Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Long Update...I'm a real PCV!

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It’s been awhile since I’ve updated, and a lot has happened!

I am now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer as I swore in this past Friday at the US Ambassador’s house in Lima, but that’s kind of jumping ahead.

The last 3 weeks of training were a whirlwind.  It started off with FBT (field-based training) when I went with 7 other MAC volunteers to Lambayeque while the other 6 headed to Junin.  We were divided by the type of sites that we had (either coast/desert or sierra).  FBT was awesome!  We got to meet up with current MAC volunteers in their sites and help them with some of their projects.  The highlights included starting a vivero, camping in the bosque seco, being a part of La Hora Ecologica radio show, teaching about climate change in a school, and spending the night at a zoo.  Other highlights were the food!  I really do love Peruvian food for the most part, even though there are days that I would give just about anything to go three meals in a row without seeing a plate full of rice.  It was great meeting the volunteers and seeing their sites in Lambayque, and the ceviche was pretty tasty too.

After FBT we had our site visits, but luckily my region had a day off inbetween that we spent in Lima.  During this day we indulged in the world’s best sandwiches and caught the new James Bond movie for the equivalent price of less than $2USD.  Then we headed to our regional capital of Ica, Ica.  The first day was great—we got to hang out with some volunteers from our region and enjoyed a fun evening out.  The next day we got the chance to meet at least one person from our communities we’d be working with and one member of our host family before heading to see where we would be spending the next 2 years of our lives.  Unfortunately for me I found out that there had been some issues with my host family situation.  The initial family I thought I had didn’t work out due to safety/security regulations regarding rooms for volunteers (apparently wood is no good).  Luckily there was a backup, but that family backed out the day before I was supposed to arrive. 

So I spent my site visit in a hostel, which actually didn’t turn out to be that bad.  I got to meet some of the people I’d be working with in my site and they seemed awesome!  I will be working with two different offices of SERNANP, which is essentially the Peruvian National Parks System, one that operates a huge national marine reserve and the other that works with some protected islands right off the coast of my site.  Did I mention I got an awesome site assignment?!?!  During the visit I also went to a meeting of an NGO that works with marine conservation, and they gave some cool info about Humboldt penguins that live on the protected islands.  Staying at the hostel allowed me to meet some backpackers and eat whatever I wanted, so it was pretty relaxing all around.  On my last day in Paracas, I went to meet a family that had a room that somehow my regional coordinator found.  I only met the mom and one of her sons, and they seemed pretty shy and timid which is understandable since they had only heard of Peace Corps the night before and now they agreed to let a random American live in their house for 2 years.  The room is small but nice.  It’s on the second floor and has its own private entrance.  The two family members I met seemed nice, but I was really concerned that they would change their minds and back out after I left for my last week of training.

After site visit I headed back towards Lima, but stopped in a little beach town about halfway between Paracas and Lima for the regional meeting of volunteers.  My region is made up of volunteers from Lima, Ica, and Huancavelica (we are affectionately known as Licah region).  The meeting itself was pretty short, and it was just a great opportunity to get to know volunteers from my region and unwind a little bit.  The next day the trainees headed back to Lima, where we found out that there was a change in our training schedule.  Instead of heading back to our host families near the training center we went to a retreat center a little farther away, the same one where we spent our first two days in Peru.  While it was a bummer we couldn’t spend our last week with our families, it turned out to be an amazing chance to spend time together as our whole training group.  We had our regular sessions, then at night we could swim in the pool, watch movies, or just hang out in friends’ rooms.  It was a really nice way for us to kind of say goodbye before we headed to our sites. 

But before we had to say goodbye, we had Thanksgiving together with the staff at the training center!  The logistics got a little hectic with very limited kitchen use, but somehow it miraculously worked out and there was plenty of delicious home-cooked food complete with turkeys for all 56 trainees plus the staff.  The day got a little emotional as some staff and trainees shared what they were thankful for, the majority of which surrounded around us becoming such a tight-knit family.  That afternoon was the host family celebration complete with face painting, food, and a talent show.  Sadly I did not display any of my wonderful talents, but my family seemed to enjoy themselves.  When the time came to say goodbye, I was surprised at how emotional it was.  My mom, sisters, and nieces all cried as they hugged me one last time and I promised to visit since Lima isn’t all that far from my site.  I didn’t realize it until that point but they really do care about me and I actually felt like a part of their family.  After all the families had left and the party was cleaned up, I went out for pizza and beer with some friends to top off a great day.

