One-sentence summary: On Sunday I walked out my front door and a few hours later ended up in a national park; my first (eye-opening) visit to local hospital facilities to visit a co-worker; having deeper conversations with locals about Peruvian politics and government systems; a love-hate-love co-dependent relationship with technology during service; an adventure to repair my computer charger (see previous point); and actually s l o w i n g down – by taking the time to savor one bite of food, lingering hand-drying a plate because I am not doing three things at once, sitting still on purpose, and being present and open long enough to have a conversation with a stranger.
Right Now: As much as I crocodile-moat-fortress-guard my heart, I feel myself slipping / falling in love with / and becoming part of this family.
Expression of the Week: “El Face” is in reference to the social media site Facebook. The Face continues strong as one of the major sources of news, social, and business sharing platforms in the country.
17: Number of weeks in-service as an official, sworn-in PC volunteer
4: Number of months at site
7: Number of months in-country
25: Percentage of our 27-month service complete
10: Kilos gained from eating rice, potatoes, and pasta regularly in one meal
15: Kilos shed from stairs 1-2 hours a day because my family’s food is so good
8: Number of times I check U.S. news source outlets daily
1: Number of times I might have access to adequate Internet to read/listen/download an article
9: At least the number of times a day I feel lost, hopeless, grieving for humanity because of the news
2: Number of times I am voting in the U.S. this year from South America
The all-consuming, ever-present, in-your-face-eyeballs-ears momentum around Perú this week is the election. (The Peru elections, not U.S., to be clear which partition of my brain I am writing from.) In Perú, voting is obligatory. Everyone must vote in his/her assigned voting place today.
Here is a list of things I have learned* listening to conversations at the family table and office this week:
[Note: *I do not fully trust my hearing and comprehension, in any language at this point, and nor/nigh/ni should you. It could go without saying that not unlike my very-Jess recount of Peruvian history, do not go about mining facts for your political science thesis / talking points for scintillating cocktail conversation based on any words strewn about here.]
1) Like elections in the U.S., campaign volume ramps up the closer we get to election day. In Oxapampa, there are formally organized musical motorcade parades, gran polladas (to-go fried chicken fundraisers), political flags all over motos (the most common mode of transportation), randomly blocked off streets with a makeshift stage and speeches, larger-than-life posters on buildings, handshakes, and the kissing of the babies.
As a U.S. government volunteer, I am to avoid all things political in case it is perceived as an expression, or being endorsed by Peace Corps or the United States. In that light, I should have probably been underground this week.
2) Today, nationwide on Sunday (October 7, 2018) Peruvian citizens vote for regional leadership: local authorities, governors, vice-governors, regional & municipality councilors for the 2019-2022 term. Winners will be announced the same day (what?!) and take office in January 2019. Monday is a (unrelated) federal holiday.
3) Approximately 23.4 million people are eligible to vote in the country (for perspective, that’s about 1/10th of U.S. eligible voters). With about 31 million people in total in Peru, roughly 10 million live in the capital of Lima. That’s a. very. long. line.
4) Presidential elections are every five years. Regional elections occur every four years. This Sunday, in locations where no regional election candidates receive at least 25% of the votes, there will be a second round of voting between the top two candidates.
5) The vote most important to my situation is the election of an alcade/alcadesa (mayor) who runs the local municipality. The municipality of Oxapampa and the Office of Economic Development (GDE) are the official sponsors of my Peace Corps volunteer placement. They are also the bosses of my main work partners who help introduce, co-facilitate, and create sustainable development within our community – and hopefully continue beyond my heartbeat of service.
6) Come January, or likely starting next week, the winning alcade/alcadesa will determine positions within the municipality, as in, possibly replacing (almost) everyone I have been working with for the last four months. This makes for a very interesting current office dynamic.
