Special Events and Trips

Fiestas Patrias:

This specific holiday, held on July 28, is the Day of Independence for Peru. To begin the celebrations, the country’s flag and the town’s flag are walked to the town plaza by the community’s authorities, and are hoisted up the flagpoles. The country and town anthem are sung, and then begins a formal procession of educational intuitions, followed by a visiting military unit, marching in military style. It is all very impressive, and I was happy to have been invited to participate and sit with the community’s authorities for the parade.

Cruz de Motupe:

My host family is a devout catholic family, and once a year, they make a religious trek to the Cruz de Motupe, an ornate wooden cross placed on the mountainside outside the town of Motupe, Lambayeque. Like all holy relics, it is believed to possess significant spiritual power and is famous for bestowing miracles. Prayers have been answered by the Cruz de Motupe.

They invited me along this year and we left promptly at 3:30am, to arrive at the site of the cross by 7:00am, before the crowds. We still were not able to avoid a line before we made it to the cross. It was incredible how busy it was and how much busier it continued to get there. It reminded me of the lines I have found myself in while waiting for rides at Disneyland, but in this exact case, there was no ride. Once we got to the platform of the cross, I had the opportunity to touch it, light a candle for a prayer, and, with my host family, I was blessed with a sprinkle of holy water by the priest attending.

I felt honored to have been invited by my family to go with them to the Cruz de Motupe. It was thoughtful of them to share with me an intimate family experience.

Artisan Exhibition:

I was invited to travel with one of my groups of artisan women to an artisan crafts exhibition in Chocope, La Libertad. It was the first exhibition that the municipality of Chocope had hosted and I hope it was the first of many more to come in the future. I believe there was a total of 11 groups of artisans represented at this fair. Small, but I feel it made it more personal. There was entertainment as well, with a live band, professional dancing, and horse dancing. During the horse dancing, I was discovered by two other Peace Corps Volunteers who are serving in Chocope and had come to check out the exhibition. I guess I never will know when and where I will run into a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer.

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My Host Family

I have a dad named Luis, sometimes dubbed “Lucho”, who works at the town’s prominent secundaria, San Isidro, as the librarian.  My mom, Pilar, has a job at one of the technical institutes that specializes in hand crafts and production. She also sells jewelry on the side, and gave me as a gift a set of silver earrings and a matching pendant with a gold llama. I love them, to say the least! I also have two host siblings; an older sister, Claudia, who is about my age and currently studying at a university in Cajamarca City, and a younger, teenage brother, Luis or “Luchito”, who goes to school at San Isidro. We also have two dogs, Scooby, who is rather old, and young Mia, and a kitten we have decided to call Mimi.

Honestly, my host family is a wonderful family and have demonstrated generosity in accommodating my intrusion. It cannot be easy to commit to housing a foreigner in your home for 2 years.

Why the name Tembladera?

While paying a visit to a business owner who was more than happy to speak with me, he shared with me two interesting theories as to how the town had earned its name.

  1. Once upon a time, the area was infested with mosquitoes carrying a viral illness that would cause symptomatic convulsions. In Spanish the word for “to shake” or “to tremble” is temblar. So people witnessing the endemic began to call the populated zone that was infected Tembladera.
  2. A long, long time ago, the area was flourishing with a type of plant with the name Tembladera. So people who would travel to harvest the plant, for whatever properties it was famous for, began to refer to the place as Tembladera.

I prefer the second story because it does not conjure up a terrible image in one’s head like the first, however, I have to admit, the first seems very plausible. There are lot of mosquitoes and other biting bugs here chewing on me here. It does not seem to matter if I do douse myself in insect repellent, they can’t get enough of my sweet gringa, sangre.

My Site, My Community

I live in a sunny, arid, coastal climate site called Tembladera. It can be considered a small community, with an estimated population of 2,500 people.  There are plenty of institutions I can work with as Community Economic Development Volunteer, including the municipality, the health center, 3 technical institutes, 2 “secundarias” – junior high schools, the 4 “primarias” – elementary schools, and 2 “jardins” – kindergartens. I can offer business advising to the myriad of bodegas, tiendas, and restaurants located here. I have 2 groups of artisan women I am working closely with and a there is a third that wants to formalize with my help.