The next day was what the previous 10 weeks had all built up to—Swearing In Day.  We were finally to become true Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs).  We had to load all of our luggage into two buses, get dressed in our fancy outfits, drive to Lima, unload our luggage at the hostel, then head to the Ambassador’s house.  Well needless to say that this crazy day became even crazier when our bus was an hour late, it didn’t have air conditioning, the driver couldn’t find the hostel, and we were late for our own ceremony.  But once we arrived everything moved quickly and before I knew it we had taken the oath and were out on the patio having snacks.  I talked with my host mom, other volunteers’ host family members from my community, the Ambassador, my APCD (basically my boss in charge of the environment volunteers), and some guys that work for SERNANP in Lima.  Before I knew it everyone was being ushered out, we got on our busses, and then headed to our Country Director’s house for a celebration.  The party was a lot of fun.  All of the staff was there to celebrate with us, the brand new volunteers.  There was food and drinks, plus a huge dance floor that we definitely took advantage of.  After hours of dancing, eating, taking pictures, and laughing we left his house and went back to our hostel to get ready to continue the celebration out in Lima.  Our big group broke up into smaller groups, some of which went out and some that decided to get some sleep.  I went with a bunch of MAC volunteers, a couple health volunteers, and some WASH (water/sanitation/hygiene) volunteers to a few places to grad some drinks and dance some more.

Saturday was pretty mellow for the most part.  There was a lot of packing, sharing of TV shows and movies to take with us to site, eating more delicious sandwiches, shopping at a handicraft fair, walking by the beach, and just taking advantage of the spending the last day with all our friends for the next 3 or 6 or 12 months.  Some people had to leave Saturday night, so the goodbyes started, as did the tears for some people.  It really is amazing to think of how close our entire training group got over these 10 weeks.  Not knowing when you’re going to see someone next is a pretty weird feeling, but we all promised to keep in touch and have planned to visit or take holidays together. 

Sunday was the day I was slated to head to site.  I actually had to leave pretty early in the morning so that I could meet my regional coordinator in our capital city to buy things for my room since it would be completely empty when I arrived.  Fortunately for me, my partner in crime/sidekick, Kate, also needed a bed so she got to meet me in Ica and go shopping with us.  To make a long story short, after we got locked out of our coordinator’s car (which has diplomatic license plates and people always stare at it as it is) and strapping two mattresses to the roof, and then watching in the rearview mirror as one mattress flew off the roof on the highway, we made it to my site and I unloaded my stuff in what will hopefully be my only room for the next two years (I don’t even want to think about having or wanting to switch host families after all the hassle before).  That night I hung out with my host brothers (I have 4).  My host mom was out of town, but my host dad was home and he seemed pretty nice.  It was a lot more comfortable than the day I met my host family from training, but I know that this nice I was speaking more/better Spanish, even though I’m still far from fluent.

I spent Monday, my first day in site, not really doing much of anything.  I tried to go meet with some people at my Municipality, but the mayor was busy and the guy I’m supposed to work with wasn’t there that day so I left.  I went back to my room and began to organize some stuff.  I ended up taking a nap because I was so exhausted from the past week and weekend.  I woke up and had lunch with 2 of my brothers while watching Rambo 3 on TV.  Then I went across the street with them to check out the chickens and roosters that they raise.  Two of my brothers actually raise and compete in rooster fights for money.  Apparently they make good money and it’s quite the spectator sport here in Peru.  I’m sure I’ll be seeing one of those in the near future.  In the afternoon I went and played soccer on the beach with my 15 year-old host brother.  It was a lot of fun to play soccer and be at the beach in the sun.  Did I mention my house is only a block and a half from the beach?  Not too shabby.  Some people may say I’m in the Posh Corps rather than Peace Corps, but there are still volunteers that have nicer houses and sites than me.  It’s all relative and no two services or experiences are the same.  After soccer I went for a run down past all the rich peoples’ houses in Paracas.  Apparently the rich people from Lima have houses down here that they spend weekends and summers at, and for the rest of the time they’re just sitting here empty.  There’s also a Hilton and a 5-Star resort called Hotel Paracas. 

Anyways, this has gone on long enough.  I guess now that training is over the real fun begins.  The days filled with nothing or everything, depending on what I want to do and if one of my socios actually shows up to a meeting.  So far this week I am 0 for 2 on trying to meet with people from my Municipality.  It looks like all of the woes I heard from other volunteers are going to be true for me too.  Oh well, I still have other people that want to work with me and I’m sure I will be busy enough but still enjoy everything Paracas has to offer. 

Oh yeah!!  I finally have my real address for the next two years.  I’m sharing a PO Box with some other volunteers that aren’t too far from me.  I have to go to the next town over to get my mail, but it’s not that bad.  The address is posted to the right, so don’t be afraid to use it.  I hope all is well stateside or wherever you are reading this from!

Until next time,

Todd    

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