Holiday Rundown

I’ve allotted the majority of my time not related to Building Dignity activities to wrapping up my college applications. Although wrapping up seems to also mean adding one or two colleges to the list. But it’s things like that make life exciting? …Right? In any case, I am definitely keeping busy. I will apologize now for this very little post.

With tomorrow being my favorite holiday of the year – Thanksgiving – I thought it appropriate to discuss how the holidays are going down here in Lima. Festive holiday decorations and preparation is in full swing. All the stores are stocked to the brim with panetón and the supermarkets have been stocking christmas paraphernalia one could imagine since right after Halloween. Even the chicken restaurant that’s on the corner where I get a taxi to go up to CEDED has window paintings of reindeer and christmas trees with snow. It’s really quite peculiar because we’re heading into summer and Christmases in Lima – as far as I know – do not include snow.

This year will be the first time I’ll be away from home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am and was not apprehensive about being abroad during such times of family gathering and all because I knew I’d have people be with. Tomorrow I’m going to a potluck Thanksgiving dinner among my fellow volunteers at Building Dignity at another volunteer’s house in Barranco. It’ll be quite an international affair, as the host’s housemates are from a myriad of countries. For Christmas I’ll be staying in Lima. For New Year’s, I’ll be in Ecuador, half way through a mini-vacation which is a half vacation, half the aforementioned trip to change my visa.

With the holiday season upon us, I’ve been provided many reminders and opportunities to reflect on just how much time I’ve been here. Not that I don’t think about it at all – just the opposite really. But yesterday was a pretty special anniversary – three months! Three months. One quarter of the year. Twelve weeks. Any and all denominations of time do not change the fact that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to comprehend how the time is going by. Too slow? Too fast? It practically changes by the minute. Or literally.

In the three months I’ve been here I have been on numerous field trips, developed my Spanish speaking skills (still a work in progress), broken a clavicle, traveled outside of Lima, spent hours and hours working out math problems that were more challenging than I’d care to admit and eaten an equally embarrassing amount of food from the bakery across the street. Although, it would not be fair to limit the accounts of my experiences so far with a list that was really quite hard to narrow down. Some things are simply unquantifiable. Nonetheless, yesterday’s anniversary is somewhat bittersweet. I cannot speak for how I will feel three months from now, but if my current feelings are of any indication, I will truly rue the day I’m on that one-way flight back to home.


To Trujillo and Back

While I have taken a multitude of day trips to different districts in Lima, up until earlier this week, I had not actually left the city. To be honest, this break was the first trip that resembled any sort of vacation that I’ve had in a long time and it was great to just travel. Although out of the people who I work with, I am by far the least traveled and sometimes it leaves me feeling a little green. For example, this trip included my first time going on a travel bus – both of them were night busses (not to be confused with the Knight Bus) and staying in a hostal. Nonetheless, the flip side of the situation is that I know that I’m surrounded by people who really know their stuff.

That knowledge was really helpful, because even though this little trip was pretty short, I think I might have been a little overwhelmed if I had done it alone. I still find it hard to believe that we did all that we did in the time that we had. Here’s a basic break down of the logistics:

  • Monday, 11:30 pm: Bus departed Lima
  • Tuesday, 9:00 am: Arrived in Trujillo
  • All the fun times in Huanchaco and Trujillo
  • Wednesday, 10:45 pm: Bus departed Trujillo
  • Thursday, 9:00 am: Arrived in Lima

So what does “All the fun times in Huanchaco and Trujillo” entail? Loads!

The hostal that we stayed in is located in a small beach town called Huanchaco, which is located outside of the central city of Trujillo. When we arrived, we were proper ready for some breakfast. We were served a questionable meal about thirty minutes after leaving Lima the night before and none of us ate much of what we were given (although the alfajore was palatable). Our hostal, MyFriend, had a pretty decent restaurant. The atmosphere was everything you would expect from a surf hostal. Where the walls weren’t covered by framed photos of swells, they were lined with surfboards. A combination of Latin American and beach time resulted in a very very relaxed pace of service, but all of us were too tired to really make anything of it. As if the surf hostal didn’t remind me of Santa Cruz enough, the resident surf instructor, Victor, (they offer full rentals of boards and gear to those who want to take lessons) was wearing a Santa Cruz skate boarding company t-shirt. Too much.

