First week of service be like:
One-sentence summary: The 2018 Oxapampa Country Fest; awkward first week at “work” in a utility closet; trying to get a working mailing address; realizing my mobile plan bait-and-switched me (no more 5am phone calls U.S. folks, sorry); it takes one week to find out acquiring personal Internet is not possible in my region/state; attempting to explain “USB-Ethernet adapter” in Spanish in all the wrong stores; 200+ notifications in one day about a disgusting yoga mat; unpacking for a good long time and finding, once more, a definition for a new norm.
This week in one sentence: WTF and oh.
Here we go again Week One! After three months of a hyper-structured and highly regulated training regiment, wrapped in the envelope of a challenging home life… I am officially PSTTSD. Here is a top ten list of things newly awesome again. Yes. I am aware this list appears similar to that of a grade school child.
Hey. Poco a poco.
10. The use of a lavadora.
To be honest, I didn’t mind washing the <20 items of clothing I brought to Perú for a few hours each Sunday. It was personal time to reflect and plan for the week ahead – calming and meditative scrubbing clothing on an aged-smooth wooden plank in a bucket of cold water. Each time I recalled longer wilderness NOLS courses where I had a few sweet and blissful hours to myself to wash up. It also gave me time to appreciate the investment of well crafted vs. the cheaper clothes I chose to pack for “business casual.” Quality vs. quantity, am I right?
Who do you think I am kidding. Washing machines are FREAKING FOR SURE GREAT. Go hug yours (if you have one) Right. Now. I don’t care if you have to make a scene in a laundromat. Do it. I also don’t care if you are superhuman Crossfit Spartan-racing weight-lifting professional, you simply cannot go toe-to-toe wringing out a pair of heavy denim jeans like a machine’s spin cycle. I live in the jungle. That shit don’t dry.
9. The (albeit, brief) absence of Micro-Evaluation.
One of the strengths (and therefore weakness) of PST is the 24-30 super helpful, caring, and attentive PC staff members offering ongoing feedback and evaluation to trainees. In order for 48 (now 43) of us to be best prepared and successful alone at site, we needed ongoing coaching and corrections on things such as presentation, communication, leadership style, language, formalities, Cara’s dress, and customs.
Believe me, I love these humans. They are our support and sanity. I miss them. But I do not love, nor miss, being micro-managed (GASP!?). I get to dress and not second guess my choices (like I was still in junior high school and thought crimped hair was a good idea). If I flub my salutation I charmingly and endearingly apologize for “still learning” and build confianza. I prepare a presentation that actually matches my audience’s real needs (chau, dynamicas!) rather than being beholden to the evaluation criteria checklist in the TAP manual. And O! sweet bliss! I don’t have to sign another feedback form in BLUE PEN ONLY for what looks like about 22-30 more days. All of it necessary? Yes. Zero of it missed.
8. Making a new routine
Back in the States I worked from home and the success and solvency of my business was dependent on a consistent, self-driven routine and schedule. (Wow, that sounded very LinkedIn in English.) As a freelancer, I would occasionally resent working through a weekend, putting out a fire late at night, or having to go after clients for more work and long to punch-in-punch-out. After three months of the opposite “work” schedule, I am back to being more independent. Well, sort of: I still have to ask-slash-inform everyone in my family (new cultural norm) and what feels like the administration of the US government every time I step foot out of my family’s house. And then generally everyone then informs me whatever I am doing is going to be wrong. Heart that.
Here’s the first iteration of my newly in-site schedule, complete with editorial fringe. I get up early in the morning for a hike and I get yelled at for coming back late. “Mi Amor! You worried me! You are late! There are kids with drugs at night!” (It is 6 in the morning.) (There were no kids with drugs. Believe me I looked, Ma.) The next morning I leave earlier (so as to not get yelled at for being late) and my sister yells from her bed to wait. It’s too early. It’s too dark. There are children with drugs. My response: “HAVE HEAD LAMP. TRY AND CATCH ME.”
Each morning I have breakfast with my family around 7am, depending on when I get back in from my dangerous nature walk up. The most entertaining breakfast this week was cold leftover spaghetti in a bun. I refrained from sharing “In the United States, we eat this when we come home drunk” and resupplied the kitchen with yoghurt and bananas. By 8:30/9am I go to “work” which last week consisted of camping out in the driveway at what may be my future office. Around noon to one, I come home to help with lunch – followed by a household-wide NAP. (Did I mention how happy this makes me?) I then take the afternoon and early evening to self-study Spanish and prepare a community CED diagnostic using the Internet I have borrowed from a neighbor. Dinner is somewhat non-existent, but we do it together as a family – at least during our honeymoon phase – in all of five minutes. I go to bed early and face plant in a movie or book long before 10pm.
Since I am no longer living on an urban dirt road off the side of a Lima highway with a PST schedule that involves darkness on both ends, I get to go out and make my own endorphins in the semi-rural hills of Oxapampa.
This takes about seven of the edges off of me and will eventually make me feel better again being inside my own potato-rice-bread stuffed body.
For those of you adamant exercisers (I am not. I just am when I am happy) you can relate to this week’s transition when an injury or other external factor prevents you from working out -you get a little ornery and start rattling your cage. This week I woke up kid-at-Christmas-excited for my hour hike up and down the mirador. 500 steps up to a view of the city, with some strength exercises at each switchback station. Twice up and back. Birds. Bananas. Slugs. (Oddly, not all the same thing, PNW readers.) Rainbows. All so dumb-cute-happy I feel like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music swinging her arms into a thorny jungle bush filled with children doing drugs. If nothing else goes right the rest of the day, at least I had this.
