Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hauling adobe.

Roger's got a dream: build two more rooms onto the main house; one for the gringo, and one to be used as a chicken pen. So to accomplish this goal, Roger uses  his spare time to haul adobe (mixing mud and setting them into forms) and then setting the bricks in the driveway to dry. (In one day he hauled 300 bricks, pretty impressive as each brick probably weighs around 60 pounds). Then after the bricks have dried, he stacks them under a shed so the fast approaching rainy season does ruin them. However, since his time is limited he often has to stack the bricks after his normal jobs, in the dark.

While I like the room where I'm at, who am I to stand in the way of a man's dream? So to help pull my own weight, I spent one afternoon stacking the bricks for him while he has work. Heck, it's the least I can do if I get a room in their house, right?

Adobe being dried in our driveway. 

Getting my workout for the day.

This adobe brick was vandalized by Negra our family dog during the drying phase. 
An interesting side note might be that the chicken in the background of photos 1 and 3 was on his last legs... he was dying, and just like elephants to the mythical elephant graveyards, my room is apparently the chicken graveyard of Yuracoto. He spent 3 days hanging outside my room trying to get in, and according to my host mom, that means he was looking for his final resting spot.

And finally, as follow-up to this possibly interesting side note. My host mom made arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) two days ago, and I haven't seen any poultry hanging around my room lately. RIP little guy. 

Child Find Peru

In Anchorage every year, the school staff is trained that they have an obligation to report any students with a possible disabilities that may require specialized support. This is called "Child Find", and specifically it requires states to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities, aged birth to 21, who are in need of early intervention or special education services. (I'd like to mention that my home state of Montana is one of six states recognized by the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for their performance in this area. Way to go MT).

In Peru, special education is done a little different. Here they do perform Child Find; however, its literally performed. Due to the fact that children with disabilities are sometimes seen as a burden or a source shame for a family, they are hidden in their homes (son ninos escondidos/ they're hidden children) and do not receive any educational support. To remedy this, the teachers and staff of the special education school  have to go out into the community twice a year in search of  these children. Meaning, they go door to door, and ask "do you know of any hidden children with disabilities". So when they asked if I wanted to go with them, I felt like it was something I needed to see.

We left early one Saturday morning (the 22nd) and we walked through 4 different suburbs of Caraz. It took about 6 hours, and the day was considered to be a success. We found 5 children, all of whom displayed what appeared to be significant disabilities. We also took the time to talk to the mothers, or other family members, to explain why the student should be attending the special education school, and more importantly way these children shouldn't be considered a burden.

Generally when I leave from working with the special education school, I have a drained, but satisfied feeling. However, I have to admit seeing some of these kids' home environments and hearing the families' stories was a little too heavy for one day. One mother shared how her husband had left her and their 13 children after the last child was born with a disability (and how since this child's birth 4 of her older children had died). It was rough to hear, and difficult to convince her that bringing her child to the special education school should be a priority (cutting into her house chores, the raising of her other children, and earning enough money to put food on the table). She was prettied convinced she had been cursed.

On the up side, every child we found seemed so happy to see us, and the parents or family seemed to show a great amount of gratitude that strangers were so accepting of their child, no matter their disability.

The director taking notes during a home visit on our Child Find. The chico (boy) on the  left is hopefully a future student at the special education school. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

March in Honor of People with Disabilities

On October 14th there was a sensitization march in Caraz to draw awareness for people with disabilities. Of course the students from the CEBE asistieron (attended), and Kelly the volunteer from Mancos, Ancash (Peru 17) also came along. The march was huge success and lots of school and town folk showed up to support the kids.

Here are a few pictures and a video from the march:

Kelly making some signs for the march.

The CEBE kids lining up to leave. 

The marchers outside the municipality. 

A father with his daughter who received a pair of crutches. 

After the march the municipalidad (municipality) hosted a lunch at a local restaurant (we ate cuy) and I had the pleasure of being seated across from two ladies that happened to be in town because they work for a dog circus based out of Lima. Right now is the temprada del circos/ circus season in Ancash. We've had three circuses come through Caraz in the last month. This particular circus hosts dogs with magic tricks and is loosely based on Snow White and the seven dwarfs. The two ladies (who I regrettably forget their names) happened to be little people, and asked me some very interesting questions about the little person sub-culture in the United States (which proved to be a subject where I'm painfully ignorant). In addition to being a great source of conversation during lunch, they were also very persistent in getting pictures taking with me before I left.

