Lluvia and K-Pop

Winter in Lima is pretty similar to winter in Santa Cruz, except for the humidity. My hair looks like it’s constantly in curlers. Today it drizzled the entire time; enough to make my hair wet after walking down the hill to the market but light enough to not make the roads muddy. It’s pretty cold but that’s going to change in about a month.

Compared to the past few days, today was very calm. I spent the morning and early afternoon catching up on blog posts (as you see below), news and listening to NPR. At home, I would listen to my iPod in the car but low enough to still be able to listen to the radio at the same. Save for my Radio Disney years, NPR and PRI are the stations that I’ve listened to my entire life and it felt surprisingly comforting to listen to the correspondents. This past summer I would keep CNN or CSPAN on while housesitting for friends and I didn’t realize how much I would miss it while in Peru. Getting news online doesn’t feel the same.

At around 3:30, Ana Maria and I set off to the community center, or CEDED, which is what everyone in Villa El Salvador knows it as. (From now I’ll be using that abbreviation – I apologize for any future confusion!) Horas publicas are 4pm-7pm on Friday evenings and I was anticipating around the same number of kids to be coming. However, after Ana Maria left to go buy ingredients for a baking class that’s on Saturday evening, and the clock read a little before 4, I became a little anxious. I hurriedly set up all the tables and chairs in preparation for the kids. As the clock read five then ten minutes past four, I was a little concerned. Soon, Ana Maria came back and she explained to me that on Fridays, virtually no one comes because well, it’s Friday night! I completely understood. Who wants to do homework on a Friday night? When it’s really cold and raining a little like today, that causes less kids to come by as well. I have to say that I was a little disappointed to hear this, because I wanted to see if Sebastian would come by and I could ask how his algebra homework went. I guess I’ll have to wait until next week.

After Ana Maria explained all of this to me, she asked me to come to the market that’s below the hill where CEDED is located. It’s smaller than the market at the Ovalo Mariategui, which was the first market I went to earlier this week. We were looking for pineapple for the pineapple cake that the baking class will be making tomorrow. We found the fruit and I bought these tangerines for two soles. They looked delicious and tasted even better. I have a feeling I’ll be going to that vender a lot while I’m here.

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When we got back, there were four kids there: Javier (7), Leonel (10), Jiomar (13) and Diana (13). I didn’t know their names on Wednesday, but Javier and Leonel are brothers and were the two boys that I helped with looking up words in the encyclopedia and writing the aforementioned ceviche recipe, respectively. Today I helped both of them with some English homework as well as geometry. I’m still impressed/shocked by the amount as well as the difficulty of work they get. Javier’s homework consisted of having to write the numbers 50 to 100 in English. About half way through the 60’s, he wanted to go sit on the other side of the table next to Leonel, who was playing games on a laptop. It was almost like pulling teeth to get him to finish the 70’s. Really, all he was doing was copying the same thing over and over again and we both knew that it was a tedious assignment. After he showed me that he could write down the one’s place number without looking at the previous ones, I told him that if he finished the 80’s, he could be done. After all, it’s due on Monday. Once I offered this deal, he whipped out those numbers in a fraction of the time. The power of incentives, right?

One of my favorite things that happened today was when I helped Diana print out something for a school assignment. I went over to her computer and it was an article about K-pop! During my year on Interact’s District Council, I learned a lot more about different Asian pop-culture and K-pop was one of the first things I was educated on. While printing out Diana’s article, I couldn’t help but think of all my friends back home.

I have a feeling that there will be many days like this one, but hopefully, with less rain.

“Chosica, la Villa del Sol”

On Wednesday night, I got a call from Ana Maria asking me about something that would happen at 10am the following morning. I wasn’t entirely sure what she said because it was over the phone and hard to hear, but I said yes. Little did I know how much of a day I was agreeing to.

Thursday was incredible. Ana María, her friend Fernando and I took a trip to the district of Chosica, which is located higher up in the mountains. (V. Salvador is right against the coast.) At 10am Ana María and I left home and got on a bus to Santa Maria, where we met Fernando. Ana María showed me a flyer for a Krishna temple and I finally understood where we were going. The bus ride was anything but uneventful. There were salesmen selling pens and herbs and a group of young men who rapped.

After Santa María, we met Fernando and got a smaller bus that took us all the way to Chosica. The difference in altitude was enough to need to clear our ears on the way up. (The bus rides took a long time because it’s relatively far away and the bus makes a lot of stops.) When we got off the bus in Chosica, we were right in front of the Krishna temple.

