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Higher Education

In March I went to a friend’s graduation from the environmental engineering program at the university in my site. Already, other Peace Corps volunteers are saying What!? There’s a university in your site?! There is an environmental engineering program in your site?!

Neither of those things are typical of a rural site, and those two things have a marked impact on the culture, economy, and nature of my town.

The university here offers just three degree programs – elementary education, environmental engineering, and agricultural engineering. Because of this, Oxapampa has some well-educated, hard-working environmental engineers, agricultural engineers, and elementary school teachers, who work in the schools, in the municipality, in the health centers, and in agriculture and tourism. It helps with progressive policies and mindsets that you don’t see in nearby towns. It also brings students from nearby towns who want to study (like my friend whose graduation I attended, who was from a town 2 hours away.)

A lot of families value education so they want to send their kids to university. Lucky for those who live here and want to study one of those areas, there is a university in town. However, if they want to study something else, they will probably have to go to Lima, which means not only paying higher tuition, but also having to pay living expenses in Lima.

Now, I studied in a far-away city from where I grew up, and it wasn’t a big deal – I took out some loans and lived and studied comfortably (and then worked on paying off those loans in the following years). My mom had done the same thing (I still remember the happy day she paid off her education loans), so I was lucky to have her to guide me through it.

Unfortunately, here that doesn’t seem to be an option. It seems to be really tough (maybe impossible) for the average person to get an education loan. If your family doesn’t make enough money to be able to pay for your higher education, (or if they just don’t value higher education – which is rare but does happen), then you’re screwed. You do not have the option to take out a loan and fund yourself.

And without a university degree here, (similar to the situation in the US and many countries around the world), it is increasingly harder and harder to get a good-paying job in something you are good at and generally want to do.

Many times I have found myself in conversations on this topic, which has made me realize how incredibly lucky I was to have access to education loans.

For example, my host family has three children (two females, one male) and my host parents paid for all of them to get their degrees. By putting all their funds towards their children’s degrees, they were not able to save during the majority of their working life and they are still living paycheck to paycheck, without a retirement fund.

Then there’s my friend who didn’t have interest in the degrees offered by the university in town (this was before the environmental engineering program was offered), and her family didn’t think it was worth the investment to send her to Lima to get a degree in something she liked and was good at. She is having trouble finding work without a university degree and would love to go to university, but doesn’t have the means to pay out of pocket and can’t take out a loan. (There are so many inspiring stories of people in the US going to college after working, and then deciding they want to fulfill their dream, change careers, and/or advance their education…but that seems to be really difficult/nearly impossible here, without easy access to education loans.)

I can see from the environment that I live and work in here that having a workforce of many young people with higher education is a real benefit to the town – its economy, its culture, and most importantly the quality of life.

Promoción Marzo 2017

On a personal note, I know that my higher education experience not only helped me find good work that I love doing, but the experience itself helped me grow as a person. I believe that every person deserves the opportunity to learn more and advance themselves through higher education, and it is clear to me that society will be better off if we encourage and do what we can to help people achieve that.

These conversations all happened at a time when the current president of the United States proposed his budget for the next fiscal year, which includes reduced funding in education and reduced funding for grants and loans for higher education (with a side of empty rhetoric claiming it will be better for low-income students). While congress is preparing their budget resolution this month of June, I encourage you to let your representative know the importance of investing in our young people and offering them more opportunities instead of less.

My First US Visitor

You may have noticed a more frequent appearance of new blog entries… we all have Julia to thank…if Julia had not come all the way from Washington, DC to Peru, and all the way from Lima to Oxapampa to visit me and my site…and if she had not lectured me about posting blog entries more often, we would not be where we are today. Thank you, Julia. This blog post is dedicated to you. Well, actually it’s about you…here is the story of my first visitor from the States to visit me in my site!

Julia had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, so she kind of had an idea of what traveling and living abroad as a foreigner in a Latin American country was like, but she had never been to Peru. She came with her boyfriend who had not been out of the US his entire adult life (and had only been on a cruise before that)!

Wanting to get the feel of a small city in Peru instead of just the capital city and the tourist spots, they planned in an extra day to come out to Oxapampa (which itself is a tourist town, but more commonly for intra-country tourism…tourists are usually Limeños (people from Lima), rather than international tourists.)

I was super excited to have my first visitor from the US, and a little anxious…how was I was going to be able to present all the great things about my site to them in 12 hours. (I was super thankful for that random tourist route I had gone on that forced me to start thinking about how to share Oxapampa with others in a short amount of time (described in my previos entry: Being A Tourist in Your Own City.))

Everything turned out fantastically though! I was nervous about communication because they didn’t have a cell plan here, so we were relying on them finding wifi to be able to communicate. We had a rough plan for how to meet up, but when I still hadn’t heard from them 2 hours after I had expected to hear from them, I had no idea if: (a) their bus was on time and they were eating breakfast but hadn’t found wifi, or (b) their bus was late, or (c) they were wandering lost around Oxapampa for two hours. But Oxapampa is a small, friendly town, and being here has taught me to manage my anxiety and relax a little, and sure enough I got a message from them saying they had made it to the plaza and their bus had been late.

