Saturday, March 12, 2005

Cycling meets Recycling

March 11, 2005
Well, I am definitely a spoiled Peace Corps city girl. I just got internet in my room, or at least part time. My host brother has a ‘pirated’ internet line in his accountant’s office and has put a connection into my room. Granted it’s not 24/7 and I have to wait until the office is closed to use the internet, but I am in heaven. The world at my fingertips!

March 9, 2005
My counterpart and I spent 4 solid hours doing inventory of all the medicines left by the missionaries. Oh the great projects we can do!

I went to El Milagro in the afternoon, a bit nervous about being the only YMCA personnel present. I had been the only person in the center before but of late my counterparts have been giving me this responsibility more and more, especially in the afternoons. I realized the growth I had made in the time I have been here. My counterparts trust me to open the center, give classes, help the families that stop in, and then close the center for the day. I remember being scared to walk down the street at first, much less confidant enough to hear the problems of one of our mothers or lead a group of kids in their activities. The families see me as a knowledgeable and responsible worker of the center and (finally) I do too.

March 6, 2005
I tested my limits again today with a bike ride around town, to Buenos Aires, then to Huanchaco, around 49 kilometers in all. That’s about 30 miles! My tale was numb by kilometer 10, which I have learned is the secret to getting used to the bike seat. You just lose feeling and don’t worry about it.

March 5, 2005
Looks like I can make my new cycling hobby into a Peace Corps project. Great news for me because I am really enjoying this new activity where I can meet lots of people and get some great exercise. Lucho had organized a kid’s race at a new park in town and he needed my help to assist in the race events. I was in charge of assigning numbers to each of the kids that were going to race and making sure everyone was in their correct category. About 40 kids showed up for the event.

March 4, 2005
Feeling a little blue, I decided to get dressed and head into downtown for lunch at one of the fancy cafes. While I was enjoying my meal, a guy (obviously American) asked me if he could share my table. What a coincidence – he was also from Georgia and a cyclist. We made plans to meet back up later and go to the Lucho’s bike shop.

I made it to El Milagro in the afternoon to have an English class with the other German volunteer. We had decided to do a class on fruit and brought actual fruit to help with the lesson. The kids really seemed to enjoy it all and learned some new vocabulary words as well. At the end, we surprised them with a watermelon eating contest.

I met back up with the Georgian and we ventured to Lucho’s. As usual, present were a motley group of people: a couple from Belgium, several Peruvians, and the crazy French guy. We made plans to help out with a children’s bike ride on the next day. We ventured to my favorite chicken place for dinner and enjoyed talk of the South and some great sangria.

March 2, 2005
During our home visits in El Milagro today, we came across the wake of one of the murdered victims. The ladies there were proclaiming innocent, the victim of the gangs violence. My counterpart insisted he had to be involved if he was associated with the gangs. It still made me nervous to know that such violence had occurred so close to where I work everyday.

March 1, 2005
I received a disturbing phone call from my Peace Corps boss today. He wanted to know about 8 murders that had taken place in La Esperanza on Sunday. My site mate lives in La Esperanza, but I hadn’t heard anything about any murders. When I got to work in El Milagro, I asked my counterparts about the murders and they said one of them had in fact happened right outside our center at 2:00 pm on Sunday afternoon. That gang members from La Esperanza had come to El Milagro to kill someone from the prison. Supposedly, four innocent people were killed in the violence of the weekend. Many of my kiddies said they had seen the body. They even took me outside to see the blood stains on the road and on the walls. It was pretty scary and it made me worry about my own personal safety. I called Peace Corps with the additional news but they just told me to be on alert, like I could predict when a shoot out was about to begin!

February 28, 2005
Today was my day to catch up on sleep, straighten up a bit, and take Nela to get her vaccinations. I have had a busy last couple of days.

