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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gracias

On Saturday, I say good-bye to Chimbote.  I am not really sure how the end of September snuck up on me so quickly.  I find it hard to put into words exactly how I feel about my time in Peru.  What I will say is that this has been one of the best, most rewarding years of my life.  Being away from family and friends for weddings, births and family vacations was not always easy, but I think the struggles made this experience even more valuable.  I have met some of the most amazing people throughout my year.  I have been welcomed as a member of the community.  I have learned the real difference between want and need.  I have learned the value of family and creating relationships.  I have learned to just sit with someone in silence to pass the time.  I have learned that my stomach maybe is not as strong as I always thought.  I have learned how to argue in Spanish (and win!).

To the people of Chimbote, muchas gracias por todo.  No tengo las palabras para decir lo agradecida que estoy por todo lo que me han dado durante este año.  Les voy a extrañar muchisimo!  Nunca les voy a olvidar y espero que nos vemos muy pronto.

To everyone back home, thank you for your support, your prayers, your laughs, your letters and emails.  You have been just as important to me through this journey as everyone I have met in Peru.  Thank you for keeping me grounded and thank you for reminding me who I am.  This little book sums my thanks up pretty well.  I look forward to seeing you all in just a few short weeks!

Friday, September 16, 2011

(In)Dependence

P9110346Over the course of six days last week, I spent a total of 29 hours on a bus.  My host family’s grandma invited the whole family up to her pueblito for the festival of their patron saint, El Señor de los Milagros or, the Lord of miracles.  Where she lives is three hours on dirt roads from the biggest city (in which I’m sure everyone knows one another) in a tiny village called Barranco.  There are no roads, the nearest neighbor lives about a 30 minute walk away, they just got electricity within the past five years, almost everyone is family and there is no indoor plumbing.  We celebrated with the locals with mass, castillos, dancing and the vaca loca (which really is crazy).  We at five meals a day sitting in the rustic, adobe kitchen while the guinea pigs P9110348were running around, nibbling on our feet (probably because we were eating their relatives) which almost always included some sort of potato, yuca or sweet potato and pork.  While the festival was great, my favorite part of the trip was spending time with my host family and struggling to understand the grandma who talks a mile a minute.  I can’t stand the thought of having to say goodbye to them in just two short weeks.

I like to think I’m a pretty independent lady.  At least I did about a year ago.  Like a three-year-old, I was always proud when I could do things “All by self”, never needing help from anyone.  Things changed a bit when I got to Peru.  This is a culture where people rely on one another.  This is a culture where you do not even go to the grocery store by yourself.  At first, this drove me crazy.  I liked to do things on my own sometimes and I saw it as a weakness to rely on other people so frequently.  Like so, so many other things throughout this year, my opinion on independence has changed.  I now realize that this dependence on others is not a way of showing your weakness but rather, a way of showing how much you value your relationship.  When it really comes down to it, my year was all about relationships and isn’t that what life should be all about?

Congratulations to Sarah and Jeremy Orem who welcomed little Mira into the world on September 8th.  You two will be amazing parents.  I can’t wait to meet her!

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

August in Review

The month of August brought a welcome change of pace for my work and life down here.  The month started out with Amber and I FINALLY getting our visas.  A supposedly one month process ended five months later with our Peruvian residency cards and a nice P8110196stamp in our passports…just in time for our departure.  While in Lima, we picked up a group of physical therapy students from Regis University who spent a little over a week with us doing home visits, free clinics, learning about PT and health care in Peru and helping out with the international conference that Amber has been working her butt off on for the past ten months (you can read about it on her blog here).  I had a blast with this group.  Not only were they a ton of fun to be around for the week, but it was great to get a view of Peru from new eyes after being here for almost a year.  Things that I no longer think about were new, exciting and often challenging for them.  Perspective is a great thing and I feel that as my life has become more normal down here, I have lost some perspective and settled into the mentality that this is “just how it is”. 

Following the PT students, I had a quick couple days back in Chimbote to do some laundry and help out with a free clinic before heading back down to Lima to pick up a friend that was visiting.  We had a wonderful time camping at the base of Machu Picchu (which is just as breath-taking the second time around) before heading off for an Amazonian adventure.  We stayed at a lodge that is part of a conservation project in the Tambopata reserve.  If anyone ever goes to the Amazon, go here:  http://www.baltimoreperu.org.pe/.  We stayed with a family, had a local guide, got to meet lots of people, see wild macaws and parrots, and hitch a ride back to town on the local fruit taxi.  The jungle is unbelievable and if it were not for all the blasted mosquitos, I could have stayed there forever.  Thank you for a wonderful trip, Caitlin!  I had a blast!

