Saturday, February 24, 2007

Day 165: A shout out to Kev in Mozambique

For those of you who don't know, Benjamin's brother Kevin is serving in the Peace Corps in Mozambique. During our week of Quechua class this week we stayed in a hotel that had cable television and were shocked to see on BBC's world news that Mozambiqe was suffering from both severe flooding in the north near where Kevin is serving, as well as threatened by an approaching cyclone. It made me realize that sometimes we fail to think about all the world events that happen every day...

So, check out his blog for more details on his service. And let's remember the people we love in the world.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Day 164: Certified Quechua Speakers

This afternoon, in the company of chocolate cake, 5 Peace Corps volunteers in Ancash, Peru were certified as Quechua speakers at an official ceremony. The 5 volunteers live and work in rural villages in the high mountains of Peru's famous Huaraz region and will utilize their new language skills in their work in community health and environmental education and awareness.

This week is the second week of Quechua classes for this group of well-trained volunteers who are eager to return from the capital city of good food, cable tv, and hot showers, to their remote sites where they will be able to put the enormous vocabulary lists to use. These volunteers find that practicing the native language with their neighbors helps them to better integrate into the communities as well as asserting the value and importance of the local tongue to those who speak the language in their own homes.

Classes consisted of grammar, song, and field trips. The song above may have appeared in vocal-form on some of your answering machines during the past week. 'Puka Wayta' translates as 'Red Flower' and speaks to the natural beauty of local flora and fauna. Songs, poetry, and storytelling helped the group to practice their pronunciation and general comprehension of the language.

However, because of Quechua today is primarily a spoken language, the class field trip to the Thursday Huaraz market proved crucial to the learning curve. There the group practiced basic dialog with local vendors of everything from medicinal herbs to vegetables fresh from the cultivated land.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Day 162: Handstands and Frisbee in Huaraz

Our friend and Ancash pal, Amanda, catching the new frisbee! Thanks Mom & Pop!

Keeping with tradition... Benj and I try to practice our favorite hobby as much as possible. What a view, even upside down!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Day 159: World Map - In the final stages

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Day 158: How many blondes...

Here I am putting the finishing 'blonde' touches on our World Map Project at the school in Musho! Thank goodness we had some left over ocean blue paint. :)

For those of you who didn't understand the blonde joke, first of all I want to know if you are blonde. :) Then I want to know if you can read and understand Spanish. :) If you are blonde and/or don't read Spanish with a certain level of comprehension, you are excused. For the rest of you "America del Sur" translates as "South America." If you then redirect your eyes to the bottom of the map, you will see America del Sur written in the Pacific Ocean near Peru, helping the map observer to understand that the southern continent is known as America del Sur. In an lapse of concentration, I accidentally stenciled in South America right next to the United States, where I meant to write America del Norte (North America). Whoops! Conveniently we had some extra blue paint and I was able to fix the mistake.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Day 154: Dancing the Shaqsha

Monday, February 12, 2007

Day 153: Is an Egg a Dairy Product?

Are eggs dairy products? Have you asked yourself this question before? Perhaps you have not delved into the confounding world of cataloging foods? No. Well then, perhaps you have not had the long, cloistered nights of an Andean rainy season to ponder such philosophical, scientific material. I know many people have wondered why a tomato is considered a vegetable. How can it be sold alongside green produce when it is so clearly full of seeds and brimming with robust red fruit juice? Is it because we eat it accompanying garden salads and inside sandwiches? Except for the occasional peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich, fruits rarely enter between two slices of bread. Maybe, then, tomatoes were forced to crossover because of their appeal accompanying certain other foods with disregard to its origins as a vegetable’s reproductive organ. I am sure there are many more examples of categorical confusion to consider. There is the in-between avocado, for example. It is green and, similarly to its tomato cousin, it is often found next to vegetables in the grocery aisle. I am fairly sure the enormous seed within the creamy avocado flesh is a fruiting structure and, therefore, should forever place this fruit far from the vegetable stand. Nuts and legumes just confuse me, personally. Cataloging food probably has a lot to do with history of human cuisine and migration and, no doubt, there are doctoral theses written on the origins of various food classification mishaps.

Our niece knows a box of fruit when she sees one.

There is a helpdesk group out of the University of Pennsylvania that claims to be able to locate the answer to any question within several minutes. I witnessed their brilliance once when a disbelieving rock climbing buddy at the University of Maryland called them up to ask the height of Maryland’s outdoor rock climbing wall. We were awed and ecstatic to hear the attendant at the Maryland gym’s front desk answer the phone moments later to deliver the correct response. If the U.Penn crew would, please, take my call tonight from Peru, I would have to ask this burning question: are eggs dairy products?