Last Monday, I received an email from the Peace Corps Director saying that there will be a group of American doctors in Trujillo and they needed a translator. Definitely intrigued, I stopped by their hotel (which just happened to be about 5 blocks from my house) on Tuesday and spoke with the man-in-charge’s wife. By Wednesday, I had heard back from them and planned to start an early day with the group on Friday. I arrived at 7:00 am, not sure what to expect, and found 65 people eating a vegan-approved breakfast, readying themselves to board a huge passenger bus. After a few introductions the director of the group told me I would be helping out in the clinic. On the hour bus ride to Casa Grande, I discovered it was not only a medical effort, but a mission group, in conjunction with a construction crew. At the clinic (a public hospital that has long since lost its funding), I was put in charge of organizing the mob waiting to see the doctors and answering general questions. I found that most of the Peruvian people appeared to be in generally good health, but anxious to see the American doctors. In appearance and by local standards many of the people in attendance did not seem to be in poverty. The doctors weren’t concerned; they wanted to offer free medical services to everybody in the community regardless of status. There was also a dental clinic and pharmacy.

I was able to volunteer and help a doctor assist a particular old woman of nose cancer. He wants to foot the entire bill for her to see a specialist/plastic surgeon to have the area treated. I told them both I could coordinate her treatment and payment of the services. The little old lady just cried in my arms as she was leaving.

We finished up the day at the clinic and headed to the church construction site. The crew had built a new church and playground for the community. Along the front wall of the only just constructed church flew the Peruvian and American flags. To see the red, white, and blue symbol almost brought tears to my eyes. In a community that needed so much, it made me newly appreciative and so proud for all that I have.

It was quite amazing to see what the construction crew had completed in just 2 weeks. There was already a multitude outside the church and the community members were approaching in groves. We entered the church and were immediately locked in; it was a weird feeling, almost like lab rats on display, as all the townspeople peered in from the metal grates on the windows. The mission group then organized a give-away of toys, toothbrushes, and various supplies. The townspeople filed through the church to collect the gifts in what looked to me in an orderly fashion. Accounts from some of the volunteers outside said it was a lot more chaotic.

The mayor was in attendance and made a speech of thanks for all the volunteers had done. There was also a band and a TV crew. We were served bottled Cokes then sent on our way. The send-off almost felt like we were famous, with waves, screams, kids jumping and moto-taxis running after the bus until we made our way out of town.

When we got back to the hotel, I was invited to dinner and was once again treated to a no meat product meal and I have to admit it was all very tasty. I then had the opportunity to chat more with the members of the group. One of the teenagers said she knew I was a Peace Corps Volunteer when she saw me, that there is a certain look to a volunteer. What is that supposed to mean? I found that most had traveled abroad before and had a consciousness about life in third world countries and in my opinion with their hearts in the right place. I stayed for a worship service and only then discovered it was a Seven Day Adventist Mission group. A little surprised that I knew several of the hymns sung, I was asked if I had anything to contribute. I told the group it had been a wonderful day and I had been so blessed; it was so true. I had so enjoyed getting to know this group from my country, helping others, and worshiping God. I realized quickly that it’s not the denomination of the church but the common belief in God that is important.

I really clicked with one of the medical workers, a physician assistant. We exchanged stories of living in Mexico and Latin American life. She was there with her oldest daughter, who would be traveling to Chile from Lima to do a study abroad semester. She was intrigued by my stories of El Milagro and immediately began her own personal campaign to have all the left over medicines and supplies be donated to me and my site.

On Saturday, I hung with some of the women by the hotel pool. It was a great day to just be with people of my own culture and language. Nela was a big hit as well. Later that night, I gave a photo presentation of El Milagro to the entire group and was a little amazed at the complete attention they gave me and the onslaught of questions. After a year of working in El Milagro, I think I have become a bit jaded to the reality of the situation. Extremely stirred, many of them gave money and said to put it toward the community. I ended up with somewhere around 700 soles and the promise of leftover supplies.

I showed up on Sunday morning to the stir of everyone getting ready to leave for Machu Picchu. I couldn’t believe the amount of stuff they were giving me! It filled the entire bed of a truck – fruit, vegetables, bread, medicine, toothbrushes, clothes and more. One guy even gave me a sack of new, clean towels that he said to keep for myself. It was tearful as I stood on the sidewalk and waved goodbye to the group. In a very short time, I felt I had grown close to several of them and would definitely hate to see them go.

