Summer 2008 SST Unit in Peru

The Summer 2008 unit has returned, but we'll leave this record of their journey here.

Thu, 1 May 2008

They're here!

Last night, a little before 11:00 PM on a cool fall evening, our Summer Group of 24 SST'ers arrived - right on schedule.

The airport was as crowded as we've seen it, and we had to wait over an hour and a half before we saw the first recognizable face come through the forbidden doors.

After a quick 'welcome' photo, we made our way to the waiting bus and loaded on our many bags and passengers for the trip across Lima to Home Peru, our hostel for the night.

Celia, our Country Coordinator, handed out her welcoming gift, alfajores, a special Peruvian butter cookie with manjar blanco, or caramelized milk, sandwiched inbetween.

This morning, following a restful night and a breakfast of bread, fresh squeezed juice and very strong coffee, Duane met the students to walk down Avenida Arequipa to the Goshen apartment for orientation.

We're underway!

Posted at 12:45 #

Fri, 2 May 2008

Waking Up to Life in Peru

On their first full day in Peru, they woke up to coffee, juice, and bread in a courtyard tucked away from the Lima traffic, but within reach of the autumn sun. The sun warmed up throughout the day, making it feel as if we were still back in the middle of summer, though people warn us that the overcast days for which Lima is known are coming soon.

As we met for orientation in Goshen Tambo, we kept a streetside window open, and appreciated how much quieter than usual it was. Today was Labor Day, a national holiday, and most businesses and stores were closed. So our new group of 24 had a gentle introduction to life in Lima, a city of about 8 million.

We opened with a worship service that included the traditional anointing (with olive oil) of open hands around the circle, symbolizing our readiness to be immersed in a new culture.

We covered lots of material during orientation: the schedule for lectures and field trips, how to get around by micro (bus) and kombi (van), how to greet and get along with family members…it’s a lot of information to give out and take in during a single day!

Oswaldo Aguirre, a language professor, a pastor, and Celia's husband, opened our lecture series with what he calls a "Cultural Shock Aid Kit." Among other tips: be prepared for "La Hora Peruana," in which beginning to get ready at 10 o'clock for a meeting that begins across town at 10 o'clock is not such a bad thing.

We split into four smaller groups for a traditional menú lunch, which includes a starter (maybe half an avocado piled high with diced vegetables) and a main course (maybe grilled trout with mashed potatoes and rice) and, if you’re lucky, a dessert (perhaps a cup of fruit gelatin). We were grateful for the few restaurants that remained open for the holiday.

At four different restaurants, students discovered one of the first challenges of SST: finishing lunch. With generous servings for each course (all for under $2.00), several were asking about the availability of ‘to go’ containers by the time the main course arrived.

Late in the afternoon, we walked back to the college's favorite hostel, Home Peru, to meet host families. One by one they arrived to pick up their new "daughters" (18 of them) and "sons" (6 of them). We wished them a good evening, and a good night's sleep. Language class starts tomorrow at 8:30.

Bienvenido al Perú!

Posted at 01:52 #

Sun, 4 May 2008

A Bird’s (and Bus’s) Eye View of a Sprawling City

The best view of Lima, short of an over flight, is probably from the top of Cerro San Cristobal, a hill that rises up about 1,200 feet, just across the Rimac River from the city’s downtown district. Straightaway from the first Spanish class at the seminary, we boarded a bus for a tour of the downtown (or Lima Centro) and a visit to the hilltop.

As we began the climb, we traveled along narrow streets in one of the many shantytowns that ring the outskirts of the city. For many of the poor who live on the hill, the two options for getting around are walking and using mototaxies, three-wheeled bikes that can carry up to three people. Our bus had to wait a few times to let the mototaxies slip by since the road was really but a single lane.

We passed a series of 14 crosses along the way, placed there by Catholic believers who use the hill for pilgrimages. The most popular pilgrimage takes place at Easter, when thousands of the faithful follow the steep paths. We could see stones piled on each of the crosses, left there by the walkers who wished to remove the burdens of sins that had been weighing them down.

At the top of the hill, we admired a large cross that is visible for miles around. The conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his men put the first cross on this hill in 1536 in gratitude for safekeeping, after an army of Incas that appeared set to attack the Spaniards had withdrawn.

We had a good view of the city, including the nearby bullfighting ring in the Plaza de Acho, once the largest in the world and the first to be inaugurated in the Americas. (The bullfighting season starts in October, so that won’t be on our schedule this semester). On some days you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean; we had haze to contend with and couldn’t see that far, but it was still an impressive vista.

At noon, we hurried back to the Plaza de Armas, the central square in the city, to see the changing of the presidential guard. The plaza, as in all Spanish cities, is where the political and spiritual powers stand side by side. It used to be the city’s most popular meeting place and the main market.

The changing of the guard takes place behind the gates of the Government Palace, or palacio gobierno, where the current president, Alan Garcia, lives. This is an elaborate and stately affair, accompanied by high-stepping guards and a brass band, playing El Condor Pasa, among other tunes. Soldiers always grimly keep guard outside the gates, even though most of the people there are tourists with cameras angling for the best view. One of the regular locals is a man who comes with his dog, impeccably dressed.

As we strolled around the plaza under blue skies and a hot sun, our guide gave us information on many of the buildings that surround the plaza. In addition to the main cathedral and the government and municipal buildings, he pointed out the oldest structure in the city, right at the corner of the plaza which, like many buildings in this part of town, has a remarkable set of carved wooden balconies. This part of Lima, where Spaniards settled in 1535, was once fully walled in -- for protection from pirates, our guide said.

After walking a few more streets, everyone was hungry. Fortunately, lunch at a restaurant in Chinatown (el Barrio Chino), was next on the agenda. A chifa refers to a Peruvian-Chinese type of restaurant that mixes Cantonese Chinese cooking with local Peruvian flavors. There are hundreds of chifas around Lima, and many more around Peru.

Another menú was presented to us, with a first course of wanton soup or spring rolls, and a large selection of options for the main dish, some familiar and some not so familiar.

Lima’s Chinatown is one of the two earliest Chinatowns in the Western Hemisphere, along with that of Havana, Cuba. Beginning in 1848, the Peruvian government decided to import Chinese contract labor. Peru's plantation owners hoped that this would help them duplicate the success of the sugar export trade in the West Indies and Cuba.

Between 1848 and 1874 an estimated 91,000 Chinese, almost all of them males, entered Peru with contracts; another 42,000 arrived in the half-decade after 1870. Many of the immigrants helped with digging up of bird dung fertilizer, among other menial tasks. Many have since enjoyed prosperity, including the Wong family, founders of a popular, upscale supermarket chain.

After lunch, we passed under the arch that symbolizes the entrance to el Bario Chino, and walked past the mercado central, or central market. There, before boarding our bus, we loaded up on bottled water to get us through the afternoon.

The last stop on the tour was Plaza San Martin, which was inaugurated in 1921 to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Independence of Peru. The plaza is surrounded on three sides by beautiful French-style buildings. In the middle of the plaza is an impressive monument to José de San Martin (1778-1850), liberator of both Chile and Peru. At the base of the monument is a statue of Madre Patria, symbolic mother of Peru. A slight linguistic misunderstanding resulted in the sculptor placing a llama (the animal) on top of Madre Patria's head instead of the crown of flames (also llama), which was called for in the original commission.

Our drive from downtown took us through many of the neighborhoods of Lima, and close to some of our host homes, though it’s been such a short time since our arrival that many of us still don’t recognize our own neighborhoods! It won’t be long, however, before everyone is negotiating these neighborhoods quite easily on their own. Today’s orientation was just an overview of this very large, very complex city.

The day ended at the Pacific Ocean, as the bus took a curving cobblestone road down to the water’s edge. There, we played for a while on the rocky beaches, and then walked back to Goshen Tambo to meet our host families - for our first weekend together.

Posted at 16:17 #

Thu, 8 May 2008

Worshipping Women, 1500 Years Ago

To hear our guide describe the Lima culture that flourished along the coast around 200 to 700 A.D. is to feel stretched by a very different belief system. Dr. Pedro Vargas, an archaeologist who led us on a tour of the ruins known as Huaca Pucllana, told us that these indigenous peoples had created a matriarchal society that extolled women and worshipped deities like the female moon. But they had an odd way of showing their affection.

In sometimes graphic detail, he told us about unearthing remains at the site, of women and girls, with broken bones and worse. What we associate with torture was for them, he assured us, the highest of honors. To the gods they sent on ahead only those who were deemed as being closest to the gods, closest to perfection. They were also pacifists, easily defeated by the Wari people when they came to conquer.

The excavation of the site began in 1981, and continues. While we were there we saw a long line of workers tossing adobe bricks, in fire brigade style, up the side of the pyramid, which continues to grow higher with each SST visit. The adobe is fitted vertically, with walls narrower on top, the better to withstand earthquakes.

Part of what makes these ruins special is that they are situated right in the midst of a bustling commercial and residential district, Miraflores. Near the entrance is the upscale Restaurant Huaca Pucllana, which according to Frommer’s, features “knockout views of the pyramid, secluded in the midst of Lima's chaotic jumble,” and illuminated at night.

The site includes a museum and a collection of animals and plants native to Peru, including a llama fond of kissing, and a hairless dog.

As we followed the excavation walkways, we passed another group of workers who were installing canopies and seats for an upcoming Mother’s Day social event. “It’ll be a matriarchal celebration, without the sacrifices,” our guide said with a smile.

Posted at 00:05 #

Feeling Like Experts in Language (If Only for an Hour or Two)

We visited the educational institute Cenfotur this week to meet with students who are in training for different roles in the travel industry: hotel administrators, tour guides, and travel agency managers. Part of their mandate is to become conversant in English, and that’s where we came in.

Celia, our country coordinator, and Oswaldo, one of our language professors, both teach English at the school, Centro de Formación en Turismo. At their invitation, we spent time in several classes, being interviewed in English by Spanish-speakers who were, in some cases, very new to the language.

The standard questions included: What’s your name? How old are you? Where were you born? What’s your opinion about food in Peru? Why are you here? As happens with any class, some students are more creative than others. One young woman in our group told us afterward that she was asked by a young man, “Do you believe in love at first sight?” We imagine that she said something like “absolutely I don’t, but your English is very good.”

Several people in our group mentioned afterward that it was helpful to sit across from an English language learner for a while, realizing more clearly how patient and committed the Goshen host families are with our incoming group of Spanish learners.

The school is located in the Lima district of Barranco, along the ocean. When we first arrived, we enjoyed a delicious lunch in their open air cafeteria. During break we had a chance to look out on lovely flower gardens that border the ocean promenade.