As an avid avifauna observer and vegetarian, this egg/dairy riddle is burning in my mind. Often I am asked if I eat ‘dairy’ and I confidently reply in the affirmative without ever feeling the need to list the names of these foods. Milk, eggs, butter, cream, cheese, etc are all classically lumped together, no. Dairy has always been easy unlike the frequent confusion with ‘meat’ classification. As a vegetarian, who draws and defends this line daily in a meat-eating world, I would know. In Peru and southern U.S. states like North Carolina, chicken and fish are definitely not considered meat. Meat is restricted to pork and beef, and sometimes lamb. Chicken is just chicken, I guess. Fish is almost a vegetable, just with protein. To a carnivore this may seem clear and maybe even a pointless discussion. To a student of biology these animal products are nearly indistinguishable as hunks of vertebrate muscle. Pork, beef, and lamb can at least be set aside in the sub-category of mammalian flesh. From the vegetarian perspective, all these forms of flesh can remain one large grouping, thank you. North of South America and some southern states, this basic vegetarian-friendly and biologically appropriate classification is gaining acceptance. I find it easier with each passing experience to say, “I don’t eat meat,” and to be understood. Notice there are no tomato examples in the meat category: no fruits confounded with sweetmeats, grains disguised as lambchops, or worse, dairy products masquerading as animal organs. This is unfortunate for me because it means I cannot on occasion slyly order from the carne section on the menu to avoid the inevitable explanation of my dietary restrictions. “Why are you ordering three side dishes?,” they’ll ask curiously, or, “You’re only going to eat appetizers for your meal?” “I do not eat meat,” I’ll say, and launch into the usual mini-oratory on philosophical, political and moral reasoning as well as, oh yes, the aforementioned classification of what exactly I consider to be ‘meat.’

The truth is, as a vegetarian, dairy has always been a fine line. Milk, eggs and cheese are shown together commonly on breakfast cereal boxes, food chart pyramids and just about everywhere I can think. Are they really the same? Biologically speaking they are quite different. Milk, and its associated dairy-vates, cheese and cream, come from cows. Eggs are unformed avian offspring. Both are related to the reproduction of each species, but aren’t they altogether different? Milk is the nourishment mama cows offer to their calves. Birds, of course, do not have mammary glands and feed their young on foraged food. Baby birds develop much more rapidly and need less parental care than mammals as a rule. But the albumen, or white of an egg, is also nourishment for pre-hatchling birds. Thus, mammalian milk and egg whites may be vaguely relative. Yolks are undeveloped embryos, however, and bear no resemblance to other dairy products. How, then, are eggs considered dairy? My two guesses: dairy is any food derived from animals’ reproductive efforts that avoid killing the animal itself; and/or unlike meats, vegetables and fruits these dairy foods are all the color white!

Strict vegetarians and vegans will eagerly explain the close animal origins of dairy foods. Anything produced by animals is out-of-the-question, including the honey gathered by hard-working bees. Honey is eaten by the busy bee colony to help it grow, or reproduce. So, if you’ll permit, I propose honey be classified as a dairy product. Oh wait! It is yellow and not white. Forget it. Anyway, honey is insect food. Do we even eat anything else derived from insects, except the occasional stowaway sandwich ant or unfortunate fly landed in the gawking mouth? Once, I ate ‘lemon’ ants in the rainforest of Ecuador that really tasted like lemons due to the acid content in their bodies. Hmm, don’t they eat termites and beetles in exotic Pacific islands? Perhaps, we just need a new food category for human-palatable insect cuisine. Any ideas?

In conclusion, vegetables are things that are green or go in salads. Fruits are sweet, colorful and anything with seeds not already claimed by the vegetables. Meats are chunks of any dead animal. And dairy is any edible animal product that does not kill the animal, and coincidentally, mostly white in color. This effort in unraveling the mysteries of dairy classification is admittedly going to be an additional annoyance in my vegetarian explanation at the dinner table. Hey, but at least I justified to myself the continued consumption of eggs. And possibly the more widely practical result of all this delving is the discovery that lactose intolerance does not mean avoiding all dairy, just milk products.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Day 150: A Dance Competition in Mancos

Today, Benj and I invited the high school students in our summer school program to join us on a hike down off the mountain to cheer on the elementary students who were competing in a World Vision organized dance/theater/song/math competition as a part of their summer school curriculum. 11 students decided to join us at 6:30 am for our hour and a half hike from Musho to Mancos. We carried boiled ears of corn as a snack and wore blue bandannas with our names on them in support of Musho students.

Here we are with our high school cheering squad in the Mancos Plaza. If you look closely you will see mighty Huascaran rising up behind us. We arrived early enough to greet the rest of the Musho students who rode down in a combi provided by World Vision.

