Amy in Peru: An Odyssey

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Birthdays and bad luck

(For some reason Blogger won't let me post a pic of my b-day itself, but here is the letter-cutting party, with (from left to right: Esther, Raida (two teachers), Oscar, Angelica and Alida)

Thanks to everyone who has sent me b-day wishes--- it is great to be remembered, and as most of you know, since i am a schmaltzy schmuck, I do genuinely appreciate the gestures! :)

My birthday was actually quite fun, and my officemates took good care of me. The day before (Wednesday), we had to stay in the office late cutting out letters, etc... with some local teachers, and so they pulled out a chocolate cake and a bottle of Coke (strange combo i know, but apparently not too strange here--- not bad really. Didn't miss the glass of milk as cake here seems rarely to have icing on it)

Thursday (my birthday), I was spoiled a number of times. Angelica, a woman who works in the office, gave me a pair of dolls dressed in local clothes--- actually very nice. For dinner, Oscar and Alida took me out for supper---- as they are quite reasonably timid about my eating anything too crazy (my stomach still doesn't really work very well), we went out for a feed of pollo a la brasa, or grilled chicken. Delicious (and without feet or a face--- a step up in my books!) :) We also tried a dark beer, which was actually sweet--- Leah, you would be very disappointed in the dark beers here! :) Oscar and Alida also gave me a very nice sweater as a gift (I think they think i am not dressing warmly enough...).

After dinner, we went to a local bar where we said we would meet a few other people later that evening. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as we shall soon see), not much was happening yet, so we decided to indulge Oscar's deep passion for singing and head across the street to the karaoke bar.

Okay--- so i have never really been to a karaoke bar--- reason number one for me to giggle a bit at the whole thing. Secondly--- i haven't really had the opportunity to READ the lyrics to some of the plethora of incredibly cheezy songs that are sung here. Thirdly--- Oscar takes his singing of said cheezy songs very seriously. Let me tell you, this was a recipe for what I like to call "laughter disaster" (kind of like Battle Royale, in the sense that it was craziness of epic proportions...) I won't go into too many details, but suffice it to say that my favorite song of the bunch (that oscar sang--- and there were several) involved the protagonist taking a picture of his cheating lover, dissolving it in a glass of beer and then literally drinking his love away..... seriously. I'm not joking. I love it.

So after hanging out there for about an hour, we headed back across the street to the local bar which, while not packed, was hopping a bit, and the local band was playing. They were really excellent--- lots of local tunes, great rhythms, some amazing harmonies. Iliana (a teacher and good friend of Alida) showed up with a friend, and my newly-met american guy (David--- yahoo english!) and his "brother" (he is staying with a host family) stopped by, and we had a great night. Bottles of calientes (that herbal mixture combined with alcohol--- we chose the traditional peruvian Pisco), lots and lots of dancing, several birthday announcements of congratulations and leaving at almost 2am. Fun fun! (Luckily, I was not required to be up at 4am for the trip to Huancayo for meetings---- that was left to poor Alida and Oscar--- have not yet heard how that went for them... yikes!)

So all in all a great time, and I was well looked after. However, despite this positive love fest of happy birthday vibes, I still have to report that I do not yet have an apartment. Seriously. I am about to rip my hair out i am so frustrated with this whole process. All anyone can say is "ooo... it's very hard to find anythign here...". Yes, thank you. I have noticed. But could you maybe HELP ME??? The apartment i have been waiting on for two weeks continues to be "almost" done, as it has been for the entire two weeks (as before, it is still missing the toilet, water hookup, and front door. It finally does have glass in the windows--- some progress i guess is better than nothing). I have tried to look at other places but no one ever shows up for appointments, or the apartments have a llama slaughter house I have to pass through to get to my door (I am not joking--- it was rank). So the beat goes on, i am still a prisoner in my stupid hostal, and there is nothing immediate on the horizon. There needs to be WAY more help with this, or some scouting needs to be done and something potentially arranged in advance of a cooperant coming here. (In case CUSO is reading this... which they probably aren't...)

Otherwise things continue on. The strike has unofficially but FINALLY let up, and classes are supposed to resume on Monday. We shall see, but everyone is hopeful as many projects have been delayed by this strike. There are some managers coming from EDUCA Lima this week, so i imagine there will be more meetings, etc... Still nothing concrete at work, aside from organizing the heck out of the office. Not at all rocket science, but better than nothing, right? I might be giving some english lessons to the english teachers here, but in the vein of peace and conflict--- potentially interesting, but i have been quick to say that I will NOT be teaching english for my two years-- i need to be doing more than that. Otherwise, I have contracted a nasty cold so have been pretty quiet this weekend, which is fine since i am stuck here again by myself. Nice to have met the american guy finally--- i imagine we will hang out some so we can get some english in occasionally.

