You know you’ve been in Lima for 6 months when…

I admit that this blog idea is stolen from the most recent blog of my fellow Peru YAV, Hannah.  I couldn’t help but take the idea and run with it.  Thus, I give you:

You know you’ve been in Lima for 6 months when…

  • The spark and pop emitted from the outlet when you plug in any sort of electronics no longer makes you jump.
  • You know what a correct cab fare is and you can argue your point with the taxista
  • Every one of your meals consists of at least 2 of the following:
    White rice
    White bread
    White potatoes
    Sweet potatoes
  • You wish you lived in provencia because the taxis are so much cheaper
  • You wish you lived in provencia because everything is so much cheaper
  • You actually know what all the Peruvian dishes are
  • You don’t have to think twice about turning on the hot water before getting in the shower
  • You’re no longer shocked (ha) about the electrical wires that run all the way to your shower head
  • You treat the corner tienda like your kitchen and visit it multiple times a day whenever you need a snack, or water, or spices…
  • The temptation to throw the toilet paper in the toilet is completely gone
  • The temptation to drink water from the faucet is completely gone
  • You can decipher what the cobradores are saying
  • You know how to take the right bus!
  • You’ve survived a combi ride
  • Hot water in the sink is no longer expected
  • A 10 sole (about $4) menu (2-3 course lunch) is expensive
  • You’re used to 2-3 course lunches
  • Anything other than bread for breakfast?  You’re crazy!
  • You always have toilet paper with you. (You never know when you’ll need it, and most bathrooms don’t have it.)
  • You now consider yourself tall, even though you’re only 5’4″


Here’s a month-by-month recap of what I’ve been busy with since you heard from me last:

November began with a trip to visit artisan groups in La Oroya, Huancayo, and Huancavelica.  This circle-through-the-Andes tour included various car rides and bus rides that took us increasingly higher (up to 12,500 feet in Huancavelica) and more rural (Huancavelica is a 12 hour bus ride from Lima).  It was great to be out of the Lima smog for a bit and see the peaceful, more traditional countryside of the campo.  I got to meet and visit the workshops of five of the different groups of artisans that Bridge of Hope works with and gain a better understanding of the individuals that hand make each product.

Thanksgiving was spent with the 6 other Peru YAVs, our site coordinator and her husband (Debbie and Harry), my coworkers from the Red Uniendo Manos office, and our hosts for the event, Sarah and Rusty, who are also PC(USA) mission coworkers.  We managed to make most of our traditional USA dishes, with turkey, dressing (that I made for the first time ever and was quite happy with, although everyone tried to call it stuffing–a non-Southerner mistake), rolls, sweet potatoes, and a ton of vegetables and desserts.   It was a great day spent with my Peru community.

December brought summer to Lima; the schools finished their terms for the year and began their three-month vacation.  We finally started to see the sun in Lima!  Due to our proximity to the Pacific Ocean and a host of atmospheric events that causes, Lima spends most of its time under a cloudy, gray sky—according to Wikipedia, we only get 1284 hours of sunshine a year, 28.6 hours in July and 179.1 hours in January.  I saw the sun about 8 times from our arrival in August until December.  The sun has brought a new energy and happiness to the oft-sad-looking Lima.

With my thankfulness for the sun came my dissatisfaction that it did not feel like Christmas.  Even this Mississippi gal is used to a bundled-up Christmas, fires in the fireplace, and (maybe) snow.  My other US friends and I put aside any hate for corporations and embraced the brand consistency that Starbucks offers—the stores feel the same no matter where in the world you are.  Outside in the streets it felt like July, but holed up inside Starbucks we had Christmas music/lights/trees/decorations, and it smelled like Christmas, too (maybe just to me, and only because I generally spend the cold months cozy-ed up next to an espresso machine).  An oasis in Starbucks—kind of gross, huh?  But it got me through the weeks before the holiday.

