Monday, December 3, 2012

An Effort At Letting Go

            So, recently it has come to my attention that I’m insecure about some things. Obviously, I already knew this, but usually in the past I would just acknowledge this as an unfortunate aspect of life and avoid dealing with it. But, motivated by some particularly profound personal growth over the last few months, I’ve decided this approach won't work for me anymore.
            That being said, I’ve decided that the best way to start to overcome my insecurities is to own them. And own them publicly. Like in a blog post. You see, I realize that these beliefs are ridiculous and irrational, but they are there regardless, clinging firmly with a vice-like grip to the dark corners of my inner consciousness. I feel that only by shining a light on them and bringing them out into the open can I truly begin to dispel them to myself. So, here goes my attempt at getting rid of something that takes up way too much of my mental headspace:
I have a bit of a belly.
I know, it doesn’t sound like much when you read it and even writing it out like that sounds pretty dumb, but it’s the truth. Every one of us has a part or parts of our bodies that we don’t like. Well, for me, it’s my belly. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had this little bit of baby fat wrapped around my midsection that’s just decided not to fuck off, no matter how much I work out or eat right.
It’s not that I think I’m fat. I’m not. I know that. It’s just that the only part of my body that does hold fat is my belly. It’s literally the only part of my body where there’s fat. I’m not kidding. My arms and legs are thin and lean. One of my friends (harshly, yes) compared my body type to a starving African child. Thanks “friend.” I look down at my belly all day long, sucking it in when I’m around other people. When I pass by a mirror or a reflective window, immediately my eyes drop down to my gut to see if it’s popping out just a little too much. Every time I look down (a decidedly unflattering angle no matter who you are) and see it poking out a little over my pants I subconsciously reaffirm to myself that I am not attractive because my belly’s not washboard flat and that that one thing will keep me lonely for the rest of my days. Every day I scrutinize it closely in the hopes that maybe it’s gotten a little smaller or that that (imaginary) six-pack buried underneath has finally started to burst through the fat. But no. It’s always there every morning, blankly reflecting back at me in the mirror, a flabby daily reminder that “No, today you must continue to feel insecure.”
And yet, upon writing this post, I realize that some good has come of this seemingly unshakeable insecurity. As a result of my distended belly, I’ve started working out, running (occasionally) and paying closer attention to what I eat. And all of those things have become things that I actually enjoy not just as necessary ways to keep my waist from expanding, but as incredibly positive ways of improving my mental health. Running and working out in the mornings gives me an incredible and much-needed positive boost. Now instead of wanting to look good naked being 100% of my motivation for working out, it’s only 50%, with mental well-being and physical fitness rounding out the other 50%. Eating healthy tastes good and makes my body feel good, which in turn makes my mental state improve. But most of all, my gut has forced me to confront the unrealistic and unnecessary expectations I place on myself to fit into some kind of irrelevant mold. It motivated me to write this blog post and empower myself to let go of those irrational insecurities and replace them with the understanding that I’m a pretty rad person however I look physically. And people that value me solely based on how I look are also irrelevant. So yeah, fuck those people. I don’t want them in my life anyway. Of course, none of this means I’m going to suddenly stop sucking in my gut around other people or that I’m going to stop trying to get rid of that belly fat. But hey, it’s a start.
So, without further ado, here’s a couple unflattering pictures of my shame. The first one's a picture of myself in boxers freezing my ass off in the frigid waters of the glacial lake Shimbe in Huancabamba, Piura. The other one's me getting grossed out climbing into a mud bath close to Zorritos, Tumbes. Enjoy!

So there it is. Damn. That's actually strangely therapeutic.
ANYway, in other news, I recently took a trip to the department below Lima, called Ica, for Thanksgiving with some fellow volunteers. We spent Thanksgiving at a desert oasis called Huacachina (“walk-a-cheena”).
Our hotel in Huacachina. Note the giant sand dune in the background.


There was a grand feast made and devoured, wine and other beverages flowed and then we climbed a giant sand dune and took in the nighttime view. One of the more unique Thanksgiving experiences I've had. 


The view looking back down on Huacachina from the giant sand dune.

