Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sendero Luminoso

We watched a documentary on the Shining Path yesterday which gave the low down on the 20 years of hell that the Peruvian people went through during their terrorist reign. The Shining Path was started by a guy by the name of Dr. Guzman in the Department of Ayacucho up in the sierra. It started out as a blend of communism and Marxism in the early eighties and recruited poor, disenfranchised folks up in the hills mostly by intimidation, torture, rape, things like that.

After the Peruvian government started using the military to crack down on the Shining Path, they fought back with terrorist tactics; car bombs, shootings, and whatnot. Both sides stepped up the violence. In 1990, Fujimori was elected, promptly dissolved the congress, and kicked up the war on terror a bit. Eventually, the police chief at the time used good old fashion police work and captured Dr. Guzman, effectively cutting off the head of the terrorist organization. Without Guzman’s leadership, the Shining Path kind of fell apart. Turns out you can win a war on terror if it’s done right.

After, it came out that Fujimori’s head military guy and his military killed a ton of innocent folks and paid off the TV stations to bury the story which is what recently landed Fujimori in the clink (he’s still immensely popular around here and built the school, institute, roads and street lights in my little community. His daughter is leading in the polls for the upcoming presidential election).

The Shining Path is still around but has abandoned its communist roots and adopted a more capitalistic approach by operating coca plantations in the jungle and distributing its Peruvian marching powder to the quivering nostrils in stock brokerage houses throughout the US. Since the US has helped with crack down of the cocaine production and distribution in Colombia, the New York Times reports that Peru is set up to be the number one producer/exporter of cocaine by next year.

I’m not sure how they’ll celebrate and I have no idea what to bring to the party. Deviled eggs?


Today was our first outing to Lima. I haven't been there since I was twelve and don’t really remember much other than the sun hardly ever shines. I live up the hill a bit about an hour outside of Lima by regular car. By combi it takes at least an hour and a half, closer to two sometimes. Drivers here are pretty insane. The objective is to go faster, try to pass the car in front of you, then go even faster. That is when you’re not stuck at some uncontrolled intersection battling big rigs, other combis, BMWs and three wheeled motorcycles hauling all kinds of shit. Stopping at traffic lights is optional but they’re starting to crack down on that. The fine for running a light is about 300 Soles (100 bucks) or you can slip the cop a couple of Soles and you’re off.

Lima is about twice as large as New York City and, like New York, could use a real good power washing. We weren’t in the center of Lima too long but long enough to know I probably don’t want to spend too much time there. Ton of traffic, high crime, kind of dirty, and it’s overcast around 9 months out of the year. I don’t mean partly cloudy, I mean completely overcast. Good napping weather.

Down the street a few blocks from the Zona Central is Lima’s China Town. It’s not quite as authentic as Chicago’s or San Francisco’s. The only Chinese guy I saw was in a kiosk selling incense and telling fortunes. Our Spanish class found a “chifa” and had some pretty OK Chinese food. At least the Peruvians don’t serve their Chinese food with chopsticks so dopey, non-Chinese can look all cheap.

We left the center and went to Miraflores, which is down by the coast and is a pretty sweet, well kept part of town. There is a little shopping area overlooking the Pacific Ocean and beach, complete with a Chili’s, Tony Roma’s and movie theater. I did find a bar called The Corner, a sports bar that looked pretty legit. Apparently that’s where a bunch of ex-pats go to watch American football, baseball, NASCAR racin’, etc. I even found a Marriott that overlooks the Pacific Ocean where any visitors I may have (Albu) are welcome to stay and allow me to use their nice hot showers and worry-free flushing toilets.


Tuesday was the anniversary of the school in my pueblo which was a pretty big event around here. The kids dressed up in their school uniforms and the family was kind enough to take the gringo with them to observe the festivities. In front of the school was a half-drunk man selling antorchas, which are little candle-lit lamps made out of bamboo sticks and colored plastic film (Spiderman, Barbie, Power Rangers, dragons). I asked the old man if the plastic film burned and he said “Oh yeah. It goes up pretty quick too.” They could never get away with that in the US. Too dangerous. But the kids took care not to set them ablaze and didn’t act like a bunch of shit heads and set them afire on purpose (which is what I and every other red-blooded American kid would have done).