Our favorite cheer is: "Musho... Are you Ready?" And since this was our cheer throughout the summer school to get kids ready to sing the alphabet or play redlight-greenlight, the elementary students would peer excitedly up at us and scream out "YEEESSSS!"

These are three of Musho's star dancers! Musho won first place in the dance competition by dancing a dance native to Peru's high Andes called the Shaqshaa.

Musho's youngest students, the first and second graders, sang a song in Quechua about the importance of mothers and fathers for their piece.

After what turned out to be a pretty long day, Benj and I headed back up the mountain. It was our first time hiking back up the hill, as we usually choose to pay the 50 cents to ride in a collective taxi. But because we couldn't offer to pay for all of the high school students taxi fares, we made the hike. Ice cream cones in hand, 8 girls decided to join us (the rest backed out and paid their way up the hill or snuck onto the World Vision transportation).

In this picture, everyone decided to climb to the top of an enormous rock to gain a little more perspective and a view of the valley.

Day 150: Our World Map Project in Musho

As one of our required Peace Corps projects during our first three months, Benj and I worked with Musho's high school kids to paint a map of the world on an outside wall of their public school. We worked with around 40 students, 4 days a week, for almost two months, to clean and prepare the wall, decide how big to make the ocean's rectangle and start the actual map creation.

After prepping the surface of the wall and throwing a quick layer of white paint on the orange-y wall, the next step was to pain the rectangle ocean blue. The girls in this photo were truly dedicated to our project and helped us to ready the map for our artistic venture. First we had to draw 1568 6.5 square inch squares onto our blue wall. To do this, we used straight edges, pencils, erasers, yarn and a lot of patience...

One of our major goals during the map project was to make sure that the students did all the work! This project is a global Peace Corps initiative aimed at opening people's eyes to the size of the world. When we were first discussing this project in Musho we were asked a number of interesting questions, including; "Is the United States near Czechoslovakia?" Even after we finished drawing and painting the countries of our great big world, only few people could immediately point out the location of their own nation, Peru.

Once we had completed the squaring process, we used a series of 14 sheets to divide up the drawing of the world's land masses. The idea was to transfer the smaller sheets' map sections onto our enormous blue wall. To prepare the students for this task we walked them through a number of practice exercises, teaching mapping skills, math skills, and urging confidence in both drawing and following directions.

As you can see, only about 4 students at a time could work on the map. So, meanwhile, the rest of the students participated in English and/or classes in an upstairs classroom. One of our initial ideas was to assign each student to a country and to teach then internet searching skills to learn more information about their country. This particular idea was essentially impossible given the availability of only 4 computers, the fact that the Internet didn't always work, the fact that many of the students had never even touched a computer (meaning we had to start at the very beginning... turn on/turn off...), and the fact that the very notion of computers was almost more than their frantic energy could deal with.

And then... we painted! This was especially exciting and frustrating at the same time. Painting 'within the lines' is not every student's priority. But it was fun to be talking about country names and locations, gaining a better idea about this beautiful world in which we live. Until the finishing touches, Benj and I didn't do any of the work! Yeah Musho!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Day 146: Benjamin’s Short, Comic Essay on Peruvian Public Transportation

Peruvian car rides provide unexpected amusement. Our way from Mancos to Yungay, in what is normally a ten minute colectivo (a four-door, most often Toyota, form of public transport) ride, was feeling brief and uneventful. We passed Campo Santo, a site to reflect on grief and mass devastation following the 1970 landslide, when the car suddenly stopped. Our driver yelled out the window to a fellow colectivo chofer traveling in the opposite direction, who was also slowing to a halt. “Tu carro [your car],” he shouted and proceeded to leave the vehicle and his five passengers, squished and silent in anticipation (read more on the ‘squished’ part later). The two drivers scooted across the highway at the same moment and the men changed vehicles. We continued on and the two men at my side continued their conversation as if to forget about the bizarre scenario. Perhaps the ‘Chinese Firedrill’ has been locally adapted by Peruvian colectivo drivers who developed the game as a sort of reprieve from the monotonous inter-city route. They have one-upped their Asian counterparts, I thought, for these guys not only get out and run around their own vehicles in the middle of the highway, but they switch cars, too. I thought this event would fulfill the daily quota of curious deeds (it usually averages one per day), until the saturating experience of our journey from Caraz to Yungay in a combi (a small VW bus used for stuffing and shipping the public from one location to the next).

