Amy in Peru: An Odyssey

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Some pics to share with people this week, just to mix it up--- haven't posted many in a while--- Below to the left is a nice pic of a sunny Huancavelica from my apartment window. Nothing too defining really, mostly a lot of roofs, but you can get a sense of things on a sunny day--- can be quite pretty with the mountains surrounding us. To the right is a picture of the one other gringo within a 100km radius of HVCA, David. He is from the States, and in this pic is thoroughly enjoying the peanut butter that was sent to me by my fabulous family. After this pic was taken, I trounced him mercilessly at a game of rummie 500. He consoled himself with more peanut butter....

This is a pic of friday night, when i went to Graciela (top center) and Carsten´s house for their anniversary dinner (she is from Lima originally, he is German, just moved here from Egypt, he is an engineer and works all over the place--- very cool). Left to right is: some woman from spain--- i didn't catch the name---- but is here with Caritas and really likes to talk about spain; Graciela's mom, who made some amazing chicken; the wife of the man next to her (bad amy--- very bad with names); Frederico Salas, who was a candidate for mayor here in HVCA, and actually, while the results are not yet in, it looks like he might win! (so maybe will turn out this was a good networking event?); Bottom (reserved for the shortest of the group... sigh): me, and Fannie, a original huancavelican who left for Lima but who has come back and works for Caritas (a health-related NGO). She may be taking quechua lessons with graciela and i in the new year. All in all a very nice night for a variety of reasons (I wish i could say it was just the company (which was indeed electic and interesting), but i also LOVE that they have two heaters... it is the only picture i have of me NOT in my jacket!!)

This is a pic of some kindergarten kids bringing their chairs across the school yard to come and watch one of the puppet shows we have been putting on last week and this week on the rights of children, all in the campo (rural areas). I am mostly along on these voyages for brute labour (set up and take down, weird looking stranger to distract the kids when other things need to be done, etc...), but got some great pics (I LOVE this one!), and really enjoyed getting to know some of the rural schools better. Will be working with most of them (and many others) in the "Cultura de Paz" project coming up.

This is a pic (below and to the left) is of Luis and Alida on our way to Huancayo last wednesday. We had to take elena, one of the EDUCA directors, to huancayo to catch a bus (see other pic below), so decided to take advantage of the truck heading out to go along for the ride. Enjoyed a GREAT meal of pollo a la lena (basically rotisserie chicken) while int he city, and i got a super quick visit to a real supermarket (hooray cornstarch and bread in a loaf!). Boy it was weird being in a city other than HVCA, with lots of cars and people and stores.... i felt a bit like a naive babe coming down form the hills and seeing the big city again. Wonder what it will be like when i go to Lima... :)

FYI generally: Luis is the guy who sort of looks after the office from a go-fer kind of perspective (and drives around everywhere... when he shows up... see previous entries....), and Alida is a co-worker--- the coordinator of the project i will be working on, so we will be working very closely.

The final pic (to the right), below, is of me, Elena (the director from Lima) and Alida, waiting for the highway to open on our way to Huancayo. They are doing some MAJOR renovations on the highway, which is great because it is usually impassable during the rainy season. However, as things are quite disorganized, there are, of course, many delays, and you are lucky if you don't wait an hour or more in total. We were pretty lucky all things considered, and the site where we had to stop was pretty nice, as you can see.

So that is my post with some pics. Trying to make up for a realtively non-newsworthy week. :) Imagine this week will not be any more exciting, so maybe some pics of my more-furnished apt will be posted soon. Hope all is well with everyone, and thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lists III...

More things I continue to think about/ muse over...
1. As I have mentioned ad nauseum, it is cold here. And yet there seems to be more ice cream vendors than one can shake a stick at. I thought the dessert/ snack of choice would be something warm, but no--- it is the overwhelmingly popular ice cream. Why? I don't know.
2. There is a corner in plaza de armas that is shared by two competing political parties. The election is this weekend, and so the messages blaring out of the bullhorns are getting louder. But no one can actually hear what they are saying, or anythign else for that matter, because the volume is up to full tilt on both sides. Walking through this corner of the plaza is like walking through a brick wall of obnoxious, incomprehensible sound---- and so I wonder, who decided that this is an effective way to campaign?
3. There is a parade for something at least 2 or 3 times a week, and guaranteed every saturday and sunday. Sometimes it is a school, sometimes for a saint, sometimes a group of professionals, often with rather heavly brass music, usually quite short, and always random in where they start and which route is taken. Hooray for daily parades---- awesome!!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lifestyle of the....?

