the competition.  They were at my house the whole afternoon before, making sure they had everything in order and he was the most enthusiastic about their business. That alone made all the struggles and all the frustrations beyond worth it.

I’m so thankful for my socios.   I would never have been able to put on an event like this without Roberto and Luz María. Realistically, they were the masterminds behind the project and did most of the organization and budgeting. We worked as a team, but this project really proved to me that I can’t do everything alone, that I have to network and look for good counterparts, and that I have be a team player. I am so thankful to Luz, who became a good friend throughout the process. She really worked hard to motivate the students, to push them to be better and to do better, and she fought to make sure the competition was successful. At the end of the day, the Director of the high school said he was impressed with the event and that he wants to coordinate for next year.  SOO we’ll see what happens! Luz and I always joked that we would never do this again but… never say never, right?

I EXPOFERIA WINNERS:

We split the projects up by juniors and seniors and gave prizes accordingly.  Out of the 20 projects total, there were 4 junior year projects and 16 senior year projects.  Prize money was given out to each winning group, and the seniors all received half-tuition scholarships to the University of Lambayeque.

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Second Place Junior Year:  Zaña Pizza- a business selling pizza in Zaña

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Zaña Pizza:  César, Esgar and Jhonny 

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First Place Junior Year:  WILLOW- a business selling boxes for traditional candies to both candy makers and tourists 

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WILLOW:  Sofía, Benjamin, Ysabely, Roberto, Anthony

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Third Place Senior Year:  LOS FINOS- a salon offering makeup, haircuts, and more!             they left before I could take a picture with them 😦

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Second Place Senior Year:  PLINE- a business selling sweet treats and cakes

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PLINE: Isamar, Patricia, Yohana, Loudres

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First Place Senior Year: DULCE VIDA- a cupcake business!  

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DULCE VIDA: Hector, Fiorella, Cristel, Jimmy, Anthony, Mari Carmen

 

*socio is the spanish term for male counterpart, socia female counterpart, socios meaning either all male counterparts or male and female counterparts, and socias all female counterparts

 

Work, work, work, work, work.

I’m not really the most successful volunteer.  I don’t have a million projects to share or really outstanding results to talk about.  I wish I was incredibly successful.

I’m also not the most hardworking volunteer.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I always feel like I can do more.  I (maybe) don’t spend enough time every single day looking for projects to take on.  I’m not not hardworking though, ya know.

I also don’t think the current state of my projects are a direct result of the work I put in.  I mean, I think I work harder than what the results show.  I guess that’s subjective, and someone might say I don’t do shit, but, whatever.  Sometimes things just happen to me/the project and it’s out of my control.

But I do have some things that keep me busy during the week.  And it just so happens that this week I have to fill out by bi-annual volunteer report form for Peace Corps, so I’ll fill y’all in too.

 

Project of Capacitación para el Emprendimiento Empresarial 

Titled, “Somos Jóvenes, Somos Zaña,” this project promotes entrepreneurship and self employment to students in 4th and 5th grade of secondary school (juniors and seniors of high school).  It’s a work in progress, to put it gently.  Pretty much everything that ever happens with this project I’m just left thinking, “WHY?” or “HOW?”

A community counterpart approached me several months ago and asked if I would like to help out with an entrepreneurship project he was planning in the high school.  I said yes, of course, being desperate for work.  We spent several weeks detailing out the project, writing up the proposal, getting all the approval from the high school, and also brought on a few other teachers.  Things were so promising in the beginning.

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My counterparts and I working on the project proposal

We have since gone through a series of unfortunate events.  Anything and everything from the school completely forgetting about the project, to other classes running hours over and using our time in the auditorium, to projectors and laptops and microphones not working, or to students not showing up to school because they had gone on a school trip over the weekend, you name it, it has likely happened.  I just, I don’t even know.  And it’s not for a lack of effort, honestly, everyone involved is working so hard.  Things just happen.  I swear.

Initially, we started as like an after school club.  It was free to participate for juniors and seniors, once a week for two hours, and they had the opportunity to win scholarship money at the end.  Seems like a no brainer, right?  Unfortunately, there wasn’t that much participation.  I think we had a steady 20 students attending the after school sessions.  I was impressed with this number, because I set the bar real low and expected no one to show up.  But my counterparts were significantly less impressed, and if we were planning on giving out prizes, we needed a larger pool of students.  So, we redesigned the project and are now teaching entrepreneurship during the final hour of classes, and are forcing several classes to participate.  And because not all the students were originally participating, we’ve had to start over with the classes.   The classes didn’t all go super smoothly the first time around, so it was a second chance.  Second chances do not always work out.

Take today, for example.  Two of the three counterparts were unable to make it to the class, and that’s fine, I’ve had to miss a class too.  However, today also happened to be the first class where alllll students showed up, though 20 minutes late.  The principal of the school came in to scold them for being late and to reiterate the great opportunity they have with this project, and we were left with five minutes left of class.  There’s not much you can do with five minutes.  But I wanted to get something out of it.  SO just imagine me, standing in front of about 80 15-18 year olds, who don’t even believe that I am actually older than them, trying to get them to focus during their last 10 minutes of the school day.  Seriously, think about it for a second, and I guarantee it went worse than you could imagine.

We’ve hit some bumps in the road (actually, we’ve hit all of the bumps in the road) but we’re trucking along and I am confident that it’ll be successful in the end.

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our group of really motivated, really participative students

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seriously, so much enthusiasm

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the day we had class without seats or chairs because the auditorium was taken

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random little boy skateboarding through class LOL

 

Project of Señalización del Pueblo de Zaña 

This is a very new project and we are still kind forming it’s identity.

Several months ago my host great-uncle approached me with an idea for a tourism project in Zaña.  He would like to see signs put up throughout Zaña to direct tourists to the historical monuments.  After several discussions, we decided to attend a Peace Corps training for Project Design and Management.  My counterpart and I traveled to Caraz, Ancash, where we spent the week learning how to successfully write and implement a project, and then detailing out the project proposal.  It was a really interesting training, and I think we both got a lot out of it.

From this training, we decided that the project needs to start with putting up tourism signs throughout the community, that way people have a tangible example of what we are doing to generate tourism.  Then we will include a campaign to clean the routes to and around the historical monuments, a training for local business owners who will be involved regularly in tourism, like the typical dulce makers and the hotel owners, and finally, we will start a promotional Zaña tourism campaign in other districts in Lambayeque.

Currently, we are in a “standby” with the project plans.  We approached the Director of GERCERTUR (Gerencia Regional de Comercio Exterior y Turismo or a state-level agency for tourism and local business) and our conversation was successful.  According to a study that GERCERTUR recently finished, there is substantial evidence that Zaña could have a good amount of tourism, so there is reason to develop this project.  Unfortunately, signs require money to build and put up and there’s not much money to go around.

I am also really confident that this project will succeed, once we have funding.

