Hey Everybody! How is it back in the states? Todo bien (All is well) here in Peru. I haven’t posted in awhile, and for that I apologize. These last couple of weeks have been pretty intense. I spent all of one of the weeks ill. I missed four days of class. It was miserable. For your sake, I will spare you the details of my illness. Take my word for it…it was gross. However, after that four-day bout, I came out a stronger man. It always stinks to be sick, let alone sick in Peru. It makes you miss home…a lot.
Besides that one week, I have had a great time. I have visited Lima a couple different times, one time for Spanish class, and the other for a trip to a university in Lima to learn how to farm. The day I visited Lima for Spanish class, my group made it to the President’s mansion. You can see the mansion in one of the photos I posted. It was pretty neat. There were police officers everywhere and they happened to have a band playing on the other side of the gate while we were there. It created a huge crowd. Also, while we were in Peru, we visited a meat market. It was wild! It was an open meat market, and with an open market, you are afforded the ability to get up close and personal with the meat being sold. This includes stomach, intestine, heart, lung, heads…you name it…it was there. Not only was it there, but it was within arms length of my face. It smelled just as you would expect…like blood. Something funny did happen while I was there. It wasn’t funny at the time, however in hindsight it was hilarious. While another volunteer and I were walking through the market there was one butcher in particular who wanted our attention. So, instead of saying something to us, he decided that the best way of getting our attention was by throwing bloody chunks of who-knows-what at us. I was walking behind her at the time and out of the corner of my eye, I see this butcher chop off a section of meat. He picks it up and chucks it right at her. It hits her arm and falls to the floor. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The next thing I know, he picks up another piece of meat and cocks his arm back. As soon as he does this, I go into reflex mode. He then throws this bloody chunk of meat at me, and being alert and aware, I dodged it. I felt like that character from the Matrix. However, as soon as I avoided the meat I ran away like a sissy baby. In fact, now that I think about it, I did not like that meat market one bit. At one point, the stench was so strong that I almost vomited. Oh well, the experience was short lived and a funny story came out of it. While in Lima that day we also visited El Parque de San Martin, which is a park in the center of Lima. It is very beautiful. I have posted a picture of me standing in front of a statue of San Martin. This area is a popular spot amongst some of the volunteers because of the Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut nearby. MMMmmm…American fast food. There is nothing better then a greasy American treat every now and then.
My second trip into Lima was to attend a farming seminar at Agraria University (I believe this is the correct spelling). I guess they have an excellent agriculture program here. I have posted a picture of one of the instructors teaching us about native fruits and vegetables. She seemed to be very knowledgeable on the subject. I believe that she is a graduate student at the university and is studying tomato plants. That day was great. All of us volunteers were able to plant our own little mini gardens in order to measure our progress over the next 7 weeks. The point of all of this is so that we have somewhat of an idea on how to plant our own gardens at sight, which I assume will come in handy to most of us, being that we will be living in remote areas. Something funny happened at the university as well. As you can see in the photo, there are a whole bunch of fruits and vegetables in a white basket. While most of the fruits and vegetables you see are harmless, there is one vegetable in particular which is not. That is a hot pepper. In fact, I believe that it is the hottest pepper there is. Anyway, one of our projects is to remove the seeds of the vegetables in order for them to be replanted. It was my duty to remove the seeds from the hot pepper. So, I took the responsibility in stride. I was removing the seeds like a true farmer. It wasn’t until I was all finished removing the seeds from the pepper that I heard the bad news. One of the Spanish facilitators called me over and wanted to speak to me…in English (Which is normally a big no-no in the Peace Corps. The facilitators are only supposed to speak in Spanish and respond to statements made in Spanish, so when he told me he wanted to talk to me in English, I new something was up.) “Paul,” he said “Do not touch your face. Do not touch your eyes, ears, nose or mouth. Also, wash your hands thoroughly and do not go to the bathroom! I am dead serious!” This is when I realized the true potency of the pepper. Come to find out, this pepper is so strong that even if you wash your hands thoroughly it can still irritate the skin for a couple days. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day freaked out, incessantly washing my hands. I am glad to report, however, that I did not suffer the wrath of the pepper. Two days irritation free!!
The other day was the one-year birthday of my Peruvian cousin. There are three pictures depicting the party. It was a fun fiesta. There was music; all kinds of treats and all the relatives came over. I had a great time. One of the pictures is of my uncle dancing with my grandmother. The fiestas here are fantastic. Peruvians love to dance. If there is a party, there is dancing. If you’re not dancing, you’re not partying. Also, the fiestas here last for a long time. His birthday party lasted past midnight, however, birthday parties for older people and marriages last well into the morning. I am talking six or seven a.m. It is crazy. Peruvians really now how to hold their own. I sure as heck can’t keep up with them. I always have to crash early, and I usually get made fun of because of it. Oh well, one of my goals in the peace corps is to be able to last until seven a.m.
