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three weeks left! …and some useful guidelines for living in a volunteer house

There are three weeks left until the end of our spring session! Our programs end on December 9, and most of my housemates/coworkers are leaving that day or one day before or after, some for home, some for one last Peruvian adventure before resuming normal life in the US. I hope they have time to assimilate all they’ve experienced and achieved in the past few months, because I certainly know how “real” life can just take over with its ever-increasing pace.

The funny part about all of this is that we’re all starting to get along really well, and now things are going to change yet again. I was talking with a housemate about how our current ability to adapt to each other and get along, appreciate each person’s quirks and positive qualities, and maintain a peaceful, easy-going house dynamic was incredibly hard-earned. Throwing 8 very different, independent, unique people into a stressful living situation is unnatural. (There’s no wonder we refer to each group of volunteers as another season of the Real World Huaycán.) The pace of our volunteer work doesn’t often give us time to reflect and understand what we’re dealing with, and the fact that we are volunteering and living in an underdeveloped community means that we have to accept our surroundings against our natural habits and inclinations. As I’ve alluded to, there are also some organizational challenges, but we support each other within these, and hopefully we can effect some positive change with all the lessons we’ve learned in our time here.

I have learned several lessons about what would have made this situation easier from the beginning for everyone if we’d been encouraged to keep these things in mind:

  • You absolutely must realize that people are not going to be at their best when they first arrive.  Resist the urge to make snap judgments about people because they are quiet, because they talk constantly about how different everything is, because they hate the food we eat, or because they just want to sleep all the time.  This kind of major change, from an affluent country with freedom of choice to a poor community with many more limitations, is unnatural.  It takes time.
  • Similarly, you need to understand that everyone has their own schedule for adapting to these kind of changes.  A short-term volunteer will want to embrace and appreciate each and every moment from the moment of arrival; a long-term volunteer may struggle with the kind of commitment six months or a year is.  It is normal to feel homesick, to doubt your commitment, and to reject things.  It is also normal to love the experience from the beginning. Be patient with each other.  If you are going to be compassionate with people from another culture, you need to be compassionate with the people who share your culture, too.
  • It’s important to make an effort to be even more clean and organized than usual when you share such a small space with so many people.  Most of the conflicts relied on people leaving dirty dishes around, not keeping the very limited workspace clean, or expecting other people to do their jobs for them or tidy up after them.  We are lucky to have a cook and a housekeeper, but we still had to do a lot of our own cleaning.  The reason I got along so well with my roommates was because we are all very organized, we didn’t overpack so didn’t have too much stuff lying around, and we all have kept our room very clean. It has alleviated potential visual stress and means we have been able to find some space to breathe within such tight quarters.
  • Maintaining some sort of routine helps maintain sanity.  The current group of volunteers almost always finds time for exercise each morning, which means that people both relieve their stress regularly and keep some of their daily habits from life in the US.  I’ve mentioned that I now have my regular yoga practice back, which is funny considering I didn’t even make time for it when I was still in the US.  It’s great to feel like you have something to look forward to every morning.  We also eat lunch together almost every day, and earlier in our stay many volunteers watched movies or tv shows together each night.  These little routines outside of our wacky, interrupted work schedule help keep home life running smoothly.
  • It is essential to respect people’s sleep!!  For the most part, my current group of roommates go to sleep and wake up more or less at the same time.  I can’t even imagine what life in this house would have been like if people treated it like a college dorm, which was the issue when I first arrived.  We are always so tired from our daily responsibilities; respecting each other’s sleep has been essential to getting along!
  • It is invaluable to take the time to get to know each other’s motivations for volunteering and living in Peru as soon as possible.  I actually think we have not done a very good job at this, but I think it would have helped us all to spend some time getting to know each other’s personal goals from the beginning.  It’s far to easy to make judgments on the bits and pieces you learn about other people’s lives, but if you talk openly from the beginning about such personal goals, hopes, and desires, you’re more likely to treat everyone with compassion.
  • You need to spend time establishing guidelines for behavior in the community as a group.  Most of the challenges in the house tend to be related to understanding what it means to live and volunteer in a struggling community.  There is no one clear way to perceive this role, but a group discussion (or several discussions) about what it means to be highly visible as gringos living in an unusual location in Peru would have helped us all understand the rules, restrictions, challenges, and obligations we have had to live with since arriving here.  It is not easy to be expected to socialize almost exclusively with your coworkers/roommates, but if you can accept the reasons why it is necessary, you can find ways to adapt.

I am sure there are many more lessons that I’ve learned and will continue to re-learn as my time in Huaycán continues to evolve, and I hope to share them here. 🙂

In any case, it’s still hard to fathom that things are about to change again.  In July and August, when I was struggling with many of the adaptation issues that seem so everyday now, I could never have imagined that I would still be living here and feeling relatively relaxed in the volunteer house, appreciating all the crazy characteristics about each person that make us all individuals.  It is much easier to reject change or the unknown or the different than to find ways to make it work.  I am really proud of us for making it work, especially those people who have made the extra effort to accommodate and be kind.