It was beautiful. The bright colors of the temple with the gray/brown backdrop of the mountains only enhanced the beauty of the temple. Inside the temple, everyone was shoe-less. The first question I had was if it was ok for me to take pictures. A woman named Gobi (unsure if that’s the correct spelling) told me that it was encouraged. She is from Europe and spoke English, which was a nice surprise. Her husband, Ekacakra Das also spoke a little English and they both explained the origins of the Krishna Consciousness. It was really quite interesting and I’m grateful that I got to participate in some of their rituals. That day was Krishna’s birthday, so they had special chants, music, dancing and food to celebrate and offer to him. Ana María and I participated in pouring a fruit mixture over a small golden statue of Krishna. Everyone did so as well.

After about an hour at the temple, I started to get hungry. By that time it was around 2pm and everyone exited temple. I forgot the reason why, but they only needed about 10 minutes. At that time, we decided to go get lunch in the downtown area of the city.

In Peru, the biggest meal of the day is lunch. Breakfast and dinner are lighter meals and as of late, the lunches I’ve eaten have been so big that I’ve only snacked on crackers or a piece of bread when I got home. The lunch we had in Chosica was no different. Fernando and Ana Maria helped describe some of the plates that were really good. This restaurant even had Chinese food! I opted for the lomo saltado and a papa con huancainca with creme de rocoto. The lomo saltado is rice, meat, onions, bell peppers and french fries. It was so good. The papa con huancainca was a cold dish: a cooked potato with a cream sauce of tomato and I’m not sure about the yellow sauce. Maybe cheese? This meal also included my first taste of Inca Kola, which is a really popular drink in Peru. It’s bright yellow color was alarming at first and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. It’s hard to describe, but it sort of tastes like a cream soda, but also not. That’s the best I can do.

Lomo Saltado

After lunch we continued to tour many of the historical landmarks around the city. (I have an entire album on Facebook, so if you’re friends with me check them out! If not, feel free to send over a friend request if you’d like.)

One of the many memorable moments was when we were taking a taxi back down to the downtown area from a large public park for kids. There was a lot of traffic on this particular road so naturally, our driver started driving on the other side of the road as on-coming traffic sped past. If there was a picture of the look on my face…

Picarones

The day was a great success and was topped off by a fried dough dessert that was sold by one of the many street vendors in the plaza. They’re called picarones. It looks like funnel cake, but it’s chewier and they drizzle a thin sweet sauce over it. This too was incredibly delicious.

By the time we were on the bus back home, I was exhausted. We were in Chosica from maybe 12pm to 7pm and most of that time was spent walking! I had a fantastic time. Fernando even offered to go on another day trip while I’m here in Peru.

When we got home, I asked Ana María if I could have some hot water for the tea I bought on Wednesday. This lead to me going with her and her nephew Andrés to a near by market for crackers which were then eaten while we drank tea in her living room. For about an hour, we drank tea and talked about our day in Chosica. Ana María’s sisters Amelia and Nancy were there as well. I’m still amazed by how comfortable it was. It felt like I always drank tea and and talked with them during the evening. Sometimes I have to take a second to count back the days I’ve been here, because it really doesn’t feel like it’s only been a couple of days. I’m incredibly grateful for that. I’m so thankful to have such welcoming and knowledgeable friends and I cannot wait for all of the adventures to come.

La Primera Horas Públicas

I’d like to start off by apologizing for the absence of posts. Wednesday and Thursday were pretty big days for me and by the time I got home, all I wanted to do was sleep. So I will try to save you from a long, long, post by separating the days into two separate posts, although I’ll be posting them on the same day.

I arrived in Lima on Tuesday morning and as described in “Day 1” it was pretty jam packed with getting to see Villa El Salvador for the first time. Wednesday involved a lot of similar excursions.

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Emily, one of the Directors of Building Dignity, led me around the stores in Villa El Salvador for things like a bus pass, cell phone cards, the best banks to use and food. The open air market in V. Salvador was very busy and alive when we went to pick up the items in the picture above. (Emily said it was most likely because people were buying food for lunch.) I bought bananas, apples, tangerines, carrots, tea, bread, laundry detergent and a bottle of yogurt. The yogurt here is different than in the states, as it’s more like a kefir.

