Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thats All Folks......THE END

I can´t believe I have lived here in Peru for 27 months. I remember how I first felt when I got the news I was leaving for Peru two years ago. Excitement, confusion, and frustration were some of my emotions the first few months. Now, those are emotions are replaced with a sense of feeling pride, understanding for why things the way they are here, and also sadness knowing that I´m leaving a place that feels like my second home, leaving a family that has hosted me for two years and treated me like their own son, leaving my friends and a beautiful wonderful girlfriend. I really hope to return to Peru soon and I encourage you to come visit this country. It is a country full of enchantment, warm people, excellent food, and some of the most amazing landscapes and geography on the planet. What luck I had getting placed here!

Scholarships and Certificates

In Peru, certificates mean everything. They serve the same purpose as they do in the states, however, in Peru they carry a lot more weight. Since my first youth group two years ago, I have given out Peace Corps certificates at the end of each group. They have grown so much in popularity all throughout Peru with other volunteers that Peace Corps was forced to only make certificates for ¨big, important events¨ and no for youth groups. So I learned how to make them locally, which, in the long run became easier and more practical in the case that there were mess ups in the names. Over the past two years I have had students invite me into their humble homes to meet their family and have lunch or dinner. Each one of the students had their certificates proudly hung on the wall as if it were their College diploma. Thanks to so many people supporting my projects over the last two months we were able to give out three scholarships (among other things) to three deserving students to pay for the admissions exam at the National University. In Peru, highschool doesn´t prepare you adequately for college life. In almost all cases, students are forced to study in prep academies until their scores on mock University entrance exams are at a competative score. Since the cost of taking the exam is very expensive in Peru, only those who are prepared and can afford to pay are encouraged to take the exam. The passing rate is less than 8% due to the high competetion. In many cases, getting a degree in the National University is the only way of escaping the rigourous poverty cycle that encompasses much of Peru and Latin America. The National Universities in Peru are supported by the government and are basically free to those who enter. Having one of the worst education systems in the western hemisphere, Peru is constantly trying to improve their educational system. Logically, this does not come easy. In my two years I have witnessed many strikes, protests, and cancelations of schools. It really is unfortunate that Peru suffers so much in educational stability. I feel lucky how well we have it in the states. I definately will catch myself the next time I complain.

Ps. The shorter darker skinned girl in the middle has the second highest score in the academy amongst the 600 students. She sells, frozen juice in little tied baggies for about a 3 cents each outside of schools in her free time just to pay the weekly tuition. Like most of the students, she lives in very poor housing. She has dirt floors, no lighting, or running water. The odds many of my students have to go through just to have a chance at getting a good education and have a chance at getting a job is truely humbling and inspiring. There are so many amazing people here!

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Most shocking moments
1. Seeing a baby only months old laying on a dirty sidewalk with no blanket while people stepping over him like he wasn´t there.
2. Getting robbed at gun point (thought I was going to die)
3. Almost getting attacked with large rocks at a Peace Corps beach campfire by a bunch of drugged up, drunk men dressed up in what looked like joker outfits. Wierd.

Most disgusting things I saw
1. Bag of human diarreah getting thrown out of a car at a busy intersection and splattering on a sidewalk. (somebody had an emergency)
2. People bathing, washing cloths, and swimming withing feet of an outhouse where human waste is pumped into a small creek (Amazon Jungle)
3. Woman and child digging through my trash looking for treasures. In Peru, we don´t flush toilet paper down, we put it in our trash...hint hint.

Most Beautiful things I saw
1. Seeing a golden red sunset while sitting on top of a sandune overlooking a green water Osasis.
2. Watching a rain shower pound on water while floating down the Amazon River.
3. The Andes Mountains in Ancash Peru. One of the peaks is said to be the prettiest mountain in the world. I believe it.