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my counterpart and I at the end of the training!  please ignore more awkward wardrobe choices

Projects of Promoviendo un Programa de Voluntariado para el Valle de Zaña and Promoviendo Liderazgo en Adolescentes para Generar Desarrollo en el Valle de Zaña 

This is my hobby, because it isn’t alined with my program goals, and the is thing that makes me happiest in Zaña (aside from hanging out with my host mom).  In most communities in Peru there are soup kitchens, or comedores.  In Zaña we have one that is funded by Heart Links, a NGO based out of Canada.  Several months ago two of the women who work with this comedor asked if I would be willing to participate in one of their projects, and again, of course I said yes, because I was desperate for work.  This comedor has 4 different projects:  volunteerism, bettering the abilities in children, promoting leadership in adolescentes, and promoting leadership in women.

The first project I support is a project that promotes a Volunteerism Program throughout the Valley of Zaña (which includes two nearby towns).  The goal behind this project was to have a group of volunteers who twice a month could volunteer their time to the one of the other projects.  Volunteerism is not very popular in Peru and I thought this was a really interesting idea.  The group started off with a decent number of volunteers, who met a specific list of criteria, but, unfortunately, the group continues to get smaller and smaller.  We have monthly meetings where we discuss the work our projects are doing, any difficulties we have, any improvements we think can be made, and whatever else we would like to share.  We might not have quantity, but we absolutely have quality.  Spending time with others who are dedicated to helping those in their towns makes my heart warm.  I leave every meeting feeling motivated and empowered by my fellow volunteers.

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some of the volunteers!

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I translated for a week when Canadians came and here we are with the Volunteerism project

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here we are with the Children’s Project

 

I am one of the volunteers for this comedor and I am supporting the project that Promotes Leadership in Adolescentes to Generate Development.  This project aims to develop potential leadership in adolescentes, through strengthening their abilities that allow them to affirm their cultural races and to exercise positive leadership.  We meet once a week, on Sunday mornings, and we do a variety of things.  There have been classes about self-esteem, leadership, creative expression, recycling, and we have even visited the historical sites of Zaña and compiled different narratives about Zaña’s history.  And we have so much more planned for the end of the year!  Unfortunately, as with all my projects, there isn’t that much participation.  In Zaña there are 5 teenagers who come on a regular basis, but generally they’re never all there on the same day.  I feel bad for the girl who coordinates everything, because she works so hard and she genuinely cares about the futures of these teens, but I still get a lot out of it.  It is refreshing being in her presence, seeing someone who is so motivated to help Zaña grow, and it is always fun hanging out with the teenagers who do participate.

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making a mural to showcase their work

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all 3 youth groups met for a fun day in Chiclayo! So much teen angst

 

I hope to have more to share at the very end of my service, but I am really happy with what I am doing.  Even if it never seems to go according to plan and I regularly want to gauge peoples’ eyeballs out.

One Year Down, One Year To Go

I have officially been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaña, Lambayeque, Peru for an entire year! Honestly, the year has slipped by faster than I could have ever imagined and it still feels like time is escaping me.

It’s been a great year. I have integrated into a wonderful family, whom I now consider to be my own family. I have made lifelong friends and have gotten to know countless other beautiful people. I have pushed myself beyond my comfort zones and I have gotten to know “Ellen” better, and even discovered some new things about myself. I have had opportunities to travel to beautiful places in Peru and to get to know the unique cultures.

But it hasn’t been without bumps along the way. I’ve suffered through extremely low self-confidence, I have dealt with unforeseen circumstances, I have survived parasites and a variety of other random sicknesses, and I have powered through some serious homesickness.

After all that has happened, and trust me a lot has gone down, I think it is important that I reflect on this past year and a few important things that I have learned (and that I bet most volunteers have learned)

 

Cold showers are hard.

After 15 full months of bathing in cold water, I could say that I am “used” to it. Which in no way in hell means that I enjoy it. I’ll admit that a cold shower during the summer, when it is insufferably hot in Zaña, is nice. But, unless I am on the verge of heat stroke, I prefer HOT showers.   However, I can’t say that I would actually shower more if I had hot water daily, as I have always been a little bit cochina.

I LOVE food, but I don’t love all food.

I have discovered that I am a pretty picky eater, and I always thought I was that type of person that could eat literally anything. WELLLL I can’t and I usually don’t.

Shit happens.

Whether literally or figuratively, there has never been a truer phrase. More often than not something randomly comes up (or out 😉) and you’re forced to solve the issue on the spot. That’s life.

FOMO is real.

Social media/the Internet has allowed me to be a spectator in the lives of my family and friends who are so far away. Living vicariously through the endless photos and snapchats, and being able to FaceTime whenever, is great. I’m basically right there with y’all. But, there are times that my heart physically aches from wanting to be a part of the action or drama so badly.

Don’t judge.

I think the unique Peace Corps job/life situation breeds this weird type of judge-y environment. There are a lot of volunteers who spend their time concerning themselves with the lives of other volunteers, myself included. Some volunteers think they’ve figured it ALL out and know EVERYTHING there is to know. However, circumstances for every single volunteer are significantly different, even if they’re site mates. Because of that, comparing yourself to someone else or judging someone else is 100% useless. Don’t waste your time concerned with the life someone else is living. Just live yours.

Network. Network. Network

We’ve all heard countless times that networking is important and that couldn’t be more true for Peace Corps volunteers. PCVs definitely need solid relationships to get work done. It has always mattered who you know and it will always matter who you know.

Listening is crucial.

The job description for a Peace Corps volunteer calls for action. PC wants results, which typically are in the form of numbers, and our work is driven by this need to produce results. But, how do we know what results are needed unless we actively listen? I’m still learning how to do this.

Accountability is important.

Holding oneself accountable, especially in this line of work, is important.  Peace Corp is structured so that volunteers are essentially their own bosses. We obviously have to inform our bosses about the work we are doing, but at the end of the day we answer to ourselves. While this structure functions well, I sometimes get lost it in.  I tend to be honest when admitting to what I have or have not done, but sometimes I fail to recognize and understand the consequences. And I fall into the excuse trap regularly here in Zaña. When looking at the big picture, having two full years to complete projects seems like an eternity. But as the months pass by, I regularly find myself thinking, “I could have done more,” and then letting myself off the hook with a few excuses. Hindsight and retrospect are helpful in learning from mistakes, but accountability is key. At the end of the day, I want to be able to say I did all that I could today because this matters to me. That’s what accountability is:  the acknowledgment of your actions and the assumption of the responsibilities. I’m still working on it.

Be grateful, especially in times of hardship.

We all have so many things to be grateful for, but sometimes we lose site of this when we feel like we are sinking or struggling. Take time to be grateful, take time to remind yourself off all that is good.

 

SOO at the end of a full year in Zaña, and more than a full year in Peru, despite all the times I have said, “I literally cannot,” I actually can!  I have made it through living in conditions that seem hotter than hell, through pooping my pants, through not really understanding or speaking the language, through countless sleepless nights because my neighbours partied until the crack of dawn, through mountains of rice, through way too many cups of Inca Kola, and many more random things that have happened along the way.  And I have come out absolutely loving Peru and the community I live in.

