And I’m still here…

Every so often I have mornings where I wake up before 5 and can’t fall back asleep, and this was one of those mornings. One of the good things about these mornings is that I have some time before the sun rises to do a few things I haven’t done in a long time – write a blog post!

IMG_0556In July, I officially became a “third year volunteer” as the other volunteers in my group mostly went home, and I began my six month extension.  At first, I was questioning my decision to stay longer, because I didn’t have much going on in the municipality here (pretty typical between January and July here in Cascas) and I was seeing my volunteer friends go home and reunite with their family and friends.  I experienced some homesickness during my two years, but the homesickness since July has been much more intense than it ever was, which is something I didn’t expect!

 

But now it is September, and I am so grateful for these extra few months I have here.  In August, Lauren (amigas since basically birth…) came to visit me. We celebrated the grape festival here in Cascas and then went to Piura to the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. We swam with sea turtles and overall just enjoyed catching up.

I then went to one of my favorite cities in Peru, Huaraz, with Kevin to run the Sierra Andina 13K, and hike Laguna 69.  We ran one day, and hiked the next. It was hard but definitely worth the esfuerzo.

After all of those adventures, we came home, and I have been super busy being a volunteer. For this extension, I am working part-time with the municipality here in my site, and part-time with the Water For People Peruvian staff.  It is a challenge balancing work between the two, because they both have a long list of things they want me to be involved in, and because I am really excited about the work I am doing.

In August, I also got to go to Asuncion in Cajamarca to inspect two wastewater treatment plants and two septic systems. I gave the local water committees and government recommendations and a report on how they can rehabilitate the systems and operate and maintain them better. I am working on operations and maintenance manuals for small rural water and wastewater treatment plants, and have spent the last week inspecting water systems here in Cascas that need small maintenance and repairs. We also began a sanitary education project in five communities with the office and two other PC volunteers.

And, this week, we finally saw a big step forward on a waste management project that has been in the works for a year now. El Zapote is a small community on the mountain right above Cascas. They have never had any way to dispose of their trash, and would either throw it in the creek, or burn it to get rid of it.  They wanted to solve this problem, and came to me to talk about options.  Together with a counterpart at the municipality, we wrote up a project proposal and sent it to the municipality. At first, they told us that they would approve the project but not until the following year.  I figured that was them saying no, but not coming right out to say no. However, in January, they let us know that they did approve the project and that we would be carrying it forward.  We jumped into action, and trained the community on waste management, the damage contamination does on the environment, and the importance of recycling.  After hurrying up, we then had to wait most of this year for the municipality to deliver the materials.  Finally, in August, they delivered the materials and the community built their waste management center. Yesterday, we had a huge community cleanup. We collected trash and recycling, and the newly elected recycling committee began to make decisions about how to proceed.

Community development and behavior change is a slow, excruciating process. Before PC, I thought that two years is a long time, but now, I know that it is barely enough time to do anything. It was great yesterday to see this community realize a goal they have had and have fought for for at least five years.

And although I miss Colorado summers and my favorite foods and playing frolf with my friends and being with my family, I know that these extra few months are giving me the gift of getting to see some of these changes occur that I wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise.

 

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Some things I’ve learned

It is rapidly nearing two years since I left home and came to Peru to start my time as a Peace Corps trainee and then, a volunteer.  At this time two years ago, I was finishing up internships with Denver Water and Water For People, packing my bags (which in hindsight, I packed WAY too much), and spending a lot of time worrying about the uncertainty I was about to experience.  I was part of a group of over forty excited, scared, future volunteers who left for Peru at the end of April in 2016.  While I still have plenty of time left in site (I was accepted for a six month extension, putting my Close of Service date around January 20, 2019) I am starting to get a bit reflective about my service.