So that is the update for this week. Continues to be an experience of fun and positives, as well as frustrating negatives (mostly the ongoing apartment stupidness). But what can you do? Ride the wave. Hope all is well with everyone, and keep in touch!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lists II

5 Things I continue to wonder over about Huancavelica generally

1. The garbage truck comes by on Thursdays, but instead of gruff garbage men, screeching brakes and rumbling engines, we are asked for our garbage with little children´s songs.... seriously, the garbage truck plays a bunch of little songs like "Happy Birthday" and "Frere Jacques"---- what a contrast! I love it!

2. As there is n election coming up, tons of houses and buildings are covered in political paintings. I thought that whoever lived in whatever house felt passionately about the party smeared all over their walls. However, it turns out that political parties can paint on whatever house they like, and there is nothing the owners can do (but paint over it, if they want).

3. With my sad sea-level lungs, i struggle to make it up 5 stairs without panting. However, there is a guy in town who is CONSTANTLY running-- training for a marathon i imagine. But i am amazed. We see him in town, in the country, everywhere, running. Stunning. I want to sit him down and find out how long he has been doing this, and if he ever wins the marathons he must inevitably enter.

4. People will readily say yes to anything you ask, but it is a rare case when they actually mean it. I continue to work on deciphering this code of "yes actually means not really, sorry"

5. I don't love coffee, but i have yet to find anywhere where I can get a cup. Instead, you order a glass of hot water or milk, and add in a liquid (found on many a table in cafe-type places) that is apparently a coffee extract, but looks like soya sauce.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


After an insanely boring weekend (i NEED to find some time to meet other people, because when my office mates are gone, like they were last weekend, i am completely alone!), we arrived to work to find out that the teachers of the department (like province) of Huancavelica would be going on strike on Wednesday. Strikes are called here, not by members of the union voting to go on strike, but because the leaders have decided they want to. And apparently strikes are often called on a wednesday so that people will get a long weekend... Now granted this is a jaded view, but on the whole, as it is not a particularly democratic process (they don´t get to vote to end the strike either!!), i wouldn´t be overly surprised.

So wednesday came, and it turns out, in addition to the hundred or so teachers marching on Huancavelica, the university students also decided to strike independantly, and set up blockades. I guess people were feeling particularly politically active this week--- i don´t know. So it was a dramatic day on wednesday. The local government also acceeded to one of the demands of the teachers union and fired all of the mamagers working in the department of education. Just like that. There have also been storming of government buildings, taking buildings hostage, etc... very dramatic, but frankly you don´t see much of the effects in the streets.

We are continuing to work, though quietly so as not to appear out of synch with the teachers we work with (the vast majority who, apparently, didn´t want to strike in the first place). We have a big forum coming up on the 31st of October (so no jack o lanterns for me... boooo!!), so there is a lot to prepare with that. Plus, people from EDUCA in Lima are coming for a visit, so we are trying to spiff up the office--- organizing, etc.... Not rocket science, but better than being bored, which is how i have been feeling of late. Frankly, and perhaps inappropriately put, at times i feel a bit like a pet, not contributing anything really (not for my lack of asking for things to do), but towed around for show, or becasue it is better than leaving me in the office alone. One day i spent a total of two hours sitting in the truck waiting for others to go to meetings---- is that seriously the best use of my time and skills??? But i am still learning, and part of learning about what is going on here is understanding how much time is wasted. Seriously. It is amazing. But that is how things work. For now.... (insert evil laugh here) I am already planning a subversive workshop, trying to teach other organizations how to run a meeting (ie: FOCUS people!!), how to read body language (ie: if half of the people at your meeting are asleep, one might want to rethink your delivery of information), how to involve others in a meeting (ie: why did you invite 10 people here to talk at them instead of conducting a discussion of the issues? Send a letter if all you want to do is deliver a speech---- i don't need to be in front of you for you to give me this information).

Do I sound frustrated? Perhaps. But whatever. I am going to hold out for a while, sit back and try to understand this whole system of neverending, inefficient meetings before really deciding if i am going to actually try to do somethign about it. (Please note that i am not even coming close to touching that other issue of time, where we waste an average of 1 hour at least waiting for a meeting to start. I am going to reconcile myself to that. That is culture. But the delivery of information--- that is style, in my mind, and style can be changed.)

Anyway, enough of my randomness. I am still living in the hostal, which is REALLY starting to drive me nuts (can you imagine how wrinkly some of my clothes will be after 2 months without being unpacked??), but hopefully my next post will involve some good news. I am seeing two places this weekend, both of which i am assured will be good and i can choose between them.... so we shall see. Fingers tightly crossed. I am also REALLY hoping to get a mailing address soon--- am kinda parched for some familiar stuff--- letters will be most welcomed once i have some mailable coordinates (do i sound desperate? perhaps that´s not a mistake....)