A lot of things have changed in my life over the last year, including me.  I hope I’ve changed for the better, I think I have.  I thought it was cheesy and cliche when reading other PC Blogs about how “changed” people were.  But, it’s true.  Something about this experience changes you, and then that pretty much changes everything else.

For this next year ahead, all I can ask of myself is that I live and I learn. That everyday I do at least one Peace Corps thing, that I put myself out there and try to break from my comfort zones and hopefully I can give back as much as I am taking away.  I am eternally grateful for this opportunity and this learning experience.

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Peace Corps Peru 25

Home

In January my parents’ and I decided to surprise my little sisters for Prom and Graduation with me coming home!  I held that secret for four full months, panicking every single time  I sent a countdown snap that I had accidentally sent it to Molly and Rose.

On May 4th, my madre helped me load up my suitcase onto the combi and together we went to the airport in Chiclayo.  She sat with me up until it was time to pass through security and wished me goodbye. She also arranged for her nephew to pick me up at the airport in Lima during my 6 hour layover.  She’s the cutest, best host madre.

During my 7 hour flight from Lima to New York, I could hardly breath I was so excited to get home.  And there was also new movies in English on the personal TV, so I obviously had to binge.  Throughout the flight I thought the male flight attendant was actually hitting on me.  He commented about my Spanish, and was like it’s even better than mine!  And when I turned down some snacks he handed me 3 mini m&m packets (clearly he’s into it).  We had a quick chat during the middle of the night while everyone else was sleeping and I was between movies.  AND in the morning he gave me extra coffee (obviously my soul mate).  After careful reflection though I realized he 100% thought I was a young teenager traveling alone and was just being nice.  Another love lost.

When we landed in New York, I started to tear up just a little bit as it was almost 1 year exactly since I left my family and I would be seeing them soon!  Once we landed in Boston, I basically ran off the plane to see my parents.

Seeing my mom and dad for the first time made me feel like I had never left home.  It was so surreal.  Even as an “adult” I still miss my mom and dad everyday and there’s some days I desperately  wish I could hug them.  Then, it came time to surprise my sisters!  Just watch the video below, words can’t explain how great that was.  I haven’t seen my sisters so surprised or so happy to see me ever in my life!  Every snapchat panic attack was well worth it in the end.

At first, things in the US were a little weird like hearing English everywhere and not just from other Volunteers, always having running hot water and being able to throw toilet paper directly into the toilet!  Driving, which I thought would be hard, was normal and so so so less chaotic than in Peru and my life didn’t flash before my eyes every time I got into a car.  It was freezing cold; after living in above 80 degree weather everyday for 9 months the 60 degree weather was frigid.  And where was all the rice?! Just kidding, there was not a single meal that I wished for rice.  But I quickly got used to real life again and I really enjoyed every minute spent at home.

Some of my favorite moments from my time home were:

Meeting my parents at the gates- our reunion must have looked like a scene from a movie.  There was lots of hugs and tears and I am pretty sure everyone around us was like wtf is going on.

Surprising my sisters- seeing Molly and Rose cry pure tears of joy was the great.  I watch the video of it almost everyday still.

Wedding dress shopping with Emily- being able to spend this time with Em, especially because I most likely will not be able to actually be there for when she picks out “the dress,” was really special.  She’s going to be the most beautiful bride!

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wish i had gotten a picture of us shopping

Seeing Rosie off to prom- one of the main reasons I went home instead of my family coming to Peru was to be there when Rose went to Junior Prom at La Salle.  She looked beautiful, definitely the prettiest girl at prom!

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besos for the little seestur

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post boob grab

Brunch at MilkMoney- Em and Kath and I ate brunch one morning at MilkMoney, Bloody Marys included, and it was delicious.  The Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict there is great.  So were the Grits from Em’s Chicken and Grits.

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Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict and Huevos Rancheros

Driving around the entire state of Rhode Island with Katharine- after some miscommunication, Kath and I spent most of the day driving around RI looking for a gift.  But just being in her company again made me happy.

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pal photo shoot 

Hand massages from Kath- from freshmen year of college to now, hand massages will never get old.

Presenting Peace Corps to a class at La Salle- I did not expect to be impacted by talking about my Peace Corps service, but I found that I was full of pride as I was able to talk about Zaña and my service.

Getting drinks with my dad, McGinn, Sav, Molly and my Uncle Andrew- being old enough to have a beer with old teachers/coaches is pretty cool.

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McGinn and Dan were matching

Eating Chiptole- I was worried that it wouldn’t be nearly as good as I remembered it, but it was. Ecoli and all.

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so good even Annabelle wanted some

Lunch with my grandpa- he took me out to lunch at Quito’s in Bristol and we both had lobster rolls.  Even though the construction made for a loud dining area, I genuinely enjoyed sitting there talking to Charlie.

Going out in Newport with Sav and Henry- the day started with drinking beers and watching Sav play baseball and ended watching live music at Newport Blues Cafe.  Good times.

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what a crew

 

Seeing Molly graduate from Providence College- although I may have been a little hungover from the night out, watching my little sister graduate college was so much fun.  Congratulations, Molly, on all that you have accomplished!

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cuties

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seesturs

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she’s a grad!

Dinner for Molly’s graduation- nothing beats a Bloody Mary, Chips and Fish, and a view of the water!

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Boat House

Sleeping with my Annabelle- I miss puppy cuddles every single day!

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the selfie queen, Annabelle

In general, all the food and beverages consumed in the United States were spectacular.  Shoutouts to CHEESE, Cheezits, Bagels, Fish Tacos, Chips and Salsa and Guac, Veggie Burgers, Pancakes, 7-11 Slurpees, LSA Bakery Iced Chai, UFO Big Squeeze Shandy, Jalapeño Margs, and of course Bloody Marys.  You’re all already greatly missed.

Being home made me realize how lucky I am, not only to have this opportunity as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru, but also to have so many people who care about me.  I have some of the greatest and most generous friends that I could ever ask for.  Emily flew from Louisiana, Katharine from Virginia, Sav drove over from Newport, Henry came from New York, all to spend some time with me.  My neighbors and family members made sure they had a chance to say hi, even if it was brief.  It helped me realize that the people who care and the people who want to be apart of my life will be, no matter what.  No excuses, no blown off plans, you’re there if you want to be there.

Coming back to Peru wasn’t nearly as hard as I had heard it would be.  The whole time being home I reminded myself that it was just vacation and that I still had work to complete in Peru.  Getting drunk at the airport bar before my Lima flight also may have helped a little bit.  The trip wouldn’t have been complete without almost missing my flight from Lima to Chiclayo and running through the airport like an insane person.  When I got home to Zaña, I was welcomed with flowers, a sign and a cake from my madre!  There’s nothing better than feeling completely loved in both the US and in Zaña.

 

Peaces of Happiness

The job of a Peace Corps volunteer can be stressful and tiring at times (even when I don’t have any work to do), and a lot of that comes off in my writing.  But I would like to take time to reflect on the things that made me happiest throughout the week; to celebrate and appreciate the small wins and joys I experience.  So here it goes!

