lunes, 5 de julio de 2010

Happy Birthday America!

What a beautiful 4th of July! I thought I would just skip Independence Day since I would not be in the country, but ironically we had scheduled my presentation of the U.S. and Erie, PA to the girls in Pamplona for this past Sunday (July 4th and my last day in Pamplona). They had asked me to think of something typical of the U.S. that we could do with the girls. I struggled to come up with an idea because I couldn't think of anything "typical" of the U.S. since we are supposedly just a mumble jumble of everything and anything that we take from other cultures. I'm not really sure that I believe that to be true but I do think it can be difficult to identify what is "typical" of your own culture.

But it came to me! S'mores!! What a wonderful (North)American tradition! The whole feeling of sitting around a fire on a summer night under a starry sky with good friends, roasting marshmallows and enjoying the sugarry, gooey deliciousness that is the s'more! Only after we had everything planned out did I realize that this would take place on the 4th of July... basically the national day of the s'more when everyone in Erie goes to the beach to watch fireworks or has a bonfire in the backyard, both of which are not complete if not accompanied by fire, chocolate, Graham crackers and roasted marshmallows.

Of course, I had to improvise. There are no Graham crackers in Peru... they don't existe here trust me I looked into it. But I did find a comparable cracker.

Hershey's chocolate is extremely expensive -15 soles for a bar- which makes sense I guess since when you divide it by 3 is 5 dollars. Is that how much a hershey's chocolate bar costs? I don't even remember. But chocolate is chocolate, right?

And it's more expensive to buy a bag of colored marshmallows that have different flavors than a bag of only white ones, go figure. So we ended up with fresa (strawberry) flavored marshmallows, which actually tasted quite delicious when roasted and combined with chocolate.

It was a HUGE hit! We were able to get our hands on a small ceramic charcoal grill kind of thing so we were actually able to roast the marshmallows! I taught the girls how to brown their marshmallow to perfection and the importance of preparing their cracker and chocolate beforehand although those detailes flew quickly out the window in all the excitement of cooking the marshmallow over the fire which resulted in lots of black marshmallows and sticky hands, faces and hair. But they were excited (as was I) to know that at that very moment lots my friends at home were probably doing the exact same thing! After the workshop with the girls was over, the team members took advantage of the leftovers roasting marshmallow after marshmallow until they were sufficiently saturated with sugar. I think they were also quite intrigued with this fascinating new treat.

Through Apoyo Para el Futuro, the volunteer group through which I found work in Pamplona, there is an opportunity to support one of the girls with tuition to study at a university. Many girls want to study but do not have the means to do so. Education is the ONLY way for the girls to surpass the situation into which they have been born. The cost of educaiton in Peru is cheap, so your support could change the life of one person at a minimal cost to you. Please contact me if you would like more information about funding a scholarship for one of the girls of Pamplona.

lunes, 19 de abril de 2010

Girls will be Girls

"Oh Peru." is something I find myself saying quite often, even though I have been here for 9 months and should really be used to the idiosyncracies of this crazy place. Every time I get into the little minivan that they call the "combi " crammed tight with people to the point where I am standing, bent over in a 90 degree angle, pressed against a man in a business suit and briefcase yelling into his cell phone on one side, and a little old lady missing her 4 front teeth and nearly falling asleep on the other, I ask myself how it ever got to be this way. Who made up the combi system? Why don't they follow the traffic laws? Those lines on the road are there for a purpose, you know. How many times are they going to honk their horn before they realize that traffic is not moving and expressing anger about it is not going to make the light turn green?

These questions are just as pointless as the endless horn honking to which everyone is now desensitized. There really are no easy answers as to why. The country is a product of its past and there is nothing that I can do change it. Better to just chuckle and accept it as it is.

I was going to write a blog about my last couple of adventures out of the city to the oasis in the desert and to the rock forest in the Corillera Negra, but I think I will save those for when I get home. It was great to get out of Lima a bit, breathe some fresh air into my black lungs, but honestly neither trip had as much of an effect on me as my volunteering project in Pamplona, a shanty town in a district of Lima, has had.