Then my family visited.  My mom and sister were able to come see me for a week over Christmas, and it was great to be able to have the familiarity of family and family traditions during the holidays.  We visited Cuzco and Macchu Pichu and lots and lots of markets.  After my mom and sister returned to the US, my two weeks of YAV vacation started.  I was able to travel to the two parts of Peru I wanted to see the most—the tallest of the Andes and the jungle.  I spent a week in Yungay, 12 hours north of Lima in an amazing, rustic lodge at the base of the peak of Huascarán.  Huascarán is the highest mountain in Peru and in all of the Tropics.  The summit is the second farthest point from the Earth’s center and is used as training for climbing Mt. Everest.  I couldn’t help but gasp every time the clouds cleared and I could see the jagged, snowy peak towering stately over me.  I spent four days there, hiking up waterfalls and to glacial lakes, and exploring Keushu ruins from the pre-Incan Wari period.  Yungay has become the new bar (set extremely high) for all of my future exploring.  After the snowy mountains, I set out for the humid high jungle of Tarapoto and Moyobamba.  Hikes through the jungle showed me various tropical insects, flowers, and swarms of more mosquitoes than I’ve ever seen (this is coming from a Mississippian, don’t forget).  After these two weeks, I recognize and appreciate Peru’s diverse and beautiful land.

I was in Lima for one week after vacation before I left again for a week.  This time I headed to Cochabamba, Bolivia, to attend an environmental conference for young adults.  Delegations from Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and the United States attended and presented issues affecting their communities.  A theme that appeared in many of the presentations was mining and its pollution of air, water, earth, flora, fauna, and human health.  The week was an eye-opening one on our collective misuse of natural resources.  The participants were given opportunities to build relationships with like-minded environmental activists from their own country and those throughout the Americas.

And there’s my obligatory “what I’ve been doing since I haven’t been writing blogs” blog.  I’m still working on getting settled in to Lima, but I’m finally starting to feel like I live here.  I’m continuing to discover the city and what it’s all about.  My cab fares are decreasing, and I hope that means my Spanish skills are increasing.  One of my goals for the next six months (because I have exactly six until my flight leaves for Memphis) is to become a local in my community, and I plan to achieve this in part by posting up in the same cafe for hours at a time until I become the crazy gringa who drinks too much coffee.  My entertainment for those hours?  Hopefully more blog writing.

Splainin’ to Do

I’ve been putting off this post for a while, because I want to explain exactly what I’m doing in Peru and with whom.  This is a bit of a task, as there are many organizations involved, and all of them are doing amazing work that I want to recognize.  Commence linking frenzy.

My placement here in Lima is with the Red Uniendo Manos Peru (Peru Joining Hands Network).  The Joining Hands Network is part of the Presbyterian Church(USA)’s Presbyterian Hunger Program. Joining Hands has branches in 10 different countries throughout the world, and the Peru branch consists of a network of different organizations throughout the country.  All of the YAVs here in Peru are supported by the Red Uniendo Manos, and the majority of us work with organizations that partner with the Red.  I work in the Red’s main office in the Magdalena district of Lima.

The work of the Red Uniendo Manos main office is focused on three main issues, out of which have developed the following commissions:

  • Commission on Economic Development focused on fair trade/just trade issues;
  • Commission on Human Rights focused on the Truth Commission Report and civic education;
  • Commission on Environmental Justice focused on children’s health in La Oroya and other mining towns.

I work with both the fair trade and environmental justice commissions.  Our comercio justo (fair trade) organization is Bridge of Hope.  This is where I have spent the majority of my time thus far.  Bridge of Hope works with 17 different groups of artisans around Peru to assist them in designing and selling their products.  I encourage you to read about the different artisan groups; they are all amazingly talented and I’m excited about getting to know the individual members better.  Bridge of Hope wholesales to different retailers in the US and around the world. If you’re interested in purchasing artisan-made products, you may do so through Partners for Just Trade, our non-profit partner in the US.

