Thursday, May 1, 2014


The nostalgia is setting in... the reality of leaving this place behind is, well, a reality.

Projects are being wrapped up, and I've even taken things off of my walls.  I have started to think about which items I will give to whom and how I will manage to fit everything in a backpack and a suitcase.  And about what is going to happen after this, and it is sort of back to square one?

I declined an acceptance to graduate school in NYC for various reasons and have decided to plant myself for a bit in our nations capital with my best friend life partner Kimberly, where I will hopefully be working at an aid organization, with a human rights focus, more specifically maternal mortality.  But none of that is set in stone- that is just a tentative trajectory and if I have learned anything in the Peace Corps, it is I certainly need to have a plan B.  Well I don't yet, and..whatever.

I haven't posted in so long and so many things have happened; my mother and sister have come to visit, the last Christmas here was had.  I celebrated the last birthday I will be here for with my host brother Leandro and I know we both felt the somber undertone of it all.  As much as it is starting to hit me now, leaving my home, because this is my home now, I know none of them are ready to face that. Peace Corps is the hardest thing I will ever do in my life (most likely)...but it will never be this easy again. Hoards of gringos to call at any minute who need no explanation of your horrible day in site but are so willing to listen and pour you another one while doing so.  All of us together, at any time. We won't have that again, ever.  It is something worth noting.  For me anyways.

It has made me an emotionally unstable lunatic (if it is possible to be more so than before) going through this process of leaving, trying to finish everything.  I had to take a shower this morning to pull myself together after a little girl who doesn't go to school asked me to fix to her sandal while I was painting a mural.  I took her to my house, tried as best as I could to fix it, used a lot of duct tape and it was wearable.  She was happy as a clam pouncing out of the house, and I lost my damn mind.  Sure I fixed her shoe, but I knew it was only going to be a matter of hours before it broke again, and I hated it. But, recently I have had to change my definition of success here, and the the smile of a child, here, is above almost everything. So if that is the measure now, I already won today.

It isn't over yet, I still have a little over 2 and a half months but they are mostly spoken for.  Close of service conference in Lima starting this weekend, coming back, Colombia in June and I am out in July.  I am now watching the health promoters I trained through a sexual education program give lectures to their own peers, and they are nailing it. I am so proud of them, of us. Of all of it.  I don't want to take this last little time for granted, although, I am ready for the change.  I just don't know which one?

So I guess this was just an update...going to try and make a serious effort to keep this up to date for my last few months.  Now I leave you with the most quintessential Peace Corps photo of all time.

Con amor-

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK Day #2 in Peru

A good reminder.

"Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve.  You don't have to have a college degree to serve.  You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love."

-Martin Luther King Jr.

My mom and sister arrive today :)


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Combi

Capacity: 20.  Boarded: 31.  Needless to say if you're uncomfortable with any of your appendages practically becoming someone else's, accidentally holding someone's baby (or rooster) for the duration of a trip, or sharing your leg room with a 10x10 giant sack full of what once was bottles of cooking oil now containing chicha, you better get off.  The flies are swarming and I contemplate if they know something I don't.

It's hot. Balmy. Swampy. I'm drenched and plastered like double-sided tape to the back of my seat.  I'm afraid to move...will it make a sound?  I'm glad I'm not wearing shorts as to avoid the seriously unpleasant "pull-apart" of two sweaty legs stuck together. I don't even know you! Dozens of windows but vis-á-vis wildly inaccurate and ill-informed however wholly accepted opinions about the dangers of open windows you'll find no hairs blowing in here, nor sense of relief from the entrapped smells of human, worn leather seats, baby formula, and the inevitable burning trash bouquet that albeit to me appears there exists no way for it to penetrate, has found the secret entrance.  The stops to pick up passengers remind me of a virtuoso performers staccato score I hated hearing in music class in college and I assume I'd still hate now, except now nausea accompanies the headache.  Every time I look up the driver has found me in the rear view mirror, another reason we are staring multiple-vehicle-crash right in the face along with his already terrifying "defensive driving."  Then the headphones go in, I'm tucked away in my sweaty windowed corner, and I don't take my eyes off what is outside this very much closed window.

