observations of a peace corps peru 13 volunteer

Posts tagged "life"

despedidas

Peru 11ers are currently in the process of leaving…(although a surprising number is extending for additional time) and they will be quickly followed by peru 12ers, which will leave the 13ers to be the “seniors” among PCVs. kind of scary. i remember during training how i would hold on to everything the volunteers would say to try to learn something about what my life would be like at site… i felt like they all knew so much. now i’m in their position and don’t feel nearly as knowledgeable as i should be. yes i know the language a lot better and i know how to use the combis and i have some Peruvian friends, but… i am sorely lacking in the concrete facts of Peru. i am not well versed in the history… i haven’t been to the museums in my capital city… i still don’t even know all the ins and outs of the informal business sector. i would certainly not consider myself an expert of this country, although i probably wouldn’t say that about myself regarding the US either… 

the second year in site is a lot more “stable”… our week-long medical checks will be the last time my group will get together for any training until our COS conference 3 months before our final day (end of August 2011 - we are allowed to leave up to 30 days before that date though). so many volunteers say that their second year is their most productive. and i couldn’t agree more. you’ve spent enough time in your site to be pretty comfortable, you’ve met a solid number of people, and you’ve done enough activities to know which ones are the most meaningful to you. 

this past year i’ve done the following activities:
- youth group with 10 year olds
- consulted 2-6 artisan groups regarding business issues
- yoga/exercise classes for older women
- english tutoring
- attempted a business directory
- offered business english classes to restaurants (no one showed up)
- computer class to 5 year olds
- connected a microfinance NGO to some artisan women i work with
- started 2 community banks 
- attempted to work with another NGO in my community

and here is a list of the following activities i will continue:
- community banks (continuing old ones and starting new ones)
- computer class to 5 year olds
- exercise classes
- working with 2 artisan groups specifically in organization and design skills
- maybe a youth entrepreneurial group 

i’ve realized i am not interested nor particularly good at teaching/working with youth. i’m also not a fan of “charlas” or lectures on any given subject. 

i’m excited for this upcoming year and know it will go by just as fast as the last one. 

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packing

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??

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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.
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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.

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a little bit ago while i was sitting on a bus and alternating between looking out the window at the desolate parts of peru and reading a novel that transported me away from where i was, i couldn’t help feeling gratitude at the independent life the peace corps allows for. life is no way easy or simple or convenient here but it is also what you make it out to be. volunteers may live within the confines of an unfamiliar culture, but they have the advantage of knowing there exists something other than life here and that brings both loneliness and escapism. my happiness at that moment stemmed from the latter. there was no other place i wanted to be and this realization made me feel proud of my self-sufficiency.

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>2 months

it is a common observation among volunteers that days go by slow but the weeks fly by.

my group’s 2 month anniversary has officially passed. that’s over 2/3rds of the time we spent in training. it’s crazy how close i feel to all the volunteers in my group despite only knowing them for so little and then only seeing a select few every once in awhile now.

my first 2 months have been a bit of a roller coaster of trying to adapt to a new lifestyle with a new host family in a new community while struggling with a new language. minor issues really. and with change comes good and bad consequences.

let’s review:
my language skills have improved. i can now understand when my host mom is being passive aggressive.
i have met more people in my site. i have nothing in common with these people. 
i’ve gotten much closer with the volunteers that live near me. i might have a drinking problem. 
the potential to find work is limitless. i am getting insomnia/anxiety from thinking too much about it.

but seriously, i would say i have it pretty decent. i haven’t had any really bad stomach problems since i’ve been in site, my host dad is awesome, and i am sort of establishing myself here. and november will be very busy. let’s hope for a great rest of the year.

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