Sunday, January 15, 2012

Volunteer Christmas and Moncora New Years

This post is something that I have put off for too long, and is now so long over due that it has just been reduced to built points in my mind. So sorry for dropping the ball on this one, but here's the main highlights of my 2011 Volunteer Christmas/Hanukkah.

This fun volunteer get together was held the night after my family did their Christmas celebration. It was cool for me, as it had the feel of typical volunteer reunion, but along with a lot of new elements. First, Keren's parent came into the country for a couple of weeks to see the sights and sponsor my first ever Hanukka celebration. They pulled out all the stops and thew one heck of a fiesta, which included dradles, jelly doughnuts, potato pancakes, and a travel menorah.  It was a lot a fun and interesting to see this different type of celebration, as Keren promises she'll introduce us to all the other fun celebrations. Also, Keren's parents were a lot a fun and very tolerant of our ignorance and stupid jokes.

In addition to this novel experience, Beth, a Peru 15 Volunteer, introduced us to the newest member of the Ancash family "Whyki" (who has now been renamed to Gulliver). Gulliver is young golden retriever pup that is very cute and playful. In fact, he is so cute that he's started puppy fever that has a complete grip on Jeff. The fever has set in so much to the point that Jeff already has his eyes on Gulliver's brother in the pet shop, who he visits whenever he's in the capital, and promises to buy the next pay period. I don't want a puppy (I do, but I don't want the responsibility right now), but I do want Jeff to get one so I can puppy sit.
Keren and her parents

Keren's mom showing Jeff, Kelly, and Keren how to make the jelly doughnuts.

Jeff meeting Gulliver

Santa's little helper

The menorah and a plate of food.

The volunteers playing dradle.

Moncora New Year:
Moncora is a beach town a long 16 hours to the north, and 8 hours south of Guayaquil, Ecuador. It's very similar to the beach/party towns I know in Mexico, (Cancun/Isla de Mujeres). It's a fun mix of surfers, bars, good restaurants, clubs, fishing boats, and a long sandy beach. It was also the meeting point for nearly 40 volunteers for New Years 2012.

Some of the volunteers had just returned from the US for Christmas, and rest were coming off the stress of getting projects done before the summer vacations started, so the beach was a very much needed place to unwind and either escape from, or transition back to, Peace Corps life in our communities. For me it was startling to see the contrast between the cultures of the Peruvian coast and the Sierra. People on the coast are so much more open, loud, and expressive. Furthermore, the idea that people actually wear clothing like shorts, tank-tops, and swimsuits, had me completely stupefied.

I had been warned that this place causes people to really cut loose, and paint the town red, but I'm proud to report that there were no major incidences to report. All the volunteers were all able to comport themselves as the responsible adults that they are, including myself. The weekend can be summed up as a nice weekend of sunning ourselves, eating good sea food, enjoying a few tropical drinks, and swimming in the ocean (as I write this, I can't help to think that our Country Director is inclined to read volunteer's blogs. So if that's true, feel free to drop me a comment Mr. Mathur with any comments, complaints, or suggestions). But really, it was truly just a nice relaxing time on the beach.

Here's a few pictures, which doesn't do the trip much justice:

Fishing boat of the port of Moncora. 

Little bit of food for big dog. 

Kyle, Amanda, and Ryan (Peru 17) eating great street pizza. 

The beach crowd.

Josh (Peru 16) and I celebrating the big New Years night

Horse rides on the beach.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Yuracoto Flat Stanley Project

Hey' if you haven't checked it out, glance at the new Page to the left. It's dedicated to the new Flat Stanely Project that I've started with my summer school class. This has been a real time consumer for me, but I think the end result has some great potential.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Useful Vacations (Vacaciones Utiles)

Summer vacation is here. The kids have been cut loose, and the teachers are now nowhere in sight, making my current project vacaciones utiles, pretty difficult. Summer classes are a hard sell to almost any kid, and without teachers to help me, I now find myself spending my time either preparing for classes or walking around town trying to find kids to come. The few things I have going for me are the classes are free (normally teachers charge), and the classes are appealing. I’m teaching English and Geography. I’m most excited about the geography class. The kids are more excited to learn what Justin Bieber is saying.

