Tuesday, September 26, 2006

9/26/06 (Day 14): PACA tools

"Wow!! Two whole weeks in the Peace Corps! The stars were birght tonight in the Sta. Eulalia Valley when Benj and I left the training center and headed home. It was a long day of learning 'Participatory Analysis for Community Action' or PACA toosl. We split up into our small groups and walked throughout the community doing interviews, drawing community maps, walking transect lines, learning about daily and seasonal schedules, etc. One main road passes through the community, a river flows through the valley just down from the road, and the dusty hills rise steeply all around us. We thought that we would do a project focused on garbage collection but learned through our various interviews that they community is very proud of the garbage cleaning situation they already have set up. Hmmm... Maybe instead we will do a series of plays on why littering is bad. Our main concern is that if successful, this campaign would put the street cleaners out of business."

Friday, September 22, 2006

9/22/06 (Day 10): Mosquitos & Hamburger

"I just introduced Melissa, our host siter, and Carmen, our host mom, to the card game SET. Katie and Erin would be proud. :)

We had to evacuate the house this evening around 8pm because the Ministry of Health came to fumigage against Bartonella-carrying mosquitos. A couple of days ago a man who had visited Sta. Eulalia in July died of Bartonella complications and the entire community is doing everything they can to ensure their safety against these mosquitos. Apparently it's a hard disease to get and really nothing to worry about, but like antying local and glorious it's been all over the news. Regardless, we are wearing pants and long sleeves and bug repellent.

Carmen made us hamburger rolled up in a fried mashed potato with rice and over-cooked brocolli for lunch. I know it was well thought out on her end, we did say 'bit-by-bit' we would start to eat meat after all. So why not give us a couple of tablespoons of well-ground pig meat? I ate around the meat... but Benj just ate away. Our tummies hurt afterwards. Benj made a delicious stir-fry tonight with veggies and soy meat. The whole family was impressed, it tasted great, and didn't involve meat. Carmen even said it tasted like meat. Ah, cultural sharing."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

9/21/06 (Day 9): Libby's first visit to the health post

"Ah, que sueno tenemos. We are tired. Benj is curled up by my side in our not-so-comfortable bed, already asleep. I had the benefit of a short nap this afternoon & so will try to capture some of what happened today before turning off the light and slipping off into a dense dreamland that lasts only until 6am when the metal worker outside our window will light his first and start his pounding. The street dogs will bark at the earliest passers-by and the chickens and guinea pigs that our family raises on the roof of our house will begin to peep. We will go running...

On the other side of Chisica, up a hill to the right called Quirio, exists a "puesto de salud Senor de los milagros." We arrived at 8:30am in the Peace Corps 'combi' (mini-van that acts as public transport) to be dropped off by Toni and wished good luck. It was dusty and alreadyt he sun was hot. Painted blue and with the door wide open, the health post was welcominng, and a stream of patients passed through its doorway during the first few minutes we were there, most with babies strapped to their backs.

Maria, the HR-administrative employee, showed us to the clinic's auditorium where she gave us paper and markers and instructed us in how to make posters advertizing the national campaign to vaccinate all of Peru against Rubella. Short staffed, underpaid, over worked, and passionate about working for the people, Cecilia, Elva & Jenny walked us through the major health concers of the community and what kinds of community outreach would be most valuable. After a short discussion we were introduced to the community by means of a short walk from comedor popular to comedor popular. Soup kitches, of sorts, these small shacks were set up with huge pots, a variety of staples, like rice and potatoes, and huge stoves upon which to boil the wather and make the soups. They are dirty places, lacking materials and well-rounded food options, but they certainly offer one means of keeping the people fed.

In any case, this health post will serve as my mini-proyecto and my Community Contact Experience -- two projects that I will be required to complete as a trainee. This work will also serve as my Spanish class as I passed my language exam in the advanced group, as well as an opportunity to get to know the community and the health challenges."

Monday, September 18, 2006

9/18/06 (Day 6): Cold Showers and Cooked Chicken

"In our shower are two huge plastic pails that are used to catch the wather that constantly drips from the shower faucet. Unsure of whether or not this water was for drinking or cooking Benj and I took very careful, freezing cold showers this morning. It turns out, however, tha this wather us used for bucket baths because it has the opportunity to warm up a little in the pail before it is splashed over our dusty bodies. It also has the crucial use of flushing the toilet after the water turns off at 9pm every night.