The most incredible things I saw
1. Counting 35+ men, women, children, elderly, disablabled people and a dog fit in the back of a midsize pick up truck bed. I lost count after 35!
2. Seeing a family of 5 (dad, mom, three children) riding down the road of a tiny motorcyle (70cc)! Oh no, thats not it, they also fitted a large wooden bookcase on as well. Tell me how, I don´t know. Wish I had my camera.
3. Getting your cell phone stollen, then the thief calls the numbers in the phone until they contact a friend of yours. Then they manage to get in touch with you to negotiate a price for you to get your phone back. Then if you have really bad luck you will show up and they will rob you for the money that you brought to pay to get your phone back. Again, fairly common!

The oddest things I saw
1. A man ¨mowing¨ the front yard of my neighbors house with a pair of scissors.
2. Watching a family put their pet dog`s puppies in a plastic bag, tie the bag and toss it into the river! Peruvian animal population control...normal here.
3. My PC friend bribbing a police officer with a jar of honey.

The most ironic things I saw
1. One of the largest selection of pirated DVDs are sold in the street outside of the movie theatre.
2. Watching people dump bags of garbage and construction material over the bridge and into the river while the cops stand there and watch like there is nothing wrong. No big deal.
3. Watching the evangelical church congregation leave church at night while the young people party crowd gear up and head into the discotecs. The church is located directly between two bars.

The coolest places I stayed
1. The US embassador´s residence in Lima
2. Camping in the Amazon Jungle
3. Staying in the Marriot in Lima (not a big deal in the states, but after a year with simple living situations, a nice hotel was really fun) Thanks to my parents.

The most uncomfortable places I stayed.
1. Sleeping in a hammock wedged in between dozens of people (Cargo boat on the Amazon River)
2. Sleeping without a sleeping bag high in the mountains. (the campfire went out in the middle of the night)
3. Sleeping on an overnight bus (15 hours) with the flu while man next to me snore. I wanted to kill him and then kill myself because I was so miserable.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Killer Octopus

A few weeks ago I was at the beach when one of the Peruvians that was staying at the house with us brought back a sack full of creatures from the sea. The sack included two octopuses, a bunch of mussels, and a wierd looking fish twith moss and barnicles on it´s skin that of which resembled something from the ocean floor. Well, with my curiosity, I began poking at the creatures in the sink. Thinking they were dead or nearly dead I began touching the top of one of the octupuses, when, suddenly it awoke from the dead and furiously slithered its way out of the sink and attached itself to the wall. As it worked its way behind the fridge I began to yell for help. I didn´t want to touch it because I didn´t know if they bite or inject poison or whatever they do to protect themselves. As the Peruvian ran over to see what was the matter, they began to laugh at my ignorance. As they grabbed the head of the octupus and twisted the octopus let go of the wall and became still. They explained to me that they are harmless and you can pick them up. So thats what I did. They are very interesting creatures and fun to play with. As you know they have suction cups on their tentacles and at times are tough to get off your hand. The also change colors depending on their environment. For lunch we had a typical peruvian dish called Cebiche that included raw fish, and other sea food that we caught that morning (including octopus) that is marinated in lime juice and is served with onions and hot peppers.

Educational Excursion with street kids

On July 14th the police and I brought 130 street kids to an ecological park-mini zoo outside of Piura for a day of instruction and fun. There, the kids learned all about protecting the environment, the fauna and flor and also were instructed on basic first aid from a company of firefighters. The success of this event marks the end of one my big projects of the year working in the Peace Corps. Everything went great and according to the plan we created-- a real suprise here in Peru. The only thing that suprised me and made me a little upset was that somebody (who I later found out was one of the police officers) was feeding bananas to the monkeys through their cage. Not a biggie, but when you have 130 kids all with sack lunches that contain bananas your setting yourself up for a disaster. Luckily I told the kids not to feed the zoo animals before they all started feeding the monkeys. Can you imagine 130 kids all sticking bananas through the monkey cage at a zoo! picture: kids lining up in their formation.
picture: kids with the firefighters

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Andes Mountains of Ancash Peru

