Wednesday, December 19, 2012


December 1st is World AIDS Day. Here is how it was observed in Ascope. 
Thursday, November 22nd- 25 quick tests were given to junior and senior high school students to test for HIV. 
Tuesday, November 27th- Town parade took place observing World AIDS Day. 
Wednesday, November 28th- An attempt was made for a class for parents of teens to learn about HIV/ AIDS and how to communicate with their teen children about this topic + sex, teen stuff, etc.   Unfortunately, only 4 mothers showed up. It turned out being pretty cool though, because we had sort of a round table discussion between the mothers, 3 teen health promoters, and a nurse who came to teach the mothers with me. Even though it wasn't what we had in mind, it was a positive experience. 
Thursday, November 29th- A door-to-door campaign took place between the teen health promoters, the adult volunteer health promoters who work with the municipality, and myself. I was so proud of the teen girls that day. They would walk up to anyone and talk to them about STDs, HIV/ AIDS, condoms, etc. without showing the slightest sign of embarrassment. They argued with stubborn old men about the difference between HIV and AIDS and talked to a group of a dozen or so male cab drivers who even intimidated me. Neat. We handed out red ribbons with informative fliers and made pretty good ground between the dozen or so of us in the hour that we had. Definitely not a waste of time. 
Friday, November 30th- We tried to have a movie night, and it worked, but wasn't what I would call awesome. It eventually worked out and we watched a movie (though not one with any message or relation to the theme at hand) in the theater with a small showing of about 25 teenagers. We stopped the movie about 20 minutes in for one of the teen health promoters to talk to those in attendance about HIV/AIDS and do a little informative group quiz with them. 
Monday, December 3rd- Presentation for sophomore, junior, and senior students given by the local psychologist, one of Ascope's nurses, and a man from Trujillo living with HIV. An interesting and hopefully eye-opening event for the students. It was great to have participation from the health post, the municipality's volunteer health promoters, and the school. This was a good one. 
Friday, December 7th- A nurse from the private clinic with the help of some of the science classes of the high school had an informative exhibit in the Plaza de Armas which included a competition among students to create bulletin boards explaining HIV/ AIDS and concluded with a human ribbon photo op. I didn't have anything to do with this one other than slight support during the event. I work with these teenagers. I know how it goes tying to manage them solo. No bueno. I saw what was happening and popped over to help the nurse. Which I was glad to do because I was starting to get bored waiting for someone from Trujillo to come present at the high school with me who never ended up showing up. But I'm glad I popped over, because this was fun and I like that nurse. I give her a lot of credit for doing stuff like this all by herself. 
All of these activities were great because I didn't do any of the important stuff. I got everything going a few weeks in advance and started the process, which is usually the hardest part. Then I helped organize people/ plans, came up with the schedule for the week along with the principal and a teacher, got permissions, coordinated, wrote some documents to request stuff, and generally did the boring behind the scenes stuff. But I had the help of 2 teachers, the principal, a bunch of nurses, and the volunteer health promoters on that stuff. Plus, all of the presentations and interactions were taken care of by the teen health promoters and nurses. So really, anything that was done this year can be repeated next year. Awesome :) Overall, it was a great week and I'm really proud of the teen health promoters for all of the work they put into it. 

More Than a Meat Dress

Say what you will about Lady Gaga, this is awesome. Please take a moment to watch this. The article is in Spanish but the video is in English.
Recently, one of my Peruvian friends was asking me about Thanksgiving. They don't celebrate it here, so questions about that holiday are fairly common. She asked if it is part of American tradition to do volunteer work on Thanksgiving or something like what Lady Gaga did while she was here for Thanksgiving weekend. What a great example she is setting. That's representation that should make us all happy, regardless of opinions on her artistic expressions or public persona. 
Also, this video makes me think that my job is so awesome, even Lady Gaga wants to do it for a day :) I have so many experiences much like the one shared in the video, and on any given day I do pretty much what she did there, minus that little mini-concert she gave them. 
Maybe I'm biased, but I love this. In addition to her visit to Ventanillas (shown in the video), she also visited a center for victims of sexual abuse on Thanksgiving day. The following night at her concert she said that this was her favorite Thanksgiving yet because it was the first time she felt truly thankful. It sounds cheesy, but I agree with her on that one 100%. A shared experience for Gaga and me. Never have I been more thankful of what I have in life until I moved to Peru. 
So thank you Peru for humbling me every day and thank you Gaga for being wonderful. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