Posted at 01:23 #

Tue, 13 May 2008

Touring Torre Tagle and Other Treasures off the Tourist Track

One of the side benefits of the loosely regulated transportation system in Lima is that a bus can become a taxi – for 24 students and their faculty escorts. Just out of language classes, we had an appointment at El Palacio de Torre Tagle. Its name alone tells you that it is an important place and that one had best arrive on time for appointments.

Just as we were heading downtown from the seminario, we received an urgent call from our guide at Torre Tagle, a former diplomat and historian in residence, telling us to please arrive 15 minutes earlier than we had planned. What to do? Celia, our country coordinator, can by turns be both diplomatic and forceful, as the situation demands. She managed to talk the driver of the bus we were on to stop taking on new passengers, and to divert from the normal route, to get us to El Palacio a bit faster. We paid a little extra, but a lot less than we would have paid if we had taken seven taxies. (Thanks, Celia!)

A few blocks east of the Plaza de Armas, built in 1735, El Palacio de Torre Tagle is one of the best preserved homes in Lima from the Colonial era. It was built for Don José Bernardo de Tagle y Bracho, a soldier who became paymaster general for the royal naval fleet in Callao, and received the title First Marquis of Torre Tagle, courtesy of King Philip V of Spain. The house exemplifies the Baroque style and Mudejar influence. Its front has a beautiful stone doorway and two charming balconies carved in wood. The family kept the house until 1918, when it was purchased by the government.

Today the house is the headquarters for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And that’s why we were asked to arrive early: at 11:15 instead of 11:30 a.m. At noon, dignitaries from Peru and several other countries were scheduled to sign a trade agreement. During our tour of the house, we went through the Sala de los Tratados or Treaty Room where the signing was to take place, with elegant chandeliers, walls of rose-colored fabric, a large, gleaming table, and a fleet of cameras ready to record the moment.

Among the other highlights of the tour was peering out on the street from one of the two closed-in balconies, both elaborately carved and said to be the best preserved in Lima. When the balcony panels were closed, members of the Torre Tagle family could watch parades and other happenings on the street without being seen. For a few minutes we had a glimpse of what that social advantage felt like as we watched pedestrians and impatient taxis pass by below.

From the rooftop, where we were not permitted to go, family members could have seen the ocean on a clear day. And one last detail to note: we entered the house through a huge bronze-studded door, large enough to allow a horse and carriage to pass through into the courtyard (we saw the 16th-century carriage on display inside a side room; no sign of the horse).

On our way out, just as many dignitaries were on their way in, we passed through a hallway into the home next door that belonged to the Aspillaga family; this time Republican style from the 1800’s. The home now houses the Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso de la Cancillería. Since this week happens to be La Semana del Arte Lima, we ventured into their Galería de Arte to take a peek at the work of two Dutch artists who have made their home in Peru, a sculptor named Lika Mutal and a painter named Gam Klutier.

Later in the day, we returned to Ucayali Street where we were fortunate to have an appointment to visit one more historic home off the tourist track . . . Casa Goyoneche. Also known as Casa de Rada, this mansion stands directly opposite El Palacio de Torre Tagle. Purchased in 1971 and restored by the Banco de Credito, its brochure states, “This house is considered of special interest because it is among the first buildings influenced by the early 18th-century French who gave it a genuine Lima expression,” instead of the Spanish baroque style of Andalucía.

As much as we all appreciated the opportunity to see this impressive-yet-surprisingly-cozy home, it was time to call it a day. We relaxed for awhile on the outdoor patio before visiting the second floor living area, and then students made their way up and down the stairs, posing for photos. The final shots of the day were divided according to gender. As you can see (if you’ve been following our blog this year), women far outnumber the men for the first time!

Posted at 17:22 #

Wed, 14 May 2008

Feeding Body, Mind and Spirit at San Marcos

After the visit to El Palacio Torre Tagle, our next destination was San Marcos for lunch. On the way, we stopped off at the church down the street, San Pedro. Iglesia San Pedro is a Jesuit temple, built in 1624. It is supposed to be filled with beautiful altars and paintings, but you have to come in the morning to see them. Oh well, we were hungry, anyway...

Off we headed to one of the early campuses of the University of San Marcos. Founded by the Dominicans in 1551 just 16 years after Francisco Pizarro founded Lima, San Marcos is the oldest officially established university in the Americas, and one of the oldest in the world.

To reach the restaurant, deep within the campus now referred to as La Casona, we had to pass through several balconied courtyards. We ended up in another courtyard, far from the street traffic of Lima, surrounded by trees and flowers, listening to the ballads of a beloved Peruvian singer, Lucia de la Cruz.

It was a lovely lunch, with students choosing between Peruvian fare (soup and a choice of several entrees) and Mediterranean (cauliflower soufflé with vegetables and grilled chicken 'kabobs' next to a pyramid of seasoned rice, and potatoes, of course!). Once again, all this, with passion fruit juice (maracuya) and dessert, for $3.00 per person. Only in Lima!

After lunch we took a tour of the campus, which is in the process of being carefully restored. It is now a cultural center, which promotes the development of scientific research and artistic creation. Along with the five courtyards, it includes a library, a beautiful chapel, galleries, and lecture rooms; the main university campus is now located on the outside of the city, where there is more space.

We knew we were visiting the campus during a festival, Feria Universitaria del Libro, but we were in for a surprise when we heard music coming from the park outside. We ran out to see that the sidewalk in front of the campus had been turned into a stage for dancers dressed in traditional costumes. In addition to a traditional folk dance called Huayno, and the Marinera Norteña, a version of the coastal marinera, or the "national dance of Peru," there was a dance from the jungle. We stopped to watch for awhile, before moving on to our appointment at Casa Goyeneche.

As we made our way back to Ucayali Street, we passed one of the oldest bakeries in Lima. Called Huérfano (or Orphan, since orphans were part of the mission of the church down the street), and filled with delicious smells, it is the bakery where Celia’s mother used to go when she was studying at San Marcos. Of course, we had to go in and sample some of the goodies they were offering!

Posted at 02:23 #

Thu, 15 May 2008

Swimming with Sea Lions Is Worth the Choppy Ride

Soon after we left the port of Callao, bound for the islands where the sea lions rule, our guides, Margot and Jesus, passed around cups of water and Dramamine pills, meant to calm the stomach. It was a good idea. As the guides explained, from dockside in Callao it’s hard to predict how rough the water will be. Our day on the boat was a tough one for several people in the group, as we bobbed and tilted our way toward the Palomino Islands.

If there was a chance of being distracted from physical discomfort, we were in luck, as Margot was an excellent source of stories and information about the region. Off to our right, we saw San Lorenzo, the second-largest island off Peru. In the 1800s, Margo said, the island was a chief source of guano, droppings from seabirds that served as a powerful fertilizer and a key ingredient in gunpowder (more recently, the Japanese have discovered that guano is an effective treatment for arthritis).

Peru enjoyed a bounty in guano sales in those early years, when supplies were at their peak and demand was strong from Europe. Though the country still exports guano, San Lorenzo is no longer a “white island,” so named for being colored by bird poop, because the Navy has a base there now and all the noise keeps the birds away.

We next passed the island of El Frontón, now abandoned, but with old cells and barracks visible from the boat. During the Shining Path uprising, the island served as a prison to lock up the Maoist terrorists and others. In 1986, the Shining Path led an uprising. The current president, Alan Garcia, was serving an earlier first term then, and he responded forcefully, sending in the Navy. Many prisoners died. At various points, prisoners have tried to escape from the island, usually without success.

The Callao shore is about 5 kilometers away, and the water exceptionally cold (we were about to find out for ourselves just how cold). One prisoner, a man given the feminine moniker “La Gringa,” is said to have escaped by dressing as a woman and killing a sea lion; he lathered himself with oil to stay warm and sleek as he swam to shore.

When we arrived at the Palomino Islands, the sea lions were there to greet us, by the thousands. They covered the main island, in shades of gray and brown, always in motion. They blended in so well with the rocks that it took a minute or so to appreciate just how many sea lions were encamped there!

Our swim guide, who trained as a Navy Seal, went in the water first to say hello. Soon he was directing students to put on wetsuits. The first group of eight jumped in one after the other, usually letting out a loud whoop after that first shock of cold. But as they swam toward the island they soon warmed up (at one point all waving at the rest of us in the boat). Sea lions came out to meet them, close enough to touch (our guides said best not to do this; sea lion attacks are very rare, but still).

When the first group returned, they handed over their wetsuits to the next team of swimmers. For some, it took a bit of assistance to tug on the wet wetsuits – one of the drawbacks to waiting for a turn! All told, 14 of the 24 students in the group went in the water; some decided that they were already just too cold, or just too queasy, to make the jump.

We noticed that the area was quieter than when we came with the Spring group, which was right in the midst of the birthing season. Now the moms and dads were busy playing with their offspring: we saw lots of poking and nuzzling. On the ride back, wrapped in blankets, we had baskets of chifles, or banana chips; potato chips; pretzels and crackers to munch on. And we had all the hot tea we could drink.

Posted at 00:01 #

Fri, 16 May 2008

Steven shares a journal entry:

The boat departed at 2, about half an hour later than planned. But this I don’t mind, I even half expect it; I have grown accustomed to “La Hora Peruana.” The sky is a gloomy grey, which is normal for Lima this time of year, but of course, we’ll hold hope for the best.

Our destination is an hour and 20 minutes off shore, which provides a great time for bad jokes and general silliness at the front of the yacht. As an additional bonus to this Saturday treat, we get a mini tour of the area that was once the rest of Callao before the earthquake, as well as information about the passing islands. My darkish mind plays the soundtrack to “Pirates of the Caribbean” as the outlines of land emerge from the fog.

The farther we get from land, the more potent the smells of the sea become. The size of the waves and velocity of the wind follow suit. Breathing the salty air is a noticeable change from the car exhaust of Lima.

Approaching the Palomino Islands we fall silent at the front of the boat, straining to hear the calls of the sea lions. Tyler and I snap some final photos before heading below to put on our wetsuits. We rendezvous at the back of the yacht to receive our final instructions for swimming near the animals.

We hit the water. Yupp. Cold. Really cold. Good thing we opted for the wetsuits. The crew was serious. These are the most friendly and curious creatures in the world. The sea lions stayed in a pack, no more than 6 feet from our pack, as if in some sort of playful showdown. They would swim up to us, eye us over, and then do a few jumps into the air, showing off a few of their tricks. Easily the biggest one in the water, a sea lion at a solid 300 kilograms, came right up in front of me and looked me square in the eye. As harmless as he was, he scared the mess out of me.

Upon returning to the boat, we peeled off our wetsuits and headed back down below where we were greeted with dry clothes and hot tea.

The return trip was the calmer of the two, but must have been the breaking point because it was then that two people in our group got sick. But this was also a calm time for reflection on the experience, which seemed to be enjoyed by all.

