After living in Lima for 7 months, my boyfriend, Bryan, and I decided it was due time we got a taste of a different side of Peru. Although I had been working for a microfinance bank in Lima that seves some of the poorest districts of the city, we both knew that Lima is worlds away from the rest of the country and we wanted to gain a better understanding and appreciation for the daily life of that Peru as well. Despite my gung ho attitude about things both Latin American and development related and my confidence speaking Spanish, I was anxious about a load of things before arriving in Pachachaca – no toilets, no showers, teaching in a classroom for the first time, living with a family, and especially eating lots of potatoes (i know it’s weird but i really really dislike potatoes). It turns out most of these concerns were legitimated, but our time in Pachachaca also turned out to be one of the most eye opening formative experiences I have had in Latin America thus far.
Being from Washington D.C. Pachachaca is the most rustic living I have ever experienced by miles and while it wasnt always easy for me to be that far out of my comfort zone, the enthusiasm of our students, warmth of our homestay, and raw beauty of Pachachaca always kept the experience a positive one. Plus eating a good homemade pachamanca is an unparalleled experience.
In terms of tips for future volunteers:
1) Be flexible and patient, easier said than done but really makes a difference
2) Spend as much time with your homestay family as you can; working, cooking, watching tv, whatever
3) Expect to be dirty and not your most attractive, that is a growing experience in itself
4) Bring lots of books and go on exploratory walks
5) Brainstorm fun games for the classroom to keep the students engaged
6) If youre uncomfortable with anything at the homestay just say something, its usually not a big deal
7) Definitely volunteer with Blue Sparrow – its not a vacation but its very very real and beautiful and certainly worth your time
9TH of April 2014
It has been three weeks now since I have moved to Huancan. A village only 20 minutes away from the dense and overwhelming Huancayo, where the extreme of old and new clash blatantly and that seems to expand faster than it can carry. Huancan seems decades away from Huancayo.
The first night I arrived in my host family I sat, eating my juice of seeds, on the kitchen table in front of 4 women in a row. Speaking Quechua to each other, but nevertheless not turning their eyes for a second from my white face. Obviously heavily discussing my presence, they finished every sentence with Gringa, the only word that I could understand. After this quite “exceptional” welcoming dinner, the days have turned into weeks easily and the firstly exotic way of living has now become my own. Of course with from time to time still some shocks of difference.
For the first weeks I worked together with a co-volunteer in both the elementary and secondary school of Pachachaca, a village 500 meters higher than Huancan and completely detached from everything that I would have called the modern world. In the beginning I was astonished that nobody knew Europe, or Asia to say. China yes, because there is the comida Chufa. And in which continent are we? Arequipa maybe? But at the same time the living forms and culture have amazed me, as the respect and gratitude with which people take up their lives, treat each other and the nature around them.
Concerning the volunteering itself, I feel that own initiative and positive energy is the only way to overcome the sometimes shocking unstructured school system, that in the beginning turned me quite sad and fruitless. But at the same time there are all the possibilities to start up own initiatives and projects and what you give, you get back double in return!
The first two weeks of living in Huancán have been interesting. Today in Pachachaca for example, Louise (a fellow volunteer) and I spent teaching 8-year-olds how to generally use a computer like typing in Word and drawing in Paint. I thought this were something that naturally comes to generations younger and a slightly older than mine (I am nineteen). To my surprise, these 8-year-olds do know, very well in fact, how to care for their families cattle, but have no idea what the ´red cross´ in the right-top of the computer screen means. We spent hours trying to explain the basics of the computer – one may never think this exists, but it does here in the rural mountain areas. I live with a host family in Huancán, about fifteen minutes by bus to the centre of Huancayo (though still contrasting with the city!). The people are kind and the bed is quite comfortable. The food is not great (rice and potatoes daily, and it doesn´t usually have a great taste…), but that’s part of a ¨local experience¨. Living in their house is remarkable as it lacks streaming water, internet, a fridge (!), shower and sink. In terms of modern facilities, we have light and sockets. The family speaks both Quechua and Spanish, which offers opportunity to improve skills in both languages! (Miski Mikuy, Quechua for comida rica, is the name of many a restaurant around town.)
Although we have been teaching in Pachachaca (more rural and higher altitude) the past week, tomorrow we are starting to teach at the Colegio (high school) of Huancán.
I wanted to share some things that were either surprizing to me or that I wish I knew more about prior to my volunteer experience:
Read the Blue Sparrow predeparture guide. It really sets your expectations for Huancayo.