To honor that reflective-ness, here is a list of some things I have learned in two years:

  1. How to make rice – but to really make rice, so that a Peruvian would think it is good.  (Don’t ever forget the garlic and salt!) My peace corps living situation is unique because I live with a family and I cook.  Mostly, PCVs who live with families don’t get to cook, and PCVs who cook for themselves aren’t also cooking for their families.  I have the burden and the pleasure of cooking for my family several days a week, and as such, have had to learn how to cook food using the ingredients available here, that I find nutritious, and most importantly, that they like.
  2. What it feels like to have a water-borne parasite, and I have learned this one well.  I have lots of practice now (giardia lamblia four times)
  3. How to coexist with lizards, crickets, tarantulas, scorpions… They still scare me a bit, but not as much, and I now can appreciate them.
  4. How to make a pretty decent chicken, vegetable noodle soup, papa a la huancaina, pachamanca a la olla with rabbit and guinea pig, chicken in guiso, fried chicken, french fries, and a delicious wood fire oven pizza.
  5. How to live without a refrigerator, and without a (conventional) oven.  Without these things, you have to go shopping every day (which I actually really enjoy the municipal market here and think it is a pretty decent system) and you cook everything on a stove.
  6. How to eat new things.  I have had to learn how to eat guinea pig (of course), rabbit, goat, duck, livers, hearts, intestines….. and giant rainforest grubs.  I have enjoyed some of the things, but mostly, I have learned to respect that other people may think very differently than I do about food, and their perspectives and opinions are valid and good, even when mine might not be the same.
  7. How to navigate the market.  The municipal market in Cascas and in many towns in Peru is in my opinion, worth it’s own blog post.  It is not just a place to buy groceries but a hub of social and economic activity.  I now know what you can get there, and when to get it, and from who to buy it from.  I learned that you can get cooked vegetables already prepared for delicious salads, or vegetables prepared for soup.  I know which are the neighbors that we always support and who lets us keep a tab for things like chicken.  There’s always someone there to teach you how to correctly prepare recipes, and someone to recommend spices or recipe ideas.20161128_105652
  8. How to prepare and eat chicken on the bone. The chicken we buy here was “walking around yesterday”, as many gringos like to joke, and as such, has not been processed like the chicken we buy in the states.  I was used to buying just chicken breasts to eat, but here, we buy and use everything.  I have yet to develop a taste for chicken feet, livers, hearts, etc, but I can buy a half of a kilo of chicken and make it into several parts to serve.  I no longer cringe if I have to cut through bones or take out lungs before I put the chicken in the pot.
  9. How to live on about $12 per day.  Our stipend during service is actually less than $12 per day, and I have learned to not only live within those means, but to save and be able to go on vacation every so often.  Now, I say this from a place of privilege and knowingly within a very specific circumstance.  In the states, this could never work, and here, it only works because the cost of living here is lower, I am not supporting a family, and definitely because my health costs are all covered by PC (which would be a huge amount). With all of that in mind, I spend about $30 per month on rent, water, and electricity,  $90 per month on food (other than going out to a restaurant), $30 for my phone plans, and $15 for internet. My other costs include going out for chicken with Kevin and sometimes his sister, trips to Trujillo for things I can’t get here, dog food, dog vaccinations, etc, and other things here and there.
  10. How to wash clothes by hand.  I still am not good at it, and the keys here are to rinse the clothes way more than you think you need to, to use fabric softener, and have really strong hands and forearms.20180201_080048
  11. How to live without a clothes dryer.  When possible, I think everyone should try to line dry their clothes.  As long as it doesn’t rain, it is great, and saves energy.
  12. That corruption is a HUGE hindrance to development.  For most of the major problems a given community faces (lack of clean drinking water, bad waste management, lack of roads, lack of social programs) the technology is fairly simple, and the government does have a substantial budget to fulfill all of those things.  However, corruption is in every facet of life, from how the money is spent to who gets government jobs. It makes a simple problem into a large one, and hurts community members along the way.
  13. It is more worth fixing your things (clothes, furniture, electronics) than buying a new pair every time they fall apart.  In Cascas, there are seamstresses that charge about $3 per item to take in pants or sew in patches.  There are carpenters who fix chairs and tables for about $5-$10, and there is a guy (he’s amazing) who can fix any electronic item from phones to speakers to refrigerators and water boilers for a low price.  That way, you get great use out of the things you buy.
  14. How to serve.  I have been involved in service for my whole life, as I have had great opportunities to be a volunteer from when I was a kid.  But now, I see service in a whole new light. I used to think service was about giving something to another, such as my time or even a physical thing.  I was used to hearing a “thank you” or a “you are a good person” for serving, no matter how small, and I liked that.  But Peace Corps is a whole different ballgame.  Service for me is about accompaniment – about being with someone where they are and as they are.  It is about being humble, and completely throwing away my own needs or desires to serve the needs or desires of another, and it most often does not come with a thank you, and no one thinks I am any better or any less than anyone else for it.  It is frustrating and tired and lonely and maybe even excruciating at times, but it is also unique and surprising.  The best moments for me are seeing someone teaching something I taught them – knowing that they are going to continue passing on their knowledge even when I am gone.
  15. A lot about love. I have been and continue to be loved in so many ways here in Peru.  When I boarded that plane from Denver to start this journey, I was leaving behind everything and everyone I had ever met and known; my family, friends, culture, customs, language… no wonder I was terrified. It wasn’t the first time I had done something like that, but it was the most intense. But I have never been alone.  My family and friends at home have been there at any moment for a video call or to just send chicken emojis back and forth. I have been surrounded by friends and family here who have and continue to show me love in so many ways.  These last few months have been reminder after reminder of this love.