 

April 10th- 17th 

Dana coming over and asking me to change her 

Hannah and Dana are my two adorable little neighbors, 4 and 2, who come over my house pretty regularly, especially on the weekends.  Sometimes their visits are filled with touching literally every single thing in my room and asking what it is, which they have already asked about several times before.  They also LOVE to weigh themselves on my scale and then repeatedly jump off the scale trying out different tricks every time, making sure I applaud every jump.  We’ve also started watching Peppa Pig episodes together, or dancing to Mueve el Toto.  Dana has a tendency to randomly show up at my house, opening the door herself and walking directly into my room, sometimes carrying things to play with.

The other day I was trying to fill out a VRF form for Peace Corps and I was getting pretty irritated with the endless questions.  All of a sudden I hear the front door open and slam shut and then Dana appears in my doorway.  She’s dressed fully in a long sleeve shirt and long pants and is carrying a little romper.  She shoves the romper in my face and says, “Ellen me cambias,” which means “Ellen change me.”  It was so simple but so adorable and exactly what I needed at the moment.  Why she needed to walk over to my house for me to change her I am still unsure about.

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Besos con Dana- this morning she came over to the house and knocked on my bedroom door until I got up to eat breakfast with her 

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Peppa Pig showings with Dana and Hannah

Getting support for a new project with the high school

I had been working in the high school when I first arrived in site but I was discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm in the students.  I didn’t even go to the high school at all over the summer and when the school year started again, I was pretty embarrassed that I had blown off the school for so many months.  I was so nervous to approach the Director and talk about project opportunities, because I had been absent, but when I did, he was all for them!  Immediately we got the support of another teacher and we rounded up students who were interested.  I have the first presentation with them on Thursday the 21st and hopefully it is successful from there!  It has been hard for me to move projects along here in Zaña, or really to even get them started.  Just having the support made me so happy and excited.

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Selfies with some of my students back in October

Breakfast Sandwiches 

One day last week Eliceni (my madre) and I were discussing what I typically used to eat for lunch, which I explained was sandwiches because I generally was too lazy to make anything else.  We talked about how sandwiches are normally a breakfast food here and I explained that in the US we make huge sandwiches filled with a million different things.  The next day I woke up to two little breakfast sandwiches, filled with an artichoke spread, tomatoes and avocado.  For the rest of the week she made me different little breakfast sandwiches each day.  Again, something so simple but the effort she put into it is so appreciated, because typically I just eat bread.

Gran Concurso Regional de Marinera Norteña

Right now in Zaña we are celebrating the life of our Patron Saint, Santo Toribio Alfonso de Mogrovejo.  He was born in Spain and went to the University of Salamanca (me too!).  He left Spain and became the 2nd Archbishop of Lima and eventually he became the first Saint in South America.  His life in Zaña is absolutely integral to the history of Zaña, as he spent many years of his life living in Zaña and eventually died here.  So part of this 20 day celebration in his honor, Zaña held the first ever Regional Competition of Marinera Norteña!  Marinera Norteña is a traditional dance in Peru that I am absolutely obsessed with, I think it is so beautiful.  It’s a very technical dance and each movement signifies a specific part of the story the dance is telling.  There were about 35 dance pairs, from about 5 years old to 30 years old, and the competition lasted about 3 hours in total.  Seriously so cool!

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The first contestants in the first round of the first ever Marinera Competition in Zaña

Playing games with some little girls from the neighborhood  

One afternoon while Dana, Hannah and Irma were at my house, I forced them out of my room and onto the sidewalk outside to play some games.  Irma and I taught Dana and Hannah how to play Duck Duck Goose and literally within 30 seconds after we started the game, several other little girls from the block came over to join.  They didn’t really get exactly how to play Duck Duck Goose, so they kept just chasing each other up and down the street instead of in a small circle around the group, but it was adorable anyways.  We also played Red Light, Green Light and Simon Says.  One of the little girls sang to me her Spanish/English color song that she is learning in pre-school, which lead to a long series of questions about words in English.

Sitting around the table with family and feeling apart of the family again 

Last Wednesday was my host cousin’s 16th birthday, so we had a small get together to celebrate.  As I was sitting at the table with my host family, I realized that not only was I able to follow the conversation really well, through all the yelling and people talking over each other, but that I felt like I was sitting around a table with family.  My host uncle Sambo, who is always cracking jokes, was making me laugh so hard my cheeks hurt from smiling.  I was giving advice to my host cousins about what to study once they graduate high school.  It was so hot in the house, but no one would open the doors or windows because they knew the mosquitos would eat me alive.  There was actually even time spent making fun of the millions of mosquito bites I get and laughing about how I always seem to have bites on my butt.  I miss my family at home so much and whenever there were family gatherings here it made me a little bit sad and homesick.  But I definitely feel integrated and welcomed into my host family.

The Last Few Months

The last three months have been filled with lots of sweat, lots of stomach issues, several vacations and very little work. A typical day in the last 3 months was spent sweating my ass off, and/or accompanied by explosive diarrhea, and a general feeling of not wanting to do anything but lay in my bed with the fan on.

January

I was welcomed back at site with constant heat, constant sweating, constant catcalling and chisme. Chisme, or gossip, is all too familiar for most volunteers, especially in Peru. Peruvian communities tend to be filled with chisme of all sorts. My spirits were seriously disheartened when there was chisme about me in the town, because it wasn’t good. What the actual chisme was, at this point in time, is pretty irrevelant, but I let it take over my life. I purposefully stopped leaving my house because I did not want to give anyone an opportunity to see me doing something and then twist the situation when talking about it. I essentially locked myself in my room or made frequent trips to the regional capital to avoid any and all Peruvian human contact.

English classes for Vacaciones Utilices with the Municipalidad de Zaña semi pulled me out of my self-pitying slump. I was pretty pumped when my tío approached me and asked if I would be apart of the Municipalidad’s summer courses by teaching English. I actually even suggested teaching another course on Financial Education, but there was no interest in that. My English class wasn’t too popular either.

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Learning Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

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After class selfies

The most entertaining part of English classes was the two older men who joined. Neither of these men were from Zaña, but they were eager to learn English, albeit, they were pretty distracting to the younger students. Honestly, during every single activity and after every single question one of the men asked me a personal question or took roughly 20 minutes to tell me some life story.

Here’s an example of an actual conversation that took place:   ***We are practicing a Personal Information Dialogue worksheet and we’re answering the question “Are you married?” and I have written down several answers, including: “Yes, I am married,” “I am single,” “I am divorced.” ****

Me: “Okay bueno, estas son varias repuestas que ustedes pueden usar. Vamos a practicar la pronunciación…….. Yeeess… No es Jes pero Yes… I am married”

Hombre: “Miss, miss, are you married? Estás casada??”

Me:  some side eye thrown his way “Bueno. I am single”

Hombre: “Miss Hellen, estás soltera? Ojala que estés soltera. Estoy soltero”

Me:  more side eye “Seguimos. I am divorced”

Hombre: “Estás divorciado?? Y porque? Qué pasó?”