So we headed to a restaurant to have an Oxapampino breakfast and talk about what they wanted to do that day. (I love that things here move just slow enough and just fast enough that we can go with the flow with minimal planning and still be productive and have things turn out well.)

We settled on a guided tour to a waterfall for them in the morning (while I finished up some work), and an afternoon wandering around together checking out a few sites (to be determined), after having lunch in my house with my family.

My mom was pretty excited to prepare them a typical dish in Oxapampa, and she settled on a parrilla…a cut of beef seasoned exquisitely, with sides of yuca, fried plantains, rice, and a little salad…and the presentation was restaurant-scale! And with freshly made guyabana juice. I am super lucky to have a chef of a mom here, who likes to cook and does it super well. (It helps that she had attended a technical school for chefs here in Oxapampa!)

In the afternoon, we hiked up the hundreds of stairs to get the look-out point over the city of Oxapampa.

From there, we headed to the opposite end of town to go to the neighboring district where there is a park that has a distillery that makes aguardiente from sugar cane. We taste tested their products and also had aguardiente flavored ice cream.

Finally, we headed to the pizza place in town to see what they thought of the Peruvian version of pizza (they approved), and then we walked back to my house for some tea – and some delicious homemade bread that my mom had just pulled out of the oven! The days here are always full of surprises!

The day ended too quickly, though we all agreed it was a full, fun, and great 12 hours, before they boarded the bus to head back to Lima.

First Impressions of Oxapampa, my site

So I joined Peace Corps as a Water And Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) engineer, and after working on water projects in El Salvador and Cameroon with Engineers Without Borders for 7 years, I had prepared myself to live in a small village without running water.

When I got my site assignment and came to my new home fore the first time, I was pleasantly disappointed to find myself living in a nice room with running water. (Well, usually there is running water. Without warning, we lose water for a few hours about 5-10 times a month). The showers are cold so I often take the health advice that it is not great to shower every single day. (Thank you Jessica for this entertaining article!)

My site is Oxapampa (town), Oxapampa (district), Oxapampa (province), Pasco (Department), Peru. Or Oxapampa for short.

The entire province is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, and the town of Oxapampa is a beautiful little tourist town as well as the provincial capital, and it takes a lot of pride in being a part of a UNESCO biosphere reserve, having clean air, and being “tranquillo” – safe and calm. The schools put a lot of emphasis on environmental stewardship, and most people have a pretty strong sense of wanting to do what’s best for the environment.

In some ways it has the feel of a small or medium-sized rural town in Texas (or in any state, but I’m more familiar with Texas), though the motorcycles and mototaxis outnumber the cars (and it’s a lot more green and jungly).

They have rodeo here a few times a year, where cowboys from here and from other towns come to compete. They play country music at the rodeos and at some local events, and they host Country Fest once a year, which includes performers from all over the world (mostly South America) singing various country songs, including many popular country songs from the US.

There are chickens and/or cows in some yards (I walk past a cow and sheep on my way to work every day,and when I hear rustling in the grass, it’s not a squirrel, nor a bird – it’s a chicken). I know this sounds weird, but the sound of roosters regularly every day is kind of comforting for me.

Most everyone knows everyone, or at least someone from the family (though the town has grown drastically in the last 10 years and that is changing.) It is very common to see women in skinny jeans and a plaid long-sleeve (which I think might be a general fashion trend?), but it definitely reminds me of the rural US.

The majority of people have farms and raise some type of animal (chickens, cows, and/or pigs usually) and/or grow some type of crops – zapallo (a large pumpkin-squash thing) and granadilla are the most popular. You can find many artisanal products made here such as honey, coffee, cheese, and yogurt.

People’s farms are usually outside the town, so the houses in town are relatively close together and the town is very walkable (which I love!) – it is about 30 blocks by 15 blocks, and there are moto-taxis for public transportation.

Just about everyone rides a motorcycle to go everywhere. Except me. Peace Corps does not allow us to ride motorcycles.

Lucky for me, I love walking and riding my bike, and I always have. Anyway, it’s actually pretty great because I have a little more time to appreciate the INCREDIBLE landscapes that surround me every day.

From Oxapampa town, there are beautiful tree-covered mountains in all 360-degrees of your vista. They call them hills, and it’s true, they are probably the forested foothills of the Andes, but they are so grand the best way to describe them is mountains. (Yes, I said grand.)

Like all the districts in Peru (and maybe all of Latin America that has Spanish influence? Help me out history people…), the city center has a small park called a plaza de armas, with the municipality and a catholic church.

In the case of Oxapampa, it has the oldest wooden church in Peru, and built of wood from a tree called diablo, or “the devil”, so they say it is the only church where god and the devil live together.