Through the open window on the driver’s side, a Carnaval (month of February celebration of unknown origin) enthusiast equipped with an entire bucket of water managed to wet the faces of most passengers (and driver) on board. Somehow traveling in the opposite direction at 55mph down the highway our assailant, with undoubtedly well-rehearsed skill, nailed a dozen people. Indeed, from a young age here in Peru citizens learn the craft of chucking water, be it via balloons from a balcony or buckets from a combi. Before today I thought my male gender and lack of blond hair would protect me from a sopping month of February. In Ecuador during Carnaval, I recall the young women in tight jeans and white tee-shirts receiving the brunt of the spray. Now I’m left to ponder Carnaval’s apparent indiscrimination, an equal soaking for all, and the benefits of rolling up the window while cruising down the highway.

The idiosyncrasies of Peruvian transportation could be expounded for hours. My personal favorite is the half-an-hour colectivo ride from Mancos to Musho on a bumpy dirt road. Of course, one could opt to pay more and take a taxi (your private colectivo) up the hill, but then you miss out on the following predictable schedule of events. I arrive at the paradero, shush the offers for taxis to Musho, and approach the first colectivo in a long line of cars and drivers. If it is unclear which car this may be, the eager drivers will be sure to usher me in their direction.

Next comes the now-famous period of awaiting more passengers. Depending on the time of day, this could be a ten minute delay to what can feel like an hour or two. First the back seat fills up: one, two…then three. Great, we will be on our way shortly, I think. Another person comes and occupies the front seat. Super, the car’s seatbelts have been claimed; it is time to roll! But the driver is still standing outside the vehicle looking lazily towards the mammoth mountains in the distance. Is he possibly waiting for more passengers? “Gas is expensive, you know,” he may say. “No alcanza con menos pasajeros,” he may claim. So we sit for a long while, breathing the same, stale, full-car air. I recall suddenly that seatbelts can not be the determining factor in the maximum number of passengers, for no one actually uses them. Once, while traveling in the front seat of a combi, I remember the chubby driver asking me to lay my seatbelt across my lap (“no need to actually plug it in,” he chortled) as we passed a police checkpoint. I continue to wonder how a national law could share such an indifferent national consciousness. A fourth finally squeezes into the back seat and our departure seems imminent. But, there is a little butt room atop the parking break, behind the stick shift and between the friendly driver and fellow front seat passenger. To protect against the parking break and unbuckled seatbelt clasp, the driver will hopefully have provided a cushy piece of cloth, for some reason often leopard print. I have the enormous privilege of entering Peace Corps married and, thus, traveling with a companion. We often claim the front seat of an empty car, knowing the painful consequences of our backseat companions’ portly dimensions. Perhaps most amusing, however, is the denial of passengers upon seeing a mostly full car. Sometimes a pair arrives, and they both quizzically gaze at the front seat as if wondering how long it will be until another car will be along to take them up the hill. These people seem incapable of understanding that a car will only leave with a minimum six passengers. Oh yes, there can be more.

It costs fifty cents less if you are willing to climb into the trunk. Children are prime for the maletero; they can increase the passenger load almost twofold. I frequently chose to pop open the trunk rather than waiting for another ride. As a North American new to Musho, I have been mostly oblivious to the implicit social status of different locations in the colectivo. Cars are fairly novel to many campesinos and the road from Mancos to Musho has been accessible to small cars for only about five years. Unfortunately, the oldest community members – who often don’t speak Spanish – are made, like children, to ride in the trunk. I combat this ageist-indio discrimination by taking my place with the bags of vegetables in back. One nice aspect of being foreign is the head shake. Nationals perform a particular back and forth wobbling of the head, perhaps in confusion or dismay, when we foreigners do something uncharacteristic. I sort of pride myself in eliciting the head shake because it means I’m breaking barriers, and in the case of the maletero, maybe even helping to change social norms. So I gladly take my turn in the trunk.

So now we are ten including the driver. Please, roll up the windows and let’s cruise! And we do. The ride becomes a social gathering of sorts. I recognize faces, despite barely being able to turn my head in the claustrophobic vehicle, and we talk. I explain what Peace Corps is all about and they teach me a bit of Quechua. Big bumps occasionally jar the ribs and maintaining circulation in the posterior limbs is nearly impossible. My first trip up the hill was the first time in my life my groin fell asleep. It hasn’t happened since, so maybe this whole thing is something to which one can adapt. Soon, I arrive at my door, flushed, sore of neck and spine if I rode in the trunk and almost always with a plastered ribcage. Hopefully, I made the trip from Mancos in half an hour, and for only one sol and fifty cents!

The irony of this story is that I recently discovered the hike off the mountain takes about the same amount of time. What I suffer in waiting, I suppose I save in sweat. And, I must admit, the whole Peruvian colectivo experience is pretty amusing and oddly worthwhile.