The kids all went into the school to organize their little parade while I waited outside with the old man. An old lady cooked up some kind of food on her portable plancha right next to us. My stomach was a little jacked up so I wasn’t eating that night but it sure smelled delicious. Once my stomach gets more acclimated I’m going to start hitting some of the food carts pretty hard. I’m sure it’s not good for you but it’s cheap and looks pretty damn tasty.

But food is a different post. While the kids were inside I talked to the old man. A friend of his walked up and he introduced us. She was probably in her early thirties and had a daughter about 10 or 11. The old man started to pimp me out right away. “Oh she’s single, she has a kid but she’s separated, the Peruvian women will keep you hot on a cold night...” I laughed him off and called him a crazy old man but felt pretty uncomfortable.

The children started filing out of the school with their antorchas lit and started a little parade around the neighborhood. We walked down the hill, around the soccer field and playground, up the Avenida Principal, all the way up to the top of the hill, down to the overlook, around the stadium and instituto, and back to the school.

The school actually looks a lot like the one I went to in Venezuela. Pretty basic two and tree story buildings built out of brick block covered with cement. I took a picture of my host kids which set off an onslaught of kids running over and wanting their pictures taken. They asked how much and I said for free. I didn’t think about it at the time but I think they were expecting an actual print. Fortunately the old man had my back and said “Domingo, Domingo” hoping they would forget by then. They won’t.

La Taverna

Last Friday night after training, me and few other trainees went out for beers at local joint called La Taverna that I found during one of my language exercises. The bartender didn’t help me out for shit on my project but at least I found a good place to get a couple of beers after work.

It was a really good time. We’re splitting up into groups and many in my Water and Sanitation (WatSan) group are also in my language group so I really haven’t gotten to know a bunch of folks. We started off by getting a big bottle of rum and did some shots. We also bought a few beers and split them. We kind of upended the place when we came in. There were a couple two tree tables where the locals were hanging out and here we came charging in like a herd of thirsty PC trainees. The locals put up with our shit and were very accommodating. They moved tables around and interrupted their conversations to make us comfortable. I went and sat with a few men that were already half in the bag and chatted with them for a while.

A PC volunteer named Chris hung out with us and taught us a few things about drinking in Peru (which they apparently do a lot). He told us about ordering a caja of beer which is twelve, liter and a half beers which came to about 45 soles ($15). He also taught us how the Peruvians pass around the bottle. There are only a couple of glasses and there’s an order on who pours, who drinks and how the glasses get passed but I can’t remember exactly how it goes. What a I remember is that everyone drinks out of the same glasses, you shake it out and pass it on down the line. It sounded pretty gross. He said it was especially gross when you get handed this glass after it been around a few times and the guy that passes it to you is some nasty slobbering old drunk Peruvian man. 

He also taught some of the single guys in our group how to pick up Peruvian chicks that are sweet on gringos (pancheras?) with out blowing all your cash. We sat around the table for a little bit getting to know each other in a less formal, non-training setting and had a nice time. As you can see from the picture below, I wasn´t listening very well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday Funday

After my shower I threw on some shorts and a t-shirt and sat on the roof in the sun to do a NY Times crossword puzzle. I read the local paper to practice my reading skills and took a quick siesta. At lunch time, most of the family sat down and had lunch of rice (per usual), pureed potatoes, chicken and onions in a tomato-based sauce and sliced cucumbers which were soaked in freshly squeezed lime juice. Delicious. I sat around and talked with the sister and one of her nursing school friends for a while (not as hot as it sounds). They laughed at my fumbling around in Spanish and at the notion of learning new words in a different language (a couple of hours later the friend had her purse snatched in Lima).

After lunch, I went next door to Caleb’s house. Some old lady who either couldn’t speak or couldn’t hear answered the door. I asked if Caleb was around. She moaned something and pointed a tiny curled hand at the street. I took that to mean “Sorry, Caleb is not here right now. I believe he went down the street to Brian’s house for lunch. You should be able to find him there”. She was right.

They had just finished lunch and I asked them if they wanted to go to the local soccer match. The town is divided into areas called manzanas (which means apples in English… haven’t figured that one out yet). On Sundays there is a league that pits one manzana against another. My host brother is on the team for our Manzana so we went to see him play. We paid our one Sol (about 33 cents) and walked in. I tried to get in for free as a “niƱo” but it didn’t work nor did the locals find it particularly amusing.