Most of these photos are around the plaza, so things look pretty ordered and the streets are paved. Currently the town has quite a few paved streets, but the majority are still dirt roads, and the dust blows around in the wind during the dry season.

Speaking of the weather…I LOVE it. One day I swear I experienced 3 seasons (as they are defined in Washington, DC weather) in one day…the morning was cool like an autumn morning, then it rained (could have been a spring or autumn rain), then the sun came out in the afternoon and it was HOT like a summer day, and then the evening was like a cool spring evening. I would say that day accurately describes the weather here…a little bit of everything, sometimes all in one day, but never too hot and never too cold.

Usually the days are 70-80°F, but even when the air doesn’t feel very hot, the sun burns – thanks to being close to the equator, and thanks to the altitude of 1,800 meters (5,900 feet). And maybe it has something to do with the hole in the ozone layer which I think is nearby, a little more south of here…(but is getting smaller thanks to global efforts to curb ozone-depleting substances!!! But I digress.)

For you science or weather geeks:

Since I’m in the southern hemisphere, it’s winter here when it’s summer in the US and vice versa, right? Well, yes but no. Since I live in the selva alta (high jungle), and we’re close to the equator, the climate is more tropical, so instead of winter and summer we have rainy season and dry season. Rainy season is about October-March and they call it winter because we don’t see the sun much and so the air generally stays cool…so our “winter” actually corresponds to winter in the States. The rest of the time is called summer because the sun is usually out and so there are more days that feel hot…however, the nights get cooler than they do during the rainy season, sometimes almost reaching freezing. So this winter/summer business is a little confusing. I just always carry sunscreen, sunglasses, a jacket, and an umbrella, and life is good.

First Days – Crashing the Independence Day Parade

[#TBT…Here’s a blog post from my first days in site]

Today (day 4 in my site), I found myself marching in the Independence Day (28 July) parade, down the streets of Oxapampa, Peru (actually, “down the street” would be more accurate because the parade only passed down two blocks of one street). I had just arrived 4 days before, so I was a little hesitant (for a few reasons I’ll describe below), but the point of joining Peace Corps was to step outside of my comfort zone, so I went with it.

The first awkward thing for me was the way they march in parades (desfilar) in Peru is pretty funny to a newcomer – they literally march like the German soldiers, legs straight out in front, and arms straight and swinging high. I’m sorry but have to admit I didn’t completely comply with the proper marching style because thankfully, the people around me were pretty lax about how they marched, so we did a kind of normal arm swing with our march.

The second awkward thing about marching in this parade is that it was only my fourth day living in this city, and I wasn’t exactly invited to march in the parade. But if there’s one thing I learned in Peace Corps Peru training (and in life in general, but especially in Peace Corps training), it is to put yourself out there, and don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. So, I woke up this morning, wore my Peace Corps vest, with grey slacks and my red dress shirt, and walked toward the front of the municipality where the parade was passing. I found a woman I work with (i.e., met two days ago when I arrived to work for my first day), and we watched the parade together, waiting until it was time for the municipality workers to march.

During the hour of waiting for our turn to march and watching the parade pass, I started to worry because I realized that all the other municipality workers had black suits with a white dress shirt (compared to my grey slacks, red dress shirt, and grey vest.) The “putting myself out there” suddenly seemed really awkward and embarrassing – being the really white girl with different colored clothes marching with the organization I just joined a few days ago.

But I decided I was going to have to let go of embarrassment and proudly be different and represent Peace Corps instead of feeling like I have to fit in perfectly. (One of my reasons for being in Peace Corps was to learn what it’s like to be stand out as different and still try to integrate and connect, and this was a good example of having to let go of shame and embarrassment of being different and to participate with confidence.)

So I started talking myself up…”the municipality invited Peace Corps to come work in Oxapampa, and here I am, representing the Peace Corps and working with the municipality, and it’s OK that I look a little different! (I’ll just stand in the back…)”.

And so I found myself marching down the main street in front of the plaza, participating in my first Peruvian parade. Well, marching in my first Peruvian parade. (Actually, I had hopped on a float with some drag queens in the Gay Pride parade in Lima last month, so I guess this was my second parade crashing experience in Peru.) While I’m on a digression… Peru LOVES parades. I have been here three months and I have seen more than six parades!

Back to the story of day four in my site. I was about to head home for a siesta after the parade, when a co-worker from the municipality told me the mayor was going to speak and I should go. So, I went and awkwardly sat in the back of the nearly empty auditorium, except for the mayor and four other important-looking people sitting at the front waiting people to come.

Suddenly a familiar face (later I learned he was the Alcalde’s right hand man) came and greeted me and asked me to come sit in the second row. I went and sat next to him and chatted with him while we waited for the event to start. Turns out he had invited me to the special section, because towards the end of the speeches, they brought food and wine glasses for a toast to the first two rows, whereas the other rows got plastic cups and got served last. (To this day, I am thankful for the kindness of the gerente, who made me feel welcome and slightly less awkward.)

