Growing up in rural New Hampshire, my family had a small “farm” of various animals such as pigs (named Quasi and Modo) chickens (with various handles such as No Toes and Dum) aquariums, aviaries, a pirate-swearing parrot, a horse, donkey, sheep, geese, dogs and whatever else happened by… they (ahem, Debbie) aptly named Funky Farm.
The driveway sign from our New Boston home currently hangs in my favorite apple tree in the middle of my backyard in Wyoming. Only a handful of days at my Oxapampa host family home, I am pretty sure the Funky Farm sign belongs here.
Week Six is the first installment of 15-18 days of Site Exploration. The 48 volunteer candidates of Peru 31 (CED and WASH programs) traveled in regional groups to department (state) capitols (or a designated regional center) to have two days of orientation programming with potential socios (work partners) and new host families. After meeting our families for the day, we each went off to our future homes. We return mid-May for four more weeks of training before swearing-in as official Peace Corps Volunteers.
I am lucky. Like look-over-both-my-shoulders-lucky because this feels like too much windfall. First, I got the site placement of Oxapampa: a great size, mild jungle mountain weather, burgeoning tourism, and beautiful landscapes with bio-reserves and a national park. Next, our site training happened to be in Oxapampa – this meant no extra travel for me and my future work partners and family. (Other volunteers had over six hours one-way back in the direction of Lima. Sorry Cara.) Third stroke of luck: Socio Day & Family Day. Turns out I was paired up with two very eager & excited tourism specialists who are not in the least bit afraid of my Spanish foibles, or taking on an extrañera. Finally, I met my host family mom Paulina and we immediately hit it off when I held up an “Adopt Me?” sign with her name on it.
My Future Oxapampa Home: Paulina lives with her daughter Jenny. Together they make a fierce, boisterous, and joyful home of powerful women and wasted no time teasing, hazing, and hugging me. Their land, just a few blocks from downtown Oxapampa, includes two more households, with Pauli’s son Luiz & family, and daughter, Noemi & family. Like the funky farm of animals, I am still learning who is responsible for whom.
Funky Farm South: 12 chickens, 2 roosters (who could take a memo about early Sunday mornings) and 24+ teenage and day old chicks. Six ducks and 12 ducklings. Three to six dogs and four two-week old puppies. Three teenage kittens more savvy at hunting kitchen scraps than the dogs. Some anti-social guinea pigs. One of the black puppies with no white feet hasn’t opened one eye yet so I am not-not-naming him Pirata.
Friday I had my first work appointment at the Oxapampa Municipality and understood about 10% of it. I am sure we will enjoy joking about this fact in two years when I understand them. The economic team has a lot of work waiting for me when I return in June and in turn, I have a lot to learn to be of use. First up, they want me to help write their Pasco regional tourism marketing materials in English and train local guides in basic English. This is going to be fun.
On Saturdays, my host family runs a restaurant in the back building of Funky Farm South unofficially called Pauly’s. We prepped the tables, stove-fire, and maiz on Friday night and rose early (4:30am) to make the patasca (just think Perú Phô) and my new personal favorite, cachanga (think fried dough.)
Finally I was able to use my “extra nervous energy” (you know, not being about to fully communicate) into good use by serving food, clearing plates, frying bread, and washing dishes. I am good at that in any language or cultural context. Despues, I ate fried dough and locally grown and brewed coffee pasado and was happier than this pile of puppies.
After we sold out of breakfast, I tagged along with Pauly and her oldest daughter Noemi, for a shopping spree at the local Saturday feria, to buy food for the week… and evidently food for 40+ people since it was Noemi’s husband’s (Paul-o) birthday party that evening. Shopping was followed by another few hours of cooking, eating, cleaning, participating in a Community Bank meeting (one of my CED goals) and finally heading off to a Peruvian birthday party for another night of sharing chellas, eating amazing food, and dancing until 4am. (Please note: This is my third birthday party since being in-country and I do not yet have the stamina to last as long as the locals. The trick is being within walking distance of my bed and ghosting in Spanish.)
While evidenced by this post, I am clearly enjoying the bliss of the honeymoon period, particularly grateful to be (FINALLY OH MY WOW) surrounded by very kind and sympathetic-listening locals- but this is not a shiny-happy-easy-breezy time, for me, or most trainees. I am all alone in a new town, not really excited about cold-calling the police station with my site exploration homework and interview questions. I am (yet again, sigh) brand new in someone else’s home, even temporarily for two weeks, attempting with pigeon-level language to ask about rules, social norms, and how to say “Excuse me but I think this puppy over here I was just holding an hour ago might be dead?” (It wasn’t. It was one that was unburied by a child or dog. You know, hashtag, Farm Life.) …Or begging and pleading (politely) while my eyes and mouth salivate over a second helping of delicious food enough to feed four growing men – to please, please, please not serve me any more food finally resorting to Spanish “I don’t have enough in my Peace Corps stipend to buy bigger clothes por favor no mas comida!”
My hair is as wild as the surrounding humid jungle. I am pretty sure my socios have signed me up for a public presentation to thousands (ha) on local television. I admiringly empathetically and enviously watch Peru 27’s outgoing volunteer class at Senioritis ending of service while I stand bewildered and like a brand new one-eyed ewok puppy on Day 48.
Then there is the rest of my group. I wonder how the rest of them are fairing at their initial welcome to the next two years. It is always prettier on Facebook.
Week Seven involves heading out into town and having meetings with more socios, departments, schools, banks, maps, and finding myself a potential in-site tutor. Until next time, here is my new room with a view of Funky Farm South (Sud).
Thank you all for the notes and comments from afar. xo -“Yessi”