lunes, 24 de enero de 2011

I still have a blog!!!

So! It turns out that I have been incredibly busy for the last few months and use my free time to read, hike, climb or sleep, so I have completely neglected the existence of this here blog. I AM GOING TO UPDATE! I have some half written blogs from the last year that include things like climbing 20,000 foot glaciers and volcanoes, getting giardia alot, racing down the Amazon like Huck Finn, planting lots of trees, building fuel efficient cook stoves and just Peace Corps life in general. Hopefully in two weeks there will be some bad.

sábado, 7 de agosto de 2010

Ancash is Harder

As mentioned multiple times, most of my time spent here is working with students in the school. Not only are students fun, open and excited to learn from the Gringa, but they are a whole heck of a lot easier to work with than adults. In some departments in Peru, adults are open, easy to work with and easy to organize. This ease is generally found in coastal cultures, where people are more open and accepting of change. In Ancash however, life is not easy, simple or breezy. I may sometimes paint the image that I only have great times down here, but it does not come without plenty of hardship and frustration in the meantime. Generally for every good day you have, 5 bad days are waiting for you, and those days are harder, longer and more frustrating here in Ancash. In the mountain culture of Ancash,

Ancashinos hold onto their traditional roots and maintain the antiguity of their culture. I feel that this traditionalism is a great strength of the culture and integrity of Ancash, but it also makes people a lot more closed off and suspicious to outsiders than other regions. In Ancash, you must gain respect from your community before you can be taken seriously as an individual. To gain respect, you need to demonstrate your continued presence, politeness, tolerance, willingness to learn the culture (ahem, Quechua) etc. It is very difficult to explain the

difficulties of integrating into a community in Ancash to someone who has not experienced it. It is one of the many things in the world that can only be understood by coming here, staying here as someone who is not a tourist, and experiencing it firsthand.
Once you have finally been accepted by your community, the next step of the process is trying to explain that you are not there as a source of money for the community. Generally in most parts of the developing world, any gringo traveler will be looked at as a source of money or resources. Face it, we have money, we are privileged, and we are most certainly richer (monetarily) than the people in the local communities that we will work in.

Another facet to add to this perspective is the history of NGO’s and other aid organizations here in Ancash. On May 30, 1970, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake caused the north side of the glacier of Huascaran to fall. This fall created a massive mudslide that killed 30,000 Yungainos and completely buried the city of Yungay, in addition to destroying many other small campesino communities in its trajectory. In response to the disaster, developing countries sent slews of aid to Ancash to help the population recover from their tragedy. Since this time, Ancash has been host to tons of different organizations, ranging from charities to

religious groups to NGO’s. Many of these organizations came to Ancash giving away tons of money and resources, and asking for no input from the local communities. 40 years later, Ancash is stuck in a rut of expectations; expectations that any development organization is there to provide them something of monetary value, and expect little or no effort from them. Now as organizations make motions to promote sustainability with their work, which is the true root of development, they are asking for participation and effort from the communities. This effort generally comes from participating in work events, attending workshops, going to meetings and attending classes. For many people in Ancash, this is simply asking too much, and they are unwilling to participate in anything that asks for their time. Unfortunately, without the active participation of the communities and community leaders a development project simply turns into a source of charity and welfare, which here in Ancash has not led to improving the situation of local communities, but to the degradation of their organizational strength.
As an individual representing an organization, this can be a huge road block in getting anything started. Up until now, I have had a great deal of trouble trying to organize community members to come to classes, meetings etc. Many people are simply uninterested or do not see the value in investing their time if they are not going to receive something tangible. After 8 months of living and being here in Huashao, I am finally making advances into organizing members of the community. At first, I was attending meetings of an NGO called World Vision, to see how they organized community members. After attending about 7 unsuccessful meetings, I realized that World Vision, an NGO that has worked here for about 4 years, also has a great deal of trouble organizing community members. After working in the

community for more time, I realized that the fault of the matter was not only the lack of participation from the community, but was in itself World Vision, due to their lack of professionalism, bad staff and huge faults in following through with promises. In the past few months, I have been working very closely with the community authorities (who before were seemingly uninterested to work with me) and we are designing projects, finding resources, and beginning classes together. Although Ancash presents plenty of road blocks, it is rewarding once you finally break through them. I have 1 year and 4 months to go, and I am looking forward to finally working with the adults of the community and reaching steps to promote the sustainable development of Huashao. Good things are planned for the next few weeks…….Hey there light at the end of the tunnel.