 

Feeling like I had done my due diligence in making my presence known, showing interest, and learning a little bit about the political priorities of my new home, I walked home, dreaming of a siesta. I arrived home to find my mom and dad building a bed. (I really never know what I’m going to find happening at home, and sometimes I don’t even know where I’m going to end up when I go out with the family – definitely partly due to the language barrier, but also the rhythm of life here allows for more last-minute decisions on what to do. It just makes it that much more of an adventure.)

Anyway, when I arrived home, my mom and dad congratulated me (half jokingly) on marching in the parade. They had gone out to the parade just to see me march. I found out later that night that my mom had even taken photos of me in the parade. It was such a sweet gesture, I can’t even explain how happy and grateful I feel that they have so easily welcomed me into the family. So, in the moment, I did the only thing that made the most sense, and I picked up some sandpaper and helped with the bed-building project.

Being a Tourist in your Own City

Sometimes you can live for years, or decades, in one place, going about daily life, knowing your part of the city, but often not really spending much time doing the “touristy things” in your city. And then someone comes to visit and suddenly you have to be the tour guide and different aspects of your city come alive for you for the first time, or again after many years?

I’m still new to my town of Oxapampa – I have been here 9 months now – so I am still getting to know some of the gems that are here. I have been getting to know my family, making friends, and trying to “integrate” (and improve my Spanish so I can actually understand what’s going on around me and connect with people). I’ve been getting to know my way around the city and the surrounding areas (sometimes on bicycle with friends). And I spend a lot of time thinking about, planning, and navigating my work here…the daily grind so to speak.

I have learned that Oxapampa is a rural tourist town where Limeños (people who live in the capital city of Lima) like to vacation. It is known for its tranquility, landscapes, fresh and natural agricultural products, and interesting history of native inhabitants that have centuries of history here and the Austro-German colonists that settled here in the 17th century. It is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. But in the midst of all the newness and trying to be part of the community, trying to make Oxapampa my home, I have not really stopped to think of Oxapampa from the tourist perspective – what gems would a tourist want to see if they only had 1-2 days here? Naturally, everyone expects me to know the answer since I live here, but you really have to step out of your daily life to think of your city from a different perspective to be able to answer that question.

Luckily, last weekend I finally had the opportunity to do that. I was invited to participate in the inauguration of a new tourist route called “Oxapampa, authenitc and natural”. With about 30 people – from the regional government, a local NGO, local coffee producer, and a local tourist agency – we got to participate (for free!) in the inaugural tour of the nearby native community Tsachopen (“Satchopén”), a dairy farm, and a co-op that produces fair trade and organic certified coffee.

Day as a tourist

Our first stop was one of the dairy farms in the region that produces cheese and yogurt. They have about 100 cows and they don’t give the cows supplements to make them produce milk year-round; they produce when they are pregnant, so they rotate production. In this way, they explained, the cows continue producing milk their whole life, whereas cows that are made to produce constantly stop producing after a few years. The cows were well-trained…without any direction from a person, they all filed into their stalls waiting to be connected to the machine that pumps their milk.

Cows waiting patiently to be milked

The baby calves don’t drink milk directly from the mothers, they get the milk that doesn’t go into the products (including the milk from cows that have recently been given any kind of medicine, or anything they don’t want going into the products.)

Calves having lunch

And we got to sample the 7-8 different kinds of cheese they make and the yogurt.

Our next stop was the coffee co-op, made up of producers from around the region, including native and colonial descent, men and women. They pride themselves on representing the various cultures of the region and making sure that women have leadership roles in the co-op. This woman explained the process of the plant we visited – the producers bring their product to be processed at the plant – weighed, de-pulped, washed, and dried. The product they produce is certified organic and fair trade and exported to the US and Europe.

Our guide from the coffee co-op explains that this is where they dry the coffee

Our last stop was Tsachopen, the native Yanesha community 15 minutes from the town of Oxapampa. Here we had the privilege of seeing a few dances with native costumes, drums and chanting, a lunch of smoked chicken with yucca and sweet potato, and the opportunity to purchase artisanal products (jewelry, bags, hats, etc.) and locally harvested vegetables and fruit.

A dance performance in the Yanesha community of Tsachopen
Danza en Tsachopen

This tour is not the only tourist thing to do in Oxapampa, but it was a great way to get put myself in the tourist shoes and get to know my town and appreciate it on a deeper level. I definitely recommend taking some time every now and then to be a tourist in your own city! (And come visit me in mine if you can 😉

 

*For those who read Spanish (or want to practice), there was an article in the Peruvian news about the event.

**Finally, I want to apologize for the poor quality of photos…I think I dropped my phone too many times!

El Niño

I should have known it was an omen predicting the fate of my entire journey, when the taxi broke down about one block from the bus station. On the bright side…we were just one block from the bus station…so I could haul all my luggage to the bus station on foot…inconvenient, but doable.

