Saturday, November 10, 2012

if you read the entire thing, you win a hug!

Peace Corps is sometimes thought of as a vacation. I joined, in part, because I thought it would be a fun way to travel. And then there is the omnipresent nickname “Posh Corps”. 

Yes, there tends to be a lot of free time, but Peace Corps is not a vacation.

Before I came I noticed that a lot of volunteers would abruptly stop writing in their blogs, often explaining that at some point, their service became, simply, life, and that they didn’t feel the same novelty that they did in the beginning.

I think I finally understand this. 

Since July, life has been a little… slow. It hasn’t really been that exciting. A few interesting things happened during July and the beginning of August, but for the most part… mild sauce.

But things are starting to pick up again, and there are some blog-worthy stories, so you guys deserve an update. Just know that, while it’s still exciting to be in Peru, Pariahuanca is my home now, and life is a little less thrilling and a little more routine.

  • Party season has come and gone. It was pretty fun (and my past experience helped me to know when to attend, and when to bounce). I’m hoping to end my service around the Peruvian Independence Day, July 28 (Fiestas Patrias) next year, and go all out, party hard, and maybe even get in the bull ring a couple times… 
  • I’m so in love with my [family’s] dog, Canela. She went into heat a few months ago, triggering a pretty traumatic experience for me. I won’t go into too many details, but I will say that I made the decision to get her spayed (very uncommon in Peru). I cannot bring her back to the States - as much as I want to- so I want to make sure she’s going to be safe when I leave. The experience at the vet was unforgettable. My boyfriend Pat went with me and since the vet didn’t have an assistant, we basically were vet techs (just like Snooki – for my Jersey Shore fans). I’ve always considered myself pretty tough, but as soon as those guts were outside of her little doggie body, I got nauseous and lightheaded and had to sit down. Pat did well, and so did Canela. Tomorrow morning I get her stitches taken out and no longer have to worry about the whole thing.

  • Speaking of animals, I’m pretty sure I told you guys about the joke gift I got for my birthday last year from my friends Jeff and Nico. The ugliest chicken they could find? Well, it grew up to be quite the ugly chicken. I would always tell visitors to watch out for the ugliest chicken in the world, and my host sister, lover of every creature and beast, would always defend her, saying how beautiful a chicken she was. We named her Cala Cunca, naked neck, and she was a loveable part of the family. [Gross sidenote: Cala Cunca has been known to drink breastmilk that has spilled on the ground. Ew.] Well, Cala Cunca got the flu last week and my host mom, who also loved the chicken, tried to see if some cold medicine would help. Shortly after, Cala Cunca passed away. I was in the middle of a meeting with some students and my host mom gently interrupted, whispering so softly that Cala Cunca had died and explaining what had happened. She told me I should go upstairs and cut off its neck to bury it. It was a pretty silly endeavor, the whole fam crowded around to watch me fumble with the knife and cut the head off the still warm chicken. I buried her head so the dogs wouldn’t get to it. We ate Cala Cunca for lunch the next day which turned out to be the worst-tasting meal I have ever had at my host family’s house. Cala Cunca’s final revenge.
  • I made a deal with my school to paint a mural for them, in exchange for another wall to paint with my kids. I’ve been working on it for weeks, but its turning out nicely. It had to be based on values, but I got to design it myself. It certainly beats the ugly cement that was there before. I don't have a picture of the finished product, but here I am at the beginning:
  • Oh. Cant’ forget the strike. Not a lot to say, just that a teachers strike cancelled classes from the beginning of September until the end of October, and left me, and my projects, up in the air. We’re back in session now after two months, and that’s all I have to say about that.
  • September and October were especially hard for one explicit reason (and it wasn’t the strike). Rumors spread like wildfire that a girl from 4th grade had gotten pregnant. Now, my most important work for the past 7 months has been my sex-ed classes with the 4th and 5th graders (of secondary, there are also 4th and 5th primary classes). It’s been pretty great, albeit controversial, and this is information that they would never have received without these classes. So when I heard a 4th grader was pregnant, I was devastated. Not to mention the snarky comments I received from the principal about the failure of my classes. The news put me in a slump for about two whole months. Until, just last week, I found out some extremely bittersweet news… The girl was in 4th grade of PRIMARY. Meaning she was not a student of mine, but that she was also probably only 10 or 11 years old. It’s heartbreaking, but also motivational, I know there is still a whole lot of work I can do.
  • I’ve been teaching English to a son of a store owner here and it’s actually been very successful. My favorite part is when we review fruits and he imitates me by pronouncing banana “bah-nieh-niah”. Makes me laugh every time.
  • I celebrated Halloween this year IN MY SITE! I wanted to plan an easy, but festive activity for the kids in my town. Halloween here is kind of seen as something that only the upper classes do, as it’s celebrated in the big cities, but never in rural towns. So I did a short lesson on Halloween in each of the primary classrooms and handed out mask templates and string so that each of them had a costume. On the 31st one of my best friends in site, Zinthia, and I handed out candies to all the kids who stopped by the municipality in their masks. It was a huge success and it made up for September and October being so hard.
  • In other news, while celebrating Halloween with volunteers, I dressed up as a honey bear. Here I am at our favorite bar Trece Buhos with Keren who dressed up as a dead-on Frida Kahlo:
  • On November 1st we celebrated Todos Santos. Almost every family in these parts makes bread on Todos Santos for their deceased. Last year I didn’t get a chance to participate so this year I made a point to be there. We only had a short time slot at the bakery to use their oven so we worked quickly (over 5 hours) making all the different bread shapes that the spirits require (5 dolls, 5 bunches of bananas, 5 donkeys, etc.). And the bread was 100% made from scratch – we grew and dried all our own wheat. Peru defines the Locally-Grown movement. Here’s my host brother Diego with his awesome bread doll