In the next three weeks, I’m hoping to get up some entries about some specific experiences I’ve had and documented with pictures.  🙂

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, and we’re all going to spend it in Huaycán doing community service.  It is funny that we are going to volunteer even more of our time considering we are unpaid volunteers the rest of the week, but we are also following the American tradition of giving back to give thanks. We are going to plant some trees and paint a mural in the neighborhood of one of the families I work most closely with, and then I’ll make black bean burgers and the rest will prepare homemade desserts.  Most of the volunteers are also planning to go out salsa dancing with me at my usual place on Tuesday night, since we’ve been talking about it for so long and time is running out!

So it will be a good week, and in just a few short weeks it will over and I’ll be on to my next adventure. 🙂

four months in Peru!

Amazingly enough, it has now been over four months that I’ve been living in Huaycán! As with each post, I promise to put up some photos of my students, field trips, side journeys, and experiences in Lima soon, but I am behind on uploading them to Flickr!!

As I mentioned in the last post, my weekly routine helps ensure that the weeks continue to fly by. I don’t generally have a lot of down time to myself to spend just sitting around relaxing and processing my new life. Today has been an exception, as I decided to come back to Huaycán last night, since I’ll be back in Lima on the actual weekend for a friend’s birthday party. 🙂 I’ve managed to fit in yoga and meditation, laundry, reading, listening to great music, responding to emails today, but have mostly appreciated the ability to sit in a calm, quiet environment, a contrast to my normal days.

Now that we are already in November, things are starting to wrap up for the year, which means big changes are ahead. In just over a month, our programs will have ended and we will be having end of the year parties and field trips. All of my current roommates/coworkers except for one will be heading back to the US, and the house manager and I will be moving to a new, bigger house (!!!). I have yet to see the house, but apparently it is much more spacious, which means each of us will have our own room to start off, and there are several spaces which can be used for work space!! I am really happy that the director decided to have us move because I think we will be able to do much more productive work with more space to think, plan, process, and live.

For this reason, the new year holds a lot of new possibilities that I am excited about, from the small and personal to the big and organizational. To my own surprise, I have managed to reestablish my yoga practice even in such tight quarters, and next year I am sure to keep up with it when I have more privacy. I will also have learned from all the challenges of these past few months and be able to be an even stronger leader with the new group of volunteers. I already know all the students and will be able to introduce them to their new teachers. I have figured out what my goals for the English program will be for the next six months, and will finally have more time to make the huge program improvements that I think are necessary to ensure our programs are effective. I honestly just think having more space will mean I will be able to do my supervisory role better, since I can create that separation between my work and home life, even if it’s just closing my bedroom door. 🙂

As you can tell, I’m excited about what the future holds. But let’s talk about the short term – we’ve got one more month to cement our progress over the past few months. In all of our classes, kids are much better behaved and most of them have made a lot of progress on making basic classroom requests in English. I’m seeing progress in my students’ abilities to speak in full sentences rather than reciting back vocabulary. Given that our classes meet so infrequently, this is an important step forward, one that we’ll reinforce next year. The teachers have really committed to getting the students to use English only, and have consistently strengthened their teaching skills, listening to my feedback with an open mind (which can be hard when you take pride in your work!). In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be tying up loose ends in the current units and reminding kids and adults alike what we can do for them. That way they’ll leave on a good note and come back from the break with positive energy, or at least that’s what I’m hoping for!

Next month, I’ll finally be visiting Easter Island! I can’t believe it myself. Then I’ll be heading back to the US for a two week visit for the holidays. Then on January 6, I’ll fly back to Peru, for at least another six months, the exact length of time to be determined by money, life, love (haha!), family, work, who knows. I truly will be letting life take me where it wants to, and trying to appreciate every moment of the journey.

As I keep saying, I am going to get some photos on this blog SOON! to illustrate my time here in Peru, since each week it is becoming more of a real life, even if it’s a temporary one. I also want to capture all the tiny details that seem normal now, even though they are so different than my American reality. 🙂

fifteen weeks in Peru

I’ve been pretty silent on this blog for the last two months, and for good reason: life got busy.  We have had quite a few short-term volunteers pass through, as well as new longer-term volunteers, and that generally doubles my work as I have to give them orientation, teach their first few classes, and help them get adjusted to our curriculum and the whole notion of teaching.  I definitely came back to our house at the end of the day for the better part of a month fully exhausted and just waiting for a few more hours to pass so that I could go to bed.