I teach Monday to Thrusday, 9:00am to 11:30am. English is on Mondays and Wednesdays, geography is on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All classes are said to be mandatory, as I fear geography would be skipped otherwise.  The English class is pretty basic with no real lofty goals; however, here’s a snap shot of the first day’s chalk session:

If knowing your ABCs and how to say "Buenos dias Sr. Corts" is
the foundation of the English language, these kids are well off. 
The geography class on the other hand does have some pie-in-the-sky type dreams. The three main activities will be a classroom passport, a bunch of flat Stanleys, and a 5’x7’ World Map painting. The Passport idea is pretty basic. Each kid will make their own passport and then receive stickers based on countries we study, participation/attendance, and whatever other reason I deem sticker worthy (side note: staying up late last night making the class passports reminded me how bad I am at arts and crafts. If there are any doubters to this statement,  ask my parents about the “art gallery” at the 12th street store in Missoula... still my finest work to date).

TSA and Customs Officials have years of training, but try to see if you'd pass the test in determining which
document is real. Good luck. 
 The Flat Stanly(s) will involve a lot of help from you guys, my loyal blog readers. The plan is to make a small, paper versions of each student (complete with picture), and mail them off to various locations (Montana, Alaska, Bolivia, Canada, Germany, Puerto Rico and Spain). The hope is that when a person receives a flat Stanley, they take a picture of it next to an iconic location in the area, email me a that picture (with location name), and drop the paper traveler in the mail to someone else. Hopefully, no kids go M.I.A. (forever ruining these kids’ idea of traveling), and they get to “travel the world”. I’m starting a separate page on this blog, to track their travels.

The Mapa Mundi (World Map) Project is a requirement for Youth Development Volunteers, and involves painting and labeling a giant map in a well seen part of your community. This has been a Peace Corps initiative since 1988, and there have been some pretty cool maps made (google it if bored). The Christie Carmichael Map was done at a pretty awesome scale in the market of Caraz, and so hope mine is just half as impressive.

Future location of Yuracoto's World Map (The wall to the left).

Stay tuned for Map and Flat Stanley updates.

Car Talk

One time going from Caraz to my site, a 7 minute moto-taxi ride, I once had to take three different taxis, and didn’t pay for a single one. The first taxi ran out of gas a few blocks down the road. The next taxi’s clutch broke, and the third’s taxi was shuttling a highly inebriated man (keep in mind it was already 10 in the morning), who got in a fight with the taxi driver and then paid for both of us to prove whatever point he was trying to make. The point of my story is what I learned: if the taxi stops working before you arrive to your site, you don’t have to pay (the same thing applies to street food: if the stove’s gas runs out before your food is cooked, you can just walk away).

So think about the next situation, I’m in the combi going from the capital city to Caraz (2 hour ride) and the while we are waiting for a people to load up at a market half way between the two cities, and the front driver side tire blows… if you do the quick math you’d figure, I’m half way there, so I’ll get out grab a different combi for the remainder, and pay half of what I was originally going to pay, right? Right, unless the combi driver is smart and refuses to take your mochila (backpack) off the top of the combi before he changes the tire. That’s what happened to me in the following picture, which I snapped while horns were blaring, the driver fumbled with the tire in the middle of the traffic jam, and the rest of the passengers happily walked away knowing that they just a free ride (albeit only halfway) :

This next picture is one that I just had to get off my bike and take, because I can really sympathize. The back story: One summer I was hauling loads of gravel to our house from across town in our truck. To make a long story short, on about my third trip, I decided to be greedy and have the front loader fill the truck up to the brim. Luckily he stopped before I told him to, because it could have broken the truck,  and the drive across town was a scary one, as it felt like the front tires were floating a few inches above the pavement, especially after I hit any little bump.  Therefore, when I saw this poor truck, I knew what was in store for the driver. Hope he made it. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

December Randoms

I know December is long gone, and I'm behind on posting about my New Year's Vacation to the beach, but I thought I'd just throw out a few last "randoms" from the previous mes (month).

Things I Never Saw While Working at the ASD:
 Yes, that is a dead rat the kids killed and were running around with throwing at each other. There was once a vole infestation at one of my schools in the ASD, but I never witnessed teachers laughing at the victims being terrorized by the dead varmint (nor did I witness a foreigner with a camera asking the students to stay still while he took their picture... and basically reinforcing their behavior with positive gringo adult attention).