November Recap

Ah, sweet November. The quiet and still before the holiday madness. The nice weather, whether it be fall's warm chill in the States, or early summer's promising sun here in Peru. November has a lot to appreciate. Here is what I appreciate about November this year. 
-It's officially summer in Peru. I returned to Ascope from my trip home on November 2nd to find beautiful sunny skies and that gorgeous climate I left, only warmer and with the feeling of summer in the air. 
-I was asked in September to give a presentation on the ozone layer to a group of elementary students at a small school (2 room school house) in a rural area surrounding a neighboring town. Due to the teacher strike and my trip home, it was postponed to November. When it finally happened, though, it was fantastic. True to local fashion, those who have the least seem to give the most. The people who hosted the event were so generous that they not only gave me a free shirt for doing this, but also gave me some pottery that was found in neighboring fields years earlier. I spotted it in the school and was admiring it before the presentation because I love ceramics. This region of Peru has a long and rich history from pre-Incan civilizations all the way to European presence and Agrarian reform. Because of that, there are little treasures sprinkled all over the valley we live in. The school principal noticed my interest in the ceramics and gave me two of the pieces. SO generous. Aside from that, the presentation was a lot of fun and the kids were great. 'Twas an excellent Peace Corps day, that one. 
-Following up our evaluation meeting for the Red Ambiental (health and environmental education club) that we did with student leaders, my counterpart and I held a meeting for the adult coordinators of the club to discuss successes and challenges. I got to give some feedback and suggestions and we had an open discussion about what's working and what's not. This was a good experience and a positive experience. I am continually overwhelmed and appreciative of the way the people I work with here trust and respect me and my opinion in matters such as this one. It was a nice feeling of professionalism and trust to be given the opportunity to lead this meeting and share ideas with the people who are affecting change and working towards improvements within the province. Little by little, things will happen. I love being a part of it here in Ascope and I'm really proud of the work done this school year, despite its challenges and negative aspects. 
-In this meeting, I also got to share the vests that were purchased for the coordinators of this club with funds that I helped obtained by teaching English. It was nice to reward them for all of their hard work this year. As I said, I'm proud to be a part of all of this and watch this club develop and move forward. 
-The same week that all of that happened, I wrapped up my work with the English teachers of the province for this school year. With one last workshop and a little party, with concluded our work for the year. I will miss them over the summer break, but we should be able to pick up where we left off next March. It was a great year with them and a pleasure getting to know them all. I love that project. 
-The following week, a group of volunteers from my region in the Peru 16 group that came before my group finished their service and left Peru. It's always bittersweet when that happens. Even though it's super sad to see close friends leave, you can't help but be proud of them for all that you have watched them go through and achieve. Love you 16! Good luck with all you do and enjoy your travels! 
-The plus side of having to say goodbye to your Peace Corps friends is inheriting their things :) Special thanks to Kerrilynn Macarrone for all the treats. I have plans to be pantsless for the rest of my service. No you perverts, I'm no going to not wear any bottoms, I mean I am going to wear skirts for the rest of my time here. Kerri left me tons of beautiful skirts and other sweet stuff that she couldn't fit in her bags to take back with her. 
-Speaking of Kerri, before she left she finished up a course of cultural classes she was teaching. I went to the closing exhibit she put on with photos that the kids had taken of their town in order to share their own culture. This was really cool and an awesome way for the students to share their perspectives, activities, and what they value and appreciate with their peers, parents, teachers, and our group of Peace Corps volunteers who came to the event. It was a nice way for Kerri to go out and wrap up her time in Chicama. 
-As the month wound down, I spent some time in Lima to help with the newsletter of the youth development program. Because I was there I was fortunate enough to spend Thanksgiving with a bunch of volunteers at a Peace Corps staff member's home. then the following day I got to see Lady Gaga live in Lima. Excellent way to spend the holiday. More on that in a previous post. 
-The last week of the month was spent with the group of teen health promoters in Ascope carrying out events leading up to December 1st, World AIDS Day. Even though our events didn't quite turn out as planned, the girls did a great job with the activities and it all worked out alright in the end. 
-I also started a vocational orientation project with the seniors of the high school in my town at the end of the month. Teenagers. Blegh. At best, this project will encourage at least a few of them to go to university. At the least, I can hope to get a couple of them to think about what they will do after high school. 
-In between all of that stuff, I was able to hang out with the host fam and enjoy their company after being away for nearly 3 weeks. Farid, Piere, and I made cookies. But this time they were good. They weren't terrible last time, but this time they were way better. That is to be credited entirely to my wonderful sister Bridget who got me measuring spoons and cups along with chocolate chips to bake with the host brothers as a birthday gift. What a great idea that I never would have thought of. 
So that's November. Certainly can't whine about it. Doing well. Hope all of you can say the same. On to December we go... 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