    For Valentines Day, Kevin surprised me with a gathering of family and friends, and as we sat down for dinner, he proposed.  It was beautiful to share that with his family and friends here, and to make official what we had been discussing for a long time now.  His sister and his cousin gave a toast, teary eyed and happy, saying some beautiful words to me and inviting me into their family.

    A few days before my birthday, the sanitary educators in my office planned a surprise birthday compartir with tamales, inka cola, cake, wine, and decorationsand most of the municipality workers were there to celebrate with me.  My main counterpart shared some kind words about me in a toast.

    For my birthday, Kevin’s sister bought me a huge cake, and woke me up in the morning wandering into my room with a gift.  Kevin surprised me in the morning with a bouquet of roses. My old host family held a birthday dinner for me and invited the other PCV as well as the Japanese volunteer, and we ate yet more cake.  Capture

    And then, Kevin somehow got me to go with him to Huanchaco where all of my Volunteer friends were waiting to surprise me with an engagement party.  We ate tacos, drank coronas, and talked about the important things in life.  My buddy Lando gave a toast about how love is the most important part of life, and I thought about how well I am loved by my Kevin, my families, and my friends.

This time has been incredible and difficult, and I am often overwhelmed, but happy I am staying here a little longer.  I am starting to suspect that these feelings aren’t unique to Peace Corps Volunteers, but really to everyone.  Cheers to that.

Saludos a todos y un fuerte abrazo

How to make passion fruit juice: one of many things I have learned from my family here in Peru

One of the most wonderful things about my Peace Corps experience has been living with my Peruvian family.  It is wonderful in the sense that being in any family is wonderful.  It is hard and it is messy but it is good.  There are days where we get along great and there are days that we don’t.  We have to deal with each other not just when we feel great but also when we are sick, or tired, or lonely.  They have to deal with me when I am sad and missing home, and I them when they have some sadness in their family.  And through all of this, I am very thankful for them.  They have taken me in like I am one of theirs, and have taught me so much about what it means to be in Peru, what it means to be in Cascas, and so much more.  On a less sappy and emotional note, they have also taught me to make jugo de maracuya  or passionfruit juice.  And that I am going to teach to you.

Step one: find some maracuyas 

20180201_125758 Maracuya, or passion fruit is a round fruit with a tough shell ranging from the size of a golf ball to the size of a softball.  In Cascas, they are green when they are on the vine, and are yellow when they ripen.  In other places, they can be brown/purple on the outside. In Cascas, you can wander around and you are sure to find a plant creeping along a wall or a fence full of maracuyas, but in other places, you might have to go to the grocery store or a market. To make a pitcher of juice, you are going to need 4-5 medium sized fruits.