Hope all is well with everyone, and will post again soon!!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Guinea Pigs and Wedding Crashers

My first week in Huancavelica consisted mainly of getting whisked around on Wednesday meeting people and organizations in town and attending a meeting (where we were served delicious empanadas!! Yum!), before leaving Thursday at 4am for Lircay, about 4 hours away on a VERY rough road. It was a long trip, but beautiful (pics above include a view during the drive (spectacular!), the playground at the school, kids playing and the wedding--- info all to come), and we arrived a little shaken (from the potholes) but intact.

We were there to attend a three day workshop of local NGOS funded by a Spanish NGO called Madre Coraje. So there was a diverse group, which was great, and I met a lot of new people. The first day lunch however, i was introduced to cuya... which is baked guinea pig in a brown spicy sauce. I bravely took a bite, and then handed my plate over to a tablemate, who happily ate my portion, sucking on all of the little bones and enjoying themselves immensely. For my part, i barely made it through--- there's something about eating pets that doesn't quite sit well... :)

Anyway, that afternoon, we found out that one of the local guys there in Lircay was getting married that night, and he invited us all to come! Hahahaha.... no way we were all invited to his wedding, right?? But as it turns out, we actually were... :) So Thursday night was spent quite nicely, attending a small service in a catholic church, greeting all of the family, filling our pockets with tons of rice which was pelted mercilessly at the couple as they left the church. We then raced into town to get a wedding gift, and went to the reception, where they couple danced for us, and we feasted on potato balls and beer (interesting side note: you don't get your own bottle of beer, or your own drink at all for that matter. A bottle of whatever is being drunk in the room is passed around with a glass--- you pour yourself a portion, drink it and then pass the works on to the next person. Fun!)

The next day, after having a cold shower (no hot water in the hostel), we had more presentations and events. I continued to be amazed at the quantity of food that people ate (between my continuing altitude belly and general dislike of eating tripe soup (another rather disgusting breakfast dish i passed up) and pets, I was't downing it like the rest of them). That evening, after the main parts of the day were over and everyone was fed (again), people broke out the guitars and we spent the next few hours singing (okay i didn't sing--- there is a collective memory of songs here, and i have yet to have a clue what they are to be able to sing along), dancing (in this, i did partake), and having little glasses of caliente, which is an herbal infusion mixed with alcohol--- lovely!

The next morning, we woke early and drove to a project way out in the mountains (about 2 hours drive on ROUGH terraine), which was a school dedicated to children who have suffered from political violence. It was amazing--- the setting, the resoursefulness, the animation, the color. Have some great pics which i will post soon. There was a school, a garden, a medical facility, etc.... an oasis in an otherwise impoverished and desolate arrea. We then went back to town to witness the opening of a centre working in issues of violence against women-- also really fun and inspiring--- a little play was put on, some singing, presentations, etc...

We then got ourselves ready for the long trip back to Huancavelica--- got back around 8pm and CRASHED (after finally having a hot shower in my hotel). An amazing experience and a inundating introduction to what is happening in the area, and the people who are working here. I feel like i have lived a month in only a week--- too full!! (and with not a word of english in a week---- i was parched for some english, so called my family on sunday!)

Speaking of Sunday, we went around looking to see if we could find a decent apartment (nothing yet---- yikes!!!), and also checked out the sunday feria (or market) in Huancavelica---- AWESOME!!!!! So many new veggies and fruit, anythign and everything you could ever want you will find there--- i am DYING to settle down and get a place so that i can start cooking and exploring around. I am so sick of living out of my half-unpacked suitcase!! Arg!! :)

This week so far has been spent making trips to local NGOS to invite them to a meeting on Wednesday (there is a whole uber-formal process to inviting people to meetings--- i will not get into it now--- but it strikes me strange that you have to get all of these stamps and signatures, and then people don't bother to show up until 2 hours after the meeting was supposed to start.... what??) we also spent a lot of time on the back roads today visiting some rural schools getting them to sign on to our 'Cultura de Paz' (Culture of peace) project which i will eventually be working on. It is pretty much organized, just waiting for some general capacity building and seminar organizing before things start to get really rolling. Alida and Oscar (my officemates) are gone from thursday till Monday morning, so i am REALLY hoping i get an apartment before they leave so that i can try to get organized with that. Otherwise, i have no idea what i will be doing for the next few days--- eep!! We shall see!!

Anyway--- this is the resume--- for now. Continue to feel overwhelmed, but not so much that i feel bad. Continue to be stressed about the apartment and hope that is resolved soon. Continue to like Huancavelica and feel okay with this being my home for the next two years. Generally good and happy--- can't complain!! :) Keep in touch, and have a great week!