Friday, July 24, 2015

Where Have I Been?

Whoa, the time has passed! Ryan is coming tomorrow, and I still have not posted about many things. I will in due time. I've been very busy lately. I will explain:

So, after a month and a half of living with my host family, I decided to leave their home. I had a lot of problems with the host mother, so I packed my bags, left a note on my bed, and left. I don't want to go into too much detail, but my host mother was very controlling and demeaning and accused me of things I did not do. I felt uncomfortable in the home, and I finally decided to leave for a new host family where I could enjoy the last two weeks of the program.

This new host family has been great! They make me feel like a part of the family, and I feel comfortable being in the home. Meanwhile, I had been fulfilling my requirements for the service learning placement at the school. I made friends with teachers and got into the swing of things just to end so quickly! It is bittersweet that the program has to end so soon.

This week is going to be very special not only because Ryan arrives, but also because Peru is celebrating their independence. There are going to be parades and big celebrations. Speaking of, I got to march with my volunteer placement like a true Peruvian! Afterwards, all the teachers ate Chiriuchu (a vegetarian's worst nightmare) and drank booze courtesy of the school into the evening, and I got to dance Salsa with the director.

The kids of HVU in the plaza

Until next update...

¡Viva el PerĂº!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Not Another "Vamos" Tour: Chacan and Devil's Balcony

This trip has been filled with "vamos" tours. At Machu Picchu, the act of taking a picture or slowing down was followed by "vamos!" At Pisac and Ollantaytambo, "vamos!" was all we heard. It was "vamos!" all the way from the bus and back. Coming out of the restaurant at Urubamba, I was heading to the bus and got told "vamos" when I wasn't even the last one out. We did a lot of hurrying up just so we could wait. Taking in the sites was not an option unless you wanted to be left behind, and I have been a couple of times! I am sick of hearing "vamos," so this trek to Chacan and Devil's Balcony was a nice change of pace.

We took a taxi to the bus stop for Sacsaywaman, and just before we got on the bus, a mother carrying a little boy on her back passed us. This little boy had a had with a bear and the embroidered numbers of "222" on his hat. This may sound strange, but these numbers repeat themselves a lot through my life, and they're appeared at odd moments. I heard they symbolize the Trinity, and I saw them just after I prayed for our safety and being able to feel connected to God on this trip. It was uncanny, the way it happened. 

We hiked up through Sacsaywaman, stopping to explore a little on the way. Then, we followed our little hand written, scavenger-hunt style directions. Some of the directions said things like "pass the jumbled stone blocks," and we kept seeing stones and thinking "which ones?" We hiked up a steep hill and past a herd of sheep and an unhappy sheep dog. As we trekked on, looking at all the beauty around us, we got closer to a small village. When we reached the village, we followed a water channel all the way up to the site. 

Along the way, we encountered many obstacles, including animals. It was like being in The Odyssey. A barking dog kept us from taking the wrong path, and then we happened upon a field of bulls. We saw llamas and donkeys grazing as well as a group of pigs. Thanks to Sarah, my hiking partner, we found the actual site past the group of pigs. 

We climbed through a small cave at the top, which overlooked the gorge. When we got out and walked down to the water, we peeked around the corner to see this huge cave appear from nowhere! We tried to enter inside, but steep smooth rocks and a waterfall drop off kept us from going further, for the time being. I managed to find a way inside. We had to take our shoes off and walk through the creek into the cave and out to the other side. 

When we came back out of the cave, we encountered a shaman ceremony, and a random dog led us to Incan stones and to the path we needed to get back. We foraged our own Andean mint, we scaled the side of a wall, and we found our way back wandering through terraced farms with the sounds of donkeys and goats and the smell of mint and eucalyptus in the air. Aside from the farmers and shepherds, we hardly saw anyone. We did all of this by ourselves without the help of a guide, and we succeeded. It was the most memorable part of the trip.

We got the chance to feel the stones and sit for a while and listen to the sounds, eating kiwis and trail mix in the grass. It was time to absorb the energy around us and reflect. This is what hiking in the Andes should be about. It should be about walking on foot, perhaps getting slightly lost, and having a personalized experience without someone yelling "vamos" in your ear. I felt like I experienced authentic Peru, and I will remember this for the rest of my life. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

4th of July Abroad

We had a big hike planned for this Fourth of July morning, but pouring rain woke me up after 5 AM, and the rain didn't stop for hours. It was unprecedented, as it is dry season and hasn't rained hardly a drop since I got here! So, instead of hiking, My friend Sarah and I did like US Americans do and shopped the entire day. I bought so many great things! We went to various markets, got lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, and explored areas of Cusco where tourists didn't visit. As in, markets with mud and blood covering the sidewalks and people sawing open goat's severed heads! I also tried some dubious street chicha for 1 Sol. 

