observations of a peace corps peru 13 volunteer


one of the things you get really good at as a volunteer is packing. first you have to pack for 2 years before you get here, which is a bit overwhelming. and once you settled into training for 3 months, you have to pack it all again for site. once you get there, you’ll be packing for trips to your capital city (weekend trips), training in lima (weeklong trips), potential medical trips, camp ALMA and VALOR, vacation around peru, etc. i have packed more in the past year than i have in any previous year (probably not in my life though). i have always disliked and not been good at packing, but now i’m efficient and really don’t mind it.

i have one cosmetic bag that is always ready to go, with the essentials: toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush, deodorant, tampon, pantiliners, hair pins, hair tie, face cream, earplugs, eye mask, chapstick and eyeliner. i have travel sized shampoo, conditioner, and soap also ready to go, already in a plastic bag (in case of explosions). i bring flip flops, exact number clothes, i use what i wear on the overnight bus ride for sleeping, chargers, nalgene, book, and fruit for the next morning, and a foldable grocery bag is tucked into a pocket in my backpack. already inside my backpack are pens, keys, mp3 player, and a ziplock with various pills for headaches and allergies, as well as protection, tissues, and bandaids. a mini customized first aid kit if you will. 

this may have been an overly lengthy, and somewhat arrogant post on the subject of packing, and specifically, how i pack, but i’m not gonna lie, i’m pretty proud of this skill i’ve developed this year. easy wins, right??

“Racial stereotypes are reinforced on a daily basis in the media. Tabloid newspapers use crude sexual innuendo to describe a black congresswoman in a way they would not dare refer to a white member of parliament. They compare a black footballer to a gorilla when he loses his temper on the pitch. And on prime-time Saturday night television, the country’s most popular comedy programme abounds with racial stereotypes with which the audience are so familiar they scarcely question what they are watching.”

BBC News - Peru’s minorities battle racism


1 year in peru

so recently my group celebrated its one year anniversary in peru. a lot has happened in this one year. like i’ve mentioned so many times, everyone’s experience is different, and often varies greatly. since i’ve wanted this blog to be more informative than personal, i will first highlight some experiences that most volunteers go through:

  • after the initial 3 months of all-day training with other volunteers and staff, it’s a little shocking to go to site and live at least 1 hour away from the nearest volunteer. it is definitely a bit lonely during this adjustment time. i used my cell phone a lot calling other volunteers and seeing people in my capital city.
  • your spanish will reach another level as you become immersed in the culture and are forced to interact with your community in only that one language. the language training that we receive in the beginning really is only sufficient to “get by” in my opinion. 
  • volunteers are allowed 2 visits every month to their regional capital (it’s expected that they go every 2 weeks). they usually spend this time hanging out with other volunteers, drinking, watching movies, eating at papa john’s/pizza hut/starbucks, basically enjoying the american things in peru.
  • after 3 months in site (statistically, most people drop out by month 6 i believe), you pretty much get used to your very independent lifestyle and start to enjoy/embrace it. people who start dating locals especially tend to spend more time in their communities and less time in their capital cities.
  • volunteers get very close to the other volunteers in their department. you will still get to see people in other parts of peru during trainings or vacations though. you may or may not get that close to volunteers from other groups though.
  • peace corps is slow to reimburse you. although you usually don’t pay for in-service trainings, you will have to pay for most other activities (if you’re working on a newsletter, annual embassy fair, english training workshop, etc)
  • you make plenty as a volunteer. there are 4 different levels of ‘salaries’ that volunteers get, depending on where you are located, with most volunteers falling under the lowest 2 categories. volunteers receive 950-1150 soles each month. most volunteers pay 50-300 soles for housing and/or food for their host families, leaving a substantial amount to either save for vacation trips and/or spend on leisure activities. volunteers usually fall under 1 of 2 camps: those that save and those that are broke by the end of every month.
  • a host family can really make or break your PC experience. it’s been said that to have a meaningful 2 years, you either have to have a really good host family or have really good work activities.
  • you will read a lot of books and watch a lot of movies/tv shows.
  • PC may or may not play a large role in your service. they have resources available but for the most part stays out of your business. 

and now for my personal thoughts:

  • i’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs, which was expected. what i didn’t expect was for the lows to be lengthy and the highs to be short-lived. 
  • i’m really not as motivated as i had hoped.
  • it is hard to be a female volunteer here.
  • this year has been a year of soul-searching. i have a much better understanding of myself and where i stand.
  • i don’t see myself living in this country long-term or any country where i have to always be well aware of my surroundings. i’ve definitely never felt this level of fear/anxiety in the US.
  • volunteers in peru are lucky in that there are so many diverse places to visit here. i really fell in love with traveling this year.
“According to criminal attorney Mario Amoretti in an interview with Peru.21, van der Sloot could be sentenced to as little as three to five years if found guilty of murder caused by violent emotion; if he is found guilty of premeditated murder, he could be convicted to anywhere between 15 to 35 years.”

Van der Sloot confesses to Flores killing : Peruvian Times

this is ridiculous. 