  • I cannot speak or write in accurate English anymore.
  • Oh yeah, I climbed a mountain, Vallunaraju. Ice pick and all. Bam.


 And finally,
  • I come home to visit in TWO WEEKS. For thanksgiving.   I am going to eat ALL the food in the US (watch out Ethiopian restaurants and Trader Joes). And I am expecting BIG Amurican hugs. Please and Thank you.
This has been the world’s longest blog post. Goodnight.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

marathon post

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that my site-mate Keren and I just ran a marathon. Yay! I haven’t updated since then and I really wanted to tell you guys about it. [Side note: I know some people are like, "Whoop-di-do. Who cares?", so if that is you, don’t read this blog post, k? Okay great.]

After the first long run. Really muddy and wet.
In September/October of last year I realized I had turned into an blob of a person. Peace Corps tells you that its obscenely rude to reject food and that if you don’t eat absolutely everything you will never have any friends in site, ever. Okay, also the food is delicious. But the Andean diet consists of mainly potatoes and rice and noodles and potatoes and potatoes and potatoes. So us lady-folk bulk up. Fast.

I also thought exercising was too hard here. The altitude kicked my ass – walking to work at 9,000 ft. raised my heart rate plenty. Doing P-90X in my room felt silly and wasn’t enough of a challenge. And then there were the dogs.

Let me tell you a little about the dogs here. They suck. Okay not all of them, but come on guys, let a girl try to lose some weight, aight? Running aggravates the crap out of dogs here. So do cars. And bicycles. But a short little girl with beefy legs running tauntingly past their house. Tempting.

So at the very beginning I went with my instinct- when a dog came after me, I ran. I booked it.


Just no.

That is NOT what you do if a dog is coming at you. Boy, was I an idiot.

So then I did what I saw many people do. I threw rocks at the dog.

Also, no. Nope, wrong again. This will help when you have no other options, but still, no.

So for a while I was carrying hand-grenade-sized rocks around while I was running. It was kind of annoying. And I looked silly. People started to tell me, “Nooo, Alison, tienes que correr con un palo,” (you have to run with a stick!). I thought that sounded way dumber than this stupid rock I was carrying. I also thought they wanted to laugh at the crazy gringa running around with a stick.

But after a few too many run-ins with the dogs, I tried it. And I’ve never gone back. My host family even widdled me my very own palito and I’ve ran with the same stick for the past 8 months. I don’t leave home without it.

For the most part the dogs see my stick and leave me alone, but for the really scary dogs Keren has taught me you have to be bigger and scarier than the dog. Just so you know, we look stupid crazy when we do this. Imagine me with my hands above my head shouting obscenities and stomping towards the dog like the Where the Wild Things Are monsters. Whatever.

So that’s just the dogs.

In the states I worked out pretty religiously. As a former college athlete working out was extremely important to me. So when I finally started working out again here, after a 5 month hiatus… it was, well, ego-crushing. I couldn’t run at this altitude for even a minute at a time without getting winded (it really is hard, imagine running with a plastic bag over your head… actually, it’s EXACTLY like that). But I was determined and finally worked myself up to 30 and 40 minute runs.