Me:  a ton of side eye to say stfu “Okay otra vez, quiero que todos dicen las palabras.”

Hombre: “Pero miss, miss are you married? ;)”

If you can imagine, this happened after every single question on the worksheet. This hombre wanted to know my personal answers, which isn’t that weird. It was more the incessant questioning and the incessant interruption to ask about me or to tell me about him. He left about halfway through the classes to return to Piura and I was like HALLElUJAH.   But then his friend took his place in asking all the questions and telling all the stories, and we essentially never got anything accomplished in class.

February

Classes continued into February and my madre continued to force my host cousins to go to my English classes with me as support. By the end of February, the class size had dwindled down from about 10 students to my two host cousins and one of the hombres. A staggering 3 students, 2 of which were forced to go. I’m not sure if the reasoning for the drop in attendance was because I was an awful English teacher, the students couldn’t deal with the hombres talking so much, or because the Muni kept forgetting to keep the room unlocked for class, but whichever it was, people noted the lack of attendance in my classes compared to Ti’Era’s classes. (Ti’s vacaciones utilices were highly successful, which was so great for her!)

At the very beginning of February, Zaña was lucky enough to host Howard University Gospel Choir!  The choir and another group, Afro Peru, played a full concert for the public in the spirit of Black History month.  This was by far one of the coolest experiences in town, and was such an amazing way to be able to share American culture with Peruvians.  After the choir and Afro Peru sang, there was a presentation of traditional and local dances outside of the Museo.  Ti’Era and I were able to share our community with several other volunteers.  We spent the night dancing and drinking with local artists and community friends.  It was so much fun!

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Howard University Gospel Choir

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Afro Peru

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Late night dancing and listening to music

For Valentine’s Day weekend I planned a trip to Zorritos with some volunteer friends. Zorritos is a beach town located in Tumbes, or the Northern most region of Peru. The expectations going into this trip were very, very high. Way too high. Since arriving in Peru, I had only heard the very best things about the Ecolodge in Zorritos; how clear, blue and calm the water was, how relaxing the lodge was, how good the food was, how there was a kitchen too cook your own food, etc.

The word “ecolodge” typically conjures up rustic images and this place was fucking rustic. The images online on TripAdvisor do not really compare to the shape the lodge is actually in. Maybe it was just the room we got, but I felt a bit cheated in the accommodations. And I totally would have gotten over that, if it wasn’t for the “kitchen.” The “stove” was a cement/cinderblock thing where you built a fire and attempted to cook food over it. Supposedly, the staff from the lodge was meant to bring firewood to the kitchen on a regular basis. I never saw anyone bring firewood. So, most days we were forced to find wood/sticks and make a fire. Again, that wouldn’t have been too bad, if every single night the tide didn’t flood the entire “kitchen” area so that all the sticks or wood around the kitchen were soaking wet. And the other super fun thing about it was we’d spend a good amount of time starting a fire and cooking our food, only to have other people come down and move our pots to use the fire that WE BUILT.  Like seriously, wait your turn bitches, this fire isn’t for sharing. All of that bullshit could have been forgotten if only the beach wasn’t filled with massive, sharp coral rocks, which made getting into and out of the ocean so difficult. The water was also anything but clear, which often led to a lot of running into rocks, followed by cursing and screaming and bleeding. I have scars now.

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the “kitchen”

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you can’t see but there’s tons of huge rocks

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Ayla dead on the beach

Despite all that, the vacation turned out to be pretty good but unfortunately, when I returned to Zaña, my stomach started to flare up with some really weird digestion problems. At the very end of February I texted Ayla, “At the rate my day is going there’s a good chance I’ll shit my pants on the way to Contumazá tomorrow.” So, yeah, literally, pretty shitty times.

March

The first week of March we had In Service Training (IST) in the quaint town of Contumazá, Cajamarca where volunteer Brooklyn is living (check out her blog here). The theme of the week was on Actividades Generadores de Ingresos (AGIs) with the focus being on women of the community. I brought my socio, Oscar, and again he quickly made friends and left me only with the volunteers. The week was really interesting and we were able to put into practice what we learned. We were also able to see the great work that Brooklyn has been doing, and honestly it was so encouraging to see a site that actually was excited to work with a volunteer. Zaña and I are getting there. The week was also filled with eating my weight in cheese, which may or may not have been good for my stomach but idgaf.

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Pretty Contumazá

Arriving back in site after a week in Contumazá I felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle some of the issues at hand. However, my stomach wasn’t so accommodating. Regardless, I spent many mornings in the municipalidad talking with my socio and other workers, trying to get projects started. I even got a few minutes with the alcalde (town mayor) who supported all the things I wanted to do. I had two weeks in Zaña that seemed to be promising, even though the process was slow, and I was sure that I would be able to get stuff accomplished after Semana Santa.

I spent Semama Santa in Huaraz, Ancash.  This was by far the best vacation in Peru. We decided to stay in a pricey hotel, with really comfortable beds and hot showers. It doesn’t matter that I am constantly dripping sweat in Zaña, I still miss hot showers everyday. We spent time visiting ruins, hiking to Laguna 69, eating lots of pizza, and drinking lots of good beer and infused liquors.

The doctors provided us with altitude sickness pills because Huaraz and the hike that we planned on doing are at pretty high altitude. So, I started the pills the morning I left Zaña. I took a full pill at 9 am and at 9 pm I reminded everyone to take the second pill of the day. After I had swallowed the second pill, someone mentioned that it was only half a pill. I had taken 4 half pills or just a casual 48 hours worth of altitude pills in 12 hours, and I was 100% certain that I was going to overdose from altitude meds on a 8 hour bus ride and I was going to die. But the doctors said the only likely thing to happen was that I would pee my pants. I’m not totally sure why, but altitude medicine makes you pee like 5 times the normal amount, and with the amount of meds I had coursing through my veins, I had to pee approximately three times every single hour. There were a few moments when I woke up on the verge of peeing my pants, but I made it.

The hike to Laguna 69 was pretty grueling, but definitely one of my favorite hikes so far. I’m not sure if it’s the terrain itself or just the altitude that makes it so hard, but we were all sucking wind the majority of the time. Or maybe we are all just severely out of shape. The hike begins in the valley with some bulls and you climb up one pretty large mountain, which takes about 1-2 hours. You think you’re there because who imagines climbing multiple peaks in one day, but you’re not and there’s a much smaller and much blacker lake that welcomes you. Then, you have to walk through a bull pasture again and begin the ascent of another mountain. This part of the hike is pretty much straight up, the switchbacks are a lot shorter and you climb elevation much quicker. Orlando and I hiked this part together and reached Laguna 69 first for our group. The Laguna is beautiful and it was well worth almost dying from lack of oxygen. Orlando, Joe and I even decided to take a naked lake jump, officially becoming part of the naked lake jump PC crew.

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Pre-hike

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First lake after the first mountain

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Almost there! Just kidding, we hiked up that mountain in the back

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Laguna 69!

