Saturday, October 27, 2012

Top 10 things I never thought I would do while serving in the Peace Corps:

  1. Wear my converse on a daily basis.
  2. Complain about my washing machine.
  3. Wonder which foods I will miss the most when I go back to the States.
  4. Work on my tan.
  5. Frequently wear a tie.
  6. Ride my bike to the beach.
  7. Tell a student: “you can check your Facebook later, please put away your blackberry.”
  8. Have a taco truck 4 blocks away from my house.
  9. Give a workshop to parents about internet addiction and internet safety.
  10.  Make my family bring me more clothing since I wasn’t feeling stylish enough.

Monday, July 2, 2012

National Lampoon's Vacation to Peru

My family's first sight of the Pacific

After spending so much time in one country, sometimes it becomes second nature to be accustomed to cultural intricacies that fill one's day to day life. The little annoyances or difficulties become casual or even likable events. So it is easy to imagine that when someone comes to visit, there happen to be quite a few little tidbits here and there that may have been useful to know in advance. Having just waved goodbye to a flock of family members leaving their trek through Peru, here are the “whoops, I forgot to tell you” moments I had.

Things to tell your family:
  1. “English speaking tour guide” is a very broad term.
  2. Being on time for most anything, means you are approximately 30 minutes early.
  3. Math is not necessarily universal..seeing 7 people at table is not an indicator that you may need accoutrement for every person.
  4. Don't forget to bring Pepto.
  5. “What do you mean 7 people can't fit into one taxi?”
  6. At a Money Exchange, ripped bills will be taken by the bank, at the bank, ripped bills will be taken at a Money Exchange...No one takes ripped, nicked, bent, or otherwise non perfect bills.
  7. “Yes mother, it does make is called inefficiency.”
  8. Don't take candy from strangers.
  9. Ceviche is made from raw fish.
  10. Coy aka Hamster
    Expect the unexpected, then the unexpected will have to change plans later.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sabbatical from Relaxation

Due to what some would refer to as work, I have been away from my typical routine of imagining what intriguing blog posts I could be writing. As the projects I have been convincing my community are worth trying out have started to pick up, the amount of free time to do some pleasure writing has waned. Here are some exciting adventures I have decided to tackle:

Youth Center - I should have known from the get go that this one would be a terrible yet wonderful idea. Having access to a larger range of youth and being able to branch out to other parts of the community is right up my alley. This has also made me realize at the same time that I am only one person trying to get an entire city to believe in the importance and give me a bunch of support. I have been answered with vigorous head nodding and excited proclamations of help and be followed up with an amazing disappearing act, sudden trips to Africa, and a I'll catch the next meeting response to questions. Some how the project is trucking along, and I now have a group of 15 youth Leadership Group that are taking the initiative and moving my hopes for a Youth Center into a vague reality.

Teacher Training - Most people in the academic world can problem already see the short sightings in making a providence-wide training for teachers something feasible. Working with the school board has proven...interesting, but working with a local psychologist has at least given me the comfort of feeling that someone is on my side. Who knew writing a three page proposal would take three months? Needless to say working within the parameters of Peruvian guidelines is not what I am used to, and has slowed me down a bit. Miraculously though, I have two of the ten schools scheduled for the following months.

Leadership Camps - As a group from Arequipa, we have decided to take on one of the classic Peace Corps activity the Leadership Camp, which always seems like a great idea, but also is a great headache. Months of meetings and planning has brought us to the quickening arrival (well after a couple of push-back dates) of our camp. Fundraising, grant writing, visitng schools, talking to authority figures, gets a bit overwhelming, but hopefully seeing the shining faces of about 30 girls will make it all worth it.

Gender Equality and Womyn's Empowerment - Good ole empowerment and equality, taking down machismo one dude at a time. I was reciently accepted into this Committee and have been extremely excited about getting my feet with projects. I took on a Women's Conference in the month of April, where the following actively kind of somes up the event: I asked the women to introduce themselves and tell me One reason they felt like women were better than men. I received a variety of answers including We are smarter than men, Unlike men, we can think about multiple things at once, We can do more things, Men are simple minded or a general speach about how women are just plain awesome.  I guess I should have seen that one coming right? I am also working with the group to bring Safe Zone trainings to Peace Corps staff and continuing other projects already in the works.