Step 2: Wash the fruit and cut it in half

These were large, so I used four.  I washed them with running, boiled water (or if you live in a place where the water is treated, just wash them in the sink.) You can also soak them in water with a few drops of bleach if you are afraid of parasites, as we are here in Cascas. I then cut them all in half.  When opened up, you can see the yellow-white shell on the outside and the seeds with the fruit on the inside.  The seeds are black, and the fruit is a bright orange, and tastes very sour.

Step 3: Scoop the seeds into the blender

With a spoon, scrape out the orange/black seeds into a blender.

Step 4: Add sugar and a little bit of water to the blender, and blend

 

I add a half of a cup of sugar, and about 2 cups of (clean) water to the blender with the fruit and seeds.  You might like more sugar, because the juice is pretty sour!  We use “blond” sugar, which is a little darker, but white sugar or even another kind of sweetener would work just fine. Blend for about thirty seconds, or until it is well mixed, and the seeds are not whole.  Do not blend too much, because we want to strain those seed bits out later.

Step 5: Pour the mixture through a fine strainer to separate the seeds

I generally set the strainer on top of a small pot, and pour the mixture in.  I then use a spoon to gently push the liquid through the strainer, into the pot.

Step 6: Pour the concentrated juice into a pitcher, and add water.

I pour the juice from the small pot into a pitcher, and add boiled/treated water to the pitcher to fill the pitcher.  You are going to have to taste the juice to see if you like the juice:water ratio, and if it needs more sugar.  Adjust as necessary, mixing the juice with a spoon until you are happy with the flavor.  Mix well before serving.

You can also make maracuya frozen by blending the strained juice with ice, and you can make maracuya sours by blending the juice with ice, pisco, and an egg white.

We have a whole box of maracuyas in the kitchen right now from our plant, so I am going to have to make juice for lunch every day 🙂

A really late Christmas/New Years card

Happy 2018 everyone!  My aunt always sends our family her Christmas card every year, and it generally has the form of her year in the alphabet.  Around December, I started thinking about how I wanted to to that in blog form, and never got to it.  We had another family friend that used to get her Christmas cards out by New Years, and called them a New Years card. So, in the spirit of my aunt and our family friend, here is my really late Christmas/New Years card.

is for Asuncion, a district in Cajamarca about 5 hours from Cascas.  I traveled to Asuncion to co-facilitate a training in operation and maintenance of small community wastewater plants for several  water committees, operators, and Water For People staff.  I loved the experience of getting to know another town briefly, and to share some of my knowledge.

is for Uncle Silvestro’s Birthday. During the evacuation, I had the chance to go to Florida to surprise my uncle on his 70th birthday.  We spent a few days with my aunt and uncle, two of my cousins, and my cousin’s toddler.  We ate and drank and swam and laughed together, and it was a nice trip that I wasn’t expecting in the middle of a chaotic time.

is for Sustainable Development Action Committee. in Peace Corps Peru, there are several committees that volunteers can join, and I was lucky to be chosen to help form and establish a new committee.  The SDAC members meet several times per year to brainstorm ways to support volunteers and staff in their work, and to try to do what we do in a more sustainable way with the counterparts and host country nationals we work with. It is a very rewarding team to work with, and the committee members are fun people, so I am thankful for getting to discuss and work with them.

is for Diagnostics.  One of the big things I worked on this year were surveys and data for the national government and for Water For People. I got to traipse all over my district, talking with water system operators and community members to get information for the diagnostic.

is for English classes.  One of the things most volunteers deal with in Peru are lots of people wanting to learn English.  They assume that as an English-speaker, we are inherently qualified to teach (we are definitely not), and most of us teach a few classes in our two years.  I taught way too much English this year, for kids in summer school, students at the Institute here, a group of adults, and the veterinarians in town.  A resolution for this year is to learn to say no and teach way less English!

