September Post

Hello my beloved Americans!! I’m coming to you live from Leymebamba, Amazonas, Peru. Time is just flying by and I almost missed my September post to you guys. Therefore this post is pretty long. We voluntarios have passed our one-year anniversary of living in the Peru. I’m here at the halfway mark. Although I sometimes get sad remembering home, life is sweet here. And what’s more, I’m pretty sure Peace Corps is changing me. In America, I was comfortable to not get involved in things. But here, it’s different. There’s so many things that I want to see happen, that I want to be part of. Like, I want to build latrines and teach handwashing and stuff, but I also want to help the people with disabilities and fight illiteracy and help the tourism industry and promote growing quinoa.. will I do any of these things? Maybe, probably not, but it’s kind of cool to want to. I think it’s largely because it’s my job, as a PCV, to assess the needs of the community and then try to do something. If I had just come here for no particular reason, I probably wouldn’t have felt I had the authority to get involved. But now, I realize that nobody really needs any authority or position of power to attempt to make a difference. But there’s that perceived barrier anyway.

In case I’m getting too save-the-world right now, I do understand that caring and wanting don’t translate into success. Doing projects here is like a maze. You think you’re going somewhere, and then you run into a dead end. A lot of my dead ends are because of poor assumptions/judgment on my part.. “Sure, they’ll show up to the meeting” or “they’ll call me when the car gets here” or “they’ll do calculations instead of inventing numbers” or “they’ll definitely attend to me if I stand quietly in this corner”. I have taken a temporary break on my latrine project due to there not being money. I’ve shifted my focus to these “behavior change” projects, teaching people how to promote hygiene to children. One is with the personnel at the Health Center, who are working with teachers in the local schools. That project has been somewhat difficult. The personnel don’t have that much experience doing classes and outreach, so they didn’t really understand the project. I thought I would have more support from their boss, who had approached me with the idea, but she’s been pretty hands-off, and says she has trouble getting her staff to participate in projects. So I’ve had to have a lot of separate meetings with them, one-on-one or in small groups, to re-explain the project, motivate, help out, offer ideas, threaten, etc. So it’s been more work than I thought, but it’s actually turning out okay. I went out to some schools last week with two health workers whom I’ve had trouble corralling. But then they started explaining the importance of handwashing to the teachers, in their fluent Spanish, and it almost brought a tear to my eye. The other hygiene project is with kids in the high school, who are teaching elementary school kids. There are about nine girls participating, and I have two high school teachers helping me. The girls taught their first class last week about germs and sickness. We had planned a class that lasted 45 minutes, so I thought they’d take about that long. But two hours later, they were still going strong, playing with the kids and improvising. I was amazed, like, “You can go home now..” Peru is full of surprises.

The nurse Lilia in a preschool, asking what you have to do before eating.. Lava sus manos!!

The nurse Lilia in a preschool, asking what you have to do before eating.. Lava sus manos!!

Thalia and Sandy teaching about germs to some fourth graders

Thalia and Sandy teaching about germs to some fourth graders.

A few blog posts ago I talked about a water project in a small community that the mayor had promised to do. Well, they actually did it. For about three weeks in August, all the men in the community went out with their shovels and pickaxes to dig the trench and install the pipes. I went out a little bit to “help” them. I used quotation marks because I probably just got in their way. But it’s cool. I will now share with you my insights on the working habits of these campesinos.



Before starting the day’s work, they have to chew coca. Coca leaves are a natural product of the Andes, and the origin of cocaine. However, the effects of chewing coca are more comparable to a caffeine high than that of cocaine. It’s more of a social activity than anything, and helps them work longer. They chew coca leaves into a wad and then put this “col” (lime powder or something) on the wad. The col creates a numbing sensation in their mouths. I think it scratches their mouths slightly to allow the coca to seep in and have a stronger effect. The coca gives them what I call the “green mouth syndrome” and the “campo smell” that is pretty distinct. Not bad, just very earthy. After chit-chatting and chewing coca for awhile, they take out their tobacco, which is green for some reason, and random scraps of their children’s homework, and roll their own cigarettes. They all begin smoking their cigarettes more or less at the same time. You don’t want to get behind. These activities can also be accompanied by shots of local moonshine, known as agüardiente or cañaso, which help take away the morning chill. At this point they are ready to begin a productive day of work. They dig the trenches in pairs – one person breaks the dirt with the pickaxe and the other person shovels the dirt away with the lampa (which I’m not sure how to say in English). This way they can take turns resting. Also they spit on their hands a lot to get good grip. They are really good at digging trenches. I’m not even sure how we would do this in America. Maybe the exact same way? Anyway, they work for like an hour then take a mid-morning coca break where they repeat the aforementioned process. Then work for another while until lunch time. Lunch is often brought by their woman, even if they’re an hour’s walk away. Some people had brought lunches as well. As for me, I didn’t have a woman, and I was pretty wore out by lunch time, so I said goodbye and hiked home.