My aunt was asking about what day-to-day life is like here in Huancavelica. And, with this question, I was inspired to post some of these thoughts, as it might be interesting generally. These are simply general observations/ realities of living in working in Huancavelica (and some of Peru generally)--- take all with a highly subjective grain of salt... :)

1. The day starts VERY early--- people are very early risers, and even when we have been up at 4am to drive to the campo, there have been people in the streets, hanging out, buying hot herbal drinks from street carts, moving stuff, etc.... wow!! The early rising could also be because there seem to be more roosters than people (in my neighbourhood anyway), and they start their crowing before the sun is up..... I am hoping it is like living by a train track and eventually I won't hear it anymore.... :)

2. Hot water for morning showers is at a premuim, and my shower is no exception. I do have luke warm water, but it comes out at about the strength of a poodle peeing. So facing the coldness of the morning (remember we have no heating) and trying to warm up in a poodle-peeing shower proves trying most days... I can't properly express how fregging cold it feels in the mornings---- truely breath-taking.

3. As most people know, I LOVE tea, and make a mug three most mornings here, to warm up. Ovens here do not run by electricity, but with gas. But buildings are not armed with gas lines--- everyone has their own gas tank, like a BBQ, which you use to run your stove. At first it felt a little scary having a BBQ tank inside my kitchen, but everyone does it so i have gotten used to it.

4. The walk to work is about 15 mins more or less--- as I walk out, I pass the little guinea pig hut that the family downstairs use to house their 'cuy'. I try not to think about their impending death, and my having to refuse the offer of fried guinea pig AGAIN. :) Often, in my area, as there are several llama slaughter places, there are often llamas in the road. I have no idea why i have not taken a pictue of this yet. Also, the streets, around 7:30-8am, are crawling with kids walking to school--- tons and tons and tons. And they all look at me and giggle. I am hoping this too will either pass or i will get used to it.

The walk to work also involves several street obstacles--- including roaming or fornicating dogs (so many stray dogs here!!), street gutters that are about 8 inches wide and 6-8 inches deep, houses whose draining water falls from the second floor, so you have to avoid the pouring water, (which i always hope is a shower, and that the person taking it has not ust peed in the shower), etc...

5. Work I will not get into right now, but suffice it to sayI continue to be under-used and bored. I have things to do, but they all involve filing or typing--- i went to university for 11 years, have worked in a bunch of different places and countries and have come all the way here to be a secretary for two years....? The thought frightens me more than I care to admit, and I REALLY hope i have my own projects soon....

6. We go to lunch from 1 to 3 and we usually get the Menú, which consists of an appetizer, a HUGE bowl of soup (which often all taste the same, despite having different names), and a choice of segundo-- all for 5-6 soles or about 2 dollars. I can never finish anything, and am constantly the butt of many a joke, or else a matronly look of disdain at not having finished my GIANT serving of rice (a requisite with EVERY meal).

7. Again, will not get into work details in the afternoon portion. Suffice it to say that we stay late because nothing ever really gets done. This weekend I have to come in today (saturday) and Sunday to do a bunch of secretary stuff--- blechy blarg barf. But what can one do?

But to get back to my story, Sometimes, on the way home, i will stop at a shop to pick up some stuff to try to cook (I am still struggling to find much in the way of groceries, so my diet is pretty basic.) There are no grocery stores--- there are little shops that have stuff, but never really in a specific way--- some have dried goods, some have eggs, some don't, few have bread, few have fruits and veggies, some have oil and the like. All very random, so you have to get to know a few to get everything you are looking for.