Posted at 23:23 #

Sat, 17 May 2008

The Canons Are Retired but the View Is as Good as Ever

Only two days after going swimming with the sea lions, we were back in Callao, this time for a picnic and a tour of Museo del Real Felipe, a retired fortress that tells the story of Peru’s independence in 1821 and various military engagements before and since.

We had our packed lunches at the very tip of Callao, in a place known as La Punta. When we had a similar lunch with the SST group in January, the sun was strong and bathers filled the stony beach (January marks the start of the Peruvian summer vacation, much like July in the States).

This time, the overcast skies combined with a steady ocean breeze to keep us huddled together on a wooden pier, with only a friendly security guard for company. The cook for our unit, Mervi, who lives nearby in Callao and is also Juli’s host mother, prepared triple-layer sandwiches for us, along with a dessert of tangerines and apples.

Before entering the fort, we posed alongside two guards standing sentry at the main gate. The fort foundation was built the year after the 1746 earthquake and tsunami that leveled the city and devastated the population. The main objective at first was to keep away the pirates from Europe. During the wars of independence, however, the fort became a place of strategic and symbolic importance, with Spanish Royalists and independence fighters, or Patriots, trading control.

As we walked the grounds in two groups (one hearing stories in Spanish only, and the other in Spanish and English), we heard some dark accounts. During a two-year siege the independence fighters managed to starve a force of Royalists and their families into submission. We also walked single-file through a very dark dungeon passageway, imagining what it would have been like to have tried to survive on a diet of bread and water (served twice a week), without sun, without fresh air.

We were glad to get back outside. The highlight of the tour may have been climbing the steps to the top of the King’s Tower, from which we had a sweeping view of the harbor and city.

Posted at 01:27 #

Kathy shares a journal entry:

It’s been almost two weeks since I arrived in Lima. A city that speaks a language I struggle with each and every day. Spanish is a wonderful language, but it doesn’t flow from my lips easily. Most of the time my face has the look of a dazed person. However, it’s slowly coming as I use Spanish more and more. Each time I use my Spanish I remember my conversation with the taxi cab driver, and that usually gives me enough courage to keep trying.

The group was headed for Cenfotur, as apparently it was an ideal time to let us try our hands at negotiating cab fare. We split into groups of four. Laura was our designated negotiator. I wasn’t going to volunteer for that position. We’d been in Peru for less than a week and my Spanish was in shambles. There was no way that I wanted to talk to a native Peruvian with my Spanish. So we flagged down a cab and, after Laura negotiated, we climbed in. I don’t know exactly what I was doing but somehow I missed the chance for the backseat. So I reluctantly climbed up front, and we were off.

After an eternity of about one minute I decided the cab driver looked in need of a conversation. In truth I love conversation and really hate awkward silences. There was also the factor that my three comrades in the backseat were having a conversation that I couldn’t hear. So in a split second I made my decision. Perhaps because in a city of 8 million plus, I’d probably never see this taxi driver again, or because he was safely contained behind a driver’s seat “cage,” I opened my mouth: “Como esta?” (How are you?). “Bien,” he says. (Good). Silence descends again. “Hace calor, no?” (It’s hot, isn’t it?). “Si,” he answers. The cab driver motions and says in rapid Spanish something about my seat belt. Yes, I’ll fasten it, I reply.

Meanwhile, the backseat has erupted into laughter. Is it my Spanish that they’re laughing at? Perhaps. I smile back a them and shrug my shoulders. They’re dumbfounded. Sometimes my spontaneity surprises me as well. The driver asks what country I’m from. I answer back,“Soy de Indiana...” I’m about to finish when broken laughter comes from the back. “Estados Unidos, Kathy!” Yes, I know, I was getting there. I repeat it to the cab driver, smiling. We all laugh and the cab driver laughs right along with us.

He asks how long we would be staying in Peru. I answer three months. My comrades correct me: five days. Apparently he had asked how many days we had been here. I’m sorry but those questions sound so similar to me. His next question was whether we were tourists. “Estudiantes,” I say. He asks if I had seen Machu Picchu. Next month, I answer. Silence for a bit. Then I ask him where he’s from: “Donde eres?” That is totally wrong Spanish, but he understands. He’s not originally from Lima, he says. Don’t ask me to pronounce or spell where he’s actually from. It starts with an H or maybe an I.

At this point he must think our conversation is over since he turns up the radio, but that wasn’t going to stop me. “Musica de Peru or musica de Mexico?” O.K., I’ll admit it’s a weird question, and if I’d been in the back seat I’d probably have cried tears from laughing so hard. I’d forgotten how to ask what type of music. Of course the second I asked the question, I remembered. The cab driver looks at me and chuckles. Of course it was Peruvian music; what kind of question was that? He asked if I liked it. I thought I would enlighten him on my preference for country music, but then thought better of it. So my answer was a simple, “Si!”

Then came the unavoidable question. How did I like the food? Did I like ceviche? I shrugged my shoulders and said, “No se.” (I don’t know). Then, afraid that I might offend him, I added, “Probably.”

Monica wanted me to stop asking questions as we had almost hit another car. The taxi driver kept looking over at me and laughing, not paying attention to where he was going. A bit more silence, as I had run out of basic Spanish questions to ask him. So I sat there for a while. The back seat quieted down a bit, thinking I’d finished. But I came up with another question.

“Te gusta Inca Kola?” (Do you like Inca Kola?). The backseat lost it, and Lane kept repeating, “Le. Le gusta.” Oops. Lo siento, cab driver (I’m sorry). He answered, “Si, of course, it’s Peruvian.” I turn my back to ask my friends how one would ask if all Peruvians like Inca Kola. They advised me strongly against it. So that’s where my conversation ended with our cab driver. Except for my comment about the beautiful view as we came along the coast.

In a way, I was sorry to end the conversation and maybe the cab driver was too. But it made for an enjoyable ride, and I got to semi-know a native Peruvian. He chuckled as he dropped us off.

Looking back over the past weeks here, I’d have to say that’s when I plunged into my SST Spanish, the “real” Spanish. It was when I actually got the courage to use my choppy Spanish on a complete stranger (my host family volunteered!). As bad as I may have mixed up the familiar and unfamiliar, it is the conversation I think of when I need the courage to begin another conversation. It can’t get worse than that. It reminds me that if I’m trying, I’m moving forward. And that’s the only direction I’m interested in going.

Posted at 02:05 #

Mon, 19 May 2008

Potluck Surprise a la Mercado

On Thursday, six groups of students got their shopping and bargaining orders. With nuevo soles in hand, each group left for a mercado located near their homes. They were to browse the fruit and vegetable stands and bring back food to share at lunch the next day.

They had a few goals to keep in mind: each person in the group had to purchase at least one item; they had to do comparison price-checking before buying any item, and as appropriate, bargain for a better deal; and they had to find out where a product or the produce came from.

On Friday, we met to prepare our lunch -- and what a lunch it was! Goshen faculty provided drink and supplies for make-your-own chicken or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Beyond that, the menu was a surprise.

After lots of peeling, chopping and mixing, we had a mountain of guacamole plus dipping chips, with pico de gallo on the side. Thanks to a blender borrowed from a host family, we had smoothies made from pineapple, papaya and mango. Cauliflower, carrots, green beans and other fresh vegetables filled one bowl, along with homemade veggie dip. And, we had our choice of fresh fruit salads from different bowls, including one that could be mixed with yogurt and cereal flakes.

We hadn’t specifically assigned dessert, but two items almost magically appeared: a homemade chocolate cake (Juli and Steven initially sought out ingredients for this as a mother's day request, and their group decided a second cake was needed for the potluck), and a large container of alfahores – a popular Pervian sandwich cookie – made by Erica and her host mother. We were impressed!

Many of the students said they were not comfortable trying to bargain for a better deal, because the prices were already so low – as in paying 50 centimos (less than 20 cents) for a big bunch of fresh cilantro or a generous handful of garlic. A few students successfully sought out a better deal when they bought something in bulk. One student talked with a vendor who said that her husband and children manage a small farm in the country, and she brings in fresh produce from that farm on market days.

After sharing our market stories, we enjoyed more food than any of us needed, and invited a crew of painters at the Seminary to help themselves to the bounty that remained.

After the meal, more than half the students in the group stayed around for rhythm games, including one in which everyone in the circle is assigned a different number (No. 1, No. 2, and so forth). As the group claps in time, numbers get called out, in keeping with the beat. “No. 2, No. 5. . . No. 5, No. 8” and so forth. You miss a beat, you’re eliminated. It’s harder than it sounds for people who have not had specific training and prior certification (this was definitely not part of orientation for faculty leaders). It’s also great fun, as the rhythm games went on until the paint crew told us we needed to leave, so they could close up the Seminary...

Posted at 01:59 #

Wed, 21 May 2008

When Celebrating Mother’s Day Means a Visit to the Cemetery

Jill shares a journal entry:

On Saturday my dad said he wanted me to go with my family to visit his mother’s grave. I was more than willing to go until he mentioned that we needed to leave the house by 4 in the morning!

Sunday arrived and I woke up already wishing that I didn’t have to go. As I was waiting to leave, my mom came into my room and I asked her how far away the cemetery was (thinking it wasn’t far), and she told me two hours! My mood plummeted further. I grabbed a pillow and a blanket, realizing it would be a very long car ride.

I slept the whole way there and woke up two hours later in Barranca. However, when we arrived, I was quickly ushered into my aunt and uncle’s house. I had no idea that a visit to a cemetery also included a lengthy family reunion. I was completely caught off guard and unprepared for the situation that I had entered.

I shared a delicious breakfast with my hermanos and primos, but for the most part I kept to myself. I knew I should try to make conversation but I just couldn’t summon the energy to try.

The time came to visit the cemetery, and we all piled into our family van with a trunk full of fresh flowers. We arrived at El Cementerio de los Santos de Barranca, and my aunts immediately went to the street vendors to buy more flowers.

We walked into the cemetery and I was shocked. Instead of tombstones, as I had been expecting, there were huge, brick structures, each holding 60 to 70 caskets on both sides. Each structure was 6 to 7 levels high and 10 holdings long. I trailed after my family, feeling out of place and unsure how to behave.

We arrived at my grandmother’s grave and the ceremony began. The family tended to the dead flowers, dumping them out, along with the dirty water. The shelf that held the flowers was meticulously cleaned with a hand or a rag. Fresh flowers were placed on the shelf and arranged perfectly. They also hung red lace hearts that my mom had brought for Mother’s Day. They took such care with the presentation that when the red dye from the hearts began to stain the white lace, they quickly tried to wipe it clean.

At this moment, I glanced around to neighboring families and they were all doing the same thing. For some reason, this simple act of care hit a soft spot in me and tears began to form in my eyes. I felt a little foolish becoming emotional, especially in front of people who had raw emotions over someone they loved. I quickly let the tears evaporate and continued to be an onlooker.

