Friday, December 28, 2007

Day 472: Cookie Checkers (a la Shayna)

If you're as lucky as us, you have an artistic, loving sister who sends you delicious Melting Moment cookies that not only melt in the mouth, but also make a super-fun version of checkers.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Day 471: Adios 2007 and Hola queridos friends and fam

Happy holidays and New Year everybody!

We are saying goodbye to a year entirely spent abroad, in Peru. As much as our life has grown comfortable in our small mountain village called Musho, we think daily about how far away family, friends, and home are. Since our grand trip to Portugal in October to visit with Benjamin´s family, we have seen and done much. Our computer died again and we have struggled updating the blog, so excuse the dearth of recent photos.

We spent Thanksgiving getting to know the lowlands of eastern Peru, the foothills of the Amazon rainforest, Tarapoto with our good friend Laura Wellington. Bizarre, delicious fruits and monkeys were sure highlights, while the ungodly humidity and sun intensity made a short trip just fine with me.

Returning to the cool mountains, december has been filled with scheming for next year (our last). We have started another improved stoves project with an extremely rural neighborhood where the folks are primarily illiterate, Quechua speakers. It is a fantastic challenge and we are glad to have had the previous experience of implementing this type of project. Unlike many projects in rural places, participation has been outstanding due to the close relationships we have forged with these people over the last year. We have biweekly meetings where we do construction and nutrition workshops. Pictures to be posted…

The school year is ending here and we were invited to a bunch of celebrations which involved Huayno (local monotonous, but catchy folk music), beer, potatoes and guinea pig. Oddly, the parents celebrate more than the sixth graders, getting plastered and taking over the celebration completely.

One really nifty project we´ve been working on is a puppet theatre production in a small primary school of 30 students. We obtained a copy of ´´The Lorax¨ by Dr. Seuss in Spanish from a former PCV and have been using the story to create a show. The children made their own puppets and we just gave a performance to the parents at the school´s end-of-the-year party. The kids got certificates and native cherry tree seeds for their participation (the theme of the Lorax is environmental, of course, with tree conservation as a central topic).

We have lots of plans for the year to come and will be sure to post updates. Our nofalling email has been malfunctioning so we are making the move to our gmail account. It is identical ´benjandlib´ followed by the tag. Thanks to you all for the continued long-distance, long-term love and support. Ten months and counting. We can´t wait to see you all next year for the holidays.

Benj & Lib

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Day 470: Boxing Day in the Blanca

What did you do on Boxing Day? LWell, Benj and I headed off into the Cordillera Blanca to a lake called Laguna 69... A 5am departure from Musho, a quick ride down to Yungay and another ride all the way up past Llanganuco to the start of the hike by 7:30am. We reached the lake by 10am and spent a few hours relaxing, dipping in the icy glacial waters, and eating a yummy lunch. Check out LWell's blog for more photos!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Day 469: Christmas Day in Musho

Here we are making Christmas cookies! Ahh, the joys of having our own little oven!

And then we headed up to Betty and Raul's for a delicious x-mas dinner with our little god-children. We gifted them new shoes and kid's books, and a piece of clear roofing for the kitchen to let in more light. And now they ask us to read the books every time we visit with them!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Day 468: Christmas Eve Eats...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Day 464: World Wise Schools 6th Graders Graduate!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Day 461: Healthy Home Initiatives

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Day 459: Kiwicha

The mountain is still enormous and impressive. Yet, many things about life in this Andean village have become normalized: spouting Quechua phrases, boiling water for drinking, passing mixed herds of donkeys, sheep, cows and pigs. And despite the proximity of the campo lifestyle that my neighbors lead, I have remained isolated from some of the more alarming or exotic customs: the entire family sleeping together in one or two beds, wearing recycled rubber tire sandals, or the arduous task of preparing and planting a small field by hand. Andean agruculture is renowned for its beautiful patchwork mosaic atop and along steep hillsides. I have observed, in awe, the dedicated labor my neighbors invest in plowing, seeding, weeding aporcando (placing more soild around each crop), spreading fertilizers and insecticides, and harvesting. The costs (not even including the many weeks of hard labor) do not often exceed breaking even. But this has more to do with macroeconomic forces and market access than the ability of these farmers. My neighbors are some of the most skilled workers I have seen. The subtelties and tricks required to nurture a full, profitable harvest are still beyond reckoning after one year here. I have have had several humbling, failed experiences growing vegetables, one of which was a school garden where children later explained exactly where I went wroing. It´s true the skill and often strength of the kids far exceed my own in the fields. With all of this in consideration, I have maintained a year of relative seclusion from the chacra - a blissfully ignorant biologist cointinuing to admire the mystery of an exotic, ancient Inca culture.

That was until today. I agreed to help my host mother, Elvina, plant Kiwicha (amaranth). I have long been fascinated, like many North Americans, with the miracle grain, cousin of quinua. ¨Planting¨ sounded innocuous enough, perhaps placing seeds in the ground while Elvina tossed lumps of fertilizer alongside. In fact, Libby and I recently did this with the corn in our backyard. The major difference were the two very large toros (bulls) pulling the wooden llunta (plow) and our host dad, Abraham, guiding what could easily be a dangerous, awkward process. No, today there would be no Abraham, just me and my 57 year old, iron, Inca-descended host mom.

The first task - my first hint at what I had got myself into - was to haul a huge sack of chicken gauno over-the-shoulder to the field ten minutes away. I nearly fell into the irrigation canal and almost lost my hat, but managed to arrive intact and excited for the upcoming planting. Two hours later, I was still tearing away at the ground with my pickax removing roots of invasive weeds that would prohibit our glorious grain´s growth. Were it not for Spike the 13 year old donkey and his hearty lawn mower mouth the day prior, I can only imagine how long the job would have taken. At this point my hand is wrapped in my long sleeve shirt because three blisters have sprung up. Despite the sweat and heavy breathing at 10,000 feet, and the difficulty lifting my tool above my head, I was in good humor. For I had weeded in rows, thinking ahead to when we would plant. Alas, Elvina needed deeper rows dug and my naivete burst like a dirty blister. Several hours later we were laughing having settled into the grueling toil of moving mounds of earth with our arms. It actually came to my mind the question: ¨who thought up agriculture, anyway?¨ I spent some time imaging inventive sedentary bicycles with shovels attached for excavating small chacras heavy machines couldn´t access. We finally culminated and broke for lunch, where she served me a delicious hot drink made exclusively with toasted amaranth from last year´s harvest.

My body will soon forget the pain of Andean farming, but my mind will unlikely lose this memory of working alongside an uncannily strong, aging woman. She believes we only eat canned food in the United States. She had a hearty laught at lunch calling me her ¨toro gringo¨. Ironically, I suppose, is that now having participated in the vigourous lifestyle of my neighbors, I find it even that much more mysterious, alamring and exotic.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Day 458: Pilar Blas helps 6th graders celebrate

Three 6th graders graduated from a small school up in Pariantana. They aged from 14 to 17 years old.
After the graduation celebration, a local Huayno singer, Pilar Blas, set up a stage and sang until 3 in the morning! How do 6th graders celebrate where you live?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Day 457: A kindergartner graduates!

Her name is Sheyla Villon Villar. She's 5 years old and has successfully graduated from kindergarten! Her mother asked us to be the godparents for her graduation, a role that involved attending the graduation party and getting her a little gift... a kid's book of popular fables.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Day 445: World AIDS Day in the Andes