Wrapping up 2013

After 9pm tonight, CEDED will say goodbye to the schedule we’ve been running for the past few months and be on vacation until early January. It’s hard to believe that we’re already at that time of the year, but here we are.

The past week has been a flurry of end-of-the-year activities and our plans for the last Voices of Youth meeting was no exception. With kids finishing their final exams, getting out of school for summer and all the holiday excitement in the air, it was fitting to have this Thursday’s meeting be a fun and relaxing. (For the volunteers, it was almost like an all-day Christmas party; preparing the food in the morning, listening to Radio Magica’s oldies Christmas music and drawing an ear-less Santa. Almost.) We played games, listened to Christmas music and ate food – all things that make for a good Christmas party.

We played two games: holiday themed pictionary and pin the beard on Papa Noel, aka Santa Claus. I was very enthusiastic about the whole idea because the one those games involved making a poster and I am all about the posters. All in all, it was extremely successful. The kids were really into pin the beard on Papa Noel. Voices were projected quite well to say the least. The most notable part was when a girl just simply screamed out of excitement/energy, I’m still unsure. It was good time.

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Everyone knows that a good party has to involve some good food and we made sure of that. Hannah made chocolate fudge (which we have learned is not so much of a thing here), I made snickerdoodles and we prepared hot chocolate. Despite it’s lesser popularity with the volunteers, we also bought a panetón. Panetón is a festive holiday desert bread that is really, really, really popular here. Oh the lengths we go to for the kids… All joking aside, it really doesn’t taste that bad. It’s like a less dense and taller fruit cake. Unsurprisingly, once we distributed the food, the panetón was the first to go. (But the cookies and fudge were a close second.)

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All in all, it’s been a very busy few weeks. It hasn’t left much time to really grasp how next Tuesday is Christmas Eve and that that weekend I’ll be leaving for Ecuador. With the time that I’ve had in between various other things (mainly the numerous trips on the Metropolitano to and from Centro de Lima), I’ve gotten to reflect a bit on my time in Peru so far and on the year as a whole.

I can remember quite clearly my thoughts about what the newly inaugurated 2013 would be like from last winter break. I said, “2013 is going to be so weird. I’m not superstitious, but maybe it’s the thirteen. I just think it’s going to be weird.” Hand me a crystal ball and call me Mystic Michelle. That was some pretty profound stuff. Essentially, my main idea was that all of the transitional changes that were to come i.e. high school graduation, starting college, etc. would just be different. Substitute “weird” for “different” and I think I called it pretty well. In any case, I think that this year I’ll keep my commentary on the more open-ended side of things.

Even though life is completely different than how I envisioned it would be one year ago (which totally fulfills my prediction if you do the substitution of “different” for “weird”), some things haven’t changed (or not). Like I was a year ago, I’m still churning out college applications with an anxiety familiar to someone who procrastinates as frequently as I do with things of such importance. I am hopeful that this doesn’t become some sort of pattern, even if it does put me in another country this same time next year. Applications really aren’t something to look forward to. But I digress. The fact of the matter is that despite the occasional feelings of ungrounded-ness from being abroad, at the moment I’m thinking very much about the months to come. It’s hard not to when the time has been flying as fast as it has been – it makes me think about how fast the next four will come and go. More than anything I feel grateful to have found this opportunity to volunteer with Building Dignity – an organization for which my fondness and respect grows every day I come into work. With or without a crystal ball, I don’t believe I could have ever anticipated or imagined how positive an experience I have been having.

With that said, let it be written in the books or literally, immortalized on the internet, that I simply say that I think 2014 will be eventful. (I think I’m pretty safe with that one.)

Guitar Time

To anyone who is unaware, I am currently experiencing the opposite seasonal changes to those in the US. Summer has finally come to Lima and it has it’s pros and cons. The combination of clouds, chill and humidity that I arrived to in Lima stayed for a while and spring never really showed itself except for maybe one week. Personally, I enjoy a nice cool, maybe even chilly day. Now, I believe we are amidst summer and the heat is something to get used to. As well as the combination of the heat and humidity. It’s nice to see the sun, but I forgot how exhausting it can be when it beats down on you for a couple of hours. Nonetheless, I should stop complaining and continue onto more interesting developments.

