Site Exploration: Week 1, Part 1
Site exploration has been going relatively smoothly. I feel super lucky for a couple reasons. The first is that site exploration is now 3 weeks long. In the past, site exploration lasted only a couple days. With 3 weeks, I can actually get a feel for what my community is like. How it ticks, what schedules it follows, and who participates in it. The second reason I am grateful is because I am a second generation youth development volunteer, meaning the community of Matacoto has already been working with a volunteer. The groundwork has been laid, hypothetically, and all I have to do is continue to build upon. Easier said than done.
So far I’ve been working in the local school. And by working I mean following around Stefany (previous volunteer) and meeting people. If I was on my own, I probably wouldn’t have met half the people that I have. I’ve observed classes, presented myself to the students, got my butt kicked in soccer and volleyball, and taught some of the graduating seniors how to play hackey sack. Besides the colegio I’ve visited the local government to meet the mayor and introduced myself at the APAFA meeting. APAFA is essentially the Peruvian version of PTA. At the meeting they talked about student discipline and plans for the anniversary party (of Matacoto). After about 4 hours of laborious explanation, some talking in circles, and arguments, it was finally time to sign the books of acts and end the meeting. As each parent come forward to sign, they also said goodbye to Stefany with hugs and kisses, and welcomed me to my new home. Some sitting towards the front thought it was hilarious how much I had to bed over in order to greet some of the parents.
Besides passing time at the school, I’ve also been hanging out with my host family. We live in a smaller annex of Matacoto, about 20 minutes driving and 15 minutes walking. The walk can be shorter because its more direct. We live in a large adobe style home. The front room is where we eat and spend time. Just outside that room is a small covered patio area, and a small open air courtyard. Connected to the courtyard is a bathroom, the kitchen, a bedroom and the lavaderia, where we wash clothes. In the side yard is where the guinea pigs and rabbits are kept. There are too many of each to count. This section of the house is separate from where the rest of the family sleeps. Up the road, maybe 25 yards is another adobe home with bedrooms. My family has been super kind to partially furnish my room, install a window and lockable door.
Besides eating, chit chatting and sleeping, my family and I have spent a lot of time in the chacras (farms/fields). I’ve been blown away by this portion of their lives. The first chacra is an orchard of sorts. With lima, limon and palta (which is quechua for avocado). In this orchard there are also ducks, roosters, hens, baby pollitos and a pig. The second chacra is much bigger. Here the family has more fruits and plants than I can remember. Mandarinas, piña, mango, melacotón, corn, potatoes, alfalfa, tuna etc. Besides that there are more pigs, sheep, and a cow. I’ve yet to milk the cow but my host dad wants to teach me. The family farm is by far one of my favorite parts. I’ve always strived to work my way down the commodity chain and be closer to the sources of the food I consume. To collect the eggs I’ll be frying, feed the pigs and chickens that will soon end up on my plate (not to mention the guinea pigs and rabbits) and pick the fruit straight from the tree has been extremely gratifying. This reality, on top of the picturesque setting of the chacra, nestled in the Callejón de Huaylas and at the foot of Nevado Huarascarán, has been super enjoyable.
What hasn’t been so smooth are my language acquisition, stints of culture shock and my seasonal sickness. I came to site feeing super confident about my Spanish. However, I underestimated the difference between the Spanish I’ve been learning and practicing in Lima with the Spanish in the campo or countryside. To say the least its much different. So much so, that my host sister sometimes has to translate between my host parents and I, despite us speaking the same language. On top of the difficulties with the dialect is the presence of Quechua. In the professional world, Spanish in spoken. For example in the schools and local governments. However, in public and at home, a lot of Quechua is used. Learning a third language, in my second language, is mind boggling sometimes.
This has helped to result in some of my first feelings of culture shock. So far it has occasionally manifested itself in my low energy levels/sluggish behavior, demotivation, and brain freezes. Sometimes I feel like my brain just can’t think in Spanish. I can’t comprehend and don’t have the ganas or desire to mediate the situation. So I smile and nod, and hope I’m not agreeing with anything that I wouldn’t in English or laugh at jokes that are actually about me. When I feel this way, I seek to take a break and separate myself. The first time I took a moto-taxi to a restaurant with wi-fi, ordered a beer and sat for a couple hours. Thinking, reading, and writing in English felt amazing. I returned home feeling refreshed. Other times I’ve just returned to my room earlier/quicker than normal. Normally, I put on a movie (currently watching Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone) or read a book (currently reading Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone in Spanish).
These two items, along with being sick, have been a bummer. When I travel in Peru I get sick. It happened during FBT and now during site exploration. The buses are full of germs, I take medication for motion sickness or altitude sickness and get little sleep. And when I arrive to wherever I’m going, I get bombarded with new climate, new food, new water and new people, all with their own sets of bacteria my body has yet to become accustomed to. I am grateful that how I feel now is not debilitating. But to have sickness and congestion running in the background all day long definitely puts a damper on my attitude.
With all that being said, I definitely would give the first half of the second week of site exploration a thumbs up. More Quechua, more potatoes and meet and greets please!