  Because all of a sudden it's those beautiful rice fields and the coconut groves again, the people working in them.  The kids running around laughing and playing with whatever ridiculous homemade toy is the fad this week, even though they should be in school.  We go through the markets and again I am in awe of the colors, always changing based on what is in season.  Mangoes, grapes and strawberries are here, and welcomed additions.  I see the people with the fruit stands and their plethora of vegetables, fruits, grains and more, and also the woman with her one lonely bowl of a few mangoes, hoping someone will choose hers. And I think what she maybe went through to have those.  And maybe if everyone knew, they would choose hers over the ornate displays and expensive booth.  We go by the cemetery where the road is lined, overflowing even with the freshest, most beautiful flowers, but only to decorate the graves.  Flowers aren't for the breathing here.

Someone finally decided to crack a window and I think I audibly sighed relief while others cover their mouths and faces of their loved ones to protect them from the many dangers of fresh air.  The cobrador glides through the aisle to make his last round collecting the bus fare with his micawberish demeanor which seems impossible since I know, he knows, once he has dropped us off it is the exact same thing over, and over, and over again.  I think to myself how many times he has made this route, if he actually sees a fortune ahead of him like his eyes and kind smile tell us.

It may seem like a nightmare, it's certainly an unfavorable setting.  In here is the only time I can really think, it is the calmest part of my day sometimes and I guess that says a lot.  For some reason it is the only time I want to be alone in my head and with my thoughts, although surrounded by so many others.  My mind works differently in here; every trip is a reminder.  It is a reminder of honestly anything I need to be reminded of in that moment, in that day or week.  Even to the point where today, I don't actually have anywhere to go.  I just needed a combi ride.  Life is still going on outside those windows, that cobrador is still smiling. And if he is, I certainly have no reason not to be.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Full disclosure.

I have entitled this blog post as such because it is nothing more than a condensed, succint (maybe not so?) summary of the haps as of late, in the second year of my Peace Corps service.

Since my last post describing my anticipation of the arrival of my friends, the non-describing of my current work in site amongst many other forgotten chestnuts, several phases have cropped-up and it is my pleasure to keep you all (or maybe just you, my possible sole reader) up to speed.

Since then, we had our mid-service-medical checks all together again (!!!) in Lima to poop in cups and try to impress everyone with our service.  Mostly it was overeating and excessive alcohol consumption, which is exactly what we planned. It was great to see everyone- but a blunt realization the next time we would all be together is when we are leaving, when we are finished. What the hell?

Peru 19 Youth Development with boss-friend in center.  A little of this...

But mostly this.

Right after that I came back to site to finish up my literacy project with my little niños where we focused on reading comprehension and critical thinking for 3 months.  It was a huge success, the best time I have had so far in site and something I am really proud of.  It has been 2 full months since we finished the course, and both parents and students are still door-knocking to ask when we can start again. ::::sigh:::::

my geniuses. I love them.

Last day of class

My friends Zak and Kelli came and went, leaving with what I assume to be a new-found appreciation of all things waste management and private transportation, but hopefully with a bit of Peru in their heart as well.

Aside from the stranded on a deserted island in the middle of the Amazon river in torrential downpours with no boat and a drunk tour guide and the parasite that reared its grisly head in the intestines of one Kelli Brechbuhler, the trip was a rip-roaring success.  For me- I got to have home here for two weeks.  The feeling really is inexplicable.

Contrary to my careful plans of signage and obnoxious screams for greeting purposes at the Lima airport upon their arrival, they found me unconscious, deep in an R.E.M. cycle big-spooning a wall on an unfavorable-for-sleeping airport floor.  They had to kick me.  Both to wake me up and to force me to believe they were really here.

From the less than climactic airport incident we went to our hostel for the next night, Kokopelli in the district of Miraflores.  Zak left his iPhone in the airport taxi, cursed the country and all it stood for until I coerced him into returning on the slim chance the iPhone was still in the car.  Sure as hell- a hundred sole cab ride later and a few cigarette bumming taxistas, we got that so'bitch back as well as the pleasure of a non-grumpy ex-boyfriend for the remainder of the trip.  For all you reading this living in Peru, you will realize this was the iPhone-left-in-a-cab-and-was-not-sold-by-the-time-we-got-back-to-look-for-it Miracle Incident of 2013.

 All day we explored Lima, had the delicious, albeit now a bit overrated, La Lucha for lunch and galavanted about the city.

