Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chancho Marino

This story really starts on Saturday, although, I did not realize it at the time.  Please don’t judge me too much for what you are about to read.  I wouldn’t say it exactly has a happy ending, but here goes….

Saturday morning, I walked into the kitchen to find a big market bag full of bloody meat.  In my house, this really is not all that uncommon; we fairly often have freshly killed chickens in our sink, just waiting to be plucked and cleaned.  This market bag was left by my host dad who has been working out on a fishing boat since February.  Every couple weeks he stops by (usually in the middle of the night) when the ship is in port, to drop off some fish and say ‘hi’ to the family.  The bag of meat in the kitchen was his gift to the family for this trip.  The meat was eventually rinsed off and put in the refrigerator.

Yesterday, I got home for lunch and saw a heaping plate of meat waiting at my place at the table.  I thought to myself, “Beef!  We haven’t had beef in a long time!” and sat down to dig in.  Before asking what it was, my host mom told me I was being served the former contents of the bloody market bag, chancho marino.  I looked at her and said, “Is it a fish?”.  She said that yes, it was fish, so I took a couple more bites.  Up until this point, I have liked everything I have been served in Peru.  This was the first dish of which I was not fond.  After seeing me struggle through a couple more bites, my host mom told me that I did not have to eat it if I did not like it, phew!

That afternoon, I went into the clinic and told my co-workers that my host family finally found something I don’t like.  I told them what it was and then innocently asked, “What is chancho marino?”  My co-worker replied that it may be better not to know.  That comment always troubles me.  After a little more nudging, she pulled some pictures up on Google and said, “Well, at least you didn’t like it!”.  The pictures she pulled up were of large marine mammals.

I went home last night for dinner and saw Johannes (the German volunteer) sitting at the table with my host sister, Milagros, eating chancho marino.  Milagros made a comment about how much Johannes liked it and I asked if he knew what it was.  The following conversations still makes me scratch my head:

Johannes: Well, it’s fish, right?

Milagros: It lives in the ocean, yes.

Cathleen: But it isn’t really fish, is it?

Milagros: Well, I guess not technically, no.  But it does live in the ocean, so kind of.

Johannes: Well then, what is it?

Cathleen: My co-worker told me it was related to sea lion, is that right, Milagros?

Milagros: Some people say it is related to dolphin.

Johannes: …………

Cathleen: So, it isn’t fish, then….

Johannes happily finished his plate of porpoise and I dug into my bowl of cereal.  Trust me, I feel terrible enough as it is about this situation, so no guilt trips please.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Last Sunday the primary presidential elections were held.  Out of the five leading candidates, one of the two with the highest number of votes will go on to be elected president in June.  Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori were the two candidates with the highest votes.  Ollanta Humala is a leftist, former military man who is friends with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.  Ollanta says that he will implement a curfew in order to help cut down on violence and delinquency.  Keiko Fujimori is daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori who is currently serving multiple, concurrent prison sentences for human rights abuses and corruption.  The fear is that Keiko will pardon her father if elected president.  If you want to read a little more about Keiko, check out this article.  How did these two candidates end up on top?  Well, it is at least partially due to the bribery that is used by the candidates throughout their campaign.  In Chimbote alone, families were given pots and pans, rice cookers, bread and money for pledging their support.  Candidates have also been known to pay to have roads paved, street signs installed and other public works carried out.  One thing I can say with 100% certainty: the next couple months will be interesting.


For the past two weeks, we have been holding workshops in Cambio Puente.  For each workshop, we invited ten moms from the sector we had selected for that week.  The goal is to eventually have all the moms attend a workshop.  The focus of these workshops was nutrition, but we also included early childhood stimulation, education on safe drinking water, family planning information, anemia education and a discussion about respiratory infections and diarrhea.  It would be an understatement to say that I was overwhelmed the first week.  I was thrown into the workshop with little knowledge of what was going on and still halfway in vacation-mode.  The first workshop felt unorganized and chaotic.  This past week, however, was about a million times better.  We sat down as a team at the beginning of the week to talk about the whole plan for the workshop—something that should have been done in the beginning, but better late than never, I suppose.  I also had another nurse to work with who helped translate from ‘Cathleen Spanish’ into ‘normal Spanish’ when the moms gave me that look that said “whaaat??”.  The confidence I had lost in the first week of workshops came back as I realized that I really had not lost any of my Spanish in my two weeks of vacation and that I still do know what I am talking about when it comes to health topics.  I think we all have those moments when we doubt our skills and during that first workshop, I forgot how to cover up my own doubts. 