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Quick swim

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Shotski celebrations

The day before I left for Huaraz, I called the doctors to discuss with them all my stomach issues, to which I was told it was a parasite. I fondly named the little guy Bert, and he was a son of a bitch the entire vacation. The day after getting back to Zaña, this past Tuesday, our region had a meeting in the Starbucks. During this same week, one of the CED team Lima staff members, Sandra, was visiting Lambayeque to do site development and she stopped by our meeting.

She turned to Joe and I and said, “Wow you guys look so great!”

So of course we laughed.

And she said, “Really Ellen, it looks like you’ve lost weight.”

So, I replied, “Thanks, yeah I have a parasite sooo….”

And Sandra half laughed half frowned for my unfortunate circumstance.

Then Joe says, “Diarrhea looks goooood on you.”

Thanks for making me skinnier, Bert, but it’s time for you to go.

December and New Years

Apart from the holiday season, December is the month where it officially becomes summer vacation here in Peru! It is the beginning of 3 months of excruciatingly hot temperatures, I’m not even in one of the hottest sites and I constantly think I am going to die of heat stroke, AND, more importantly, it’s the beginning of 3 months living with my 8 year-old host cousin, Irma. It was also supposed to be the month where El Niño arrived in full force and washed our towns away with tons of rain, but thankfully that didn’t happen.

I thought I knew what hot was, I mean it gets hot as hell in the summer in the States, but this is another form of heat. It’s not humid heat; it’s dry heat. The sun burns down on the town and bakes it all day long. There’s no breeze here in Zaña, there’s definitely no air conditioning and I haven’t purchased a fan for my bedroom. I’m not even being dramatic when I say I wake up sweating, sweat all day long, go to sleep sweating, and sweat all through the night. I think the only time I am not sweating is when I take a cold shower, but don’t worry, the second I step out I start sweating again. I have never been in a constant state of sweat/dehydration before but let me tell you, I am living it now. But perhaps the worst part of this heat is soup for lunch. I can’t even explain the wave of irritation and disappointment that swells over me when I see a bowl of steaming hot soup. I want to cry/kill myself even more than when I see a mountain of rice on my plate. Getting through soup for lunch is literally the hardest thing I have to do as a volunteer.

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Me attempting to run even though it was hotter than hell, but the sunset was nice

Irma is a nice addition to the house; she’s helpful to my madre and in general she’s a really cute little girl. I make an effort to play with her……..sometimes because most days I don’t want to move. Irma likes to stand in my doorway or next to my bed and stare at me. She won’t say anything, sometimes she like laughs a little to get my attention, but usually she just watches me do whatever I am doing, and that’s fine. She also likes to watch me eat during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Again, I know I have said this before, but I literally do not understand how I eat differently and what is so damn fascinating about it.  Maybe she can see the pain in my eyes while struggling through bowls of soup and mountains of rice. IDK. Irma comes with me every night to our dance practice and sometimes it feels like I am a babysitter/mom, and it’s not looking like I am going to be a very patient mom.

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Irma and I at her school’s chocolatada, which is where they give out hot chocolate and paneton (fruit cake) to the kids

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Chocolatada.  Please note the little girl top row, far left. She’s so sweet, I don’t know where she learned to make that face.

At some point I decided that I would spend Christmas in Zaña with my host family and New Year’s Eve in Lima with friends, which turned out to be a great decision. I was told that Christmas in site is a pretty magical time and that I would really be able to appreciate the holiday if I was close to my host family, which I am. For those of you who don’t know me well, I am kind of a Grinch. I don’t like Christmas music, and I am very particular about Christmas decorations, but I was actually thankful when I saw that the municipality had decorated in the park and when my madre put her decorations up around the house. It never felt much like Christmas here, but the decorations definitely helped.  Even if all Christmas lights when plugged in also play Christmas songs on repeat until unplugged.

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Christmas decorations right outside my room.  Yes, this tree has singing lights and yes it was plugged in frequently.

Ti’Era and I also participated in a Secret Santa, or Amigo Secreto, with our dance group! On the 23rd, we had a party to hand out gifts and celebrate with each other. I think I can speak for both Ti’Era and I when I say it was so nice to be able to participate in something like that. I felt like I actually belonged and I actually had friends, which is not typical for new volunteers in site. It was a really, really nice experience all around, although Ti’Era and I had spent hours trying to come up with the right gift to give two guys we don’t know that well.

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Mi amiga secreta y yo

In Peru, they celebrate more on Christmas Eve than on Christmas Day. So my madre made a yummy salad, chancho, hot chocolate, bought some Paneton and champagne and at midnight we had a cheers and ate! It was much more low-key in my family than I had anticipated after talking to other volunteers, but in general it was low-key in Zaña. A friend here explained that Christmas time used to be a much bigger event in Zaña, but as the economic situation worsened, people started to celebrate less and less. On Christmas Day, I FaceTimed my family as they had our normal Christmas morning and that was awesome. I am still so thankful that I was able to do that, I felt like I was still apart of Christmas even from thousands of miles away. The Holidays were good.

And then we went to Lima! I hadn’t been to Lima since Swearing-In at the end of July, and this was my first actual vacation. I thought I loved Huanchaco in November, but my true love is Lima. We stayed in Miraflores, which is by the beach and is a really nice part of Lima. When I went to the supermarket for the first time, I almost cried of happiness when I saw all the cheese varieties available. We drank Starbucks and IPAs, ate falafel, sushi, pizza, and lots and lots of cheese. There were tons of other English speakers and blondes walking around. I felt like a normal human being again, it was soo refreshing to be anonymous and not having people constantly staring or asking weird questions. It made me realize even more how different I am as a person in Zaña compared to other places when I feel more freedom, but that’s hard to explain.

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The best meal I had in Lima, I still dream about it

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Ayla and I- we love Lima

For New Years Eve we spent the evening at Joe’s sister’s apartment. It was me, Joe, Ayla Tim, Erin and Peter, all of us Peru 25 volunteers, and then Erin’s boyfriend, Davin, and friend, Jane, from the US. We made cheesy paninis for dinner and watched the fireworks across Lima. Joe’s sister has a beautiful apartment in Miraflores with a balcony and at midnight we could see what seemed like hundreds of firework displays going off throughout the city. It was honestly magical. Although, my midnight was a little bit ruined by the fact that the BRAND NEW pair of heels I had bought earlier that day and had only been wearing for 15 minutes broke literally 5 seconds before midnight. Luckily I was able to return them the next day, but still starting off the New Year on a broken heel is pretty shitty luck. The last day in Lima was probably the best day of the trip though. Ayla and I got drinks to go, which was soo normal, like the bartender didn’t even flinch when we asked for alcoholic beverages in to-go cups. And then we went to a Brewery in Barranco, which is close to Miraflores. We spent the day drinking actual beer; normally all you can get in Peru is piss-water beer aka Cristal or Pilsen.

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You can’t really tell, but the fireworks were beautiful

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Tim, Me, Ayla, Joe- we clean up well

Though when it was time to leave, it was hard. I wasn’t ready to leave the normalcy of Lima, or the good food and good company. But once I finally got back to Zaña, it did feel like I had arrived back home.