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The beach was about two blocks down the street from the hostal. In fact, there’s a clear shot view of the beach right outside of the hostal’s door. (I still regret not taking a picture of the view!) Although despite the fact that all we had done since arriving in Trujillo was recline on the beach and eat, we were all in for a good power nap. Simply put, Tuesday was tranquillo.

On Wednesday morning we visited the ruins of Chan Chan which are located about half way between Huanchaco and Trujillo. Visiting these ruins was much more enjoyable than the trip to the ruins of Pachacamac – the main reason being that it was incredible to be able to really walk around the palace ruins and semi-freely wander. Yolekha had been before so she provided us with a bit of a tour. Our trusty Lonely Planet guide book supplemented the tour with its ever present knowledge and occasional witty remark.

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Rookie move, I know.

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One of the most interesting parts of the trip was the visit to SKIP (Supporting Kids in Peru). One of the main reasons we went to Trujillo was to visit Yolekha because she’s just finishing up her time volunteering with SKIP. Fun facts: 1. Like Building Dignity, SKIP is an Omprakash Partner organization. 2. I almost volunteered with SKIP. We spent about an hour talking with volunteers and the organizations coordinators at the center about their programming and sharing our own work as well. It was a little surreal to be walking around SKIP’s classrooms and outdoor areas, because being a SKIP volunteer very well could have been what my life looked like. Nevertheless, the visit reinforced how grateful I feel to be involved with Building Dignity and the people that I have gotten to know over the past few months.

Before heading out for dinner and subsequently back to Lima, I got to meet a woman who is in the same Omprakash Volunteer Grant cycle as me! It was so cool to be able to network and meet another grant recipient and in general, someone that I only knew through email and reading responses to material we worked on in EdGE. I think that we may be the first grant recipients to have ever met in person. We very well couldn’t be the first, but I think that the idea sounds really nice.

You did good, Trujillo. Maybe I’ll pass through on my way to Ecuador…

A Sweet Tooth’s Coffee Fix

It’s no surprise to anyone that I am fully enjoying all of the culinary experiences I’ve had in Peru so far. Exhibit A: Peruvian Food Mondays. But there are days when I can’t remember a day that I didn’t go to the bakery that’s across the street and that’s when I think, “take a step back, Michelle and think about your life choices”. So logically, I’ve decided to semi-replace/allocate the time and money I spend at the bakery with my most recent discovery: Big Ben Café Gurmets.


I discovered these little pieces of coffee greatness at one of the stores up in La Encantada last week. Friday night I “had” to get some change for bus fare so naturally, I decided to buy 10 Café Gurmets (all for roughly $.36). What else was I supposed to do – buy a bottle of water? Nope.  Yesterday I bought more, although I was only able to buy two because that was all they had left. I think that in the course of the past week, I bought all they had.

Today while running errands around the municipality, I had a train of thought that went something like this: “Those stores that sell snacks in bulk are so great. I could really go for some Café Gurmets right now. I wonder if they sell them in bulk. I wonder if there are any bulk stores near the muni. I will find one.” This resulted in the purchase of a bag that contains 100 Café Gurmets. I’m not even ashamed.


As its name implies, Café Gurmet is a coffee flavored taffy. (I’m not entirely sure if the candy is called Café Gurmet or Big Ben. Even google did not lend a helping hand on figuring that one out.)  They’re softer than tootsie rolls (even Marini’s salt water taffy) but still have a good chew to them. Basically a combination of taffy-ness but also melt-in-your-mouth perfection. I’m not a die hard coffee lover (although I do love a good cold-pressed cup of joe) but the lack of good coffee here in Peru has lead to more sentiment regarding the beverage. While these candies couldn’t replace their namesake, they make for a sweet snack…or dangerous habit. I guess that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.


Hannah says that I have a problem. Although we both agree that eating six of these is better than eating six of the manjar blanco filled donuts from the bakery. I’ll just leave the reasoning at that.


Developments in English at CPJ and Other Happenings

Insert obligatory I’m-sorry-for-never-updating-this-blog-often-I-will-reform-my-ways apology.