Here's my favorite of those pictures:

"X Me"

With no reasonable gyms* within a 2 hour radius of my site, a favorite pass-time and healthy stress reliever is not currently an option to me here in Peru; however, determined not to get too soft, I began p90x (again for the nth time). Tony Horton has become both a constant companion and a serious thorn in my side, as I've seen his videos a surfeit of times. Even Yeferson has started to memorize the moves meant to ensure your own personal beach body (provided that you just keep pressing play).

Here's a video of Yeferson "Bringing It":

* There are two gyms in Caraz, but they host a bad combination of unsafe 80's home gym equipment and machismo guys trying to do too much... making it a very unsatisfying experience. 

Oven Work

You know those points of contention that are well known in a family to cause a row? Well in my host family, an empty tank of gas for cooking is that trigger. Buying a tank of gas costs my host family 40S/. So when the gas runs out, my host mom often has to cook with wood until my host father can buy another tank (which sometimes takes a month in time). That means that she has to start cooking at least an hour sooner, and diligently watch the fire to make sure the meal cooks. It also means that since we don't have a chimney, the smoke fills the room, and our lungs whenever its meal time. In Roger's defense, he has to wait to be paid before a new tank can be bought. In my opinion, both have reasonable arguments.

So what can I do to help? My host mom currently uses a double burner system that cooks with high gas pressure. A system she started using after the used oven they bought for their wedding (400S/.) started leaking. The double burners cooks quickly, but consumes gas at about a tank every two to three weeks (which is crazy since some PC volunteers report having had their gas tanks last for up to 8 months). I think there is something wrong with the burners or the valve, but instead of trying to fix it, I decided to take a closer look at the old oven (which was being stored in their bedroom ever since it stopped working)*. 

A closer look at the older oven suggested that the tube that connects the tank to the oven was cracking, and the valve that connects to the tank had some leaky connections (both two things I felt comfortable fixing). So after two trips to Caraz and buying a tank of gas (which I took out of my rent cost), the old oven is back working, and I'm proud to report no explosions or house fires (which after the first 48 hours, if a catastrophic event would have occurred,  I felt confident it could blamed on user error instead of the plumbing). 

*I also feel obligated to note that the idea sharing the joys of fresh baked brownies with my host family may have provided me some additional motivation.  

Here's a short video I made before going to work. Please note the nice yellow t-shirt Yordan is wearing. It's from Seeley Lake, Montana and a gift he received for his 1st birthday, which occurred on October 8th.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Erratic Behaviors of Caraz.

I love walking in the woods and stumbling upon a big ol' glacial erratic. A huge rock, so out of place, in the middle of nowhere, seems so entertaining to me. I can waste lots of time wondering where it came from, how it got there, and what all it's seen (if rocks could see).  Now Caraz is definately not the woods, but they do have few resident erratics. So whenever I walk to Caraz, I always try to pass by these two big guys: One is so big that they just built a park around it, and the other forms a nice privacy barrier for two neighbors. Here are a few pictures that don't quite do them justice.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Highs and Lows

Peaks and valleys, strikes and gutters, brown trout and foul hooked whitefish... there is always a good and a bad. While the following are not great examples of how high the highs are, or how low the lows are, I just thought they gave a little insight to my PC life.

This busted shoe was the capstone to a horrible week. It really was almost the straw that broke the Montanan's back. But how pissed can you really be when you sit on a rock by your latrine and catch a sunset like this with you little host brother?

The "Y-man" being a big ham. 

 2 days and 3S/. later that shoe was back in action and was as good as new.

Here is another example of the little things getting to me. Polladas (chicken feed) are often used to raise money in Peru.  So when the APAFA (PTA) at the school held one, they mandated that every family HAS to buy two plates (definitely taking out all the guess work of the pollada's success). So to save my host mother from having to drag Yordan to school and buy her two plates, I offered to buy them for her. The end result was me standing in the none moving line for 2 hours, during the heat of the day, not enjoying life. Here is the resulting video made from frustration:

However, not to be outdone, this low was soon matched by the high of having all my health promoters take the time to come to Caraz on Friday after school to listen to a Charla presented by the municipality. I was so happy that they all showed up, and where so respectful during the 2 hour charla, that I found myself enjoying their game of tag, almost as much as they were, as we made the 30 minute walk back to Yurocoto. Here's the video:

Snuggle-up there big guy.

