Thursday, August 26, 2010

So it's official

as of Friday, August 20th, 2010 I am now a Peace Corps Volunteer (as opposed to my previous status of 'trainee'). We all had to pack up and be at the center by 8am to go over some logistics and pick up our mosquito nets (no joke – they made us all grab one). We were given an hour lunch to spend with our families but since it takes 20 mins to get to and from my house I said my goodbyes the night before – and made them dinner as a thank you.
My sad last night with the Chacrasana family.

We all packed into two big buses and headed to the U.S. Embassy in central Lima for a swearing in ceremony. The whole thing started with us singing the national anthems of both Peru and the US. I have to admit it was a little awkward when neither group could properly sing the other's anthem – not that we did our own any justice. The ceremony was short and sweet with five minute speeches from a trainee, host family father, business representative of the Embassy, and our program directors. We were called up to the stage to take an oath of allegiance to the US government (some people were a bit put off by the whole “defend against all enemies foreign and domestic bit” and I can't blame them we are called the Peace Corps for goodness sake). We finished by taking a group photo and gorging ourselves on the awesome snacks provided.

Swearing in Ceremony at the Embassy.  I am with two of our doctors here.. very cool people.

That was it. We headed back to the hostel in Lima and were left to our own devices at that point. Most of us went and had US style meals. I went with a huge group to TGI Fridays and had Fajitas and a Margarita – and paid the same amount as I would in the US for it. I won't be doing that again. Sure the food was good but when you were making only 8 Soles a day (about $2.50) it is hard to justify spending that much. I am making a little bit more now (about 11 bucks a day) but I also have to pay rent, food, transportation...etc. Since I live in a larger city where the cost of living is more, that leaves me with little breathing room as far as spending money goes. I expect to learn and grow a lot for it. Here is the only scary thing – my school debt will be growing rapidly while I am here.
Found some colorado license plates in a karaoke bar...
yes, we made our signs backwards...

After three days of travel and shopping for things I will need I have finally arrived back in Cutervo. My family picked me up at the corner I was dropped off on and showed me to my room. They did a lot of work while I was gone by adding another light, fixing outlets, giving me some more furniture, and moving their daughter's personal items out (yes I am the jerk that took her room and I feel awful about it). Then we sat and joked around about Peruvian transportation for a while before bed.

While I have heard a lot of volunteers say they arrived at site and said “now what?” I woke up this morning feeling inundated with things to do. I need to buy items for my room (like a dresser and lamps), finish editing my Human Trafficking paper (A.K.A. the never ending paper), write blogs and emails, unpack and set up my room, finish my power point for our televised conference coming up soon, and begin the long process of gathering, organizing, and recording the information for our three month community diagnostic. This is good, I like to stay busy and would not be comfortable if I were just sitting around – of course even then I have spanish to study, guitar to practice, books to read, exercise to do, and people to meet.

If you are still with me here is the boring logistical part of the blog. I have a cell phone that anyone can contact me on. It is free for me to receive calls but I assume that means you will be paying quite a bit. Here is the formula for calling me:

011 + 51 + 76 + 970913716

We are discussing getting internet in the house, but until that happens I will have to go to a local internet cafe to check emails and skype with people. This means we will have to decide by email or phone when to skype. I am one hour ahead of those of you in Colorado.
Also, here is my new address so I can receive mail and packages. The original address you all have for Lima will make it so I have to either wait two more weeks or, if it is a larger package, physically go down to Lima to pick it up... which will only happen about 3 times in my two years.

Chris Huey
Pasaje Yoyo Flores 180
Cutervo, Cajamarca, Peru

I am excited to get started with my work here. And I am lucky that my community partners seem excited as well. I am still not sure exactly what I will be doing but I know that the community diagnostic combined with just meeting and talking with people will turn up quite a few opportunities for me to stay busy and, with a little luck, help someone.

As always, I miss you all. I expect to go through a hump by month two, when I realize what I got myself into ;) Please send me your photos and emails about your lives.

PS - I will edit with pictures when I get a better internet connection...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My New Home: Cutervo, Cajamarca, Perú

Hello everyone!

First of all, I want to thank all of you that sent me those wonderful birthday wishes. I also received calls from all of my training buddies and my host family opened up a nice bottle of wine for me during lunch to celebrate. Because of all that I was able to avoid the home-sickness that inevitably accompanies a birthday abroad.

Also, many of you may have already read this post in an email I sent but I got a lot of errors because your email addresses would not receive such a large file.  I am still trying to work out the kinks of how to best communicate with everyone.