Sometimes, if i am feeling lazy, I will go to a fuente de soda and get a sandwich (not a sandwich like you are thinking... a floury bun with cheese or an egg, usually). It is super cheap and i have a few where the people are very nice and i like supporting their businesses. At these places, you can also get AWESOME juices---- you order, for example, a papaya juice (which you can get warmed up--- sounds gross, but trust me--- often it is just to cold to face a cold serving of juice), and you get TWO big glasses, for 1.50 sols, or about 50 cents---- AWESOME!

8. Before going to sleep, I rev up my BBQ gas tank and boil enough water for 2 cups of hot lime and honey (YUM!) and to fill my two hot water bolltes. I then put on all the pyjamas i brought (rotating so that different pairs touch my body on different days--- makes for more time between washings), crawl into bed and try to read almost completely under the blankets so as not to have to have my arms or nose in the cold. It took some getting used to, but i am becoming quite adept... :)

So that is a basic summary of some of the things I will encounter in a nrmal day. There are lots more, which i will probably write in a version two of this posting at a later date. Hope all is well my friends and family! Keep in touch!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Todos Santos Continued....

Okay one more quick post---- the family who lives on the ground floor of my building very generously invited me to come with them to visit their father/grandfather's grave on Thursday, as virtually all people do on Nov. 2, to pay repects, remember, hang out and acknowledge their dead.

As we got closer to the cemetary, A fair popped up, and there were TONS of people milling about--- I didn't know Huancavelica had so many people!! :) There were games, small rides for kids, and lots and lots of food. As we made our way through the fair to the cemetary, we were shoulder to shoulder and back to front--- packed! We finally fot in and found Maria's fathers grave (which she had freshly painted and adorned with flowers and candles the day before). We sat for a while, and then decided to brave the crowds to do a little tour to check out what turned out to be a HUGE cemetary! And packed full of people sitting around their ancestors graves eating, drinking (beer more than pop), kids playing, vendors milling about selling stuff, everything covered with flowers and candles. It was great!

After Maria and I left the cemetary, we stopped in one of the food stalls to grab a serving of picarrones--- fried dough rings in a sweet syrup. DELICIOUS! And as we sat under the tarp waiting for our serving, it started hailing like crazy!! So here we are, in a smoky room-ish thing made of tarps, eating sweet fried dough, listening to the pelt of hail and watching those unable to find a place to escape the ice running past us. Pretty awesome!

Anyway, wanted to record the memory for posterity... quite a unique and memorable experience.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Todos Santos

(Pics: 1 of the view from my new apt, 2 of my new apartment itself (item 3 below), and one of the dinner party (item 5 below)

Okay--- I have been delinquint in my postings, I know. Things have been crazy, and will be explained in the following chronological order:

1. WORK: Last week was SUPER busy, with 3 of the 5 days spent bouncing around in the truck (which was often perilously perched on the edge of whatever random cliff Luis decided was really a shortcut... freg!), visiting the rural schools which we were inviting in the hopes that they will be participating in the "Culture of Peace" project. (Some took the invite better than others--- the region of Paucara, in particular, was not super interested--- quite suspiciious actually--- this is where a lot of fighting happened during the Sendero Luminoso period, so maybe that is a reason?) These trips out of Huancavelica and into the mountains had us up very early in the morning and returning to much work late in the afternoons or into the evening. However, they were very interesting, and as usual, it was a treat to be able to access and visit some of the most remote regions of this already super-remote province.

As expected, the kids all thought i was an alien, for the most part (am sure the VAST majority have never seen a north american in the flesh), the schools varied-- some with power, some with water, all in need of so much. And as for the staff--- the majority of teachers either lived in these very remote and impoverished communities, or-- if you can imagine-- lived in a more central location (like Huancavelica) and chose to travel to school every day. This meant, for many of them, getting up at 4am, trying to hitch a ride (if there were any cars) part of the way, and then walking a few kilometers the rest of the way to the school. Every day. In whatever the weather (and let me tell you we are heading into rainy season...). After hearing/seeing some of this, i have little sympathy for those who complain about the 45 minute commute from their homes to work in their heated cars on a paved highway.... :)

2. HEALTH: I have caught a NASTY cold which has lingered now for about two weeks and is now making me cough like a veteran smoker--- very irritating (pardon the pun?), and so I am not quite feeling up to snuff generally. (And for the record: Yes dad-- I will be going to the doctor soon to get things looked to. And yes ,I have started taking my red puffers. And no, I don't think i need any daddy advice. Thank you for offering.)