F is for Friends.  My dearest friend from college came with her boyfriend to visit me in Cascas in October, and I am still so thankful for the kind of friend that she is.  We spent some time just being in Cascas, and she said that she wanted to do that to be able to relate to my time here.  Her selflessness to spend that kind of money and time just to experience some of this and to be able to relate to me blew me away, and we had a great time here in Cascas and exploring Huaraz.

is for Gratitude. When I began my service, I made a gratitude board to keep track of the little things I am thankful for.  I haven’t been great at updating it, but slowly and surely, it is filling up.  It gives me a reason to stop and be intentionally grateful.

is for Hospitality. One of the wonderful things about Peru is the hospitality that is always shown to anyone who walks through your door.  I have been on the receiving end of this hospitality often, and through that, I have learned how to make a meal stretch for all of the people in the house, or to find what you have to offer to whoever shows up.

is for Infections.  This year, I have been pretty healthy overall, but have had some different bacterial and viral infections.  The most memorable were the three cases of giardia and the time I had to get a minor toe surgery for an infection I had. (Yuck)

is for JASS, which is what we call the rural water committees here in Peru. This year, I got to train 15 JASS in operation, maintenance, and administration of water systems.  JASS trainings are one of my favorite activities, because it is when I get to get in touch with my technical side, answering questions about water systems, and trying to find solutions for the problems they face daily.

is for el pozo Koan, one of the lakes in the upper part of the district of Cascas. This year, we returned to the lake in July to see the vicuñas and swim in the frigid water with a group of friends.

L is for Luna. Luna is my little pup. She is a white/tan shi tzu fluffball mix, who bites too much and loves to eat meat.  I got her as a gift for the new year as a tiny puppy, and she has been a source of joy and laughter all year for me, my family here, and all of the neighborhood.

is for Machu Picchu.  In December, the Ritter family descended upon Peru, and we headed to Cusco to see the Sacred Valley and hike the Inca Trail.  Mom, Dad, brothers, boyfriend and girlfriend all hiked the four days, ending with three hours in Machu Picchu. We were all astounded by this wonder of the world.  I was expected to be underwhelmed, as I tend to be at super touristy places, but I was overwhelmed almost to tears at how incredible Machu Picchu and the other ruins really were.

is for el Niño Costero.  This March/April/May in Northern Peru, el Niño Costero hit particularly hard, causing ceaseless torrential downpours, floods, landslides, and the loss of homes, crops, roads, bridges… All PCVs in the northern parts of Peru were evacuated back to the states for 40 days to impatiently wait out the storms and news from Peace Corps if we would be going back to our sites or not. Thankfully, most of us got go back. It was definitely one of the saddest parts of the year.

is for Oven.  This year, we made a wood fired pizza oven at the house, and this means that about every month, we get a group together to make pizza.  I have learned the ins and outs of making pizza from scratch this way, and I think I may have perfected it, as much as you can living in a small community in Northern Peru. Even the my Peruvian family and friends say it is delicious, which is a great compliment, because Peruvians are very serious about their food.

is for Pacasmayo.  In June, Kevin and I ran a 10K in Pacasmayo (just north of Trujillo).  It was my favorite race I have ever run, with the 10 kilometers spent looking out on the beach and running out to the lighthouse and back. I also really liked the distance, and hope to run it again.

is for gender eQuity, which is one of our focuses as a Peace Corps post. This year has been especially important for gender equity on a global scale, and I have personally learned a lot through the Women’s March, the MeToo movement, and in Peru, the NiUnaMenos movement.

is for Races. Kevin and I ran several races this year, and planned one (see letters U and P). We also ran a 5K La Industria, and a little bit more than 5K Maraton del Arco in Cascas.

is for the Santa Cruz Trek.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, Kevin and I took advantage of a trip to Huaraz to hike the Santa Cruz trek in Huascaran National Park.  It is a backpacking trip in the Cordillera Blanca, and one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It was an amazing experience, and left me thinking about where else I might want to go hike next.

is for T-bone, the little bull that Kevin bought at the beginning of last year.  He was three days old when he came home, and drank four liters of milk per day for the first four months of his life until we weened him off of the bottle and taught him how to graze.  He is slowly getting bigger, and a little less cute, but Kevin adores him.

is for the Feria de la Uva, the grape festival in Cascas in July.  This year, I helped the planning committee in the months leading up to the festival, and helped plan and carry out a 5K and 10K race.  We had about 40 participants, and a really great time.  I also participated in the Pet Contest where Luna won third place.  I learned that Casquinos take their festivals very serious, and that it is not easy to be involved in planning or executing any of the activities.