I am just now finishing up my site visit to Cutervo, Cajamarca, Peru... they call it Cajamazing for a reason. There are rolling green hills for miles punctuated by high jagged mountains. Honestly, none of my photos come near doing it justice so I guess you will have to make a trip out to visit me to see what I mean.

Cutervo, Cajamarca, Perú
Incan ruins on the mountain overlooking Cutervo
Cutervo is a provincial capital with a population of  36,000 people. I asked for a larger site so I could work on a project for my masters degree (I would like to focus on the exploited child labor problem in the cities of Cajamarca). I will be spending the first three months doing a community diagnostic which will cover everything from religion and politics to food and annual festivals. Together with my local counterparts, we will be focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of current youth development efforts in the city and surrounding countryside.

It looks like I have my work cut out for me because when I met my first counterpart (called a socio comunitario) she informed me that the city has planned a conference for me and my socios to attend which will be covered by the local reporters, tv station, and radio station. I need to get up to speed on my spanish and present a powerpoint about my purpose, goals, and resume. No pressure there! I was able to sit down with that socio, a professor at a women's pedagogical college and also my new host mom, and we hammered out a solid plan for the first three months. We will be holding community meetings to examine the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities of Cutervo. We will also have several meetings with the leaders of the community to plan a large scale youth program, using the space provided by the catholic church, and spanning the city limits and surrounding 81 farming communities. They have made it clear that they are serious about doing it, with or without me, as a multi-sectorial effort (police, municipality, schools, church, peace corps, and health centers). I am definitely in over my head but I am excited to get started.

As for my family and living arrangements, I definitely got the cream of the crop. I am living in a very modern house with hot running water, gas, electricity, washing machine, cable, and internet (coming soon). My family owns a restaurant, which takes up half of the first floor and has a cool bull fighting theme (my host brother is a matador – how cool is that!?) Cutervo is all about the bull fighting. I can't stress enough how fat I will probably get living here. The food is amazing and the afternoon meal is huge! I am sure all the walking I will be doing between the farming communities will help though.
I will be living with my two younger host siblings (13 and 15 year old girls) and the mom named Lilia (also my socio). The father, who is very excited about me being here, works as a professor in the farming communities and will be here on the weekends. The other two siblings (19 year old boy and 20 year old girl) live in the big city 10 hours away to attend university. I have already been introduced to a lot of the extended family and they seems to hold a pretty high place of esteem here in Cutervo – the uncle is a scholar who literally wrote the book on Cutervo (should be useful while writing my community diagnostic). They are all amazing and extremely welcoming. It is easy for me to see myself living with them for the next two years.
Plaza de Armas, Cutervo
Campesinos waiting for monthly government stipend

Mi Familia Anfitriona - left to right: Ximena, Raul, Madoli, Kike
I have been told that Cutervo is a very safe city and although I attract a lot of attention being the only gringo in town I should be perfectly safe traveling around alone. Also, my spanish has improved to a point where I can communicate easily with strangers – which makes traveling in a new country much safer.

After a bunch of meetings and tours of the town I had the opportunity to climb the largest mountain with my host brother. It took us two hours to get the top and it was quite a trek but it was completely worth it. On our way up I saw white sand pits (made me forget I was on a mountain far from the ocean for a second) and we came across this funny looking rock where my brother started throwing rocks and yelling at it. He explained that the rock is believed to be a witch (called la vieja) and you need to throw a rock at her for each thing you are lacking in your household – because its her fault. I yelled at her for taking my reeses peanut butter cups...

Apparently it used to look a lot more like an old woman and a lot less like a random boulder... And you would see the photos if the internet connection was better.... *sigh*

So that is what I have been up to. I have to start my return trip to Lima today (26 hours in total) and then I will be officially sworn in as a volunteer. Then I have to head back! I wish I could just stay here since everything is ready to go. The plus side is that I will get to see my friends from training one last time. I am sure we will end up spending most of our time looking at photos and swapping stories. I wish I could share everything that has happened here but I just don't have the space or time. However, I will have access to the internet every night when I get back and will keep my skype up and running!

I miss you all so much. Even though everything here is going great it doesn't make it any easier that I am away from the ones I love. I definitely have moments where I realize what I am about to do and freak out a little bit... a lotta bit. I love hearing from all of you so please write emails and send photos of what is going on back in the States.

I hope all is well in your lives.


Contacting me – I have a cell phone now! I can receive calls from you all for free (its on your dime) but I cannot call out cheaply. My current number is going to change because it was programmed for Lima but I will be sure to give it out to all of you when it does.

Sending packages – I will not be at the address you currently have for Lima. I will send you all my new contact information after I get back here to Cutervo.