Writing Oficios - Those delightful documents that everyone wants, then returns back to you and says someone else needs it, something is missing, or please improve the following. I have still not mastered the skill of how to write these things properly, but I am confident some of the following is always a good start:

'It is my great honor to present to you'

'My cordial greetings'

'With great respect and honor I would'

'Allow me to express my gratitude'

'With distinguished consideration'

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tanorexia: a disease like anorexia, no matter how tan a person is they never think they are tan enough.

Living 15 minutes, on bicycle, from a beach seems to be well enough reason to get involved with the local playa population. There is nothing like loading 8 people (Host family: mom, dad, brother, baby, sister, uncle, aunt and myself) into a station taxi, filled with “the fixins” (you know, beach food, umbrellas, inka cola, kiddy pool). It’s an all day, well all weekend event, so it’s good to be prepared.

Summer is a different place here in Camaná, filled with weekend travellers and beach side bars. It’s been strange to think that it is even winter in the United States where friends and family are bundled in scarves and boots.

This past few months of cold sea water and hot sand, in the eyes of some, would be considered frivolous, but I have been able to learn so much about various families and what life is like when no matter how hard you try, you still sleep with sand in the sheets every night.

The beauty of playing beach volleyball, talking about excessive amounts of watermelon, waking up from a siesta with sand in your mouth, or discussing things from politics to dinner plans made this summer something poignant. So what, maybe I suffered from a little bit of tanorexia, training my sitemate to remind me how dark I’ve gotten after every beach visit, I think it was well worth it.

Daily Diinámica: Bring Sangria to the beach, they go perfectly together

My most recent favorite recipe:

1 box (or bottle) of Dry white wine (if in Peru – Gato Negro)
2 peaches
1 mango
golden raisins

chop everything up, through it in a jar and chill over night! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

“Are those gun shots?” “Oh, no, it’s just Jesus’s birthday.”

No worries, there were no gun shots fired late Chirstmas Eve, just a bunch of firecrackers, noise makers (mainly set off by 4-5 year olds) and some fire works, all celebrating at midnight the birth of Jesus. Unless I am mistaken, I feel safe to say that this was a new tradition for me, and a bit different then how things are done in the US, although most Christmas traditions do vary. There are of course a few things that still seem to make the list that remind you of home, here are a few things that surprised me about my Camaná Christmas this year:

Nativity Village

Here, the coniferous trees are not exactly seen…ever, so although fake trees have there place, the main attraction here revolves around the Nativity. Only this is not just a scene, this is a noah’s arc spectacular. Mine sported spotted ducks, various llamas, lions, ducks, horses, unidentifiable creatures, and I am convinced I saw a dinosaur in one of the nativities I’ve seen around town. It’s a big deal, ALL the animals were there to see it.

Panetón or Fruit Cake

I have researched and discovered that “Panetón” is not Fruit Cake, but it is almost as equally gross. Fake fruit and weird tasting bread is a big hit here, and served for months after Christmas. This festive irridescent green and red fruit-filled treat is not a big favorite among Americans, but a must have for the average Peruvian family. I do have to say it is enjoyable seeing the shock and gasps from my family and friends when you tell them you don’t like Panetón.

Hot Chocolate.. in 84 degree weather

Milk, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, butter, sugar, and I’m pretty sure the pure soul of a sleeping child. This stuff is amazing, but for some reason, not served during the chilly winter months, instead you find it being served in the middle of hot 100% sunny beach weather. I will think twice next year before volunteering to serve up tubs of this cholestral builder to a stadium of people.

Daily Dinámica: Share a tradition. This year I made deviled eggs and green bean casserole (two holiday favorites in  my home). The only strange part of making deviled eggs here is tha no one faught over them and they made it to the dinner table…NOT a family tradition in the Cochran household. The most enjoyable ones are those stolen from the fridge while no one is looking.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

“Wait, you have a refrigerator?”