Since YMCA had scheduled a field trip with the families of El Milagro for the afternoon, I was immediately able to give our families the perishable food from the mission group.

February 21, 2005
I have been slacking in my journaling. Over two weeks have gone by with no written documentation about my experiences here in loco Trujillo. How to sum it all up? I continue to run each morning, 6 days a week, 2-3 miles. I love my puppy, Nela, even if I feel like all I do is clean up after her. My work continues to be satisfying, if a little monotonous. With earring making and English classes, I have managed to keep a pretty consistent schedule. When I get bored, I head to the beach and visit my Holland friends, shop around downtown, or watch a movie at the cinema.

Yesterday can be marked as one of the best days of my life. I speak the truth. I hope to give it justice as I describe the extraordinary yet strangely ordinary events. It actually began two nights ago, when I responded to a request to visit an Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who had made her way back to Latin America and to Trujillo on her bicycle from Alaska, an 8 month cycling endeavor. She was staying in town with a bike repairman and his family. When I entered the bike shop (in a very shady part of Trujillo), I found a home in chaos. Several young guys were messing with a couple of bikes, a somewhat loco European was mumbling on the couch, a little girl grabbed Nela from my arms and ran off, and 2 men kissed my cheek and told me to have a seat (in English) along side two Brazilians. I was immediately welcomed by the senora of the house with warm hugs and a piece of Tres Leches cake. They didn’t even know my name or why I was there! After inquiring about my friend, they said she had gone grocery shopping, but would return soon. Thinking I could wait for a while, I was introduced to two Australian guys where I immediately fell in love – their accents are absolutely heart-swooning. Next I met two Americans who looked to have fallen out of a dumpster. Absolutely filthy, with tattoos, chains, and holes the size of half dollars in their ears, they were a bit intimidating and the traveling companions of my RPCV friend. The Brazilians were a bit daunting as well with their questions in a mix of English and accented Spanish, but the owner and his family couldn’t have been sweeter people. They open the doors of their home to passing-through cyclists. Anyone can just camp out on the floor; use the kitchen, shower, or chill out. They have scrap books filled to the brim with photos and notes from previous guests. After waiting for half an hour and my friend not appearing, I decided to head out, but not before I was invited to bike with the crowd to Huanchaco on the following day. Making sure they knew I hadn’t been on a bike since I was 12 and had no experience what-so-ever in cycling, they assured me it was a casual ride and to show up in shorts and they would provide the rest.

I showed up at 10:00 am the next morning, ready to ride. I was a little surprised to see the amount of people that would be going with us. I was given a bike and helmet as the others decked themselves out in all their cycling gear. It looked like they were preparing for the Tour de France. After some typical Peruvian lazing around, we finally headed out. My bike was comfortable and I just prayed not to wreck or something else as dreadfully embarrassing. I was the only novice in the group. After a few kilometers, I realized we were not heading toward the beach but toward the mountains of La Libertad. Someone happened to call out that the plans had changed and we would be heading northeast. Great, what have I gotten myself into! 21 kilometers (about 13 miles) later, I had found out. Muscles I didn’t even know existed in my back were hurting, nothing could compare to the pain in my ‘rear’ area, not to mention that a couple of fingers on my left hand were numb. We had completed the 21 kilometers without stopping and it took us almost two hours. Several of us rested at a little restaurant on the side of the road, while a few of the more seasoned cyclists traveled on up the road. I felt good! I had just biked along with ‘professional’ cyclists and held my own. I want my own bike and told Lucho, the owner, my thoughts. He assured me he could hook me up. This is so fun.

Dreading the descent a bit, I was even more discouraged to hear that we had a headwind. Not really understanding what that meant, I quickly realized it is when the wind is coming into your face and makes you feel as if you’re peddling for absolutely nothing and traveling backwards. My volunteer was a real trooper and helped me by giving me advice how to relieve a bit the ache in my tail while also dealing with the wind. When another girl got a flat tire and we had to stop, I couldn’t have been more relieved. I was a dead woman barely standing, just praying to God to give me the strength to finish. You have never been a quitter, I told myself and would make it back to Trujillo if it killed me. And you know what? I made it! I cruised back into Trujillo around 4:00 pm with the knowledge I had just biked 42 kilometers (about 26 miles) and lived to tell about it.

