Service Week Twelve [All Corners of the Fishbowl]

Me, at the end of Week 12:

When your Host Family Still Calls you by the last Volunteer’s Name

One-sentence summary: Nico (host grand-nephew) left Funky Farm South to resume living with his parents in Tarma; José (youngest host brother) (aka golden child) is home for two weeks vacation; I unhappily wore a traditional German colonist dress to present awards on stage – you know, cultural appropriated immersion; asked to judge an entrepreneurial youth contest / and was stood-up to judge the contest #nilda; blindly learning the local municipal government system of delivering informes (official work reports to socios); and realizing how unreliable a narrator my brain can be in any language.

Right Now: I am a heavy “3” out of 10 [as of Draft One of this post] – simply an indicator to pro-activate some self-care. Or watch more Eeyore gifs.

Expression of the Week: Hay bastante! Insert some log-roll lottery of definitions including “There is plenty”; “There is enough”; “There is way too much”; and wild card “You’re just crazy. Look.”

One Way Home, in the gloaming

Each week I realize how I look at my phone to prompt my memory into what passed since I last wrote. (Either my memory recall muscle is atrophying or technology is making my brain lazy. Or all the contents are still upside-down inside-out.) Week Twelve’s photo bank is a one-part “hay bastante!” of 

Time for a New Tail

things to write about and two-parts *yawn*-so-dull-I-am-going-to-have-to-mine-material from some other week.

Or maybe my unreliable narrator is the variable out of whack.

[Eeyore voice] No point in finding out. It will just change anyway.

It was a slow week for blog readership as well, so maybe we are all in need of a breather? I like to think we were all out chasing the last of our Augusts.

Which brings us to… Happy September! My personal month of demons. What month is yours? (I know of two Februaries and an August.) The post below just happens to be timed when I am having a couple of off-days and feeling super sorry for myself.

This blog never promised you the airbrushed version of my life.

Hey. Real volunteers have pity parties too.


Week Twelve was largely community events around August 30, el día de Santa Rosa de Lima (a Perúvian national holiday) and a ten-day rager for the anniversary of Oxapampa. They take town anniversaries seriously in South America.

There was a Miss Oxapampa pageant, an antique car show (I counted five cars), international dancers (university dancers from Peru, Mexico, Colombia), artesanas (I made off with some dismembered butterfly finds) and local producers (coffee, manjar blanco, quito quito liqueurs, etc.). Cowboys and motorcycles.


Bastante tourists. Grand ferías. Oh. And at least three parades.

Always with the parades.


Departmento de Tourismo y Artensanos en disfruza de Allemania
And, on the less idyllic inner-landscape, hay bastante cultural processing.

So what is “cultural processing?” I think it is when you stop being nice and okay with everything and start allowing real feelings out. And you realize you’re not so smart and well adjusted and things are occasionally upsetting.

One volunteer told me we’re not “supposed to” talk about the ugly things. Doubt. Messiness. Pre-evolved thoughts.

Jajajajaja. Watch me.

“Cultural immersion” turns out to be more than an over-buzzed buzzword.

It is what happens around twelve weeks when the honeymoon wears off and you irrationally get a little irritable, weepy, and stormy. Everything is pokey and sore. Little things stick and accumulate.

And you don’t yet have the language skills to effectively question, investigate, and resolve your needs. So. Basically, I am a three-year-old. That explains all the naps.

Peace Corps Peru did an excellent job designing our three-month pre-service training (PST) with ample intercultural exchange lessons, programming, and exercises. It was fascinating to see how staff taught different aspects of culture immersion. And, to be honest, I was a little bored. Yeah yeah yeah, tip of the iceberg. Feelings below the iceberg. Got it. As an empath, this was like explaining how to wake from sleep and intake oxygen. Intellectually, it was all basic and logical. There wasn’t anything mind-altering-new for me.

Until now. Week Twelve. I feel all the sharp corners of my fishbowl.


“You should not think of culture as an abstraction, an intellectual construct composed of a pattern of various assumptions, attitudes, and values. It is that, of course, but it is not in that form that you actually experience culture. Rather, you encounter it in the behavior and actions of people who have been conditioned by, and respond in accordance with, certain assumptions and values.

Don’t think of culture in the abstract. For one thing, it makes the notion of adjusting to culture seem more like an intellectual exercise than the day-to-day, almost moment-to-moment psychological and emotional reality that it is. For another, it depersonalizes adjustment, suggesting that somehow it doesn’t have much to do with people. If I can just adjust to the culture, you think, then maybe I’ll get along with Raoul. But Raoul is culture; if you can get along with him, you have adjusted.”

Oh shit. What if Raoul is my Nilda.

Cultural Adjustment To-Do List

  1.     Drinking in circles.

Peruvian culture values the collective group over the individual. So much so, during most social situations one big beer (a chella) is shared in a drinking circle. All eligible members of the social gathering form a circle and compartir. You do not get your own drink for the duration of the party. You do not hold your own individual drink. The group shares this drink and one single glass. Backwash is deposited in a vessel like a spittoon.

Do not attempt to sit out of this group activity. Someone will see you. I tried.

