Thursday, November 30, 2006

Day 79: Hugging Counterparts

Gracie told me yesterday, "Libby, having a counterpart will make all the difference in your work as a Peace Corps volunteer."

Today my counterpart and I participated in an HIV/AIDS training focused on Prevention and No Discrimination of AIDS, and in so doing reached a new level of work counterpart relationship. Iris, the facilitator from World Vision warned us that by agreeing to participate in her dinámica that we must be willing to share personal parts of our lives, that it might be hard...that we might cry.

She asked us to think about and write down on 16 pieces of colored paper our 'most importants' (people, dreams, hobbies, & material objects). And then one-by-one she took them away from us - insinuating that this is what an AIDS patient would also be going through.

By the end of the exercise I was left with LWell in a Seliga canoe, knitting, and a job that I truly loved, not bad considering that the virus had stripped the rest from me. But I cried. I was holding it in pretty successfully until the facilitator asked my counterpart what AIDS had taken from her and she replied through her tears, 'mi hija' (my daughter). At that point the dams were lifted and the river flowed.

To close the exercise, we were asked to take the hands of someone who inspired compassion within us. And although it is only my third day in this community and I hardly know my counterpart, I felt comfortable taking her hands and committing myself to this relationship.

But then the facilitator told us of the importance of the bear hug - how it makes people feel good, inspires trust and confianza, and raises self-esteem. She asked us to close our eyes and hug our partner for the duration of a song played on computer speakers. Oh to be a fly on that wall... I'm at least a head taller than my counterpart, my snotty nose was running into her hair, we were swaying to the music partly because of the difficulty to balance in the hug position. Not only that, the hug lasted over 5 minutes.

I hugged my counterpart for over 5 minutes on my 3rd day in site. What an adventure this will be.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Day 78: SR=f (T,H,S,R,C,W,A) + D

"The smoothness of the ride depends on the driver and a number of other conditions including time of day (T), hours already driven by the driver (H), the state of the shocks (S squared), radio programs available (R), condition of the road (C), hours without rain or dryness of the road (W), quantity of other traffic/animals determining driving/swerving options for the driving (A) ... and I'm sure a host of other factors I'll be sure to discover during my many trips op the 7.2 Km dirt (or mud) road that leads from Mancos to Musho, and higher still.

This morning the great double peak of Huascarán and her snow capped sisters to the south and north rose clearly into the bright blue sky, drawing the breath from my chest and leading Benjamin to the camera to attempt to capture our view. It was the clearest yet. After running down to the Posta to pick up the frest bread that Nancy had brought for us from the Panaderia in Yungay, Benj and I took two chairs out to the patio to enjoy our bread and jam under the powerful and watchful eye of the enormous mountain. From there we headed down to Yungay to explore the market and buy some food to get us through the next couple of days until Sra. Elvina returns from Lima - banana, mandarin oranges, mango, pepino dulce, tomato, sweet potato, onion, beans and lentils, and a few other necessities like toilet paper, matches, dish soap, and a pee bucket (turns out it's just too cold at night to climb the steep steps down tot he bathroom :) )" Libby

Monday, November 27, 2006

Day 76: Our arrival in Musho - Nidito Azul

"Tonight I wished I were an artist that could successfully capture a nighttime scene in black and white and grayscale. Because the sun was setting when we finally departed Huaraz for Musho, three of us, Benjamin, Nancy (my counterpart), and me, watched the sun dip away to the west, sinking behind the cordillera negra, rain clouds simultaneously swelling throughout the valley.
In the left over light from the truck's headlamps all things green glistened in the moisture that hung in the air. As we approached Musho, the ride got bumpier, and I began to recognize some of the areas wher we will certainly be working - ApaGrande, Piscuy, and finally Musho. Marked by the three story house belonging to Sonia Morales, the famous Huaino singer who hails from Musho, and a mountaineering sign welcoming climbers of Huascarán and other visitors to the National Park. We soon passed the fútbol cancha (soccer field) and the empty health post. The sillohuettes of the mountains deceivingly rose and disappeared into the darkening horizon, their soft edges made more magical by the white clouds drifting along." Libby