The next day we camped out next to the pool, I climbed another bigger sand dune and went out dancing at which point I had to call it an early night because apparently spending the entire day under the desert sun tends to dehydrate a person, no matter how many bottles of water said person might drink. Or maybe it was the rum and cokes…

How I felt after running up to the top of a giant sand dune.

The view of the Pacific Ocean from Paracas National Reserve.
Anyway, the following day, I went to the desert wasteland/ national reserve in Paracas, Ica with my friend Matt and some new Peace Corps friends. We camped out on the beach looking out onto water that I can only describe as teal-blue. Whatever color it was, it was absolutely beautiful and when the sun set, the colors in the sky turned soft pink and combined with the water to form a fantastically surreal dusk. A campfire, box of wine and good conversation ensued. A nice end to a pretty damn good Thanksgiving break.
The next day Matt and I explored the reserve a little more before trying to figure out how we were going to get back out. That part about it being a desert wasteland wasn’t an exaggeration. And as desert wastelands go, there is little to no transportation in or out of the reserve. We walked to the closest sign of life, a cluster of restaurants, to look for a taxi back. After a brief and fruitless search (it was a Sunday, and apparently there’s even less transportation options on Sundays than on other days when there’s already practically none), we managed to track down a bus full of high school kids on a field trip that was leaving and the profe was kind enough to let us hitch a ride back to town as long as we gave the bus driver a small tip.
From there I had to figure out how I would get back up to Piura from Lima in time for my job training class on Tuesday morning seeing as how I didn’t have a return bus ticket, it was already late and the majority of buses leave before 8 PM. I took the 4 hour trip up to Lima from Pisco (the city, not the Peruvian alcohol) and with the help of another volunteer was able to track down the last bus leaving for Piura at 9:30 PM. From there, it was a short 16 hour bus ride up to Piura, 1 hour bus ride to Paita, the closest town to my site and a 30 minute collectivo trip to Pueblo Nuevo before I was back in site in no time fast. Ahhh, nothing like 21 hours on a bus to liven the old spirits! 

As always, to anyone reading this blog, much love and hasta la proxima vez!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

<<Preface>>  I wrote this post about a month ago while in site and did not have internet sufficient enough to upload this until today. Enjoy! Hopefully there will be more to come soon.

So it’s revocatoria season in my site. The revocatoria is something that happens every four years in the middle of the mayor’s four year term in office in my site. Essentially, the idea is to give the people of the pueblo the opportunity to kick the current mayor out of office two years into his term if he’s not doing a good enough job. While this sounds like a potentially good idea to provide the citizens of Pueblo Nuevo the opportunity to have more of a say in the political workings of the pueblo, my personal take is that it instead provides the two political parties in power here a chance to fill every waking second of the day during the month of the revocatoria with extremely loud and repetitive political propaganda, prompting a friend of mine to comment during a recent visit to my site that “Peru’s a loud place.”

A little history I’ve recently learned about my site. Apparently, there have been two men consistently duking it out for the position of alcalde (mayor) of Pueblo Nuevo de Colan over the last ten years or so: the current alcalde who is a member of the Somos Peru (We Are Peru) political party whose first name is Reymundo and another guy who is a member of the Peruvian socialist party. Every four years these two stir up their political bases by staging marches, speeches and blasting propaganda over the emisora. An emisora, as most Peace Corps volunteers in rural sites know all too well, is the way small towns communicate local news to everyone in town, usually in the form of a loudspeaker of some sort. When one candidate wins the election, the other spends the following four years trying to ruin the winner’s term by constantly pointing out everything he’s doing wrong while infrequently offering concrete alternatives. Sometimes the rivalry between the parties becomes violent. Two years ago, when the previous alcalde lost the election, his staff trashed the municipalidad and set one of its offices on fire.

Yeah. Needless to say, there’s some division between the parties.

So back to the noise issue.  I’m sure each town has its own take on it, but in my town, the emisora is essentially a megaphone speaker attached to the top of multiple long bamboo rods tied together so that it reaches over the tops of the houses and can spin around 360 degrees. Usually, when it’s not revocatoria season, it just emits the dull robot-like voice of the woman who makes the daily news announcements in the morning and in the afternoon. When I first came to site, this woman’s voice was the bane of my existence because, as I quickly found out, people in my site like to get up real early, thus necessitating their news needing to be emanated real early as well, meaning that any chance of sleeping in was impossible. Unfortunately, I chose to share my feelings about this particular voice with one of my socias (community partners) in site to which she promptly informed me that that voice belonged to her mother. Chock that one up to early in-site awkwardness. Like most things, I got accustomed to it and can now sleep through its staccato-monotone morning news broadcasts no problem.