Pamplona is located on the side of a "cerro" or hill on the outskirts of the city. You would never know that it was here and in fact, most people haven't even heard of it. Taking the bus there is the first experience. As you turn off of the main street into San Juan de Miraflores, the district where Pamplona is located, the scene quickly changes. Instead of starbucks and chic botiques, the streets are bordered by heaps of trash and unregistered street vendors. Slowly creeping up the hill, the buildings become less and less structured and by the time you reach Pamplona, they are only small shacks built out of scrap wood and tin rooves. Skinny dogs ruffle through piles of burning trash that produce a reeking stench which permeates every corner of the barrio. Garbage trucks don't come to Pamplona so people throw their garbage into these heaps in the streets which become fly infested, rotting, collective dumps. A layer of dirty dust turns the whole place a musky brown. Pamplona is just beginning to recieve streetlights but for the most part at night it is dimmly lit by the bare, poorly rigged lightbulbs which hang in the homes. This part of Lima doesn't recieve water from the city either, so a water truck which makes its way up the hill an indefinite number of times per week fills up the tanks which are essentially just giant barrels from which the families take their water for cooking, washing, etc. But sometimes the truck doesn't come, or misses parts of the neighborhood, leaving the people without water for as long as 2 weeks.

The problem with Pamplona is that the people who have settled there have come from the provinces and do not actually own the land on which they are living. So there is no help from the government. They call this phenomenon la invasión.
Since I have been back in Lima I have been working with a group called Apoyo Para el Futuro which works with young girls from Pamplona, visiting them on a daily basis and holding workshops and excursions every couple of weeks. The project has a really wonderful presence in the community. Each day there are members from the organization there, visiting the girls at their homes, checking in on how they are doing at home and in school and how they are getting along with their mothers. When I went to do fieldwork with the group for the first time, I was surprised to find that very rarely were mother and daughter at home together. Sometimes we found that the mother was there and not the daughter, or the other way around. Of course the girls study during the day or in the afternoon, but the more shocking realization was that the girls are there alone all day. And they are not just sitting around, most have to care for younger brothers and sisters, cook for them, entertain them, help them with their homework while also working on their own. They are often expected to have cleaned the house, as well as have food prepared for when the parents come home very late at night.
About every other Sunday we gather with the group of about 40 or so girls in a small shack that has been set aside for us and hold the workshops. We do lots of activities with the girls, sing songs, and work on a theme with them such as helping them to understand the water situation in Pamplona and how they can better use the water they have, or on self esteem issues and understanding their bodies, issues they rarely learn about from their mothers, let alone at school. More recently we have realized that a priority must be to reenforce what they are learning in school because it has become clear that the girls recieve a very poor education and little support from their teachers.

We also take trips out of the neighborhood. On these trips the girls must be acompanied by their mothers. A main focus of the program is to fortify the relationships that the girls have with their mothers. There are very few exceptions to this rule. No excuses such as having to care for small children, having to work, etc., are accepted. If the mother doesn't attend, neither may the daughter. A couple of weeks ago we went on our first "jornada" or journey with the girls and their mothers. The girls decided that they wanted to go somewhere where there was a pool. So that's what we did. It was really great to see the girls with their mothers! Although most of the mothers did not swim, the girls really enjoyed the pool. Most of them did not know how to swim and were afraid of the deep end of the pool but wanted to be carried around in the deep water. That's where I came in!

After swimming we played a series of games in which mother and daughter had to work together like tug of war, three foot races and siamese races in which the pair had to hold a ball in between their heads and make it to the other side. It reminded me of field day in elementary school and the girls were just as enthusiastic as we all were each year.

Being in Pamplona and interacting with the girls and their mothers has given me a chance to experience first hand the way most people in the world live. I have also learned a lot about the issues in Peru and some of the history which has made for me more clear some of the reasons for why Peru is the way it is.
When we talk with the mothers there is a large focus on costs and money- of course because there is not much of it. They express concern for their daughters and insist that they come home before dark, admitting that it's okay for the boys to stay out. Unfortunately this is true, but it makes me wonder, with this reaffirmation of gender inequality, when is the viscious cycle ever going to stop? When will it be safe for the girls to be out past dark? How will they ever feel empowered if they are taught by their own parents that it's okay for boys to stay out, but they must be home or else something bad will happen to them? This is a prominent issue, of course, throughout the country and the world, but it's something that is learned at a young age. These are very, very strong, young girls and I admire them as much as I want to be there for them. I feel like that's all that I can really do - be there for them and support an environment in which they can grow and learn in a healthy way.

sábado, 27 de febrero de 2010

Welcome to the Jungle!

