Peruvian Cooking 101

March madness, indeed. Throughout the past month, I’ve had a very hard time feeling grounded (not keeping up with the blog surely didn’t help) – between receiving college decisions and thinking about what direction my life is heading in the coming months, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed. But as I know well, there’s nothing better to keep: food.

This afternoon, I had a wonderful day with my host family and fellow housemates. Sundays are volunteers’ collective day off and the same goes for all the members of our host family. With that said, Sundays are more often than not, a grand day of rest and food and today was no exception.

Left to right: Allie, Hannah, Herald, Naomi

Left to right: Allie (back of her head), Hannah, Herald, Naomi

For those who don’t know, I live with the most amazing host family one could ever have the honor of living with. For the past seven months, Herald, Nancy and their son Andrés have invited me into their home and become really like a second family to me.

When Herald grew up, one of his family’s traditions was that they would eat ceviche together every Sunday for almuerzo (lunch). Ceviche is a specialty for the costal region of Peru and the juice of limón and aroma/flavor from ají amarillo make it especially distinct. This afternoon, all of us CEDED volunteers who are living in the house crowded into the kitchen to learn how to make the incredibly delicious dish.

Ceviche is a dish which is made by “cooking” seafood by marinating it in the juice rom citrus fruits i.e. lemon or lime juice. Depending on the type of seafood, the fish can be ready within five minutes, as was the type we made this afternoon. There are many different variations of ceviche, depending on geographical region and such. The ceviche we learned how to make today is a mix of fish, limón, garlic, cliantro, ground celery, pepper, ginger, ají amarillo and salt. After it marinates, it is placed on a lettuce leaf and accompanied by one or two slices of boiled sweet potato. We also had sides of white beans and a type of popcorn.

Needless to say, it was really amazing.

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Later that afternoon, we had a second round of Peruvian cooking 101, when Nancy showed us how to make a classic dish: arroz con pollo. Sadly, I do not have any pictures of it, although I wouldn’t say that pictures of food will be ending any time soon. Arroz con pollo is essentially what its name says: rice and chicken. However, the arroz con pollo that was made today is made by flavoring the rice and chicken with a flavorful base consisting of cilantro (it makes the rice green), onion, garlic, choclo (Peruvian corn), ají amarillo and peas (or other vegetables like carrots or bell peppers). The chicken is first cooked in the sauce of cilantro and spices and once ready, taken out so that the rice can cook in its flavorful broth. In the end, all of it is combined and then eaten and it’s really really great. The chicken is always incredibly moist and flavorful and with a little bit of ají and fresh cut onion, it’s pretty perfect. Arroz con pollo is probably my second favorite dish – first being lomo saltado, but that could be worthy of it’s own post.

Between our morning of learning how to make ceviche and afternoon lesson in all things arroz con pollo, it was a day filled with fun conversation and really good food. What was almost even better, was that between all the cooking and eating, I was also able to finally check some major things off of a myriad of my to-do lists (I have many different lists) and feel better about the basic organization of my life. (Always a good thing.)

All in all, today was the perfect way of helping me remember that in times of stress, spending time with friends and family can be the best remedy. But more importantly, food. Always.

Sunrises with Rotary

Generally speaking, I consider myself a morning person. I like experiencing the progression of morning, afternoon and night and waking up has never been very arduous, as non-morning people presumedly experience. However, waking up at 5:00am is not something that is an entirely welcome idea – there are very few things that I would do that require waking up that early. Really there are just two: going for a run (it’s what I’ve been doing lately because of the grueling heat that blankets all of Lima beginning at 8:00am) and going to Rotary meetings.

When I would attend Rotary meetings during the school year (specifically the one that sponsored my home Interact club) I would wake up at approximately 5:00am, catch the sunrise as my mom drove down Highway 1, arrive around 10-15 minutes early for the 7:15am meeting (Shout out to Santa Cruz Sunrise Rotary!) and I would still have enough time to speed my way to school in time for my first period class. It was a routine that required a little extra effort in the morning, but was always so worth it.

For those who don’t know, during the latter half of high school I became really involved with Interact Club. Interact is a youth program of Rotary International, an international service organization that fosters collaboration between business and professional leaders to promote goodwill and peace throughout the world. During my involvement in Interact, I attained a plethora of leadership, networking and public speaking skills that I continue to utilize. Regarding my time and work in Peru, I have received unwavering support from the friends and mentors that I have met via Rotary. With all of that said, researching the Rotary clubs in Peru seemed like a no-brainer and deciding to visit at least one was a definite must. This was how I found myself waking up at 5:00am on Thursday morning to go visit the Rotary Club of Lima Sunrise.