Then came revocatoria season. I’d heard mention of this revocatoria thing since coming to site, but had no idea what was in store. Within the span of about a week, every square inch of public space was painted in giant political propaganda: Marca Si or Marca No (“Mark Yes” to revoke the mayor or “Mark No” to keep him). Bumper stickers stating the same were slapped on every mototaxi, light post and small child in town. Political rallies were staged with hundreds of devoted party members waving banners, chanting and incessantly blowing loud soccer horns. It's made even creepier by the fact that Reymundo's political banners use a shortened version of his name, "Rey," which is the Spanish word for king... Yeah.

And then began the daily emisora messages.

It started off with announcements and the occasional repetition of the Reymundo No Se Va song (Reymundo don’t leave). Then the repetitions of the song became more frequent. Then they became incessant. I woke up cursing loudly one Saturday morning to the sound of Reymundo No Se Va blasting five times in a row as if it was right outside my bedroom door. Apparently, the original emisora was not sufficient and the Somos Peru faithful had installed another one above their headquarters one block away and decided to face the speaker directly at my house. Now, for my listening pleasure, I could hear Reymundo No Se Va on repeat every day from 6:30 AM until about 11 AM and then again from around 4 PM until about 7 PM. I find myself humming it or singing it to myself at times, which I guess is the idea. As a result, I’m sure the Reymundo No Se Va song will haunt me to my grave.

Luckily for me I was given a short week’s respite in which I participated in the Amazon River Raft Race with some Peace Corps friends in Iquitos. We helped assemble (paid Peruvian youth to assemble) a raft out of tree trunks and spent three days paddling down the Amazon River. Needless to say, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but was extremely rewarding and I got my first peak at the marvels of the Peruvian jungle. More on that in another blog post.

So it only took five days of brutal heat, humidity and spastic torrential jungle downpours to get that damn song out of my head… until the first day back to site.

I believe I just made it out of the back of the colectivo before hearing the opening lines (and really only lines) “Reymundo no se va, no se va, no se va…” I rolled my eyes and resigned myself to several more days of this before the final vote that would happen on the 30th of September. I went to my room, unpacked by backpack and shared my presents with my host family. We were sitting down to eat dinner when suddenly we heard a ton of noise coming from outside in the street. All the women and kids in my family jumped up and ran to the windows and doors and yelled for me to come quick. I ran over to the window expecting to see a political riot, but instead watched as a crowd of alcalde faithfuls came marching down the street chanting, carrying signs and blowing their soccer horns. My host dad muttered something about it being a bunch of rubbish and how he wished it would all be over already. I returned to the table to finish dinner and went upstairs to get ready for bed.

Then came another call from my family as I heard the crescendo of even more people marching down the street. Deciding I needed to capture this insanity with my camera, I started videotaping the pro-alcalde procession as it passed by my house. I watched in awe as the entire street in front of my house was filled with people, cars, mototaxis, children, animals and even the alcalde carrying a banner. This went on for so long that my camera’s memory ran out of space after five minutes and it still wasn’t finished. I retreated back into my room only to hear the sounds of this march going around town until around midnight.

Of course, at the time I was put off by the excessive noise and slightly disturbing display of devotion to one man, but after having a chance to step back and look at the situation a little more objectively, I couldn’t believe that in a town of only about 12,000 people, so many would take to the streets to show their support for anything. That’s to say that I feel like in the States, in order to get people riled up in a similar fashion, your best chances are to have a two-for-one sale at the Apple store the week before Christmas.

And seeing as how it’s election season in the States, it makes me wonder if our political system is really all that different. Sure, it looks different on the surface and at first, I was tempted to view things here as juvenile and immature; a bunch of adults getting stirred up into a frenzy by a man just trying to stay in power. But then I started thinking about it in comparison to the political climate in the States and realized there are striking similarities that are interesting to see up close and personal in the microcosm of an isolated pueblo: the nonproductive partisan bickering, the money wasted on marketing the party, the repetitive propaganda, the mindless touting of the party line. All I have to do is look at video or a photo of any Democratic or Republican political rally or convention and see the American replica of the same thing.