October Recap

I know I'm a little late with this one, but with going home and coming back and generally being busy, I never gave you an October recap. As usual, a lot of what happened in October I've already added here in a few other post, but here is what was missing-
-On October 2nd, Piere turned 7, with much fanfare and celebration- see previous post on this one. We had a nice week of parties and cake. So much cake.
-On October 3rd, a dental health campaign was held with 120 pre-school students in Ascope with the participation of a local volunteer group, 3 pre-schools, the pre-school specialist of the school district, and the local dentists. Again, I already posted about this. But still, I loved this project and am so happy it was a success.
-On October 8th, I turned 27 with much fanfare and celebration. I had a great birthday and was able to spend the 8th and the weekend leading up to it with special people whose company I thoroughly enjoy. 
-On October 9th the national teacher's strike was lifted after a month without classes. Hooray! Unfortunately, there were more repercussions than resolutions of the strike, but it is what it is. The school year was extended into January with additional classes on Saturdays for the high school in Ascope. Other schools are recuperating lost time with afternoon classes. This affects projects I had planned and will affect my work through the end of the school year. But at least the kids are back in school, that's what matters most.
-On October 12th, I helped two of my counterparts (a teacher and a nurse) put on an event for principals to focus on health and improving the health focus in their schools. The nurse talked about serving healthy snack options in the school kiosks, the teacher talked about encouraging parents to prepare healthy lunch boxes for their kids, and I got to cover exercise. What does this mean? That's right, it means doing a "Brazilian Butt Lift" aerobic exercise routine with about 50 principals. This was way more fun than I thought it would be and even a success. Who knew?
-Later on that same day, I had my last class for the school year with the English teachers of the province. We still had another 2-day workshop left, but as far as classes, this was our last one. To thank me and to celebrate my birthday, they surprised me with a little cake and a beautiful hand-made bag that they all chipped in to buy me. So sweet! They are such great people and I love working with all of them.
-As a result of classes resuming on the 9th and me leaving Ascope on the 16th for a visit to Wisconsin, I had a week to make up for a month of postponed activities that I had planned and prepared and wasn't able to do. It was a busy week, but before I left for my trip, I was able to reschedule some stuff and still squeezed in classes, meetings, and the science fair.
-The Red Ambiental (Health/ Environmental Education Club) held an evaluation meeting in which the student leaders reported on the work they've done so far this school year. It was pretty cool watching them share their stories and seeing a mix of pride and nerves among the students. It was sadly clear, however, that we really need to improve our methods of monitoring and evaluation. It's easy for schools to show pictures and report what they are doing, but it is hard to know how many people they are reaching and if their/ our work is effective. A nice learning experience for my counterparts and me I suppose.
-October 15th was world hand washing day, which we observed with the student leaders of the Red Ambiental and one of our local nurses. Crazy what happens as a result of dirty hands.
-On October 16th the science fair finally happened. After having been postponed twice on account of the strike, it happened for real on the 16th. It was a nice event and it all came together well with some pretty nice projects and pretty smart kids. Neat. Some of the projects were impressive. My favorite was a composting project carried out completely by the students with little adult supervision. The way they executed the project and marketed/ sold their compost was all very well done. I love seeing enthusiastic nerds passionate about what they do. I use the word 'nerds' in the best way possible.
-And here it is folks, my favorite part of October... I WENT HOME!!! What a wonderful visit I had in the quick 12 days I was there. Love you all so much. Thanks again for an unforgettable trip. Can't believe it happened and has passed already. Surreal. The United States is a magical place that I appreciate now more than ever before.
-I got to celebrate Halloween twice! Once in Wisconsin and once in Lima. Not a bad gig. Halloween is great.
October was a blur of awesomeness and the best month of the year, as it always is. Thanks again for everyone who made it that way- either through birthday love, or a visit while I was home, or just being your fantastic supportive selves. LOVE to all.