They tried on some hats.

The historical Plaza de Armas in Lima, of which I still know zero about.

We had an easy night and prepared for our trip to Cusco the next morning.  We arrived after an hour and a half flight, settled into Pariwana Hostel, strolled around the Plaza a bit and then posted up to party with the other travelers.  We met some crazy people out to get maggot (refer to any Australian you run into), participated in a very last minute masquerade party, got zero sleep and hit the road to Aguas Calientes from Ollantataymbo early the next morning.  From there, we stayed at a great hotel recommended to us called Las Terrazas del Inca, acclimated ourselves to the altitude (well, as it turns out, I was the only one doing that. I live at sea level, man.) and headed to Machu Picchu at a brisk 4:30 am to casually see one of what they call the 7 Wonders of the World.  And it really was.

That is real.
From here we went to climb the mountain in view, Huayna Picchu because a friend tricked me into believing it was an easy climb.  Cut to full body pull-ups, failing limbs, but we made it, and although I hate to admit it, I am glad he bamboozled us.  It was totally worth it.
on the way up

the summit!

From here we headed to a part of the Peruvian Amazon, a city called Iquitos in the department of Loreto for the second leg of our trip.  I drank a lot of camu camu, Zak fell in love with moto-taxis, and monkeys fell in love with him.  Kelli got sick, held a sloth (unrelated), they swam in the Amazon and caught piranhas.  Zak held an anaconda that smelled like rotting garbage and we were feasted upon by mosquitoes. Wasn't the the most successful part of our adventure, but an adventure it sure as hell was.

Kelli with her piranha!
Zak eating (hating) his grubworms


 Finally we were off to my homeland of Piura to introduce the visitors to my friends, family and life here in the desert, land of eternal heat.  They, to no surprise, were received with warm hearts, and my own nearly exploded watching their interaction with the life I have slowly, very, very slowly, but without a doubt, fallen head over heels in love with.  The gringos took over.

home and family

fútbol in the plaza

a natural

the largest human they had ever seen

a new brother and paper airplane


To close out the trip we hit the beach for some r&r.  I reflected on the trip, remembering how nervous I was to show them this new life I have been living for the past 15 months.  I should have known how easy it was going to be.  So many things have changed, but not the feelings we have for the ones we truly love. It isn't common you hear someone say they have friends that would make this trip, I am so grateful. I will never forget us dancing to Daddy Yankee's "Limbo" in a sweaty gringo circle at the hostel in Mancora, when I had nothing but my favorite things in the world around me.  I still get goosebumps and a stupid smile when I think about that night.

 It was so hard for them to leave, but I am so incredibly lucky they came.  It did something to my service I won't ever forget, and that I can't explain.

Right now- back in the grind with a project called Pasos Adelante, working with the youth of San Clemente on topics of decision making, self-esteem and sexual health.  It is only a couple weeks in the making, but going great so far.
with my socia/third mother Doris

hot topic...should a girl EVER pay the bill? DUH

Coming up: another group of volunteers on their way out, another best friend leaving me in the dust.  Selfishly loathing the thought, proud they made it.  Newbies coming in November, then the holidays... then MY MOM AND SISTER!  Updates to come.

amor amor amor. <3

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The One Year Post.

 So I have been avoiding this post with haste because it thwarts me that I can't possibly describe this past year in a coherent, sensical, unambiguous blog post. I even feel blogging about it cheapens it somehow- it just can't happen.  There have been days I have completely lost due to the overload of emotions or lack there of, but I'll give it a whirl. Aside from the aforementioned reason for blogging today, I am having an "up" day, which for my fellow PCVs and close loved ones will understand, this isn't lasting long so I better get it out somewhere while I still can. I don't know if it was the perfectly picked by the universe shuffle I listened to on my way home tonight or the sunset behind the palms, but today, I love Peru.

