Saturday, August 30, 2008

Day 710: Reflection in our final days as Peace Corps Volunteers


Why your friends back home should join Peace Corps:
It gives you deeper and renewed pride in the U.S.

Why your department is obviously better than all the rest:
Ancash has the most compact chain of high peaks (27 over 6,000m and 200 over 5000m) in the world, including Peru’s tallest, Huascaran. Our 663 glaciers provide the coast with water. Without Ancash, cities along the coast dry up and wither away. Ancash is better.

Most random item(s) received in a care package:
Socks half-stuck to stinky aged-cheddar cheese and a melted chocolate bar. Thanks Nate!

Advice for the new Peace Corps Volunteers:
Do not bail in your first six months to a year for your purpose in your community will come into greater focus with more time.

Biggest surprise encountered during your service:
Locals burn natural grasslands in the National Park each June ridding sins and bringing good luck. When I called the Park, the Director wanted to come himself to put out the flames but couldn’t because they have no budget for transportation!

What´s your legacy?
Unintentionally, there is a dog, an infant child, and a street bearing my name.

Will you listen to huayno (Andean country music) in the US?
Oh, definitely. I secretly love it now. Plus, my town is the home of Sonia Morales. It would be treason not to.

How will you spend your PC readjustment allowance?
Chipotle, family size peanut M&Ms, cream cheese bagels, cereal and milk, Indian and Thai food, and a no-emissions, fuel efficient automobile.

Favorite discovery in Peru:
I saw a monkey-eating Harpy Eagle in Manu National Park.

Favorite hobby you’ve picked up since arriving in Peru:

What made your site tolerable?
My nifty site mate, Libby – an amazing wife and companion. And the glorious view of Huascaran from our window.

Most idiotic thing you said in Quechua:
I flexed my bicep and yelled to my neighbor: “I am a strong dog!”

Most inspiring moment:
Our Little ahijado saw us coming and ran to wash his face and hands before giving us a bug hug. This is the same kid who whipped my wife with a beet when we first met.

Favorite Peruvian holiday:
Mustache March. All male PCVs should participate. Keeps you from taking yourself too seriously.

Most fulfilling accomplishment:
Assisting about half of the families in Musho (800 people and 200 families) improve their living environments through the installation of wood-burning stoves and other changes, like guinea pig cages.

Most uninformed thing that you have ever heard Peruvian say:
It’s a tie: “Are you from the U.S. or the country of New York?” and worse, “Eres de los E.E.U.U. o uno de sus caserios?”

Fullest that you have ever seen a mototaxi/combi/bus:
In my first three months I witnessed 29 people (some children) board a combi (small van) that then proceeded to race down the highway.

Favorite person in Peru:
Dr. Jorge Bazan (Peru's famous PCMO) without a doubt.

What wakes you up in the morning at site?
The sun shining through the door as it rises over the south face of Huascaran.


Most useful thing you learned in training:
It was a story that Andrew Alspach told to us… about a study on dental hygiene in India. Apparently in one community some researchers found that people had really healthy teeth, few gum problems, and beautiful smiles. When the researchers approached a community member to inquire about the phenomenon they were told that “years ago this one white guy used to go down to the communal well and wash his mouth out, using this brush-thing to scrub his enamel.” And so now they do too. The white guy was a Peace Corps Volunteer. And when they looked up his DOS, it was brief… insinuating that he didn’t think he’d been able to accomplish anything during his service. So, see the little things.

Most random secondary project:
We did a two-hour session with the Global Library Project ( in one of our caserios. A representative from the Project came up to Musho and we spent a couple of quick hours asking fun questions of the kids about their community and taking pictures… in celebration of Fiestas Patrias 2008. About a month later, 80 little books showed up in our Serpost box – 40 stories created by our kids, and 40 stories created by kids in Nepal. What a perfect way to work on cultural understanding.

Any interesting health-related anecdotes?
I had typhoid, dysentery, and a cast on my left hand from doing too many handstands.

Why the other Peru 8ers will always remember you:
I skinny dipped in 10 alpine lakes… once with 9 other Ancash Volunteers.

Why your host family made you want to run and hide in your room:
Because we had a room in a compound that included 6 other habitable rooms which were rented throughout our service by teachers, health post employees, missionaries, grandparents, screaming babies, & Andinistas. And we all shared the same rustic 'bathroom.'

Most share-worthy BATHROOM story:
It was a chilly March late afternoon. I had just showered… a breath taking experience, and had donned my fancy Patagonia long underwear and my orchid-colored Northface down jacket. Shivering, but clean, I realized that our pee bucket was full… of my husband’s pee. No problem, I thought. I slipped on his shoes, picked it up, and headed out of our room. Now, we live on the second floor and a set of narrow, concrete stairs separate our balcony from the downstairs bathroom. It was half way down these stairs, on the triangular, awkwardly shaped stair that I fell. Hard. Both feet out from under me. The pee bucket went up into the air. The pee came back down. All over me… and my down jacket… and my long undies… and my clean hair. I began to swear. To use every available cuss word. And in that minute, crumpled at the bottom of the stairs, and dowsed in my husband’s pee, 18 American Evangelical missionaries that were sharing our house with us, appeared, concerned about the unholy language. They asked me what happened. And I couldn’t answer. I was too humiliated. And Benjamin doubled over with laughter from behind the closed door to our room.