"I love that everything is my size. The small colchos that we purchased today fits almost exactly head to toe. I hit my head on the door jam if I don´t bow my neck. The chairs and desk are squat, the ceiling low, with an exposed bulb glowing bright at forehead height. The next two years will be comfortable from this perch, this room painted blue, our little blue nest - nidito azul. There is electricity and wqter and desague for a toilet. The floor is wooden planks as is the blacony with an iron railing. From our doorway we can see Huascarán on a clear day. Now it is rainy season. Our arrival in the evening precluded us from the mountain view. We will have time." Benjamin

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Day 74: Remembering Jake

"We learned this afternoon, in an email from Vera entitled 'Jake,' that Maipo's (our husky) best friend in Greenbelt died on Saturday following an emergency surgery for a diagnosis called 'bloat.'

Jake was an energetic, more than friendly, buddy to us over the past two yeras. He spent hours, days, and a couple of weeks playing with Maipo - a friendship that began the week Benj and I were married in MN, August of 2004. Thanks to Vera, Herb, & Susie (and Liz when home from med school) Jake and Maipo endlessly tired each other out, romping in the Reed's backyard, yearning to go on walks together - both getting excited at the mention of the other's name.

We referred to Jake as Maipo's boyfriend, and even started to buy Maipo's food and leave it at the Reed's because she so enjoyed sharing a meal under the competition of another dog - her Jake. We will miss Jake dearly - he was a very important part of our last two years.

He will be missed. Our hugs are with you..." Libby

Friday, November 24, 2006

11/24/06 (Day 73): Swearing in as Peace Corps Volunteers

Today, in an auditorium filled with our trainers, teachers, mentors, instructors and each of our Host Families, 35 of us stood on a stage, placed our right hand in the air, oath styles, and repeated our swearing-in oath after the Charge d' Affairs, US Embassy. The applause was mighty, followed by a host of congratulatory hugs and photos. Tears were shed as the despedidas rolled by and we piled our bags onto 3 combis and drove away from Sta. Eulalia -- Lima Bound. We are officially Volunteers today.

Let the adventure begin.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

11/23/06 (Day 72): Closure activities

Last night, surrounded by the 19 other health volunteers that have made it through 10 weeks of training, Tonie Taft, our tech trainer, offered us some moments of closure and reflection. Two roads divered in a yellow wood and I took the one less traveled by. Robert Frost.

She reminded us that we are adventurers, that we are strong and capable forces, that we will feel emotions we've never felt before,t hat we will struggle and be lost, that we will impact lives and that our lives will be impacted. We are ready-to-serve. In the comfort of her home (a rockslab, multi-tiered, big windowed, bathroom included, house on a hill in a gated community where x-mas lights decorated the deck and coconut curried portabello mushrooms filled our hungry stomachs and waffles with strawberries and whipped cream gave us the final lasting tastes of memories while red wine poured smoothly across our liberal tongues) Tonie gathered us in a circle for two last dinamicas. I was transported north, along the high mountain ridges, dipping over parts of both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, across the border and north. And suddenly I was sitting around a big wooden table in Kirby dining hall, or perched on a rock on Chapel Point, or dangling my toes off the TB dock, or sitting, sweating, in the dim light of a sauna on Burntside. Of course it was different -- our adventure will be one of service to the people not escape tot he wilderness, it will last over two years instead of 40 short days, we may never reach that silent comfort that is paddling up to a flat orangy bed of tundra, seamlessly unloading two canoes, setting up tents and cooking a meal in a system that has become practiced, routine, easy. We will always look different, we will always speak another language womewhere within, we will never have grown up in the campo of Peru.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

11/19/06 (Day 68): Overwhelmed.

I've let the days pass me by at a breathless rate. Tonight marks our last Sunday night in Sta. Eulalia - this next week is packed to the brim with final training sessions, a thanksgiving dinner coupled with a ceremony to thank our host families, and finally, on Friday, we will officially swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers. Immediately, on Saturday, we'll depart Lima for our respective sites, leave the relative comfort of the country's capital city region and the new friendships that we've formed over the past intense 10 weeks. They've warned us about the 1st three months... exhausting, numb, fish bowl, lack of structure, no idea what to do each day, constantly explaining ourselves and Peace Corps, etc.

I think I've left off writing for the past two weeks because of the onset of some of these feelings - overwhelmed! We've seen it, we've beent here, to Musho. We've met a lot of the people in the community. We've seen the big mountain raising up above the town. My counterpart, Nancy, was amazing. Benjamin's didn't really exist.