I had heard about the Pacasmayo Marathon before coming to Peru. It’s one of the few full marathons held in Peru and was founded by a Peace Corps volunteer. I wanted a challenge, and when I realized I’d only have one chance to run it, I decided to go for it.

After the 12-mile long run of death. Large.
I used Hal Higdon’s beginner plan. The first weeks looked really doable (three to six mile long runs), but I had no idea how I’d work up to 12 miles or how I’d ever be able to run the longest training run at 20 miles.

Keren thought I was a crazy person – I was huffing through 40 minute runs, how in the world was I going to train for a marathon in the Andes. She was definitely not ever going to do that with me. Definitely not. Ever. Okay maybe she’d just join me for one run. Wait okay, Keren would train for a marathon with me.

We trained our asses off (literally) for 18 weeks. Keren and I would run along the Panamerican highway (super-safe, I promise...) for our long runs on Tuesday mornings when we both had time. During the week Keren ran this crazy tiny loop in her hilly site to get miles in, while I ran along this bumpy, rocky, back-road along the river and past the lime-mines.

I never thought long-distance running was for me. I am a stump of a person. I am built for speed, not for distance. Seriously, have you seen me? Sometimes I think God gave me these legs as a joke. But they’re strong. And I can beat anyone at a sprint. But I’m SLOW AS POOP on long runs. Slow. As. Poop.

But it turns out I love it. I LOVE it. I throw on my silly headphones (thanks a lot Ryan Johnson), head out at the crack of dawn with Keren and my stick, and just go. And of course the views here don’t hurt.

So on July 1st Keren and I ran that marathon. And we kicked ass. I thought for sure that, out of the handful of people (40) running the full marathon, I’d come in last, and I had come to terms with being followed by an ambulance the entire way. But I wasn’t last! I came in 6th out of the women (lol, out of the 7 that didn’t drop out). It was an extremely challenging course, the last eight miles were on sand. But it felt awesome, and I felt like I could run another 10 miles at the end. Our Peace Corps friends cheering us on got me to the end with negative splits (thanks Brit!!!). And because I got, um, just a little bit lost, I probably ran a kilometer over a marathon! So in general, major ass-kicking.

Keren and me after the marathon!

Marathon training consumed my life for most of 2012 and as soon as it was over, I wanted more.

We have the dirtiest marathon feet.
So Keren and I are going to run the Lima half-marathon in six weeks. Then get super fast. Then get six-pack abs. Then run an ultra-marathon.

Okay, I’ll shut up now, now I really am just being annoying.

Goodnight guys!

P.S. Grandma! You ran a marathon! I always joke with you and say you’re going to run a race with me someday. Then, on Thanksgiving, when I told you on the phone that you should run the marathon with me and you laughed, I decided I’d make it happen no-matter-what. So on July 1st 2012, you and I both set out to complete 26.2 miles and you got me all the way to the end. [Check out the photos below - I pinned you to my number]. I love you so much! Way to go!

I can now add chicken heart (complete with arteries) and sun-dried beef (from our bull that fell over dead from illness) to my list of crazy meats I’ve eaten in Peru. Hooray for protein!

Friday, June 29, 2012

i earned these calories

Chilling in my room, listening to Wale’s 90210. I’ve got class in about an hour. Making pizza for my host family for dinner. It’s a pretty relaxing afternoon.

  • I’ve forgotten to tell you all one of the most important details of my current life! Alison Elizabeth Mendoza Flores! That’s right, my host mom had her baby girl and I got a namesake! She is the most precious, amazing, little, bite-sized angel. She weighed only about four kilos when she was born but she’s growing quickly. Here’s a pic if you missed her on facebook:

  • I’ve started up some clubs for the kids in my town. Today is the first session with the secondary kids… a lot of them work afterschool in their houses or chacras, so we’ll see about the turnout. But I’m really excited about the primary school session. The first day 18 kids showed up. I’ve started a rhythm that I feel comfortable with – icebreaker/improve games to start out, read a storybook aloud/do a little bit of learning, then do a craft project roughly related to the book/lesson. I’ll be sure to take pictures to share with you.

  • I run the marathon on SUNDAY! Ah! I am too nervous to write anything else about it.

  • After the aforementioned activity I get to rest on the beaches of Pacasmayo and Huanchaco for Fourth of July vacations. I am super excited to see some of my favorite volunteers, eat pizza, get sunburned, and go TO THE MOVIES with my training partner-in-crime-and-stupidity (stupidity being training for a marathon at 9,000 feet).

  • I think there is a chicken in my room… is there a chicken in my room? Wait, I’m gonna go check… Okay I don’t see anything… Weird.