I’d say there were about 50 people there, most rooting for the other team. The teams had full uniforms, the referees called a good game, and the players played to win. Occasionally a stray dog trotted across the field but neither the dog nor the players seemed to mind too much. My Manzana lost 1 - nil but at least we were in the sun and didn’t pay one Sol to watch a hard fought battle to a nil - nil tie between a bunch of amateurs. Carlos, my host brother, rode the pine for the game.

Virgin! Party!

Saturday night. 6 pm. I felt like I should be walking down the street to Murphy’s. Instead I was hanging out at the house staring to feel a little homesick. There was a big party in a pueblo called Tres de Octubre for the Virgin de Something or Other. They like their virgins here and throw them kick ass parties that start at around six at night and rage until four or later in the morning. I decided to go to the festival so I followed the old man’s directions and took the combi up to the neighborhood and started waking up the hill. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going and it was already dark but it looked like a pretty rich, safe neighborhood. There were mansions on both sides of the streets some with security guards out front.

As I walked up the hill, I ran into the virgin processional. The processional was lead by four men carrying a small throne decked out with flowers and a little statue of the virgin they were honoring that weekend. Unless they were going to a different virginal celebration, I figured we were going to the same place so I tagged along. Behind the little throne was a dance troupe with about 20 women and 10 men dressed in traditional garb from the sierras. The women wore ornate dresses and frilly white shirts, the men in black decorated gauchos, hats with colorful plumes and ceramic masks with different facial expressions. Behind the dancers was a band made up mostly of saxophones of all kinds, a large harp, a couple of violins and a few clarinets. It sounded like they were playing the same song over and over but that just might have been my untrained gringo ear unable to tell the difference. Every now and again, a band member would break away from the group, duck into an alley, piss on the side of someone’s wall and hop back in.

When we got about halfway up the hill, I saw the festivities were going to be held on a basketball/soccer court with a stage set up on one side and a couple of little bars that sold beer. Ladies were outside the fence preparing anticuchos (sliced beef hearts on a skewer) and sliced potatoes grilled over coals. I had a little plate of anticuchos with a side of aji, a pretty spicy but tasty sauce. It cost 1.5 soles (about a 50 cents) and may have been one of the tastiest things that I’ve had since I’ve been here.

I found a group of the trainees over in the corner of the festival area. They had gotten an early start and had already blown through a caja of beers (12 pack of about 24 ounce bottles). Fortunately there was a little store above the festival area where you could buy some beers.

The processional came into the festival area to much fanfare, sat the virgin down next to the stage and did their traditional dance. Afterward a band played pop Peruvian songs. The next group was a Peruvian boy band that wore the same scarlet shirts and black jackets and had choreographed dances moves. It was pretty fuckin’ funny but they sounded good. I had a few beers but since it was dark I decided to call it quits and head home at about 10:30. I wanted to stay for the fire works display which they carted into the center of the festival area on top of taxis. The launching pad was a large bamboo structure lashed together with twine. I thought this could go terribly wrong or be pretty spectacular. Either way, it would be damn entertaining. But I had to go home.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

TMI (Mom – That’s how kids these days say “too much information”)

Warning – The contents of this posting should not be read by anyone under the age of 13, females (especially hot ones), family members, current girlfriends, past girlfriends, fellow Peace Corps trainees, current Peace Corps Volunteers or anyone else for that matter.  It’s about going number two.  So far since I've been in Peru everyone’s been telling me that I’m going to get sick, it’s just a matter of time.  Now I didn’t get full on sick last night but let’s just call it a warning shot across the bow.  So far the food’s been great.  I've been drinking clean water and practicing your good sanitary habits.  Something however got a hold of me last night.  About two o’clock, I woke to some strange noises (it wasn’t the minor tremor we had but that’s a different posting).

Anyway, I felt a strange sensation in my in my belly and realized that’s where the noises were coming from.  It wasn’t a rumble or even a gurgle.  It was much more than that, something more sinister, something not of this world.  It sounded a bit like Godzilla and Mothra duking it out in my transcending colon.  My belly felt bloated and distended like the children in those Sally Struthers commercials.  It hurt.  Alot.  Something was in me and needed to get out. 