After we got back, Lucho told me he was impressed that I made it. Everyone was asking me how I felt and I rambled off the various aches and they all laughed in memory of their own pains.

Plans were then made for later in the evening to celebrate one of the American guys 21st birthday. My volunteer friend and the two American guys were interested in seeing El Milagro, so we headed to the landfill. Not the least bit intimidated, the guys said they like trash and that they had even slept in a dumpster. They were definitely going to fit in with their dirty clothes and smelly bodies!

This visit to the actual landfill became the best I have had so far. I experienced a moment as I walked into the trash to great one of my mothers where I realized I had grown as a person -- the trash didn’t gross me out as it did before. I could actually grasp how the families worked there. I could truly imagine having to do it myself if push came to shove. I would never want to HAVE TO, of course, but I knew I could. Nine months ago, I remember only wanting to put the thoughts of the landfill and what the families do there to the farthest part of my memory and continue on with my life outside of the reality of El Milagro. We talked with some of the families at work and chatted with a couple of kids I knew who were playing along side the road. My volunteer friend asked me if it bothered me to get kisses from the kids. Her question surprised me. I hadn’t even thought about it. It hadn’t bothered me a bit to hold, hug, or kiss any of the little kiddies there. In fact, it made me feel loved and welcome to hold the hand of the lady working in the trash as we conversed. I remember a time when it did bother me, when I was so worried about lice, sickness, and danger, that I cried myself to sleep.

We continued our descent from the landfill and ended up taking photos and talking with various families along the way. The kids were amazed at the bicycle trip my visitors had undertaken, but I think the holes in their ears impressed them more. I was happy to share with these 3 Americans the reality of El Milagro that so many individuals do not know exists, but what made me even happier was the way these particular Americans played and talked with my families, with respect and affection.

After a trip to the supermarket, we split out ways and I promised to make it back to the bike shop for the birthday party. I found my apartment in disarray from little Nela who had stayed by herself all day. She was so excited to see her mom! After a walk with her, dinner, and a shower, I didn’t think my body was going to be able to make it back out. Shooting down a cup of coffee, I made my way back to the bike shop to find it blaring with 80’s music and the occasional salsa. Speakers taller than me were rocking the place and as usual it was mad chaos. We ate dinner and danced until midnight (I think my salsa/meringue has improved!); then we sang Happy Birthday and cut the homemade chocolate cake that everyone just dug into with their hands. I made it home by 3:30 am to wake up at 4:30 with the worst cramps in both my arms and legs. Three Tylenols later as I curled up beside Nela, I realized my left hand was still numb and I had just had the utmost greatest day.

February 3, 2005
I continue to do my daily running, I have made it to the 3 mile a day mark, but today I only ran 2. Later this afternoon, I had somewhat of an epiphany. I am the healthiest that I have ever been in my life, I think. I exercise daily, including walking wherever I need to go. I eat organic, fresh, unprocessed food that includes lots of fruits and vegetables. I drink very little caffeine, but drink lots of water. I have time for hobbies that I have long forgotten. Spiritually, I have never been this close to God. I have a great sense of self. I don’t smoke and I rarely drink. That’s something, in my book.

Nela continues to be a handful. While I was cooking my lunch today (of refried black beans, steak, and spicy salsa), she ransacked the whole house. She had gotten into my toilet paper staff and made a mess of 4 brand new rolls. She is doing extremely well walking on her leash. We are waiting for a package from the states with a real harness and leash before we get into some serious running/walking together.

My work in El Milagro is pretty heavy right now. We are trying to finish up the year-end evaluations, which simply means inputting data from each particular family into an excel document. It is time consuming, monotonous, and tedious. Not my favorite part of the job. However, my little hobby of making earrings has turned into a great small business project for my mother’s club. I have had 4 sessions with them and they love making them; they have picked it up so quickly. We are now stepping into the selling and marketing of our product. Boy, I should have taken at least one business class in college. I am at a loss here.