At this point, my life has settled into a pretty predictable routine.  From Friday until Tuesday, I work a full day, including private tutoring of a nine-year-old, teaching a full class of 6-9 year olds as well as a small group of kids, teaching an adult class, reading with kids at library hour, and assisting in about three quarters of the English classes we offer.  Because one of our potential longer-term volunteers backed out, I’m teaching a lot more than expected, which means my progress with program improvements has been slowed down a lot.  In some respects, this has been a great thing, because I’m really enjoying working with all the kids and creating good, supportive relationships with them.  But it’s hard for me to avoid feeling burned out at times!

My routine on my days off, Wednesday and Thursday, is starting to become pretty standardized as well. 🙂  On Tuesday night, I head into Lima (a two-hour combi ride) to go to my friend’s house for some wine and girl chat before salsa dancing.  We always close down the bar, which means we’re starting to get to know people at the salsa night.  The next day, we go to my favorite restaurant, El Enano, which serves incredibly fresh and delicious juices, along with vegetarian tacos and French fries!  I’ve also recently started taking Andean folkloric and Afro-Peruvian dance classes in Parque Reducto, which I absolutely adore.  My friends and I are the youngest people in the class, and the women are so supportive as we learn!

Vegetarian Taco at El Enano with Jugo!

If I have other plans, I hang out in Lima on Wednesday night and sometimes Thursday, usually heading back to Huaycán on Thursday afternoon.  In an effort to save money going forward, I think I’ll generally leave Lima after the dance class, even though that limits my fun with friends.  On a few occasions, I’ve been talked into staying until Friday morning to go out to a really crazy and fun dance club called Help!, but that means that I have to get up really early to make the journey back and start off the week exhausted.  I’d love to do it more often, but I can’t forget that I am actually 31 years old and a responsible adult.  I never miss my morning class, though!

View of the Coastline from Larcomar

On the personal front, things have been a bit of a rollercoaster but they are also significantly better than they were in August.  As I mentioned, I’ve developed a great group of friends in Lima, which keeps me busy on my days off and gives me a social outlet with people who have more experiences in common with me, just by virtue of having more years on the planet and a desire to live overseas for an extended period of time.

As far as the volunteer experience is concerned, I would probably recommend to anyone looking for a long-term volunteer placement that they find one that offers a homestay.  As an independent 30-something American, it’s hard to imagine living with a family again, but mixing work and personal life in a volunteer house is even more intense.  In our house, we are constantly trying to find a balance not only with having so many roommates but also having them be your coworkers as well.  It’s an intense personal situation I didn’t even imagine to be an issue; I really expected volunteers to be more like backpackers and for things to be easy beyond sharing space.  That said, we’ve made great progress, and all I can do is just be myself and try to be a good example.  Some days that’s easier said than done, but I tend to maintain a calm attitude and chalk most things up to a learning experience.  As far as my time goes, I am pretty happy deciding that I am off-duty from work responsibilities as soon as my scheduled day is over (usually at 6:30 or 8PM!), but it’s easy to let work carry into your personal time.  As it stands, I usually start doing work as soon as I eat breakfast, which is usually at 7:45!

As you can imagine, this busy schedule is one of the reasons I have been so quiet here!!  Well, that and the fact that my “weekends” in Lima tend to be busy and I never have my computer.  I have been making more of an effort to Skype with friends, call my family, respond to Facebook messages, and send more emails.  I am actually dying for news from my friends and family over the world, so keep me posted on what’s going on!!  While I could never say I feel lonely, I do feel disconnected from my former reality (or realities, let’s be honest, I move a lot :)) as well as from who I am around people who love me and care about me.

But other than that, I have to say that I absolutely adore the kids that we work with in Huaycán.  I think the reason our programs work is that most of us fall in love with the kids almost immediately and will do anything to help them.  As someone who has to introduce new teachers all the time, it’s important for me to know and care about all of the kids (and to some extend, the adults), and I’m proud to say that they do respect me and my authority, which helps me help my fellow volunteers, as I can easily be the “bad cop.” 🙂  I am also really enjoying the relationships I’m developing with some of the younger and older women we work with, and I know that it is important for me to support them in such a male-dominated culture.

Scenes from LLI's Soccer Tournament

It has been pretty tough to adjust to living in Huaycán, and I can honestly say that I will never feel comfortable living here.  The reality of living a more simple life or riding rickety buses is not that big a deal to me, but the constant attention we get as foreigners and some increasing problems with personal safety has been getting to me on occasion.  It’s just a highly stressful life, and most of the time you just ignore it, though not to the point that you ever let your guard down.  Most Peruvians I meet are shocked at the fact that I actually live in Huaycán, and even volunteers with other nonprofits live in communities nearby.  Personally, I think that’s better just to get a mental break from all the work you’re involved in on a daily basis, but I doubt things will change while I’m here.