Now, I’ve only taken a piss in my host family’s bathroom in large part because I don’t know how to work the toilet (not a good feature for a water and sanitation trainee).  Either way, the being within was going to come out one way or another so I got out of bed, put on my sandals, turned on the light and hobbled down the stairs doubled over in excruciating pain.  I made it to the bathroom with teeth and other parts clenched only to find there was no toilet paper (or papel higienico or PH as they call it here).  Fuck!  Now what?!  I remembered seeing some in the kitchen somewhere.  None!  Fuck!! And then I saw some on the cupboard.  Back to the restroom and sweet, sweet release.  A liquid exorcism.  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me... 

I cleaned up and stood there looking at this aborted alien in the toilet.  Now what?  I had some vague notion how to flush the toilet and the best I could figure you grab a small bucket, scoop some water out of this 55 gallon drum and just pour it in the toilet and it goes away right?  Hadn’t before but I tried it and it sort of took care of business, well not really at all.  Tried another bucket.  Little better.  Maybe dilution is the solution to my pollution.  Then I had the brilliant idea of holding down the handle and then pouring in the water.  Voila!  Eureka!  That took care of it!  Thank God and sweet baby Jesus and Ganesha and Apu (you crazy Peruvian mountain god) for sending me this trial and tribulation (now cut that shit out).

I went back to bed, my entire digestive track quivering with relief and delight and a lone tear trickling down my face.


Apart from the I-pod I got from the gang, another gift I received (stole more like) is a map of the Lincoln Park/Lakeview/Wrigleyville neighborhoods on a soft rag that Jeb used to clean his glasses with.  Maybe it cost him 10 bucks but it’s a piece of home for me.  I look at the map and here is the Lincoln Park Zoo and I’m riding my bicycle between the lagoon and the zoo on my way to play softball with the Bangers at South Grant Park.  I flip it over and here are Wrigleyville and Lakeview and I’m walking down
Clark Street
and pop into Sluggers for a quick one from the other Sexy Johnny before the game.

And up to Clark and Addison to beautiful Wrigley Field, buy my score card from old man John and the great times, sunny days, cold ass opening days, heartbreak, and joy.  And here’s Belmont Harbor and I’m running along the lake past the dog beach and up to Hollywood and back, long run on a Sunday morning.  And down Melrose chasing after rats with Buddy and hangin’ with my girl.  And south on Broadway, along the route of the Pride Parade.  Then the flower shop that used to be a gyros place open till 4am.  Past Intelligencia, study, study, study, and of course a stop into Murphy’s for a brew or two and a good laugh. 

Texas is a state of mind but Chicago is my home.

Training Day

Woke up with the rooster’s crows at 4:30 am.  He must have been the early bird rooster and lives directly on the other side of my wall.  He was apparently the alarm clock for the rest of the roosters because in five minutes the whole valley echoed with crowing.  I have a feeling this alarm doesn’t have an inactive weekend setting.

Breakfast was pan with a small avocado and a little salt and what I think was some kind of sweet, runny oatmeal.  My family seems like a typical American family in that they’re all on the go and eat at different times, if at all.  The mom is busy in the morning getting the kids ready for school before she goes to work, her brother was sleeping in because he worked late.  In the morning, there was a new face in the living room.  It was a distant cousin who’d not been in town for about 15 years since moving to Argentina.  He’d clearly met up with friends he hadn’t seen this whole time and raged like he hadn’t seen his friends in 15 years at a festival for whatever virgin they were paying homage to that night.  Somehow he found his uncle’s house, his cousin was hanging out outside, let him in and he crashed on the couch.  He woke up frozen and hung over.  I felt his pain. 

We headed down to the bottom of the hill to catch the combi to go to the training center.  The combi is smaller than a real bus but a little larger than a 15 passenger van.  We caught the bus at the busiest possible time.  The combi was packed with students.  As the combi slowed down a lady jumped out and pushed us into the crowded bus.  “Sube! Sube! Adelante! Adelante!  (Get in! Go to the front!).  The driver looked and moved like he was on Thorazine but drove like he was on amphetamines.  The speed limit is “faster”.  When we got to our destination, the same lady yelled for us to get off.  No coffee needed after that.

Training was training.