After all of the shopping, we took a taxi up to BD to prepare for that afternoons “horas publicas” or tutoring. My host, Ana Maria joined us in knocking on some doors in the community of Lomo de Corvina, which encompasses the smaller communities on the hill where the community center is located. During our walk, Emily told me about one example of arbitrary the government can be. BD is expanding and includes trying to find spaces that are bigger so that more people can participate. It’s pretty hard to do, especially because BD is essentially the only non-profit in the area. Several months ago, the government said that BD and a couple of other organizations could build on a particular part of land. BD would host its programs there and so would these other organizations. However, after the government said that the land could be used, they retracted it by explaining that the land was in the name of the community and not the government, so they couldn’t build. They’ve been trying to settle this for several months.

From 4-7pm, we had “horas publicas”. More than a dozen kids came throughout that time, mostly elementary school aged. At first, I was incredibly anxious because I was afraid that my level of Spanish wouldn’t be good enough to help. But one of the first homework assignments I helped with was how to prepare ceviche and I could easily handle that. Later in the afternoon, a boy named Sebastian came in and had algebra homework he needed help with. I can barely explain math in English, let alone in Spanish, but after Emily asked me how good my math was, I was determined to help as much as possible. This kid’s homework was HARD. He’s 12 years old and he was adding and subtracting linear equations and also having to change the signs of the terms for each time. (I’m still a little unsure whether or not we did it correctly. But in any case, we got them done.)

In the classroom that I had my AP Calculus class last school year, my teacher had huge posters of different mathematic functions etc. and also what to do with positive and negative integers. I sat in a seat that was faced towards it most of the time, and I am so glad I was. Those posters saved me. The mental image of the posters and my Spanish to English dictionary which was being held open at three different places for the first couple of problems got the job done. We got to a point where I asked him if he could do the last couple of problems by himself and he said yes. There were a couple of mistakes, but when I asked him why they needed to be changed, he was able to figure it out and everything was correct. I’m not sure who felt more gratified with the success of the homework, me or Sebastian. By the end of the problems, my cheeks were flushed by how much I was working and my anxiety was gone. This afternoon is another session of tutoring and I hope that Sebastian comes in so I can ask how his assignment turned out. And to my surprise, I’m even a little hopeful that he has some math homework.

Day 1

¡Buenas noches!  I’ve been in Lima for approximately twelve hours and I’m still astounded by all of the things I’ve learned. I still have to take a moment to organize everything!

There really just one snag all of today and it happened when I went through immigration after landing in Lima. Every passenger has to fill out a sheet of paper that expresses what the reason for coming to the country is and when you get to the immigration officer, he or she asks how long you’re staying. When I was asked this, I said six months. When I was asked if I were working or studying, I said working. That was the wrong thing to do. This lead to the officer thinking that I was trying to get into the country without applying for a work visa, which I don’t need because the work I’m doing with BD isn’t paid. I tried explaining my misspoken words, but the officer only grew more apprehensive. So, as of right now I am on a 90-day tourist visa. I was pretty upset about this immediately afterwards, but now I know that people are able to change their visas while they are in the country and that is what I’m going to attempt to achieve. That’s that.

But as my first day in Lima is coming to a close, I can honestly say that my visa is the last thing I’m thinking about. Emily, one of the BD Director and Omar, our taxi driver, picked me up at the airport. We drove straight from the airport to Villa El Salvador. I’ve mentioned some of the district’s socioeconomic stats in previous posts and looked over pictures, but the feeling of actually being here is indescribable. Overall, I’m really quite happy. It’s winter right now in Lima, which means gray skies, weird humidity and a bit of a chill. It’s not particularly pretty, but for reasons passing understanding, I’m quickly becoming very fond of my new home.

The room I’m staying in is located in Villa El Salvador and is a bus ride from the BD (or CEDED or El Centro para el Desarrollo con Dignidad) community center. The pictures above are of my room. I even have an iron sprial staircase as a personal entry/exit. Even though I’ve managed to lock myself out of the room two times today, I think it’s going to work out pretty well.

I visited the community center this afternoon and got to meet Jesus and Marta (as well as a couple of their children), who live on the second floor of the building. Jesus is a widely respected leader in the community and he and his family ensure that BD’s programs are in-sync with the community’s needs. After eating lunch in the community center, Jesus lead us on a tour the community that surrounds BD. The roads aren’t paved, which leaves the houses on this hill (that overlooks the coast), essentially on sand. There are dogs just about everywhere. As we walked, we would occasionally stop and talk to neighbors, all of whom I believe to be involved with BD in some way. Every greeting was thoughtful and welcoming; virtually every introduction involved a hand shake and a kiss on the cheek. We walked all the way to where the houses overlook the coast. I didn’t bring my camera, but there will be many more tours in the coming days (and even weeks) as more volunteers arrive. I will be sure to try let you see what I’m seeing.