I love the palm trees that go for miles, and I love the seemingly CGI sunset that falls behind them every night.  I love the cryptic lingo of headlights and hand signals used between combi/taxi/mototaxi drivers that I don't understand but for some reason even millimeters from a horrible t-bone it makes me feel safe. I love that if you don't say good morning, good afternoon or goodnight to a passing  stranger you are a total dick.  I LOVE chicha morada (google it) and Inka Kola and anything covered in lime juice.  I love seeing my 96 year old neighbor who I thought did nothing but sit outside in a chair all day, everyday, to fall asleep and intermittenly wake up and ask me how I am, but if you get up early enough can catch him walking up the hill barefoot with his shovel and huge sombrero after an already long morning in his rice field.  I love the horses that escape from their owners to eat the fallen algarrobo from the tree outside my house and watching their owners run down the street to catch them.  I love the neverending fields of cotton, rice, corn, plantain and so much more and how everytime my host dad goes out to them brings me back a ton of guava to eat. I love when he comes home each month and tells me all the legends he knows of Peru over and over again.  I love picking tamarindo straight from the tree, more than that I love mango season.  I love teaching my host sister how to ride a bike and her face when she balanced alone on it the very first (last and only) time. I love how my host brother 8 year old Leandro screams my name and runs perpetual circles around the table everytime I get home even if I had only been gone a few hours. I love when my dad sent me home with a pocket knife that belonged to his dad to give to my host dad as a thank you gift, he took it and taught Leandro how to cut papaya he picked from a tree out our front door. I love the friends I have here, I can't believe how much I do and how lucky I am to have them.  Those friends also know that this list could very easily take the opposite direction... but for today we'll stick to the theme.  Because it was today on my drive home from the city that I have taken a million times, and mostly loathed every detail until hitting the palm fields, that everything turned beautiful.  The people waiting for buses and the houses and the sand and the hot pink sky, I swear to whatever it is responsible for it all, I saw it all differently tonight.

It may be because the group ahead of me, Peru 17, (I'm Peru 19) is leaving, and I hate it.  They are some of my best friends and with them leaving I started to think about it too.  I am so far from ready to go (right now, in this moment, give me 20 and I'm sure I will be) and way farther from ready for them to go.

A little over a year ago from today I was harboring total freak out emotions about leaving for the Peace Corps.  An unorthodox move for me, I actually sought advice on how to deal with them by reaching out to my then assigned mentor turned dear, dear friend Kelsey Goering on how the hell I could handle it.  She responded to me with this little gem:

I'll leave you with this little thought: When you get to Peru, soak it
all in. You are going to be feeling a million different emotions-
you'll be excited, happy, sad, depressed, scared, hopeful...
everything. Don't let yourself get stressed out by your emotions and
just enjoy yourself. Revel in the fact that you are going to be living
in one of the world's most beautiful and vastly unique countries for
the next 2 years. There will be times when you hate it and you'll
convince yourself that you're getting on a plane back to the US the
very next day. There will be days when you can't even fathom how LUCKY
you are to be living here, doing what you're doing.
You're going to
miss your friends and family, but you will make new friends and family
here. Some days you'll want to scream, and some days you actually WILL
scream. But then you'll look up and see the beautiful mountains, or a
child laughing, or the ocean, or an old man working in the field, and
you'll realize that what you're doing here is important, and you ARE
making a difference. No matter how few and far between, those days are
what makes everything worth it. Embrace it.

Like we've said love at first e-mail and now look. There goes the neighborhood. You totally nailed it.  Still can't imagine it here without you.

I can't tell you how many times I have looked at my suitcases and my belongings and thought about what to pack first and what I could leave here and give to who.  But sometimes I look at that same suitcase and remember how after months of joking about taking Leandro with me in it to my visit to the states, I caught him in secret trying to fit himself inside it.

My job tomorrow is to teach the most adorable children on earth how to read, then get to see my best friend.  I got to go to Lima a couple weeks ago because I was elected to be part of the Peer Support Network and represent my department of Piura and the department above me Tumbes as a point of contact just to make sure us as volunteers are all okay because the staff thinks I'm fit for the job.  I ate falafel and a garbanzo burger and Subway (!!!!) and other awesome grub and stayed in a hotel room with a bestie that had a hot tub and dry sauna IN THE ROOM to celebrate his birthday.  I  just got back from a beach weekend to send the 17ers off right and came back with all my belongings. The staff called me to extend an invitation to Lima in July to present my work to the new volunteers as "Volunteer of the Week."  I still think they had the wrong number- but it's just another ingredient in this stew of contentment that recently found me and is being served up hot.