But in keeping with that time honored political tradition, I’m not here to offer any cohesive answers or suggestions about how things could function better. It’s much easier to point out the faults in the system, voice my frustrations and then step back into the fold, leaving the responsibility to fall on someone else more motivated or idealistic than I to assume responsibility.

So, with that being said, I’ll remove my ill-fitting political commentator cap and don once again the more comfortable dunce cap of a Peace Corps volunteer.

Until next time, faithful few, much love to you all.

P.S. For anyone curious to know, Reymundo did not “se va.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Desert Is Only as Lonely as You Make It

After reading through a couple of past blog posts, I realize I apologize a lot for my inability to post regularly. I’m going to stop doing that and just post when I can. Consider this my meta-apology for past and likely impending lapses of regularity.
So, also harking back to a past blog post: Como les explico? How do I explain to all of you what’s been going on with me over the last few months. Well, first off, I have to say it’s a really a beautiful thing to be rewarded for having faith in yourself. That being said, I believe some backstory is in order.
When I made the decision to quit my social work job and join the Peace Corps at age 30, I made that decision with several specific motives in mind, one being very similar to the motive that lead me to take that social work job three and half years earlier: I wanted to put myself through hell in order to grow as an individual.
But let me clarify. I don’t mean to say that my job before was hell. It was by far the most educational and rewarding thing I’d done in my life up until that point. By “hell” I mean I knew that in order to stop holding myself down with self-doubt and fear, I had to put myself in a position where I was not allowed an easy out or a means of avoiding difficult decisions, where I would be subject to uncomfortable situations daily and forced to address them head on or lose my job. I also knew that only by doing this over a prolonged period of time could I grow more into the man I wanted to become and stop relying on avoidant tendencies to keep me from maturing.
That’s not to say that I’m some bastion of maturity. Good lord, no. To this day, I still have trouble not snickering when someone says the word “penis” (not a good problem to have when I’m teaching teenagers about safe sex practices) and I’m certain that I will always think farting is goddamn hilarious.
But what I did want to mature in was my self-reliance, my own ability to be an individual and feel comfortable in my own skin. I think this is a constant struggle for a lot of people. I’ve found for me, the more comfortable I feel as myself, the more ecstatic I feel to be alive and be myself.
So, anyway, that was a major motivator for me wanting to be a Peace Corps volunteer. I also knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would take me to amazing new places with amazing people and allow me the opportunity to finally learn this language that I’d wanted to learn for so long. But most of all, I knew there would come a time (and likely several times) when I would get dragged back down into depression and anxiety and that I would have to struggle with all of that on my own without the comforts of friends and family from back home. And I actually wanted that.
Call me a masochist, but I knew that once I was able to make it through that period on my own without relying on old vices and easy outs, I would come out on the other side a much stronger and happier person.
And so, here I am.
That’s not to say I’m all better and that I don’t still struggle daily with issues of insecurity, self-doubt and frustration with the language. But I can confidently say that after the period of what I will hyperbolically (I think I just made that word up) call “The Summer of my Motherfucking Discontent,” everything seems much more manageable and I feel better with myself as an individual than I ever have.
So, that of course poses the question: “What exactly happened during this hyperbolically titled period of your life?”
Well, thanks for asking.
Basically, to avoid a lengthy and, I feel, unproductive bitch session, let’s just say I was without any substantial work in my site from about December until March. And, apparently as I found out, when I don’t feel that I’m contributing something of substance to the world, I start to get down on myself. And when I get down on myself, I get depressed.
It’s a lot easier to look back on it now and see what happened. Lengthy, sweltering days spent in my house with too much time to think, too many screaming children, no regular work schedule and an ever-decreasing motivation to get out and interact with people. Just thinking about it now makes me want to shudder. As you can imagine, this type of routine lead me to spiral downward until one day I found myself overwhelmed by what I would consider the second worst depression of my life. I had spoken at length with several other volunteer friends about our mutual struggles with depression during this difficult summer period, but the further down I got, the more difficult it got to bother calling or talking to anyone. Luckily for me, a much-needed respite from myself and my site happened literally as I was close to hitting rock bottom (thank you Carnaval in Cajamarca!).