Currently, I am promoting the establishment of community banks and may have one launched by the end of month within a group of municipality workers. I am visiting technical institutes and schools, informing them about the entrepreneurship course and financial literacy curriculum I can teach to their students. I have 2 technical institutes, a secundaria, and a primaria already coordinating with me on how I might teach one or both of these courses. I am making visits to each small business, introducing myself, explaining my service in Tembladera, and requesting a survey to be filled out to help keep inventory of the businesses. I am busy to say the least.

Swear-In Ceremony

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It was the moment I had been dreaming of for many, many years. I could not believe it was finally my turn to begin my service, to take the oath of the Peace Corps and the oath of a United States Ambassador. My host dad, Enrique, kindly came to the ceremony to offer his support, which was very important to me. But after the formalities of the Swear-In Ceremony were over, there was very little time to celebrate and congratulate each other on our accomplishment before I was being “shipped off” with Cajamarca, Piura, and Amazonas volunteers. I now carry the regret from day of not having said something, a congratulations or a goodbye to each one of my fellow Group 27 Peace Corps Volunteers. I wish the very best Peace Corps service experience for them. I know they must be rocking it in their sites!

Pre-Service Training Host Family

 

 

Maybe here is a good point to tell you all a little about my host family during Pre-Service Training. I had a dad that worked away from home named Enrique, a stay-at-home mom named Marilu, a younger brother, who thought the world of me, named William, and a baby sister named Daylin. Sweetest family! I have a lot of love for them and truly am grateful for having been treated as a part of their family.

First day meeting them, of course I was nervous, but I knew before Marilu was even introduced to me that she was my host mom because she was holding Daylin, and my face erupted in an excited smile (Marilu later told me that the excitement I was containing and my awkward smile made her really confused and weirded out because she had no idea who I was. Ha-ha!). I was greeted at their house by William with a bouquet of flowers and a warm hug. It was a special welcoming.

Together as a family, we went to the park, spent Mother’s Day Weekend together, watched Fantasia 2000 (one of my favorite Disney movies and can be enjoyed across language barriers), went to a family reunion in a “chakra” or orchard, went to a soccer game, and celebrated a few birthdays, including Marilu’s.

It was very hard to say goodbye to them and I was unable to hold back tears when William began to cry, but I have the hopes of visiting during my service and will be keeping in contact.

 

Pre-Service Training

The 12 weeks of Pre-Service Training was killer.

Monday through Friday, I started my days at 6am in the morning. I lived in the community of Yanacoto, a rather large neighborhood that was able to house 10 other volunteers during training. It was a 15 minute downhill walk to get to the combi stop and a 25-minute ride to the combi stop for the Peace Corps Training Center in Chaclicayo with an additional 10-minute walk to the center itself. So I would leave my home in Yanacoto by 6:50am to be at the Training Center by 7:20am, with some time to spare before our sessions for the day started at 8:00am.

Sessions would include subjects such as:

  • Language and Culture (of course).
  • Safety and Security (very important).
  • Medical (with the unforgettable first topic of diarrhea and intestinal worms).
  • Intercultural Competence, Diversity and Inclusion (which pointed out a number of Peruvian customs and behaviors different from our own and taught us how to adapt).
  • Community Economic Development (classes specific to my program).

Our days at the Training Center were packed, with just an hour lunch in-between morning and afternoon classes, and did not finish till 5pm. For the first 5 weeks too, I had additional language tutoring from 5pm to 6pm. I was returning to my home every weekday, mentally exhausted from the sessions, and physically exhausted from the 20-minute walk uphill.  After a cold shower, dinner, and some TV time with the family, I would be in bed by 9pm.

I must add though that there was a total of 4 weeks during Pre-Service Training that did not adhere to this schedule, as well as a few days with special occasion events.

1 Week: Field-Based Training

My Field-Based Training was in Cascas, La Libertad, a beautiful little villa known for wine production. A technical institute had invited us Peace Corps CED trainees to teach for an entrepreneurial competition. Me and two other volunteers taught a classroom in three days how to create a business plan and then how to initiate the business for a day. To be honest, it was terribly stressful. There was little time to prepare for our 3 hour long classes, entirely in Spanish, a language I am still learning. I received a critique in-between lessons I was teaching that took badly and had to step out of the classroom for a moment to cry. However, I still believe I overall enjoyed the experience and took a lot of lessons from Field-Based Training that I can apply to my future teachings.

