Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Friday, April 30, 2010

Builders Beyond Borders

Beto with the Maestros in San Antonio

B-3 Kids with the family in Bernales

B-3 in Bernales

One of the Peace Corps Peru’s Water & Sanitation Program goals is to help families have access to more sanitary conditions. Most of the smaller towns in my district don’t have waste water systems. Many of the families in those towns have basic, rudimentary latrines which the families may or may not use. A lot of times the families hacen sus necesidades en el campo abierto (do their thing in the field). This is not to say you’re walking through town dodging a minefield of human excrement but it’s clearly not a very sanitary practice and can result in all kinds of illnesses and diarrea particulary in children.

During the past three months, I’ve been helping out a couple of other Volunteers with latrine projects. We were working with a Connecticut-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called Builders Beyond Borders (B-3). High school kids raise money to go on a week-long volunteer trip to countries in Latin America. The funds raised pay for their trip and for the materials and tools needed for the projects. The Peace Corps and B3 have been working together for a few years and the relationship makes a lot of sense - PC Volunteers know the needs of the communities, what the potential projects are, can facilitate the in-country organization, and will be around after the kids have gone back home to help the project be more sustainable. B-3 provides the funds, labor, energy and motivation.

I’ve been working on the latrine projects in the towns of San Antonio (sans Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Mexicans) and Bernales building latrines. The first group was a little rough in that we as PC Volunteers were kind of unclear of our roles and B-3’s goals. There were also a few B-3 adult leaders that were kind of difficult to work with and some PC Volunteers that were kind of smug and full of themselves. The next two groups were fantastic! The kids interacted well with the Peruvian families despite their limited Spanish skills, worked their asses off and were fun to be around.

The latrines were built out of brick with tin or thatch/cement roofs and wooden doors. All had real toilets that would eventually be hooked into a sewer system. Some had a place for a shower and a sink. The families were excited to have the bathrooms installed and helped out with the construction. They also got a kick out of having about 40 gringos in their town at the same time and will likely talk about all the gringo kids for the rest of their lives. The kids from the US, who happened to be from one of the richest counties in the country, got to experience a different culture and see a manner of living completely different from their own.

Thanks to B-3 for all the good hard work!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Vacation in Arequipa

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted last. Reason being I’ve been real busy which is a good thing. A bored volunteer is a miserable volunteer and a miserable volunteer quits before his/her service is done or does crazy shit like trying to organize local militias. “The horror… The horror…” So what have I been up to? I’ve been working on a bathroom/latrine project with high schoolers from the US. I've been at an English teaching workshop put on by the US Embassy. I’ve been to Lima a couple of times for some meetings, been writing my community diagnostic, and been on vacation. So let’s talk about vacation.

Susan came down for about a nine day visit. We spent a couple of days in Lima with some other friends of mine who happened to be in town at the same time for a wedding (always good getting a Big Red sighting in). We went to a cathedral near the center of town that had catacombs which were pretty cool. Susan got a necklace ripped off her neck by some thief as we were walking to Chinatown (bienvenido a El Peru).

Before Susan got here I hadn’t done any planning because I didn’t know if Machu Picchu, which is something everyone should see in their lifetime, was going to be open after some major flooding earlier in the year. I kind of wanted to take Susan to my site but that likely would have been too much for her since no one there speaks English and she doesn’t speak Spanish (plus there ain’t a whole hell of a lot to do there). So we decided to go down to the south of Peru to a place called Arequipa. She did see my site for all of a minute and a half during our 15 hour bus ride.

Arequipa is called the White City (the other White City) because many of the old Spanish colonial buildings in the center of town were constructed out of white blocks of volcanic rock. The center of town is beautiful and several large volcanoes, some active and steaming, loom in the distance. We visited an old monastery where nuns from well to do families were cloistered and lived a pretty posh, partying lifestyle until some agua fiestas (party pooper/killjoy) of a bureaucrat opened the place up for tourism and the nuns had to actually live like, well, nuns.

We were there during Semana Santa (the holy week leading up to Easter). There were many processions of people carrying litters with Jesus, Mary, and other saints followed by marching bands that sounded like they were playing the Texas Tech fight song (Go! Fight! Win! …And praise sweet baby Jesus!). There were no bunnies or dying of eggs that week for some odd reason. We sat there in a bar watching the processions pass in the street outside as the jukebox inside was playing “Sexy Bitch”. Kind of surreal.

On the third day, we rose from the dead and took a two day, one night tour to Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. We saw llamas (pronounced “yamas” despite what my friend Ally from Chicago says), Alpacas (a related pack animal that’s tasty in steak form too), and Vicunas (small llama-like animals known for their fine, expensive wool).

We had an Italian lady on our bus who was either kind of crazy, a lot inconsiderate or a bit of both. A little ½ gringa ½ Peruvian girl on the tour said she looked like Willy Wonka, not the Gene Wilder variety but the creepy Johnny Depp type. At the first stop on the tour, we got out to look at some scenic something or another. When we got back on the bus, this crazy lady was sitting in my seat. She muttered something in half Italian, half Spanish and half English. Not knowing what the f&ck she was saying, I thought she might not be feeling well from the altitude so I let her sit there (leaving Susan without a translator). As the bus started off to our next destination, I realized that the crazy lady had thrown my hoodie on the floor behind her when she took my seat. I got f*cking pissed and stewed the whole way to our next stop. We all got off to look at whatever but I made sure I was the first one on the bus, reclaimed my seat, politely moved all her shit out into the middle of the aisle and dug in waiting for a confrontation. She looked at me kind of funny but knew I wasn’t moving so she sat on the front step of the bus. Turns out she didn’t have altitude sickness. She just said, in her words, “I’d prefer to sit here” - a kind of reverse Bartleby the Scrivener kind of thing. Long story short, she did this throughout the trip - bumping people out of their seats, pissing them off, and saying “I’d prefer to sit here”. A very nice Spanish man gave her a piece of his mind but it didn’t get all dark European history on her like I’d hoped he would.

Anyway, the canyon was cool. We sat in thermal baths, caught up with some Peace Corps Volunteers, saw some big-ass condors with about a 3 meter (9 foot) wingspan, and missed out on a violent miner's strike. When we got back to Lima, we went to my favorite local sports bar and watched Michigan State get bounced out of the NCAA tournament by Butler – an unfortunate ending to an otherwise great vacation.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


To quote Sammy Sosa, phonetically speaking, "Ay apalayayze too mai fangs". I've not posted anything in quite some time now. Reason being I've been really busy. Which is a good thing. Most new volunteers in their posts complain of boredom. I've been everything but bored. Which, again, is a good thing.

Some posts in the near future - updates on some projects I've been working on, my vacation in Arequipa, and my brush with the President of Peru, Alan Garcia. Stay tuned. And again Ay apalayayaze.