Why your friends back home should join Peace Corps:
To walk slower. To breathe deeper. To regain patience. To remember to see the little things.

Your most joyful moment:
Waking up in the blue room on a Sunday morning as the sun rose above the south peak of Huascaran at 8:07am and let dappled light filter through our windows. Pancakes, coffee, Newsweek. Feeling at home. Having Benjamin right there by my side.

Why your department is obviously better than all the rest:
Because Vishal, Jake, Frank, Ryan, Amanda, Rabbit, Ana Luz, Tim, Ariana, & Sophie live there. Shumaqlla nunacunapis warmicuna.

Any meal item you tolerate in Peru that you would never have eaten back in the States?
In June of 2007, I, Libby the life-long vegetarian, ate my first meat… guinea pig. It was just a bite. It made me nauseous. In August of 2007 I ate more than 10 entire guinea pigs during the M&E of our improved stoves project. Starting in January I ate my first cuarto of pollo. I now eat guinea pigs, chicken, and fish on a regular basis. Even at restaurants. I do this mostly for cultural reasons… I don’t like to refuse food offered to me in Musho. And if I eat it regularly, then I don’t feel sick. I will not continue to eat meat in the States... well, maybe Lola's delicious Dill Mayo Salmon...

Craziest meal you’ve thrown together in an effort to avoid yet another plate of rice and/or potatoes:
We eat well. We have our own stove and oven in our room… so chocolate chip cookies, pizzas, Thai curries, and banana bread are common in our diet.

Most random item(s) received in a care package:
My parents sent down a whole wheel of baby Swiss cheese and a huge triangle of Vermont sharp cheddar cheese. Life was good.

Peruvian cuisine that you’ll get a craving for when you’re back in the States:
Cancha, no doubt... popped corn kernels that taste kinda like glad corn.

Favorite coping mechanism:
Series. Grey’s anatomy. The Wire. House. Lost. Scrubs.

Advice for the new Peace Corps Volunteers:
Always go farther. It’s my personal motto… but it fits the job.

Funniest thing that a Peruvian told you in their best English:
Say this out loud… sound it out, Spanish-styles – Headache, Stomachache, Backache.

Best compliment you have received in Peru:
I was dressed up as Hermia, the sister in our Gringo’s Saludable gender equality show. My outfit included pretty typical Ancashina garb… and as I was walking the streets of Caraz, a group of Carazinos stopped and said to each other so that I could hear “Wow… parece Gringa!” Oh, yeah.

Most valued item from the States:
MVPs: Down jacket, Ipod, Ipod speakers, computer(s), duct tape.

Scariest insect/rat/animal run-in:
When we arrived at Barbara Nicolasa’s home to visit her beautiful ‘fogón mejorado’ for the M&E stage of our Improved Stoves project we encountered two crazy things – (1) Upon entering her house, she leading us, she stopped suddenly & looked back apologetically, shrugging her shoulders & nodding her 72-year old head. When I looked at her with a mildly confused expression, wondering why she didn’t continue on to the patio, I followed her gaze down to her foot where upon I found to my horror the struggling body of a rather large rat. Her food ground the rat’s head into the ground until it stopped struggling enough for her to grab it by the tail & fling it into her field. And (2) she was cooking on the floor, on a traditional, 3-rock ring, smoking, cooking fire. She then served us boiled oca from her pot on the ground with the same hand that had just grabbed the wiggling rat’s tail.

Most idiotic thing you said in Quechua:
My favorite phrase when initially learning Quechua was to tell people that they had beautiful donkeys or pigs… “Shumaq ashnu mamey… Shumaq kuchicuna tetey.” It got them laughing, but certainly demonstrated my lack of mastery of the language.

Did folks from home visit your site? What happened?
Yeah! We facilitated a medical campaign with my dad as one of the attending physicians and then taught a Wilderness First Responder-esque class to the youth and adult health promoters. Having the novelty of my family there really made the experience special for the community and new and exciting for me.

Time that a Peruvian pleasantly surprised you:
One of our health promoters called Benjamin for his birthday while we were on vacation in Cuzco. Remembered and used their credit to make the call.

Most uninformed thing that you have ever heard Peruvian say:
I was at the Serpost office in Huaraz trying to send a package to my brother-in-law in Mozambique, AFRICA. And she says, “Oh, Africa… that’s in Asia, right?” Apparently Geography 101 is not a requisite for being a postal worker.

Advice you received here that most inspired you:
Benjamin once told the governing body of one of our Improved Stove projects that “ser líder es sacrificarse sin condiciones.”

What you fear most about returning to States:
I hated the Peace Corps for my first year. But now, ironically, I am most afraid that I won’t find that job that challenges me the way that Peace Corps does. That makes me excited to get up every morning. That pushes me beyond my comfort zone. That gives me space to cry and laugh and work every day with people. A good friend once shared with me this quote: "Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth" --Rumi

Favorite Spanish word/phrase/dicho:
‘¿Onde bueno?' - it means 'where are you off to?'

Stinkiest place you encountered in your Peruvian experience:
Carretera Musho-Tumpa on Sunday and Tuesday nights when the Toqosh people put their rotten, fermented potatoes into plastic bags to take to market.

Most unfortunate fashion choice made by a Peruvian in your presence:
Camel toe. And a shirt too tight and too short on top.