Sunday, September 1, 2013

Dina Goes Into Business and Other Reflections on the Family's Growth.

Two years ago, I arrived to live with a humble but caring family for my Peace Corps service. The head of the Pachacamac household, Roger, luckily had the open-mindedness and foresight to see that accepting a volunteer from the USA into his household for two years could be a blessing for his family (even though it was a huge risk). My first impression was: Roger's home, while spacious, didn't have much.

Although my first few days in site are branded into my memory, I often go back and re-watch this video I made my first full day in Yuracoto (Yuracoto August 2011). Although there are lots of gems in that video: 1, Me calling Dina "mama" (something I did for the first 3 months until it sunk in that she's my age); 2, seeing baby Yordan; 3, noting the rooms I hadn't been invited into yet; etc.,  the best part for me is from 5:08-5:12. It may be hard for some note, but for me it's obvious, I was kinda scared. I can hear it my voice.  It's like the idea of living with a people that are too shy to talk to me, in a home in the middle of nowhere, with no shower, no bathroom, animals in the kitchen, a open-fire stove, and rock for a kitchen table is my fate for the next 24 months; and it all hits me when I say: "this is my house for the next two years". ("Dang, two years of this!..." I know that crossed my mind).

This video helps me put my two years into perspective. If you were to ask me that day this video was made "What I was doing there?" (or going to do in Yuracoto), I probably would have spouted my memorized lines from training about "Who I am and what is Peace Corps" and then I'd probably riff about how I wanted to make sustainable improvements for the community with huge "pie-in-the-sky", idealistic dreams.  Little did I realize that small plot of land seen in the video was going to be the setting for my greatest accomplishments and longest-lasting changes made during my service.

Just by paying rent (S/250 per month for room, energy, and food) I helped Roger and Dina make some positive changes for their family. Roger, wisely reinvested my rent into their home. I saw concrete changes occur almost every month. Corrals to keep the animals outside, a cement sink for Dina to wash clothes, a shower, kitchen tables, a kitchen sink, etc. These are just a few of the tangible changes I observed (thanks to Roger having a little extra cash on hand) . However, the two most significant concrete changes I saw were these: 1, the quality of the food improved drastically. This benefited everyone, not only the Gringo who was getting sick daily, but importantly the two young boys in the prime of their development; and 2, the room they built me. Although (in my opinion) unneeded, this was a HUGE symbolic gesture from them to me. It's easily the nicest room they have, and they've made it very clear that it's my room. I am to never rent, or think about staying elsewhere, when I return to Ancash. I'm now a part of their family, and therefore needed a room in their home. I can't explain how nice of gesture this was. Thanks.  Furthermore, they've already planned Adam's next visit this winter. He'll be staying in my room (with my permission of course).

Here's a couple photos from inside the new room (shout out to Mom for the curtains):
These curtains make the place snap. 

The blue walls and the natural light make my cave look like, well a cave. 

Yefer, Yordan and Cate inside what Yeferson calls the "cage". 

Besides the physical changes, I also see the video and think about the non-tangibles that may be hard to notice. There are many; like the shared parenting tips, a little counseling ideas, health and sanitation hints, etc., but my two favorites are Yeferson's development and the sharing the United States with the family.

Saving my favorite for last, I'd like to expand on how the Pachacamac's global view changed during my time living with them. I entered their lives as a typical backpacking gringo, who didn't speak well, over-paid for daily things, and took a lot of pictures. Their idea of the United States was a interesting dreamland of rich white people, who are really tall, and all fly airplanes. Not sure of the difference between Europe, Africa, and North America, I wasn't surprised that when asked what countries neighbored Peru? Lima and London where usually in the mix of common answers given. However, during my service, I noted very specific times that this young family was learning about the United States. The first, is when the US flag was shown on T.V., and Yeferson excitedly said "Brice, that's the flag you have in your room!! Is that the United States Flag?" This opened about an hour of questions and answers between everyone, focused just about the United States (Does your mom cook on a fire? What are the houses made out of? Do you guys really go places in outer space, like to the moon? etc). The second time is when I went home to visit. During this time, New Jersey was making international headlines due to significant flooding during the hurricane; meanwhile I was fly fishing in Montana. Not sure of the size of the US, or distance between Montana and the east coast, Roger and Dina both scolded me when I returned saying they were worried sick about me because I never called to let them know I was o.k!! (I did feel guilty about this, but also had to chuckle a little). And finally, when my folks came to visit. There's something special about the biological family meeting the host-family. I won't even try explaining this, but after my parents had left, I could really sense that it meant a lot to Roger and Dina that a gringo family from the US came to visit them, eat with them, and play with their children. It's a special connection that they now have with the United States, and its also a special connection that the Corts' now have with the Pachacamacs.