On break. What the guy next to me is holding is where they put their col powder.

On break. What the guy next to me is holding is where they put their col powder.

Recently Leymebamba has been the recipiente of national attention in an exciting cave misadventure. Some international cavers came to explore a big cave that happens to be owned by my site mate’s host dad. One of them, a Spaniard, suffered a bad fall deep in the cave and broke their spine. The other cavers couldn’t get him out or move him; they’ve had to get a team of rescuers from Lima and Spain here. There are helicopters flying around at all times, reporters going around interviewing people. For some reason, he’s been in the cave for 10 days. I guess the operation is pretty delicate. Everybody is talking about it and there are some crazy rumors, like how he’s not hurt at all, how he must have found something valuable so he doesn’t want to come out, and how he’s going to take our treasures to Spain, or how they’ve like taken my site mate’s host dad hostage. It’s all very mysterious and could definitely be good material for the next Indiana Jones movie.

In other news, my host sister Norma has begun a chocolate business. Norma has only been living here a few months, she’s visiting from the coast. She’s my host sister technically but she’s 44. She has a heart condition which makes her become tired very easily, so there’s not many jobs that she can do. But she has a lot of interest in making chocolates and sweets and stuff.  So with the family’s help, she’s started making chocolate-covered marshmellows and chocolates with caramel and alcohol-soaked raisins and going out to sell in Leymebamba. It’s pretty cool and delicious, and something I did not expect to learn in a developing country. But selling things to neighbors and on the street is a lot more common here than in America. There’s people always coming to our door to sell us milk or beans or tamales. Girl Scouts would make a killing here. I kind of like the small town thing  – you know the person who sells you vegetables and who runs the internet café and who makes copies and who gives you rides when you don’t feel like walking home in the pouring rain. But it’s nice to go to Chachapoyas (regional capital) and not have to say Buenos Dias! to everyone and be able to buy snacks in secrecy.

Norma with her basket of  chocolates to sell.

Norma with her basket of chocolates to sell.

Chocolates with manjar blanco - which is pretty similar to caramel.

Chocolates with manjar blanco – which is pretty similar to caramel.

In August I attended my first Peruvian weddings and funeral (but they weren’t the same people). Overall fairly similar to that of United States, but there are a few differences. So for one, people don’t really make as big of a deal over weddings as in America. Usually the couple have been together for a while and have children already, when they’re like, “Why not? Let’s get married.” Also, they don’t need to have the wedding in a church or remotely nice-looking place. One wedding I went to was in an abandoned discoteca that had aliens painted on the walls. And sadly, the wedding was not alien-themed. The other wedding was in a spacious chicken restaurant. But personally I think Peruvians have it right, because they don’t focus on coordinating colors and junk, but they have awesome after-parties with live bands that last at least until 5 AM.

The bride, groom, and witnesses. The second man from the left is our mayor Nelson.

The bride, groom, and witnesses. The second man from the left is our mayor.

Deaths in Peru (or at least Catholic deaths) are accompanied by ringing the church bell a lot, 5-10 nights of wakes, and a funeral. The funeral was for a mother of one of my counterparts who was known for her love of singing, so a lot of people sang as a tribute to her. It was beautiful and sad, even though I’d never met her.

The casket about to enter  its cubby. I guess it´s not impolite to take pictures.

The casket about to enter its cubby. I guess it´s not impolite to take pictures.

Sorry to make you read so much, but if you made it this far, you’re awesome. Haven’t learned any weird medical practices lately, unfortunately, but I told you about coca which is almost medical. Well, take care and know that I’m probably thinking about you fondly. Unless you’re a complete stranger, since this is the internet after all. Either way, adiós amigos until next time.

Our plaza on a rare beautiful day.

Our plaza on a rare beautiful day.