Often when you here the word Developing Country, you get all sorts of ideas in your head, which of course was no different from myself. I was determined to bring only the essentials, I would have no cell phone and strongly considered not bringing my laptop. Well here I am, writing this blog entry…on said laptop. 

Just the other day, I was talking on my cell phone (the one I said I wouldn’t have), washing my clothes in my washing machine, and waiting for water to boil so I could make myself some coffee…in my french press. (I know that everyone must think how rough my life is.) There are almost 300 volunteers in Perú, and although it may not be as big as the United States, it is equally as diverse in its terrains. Anything from desert to jungle, mountains to beaches, and a whole lot of Americans scattered like pimples on a college freshman. All of us are in different episodes of the Twilight Zone, so it is always interesting to chat and find out what is going on in there neck of the woods.

So as I am talking with a fellow volunteer I mention what projects I am working on, what volunteer duties I am trying to avoid, and how much I love my local market. We laugh about how my washing machine has come straight out of 1950, maybe even before that since I fill it with water myself. Yet when I mention that I put my leftovers from lunch in the refrigerator, the conversation stops. “Wait, you have a refrigerator?” was her reply. One would think that a refrigerator would come before a washing machine, but we all have our priorities. Needless to say, it is a clear reminder of how different our experiences here all unfold. People call me from a stump next to their school because that is where they have service, or they have family members that enjoy stories of life without hot water. I may be tanning at the beach or eating at a local restaurant while other struggle to learn Quechua and get ready for rainy season.

Daily Dinámica: call your auntie that lives in New York and your cousin that lives in Montana, and your grandma that lives in Florida, and do a little cross comparison what life is like on each and every corner.

"What did I get myself into?"

Most likely the question I will be asking for the next two years. Arriving in June, each month has been flutter of new and exciting events, many of which end in a state of confusion or an overall feeling of “I have no idea what is going on.” I wish I could say this was a lack of Spanish language that leaves me with so many quarries at the end of a day, but my Peace Corps test says I’m Advanced Mid.  

I guess the best way to explain is through examples:

Town meeting
            While living in Yanacoto, my host mother proposed that we go to a town meeting together, where they were to plan the events that would be going on for the next big town festival. I decided to invite a friend a long, just in case things got strange. When we arrived, there were chairs all set up around a big empty room, people seated, with loud music being blasted from speakers…a good start to a meeting right?
            We sat down, were served food and joined the rest of the people drinking beer, and patiently waited. After a while, I asked when the meeting would start, and my host mother politely said that this was the meeting. I nodded my head in an “of course” fashion and continued to try and cut a potatoe with a plastic fork.

I’m on the news…at least once a week
            Standing out in you community can be a nuisance, but it can also be a great opportunity to become a local celebrity. I was merely taking a tour of the local Municipality when before I knew it reporters were interviewing me in front of the Plaza. Now it has become a regular occurance to see the camera man around town, I give him nod and a hand shake and ask myself how I ended up in the one stop this week that just so happens to be being filmed.

Wait, what’s on Facebook?
            OH teenage girls, how they don’t really change, no matter where you seem to end up in the world. I am not sure the amount of times that I have had someone say, that there is a photo of me on Facebook, or caught a girl snapping a photo of me while pretending to send a text. I have had more than one offer to go to a Quinciñera (Sweet 15), and it was a little odd when I actually attended one…it is not exactly easy to say no to a persistant teen who wants to dance with you.

Not dressed for the weather
            Despite my best efforts to live a simple life in an isolated village during PeaceCorps, I instead wear a tie almost everyday and find myself trying to find excuses to wear my ratty t-shirts and holed up jeans. Unfortunately, I seem to pick the wrong days for either occasion. Whether I am wearing a button up and khakis while lifting 50 kilo bags of rice and pouring oil into various 10 gallon buckets, or waiting on stage to be presented for an important school board meeting in sandals and half my chest tattoo showing…I just can’t get it right.

Daily Dinámica: No reason to get yourself in a fit, just go with the flow and enjoy the ride. Apparently can come out of pants if you use enough soap and scrubbing.