After a long first week in Cusco, the next month and a half flew by. And I couldn't believe it, but leaving Cusco was actually really hard! I was ready to leave the city and get back to Lima (the bigger city) but the hardest thing was to leave the wonderful friends I had made. I think this is the best and most difficult part of travelling: meeting wonderful people, and then having to move on and leave them, not knowing whether or not I will ever see them again. I've come to believe that everything works itself out and whatever happens is simply meant to be.

Cusco is wonderful. It's a town of artists, musicians, hippies, travelers and wanderers. I now understand why people go to Cusco planning to stay for a week and end up staying for months, and often even moving there. There is a draw there that many people talk about but usually cannot find the words to describe. There's just something there. I wasn't really feeling it at first, but I definately found it by the end and I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to return.

During my last few days in Cusco my dad came and met up with me. How great to see him after 7 months! Of course, since Machu Picchu has been closed due to the over 40 mudslides that have devastated the outskirts of Cusco and its economy which relies heavily on the influx of tourists who venture to the Sacred City to visit the ruins, my dad and I were not able to hike there as planned. So instead we decided to go to Puerto Maldonado, a part of the jungle near to Cusco. The roads are some of the most trecherous in Peru so we decided to fly there. After spending a few days in Cusco, (my dad huffing and puffing through the city which sits at 11,200 feet above sea level) we left for the jungle! After rushing to the airport, we were told that our flight was 2 hours delayed. We waited around for 2 hours, expecting our plane to arrive but, since we are in Peru, the plane was late and we borded 30 minutes after we were supposed to, even with our delay. We borded the plane and after we taxied out onto the runway we were informed that there was bad weather in Puerto Maldonado and that we would be returning to the airport. But after lots of back and forth... we're going, we're not going... we set off.

Once we got to our hostel we set up a 2 day excursion into the jungle. We took a boat ride on the Tambopata River out to the Reserve which is a protected part of the jungle that can only be accessed with a guide. Fortunately, the owner of our hostel happened to be a tourguide who had grown up in the jungle until he was 14 years old!

Me with my rubber boots getting ready to hike 3 km through a muddy jungle path.

The first thing we did when we got in our boat that we took out to the lake was go fishing for piranhas. Naturally, I was the first to catch one.

Our guide put this leaf in the piranah's mouth. It was like a little hold puncher, as soon as the leaf was in it's mouth it would chomp down on it. Those are some sharp teeth!
Some blood-thirsty bats hanging out on a tree for the day until flying around our heads and hair at night.

Lake Sandoval. This is where we stayed for one night out in the jungle. In the afternoon, after lunch and a nap, we went out again in our boat into the lake. We cruised along the lakeside looking into the lush jungle, seeing and hearing wild birds of beautiful colors. As we approached one section of jungle, the trees and bushes seemed to come to life. The shook and swayed and it was clear that there was something going on inside. As we got closer we noticed that it was monkeys! And 3 different kinds: squirrel monkeys, cappuchino monkeys and howler monkeys. We had heard the roar of the howlers from far away and were lucky to have the opportunity to actually see them!

Giant Ironwood trees. Is it interesting that my dad and I used to live on Ironwood Lane?
Here are some other creatures that we found in the jungle. Our guide was very knowledgeable and, having lived in the jungle for the first years of his life, he was able to find things that we, people who are not so connected with our natural surroundings, would never have noticed had he not pointed them out. Sometimes he would stop on the trail, look around, and point out a bird sitting still on a branch which blended in with the surroundings, or a turtle hiding under thick foilage, or the leg of a taranchula beneath a fallen leaf.