Shortly after returning from Cajamarca, my regional coordinator paid me a surprise visit and unknowingly helped pull me out of what was likely to be another downward spiral. He strongly suggested that I get moving on some of the projects I had agreed to be a part of and gave me a timeline in which I needed to accomplish these tasks. At first, this triggered a couple days of crippling anxiety and self-doubt as a result of three months of what I viewed as personal stagnation. Thankfully, I was able to rely on something I had learned from my first major bout of depression: if I put my mind to accomplishing something, I will accomplish it. Not only that, I’ll kick its fucking ass.
So, with that in mind, I made a lengthy list of things I decided that I would accomplish. This sudden clarity of purpose rapidly filled me with motivation and a sense of purpose. A large part of this sense of purpose was fueled by my desire to do whatever I had to not to return to that place I had just left and that clearly meant keeping myself involved in a meaningful way in my community and with the other volunteers. Apparently all I needed was some shockabuku, “a swift, spiritual kick to the head,” (Gross Pointe Blank anyone?) from a higher-up to get me back on track. It all harkens back to that accountability I knew I would need to keep myself moving forward.
So, from that talk with my regional coordinator to now, I’ve managed to complete the following:
-          Do my community diagnostic presentation in front of a group of about 30 community members
-          Start an increasingly popular nighttime English class focused on educating local school teachers about how to incorporate more interactive teaching methods into their classroom
-          Help write a new chapter to one of the most important manuals we have as youth volunteers, Pasos Adelante
-          Develop two projects for the youth in my site that will be starting later this month (youth health promoters and job training/university prep courses)
-          Hike over 13,000 feet to camp out next to a glacial lake (and a bunch of cows)
-          Help organize and facilitate a week’s worth of HIV/AIDS trainings for two groups of Piura Peace Corps volunteers and their community partners
-          Go to four different departments of Peru in one month (one for the first time)
-          Take a high-speed dune buggy ride through some gigantic sand dunes
-          Slide down said large sand dunes on a snowboard
And apparently I’m becoming more and more recognized as a therapeutic presence among the volunteers as I’ve gotten multiple positive remarks from other volunteers, Peace Corps staff and even our country director, all within the last two weeks.
So, yeah…
Kind of hard to believe where I was just a matter of a few short months ago. But for me, that is what is so important about my having gone through that difficult period: coming out on the other side stronger and reinforcing the concept that no matter how bad it can get, it’s never permanent. And that while I may be the one responsible for pulling myself out of my funks, I’m not alone.
I think often we as Peace Corps volunteers feel compelled to put a happy spin on everything that happens here as a way to avoid looking weak. It’s always easier to talk about all the cool shit we’re doing and post all the wacky pics we’ve taken, but I feel like the struggles we face here are just as important, if not more so, than our vacations and fun times with friends. For me personally, I try to see the difficulties I face as an opportunity to grow (often easier after the fact) and the time with friends and on vacation as a necessary balance to those difficult times. Everything in moderation, I always say (although, not typically on the weekends… or at fiestas… or the discoteca).
Thank you to everyone who has been there for me in the past and continues to be there for me, some of you in ways you might not be aware. Whatever good I’m able to do in this world, I dedicate it to all the ones helping me stay on track with myself.
So, in an effort to end my first (almost) entirely serious blog entry ever, I’d like to share something that my old therapist gave me several years back that I like very much:
A Cherokee grandfather was teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside of me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight between two wolves.
One is dark – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
The other is light – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.
This same fight is going on inside of you, and inside of every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old man simply said, “The one you feed.”

So, with all of that being said, I still can't avoid the temptation to post some cool pics of my adventures. Enjoy and much love!

                                     Some of the alumnos from my English class.

Matt and I posing in downtown Huaraz, Ancash

The ridiculously beautiful view that distracted me
the entire time during our training in Ancash.

Me finding out that we were only 1/5th
of the way up our 5 hour hike.

Nick and I victouriously arriving at our campsite
beside the glacial lake half-dead and just before dark.

The other glacial lake down the hill from the one
we camped out next to.

Huacachina, the oasis just outside of Ica City.

The dune buggy we took tear-assing through the desert.