Not to make excuses (I’m doing it anyway) but I’ve been a bit busy this week. My days began early and ended late. From my first Tuesday day-trip in a month that happened earlier this week, to attending my first birthday party in La Encantada (it’s a big thing), planning this month’s volunteer meeting and holding down the fort solo at CEDED for the first time since my first week here, it’s been eventful to say the least. Also fun fact: I’m going on a trip to Trujillo (a city north of Lima) next week with other volunteers. But before I get to that, I’d like to acknowledge some very positive things that occurred this week.

When I first started going to Colegio Peruano Japones, I didn’t have much confidence in the value of my work there. But even though the preparation for their presentation isn’t the most ideal learning experience at first glance, making the most of the situation has turned out to be somewhat enjoyable. For the past two weeks I’ve been going on Wednesdays and Thursdays to help prepare for the English program presentation that will be on the first of December. I worked with the older kids on Wednesday and for the first time since I started working with them, we got to listen to the music of the songs that each different grade will sing. You’d think we would be doing that sort of thing a bit earlier than three weeks before the big day, but no. Nonetheless, it was actually really fun to work with them.

Because “Black or White” was a tad bit too difficult for the fourth grade group, we switched their song to “Hello, Goodbye” by the Beatles and now the fifth graders will be jamming to some MJ. I gave the fifth graders “Black or White” last Thursday and by this week, one of the boys had essentially all of the pronunciation down and even spent time practicing and listening to the song. Until that point, I hadn’t witnessed any sort of genuine interest in participating in this show and just this one boy’s enthusiasm basically validated all of the time and effort that had been put into working with the other groups. We sat down next to each other and sang along  to a karaoke track for “Black or White” about a half a dozen times. It ended up being me singing most of the time and him chiming in for the “black or white” part as well as some air guitar solos in between the verses and chorus, but I think it was time very well spent.

In the Voices of Youth world, things are getting pretty artsy. Literally. For the next few weeks, a local artist is helping the kids create a mural to paint in the CEDED! This Thursday as well as the following three (or four, I think) meetings will be art workshops that will give the kids an opportunity to create their vision for the mural. I think I might be a little more excited about it than the kids – I participated in the drawing workshop that was held this Thursday and here’s a picture of me during the meeting:


Pretty in the zone. There may or may not be two other pictures that are of a very similar nature. I still feel guilty for being a bit too absorbed in the project but I hope that it translated in a positive way. I hope.

I think it really goes without saying at this point, but I am trying my best to keep up with this blog. I know for certain that I won’t be writing next Monday to Wednesday because I’ll be traveling. Nevertheless, everyone should expect a very thorough post-travels blog post later next week!

To quote something Hannah said in passing earlier this week: “Things are happening.”

Barranco and Burritos

For the first time in about a month, I had a “Tuesday”. As many know, Tuesdays are often day-trip days up to central Lima and they are always very fun and include really good food. Since my little accident, my Tuesdays have consisted of recovering or working on college applications or Omprakash work. Today’s trip was to the Barranco district which is about 30-40 minutes (on the Metro) north from Villa el Salvador. I almost didn’t go today, but the universe must have really wanted me to because the internet went out about a half hour before Hannah and Roxana were planning on leaving and honestly what does anyone do without the internet? Exactly.

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“CEDED” and the drawing of the woman with the speech bubble saying hello in different ways was Hannah’s contribution to the public chalkboard.

I had never been to Barranco during the day before, so I was looking forward to discovering more about district. Our first stop was the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. It was a in a beautiful location – right in the middle of a park. Or maybe the park was the museum itself… Anyway, it was really quite beautiful. Unfortunately, we came the day before they were opening new exhibits. Nevertheless, we got to go into two rooms, one exhibit on sound and a gallery with a mix of sculptures and paintings.

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What I was most looking forward to was the inevitable trip to the Burrito Bar. Conveniently located two blocks from a Metropolitano stop, this restaurant knows its burritos. Right as we walked in (for the second time because the first time we did, we came before they opened) one could tell that the food was going to be good just by how amazing it smelled. I ordered a burrito with chicken, rice, black beans, fajita-style veggies, salsa, guacamole, cheese and sour cream. It was. So. Good. I literally took a moment to just process how amazing it was. It was as enlightening as my first trip to El Pan de la Chola was. It was that good. To say the least, all of us were visibly saddened by the time we finished our food.