On the way back, the combi was not quite as full and I got a seat after a couple of stops.  We walked around for a little bit and headed back to the house.  A little band was kicking up on the corner.  I asked the little girl next door what the occasion was and she said it was a celebration because the new roof was finally installed.  They christened the building with a bottle of champagne and threw out candies to the kids.  I was nervous the kids were going to be diving for candy amidst the broken glass but they put a bag over the bottle before they broke it.  Some lady came out with a couple of plates of food and handed me one of them.  The old man was cooking me dinner but I didn’t want to offend either so I took the plate of food back to the house, ate it, and ate the plate of food the old man cooked.  Full.  And the party rages on.  So far, there are 5 milk crates stacked up in the middle of the group.  Doubt they’re filled with milk so I’m pretty sure they’re going to be out there for a while.

Day 1 with My Host Family

After a night at the discoteca we assembled for the walk up to the Training Center.  The training center is a beautiful large home that was once part of a larger tract of land that got sold off into smaller parcels.  It’s gated with tiled roof and a large back yard with a decorative pool.  We had a briefing about living with a host family and had lunch.  At about 1 in the afternoon our host families started arriving and taking us out to our communities.  Five of us are in a community called Huascata.  One by one folks started leaving.  By the end, it was me a couple of others.  I kind of felt like one of the last dogs at the shelter waiting to be adopted.  Finally my host father showed up to take me to my new home for the next 10 weeks.

My host father is a retiree with a son and a daughter and two grandkids ages 6 and 9 who all live in the same house.  There’s a main living room that has a little electric keyboard where the kids took turn playing Happy Birthday and Fur Elise.  Someone was  playing a song that sounded a lot like Sinatra’s Chicago.

My penthouse suite is up on the roof has a bed, desk, lights and is pretty comfortable.  The bed has a Super Heroes comforter complete with Superman, Spiderman, Wonderwoman and a couple of other muscular, manly, masked do-gooders.  I’m sure they had to wrestle it away from the 6 year old.

I spent a little time unpacking and getting settled in before me and the other volunteers in the area walked around, met the other host families and checked out each other’s room.  Caleb, a fellow from Virginia is right next door which is nice.  I imagine that our little group of five is going to be pretty tight the next couple of weeks. 

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Off to Peru

Departure day. Day started out at 8am when we loaded the buses in the driving rain and headed to the airport. At the airport I was reminded that the Peace Corps is a government agency. Everything was organized but there was an element of “hurry up and wait” (kind of like the Army except people weren’t yelling at us). We got all checked in with our new passports with Peru visas and waited around until about 1pm for our flight to Miami.
From Miami, we flew into Lima and landed about 10 at night, loaded up a couple of buses and drove to Cajamarca which is about an hour outside of Lima. This is where we will spent the next three months training and living with a host family.

Day 1 of training we met the PC staff down here and were evaluated for our language skills. I think mine went pretty well until the questions started getting kind of philosophical like “Some people feel that capitalism and the development of a country leads to rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. What’s your position on this?” I know they weren’t trying to trick me into a whole political debate but I kind of felt uncomfortable and I couldn't just say “Well that sucks” or "Eat the rich" so I kind of bumbled through.

There was also a question that went something like you had a good job, good life, nice place to live, etc. why did you want to come here and volunteer. Quite frankly I was starting to get a little bored, wanted a big adventure and wanted to do something productive that could lead to greater opportunities in the future. I liked the mission of the Peace Corps so here I am.

(I wasn't trying to get fancy with the picture I just couldn't figure how to take it off sepia)

Tomorrow off to meet my host family with whom I’ll live for the next 3 months.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

DC Staging

After one cancelled flight, two gate changes and a delayed arrival courtesy of United Airlines I'm in DC for our staging prior to heading down to Peru.  I brought 1 bag with clothes, one backpack with camping gear and books, and a carry on.  I kind of feel like I overpacked but being 6'6" with a size 14 shoe I figured I'm a bit outside that 3rd standard deviation down there and would have a hell of a time finding stuff that fits.

Peru 14, my training group, is 57 people strong and seems like a great bunch.  Most of the group is younger and graduated from college fairly recently.  I looked around for the retirees and other mid-career folks but there are none apparently making me the old man of the bunch.

We had a 4 hour orientation where we got to know each other, went over some of the basics and expectations, and filled out paperwork.  I though we were going to get shots today but we get that when we get in country.