At the bus station, I checked my luggage and boarded the bus, trying to mentally prepare myself for the 19-hour bus ride from Lima to Bagua, Amazonas for a week-long training in Bagua and Chachapoyas (and afterwards, a short vacation to see the amazing Kuelap ruins (“the Machu Picchu of the north”), Gocta waterfall (one of the tallest in the world), thermal baths of Rodriguez de Mendoza, and other wonders of the beautiful region of Amazonas).

About one hour into the ride, on the outskirts of the greater metropolitan area of Lima, I was gazing out the window and saw our bus changing lanes, despite the fact that there was another large truck already in that lane. There was a barely noticeable crunching noise, and soon the bus pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. Turns out we had broken a mirror and would have to wait to replace it before we could move on. They played a movie to entertain us, but after the movie was over we still hadn’t moved. I went outside and started chatting with the bus driver, and it turns out they were waiting for someone to bring a replacement mirror from Lima (and Friday evening traffic in Lima is no joke). Three hours later the mirror arrived, and after about 4.5 hours of waiting, we were back on the road again.

So, after leaving Friday night at 4pm, I had hoped to be in Bagua by Saturday morning at 10am, but now I was looking at arriving Saturday afternoon. A little frustrating, but I would still have time to get a day’s rest before the 6-day, intensive training that started Monday.

I got a decent night’s sleep on the bus that night and the journey was going pretty well until we came to a complete stop at about noon the next day (Saturday). There was a line of traffic and it wasn’t moving. Long story short, at 7pm it was getting dark and traffic still hadn’t moved. We got word that there was a landslide blocking the road ahead – about 6 miles ahead – and the tractors clearing the road had stopped for the night and would not resume until the morning.

We were going to be spending another night on the bus, and this time with the bus stopped and without air conditioning. Luckily, there were some restaurants nearby so the passengers went to go eat and then we sat outside the bus chatting. I started stretching and jokingly said I could lead a class of yoga on the side of the highway, but a couple of women and kids were legitimately interested so we proceeded to stretch and do exercises in between the stopped buses.

I did not sleep much that night and instead walked to see the situation with the landslide. It was in fact about an hour and a half walk ahead, and while there were not large rocks (pieces of mountains) blocking the road like I had seen in my previous travel delay due to landslides, the road was covered in a thick layer of mud which swallowed my shoes and left them a new color brown for the rest of my journey.

The next morning, it took the tractors a few hours after the sun rose before they started working, and the road wasn’t clear until about 10am. However, because the line of stopped traffic was so long and there was only one lane cleared where the landslide was, we didn’t actually pass the landslide and emerge into smoothly flowing traffic until about 4pm. That would be 4pm Sunday (I had completely lost track of the days). So finally, I was hoping to arrive in Bagua at about 7pm Sunday, 30 hours after my predicted arrival time.

But, no, it wasn’t that easy. About an hour later, we were stopped again, waiting for tractors to clear yet another landslide. This time, we could see the landslide, and they were close to finished clearing it, so it was only about another 2-hour delay. When we finally passed this landslide, our driver wanted to stop and eat, despite the fact that the entire bus (except 1 woman) was begging to continue so we could just finally reach our destination.

Finally, at 10pm Sunday night I arrived in Bagua…54 hours after leaving Lima. Extremely inconvenient…but I survived it (and thanks to the camaraderie with my fellow passengers it wasn’t so terrible). However, I did “need a marker”, which is a joke here meaning that you have sat for so long your butt is flat and the crack has disappeared so you need a marker to redraw it. A little crude but hilarious.

Throughout the rest of the week while I was in training, the conditions worsened on the roads and also in cities along the northern coast of Peru. Due to the flooding caused by the El Niño phenomenon, tens of thousands of people lost their homes in floods, hundreds were injured, and almost 100 are reported dead. Some photos here.

After training ended, I was evacuated by plane since the roads were inaccessible. Nope, I didn’t get to see the amazing sites of Amazonas, nor see my friends from the US who were visiting Peru, but were fortunately safely enjoying themselves in southern Peru…but I am alive and well.

I understand the Peruvian government is mobilizing to help the victims, sending aid to local governments and raising money through text message campaigns and telethons. Right now, with roads blocked and flooded, it is pretty tough to even get supplies to many affected areas, so the local governments and neighbors are helping the most. There is a national campaign “Peru: una sola fuerza”, and internally, people are helping each other (though there are of course the stories of the looters and those who take advantage too).

The recently elected president has said some intelligent things (like that when rebuilding they need to model their northern neighbor Ecuador who was also hit by El Niño but did not suffer so much because of better infrastructure. (Of course there is also finger-pointing that the previous president misused funds that were supposed to be used for infrastructure projects to prepare for El Niño.)

They predict El Niño will start to weaken at the end of April, so there is not much rebuilding they can do now; mostly locally they have to take care of the victims in the short term. I still haven’t heard of any organizations (other than national and local governments) that are providing aid, but I will keep searching and let you know if I find a way that you can help.