In other news, I’m getting my ass kicked by Spanish. I can understand pretty well, but the whole speaking thing is pretty rough. I’m sure it will be better sooner rather than later, as I’m already a little more comfortable than I was when I first got here.

With all of that said, I’m going to catch up on some z’s. Despite my flight from Toronto to Lima being a red-eye, I slept for probably two hours. Maybe three.

¡Chau!

PSA: Skype. Skype. Skype. Facebook. Email. Skype. Please don’t call or text my US cell number! I will have a phone here in Lima, but it will be for local calls only.

Bienvenue

I’ll start off by saying that I was planning on not writing this particular post. I wanted to make it a short video (I still do) because writing takes thinking at this very moment that sort of thing is a little hard. Unfortunately, there is some sort of construction in the International Terminal at Toronto Pearson and it’s dark outside and the indoor lighting is sad. Also there are a lot of people around me. So I’ll keep this short.

SFO: My romanticization of airports and all things The Terminal were quickly replaced with how stressful an airport can be. In fact I’m pretty sure there’s nothing romantic about airports. When I had to say goodbye to my mom, I cried. I also nearly cried when I saw how much a yogurt, small (so small) salad, apple and bottle of water cost.

SFO > TORONTO: Uneventful. However, the plane did have screens on the back of the seats, which is something I’ve never experienced before! However, I didn’t watch anything except this map that was tracking where the plane was throughout the flight. It was honestly very interesting.

TORONTO: Even though I don’t really know what Canada looks like (It’s almost 11pm here) it is already pretty fabulous. I made some extremely necessary purchases (Canada keychain and maple leaf pin), the price of food did not make me cry, I got the last maple dip donut from Canada’s donut darling, Tim Horton’s (aka Timmie’s) and their wifi is everything you could want from wifi.

My flight to Lima leaves in about a half hour. I will try to make a post tomorrow, I’m just not sure what my internet setup will be like. It’s absolutely insane to think that I’ll be in Lima so shortly. That’s all I can really articulate at this point.

I also wanted to thank everyone who has left me such sweet messages wishing safe travels. It means a great deal to me to have your support.

168 Hours

According to Google (and if I did my multiplication correctly), it will be 168 hours until I will be in my seat on the plane to Peru. Well, not exactly. In 168 hours and some odd minutes I’ll be on a plane to Toronto, Canada and after a two-hour layover, I’ll be on a plane to Peru. Same thing.

168 hours. One week. Seven days. How is it that although equivalent, all three feel different? 168 hours feels like time’s flying compared to seven days and a hell of a lot faster than one week. Maybe that’s just me.

During the past few weeks, I’ve been in countdown mode. Counting down the number of grocery trips to Trader Joe’s, calculating the number of runs I’ll go on, figuring out how much yogurt I’ll need to get for the smoothies that I make after said runs, etc. When the number of days until my flight turned into single digits, I realized how that countdown-mentality could be a bit detrimental. I’ve been micromanaging anything and everything that’ll be happening before I leave, instead of just enjoying myself.

One of the mentors I know from working with Omprakash told me over one of our Skype chats that there comes a point where you can’t prepare anymore than you already have and there really isn’t a way to prepare for the moment you get there.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been a worrier and being told that there wasn’t anything else I could do to prepare for Peru was incredibly sobering. I remembered that while I had to prepare for the logistics of my journey, I also had to prepare the emotional toll such a trip can take. Instead of taking time to see friends or just relax, I was stressing over every little thing regarding my Spanish skills, my flight and even looking at airport terminal maps at two in the morning. (That last part was actually pretty helpful because now I know that the Tim Hortons in the Toronto airport is open 24/7.)

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during this process so far is that it’s ok to not know everything. Ten months ago, I thought I had everything figured out. My plan was to graduate from high school, go to college, graduate from college, take a year off and then apply to med school. But sometimes plans don’t always work. (Don’t worry, I graduated from high school and got into college.) I never imagined I would be taking a gap year, let alone going to Peru for seven months to volunteer with education and leadership programs. But I couldn’t be happier.