After a long day and lots of time in the boat, we wobbled up to our lodge where dinner was prepared for us and then to our mosquito net covered beds.
The next day we left early, walking 4 km back on the muddy path to our first boat at the entrance of the Reserve. From there we rode to a research center where endangered animals (and endangered of becoming endangered animals) are kept. First we saw a baby jaguar. He was so domesticated that he was purring and letting us pet him. Although all he wanted to do was play, we had to be careful because regardless of whether or not he wanted to do harm, those teeth could definately leave us missing fingers. Here is a video of the jaguar... and yes, those are my fingers which I managed to save only by the flick of a wrist.

Next were the monkeys.

After seeing the animals we walked to this bridge which was created so that researchers could climb up above the canopy at the early hours of the day to observe exotic birds that can only be seen very early in the morning. The bridge is 90 meters long and 42 meters above the ground. Unfortunately for my dad, he has a phobia of bridges. Not heights. Just bridges. But he faced his fear and scaled across! Relieved once he reached the tree where the bridge ends, his nerves peaked again as he was told that the only way down was to go back across the bridge.

Hiking back to where we were to have lunch was possibly the most terrifying adventure of the trip. Our trail had been flooded by heavy rains and so in our path was a flooded pond. We all stood there for several minutes before deciding that the best option would be to wade through it. My dad smoked a cigarette that would otherwise be lost to the murky waters. It was as if he were smoking his last cigarette, and he seemed to enjoy it just that much. I surged ahead, wading and eventually swimming through the pond. Soon I could not touch the ground and had to cling to a tree that stuck out of the water. It was difficult to swim since we were all wearing rubber boots so the best thing to do was not to kick but to let the boots keep us afloat. Just as I was about to push off and float to the next tree, I saw something skimming the surface of the water, quickly realizing that it was a caiman - a small river alligator... Great. Our guide told me to stop, telling me that since there where caiman in the water, the men should go first... a theory that I hardly accepted but given the circumstances, decided to obey. Floating from tree to tree we made it across the pond and safely back onto the path.
Overall, the trip was amazing. We were lucky with weather and with the number of animals and other jungle creatures we were able to experience. Right now is the rainy season in Puerto Maldonado but magically, we were graced with sun, blue skies, hot weather and no rain. It was difficult to go back to chilly, rainy Cusco, but also great to be back to have a proper goodbye with the city.
Coming back to Lima was almost like coming home. How time flies here. I can't believe that break is almost over and that my time in Cusco has passed. It's wonderful to be back on the coast and back at home with Dina and Klaus!

domingo, 24 de enero de 2010

Good Day Sunshine

After having written a fairly emotional last entry I thought it was about time to reassure everyone that I am OKAY as well as share some photos of my life here in Cusco. I have made some good progress on research as well as some good friends who will be sticking around Cusco for a while and who like to explore almost as much as I do!

Saying goodbye to Lima was difficult. I have really come to love it there, to the point that it feels like my home away from home. I think that this was one source of my feeling so sad during my first week in Cusco. It is now sunny and warm in Lima while here in Cusco it rains everyday for variable amounts of time and it is COLD... I know I shouldn't be complaining since all of you at home are up to your red, runny noses in snow, but I was so ready for summer break! And now its difficult to spend too much time outside.

But Cusco is a beautiful place! In the central plaza there are 2 colonial style cathedrals which sit on cobblestone roads that spider around the districts of San Blas and Central- the main tourist districts and the most beautiful that the city has to offer. There are Incan walls that still stand at the base of several of the white walls that make up the structure of most of the city buildings. The Incan walls can be distinguished from the ones that are newer because the rocks have been formed into blocks and sit one on top of the other without any kind of cement holding them together. The Incas were famous for having carved their rocks and placed them to fit together perfectly, as well as for having developed an anti-seismic strategy in which the edges of the blocks are not exactly square with one another but slanted slightly.

Notice how the sides of the windows are also turned slightly inward...this is a classic Inca structure that has been the reason that the Inca structures have outlasted both colonial and modern structures through the years which have seen several devastating earthquakes.

I took advantage of this moment in the central plaza to snap a picture of what it looks like on a sunny day. This is a spot where lots of backpackers gather to sit around on benches, on the ground, on the steps of the fountain to chat, meet, play music, kill time before departing to other parts, and in the case of the young Argentinians (of which there are many) sit and drink mate.