is for the Viviendas Saludables (Healthy Households) project I co-facilitated with the three Sanitary Educators in my office.  We worked in 75 households for six months, teaching families household water treatment, sanitation, hygiene, and about their water systems and committees.  It was an incredibly rewarding experience and the biggest project I have been a part of in my Peace Corps service.

is for Wonderful.  My site mate came to Cascas to start her service in October, and she is absolutely wonderful.  It is great to have a friend around who understands the life you are leading (especially in circumstances as weird as Peace Corps) and who you can speak English with.  Not only that, she is motivated and creative and kind, and just a great person to get to live near and work with.

is for Xenial, which is described as “a friendly relationship between two parties or countries.”  This seems to fit two of the three Peace Corps goals, which are sharing cultures between our communities in Peru and in the states.  I try to reach those goals by teaching English (see the letter E), hosting pizza nights (see the letter O), and by keeping up with my daily picture project on facebook as well as this blog.  I also spoke for my church and for two high school Spanish classes while I was evacuated at home (see the letter N).

is for 1 Year and 9 months.  I opened my LinkedIn account the other day and it told me that I have been with Peace Corps for now a year and nine months.  I was absolutely blown away. This means that my service is on the downhill side, and I now know that my six months left are going to fly by.

is for Zap.  When I was standing up next to the Pastoruri Glacier at more than 17,000 ft in Huascaran National park with my dear friend, her boyfriend, and Kevin (see letter F), the lightening began to strike all around us.  I was afraid we would all get Zapped, but thankfully, we all made it down the mountain.  We were covered in snow, rain, and hail, but were safe and sound.

And now you know your ABCs….

Here’s to 2018!

Happy Thanksgiving

I know it is a little late to be talking about Thanksgiving, but I planned this blog post in my head in a long windy car-ride down from the sierra on the eve of Thanksgiving, and am finally getting to writing it out.

Last week, I had the incredible privilege of co-facilitating a water committee training in the furthest community in my district.  I live in the urban center of Cascas (a town of 6000 people, any by no means a big city), where most business and legal actions take place within the district.  Cascas is a three-hour bus ride from Trujillo, the nearest big city.  We had this training in Machasen, a community that is a three-hour car ride from Cascas and then a three-hour hike or horseback ride from the road.  In total, we traveled six hours to get there, and more than eight to get back.

We wanted to host a training in Machasen, for a variety of reasons.  Machasen is a town that is geographically central to eight other sierra communities with water committees, and it would be easier for them to come to Machasen than to Cascas to attend the training. Also, we assumed that no one else had ever hosted a training or event there, due to it being so far away.  Trainings bring with them a host of economic benefits for the community, as there is an influx of people in town, so we wanted to bring that to Machasen as well.  Machasen has a brand-new water system, so it made the perfect spot to teach hands-on about cleaning, disinfection, and chlorination systems.

We had JASS (water committee) members from seven communities, and all had to walk or ride horses to get there, some walking three hours. But walk they did.  We had thirty people present for the training.

I grew up in a small town in Colorado, and when I was eight we moved to a house that we fondly say is “in the middle of nowhere.”  I am used to living in a place where there is no cell service, and that is far away from stores, schools, gas stations, and even hospitals. I feel more comfortable in rural areas, and cities drain my energy. Even Cascas for me is a little big. I was excited to get out to the middle of nowhere for a few days, and was even more excited when we got to where the road ended, and saw a horse, a mule, and a donkey waiting there for us.

We loaded up all of our training materials on the donkey, and a poor chicken in a box on top, and checked to make sure the saddles were on tight.  I chose the horse to ride because it was a little bigger, and I thought that maybe it wouldn’t be so tired carrying my weight up those steep hills, but was a little jealous of my counterpart’s mule as we started up the trail.  I learned to ride a mule when I was little, and should have known that it would be the best for a long trail ride. My neighbor at home gave me riding lessons for years, and I thought of her as we took off up the hill.  Between where the road ends and Machasen, there are some really steep switchbacks, and I heard my neighbor’s voice in my head telling me “heels down Christie” and “put your weight in the stirrups in the downhill and loosen the reins”.  When I was little, I used to hate hearing that voice yell that at me from the porch of her house as I did circles and circles in the arena on trusty Whisky Pete, but that morning, hearing those words in my head, I was thankful.   And I if where I come from is in the middle of nowhere, then Machasen is otra cosa – or a whole other thing, as they say here.