Then one by one, each family member touched the cement slab covering my grandmother’s grave and made the sign of the cross. Again, my emotions seemed to get the best of me. I realized that I had just witnessed true, raw love. It was such a powerful moment. Here I was in a place that I didn’t know, speaking a language that was still foreign, but experiencing something that was the same in every country and language: love.

I have never felt so connected to a group of strangers as I did in that moment. My mood quickly lifted, and even though the rest of the day brought on more challenges, I was thankful that I had witnessed such a wonderful offering of love.

Posted at 01:05 #

Extending Brazos de Amor

Our visit to Brazos de Amor Para Perú, a nondenominational religious school located in a shantytown on the outskirts of Lima, unfolded in three parts: a tour of the neighborhood, a religious program for children, and breakout sessions of crafts, volleyball and medical checkups.

Manuela Rios and Johnny Hernandez, the directors of the program, met us at the door. They operate a kindergarten during the week, and on Saturdays like this one have a special program for the kindergartners and other children from the community. They showed beautifully decorated classrooms and a little petting zoo out back, with rabbits, turkeys and parakeets.

With Manuela in the lead, we walked the packed-dirt roads nearby, passing many homes with attached pens holding pigs and chickens. Along the way, she told us that the first settlers here arrived about 70 years ago; while homes now have electricity, there is no sewage, and water has to be trucked in and stored in tanks.

Parents are hardpressed to care for their children; it’s not uncommon for children to leave for school without breakfast, she said. Manuela greeted children along the walk, encouraging them to be on time for the program within the hour. Most showed up in their ‘Sunday best.’

The program was pretty lively, as you would expect for young children. We sang motion songs, and watched a play in which a young girl successfully banished the devil. We played some friendly competitive games, including one in which the two halves of the room raced to pass a ball overhead from row to row.

During the third hour, many of the student nurses in our group turned a room in the school building into a makeshift clinic. They listened to hearts and lungs, checked ears and teeth, and noted height and weight, recording that data and more on forms that Celia had customized.

Meanwhile in the classrooms, teams of students worked on crafts projects with the children, played games, and sang songs like “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes,” in Spanish. Out back, others joined in a spirited volleyball competition (volleyball is the second-most-popular sport in the country, trailing the king of the turf, soccer).

Posted at 22:44 #

Sun, 25 May 2008

Creative Movement on the Top Floor of the Seminario

The dancing went so well the other day that we’re thinking of proposing it as a new core value – somewhere on the circle between passionate learner and global citizen. Creative movement.

First up was the tondero, a dance from the northern coastal area said to represent a rooster in pursuit of a chicken. When our dance instructors, Pedro and Karina, demonstrated the steps first, we could catch glimpses of that romantic chase. Later, with the full group on the floor, it was harder to separate the chickens from the roosters.

But we were only warming up. The huaylash, a dance brought to Lima from the Andean highlands, requires lines, circles, and crossing. Our dancers excelled at the “contrapunto,” during which flirtation is conveyed through fancy heel-tapping.

Karina and Pedro competed for students’ cheers during their demonstration run. She would perform a series of quick steps and wait for applause; then it would be his turn. She easily had the top score on the applause-o-meter (with 18 women to 6 men in our group, he might have asked for a second opinion - from the spring group, when we had 16 men and 7 women).

Between dances, we refilled engines with water (7 liters) and Cifruit citrus punch (3 liters). The Seminario, where we have Spanish classes and lectures, let us have the third floor all to ourselves for the dance session. In addition to windows on 3 sides that offer plenty of fresh air, there are also great views of the neighborhood surrounding the Seminario.

Just in time for our trip to Chincha, we had a chance to try the festejo, a dance developed in the plantation fields of southern Peru. Slaves added African elements like the cajón drum and other percussion instruments to this festive dance.

Before it was all over, we danced salsa to a Caribbean version of the Pink Panther theme.

P.S. We’re hoping to offer extra dance lessons to a smaller group of students who in return would promise to perform at the despedida, or farewell party, for our host families. You’re all invited by the way. It’s Friday night, June 6. We’ll take pictures in case you can’t make it.

Posted at 22:04 #

Mon, 2 Jun 2008

Traveling into the Heart of Afro-Peruvian Culture

A field trip to Chincha along the southern coast of Peru offers the best glimpse of Afro-Peruvian history and influences. It was here that Africans were brought to work the plantation fields, with the last group arriving in 1850.

On the bus ride down, we shared the very sad news, learned only the night before, of the death of Deanne Binde, a 21-year-old communication and theater major. She died in a car crash in Minnesota on her way home after May Term. A dear friend to many, her loss was felt deeply by members of our group. We ended a prayer and time of silence by quietly singing a version of “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying.”

Nearly three hours later, we found ourselves in the El Carmen section of Chincha, trying to find Mamainé,a country restaurant off the beaten track, so to speak. The owner of the restaurant, Esther Cartagena Castrillón de Cotito, was once featured on the cooking show of Peru’s equivalent of national public television. She is renowned for serving up dishes typical of the region.

We turned left off the main road when the sign told us to turn left, but soon found ourselves on a rocky road with bends and dips and potholes that put our bus’s rear suspension system to the test. Success was not assured. Thankfully, we finally found our way to Mamainé, where we enjoyed carapulcra with sopa seca, cau cau (cow’s stomach), and seco de frejoles y arroz (rice and beans).

Our hostess at the restaurant arranged an impromptu show for us, inviting in several neighborhood children who took turns dancing to intricate beats on the cajón drum. It was a foretaste of the music we would enjoy at the Ballumbrosio concert later in the day.

Our next stop was the Casa Hacienda San José, once a slave plantation. The hacienda began with 87 slaves, and eventually forced 1,000 to work the sugar and cotton fields. Our guide led us through a short tour of the catacombs, an underground network said to stretch 15 kilometers to ports in Pisco and Chinca. The owners walked slaves through the tunnels when they arrived by ship, thinking that escape would be less likely if the slaves did not know where the ports lay. We saw a cellar where slaves were shackled in punishment, sometimes left to die, our guide said.

After the tour, we had about an hour to spend in the spacious yard and gardens at the plantation, which includes hammocks and swings and big climbing trees. The main building itself is in desperate need of repair, with ceilings and walls having cracked or collapsed completely during the earthquake that devastated the region last August. Indeed, we learned that the hacienda will soon close for restoration.

Around 5 pm, we joined the Ballumbrosio family in their home nearby for a concert. We filled benches and chairs around the perimeter of their living room. With the family patriarch, Don Amador Ballumbrosio, looking on from his wheelchair, we were treated to zapateo tap-dancing and cajón drumming and energetic dances, in the skillful hands of his children and grandchildren.

We even had a chance to join them in a dance intercambio, and to follow one of the younger members of the family in some rhythms on the cajón, before taking the bus back to Lima.

Posted at 00:15 #

Afro-Peruvian Music and Dance:

Photos at the Ballumbrosio Home...and from supper in Chincha before our drive back to Lima.

Posted at 01:11 #

Feliz Cumpleaños!

Stephanie shares a journal entry:

In the short time that I’ve been here in Peru (three weeks) I’ve already been to three birthday parties. One thing that you need for a birthday party in Peru is a lot of people, enough to fill the house. Another thing you need is a very fancy cake, or two!

At the beginning of the party people socialize and have snacks. The host or hostess will have all the snacks on trays and walk around the house to serve everyone. Sometimes dinner is also served. When it’s time for cake you need to light the candles and turn out all the lights. Then numerous birthday songs are sung, at least two, sometimes more. I should also mention that the singing is very lively and enthusiastic, with a lot of clapping.

At the birthday parties that I’ve gone to, they all sang “Happy Birthday” in English. The night of our first day in Peru, Michelle, Mark and I all went to a birthday party where we were asked to sing “Happy Birthday” in English by ourselves, which was fun for us and apparently entertaining for the other guests. I can say from personal experience that a birthday in Peru is a fun day.

I am sad to say that I don’t get to celebrate my birthday in Peru (my birthday is Oct. 28). If I were able to celebrate my birthday here, I would want a cake made by Mark’s mom, who makes delicious and very pretty cakes. I’ll take vanilla with manjar blanco.

Though there are variations on the Spanish version, here is the most common one among Goshen host families:

Cumpleaños feliz
Te deseamos a ti
Cumpleaños felices
Te deseamos a ti.

Posted at 02:47 #

Tue, 3 Jun 2008

Chorrillos Mercado as a Welcome Center

Nathan shares a journal entry:

Whether traveling as a large group of gringos on buses or taking up the entire width of an already narrow sidewalk while moving in herds, I’m noticing how easy we stick out as Americans in Peru. A few examples from this past week come to mind.

As we explored the markets last Thursday afternoon, Joel, Andrea and I were browsing over multiple papaya stands searching for the best price. We were discussing the second or third stand when I heard in plain English from behind me: “Do you need help bargaining?”

I turned around to find a man who by appearance passed as a local. “I’m sorry?” I replied in English.

“Do you need help negotiating the price? I don’t want you to get ripped off from the vendor.”

“I think we’re O.K., but thanks,” I replied, knowing that the prices were fixed anyways.

We shook hands and started talking and I found out that he had grown up in Peru but then moved to the United States, where he lived in Miami. He came back to Peru shortly following the World Trade Center attacks and has lived here for the past seven years. I explained to him why I was here and about Goshen College. After several minutes he shook my hand again, wished me luck and left.

Our common language, and common “American” culture, bound us for those seven minutes. I would never have struck up a conversation with this man on the streets of Miami but was able to find familiarity and warmth in the stranger in the Chorrillos market.

An hour later we were purchasing and inhaling our ice-cream at the entrance of the market when an older Peruvian couple approached us from behind. “Americanos?” they asked.

“Si, de los estados unidos,” we replied.

“Bienvenidos, ¿Les gusta Peru?” they asked. We replied, saying how much we were enjoying our experience even though the Lima scene was a bit more crazy than what we’re used to; meanwhile, they’re shaking all of our hands with long, solid shakes.

We talked about where we’re from and, again, where and what Goshen College is. A lot of questions were asked and I’m not sure how much of our broken Spanish they were able to make sense of. They then offered us a second round of strong and solid handshakes before leaving.

I was blown away at this welcome we received as foreigners and how this particular couple singled us out for meeting. I had the impression that I would be viewed as a stuck-up American (which is still probably true for some Peruvians), but this couple showed us one of the longest, warmest welcomes I’ve received so far.

Posted at 17:41 #

Having Class with a Famous Sculptor at His Home in Barranco

Many visitors to Peru are introduced to the internationally acclaimed artist Victor Delfín while strolling through one of the city’s prettiest oceanfront parks, “El Parque del Amor.” The park in Miraflores features a towering cement sculpture of a woman and a man, barefooted and locked in a passionate kiss.