Something funny happened to me the other day. I came home and asked my brothers where my mom was. They told me that she was at the hospital. I asked why and they said that she was there for the baby. I figured that they meant that she was there with my 10 month old cousin who had been ill the previous week. They then informed me that she was there to get a check-up on her baby, because she is pregnant. Needless to say, that blew my mind, and I did not believe them. Pregnant! My host mother wasn’t pregnant…was she? No one had ever told me that! So I did some investigative work…I asked my mother. She said, “Of course I am pregnant. I am four months along and I am due in February. I told you this the first week you were here.” I then had to inform her that I knew no Spanish the first week. We all had a good laugh over the whole matter. I then told her congratulations. So, my host mother is in fact pregnant and now I know. Boy to I have a lot of Spanish to learn.
Last Sunday some volunteers and I went to the zoo with one of the volunteer’s host sister. It was a nice break from Spanish school and health education. The zoo was actually pretty nice. I was quite impressed with it. It was like any other zoo in the states; except there wasn’t much of a boundary. By this, I mean, the monkey cages were covered with a chain link fence. People were touching the monkeys through the fence. Us volunteers contemplated how many people were probably bit each day. Kids were also throwing their trash into the cages. The trash thing was actually pretty interesting. It was neat to see what the monkeys did with the trash once they got it. One monkey picked up a straw and was using it to make noises on the fence, wood and door to the cages. He was also using it to look through. I figured that it was only a matter of time before he started to use it as an actual straw to drink water with. While at the zoo, we went to an evolution exhibit. It was cool and funny. All of it was a huge electronic dinosaur. It didn’t depict evolution very well. In fact, one seen was a huge T-Rex, and the next was some elephants and zebras. So in essence, it didn’t depict evolution at all…but it was still cool. One new area at the zoo was a petting zoo in an area made to look like a farm. It was here that I got a little emotional. There were pigs, goats, cows and horses. It looked and smelled totally like Iowa. It brought me back for a few minutes. That was probably my favorite part of the day. It reminded me how much I love Iowa and my family. It was a little emotional. Another one of the volunteers I was with is from Indiana. He said the same exact thing as me. It was like a home away from home for us. It is funny how little things like this remind you of your family and friends. In total, we spent about four hours at the zoo and then headed home. It was a great experience and I am glad I went.
Later that night, I went to the tienda (small store) below my house with my host father to drink some beer. I brought some playing cards with me to show him some magic tricks (thanks for teaching them to me Brent) and to see if he knew any card games (Thanks for teaching them to me Dad and Grandpa). He loved the tricks. However, I think he had the sneaking suspicion that I was actually the devil. Anyway, luckily for me he knew how to play rummy (Grandpa, you would be proud). In fact, the rules are exactly the same in both cultures. We sat at that tienda for more than an hour and a half drinking beer and playing rummy. It was fantastic to be able to spend time with him, being that he is always working. While we were playing cards, an elderly Peruvian man came in. He had his violin with him, so we asked him to play some music for us. He was extremely happy to do so, to say the least. He took out his violin and played some Peruvian music for us. It was fantastic. He then played “Happy Birthday” for us, which I got on video. The whole experience was mind blowing. This is what the Peace Corps is all about. After he finished playing the violin he wanted to show me how much English he knew. He actually knew a few words and expressions. I told him that his English was coming along quite nicely and that in a few years he may very well be fluent. Everyone at the tienda got a kick out of that. It was a great experience, and I hope to have many more similar one’s in the future. I have posted a picture of him playing the violin here.
Well, I have some great news for you all. I moved up one full level in Spanish Speaking. There are four levels of Spanish that you can test at. Low, Intermediate, expert, and superior. Within each level, there are three levels…low, middle, high. Needless to say, I started of in the level low, low. I need to be at the level of intermediate middle before I can be sent to site. Well, after one month, I moved up to intermediate low. 1/3 of a step away from where I need to be. I was so excited to hear the news. I guess it made a little sence, since my Spanish is a million times better than when I got here. The training coordinator talked to me and told me that she heard through the grapevine that my Spanish was coming along extremely fast. She said that she could tell that I was studying my material and interacting with my family and community. This was extremely nice to hear. I told my host parents the good news and they weren’t surprised. They told me that I am speaking great and that they are surprised at how fast I have learned the language. This took a lot of pressure of my chest. I feel that in one month’s time I will be at the level necessary to enter site, and for this I am excited. You all would not believe how much I have learned in one month’s time. It is actually slightly ridiculous.
This is all for now. I really need to write more frequently on my blog. I have so much to tell you all. In the future, I will do a better job at being a real blogger. I love you and miss you all very much. Take care and be safe in the United States.