But usually it looks like this.

Here are a couple of views of the street and hills from the top of the stairs that lead to my hostal. These stairs are killer at this altitude! I get a few workouts each day hiking up them.

And there are spiders in Cusco... something I had not experienced much of in Lima. This one was HUGE and was crawling along the wall in my room. I had to swipe a broom and sweep the sucker out the door... a feat which took a great deal of mental preparation on my part including several deep breaths and positive self talk... "you can do this... it's probably not poisonous... it's more afraid of you than you are of it."

Here are a couple of girls from a province of Cusco. They come into the city everyday to hold their goat and offer to pose for photos in exchange for a fairly large sum of money. They are only one group of many people who do this. I usually walk by them as they call out, "una foto senorita? One picture?" but today I stopped and took their photo because I wanted to chat with them. I sat down beside them to pet their goat (whose name is Josafina) and talk to them about what they do. They told me that mostly tourists like to take their picture. They say they use the money for their schooling - to buy notebooks and pens. This made me wonder if they were telling me the truth as the number one complaint from most tourists when they see these children working this way in the city is that they are not in school.

I also spend a good amount of time here at this central market. Here you can buy fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, bread... and if you are brave, meat, fish and cheese which sit out all day in the muggy marketplace. I often sit on one of those stools sipping a freshly squeezed juice of any type of fruit while writing observation fieldnotes or interviewing foreigners. Ok I'll be honest I have only interviewed one foreigner and two locals but I am making progress!
So thats life in Cusco! Pacing around markets, wandering the streets when they are dry and exploring the different dynamics of the ancient city of Cusco.

jueves, 14 de enero de 2010

rain drops keep fallin' on my head...

Life in Cusco has been quite a change. My first days here alone were some of the hardest yet. I had a breakdown every day for a while. The biggest problem was where I lived - I was living in the home of a man from Cusco and felt extremely dirty, without my personal space and far from the center of town where I spend the majority of my time. I have now moved to a room in a hostal where I have my own space and privacy, clean bathroom and lovely staff who let me use their kitchen. I would say moving has made be feel 70% better.

The other part of the struggle was feeling very alone in a new city. I don't know anyone here. My family had just left from visiting to go back home and all of a sudden I was on my own. In the mornings I would wander around the city aimlessly looking for something without knowing what I was looking for and not being able to find what I though I might be looking for. This is one of the coolest cities in the world with so much to offer and so many interesting people to meet but I could not even find a place to sit and read a book and drink a coffee. I have now come to terms that this may be an introspective time for me and a time to focus on my research. It is interesting for me to see and feel the changes in my emotions as I make adjustments in my life. I am clearly very affected by my surroundings - being in a small, dark, messy space in an area of town that sold car parts made me feel very uncomfortable while having my own clean space with lots of windows makes me feel more at home and far happier.

I struggled with the decision to leave the apartment for several days. Why should I get to live in a comfortable living situation when the majority of the people in this country live in far worse conditions than that apartment? I should live among the people who live in the country where I am living. I also really liked Anthony (the man) and his 11 year old son Gonzalo. One night Gonzalo taught me how to make banana wrapped in a pancake with condensed milk. We all watched a movie together and I felt that maybe I could handle living there. However, the next afternoon when I returned after spending the morning in the center, armed with cleaning supplies, I could not keep it together and immediately decided to take a couple of days at the hostal to make my decision as to whether or not to leave. As soon as I got there I cried for a long time and then began to feel a lot better. That night I went to a cafe lounge right beside my hostal to read and relax a bit. I met a couple of Argentinians with whom I sat and talked for quite a while. We went out for dinner and dancing that night. My first friends. Unfortunately they will be leaving Peru soon to go home. I think that I will meet a lot of people passing through Cusco as it's definately a tourist destination and a stop that most people make before visiting Machu Picchu. But I'm feeling ok about it since I am not exactly permanent here either and it will give me a chance to really focus on research. At least once in a while I will have people to go out with.