January 29, 2005
Today I got up late and tried to run in the stadium, but there was a soccer game, so I just ended up walking around the outside for 25 minutes. I guess that is better than nothing.

Around 11:00, I went to El Milagro. Just a few kids were hanging around, so I prepared 4 activities for tomorrow’s birthday party. There have been some major cuts in funding for our program, so our parties, activities, employees are dwindling rapidly. It has been cut more than 50%, so the more that us volunteers can do the better.

I got back home around 1:30. Nela was sitting quietly in her crate and was excited to see me. She is a bundle of energy for about an hour, and then she has to nap. The house training is coming along. I have read on the internet about how to train your puppy, so hopefully I am training her correctly. I also read something about psychologically damaging your dog if you mess up. Wish me luck.

Around 4:00, Nela and I set out on our first walk together, where she actually did some of the walking. I fashioned a leash out of some rope that I had and attached it to her new pink collar. She was a little put off by it at first, but ended up walking a good ways on her make-shift leash.

January 27, 2005
I went shopping with my host sister today. We bought me wicker furniture for my living room and a dog crate for Nela. The furniture is the cheapest thing I could find, but I think it will do nicely. Nela’s crate is a good size and (I hope!) will be good for traveling. It’s also a good resting place for her when I have to leave her at home alone.

Later this afternoon, my counterpart came by to work on El Milagro evaluations.

I put Nela in her crate while I went to Internet, she cried and cried. This pup is breaking my heart.

January 24, 2005
I am the new proud mom of, Kanela, a beautiful, female 7-week-old American Cocker Spaniel puppy! She is just what I needed. My counterpart came by my house to let me know that she had met a lady who was selling puppies; she knew I had been searching for the perfect puppy for months. As soon as I saw her, I knew I would be taking her home with me. At 120 soles (about 40 US dollars) she was a steal for a pure bred dog. I took her immediately to the vet’s office, where he gave her first shots and pronounced her fit as a fiddle.

January 23, 2005
So, it has turned out to be a great weekend; I had been worried.

On Saturday morning, I was really apprehensive that I would be bored for the next couple of days. I didn’t have a thing planned to do. Boredom, I have found is the enemy here. However, things took a turn for the better. After my really tough (10 lap run, 4 lap walk, 10 sets of steps, and 75 crunches) workout, I went to my site mate’s house to pick up a gas stove. I have been using an electrical hot plate to do all my cooking and it’s just too much for the outlets. I almost had a house fire the other day! She and I then went downtown to a book fair; it was impressive but the heat at midday was killing me. So, I came home to cook my lunch. I had bought some hamburger meat the night before but to my surprise when I pulled it out of the fridge to cook, it was green. Not thinking that the whole kilo of meat was lost, I just picked the green stuff off and tossed the rest in my frying pan. I thought that maybe I could cook off the microbes. Well…it didn’t work and I just managed to stick up my kitchen with rank meat. More than a little frustrated, I went down the street for my lunch and had to settle for what was left of the day’s menu. At this point, I was nearly to tears with frustration, but managed to make it to my bed for a much-needed siesta.

I woke up to someone knocking at my door. It was my friend, Carla, and she wanted to know if I would like to go out dancing later. I was so happy! She had moved and is now my neighbor, definitely within walking distance, so that is cool to have a friend so close by.

Just as I was closing the door, my cell phone rang and two of my volunteer buddies were passing through Trujillo and wanted to meet for dinner. So, they showered at my place and then we went for grilled chicken. It was good to chat and hang with them for a couple of hours.

By the time they left, it was time to get ready to go out for the night. It was fun to at last get an opportunity to dress up. Carla stopped by to pick me up and we headed to a club in downtown around 11:00pm. The dancing didn’t get started until after midnight. We met up with 4 more of her friends and even got treated to the VIP section of the club because one her friends is girlfriend to a waiter. We ended up having a great time. I practiced my salsa and meringue and had the opportunity to meet some new people.