Plan on getting food poisoning and having stomach illnesses. Invest in some immodium before you arrive. Beware of ceviche that isn´t local trout.
If you have doubts about personal hygiene, visit a eucalyptus sauna at least once a week (you are given a room with a shower) and bring lots and lots of wet wipes. Also, bucket showering isn´t half bad on a warm day.
I feel really safe in Huancayo, and I often wander the streets alone, even at night. People here tend to be very warm and disarming. It is also my experience that people here are eager to share their culture with you. Some of my most memorable moments were when I threw caution to the wind and joined parties-fruit picking-hiking-eating with locals.
People often laugh at me and I now understand that it is not derisive, but rather out of a feeling of discomfort. Not many tourists pass through here and some people are nervous around a ¨gringa¨like myself.
Warning: cliche coming…
have an open mind and always assert your needs.
Here is the work of the kids that are attending Blue Sparrow’s computer center (Péru). The project was to take photos with different angles on a chosen theme and edit them with the Adobe photoshop program.
I arrived with very few expectations. Other than what I was told during the Blue Sparrow skype interview and the images I found on wikitravel of Huancayo, I really was not sure what I was in for. Perhaps a pastoral scene with alpacas and snow-capped mountains, with sheepherds in traditional dress and women selling potatoes. Not knowing any better, I allowed myself to indulge in some cultural stereotypes before I arrived.
What I found was a city of dualities. An economic hub of the Andes but also a beautiful agrarian locale. It is at once a city of action, color, and vibrancy with bustling open-air markets and the sound of carnival-barker-esque vendors, but it is also a city that surrenders to the strong rains and forces of nature. Huancayo is a place of tension between tradition and modernity, where a granny in full Andean regalia can order a frappucino at Starbucks and see a movie after a day of selling produce in the market. Conversely, a teenager with a Justin Bieber haircut listening to Pitbull on a smartphone can knit woolen wares and can talk to his family in Quechua (I have witnessed both cases).
This cultural tension makes the volunteer experience that much richer. I am happy to be here at a time to witness a transition of sorts, but still take full advantage of the very rooted traditional culture. It is through this concept of tension that I understand how important it is to volunteer here and be an ambassador of economic empowerment. I think it would be really easy to disregard the local culture and supplant it with the new, modern, and efficient, but that is not the goal of Blue Sparrow.
Our projects are 100% oriented towards providing tools and resources for the benefit of the clients. Whether it be in a classroom or out in the campos working the potato fields, there is aways a sense of respect for the local culture and a goal to help clients generate more creative output or more agricultural yield. Us volunteers traverse through the technology center and Blue Sparrow- supported agricultural enterprises with an open mind and some ideas/methods to improve pre-exising systems.
Since it is currently “summertime” in Huancayo, we are working in the afternoons at the Blue Sparrow Technology Center with the Adobe Youth Voices project helping students with creative projects. We support creative projects that champion social causes and the students love learning about design, composition, and different creative mediums. I will not teach in a school during my time here due to scheduling, but at least I get a glimpse into an educational process of sorts. On the weekends we are living and working in Pachachaca, either fumigating the fields or fixing the micro-finance center. The goal is to build a “bio-huerto” or a greenhouse model to help diversify the crop output to ultimately lead to more capital for the local residents.
At times I feel small and passive in the city center due to the overwhelming crowds, smells, speed of the combis..etc., but in three weeks I have grown to appreciate the chaos. Now I find it endearing. I struggled at first with the mud and the not-so-pristine state of the city (I think I even used the example of the current Syrian Crisis to describe the appearance of some parts of the city). To contrast, the communities on the outskirts are more tranquil and feature vast fields of corn, potatoes, and eucalyptus trees. Yet another duality of Huancayo.
I lived in the office at first, a bit timid of a rustic homestay experience, but then I decided to really get the “grandaaaso” experience of Huancayo. My host family is incredibly kind and welcoming, not to mention multi-talented and entrepreneurial. I live in an adobe house with a squat toilet and no bathroom to speak of, with chickens, ducks, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and a parrot. I can admittedly be a bit of a princess and I thought that not having hot water would be a struggle, but I have adjusted easily to my new home. My host family has been so kind to knit both me and my volunteer roommate a warm winter gorra, and they are teaching us how to cook Peruvian cuisine, and how to make macrame bracelets. They sell animals and their crafts, and they are so eager to share their culture with us. I regret not being able to stay longer.