Birthday cake!

Yes, you can totally have a Hello Kitty PiƱata at 27 :)

Host fam and friends who are so great they came over for my birthday!

Of course.

English teachers!

Student leader exposition.

Me with the student leaders of the Red Ambiental.

Science fair all stars.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving in Lima!

I'm still trying to get caught up on the blog and I owe you some posts. I couldn't skip over Thanksgiving, though, so until I have time to sit down and write some updates I wanted to share some holiday cheer.

By a stroke of enormous luck, I was in Lima this past week for a project. This meant that I ended up getting invited to an awesome dinner hosted by one of the wonderful staff members in the Peace Corps office AND I was in Lima while Lady Gaga paid Peru a visit.

So while I was missing all of you, I was still able to enjoy the holiday and make the most of a great week in Lima. Back to work tomorrow, but while I still have fast internet, I thought I'd share some photos of the weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!!! I'm thankful for all of you! Hope your holiday was great!

Thanks for the turkey hat Mom! 
Oh, and I made Bridget's classic strawberry cream cracker pie... 
but we didn't have a big enough pie pan. Pie in a frying pan. So Peace Corps. 

With Katy at an excellent dinner hosted by a Peace Corps staff member. 

Our lovely host. 

Lady Gaga concert in Lima on Black Friday. 
Nice monster paws, Matt. 

After the show. Such a good time. 

Who would have thought I'd see Gaga while in the Peace Corps? 
SO thankful :) 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Back to Peru, Back to work