La Senora Carmen really wants us to eat meat. She didn't know that we were vegetarians and when we first told her yesterday afternoon she gasped and said 'oh noooo.' We are her first PC couple...and vegetarians at that. She offered us ham for our breakfast sandwich which we politely didn't touch, instead eathing a fried egg with our delicious strawberry batido (milkshake). For lunch she also complied, making a manestra (stew) of butter beans with a side of rice and a brocoli, greenbean, avocado salad. Perfect! But for dinner, no questions asked, she made tallerines de pollo (Spaghetti with Chicken). She was respectful when I informed her that I was eating my FIRST chicken EVER in my life, but I'm not sure she would have been very impressed had I declined eathing it. So I took only a small portion, and she let us serve ourselves... I'll let my stomach get used to the juices first.

Today was a day of initial discussions. We played get to know you games, we had some lectures, we received our huge and comprehensive medical kits. I am increasingly impressed with whole training process. Each day is structured to build on previous days; activities are varied in terms of focus themes & styles & presenters. Our goals and expected outcomes are clearly defined...and they have provided us with a manual and many other otolsby which we can successfully achieve these outcomes. We have assignments and certain competencies that we must fulfill before progressing from 'aspirante' (trainee) to 'voluntarios' (volunteer). All the staff are eager to see us succeed. So far I feel like I will be more than prepared to enter the field in 10 short weeks!

And so, after a day of introductions to our practical areas, the language training, and the medical procedures...we returned home to la casa amarilla (the yellow house). Carmen greeted us warmly and we spent the rest of the evening helping her decorate a birthday cake she had been hired to make! Who'd have thunk that we would land ourselves in a house where a chocolate cake isn't such an anomoly? We spent the entire evening around the table, chatting, laughing, telling stories. It is comfortable. We are slowly gaining confidence with our spanish and able to fully participate in the conversation. It's fun. We laugh. Not a belly laugh yet, except when Benj made fun of our 17-yr old brother's squeaky adolescent voice. Humor is a powerful tool."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

9/17/06 (Day 5): Our host family!

"Carmen and her daughter Melissa picked us up from the training center in Santa Eulalia this afternoon, and took us 15 minutes by taxi back to their home on Avenida San Martin. The surrounding hills were more visible today, as the neblina had risen, illuminating dry, rocky, steep slopes. Carmen's husband (of almost 20 years) greeted us at the front door to help us carry everything upstairs to the living quarters. Downstairs they have a 'mini-sala' with couches and a TV. The entire family sleeps on the 2nd level. Benjamin and I have a comfortable rrom complete with a desk, 2 dressers, a bookshelf, and a bedside table. It felt great to unpack our bags a bit and move in... this is our first 'home' since leaving Greenbelt at the end of May. Carmen and Fidel share the master bedroom, while Melissa (19), Jon Carlo (17) and the abuelita (61) share the third bedroom. Carmen is determined to introduce us to platos tipicos that include meat. I've pretty much decided that I'd like to give it a try, bit by bit. Meals are such a part of life that I don't need my diet to be a part of anyone's stress.

We had an evening visit with Tia Maria that included much laughter, beer and popcorn. I thought of you mom! Everyone was so nice and welcoming, but we were glad to have been granted a nap upon arrival to prepare our brains for the visit. So much spanish, so quick, is exhausting...some days will surely be better than others :)"

Friday, September 15, 2006

9/15/06 (Day 3): Our Arrival

We've arrived!!!

9/15/06 (Day 3): We've arrived in Peru!!!

Return... by Benjamin.

"I feel I am returning to something I was in Peru before. Hard Return.

...now, I am a few years older, coming less for personal travel and more for long-term adventure. Or at least two years feels long-term now. Somehow time is compressed in these familiar travel spaces; airports and planes. Now, perhaps, I am returning to my post as country director. I am excited, not as a twenty-seven year old becomes over the prospect of heavy lifting and intellectual challenge, but as a man seeking the comfort of old friends, customs and thrill of watching my children grow.

Yet now, in this tunnel of timeless air where ages have more in common, I recognize the steadfast exhiliration of Latin America. The language. The prospect of change and tradition congenially wrestling; the plazas and fountains; and of course the mountains.