lunes, 2 de agosto de 2010

Working with Women’s Groups

A great deal of my work here in Huashao has been focused on working with the school and students of Huashao and the surrounding areas. About 4 days per week I teach in the school, help work on our tree nursery, and coordinate with the teachers and evil school director. In addition to working in the school, for the past few months I

have been working with two different women’s groups in Huashao (Asociacion de Mujeres Tejedoras de Huashao) and the caserio of Incapacollkan , which mean granero de las Incas (grain storage? of the Incas). There are plenty of words these days that I cannot seem to find or translate into English anymore, and they are becoming more and more basic.

In Incapacollkan, I have worked been working with the Mujeres Lideres Conservadoras de Medio Ambiente de Incapacollkan (Women Leaders in Conservation of the Environment of Incapacollkan) since February. This group of 15 women is an amazing example of the strength, will and capacity of the women in Ancash.

I began working with this group of women after being invited by my neighbor Victoria to come to her house one afternoon to become acquainted with Incapacollkan. Victoria is a boisterous, outspoken, older Quechua woman that once

thought I was crazy…… First of all, the only place that I can make phone calls is from a rock on the side of the road. As Victoria was passing by one day to pasture her sheep, she saw the new gringa in town sitting on the side of the road, on a

rock, in the middle of nowhere laughing and talking to herself. In the midst of my conversation, I saw her staring at me, afraid to move or come any closer. As I turned around she finally saw that I had a phone in my hand, and with a huge sigh of relief explained that she thought I was some crazy gringo that ended up in her

community. After that strange and wonderful day, we have been great friends.
Anywho, one day as we rode up in a taxi together filled with 14 people (these are normal sized cars mind you), Victoria invited me to her home one Saturday afternoon. At this first exchange, Victoria was ready with a group of women from

the community that had wanted to talk to me about forming a women’s group. From their children and one of the teachers at the school, they had heard that I was the ‘environmentalist’ of the school, and were ready with a slew of questions and ideas to form a new group in the community. Since February, I have helped the women

organize themselves as an established group, keep record keeping, learn how to write formal documents etc, in order to strengthen their organizational capabilities. As the group name suggests, this women’s group is concerned mostly with local environmental issues. As a result, we work together to organize trash cleanups, separate trash, and practice informed natural resource management within the community. In the next rainy season, we are going to build a tree nursery to promote local reforestation within the community.

In addition to working with environmental themes, we also work with artisanry (a word?) as an income generating activity. Like many women in the community, this women’s group creates woolen goods to sell to tourists that pass through on their way to Laguna Llanganuco and Huascaran National Park. Unlike many

women however, this women’s group uses wool from their own sheep and takes part in every step of the process of creating their product. Aside from shearing the wool from their own sheep, we hand spin the wool into yarn. In addition to hand

spinning, we dye the wool with natural, local dyes instead of the commercially sold chemical dyes. By using the natural dyes, the women are using skills gained through their culture, and thereby promoting local knowledge of their natural resources (in addition to avoiding the consequences of using harsh chemicals). The wool is dyed using herbs, vegetables, barks, ashes, berries and shrubs. Once a month, we meet to dye the wool, which results in a day of jokes, mini Quechua lessons and the

explanation as to why I am not married by now. Older Quechua women are probably the funniest, boldest people (after you have gained confianza of course) you will ever meet in any Sierra community in the Andes, and I always look forward to spending a day with the ladies during the week.
With these women, this first year is the time in which we begin to establish environmental action within the community to promote awareness, but to also establish a product that these women can sell to improve their economic situation. Hopefully as things become more and more established, next year (or few months) can

be more focused on large scale environmental projects and also marketing of their artisanry to tourists. At the moment, we are trying to coordinate with different NGO’s and their local municipality to receive weaving and spinning machines for the group. Hand spinning, weaving and knitting are all very beautiful things, but it is very impractical if you are trying to create a product base to market and sell. If

we cannot receive the machines, we are going to try to build them with plans from an NGO based out of Lima. The women from the group are saving up money to have a fund for the group, and on multiple occasions we have organized polladas to sell meals to raise money. Polladas are like bake sales, but involve slow roasted chicken that has been cooked in a variety of herbs, spices, beer and soda surprisingly. I love brownies and cookies, but polladas could definitely win in a fight.