Views of Huaycán

I suppose the best thing about this experience is that I am learning how to see clearly what works, what doesn’t, how it can change, and what I can do about it, and the best I can do is to suggest things and find ways to implement them.  I would like to see more flexibility in the organization and awareness of how to identify and choose programs that we can make stronger, rather than spreading ourselves too thin.  I’m also learning how challenging it is to manage people, especially when your role is not well-established.  These are all job skills and interpersonal skills that will help me once I resume my normal life, whenever that will be.

Now that I’m 3.5 months into my year stay, I’m feeling confused about what the future will hold!!  I’ve slowed down my spending as much as much as possible to make sure I have some funds to travel with once I finish here. I finally booked my ticket to Easter Island in December, and am hoping that I have successfully booked my hostel stay, though I’m still waiting on the confirmation. I see lots of different possibilities for my future, but I suppose it’s too early to make any decisions, so I’m just going to keep exploring my options and see where life takes me. 🙂

six weeks in Peru!

Somehow over six weeks have passed since I landed in Peru!!  Things are getting easier and harder at the same time, and I’m still trying to process what it means to make this kind of commitment as a person my age with my professional background.  My biggest challenge in the next few weeks is going to be to let go of the fears that this kind of break will set me back professionally and try to understand how the things I’m doing and experiencing will help me in future job roles.

The reason things have gotten easier for me is that I am finally doing the work I am here to do.  For the first month, I was basically observing and trying to figure out what kind of changes needed to be made, but that was an extremely slow process. Now that I’ve had some space to do my job, I’ve been feeling more productive.  I’ve been able to give our new volunteer teachers an orientation and hold a teacher meeting, and provide on-going lesson planning ideas and teaching support.  One of the new volunteers commented that he learned a lot from watching my energy and interaction with the students, which has always been one of my strengths, and which was also very nice to hear.

I’ve also started teaching my own classes, which has been going well.  I am teaching an adult intermediate class, which is really more like a pre-intermediate class based on the very low listening comprehension and speaking skills of many of the students.  I am going to have to restructure the adult classes in the next few months, because inconsistent attendance has led to a big level divide.  But it has been nice to be back in the classroom doing what I know I can do well, although it is very strange to only have an adult class for two hours, twice a week.

I am also teaching two kids’ classes at the moment, with one more to be added once the program we collaborate with starts up again after their winter break.  One of the kids’ classes is brand-new, a morning class offered to kids who have school in the afternoon.  There are only three kids in the class, but they are really sweet and hard-working, and it’s nice to teach them English-only from the beginning, so that they are used to trying to understand English in their English class, rather than learning from a bilingual perspective.  The other class is a huge challenge – they are the biggest behavior issue of the bunch, and I’m coming up against the limits of my experience.  I am going to have to find ways to entertain them and help them learn in more hands-on ways, which is probably going to be the biggest challenge of my experience.  I am still very certain that I don’t want to teach kids, but I suppose I should “collect” the skill anyway! 🙂

I am also seeing just how much work there is to be done in order to make this program run effectively and well.  This truly is a small non-profit.  It’s run entirely by volunteers whose big hearts and willingness to accept responsibility keep all of the programs running.  At the moment, we are very blessed because almost everyone here really wants to work hard and sees how their contributions are important to the success of our programs.  I’ve been lucky to work with people who do their work and I’m optimistic that the current group will keep things going down the right path.  But there are a LOT of things that need improvement, and I’m just hoping I’ll be given the leeway to make the changes that need to be made.  I took the approach of trying not to assert myself or step on anyone’s toes too soon, but things seem to work best here if you just go for it and make the change you want, letting everyone know afterwards.  It’s actually kind of an awesome thing for my personality, but it’s still been an adjustment for me, since I got used to having meetings upon meetings before being allowed to make changes.

I think the most important thing we could do now is think of the organization as one that is responsible to a funder that needs us to be accountable with measurable progress and data.  In my previous nonprofit jobs, some of the challenges of funding were about being required to have measurable data for hard-to-quantify gains, but now I see how important it is to have goals.  In the for-profit world, client satisfaction is your goal.  In the non-profit world, it’s more about having sustainable programs so that people know they’ve invested their money well.  I am really going to have to take on the challenge of finding ways to measure our achievements with the English program.  This is one thing that will make the programs stronger.