It's going to be hard. We'll learn. We will certainly love life wven when it's hard sometimes. I'm not quite ready to go there yet. I miss Love Lake. I miss the Arctic. I miss good friends. I miss Greenbelt.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

No email access right now...

Hey dudes... so, um, we can't seem to sign onto our email right now, so if you check this and wonder why you haven't heard from us recently this is why. We'll send an update soon! With love, libs and benj del sur

Monday, November 13, 2006

11/13/06 (Day 62): Benjamin's Readiness to Serve Essay

Readiness to Serve Essay
By: Benjamin Skolnik
Due: Monday, November 13, 2006

Much of what I wrote in my original Aspiration Statement remains accurate. However, I was impressed by how much my statement focused on me and my role. That is to say, the language I used centered, or revolved, around me as a volunteer as though I hold the power of development and change. One important aspect of pre-service training new to me is the Peace Corps paradigm that the volunteer is an ‘agent’ of change. The volunteer can act as a catalyst of activity by identifying leaders and ideas and connecting people and resources for a given community. As a foreigner, building bridges at a local or grassroots level would have seemed ironic and paradoxical eight weeks ago. In my graduate training and prior experience, foreigners are viewed as effective sources of funding and technical expertise. Yet, now I appreciate the power of the novel role of the North American to excite people to share ideas and engage in new projects. Whereas my Aspiration Statement suggested I held the power to affect change, now I might state it otherwise; the potential for positive change or development lies in the community and is invigorated by the volunteer. For me this subtle difference has realigned the planets of my theoretical mind and will, I believe, be even more paramount in practice as I engage with my community.

I believe development is a complicated term that is ultimately defined locally just as a Peace Corps Volunteer’s site changes significantly throughout the country and even within departments. In the case of Peace Corps, development, then, is a discussion of desired outcomes between the community and the volunteer. Communities may always be changing, but the notion of Peace Corps is that a volunteer can help guide this change in a positive direction. Positivity is ultimately determined by the values of both the individuals in the community and the volunteer. That is to say, a project will not likely commence or be sustained if all parties cannot agree it is desirable. Development may be stated, in summary, as the positive change resulting from an inclusive, continual discourse between communities and external agencies.

The host of diagnostic tools will be a combination of individual scientific rigor on my part to deduce community needs and desires but also the information and activity of people in my community. Furthermore, the development discourse will involve ideas from community members and me. The aim of our PACA tools is to objectively state, among other things, the resources and sentiments in the community. Yet, as a trained scientist, much of what I have taken from my pre-service training is that development is a subjective experience, a two-year journey of inter-cultural dialogue, that is exciting, a little dangerous, and certainly challenging. I am ready!

11/13/06 (Day 62): Libby's Readiness to Serve Essay

Readiness to Serve Essay
By: Susan “Libby” Skolnik
Due: Monday, November 13, 2006

Exactly six months have passed since I flipped my graduation tassel from one side to the other and proudly walked off the University of Maryland Campus. My degree read “Public Policy: International Security and Economic Policy,” focused on development more specifically. The concept of development had haunted me through my years as an undergraduate Anthropology student, and even more so interwoven into each of my graduate classes; development was sexy, included in text book titles, sneakily presented on syllabi – it was a catchall for this century’s fad profession: “development work.” I was drawn to it because it was real, it represented real people and their problems, and the future that lay ahead of me… a life time career aimed at promoting the dignity of a people and their capacity to improve their own lives.

Still, though, the reality of development lay hidden behind heavy textbook hard covers, buried in theory and statistical studies, billowing around an academic palace. My options were lofty and numerous – I could write grants for big comprehensive programs intended to cure aids or alleviate hunger and poverty. But I was safe, healthy, comfortable, and surrounded by friends and family. And then, the very next day, a big packet arrived in our mailbox inviting us to join the Peace Corps in Peru. My training would be in Community Health and my job, should I choose to accept it, would be to live rurally and work within a Peruvian community to improve the quality of life of community members through the promotion of healthy lifestyle practices. We said yes, and headed off to the Arctic Ocean to contemplate life’s wonders and this new adventure before us.