During our recent visit to the Barranco home, gallery, and workshop of Delfín, who is now 80, we were immediately struck at being in the presence of an artist who appreciates all kinds of materials (wood, old wrenches, canvas, stone, bronze, leather) and forms of expression (the cry for justice as well as romantic whispers) .

We started off with a tour of the exhibition rooms. Several times we came across Christ figures, including one wooden sculpture of a faceless Christ on a cross, mounted by a post above a sign that read, “Zona segura en casos de sismos” (Safe place in case of earthquakes).

We saw a painting of Túpac Amaru II, who led an indigenous uprising in 1780 against Spanish rule and was subsequently caught and executed. Delfín captured the scene in which four horses are trying to tear apart his arms and legs.

We saw a reproduction of former president Alberto Fujimori in a black and white jail suit, stuck in a bird cage, joined at the back with Vladimiro Montesinos, his chief of intelligence, likewise decked out in a jail suit. The artist anticipated the day when both would face justice for their actions during the years when they battled the Shining Path terrorists and put democracy on hold (Fujimori is presently on trial, accused of human rights abuses; Montesinos, likewise, is in prison).

His work also showed a playful side. One of his most recent creations is a chess board with players’ benches made of iron, wood, and leather. He also made some wooden toys for an exhibition at Villa El Salvador, one of Lima’s original, and best organized, shantytowns (a blog entry about our visit there will soon be published).

Several times during our conversation with Mr. Delfín, he said that "art is a passion," not a profession one pursues for financial security. Born into a poor family in the Piura region of Northern Peru, he only attended primary school, but has spent his life reading and immersing himself in the arts. Later in life, he trained at the National School of Fine Arts in Lima. He was fortunate, he said, that his parents encouraged him to experiment with art as a boy. It’s all he’s ever wanted to do, he said.

When asked what he uses to create now, he said, “Stone, paper, wood, objects from the street, old clothes.” The list went on. Outdoors, in the lawn that overlooked the Pacific, an iron horse and fish kept company with a bronze bull.

For about half an hour, he talked with us and fielded as many questions as we wanted to ask. He was dressed for work, in sandals, with blue pants splattered with paint and short-sleeved striped shirt. He sat on the armrest of a chair as he talked.

Though he has lived abroad and taught in Europe and the U.S. and elsewhere in South America, he said Peru is his true home. “Yo amo mi pais – mucho,” he said. He has been director of art schools in the highlands of Puno and Ayacucho in Peru, and lived in the jungle as well. The highland influence can be seen in his many retablos, with doors that open on to miniature scenes.

Delfín still devotes a large part of his day to making art, in two shifts. The morning shift runs from about 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by lunch and a siesta. He often returns to the studio in the evening, working until midnight.

Victor Delfin, who once said, "everything is useful: rocks, windows, pieces of machines," has been called "a poet of metal." He is indeed a poet of metal, and much more.

Note: Our pictures of Delfin will be posted when we get them off another camera. Ours ran out of batteries as he was talking with us!

Posted at 22:55 #

Fri, 6 Jun 2008

In Deepest Darkest Peru, Where the Cumbres Grow

Laura Schlabach shares a journal entry:

I believe being on SST helps teach you to take yourself a little less seriously.

Last week I was squashed snugly between my brother Gilmar and my dad Vicente while riding on a bus down Aviacion. We passed El Mercado San Borja, and I recognized it as the one where we had bought fruit during our market field trip. Excited to have a story to tell, I listed off the fruits we bought: “Compramos platanos y mandarinas, y mi favorito fue el cumbre.”

Gilmar looked at me quizzically. “Cumbre?” he repeated. After asking dad if he knew anything about cumbres, he told me there was no fruit by the name of cumbre. “Si, si,” I insisted, and showed them with my hands how large it was before being thrown off balance by the bus and grabbing the bar above me. I was so sure of this fruit.

Ten minutes later, Gilmar looked over at me and with a grin on his face asked if the fruit vender had actually told me it was a cumbre. “No, hay un sticker con el nombre cumbre en la fruita,” I said. My dad and he burst out laughing and, after an epiphany moments later, I did too.

“Cumbre es la compania que vende las frutas, Laurita,” my dad said as we both took deep breaths. Of course, my dad repeated the whole story to relatives that night and they roared with laughter as well.

I could have been completely mortified by this incident; it’s like referring to a banana as a “Dole” or saying your favorite candy bar is a “Nestle!” But I thought it was just hilarious, and promptly told my travel group the next day.

During SST letting go of the smart, eloquent, or witty image you might hold of yourself in the United States is essential because embarrassing moments such as these will happen on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Stressing about them would only add an unnecessary load to an already intense cross-cultural experience.

Taking yourself a little less seriously allows you to bond with your family in unpredictable ways. With language barriers, it’s pretty hard to communicate sarcasm, sassy comments, or even compliments. I realized quickly after arriving in Lima that everything coming out of my mouth wasn’t going to always be correct or sound intelligent or even make sense.

Once, in an effort to discuss weekend plans, I told my mom I had a question for Friday about what it was doing that night. Another time, having misunderstood the question, I told her that my mother in Goshen has 24 children.

Not worrying about how I come across has endeared me to my family in ways I never would have foreseen, and usually I am glad I open my mouth and try to tell them a story rather than stay safely quiet. After all, when you’re laughing at a grammatical slip-up or a false cognate (like saying you’re embarazada, which means pregnant, when you really mean to say that you’re embarrassed), at least you know you’re laughing at the same thing!

All these little mistakes have brought laughter and smiles to our family, especially when my dad serves me a plate of food, saying, “Y el plato favorito de Laura, Pollo a la Cumbre!” I bought one for my family the day after our cumbre discussion, and we ate that chirimoya for dessert that night. Yum.

Posted at 02:31 #

Thu, 12 Jun 2008

A (Non-Emergency) Visit to the Hospital

Michelle shares a journal entry:

No one wants to go to the hospital, but sometimes it can offer a unique cultural experience. A week ago I went to a hospital in Lince. I was nervous about my health at the time, but now I can look back and appreciate what I observed.

Celia (our Country Coordinator) and I entered the hospital directly into a large room packed with people waiting in blue plastic chairs. It was noisy, but few people seemed to be talking. A nurse was taking blood pressures in the corner next to a space heater that could easily have burned a person passing by. We made our way to the receptionist desk and stood in the line that seemed to be more of a slow push to the front. We were directed to the third floor.

We climbed a beautiful old wooden staircase to the third floor. Imagine – taking the stairs in a hospital! On our way up I looked down into an exam room with a curtain that concealed the patient only from others on the same level. At first glance the third floor looked very similar to the first – full of people waiting in blue plastic chairs, all facing forward – but this was the floor for pediatrics, internal medicine, and pediatric surgery.

Celia talked to a second receptionist. It all seemed so unofficial. I didn’t have to fill out any of the forms or answer any questions. We were charged 7 soles, or less than $3, for the appointment. Seven soles for what turned out to be a 40-minute doctor’s appointment!

A nurse took my weight (apparently the only essential information), and then Celia and I joined the sea of blue plastic. When Celia got off her cell phone, she asked me how much I weighed. I have also learned from experience with my host family that the subject of weight is not as taboo in Peru as it is in the U.S. Calling each other “gordito” (chubby) ori> <“flaca” (skinny) seems to be a normal part of the family experience. I told Celia that I weighed 58 kilograms. She exclaimed, “Really? 58 kilograms? Oh my, I thought you would be some-40 kilograms. Well, it’s O.K. This is a very good weight. You are a good Peruvian woman.”

We waited for almost an hour. Celia tried to make polite small talk but I was feeling too anxious to enjoy it. When the nurse called “Miller, Michelle,” a young boy, who had been running around the waiting room, pointed at me as I stood, and yelled, “Michelle!” He then danced around happily pointing and yelling “Michelle! Michelle! Michelle! Michelle! . . .” as Celia and I made our way to a new set of blue seats. That boy’s dance may have been my favorite part of the experience. He even pronounced my name with the Peruvian twist -- “Mitch-el” – that I have learned to love.

Celia and I waited in our new seats outside a door for just a few minutes. A young girl all bundled up sat across from me coughing and shivering. She was pale and probably had a fever. I hoped she would get to see the doctor before me, but then I was called in.

The room functioned as both an exam room and Doctora Jeny’s office. It was dim, with a few animals taped to the wall. Celia and I sat in front of Doctora Jeny’s desk. When it was time for the exam, I was instructed to lie on the exam table that was next to the wall. She looked at me for a minute or two, and then we sat back down and began discussing the necessary steps to take.

When Celia and I left, we kissed Doctora Jeny on the cheek and made our way back down the stairs. On my final surveillance of the waiting rooms, I concluded that I was the only blond person in the hospital. This experience felt more foreign than any I had had up to that point.

Posted at 01:43 #

Sun, 15 Jun 2008

Villa El Salvador: A Shantytown Built on Hope and Sharing

We took a bus straight from the Seminario to Villa El Salvador, on the outskirts of Lima, one of the most famous of all *shantytowns. It was here that in 1970 a group of poor families from the highlands and jungle laid claim to a hillside. As squatters, they fought the police. Shots were fired. Police were taken hostage. Eventually, the government agreed to let them stay. And what emerged was one of the best-planned communities around, with strong socialist sensibilities. About 380,000 live in Villa El Salvador.

Our lead guide for the day, Janett, who is with an organization called Solydes programa de Solidaridad y Desarrollo Socio-Educativo, spoke passionately about the way that the community tries to ensure adequate food, health care, and recreational space for all residents. Another guide, Tony, held up a map of Villa El Salvador that showed blocks of homes, all close by a public soccer court and recreational grounds. In keeping with the fairness theme, all of the parks are the same size and with the same amenities.

And around most every corner there is a comedor, or community kitchen, where women -- we have yet to see a man cooking in a comedor -- work in exchange for meals for themselves and their children. Julia, who managed the comedor that we went to for lunch, said that working two days a week allows the women to pursue paying jobs. “Pursue” is an important qualifier. Many of the people here do not have regular work: maybe they support themselves by peddling candy or homemade hats in the street.

For lunch, we had a delicious soup of corn and beef for the entrada, or starter, and equally tasty pureed potatoes and spinach over rice for the segundo, or main course.

In the afternoon we visited the cemetery high above town where María Elena Moyano is buried. An original settler here, Maria helped organize the Federación Popular de Mujeres de Villa El Salvador (Fepomuves), a federation of women, which grew to encompass activities such as public kitchens, health committees, the Vaso de Leche program (supplying milk to children), income-generating projects, and committees for basic education. She also stood up to the Shining Path, which used Villa el Salvador as their base in Lima, rejecting their violent methods. By the Shining Path’s twisted logic, change required the shedding of blood; they brooked no dissent, and she was shot to death on February 15, 1992, during a fund-raising rally in Villa El Salvador.