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Living far away from home has really helped me to realize who the important people are in my life.  A week ago, on August 25th, Fr. Phil Wallace from my parish at home passed away after a long struggle with cancer.  Fr. Phil was an amazing man who truly led by example and was a great inspiration to everyone he met.  The outpouring of love shown by everyone throughout this past week is a testament to what a great man he was.  I feel endlessly blessed to have met him.  I will be forever thankful for his presence in my life.  So please, say a prayer for Fr. Phil tonight.  For anyone interested, this is a wonderful article written on him in the Seattle Times.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Transitions

I am not the best at transitions.  My family and my college roommates can likely attest to that.  I am even worse at goodbyes.  My transition from Peruvian life to American life is looming ahead in the not so distant future and it scares the socks off of me.  So, as my support group, here are a couple things you can all do to help make my transition just a little bit easier.

  1. Sit next to me.  I mean, really sit next to me.  Peruvians do not have a sense of personal space and even complete strangers will practically sit on top of you.  At first, this drove me crazy, but I have come to like it and get insulted when someone does not sit next to me.  So please, when you sit next to me, make sure we are at least shoulder to shoulder and I will likely scootch closer.
  2. Greet me with a kiss on the cheek.  Not in that annoying, snobby girl way, but in that warm Peruvian way that says, “hey, I’m actually happy to see you”.  It may take me a while to break this habit, so you all may as well just give in and give me a peck back.
  3. Call me names like Gringita, Flacita, Merry, and Catita.
  4. Urinate in public.
  5. Remind me to wear my seatbelt.  Partly because I will forget due to the lack of seatbelts in the past eleven months, but partly because the collectivo drivers always have to remind the front seat passenger to put safety first (which usually means looping the ripped seatbelt over your shoulder so as not to get a ticket).
  6. Do not ask about my year unless you really want to know.  This will not be a quick answer and I will probably talk for hours.  So please, save yourself the trouble and only ask if you are truly interested.
  7. Let me bask in the glory of seemingly endless toilet paper, hand soap and toilet seats.
  8. Let me eat a lot of rice.  More importantly, eat a lot of rice with me.
  9. Honk your horn.  All. The. Time.  Honk your horn to turn a corner.  Honk your horn when you pass someone on the street.  Honk your horn when you see someone you know.  Honk your horn when you see someone you don’t know.  Honk your horn to tell someone you want to buy a marciano or some picarones as you drive by.  If you could change your horn to sound like an ice cream truck or a clown car, sea mucho mejor.
  10. Say words like “Google”, “Youtube” and “Skype” as “googly”, “youtubey” and “eskypey”.  It brings me endless joy. 
  11. Have dinner with me.  Or lunch.  Then, just sit for hours, chatting about nothing in particular and with no rush to be anywhere else.

My contract with CMMB is up in a month, after which, I plan on doing some travelling around South America with a friend before heading back home for Thanksgiving.  Any suggestions of places to go/people to meet in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay or Bolivia would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Te Amo Peru

Sometimes, changes happen so gradually that one hardly notices.  Sometimes, changes happen almost instantly.  Like everything else in Peru, the changes I have recently begun to notice, have happened slowly.  After practically a year down here, I have started to take notice of how different things seem now as compared to last September.  So, in order to give you a little taste of just a handful of the things that I feel have changed over the past eleven months, I made this handy-dandy little comparison table.

Last September Now
Joked about taking showers only once or twice a week but in reality showered a good three to four times a week. Jokes about taking a shower once or twice a week and is actually serious (lately, its been closer to once a week…).  I’d like to see you take a ice cold shower when its 50 degrees outside!
Crossed at crosswalks, waited for the streetlight to change, waited for cars to completely pass before crossing the street. Crosses the street like a super-human!
Got nervous about knocking on doors in Cambio Puente to gather simple census data. Does home visits and nutritional workshops without blinking an eye.
Was just that “gringa” in Cambio Puente. Has kids yelling “Caty!!” down the streets and even had one little cutie tell his mom that “his gringita just drove by!”.
Struggled with conversations in Spanish. Has been asked multiple times where I am from in Peru.
Sat like a deer in the headlights when my host family made jokes. Can hold my own and make my host family proud of what they have taught me.
Fell in love with ceviche and combinado at first bite. Knows all of the best places to eat said ceviche and combinado.
Got woken up at 4am when the roosters crowed. Doesn’t even use earplugs and can sleep until 9am without ever hearing the roosters (on those rare days where I actually can sleep until 9am).
Could not understand anything that was said to me (in Spanish) on the telephone. Has entire conversations with people on the phone in Spanish.  Except my host grandma, even Peruvians can’t understand her.
Was not sure how I would survive in a city that smelled of fish for a year. What fish smell?
Walked out of the house empty-pocketed. Always has pockets full of toilet paper and spare change, but, like every good Peruvian, never a pen when needed.
Got laughed at by my co-workers when I tried to spell Peruvian names. No longer even have to think about how all those crazy names are spelled.
Read English words in English. Reads English words as if they were Spanish.
Introduced myself to Peruvians with the English pronunciation of my name. Introduce myself to English speakers with the Spanish pronunciation of my name.
Thought there were only big bananas and small bananas. Can tell the difference between all nine different kinds of bananas.