We're staying in a hotel tonight and head out tomorrow.  Somehow I got a room to myself.  Alot of folks went out for dinner but I stayed in to rest up, tie up some loose ends, call home, and enjoy some "me time"  (which meant eating McDonalds and watching Bikini Destinations, uh, I mean football.)

I also fiddled around with my very first Ipod given to me by Adam, Alli, Laurie, Jonas, G, and Patty.  Pretty damn sweet.  Thanks gang!

Well, tomorrow's the big day.  We arrive in Lima at around 10pm and drive out to some kind of resort for a 2 day retreat.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lunch and one last walk around downtown

Went and grabbed some lunch with the boys from the shop.  The two Toms from the Risk Consulting group and Iven & Will from AVMA/PLIT.  We went to some hole in the wall called G&G on Will and Iven's recommendation.  They know food and have never steered me wrong.  Ate and laughed.  They went back to work and I took a walk around downtown one last time.
Oprah was taping the opener for her 24th season.  They closed down 5 or 6 blocks on Michigan Ave right at the river.  People had apparently waited overnight to get into the show and did they ever look miserable.  It's not all that hot out but they were penned into small areas and looked hot, hungry, thirsty and bored.
I worked in the black building in front of Big Red.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Blow-out at Monsignor Murphy's

Twenty-four hours later I'm finally "well" enough to function, somewhat.  The fine folks at Monsignor Murphys, my local watering hole, threw me get the hell out of town fiesta.  The fete was organized by Alli and Adam (pictured above) who put on great parties.  Tons of people showed up from my various walks of life - work, basketball, softball, long time friends, denizens of Murphy's, etc. 
Party started about 5 and rolled on until ?  I left early because there was more than one "one last shot".  Good food, great going away cake with the Peruvian flag, a bumbling farewell speech and an all around good time.  Check out the Facebook pics.
Again, my friends here in Chicago are the best.  Chicago is the greatest city in the world and I will miss being here dearly.

Taste of Peru

One of my former co-workers, Julie Kilzner and her husband, Cesar Izquierdo, own a Peruvian Restuarant called Taste of Peru in Rogers Park.  She was kind enough of to invite us to eat there.  My first thought was that I'm going to be eating Peruvian the next 27 months so I need to be hitting as many Chicago-style places for pizza, beefs or dogs.  Then she said the magic words "on the house".  Went with Susan and Sam.

The place is small and kind of smells like cat piss when you first walk in (Julie explained to us that this was a freshly grown herb that they use alot).  There are pictures everywhere of celebs (including one of her husband's niece who placed 3rd in some sort of Ms. World beauty contest in China).  Diners, Dives and Drive-ins filmed there a few months ago and Guy signed the wall.  The place filled up pretty quick and a traditional Peruvian band played (I'm seeing lots of pan flutes in my future).
Food tried - Anticuchos (marinated chicken and beef hearts grilled on a skewer), Ceviche Pescado (fish marinated in lime juice with onions, corn), Aji (spicy green sauce you put on your dishes), Lomo Saltado (beef sauteed with onions with a side of rice), Arroz con Marisocs (seafood paella essentially), flan.  Food was delicious! 

The place is BYOB but Julie gave us a six pack of a Cuscena beer.  She said there were a number of them but that this was the best.  Step aside PBR your ass has just been replaced.  She also brought out a bottle of pisco but we weren't brave enough to try it. 
Don't think eating in Peru will be much of an issue in fact I can't wait to try some other things i.e. guinea pig!

If you're up on the north side of Chicago check it out Taste of Peru website

Friday, September 4, 2009

Going Away Party at the Albu's

The mighty Albu and his lovely wife threw me a going away party.  Albu is the ultimate host.  Plenty of beer, great food, mayonaise-based salads, deviled eggs.  Fiestas at Albu's have changed a quite a bit over the past few years with the marraiges and the breeding and what not.  Still, it was a great time.

Dick Paulson brought a Peru survival kit which included a flash light, emergency blanket, a couple of jars of liquid that he called natural tanning oils so I can blend in with the local populace, and bag of leaves which he called Peruvian toilet paper.  Liz, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, said the were too dry to be of any use.  I don't think she was kidding.

Beer pong.  Enough said about that except that I'm too old for that nonsense.

I love my friends here in Chicago and will miss them alot while I'm gone.  Fortunately for me, I'll get to kick it with the Mighty Albu in Peru or surrounding countries while I'm down there.