Do not attempt to hide your tiny pour or casual spill-toss into the bushes. Someone is watching. I tried.

In many instances, simply your presence is consent to participating. (I am not complaining. In many sites women are not allowed in the circle. It is best for World Peace I was placed here and not there.) Better say you are pregnant or on antibiotics as soon as you walk in the door if you don’t want to partake. For the next six to eight hours.

Cultural adjustment plan: Always expect a drinking circle and schedule a Very Important Meeting about one-hour in.

Arguing about Chella Norms
  1.     Family knows your business more than you know your own business.

“Tia saw you on the corner talking to that person who is related to Maria who is the daughter of Paulo (who didn’t pay for his pharmacy prescription in 2012.) You were talking about community banks with her. That is not a good idea. You need to teach classes at CETPRO instead. Also, eat more rice.”

Cultural adjustment is accepting that as a grown-ass highly capable self-sufficient fiercely independent woman I will shut up and eat more rice.

Jefé Nilton with (not-his) Office Baby Emily
  1.      “What do you mean you live alone [in the States]? Are you happy knowing you are going to die all alone?”

It is uncommon for a Peruvian, especially a single woman, to live on her own. After I am grilled about my zero husbands and less-than-zero children and (gasp) they learn both my parents have passed… the inquiry rapidly changes to adopting me or marrying me off.

TO BE CLEAR, this often happens before we have even been introduced or exchange names.

Cultural adjustment plan: Explain how being all alone 1) makes it possible for me to have a Peruvian family now and 2) how amazing and grateful I am for the offer… but I am already claimed.

  1.     Guess Who is Coming to Dinner?

Complete strangers, aka extended family, will show up en masse at your door without notice. At any old time of day. You must spontaneously feed them. Sometimes it is the first time anyone has met.

[Do I need to remind you it is also all in another dialect of some subsection of the language you thought you might have had one fingernail of a grasp on? You may be the first white person they have seen in Perú and why the hell are you living with their family? Good luck!]

Cultural adjustment plan: Meh. You can hide in your room for this one. Especially if your host sister ghosted too.

  1.    If it’s broke, don’t fix it. Also, don’t you dare ever mention it.

Peruvian culture has a pro-authoritative hierarchy norm: I think I would be sent back to the U.S. if I tried to explain the notion of “upward feedback.” Many social systems are based on a direct, authoritative leadership style. There is comfort and a value in knowing who is in charge and behaving accordingly. There is topical peace and less conflict. Even if it is completely dysfunctional and makes zero sense.

(That was me being judgy and not very adjusty. Sorry.)

Cultural adjustment plan: Just ask questions. You’re not here to fix anything. You are here to listen. That is your one and only job. 

Government Reporting is the Best. Only 11 More to Go.
90% of any work I do requires getting signatures, or watching other people get signatures
  1.     Peruvians are blunt AF.

Peruvians often use descriptors that make my eyeballs pop out of their sockets in fiery shock followed by emotional chemical burns.

Remember. It does not mean you are a bad person and/o unworthy of love (or someone is an outright racist) if they call you old, fat, ugly, tall, short, less-fat-now, too-skinny, bald, red, blancita, gringa, “China” or negra. These qualifiers are as neutral and obvious as if I was in Port Townsend and described a man as “Boat Guy” wearing a flannel, Carharts, and a beard.

It is not meant to activate all the triggers you thought you recovered from in twenty years of therapy. [Spoiler: If you’re a current, “averaged-age” volunteer, guess what therapy will be about the next twenty years?] Repeat this 100 times a day to help alleviate any tears.

Adjust adjust adjust.

Sometimes I surround myself with Danger Tape while Culturally Adjusting
  1.     Mas tarde.

Time is a completely different construct in Peru.

Time is simply a guideline or suggestion.

Aloha. Welcome aboard.

If you’re not being stood up on the regular then you’re doing something wrong.

Time is fleeting. Time does not own you. Time is for now and Now is the new now.

*Unless I am the one who is late. Then the world is ending.

Cultural Adjustment: Find your Person to Get Stood Up with
  1.     Ma knows best.

The head female of the house (or her appointed first mate) will serve you your plate of food. She will serve you more food than you could consume in a week. If you have been living in their house for three months, and you are allowed to serve yourself your own portion in a freak accident of free will, your “rational” (my culture) portion on your plate is a direct indication that you think their food is inedible and you have always and will forever more hate them.

Don’t worry much about it though! Confrontation is not a cultural norm here and all of these feelings and misperceptions will be buried in the backyard with the other bodies.

Entonces, it is better to show respect and gratitude and just wastefully (my personal culture: wasteful) throw out the food you don’t eat.

  1.      Remember pets are just insignificant animals.

They are not kept as toy accessory purses and have their own Instagram channel. They are treated like animals and live outside without blankets and beds and matching monogram bowls. They don’t have monthly trips to the vets and they die often. Get over it and get used to it. And for the love of ______ and respect for any sanity you maybe once had do not be delusionally selfish and adopt one.

(Hi Bri & Deschutes. Heart you.)