I still miss my family and friends and America everyday, and even though about 20 minutes ago I asked my friend on the phone if we could go home yet since we've made it a year and that's more than a college try,  I think I'll stick around for awhile.  I'd sign off with pictures but the internet will barely load these letters right now.  Facebook?

Strong hugs to everyone! <3

UPDATE: Got some pictures below of previously mentioned items and or activities. Enjoy!

Chicha Morada yummmm

Inka Kola

favorite spot to watch the sun in site

Rogue Horses

host poppa with his new knife

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Red Onions, Cilantro and April

I only included April in the title of this post because uhh.. what are you doing here already?

There are two foods I hate in the world with a lot of hate.  Red onions, and cilantro.  Living in Peru, this is not a good thing.  There are also two things that Peruvians like to ship in bulk, bushels, HUGE BAGS in the back of collectivos (taxis that carry a mixture of random people with various destinations) and that is also red onions and cilantro, no more than a finger length away from all my senses.  This was the case tonight on the way back to site, my eyes are still watering and my nose burns and my stomach feels funny.  I just felt the need to expel this part of my life because it happens often and I feel like the universe is playing a horrible joke on me.  Really?  Those two things?  I would honestly rather it be a loud mouthed rooster or a Peruvian sleeping on my shoulder the whole time.  That says a lot.

March was crazy, and I feel like it lasted as long as a Peruvian can stay awake on public transportation. (see previous paragraph).  I went to the United States of America to meet my brand new niece Nellie Reese who brightened up my life in a way I didn't know existed.  I saw my beautiful family who greeted me at the airport along with a couple best friends.  I hope I get to feel that feeling again sometime in my life, because right now it seems tough to beat.  I saw everyone I love, and ate all the foods I crave and cuddled my dog until we could snuggle no longer.  I got to relax guilt free and sleep with no fear of mice, mosquitoes or what the next day will bring.  I drove and abided by traffic laws and remembered what customer service was (I mean, they are just SO happy to serve us)  I was able to walk through the streets and not be stared at for being a gringa, I was able to disappear in a crowd.  I drank so much tap water and lingered in hot showers. I was barefoot a lot, drank hoppy beer.  I got to lay in bed with my mom and do nothing but laugh while introducing her to Modern Family and for that moment that was all that mattered. I felt so much love, I can't believe how lucky I am, how lucky we all are.

My previous employer had a toy drive for me, I went to my old office and was again greeted by so much warmth and so many smiles.  I went to gather the goods but most importantly to see and thank these incredible people that would take time out of their busy (and I know how busy, I worked there) work schedule to not only think about the children in my community but to organize, donate, ACT in general.  Words will never express how grateful I am to them and how grateful my community is.  I hope one day I can convey to them the joy they brought to this part of my life, these people in my life here. It is an incredible feeling to remember how good people can be.

Then I had to leave the land of the free to come back and get to work.  By that I mean take another vacation right away for Semana Santa to the jungle in Iquitos, Loreto.  That was an incredible journey through the Amazon, with all the wildlife and the rain.  RAIN! I missed rain so much.  I caught a piranha and held a sloth.  I am so excited to go back with my best friends from home in September to show them a slice of the life.

It is a couple weeks before our girls leadership camp, Camp A.L.M.A., and my host sister will be joining me and we are both super excited.  Then it is off to the mountains of Ancash once again for training on project design, where I will (hopefully) be presenting my idea of developing a safe house network within San Clemente.  It's ambitious, and it will take a lot of work and time but I am up for the challenge.  It has received positive feedback so far, now I just have to wait and see what the 'ole bosses say about it.  Peru 21 comes soon, I can't believe it! I am excited for that, but it means the 17ers are leaving, and I honestly can't imagine being here without them.  What, Peace Corps thinks we're seasoned vets and can guide the freshmeat through becoming volunteers?? I'm not ready!!!!  I am. I'm not.

I am happy to be back but I miss home more than I did before the visit.  I guess in another 7 or 8 months I can go back to being content, without the yearn for all things US of A.  Eat Chipotle breakfast lunch and dinner.  If you are in America, do it.  No reason not to.  Is this FLAVOR?!

Until next time.  Here's hoping my next 2 passengers aren't cilantro and onion.  One can dream.

I love you all.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Happy Presidents Day!

"For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

 John F. Kennedy 1961-63