I live in a cloud forest. With jungle cows.
(Cows. Not hippos. That’s Africa. And some smuggled into Colombia. But you get the point.)
One-sentence summary: Went for a soggy-wonderful walk in a national park; was extracted from my “office” (aka storage closet) and my zoocreeper (main socio); adjusting quick and hard to the realities of government bureaucracy – both US and Peru and US through Peru and Peru through US; starting fresh in a new office with new teammates and new norms in the new tourism office; cramming curriculum for a 3-day entrepreneurial workshop into 1.5 days without (stay tuned) my government issued (see above) absentee co-facilitator; I finally began Spanish tutoring sessions; and gently collecting the “a-ha” moments of maybe-why(s) I came here.
Right Now: Kinda sorta happy. It stopped raining and I skipped through a springy bog simply from the joy of being in the wilderness. I spend more time that I like to admit looking over all the shoulders, braced for the next smack down.
More Right Now: My dear friend Soleiana in Wyoming had a her first baby (hello and welcome Hartlyn Grace!) and PT’s Sarah & Justin booked flights for Perú. WHOOOOP.
Expression of the week: I taught my host sister the English expression “clusterfuck.”
A few of you reached out to check on me after posts weeks five and six. I am okay. Promise. Carol and Suzie. (In fact, if you were bloggedy following along during PST, even a bad day in Oxa is downright fantastic.) Just keeping it real. You’d be terrified and/or rightfully annoyed if I was gushy smooshy baby-kittens-and-glitter happy. (Spoiler alert: There’s a brief moment ahead of that too.) And we all know if there is joy, there’s bound to be a gut-punch or shite sandwich. That’s what makes the story worth telling.
So let’s wrap the previously published shite sandwiches up with a nice bow and some absolutely unrelated pictures, shall we?
The two actionable items received from my first month’s PC site visit were 1) integrating my work (I went out and found tourism projects, aligned with our CED program goals, as we were trained) with the assigned socios in the municipality (aka my Visa-sponsors) and 2) starting work on a mandated teacher training workshop in August.
In short, reconciling PC and Peruvian program goals, training, and feedback in real life site reality is like teaching a fish to ride a bicycle. All I can do is laugh.
Here’s some insight to where things get lost in translation and befuddled. (Read: US government agency, operating in Peru, through the invitation of the Peruvian government. Through in-government reporting, government employees, and government processes, paperwork is sent, approved, and like a classic game of Telephone, the message sent is one version of 12 other messages received.) It is especially interesting when you are assigned to work with, or work for, someone in a position of power who says “yes” and then does something completely different. What is even more fun is to realize that’s the norm and not befuddling to anyone. Here are some examples:
- You write a lot of forms. Forms and reports and applications are 90% of any “work” I have seen. Oh. Did I mention I “work for” two governments? Did I also mention I have two more reports due this week? That’s four in total, just at site. That isn’t counting the emails, responses, group chats, handbooks, surveys, reviews, texts, and TPS memos. And I like reports. I have a spreadsheet tracking all the data. But the data basically is saying all the work I am doing is writing these reports and tracking this data.
- You’re not an employee of anyone. You are a volunteer. You were invited to serve for a US government organization who was invited to serve in a South American country. And you somehow survived the filtration system that ultimately placed you in a town in the Central Andes who is quite honestly confused about what to do with a “volunteer.” And those people are about to change after the October election.
- You can’t tattle. Even if you did, AT BEST, no one cares. There is a culturally valued system of hierarchy that is a very different from the more EEUU flavored “upward” feedback or working to improved systems with your direct report.
- You don’t understand the language. ‘Yes’ means anything but what you agreed to about 110% of the time. And when it doesn’t, you are just hella confused or wearing your pajamas to present to 200 professionals about a topic you have less than zero expertise in. (h/t M-E)
- You really miss the decade or so you spent in and out of narcissistically manipulative romantic relationships so now you thrive in the gas lighting environs of mixed messages and being driven over by proverbial buses and being left alone, completely in love, but it is all your fault, and thinking you’re the crazy one.
- You love math puzzles! You want to be told X = one thing for three months by seven people when Y = three new people believing the opposite but then a train heading west at 80 miles per hour leaves at 3pm so one more caboose leaves at 5pm for “support” and rebuilds tracks in another depot without telling you so when you do sit down with your new force-fed socio they really think you’re an extra special flavor of stupid.
What does it all mean? While I am not surprised (it is well communicated this is one of the toughest expectation-reconcilers of service) it does feel different when you are expected to “perform” in an Alice in Wonderland reality. For those of you who knew my Mom, I apply my Debbie-smarts. My government forms are hilarious; I (think?) I tricked my local “bosses” into transferring me; and I tied a box of dynamite to the train tracks and then promptly went for a hike in the cloud forest.
I am still looking for a fish and a bicycle. Tomorrow I’m sure it will be skydiving with a jellyfish anyway.
Vamos a ver.
In the spirit of Wonderland, here is the section where I share some alternative facts. And it is written in a cartoon way you cannot quote me on or plagiarize for an fifth grade social studies paper. My sources are a badly translated brochure and an even worse Wiki page. There are LOTS of pictures if you get bored.
The really famous awesome big deal around here (besides the climate, coffee, chocolate, dairy, coffee liquor, and meat) is La Reserva de Biosfera Oxpampa Ashaninka Yanesha.
Go ahead. Say that out loud. I dare you.
I just call “it” the Biosfera. Not accurate. At all.
Now try R-BOAY.
RBOAY is one of five biosphere reserves in Peru. This little /rb/ was internationally registered in 2010 and is a collective of four protected natural areas: Parque Nacional Yanachaga Chemillén, las Reservas Comunales de Yánesha, El Sira, and el Bosque de Protección de San Matías-San Carlos. In total, RBOAY is 1,800,000 hectares (~4,447,897 acres) or about twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.