In Machasen, there is no cell coverage until you walk two hours out or an hour up. The closest health post is four hours away walking or on horseback, and the closest hospital is in Cascas and is at least six hours away.  If you need a major surgery or have a real medical emergency, then you are nine hours from help. There are almost forty families that live there, and they are all based on agriculture and livestock raising. If there is a bad year for rains, their potatoes and corn won’t grow, and they will suffer. The only public institutions in town are the irrigation committee, the drinking water committee, and the school, with thirteen students and one teacher.  Only one member of the community makes a salary.  In Machasen itself, money doesn’t have much value.  The families make some money when they come down to sell their crops, but up there, they can’t buy anything. They do have electricity, and a few houses have tiny televisions, but other than that, they are very isolated when it comes to the goings on in the world and even in their neighboring towns.  They have to rely on gossip to hear the news from the district, and sometimes the stories that make it out there have been warped so much they don’t even resemble the truth of the story.  Things that happen out there also don’t make it to Cascas, and sometimes even institutions in Cascas get away with some fishy things out there because no one will tell what happened.

During the three days, we trained the different JASS on Administration, Operation, and Maintenance of their water systems, and navigated a lot of the challenges that arise – that a water committee in a rural area has to face. These committee members work as volunteers for two years (I can relate…) giving their time to provide clean water for their communities, mostly their families and friends.

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After the training was over for the day, we all went up to the soccer field, a sloping grass/dirt field with a steep drop off on one side, to play a pick-up game until sunset. I surprised everyone the first evening by going out on the field to play, as women in Peru mostly play volleyball, and not soccer. I scored two goals the first night, and one the second.  I don’t think I have laughed as hard in Peru as I did when I was the “talk of the town” for those days, hearing about “la gringa” who plays soccer and scores goals.

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When the sun finally set each day, we all gathered around to eat dinner prepared by the town women, sharing soup, chicken, goat, and lots of potatoes. The women in the sierra serve plates piled high with rice and potatoes, and always try to feed you another plate. After dinner, we all were placed in the different houses in the community to sleep.  My counterpart and I were housed in the JASS president’s house.  The family made their beds for us, and slept on the floor in the main room in a big pile of saddle pads, blankets, and sleeping bags.  I was blown away (as always) by their hospitality for us.

The last day, all of the participants hiked up to the water source together to clean and disinfect the system, and we cleaned the water intake structure, water tank, and break pressure tanks together.  Afterwards, we shared one last meal together (a stew made with goat intestines) and all began the walk to our respective homes and communities.  My counterpart and I walked for three hours with some other community members, and had to wait in the rain at the road for the truck from the municipality to come get us.  I called my mom and my brother from way up there where the road ends and got to talk to them while they finished things up at work to start preparing for a big Thanksgiving party they were hosting.

Finally, the truck came around the corner, and we loaded up our things and started the three-hour drive back in the dark and in the rain.  It gave me plenty of time to think about the experience we had just had, and to think about what I am thankful for this year. Thanksgiving in Peace Corps can be a really sad time, as we are far away from our families and friends, and miss out on some of the most cheerful and treasured times of the year.  I had already shed a few tears, missing those people who are so important to me and our time together. But as we drove the switchbacks down from the sierra in the dark, I wasn’t sad at all. I thought about how I was so thankful for this whole experience that Peace Corps has been for me.  I has changed everything about the life I lead, and the life I thought I would lead, and I think (mostly) for the better. In the past year and a half, I have met people who are now dear friends and even family. I am so thankful for how I showed up to a random town in a random country – a place I didn’t even know existed – and now have a new home. I am thankful for friends and family back home who come all the way here to see me and this life I am leading.