  1. Children are allowed to be monsters.

I have observed a different parenting norm in Perú. Some children run rampant, cough all over every surface, lick everything they can and can’t touch, and are generally out to accidentally kill you. They will comb through your stuff and not ever have any semblance of a boundary unless you use four different locks and set up a remote shocking device. Then they may slow down enough for you to distract them into detonating elsewhere.

They are basically human grenades.

Cultural adjustment: I am not a parent nor is it my place to have an opinion on this. I am the asshole. Love the children and send them home.

Farewell Nico Party
  1. Noise is just as free as air.

The roosters are multiplying and crow 24-7. The dogs only bark when you’re not awake. They are guarding the farm from the free-range night-wailing banshee cows. There is no such thing as a muffler. The only way to sell anything is to aggressively assault your ears. The radio is loud even when it is off. People will yell for other people even if they know everyone is sleeping. It is also not a form of disrespect to blast the subwoofers at your Mom’s house until 2am when she gets up at 4:30am to serve patasca. #goldenchild

Cultural adjustment: Own how this is my personal cultural over-sensitivity after growing up in a house of such quiet I was grounded if a pin dropped on carpet. People yell. Don’t cringe and take it as aural assault. Ear plugs. Learn to sleep through it. Yell back. Adjustar.


  1. “Speak English” is a trick you will be forever asked to perform. You are the biblical-Google authority on the entirety of the United States.

And everyone, I mean everyone, is watching you inside your fishbowl.

Vamos a ver, amigos.

A Parting Shot

Jumping Didn’t Make this Fit Better

Mailing Address

Leaderboard: WYOMING 2-0; five known parcels lost in the ether

Era from Lander, Wyoming, makes the SPICE KIT SUNDRY pass to Karlia in Maryland who hands it to three engineers in Engineers Without Borders who hands it to site mate Peru 27 Angeline of WASH who hands it to me on a run.

Bonus: Everybody’s pants smell like Cumin.


>>No new mail at SERPOST as of 29 de Agosto.

Hermana Jessica Rice, Cuerpo de Paz

Apartado NO. 120 SERPOST La Merced

La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, PERU

m: 955895172

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? Emergen-C, chai tea, wool socks, and beef jerky. I started hanging up pictures of you, scenes from home, and little clips of paper that make me feel loved on my wall. ❤

I have Port Townsend visitors coming mid-November if you want to pass something to them.


13 Replies to “Service Week Twelve [All Corners of the Fishbowl]”

  1. #9 and #10: The first one is my constant struggle in India when Bleeding-Heart-Dog-Lovers arrive for a visit. They want to name every street dog that lives in the neighborhood; they bring 15lb bags of processed dog food; they bring collars for each dog; they name each dog. It grinds my bones. Of course, when the BHDL leave, we take off all the collars and revert back to feeding the dogs scraps.
    The second one is something I’ve noticed at work (here at the zoo) a lot. There are certain cultures that apparently follow the theory which you so succinctly describe as “children are allowed to be monsters.” This also grinds my bones but only in my work environment. Parents who think nothing of allowing their children run around like banshees while riding a tour bus; and/or run around like banshees on the ground WHILE the moving tour bus rolls by, never ceases to amaze me. (although, in the home environment, having children going through my stuff would be a tough one for me).
    Anyway…………Love this installment. You rock. df

    Liked by 1 person

    1. FLEENER. I found myself wanting to read your blog spinoff from this comment thread alone! I love your thoughts here. I love your blog about your Dad. I should go back and visit. Squirrel.
      Love you. Miss you. Thanks for getting it.


  2. Picturing the silent expressions on your face while you were experiencing certain moments you described herein had me chuckling. You DO have the greatest reactions. I miss them! I’m so pleased that you don’t sugarcoat everything you write, if we wanted the perfect version of someone’s life we could just look at almost anyone’s Facebook page and we’d be successful! Your authenticity is was makes it so readable! Sending virtual hugs! Ps, what has been the average mailing time from send to receive? (Excluding country criss-crossing spice packets)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Aliya Love. Oh the expressions. They certainly are a universal language and get me into trouble anywhere, that’s for sure. Thanks for being comfortable with my bad, ugly, and works-in-progress thinking. Hugs received. xjo


    2. Oh. And mail. Hmmmm. Sorry babe yours might be making someone very happy in Lima, sadly. But keep faith! It may be on adventure. One padded envelope made it in nine days from Wyoming; one padded envelope went to two wrong parts of the country and found me (well, I found it by accident) 3.5 months later. I am heading there this weekend! Fingers crossed.


  3. Hi! I love reading your posts. They’re great. Whenever people ask me to say something in English, I always ask them to say something in their language which I will then say in English. Most of the time they just smile, or if they do say something then whatever it is that’s embarrassing about that question gets shifted back to them. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Eli. That’s a great idea to turn the conversation back around with saying something in English! Mostly people talk to me in English here and I answer only in Spanish “for practice.” Running joke. Week Fifteen’s first raw messy draft started with our phone conversation the day I was offered a place – reminding me why I said yes. It will likely show up again in another post when I have a higher vista. Love.


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