There's something about the combination of zooming combi packed to the hilt while serving around cars and stopping abruptly to pick up more passengers, and my shoulder, that makes Peruvian men loose all inhibition and just snuggle in for the two hour drive from Huaraz to Caraz. Here was my last cuddle buddy, and he wasn't my first... it's just that this time I was able to reach my camera without waking him:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yurocoto School Aniverasio

The Yurocoto Colegio celebrated it’s 38th anniversary this last week, which also coincided with the first day of Spring (the 23rd of Sept), the Dia de Paz (Day of Peace, the 21st), and the Dia del Nino (Day of the Child, the 23rd). Obviously there were plenty of excuses to celebrate (and not have class).  To save you from a complete list of the week’s events, I’ll just state the highlights: trash pick-up, crowning of the spring queen, dance competition, paseo de faroles (paper lantern parade).

Each has is it’s distinct story, and so I’ve decided to dedicate a post to each one.

Monday, October 3, 2011

School Dance Competition

Competition could be a misnomer, as it seemed to be more of a show or concert put on by each grade level. It reminded me of being invited to you're neighbor's kid's Christmas recital. However, the town was excited, and since very few people have cameras (or least ones that take decent pictures), I was asked by a lot of parents to take a picture of their kids. On a related note, a lot of people know me as the gringo with the camera; however, I on the other hand do not have the luxury of so easily identifying the rest of my community. Needless to say, I don't know half the people that asked me to film their kid, or their kid. So what I ended up with is 84 pictures of random kids dancing.

To save you somewhat from the tedium, I'll only present this 10 minute video of the kids dancing. Feel free to skip through it, there won't be a test. However, if you have time, check out the Neil Diamond-isc fellow dressed in green at 3:05 into the video. Yep, that's our hero Yeferson, showing a few of the ol' family dance moves.

School Dance Video

San Miguel's Party

The Sra. Betty (the owner of the restaurant where Roger works) had family in town this week to celebrate the Fiesta of San Miguel. I'm not sure the exact reason why her family celebrates this saint, but I do know that I was invited, or more appropriate, demanded to attend.
It was a Catholic affair, so there were somethings I recognized from my schooling, but beside being able to predict the next prayer, there wasn't too much that was similar to what I have seen at Saint Francis. For starters, there was a guy with a firework rockets... and any time there was a transition in the mass, a prayer offered up, or priest breathed, a rocket was shot up. Then there was the shrine of San Miguel, this was bigger than the alter, and was promptly ushered out into the streets where the people dance and prayed to tunes provided by a full marching band. Oh, I may have forgot to mention that there was a band. This band sat a the back of the church in matching blue and white Hawaiian shirts and talked loudly to amongst themselves during the mass. Occasionally they would play 6 or 7 notes of a song, but this was without rhyme or reason, and I suspect it was mostly them practicing for their next gig.

Here is a picture of the precession, and a video I made following the mass (I don't know what to say about the first 20 seconds of this video. I just found it interesting that a Toyota that size could carry that much weight) :

San Miguel Video

After the procession, my skills honed from 13 years of Catholic schooling then came in useful, as I was soon able to detect that the ceremony had shifted it's focus to distributing efficiently large amounts of music, food, and beer. So the rest of the celebration looked no different than the tailgate area of the Washington-Grizzly stadium in Missoula, only it was inside of a rural church in Peru.

In all honestly, I didn't find the party too much fun. There is a point when a party is lively and exciting, and then there is a point when there are too many people spilling things on you and speaking to you in a unwelcoming combination spiting while yelling two inches from your face. This tipping point, appears to sneak up on people very quickly here, as I was more than ready to retreat home at 7:00PM.  Moreover, my Spanish skills are horrible if there is background noise, and trust me there was plenty of background noise.