The Corts' and Pachacamacs at Laguna Paron

Pizza night in the Pachacamac house with the Corts family. 

And now for my favorite non-concrete change: Teaching Yeferson how to read. Of all my adventures and things that I consider personal accomplishments, I think this is number one, two, and three on my list of  "Things I most proud of in my life". It was a real challenge. He had been told by his parents and teachers that he couldn't read, and I think he believed it. He was on his mom's track of believing that reading is some mystical ability that he'd never understand. Unfortunately, the adults around him (me included) were fine accepting this. It made me sad and frustrated, but I lazily and foolishly didn't try to address it. I was just observing. Fortunately, after a down moment in my service, I realized that Yordan and Yeferson are two people in Peru that really cared about me unconditionally, and that I be foolish not invest as much time as possible in their personal development**. So with a school break coming, and with the help of a good textbook (shout out to Coquitos), Yeferson started down the path to becoming a reader. I'll be honest with you, little kids aren't my strong suit, and I'm not the most patient, bubbliest, or warmest teacher; however, Yeferson stuck with me. I'm also not proud of the number of times I made him cry during our sessions***, but I am proud of the way he hung with it, always tried to please, and came out an emerging reader. Additionally and almost equally important, Yeferson learning to read made big changes in the family: He became a lot more self-confident; his dad begin to become more involved in his son's education; and, his mom saw that learning to read isn't impossible! (Nice work Yeferson!!).

Yefer's room gets a make over. 
After learning to read, Yefer gets to go to Lima and get's to see a 3D movie!!

Yerferson proudly read this word in the mall in Lima.

Yeferson and Cate share a book in a bookstore. 

And now the real reason I started the this post: to show you guys how Dina has started her own business (Yay DINA!!!). I see it as another great example of how this family has, and continues to, make significant advances.

Dina, now sells chocho, eggs, Jello, and other snacks outside the local health post. It's a major step for her, as she's now responsible for budgeting for her business, doing the cooking, showing up on-time, and selling her goods. With little fear, Dina proudly sells 6 days a week from 9am to 1pm outside the health post. It's a great location. It's near where Roger works, so he can help her, and the nurses are pretty much guaranteed costumers. I'm not sure the exact catalyst for this venture, but assume that there are couple factors: Dina looking for a reason to escape the house, Yordan being old enough to play alongside of her, my rent money going away, Roger being OK the idea, and Cate providing a firm nudge. Now,  Dina selling 25 eggs in a day puts a real glow on her face, and it's great to see her challenging herself. Can you imagine wanting to start a business while knowing that you don't know how to make correct change****; it'd probably be too scary for most of us to consider. Dina's a natural business person too. She's learned the benefits of buying in bulk (24 packets for 54 soles vs. 1 packet for 2.5 soles), has no fear in prodding people passing by to stop and eat, and she's establishing herself a respected person in the community.
Dina setting up shop outside the health post. 

Tia Betty (the owner of the restaurant where Roger works) lends Dina this table everyday. 

I invested in Dina's business. Here's Dina holding 54 soles of Jello. 

Foot Notes:

*Dina and I always laugh about the day I arrived. I was dressed up in a tie, I had my huge backpack, and Dina was too shy to talk to me. The neighbor lady did all the questioning, and everyone threw a fit when I decided to sit on ground with them in my dress slacks and share some fruit. Also they claim they didn't understand a word I was saying... somethings never changed

** In July of 2012, I was sitting at the rock/table in the kitchen, feeling sorry for myself, wearing my heart on my sleeve, and barely being able to hold a conversation with Dina without breaking down. I was in a major slump, my outlook was grim, and I was really doubting that I made the right choices in life the last few years.  It was pretty pathetic. Then, just at that moment, I realized that Yordan was standing on the bench hugging neck, and Yeferson was sitting across from me with a worried, "You 'ok', man?" look on his face. The 29 year-old looking at the 7 year-old's face was spark I needed. It was then that I realized that I had been wasting too much time on fruitless things, and not on those people who really deserved it. Although, Yeferson doesn't know it, that's the moment his education became our number one priority.