Later in the tour, we took a walk along the sandy hills near the ocean, where new homes continue to go up. These are most often built by children of long-time residents, trying to get their own plot of ground. A hose running along the ground and wires held aloft by branches are testimony to the makeshift provision of services here.

Janett left us with a question, repeated over and over: “Why is there poverty? Why is there poverty in the world?”

*Shanty towns are settlements (sometimes illegal or unauthorized) of impoverished people who live in improvised dwellings made from scrap plywood, corrugated metal, and sheets of plastic. Shanty towns, which are usually built on the periphery of cities, often do not have proper sanitation, electricity, or telephone services

Posted at 17:55 #

A Convert to the Mazamorra Morada Fan Club

Tyler shares a journal entry:

I first heard of the dessert mazamorra morada through the complaints of my friends. During our introductory week in Peru I heard tales of a prickly jello. It was described as a succulent, runny jam that scratched the throat the whole way down. I initially promised myself that I would politely refuse the dessert if it was ever offered to me. However, I had also promised myself to eat everything that my family served me as a sign of respect for their food and culture.

These two promises collided one evening at the dinner table. A large bowl was placed in front of me that contained a jiggling, purple blob. I immediately thought of the unappetizing descriptions. I hesitantly dug my spoon through the hardened shell on top into the silky-smooth jam below. The jello tried to slither off the spoon, almost as if it had heard equally unappealing descriptions of me.

I forced the first bite down, struggling to maintain a smile. Then a strange thing happened. Each bite became easier and easier to eat, until by the end of the bowl I was savoring every spoonful as if it would be my last. I found the peculiar texture tantalizing. The dessert warmed my insides. The mazamorra morada did tickle my throat, but this odd sensation was overcome by the powerful sweetness of the fruit. While my friends found the complexities of the dessert unappealing, I found it to be a rare delicacy.

I expressed my pleasure and gratitude to my family afterward. Then I went as far as questioning them about the preparation of mazamorra morada. My brother, who just happens to be training to become an international chef, presented a recipe for this exquisite dessert. The following is a copy of this recipe, with a brief translation.


½ kg. de maiz morado (purple corn)
½ piña pequena (small pineapple)
50 grams de guindones sin pepa (prunes without pits)
50 grams de damascos (dried apricots)
150 grams de harina de camote (flour of sweet potato)
canela y clavo (cinnamon and cloves)
azucar (sugar)


1. Poner a hervir en agua el maiz con cáscara (peeled skin or husk) of pineapple, canela y clavo, colar (strain or filter) y llevar el liquido a ebullicion (boil).
2. Agregar (add) el azucar (appx. 1 cup of brown or white to 1 liter of water), los frutos secos (dried) y la piña.
3. Disolver la harina de camote en un poca de agua y agregar al liquido en ebullición, hasta que tome punto (ready), ir moviendo para que no tenga grumos (lumps).
4. Espolvorear (sprinkle) con canela y servir.

Gracias a Walter.

Mazamorra morada seems to be a type of dessert that you either love or hate. I quickly learned to enjoy the flavors of this jello or purple pudding, which made keeping my second promise all the more easy, because my family prepares it frequently. I broke my first promise and now have no regrets. From this day on I will no longer prejudge unknown foods.

I hope my family back home will follow suit, for I can’t wait to prepare it for them. Hopefully, I will be able to obtain these “ingredientes.” Otherwise, I am going to have to bring my family to Peru!

Posted at 19:47 #

Mon, 16 Jun 2008

A Glimpse of Tambo Time

We thought you might like to see a few photos from our Goshen Tambo sessions, which have taken place every Wednesday since the students arrived:

For those who haven't read the blog from previous groups, following is a reminder of why we call the Goshen apartment, “Goshen Tambo.”

The Quechua word Tambo is from the time of the Incas. A "chasquitambo" in Quechua was a resting station for the Incan runners who ran messages and other items across the empire. The runner, or chasqui, would come to these resting places, or Tambos, every 15 - 20 k. along the Incan highways and byways and switch runners; the fresh one waiting to resume the journey with the message or whatever the previous runner had been carrying.

Wednesday gatherings are like a Tambo in that they provide a resting place and refuge from the intensity of SST. Goshen Tambo includes lunch and worship, which is planned each week by a different group of students, along with time for group discussion, reflection – and plenty of rest and relaxation!

Lunches are generally prepared by Mervi (Juli's host mother), who helps introduce us to many traditional Peruvian foods.

Once each term, we've allowed the students to vote on a meal. Generally it's been a combination of foods they've been missing from home, and the common theme each term has been a request for salad. This term, however, the students surprised us, and along with salad, they voted for grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup!

Since cans of tomato soup aren't plentiful in Peru, this meant a trip to the market to buy LOTS of Italian tomatoes to make homemade tomato gouda soup. Along with the sandwiches and salads, it was a pretty big hit!

This term, we had to wait until week four to celebrate a birthday, which happened to be Lane’s (May 26th). His request was for something light – like angel food. The closest we could come to that was a ‘chiffon’ cake, which went very well with fresh strawberries and whipped cream!

A little over a week later, we also celebrated Melanie with a chocolate cake, and more whipped cream, just before taking off for our Cusco trip. We made a big improvement in our singing of happy birthday in Spanish by this second round!

Our next celebration will take place when we return from service, since we will have several birthdays to catch up on at that point (Jill just celebrated hers on the 16th).

For our last Tambo session, Mervi also demonstrated her technique for preparing arroz con leche,or rice pudding, Peruvian style. We had to wait for it to cook, but it was worth the wait. We are grateful to Mervi for all the hard work and TLC she puts into making meals for us, bringing them all the way from Callao each week!

Posted at 21:39 #

Wed, 18 Jun 2008

Fortified with Churros, the Shopping Begins

Erica shares a journal entry:

Usually on Saturdays our class takes field trips to another city, or we have some kind of activity. On a recent Saturday, however, we had no obligations, and so a few friends and I decided to take advantage of the day and shop for Peruvian merchandise until we dropped.

I met Stephanie at the Primavera, after withdrawing a large sum of money as secretly as is possible in a huge mall with hundreds of people. Anyway, we caught the right bus and without question arrived at the right location in Miraflores. We met up with Ellie and went to a deli for lunch. I successfully ordered a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a bottled water sin gas (without bubbles).

At the restaurants here, you have to ask for the check. So after the girls enjoyed some churros (a fried-dough pastry, filled with a sweet manjar blanco cream), we got the bill, and we were on our way. Two things struck me about this visit to the restaurant. First, I understood the menu even though everything was in Spanish. Second, I was able to communicate successfully with our waiter. What a HUGE difference in my Spanish from my first week here!

Following this, my next challenge awaited, changing money. There are several money changers nearby who stand on the street and wear bright green vests. So I walked along the sidewalk asking each what the exchange rate was. Several would say S2.80, (2 nuevo soles, 80 centimos to the dollar) and then as I walked away, S2.81, or S2.82!!! So I settled with S2.82. I checked each bill to make sure it was not a fake, as secretly as possible, of course, and we were on our way to the market.

The markets here are so fun, however very overwhelming. This market was basically a huge building with many open rooms filled with jewelry, fabrics, clothing, or other knick knacks. There is a vendor in each room and they jump off their stool and try incredibly hard to lure you into their store. Naturally, I was drawn to all the soft alpaca scarves and fabrics. The colors range from vibrant to a more antique style.

I was obsessed with the fabric until I came across the fluffy alpaca. I fell in love instantly with a figurine about 10 inches tall with the fluffiest, softest alpaca hair, but I resisted and we moved on. I saw several more of these, but resisted. And then we entered a store, mostly like all of the others. It had fabric, knick knacks, and the alpaca figurines. My first instinct was to touch the soft fur, and the saleswoman was instantly by my side.

These were so much softer than the others, but they were 30 soles here. She asked me if I spoke Spanish, and I answered yes. So she told me that these were alpaca, very soft and VERY nice. I told her that at the other store they were cheaper. She reduced the price a little, but we continued on our way. On our way back out of the market, we passed the store again and the lady was waiting at the entrance. She shouted out a cheaper price.

And so the bargaining began... She got out a calculator and we each took turns putting in our price. She convinced me to buy two, a boy and a girl. She showed me how cute they were when they kissed. We were all rolling with laughter after she did anything she could to convince me to buy them, from making them kiss, to making their hair as poofy as possible, to making them talk to me, to rubbing their hair on my cheek.

I bought the two for 40 soles, and we were both happy. After we took a picture together, we were on our way. So my day was full of bargaining in Spanish. At the end, I was so proud of my bargaining skills and I realized how much my Spanish had improved since my first week here. My market experience really made me feel good about all I have learned in the past month!

Posted at 15:10 #

Gracias to our Profesores

During our final language class, we celebrated all we've learned these past weeks by performing (humorous!) skits for our profesores, Leo and Oswaldo.

We also presented gifts, took pictures, and listened to the song, Color Esperanza (sung by Diego Torres) one more time. Of course we had to sing along!

Mervi brought in lunch for the last time, so we also had a chance to thank her for all the wonderful meals she has prepared...

And then we had the afternoon to prepare for our FAMILY despedida! Once again, time to formally say "thank you" before we head off to Cusco and our service assignments around the country.

Posted at 18:49 #

Saying Good-bye With a Word, a Song, and a Fancy Step

Just as every group of SSTers takes on a wonderful personality of its own, so too does every mix of host families. And so when those two groups come together after nearly six weeks for an evening despedida, it’s bound to be a one-of-a-kind farewell party.

The families began arriving soon after 7 p.m., welcomed to the Seminario by posters and streamers that students had hung earlier in the day. A slide show captured some of the highlights of the weeks in Lima, including meeting families for the first time, swimming with sea lions, and visiting the home of the artist Víctor Delfín.

Celia greeted the families, opening the formal part of the program. Then followed the first of several musical numbers. We enjoyed hearing a mixed ensemble, a women’s choir, and the full group of students. Family members sang along with the full group too, after a brief coaching session on the song. Students in the advanced Spanish class worked up an impressive lip-synch rendition of a favorite pop tune that included bringing Oswaldo, their language professor up on stage. Since Oswaldo had to teach a class that evening, Duane stood in for that ‘surprise’ part of the song.

Laura Schlabach and Melanie Hershberger shared some favorite word associations, compiled by the whole group as students thought of favorite memories with their families.

We invited families to come forward in groups, first recognizing those families who had hosted students in every semester of the program in Peru (six semesters and counting); then those who had hosted students for five semesters; and so forth. As the families stood up front, their respective sons and daughters presented flowers to the host parents.

Duane “Carlos” and Karen thanked the families for all that they had done, beginning with inviting students into their homes, with mucho cariño, or love. Kate and Emily thanked families, in part, by serving Inca Kola and other soft drinks during our intermission.

