Sunday, September 24, 2006

Survival of the Fittest

In rural Peru, there can be a certain direness surrounding food, virtually unknown to middle-class Americans like myself. Sacks of rice and sugar and bottles of oil serve as the main weapons in the fight against hunger and deprevation in the households in Tumbes where I live. The poverty there, of course, defies definitions of urban poverty. Every family has their plot of land and benefits from its harvest - plantains, lemons, oranges, yuca, and beans. In this sense, we would hesitate to call them poor. Still, their diet lacks variety and primarily consists of complex carbohydrates like rice that are made to make them feel full, even when lacking in basic nutrients.

The word malcriada, essentially "malnourished" or "thin" and "lacking in nutrients" resonates out of every household occupied by children. Their parents use it constantly to criticise them from being naughty or bad. The degree to which the parents molest their children with this term, connecting undesirable behavior and food, seemed odd to me.

Even more strange was how my host mother took issues surrounding food to the extreme. This not only showed up in how she raised her children, but also how she dealt with animals. When I brought a puppy home, it caused a great deal of silent contention in the house. I heard that my host mother kicked my dog when I was not there. When I started buying dog food on a regular basis the situation improved. One day, while carrying eggs home from across town, the bag slipped just as I approached the house. Not desiring to let the valuable protein go to waste, I decided to give the broken eggs to my dog. When my host mother walked in to see the dog eating them, she got extremely upset, saying that now the dog would try to eat her chickens´ eggs. I assured her that this would not happen, but she would not listen. She holds particular beliefs that she insists upon, no matter what, including how cats will not eat mice if given affection. When we got a kitten one day, the pattern began - every time one of us picked up the cat she would yell at us. I learned to pet the cat in secret defiance of her irrational claim. She won in the end though. This week, after finding the cat eating the left over chicken from lunch, she took a rope, tied it around the kittens neck, and hung it in a tree. When I found out, I was horrified and confused at why anyone would go to such barbaric lengths over a few pieces of chicken.

In our house, I buy the chicken, and usually the rice, oil, vegetables, and tuna, as well. Food is the only currency which my host family accepts. I pay out of my monthly allowance. I also buy items like the gas that we cook with, but according to a friend, that does not matter to the people in the house. They don´t mind cooking with firewood. What they don´t like is not having anything to cook, especially when they feel obligated to feed a foreigner, like myself, who arrived with different experiences and expectations of food.

Gran Evento Turistico

One of the main emphases of my work in Rica Playa is to promote tourism. September 23, the first day of spring here, is one of the most important days for visitors to the park. Bus loads of school kids arrive in numbers. Last year, about 300 arrived, or in terms of buses, about nine of them. This year, tourism took on a different flavor and the people in town organized a beach party that included a DJ, beer, typical foods (duck or goat meat with rice), boat rides, horse rides, and swimming. They put a lot of effort into it, including meeting after meeting and even a town clean-up to make a good impression on the visitors. Too bad most of the people at the party were locals. The main flaw, in my perspective, was the lack of advertising to a diverse audience. Visitors would willingly come from Tumbes if they new what was in store for them when they came. In the end, the only group to come from a distance, besides the school buses that came, were the DJs. They left less-than-satisfied with the event though - for due reason. The people in my town had road blocked the exit from the beach so that they could not leave. They were upset because the DJs finished playing an hour before stated in their contract. Glass bottles were thrown (as often happens at the end of Peruvian parties) and the drunk locals stumbled home complaining about how the party was feo because it had ended early.

Los Muertos

"You have heard that some people see the dead, right?" inquired my friend Omar. I humored him, as he went on to describe how mules also herald this supernatural ability. They, unlike horses, get spooked when they see los muertos walking about and shift their direction to avoid any unpleasant encounters.

I have never seen the dead, but I helped my host brother, Adrian gather these flowers for the ghost of his great-grandmother. She was said to have approached my host mom, Nohelia, one night in the form of a cold wind, sending chills through her spine as she sat on her bed holding her new baby tightly. Nohelia had not complied with a promise she had made to always bring flowers to her grandmother`s grave on her birthday. The flowers I found in and near the family plot began the day beautifully but wilted before being properly delivered to the cemetary. I do not know if the host of the great-grandmother has come back.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Feliz Cumpleaños, Brexi

At 4 am, the day after Bryan`s birthday, my host mother had a new baby girl. Her name is Brexi Marciel and is delightful. She hardly cries at all. She does get hiccups though, which are "cured" by having her mom or dad stick a tiny piece of paper on her forehead. Seriously.