Along with the workshops, we also brought in an agricultural engineer to talk to our families and some of the staff of the local schools about starting their own vegetable gardens.  We are starting this project in just one sector and then hoping to spread it out through the rest of the community.  Our goal with the engineer is that he will help these families to find nutritive, inexpensive crops with a year-round harvest. 

A big thanks goes out to the Sprangers family this week.  Thank you for all the sugar cookies, pool parties, giggles and continued support throughout the years.  I feel very blessed to have you all in my life!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pros and Cons

There are lots and lots of good things about having family come visit.  There is also one down side.  Having family visit means that eventually, they leave and you get left alone in a country that is still not quite home, no matter how hard you try.  However, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. 

Back in September, I never thought March would be here.  Before I knew it, my family’s visit was a month away and there was a point when I actually thought to myself, “but wait, I just saw them!”.  Two weeks passed much too quickly and I now find myself wondering if the next six months will go as quickly as the first six. 

One of the great things about travelling with my parents is that Caralwe stayed in hotels that had hot water, clean sheets and private bathrooms.  Long, hot showers meant I felt clean for the first time since September.  I will spare you all the details and just give you the highlights of the trip.  (If you feel like you are missing out on something, you can always shoot me an email.)  I like to think that after these past couple weeks, my parents, brother and I are now amateur archeologists.  Not only did we hit Machu Picchu, we also saw Caral, Chan Chan, Huaca de la Luna, Qorikancha and a well-hidden site in the heart of the Colca Canyon.  We started out the trip with a trip to Caral, the oldest city in the Americas.  After surviving what was the most nerve-wrecking taxi ride of my life, we got to enjoy the only partially excavated ruins that lie about three hours north of Lima.  After Lima, it was a quick trip up to Trujillo to see the ruins of Chan Chan and Huaca de la Luna in one day.  We made friends with a taxi driver who asked whether I was from Chimbote or Trujillo; one of the highlights of the trip.


From Trujillo, we headed down to Chimbote for a very short trip.  I was able to take my family out to Cambio Puente and they got to meet some of the community agents that work with us on the project.  These women are incredible.  Every single one welcomed us into their homes and were genuinely excited to meet my family.  I know how much I appreciate these women and how hard it will be for me to leave them in just a couple more months, but hearing them say the exact same thing to my family brought tears to my eyes.  It is an amazing thing to be welcomed into somebody’s home to share food, stories, laughs and broken Spanish when you know how little they have.  Peruvians give a new meaning to hospitality.

From Chimbote, we fought the altitude and headed up to Cuzco.  After trying to use, what PeruRail told us were nonexistent tickets, we spent the next couple hours trying to navigate our way through the system.  After lots of phone calls (the first time I have really been thankful for my cell phone down here) and talking to what seemed like everyone in the train station, we finally made it to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu.  I do not have the words to describe how beautiful Machu Picchu is, you will just have to come down and see it for yourself.  Our second day at the ruins, we were there from when the gates opened at 6am and had to be chased out by the guards at 5pm.  We got to see the fog clear over the ruins from the top of Huaynapicchu and caught a double rainbow from the Caretaker’s Hut in the afternoon.


We shipped Patrick back to the States in Cuzco and my parents and I headed down to Puno to see Lake Titicaca and the manmade islands of Los Uros.  Then it was on to Arequipa.  Arequipa is Peruvian Disney World.  Everything was clean and bright and the garbage trucks sounded like ice cream trucks.  We spent a day exploring the Santa Catalina monastery which takes up an entire city block and is a city in itself.  There are still about thirty cloistered nuns that live in the monastery, but the majority of the building is open for 638touring.  It is gorgeous and maze-like with hidden passages and dozens of rooms.  Arequipa is the starting point for any sort of tour or trek of the Colca Canyon.  The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and has countless ruins inside.  We headed out to the canyon for a quick, two day tour and got to do some hiking, some more exploring of ruins and some hotspringing.  We got front row seats to see condors fly over the canyon and were stopped in the road due to a llama crossing. 

Unfortunately, Arequipa was our last stop on our quick Peruvian tour.  It was really hard to watch my parents leave, but it was a really wonderful couple weeks.  I am very blessed to have such a great family and that they had the opportunity to get a little taste of what my life is like down here. 

A couple things my family got to check off their bucket list on this trip (some of them had to be added first):

  1. Having our bus stopped by the policia.
  2. Having front rows seats to watch a grown man wet himself on the bus from Chimbote to Trujillo.  Gotta love Latin American transport.
  3. Eating alpaca.
  4. Eating guinea pig.
  5. Watching the fog clear over Machu Picchu.
  6. Watching sunrise over the Colca Canyon.

Thank you for a fantastic trip.  I miss you guys already!