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After Burrito Bar, we still had some room for dessert. We made our way over the a Metro supermarket because Roxana had mentioned that she needed to buy something. As we meandered through the market, we discovered that they sold ice cream by the scoop. Hannah and I decided to go for it and I am still very proud of that decision. They gave us four scoops and a cone for approximately $2. I got vanilla chip and ópera. I’m still not sure why it’s called ópera when it was basically coffee, but it also had tiramisu-like cake pieces in it so I decided to just stop asking questions. I just love ice cream so much. So. Much.

Even though I had originally intended on working today, I’m glad that I spent the morning and afternoon in Barranco, having a grand ol’ time. Can’t really go wrong with burritos and ice cream.

Note: Today’s pictures are brought to you by the cell phone I use in the US. I must confess, it’s not too shabby.

CEDED Taco Night

Once again, Peruvian Food Monday will not actually be about Peruvian food. Next week, friends. Next week. Although, this post does involve food! Surprise, surprise.

About a month ago, we planned to have a communal dinner with the Voices of Youth kids. Cooking is a great way to bond and the atmosphere is ideal for having a time for everyone to just get to know one another. (No one has to tell me about the powers of food, that’s for sure.) We originally planned to make arroz con pollo and papa a la huancaina. But on the day we planned to make it all, the plans fell through due to the kids arriving a little too late and not enough kids coming. It was disappointing but we made the most of our time by having them brainstorm plans for their postcard project. The communal dinner plan was put on the back burner. But about a week and a half ago, the dinner plans were tossed back into the mix (I can keep going)  and it all came together yesterday afternoon.


We reintroduced the communal meal idea and the kids voted on more exotic foods to cook. The consensus was Mexican food and after another round of voting, it was decided that we were going to make enchiladas. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make enchiladas because of complications with sauce preparation, so we changed it to tacos. Roxana brought a couple of kids to the market earlier this week to go buy the ingredients and everyone came yesterday to prepare the meal. Earlier on Sunday, Hannah and Roxana even made homemade tortillas to supplement our package of Old El Paso tortillas from the supermercado.


There were three groups: a group to cut and cook onions and peppers, lettuce and tomato group and guacamole group. (My group was the lettuce and tomato group, but because the kitchen is only so big and it’s kind of awkward to help out with hand, I declared myself the photographer for the afternoon.) The groups worked really well together and anyone could tell they were having a genuinely good time. Although, the tear ducts of the onions and peppers group succumbed to the tear-inducing task of cutting the onions, to the point where they had to rotate between people cutting the onions and people going to the bathroom to washout their eyes.  I was quite impressed with their onion cutting skills – those onions were very neatly minced, let me tell you. Nevertheless, their hard work definitely paid off in the end.

Once all of the ingredients were prepared, we put them all out on the table and got to business. When some of the kids started to eat the tortillas by itself, we were reminded that a lot of them hadn’t had tacos before and that they might have forgotten what they looked like since the voting process of what we would make. It was really quite endearing. After clarifying how to build their own taco, everyone went to town. The most popular ingredient was the guacamole, which lets be honest was no surprise. Whose favorite part isn’t the guacamole?

It was a laid-back afternoon with good food and fun conversation. CEDED taco night: success.


Real Talk Tuesday

All volunteers and staff have Tuesdays off, but that does not necessarily mean no one works. Over the past several weeks, Tuesdays have meant wonderful day trips to central Lima, but now that we’re in November it’s time to get real. I am still working on my college applications and while the process is slightly less stressful than it was a year ago, my ways of procrastination have not really changed. While my days are not entirely devoted to working at CEDED, it’s kind of hard to conjure the energy to edit essays after tutoring for a couple of hours or find the motivation to do so before heading up for música. But enough of my little pity party. Today was dedicated to getting stuff done and that is what I did.

I am an avid proponent of visual aids for productivity i.e. post its, lists, calendars, the “Reminders” app on my computer. So in that similar fashion, I would like to switch up the usual format of this blog’s posts by highlighting some of today’s activities via list.

  • Caught up on emails. All the emails.
  • Scanned my most recent hospital bills as well as some stuff for CEDED.
  • First realization: I can feel a couple of the (eight in total) screws/hardware that are keeping my clavicle together.
  • Second realization: There are eight screws and a titanium plate keeping my clavicle together.
  • I picked up my laundry.
  • Edited some essays.
  • Researched travel logistics for my Need-to-change-my-visa Holiday Extravaganza. (I’ve never actually called it that. I made it up just now.)
  • Edited some more essays.
  • I bought strawberry jam.
  • Proceeded to make and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Reminder: it was my first pb & j in two months.)