  • I never really told you guys much about Carnaval in Cajamarca, did I? Well, that was a mistake. Because it was AWESOME. One of the craziest experiences of my entire life, hands down. Imagine thousands of people storming the streets of a major city, throwing paint and water at everyone in their paths. No one is spared. People walk the streets in gangs, usually accompanied by a marching band and everyone is dancing and drinking and playing. It is a whole day event and the entire city gets into it. If you ever have a chance to come to Peru in March, you have to check it out. Plus Cajamarca is beautiful. Definitely going next year.

After the paint war.

 Cajamarca is super green.

  • THIRTY SEVEN kids ended up showing up to that primary art and reading club class. WAY too many. Success or fail? Erm...

That’s all for now folks, love you all.
Wish me luck on the marathon - I'll need it!


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

can i please get some ethiopian food?

Okay, I gotta stay off and write this blog post. But seriously, homemade beer ricotta cheese and/or smore stuffed French toast? Come. ON.

I’m considering changing my blog title to peruADHD according to the following bullet-point format which I hope to continue to use… what do you guys think?

 • I’m still training for a marathon, who knew? The marathon is the Pacasmayo Marathon and is July 1st meaning Keren and I have a month left of training. This week is the peak week (mileage of 40 this week!) and then we get to start tapering – yay! I’m actually really looking forward to this week’s long run of 20 miles. The long runs haven’t been so bad lately, actually they’ve been kind of good, but I think Keren and I are starting to burn out and get bored. Training for a marathon really is like a part-time job. Whatever. I’m training for a marathon at 9,000+ feet. Baller.

• I have a feeling that my parents may have already told many of you guys all about this, but they came to visit! IT WAS INCREDIBLE. First Cesca came (!!!) and since she’s been to Peru before and her current job is amazing, we were able to just relax and hang out in Lima together for the weekend. It was perfect, we just lounged around at hostels and walked and ate a bunch around Miraflores for a couple days. Lovely, lazy, vacation with a bestie. Perfection.
I took Ces to the airport and waited for my parents to arrive. I think I waited somewhere around 9 hours, but I was surrounded by Papa Johns, Starbucks, and wifi, so… yeah. I had told my parents that I’d be waiting for them at the hotel, but was going to surprise them at the arrival gate. Even before seeing me they came out of the gate with huge smiles on their faces, even after a long international flight. I tried to yell to them but my tears choked me up entirely, I had to run to them and could barely muster a “mom” or “dad”. I was bawling - it felt so good to be back in their arms. I’m pretty sure all the Peruvians at the airport were staring at the three of us gringos crying. It was SO incredible to see them. We spent the week in both luxury and adventure. I’m asking them to write a guest post, so I’ll let them share their experiences. It was a trip I will never forget, and I was so happy to share my life here with them. I miss my family too much.

 • I’ve been really missing friends lately. I don’t know if it’s because its almost been a year away (June 9th!) or if it’s because many are together again, or because of my birthday, but I miss you guys. A lot. I’ll be visiting in November and I so hope I can see you all.

• Speaking of my birthday. My friends here celebrated with me and it was awesome. Even though original plans were completely thwarted because of a national protest and an abundance of road blocks, it turned out to be amazing. To paraphrase: really awesome long hike, bacon egg and cheese and huancaina sandwiches, hash browns, mimosas, French toast with cream cheese glaze, triple X, trece buho’s last night, potato gift, and a live chicken that now follows my host mom around like a dog.

• Still in love with my host family. Tomorrow I’m going to be my host sister Meche’s ‘madrina’ (godmother) for her inauguration as a school officer. Excited. She’s the best. Last night my host family and I stayed up after dinner for a while as my host mom and dad told me stories of the ‘virgencitas’ and the lakes around where we live. Apparently the lake above us will speak to the town when there is danger of it flooding and creating mud slides (a serious danger in Peru). It would warn my host grandmother in the past and she would take my host mom and the fam up to the surrounding mountains to sleep. There are also two ‘virgencitas’ that my host family strongly confide in. Virgenes are like saints, they are different images of the Virgin-Mary and each has special qualities. The two my host family reveres are the Virgencita Mercedes and the Virgencita Lourdes. I’m a little scared of Mercedes because apparently you can ask her to kill off your children and she’ll do it. But Lourdes is tight. She cures you when you’re ill and is apparently a good friend. Loads of other good tales from where we live. I’ll write up some more later.