I feel like my list of things that we need to do and achieve keeps growing each week.  I’m glad I’m here to do this since I have these skills, and just hope I’ll be able to do the things I know need to be done.  I feel like it’s easy to get distracted from these goals of improving and strengthening the English program while living in such a chaotic environment, and some days I feel seriously discouraged.  But I think I will come out of this experience with a lot more skills, and better equipped to answer questions about facing professional challenges and setbacks. 😉

On the personal front, I am still trying to stay social with people I’ve been meeting in Lima.  Some of my new friends introduced me to an awesome salsa party on Tuesday nights, which conveniently works out with my schedule.  Many people there dance true salsa, but it’s not a competitive environment as in the states.  For some reason, I’ve felt empowered to even ask guys to dance, because I don’t want to stand around! 🙂  I’ve also just been enjoying reading my book and wandering around various neighborhoods, in between plans with friends.  I’m feeling much more comfortable in Lima, and kind of wish I lived there.  Some days I wish I taught English in Lima, and wonder how different things would be if I had made that kind of leap.

On the crafty front, I also got some knitting materials here in Huaycán, and have started working on a hat.  I went to an awesome artesanía fair a few weeks ago in Miraflores, and picked up a beautiful shawl, scarf, fingerless gloves, regular gloves, and earrings made in traditional fashion from various Peruvian regions.  It was hard not to buy everything, since I love fiber arts so much, but I just don’t need that much!  I really hope I can learn more traditional artesanía while I’m here; it’s a unique opportunity to live among people who make the crafts I so admire.

I’m feeling motivated again to make some lists of vegetarian restaurants to try and regions to visit, but I’m getting nervous that I won’t be able to make my savings last  so that I can travel as much as I now want to.  I’m trying to make my day-to-day life more relaxed, and think big picture.  I need to make the most of this experience, because once I return to my life in the US, things will be progressing down another path, and it will be hard to get off it.

It’s just another reminder of why having goals is important.  I need to find ways to make this whole experience line up with my goals, and part of that process will be articulating them more clearly, and not letting distractions interfere with why I’m here.

On the photo front, I am in the process of uploading my photos of all the cool things I’ve been up to.  I visited Matucana again yesterday, and last Sunday we had a soccer tournament, where I got some great pictures of the kids.  More images to come…I’ve still got 10.5 months here! 😉

thoughts after four days in Lima

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been in Lima for the past few days.  It’s been a strange experience, because I’m not really a backpacker like most of the people staying in my hostel.  I also don’t really have anything to do, so my options are eat and shop, and I’m not really interested in doing either.  (I’ve been suffering from stomach pain for the past few weeks and I really don’t need anything material.)  I’ve spent a lot of time walking around and absorbing the fact that I am in Lima and reading over tea or hot chocolate or a meal.  I’ve also been spending time with new friends, but it’s starting to feel really surreal. Even though it’s fun, I don’t know people that well.  It’s easy to connect with people when you are living an intense experience, but I miss the  strong connections of back home.  An inevitable feeling.

I am starting to understand why people have been saying it is very brave for me to give up everything in my life and move to a strange place and attempt to make connections with new people.  It’s also brave to share a bedroom with two people, and then even more in the hostels, for the foreseeable future.  I’m going to learn a lot about myself and others, but it’s not going to be easy.  Ever.  That’s a risky thing to most people.

So mostly what I’ve been observing the past few days has to do with pace of life.  Everything is a lot slower here in Peru.  You can count on taking a very long combi ride to get pretty much anywhere.  People don’t really read or listen to music on the bus.  They just sit.  I wonder what they think about.

People also walk very slowly.  I still have the New York fast-paced walk, even when I have absolutely nowhere to go.  I just don’t see the point in walking slow.  The past few days I’ve really been trying to walk slower, but even my very slow pace is faster than most Peruvians.  When Peruvians sense me coming up behind them, they seem to get nervous because they think I’m going to rob them.  More on that later.

People here also eat very slow, at a very leisurely pace.  There is no sense of rushing, even with an hour lunch break.  I’ve had two lunch dates where my dining companion ate at a snail’s pace, where I, the ever-hungry American, wolfed down my food, even though it was a slow eating pace for me.  Food gets cold if you let it sit for too long; I just can’t understand why you would let your food get cold.  I still taste and savor my food, or at least I try to – Peruvian food is still fairly bland to me.  It’s pretty funny how fast I eat compared to Peruvians.

Americans also eat a lot more than Peruvians.  The portions are really small at restaurants, even if you are paying a fair amount of money for your food.  One of our students asked the director why the gringas were always eating, and he wondered if we got enough food to eat at home.  Many of the other volunteers eat two lunches or two dinners, since we always have leftovers.  I think it’s because food tends not to be as filling here, since they eat fewer whole grains and raw vegetables.

Theft is incredibly common here.  One of my new Peruvian friends was robbed at gunpoint two days after we met, and he lost a lot of things.  He had to negotiate with the thieves to keep his glasses, which he needs to see.  There are lots of stories of glasses being snatched off people’s faces when on buses.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to know that you could be robbed at any moment.  Why invest in anything nice?  I have stopped wearing my sunglasses even though I desperately need them with my blue eyes, because no one wears them, and it just automatically makes me a target even though they are cheap.  Most of the nicer restaurants have strapped attached to the chairs for you to secure your purse or backpack or shopping bags to the chair, so that someone will be deterred from snatching them.