Afterwards, after we had dropped our plunder off at our houses, we decided to head to a burger and barbecue place that our fellow students were going to (before they changed their minds at the last minute). We sipped on 2 for 1 Caipirinhas, ate some excellent onion rings, and had burgers and barbecue. 

We were very tired afterwards (the Caipirinhas didn't help), so we went home in preparation for our rescheduled hike early tomorrow morning... I'm going to bed now.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

My First Week of Service Learning

I'm already nearly done with the first week of my Service Learning portion of the program. I'm working at a private school in the area. At the beginning of my program, I was told that I would serve as a teacher's aid, conversation partner, and that I would most likely drift around assisting various classrooms...well, that isn't exactly the case. When I arrived my first day, the teacher said "Alright. What do you have prepared for the next two hours because you're going to teach." I stood there for a second until I improvised something. After the first day, I was exhausted. No one ever said teaching children was so difficult! I thought to myself, How am I going to do this for a whole month? 

I have to teach multiple grade levels and arrange lessons for each of them because the primary school teachers don't speak English even though they're expected to teach it. Most days I teach for 4 hours, but today I taught for 6 straight hours. My back was killing me and I felt exhausted. Some days, thankfully, I get to help with secondary. There is an English teacher for secondary, so not all the pressure is on me. 

I went to the Service Learning meeting today with the volunteers, and almost all of them said they had so much free time that they had to look for things to do. It seems like my placement is the most difficult. I am not complaining, though, because I will be an expert by the time the end of the month approaches! 

Today was the hardest yet. Mostly because of the fifth graders who were noisy, mean to each other, and didn't take me seriously at all. It didn't help that their teacher left the room for most of the class or sat at her desk not helping with classroom management when I really needed it. The rest of the time, the children were sweet. They come up to me to tell me hello and give me kisses on the cheek. Sometimes, they try to share their snacks with me. Some little fourth grade girls gave me a bracelet they made today.

Oh, and I used a squat toilet for the first time at the school. It was interesting, to say the least. 

Overall, I think the most challenging part about working at the school will be classroom management.  For the most part, the students are fine. That fifth grade class might be the death of me though. I need to find a way to command more respect from them. Since being a disciplinarian is not in my nature and since my discipline vocabulary in Spanish is limited, this is going to be a challenge. Next is planning. It's difficult to know where the students are and what they need, but there are plenty of resources available for me to use. I realized that it takes very special people to work with younger children on a daily basis because when they're good, they're so sweet, but when they're bad, it's incredibly frustrating. 

Monday is Teacher's Appreciation Day, a school holiday, so I think I'm going to take some time to appreciate myself after a hard first week...

Lake Titicaca Part 3/3: Taquile

This post is way overdue! 

From Amantani, we took a boat over to Taquile. In Taquile, the people were even more traditional. When we arrived on the island, the tour guide told the males to walk in the front because females could not walk beside a male. Otherwise, it would be a sign of disrespect. This is still a highly patriarchal society, and they keep all of their old customs.

The people seemed happy to have us, but it seemed more like a show. They demonstrated various customs to us, which was interesting to see. My favorite custom happens upon marriage. The women grow their hair out until their married, and after they get married, they cut their hair and present their husband with large woven belt made from the hair. Another interesting custom concerns courting. Men wear different hats when they are looking for a wife. When a man sees a woman that catches his attention, he will take a mirror and try to reflect light in her eyes to get her attention. If this doesn't work, he'll try pelting her with pebbles until she notices him. Mind you, these are grown men!  

Afterwards, we walked to another part of the island where they prepared a trout for each of us. Trout is not native to Titicaca, but it certainly was fresh and delicious. 

One thing I felt from both these islands was a sense of peace. These societies are not rich by any means, but they communicate with one another, respect their heritage, and respect the land. This is something extremely valuable that was lost long ago in many places. I hope to one day return to Lake Titicaca.