Today, I had a new kind of problem. I had told 3 different people that I would meet them at the same time. What to do? It worked itself all out in the end. The first guy is a friend of PC and was coming to work on my laptop (my CD/DVD burner is shot), the second guy is a Canadian that is here for a couple of weeks and wants to volunteer in El Milagro, and the third guy said he would call me to go to a movie. Well, after I had waited over 45 minutes for #1, he called and said he had an emergency and wouldn’t be able to make it to my house. Not hearing from #3, I decided to head to the beach to meet up with #2. We met at Otra Cosa, the vegetarian restaurant my friends from Holland have there. We (a German volunteer, my new Canadian friend, and 3 people from Holland, and me) sat on the porch and chatted about Trujillo’s club scene, surfing, travel, and other volunteer experiences. We even made plans to meet on Friday for English class in El Milagro with the kiddies and possibly on Saturday to go out dancing. One of the best things that came out of the conversation is my plans to take surfing lessons. Seems they are all into surfing, yet are all fairly new at it as well, and know a Peruvian dude who gives lessons. Sort of an exchange program, we share about our personal cultures, I can provide them with a place to volunteer in El Milagro, and they can help me learn to surf. The afternoon turned out to be super fun -- it was an international exchange of ideas and a great way to watch the sun set on the Pacific Ocean.

Just as I got off the combi from Huanchaco, #3 called. He just wanted to say hello and that he was sorry for not calling sooner. Sure, I told him, a movie later in the week would be a great.

January 18, 2005
I stayed up late last night finishing my book. So, I didn’t get to the track to run until 10:30 am. The gate was locked, but I just decided to knock. The watchman came after a few rounds of pounding but looked pleased to see me. He said there was no problem, just knock when the gate is closed. I was the only person in the stadium, so I strapped on my MP3 player, ran 8 laps, did 10 sets of steps, then finished off my workout with 50 crunches. Just as I sat up from my last crunch, a man was peering down at me. Since I was on the far end of the field, he had to of made the trip just to see me. He promptly propped down beside me and began to chat. I am thinking to myself… “What nerve! Did I ask for company?” He goes on to ask for my name and if I was American. He even asked for my address and I told him I didn’t think that was safe. He had just approached me, I didn’t know him, and didn’t think that would be a good idea. He started stumbling saying that he is an Evangelist and just wanted to spread the word of God. He also mentioned that he worked in the stadium and hadn’t been paid in 4 months. I can respect his efforts, but his manner was definitely putting me on guard. I told him I had to go and he said that he was also a runner and that tomorrow maybe we could run together. I told him no that I like to run alone with my music. Peruvian men, they kill me sometimes.

January 17, 2005
I slept a full 12 hours last night. I think it is the heat; it just seems to suck the life out of me. I stay tired all the time. Around 10:00, I headed to the track for my exercise. I ended up walking 10 laps, then running 10 sets of steps. Thought a change from my usual might do me some good.

I took my dirty clothes to the laundry mat and then went to the country club for some pool fun and sunshine. I read a Nora Roberts smut novel, watched the teenagers flirt, and just generally enjoyed baking myself for a couple of hours. I stopped by the grocery store for my lunch. When I got back to my place, I made myself a salad and lemon-pepper chicken breast.

At 5:00, I went to my weekly coordination meeting at my counterpart’s house. We discussed the Rotary project ideas and other projects that I have in mind. Afterwards, I picked up my clean laundry and a bag of ice (I didn’t even know they sold such until last week!) on the way home. Who would have ever thought that putting away super-fresh clothes while sipping a cold, icy diet Pepsi would have ever made me this happy?

January 16, 2005
I met up with a Peruvian guy today. We went to the beach, had ceviche for lunch, and stayed until sunset. He’s a lawyer and just got back from working on a cruise ship where he spent some time in California. He seems like a nice guy, was upfront about wanting to practice his English, but laid back. We are going out again this week.

I walked 3.78 miles today. I am liking this pedometer thing.