7) As I mentioned, voting in Perú is compulsory. Everyone with a DNI (similar to a social security number) and over the age of 18 (up to 70) must vote at their assigned voting station between the hours of 8am and 4pm. If you fail to vote you have to pay a multa (fine) of 80 soles (about $26 USD). They evidently will hold your cell phone or Internet hostage – or any utility account registered under your DNI – until you pay your fine. For many of my neighbors and friends this is a significant and influential penalty.
8) Insert a paragraph on Presidential referendums. Those get voted on in December. If you’re really gripped, shoot me an email.
9) No boozy brunches this Sunday. Ley Seca means the sale of alcohol is forbidden on voting day. (It actually started at 8am on Saturday.) Political gatherings, public gatherings, religious liturgies, and entertainment shows are also forbidden on voting day. I will get back to you on the use of fireworks. Just assume they are still on, 24-7.
And so goes Week Seventeen.
It is an interesting moment to be present in my site and in Peru. I am somewhere between observer and possibly-almost-honorary-tolerated-member of the community. Perhaps a sign of confianza, my co-workers and potential friends are starting to share with me more intimate accounts of what it is like to work in certain jobs, live in certain families, navigate integrity and morals in corrupted systems, and the differences in mentalities, perspectives, ideologies from urban central Lima to more provincial towns.
And yes: It is annoying but I am being vague on purpose. We are asked specifically not to write, discuss, or publish anything that could be perceived as disparaging to our host country and/or put myself, or anyone else, at risk.
So I will leave this here: I had a moment where I reached out to a friend, reeling from some “what’s really going on around here” information I received, causing me to deeply question the efficacy of my service. “What the hell am I doing here then?”
They gently reminded me how many cities in the U.S. were built on shady backroom deals, suspect political systems continue to operate, and asked how much was it really different from the current news from home? We are all developing countries. Just hitting me in a different spot.
Humans. Oh shit.
And so I went for a lot of long walks.
When in the midst of a crisis, tragedy, point of rage, helpless despair- all of which I would say is a regularly scheduled part of the human condition- (or just having a good old Peace Corps volunteer WTF moment) I recall the anecdote about a children’s television host, Mr. Rogers, telling his audience to “look for the helpers.”
Luckily, my “first responders” are plenty. I see my site mate going five-octaves-bonkers for compost and really reaching her students; a friend who is coordinating emergency relief for the earthquakes in Indonesia; my former classmate’s sexy glam e-newsletter about high school and her personal confundity of sexual assault, entitlement, and implied consent by silence. I see the friend online who is using her social media following to call her male friends to the stage. I see my Mom’s dear friend, just back from traveling Africa, unapologetically (inspired) taking the trip. I see my dear friend, now a mother, holding center for her larger family and raising her two tiny humans to be even braver, brighter, more beautiful humans. Walking through our fires.
Or the tiny accidental things. Like having a conversation with a person I would have never met had I not been right here, right now… and suddenly the night sky opens up with fireflies and lightning.
That’s what I am holding on to when I am looking for center.
I got a note from someone on el Face about reading this blog and even looking for me online when I didn’t post. I didn’t know she was reading. I didn’t know how she related. It changed the course of my day. Your notes from the ether saying hello, or letting me know you are listening, or if you fell asleep after the sixth PCV acronym… are such kind and meaningful spots of light. You are also my First Responders.
And I cherish each one of you, equally your pain and your joy this week. Whether it is not-remembering to brush you hair between feeding the kiddos, feeling the acute despair and abuse trauma from U.S. Supreme Court appointments, reluctantly posting Insta-adventures for work when feeling defeated by futility and insignificance in the more serious news climate, questioning your fight in a bendy-twisty system, swimming naked in the glacier lake, or making a moment to let someone know you are listening- we are all fireflies in this lightning storm.
Vamos a ver, amigos.
A Parting Shot
My host-nephew, Juan Diego. His 1st birthday is Thanksgiving this year:
Leaderboard: Nothing to update. I have a ballot to mail this week. We shall see if anything made it!
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.
I have Port Townsend visitors coming mid-November if you want to pass something to them.