Under the Sun
Well, I have been here in my site in Northern Peru for nearly three weeks now and in Perú for about 3 months. What can I say about my experience so far? Have I learned anything? Everyday I still ask myself the million dollar question: What am I doing here? Will this question haunt my every morning as I peel out of bed and descend from my mosquitero? I hope not, but these questions are among the many struggles I face at this early stage in my service. Peace Corps jargon calls this part, "Defining the role of the volunteer," which for me translates into something like, "Justify your existence in this country, gringo!"
Frankly speaking, this continues to be a rollercoaster ride -montaña rusa- which I know is the Peace Corps cliché. I thought I was going to come up with a new metaphor for this experience, but to date nothing. So below are some fragmentary offerings for now, more free association than anything else. For those of you who prefer carefully balanced writing and coherency this in not the post for you. Here goes.
Hiking in Nueva Esperanza means getting burnt through your t-shirt. Cacti everywhere. My guide Guillermo tells me of the spirits living inside the cacti. These are the grounds where ChiliMasa, the Incan guerrero, resisted the Spanish and sent Pizarro back to sea. Next day, Monday, I'm out with my health post monitoring the use of abate, tiny bags of chemicals (larvacides), which can kill mosquito larvae and curb the tropical diseases Dengue and Malaria. Most people use the system and know about the importance of abate in their water barrels. We toss the abate in old tires too or other places where mosquitos lay eggs. Still wearing off the effects of my first Peruvian wedding this weekend. A wedding cake at 2:30 a.m. in the taxi from the capital. To make Peruvian wedding: Add salsa, merengue, raggaetón, cumbia (lots), sharing a big bottle of beer, and everyone showing up late. Subtract Electric Slide, Billy Joel, Chicken Dance, Individual beers, punctuality.
Writing in leather journal, thanks Timmy B. Always thinking of home, wanting a freak snow storm south of the equator. Electronic instruments collecting dust in the states. A Rolling Stone magazine sitting on my desk here, also collecting dust, the cover is Bob Dylan´s aged leather face and pencil-thin bigote staring at me curiously . A magazine bought a couple of months ago in Lima for the equivalent of a MDs days work in my new town. I read that Kanye West was disappointed with the sound at Lollapalooza in his native Chicago.
Dropping off a copy of my health survey at the Ministerio de Salud headquarters in the capital for more copies. Need to start with two hundred family health questionnaires within the next couple of weeks for my community health diagnostic in the zonas (barrios). Back on that walk, my new friend Guillermo points out that Crack exists here and reluctantly stops to talk with an emaciated addict that had recognized him as a vecino, neighbor. I have a flashback to anti-crack therapy, my mental health career in the US. I stop for some shade, which people describe as something delicious here (¡Que rica la sombra!) and I can understand why. I forgot how white I was until I came here and got burnt a few times. "Bien blanco," as they say (very white). My feet truly remain ghost-like in appearance.
I got my eye poked playing basketball the other day, the result being a bloody eye. But I can see. Called my doctor in Lima. Looks like I´ll be fine. I look like a grisled pirate with my new sombrero, new beard and new bloody eye. Now I get even stranger looks walking down the street!
Tomorrow, helping assess whether people in the Campo (rural Perú) are using a water purification system known as SODIS, initiated by an NGO of the same name. I am becoming a liason through my health post between Peace Corps, the Peruvian Ministry of Health and the NGO. The idea is to convince people to reuse 2 and 3 liter pop bottles by filling them with canal water, putting them on your metal roof, and lastly letting the sun do the rest by killing off harmful bacteria with the result being clean drinking water. Believe it or not there is research to support this seemingly crazy idea! It will be interesting to see if people are actually putting this to work. The cañazo (corn alcohol) selling business seems to have cornerned the market for the old pop bottles in town. "Who actually buys that stuff?" I asked myself as I cruised through town in a 70s-era Dodge taxi today. I never see anyone drink it yet it is sold on every corner in dirty bottles and canisters.
Frustrations of yesterday. My host brother was bombarded with English homework and I helped for two hours. I hear that the teacher has given the students double-homework because of a religious/state holiday last week. All Junior wants to do is turn in the exercises while I try to faciliate some sort of learning process. In this moment I glimpse the tip of the iceberg in a different educational system which still carries the remnants of an ostensibly rote learning system. I have come to appreciate how my parents never did my homework for me as I´ve seen happen here a number of times and when I was living outside of Lima. Yet at the same time, I wish I could bottle and export to the US the energy and enthusiasm for learning that the students have here. Such potential.
Host family here is a family of five including me. I'm the oldest, brothers are 15, 12. Extended family lives next door on both sides and across the street. Parents are high school teachers. I live in an urban area with some resources on hand, including this internet cabina, but within a block or two it is pueblo joven. My host fathers´father worked with a Peace Corps Agriculture Development volunteer in '65 before Ex-President Velasco asked us to leave. The guy´s name was Peter and he left a positive impression with my family. But I am kind of walking in these Peace Corps footsteps of forty years ago when everything was different which is also a challenge in its own way.
In closing, I will retreat to the sidewalk to partake in the most popular activity in my town, ¨Tomando aire sin vaso," or literally, "drinking the aire without a glass." Usually my host father and I sit there for a few hours translating spanish and english or talking cultural differences. Sometimes he smokes and I read Daniel Alarcón in silence while mototaxis howl past.
As in previous and future posts, some names are changed where appropriate.