I don’t feel particularly nervous about theft, considering I adjusted to being aware of that kind of thing with all the petty theft in Buenos Aires.  But it is weird to be without my usually constant sunglasses or iPod, and to not want to carry anything that’s difficult to replace.  It’s a type of life where I’m not constantly entertained or comfortable or relaxed, and it’s a new sensation for sure.

The hardest part has been not having enough opportunities for physical exercise.  I’ve never been much of an athlete, but lacking the ability to go to yoga or rock climbing or running on a frequent basis has left me with all kinds of energy.  I’m still working on how to redirect it, and I’m halfway through my third book.  It’s just so strange living this life.  It’s not at all bad, it’s just so different.

While this is not the most eloquent entry, I wanted to capture these observations before going out for fiestas patrias, Peruvian independence. I’m really looking forward to a night out with the girls.

adjusting to life in Peru

Today at lunch I mentioned that it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Peru for nearly a month.  The director of the nonprofit I am volunteering with said that the first passes the slowest, and then things really start to fly by.  I definitely think things will change after the next week, when I start taking over classes and helping out incoming volunteer teachers.  I will feel so much more productive.

This past week has made me feel a lot more adjusted to the rhythm of my life here.  Part of the reason that time passes so quickly is that we are very busy during the week with classes all over the community, and then people usually head into Lima to spend the weekend there.  Last Tuesday I headed into Lima after class and immediately went to an Internations networking event at Quinta Avenida in Miraflores.  The organization seems to connect expats and locals who have been expats themselves and attracts a diverse group of people.  It’s hard to think of myself as an expat, but as I have no definite plans to return to the US, I guess I am!

I had a wonderful time at the event – people are extremely social and I made some new friends right off the bat. I’m so glad someone told me about it, and I’ll be going to another event next week. Conveniently, the events are often midweek, which are my weekends.  It feels good to be building a network of friends and acquaintances outside of the volunteer house.  I definitely need a fun social outlet where we’re not tempted to discuss life in Huaycán.

Wednesday was more relaxed; I went off in search of a hairdryer and a flatiron.  Beauty is expensive in Peru, but after a few weeks airdrying my hair, I was ready to indulge in that kind of luxury.  I can’t keep my clothes dust-free here in Huaycán, but I can make sure my hair looks nice, a fact that my young students commented on yesterday. 😉  In the evening, I attended an Afro-Peruvian jazz sextet performance, which was quite lovely.  We followed that up at a cafe in San Isidro, where I had my ever-desired glass of red wine. (We are not supposed to drink in the volunteer house, which I think is a very good idea, but it does increase my wine cravings on the weekends!)

On Thursday, I enjoyed the unseasonably beautiful Lima weather by wandering around Miraflores.  I bought yet another pair of colorful striped pants and found some super cute Banana Republic shirts that had been made in Peru but not imported for the US for some reason.  The tag read $30 but I got them for S/.17.50 (about 7 dollars).  After that, I happened across a Mediterranean restaurant called Mezze, lured in by its promise of hummus.  I opted for the falafel sandwich and house-brewed iced tea.  Both were very different than what I’m used to in the US, but incredibly delicious.  I sat there in the sun for hours and read my book, Nothing to Declare, about a woman traveling alone in Central America during the 1980s.

After, I wandered back through Miraflores in the best mood. The afternoon really recharged my batteries after a hard week in Huaycán and fulfilled my need for solitude and good food.  Then I was ready for another night on the town in Lima.  I ran into our house manager, who also works at South American Explorers, and we headed back to the clubhouse to hang out before going on a pub crawl in Miraflores.

The South American Explorers clubhouse turned out to be a wonderful place where people from all aspects of Lima life showed up.  There were lots of Peruvians, expats, travelers, and good people.  Two of my new friends also came to hang out, proving that it’s easier to make friends overseas than in your day-to-day life in the U.S.  My coworkers/roommates also came out, so it was a big party and a lot of fun.  I found my new favorite bar, called Jam Box, which was chill and not at all pretentious, had cool music, and an amazing mojito, which I can’t wait to go back and have again!

After the pub crawl, we headed back to Huaycán for another week of work.  It ended up being a crazy few days: someone’s iPhone was stolen by a guy passing by on a motorbike (while common and avoidable, it was still upsetting); I got freaked out by my weird cheap cell phone showing a history of calls that hadn’t been made to me, causing me to get paranoid; I forgot the keys to one of our classrooms and had to climb in and out of the windows, helping children in and out, too; another person locked keys inside our classroom; buses were late for our field trips; people’s feelings got hurt; etc.  But it was also an example of how important it is to be able to laugh through all of that.  While the students for the class I was subbing for were waiting outside the classroom for another volunteer to bring us the second set of keys, we sat on the ground and played Bananagrams while a student played the guitar.  We had a nice class together, which bodes well for the next few months, when I’ll be teaching them myself.