Clearly, I’ve been very lax with my postings lately. As always, with 100% honesty I will say that it’s been because I just haven’t had the time and I’ve had a difficult time reminding myself. At the community center, we’ve been wrapping up this year’s programming and even though programs like Horas Públicas have been very quiet, I’ve been busy coordinating the transport and participation of people to go to a chocolatada this Sunday. Although I’ve never been to one and can’t speak to specifics, a chocolatada is an event during which children receive free gifts, panetón, hot chocolate and participate in various other festive activities. Building Dignity has hosted them in the past, but because of various reasons, it didn’t pan out this year. Instead, we have accepted the invitation from another organization called Red Joven Sur, to participate and help with their chocolatada. The Voices of Youth kids wrapped little gifts that will be donated to the event and a group of them will be going to volunteer on the day of as well. It’ll be a nice way to celebrate the holidays and I’m looking forward to inviting the kids.

In other news, I bought a guitar. Despite the purchase’s original purpose, it’s become quite the distraction from the various other things that are going on right now i.e. submitting college applications, looking for scholarships, sleeping.  I bought the guitar because it was challenging to basically only be able to practice the day of music class and none of my past music teachers would agree that a system like that would correlate to any sort of meaningful development/skills – especially those that are needed to teach others. So the clear answer was to buy myself a guitar and donate it to Building Dignity once I go back to the US.

Buying the guitar was a little adventure in itself. Even though the guitars that currently reside in the community center are evidence enough to know that the one I will donate later won’t be perfect forever, I like to think that it’s better to start of with something nice instead of something sub-par. When I first went into the store, I saw the guitar I first bought, gave it a good look over and asked if I could try playing the one behind it. The man in the store said the one in front was better for students (I had told him the reason for why I was buying the guitar) and after giving this new one a good look over, I decided to get it. Once I got home and gave it a play, I realized that maybe I should have been more thorough. The strings were aligned not very well, there as the annoying buzz on one of the strings and an abundance of scratches on the body that I hadn’t noticed before. I decided to call the store and ask if I could come back and exchange the guitar for one of the same value. To my surprise, the man was really kind about the whole situation and said the equivalent of “Come on back!”.

Once I did, he showed me the same model but in a bit nicer shape. Instead of immediately doing the switch, my eyes started lingering on other acoustics that lined the walls and deep down I realized that I wouldn’t be taking the guitar I originally sought to exchange, home. After I practiced with a few and figured out prices, I decided to buy a completely different guitar, albeit a bit more expensive than the first one. I’m not a guitar expert, but I’m pretty confident that the extra money was worth it. My new guitar is (what I believe to be) a 3/4 size guitar, acoustic with nylon strings and has a cutaway. I do confess that one of the rationalizations that went through my head (and my mouth) when deciding on buying the guitar was that the neck was smoother and a little slimmer, therefore, playing it would be easier for the children’s small hands. Always for the children. The new guitar is really quite solid for the price (about $70) and I’m very happy with it.

Last Saturday was the last music class for this year and before our summer programming that will start in January. I’m hoping that this little vacation will provide an opportune time to practice up before music starts up again. As many a music teacher told me, “Practice, practice, practice and practice some more.”

Struggles and Successes: A Serpost Story

If people consider the USPS to be snail mail, then mail in Peru is like…a sloth? Anything slower than a snail.

For the past few months, I’ve been playing the waiting game for a package that my mom sent me in September. After I got the customs number and put it into a handy-dandy website that tracks where it was, I learned that it had arrived in Peru only a few days after it had been sent. Also that it had been in customs ever since. This all transpired about two months ago.

To receive packages via Serpost, Peru’s mail service, one has to receive a notice saying that the package is at the local Serpost office and can be picked up. Since my mom sent her first package, I was able to receive two letters from the US without having to go down to the office. I waited and waited and waited for a notice for the package. One never came. I sort of assumed that it was taking a long time because I was told that things take a while to get out of customs, therefore, it was normal to have to wait a few weeks. However, a month passed, then I broke my clavicle and tracking down a package was not really one of my priorities, and as December barreled its way into my schedule I realized I should really try and get this package.