Remember that "post-vacation blues" I was whining about earlier? Here's how it went away.
My vacation to Wisconsin was better than I could have imagined. But all vacations must come to an end, and as much fun as Peru provides, I am here to work. So the morning after my midnight arrival in Lima, I was staring at a full agenda and an obnoxiously long list of emails to respond to wondering when I would have time to nap off all of that travel and unpack the suitcase full of treats that I hauled back. Silly me, that's what weekends and extraneous holidays are for. Damn I love you, Peru. 
How happy was my heart when I went to the school district office on the Friday morning I arrived in Ascope, about 30 minutes after getting off my bus, to check in and get back to work- only to find it locked up with everyone out of the office on a long weekend. All Saints Day had landed on a Thursday this year, which means that Friday becomes a free day too! Thanks for the 4 day weekend, 2012 calendar :) How did I not anticipate that? 
Having the weekend to recover, mope around, and binge on Halloween candy was a blessing. It prepared me for my first week back, which left no time for resting. Also a blessing. I needed to be slapped out of my post- awesome trip pity party, and the best way for that to happen was to be thrown into all of the work that was waiting for me back in the beautiful Chicama Valley.  
Since I've been back in Ascope, I finished up my year-long English course with the English teachers of my province, taught some kids about the ozone layer, held an evaluation/ feedback meeting with the coordinators of our health/ environment education group, gave a presentation to local authorities on what I've done in my first year here, and started plans for World AIDS Day activities. Worry not, I also had time to share my America treats (two words: cheddar cheese) (two more words: thanks mom!), help  one of the outgoing volunteers move out, and find some beach time in between. My life is pretty sweet. 
Another thing worth mentioning here is that there were 2 events that happened while I was gone that changed the course of my work, at least in the short term-
A- The school year got crazy busy as teachers and students struggled to catch up on the class material and extra-curriculars that were stalled by September's national teacher strike. 
B- There was an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in a neighboring town about 20 minutes from Ascope. 
So with the combination of the education folks buzzing about at full speed trying to stay afloat and the fine people in the health field scrambling to get ahead of a growing problem, I find myself amid a group of very motivated people working together with more priority and urgency than was present when I left. 
I'm not saying that month-long education strikes or cases of the plague are a good thing. But I am saying that I am happy to be a part of the teams working on these challenges. After a year of working with these people, I am proud of the relationships I have with them and am looking forward to our shared work in the coming months. I can genuinely say that I am happy and motivated for the coming year and all it has to offer. 
Take that, post-vacay pity party. I'm back. And this time I have Peanut Butter M&Ms. Unstoppable. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


WARNING- This one is pretty emo. I wrote half of it while sobbing my face off at the airport after having said goodbye to my family after an epic visit home. This piece is so emo, I didn't want to post it at first. But I left home about 2 weeks ago and haven't posted anything here in about a month, so it was time to share. Sorry for the lapse in updates. I will be writing about the trip home in a happier tone soon. So much to say about it, I might as well start with the sad one. Only room for improvement :) Without further ado, here you are- 
10:45am on Tuesday morning, October 30th 2012, at Chicago O'Hare