After an hour bus ride and a short detour through San Isidro in a taxi, I finally arrived at the meeting place of Lima Sunrise. With about five minutes to spare before their 7:30am meeting time, I did a quick cell-phone-turned-mirror hair check and then knocked on the door. Upon entering, I clumsily introduced myself in some sort of combination of Spanish and English because I wasn’t sure which I was supposed to use, considering I read they were one (if not the only) English-speaking Rotary club in Lima. Nevertheless, introductions were made and after awkwardly figuring out how to socialize and internally remembering that I had handled moving to a foreign country with some form of ease and therefore, I could definitely handle meeting a few Rotarians of all people, I felt more comfortable. It was a small meeting of about eight members with one of them being the speaker for that day. Of the people in attendance, it was about a fifty-fifty split between Peruvians and expatriates. Everyone spoke English throughout the meeting, with an occasional phrase or two in Spanish.

One of my favorite moments was at the end, when the entire club recited the 4-Way Test together as a way of closing the meeting and I couldn’t help but join in. That moment as well as my visit as a whole, reminded me of how much I respect and enjoy the company of Rotarians and just how special it was be able to experience Rotary’s influential spirit while abroad.

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One of the activities planned by that morning’s speaker, Dario, was centered around his presentation about experiential learning. The challenge: create a tower as tall as possible with a bag of marshmallows and spaghetti, in under 15 minutes. (A winner was not announced, but I think that we won.)

Although it may seem like I went to visit Lima Sunrise just for funsies, I did go with more professional intentions. The purposes for my visit were to learn more about Rotary in Peru and to share my experiences regarding of youth international service, a theme that I will be addressing as a speaker at Santa Cruz Sunrise Rotary when I return to California. Throughout my time in Peru and even beforehand, I’ve learned how important it is to build a network of connections that can help you in the future. Visiting Lima Sunrise was a big first step for me in my mission of learning how to navigate the expansive and important skill of networking. Tomorrow morning I will be waking up to my alarm once again at that ever-special time of 5:00am so that I can attend a leadership workshop that is being hosted by Rotary and Rotaract representatives. Undoubtedly it’ll be an adventure and I will be sure to share it with everyone as soon as I am able. Until then, I should probably get some sleep.

Rewinding of My Summer in Peru

This summer was like running a 5k – it’s a short race (3.1 miles) so it doesn’t seem that hard, right? This summer’s eight-week programming received a similar response from myself and a few friends. Eight weeks? Workshops that are only a couple of hours long, a few days a week? What will I do with myself? Little did I know that like running a 5k, it is not advisable to go into summer programming without having any sort of mental preparation (let alone physical), eight weeks is actually pretty long, and most importantly, hydration is key. (Thank you, 80-90 degree weather and humidity levels upwards of 60%.) And despite it’s “shortness” this summer has proven to be anything but uneventful.

Undoubtedly, the most meaningful part of my summer with Building Dignity was the music program. As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been in charge of the program since early January and it’s been full of challenges and successes that continue to motivate me to improve and expand the program. Recent developments have led to conversations about continuing music workshops in the community of Oasis, when we originally had intended on only offering workshops like music, English lessons and art for the summer. It’ll mean teaching in two communities (La Encantada and Oasis) and continuing the grand migration of instruments to and from the two locations, but I’m 100% committed. Because the music program is currently dependent on me being here, I’ve also started to compile an archive of all the materials, lesson plans and activities associated with the program, so that whoever comes after me can have a solid foundation of what the program has done and what level the kids are at.

Even though this summer has had its fair share of challenges, I am a little bit sad that it’s come to an end. When I compared the summer programming to the school year’s, I used to focus on how less tired I was at the end of the day or I would think of the all the ways that summer has been more intense. But as the summer wound down, I started to realize that the school year had it’s own set of challenges i.e. learning how to play guitar in Spanish, trying to remember how to do geometry when I barely even got it while I was in school, helping pre-teens with trigonometry…  I focused on how much I missed getting on a more personal level with the kids I helped tutor during the school year, as opposed to the less personal dynamic that was applicable to many of this summer’s programs. On the flipside, the school year is academically intense. I’ll still have music as a respite from helping research Peru’s legislative bodies and studying mathematical terms in Spanish, but the fun and free atmosphere of the summer will most definitely be missed. If anything, I’ve learned that some times ideas can change drastically depending on the perspective. By having experienced two different cycles, I’ve grown to appreciate things that I hadn’t really considered before and however stress-inducing this summer has been, I’m grateful for it.

It’s been a busy two months, with daily programming in two locations, visitors from the United States, welcoming new volunteers as well as saying goodbye to volunteers who I had known for as long as I’ve been here.  If anything, crossing the finish line (we’re back to the running analogy) that in this case, was March 1st was pretty satisfying. A pancake breakfast has not been included, but I think we can make that happen at some point.