Thus far with Bridge of Hope, I have been in contact with our clients to assist them in their orders.  I have attended a Fair Trade Fair, in which I was able to talk to people about Bridge of Hope and our products.  My favorite aspect of working with Bridge of Hope is assisting in product design–helping to develop new products and giving my opinion on designs of existing products.

My other involvement deals with environmental justice.  The Red is highly involved with the town of La Oroya, about 4 hours outside of Lima.  La Oroya is one of the top ten most polluted places in the world, thanks to a lead smelter that functioned there for years.  Ninety-seven percent of the children in La Oroya have toxic blood lead levels.  I encourage you to read this article from the New York Times for a concise run-down of the events in La Oroya.  The Red Uniendo Manos has organized a group of children there to learn about and advocate for their rights to environmental justice and health.  The group is CAMBIALO (“Change It”), which is an acronym that stands for “Building a Better Environment in La Oroya.”  Watch this video to see the kids talk about their daily realities.

Throughout the year, I will be making trips to La Oroya to visit with and work with these inspiriting children.  I’ve made one trip to La Oroya thus far.  The day I was there was a big day for the kids; they were presenting photography projects they had been working on for months.  The projects presented different realities of the current polluted state of the town, what the children wanted the town to be like instead, and the means to make the changes happen.  I was impressed with the kids’ knowledge and the work that had gone into each of the projects, which made my surprise job of  judge for the event very difficult.  I can’t wait to return and spend even more time with the CAMBIALO kids.

There’s my ineloquent run-down of my work as a YAV in Lima.  The work of the Red, my coworkers, the members of the artisan groups and CAMBIALO, and the office itself have made my placement my favorite part of my life in Peru.

inaudible comfort

I’m sitting in my office, listening to NPR’s Morning Edition and warming my hands around a mug of real coffee: today is the first of my 21 in Lima that I’ve been able to make coffee in a coffee maker. I’m usually lucky to get the instant powder, but I used the last of my host family’s last week and they haven’t replaced it yet. Although coffee is a daily constant at home, it hasn’t lost its ability to raise my spirits every time I enjoy it. Maintaining these little habits—allowing myself familiar tastes and smells and sounds— while thousands of miles away from home is my current strategy for staying happy and tempering homesickness.

It’s not that I’ve been a victim of overwhelming culture shock, at least not that I’ve consciously noticed or will openly admit. Since arriving in Lima, I’ve repeatedly given thanks for my natural adaptability and flexibility. I can’t imagine doing this program without having a “go with the flow” personality. No, more than anything I’ve felt frustrated—frustrated about my inability to adequately communicate with the people who are the new constants in my life. Despite my seven years of Spanish language study, I’m conversing and living in Spanish for the first time, meaning I’m experiencing the language in a way for which a book and classroom cannot prepare me. Of course, this is the main reason I wanted to be immersed in the Spanish language—to develop a relationship with it and to feel it rather than memorize it. Until I do, though, I will no doubt simply feel frustrated.

Perhaps more poignant than my inability to form substantial relationships is my inability to fully understand the new place I’m occupying. I’ve always been highly in tune to the world around me, observing details that I don’t know if others care to notice. Not understanding speech has put strain on my ability to understand my surroundings. It’s hard for me to even get a feel for someone’s personality, since I’m numb to the nuances in how they present themselves—the tone in which they’re speaking, their choice of words, their sentiment. I can’t pick up on themes of the lives of the people around me, in part because I can’t decipher background babble.  It’s insanely difficult to understand background speech; even if I can pick up on one conversation out of this cacophonous environment, I can’t see people’s lips move and I have no context for the snippets of words I hear.  Gossip around the office, conversations among my host family when I’m not directly involved or addressed, or speeches delivered by the characters who hop aboard buses to ask for money are a blur to me, which hinders my understanding of how people interact with one other, their relationships with one other, and the overall temperature of life here.

