“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
—Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
One-sentence summary: Now trending is the obligatory family function with no prior knowledge, salient information, warning, or plausible escape route; improv field trips to avoid eternally babysitting an understaffed tourism office; the municipality’s business license process to produce and sell a product; discovering homemade maple peanut butter and taste-testing different hives of jungle honey; the Art of Returning the Site-Mate Belay; and the amount of silo, in-your-head time you get during service to make up delightfully whimsical stories and sit amongst the cobwebs.
Right Now: “I want every day to be this weird.” Libélula editor-in-chief KB’s observation: “It already is.”
Expression of the Week: Service goggles
When you have been in Peace Corps so long that attention from anyone / anything has you immediately jumping to knitting them a sweater, marrying them, adopting them, or fantasizing about making out on a helicopter en route to Brazil. It’s just like “trail goggles” except you are much fatter from being held socially captive and force-fed delicious rice and potatoes every two hours by your host family.
Week Eleven is the week I invented sudden and spontaneous meetings in order to get out of (ongoing) sudden and spontaneous meetings. I am pleased with this new super power. And, alternately, in order to avoid the amassing swarm of Peace Corps emails, reports, surveys, queries and deadlines on the horizon (like a noisy smog cloud of bloodthirsty mosquitoes) I threw caution to the wind and boldly asked for what I wanted.
Well, one time. Last Monday.
Good enough to fill this week’s blog.
Sitting on the steps outside the locked office, Astrid pulled up to toss me a set of keys. In my best pigeon: “I do not have desires to wait for sitting in the tourism office alone. Might I accompany with you today now?”
Please note I am aware my Spanish is currently in-league with a very bad rip-off of a Downton Abbey script. My tourism co-worker and friend-crush Astrid [service goggles, exhibit A] let me tag along with her anyway.
Loaded up in her Toyota [service goggles, exhibit B] I ascertained Astrid was on her way home to meet los ingenieros (the engineers) to start a business license process for her husband Jeff’s homemade all-natural peanut butter. Since I am an economic development volunteer, this was not a flagrant misuse of my time. I greedily began to draft the sentences for my imaginary report.
But first! We had to stop and get money. We head out of town a short ways. The power in Oxa was out the day before so somehow that equated to that one bank’s ATM machine not able to put out cash. Various mothers and other unspecified relatives were phoned. Hay no contesta.
I loan Astrid some cash. Onward! We are back on our way. After some deliberation about the necessity of snacks, we end up at Porky’s, a chicarroneria, to buy pork sandwiches for the inspectors.
I include these details to elucidate it is never just one task or a straight line after swallowing the jar labeled “DRINK ME” here in Wonderland.
While we waited for the to-go order, I asked questions I feel uncomfortable asking openly in the office, borrowing on a loan of confianza. I learned how my co-workers haven’t been paid in a month and “it is a real problem in the municipality.” (No kidding. No wonder I am the only one in the office.) I learned Astrid got her muni position when she presented her resume to el alcade (mayor) and was placed in a vacancy in tourism. None of my co-workers (except my zoo-creeper, he’s tenured) have jobs after December. Livelihood in public service depends on who wins the election in October. She explained there is rabid corruption at the national level that trickles down to localities. “People who want a cut of the money run for office.” I asked her more about work morale and incentive to keep the job when she wasn’t even paid consistently. I feel funny about being sponsored by a public office who treats their staff and locals so unfairly. Astrid talked about getting a municipality job in smaller Huancabamba, closer to her family, while she and her husband build their new business.
SCENE: Astrid answers her never-silent phone: “We are very close behind you! We are in Santa Clara!”
I looked at her. We are?
Translation: “We are actually still in town just picking up the food that culturally is not required but necessary and situationally appropriate and we are at least twenty minutes away from this said Santa Clara but don’t worry I consider any red light optional when driving. See you soon.”
I immersed hard on this field trip to Wonderland.
Astrid and husband Jeff’s home is somewhere on the way to Huancabamba, a town thirty-minutes north of Oxapampa. Naturally, the turn-off involved an unmarked dirt road and driving her large truck over a pedestrian suspension bridge. Casual.
Several miles into the jungle, we climbed a few switchbacks to Astrid’s home. It was like finding any one of my friends’ homes in Red Canyon, Wyoming: una aventura. (One huge throwback to trail goggles for those of you who knew my cowboy.) Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a team of engineers in vests (Peruvians) and two big beefcake tattooed men [ahem, service goggles exhibit C] (Canadians). “HOLA I HABLAR ENGLISH MUY GOOD. MARRY YO?”
And so begins the clustery few hours of Astrid trying to breastfeed her screechy infant and translate between the differing man-styles of Peruvian and Canadian. I took pictures and actively chose to fail at speaking any language effectively. Mute Jess did try the mountain spring water, three types of honey, roasted peanuts, and laughed at everyone’s jokes.
After explaining Peace Corps in English (something I have not rehearsed 1000 times) I learned more about my hosts. Jeff spent time in Pullcalpa and visited Lima on the weekends for supplies where he met Astrid. They married and moved to Oxapampa where they are three years in to building a future ayahuasca retreat center on a stunning piece of Astrid’s grandfather’s land (a Bottger, an original German colonist) in the alta selva mountains. Alex (brand new to Peru, no-Spanish Canadian) gave me a brief tour of the lower property while the engineers inspected the solar oven, roasting the peanuts for the creaming process. I pretended to translate all the subtext going on. (Because. You know. Service goggles make me fluent. *Hair flip.*)
There is a mountain spring supplying water year round to their property. The gravity-fed water system harnesses electricity in concert with solar panels. Depending on the time of year, the water and solar systems take turns providing energy to the entire property. There is a large sauna building and two showers, a meeting center, and several mountain cabanas in addition to their two-story home they share with their 14-month son and 14-ton dog. They have three different types of bees, countless baby fruit trees, ornamental gardens, cascading terraces, and a waterfall.
This is the kind of happy-accident-adventure when I am deeply appreciative of building a little house in Washington. In my jaw-dropped intake of the land around me, my brain could have spent the past three years simply installing road access and tamping a landing for my tent. Jeff confessed, “the only problem so far is my patience for things to grow.” Have I finally found my Peruvian tribe? [Service goggles, exhibit D.] It is a beautiful home and family and made me recall my pioneering friends back home building their own Narnias.
Some clipboard checklists, high-tech peanut butter blending, bromas in Spanish and English, and an amusing amount of postulating was ultimately concluded with pork sandwiches and farewells. Astrid and I returned to town after she fed and napped her child, cleaned the house, and showed me the duck pond.
I noticed I had a ton of anxiety about being late for lunch with my family and no cell service to relay my happy kidnapping. Also I was worried someone was going to be upset I wasn’t babysitting the tourism office a week before our anniversary events. I also had a moment of feeling guilty about being so happy. Then I course-corrected.
I am a volunteer. I am in Perú. It is my job to immerse and vamos a ver my way through the day. I can take a minute to relish in a grand adventure that makes me little-kid-Christmas happy. I can try on the fantasy of living in a jungle hut, within walking distance of a private waterfall powering a sauna, while knitting that-guy-who-texted-me that-song a sweater.
Turns out, service goggles may be a pretty good look for me.
Vamos a ver, amigos.
Leaderboard: No updates. But they’re a-comin’
Hermana Jessica Rice, Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado NO. 120 SERPOST La Merced
La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, PERU
Please note: 1) This mailbox is two 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) Stumped what to send? I started hanging up pictures of you, scenes from home, and little clips of paper that make me feel loved on my wall. ❤