The day wasn't a complete loss as I got to spend some quality time with a few of the teachers I work with at the school. I also got to hear Sra. Betty's brother (Keke) and cousin (Raul) both play live music. Keke plays the harp, scratch that, rocks the harp. While Raul (also a teacher at my school) sings romantic ballets.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Paseo de Faroles

One thing that I've always loved about latinamerican culture is the custom of nighttime strolls (paseos). I have some good memories from various countries of walking around in the evening, eating street food, chatting, or just people watching. However, living in Yurocoto, where there is no nightlife or central plaza to draw people out their houses, I haven't really got to experience that here. So when there was a paseo of faroles (stroll with paper lanterns) planned, I got excited.
Each kid made a lantern (usually using colored paper and making into the form of a animal or object, then using a candle to light it)*. Then everyone met at the school to organize and the then stroll down the main street of town. It turned out nice, although it only lasted for about 20-30 minutes.

Here's a couple of videos:

Parade Video

The final moments of the paseo.

*Roger being the master of salvaging things, found Yeferson's bee farole in the garbage outside of a church in Caraz (undoubtedly trashed after some other school paseo de faroles in Caraz). With a little tape and TLC, the bee was back in action for Yurocoto's paseo. Yeferson can be seen above holding his yellow bee.

Viva la Queen!!! (Crowning of the Spring Queen)

Spring is celebrated here on the 23rd of September, with a ton of activities, but none with more pomp and circumstance than the Crowning of the Spring Queen. From my perspective, it was exactly like class president, home coming queen, and prom all wrapped-up into one event. And so when I found out one the girls in my health promoters group (Rose Mari) was in the running (she told me that day), and that she wanted me to be her padrino (the guy that sponsors her and places the crown on her), I had to bring my "A" game.

After asking many annoying questions (and probably dumb ones too) I finally figured out what is the Spring Queen was, how it worked, and more importantly what the Padrino has to do. This is what I got: Each class nominates a girl to represent them. Then the girl has to go around and sell tickets at .20 cents each. The tickets act as votes, and the money goes towards paying for the dresses. There are 7 girls in the running, and the top 3 win spots (Queen, Princess, and Dama). To win, you need to bring in the most money. The winner is announced on Wednesday, the dresses with accessories are rented on Thursday, and on Friday, the school is presented their queen, the court is paraded around Caraz in a truck, and the dresses are returned that night. As for the padrino, this honor is usually reserved for a male in the family (like a uncle or grandfather), you are asked to put money in behind your candidate's votes (mainly because selling .20 cent tickets to school kids in Yurocoto will never pay for a dress), and if your candidate win's, you get to put the crown on her.

Pretty simple. But what do you do if you're the Padrino, were asked the morning the money was due to be counted, and your kid has sold about 88% less the leading competitor. One option is to say: "Well, its was nice just to be nominated". But remember Rose Mari, had just spent the morning working her tail off (as the only representative for Yurocoto, and a favor to me) to make sure the kids with disabilities could enjoy the March of Peace (see previous post) in Caraz. Furthermore, what do you do when you check your wallet and you're down to 10S/.

Here's what I did. I asked the pageant coordinator for time to walk to my house and tell my host mom that I wouldn't be home for lunch. Then I ran home and dug to the bottom of my dresser where I keep a pair a pants I rarely use, and more importantly, 60S/. in the pocket of the before mentioned pants. Then I ran back to the school. Dripping in sweat, I gave the coordinator the cash, and they began the final "vote" counting process.

As you can see from the tallies below, Rose Mari made a dramatic surge at the end to beat Damaris and seal her bid for the crown. I instantly felt like a jack-ass watching Damaris (someone who obviously took time to sell tickets) loose, but felt better watching Damaris and Rose Mari hug. Both being graceful and humble in their respective rights. It also made me happy thinking that I helped make Rose Mari's day, as I'm sure this on her list of "tops" in her short 16 years.

Here are some pictures and videos to document the Queen's rise to power and her subsequent reign. Viva la reina!
This is a picture of the vote tally prior to the Padrino's contribution.

This is the aftermath of me way over shooting on my contribution.

The royal subjects lined up to be presented the Queen.

Here's me crowning the Queen.

Here is the Queen on parade around Caraz.

And finally, here is a video of the Queen signing to her subjects (sorry it's so jerky):

Poco Floro, Mas Accion! (Trash Pick-up) ...