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Best part of the trip was that spicy Bloody Mary

November

After October seemed to last forever, with daily doubts about what I am doing here in Peru, November seemed to fly by, with a lot of firsts. It was my first time out of Lambayeque since Swearing In, first In Service Peace Corps training, first Thanksgiving/major holiday away from home, first birthday in Peru, and first Festival de Zaña.

EIST was in Huanchaco, La Libertad, which is a really quaint surfer town about 20 minutes outside of Trujillo. I LOVE this place, I had been there once on a day trip during PST. I don’t know if it was the fact that I hadn’t left the blistering hot, dusty desert of Lambayeque in 3 months, or just that Huanchaco really is cool, but I was sooo obsessed. Seriously, I must have said 1,000 times I was eting (early terminating service) as a PCV and moving to Huanchaco to become a surf-bum who pays her bills by working in a local café. Ambitious, I know. That has not happened, yet (there’s still 20 months to go) but on the days that I am literally dying of heat stroke, these thoughts come back real strong.

Anyways, EIST is program focused, so it was the first time since Swearing In I got to reunite with the CED Peru 25 program………but the catch was we had to bring our socios. Honestly, when I read the email that I had to bring a socio to EIST I was ticked off. Completing 3 months in-site was hard and I wanted an actual break from Zaña, as in not having to see or speak to anyone from my town for the full 5 days I would be away. However, having our socios with us for the first few days, was actually a blessing. I brought my socio, Oscar, a cool, funny guy, who quickly made Peruvian friends and left me in the dust. The training focused on Bancos Comunitarios, which are part of our 3rd program goal, and one of the projects I am eager to start. Bancos Comunitarios are small savings clubs (basically) where the bank members can take out loans with much smaller interest rates. In Peru, interest rates for loans from traditional banks are absurdly high, and because of this, most people cannot afford to take out a loan, which perpetuates a cycle of poverty. So, these Bancos Comunitarios are great in that there’s no outside capital or establishment needed, and all the money remains in the community. I felt revived after the week, and knowing that I had a socio who actually and seriously knew what the hell I was talking about in Zaña was reassuring.

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Last day of EIST working hard

Thanksgiving was the week following EIST and it crept up out of nowhere.   Peruvians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, or Día de Acción de Gracias, obviously, because it’s an American holiday, so there was no decorations or 3 weeks of fasting before the big meal. However, the volunteers of Lambayeque celebrated together with a traditional meal, mostly cooked by Reesy, in Pimentel (beach town in Lambayeque about an hour and 20 minutes from Zaña) at Roxy’s family’s house. There were appetizers, which included spinach and artichoke dip that I made, hummus and other dips with chips and fresh veggies, and for the meal there was mac and cheese, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, sweet potato pie and apple crisp. So much American food in one sitting, it was so rico, and I obviously ate way too much. Unfortunately, the ovens in Peru cook a bit differently, and so the meal was finally ready at the time Ti’Era and I had to leave to make it back to site*, so we went back with to-go plates and I even got to take a piece of sweet potato pie to my madre (who has since asked for the recipe).

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palz

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Thank you Rissy for all the yummy food!

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Lambayeque gang

As Thanksgiving was approaching, I randomly got a craving for spinach and artichoke dip and decided I would use it as my first opportunity to cook with my madre. You need to understand that my madre is a very hands-on woman. She’s never had any children of her own and she takes me being her hija very seriously. Basically, the woman thinks I’m incompetent and she does everything for me (just kidding, I know she does it all out of love). So, I had bought most of the ingredients beforehand on Monday and told Eliceni I needed the spinach and garlic from the market. Tuesday morning after her daily trip to the market, she told me that she spoke to the veggie lady and told her that she had to have spinach tomorrow morning for me, so seguro, there would be spinach tomorrow in Zaña and it was 3 soles per kilo.  We haven’t even started cooking and she’s taken over, this should be interesting. Wednesday evening rolls around, and she helps me take out all the ingredients from the fridge and I tell her we need to wash the spinach before we cook it, and she’s like “okay hija, hazlo.”  I start washing the spinach and I’m not joking within 10 seconds, literally 10 seconds, she’s over my shoulder saying “a ver, a ver, a ver, a ver, yo puedo hacerlo, damelo hija.” This is when I knew it would be less cooking together and more instructing Eliceni how to cook. Eventually she relinquished a little bit of control of her kitchen and let me do some cooking too, in the end, it was a really cute experience. We had spinach and artichoke dip for dinner, which she thought was really rico.

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Spinach and Artichoke Dip

My birthday was the day after Thanksgiving, and Eliceni was very adamant that I was home to spend the day with her. She cooked me a special birthday meal, chickpeas and rice, and we invited Oscar, Ti’Era and her madre Elvie to spend the afternoon with us. Normally, Peruvian birthday parties are filled with loud music, drinking and awkward dancing but I’m not into that. Eliceni even went to the next town over to buy a birthday cake that actually had my name spelled right!!! Without an H! I was shocked.

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Ellen! Sin H! Seriously I still can’t believe it!

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Presents from Ti’Era

Later that night the festivities for the Festival de Zaña, or the anniversary celebration of Zaña, began with El Reinado. This is a local beauty pageant to find La Reina de Zaña, who has various duties/appearances to make throughout the year. Two of our dance friends were participating, so Ti’Era and I drank some wine and sat through the entire show, which was several hours long. It was worth it in the end though, because the girls we knew ended up winning!  The rest of the weekend was the Festival de Zaña. Saturday night there was live music from the band Afro-Peru and dancing in the main park. At the end of the show the director of the Museo Afroperuano invited people to come listen to another well-known guitarist play. We stayed listening to different groups sing and dance until about 5 am. And then I snuck back into my house just to have my madre laugh at me when I finally woke up at noon. Sunday I participated in the parade, dressed up as La Princesa Mochica. There was a big town baile that we went to, staying again way too late, but it was so much fun. Eliceni laughed at me again when I woke up super late and still was really tired. But it was worth it!

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12 am

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2 am

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3 am, things got more and more lively as the night went on

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La Princesa Mochica with her Mochica Guards, el Diablo Mayor and one of the musicians

 

It was a busy, fun month, but it never quite felt like November, as its at least 80° here everyday, there’s no large leaf piles to jump into or chunky sweaters to wear. That’s probably what made it less sad to spend the holiday and my birthday away from family and friends, but maybe it’s because Zaña is becoming my home.

 

*side note of information:  to get to Zaña we take combis which are basically minivans. Our combis travel from one specific location in Chiclayo and stop in our town on their way to the final destination. The combis run from about 5 am to 7/8pm depending on the day. To be safe, we are always in our terminal by 7 pm.

I thought about going for a run…

…even though it’s hot as hell outside.

Putting on clothing in this heat, which will only continue to get worse in the next few months, is the last thing I want to do, so I grabbed the smallest running clothing I own:  a running tank top and compression shorts.  But when I looked in the mirror, I immediately thought, “ugh not enough clothing.”  I’m not trying to get taken, ya know?