On Sunday we had a field trip for the adult students with excellent attendance.  We rented a combi and headed to Parque de la Reserva in Lima to see the crazy lit-up water fountains.  It was quite beautiful and relaxing to wander around with a group of students, practicing English and Spanish and appreciating the park.  Afterwards we went out to dinner, and I spent much of the night talking with a very sweet 15-year-old student with excellent English.

The past few days have been relaxing, as I’m settling into my new life here.  I finally bonded with the children in one of the classes I’ve been assisting with, and we had a great time playing kids’ games together and singing BINGO! 🙂  Today I’ve been finishing up some of the work I need to get done before the new class session begins in August, and planning for my long weekend in Lima.  It’s fiestas patrias, or the celebration of Peru’s independence, and after debating a number of other destinations, I decided to head back into Lima and hang out.  I think it will be nice to stay local since the rest of Peru will be traveling, and I’ve already got some plans for things to do while I’m there.

I’ve got some time to travel, and I need to stretch my money as far as possible, so I want to make sure I have ample time to plan and decide on places to visit!

I still need to upload the latest photos of my trip, so expect a big photo post soon! 🙂

two weeks in Peru

Two weeks ago I was arriving to the Lima airport and feeling completely disoriented about where I was.  Now a lot of the things that seemed so strange and unusual to me have become much more natural.  I feel much more comfortable taking the combis around Huaycán to the three different zones that we work in, and I’ve met a majority of the students that we teach.  I am starting to see why a lot of the volunteers get so attached to this place: the kids are so adorable, and we do more than just teach them; we hang out with them playing sports and reading books and some people teach them art.

So far, I enjoy the work I’m doing, but I’m starting to miss teaching.  I have been teaching so much for the past two years without any real vacation that having this much time away from being at the front of the classroom is really strange.  I’ve been observing most of the classes and assisting with quite a few other classes.  Next month with our new session I will have my own classes and I think it will be nice to use my teaching skills for something more than advice.

As my volunteer position is new with the organization, I have a lot of things I’m trying to pull together before we start a new session in August.  I’ve just completed a guide for new volunteer teachers (who often have no experience teaching English), intended to help them understand how our program is organized, feel more confident in the classroom, and find useful resources.  It’s amazing to see how much more I know about teaching now than when I started.  I won’t really start to see all of the ways I can be useful for another few weeks, when I start giving English teaching orientations to new volunteers.

As you can imagine, moving into a house full of people and sharing space after having a LOT more of it back home in Boston has given me some growing pains.  I met up with another American (a friend of a friend of a friend!) in Lima who is also my age, and she was pretty shocked that I was sharing my room with other people.  But I think I am slowly starting to get used to it, mostly because I have no other choice in the matter. 🙂  I’m looking forward to meeting the other new volunteers who will be arriving in August, because I think it will help me to be around people who are also seeing Huaycán with a fresh perspective.  I don’t really feel like myself in this house yet.

However, I do feel like myself when I’m out and about outside the community we work in.  As I mentioned before, we have Wednesdays and Thursdays off, so that’s a good time to head to Lima and explore the pretty sights around this area.  During my first week, I went to Lima and basically reacquainted myself with the parts of the city I’d visited back in 2007.

This past Wednesday, I went on a beautiful hike in Matucana, a small town about two hours or so from where we live.  It was an incredibly beautiful location; I can never believe how beautiful the Andes are.  I’ll share pictures in another post when I have a chance to upload them.  I had a great conversation with an older woman, and she invited me to call her and probably to visit her at her house.  I love Peruvians; they really are so welcoming.

On Thursday, I went to Lima all by myself.  It’s about an hour away from Huaycán via a colectivo (shared taxi).  I loved being on my own and figuring out the combi bus situation to get around.  It’s a lot easier than I realized, but it requires me to ask a lot of questions in my accented Spanish, which I like to avoid doing whenever possible. 😉

Later that afternoon, I met up with the above-mentioned friend of a friend of a friend at an Argentine cafe, Havanna, in Larcomar, the upscale shopping center in Miraflores.  It was so nice to drink a submarino and buy some fancy alfajores, which I’ve been enjoying as a reward for getting through each day.  Then we went out for dinner as a big group as one of the other volunteer’s family was in town visiting her.  We had a good time eating delicious desserts and drinking wine.

So now I’m looking forward to getting through the rest of my week, checking some more things off my to-do list, and probably spending some more time in Lima.  I’m also trying to figure out what I’d like to do over the week we have off at the end of the month.  Many of the volunteers are going to Iquitos, but I don’t want to spend that kind of money just yet.  I’m thinking of going to Huaraz, but maybe it might be a nice time to visit Arequipa again, now that I think about it.  We’ll see; I need to decide soon!

