Monday, May 14, 2012

¡That's All Folks!

"That's a wrap folks..." I say to myself in an increasingly empty room.  I say increasingly because I am packing up my stuff.  I have three piles: to take home, to give to volunteers, and to leave here in Cutervo.  They aren't labeled, of course.  You can tell pretty easily which is which by the contents (valuables, clothes, books).  My walls are covered in the little round stains left behind by the sticky tack balls that help up my posters, cards, and letter from home.  There are a lot of spots where the paint was ripped off by two years of tape bonding itself to the walls... I might have to give my host family a bit of extra money to repaint.  That is, if they ever come back here at all... they are selling the house and I haven't seen them for over 6 months.  I am not even sure I will get a proper despedida (goodbye).

I recently got home from my COS (Close of Service) conference in Lima where I saw my entire training group from two years ago in the same place for the last time.  While it was an odd feeling to know that I will probably not see many of them again, I know I will stay in contact with the ones I know best... or at the very least we will reconnect in the future in a way only good friends who have been through a lot together can.  At least we had a blast for our last night together.  We even went to the nicest restaurant in Perú - Astrid y Gaston.  It was epically good and twice as expensive but well worth the memory of a table full of dirty, ill-mannered, american volunteers taking over the 35th finest restaurant in the world... hehe, yeah we might not be allowed back but the food was excellent.

On the other hand, I am pretty excited to finish up my degree and start my career.  I miss my friends, family, good food, technology... INTERNET!  I feel conflicted about leaving because I know I could actually make a larger difference if I stayed another year.  I could ensure the youth center attains sustainability and that there are locals trained and active in maintaining it.  But the decision is made... I have been accruing interest on my school loans over the last two years and I fear another year would be a bad idea.  Also, I miss Katie.  I can't do another year without her or I would be absolutely miserable if I stayed without her.  I made it through these two years only because she came to me, sacrificing a lot to make our relationship to work.

So here I write my last Peru blog post trying to decide if I fight the nagging feeling that I am leaving behind something important - because, to be honest, I am.  I have spent two whole years of my life here in Cutervo.  That may not seem like a lot on paper (my thoughts when applying) but I have had some amazing, life-changing, experiences here.  I have made what I expect to be some of my best memories while here.  So, in traditional Peace Corps Volunteer fashion, I am going to list the pros and cons, the things i will and wont miss, of Cutervo, Cajamarca, Perú.

Cons (ie: things I will NOT miss)
1) Puncuality (lack thereof) - If you plan a meeting you MUST plan it for at least an hour before you plan to begin.
2) Lying - Don't misunderstand me, everyone lies but here it is considered more rude to decline attendance than to say you will probably be there.  Also, there is a nasty habit of not wanting to be caught not knowing something, so if you ask 4 people on the street how to get somewhere you will get four different definitive answers on where it is.
3) Transportation - I have been close to death... many times.
4) Vomiting - Because the roads are so bad and because peruvians like to eat large meals before traveling, I have had to deal with vomit quite often (twice on me).
5) Rice or plain boiled potatoes

Pros (ie: things I WILL miss)
1) The Andes Mountains - Some of the most beautiful places I have been in my life are here in Perú.
2) Gracious Hospitality - Even when I am in the middle of the poorest areas of Peru I am always invited to the table to eat a meal.  People go out of their way to make sure a guest is comfortable and welcome.
3) Late nights playing board games and having conversations with my host family.
4) Being introduced as someone I am not - I have been introduced as everything from a Spanish doctor to a representative from the US Embassy of Peace.
5) Being recognized and warmly greeted wherever I go in town.  This can also be a con when I need to get somewhere fast and I have to talk to 20 people along the way.

Things that went from Cons to Pros over the two years
1) Music - Huayno, while still not my favorite music in the world, no longer makes me cringe when I hear it.
2) Food - When I had my first plate of rice, potatoes, and meat... I was pretty worried about the effect the next two years would have on my sanity (and waistline).  Luckily I grew accustomed to the food here, stopped having bowel issues, and even crave a good chicharron con arroz sometimes.
3) Beer - I hate the beer when I first arrived here.  Now I can't remember what I didn't like about it.
4) Patience - If there is one thing that Peace Corps will either complete build or destroy for a volunteer, it is your patience.
5) Communication - I have improved the way I communicate, not only in Spanish but in how I express my ideas to others

As for Kutiri, I have done everything I can to create a successful and sustainable youth center.  I have, with your help, given them start up materials they need (printer, projector, school supplies, books, laptops, etc..).  I have worked with local organizations to get a contract signed promising they continue to support and manage the project.  I have even secured the arrival of a new volunteer to come to Cutervo for the next two years.  Now, while I focus on training local volunteers and staff to continue on, I feel as if I can go home with a clear conscience - I did what I can.  If I find that the center is still running after a year I think I might coordinate with the new director to do a fund-raiser to help expand the library or build a proper computer center.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for supporting me while I was abroad.  Not only did you help me get the youth center up and running but you forgave me when I may have gone off the radar for a while (months even).  I couldn't have been as successful or well-adjusted as I have been without you.  You can be sure I will have a  brief (I promise) iMovie for you showing the highlights of my two years here.  I figure this will save me the time repeating stories while still giving people the answer to that oh-so-inevitable question: "so? what was two years in Perú like?!"

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