Consistantly, at all ages, the mountains overwhelm my senses. They will always be a role model, a home. Stalwart, but forever, eroding, diminishing back into the sea. Nurturing, home to creatures, plant and soil and bacteria. Yet, exercising power, steep slopes and impassable terrain. Humble and humbling, valleys offer respite to the unrelenting altitude. I return to something elemental, something soulful, full of my history, the history of people, the history of all being, the story of the Earth. The spirit of everything can be found int he mountains. I am more than glad to come back home."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

9/14/06 (Day 2): Patience, Humor and Flexiblity

"We sang and danced, wrote poetry and told stories... one group even made a sculpture out of one of the staging staff. We are prepared with water bottles to keep hydrated and healthy, journals and cameras to capture the moments and memories, a sense of ownership of American culture, an open mind ready for new sights, smells, tastes, and sensations.

Two gems of knowledge were passed on to us today as we put closure on our brief time together in Washington and get ready for our long journey south tomorrow:

First... patience, humor, and flexibility will be the three most important characteristics of a successful volunteer. And secondly, Chad, our main staging supervisor told us of two important people we would meet in Peru -- one whose life we'll impact dramatically, and one who will be the best teacher we've ever had.

We are ready for the next step. Tomorrow evening we will arrive at a retreat center north of Lima for our first set of shots and cultural training on what it will be like to live with a Peruvian family.

I am no longer numb to this experience, rather I am like a sponge, soaking and soaking. Eager for more. Yearning to be wrung out and resoaked. Saturated at some point far in the future -- a time I can't even imagine.

We take this step by step, day by day. Cheers to the next 27 months!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

9/13/06: (Day 1) Peru Staging - Georgetown, DC

"It's an event! ...a staging event. 'Welcome' said the smiles that had only been phone figures just moments ago, 'Congratulations' ... 'You've finally made it!' Tentative hellos swam through the Holiday Inn Georgetown conference roomñ shy smiles appeared as we made the conscious realization that each one of us had successfully completed the long, and often tedious application process --> we were PERU 8 --> official peace corps trainees.

For the next day and a half we will participate in what Peace Corps calls our 'Staging Event.' Meant to provide a brief orientation to each other, Peace Corps, and Peru, all of our activities will set the stage, if you will, for 10 weeks of intensive training in Peru.

We are 38 new trainees, split amongst Community Health & Environmental Awareness and Action specializations. We will join the 138 volunteers currently serving in Peru (12 of whom will run the Lima marathon on Sunday!). Six of us are married and serving with our spouses, two have already served at least one tour with the Peace Corps, 24 of us are women and 14 men, some of us speak more Spanish than others, some have more anxieties and fears than hopes and excitements.

Today I began what has been a life long dream of mine. Benjamin is at my side and his knowing eyefulls of love, support, encouragement, and understanding are far more valuable that I can tell right now..."

Love to you, Libby

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11/06: Snail Mail Address in Peru!!!

We are off to the Peace Corps in Peru, starting on Wednesday! Our training will take place in the Peace Corps training center which is located in Santa Eulalia, near Chosica. Santa Eulalia is approximately a 45 minute drive northeast of the capital city of Lima. It is located in a sunny valley that generally has warmer temperatures than Lima.

Our mailing address for the next 10 weeks or so will be:

PCT Libby & Benjamin Skolnik
Cuerpo de Paz
Calle Via Lactea 132
Urb. Los Granados, Sucro
Lima 33, PERU

Please send letters only as they've told us that the customs duty levied on all packages is more than we will be able to afford on our Peace Corps stipend. What would be best are letters that include photos of you and where you live. Not only will we love seeing pictures of you :) but the families and communities in which we live will also love to know more about what it's like to be Libby & Benjamin.

Also, please number your letters. The mail system in South America, and Peru specifically, is not reknowned for its speed or efficiency. Sometimes mail gets lost or caught up somewhere. Numbering your letters will help us know if we missed anything.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

9/10/06: Find true north...

We make a collage of happy, well-worn faces. With a gleam of arctic sunlight in our eyes, I think each face here reflects appreciation for the enormous investment of beloved family and friends. We toted your support over 8,000 miles - across Canada, the Arctic Circle and back. Upon our return, we were met by more than one hundred of you at two separate speaking engagements. The attendance, enthusiasm and outpouring of positive energy nearly overwhelmed us. Bolstered with the confidence of over one hundred bear hugs, we prepare for storytelling south of the Equator. Our pack has sadly split; Erin and Katie are back to San Francisco and Maipo resides in Minnesota with Libby's parents. Rearranged, but not disheartened, we plunge into the future with the same untempered hesitation necessary for a dive into Arctic waters. Please, continue on with us, write to us, and challenge our travelogues.