I’ll write again soon with a photo post of all the beautiful things I have seen here in Peru.  When I’m in the mountains, I know that this is where I’m supposed to be at the moment, away from the heat wave in Boston. 🙂  But at other moments, I miss my friends and family and life back in the US.  That’s just how it goes!

first impressions

I’ve now been in Peru for about 36 hours.  As I write this, I’m enjoying a cup of coca tea, my drink of choice during my last trip here.  So far, it’s been a fairly easy adjustment to my new environment, as things like crowded mini-buses (combis), dusty streets, and the like don’t really phase me. I was most nervous about the living situation, but now that I see what that’s like, I feel a lot more relaxed.

Currently, there are 8 people living in the volunteer house, 7 women and 1 guy. I’m sure the adjustment is a little more challenging for him, as this is certainly an estrogen party.  Three of us are the year-long volunteers who have just arrived, and as far as I can tell, our personalities, organization styles, and the like seem to be quite compatible, which is a good sign.

I’m living in a room with two other women.  One volunteer has been here for five months, and the other has been here for a month.  As you can expect from people who choose to volunteer overseas, they are very friendly and nice, and have been very patient with me, answering all my questions.  When I finally got to the house, I was burned out and exhausted as I’d had trouble sleeping for days.  Luckily for me, my mattress is pretty new and comfortable, so I’m able to get a good night’s sleep.  I have the “best” bed per the outgoing House Manager – I’m near a window, away from the street, and the only sounds to disturb me in the middle of the night are roosters crowing.  I suppose that’s actually the early morning, though! I figure if sleeping becomes an issue, I’ll find a small fan to use for white noise.  My two current roommates are leaving at the end of the month, so I feel like I’ll be able to reorganize and decorate the room in a less haphazard way.  Since I’m here for so long, I’d rather this felt more like a home and less like a hostel.  But so far, so good.

On the taxi ride over from the airport, I felt incredibly disoriented.  There I was speaking English with the outgoing and incoming House Managers, but all the signs we passed were in Spanish.  I started to recognize store names and the like, and definitely felt like I was in the Andes on the bumpy, dusty roads.  But I needed some time to sleep to really absorb where I was.

Yesterday most of the people in the house took a trip over to a big shopping center which has a supermarket/catch-all store much like a super Walmart.  I was able to get a bunch of tea (including a big box of coca tea!) and a couple treats.  So I should be all set for the time being.  So far, the food has been delicious, if fairly basic.  We had ensalada de choclo (a cheese and corn salad), rice, and a tomato and pepper dish for lunch, and papas a la huancaina for dinner (potatoes with a creamy, slightly spicy orange sauce).  Very traditional Peruvian food.  I’ve also been enjoying some tasty tangerines, peaches, kiwi, and bananas.  I don’t think I’m going to go hungry, though I imagine I’ll want some variety at some point.  (On a side note, I was a bit bummed to learn that the oven is broken, so it may be a little while before I can bake anything again!)

In the afternoon, I went to Zona Z, the classes in the highest part of Huaycán.  The buildings and roads reminded me of other Andean communities I visited (as well as the town I did field research in in Mexico), so, as I’ve said, it was no big deal.  It was nice to see all the kids that the program serves.  They had so much energy!  I observed two one-hour classes, which gave me a brief introduction to what English classes look like here.  One of the teachers has already requested advice on how to be a good English teacher, so after I have my orientation and find out what kind of feedback I can and should give (don’t want to step on anyone’s toes on my first day!), I’m happy to help.  I think it will be really useful to have someone with my experience guide the incoming volunteers and help make classes more effective.

The nicest thing to see so far is how smoothly everything runs.  Everyone is so responsible, and there seems to be enough downtime so people don’t get too overwhelmed.  Right now, it’s way more downtime than I’m used to, and I’m nervous about how I’m going to keep myself entertained.  I definitely wish I’d brought my knitting or jewelry making stuff, but I’m sure as the weeks go on, I’ll find some things to keep me busy.  One of the other volunteers just said I’ll have to come up with new hobbies – I think I have enough already, so here’s hoping I can find ways to keep up with the ones I already have.

One final note.  Today is our “Friday,” since we have Wednesdays and Thursdays off.  No one really has morning classes, so everyone was sleeping in.  I got up at 7AM and *no one* else was up for two hours.  Those of you who know me know I’m not much of a morning person, but it’s kind of crazy to have it be so silent in the house, everyone sleeping.  I was the loud one in the room trying to find my stuff in the dark.  Perhaps the morning will be my quiet time, maybe my time to do yoga.  We’ll see!