This last week at home will undoubtedly be bittersweet as I look forward to this immense opportunity and reflect on how much my life will change as departure day gets closer and closer. So instead of counting down the days, I’ve been enjoying a different type of countdown: Gob Bluth style.

Two Weeks Out

Today marks exactly two-weeks until I leave. Pretty unbelievable! 

It’s even somewhat surreal to even be writing posts for this blog, as it serves as an indicator for how soon I’m going to be heading off to Peru. I shared the link on Facebook a while ago and I’m happy to be able to have this space to share my experiences with friends and family. 

I’m very grateful that the places I’ll be living in during my trip will have an internet connection. It’ll allow me to write on this blog as well as my Omprakash blog, and post pictures! Although I do love the interweb, I am happy to share that I will be able to receive mail as well. Good ol’ snail mail. I’m actually very fond of sending/receiving letters and would absolutely love to hear from friends and family. You can also drop a note off in the ask box (the ‘Message’ link in the sidebar)! 

My mailing address in Peru is:

Michelle Kincaid

Centro para el Desarrollo con Dignidad

La Encantada, Grupo 2

Mz. J, Lt. 13. 

Lima- 42

Perú

While receiving letters is wonderful, donations are as well! I would like to take this opportunity to share a wish list from Building Dignity:

  • Pens and pencils
  • Markers and colored pencils
  • Construction paper
  • Paint and paintbrushes
  • Printer paper
  • Printer toner (Epson 90 for black ink and Epson 73 for colored ink)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Laptop computers
  • Digital cameras
  • Spanish language books for children and youth
  • Spanish language text books, reference books (dictionaries and encyclopedias) or other educational material
  • Flash cards
  • Spanish language board or card games
  • Index cards
  • Tape (scotch, masking, packaging, duct, etc)
  • Kitchen supplies (pots and pans, Tupperware, silverware, mugs and cups)

The community center that I will be volunteering in offers free community education classes for 300+ children and adults. This area is the poorest district out of the 45 districts in Lima – nearly 80% of adults are either unemployed or underemployed and approximately 75% of the population lives at or below the poverty line. The materials listed above are integral to Building Dignity’s programs and they will be incredibly helpful to the surrounding community. If you would like to send any of these things, please use the address I mentioned above. (For more information, see the Building Dignity link in the sidebar.)

With all that said, I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with everyone!

Two weeks until wheels up. 

First Pre-Departure Post

As of today, there are 26 days before I leave.

Even though I haven’t left the US yet, I’ve decided to post a couple of pre-departure posts. After all, this is the first time I’ve traveled internationally by myself and there’s been a lot happening this summer in preparation for that.

If you would like to read about details of my gap year, check out the “About Me” page in the sidebar.

I’m a big fan of checklists. For example, I had a checklist for some major things that needed to be done before I left:

  • Passport
  • Get ID (I don’t drive yet)
  • Buy ticket
  • Get vaccinations/prescriptions
  • Set up YouCaring account
  • Make more checklists

Luckily, I just got my passport business figured out earlier this year as one of the steps I took to become a citizen (that’s a very long story).

A trip to the DMV took care of my ID.

Upon deciding whether or not I would like to spend two hours in Houston, TX or in Toronto, Canada, my tickets were booked. (I chose the later and for a lower price!)

Vaccinations and malaria pills are still being sorted out.

I am very grateful to have received a grant from the Omprakash foundation. However, I still have to fundraise money to cover additional costs pertaining to my travel and living expenses. I’ve set up an account on YouCaring, where I am collecting online donations. All donations are greatly appreciated! The link is in the sidebar.

As a part of my grant from Omprakash, I’ve been taking an online course called EdGE: Education Through Global Development. It’s a fantastic class that focusses on the complexities of international volunteerism. I’m very appreciative to be able to do most of the course before I leave for Peru, because now I feel that I will be going in with a more observant and critical mindset.

As departure day gets closer and closer, I’ve definitely gone through a myriad of emotional states. This trip will be the longest I will have been away from home. For the first time, I’ll experience Thanksgiving and Christmas without being with family. I’ll begin the new year in a different country. The entire idea of this experience is terrifying, exciting, inspiring, absolutely crazy and a generally overwhelming prospect. If you were to ask me a year ago if I would consider taking a gap year to volunteer in South America, I probably would have had had a mini-anxiety attack. I wouldn’t know what to say. But as I am writing this, 26 days before I leave, I’m hopeful. Hopeful for a meaningful experience. Hopeful for new friendships. Hopeful for a new adventure.