This week I start Spanish classes–two classes a week for two hours at a time, all one-on-one conversation in Spanish.  I’m not even comfortable speaking for two hours…or five minutes…in English.  If I don’t become comfortable speaking Spanish after several classes, I’ll at least be numb to doing it.  In the meantime, the optimist in me will continue to refine my ability to notice inaudible interactions and find comfort in their universality–and in my new morning routine of making coffee.

estamos aqui

I’m in Peru.

I went through a week of orientation in Stony Point, New York without really realizing that I would be moving to South America in a few days.  The closest I came to actually realizing what I’m doing was on the hour-long, swerving van ride from Stony Point to Newark.  It sunk in for a moment that I’m really doing this.  I wrote journals in high school about wanting to volunteer in South America, and I researched and talked to people about it in college.  The whole process leading up to this YAV year swept me along without my conscious acknowledgement; however, I’m here.  I’m living in South America.  I’m volunteering with a wonderful organization and forming community with beautiful people.

Orientation in Stony Point, New York was a refreshing breath taken in the midst of the stress of leaving home and arriving in Peru.  It was both energizing and relaxing to be within a community of like-minded people who have the same concerns, worries, and excitement at this time.  We survived Hurricane Irene, although we were 35 miles north of New York City, with a morning spent filling sandbags and preparing to weather to storm (literally).  Almost all of our flights were cancelled, but  thanks to the hard, around-the-clock work of Shannon and Bridgette, the Peru YAVs were rescheduled on a flight the following day.

It’s chilly in Lima right now.  The rooms that the six of us Peru YAVs are staying in during our orientation this week open onto a rooftop that overlooks the neighborhood.  The corridors between our shared rooms are outside, requiring us to bundle up in our concrete rooms at night, and the roof has thus far served as our living room.  There must be a panaderia nearby because it smells like freshly baked sweets outside my room.

The next nine days will be filled with orientation to the culture, city, language, money, food, and history of Peru.  Afterwards, we will move in with our host families throughout the city (four of us will be living in Lima) and the whole of Peru (one of us will be in Huanuco, and one in Huancavelica).   I can’t wait to start working with the Red Uniendo Manos: I’m excited about all of their endeavors and can’t wait to figure out exactly what my place will be with them.

getting ready and brain mush

There are chaotically organized piles of clothes for every season strewn across my living room floor.  My biggest luggage has been filled, emptied, refilled, carried around, and emptied again.  I’m in the middle of writing fundraising letters and thank you notes, getting prescriptions filled, buying last-minute toiletries, unpacking from my summer working in Montreat, cleaning, and making even more piles in my living room floor.  I have too many tabs to count open on my computer, most involving reading about the Inca Trail, hiking boots, weather in Lima, Skype credit, and the PC(USA).  I’m trying to make time to see all of the friends and family possible and talk to the ones I can’t see.  And drink lots of sweet tea.

I leave in less than a week to start my second year as a Young Adult Volunteer.  The YAV program is an endeavor of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to allow young adults an opportunity to volunteer for a year in one of their placements around the US and the world.  Sixty-eight of us YAVs will convene in Stony Point, New York next Monday for a week-long orientation before we depart for the cities in which we will be living and working over the next twelve months.  I will be spending that time in Lima, Peru.  In Lima, I will be working the the Red Uniendo Manos (Peru Joining Hands Network) and their fair trade program.  I’m still learning the details of my placement and where I’ll be living.

I’ll be posting more in the coming days and weeks about the details of what I’ll be doing and why I’ve decided to do it.  In the meantime, I encourage you to read about the YAV program. I obviously think it’s a worthwhile program to have chosen to volunteer with them for two years now.

If you’re interested in helping me to raise the $8,000 I need to raise in order to help fund my year, please make a donation here.

Here’s to hoping that I can put more check marks on my “To Do Before Peru” list today.


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