6. City Life
You guys. Oxapampa (OX -Ah- pom- pah) is a magically yet kinda odd town in the middle of a cloud forest. (Clue #1) It is a super clean, small city (~8000 people) with extra wide paved streets and sidewalks and no traffic. If people have their own transportation it is likely a motorcycle. And many of the local commuters are bad ass women. (Clue #2) (Note: I am forbidden by Peace Corps to ride or drive. Convenient.) Mostly people walk or take moto-taxis or a bus to get out of town. Even the street dogs are happy and friendly. There are ample restaurants (so far I’ve tried two during site exploration) with incredible chicken caesar salads and native Italian pizza and about 2-18 hamburger joints. Not that I have missed out on a home cooked meal yet. It’s on my wish list to find a new friend to go out and explore.
5. Nature. How I missed you.
Fun in the woods is now “what the hell now” in the jungle. It isn’t like I can hop in my truck and go explore with Cabot and a gazeteer like we do Wyoming. The town of Oxapampa is surrounded by dense, lush green high altitude jungle, with tapestry patches of palta and cafe vertical fields. The climate is mild, like San Francisco, and will rain hard for a short burst almost every day. It is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, so it is fairly cold (like, 55F) when the sun isn’t out or shining. One of my top projects (to support and promote tourism) will involve me finding a socio or guide to help me explore and develop further tourism opportunities.
The city of Oxapampa is in the region Oxapampa (don’t get confused) which includes Parque nacional Yanachaga-Chemillén and La Reserva de Biosfera de Perú and I will be honest – I know little more than my translated version of the Wiki. I can’t wait to figure and find out.
4. New Comfort Food = Verduras (Vegetables)
Finally. Something more than rice and potatoes. And the autonomy to say I want them. Don’t get me wrong. Why not be selected to go to Peru and carbo load for two years? After binging three months, I am ready to shed the scurvy. A ten-minute walk from my house, or on my way home from the office, is a city-block sized open air market with mountains of fresh fruit and vegetables picked and brought in that day. There are two ferias on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
I made lunch on Friday for my family. It was mac and cheese using 2lbs of mini-shells and a block of very dill and somewhat-Jack cheese. Hidden underneath my very All-American dish was a layer of broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, onions, and every other vegetable I could find that day. I felt quite spirited in the hiding of my vegetables. Host Mom approved.
3. Room(s) with a View
I have my own bedroom on the second floor with (host mom) Pauly and (host sister) Jenny. We share a bathroom with almost-hot (READ: NOT COLD) water. My room has a full-sized bed, a dresser, gable storage, and a window looking onto the farm.
With exception to volunteers being guaranteed “a room” for security purposes when Peace Corps evaluates homestays, the rest of my amenities are VERY lucky and not a given. In fact, we are given a “transition” allowance to purchase a mattress, sheets, pillows, dressers, and basic living items. Mine will be going to some form of a bookshelf / stuff storage, a USB to Ethernet adapter for work, and some construction to hang 5 pieces of clothing not on the floor.
The GDE (Gerencia Desarrollo Economico) has its own building five blocks from the Oxapampa Municipality. This is where I decided to show up every morning until they pity-gave me a desk in a storage closet. Several staff members have told me everyday “No hay Internet.”
No internet? Odd. More like, LIES. And because I know that the City of Oxapampa is likely not operating without Internet in their offices (plus that and those R-rated images I walked by one of my socios surfing) I have done some ninja recon. (Thanks, Computer Science major dropout.) It has taken three days of subtle lurking but I have located a router and ethernet cable. Next week I will figure out if I can hook up my laptop without anyone noticing.
2. The World Cup from Perú
It is just amazing to watch the World Cup from Perú. Check out the video the Peru team produced and sent to the Group C competitors (Denmark, Australia, and France) that shows the heart inside this country I am so grateful to live in and serve. #arribaperu
1. My Oxa Family
The best part of service so far is my family. (YAY. You can exhale now.) Pauly is the matriarch and has six children, five of which are living and grown. I live with Pauly and her second daughter, Jenny.
Jenny is unmarried, no children, about to turn 42, and isn’t afraid of me talking Spanish, and so far, has no off-switch. Obviously, I am a fan. Except when she ALL CAPS through our paper thin bedroom wall if I am sleeping at 6am on a Sunday: “JESSY. DORMIENDO?!” Yes, Jenny, I am sleeping. Why are you freaking asking. I am not with the dangerous children in the woods doing the drugs. I think I am getting a crash course in Spanish AND living with a sister. I now understand why sisters fight.
There are two other houses on the property. One belonging to Pauly’s son Lucho and his wife Ceci and son Juan Diego; the second belongs to Pauly’s eldest Ñomi y Paulo, their son Andre, and grandson Nico. That’s my team for the next two years.
Every morning Pauly calls for her “Mi Bebés! Mi Bebés!” and like the Pied Piper, she leads them to the field and feeds eight million chicken, chicks, ducks, goslings, cats and dogs some corn scratch. It’s one of the best parts of our morning.
Hopefully right about now you see why I think I am exactly where I belong.
[Editor’s Note: Trying out a new format for future blog posts now that I am in-site. For now, two parting shots: one, a clip from the 2018 Oxapampa Country Fest. Because that happened. Two, a quote from Anthony Bourdain, printed on a picture of Perú that resonated.
Until then, nos vemos.