Saturday, August 29, 2009

"The Peace Corps Way"

So, our Peru 13 group has a saying (ever since our Field Based Training week).  The idea is that there is a "Peace Corps way", which basically means not taking a shower for an extended amount of time, fixing random small problems with whatever you happen to have, not caring about where that "chancho" meat came from and just eating it, being ok if your hair starts to dread, shaving? what's that?... etc, etc. :)  And based on where your site is, some live more in the peace corps way than others.  Some don't have electricity, some have to use a latrine... you get more points for all the things you don't have basically. Before joining Peace Corps, and for the people at home, these basic necessity things are what seem most shocking and frankly, scary.  
 At first glance, you might think I'm pretty high up on the "Peace Corps Way" list... I live in an adobe house, don't have a room yet, no cell phone service, eat with my Quechua speaking family using a cocina mejorada, we have a burro and plenty of chacras (farming fields), we get water sometimes, have electricity sometimes, I took a kind of trickle shower with snow melt water, etc.  (important side nota: Other Peacecordians in Ancash definitely have even more rural sites.)  I have been in site since Tuesday (and am back in Huaraz for today for the welcoming of my fellow friend and Peacecordian Colleen into Ancash) and can now say that these things anyone can get used to and actually maybe start to like.  The real "Peace Corps experience" include all the random interactions you have with people and the culture.  These interactions are funny, frustrating, cute, life changing, calm, shocking, confusing and above all, amazing. Here are some examples :)  
  I'm sure everyone has seen one of those pictures where you see the typical nice white American Peacecordian in a rural town with maybe some mud huts or adobe houses in the background, and that said American is surrounded by TONS of kids from the town.. and the kids are staring a them as if they were an alien, some kids are holding hands with the gringo, some have surrounded the peacecordian's house,  crowding around to peer inside windows and doors.  This totally happened to me on my first dia. My house is literally the next door neighbor to the colegio (school) where all the kids in the primaria y secundaria (elementary and high school) go.  There are about 520 students in total which is pretty big for a rural town. I went to the school on the first day in order to introduce myself to the director and some of the teachers and all the kids just started at me. I hear the word "gringa" whispered around... lots of looks and then shy giggles, some seemed afraid, others were overly excited.. and when I exited the school to return to my casa, a herd of small children followed me to my front door.  I knew two of them (Estalin y Elizabeth.. SO adorable) from the previous day so I initiated a Mother May I (Madre, permitame) game with them and all the others (there must have been about 70 of them) circled us to watch.  I then had to go inside for a sec to grab my purse and when I came back about 20 of them where crowded around my small front door, looking in at me.  That was definitely a Peace Corps moment if I've ever seen one. Those pictures are true.
  The wonderful thing about Shilla is its size. When I go outside I always see someone I've met before and who already knows my name.  I love going down to this one chacra because it belongs to the judge of my town who is always SO nice and calls me "senorita" every other word basically.  I make sure to greet everyone all the time.. no matter if I'm walking on my way somewhere or jogging in the morning and people have called me several things besides "senorita".  Sometimes I get "senora" (do I look that old? :), and my personal favorite was "mamacita linda" from this overly enthusiastic older woman I passed by in the plaza. You never know if a little greeting will mean that you now know the P.E. teacher and are invited to a secundaria teacher meeting, or if you'll now go on a guided tour of the lower river to see the water system they're building, or that you just met a 16 year old girl who dropped out of school and doesn't know how to read, if by saying "buenas dias" you will be invited to a mothers club meeting on monday, or be asked to help plant maiz the next day. I know that whenever I feel sad or lonely or frustrated that once again the teacher didn't show up to class and just expected you to teach on your own without any preparation, or I'm sick again because the neighbors forced fed me an interesting soup with chicken feet in it... all I'll need to do is take my journal and go outside for a little paseo down the hill and just greet people and I'll feel feliz again. 
  My projects for the month I'm thinking of doing include: starting English classes with the English teachers (who don't know English) and the students, my world map project, a running club, starting my community diagnostic and attending as many community meetings as humanly possible.  Here goes nada! 


p.s. Feel free to snail mail me... my address is on this blog! 

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