In mid September, while in Staging in Washington, one of our instructors informed us that patience, flexibility, and humor would be the three most important attributes during our lives as Peace Corps volunteers. To be effective volunteers we would need to see development as focused on a long-term, sustainable, human capacity-building process in which we would undertake the varied roles of learner, trainer, co-facilitator, change agent, project co-planner, and mentor.

Now, 8 weeks through training as a Peace Corps Trainee, I have been inundated with a steady flow of knowledge, skills and attitudes that will help me to be an effective volunteer. Technical training has focused on pressing health needs in Peru, the role of the Ministry of Health, how to effectively capture the attention of community members and instigate behavior changes that challenge basic centuries-old life styles. We have discussed sustainability, the importance of stepping back and ensuring that both the ideas and the follow through derive from the community level and not from the volunteer. We have practiced the local language and lived in its culture, discussing challenging differences, and how these insights will aide us in our integration into our future community. We have learned adult education techniques, presentation and facilitation skills, methods to complete community diagnoses, participatory techniques to involve the community in our integration and understanding, and the importance of strategic planning.

But, it was yesterday, standing on a steep hillside with Mt. Huascaran, the highest mountain in the tropics, reaching into the heavens behind me, and green cultivated fields stretching in front of me down the valley, that I knew I was ready to serve. The town is Musho. I will be part of their family. I will live by their sides. I will work hard to be the nutritionist they are looking for. I am ready.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

11/12/06 (Day 61) Site Visit: Musho, Ancash

What a week it was! Benj and I headed off on a crazy bus into the mountains in Ancash to meet our town where we'll be living for the next two years. Just 7.2 km off the main hwy and about an hour and a half from the capital city of Huaraz, Musho is a small town of just over 600 families and 1800 people, more or less.

This is a photo of the family with whom we stayed during our visit. Their landrover used to be the town's ambulance :)

This is a photo of Lib and Benj outside the Health Post where Libby will surely spend a bunch of her time during the next two years. The view up the hill shows the central plaza and the steep hill behind is the base of Huascaran!

We showered here using a hose and water warmed on the wood stove...

This is our host mom for the week and her 11 year old daughter in front of their stove.

This is Benj in front of the Catholic Church in Musho's Plaza!

Friday, November 03, 2006

11/03/06 (Day 52): We are going to Ancash!!!

Hey world - We are pretty much sitting on top of it all right now. A town called Musho, located amongst the world's highest tropical mountain range, awaits our arrival. You will have to Google Earth it, baby!! We will be there next week and in the capital city, Huaraz.

Here are some more links so you can see what it looks like... and maybe get excited about joining us for a hike or two!!! And if you can't find Musho on Google Earth, you might try Mancos - this is the town located just down off the hill from Musho.
A note from Libby's journal...
Musho, Ancash it is! We depart 11pm on Sunday evening on a MovilTours omnibus -- bound once again for Huaraz, the capital city of Ancash, for a week of meeting our community, our counterparts, and our new host families. So much is still unknown, but I certainly feel more at ease -- especially because we will be spending the next two years at hte base of Huascaran and the Cordillera Blanca, the highest tropical mountain range int he world. I'll be working with the local health post working to improve nutrition, hygience and prenatal care amongst Musho and the five surrounding little towns. Benj will be working on a GEF/TWB project in reforestation and human wildlife conflict.
Today was exhausting to, mentally at least. Around 10:30am we were summoned to Misti our favorite open air classroom. Balloons marked with each of our names decorated the countertop and one-by-one we were called up by our APCDs. Instructed to pop the balloon and seek out the paper strip with our name and site printed on it, each aspirante (trainee) then read aloud the name of their department, received a folder of introductory information and proceeded to stand by the map of each respective department. This successfully split is into new cohorts where we compared site details and exact locations. Benj and I will be at 3020 meters above sea level, 1.5 hours north of Huaraz, in a 100% rural community that has permanent electricity and water and excellent cellular service, around which 1800 community members dwell. We're unsure still about our host family... either we'll have a small room in a house where we have to walk to a letrine located on another of the family's properties, or we'll have a big room with a flush toilet downstairs. Should be quite the trip!"