• My dog died. Technically its my host family’s dog, but she follows me everywhere and I take care of her. My amazing, adorable, little puppy named Canela (cinnamon). A ton of dogs around us were poisoned (its pretty common in Peru for your neighbors to poison your dog), but I didn’t want to believe it until I saw her body for myself. On my birthday hike we were 4 hours hiking straight up from my site and a small dog ran up to me. I immediately started bawling. It was Canela!!! She wasn’t dead, someone had stolen her! She recognized me and started crying too. It was unbelievable. So I did what anyone else would do, I stole her back. It was the best birthday present I could ever get. I love that little nugget so much. Oh and sorry I tricked you and said she was dead. Gotcha.

• I still am really, REALLY craving Ethiopian food. UGHHHHH I want it so bad. Other than people, its probably what I miss most about the states. Fatkidsrule. Love you all, miss you. Come to Peru!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

si se puede

After a week long vacation with friends and with only a week and a half before Cesca and my parents visit (!), I decided that I needed to work my ass off when I was in site in April. I’ve been holding lots of classes, trying to visit everyone I can around town, running, and visiting with my host family as much as I can. I’ve been really good.

So last night when I was told there would be a ‘faena’ at the school today I thought it would be a great moment to get some face time with my community and the parents. A ‘faena’ is a community clean-up, in this case, all the parents of the students at our school were mandated to come and do general labor to clean up the school and get it ready for the school anniversary.

My host dad has been hard at work on completing an amazing bathroom (inside the house!) and he is almost done. I think that is why my host mom was going to go to the ‘faena’ as the house representative. But seriously, she’s going to pop out this kid any second now, and it was ridiculous for her to have to go.

So… I offered to go as her replacement.

Right after I said I’d do it, I regretted it. Sure, I’ve worked a variety of manual labor jobs before, and I know how to work my ass off. But Peruvians are EPIC at manual labor. Especially the women. They can actually move mountains then go home, cook lunch for their families, hand wash loads of laundry, clean the house, and still have the afternoon free. Epic.

I woke up early this morning reluctant but knowing that I would earn major points from my town if I worked hard. I got to the school, put my host mom’s name down on the attendance list and after a few minutes of discussion (I got to tell all the men how to build the ‘pozo’ for the trash!), I went off with the women to find a group that I thought I might be able to work with.


I found myself with a group of about 10 women and we were told to clean up the entrance of the school. We moved hundreds of rocks, tree-length logs, huge tree stumps, and, using their picks, we pulled up a lot of grass and weeds. I was literally covered in poop for most of it – it wasn’t the cleanest area. Once I picked up a rock that had ‘sorpresa’ on it (surprise) and I didn’t realize for a while that it was definitely poo and not just dirt. It was all over me. Pretty gross.

It was great practice for my Quechua though, most of the ladies didn’t speak Spanish (even though they all understand). And of course, anything I said in Quechua cracked them up. I’m glad I chose a group of women I didn’t know as well, I feel like I made a few new allies today. At one point I even applied sunscreen to a group of new lady friends (I think some of them thought it was going to turn them pale… erm, no, sorry bout that guys). I also promised to them that I would try liquefied frog in the near future and let them know how it goes. Something to look forward to.

When we had to pull up this hundreds-of-years-old tree stump and push it across the entrance I just looked at them with disbelief. There was NO way they were moving this tree stump. Imagine 7 older women in skirts and sandals trying to move a 6 foot wide tree stump. I dunno. In my mind there was no way this was going to happen. I told them so, too. As soon as I said “Guys, there’s no way,” all of them, with big smiles on their faces, started chanting “Si se puede! Si se puede!” and that tree stump started moving. We were all laughing and chanting by the time we got the tree stump to its destination.


After 5 more stumps, 20-plus hauls of weeds and trash, and hundreds of rocks cleared out, we were finally done.

So yeah, I think I earned some major points today.

I’m pooped.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

i recieve payment in food

Oh man… it’s the start of the Peruvian school year (*remember I’m a youth development volunteer). And honestly (oh god, I’m totally jinxing myself) things have been going pretty well! I present my community diagnostic on Tuesday morning (ohgodohgodohgod).

Oh wait, I bet you guys have no idea what a community diagnostic is… okay so for the first 3-4 (…or 5, okay 6) months my time in site was dedicated to completing a diagnostic where you assess your community.

Wow this is sounding super boring. Just know that I assessed my community and its development opportunities (especially related to youth).

So yeah. Also I’ve realized it’s hard for gringas to get people to attend their meetings so, my plan – make the meeting/presentation as fun as possible! Games! American cookies! PowerPoint presentations!

