Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Name is the Amazon River. And I'm BIG and AMAZING.

Hola a todos!

I just got back from the selva (the jungle.... the Amazon to be exact) and racing 180 kilometers (don't ask me to convert that) for three days down the Amazon river in a raft that I built with three fellow peacecordian chicas from Ancash (ANCASH LADIES DO IT BETTER!) There are so many stories, funny moments, desperate moments, people met, that I don't even know where to begin. I guess I will start with what hit me first.

The HEAT. Calor to the extreme. I mean, I realized going into this that I would be dealing with a rain forest.. a jungle... and that means humidity and omnipresent sun... but I definitely didn't realize HOW much that would affect me until I got there. The heat consumes you and there is no escape. Your pores feel as if they are pouring out sweat like sap seeps from the bark of gum trees. Sweat takes the form of tears... I drink so much water and it all would come pouring out of me. Under the cover of the Amazonian rainforest and its myriad of trees and plants was where the heat licked your body the most. We went on a trek the day before the raft race which included hacking thru the Amazon with a machete and looking for monkeys, birds, weird bugs and spiders and that's where I felt I was being cooked the most. And unlike the cold, where you can put layers and layers of clothes, mittens, wool socks, find some good blankets, make a fire and drink cocoa... there is nothing you can do besides melt in the humidity in the jungle. It made me appreciate my mountains that much more.

On that day trek we got to take a 2 hour boat ride as well, which means we visited some local villages (how crazy and awesome would it be to be stationed out there where you commuted with a little boat?), held a baby sloth, and saw gray and PINK dolphins! Then we were off on the great (gret.. hehe Colleen) journey down the Amazon River for three days!

The first day is meeting the other 47 teams... getting on a bus and going from Iquitos to Nauta. Once in Nauta we procured much needed supplies (some machetes, rope, a hammer, two young boys who know how to make a raft...) and then crossed the river to start building our home for three days. :) Naturally, us peacecordians had no clue where to start. Every team was given 8 balsa logs and three smaller strips of wood and 30 meters of rope and some nails. We then had from 3 p.m. till the next day to construct the thing. With the help of the boys and a chainsaw we macheted and constructed a ghetto looking thing before sunset. We had no idea if it would hold up on us. But we were content with having finished before any other team did (actually I was worried that we hadn't spent enough time on the thing.. thinking it would surely come apart by day 3)... and it floated! That's a good sign.

The entire thing was a camping trip. The people who organize this Longest Raft Race in the World are VERY well organized, the food is good, the staff friendly.. they gave us little mattress things every night to sleep on (nobody needs a sleeping bag... it's too hot) and two of the three nights we slept in schools! :) There were bugs but not nearly as many as I though there would be and actually I came away pretty much unscathed except for 10 blisters from rowing (having done crew in college did come in handy!), some bad sun burns on the ankles, and ten cold sores on the lips (heat induced I'm sure). And you know what? We did it! Us four girls came about in the middle of the pack every day and our ghetto boat was the little raft that could! We even had the clunky heavy oars and the shoulders and back were definitely sore for a day.

For me, the best parts of the experience would have to be my team Ancash Ladies Do it Better (we were constantly singing on the top of our lungs... RESPECT... I'm on a BOAT.... build me up Buttercup... Bohemian Rhapsody... the Spice Girls.. as well as the "gotta along without you before I met you" harmonizing jingle... just to name a few of the tunes), getting into fast currents (and when I say fast currents I mean faster than when we were basically moving nowhere when we felt like we were sitting in a lake), and jumping into the river whenever we felt like it. Awww... that water felt so good. I mean. It was dirty. But it FELT so good. Other highlights would have to include the finishes each day (except for the LAST day when the last part we had to row UP current for fifteen minutes)... the first two days endings were happy because the local kids were swimming with us helping push our boats into shore, everybody cheers, and you just feel so STRONG for doing it and eating oreos and other goodies when we got tired. Also, the other rafters on the river with us were amazing and fun... we spent most of our river time with not our fellow peacecordian boats, but some men from France who were hilarious and some Limenos who pirated our ship. :)

The Amazon River is SO big... and wide... and we had to cross it a BILLION times. Well, it felt like it. :) It was amazing and I'll never feel as badass as I did when I was doing it... until next year of course!