Thursday, November 02, 2006

11/2/06 (Day 51): On the eve of site assignments

"Tonight the air in Santa Eulalia is cool, a breeze is whipping throught he valley, the stars are bright and the moon is half full. Our clothes are hung on the roof, soaking up the odor of 100 sleeping chickens, 2 turkeys and 26 guinnea pigs. I'm perched on our bed in my orange felted slippers (thanks Sarah Bix!). My feet, thighs, midwaist and bra line itch and burn from flea bites, or detergent allergy, or mosquitos... I have the pleasure of Benjamin's inspired guitar-picking fingers providing a much preferable background music to the usual buzz of the family television.

According to the trainer's chart, we trainees should be feeling low energy this week, frustrated , tired of training, ready to go...

Tonight we have no idea where we'll be spending our next two years -- no idea what kind of a house we'll live in, what kind of family we'll live with, what kid of food we'll be ablet oe at, what kid of view we'll have when we walk outside every morning, what our projects will be what kind of people our counterparts will be who our mentors will be, what smells and sounds will soon become every day norms.

I write tonight because I imagine it will be hard, if not impossible, to remember what I feel like right now. Because tomorrow, at 10am, our group of now only 36 will gather together in Misti, our open air classroom in the Santa Eulalia Peace Corps Training Center where we've spent most of our all-group training sessions, for our site placement ceremony.

I am pensive and eager. I feel awake, like tomorrow I am going to summer camp and I'm all packed but I don't knowwho I'll be sitting next to on the bus or who my couselor will be. I'm excited -- but in all honesty I wish it were a bit more unknown. We are almost certain of our placement in Ancash, and Benjamin feels sure that we'll be on the Cordillera Blanca side of the Callejon de Huaylas at the base of Huascaran, Peru's highest mountain towering some 6,768 meters into the heavens. And I was just there for my field based training last week. So I know what it looks like - my mind isn't that blank slate that I know some people are experiencing right now.

Tomorrow we'll also receive all of the info about our site visits for which we will leave sometime this weekend. By early next week we'll have seen it. We'll be in a new phase, a totally different place from where we are now. And so will end our training - just a few more days and we'll be on our way. Andt he next adventure will begin."

by: Libby

11/2/06 (Day 51): Care Packages...

If you were to be so inclinded to send us a padded envelope with a little something-something, weighing under 1.1 pounds and valued at under $US 100, please consider the following cravings...

  • trident original gum
  • dried/powdered coconut milk
  • thai curry paste
  • good pens
  • nummy spices... i'm thinking indian
  • dark chocolate from trader joe's
  • spicy nut mixes
  • chocolate chips
  • markers
  • colored pencils
  • water colors
  • crayons
  • good books
  • target tee-shirts
  • socks (black liner socks or striped fun socks)
  • colgate sensitive toothpaste
  • toothbrushes (green or purple...soft)
  • photos of you
  • postcards for our postcard wall
  • dried fruits
  • mitchum for men mountain air deoderant
  • cliff bars
  • emergen-C
  • undies
  • peanut m&ms
  • chapstick
  • magazines (like New Yorker, Economist, National Geo, etc)
  • crossword puzzles
  • sudoku
  • stickers
  • fun bandaids for first aid talks with kids

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

11/1/06 (Day 50): Señor de los Milagros and the Plaza Mayor, Lima

Today was a day off. Our first day off since arriving in country nearly 7.5 weeks ago. It was wonderful. Seeing as last night was Halloween and Dia de la Cancion Criollo, our host mom let us sleep in a little. We rose, bathed, ate, and headed out. A quick combi ride down off the Sta. Eulalia hill to Chosica and a 24 sol (approx. $US7) taxi ride to the center of Lima, and we arrived into a sea of faithful worshipers. For today was the final day of celebration for Sr. de los Milagros. The basic and very brief version of the reason for reverence is that one day a long time ago there was an earthquake in Lima. The only thing to survive was a painting of this Señor... thereafter refered to as Sr. de los Milagros (miracles) and worshiped every October by Peruvians around the world. Celebratory activities include dressing in purple, eating mazamora morada (like purple gelatin) and arroz con leche (sweet milky rice with raisins & cinnamon), and having lots of parades. The photo below shows the original Sr. de los Milagros being trouped around the city by a hoarde of 36 strong men. It is made out of pure gold.

Here we are in the Plaza Mayor in front of the President's Palace.