I decided after a couple days of staying at the hostal that this was going to work out much better for me. While I feel that I can handle living in a humble space, I would not choose to live where Anthony lives. I would not choose to live the way that he does and while he may be comfortable there, I was not. Now I have joined a gym, am getting to know the combi system and I'm enjoying the crazy markets where I buy my fresh fruits and veggies. I am planning to take yoga classes and get out into spaces where I can meet cool people and make some friends.

jueves, 17 de diciembre de 2009

Arequipa Arequipa!

It is now summer time and there is finally sun in Lima!! To celebrate the end of classes Elly and I took a 10 day trip to Arequipa, Puno, Lake Titicaca and La Paz, Bolivia. What a crazy and unforgettable south american adventure! We left from Lima at 8:30 at night taking a taxi to the bus station where we found out that we were being upgraded to the "Exclusivo" bus, meaning that instead of having a seat that reclines only 160 degrees, we would be enjoying a 180 degree reclining "semi bed." Needless to say we did not put up too much of a fuss about having to wait an extra 45 minutes to board our bus to Arequipa... we decided we were ok with it.

After the 15 hour bus ride, for most of which we were sound asleep in our ehem.. beds.. we arrived in la ciudad blanca: the white city of Arequipa. We spent a couple of days walking around the beautiful city enjoying it's famous queso helado (iced cheese), alfajores - cookies filled with manjar blanco - a kind of caramel like goo, and alpaca textiles galore.

Next stop was Puno, not the most beautiful city in Peru but home to the breathtaking Lake Titicaca at 3,812 meters (12,500 feet) above sea level - the highest navigable lake in the world.

On the lake are the floating islands made from reeds where we made a pit stop and met the president of the island and got to ride in their "Mercedes Benz" reed boat.

I decided to have a go at rowing the boat and found it more difficult than I had anticipated. I guess that is to be expected when the experienced driver decides to take a nap on the job. He was making me do all the work!

Here is a cute little girl - probably 7 or so, rowing her boat to school.

On our way to the island of Taquile soaking up the sun on the top of the boat.

The island of Taquile is the biggest island in the lake. The sights were incredible but the island has become completely over taken by tourists. Every local person that we saw had in their hands a spindle and thread making all kinds of tourist merchandise from hats, gloves and ski headbands to bags and belts. I had read about the tourism industry on this same island in one of my classes this semester which made the experience all the more interesting yet at the same time all the more uncomfortable. When tourists first started coming to the island the only way to access it was on the boats of the islanders themselves. Since the boats were so slow and not especially comfortable it was necessary for the tourists to spend the night in the homes of the locals which offered a substantial profit to those who opened their homes to foreigners. Now the people of Puno have opened up their own small businesses for tourists, offering trips in quick speed boats which allow tourists to visit the island for a few hours and return to Puno in the same day. Although this is much more convenient for the tourists who have set aside only a day or so in Puno (like us), this has really impacted the lives of the people who live on the island.

Crossing into Bolivia was a whole new adventure. Leaving Puno we hopped on a mini bus which would take us to the border. Nearly all of the people on the bus were dressed in traditional clothing and inspected us - two giggly gringas - as we marched to the back of the bus with our backpacks and tomato and avocado sandwiches, excited to get another stamp in our passports. When we reached the end of Peru, we hopped out of the bus and walked across the border to Bolivia... just far enough in to enter the customs office.

Now, Elly, being a citizen of Switzerland, only gets to talk to one person at the border of Peru and Bolivia. In contrast, I, as a north American, get to talk with several. It turns out that relations between United States of America and Bolivia are a bit shakey and as a result, Bolivia requires North Americans to jump through lots of hoops in order to enter their country... as well as pay a fine of 135 dollars. So instead of getting only one new stamp on my passport, I now have a full page of stickers, stamps and signatures... courtesy of the 4 Bolivians who assisted me in crossing into their country.

All of this craziness was well worth the time spent at the border as Bolivia I think is one of themost beautiful and exciting countries I have visited. It is located in a canyon which is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and giant red rocks used to construct brick buildings

THIS would be illegal in the U.S.... I think.
The beautiful plaza near our hostal where Elly and I spent the sunset watching the kids play chase with the pigeons.

Here is me. Again at the border of Peru and Bolivia. Not happy to be leaving the best trip thus far but ready to put on a clean change of clothes.