Me during any group (gringo amoeba) outing:
One-sentence summary: A few of us celebrated fellow Peru 31 PCV Clint’s 50th birthday; picked up my first “Hermana Rice” mail; received my official residency card for Perú; Nico’s birthday involved confetti, a scary piñata, and cake for dinner; and the mix of emotions / ripple effect around our first volunteer early terminating (ET) service.
Right Now: “I came 7000 miles to cut and paste paper flags?” and “I am so happy everyone is leaving me alone and letting me cut and paste paper flags.”
Expression of the week: No te preocupes. “Don’t you worry.”
Week Ten’s post is going to be like this week — short, quick, and promisingly unmemorable.
After Week Nine, I peeked out into the torrent of ignored paperwork and I am trying on a new (and very-un-Jess) thing: No me preocupo.
Here’s what I can scrounge up for sound and eyeball bytes:
1) Clint turned fifty last week and we shared a Very Peruvian Cake in San Ramon. San Ramon is baja selva (low-altitude jungle) and it is South-American-equator hot. A day pass at a swanky hotel with a selection of swimming pools is ten soles (about $3 USD). There are things to be said about eating 50th birthday cake in a bathing suit in Perú, but I am not going to say it here.
2) San Ramon, Junín, is a two-soles taxi ride to La Merced, home of the elusive Serpost mailbox. After a handful of closed-during-posted-hours shut-outs, I mailed two letters (for 15 soles each – that’s three days at the pool) and received my first “Hermana Jessica Rice” package from Lander’s very own Carol King, the human equivalent of Google in Wyoming (among many other qualities.) Sadly, this time I did not have anyone to film me opening the padded envelope to techno music with a steak knife, but I had just as much fun. Promise. Amen.
3) At the Oxapampa bus station, I received my returned PC passport with a renewed work visa and a Perú resident card from Peace Corps headquarters in Lima*. I have no idea if, how, when, why, or where it works. But it makes me feel happy. (I’m legal until July 2020.)
*Three things to compartir here: i) Peruvians send stuff via bus all the time. My host family sends a pot of patasca (cow-parts-and-intestine soup) to Lima every Saturday. I received my passport and visa Monday, sealed in more packaging tape than any identity thief would ever dare open.
ii) Occasionally I am asked “Why Peace Corps? Why not go free-range?” I cannot fathom the depth of headaches, jumped hoops, and official stamps required over the course of the past five months to get my Perú government paperwork just, you know, sent to me on a bus. It takes blood samples and promised unborn children to get a local library card around here. I bow down to the team of professionals whose job it is to proof our Spanish resumes, our visa applications, the color of the pen we signed 800 documents with, the perfectly aligned and formatted professional picture, and our blood samples (joke, no blood samples, that’s just for medical clearance) to get processed to work for two years in-country.
iii) In today’s U.S. political climate [reminder, as a Peace Corps volunteer I am not allowed to state my opinion nor do I represent the U.S. government’s opinion] if no other infrastructure existed, this in itself would be worth the price of autonomy and independence. Good reminder the next time I complain about a Nilda.
4) This week I returned to the Happy Land of Tourism. I think they liked me more when I was outside of my proverbial gourd, banging on a keyboard in the corner, frenetically building a teaching-teachers presentation.
I had flashbacks to my first year in a Wyoming tourism office, also brand new to town, but luckily a native speaker of English. This week in Oxapampa I was left sola (alone) 4/4 days to answer questions about the “significance of the obelisk in the plaza” and “what was in the valley before the colonists?” And not unlike “finding a mule skinner outside Jeffrey City” (my favorite Lander Wyoming Chamber of Commerce reference), you can’t Google it from here. I have yet to find my Peruvian Carol.
When I finished grading papers and reviewed evaluations from last week’s class (turns out half my teachers cheated – and cheated with the wrong answers – *face palm*) I demanded a project for the municipality. I was given scissors, a glue stick, and colored paper (and a cookie) and told to mass produce Oxapampa mini-flags. I was simultaneously put-out and blissfully happy like the kindergartener I have become.
5) Blog fan favorite two-year-old Nico turned three this week! I found this out when there was no dinner Tuesday after I finished working. I did, however, find Pauly and Jenny stuffing a piñata full of Doritos and gelatin candies and learned we were having dinner cake next door.
This involved a floor full of confetti (toddler-sized glitter), hours of dancing in a circle without any alcohol, and feeding tiny humans cake for dinner at 10pm. (Anyone else feel fingernails down the chalkboard of your soul?)
No te preocupes.
6) A duck had six baby ducklings. I am not getting attached to them because the lone survivor of the last batch of yellow fluffy cuteness we named William Wallace (after he bravely summited the smoldering pile of pacha manca) was found murdered and unceremoniously not-eaten by a predator. Hashtag: farmlife.