 

Hopeful About the Future

I wanted to follow up on my post about Vacaciones Útiles, or summer classes, because my first class was yesterday, and it really made my day! I walked into the class in the afternoon with a fuzzy brain because I’m fighting a cold, and I reminded myself to maintain my confidence, connect with the students, talk to them like adults…and to forget the drowsiness and insecurities that were trying to dominate. So, I started out by introducing myself, telling them a little about where I grew up, my work in the US and what I am doing here, and I asked them all to tell me a little about themselves – as a homework assignment…(Since there were 16 of them, and I only had 40 minutes, I didn’t have time to hear from everyone unfortunately).

Class

There were mostly girls – 11 girls and 6 boys, which was interesting, being that it was a class for video production and editing, and statistics say that there are fewer women in tech fields than men, so it was interesting to see solid interest by the girls!

I launched into our first lesson, which (as I’m sure you remember from the previous blog :)) was about values. (Again, I have to really give all the credit here to Peace Corps Peru, because I hardly had to do any preparation; PC Peru gave us great materials for these lessons!) We did a dinamica (interactive activity), in which I read a statement and the students decided if they agreed, disagreed, or were unsure. To indicate their stance on the issue, they walked to a corner of the room that represented their response – signs in each corner indicated that they agreed, disagreed, or were unsure. Once they had all chosen their stance (their corner), I asked one or two students from each stance to explain why they chose what they chose.

IMG_20170113_162140These jovenes, (young adults) were great! They had really thoughtful answers and were very respectful, and they all participated! I want to share a few of the questions and their responses, because it shows that times are changing and the younger generations are learning about and thinking progressively about gender equality, health, the environment, and their communities.

  1. A person can have a good job without finishing high school.

>> The majority disagreed saying that jobs usually asked for your credentials proving you had finished high school, but a few (most of the boys) took the position of being unsure, explaining their reasoning by recounting stories of people who had not finished school but had become very rich.

  1. Women should sometimes pay the expenses for a date.

>>Unsurprisingly, all the boys agreed with this one! The majority agreed, but about 4-5 girls disagreed saying that men traditionally pay, and as that is the custom, they should always pay. A few were unsure saying it depended on the situation.

  1. Throwing trash out the window of a car doesn’t really impact the environment.

>>Everyone disagreed, saying that trash needed to be thrown in the trash can.

  1. Men can be good secretaries or nurses.

>>All the boys agreed with this one! And the majority of the class agreed with this, but about 5-6 girls were unsure and said that sometimes boys were less responsible or didn’t have sufficient education and so there might be cases were it wasn’t true.

  1. If they decide to have kids, women should stay at home and raise the children.

>>No one agreed with this one; they said that women could have kids and do other things too.

  1. One person is not responsible for the health of others.

>>All but one person disagreed with this, giving examples of how someone who doesn’t wash their hands can pass germs to others, affecting their health. Also, one of the girls pointed out that sometimes we have to care for our family members who are sick. One boy was unsure because he said if a person lives all alone on his farm and has no contact with others, he might not impact the health of others.

  1. Men should know how to cook and wash clothes.

>>Everyone agreed with this!

  1. A citizen can’t affect change in their community.

>>Everyone disagreed with this one, though there was a really great discussion about whether one person alone could affect change; they agreed that one person could start the change and encourage others, but more than one person is needed to create change.

In summary, the responses and the discussion by these bright 12-17-year-olds cleared my head and left me feeling inspired and hopeful about the future of Oxapampa, the future of Peru, and the future of the world!

Summer Vacation

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School’s out for summer! That’s right, summer vacation started here in Peru…actually, it started right before Christmas, and it will last until March. (Very similar to summer vacation in the US, but…the southern hemisphere version.)

Aside: Actually, here in Oxapampa, it’s not super sunny and warm all the time because it’s also rainy season. So the days alternate between sunny and rainy – usually both sun and rain in one day, multiple times a day! But also some stretches of purely rainy days and purely sunny days.

IMG_20161117_103556Peru Month 1-2 406

Every summer the municipality here in Oxapampa hosts a program called Vacaciones Útiles (literally “useful vacation”) where the kids can take a class (or sometimes 2 classes) that meets every day of the week for seven weeks.  This year, they are offering:

  • Soccer (Futbol)
  • Futsal
  • Basketball (Basquet)
  • Volleyball (Voley)
  • Kung Fu (Kunfu)
  • Swimming (Natación)
  • Video Production (Audio y Video)
  • Chess (Ajedrez)
  • Arts and Crafts (Manualidades)
  • Traditional Dances (Danza)

I am crashing the class on video production and editing to teach a program on clean water and hygiene.  Yeah, it seems like an odd couple, but I think it will work out well.

What happened is that Peace Corps has developed a program of 10 lessons (called Mano a Mano) on the theme of water and hygiene, but with lessons about self-esteem and values thrown in, with the idea of developing community leaders who can share what they learn with their families and friends. (I’m super impressed with the training and materials we received from Peace Corps Peru!)