3. LODGING: I FREGGING HAVE AN APARTMENT!!!!! I know. I know. I say freg too much. But seriously---- this event deserves a good freg. The crazy place I have been waiting for to 'almost' be done, was the most 'almost' done as it has been last weekend, so after some frantic shopping, and MUCH help from my coworker Alida, I slept my first night in my new place on Sunday night. (This was after sending back two wooden beds, both of which were crawling with earwigs, and finally settling with a crappy metal one, since sleeping on a metal bed was better than sharing a bed with earwigs...) I have a great view of the whole city (I swear I think this is the tallest building in Huancavelica), and am staying on the fifth (top) floor, which was the onl apartment which was ready for someone to move in. The five flights of stairs are KILLING me, but i assume i will be in excellent lung shape after negociating those things for two years. The building is in the back lefthand corner of Plaza Yananco, is about 10/15 mins from the office, the owners have been treating me too well (checking in, bringin me tea before I had my stove hooked up to a gas tank, etc...) and everything in the place, while not working perfectly, is at least liveable. (ie: the shower is warm, but gives almost no water--- feels like a dog peeing on you; all of the drains are leaking onto the floor; no glass in some windows so lots of moths at night; etc...)

There are two girls, Marie Carmen (12) and Nadia (16) who live with their Aunt (Maria, the owner) downstairs, and who have been super sweet and helpful. Even brought me up a little breakfast treat today, to mark Todos Santos, or All Saints Day (today, Nov. 1): a baked bread specially made for the day, called Wawa, which means "child" in Quechua, and perhaps not surprisingly, is shaped like a kid, and a pot of hot chocolate milk. What a treat!!!! I still have a ton to get to be able to live comfortably (ie: dishes, cutlery, a fridge, a chair, etc...) but at least i have the basics (a bad, a stove (with the gas tank now hooked up--- that was a production), a table). I have asked Luis to take me around tomorrow to get a bunch of stuff that we can tote along in the back of the truck. I have had sketchy luck arranging times to meet with Luis (ie: he just doesn't bother to show up, which seems to be the norm here), so I will hope that it actually happen and I can start cooking for myself soon.

4. SPECIAL EVENTS: EDUCA is part of a mesa (collective of NGOs?) working on the areas of peace and reparations to victims of the violence suffered here during the Senero Luminoso period, and Tuesday, after much planning and some deeply frustrating moments (for me anyway--- boy people do not organize themselves well!!), we put on our big event: a forum on the culture of peace and reparations in huancavelica. About 250 people showed up, and from lots of different sectors: schools, government, people from rural areas affected by political violence, kids, etc... We had a few interesting speakers come from Lima (Manuel, from the EDUCA office in Lima, and Rosa Villaran, a well-known woman who has been working with the CVR and with a campaign basically called "never again"), and all in all it went quite well. I could write more about my deeply cavernous frustrations with the planning and general relations (with the gov in particular), but I will not bore you with this (and also, i am scared if i start ranting, i won't be able to stop...) :)

5. OTHER: Saturday night, Alida, David (the American guy in the city), Mabe (a local woman who works at an engineering company in town) spent a very nice evening in the home of Graciela, who is a Peruvian woman who has moved here from Egypt with her German husband and two young children. Her husband was away for the weekend, so she invited uso ver for drinks and dinner--- had a great time--- it was so nice to talk about staff outside of work, and David and I snack in a few English conversations… :) PLUS: she has a space heater---- what a dream to sit down and enjoy a meal without wearing your jacket!!!!!

6. CONCLUSION: Long post—I will endeavour to post a little more frequently to avoid this backlog. But I guess better to be busy than not, eh? Plans for this week include trying to settle into my new place, meeting with David for a day of English and general pooping around Huancavelica, trying to amuse myself as Alida and Oscar are gone for 5 days (yikes), working on Friday with Angelica just to have something to do, etc... Hope all is well with everyone, and hope Halloween was a blast!