To my surprise, about a week ago I received a response from an email I sent via the “leave a message” page on the Serpost website. It was pretty vague, but it told me to go to their central office in the district of Los Olivos. I had no idea where that was, but it was a start. After extensive research using Google Maps street view (live saver) I learned that it was actually rather far away and going there would be quite the little trek. And a trek it was.

After two failed calls with Serpost people this morning, I decided that I just needed to go there. So at around 9am I headed out to get on the trusty Metropolitano. It ended up taking almost two hours to get there from Villa el Salvador. Once I got in Los Olivos, I took a combie (small van/taxi) to the Serpost office. When I got there, I didn’t really know where to go so I just went into the first place that was open. All I had with me were the customs numbers and the fact that I had been waiting for a hell of a long time. However, it all worked out. First I went into the wrong office, then was directed to another office where a man who looked extraordinarily bored with his job told me to go around the block (this Serpost took up an entire block) to pick up my package. I then walked into a building with a DMV-esque, beaurocratic system of collecting mail. When my number was called I watched as they brought out my box and opened it in front of me. When they took out the things to check if anything sketchy was in there (that’s what I assume, I really have no idea), the woman who was helping me started checking out the snacks my mom sent – with an amusement that was sort of annoying. My annoyance was probably due to the exhaustion of waiting, the heat (it’s getting pretty warm now), and overall done-ness with the whole situation. But nonetheless, after another 45 minutes of waiting, I walked out of there with what I came for.

The only catch is that I was only able to get the second package my mom sent. Apparently the first package wasn’t at that center and they didn’t know where it is currently. Casual. I’ll have to work on that one tomorrow.

But for now, I am very happy to have received my first care package while being abroad. Behold, Michelle’s Christmas Corner:

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I am the proud owner of three advent calendars (the house is an advent calendar I got from cousins earlier this week), Christmas presents that will be opened on Christmas (I promise), an abundance of snacks, books and also more snacks. Thank you, Mom!

On a side note, it’s hard for me to believe that the time is going so fast. Eating ten chocolates in a row (gotta catch up)  from my chocolate advent calendar this afternoon was a pretty profound reminder. This Christmas will be my first away from home and I’m feeling very good about it. This evening I saw that my host family started putting up their Christmas tree and I’m in the process of deciding what recipes to make for an upcoming Voices of Youth Christmas party. If anything, I know this Christmas will be very special.

Exciting Times on the Metropolitano

Today I had my penultimate (I hope) doctor’s appointment. Unfortunately, I did not make today’s outing to San Isidro as much of an outing as I did the last time I went, but I think it was a pretty fruitful visit. Clinica Anglo Americana was its typical posh-self and I honestly don’t know why I still feel surprised by half of the silliness I witness in there anymore. It’s just so weird. Anyway, I got my x-rays and Dr. C says that everything is healing up just fine. I saw the pictures myself and I honestly can’t really tell what’s happening but I trust that things are doing what they’re supposed to. In summary, I still have to wear my sling while “en la calle” and I can start running in fifteen days. The later part is probably my favorite and hearing it was (almost) worth the cost of the consultation.

I haven’t gone running since the week I broke my clavicle and that was six weeks ago. Almost two years ago, I got really into running and being abroad has made it a little tricky to get out there often. A broken clavicle also makes things a little challenging, but in fifteen days I’ll be good to go.

The more exciting part of my day happened while on the way back home via the Metropolitano bus system. When I got to the alimentador (busses that go to Villa el Salvador) there was a ridiculously long line. I decided to go to the shorter line, which basically cuts everyone in the longer line. (Because I was trying to get back in time to help out at Horas Públicas, I didn’t really guilty for breaking my usual moral code.) This little short cut was very helpful, because I was able to get on the first bus that came. It took some pushing and shoving, but I made it. Little did I know that the little fight (I use that lightly) I had to get onto the bus was the least dramatic part of the trip.