domingo, 18 de julio de 2010

Neglecting the Blog

Well, I have been really really bad at updating this thing. I'm not really sure if anyone other than my Mom and grandmother read this (hi Mom and Nana!), but it has been a few months since I have actually sat down and written. The reasoning behind all of this neglect is that I have been EXTREMELY busy in the past few months getting my projects started and carried out through completion. The past few months have been a whirlwind of travel for Peace Corps related training sessions, visits from the bosses (including the head honcho of the entire environmental program for PC international), and juggling with the municipality. I will write a few different entries this week and backtrack on all of the things that have happened in the past few months in order to keep everyone updated on my life down here in Peru (which are a ton). So, to all who actually read this, I will get back on track. Don't be reports to Peace Corps I neglect as well. I am just really really really bad with reporting and filling out paperwork, even if it's as simple as this.

lunes, 21 de junio de 2010

Earth Day Post

So I know, Earth Day is April 22nd......well, I wrote this blog on Earth Day but it just so happens to be two months later....well, I must say I have been quite busy.

As I sit here in my Peruvian bedroom that has become so familiar to me, sipping hot chocolate, I can do nothing more than smile. Land of Lakes hot chocolate sent by my wonderful Mom and pictures from today’s Earth Day activities are the perfect concoction of endless support from home mixed with the happiness that volunteering in Peru has brought me over these past few months. The coming of Earth Day for an environmental PCV is like Christmas for a 5 year old. I have been planning and coordinating activities for this oh so special day with the school director and teachers for some time now, and now we are past that first pitch we set up to climb.
These past few weeks, the teachers and children from the primary school have been helping me build a tree nursery for the school here in Huashao. We have built 7 different beds for trees, and we are planting 6 different species in these lovely constructions. With the kindergarten to 4th grade, we will be planting trees from

seed, including Tara, Eucalyptus, and Capuli. In the 5th and 6th grades, we will be using estacas (I can’t remember this word in English anymore, but I think stalk may be appropriate?), and esquejes (this one has left my vocabulary as well) of quenual and aliso. Generally in Peru, most tree nurseries are built to grow solely

eucalyptus and pine, which are non-native species that are grown solely for the future of cutting them down. On the contrary, our viveros will be dominantly native species, which are better for the local ecosystems and the local wildlife. One day down the road, all of these trees will be used for a reforestation program in the community, but first we need to get them growing!
To receive materials for our project, I wrote and delivered a formal document (called a solicitud), to the office of AgroRural, an organization of the Peruvian government that can most closely be compared to the USDA at home.

In addition to building a beautiful and lovely tree nursery at the school, we recently started a system of compost and lombricultura (worm bins) to demonstrate the benefits of organic fertilizers as an alternative to phosphorus and nitrogen. In addition to promoting organic alternatives, compost and lombricultura are a great way to teach the benefits of recycling (in this case your organic trash). In order to have a successful worm composting system, you need a specific specie of worm…the illustrious California red worm. After a 2 days full of phone calls to the AgroRural offices all over Ancash, I finally found an agricultural engineer who could give me worms. On a scavenger hunt of the strangest degree, I ended up with my regional coordinator waiting outside the house of an AgroRural technician in a random neighborhood of Huaraz. After 20 minutes of waiting outside, a motorcycling man with a large bushel of corn on the back showed up to greet us. It turned out that this senor was the guy we needed, and he invited us into his home to see his

lovely garden and of course to fill up our box with his worm compost. As Nelly and I wandered around looking at tree tomatoes, squashes, sunflowers (the best flower ever), and prickly pear cactuses, I happened to look up at his staircase to notice a one eyed hawk glaring at me. After much confusion and stare downs, Sr. Filipano explained to us that yes, this one eyed hawk with a string tied to its ankle was truly his pet. To wrap this up, we received 2 kilos of dirt with beautiful, healthy worms all ready to come to the campo and start composting.
If building a tree nursery and composting system wasn’t enough for Earth Day, I have also been teaching everyday this week (and will continue to do so tomorrow), and showing Disney’s “Earth” to each class in each grade. As any grade of students watched the movie, I watched them, and these are the pictures that are making me smirk while I sit here by myself in my room. Because I am a science nerd, it makes me happy to see unordinary science nerds appreciate something wonderful about biology and ecology. This week, I was happily treated to the smiling faces of these kids glued to watching polar bears slide down ice floes, ducklings hop out of tree holes, and male birds of paradise attempting to get some ladies while I sat on the sidelines and giggled to myself. I don’t usually like to show movies, but I felt that this was a great opportunity for the students to see some of the reasons why we should respect and care for our environment. It made me very happy to see how much they enjoyed it, even the kids that never want to be in class.
To finish up a great Earth Day, I worked on a town trash cleanup with the group of artisans from Incapacollkan that I work with regularly. This group of women and I are working together on environmental and income generating projects.