And I am thankful for the hospitality, kindness, and perspective that Machasen and her people gave me for the short time we shared up in the mountains.

Updates

Updates

Hey everyone,

I read my friend Brandon’s blog post the other day, and found it to be a very truthful to my own experience in the last few months here in Peru, as well as the experience of many other volunteers in my group.  Brandon, (as always) eloquently talks about how he was on top of all of his projects for “back home” – his blogs, his letters, and then he decided to shift his priorities, get away from his computer, ad get out into his community.  As a result, he has been super busy with projects and overall being involved in his community in Cajamarca.

My recent experience has been very similar, but less intentional.  After returning from the evacuation in March, I was scared that I wouldn’t have any work to do and that everyone forgot me while I was in the states, and they were knee deep in flood water.  Lucky for me, that wasn’t the case.  I got back to site, and have done what seems like a million things since then.  Here are a few of the things I have been up to in the last few months.

Support for local government in their yearly goals

My main counterpart in Cascas is the ATM, or Area Tecnica Municipal, the person in the municipality who manages water and sanitation in the rural parts of our district.  The ATM has several functions, but mostly he works on the yearly goals given us by the National Government, specifically the Ministry of Households, Construction and Sanitation (MVCS), the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF), and the National Rural Sanitation Program (PNSR).  I have been supporting the ATM with all aspects of the goal, or Meta for this year, in the field and in the office. Some examples of Meta activities are taking water samples to measure water quality in the water sources in the district, legally recognizing water committees to help them get support from the local government, and planning for sanitary education and trainings for the next year.

Healthy households home visit project

This has been my biggest and most successful project of my service.  I am managing a team of three Sanitary Educators, (or as we say EDUSAs) in house visits and group workshops for 75 families in two communities.  We have taught these families household water treatment options, safe water storage, handwashing, bathroom operation and maintenance, and about their local water systems and committees.  We secured a small budget from the municipality to provide some simple items to kick-start the behavior changes.  We have been working with these families since July, and are going to close this phase of the project in December.  In a monitoring visit we did a few weeks ago, we saw families, who, with a few resources and lots of new information and support, have made huge changes in their daily lives over the last five months.  One of my favorite parts of this project is the changes in professionalism and self-esteem I have seen in my team of EDUSAs – these girls have worked hard to prove everyone wrong who said they couldn’t do it.

 

Water Committee Trainings

Another exciting project I have been co-facilitating with the ATM has been de-centralized trainings around the district for the rural water committees, or JASS. We have trained now fifteen JASS in two different zones, in trainings that last three days each.  These committees are made up of community members elected by their same communities, and have a variety of backgrounds.  Some are professionals, some work in agriculture, some have a higher education, and some can’t even read. We have to train them on administration, operation, and maintenance in their water systems in their community.  My counterpart and I are proud of the work we have done with those fifteen JASS, and are hoping to have one more training for another ten JASS before the end of the year.

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English Teaching

I have also been busy planning and teaching English classes.  I have a love-hate relationship with teaching English, as I am not professionally trained to teach English, but it is in high demand here in town, so I teach some small classes with people who have shown real interest. I have made some friends through my teaching, and have met some really interesting people.

A visit from Lauren and Jon, and getting to know Peru better

Other than work, I have also had some time to add in some fun.  Lauren and Jon came all the way up to Northern Peru to check out my life here in Cascas, and I took advantage of that time to show them around Huaraz, (one of my favorite places here) and do a well-known trek.  The trek was amazing, with views of snowcapped peaks and crystal blue lakes for three days, and the visit with Lauren and Jon was the cherry on top. With them, we braved hail, snow, and lightening at a glacier located at almost 17,000 ft, ate good food, and visited the hot springs nearby.  They also suffered through a night bus to come see Cascas, where they got to try some wine and participate in the fiesta in October. I am so thankful to have friends that take time and money to come see me and immerse themselves in this crazy experience.

And so much more…

The day-to-day activities are sometimes even more interesting or meaningful, but it is hard to format them into a blog post or video, and instead of trying, I think I’ll get back out there, and get back to work.