They have several interesting beliefs relating to the time following childbirth. During the first week, they did not take the baby outside of the house because it could die because of mal de 7 dìas. They also recite orations, "puja tu madre, puja tu padre," while passing a braided hand towl or a black cloth doll (see picture below) over the baby in a cross when it jerks its head, gasping. My host dad explained that this condition is caused when a girl who is menstruating or is growing her breasts (when she has 9 or so years of age) holds the baby. Another solution is to put fresh cotton (from the plant) on the baby`s head after it has been soaked with the liquid from a boiled fish head and sugar. Another successful step to stop a baby from being a pujalona is to make sure she is wrapped well in a mosquito net so that she doesn`t get cold. Perhaps I will buy a mosquito net for Brexi.

Feliz Cumpleaños, Bryan

In Peru, birthdays are not thought of as times to get presents but rather occasions to throw big parties, sharing your day, food and fun with friends and family. In Cabuyal, Tumbes on July 23, Bryan went all out with the help of his host family (pork and sweet potatoes cooked underground, served with pasta), his friends (discoball, lights, and lots of balloons, yeah), and me (amazing passion fruit cocktails that my friend Daisy taught me how to make, and the main event everyone waits all night for... the cake). About 40 or so people came, including our counterpart who showed up with a bunch of the park rangers. They took the lead when it came to dancing, so it was cool. Our friend Erin also came from her Peace Corps site in Matapalo, Tumbes. Even my dog got into the act, trying to steal the spotlight while Bryan was making a toast and later cutting the cake. She stood around, looking cute, especially since someone decorated her with balloons and ribbons. It was a birthday to remember.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Typical day

The seasons are changing here. The leaves are drying, the combi´s (buses) are running, and the nights are getting chillier. I have also decided to make myself busier by teaching each day in a different school. This provides opportunities for meeting new people and hopefully inspiring kids to learn more about the dry forest and perhaps a little bit about the gringa that has come to live in Rica Playa.

The other day, as I sat on a couch at 6 am waiting for classes to start in Oidor, the tv announced that the high of the day would be 29 degrees and the low would be 20. The highs for me included meeting a couple Americans my age that were crazy enough to try to arrive at the national park using local transportation, sending back my new bike to my site, making flowers out of cloth, and watching a bunch of elementary students chase each other while pretending to be mountain lions, deer, and grass. The low points could have been the moments when I remembered how busy my day had been and that I woke up at 4:30am. That´s what my life is like at this point though.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Semana Santa

Jumping from one major holiday to another, we have arrived at Easter. In Spanish speaking Catholic countries, this week is called Semana Santa, or Holy Week. In my town, Rica Playa, it is not only a time for family and Catholicism, it is also a time to dig up beliefs of the antiguas, or the ancestors, and look for gold. The people believe that pots of gold rise up from the ground on Good Friday. They also talk about how...

If you take a bath, you will turn into a fish or mermaid.
If you cut down a tree, it will bleed.

Apparently, what we call the man in the moon is actually a boy who disobeyed this custom. He chopped down a tree for firewood on Good Friday and was sent up to the moon as punishment. He is there now, forever fastened in the sky with his ax and tree on the face of the moon.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Feliz Navidad!
(ok... I´m a little behind schedule. Anyway, I had a nice holiday season. Hope you did too.)

My host family, my uncle`s family (the one that Rodrigo belongs to), and my boyfriend, Bryan (who I admit, looks a little creepy in these photos), celebrated in my house in Rica Playa by having dinner at midnight. They didn`t really wrap and upwrap gifts but I know they gave each other gifts. I gave my host parents a creche (nativity scenes are big here), Lorena, swimming goggles, and Adrian, plastic sea creatures, which he enjoyed.

El campo

Here the words el campo refer to the natural landscape found in the park. I`m lucky to get to go exploring there often because it is so close to where I live. These pictures are of a time when my friend Karen, who is a park ranger, and Adrian, my host brother, went with me to Bocana Carrillos (the spot by the river) and the Mirador (a lookout spot).


Yup. I`m learning to dance Peruvian style from some of the best. They practice the same songs over and over. The current hit is La Pompa, which my host brother and sister practice with their friends and me, who needs the most practice. :) I heard the song blasted at 9 or 10 every night for about a week when I had first moved in. You would think I could sing the song in my sleep... not quite there yet though.