So with my limited Spanish skills, I’ve got my health promoters to buy into the dicho (saying) “poco floro, mas accion” ("less talk, more action”). To show that we’re more than just a bunch of charla giving goofs (floro), we set out to collect recyclables to sell (accion).
The plan was simple: 1) start a competition in the school to see which class can bring in more recyclables; 2), Weigh and record each class’ trash; 3) give the winning class a soccer ball as the prize. To aid us, the school staff was great. The teachers allowed the kids to store the trash in the back of each classroom until the weigh-in day, and the director allowed us to use a vacant room at the school to store any trash the health promoters picked up. Furthermore, when the teachers found out that I was planning to sell the goods for a less than premium price to a guy 2 towns away, they went out and found a man in Caraz that paid 20% more.
I’d also like to give props to Alicia (our president), who was in charge of dealing with the competitive kids while having to weigh their trash (she often found a few rocks and full water bottles mixed in the bags of trash), and also showed up on Saturday at 8:00am to help me sell the goods. She’s a super star in my book, and is a great example why I enjoy my job here in the Peace Corps.
Now I’d like to say that we made so much money that I can end poverty in Ancash, but what we did make was pretty impressive for the short 2 weeks we put into it: S/. 140. This will be plenty enough of us to start doing other projects, and focus more on our “health” roots of safe sex, hand washing, and avoiding drugs and alcohol. The kids have already decided to use the money to paint murals around the school addressing these certain topics. 
As a side note, the soccer ball the winning class won, popped the next day. I guess that's what S/. 14 gets you.

Here’s a quick video to show the room the school let me use to store the trash before it was sold:

Yurocoto Recycling Room Video 

The health promoters and I with our recyclables.

Here is me with a group of girls in their classroom with trash.

This is our trash the day we (Alicia and I) brought it out to be sold.

Alicia and I acting like “ballers” with the 140 soles the group earned.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bricks, our bread and butter.

In Yurocoto, I see very few means of making a living. Besides the chicheria (place that sells alcohol), the only other negocio (business) I see striving is the brick business. We have about 15 fabricas in the town, each employing about 3-5 people. Apparently, the dirt and the climate here is perfect, thus making it a staple of life for many. Here are a few pictures of the brick making process:
The school director explains the layers of the dirt and how the sub-layer contains the best brick dirt. The guy to the right is showing how the dirt mix with their feet in a hole.

The director shows no fears of a cave-in as he goes deep into the dirt stash.

This gentleman presses the mud into forms and sets the bricks out to dry before they are cooked in the fire (The bricks are cooked for 15 days, and these bricks were set to be baked in 2 days).

March of Peace

I know, it sounds pretty "hippie", and way too stereo typical of a person in Peace Corps, but it was to celebrate the day of Paz (peace), and Peruvians love thier "days of...".
Basically, what it was all the schools around Caraz, coming together with signs and a marching a big loop around the town, stopping at one point to hear speeches from various gente que pesa (big wigs). It really was nice. All the kids wore white t-shirts and carried signs, and traffic was haulted as we walked through the center of town, and up through the market area of Caraz.
Since I work with two schools, one in Yurocoto and the Special Education school in Caraz, I tried to combine both groups of kids, and have them march together. However, since it was the aniversary week for Yurocoto, most of the Yurocoto kids opted out of the march, and didn't get to meet the kids from the CEBE (Special Education School). The one exception was Rose Mari. Rose Mari is one of my health promoters, and really won my heart that day* as she willingly gave up her morning to come help out with the kids with special needs. She was super patient with them, held thier hands nicely, even as they pulled her to the any attraction that they found slightly interesting.
Here are a few pictures of us making signs for the march and marching. However, I regretably have to share that I missed a "picture of a lifetime" (you know, one of those pictures where you think it could be a cover for National Geographic). Here's the story: The march organizers were handing out paper doves to observers, the business owners in town were generally nice enough to stop what they where doing and sit in chairs and watch the kids march, we were walking through an older part of town where the streets were narrow, and the there was an elderly gentleman who was sitting in front of his shoe repair shop smiling an hoding his paper dove. I know the words don't do it justice, but the picture I have in mind of this nice looking man, multiple decades older, smiling, holding the dove and sitting in front of his kobbler shop, watchin these innocent looking kids march by will always be in my memory. I just wish I could have caught it on film. Next time.
The kids getting ready to march.

The march in action.

The students enthralled by the various peace related speeches.

* For the spoils of winning my heart this day, I had no problem saying yes to Rose Mari when she timidly asked me to be her "Padrino" (Godfather) for the Spring Queen Contest. (Little did she know that I've seen the "Godfather" at least 6 times and was jacked to finally be a real Don. She was now bound to win... and no horses were to suffer).