Yes, while the rest of us ate bocaditos and desserts, more than half the group of students disappeared. Downstairs, they were putting on dance costumes. When they returned, fully outfitted as folkloric dancers from the Andean highlands, they put on an impressive display, led by Pedro, their dance instructor over the past couple of weeks. It’s fair to say that the crowd went wild. There was lots of picture-taking during the performance and afterward, as families members and friends posed with the dancers.

The program ended with the introduction of Alex Naula and Julia Adams, who are set to take over in August as directors of the Goshen College program in Peru. Blessings to them and to all who participate in the program in the year ahead!

Posted at 18:52 #

Thu, 19 Jun 2008

GC Students Walk Where the Incas Walked, Pausing for Breath and Lots of Photos

Our first stop in Cusco was the Hospedaje Ayahuasca, which has been a comfortable hospice home for at least four groups of SSTers. We climbed four flights of steps, pausing to remember along the way that our elevation was now 3,326 meters, or about 10,912 feet. Pouring hot water over dried leaves, we made cups of coca tea, which locals say is the best way to get acclimated to the higher elevation.

In the afternoon, we visited Qorikancha (Quechua for “Golden Courtyard”), once the richest temple in the Incan empire. The stone remains of the temple, having survived several earthquakes, including a monster that leveled buildings across the city in 1650, serve as the foundation for the colonial church of Santo Domingo. We also saw some Incan ruins on the outskirts of Cusco: Puco Pucara, or “Red Rock,” probably a resting point for travelers, and Qenqo, or “Zigzag,” which has a nifty cave.

That night we sat around a long table for pollo a la brasa (picture being served half a roasted chicken and a small mountain of french fries with dipping sauces), celebrating Melanie’s birthday at the end of the meal, when the waiters brought in a surprise chocolate cake.

The next day we went to hilltop ruins of Saqsaywamán, which means “Satisfied Falcon,” and which guides, including ours, Elvis, pronounce with the mnemonic “sexy woman.” Elvis told us that the Spaniards tore down many of the original Incan walls, using the exquisitely carved stone to build their homes down below in Cusco.

Down the road, we watched Pedro, an Andean healer, perform a traditional blessing ceremony. The offering he wrapped up for burning included anis, coca leaves, corn, thread, seashells, rice, and an impressive variety of cookies and other sweets (pachamamma, the mother earth diety in the Incan belief system, clearly has a fondness for sugar).

On the main plaza, we visited the Cathedral, which took almost 100 years to build, beginning in 1559. As with so much else here, the Spaniards used an Incan foundation, in this case a former palace. The cathedral holds a rich repository of colonial art.

From there, we drove down in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, taking advantage of a roadside photo-op. We arrived hungry in the town of Pisac, where most of us had squash soup and spaghetti in chicken sauce for lunch, followed by shopping in the market. We visited the Pisac ruins next, known for agricultural terraces and great walking trails. Our second day ended after dark in Ollantaytambo, population 2,000, elevation 2,800 meters (9,186 feet).

The train left Ollantataytambo at 7 a.m., bound for Machu Picchu – well, actually, for Aguas Calientes, a little town at the foot of the Incan mountaintop citadel. We boarded a bus for the zigzag climb to the top. We arrived just in time for the group to gain entry to the rugged and steep trail that leads up Huayna Picchu (“Young Peak,” in Quechua), a peak that overlooks Machu Picchu (“Old Peak”). This trail is limited to 400 hikers per day, and we contributed 20 of 24 students to the total. At the flat-rock summit, the vantage point for photos is hard to beat.

Later, all gathered on a lawn terrace at Machu Picchu, Elvis shared something of the history of the site. He said a 10-year-old boy, Pablo, led Hiram Bingham to the citadel in 1911. The boy received 1 sol coin; Bingham received the title “discoverer” of Machu Picchu. He also took away hundreds of pieces of pottery, gold, silver, and other remains, much of which ended up at Yale University. Peru is negotiating for their return.

We had time to explore Aguas Calientes as well, since we had a late evening train ride back to Ollantaytambo. Many students tried out the natural hot springs from which the town draws its name. On Friday morning, a bus took us back to Cusco.

Before flying back to Lima, we said goodbye at the airport to five students in the group who are staying on: to Diana, Ellie, and Melanie, who will live in Cusco during the service term; and to Juli and Kathy, who will work about an hour and a half away, in Katiñaray. In about a week, the service visits begin, with photos and news notes to follow.

Posted at 13:25 #

Fri, 20 Jun 2008

GC Students Walk Where the Incas Walked, Pausing for Breath and Lots of Photos (2)

Here are the rest of the photos from our June 10-13 trip, from Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo .

Posted at 11:35 #

Sun, 22 Jun 2008

Ways in which we are different (and yet the same)

Grace shares a journal entry:


  • In my Lima host family, it takes much longer for the men to get ready than the women.
  • A “pinch” of salt in Peruvian cooking is much more like a tablespoon.
  • While in the U.S. I would prepare cucumbers (pepinos) and potatoes (papas) by cutting them into large chunks and leaving the peel on; this practice is not customary in Peru. It sure gets a big laugh, though!
  • It is not considered rude or discriminatory to call someone fat, skinny, ugly, Chinese, or Japanese, or to mimic other ethnic-racial stereotypes to their face. Peruvians call it as they see it, and tend to confront issues head-on.
  • Hanging your undergarments out to dry on top of your apartment complex for the entire city to see is not considered scandalous; however, walking home from a dance rehearsal wearing knee-length gym shorts will incite fits of laughter, hollers, snickers, kisses, and cat calls.
  • Somehow my affection for rich foods like butter, yogurt, and cheese is perceived as strange and abnormal, but my host family’s copious consumption of mayonnaise and Inca Kola with every meal is perfectly acceptable.
  • That sauce that looks deceptively like honey-mustard? Yeah, it’s not. In fact, it is actually ají, a spicy hot pepper sauce.
  • In Peru, Hall’s brand cough drops are literally eaten as candy. When I tried to explain to my cousin how we regard them as medicine in the U.S., he laughed and said, “That’s silly. Everyone knows they’re for refreshment.”
  • The idea that anyone would have a religious affiliation other than Catholic, or, heaven forbid, Evangelical, is rather difficult to explain.


  • We have sweet tooth cravings just the same.
  • We coo over newborn infants and baby animals just the same.
  • Brothers antagonize sisters just the same.
  • We idolize music, movie, and sports stars just the same.
  • Husbands demonstrate love for their wives by surprising them with flowers after a long day of work just the same.
  • Adolescent girls scream in terror at gory horror movies just them same.
  • Lovers neck in moon-lit parks just the same.
  • Laughter warms a family meal just the same.
  • Soap operas are just as ridiculously plotted and over-acted (cue the cheesy, over-dramatic music!)

Posted at 23:45 #

Tue, 1 Jul 2008

Service Visit #1: Cusco - Melanie, Diana and Ellie

In only their first day on the job at Clinica San Juan de Dios in Cusco, Diana and Ellie were in high demand. Picture a room full of children in wheelchairs and walkers, about 40 of them, all wanting to see and feel some of that warm midday Cusco sun. For almost all of the children, the only way outside is courtesy of a staff member or a volunteer.

At best, there were about five people available to help out during the time that we were there. Two of them were Diana and Ellie, and they were kept busy wheeling children by turns along the outdoor loop, which wound through a playground. A favorite stop was the merry-go-round with a wheelchair ramp. Each ride also came with kisses and hugs.

Four weeks from now, it may be difficult for Diana and Ellie to say goodbye to the children, if the early signs of bonding are any indication. The clinic, which began in 1982, serves children and adults in need of physical therapy and rehab.

This is the first time, we believe, that Goshen students have served here. The clinic has a steady supply of volunteers during the high tourist season in July and August, but come fall, there are fewer hands to help with the children.

Across town, Melanie is also working with children, in a classroom at Aldeas Infantiles SOS, a preschool and much more. Aldeas Infantiles describes itself as an international “social movement.” Its core vision says that “every boy and every girl belongs to a family and grows best with love, respect and security.”

Many of the children who attend the preschool come from homes with a single parent, invariably a mother, who is hardpressed to earn enough money to support her children. The school tries to help by providing education, childcare, and healthy meals. On the day we visited, we found Melanie helping to maintain order in a lively cafeteria, and seeing that children brushed their teeth afterward.

Later that evening we shared a meal at Nonna Trattoria, a restaurant that is run by the wife of the man who works with Diana´s host sister. Got that? The pizza, baked in a wood-fired clay oven, was the best that we have had in Cusco.

While we were there, the three women competed for what amounted to bragging rights over who wore the most clothes to bed. If you wonder whether it’s cold at night in Cusco, here´s the proof: Ellie said she wears two shirts, socks, long sweat pants, and sometimes mittens and a coat. And she uses five alpaca blankets and a comforter.

Diana wears two pair of socks, two pair of pants, two longsleeve shirts, two T-shirts, a sweater, and a purple fleece; and she uses five alpaca blankets and a comforter.

Melanie wears two pair of pants, a T-shirt, two sweatshirts, socks, mittens, and a chuyo wool hat – “and then I mummify myself in a blanket and crawl under two more blankets and a comforter. It´s pretty much a ritual. You can ask my mom. Eventually you can get a pocket of heat in the room.”

One of the highlights of the first two weeks, Diana said, was attending a combination birthday party for her brother Lucho, 30, and a Father´s Day celebration for her host father, Luis. After dinner, which included roasted pig, the family sang huayno songs, a kind of folk music from the highlands, as well as more urban and coastal tunes.

“We moved the table aside and all danced, a room full of relatives and me,” Diana said. “They made a lot of jokes in Quechua, which I didn´t understand. It was a lot of fun.”

One of the days, we had a chance to visit with Diana´s parents, Luis and Angelica, who served us a snack of fruit juice, a delicious combination of pina, fresa and papaya, and crackers. Luis brought out his guitar and played several folk tunes from the region, a gift of song, he said, for our despedida, with this being our third and last group of students. In another gift without price, they slipped on our fingers rings shaped from stone that Luis had brought back from Machu Picchu years ago when he worked there.

We also had a lovely visit with Ellie´s family, including her host mother, Eduarda, and her sister Jhoseline. We were sorry to have missed host brother Elvis, who has guided every one of the Goshen groups on its tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu. He was away, leading another group during our stopover.

At Melanie's home, we received another warm welcome, as well as a dish of vanilla ice cream with mermelada de saúco, a topping that tastes like blueberry jam. We also received a tour of the home, which her host mother, Kely, a trained architect, has painted with artistic flourishes.