That last one probably sounds like no fun to you city-folk, but dude. Multimedia high-five. Our school just got a second projector and a laptop and a real screen! Like one of those pull down ones! Uh, huh, you heard me right, a real screen! Does this mean educational movie-nights are in my future?! Yes please! (…dork)

So other than my diagnostic presentation, I also am starting my sex-ed and adolescent health classes on Monday! So. Psyched. Two times a week during “tutoria” – kind of like home room. Condom races here we come!

And I’ve been teaching my professors English. Which is going really great. Today they were throwing out sentences left and right. And they brought me a liter of yogurt, a liter of juice, and a huge package of crackers. I love having to receive payments in food.

Um… what else?

Oh! Today I got two pairs of St. Patrick’s day themed socks in the mail from my mom! One of the best surprises ever. I laughed all the way to the internet cafĂ©. Although Danny Cackley’s letter I received last week might be the best. And coming in third was the hammentaschen Keren’s mom sent. Yum. How am I not Jewish yet?

Been missing friends a lot still. CESCA – Francesca Ioffreda is coming to visit me in late April and THEN (!) my parents arrive the day she leaves. I tear up just thinking about it.

Okay I’m bored and sleepy. This was such a weird blog post, sorry bout that. There’s a video blog coming up in a week or so…

Happy St. Patricks Day!

P.S. Sorry I'm not adding photos, internet is slow. Check the facebook if you want a photo update...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

what's in your backpack?

Recently I’ve been really inspired by The Hairpin’s “What’s in your bag?” series . It’s a strangely addictive series, and I always check for a new one when I have internet. I thought maybe I’d give it a go myself. So, without further ado, Ali Foley, what’s in your bag?


1. My Peace Corps Nokia cell phone w/ pom-pom charm and my room key. Key-cell phone combo? Oh yeah.

2. Kindle. Do not leave house without reading material. You will end up waiting in your classroom/the municipality building/the ‘bus stop’/etc. bored to tears if you forget this.

3. Reading material my socia (community counterpart) lent me. It’s a couple of Oscar Wilde stories in English.

4. My plan for the 2012 school year. I wrote this out while I was waiting in my classroom (see #2, I had forgotten my kindle).

5. My pretty little Quechua notebook which I won during training! I take this everywhere. [Cuadernuta Apakullaa] – impressed? Yeah?

6. Tweezers… which I haven’t used lately…

7. Hand woven straw wallet bought from another volunteer in Lambayeque, Peru. His host mom makes them and they’re fantastic!

8. My point and shoot camera. Always bring along as you never know what weird thing you will see or do.

9. Sunglasses. Also always bring with you. Even if you are the only person in your entire town who wears them. Sunglasses case is one of the best purchases I have made in my entire life. Worth all 6 dollars. Also, the handy microfiber cloth that comes with is great for cleaning computer of all the bugs you squished into the screen last night.

10. Agenda. Also do not leave home without. You are now a highly organized individual who even has their workouts planned out until July.

11. Well-used mini recycled-paper moleskine notebook from parents. Great for jotting down vocab/slang/doodles/lesson plans. Also great for explaining what recycled materials like paper can be turned into. Thanks mom and dad!

12. USB. Also bring everywhere. Helpful for bringing documents to printing shops and receiving music/TV shows from other volunteers.

13. Orbit gum from a care package. Again, thanks mom and dad!

14. Staples… I don’t know why these have been in there for so long.

15. Postcards I’ve been meaning to send to friends and family for ages now. They’re on their way, I swear!

16. Three-prong plug adapter. Also an essential.

17. Leash for Canela (our family dog). Caballero, another family dog and my favorite dog ever, just disappeared… my family thinks someone poisoned him (a sad common occurrence in these parts). So when Canela (our other puppy, who also is adorable) got sick this week, I didn’t hesitate to bring her to the vet. I had to buy her a leash, even though she’s so tiny I mostly just toted her around in my backpack (including during a meeting with a mayor- he never even noticed - ha).

18. Sweet braided headband BFFL Ryan, PCV in Ica, made me for Carnaval in Cajamarca.

19. Zip-loc filled with mini-med kit. Very handy for short trips to the city and long bus rides.

20. Mechanical pencils and Sharpie. Could not live without them.

21. Sunscreen. Also extremely important, the sun is crazy strong here. I ran out in Mancora (PCVs get sunscreen for free) so Charlotte and I had to buy this… unfortunately it gives you extreme ‘white face’ and I only carry it around for emergencies because its small…

A note on my backpack:
My backpack is my life. All my life I’ve carried a backpack, but this time its extra-true love. I take this guy everywhere. It has lots of awesome pockets and a super-protective laptop sleeve. It’s a Columbia backpack that I bought on which I’m obsessed with (and gives PCVs a great discount). Not trying to sell it to you, just giving credit where credit is due.