Reblogged from thedailywhat.

interesting project where 2 white girls in LA move in with a Mexican host family and they highlight their experience on this website. the whistling as sunshine quote is especially revealing. 
Entry 2 «  The Entryway

interesting project where 2 white girls in LA move in with a Mexican host family and they highlight their experience on this website. the whistling as sunshine quote is especially revealing. 

Entry 2 «  The Entryway



sencillo means loose change in spanish. peru is built on an economy of loose change. in my past life in the US, i carried maybe a few twenties and some quarters in my wallet. the rest of the space was filled with credit cards, id cards, gift cards, reward cards, or some other type of card representing currency. in peru, i’ve traded plastic for monedas (coins) and my wallet for a coin pouch. i’ve even gone so far as to hoard coins (to the annoyance of one particular friend).

there is a 10 cent, 20 cent, 50 cent, 1 sole, 2 sole, and 5 sole coin. there are also 1 cent and 5 cent coins (tiny, they feel like plastic), but those are only distributed by supermarkets. they’re really annoying. 

the majority of businesses in peru never have change. if you want to buy a piece of cake for 3 soles, or a bottle of water for 1 sole, or take a ride on a combi for 1.20 soles, you better carry exact change with you or 2 things may happen: 1. the price of your desired good will have increased to the money that you do have. 2. you will not be able to buy your desired good. 

but i have made a list of vendors that should have change for you (this is where you can break your 20, 50, or god forbid, your 100 sole bill).
- banks (i’ve asked banks to break my 100 bills into twenties. this is especially useful in small towns where absolutely no one will carry anything bigger than a 20) 
- supermarkets (i’ve paid for a bottle of water with a 100 bill before)
- collectivo/combis (since their business is all about collecting change, they should have some for you. but be aware that they may try to rip you off if your fare is determined by how far you travel)
- restaurants when you’re eating with friends and the bill is large (someone will always offer to paid with their 50 and get change. make sure that person is you) 
- bus stations 

here is a list of vendors that will not have change:
- small, family owned restaurants
- small, family owned stores
- everyone at the market
- anyone selling anything on the street
- bakeries
- taxi drivers (especially in the mornings)

i’m really curious to see how much change there is in peru. because i imagine there to be mountains of it. and they’re all being hoarded by the combi drivers and they have sencillo parties and create pedestals made out of it to laugh at all the vendors below who never have change.

they really shouldn’t make bills bigger than 20 because the usefulness of them is on the same level as credit cards in peru. you might think that vendors would realize the inefficiency of not having change or maybe try to keep some change from the day before, but obviously i may be the only person in peru who thinks this is really an issue. 

i noticed recently that there is a 200 sole bill. why??

the 1 sole coin was recently remodeled with a design that an artisan group in my town also uses on their products. see it here on wikipedia. one of my friends tried to buy something with it and the vendor refused it because of it’s newness. which reminds me that during PC training, one of the first things we were taught was how to determine if a bill or coin is fake. there are various techniques including making sure if there is a hologram, the thickness of the paper, etc. i’ve pretty much stopped checking those things because i feel like i wouldn’t be able to tell if it was fake anyway. but i did have in my possession a fake 1 sole coin once. i could only tell because it was much lighter than a normal 1 sole coin. i know this because i hoard sencillo.


claro vs. movistar

claro and movistar are the biggest cell phone competitors in peru. peace corps provides all volunteers with movistar cell phones. we are all part of a network (RPM) where it is free to call anyone in the same network for as long as you want. the cell phone system here is very different from the united states where you buy a plan with a set amount of minutes and can purchase add-ons such as data plans and texting. here, you buy a cell phone, and then a chip (if you have an unlocked phone, you can use that), and then credit unless you choose to be part of something like RPM (i’m not very familiar with the other phone plans the 2 companies offer).

you can purchase credit for your phone (like a pre-paid phone) in little shops for any denomination. to call or text anyone, you need to have credit on your phone. calling someone on a different network can be very expensive (up to a couple soles per minute) but it only costs money to call people - receiving calls is completely free. as a result, there are people who have cell phones but no credit so they can be reached but cannot call out. 

if you know anything about how businesses are usually run in peru, you know that you need a lot of patience. now imagine the exact opposite of how a normal meeting in peru goes, and that’s how people approach talking on their cell phones - extremely rapidly, efficiently and to the point. i have observed exactly 2 situations in which peruvians act uncharacteristically quickly - speaking on their cell phones and shuffling people in and out of a combi. the former makes sense - time is money - but the latter not so much. but that’s a post for later.

anyway, my point is that i find it fascinating how if you change a few things in how a system works - in this case, a cell phone plan - you observe quite interesting and sometimes dramatic ways of how people adapt to it. people using cell phones in peru is so different from people using cell phones in the US. you never see people talking on their cell phones for lengthy periods of time. you rarely get texts from people. you do see a lot of people calling someone and hanging up after the first few rings so that the receiver will spend the money to call them back. you do see people asking what network you are part of when entering your phone number into their phonebook. 

a few other observations:

- when you buy credit from movistar or claro, there is usually some promotion going on, ie buy 10 soles worth of credit and get 30 soles free. but the 30 soles only applies to people on the same network (and doesn’t include texting). it also charges you like 3 soles/minute or something equally ridiculous. for me, and most volunteers who buy credit often, these extra soles add up quickly and have come in very handy when i need to call my counterparts with movistar. unfortunately it doesn’t help communication of those with claro. 