With only a few hours a week that I have available, I wanted to tag onto a class that wanted my help, and the one that seemed best was the video production class. Now I know it doesn’t seem like a natural fit at first, but the professor (who is about my age), is a really smart and creative guy, and he immediately came up with the plan that for their final video project, the kids could produce a video related to the themes that I will teach…Which, by the way, in case you’re interested the lessons will be:

  • Values (Valores)
  • Personal Development and Well-being (Elementos Fundamentales)
  • Self Esteem (Autoestima)
  • Stress Management (Manejo de Estrés)
  • Teamwork (Trabajando en Equipo)
  • Hygiene – Routes of Contamination (Rutas de Contaminación)
  • Hand-washing (Lavado de Manos)
  • Clean Water (Agua Segura)
  • Solid waste and recycling (Residuos Sólidos)
  • Giving a Speech (Oratoria)

Tomorrow is my first day of 10 classes over the course of 6 weeks…wish me luck!

Processing the 2016 Presidential Election (Part 2: Peace Corps Intercultural Training)

In my last post, I attempted to process what happened last week with the election, why I (and 50 million other Americas) are so ridiculously upset, and what we could possibly to do now. I also promised to share some things from Peace Corps training that I think are really applicable in this situation. It’s interesting that, up to now I am having to apply this training more in the inter-cultural context of the US than in my experiences living in Peru.

Confianza

Only when there is a foundation of love and respect can real conversations happen and can real change take place. This is one of the core concepts Peace Corps trains us in – confianza, or trust/confidence and respect, are foundational for any of the work we do. Without this, we are just an outsider coming in trying to change things because we think we know better than the people living their lives everyday…without respect and building trust, we will try to do projects that don’t make sense, and people will nod their heads to please us, but when we leave, our work will not last. The first thing we have to do is really listen, with an attitude of respect. (The Ted Talk below explains this nicely.)

Integration

Peace Corps aims to prepare us to assimilate and build strong, real, lasting relationships, to step outside of our comfort zone and try new things, and to expose ourselves to new ideas…all without endangering ourselves, losing sight of our own values, or doing something that goes against our core values. It is not easy, and it is not a science, but it is something that we have to learn to do when we work with, live with, interact with people very different from us. In our diverse America and in this rapidly globalizing world, this is becoming more important than ever.

Intercultural Competency

One of my favorite things that Peace Corps shared with us was the “Intercultural Development Continuum”, which describes the following phases of intercultural competency:

Denial Being comfortable with the familiar. Not anxious to complicate life with “cultural differences”. Not noticing much cultural difference around you. Maintaining separation from others who are different.
Polarization/Defense Strong commitment to your own thoughts and feelings about culture and cultural difference. Incomplete understanding and fairly strong negative feelings or stereotypes about people different from you, often leading to distrust of, and tendency to be judgmental about cultural behavior or ideas that differ from your own.
Minimization Recognizing other cultures with differences in behavior and ideas and recognizing that people are pretty much like you, but such that you assume that you understand the situation the same as a person from another culture, without recognizing the full extent of their experience and situation.
Acceptance Recognizing your own culture and different cultures as various ways of experiencing the world, and understanding that people from other cultures are as complex as yourself – their ideas, feelings, and behavior may seem unusual, but you realize that their experience is just as rich as your own.
Adaptation  Recognizing the value of having more than one cultural perspective available to you, and having the ability to take on the perspective of another culture so that you can understand or evaluate situations with either your own perspective or that of another. Able to intentionally change your behavior to act in culturally appropriate ways outside your own culture.

 

I had never really thought of adaptation to other cultures being a clear and different step that comes after minimization and even after acceptance. I think a lot of us were stuck in denial before this election, and a lot of us in polarization/defense as well. I hope that from here we can pull ourselves past minimization (where we assume we understand others’ perspectives and minimize the value of their voice, especially their complaints or call for change), and into acceptance and adaptation.

Adaptation

One common occurrence of those in the “adaptation” phase is intolerance of those in other stages on the continuum. I think this is where a lot of us are now, and this is our challenge – to understand and accept that people are in a different place, a different stage on the continuum, for a variety of reasons, and we will need patience, love, and respect, while at the same time working to break down barriers and promote understanding and tolerance.

different-levels-consciousness

So that’s the theory, but how do we put this into practice? Here’s one example, just in time for thanksgiving. And another. Please share more in the comments section!

Recommended Reading: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High

Processing the 2016 Presidential Election (Part 1)

I think we are all tired of talking about the 2016 presidential election (I am anyway), but at the same time, I have to admit that if I think about it, I am still upset. Clearly we all need to process what happened, and what we do next. Sure, this will be a little different for everyone, but I want to start the conversation, and I want to share my perspective as a Peace Corps volunteer and share some of the things we learned in training that I think are really applicable. And I also want to share these thoughts publicly to remind myself of where we are now, because we often have the chance to grow the most from the things that suck the most, and I certainly hope we can make something good come out of this, because I have a feeling we will need it.