*Notice the lack of toilet paper, trash, and my DSLR. Failing to bring toilet paper everywhere I go means I’m, how they say, ‘le screwed’. And I’m sure you’re thinking, Ali, you’re editing out all the trash and receipts you have floating around in there – actually, I was just in my capital city yesterday, where I bring all my trash, so I just dumped it all – take that. Finally, note to self, bring DSLR everywhere you go – must take more photographs and envy Pim and Lisa less.

One more thing: check out my 3-yr old host cousin’s fabulous gold shoes and amazing color-coordinated outfit (peach sweater, pastel blue pants, pastel pink socks, gold shoes… get it girl!).


Monday, February 6, 2012


Okay so, in this blog post, you, my lovely reader, have three options:
A) Read the first long post about the holidays here in Peru
B) Read the quick list-type section, Bite-Sized Peru, towards the bottom
C) For the diehard blog-readers (probably just my parents) you could even read both!

Very Long Overdue Blog Post on Christmas in Peru

The holiday season has come and passed. If you remember that I’m on the underbelly of the world (at least in the popular perspective of the earth), summer happens during our (the U.S.) winter. So right now all the kids are on their three month summer vacation. Summer in Ancash, however, is more like winter. I’ve mentioned all of this before, but it’s rainy season, and its lovely here. I love rain and, even more than rain, I love how the rain has turned everything a beautiful emerald green color. The rain clouds cover our epic snow capped views, but I’d rather have this green-ness.

So the holidays in Peru? A lot of volunteers struggle with the separation from their home and family during the holiday season, so I was preparing myself heavily for the worst. I think Thanksgiving was tough, craving pureed Pumpkin products and the smell of my grandma’s house. But I was able to talk to my family a bunch throughout November and December and that was really nice. And then Christmas came, and I thought it was going to be rough. But something incredible happened – it was one of the best Christmases I’ve had in my life. [Disclaimer: this does not mean I didn’t miss my family and friends like crazy, I did and I do, I think about you every single day and night that I’m here.]

I decided to hold on to my traditions a bit, I made a Christmas tree out of paper (next year I’ll go ahead and buy the fake tree), put it above my desk, and laid out presents beneath. My Uncle Steve and Aunt Julie, my grandparents, and my mom and dad had all sent stuff that I put under my tree and then I bought a present for each member of my host family. I then spent a lot of time baking and preparing cookie trays a la Fillmore Street for my family and favorite neighbors in Pariahuanca.

Christmas here is for the most part celebrated on “Noche Buena”, or Christmas Eve. I went with my host mom, sister, brother, and my favorite dog Caballero to the mass in our cozy little church at about eight o’clock. I was excited because mass was going to be led by Padre Corado, an Italian priest who works at the Parroquia, rides a motorcycle, and, please tell me this is not sacrilegious to say, is, um, kind of attractive. His service was actually very moving… he started to talk about how it was hard for him during the holidays to not be with his loved ones in Italy, but that here in Pariahuanca he was also with family. Okay, so I teared up a little bit. Whatever.

So throughout the season people put on “chocolatadas” where they serve up hot chocolate and paneton (a delicious fruitcake) and hand it out to anyone within sight. So after mass, and after everyone came up and kissed the baby jesus from the nativity scene (god I hope no one had mono…) the church had their own chocolatada and then we went home to have yet another one. Yum.

That night we set off fireworks and sparklers and my host mom and I rallied each other to make it until midnight.

Before going to sleep I let everyone in my host family know, to not be alarmed that Santa knew where I was living this year and would probably be coming down our kitchen stove chimney and dropping off gifts under the paper tree I had made. Sure enough, when I woke up in the morning, there was a huge pile of presents under the tree! I ran upstairs to let everyone know that Papa Noel had in fact come! My host brother said that he definitely had come, because he had heard him walking around the night before. I led everyone into my room and handed out gifts. Everyone was beaming, gift-giving is not usually a part of Christmas or birthdays here so it was a nice surprise for all.

My host family was to make a Pachamanca on Christmas day. I was super, super excited about this because I had yet to try it and heard it was delicious.