The snowbaord I took down the giant
sand dune (but I had to do it laying
down on my stomach).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

¿Cómo te explico?

Decorating the Office of Gringos Útiles
“How do I explain this to you?” Something I hear fairly frequently from people in my site when I say “No te entiendo,” essentially, “I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.” Or at least, that’s what I’m thinking, but luckily it’s not taken that way.

So, with that theme in mind, how do I explain to you the up and down hot air balloon ride on crack that Peace Corps service continues to be?

Outside the "Office" of Gringos Útiles (next to the cock-
fighting arena)
After submitting my proposal for Gringos Útiles to the municipality, I was invited to the weekly meeting of the regidores (like city council members) in the municipality to discuss how to incorporate my ideas into the plans the municipality had for vacaciones útiles. After much talking, planning and a shitload of misunderstanding on both sides, I ended up with an approved project and, as a sort of consolation, I agreed that instead of having English youth groups, I would teach four English classes in the primaria (elementary school) during their scheduled vacaciones classes.

Maki and Me
(hanging out in my favorite spot in town)

Right as all of this was getting figured out, I was informed that my good friend, Maki, another Peace Corps volunteer, would be visiting me and staying in my site for a week. I found her a killer spot in my site that even I was jealous of with my good friend Judith’s family and put her to work helping me figure out what the hell I was gonna do for all of these groups I had now received funding for.
It’s also right around this point that it became abundantly clear to me that having a bunch of really good ideas and actually turning those ideas into a reality are two very different things. I realize now that I had a bit of a disconnect regarding what it takes to follow through on an idea. Before it was like “Yeah, you know, just make a youth group. Bam! Lives changed. Super easy.” And yet now, faced with the prospect of starting four youth groups and four English classes, that disconnect became alarmingly real, busting me in the face like a cartoon character stepping on a rake.
First came the English classes. I would be teaching the two highest grades in the elementary school, two classes of quinto on Tuesdays and two classes of sexto on Thursdays (fifth and sixth grades here). Luckily, I had Maki on hand for these first two classes and she helped me get the kids hyped up about learning how to say “What’s your name?” in English (although I think she was having more fun than them at times). So far of all the things I’ve done for Gringos Útiles, this has been the most rewarding and fun because it has given me something productive to do regularly and, as it turns out, I kind of enjoy teaching. It’s funny that the thing I dreaded the most and only did begrudgingly as a means of placating the muni ended up being one of the best parts of this difficult summer season.

The only promotion my movie night got on the day
of the event.

Me trying to explain my ideas for the different groups I
would be doing.

So then came the movie night. I was going to use it as a way to draw a crowd of people into a location and then tell them all about my different groups to try and build interest. After a harrowing last-minute purchase of a pirated copy of Wall-E (I’m not sure they sell any other kind of DVDs here) in Spanish by my socio Pedro and me running around town telling everyone I know that there’s gonna be a free movie with free palomitas (popcorn, literally “little doves”) because there was no promotion done of my movie-night beforehand, I showed up on time, waited the pre-requisite hour and a half for people to show up and started the movie off with a little speech about my groups. Although the turnout wasn’t that big, I still consider it an exitito (little success) because I learned a lot about how to plan a movie night, built interest for movie nights I'm planning in the future and it reinforced that stressing out about things still doesn’t change them from happening how they’re going to happen anyway. Might as well sit back and enjoy a post-apocalyptic robot love-story over a cono of palomitas with the ten or so people who showed up and stop worrying about how it could have been better. And so began Gringos Útiles.
Here’s how it’s gone down over the last three weeks:
Originally, only two kids showed up for the first basketball group. Not much to get overly excited about, but the following week, I was able to convince some teenagers who wanted to play soccer to play basketball and we had a good game of 5 on 5. Then later, some younger girls showed up and we had another really fun game of 6 on 6, with boys and girls playing on both teams. This last week, two kids showed up and we eventually had to relinquish the court to a larger group of teenagers who wanted to play soccer.

Biking in the chacras

For my first biking group, I had two kids and we had a decent ride through a part of town I hadn’t seen before. They liked it so much they wanted to have another group later in the week, so we scheduled a group for Wednesday and this time had about 6 kids show up. We took a long bike ride through the chacras, again in a part I hadn’t seen before and everyone said they had a blast and wanted to do it again the following week. Then the following Monday, no one showed up and Wednesday only one kid showed up.