- sometimes there are glitches in the texting system where my phone/network doesn’t realize i’m sending texts and so they end up being free. i’ve had this happen a few times, lasting from 5 minutes to an hour. 

- texting someone on a different network is cheaper than speaking to them on the phone for a minute.



the most popular form of alcohol here by a landslide is beer - Pilsen, Cusqueña, Club, etc. the second most popular choice/second cheapest alternative (if you don’t count home brewed alcohol) is rum. you can walk down to your nearest local bodega (usually the front of someone’s house turned store) and buy a liter of rum for about 10 soles ($3.50). i really have no idea why it is so cheap. you would think maybe pisco would fall in second, but pisco is actually only really popular where it is produced (the south of lima). 

let me now share with you how to drink your 2 alcoholic options in peru. or at least in my part of town (ie the northern coast), the drinking circle is prevalent. in a group of people having drinks, only 1 cheap thin plastic cup is necessarily. beer here mainly comes in a large size, i think it’s either 1 liter or 1.5 liters. the beer (lukewarm) is poured into the cup, usually about a third of the way, for a couple gulps. the beer is passed to the person who will drink it next and the person drinking will toast that person. the person holding the beer will toast back with the large beer. drinker drinks. after finishing, he throws out the few drops left in the cup because that is supposedly the backwash and would be impolite to pass along to the next person. the next person repeats. but this is assuming all members of the group are male. if there is a female, the male will not pass the beer and instead pour her a drink. and then the cycle continues.

in peace corps training, the females were taught techniques to control the amount of beer the males would pour for her. these included pouring for herself, stopping the male hand mid-pour, and so forth. but actually, it is much easier for a girl to avoid drinking in site than it is for the male volunteers, if they even get invited to the elusive drinking circle. male volunteers, especially the tall, white, strapping ones, often will get invited to groupings of men drinking on street corners and it is much more difficult for them to decline, if that is even their choice. 

but drinking also can potentially help volunteers integrate. i’ve heard stories of volunteers feeling closer to family and friends after a party. but i’ve also known volunteers choosing not to drink in site at all. really, everyone’s situation can be so different in peru. 


1st year training

so after the first 3 months in site where time is meant to be spent working on a community diagnostic and integrating into your community, the rest of the first year is quite busy. my group (13), instead of having a “reconnect” in thanksgiving like the previous groups where everyone got together for training, was split up into our respective work groups for 2 trainings, and trainings were held weeks apart. youth was in december and business in january. this training is called “in-service training” or IST. there are 2 the first year, each lasting for 2 and a half days and usually in lima. after the first IST comes PDM or project design and management. attendance to this training is mandatory if you want to apply to a SPA grant (a form of funding for projects from Peace Corps). the goal of PDM is for you and a counterpart to work on the steps involved in planning a project in your community. PDM was held in march and april for my group.

our next training is another IST in may although i have not received details of it yet. i have heard we may be bringing a counterpart. a volunteer’s counterpart is someone in the community that the volunteer works with in some aspect and is usually someone in a leadership position. for instance, i brought the president of one of my artisan groups to the last PDM. 

after this IST, we have medical checks in august and september. our doctors run some tests on us and give us some follow up training. 

and that is, to my knowledge, all the training we have until our COS conference (close of service), which is approximately 3 months before we leave (although we are allowed a 1 month period in which we can officially leave)


Reblogged from thedailywhat.

i recently found out the difference between a llama and an alpaca. and that there’s another one in that category but i forgot it’s name.

Just Because of the Day: Llamas. Just because.

i recently found out the difference between a llama and an alpaca. and that there’s another one in that category but i forgot it’s name.


Just Because of the Day: Llamas. Just because.



the little things

2 years and 3 months is a long time to spend anywhere. but it’s not long enough for me to justify spending a lot of time/money on decorating my room or buying things that would signal settling down. i know other volunteers would disagree. but after moving 5 times since graduation in ‘07, i try to limit myself to the basics. also i’m lazy. thus i’ve come to realize the importance of personal touches to my life here in peru. this could mean anything from spending 3 times the amount i would in the US to buy a packet of m&m’s at plaza vea or wearing a dab of perfume on a day where i know i won’t be traveling more than a 10 feet radius from my room. these little things keep me sane and remind me that i have control of my life, even if that life consists of needing to be accompanied everywhere to avoid the harassment of men and constant miscommunication with the people you are suppose to be working with. it’s really better to focus on the little things.

on a lighter note, i will soon only have 18 months left in site! which means i’ve been in peru for almost 8 months. those 8 months certainly have flown by so i expect the next 18 will do the same. here’s to wishful thinking.