Anyone who has seen the movie, "Love Actually" knows that airport scene. The one that makes airports look like the Magic Kingdom for adults, where people jump at each other in love and happiness and seem to just be waiting around the baggage carousels for special moments to happen. It seems to me, that this interpretation of airports couldn't be further from the truth. 
When I was younger, I believed in that stupid scene. I used to love airports. For my 17 through 21 year old self, the only thing my airport visits were missing from that "Love Actually" situation were the charming British actors in ugly sweaters. Until recent years, every time I was in an airport I was going on some exciting trip or I was returning home from some little adventure happy to see my family awaiting my return. I could not understand how some people I encountered in airports could be so quiet, grumpy, and aloof with all of the happiness that their surroundings bring. Oh, the ignorance of my youth. 
Alas, I am older and things are harder. This is what I am learning. Things just get tougher as you get older. While I'm cool with that and expect that to happen in life, lately it seems like this rule applies to everything. Even taking a comfortable flight to a beautiful place like Peru where I have a life that I quite enjoy is painfully difficult this morning. So be it. I can handle it. But I must say, there are no swirling love shots in the airport scene that I am a part of today. I am just another disgruntled adult hurrying up to wait. Sitting in cautious boredom hoping my flight is not affected by the massive storm that is affecting much more than a few thousand flights this week. It is petty and selfish to worry about a travel delay when so many peoples' homes and lives are at risk. And so I sit here counting my blessings and hoping the best for the people affected by Hurricane Sandy while sipping one last precious Starbucks treat and trying my best not to fall asleep or burst into tears. 
As I wait for my flight towards the Southern hemisphere and away from my awesome family, I have pulled out the Mac to distract myself and channel my grumpiness. When I turn into a crabby patty I need to either run or write to work that whole grumpy bitch situation into something that is manageable. Since dashing around gate K15 in my new running shoes at Chicago O'Hare is likely to attract attention, I have come here to clack out my sadness on the laptop. Lucky you, reader, you get to join me. 
I realize how silly this might sound to you while reading all of this. I have the world in front of me with a wonderful opportunity like the Peace Corps that has turned out very well for me. I am coming off of an incredible week in which I was spoiled with every material or edible thing I could have asked for in the company of my favorite people in all of life. I am returning to the hopeful springtime and delicious mango season of a gorgeous country I have fallen in love with. I am more fortunate in life than I can explain and I realize that more and more everyday. So why am I sitting in an airport gate squinching up my face like it will hide the tears rolling across my recently cheese-fattened cheeks? The answer is my family. I could not have asked for a better one and it is so hard to leave them. They mean the world to me, so to leave them and know that I won't see them again for nearly another year makes me fail my mission of trying not to cry. 
And so I sit here bawling with puffy eyes and that dumb cry face I always make in attempts of hiding the obvious act of crying. This sucks and there is no way to sugar coat that or pretend that there is not a really shitty downside of Peace Corps. There is and it's that being away from family is the hardest of the hard things for me. GUH. Now the lady sitting next to me with the great boots and the bratty kid is giving me that sympathetic, "I wonder why you're crying so hard" look and the middle aged ladies with their noses in books across from me are trying to pretend that my cry-sniffling is not driving them crazy. Must pull this together and get ready to board. Then leave the Midwest. Again. 
-Travel Pause-
I am back in Peru and revisiting this little piece of whiny self indulgent writing. After I closed the Mac and slipped it back into my backpack following those last sentences and got on the plane, things got better. It wasn't long after I boarded in Chicago that I woke up over Miami, staring at the beautiful ocean below and "preparing to land." Those obnoxious tears turned out to be a blessing as they induced some long overdue sleep, something that I needed very much. 
Once in Miami, I found my gate and splurged on one last meal in the States. I paid over $6 for a Corona Light. Damn airport. I called home one last time and nommed on a giant salad, then got one more Starbucks treat, with coffee cake. Told you I splurged. When in Rome. 
I arrived in Lima with the nice surprise of a friend waiting to retrieve me at the airport with Dunkin Donuts in hand. Either the "Get It While You Can" splurge continued there or the "Post-Vacation Sadness Binge" began in that moment, you decide. It's like "Goosebumps," you choose your fate!  
At good ol' Jorge Chavez airport in Lima, I got to gawk at a bunch of random Olympians arriving for some event in Lima while waiting in the customs line and speculate as to which Korean pop star was apparently arriving that night. Seeing as how I know of 0 Korean pop-stars, I got lost admiring the outfits of said performer's devoted fans crowding the airport with banners I could not read. But like always, the old people steal the show. Of all the strange happenings going on around me, I got most involved in boxing out a little old lady trying to beat me through the customs line. Her biggest challenge was not leaving her husband behind who was gaping around (wide-mouth style) worse than I was. In the end, she won. They always do. It worked out ok though, because my customs lady was nice and [BONUS!] my bag didn't get checked. When it was all over and I was walking away I even found a stowaway in my passport- a little red maple leaf. A tiny piece of home that I accidentally smuggled in. Perfect :)
So it was a nice arrival and a great way to end a very sad and long travel day. Unfortunately it took me about a week or so to shake off the post-vacation blues. It was to be expected and totally normal from what I hear from other volunteers. As one friend put it, "As much as you think it will, it never gets easier to leave." So this is just how it is and it simply means that I had a wonderful trip which I am sad is over. Plus that I have a great thing I left behind and miss very much. Nothing to be upset about, and not really the airport's fault, I suppose. 
And I guess one thing I can take comfort in is that I did have my "Love Actually" moment when my family picked me up as I arrived in the States, and I will have another one of those the next time I see them. They will be there because they are great and even though it's about 9 months away, I look forward to that moment so much. Plus, having a friend around with doughnuts as a surprise isn't half-bad as far as airport moments go. I am very fortunate in life. And while there are sad moments, there are always snacks. And where there are snacks, there is love. Which is to say there is always love. That was the message of that "Love Actually" scene anyway. So there you go.
Sappy Rom-Com: 1
Whiny Self-Indulgent Self: 1.5 (for free doughnuts and a maple leaf )