On this day of the Earth, we decided to do nothing more than pick up trash, which is a direct and effective way to improve your environmental situation. After about a half an hour playing in the river, alongside the road, and in the ditches, we all came back muddy, wet and with a huge bag full of trash. On my short walk back from Incapacollkan, there were two rainbows in the valley, the perfect addition to an Andean sunset. To make sure the night is just as good as my day, I am happily in my room, drinking one of my last hot chocolate packets from the U.S., and listening to Josh Turner. Happy Earth Day everyone! I hope you all are pricing tickets to Peru………….

domingo, 9 de mayo de 2010

Busy Busy Busy Months

I apologize to anyone who actually reads this for the utter absence I have had with keeping up with my blog. The past few months have been a whirlwind for me, with starting projects, going to in service training, and teaching constantly. I have learned that in Peace Corps, there is no happy medium between being busy and having nothing to do. You will have a week of reading 5 novels in 5 days, and then a week so busy that you don't have time to wash your clothes for 3 weeks. Since the beginning of February, I have found myself continuously occupied. I suppose the best place to start right now is from where I left off....February. As mentioned before, February was an extremely busy month for me because I was teaching environmental science and English every day for summer vacation. Along with lots of working, February was a time for celebrations, most specifically Carnevale.
For Carnevale, my family built a tablada, a large wooden structure to offer to the community below us.

I participated in the tablada by buying 40lbs of mangoes to tie onto the tablada.

To decorate the tablada, fruits, sodas, plastic materials, people and animal shaped breads, candy, and confetti are tied onto the structure. After a day of decorating, a group of men carry the tablada 4km down the hill to the community just below us, Coptac, for a day of Carnevale celebrations. For the family that creates the tablada, which was my family this year, they are greeted in the community by tons of food, beer and music. After eating large amounts of fried guinea pig, potatoes and sheep soup, everyone moves into the nearby field to dance around the monte. The monte is a tree decorated with fruits and other gifts, and at the end of the night, you dance around it and take turns trying to chop it down. Once the monte is felled, everyone runs towards it to pull gifts off the tree, and of course continue to celebrate.

That's all I can muster for now, but there is so so so so much more to account for from these past few months.

sábado, 6 de marzo de 2010

El Diablo de Huaraz

To this point, I have not yet experienced much concerning Peruvian superstitions. In the past few months, the only superstitions that reveal themselves clearly are those concerning curatives. I have witnessed a ‘passing of the cuy’, which is a small ceremony to pass a guinea pig (cuy) over the body of a person that is ill. After the cuy has been passed, or more informally, rubbed, over the body of said ill person, it is killed and torn apart to view its organs. By viewing the organs of the cuy, it is said that you can find what is wrong with the ill person.
Today, I was informed, by a very superstitious lot, of the ‘Diablo de Huaraz’. Huaraz is a major city that is about 3 hours away from me, and I frequent it once or twice a month for meetings, trips to the bank, or just general merriment with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers. From what I have learned today, there is a devil lurking about the streets of Huaraz. This devil that parades around Huaraz is manlike in presence but from the waist up is covered in a thick fur. Along with unsightly hairiness, this devil has a long, red tail, and fear invoking large fangs. Marking his or her trail, Diablo de Huaraz has allegedly eaten multiple sheep and chickens from the surrounding rural areas, leaving only the heads and feet to be found the next morning by the perplexed farmers and herders. According to ‘credible’ sources in Yungay (or the old Quechua ladies selling in the market), this devil has been photographed and captured in a field nearby Huaraz, speaking fluent Quechua. After speaking to this devil, it informed its capturers that it is of a family, and there will be more of these demons lurking Huaraz and later, Yungay in a sort of test. Not only has this devil been captured, but is being held captive in the Huaraz police department, where, for only 10 nuevo soles, you can catch a glimpse of this evil beast. My next trip to Huaraz is next Saturday, and I am certainly b-lining it for the Huaraz police department. It isn’t everyday that you are given the opportunity to see an evil sheep eating Peruvian demon. Updates to come.