If you would ask me about the best part of my site, apart from the beautiful landscape, I would have to say the people. I´m getting to know more of them poco a poco. It helps to have a family that is related to about 60% of the town, which is only 140 families or so in total. Here people refer to each other brother and sister. My favorite is the affectionate term used for sister, ñaña, because my 2 year-old cousin, Rodrigo, calls me that now. He used to be scared of me. For a couple days, he would shyly hide his eyes when I was around. Now he points to me and says ñaña really loud with a big smile. My family says he even knocks on my door when he comes to visit when I am gone.

Here are pictures of Rodrigo (who we call Yagnur), my other cousins, Carol, John Marcos and Mario, and my host siblings, Lorena and Adrian.


Ceviche mixto - a variety of seafood, a Peruvian specialty.

The INRENA welcome dinner clan - Erin, myself, my boss Oscar, Edgar, Bryan, and Aldo

I have been really spoiled by my boss up here. Upon my first visit here and my first weekend when I came back to stay, we went to eat ceviche on the beach. Talk about perks of the job! Ceviche is most definitely my favorite food here in Peru . Seafood (fish, clams, squid, octopus, shrimp) ¨cooked¨in lemon and onion tastes divine... especially when served with popcorn and crisp homemade banana chips and followed by a swim in the ocean. Gotta love ¨beach corps¨.

Don`t get too jealous now. I don`t get to indulge like this all the time.

Por fin, yo he llegado!

Hey all. Here are photos of my site! I have been sent to the hot, arid north of Peru, the frontier. When my host family down south found out where I was to be sent, they told me I was going to the land of the monos. No, there aren´t a lot of monkeys here. It´s just close to Ecuador, where the people eat a lot of bananas. The Peruvians teasingly call the Ecuadorians ¨monkeys¨.

I am up here in the North to work with a national park called Cerros de Amotape. My counterpart is the head of INRENA (like the National Park Service). I get to give a lot of presentations, promote tourism of the park, and teach environmental education in the school in my town of Rica Playa, as well as several other towns in the same school district. All the towns border the grand (by Peruvian standards) River Tumbes, which converts the dry landscape into lush fertile ground where mangos, lemons, and platanos are grown in abundance.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Site Visit 1: Huarez

Recently, all the Peru Peace Corps trainees went on their site visits. Since I am in the environmental group, I had the opportunity to go to the department of Ancash to visit volunteers there and do some exploring. Note: The top photos are Huarez. The bottom are Ranrahirca, where we stayed with a business volunteer named Doug.

I should have taken some photos in California Cafe or Cafe Andino because they were the places where I ended up spending most of my time during my first full day in Huarez. We met an insane amount of Peace Corps volunteers there. Sometimes it´s nice to gather where there is good coffee and bagels. I had French toast with maple syrup for my second breakfast. My first was half of a pitcher of fresh pineapple juice and a cheese empanada at a more Peruvian joint. Later on in my visit, I bought a nice woven bag and a set of panpipes.

Clase nuevo

I apologize for not writing for so long... I hope you guys all enjoy the photos, including the ones below from my trip in October with my old Spanish class. Since then, I´ve enjoyed my new Spanish class, which consisted of my friend Erin (in my old class too. the one with long dark hair), my teacher and me. Needless to say, we talked a lot in class. Our teacher was big on having us speak in paragraphs. We would discuss current events and all kinds of issues. We also practiced the subjunctive and conditional tenses over and over again. I guess it paid off. I had my final placement test during training recently and advanced from INTERMEDIATE MEDIUM to ADVANCED MEDIUM level. Hurrah. Now I´m ready to go speak Spanish all day in site.

Fotos del Paseo

Some photos from my trip to Palle with my Spanish class.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Clase de Español

(intermiate - the best!)

That´s what we call outselves. Joselyn, Jimmy, Erin and I lucked out when we got Edith as our Spanish teacher. We have so much fun together and are constantly goofing around, while learning Spanish, of course. :)

Some of my favorite classes involved making vegetarian pizza (qué rico), watching an amazing movie about the tragic times of terrorism in Peru (Palomas de Papel), bargaining in the market in Chosica, and learning more slang. We´ve also had a lot of chocolate and went on a couple cool field trips, one to Lima and one to ruins near Santa Eulalia. We went to the ruins with a history prof and learned an incredible amount about this place. I will write about the history in my next entry. First, I need to look up some dates. In the meantime, I will be enjoying my last week with my class. Next week, we will advance and get a new teacher. I hope I am as lucky that time as this. I will miss Edith and my classmates.