When we got into Villa, we hit major traffic. It was about 6pm so it made perfect sense. However, at one intersection it got real crazy. People on the bus were semi-yelling at the bus driver to turn (basically not wait for other cars to pass), huge, huge trucks weren’t letting us go, three Metropolitano busses were back-to-back on a curve trying to get to a stop where a long line of people were waiting and the path we were trying to go up was filled with cars going the other direction. It was a little chaotic. When we finally had a chance to turn, we slowly got into a pocket and as we slowly weaved through the kamikaze taxis and motos, I watched as my side of the bus scraped across the corner of a white pick-up. The truck’s tail light was done for and everyone on the bus saw what happened. Through the window I saw as the men in the pick up contemplated getting out of their truck to see the damage but they never did. As the path widened ahead of us we went on our merry way. Crisis sort of averted?

After we cleared the hill and were cruising for a while, all of a sudden I saw a white pick-up alongside the bus. As it passed us, I saw the broken tail light and exclaimed that it was the same car we hit. Exclaimed is sort of an exaggeration, but there was a sense of comradery amongst the other people in this bus and I decided that noting this observation was a very comradery-like move. (Probably not at all.) About twenty seconds after the truck passed my window, our bus came to a stop. Assumedly, the drivers turned all the way around, followed us back up and parked in front of us so he could talk to our bus driver. I looked out the window and sure enough, the truck driver was outside in the middle of the street, talking to our driver through the window. Everyone in the bus then decided to start calling the truck driver out, making fun of him, telling him how little of a problem it was and such. After about ten minutes of being stopped in the middle of the road, the truck diver left and we were back on our way into Villa. I don’t think the truck driver stood much of a chance to be honest.

Anyway, that was the exciting story of today. I’ve been very preoccupied with things not related to writing this blog, so that’s why posts have been so sporadic. CEDED is going on its own little Christmas vacation and I’m thinking that I’ll have more free time then.

Until next time!

Helado Time

The neighborhood where I live is a short bus ride away from the municipalidad or in other terms, where an abundance of restaurants  lie. Despite its close proximity, you would be surprised to know how hard it is to actually get yourself out there. Or at least how hard it is for me to get out there. The main issue at hand is that I simply lack the motivation. We all have our struggles.

Essentially, my housemates and I  have been jealous of another volunteer who lives pretty much in the center of the muni area and therefore, has a plethora of dining options and all the things that the hustle and bustle the muni entails. However, there has been a development in the chronicles of “Michelle and Roxana’s Search for Food: the Mariategui Edition” in  the past few weeks and a very important one at that: an ice cream parlor.

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On the same block as our beloved chifa place is a place to buy hand-scooped ice cream. Many of the little corner stores have the bright yellow “D’Onofrio” brand freezers from which they sell ice cream of the same brand name, but not all offer single scoops. But our new ice cream place serves a myriad of different options from a single scoop cone and the classic banana split, to ice cream when decorated and scooped in a particular manner, is made to look like Mickey Mouse. (At least I’m pretty sure that’s what it is.)

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I don’t usually go for the fancy stuff. My usual go-to (I’m not even ashamed to say that within the past few weeks that they’ve opened up, I already have go-to order.) is the “sundae simple” – one scoop of coffee and the other mint chocolate chip. The coffee is pretty solid and the mint is one of my favorite mint ice creams to date. The sundae is two scoops, sprinkles, chocolate sauce, a cherry (I opt out for that one) plus they stick a crispy rolled up waffle cone on the top for good measure. After the waffle cone gets kinda soft from being in the ice cream for a while. Perfection.

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Why the store opened up all of a sudden is somewhat of a mystery. Our best guess is that because we’re on the brink of starting summer, they are gearing up for the ideal season for eating ice cream. It’s finally starting to get warmer and even though the inevitable combination of heat and humidity will commence rather soon, knowing this little ice cream place is “acerca de ti” (that’s literally what one of their signs says), I think this summer will shape up to be pretty cool.