Me and my cajón

Hangin' out with some Jóvenes

As far as my “Express Yourself” group goes, it was kind of a vague concept that got turned into more of an impromptu jam session/guitar lessons. After borrowing a cajón (essentially a wooden box you sit on and bang the front in various locations to make different percussive sounds) from one of my friends in site, I had begun bringing it with me to my “office” to practice while I waited for people to show up. Of course, the cajón is far from a subtle instrument, so needless to say, a gringo banging on one tends to draw attention, and, to be honest, that’s kind of what I wanted. Eventually, a couple of teenagers showed up and we starting passing it around. We agreed to meet back up at my office again on Thursday with guitars and my cajón and we’d have a little jam session and I’d try to teach a little about how to play guitar. The next meeting was fun. We played music for a few hours and chatted, and made plans to continue in similar fashion every week. The following week, no one showed up.
Don’t ask me about the World Map project. The idea was to paint a giant world map on one of the walls outside of the primaria to educate people about world geography and have something cool to do during vacaciones. It's considered an "early win" by Peace Corps. No one showed up for that group. Ever. But I became aware after several people told me they were confused by the concept that I need to plan a little better and explain more clearly what I want to do. More to come on that project once I can figure out how to get kids to show up.
So, yeah, como te explico? The first week of Gringos Útiles, I was expecting a low turnout, so it didn’t really bum me out when no one showed up. I was willing to allow that week to be a buildup period while word spread from the few people who did show up. Then, when the following week ended up being better and I had more kids showing up and enjoying themselves, I was feeling pretty great and like my plan was justified. All I had to do was keep showing up and the groups would keep growing organically. Then, when almost no one showed up for any of the groups this week, I have to say, it was hard to maintain that cheery level of optimism.
But I feel like I would be negligent in my complaining duties were I not to complain about something that has very  much impacted my mental and physical state outside of Gringos Útiles: the heat. I know all of the veteran volunteers kept telling me when I first arrived in Piura “If you think this is bad, just wait until summer,” but it was hard at the time to process how it could get hotter. And then summer began and it got hotter. Still, I felt like I could handle the level of heat. I just had to cling desperately to the shade whenever I left the scalding inferno that my house becomes between the hours of 11 AM – 6 PM.

What happens after the previously dry,
desert climate has its first rain in 5 mos.

And then it rained.
Now we have this brutal cauldron mixture of a Piura sun drunk with summer power mixed with humidity levels that make Atlanta in the summer sound like a refreshing jump in the pool, and the best I can describe it is a feeling like claustrophobia where I’m fighting my flight reflex daily because there’s nowhere to run to that’s going to be any less H.O.T. I feel like there’s some applicable Dante quote I could insert here, but it’s too fucking hot to think.
And, so here I am, sitting somewhere around 100° F with what feels like at least 100% humidity due to the daily morning rainfall, clothing incessantly stuck to my chest, back and ass due to excessive sweating and I’m starting to understand what those wise, wise volunteers were referring to.
All bitching aside, I have to acknowledge that I learned some very useful information from this whole Gringos Útiles experiment. First of all, that planning only one group a week is probably not going to be enough to sustain the interest, or even more importantly, the memories, of any of the kids in my site. Secondly, that as much as I have been avoiding it, I will likely have to begin working in the high school here if I ever want to have regular interactions with the youth in my site. I prefer the more comfortable setting of a youth group, but I realize now that in order to have that kind of confidence with the youth in my site, they’re going to have to get to know me and that will only happen if I start interacting with them on a regular basis.
Gringos Útiles is by no means a failure. It put me out in the public eye, gave me more interactions with some truly awesome kids in my site and taught me some valuable lessons about how to do things in the future.
So, far be it from me to end this blog post on a negative note because, all things considered, my life’s pretty fucking incredible and these difficulties are a beautiful and integral part of the personal development I wanted out of this experience. I like this quote from Maestra, the grandmother character from Tom Robbins’ fantastic novel Fierce Invalids Home from Warm Climates: “All depression has its roots in self-pity, and all self-pity is rooted in people taking themselves too seriously.”
With that in mind, and with much continued love to all of my readers, I leave you with this thought: