Sunday, January 28, 2007

Day 138: Quechua Class

Dear all... Sunday morning in Huaraz. Benjamin and I have just finished an intensive week in the departmental capital city attending full days of Quechua class, the native languange in the high mountains of Ancash. We learned that there are more than 120 dialects of Quechua in Ancash alone, and this doesn't include the dialects of Quechua spoken in the Cuzco region in southern Peru, or those dialects spoken from La Paz to Quito.

Quechua is a language based in suffixes. So, to create a sentence you simply add a series of endings to the base word, leaving you with a long and hard to understand combination of sounds that actually mean something. The alphabet consists of 17 consonants and 6 vowels. My favorite sentence thus far is:

Kuyakuynintsikraykur waytaykikunata qampaq rantimurqaa.

This translates as: Because of our love, I bought you flowers.

Benjamin realized how much it felt like high school when the room burst into uncontrollable laughter as the professor taught us how to say underwear in Quechua. Let's just say that the direct translation is: vagina or penis wrap. :) It had been 8 hours of intensive language training and all we could imagine was a little butt turban.

We find the sounds to be different and hard to understand, though the class certainly helped to increase our vocabulary. We hope that this will help us to better understand the gist of the conversations, even if it takes us a while to actually be able to speak back to anybody.

In Musho, almost everyone understands Quechua. The differences between generations are stark... The elderly of Musho speak Quechua almost exclusively and often don't understand Spanish. The 2nd generation both speak and understand Quechua and Spanish - though we find community meetings especially challenging as they tend to resort to Quechua. Children, however, speak almost exclusively Spanish. It seems that they understand their parents and grandparents, but respond in Spanish and have difficulty translating for us.

This is another interesting point about the transition from Quechua to Spanish in Musho. While Benjamin and I have spent years of our lives learning and studying languages, for the people in Musho the translation between the two languages is fluid and not academic. So when we ask people how to say, for example, where is the bath room? in Quechua.... they respond in one of three ways. 1) Ohhhh, en Quechua... : this is not helpful, but alerts us to the fact that they might not speak Spanish. 2) Yes, where is the bathroom? That means that you are asking where the bathroom is located... : also not helpful, in this case because the person doesn't understand what it means to translante one phrase into an equal phrase in another language. 3) Oh, the bathroom is over there behind that plastic sheet... : this one always makes me laugh every time.

We will have another week-long course in the end of February so we've got three weeks to practice up.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Day 132: Medical Update

There was a lot of talk about confidentiality during our medical training in Lima, but I feel obligated to keep you up to date with my medical diagnoses as they continue to aflict my unaccustomed body. Mae I know you love this...

For the docs in the room: Symptoms were as follows -- mild, low-grade fever on and off for the past week or so. Around Friday I started to have a bad head ache. You have to understand that I didn't think anything of it because my hair was greasy and I was desperate to wait for the hot shower in Huaraz. We were due to arrive on Sunday afternoon. Saturday the headache was worse... The hike down to the Comedor Sonia Morales (see entry) didn't help. And my fever was pretty constant at this point. It was a muscular fever, down to my toe muscles. On Sunday morning I woke up, turned to Benj and said "I have the wierdest symptoms right now. My head hurts really badly, I feel like my glands are swollen at the back of my neck and the back of my head hurts to the touch. And this fever..." He glared at me lovingly, and told me to suck it up and take the cold shower; I'd surely feel better when my hair was clean.

We arrived in Huaraz, higher elevation and more contamination, that afternoon. I still felt yucky, but blamed it on being exhausted from summer school the week before and the travel involved in getting ourselves to Huaraz.

Monday morning I sat in our first hours of Quechua class rocking out the fever, stiff in every corner of my body. I called the Peace Corps doc because I feared that I had Meningitis. I didn't, she assured me, and sent me to the Emergency room. Blood was drawn and I received a shot for the fever... was told that I couldn't leave until the fever went down.

Docs...any guesses?

About an hour later the doc came back with my results...

Typhoid Fever.

Common worldwide, it is transmitted by ingestion of food or water contaminated with feces from an infected person. Yum.

Boo. 10 days of antibiotics and 3 days of heavy duty fever meds. And rest.

Typhoid Fever is a food borne illness and there is a vaccine.

We had received the vaccine during training - this is one reason why my symptoms aren't too strong. Apparently it's not 100%. Please don't worry about me (mom) -- this is all just a part of adjusting to life and eating in another part of the world. And we've got great medical attention.

I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Day 130: Comedor Sonia Morales

I guess that I shouldn't have expected the meeting to start on time, or even for people to show up at all... but while the bubbling dark storm clouds built up to the South, over Mt. Hualcan, I donned my rain jacket and headed down the hill. Passing the afternoon soccer game, a bunch of my students yelled out 'good afternoon Libby' in English, and smiling I kept on walking down the steep dirt road. A couple of collective taxis (stationwagon styles) passed me, filled with at least 9 people, and mounds of potatoes and other vegetables. As they passed the drivers waved and honked... a way of greeting me and acknowledging me as someone that they knew from Musho. Rewarding, the smile was starting to make my cheeks hurt.

Because it was Saturday afternoon, everyone was busy gathering up their recently harvested crops (potatoes, corn, hot peppers, cabbage, lettuce, brocolli, green onion) into sturdy thick plastic sacks to take to the Sunday market. Families take turns sitting by the market goods on the side of the road, while waiting for the big truck to make the rounds of the mountain towns. Around midnight the families will choose a member or two to accompany the goods down to the city (Caraz, Carhuaz, Yungay, or Huaraz) in the covered truck. Market day really starts for them around 2 or 3 am when the middlemen from Lima buy enormous quantities of vegetables for resale in Lima. Throughout the next day, before the rains start, many people will attend the markets, making family size purchases...and then everyone will head back up the hills to their homes.

My destination, however, was the small elementary school in the neighborhood called Piscuy. I was running a little late and arrived at about 4:03pm when the meeting was supposed to start at 4pm. I was not surprised to find noone there and asked a women that I had recently met if indeed the meeting would happen. She looked off to the cloudy southern sky and said 'yes, it's supposed to start at 4pm.' Apparently she had decided that the rains would be prohibiting...and she not only knew about the meeting, but knew what time it was scheduled for. She smiled and kept walking. She would eventually show up, closer to 5pm than 4pm...but there nonetheless.

I began by chatting with one of my students from summer school... it was a fun way to wait. Next time I am going to bring a hacky sack. Gradually women began to show up, and the conversation shifted to a comparison of life in the US and Peru. We talked about everything from terrorism to family planning, from marriage to daily eating habits. They helped me with a few Quechua questions that I had, and I taught them some greetings in English. And then, at around 6pm, when only 9 of the expected 36 members of the community soup kitchen had appeared, they canceled the meeting.

I bid them adeiu and headed back up the hill, promising to come to their next meeting. During my walk a man preparing his potatoes for market gifted me a huge, and heavy bag of delicious potatoes... and another women offered me a piece of hot corn just out of the pot. The sun was setting behind me and the sky was pink. My smile hadn't yet been erased, and Benjamin was waiting for me in our room with freshly boiled corn, picked from the back yard, bread baked down the street, and some steamy hot chocolate all the way from MN (thanks Mom & Pop!).

Friday, January 19, 2007

Day 129: Get your hands green

Here are some images from our Summer School organic gardening project on fridays. We had great fortune involving two engineers from the Department of Agriculture. They helped us construct a nursery and plant 800 native capulí (a small berry similar to a cherry) seeds. Of course, it was the amazing effort of over one hundred kids that makes it possible. Their enthusiasm and participation has been excellent. The garden is currently planted with lettuce and radish. Due to daily rains, we haven´t even needed to water!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Day 128: Reflecting on Summer School

We have proudly named our summer school program Club Huacarán, hoping that the children of Musho will associate the soaring grandeur of their protector peak with our brief, but ambitious curriculum. Along with three local teachers, hired by the NGO World Vision, we have been busy teaching 180 excited kids, ages 5 - 16. In fact, we have had so much interest from the community that hopefully will get two more teachers. The teachers focus on math and writing with the youngst kids, while Libby and I work on English, computer, geography, and organic gardening. We spend almost no time in the classroom, preferring to play dynamic games with the kids. Hey, it is summer break!! Below is a picture of one of the kids stamping his finger on the ´rules of the game´as they have come to be called. We are trying to combat some basic behavior issues, such as arriving late. For example, students receive stars for arriving early or on time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Day 126: International Packages Arrive!!!

A big hug and thanks to the Aoki Perretz and the Bixby Kane Families for fulfilling all of the desires expressed in Day 51s blog entry entitled 'care packages.' You are amazing! It's hard to express the perma-smile that accompanies the receipt of a package with treats from the US. We are hardly wanting in our lives in Musho... we eat fresh veggies out of the garden, get to gaze up at an unbelievable mountain, and we have electricity and a flushable toilet. But there is something more than special about a package in the post office. Thanks for all your love!!!

Libs & Benj

Monday, January 15, 2007

Day 125: Restaurant Musho

For those of you who were concerned that we hadn't yet found a place to eat, we've got good news! We decided last week that it wasn't going to be worth it to wait for Doña Elvina to return from her journey to Lima to cook for us, mostly because we were so tired and hungry by the end of summer school classes at 1pm every day. So we went looking around the community to try to convince someone that it would be worth it for them to cook for us and that our vegetarianism isn't really that big of a deal. Doña Natalia told us that she wanted to but was on her way to her son's house on the coast for a couple of months to help him roof a new property. But she offered to introduce us to another women, Doña Yola, who was the women who cooks for the men who work to rebuild Musho's Plaza de Armas. As it turns out she is also the woman who offers what is called a 'pension' (cooking service) to the teachers when school is in session. I am not clear how it is that noone mentioned her name during the past two months. :)

In any case, she was willing. After a number of questions about what kinds of food we could possibly eat as vegetarians, she agreed to let us come at give it a try. If we liked it we could eat with her. People in Musho seem to think that a 'vegetarian' diet must meant that we eat ENTIRELY differend foods, which is of course not the case. She kept saying things like, cheese?, beans?, rice?, potatoes?...each time more surprised that they were foods that we could eat.

We LOVED it! For our first lunch we were served an ear of corn, a big bowl of vegetable semola soup, and a heaping plate of rice and potatoes. The lunch also comes with a cool-aid type drink, and is always accompanied by a hot pepper salsa. And the best part is that all this food costs somewhere around .75 cents per lunch!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Day 121: The Day of the Perfect Rainbow

Today, while on the phone with Shayna and Sabina, mid-afternoon styles, Benjamin and I were blessed with the perfect rainbow. It was plastered up against the dark grey clouds that masked Huasacarn from view, complete and sometimes double. We'll try to post a photo up here soon!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Day 120: A sad day

We listened to an entire book on tape today (finding caruso) and played su-do-ku. I guess we just needed to recharge. It's a rollercoaster. They said it would be and they were right.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Day 112: Change of Personnel & Expectations

I learned today that my counterpart (see entry on hugging counterparts) will be quitting her work in Musho at the end of January for personal reasons. It also seems like the health professional that we live with is also looking for other work outside of Musho. I guess that I had expected that after two years of working together on amazing projects we would be fast friends.

This was a hit to my idealism and my expectations. It threw me for a loop. It knocked me off my horse. I guess that I am just going to wait and see what happens... meanwhile we'll leap into Summer School and the days will pass quickly, I'm sure.