7) Chris, a fellow Peru 31, phoned this week to tell me he has decided to leave Peace Corps. He will be deeply missed in our region (I refer to him as one of our region’s “load-bearing walls”). The ripple-effect reaction from fellow volunteers throughout Perú has been strong.
Chris is 23 years old and after five months in-country his experience was not reconciling with his expectations. He postulated [both word and verb to humor me] he would enjoy Peace Corps more later in life. (He also solo-taught the same entrepreneurism workshop last week. Not naming any nails in the coffin here, but if I had to.)
I think any volunteer is brave for terminating service. I don’t think it is an easy way out. After all, it isn’t just your own un-met expectations… but all your friends and family (here and back home) you have to explain your decisions to. A volunteer often early terminates with little-to-no money, unemployed, and has to find a place to live and start looking for a job.
Would you tough out 21.5 more months of doing something you do not love (so far) for the security of a supported transition and easy social approval? What about the possibility you will grow to adjust to “the toughest job you will ever love” in a year?
I’ll be honest, I think about going home too. A well-meaning friend sent me a video of Cabot with Willy this week and my heart caved into my stomach and spilled all over the floor. What am I even doing here. I gave serious thought to hitching a ride with Chris to Lima. I wouldn’t have to write 36 more reports! I wouldn’t have to fail communicating so hard every day! I could have my first and maybe last snow with Cabot. That may be why they get early terminating volunteers out of site so quickly – so the rest of us don’t jump on the moto-taxi-bus-plane too.
It made for interesting conversation: Where was I when I was 23? What type of volunteer would I have been if I did Peace Corps when I wanted to, just after college? Would I trade in that year of teaching eighth grade? Fifth grade? Bartending? Learning to rock climb in Joshua Tree? Living in a wall tent in Alaska?
Is it the ability to leave service at any moment? Am I gifted with enough crappy-and-happy experiences to feel confident the rollercoaster comes back around? Am I different now because I inherently know that sustained discomfort is a vacation compared to the crisis of real grief and loss? And that “outside my comfort” also means expeditious and necessary growth?
So many good questions.
That’s the thing about service. It is 27 months of nothing but questions. No matter where we are at.
The conversation also prompted memories about hiking the Appalachian Trail when I was 21. Nearly every day was harder than the next and the highway was always closer than my next campsite. I wanted a glass of wine, cotton pajamas, music, and a real bed. I longed for my feet to be dry without blisters and to be apart from biting insects and use a proper flushing toilet. I had to get comfortable lighting a scary camp stove, hiding my boots from salt-eating porcupines, and spend hours upon hours alone with just my thoughts and my self.
I remember a few poignant moments, confluences of unfortunate events, that had me sobbing in a puddle in my leaking tent, resolved to go home at daybreak.
Twenty years later, my story reads simply: I did not go home.
And it would have been a great story if I did.
I can still remember the punctuated who’s and how’s surrounding why I happened to stay and finish the trail. It is all part of the love-worn fibers that lead to a love story and a book that changed my life, starting a relationship with my older half-siblings, taking my first NOLS course, becoming a wilderness instructor, spending the rest of my twenties in the woods – insert a few hundred other self-defining stories – and how Cabot came to live in Wyoming while I find myself here, a resident and stranger of Perú, missing him and missing you.
Vamos a ver, amigos.
A Parting Shot
Currently working on a comic infographic explaining my service region, “Punín” which is a combination of two “states” – Pasco and Junín.
[Recap: Peace Corps Perú is operating in 5-6 “states” (departamentos) (Amazonas, Ancash, Cajamarca, La Libertad, Pasco, Junín) in four different programs: WASH (water stuff) Youth (teaching kiddos) Salud (healthy things) and CED (economic development).]
The panel shows Pasco and Junín and its relationship to the capital city and region of Lima. Where you are flying in to come visit me.
There are currently 22 volunteers in Punín. (Nine in Pasco, 13 in Junín.)
Eleven of the 22 Punín volunteers are from Perú 31. Most of Perú 28 (all but one) finish service in October. Since Chris left, there are only four volunteers remaining in the CED program. That should help you get started deciphering the jargon.
I have a lot to learn about making maps and legends that convey complex information in an easy way. Maybe there’s a grad school program for that. Sign me up.
Known in-transit: 5 items
Confirmed delivery: 1 item as of Saturday, August 11.
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 $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) New rule: Turns out you can’t send me spices (USPS does NOT like powders) but sometimes I can source another volunteer’s visitors. One package from Wyoming is currently mid-handoff via six different players by way of Maryland for the best international game of pass, ever.