To prepare Pachamanca:

1. Dig a hole in the ground. About 2 feet by 2 feet wide, doesn’t have to be too deep.

2. Stack rocks in the hole to form an igloo like shape. Make a fire within your igloo.

3. Prepare freshly-killed chicken and assorted potatoes. Smother all with a delicious garlic, salt, and ground up herb-sauce (most likely cilantro and parsley).

4. Collapse the igloo.

5. Lay large leaves found in your backyard on top of hot former igloo rocks.

6. On top of large leaves, lay the chicken and disperse potatoes around.

7. On top of food, lay heaping mounds of grasses cut from your fields.

8. On top of grasses, lay assorted blanket-like things like rice bags, etc.

9. Finally, cover this huge mound with dirt.

10. Let sit to cook in the heat and smoke of the igloo rocks for about an hour.

11. Unearth and enjoy!

DELICIOUS. Like, woah. I’m really pushing for another pachamanca soon, maybe for when my parents come.

Keren’s parents were here visiting and so came and celebrated and ate with us. They were fantastic. And later that night we all went to Huaraz and I was able to celebrate Hanukkah with them! No Christmas is complete without Hanukkah.

Sorry for more emotions, but, that night, thinking over my Christmas made me cry a little bit… The fact that this family here has taken me in, a complete stranger, and accepted me so entirely and really made me a part of the family, is truly incredible. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d like living with a host family. It turns out it’s my favorite part. They really are family. I have no idea what I’m going to do without them when I leave…

I certainly missed everyone, my family, my home friends, my college friends, and my neighbors. I hope you all had a nice holiday season too!

For the slackers (including me, because I can’t stand writing more than bullet points at a time): Bite-Sized Peru

• I am notoriously cursed on New Years. For some reason, I can never make it epic. That might be the issue, that I try so hard. So usually I end up craving Chinese food and movie fest with my parents instead of a crazy party. Not this year. Nope. This year I got the best surprise of all. Charlotte Ariel Bowman, was able to come to Peru for New Years. Most details are not blog-appropriate. We went Mancora, a touristy beach town 18 hours north of Lima. We had a lot of fun. It was very much needed on my behalf. I have no idea how I’m going to survive without that girl for another year. Meow.

• My little 3 year old Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dee host cousins (Keren came up with those names) are making weird noises outside my door right now. Also, since I was having trouble hitting my biceps with the resistance bands my parents sent, I’ve started doing reps lifting them. This is perfect since, a) they both need to practice counting and, b) as my dad pointed out, they’ll keep getting bigger, and I’ll keep getting stronger.

• Speaking of exercise, this year I am going to run, or at least try to run, the Pacasmayo Marathon on July 1st. It is supposed to be an epically boring race, but I am so psyched to do it. I have always wanted to run a marathon and this is the perfect opportunity. My official training starts February 27th, but I’ve already started a pre-plan and am getting ‘acostumbrar-ed’ to running at over 9,000 ft.

• These bullet points are too long.

• We keep losing water at night. This is pretty frustrating mostly because we tend to lose water when it’s raining. How is that possible?
• I finally finished Pride and Prejudice.

• We had our all-girls camp last week, it was incredible. I brought Meche, my host sister, and Helen, another favorite student of mine. A huge thing Peru PCVs work on is self-esteem, especially with girls from the sierra. It was incredible to watch the girls at our camp come out of their shells and be so outgoing and creative.

• I’m teaching and running a summer school. Three days a week, two sessions, one for primary, one for secondary, an hour and a half a piece. I teach English mostly, but we draw, exercise, and will eventually be making books.

• I am also teaching an adult English class which is turning out to be really fun.

• Carnaval season around here is about to start. I’m heading up to Cajamarca where the celebration gets craaazy. Most places they just throw water balloons at each other. In Cajamarca, its paint, oil, eggs, and water gun fights for two crazy days throughout the city. I’m psyched.

• I’m about to buy this awesome thrifted vest with a werewolf on it. I’ll post a picture upon purchase. Start getting jealous.

• I am in love with tea. I love it. It loves me. I like to put lemon in it. I like to put soy milk in it. I like to drink it plain. I like to drink it cold. I like to drink it hot.

• I also love mangoes. If you come visit, come visit for the fruit.

• Yes, I would like to move to Brooklyn when I get back.

• I day-dream of just a few things: drunken noodles, new york city, Go-Nuts pistachio iced coffee, and gyms. All of these things make my heart beat uncontrollably.

• I finally saw Animal House. So good. Also my site-mate Keren is exactly like Jim Belushi’s character. Like dead on.

• My. Parents. Visit. In. April. AH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So excited!!!!!! More on this later.

Love you guys. So much. Happy Carnaval!