I decided to use my last two vacation days to visit the Andes Mountains of Central Peru this past week. Sometimes when I feel jaded for getting a hot coastal city for a Peace Corps site I think of the mountains and what it would be like to be placed in a small Andean village high up in the mountains. I´ve learned that life in the mountains is so different from the life on the coast or even life in the jungle of Peru. Peru is so divided geographically, that when you cross into different regions you feel like your in a different country. People look different, speak different forms of Spanish or Quechua, eat differently and even have different traditions. When you ask many Peruvians what places have you been to in Peru, very few can say that they have crossed over into other regions. Cultures and traditions have remained in tact for hundreds of years. When I treked through the mountains I discovered many people still live in small stone huts with grass cielings. They cook with dried cow chips and have very few possesions. This brings humbleness to a new level. When you ask many PC volunteers what is it like living in the tall Andes they will tell you that the views are incredible but the work sucks. In this part of the region, the people are more closed and passive. They are not as receptive to new ideas and need lots of time to develop trust with volunteers. Work is slow in the Andes and development even slower. The food in the Andes is bland and includes very few vegitables and variety of meats. Though cell phone towers are popping up everywhere and DIRECT TV is spreading throughout even the smallest villages, many only recieve electricity only for a few hours of the day and still use latrines. Many still cook with wood and live in mud brick and thatch houses and use corrigated tin roofs. I hope you enjoy these pics I took on my last trip.
picture: Landscape of the Andes near Huaraz, Peru
picture: Little boy with his Alpaca friend.

picture: PC friends on a glacier at 6000 meters.

picture: Inside an ice cave under a glacier

picture: Andean girl with a lamp. She helps her family make a living by recieving tips from tourists as she poses for pictures. Very common in Peru.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cultural Anecdotes

These short stories detail some of the ways I´ve battled with cultural differences but through time embrace the understanding of why things are different.

1- Walk and day dream. Tough I´ve never fallen into the open man-holes in the streets of Piura or the open shoe-size holes that occur about every 10 feet or so on most sidewalks I´ve come close on hundreds of occasions. You might think that this is a liability in most places but not here. There are no law suits of those sorts here. Why are there open man-holes and square foot size openings all over the streets and side walks of Piura? Sometimes the city does work on the sewage lines and forgets to put the lids on the man-holes until the project is completely over. This could take months. Sometimes they are nice enough to mark the open hole with a rock or tree branches but never with bright orange plastic cones. That would be stupid. They would be stolen within hours. What about the squar foot holes that are found in the side walks? They are where houses and buisnesses turn on their water. Just like we have water meters in our back yards they have their water valves directly in front of their front door which lies directly on the side walks. Why aren´t they covered? Many are covered by a metal lids. However, when someone loses their lid for some reason (usually it is stolen) they feel obliged to take someone elses. As you could imagine, this creates a vicious cycly of theft. To steal the lid requieres physically removing a bolted down hinged metal lid. It must take some effort but then again nobody likes to have a foot deep hole in front of their door. Those who find it morally wrong to steal their neighbors lid use wood 2x4 plants to cover their holes. Whats the point of this? Well, after 2 years of dodging the holes I can now walk and think about other things at the same time. I can now day dream and walking! Before one would have to constantly worry about falling in these US lawyer salary makers. I have adapted a subconscience for avoiding dangerous holes in the ground.

Why the hell can`t I use my cell phone in the bank!
After wondering why the police always asked me to refrain from using my cell phone in the bank I later just didn´t question it. I just found it annoying and a stupid rule that didn`t make since. That was until I learned the reason for the rule and what a logical way to prevent robberies on individuals leaving the bank. You see, before, the robbers would lurk inside the banks and observe who was taking out cash. They observed how much cash they were taking out, if they were accompanied by friends, and most importantly, how they were planning on returning home after leaving the bank. The customers who were loaded up with cash, alone and leaving the bank on foot were prime targets. It was as easy as callingfrom a cell phone from inside the bank to somebody on the outside telling them who the target was. This was usually done by telling their friend what color of shirt they had on or other physical descriptions. That was very common practice. Today, every bank and most stores hire police or security guards to stand outside the store and prevent robberies. Makes since huh?