So long Amazon! Hasta la proxima

Abrazos Fuertes,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Candela, Candado; Tomatoe, Tomahto

Hola a todos!
As a whole, I feel pretty well integrated in Shilla. It has been over a year.. everybody knows me, the kids yell out my name, I understand more Quechua, and less and less Shillapinos think that I'm Italian and work in the church... there are days I forget that I'm too tall even (until I hit my head on a door whose frame comes up to my shoulders... have I mentioned I live in hobbit land? Ask my dad).
But recently, after a bout of feeling too self assured, my host mom and sister informed me that I'm telling too much to the neighbors. Now, I thought I was just being friendly. If I'm walking up the hill and they ask me where I'm coming from I'll freely say "From Huaraz! And this package I'm carrying? My parents sent it to me from the States!" or que ever. At first when my host familia told me that I just need to say hello and go on my way, I thought. huh. NO. I don't see any harm in it and I'm promoting friendship and connection between families. But then I realized if I just keep doing what I want that's not integration at all.... and then it dawned on me. I wash my clothes a lot longer than it takes my 14 year old sister. At meal times, I'm still served first and am encouraged to "descansar" (rest) frequently although my mom and sister are CONSTANTLY moving, cleaning, workin' in the biohuerto, taking the chanchos (pigs) and burro (his name is Ramon) to pasture... I have a completely different role. Since I have to make lesson plans, keep track of assistance, write oficios and solicitudes, etc. I use my computer a lot! And since my mom can't read, when she watches me on this thing, what does she see? What does she think? It probably looks like I'm busy doing a whole lot of nothing. And when I do help in the chacra on occasion, I'm so slow that I'm not even a help!
Just yesterday on the phone, a fellow Ancashina volunteer and amiga said "we're awkward all the time". And it's so true. Whether it's our gringo accents when we are trying to get the universities to come up and do a University Fair, to planting corn seeds double the time it takes our host moms, we will always be just slightly out of it. And what usually results from that is that we end up thinking that THEY'RE slightly out of it. Vicious circle.
But there is good that comes out of all the awkwardness/never truly fitting in: Funny stories. For instance, just recently I had a spanish language confusion problem (sheesh. You think after 10 years of this language I would be able to manejar it all). I told my host sis Florcita that I needed a key to unlock candela (which I thought meant padlock).
She was like "Really? There's a candela by that door?"
Me - "SI Florcita. De verdad!"
Florcita- looks at me confused

Later. I find out that in fact "candela" means fire. Then how the heck do you say padlock?

Florcita - Laughing uncontrollably
Mama - "Candado, Emy. Candado"

They still don't let that one go. And I guess it's the laughing and connecting to a joke and the silly things that we do that binds me to them more than anything else. No matter if I'm too tall for the doors.


Sunday, September 5, 2010


Hola a Todos!
Just recently I came back from five days in Lima for medical checkups and meetings and the like. Our whole group comes back and we give little presentations about what we've done in our sites... and basically eat really good food and get to hang out between all of our random appointments around Lima. (or Lame - a as some people call it :) During my trip there I took advantage and went to go visit my Itzel (my little host niece who lived with me for a year and then just a month ago her mom and her left to live and work in Lima) because I miss her sooooo much. And though amazing to see her, to sing Happy Talk with her again, to read her books like No David No!, and head butt game :) Gladys and I (her mom) basically were just sad that the visit was so short and that I couldn't take them with me back to beautiful Shilla. It struck me hard when I saw them on a gray cold corner of Lima with their jeans and "modern clothes" when I was so used to running up to them after going to work at the colegio with a background of dirt roads and mountains and adobe houses with their polleras and skirts on, Itzel dirty from playing outdoors all day. And Itzel had never seen me in Lima. At first I think she thought I was a different person.

I know I know I know. I'm selfish for wanting them back. Gladys left to go earn some money (which is nearly impossible to find in Ancash because of her lack of education and her young 4 year old daughter to take care of... in Shilla my family lives off the meager selling of products like corn and potatoes... and the help of some NGOs... it doesn't bring in much and in Shilla, to just sustain and live, you don't need much) and she's looking for something more... her boyfriend's studying in Lima, etc. etc. She's making a better life for herself. I realize this in my rational head and support her. But they are not happy away from my host madre, away in a world so different than the mountains of Ancash. I imagine there is more of a shock between any campo place in Peru and Lima than for me to go from Peru to the U.S. It's Lima vs. the rest of Peru and Lima's winning. It's a city full of souls working, studying, waiting for their chance. Save money. Make a better life. Normally with the idea that they'll return to where they are originally from. But it usually doesn't happen. They stay in the gray ciudad. They continue working and studying and hardly sleeping for many many years and then become used to it. And I don't want that to happen to Gladys.. Especially not Itzel.

So, life can be hard for Peruvians when moving away from home. Moving away means going to the coast because the coast holds more opportunities. To make it that much harder, the families here are a lot more close knit as you can imagine. To leave your parents and siblings is not the same as in the States (although I'm not saying there's some difficulty there for us too, but). It's leaving your vida. It hurts my host madre on a whole new level. She told me she would cry when I leave too. It's going to be painful to leave here.

Yeah, so although on a cold note, those are my thoughts. I'm so grateful that I received the host familia that I have. That I had the chance to meet Raul. That I have such great Peacecordian friends who are always there to cheer and support you even after the hour and a half dentist appointment because you had 2 cavities and that was even after the nurse STABBED you (yes.. haha) while drawing blood. Boy I hate medical stuff. So there is always good in my Peruvian life which makes the hard stuff worth persevering through.