 

If life is about progress, then I think my life in Peru throughout this year has been pretty grand.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Goooooooool!

After almost ten months in Peru, I have finally been to a local soccer game.  It was full of crazy Peruvian fans, bands, riot police, food, and a Jose Galvez (Chimbote) win.  I am pretty sure that I am the first gringa to ever been seen at a game in that stadium based on the looks from my fellow Chimbotanos.

Throughout this past week, three noteworthy events occurred here in Chimbote.  As always, the month began with getting weights and heights for all of our kids in the project in order to track their nutritional status.  This is always a big project on its own since we are a small team and have over 300 kids, but this month, we had to draw blood samples from all our kiddos as well in order to test their hemoglobin levels after three months of iron supplements.  It was a busy week.  My favorite moment happened on Thursday afternoon when I was pricking fingers and making kids cry.  I had just finished pricking the finger of one of the girls in our project and we were waiting for her results.  Back in February when we tested her hemoglobin, she was borderline.  Her mom was great about bringing her to receive her supplements every week and participated in our nutritional workshops.  When I told her mom that she had gone from being borderline anemic (according to the ministry of health standards….see this post for my rant) to being well into the normal range, her mom got tears in her eyes because she was so happy.  It is really amazing to see results like this.  We had kids who have gone from severe anemia to borderline anemia in just a matter of months.

CIMG3553Not only have we had some really great success with our kids and their hemoglobin levels, but the gardens that we helped our families plant are doing great.  The families who were among the first to benefit from the gardens have been able to harvest their veggies.  The gardens look beautiful and these families now have fresh veggies to eat on a regular basis.

Finally, yesterday we had a workshop with our community agents that focused on self-esteem.  Peru is a very machismo culture and you can tell that many women do not think very highly of themselves because of the culture and attitudes by which they are surrounded.  Our community agents are some of the most amazing women I have met down here.  They do really great things for their community without hope of compensation or acknowledgment.  They are smart, active, caring leaders in their community.  This is the way I see these women.  I am proud to work with them and blessed to have met them.  CIMG3625Because of the great things they are able to do in their community and the respect they have gained from their neighbors, I assumed they saw themselves the same way.  The workshop yesterday was really eye-opening for me.  One of the activities was to think of some of your strengths and weaknesses.  A number of the women could not think of a single strength which simply blew me away.  I could not help but wonder, “If these women have done this much without thinking they have any strengths, what could they do if they really knew how amazing they are?”.  The afternoon was spent on self-assessments and recognition.  While talking about milestones throughout their lives, many of the women talked about their involvement in the project.  This was the first time that I really realized that not only do we have the opportunity to change the lives of the children in the project, but we also have an opportunity to give something to these women that they have never had before.

This week I am thankful for skype which gives me the chance to see my goddaughter even from half a world away.  I am also thankful for my amazing parents who are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary tomorrow.  It has been great to grow up and see them not only as my parents but as two best friends who are still very much in love.  I count myself very blessed to not only have them as parents, but to also have them as friends.  Happy Anniversary and here’s hoping for 30 more years!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Magic Baby

I have spent the past nine months being humbled.  To not feel so, would be next to impossible.  However, some things are definitely more humbling than others.  One of the strangest things is to realize that life really does go on without you.  People move, get new jobs, get married, etc.  But one of the biggest things that really makes me realize that everything continues as normal at home is the arrival of a brand new family member.  Ann Marie Chappell was born this morning to my sister and her husband.  I like to think of her as a magic baby.  When I left, my sister was not pregnant, she was just my sister.  When I come back, she will not be pregnant, but, she’ll have this new little person.  This is one of those events in life that I always thought I would be there to watch.  To watch her belly grow and then get to meet my little niece right when she was born.  Its humbling (and a little sad) to realize that things go on as normal, even when I’m half a world away.

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Is it possible to miss someone you have never met?  Because I miss my goddaughter like crazy.