Parque Nacional Yanachaga Chemillén, established in 1986, happens to be the national park snuggled up to Oxapampa, a biodiversity sweetheart [of the state] of Pasco. It is approximately 122,000 hectares, or 300,000+ acres – about the size of Grand Teton National Park. (About 1/6th of the Wind River Range. Honk if you’re reading this in Wyoming.)
If Lander, Wyoming, was located in Pinedale and the Wind River Range inverted itself inside out, geologically we just scrapped everything, and suddenly Wyoming was located near the equator and had a quadrillion years to turn into a jungle, or we just took a time machine back to when Wyoming was a jungle on the equator, and then someone (probably not our current government) turned it into a NP, you would have Oxapampa.
Basically, the only thing in common between Lander and Oxa is the altitude, the population size, the proximity to protected areas, geographical access, cows, and now some publishing of very odd regional reporting – aka me.
Soledad, my not-yet-PC-approved socia, hooked me up (and extended the invitation to my regional group of PC volunteers) with Humberto-with-an-H, a 20-year veteran staff at SERNANP (park staff) for a day hike in the national park. Our group of eleven (five Peace Corps volunteers, Soledad, three guides-in-training, and two staff) left at 8am and returned by 6pm for a half-loop starting about a 20-minute drive north from Oxapampa.
Why was this awesome?
Well, for starters, I got to spend the day in the wilderness. In Peru. I was stinking happy. I carried a butterfly on my hand for a mile like I was Mary-Poppins-happy. We did about 12 miles, 2000ft, or 20+ kilometers. We lucked out on weather and it only rained on us a little.
And my host sister Jenny packed me the best lunch ever.
I wasn’t in charge: Two SERNANP employees, with camera and machete, lead, swashbuckled, and swept the way. We trekked through campos, visited a trout farm, passed through stray cow herds, crossed mountain rivers, summited jungle mountain passes, visited a high altitude lake surrounded by a Payton-eating bog trampoline, and I marveled at ferns the size of houses like I was starring in a Disney or James Cameron movie.
You can’t get there from here: Seriously, you would have to walk 42km just to access since we (PCVs) are not allowed to ride motorcycles or drive. This is one of the aspects of tourism I would like to help improve – clearly marked and easily accessed trips into the park for future visitors.
Be our guest: It was an invitacion, which means we didn’t have to pay the 30/sol ($10 USD) day permit fee and we had Humberto as our personal guide. My Spanish is still dragging along, but I believe there is a total of 16 employees for RBOAY (reminder: a protected area about the size of Denali National Park) and only three of those employees work in the field. Hence, a machete for today’s trail.
The diversity of the plants and birds make my head spin. Twenty-five percent of the 22,000+ species of flora in Peru are located in PNYC alone. Of that, 600 species are orchids. There is a bad ass old growth tree called “Diablo Fuerte” and categorized ecosystems like selva baja, selva alta, bosque montano, and pajonal.
Animals like the antiojos bear and pumas and a snake named Lamon I don’t ever want to meet. And birds.
There’s a bunch of aves. I am pretty sure the numbers I heard were made up (aren’t they all) but I believe this region is second in the world for the number of species of birds. Sarah and Justin are coming to count them in November so I will let you know.
By the end of the day our “rain boots” (the gringos wore sneakers) were soaked, we were taking pictures like it was our last selfies on earth, and someone (Audra) spooked the angry jungle cows. Luckily, I understand Wyoming cow and made it to a rock in time. Like I mentioned, I wasn’t in charge. Note to self: Respect the jungle cows.
I wobbled home on my brilliantly packed flip-flops (not my first rodeo) and I was too happy too tired to talk and I can’t wait to see more. Even if I went totally off the PCV farm (watch me) and made this my full-time gig, I wouldn’t even make a dent in all the possibilities.
And yes, damn straight I am sending some thank you notes, Ma.
A Parting Shot
This is a mini-llama. I was unaware this existed.
Last weekend was a religious program for Oxapampinos historically originating from Huancayo (la sierra). This group gets together annually to visit each family and dance a sierran dance and wear traditional clothes. The first video is my host mom Pauly greeting her group with her son, Lucho, and the releasing of balloons. Below is the parade heading into our yard for cervecas and papa rellenos.
Theoretical Mailing Address
[Update: I have heard of three packages in transit from you guys. No arrivals according to the last volunteer to check.]
Hermana Jessica Rice, Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado NO. 120 SERPOST La Merced
La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, PERU
Please note: 1) This mailbox is 2 hours away 2) It costs a lot of money to send me stuff – (like $23 for less than $5 of candy) and only send through USPS to SERPOST 3) Keep packages under 1lb (or to not appear worth $100) or they get sent to Customs Jail in Lima. 4) Customs Jail is as arbitrary and random as my blog posts, so don’t send me anything that you’ll be sad goes missing. 5) The last numbers are my Peru cell phone and they will call me if it gets lost. Place them in the spot you would look if you were lost. 6) There are lots more rules but let’s experiment together.
Oh hi there.
You kept reading.
You dedicated reader you.
Here’s your gold star:
Below is a video text I sent to my friend KB.
She sent a package to the training center in Lima on March 30 so we assumed it went missing. I accidentally found it in La Merced (10 hours away) on July 18th.
While this may appear as a shameless plug for ridiculously over-taxed items I don’t actually need, but love nonetheless, you do get a glimpse of me at a restaurant sweating to house music while using cutlery to open a package all the way from Washington. And I am little-kid-at-Christmas happy. It’s proof I am doing okay.
I thought KB wouldn’t mind if I shared what she sent me and my ridiculous joy of her thoughtfulness.