3 Weeks: Site Exploration

My Site Exploration was of course in my current site of service, Tembladera, Cajamarca. I will explain in further detail later what Tembladera is like and all I really want say here was that I was very happy to have had that time away from the Training Center, to have a free schedule, and to have had the opportunity to begin making introductions and connections before my official move-in. I returned to the Training Center with a newfound confidence in my Spanish and an enthusiasm to actively listen and participate during the sessions.

Special Occasion Events:

Fourth of July Party:

We were instructed to throw a Fourth of July Party in each of our host communities and in Yanacoto we decided to delight our guests with traditional Fourth of July Party foods like watermelon, bomb guacamole dip and chips, cookies. Afterwards, we tossed an American football, then played soccer, basketball and a round of Frisbee. It is important to note our guests were kids, so they were more than pleased to play and continue playing these sports with us.

Host Family Appreciation Party:

We were also instructed to put together a shindig to show our gratitude for all our host families had done for us. It was an impressive talent show with dancing, singing, instrumental accompaniment, poem reading, rapping, and, one bit that truly shocked the crowd, spicy pepper eating.

 

 

Fast Forward

Jump forward 4 months into my service and here I am now, ready to write another couple informative blogposts; updating my friends and family on what I have experienced thus far and what I am currently doing in Peru, in my assigned site, Tembladera, Cajamarca.

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Staging

My Peace Corps – Peru Staging was not what I had imagined it to be. When I had thought of it as a conference, I anticipated it to have rows for seating, and the schedule to be filled with lengthily presentations with little interaction between the coordinators or the volunteers. I also feared the awkward icebreakers I would have to endure. I was just not looking forward to it. But to my surprise, by the end of Staging, my cheekbones were sore.

I had been smiling and laughing the entire conference. We had not had rows for seating, but instead we were seated at round tables, 6 in total, each consisting of 7 chairs, with every chair filled. The presentations were engaging, with several group activities we had to complete with our table. I felt as though I got to know my group members well.

The coordinators provided us with a booklet titled Staging Workbook to complete throughout the conference. Each page corresponded to a topic. Topics were first discussed within our groups and were then conversed by the entire party of Volunteers. Topics included a brief history of Peace Corps, current Peace Corps statistics, the Peace Corps Act and Mission, Volunteer anxieties and aspirations, safety and security, and core expectations for Peace Corps Volunteers.

By the end of Staging I felt more secure in my decision to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Many of my anxieties about having joined were alleviated. I also had an overwhelming sense that I could call the group of strangers I had been placed with “family”. Never have I ever experienced such amount of comfort in being among unfamiliar people. I believe it is because I know we are like-minded people with similar warm hearts, values, and aspirations. We want to be the change in the world.

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Goodbye

To get to my Staging, a welcome and introductory orientation for Peace Corps Volunteers, I had to leave my hometown a day before the event, for it was being held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and I am from Washington State. My flight out was scheduled to depart at 7:15am with a connecting flight in Minneapolis. I expected to arrive in Philadelphia at around 5pm, East Coast Time.  In total I had over 6 hours of flight time ahead of me.

The morning of my departure was stressful. I was still packing and repacking my belongings, ensuring that I was not overweight on my two bags of checked luggage. I hardly had time for coffee. I had been moved back in with my family (mom, dad, and younger, teen-aged sister) since my graduation from college back in December and I was upset about having to say goodbye soon, before I stepped through airport security, before I would have to wait an hour for my flight to leave. I would be alone, missing my family and everyone else I had to say goodbye to.

Check in went smoothly. It was time to say goodbye. We were all trying to keep a happy face on, after all, joining the Peace Corps was something I have wanted to do for a long time; we all agreed it was going to be an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. It was not a time to be sad. It should have been a time for celebration and excitement. But sadness crept in. My sister was the first to burst into tears, then I, then my mom. My dad, as I recall, had tears well up in his eyes, but managed to keep them from trickling.  Words of encouragement were exchanged, “I love you” was said over and over again, and I kept reminding them this was not necessarily goodbye, I will be keeping in touch as best as I can.

As I taxied off the runway of the airport, I whispered a prayer and said goodbye to hometown. I looked out my window and watched as I passed over my family’s house.