So I put on some leggings and another shirt and while doing this broke out into a full sweat.  I mean a full, head-to-toe, body sweat.  Literally pouring sweat.  Which is like a great sign for the run, I’ll probably die out there between the chakras from dehydration.

So now I’m laying in bed watching movies.  I’m still sweating though, so that’s like the equivalent of working out, right??

Life in Peru

Now that I have lived in Peru for 6 months, and in my site for 3 months, and I don’t have a Community Diagnostic to write, and I am sick with gripe, I have had some free time to write one long update about the last 6 months of my life! I mean, I’ve had plenty of free time in the last 3 months but I used it to watch The Office and Orange is the New Black because like #priorities

Okay so basics before I start: I’m a Community Economic Development (CED) Volunteer. I live in Zaña, Lambayeque, Peru. It is in the north of Peru and is a small Afro-Peruvian community. I have a site mate, Ti’Era, who is a gift from the PC Gods because I would never have survived these last 3 months without her. [Thanks Ti for always being there for me.]

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View from my run, outside the city in the farms

The last 6 months can pretty much be divided by PST (Pre-Service Training), Swearing-In, 1st Month in site and the 2nd-3rd months in site.

PST- or the worst, best 11 weeks of a volunteer’s life. It was without a doubt the most tedious, draining (emotionally and physically) and testing 11 weeks one has ever experienced. We lived in small suburban-like communities outside of Lima, in Chaclacayo. We “learned” program related things, Spanish, Peruvian customs and cultures, how to stay safe, and a wide variety of other subjects. Some of the information was obviously helpful and impactful, and other information was so dry and dull it was hard to get through. It was also filled with really fun nights bonding with host families, and other volunteers. We spent 11 weeks creating a little family that eventually was ripped apart. I think every volunteer in my training group will agree that I was not the happiest/nicest/friendliest person during these 11 weeks. Honestly, PST probably brought out the worst in me, so I am sorry to my fellow volunteers, but I promise I am sorta nicer now. Also, I pooped my pants for the first time ever in my life the second week of training. In the life of a PCV, this is so normal and happens to about 99% of Peru volunteers, and we frequently talk about poop/pooping pants. But, nonetheless, it was a little traumatic to go through.

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Ti’Era and Joe

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Celebrating 4th of July

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Lima Day Trip

Swearing-In- the moment we had all been waiting for, finally, we would become volunteers! The ceremony was held at the Ambassador’s house, a super lavish casa, and we sat on stage, listened to speeches, took our vows, were fed some really tasty appetizers and then shuffled onto buses and cars to head to site. Swearing in and having our accomplishment recognized was so nice and we needed it. We needed to hear that we had done well and that we have potential to be great volunteers. We got that. But then we also needed time to say goodbye, properly. To hug our beloved friends extra tight, because some of them we wouldn’t see for a few months and others never. And we needed time to thank our host families. But we weren’t given that. After an emotional afternoon, several other Lambayeque Volunteers and myself missed the bus to our sites. Most of us had gotten held up in traffic for over 2 hours because everyone and their mothers were leaving Lima because it was the weekend of Fiestas Patrias (their Independence Day). So, I was given a few days extra in Lima, which was great, but I still had rushed out so quickly in the attempt to make my bus that I didn’t really get to properly say “see you soon” to the few I cared about.

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Robin and I happy to (finally) be new volunteers!

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CED Peru 25 with the Ambassador, Country Director and Staff

1st Month In Site- August– is pretty much a blur at this point. So many new things happened, both happy and sad, it all kinda melts together. I spent a lot of time getting to know my site mate, and my site. I started running regularly along a dirt road between the chacras (farming fields). I inadvertently joined an Afro-Peruvian dance team. I learned that getting people to work with me in site would be difficult- people only saw the need for an Environmental Volunteer (which is what Ti’Era is). There were lots of Peruvian birthday parties, which were a great way to integrate. It was a nice adjustment period. Because I had arrived to site during Fiestas Patrias, the schools and the Municipality were on vacation, so it was relaxed, I didn’t have to do much work and I really had a lot of time to get to know my new family and my new home.  During the first 3 months in site volunteers are supposed to dedicate most of their time to a Community Diagnostic, or an investigation into the community.  All in all, the first month was pretty happy, although some personal things seriously saddened it. But I made it! I was so proud of myself when I made it through the 1st month. And without Internet in my house!

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Dead animals in my fridge- one of the WTF moments

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Ti’Era and I dancing Festejo- a traditional Afro-Peruvian dance

2nd and 3rd Months In Site- September and October– these months were pretty much filled with a lot of the same emotions and a lot of the same work. I started teaching classes about personal finance and vocational orientation to the local high schoolers, hoping to get my foot in the door and learn some valuable insight for my Diagnostic. Although the teacher I worked with was supportive and always had my back, she was not involved in the classroom at all and it was pretty obvious the students did not care if I was there or not. I tried to start working with the Municipality, gathering information for the Diagnostic and getting to know the employees, and some days that was better than others. My socio, Oscar, is great but he doesn’t have all that much authority or information in the Business Department so mostly I was sent to speak to someone else and then sent to speak to someone else and so on so forth and never received the information I needed. As for work, things remained slow and a lot of days I felt defeated. I pooped my pants for the second time, it was equally as disgusting but less traumatic, because like whatever shit happens. I was homesick part of September and alllllll of October. There had been some issues within Peace Corps Peru that fostered a sense of distrust between Lima Staff (or the upper PC Peru staff) and the volunteers, and that was also hard to deal with as a new volunteer. Basically, there was a lot going on all at once, and at the same time nothing going on at all. As someone who isn’t typically emotional, or someone who typically is even-keel like not too happy and not too sad, it was a lot a lot A LOT for me to deal with. I found myself constantly exhausted to the point where I thought I was seriously ill, but now in retrospect, I was just so beyond emotionally drained on a daily basis. I questioned what the fuck I am doing here. I questioned why I had to eat a mountain of rice for every single meal. I wondered when Peruvians would stop staring at every single thing I did, because like seriously I don’t eat any differently than you and I literally don’t understand what is so fascinating about it. Some nights I drank wine in my room alone and cried and other nights I was out in the park trying to make new friends.  During the same day I would go from the highest high, to the lowest low. Sometimes even during within the same hour. But I made it through! With a ton of support from other volunteers and my family, thank you guys!

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My new fav fruit

SO, if you were to ask me “How is Peru?” I don’t really have one answer. It has all been an experience so far, that’s for sure. Volunteers experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, but poco a poco (little by little) we get through it. I am thankful to call Peru my home, even when I want to punch everyone I talk to. I’m constantly learning about myself and about Peruvians, and although sometimes that is scary or annoying, it’s the best thing for me. There are days when I question what the fuck am I doing here and there are days that I can’t imagine anything else. Sometimes I would give anything to go back to the States and be a normal person and sometimes I wouldn’t. Really, it all depends on that specific moment in time how I am feeling, and I think that’s the beauty of Peace Corps. I’m learning to live life in every single moment that I am given. (I know that’s ridiculously cliché)