Here is a picture of a class boiling milk and water over a fire (against the school wall), to make the annual cholotada (Christmas Hot Chocolate). These appears to a potential fire hazard, and damaging to the school's painted wall, but the end results were delicious.

Chicken On a Leash:
Animals on leashes in Peru have me thoroughly confused and entertained, at the same time. And as I write this, it has dawned on me that they probably need their own blogpost in the future; however, here's the skinny: Dogs are not leashed, but goats, cows, horses, pigs, and chickens are. Let me do so more research on this cultural difference and get back to you (note: I have not seen any children leashed here, as I have in malls in the states). 

In the case of this picture, our chicken recently had a clutch of chicks (3 out of 5 eggs made it), and my host-mother was afraid that she would lead them in the Chacra were they would get lost or eaten. Solution: have the gringo catch the chicken and tie a leash to it's leg (way easier than it sounds). Here is the end result:

Snow in the Cordillera Negras:
FYI- From my site the Cordillera Blancas (the mountains with snow) are the East, the Negras (the ones without snow) are the West, Hauraz is to the South (at about 2,500 feet higher), with canyons leading to the  pacific ocean being to the North/North-West.

Now, with the rainshadow effect caused by warm moist air raising from far to the East (in the Amazon) and then being deposited in the mountains before the Negras in the West (the Cordillera Blancas), the Negras kinda get "hosed" for any notable precipitation (Hosed: A scientific term derived from the Canadian language meaning prevented, hindered, or forestalled). However the days right before Christmas, we had a few big storms roll through, from a North South direction, carrying a lot of moisture. This moisture combined with the elevation of the Negras left us with a nice supply of snow on the normally dry Negras at a considerably low elevation. This excited me as it left a little bit of a white Christmas feel. Here's the picture:
Here is looking West from the school in Yuracoto towards the Cordillera Negra. 

You've Got Mail

At the hostel in Hauraz with the latest wave of packages.

The mail system here Peru is a little slow, but this is worsened by the fact that I have to go to the capital city to get my packages. With SerPost (the Peruvian mail company) being closed on Sundays, there are sometimes when a package has to wait for me couple week, even after it's long arrival.

However, that is no excuse for how delayed I've been in giving shout outs the various people who have taken the time, made the effort, payed the money, and sent me a package. Thank you so much to all of you, I really enjoy getting stuff from home.

Besides myself, I think the other volunteers and my host family love my packages as well. The volunteers help eat the pounds of candy and other sweets, and my host family is amazed that whatever item I give them really came all the way from the United States. I'll admit that I'm also amazed at times.

Thanks a ton!

Christmas In Site

Christmas (24th of December at Midnight) in Yuracoto was expectantly subtle, without commercialization, but yet still very fun. It was  just like any other day of the week, Yefer worked on learning to ride his bike,  I read a book, Dina and Yordan hung out in the house, and of course, Roger worked. There were no Christmas songs on the radio, few mentions of Navidad specials at any stores, and no toys or gifts were wrapped.

Here's some of the pictures the boys and I took to make an electronic Christmas card for Roger and Dina:

At 6:00pm Roger came home from work, and he and Yefer went to Caraz to buy some pollo a la brasa (roasted chicken) and papa fritas (french fries). While they were gone, Dina, our neighbor Liz, Liz's daughter Jeny, and I cut up a salad and made cholotada (hot chocolate).

L to R: Dina cooking, Jeny holding the cat, and Liz cutting potatoes.

When Roger returned, we set the Christmas table and sat down for a nice chicken dinner. It was a great dinner, with a fun family feel.  For desert we ate panaton (kinda like a Peruvian fruit cake) and drank chocolate. This is very typical, and what I was prepared for (no surprises).

Family and friends at the Christmas table.

Yefer showing good manners. 

Roger and Dina

Liz and her daughter Jeny

Later we spent the night sharing a few beers (first time I've drank in my site), and dancing until Midnight (huayno music...not my favorite). Once Midnight hit, we danced a couple more songs and then I went to bed, and the neighbors went home. Again to was very basics without frills, but very nice.

The post-Christmas dinner rug cutting session. 
The morning of the 25th, I left early to Huaraz, to send the day celebrating Chanuka with Karen (a fellow Peru 17 volunteer) and her parents... but look for a future post on that.