The thief is the person who runs
It´s always bad to generalize, however, I can`t help it. When I see people run down the street I immediately think they have stolen something. My girlfriend gets mad at me when I say ¨Look honey, a thief¨. Sometimes it is obviously not a thief but a buisness man or woman wearing a suit while running to catch the bus or an old lady trotting a long the side walk. Those cases I am joking around. However, I believe most of the people I see running I assume they have stolen a purse or jewelry and our running from the police. I see so many petty thefts in the streets of Piura and so many thieves that are brought into the police station where I work.

One of my favorite memories was when I played Mr. Justice a few months back. As I was in a taxi and saw two teens running down the street holding a purse. I told the driver to follow them. When the taxi hit a road block I tossed him the fare and got out to chase the boys down. I hauled ass. Thinking about the time the thieves stole my watch and cell phone at gun point gave me incredible god speed. I was taking my anger out. Justice had to be served. I was hauling down the street with my dress shoes, slacks and brief case. The people in the street didn`t do anything to slow the teens down. I would have appreciated a trip or something to slow the them down. Luckily I was full of adrenaline and can run fast. I caught up with the kids and tackled the one with the purse. The other boy kept running. Soon the cops showed up and helped me take them back to the police station. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the boys about the life path they were going down. To top off my high I wanted to take them to their parents and explain to them what happened. They were both under 18, no shoes, no shirt, extremely skinny to the point you could see their rib cage. The teens looked like they were under 10 years of age. It was clear that these boys were stealing for drug money or food. Either way, I felt it was grounds for incorporating parent involvement in their punishment. The police didn´t agree. It is safe to say that the boys served some time in a juvenile center, which, in Peru are training grounds for future murderers, thieves, and rapists. I still don`t understand the justice system here. I wish there were creative forms of punishment and rehabiliation. Community service could be an option.

Hemingway and Cabo Blanco Peru

picture. Ernest Hemingway fishing off the Northern Peruvian Coast
In 1952 Ernest Hemmingway made a little fishing village in northern Peru famous worldwide after his Peruvian friend caught an enormously large fish. The village is called Cabo Blanco and the fish was a Marlin that weighed more than a thousand pounds. It still holds the world`s record for the largest Marlin ever caught. Many have come close but no one has pulled a larger Marlin out of the sea...YET. After the news hit the world`s newspapers, Hemingway´s little fishing club in Cabo Blanco recieved many visiters, including dozens of Hollywood actors and writers such as Mario Vargas Llosa. I never visited the club, which, by the way today is just the remnants of an old hotel overlooking the beach. However, I was after the fish. I wanted to beat the record. How dumb was I! My friends and I had a vision and a goal to bring home the bacon and have a fish BBQ after returning from the open seas off the coast of Cabo Blanco. We would be fishing in the same waters as Hemingway once did. As we walked out on the dock we saw the fishermen load up their daily catch onto ice trays. When we passed by dozens of Barracuda and giant squid on the dock, our hopes of catching fish seemed like a for sure deal. I could see myself cutting off fresh filets of tuna, sword fish and marlin to make sashimi. The nightmare started when we set sail for the open waters of the pacific. I quickly learned that the Pacific is not Pacific in nature but terribly rough. Within the first hour I was throwing up. Then my buddy threw up. My other friend fell a sleep due to a severe hangover from drinking the night before and the cowboy of the group sat in the fishing chair diligently watching the fishing lines for any activity while drinking beer after beer. For 6 miserable hours my friend and I threw up while the other two slept and kept guard. The only creature that was caught that day didn´t come from the dark waters below but from the blue skys above. A poor sea gull, (I think it was a Albatros, despite what my friends think) swooped down and ate one of the lures that was trolling behind the boat. The captain took in the line and unhooked the lure from its beak in a way that seemed like he had done it a hundred times. The bird flew away knowing he´d better think twice before dining on a brightly colored plastic mini squid lure that skips on top of the water directly behind a large yacht. To put the icing on the cake, the captain and his first mate ate the majority of the sandwiches leaving us hungry. We were sunburned, tired, sick, hungry, and extremely bored and we paid for it with our time and money. I learned that fishing is not always a guarantee but for anyone is as avid about deep sea fishing as I am should stick to fishing in Mexico and Florida where I believe are more fish and much better service. picture. our view was beautiful in the chilly morning.

picture. First mate taking the hook out of our catch.