In a way, this article is an extension of my Facebook post from immediately after the election – a follow up to answer the question of how we can bridge that gap to be an America that places more value on love, acceptance, and respect.

Why are we so upset?

I’m not going to lie; I cried. And then felt ashamed that I was crying over an election. Never in my life have I cried over an election, and I know people who have never cared about politics before, as well as my political junkie friends, all who were similarly distressed and even literally depressed by this outcome. Why are we so upset…like REALLY upset. Like going-through-a-breakup or losing-a-loved-one upset. Clearly this isn’t like any other election.

I think for the majority of us, the outcome of this election hurts not because of politics, but because of basic and fundamental values that we believe are core to our nation, and humanity – respect, equality, women’s rights, human rights, honesty. And we feel sad that so many of our fellow Americans would vote for someone so openly opposed to, and proud to laugh in the face of those values, to be the leader of our nation, theoretically a role model to our children, and to represent us to the rest of the world.

Greg Popovich (Head coach of the San Antonio Spurs) said it well here,

And I also appreciate how this blogger explained it.

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Photo credit: Bear Face Beard Oil and Apparel

How did this happen?

So, that is how we feel right now, but what actually happened? Why did he win and who voted for this guy?

First, he did not win the popular vote. Maybe we should take a look at our constitution and how votes count, not because we are not happy with the outcome, but because the system as is doesn’t serve to best represent the desires of the citizens. But regardless of the winner, nearly 60 million citizens did vote for Trump, and I think we need to understand why. I’m sure the people who voted for him are as varied in their reasons as the diversity of America, but here are some explanations I have come across.

Politics not Personality. I have heard that people voted for his policies and not his character. To me, these people either were not informed about his words and actions, or were just not that offended by what he said and did. And from my perspective, to not be offended sufficiently to feel that this person could represent America, indicates that maybe some of these people don’t have much exposure to people of different races, of different backgrounds, who face the real consequences in their lives of being a person of color, of experiencing rape. To me it’s a sign that we need more integration, more respectful, productive and real conversations with people different from us.

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Anti-Establishment. I have heard people who were just so opposed to Hillary because to them she represented “the establishment”, and they either voted for Trump, didn’t vote, or voted for a third party. I agree wholeheartedly that the traditional political parties have a lot of flaws and need serious reform, but given two options, how some people would choose a man of such poor character over “the establishment”, I still cannot fathom. But nonetheless, I think it is a good reminder to the political parties that people do want less corruption, more transparency.

Rural vote. And I have heard people who bought his one-liner “make America great again”, and probably agreed with, or were simply not offended by his misogynist, racist, disrespectful, uniformed comments. A great majority of people who voted for him live in rural areas, and here is an article that I think gives some real insight to the rural/urban divide in America and tries to take a first step to bridge the gap in understanding between these two different cultures in America. I can kind of understand how someone who has lived their whole life in a pretty small town, only encountering people with pretty similar religions, pretty similar skin color, would not understand why tolerance, especially of people of color, people of different religions, should be such an important value; whereas city dwellers encounter people quite different from themselves on a daily basis.

Photo Credit: Cracked Blog
Photo Credit: Cracked Blog

(I think I will have a whole separate blog on this theme later, because the rural-urban divide (as well as the indigenous-ruling class divide) is also very real and apparent in my work here.)

So what do we do now?

  1. Grieve, process it, and support each other in our various ways of dealing. Maybe this sounds a little ridiculous, but it’s true that this has really hurt and scared a lot of people, and everyone has their own way of reacting to stress. We have to support each other and try to encourage positive and peaceful ways of accepting the outcome and getting through this.
  2. Accept the reality of it. For me, watching Hillary’s concession speech was helpful.  Also I’m reminding myself there will always be different opinions that we will never agree with. There will always be those people that will never change no matter what we do, that will never choose peace, but we share this world with them too. But people are dynamic beings, and we are always learning and growing, each of us in a different phase of life, dealing with different challenges in our lives. I think it is important to respect and accept wholeheartedly the place where everyone is at this moment of their life, but without losing hope that each person can grow closer to a place of peace.
  3. Unite and start working together on those issues that put us where we are. I think everyone will have a different take on this and will choose to work on different aspects of it.

For me the most important thing we can do is recognize that while we have made a lot of social progress in the last few decades, we still have a long way to go and more work to do. Not everyone will always share our same values, and arguing with people about why our values are important won’t change America. But what I think we do lack is more effort reaching outside of our normal social circles and comfort zones, in the spirit of love and respect.

So if you know any stories  of people stepping outside their social circle to connect with someone different from them, or working outside their social circle to be an ally and better the lives of people very different from them, please share it here. I will also be on the look out and share what I find, and I will leave you with this story of creative connecting from a year ago:

And in my next post, I’ll share some of the training from Peace Corps that I think is super applicable to help in moving forward.