Now you have yourself a pretty good look into a Tuesday day in the life of Michelle. Stay tuned for more articulate and verbose posts later!

Adventures at the Óvalo Gutiérrez

For the past week, I was embarrassingly excited about the glorious potential of today. I think I mentioned my plans at least once a day in any given conversation. It was really bad. And it was all for a doctor’s appointment.

You see, Clinica Anglo Americana is about two blocks from the Óvalo Gutiérrez, which is a hub for a lot of food chains/opportunities to spend stupid amounts of money on food that I normally wouldn’t eat – even back home. Seriously dangerous territory. I rationalize it whith the idea that I am just embracing the multitude of opportunities to experience culture while abroad and if Pinkberry and La Lucha Sanguchería are valid options for dining, there isn’t much I can do about it except eat there. Culture.

I did both of those things – Pinkberry and La Lucha – and it was glorious. If I had the option between Yogurtland and Pinkberry, I would choose Yogurtland but they have yet to establish a location in Peru. Nevertheless, Pinkberry does a pretty fine job. At La Lucha, I got a classic Lechón a la leña and a fresh squeezed orange juice. The sandwich was comprised of perfectly tender, not too smoky roasted pork, red onions, mayonnaise, ketchup, other sauces I don’t know the names of, ají and bookended by a soft on the inside, crusty on the outside roll. It was a beautiful experience, truly. They also get bonus points for putting this beautiful sandwich in front of me like five minutes after I ordered it. I love sandwiches. I am a sandwich person, therefore, La Lucha has made itself a special place in my heart. I’ll be back, La Lucha. I’ll be back. (I have literally already planned what I’m going to do at the ovalo when I have my x-ray appointment in December.)

After my sandwich, I headed across the ovalo to a Wong supermarket. Wong is the ritziest of supermercados here – you would not find one in Villa that’s for sure. I still had a lot of time to kill so I decided that I might as well head over there and peruse. This supermarket would put a lot of US stores to shame. 1. They are all about Christmas time now 2. It is just so nice. I spent probably more than a half hour just wandering around, looking at all the food. Despite my wandering, I did have a certain item in mind: peanut butter. I haven’t had peanut butter for more than two months and before I came to Peru, I was eating copious amounts every day. To say this has been a struggle would have been an understatement. In summary, I have attained the peanut butter and I am ridiculously happy about that. I cannot articulate anymore than that – I am that pleased with myself and this peanut butter.

Walking into Clinica Anglo Americana prompted a brief walk down memory lane. Good o’l Anglo Americana, with its posh cliental and nurses with weird hair/hat thingies. When I got there I was an hour early for my appointment, so I decided to head over to the restaurant that is conveniently located feet away from my doctor’s office, to have a cup of coffee. On the way there I saw Doogie Howser! I don’t know if I’ve mentioned Doogie Howser before, but – now that I think about it, exactly two weeks ago – Emily and I saw him in one of the halls of the hospital and both agreed that we would not want him to be our doctor because he looked like he just started high school. The next day, he was the person who recorded my medical history before I had my surgery. Anyway, Doogie Howser recognized me and we had a little chat. It was great. He was not the only person who remembered me as well as my friends – people in the restaurant as well as my surgeon’s secretary all asked about my friends and where they were. We must have been quite the scene.

The actual appointment was probably no more than fifteen minutes long. We looked at an x-ray of my clavicle post-surgery and Dr. C took off the little bandages covering my stitches. Everything is all healed up! There’s barely even a scar. What’s even better, is that I was told that I only have to wear my sling when I’m out and about, and I quote, “en la calle” basically so that no one messes with me. (For those who do not know, my sling was slowly becoming the bane of my existence the past two weeks because it’s so, so, inconvenient. There really isn’t a more rational reason than that, but it is so annoying.) In any case, I think I can live with just having to wear it for cosmetic purposes. If anyone is ever in Lima and needs any sort of orthopedic surgery – Dr. C can hook you up.

All in all, it was a very nice day. Delicious food, good news and pretty good weather. Not something you can usually say about a Monday, right?