*** Whenever Cate and I reflect on Yeferson's journey to becoming a reader, she always reminds me of the time I called her frustrated after a abruptly ending a class with Yeferson. I was ready to quit. The day was dedicated to the letter "T". It was pretty simple, and he was getting the idea. T with A, TA. T with E, TE, T with I, TI. etc... So at the end of the session I wrote three simple words on the board using the letter T. The idea was to have him read the words, make a huge deal out of how his starting to read real words, high-five, and end the class on a high-note leaving momentum for our next class. I don't remember what three words I wrote on the board, I just remember the first one: TUNA. I don't remember the other words, because I snapped before we could get past TUNA. Yep, he broke me when, with a ton of 7-year-old enthusiasm, proudly sounded out TUNA like this: Ttt?....Ttt....Ttt Uuuu??... Ttttuuu..... Ttttttt......Uuuuu.. Tu..... LECHUGA!!!!!! (lettuce in Spanish). After the proud approving smile was instantly wiped from my face for look of confused shock, I threw my chalk on the ground and stormed off to my room to call Cate (imagine of mix between Bobby Knight ,a two year-old baby, and a teenager getting grounded... that was me). During the phone call, I claimed "I can't do it. I swear he's doing on purpose! He's just trying to piss me off!!!! Lechuga?! Seriously, Lechuga? There's not even a T in the damn word!..." (and on went the rant). Luckily, Cate talked me down and convinced me the Yeferson wasn't purposefully trying to misread words, that he's seven, and that he's probably just guessed to try to make me happy. Made sense.

**** Here's a big time shout out to Jill for the calculators she sent me. Dina now is the boss with her "computer" when it comes to disputes about making change. With a simple press of some buttons, Dina's anxiety of getting shorted is no longer an issue. Thanks Jill.

Dear Blog Readers,

I hope you've enjoyed the glimpse of the daily life and changes the Pachacamac family has endured during my two year stay with them.  I know many of you are fans of the videos, pictures, and stories I've shared, as Roger, Dina, Yeferson, and Yordan were often the stars of my posts. Please take a moment and think about what all they've done in this time (or just look at my past posts). All of this was done by just by being the modest, hardworking, and caring people they are. They've done an amazing job of being ambassadors for their country and culture; and through them,  we've learned a lot. 

The changes that they've made to improve their situation have not been insignificant. Imagine a family of four, with a limited education, living off of 25 soles a day, doing so much so quickly. It's obvious to me that although I'm no longer with them,  the Pachamacs will do just fine life. The boys, Yeferson and Yordan, show daily their natural traits of kindness, caring, curiosity, and intelligence. They are clear reflection of their parents, and the values taught in the home. As I've said before, odds are: the Pachacamacs will most likely be just fine. 

However, I think we have an opportunity (and for me, and obligation) to insure that we do more for them in the future. "Just fine" isn't good enough for them. They've come so far and done so much, to settle at "just fine"would be a disappointment to say the least.  I have no doubt that Yeferson and Yordan could achieve great things for themselves and their family, with the right support. These little high-energy, sponges have the natural gifts; and with the right guidance,  could significantly improve this family's life. 

 Your generosity these last two years has been remarkable. Thank you for this. The care packages have been more than enough, and always greatly appreciated. But please allow me to ask one last favor:  Let's insure that Yeferson continues to read and improve in school. Let's insure that Yordan hit's all of his academic milestones on time. Let's insure Roger and Dina have a chance of having two educated sons in the family. Let's insure that Yeferson and Yordan's children have fathers that know how to read, write, do math, and the importance of schooling. Let's collectively invest in these two boys' education. Something that I truly believe will always be of value for them.

Thanks to many meetings with Dina, Roger, and Cate,  we've developed a plan on how to do this. I have already pledged that I'll make it happen; however,  if you too would like to support the boys' education, let me know. Send me an email, and I'll share how the plan looks, and how you can support it. 

Thanks for sticking with me,