Posted at 15:30 #

Service visit #2: Kataniray -
Juli and Kathy

When we arrived at the Fundación Almeria school and greenhouse complex where Kathy and Juli are working, we found them sorting a small mountain of beans, some in the pod and others in hiding. Both Juli and Kathy grew up on farms, and the location here in the highlands, far from the smog and crowds of Lima, surrounded by hills that welcome hikers, seems to fit them well. Kathy said that she raised her fists and shouted “yes” when she arrived.

They gave us a tour of the greenhouse complex first. They showed us where they had planted tomatoes and peppers and lettuce, on a wooden doubledecker frame that looked a lot like a bunkbed (on one bed, for example, they planted lettuce on the lower bunk, and peppers on the upper). The food grown in the greenhouses is served to children from the community, who attend classes here as well.

For Juli and Kathy, the 15-minute walk from the greenhouses to their host home follows dirt roads, with adobe houses on either side, and often a pig or a cow or a rooster in the yard, tied up by a leg to keep it from wandering. They’ve gotten to know the rooster at their house pretty well. Their morning alarm clock, which actually sleeps in a room under their second-floor bedroom, goes off around 4:30, 6, and 7, they said.

Evenings they usually retire early to their room and read or write, sometimes having to schooch near the single lightbulb in the room. Nights are cold, and the walls let in the fresh air. On the far side of the bedroom ears of corn are piled against the wall, ready for when the family needs it.

Kathy and Juli live with the grandparents of their host father, Nilton. Their host mother is Eufemia, and three boys round out the family: Nilton Cesar, 13, Yemmi, 11, and Yhosed 4.

Once in a while, the brothers stop by to watch the family's TV, which is in Juli and Kathy's room. Sometimes, for better or for worse, the Goshen students have had to put aside assigned readings to study the nuances of love and heartache on Peruvian telenovelas (the boys' choice in programming). When the TV signal fails, as it sometimes does, one of the boys will give the television a whack, and the picture returns.

Kathy and Juli are also teaching English at the Fundación Almeria school: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders, in different classes, three days a week. They invited us into the classroom. Among other things, they taught greetings (How are you? I'm fine. And you?) and animals (chancho = pig). We also sang “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” together before the class was over.

Sitting next to the outdoor kitchen stove at the greenhouse, we enjoyed a healthy lunch with Juli and Kathy and volunteers from Spain, as well as the regular workers, managed by Baltazar, a big Goshen College fan (he mentioned how much he enjoys wearing his college T-shirt, a gift from a student a year or two back).

Juli and Kathy traveled back with us as far as Izcuchcaca, about 20 minutes away by kombi van, where we found some pastries in shop on the main street and walked around the corner to eat them in a park. Then they were off to an Internet café (there’s no Internet at the greenhouse), and we were off for Cusco.

Posted at 16:45 #

Mon, 7 Jul 2008

Service Visit #3: Central Selva
A long road to see Joel and Nathan.

After an overnight bus trip through the Andes, we arrived at the bus station in La Merced, a gateway to jungle, trying to feel as awake as we thought we should for 11 o’clock in the morning. We knew we had to get our bearings and find our way to the home of Joel and Nathan, who live on a chacra, or coffee farm, far off of any paved roads. We no sooner stepped off the bus than we were welcomed by Alan, a brother of Nathan and Joel’s host mother, Carmen.

Following a mototaxi ride up the hill, he had us sitting in a café on the main square in town for a good cup of coffee, the crop for which the region is known. After eating a popular local breakfast, fried yuquitas with three dipping sauces (ocopa, huancaina, and guacamole), we stopped briefly at Chanchamayo Highland Coffee, a production plant and retail store where Joel and Nathan’s family sends its beans.

Then the adventure began. We knew that the guys lived somewhere along the road between La Merced and Villa Rica. In truth, if we had not had Alan along, we might never have found the place. The dirt road out of La Merced was rough, and thanks to an early morning rain, things turned rougher when we took a side road, maybe an hour later.

Our cab driver went over streams and straddled ridges to get us as deep into this jungle pass as we could get. Finally, he said that’s it: the cab could go no further. We grabbed bags and started walking. We walked uphill for the better part of an hour (pausing at places to watch butterflies or to learn the name of a plant or flower, and to sample a fruit that looked like an orange and tasted like a lime) until we came to the chacra of Carmen and Isidro.

The first sound we heard was a repeated loud bang, like a hammer pounding on tin. It turned out to be Joel hitting a tennis ball against the side of coffee storage shed. Next to him were carpets of pale yellow coffee beans set out to dry on the pavement. Decked out in boots, Nathan was keeping watch over the beans. Guard duty, he said.

Nathan and Joel have had a good introduction to the coffee production process. They’ve gone out to pick beans. They have hauled beans up to the drying beds. They have sorted red and green berries. Most of the beans here go to Highland, which exports coffee to Europe and elsewhere.

Carmen and Isidro soon welcomed us into their home, where they served a late lunch (our long trip was the reason the lunch was late) of chicken and potatoes and rice, with a side salad of tomatoes, onions, and lime dressing. They gave us a brief tour of the property, including a look at coffee plants, many of which are entering a resting phase.

The guys said they often start their day around 8, with a breakfast of rice with vegetables, or maybe potatoes, or spaghetti (bread is a luxury this far off the road). Always there is coffee, of late essencia from coffee beans grown on the chacra. They work different projects depending on the day. Afternoons they often take a run, up a hill for 20 minutes and then back down.

It’s dark by 6 p.m. The family, and the moths, gather in the kitchen, where there’s a solitary light bulb powered by a car battery. Supper arrives around 7. Soon after supper, Carmen and Isidro head to bed.

Joel and Nathan will read in their room by candlelight for a while, and maybe play a game. Joel had made a checker board, using a slice of tree trunk and pink chalk he found in their bedroom, with coffee beans as checker pieces; then Carmen brought out a store-bought board that had been in storage. “And we’ll beat anybody in gin rummy,” Joel said. “We’ve been practicing up.”

With about an hour of daylight left, we started walking downhill to find our cab driver, hoping that he was still waiting (he was). He eased us out the bumpiest dirt road to the main dirt, where in the dark we caught a kombi van for the ride to Villa Rica. When we arrived, Michelle and Tyler were waiting for us. We finished the evening with a pollo a la braza and Inca Kola supper, followed by pastries from a shop down the street (alfajor cookies with manjar blanco are recommended).

Posted at 19:13 #

Service Visit #4: Villa Rica
Michelle and Tyler

For two students of medicine, it’s hard to imagine a better setting than the Aldaves family home in Villa Rica located in the Central Selva in the region of Pasco.

Tyler, who plans to become a doctor, and Michelle, a nurse, sleep and take their meals, along with Jose (or Pepe) and Ingrid and their daughters, on the second floor of the family home. Much of their day, however, is spent on the first floor, a complex of examination rooms, diagnostic tech labs, and pharmaceutical supplies.

They never know when a call will come from their host father and supervisor, Dr. Jose Aldaves, downstairs. “Tyler! Michelle! Come!” He has a patient that he wants to show them. Or he’ll call them over to the hospital, several blocks away, where he oversees a team of about 10 doctors.

Once they saw a boy whose ribs were showing through the skin on his chest, as though he were malnourished. Tests revealed that he was heavily beset with parasites. With another patient, Jose asked them to guess the youngster’s age. Michelle said 8; Tyler, 10. The patient turned out to be 16. He had been in an accident and could no longer produce human growth hormone. They saw a woman, struck by a family member, who suffered a burst eardrum and had a number of other health problems, for which she couldn’t afford treatment.

Another time, a woman and her children, including a baby, had traveled from far in the jungle to see the doctor. They hadn’t eaten that day. The family invited them upstairs for a meal, and Michelle and Tyler talked with the mother while she ate.

Then there was the C-section at the hospital. Having scrubbed, Michelle and Tyler entered the room. They watched as the doctors pulled back the sections of skin. They saw the baby emerge, and observed the cutting of the cord, and the first independent breaths. As the mother was being sewn up, Michelle said she suddenly imagined herself in that mother’s place. She got warm. She headed for the door, and found herself coming to, surrounded by Tyler and several medical staff. Her first thoughts were in Spanish – a positive indicator. Later, a doctor told her that he had fainted twice in medical school – on the same day.

All this happened during the first three weeks.

During our visit, Jose was away at a medical conference. Ingrid gave us a tour of the on-site medical facilities and introduced us to their daughters, Lady, 13, and Mariell, 8, and the family’s cook and maid, Nati. She also served us a wonderful pachamanca meal, that she and her parents, who live nearby, had prepared in a large pot in the kitchen. The herb-flavored chicken and pork with potatoes, banana, and haba beans, were as good as any cooked by the more traditional method, by hot rocks in a covered hole in the ground.

In the backyard, we met the family’s two dogs, Ruso, the big one, and Josito, the little one; a parakeet named Polli; two rabbits without names; and about 50 cuy. (Note: One little cuy almost served as dinner when a leg slipped through a crack in the boards and Josito got hold of it. A quick scolding from either Michelle or Tyler saved the cuy’s life). Though we didn’t have a chance to see them, we also heard about Jose’s collection of poisonous jungle snakes in jars, including one that lived in a jar for a month without food.

There’s a basketball hoop in the backyard, the kind of simple backboard and hoop that call to mind the movie “Hoosiers.” Jose and Tyler have been known to get into such concentrated games that they had to be reminded that a patient was waiting (in fairness to medical practitioners in Villa Rica, it should be noted that this kind of delay also takes place in Goshen).

Michelle and Tyler said that their day often begins around 8 with breakfast, which always includes bread and jam and lots of coffee. And the day sometimes ends with more of the locally grown coffee, which is just fine with Tyler, especially.

If the coffee doesn’t bring them back to Villa Rica, a word from Dr. Jose Aldaves might. “He has invited us to come back after we’re done with school,” Michelle said.

Posted at 19:17 #

Service Visit #5: Villa el Salvador in Lima

Three weeks into her service stay in Villa El Salvador, Laura Sharp already knows that it will be difficult to say goodbye to her host family and friends, all members of the church known as Fuente de Luz, or source of light. She has quickly become a member of the community, known to all as Laurita.

She attends services with her host mother, Luz, and her grandparents, Gamaniel and Mira, two of the founding members of the Villa el Salvador community. Beyond that, though, her service work ensures that she will visit many members of Fuente de Luz, as she travels door to door, compiling a profile of the congregation through interviews.

During our visit, Laura interviewed a family member, Luz, and another church member who has been accompanying her on the interviews, Katy. For Katy it was a role reversal, since she, like Laura, has usually been on the interviewer’s side of the table.

Here is a sampling of the questions that Laura is asking of the church members (translated from the Spanish): How many people live in your house? Does anyone in your house work outside of the house? How much daily or monthly income does the family receive? Did you go to high school? Do you have health insurance? Do you have any suggestions for leaders of the church?

The questions reflect the reality of poverty for many of the members. Villa El Salvador, praised though it is as a model shantytown, offering parks, community kitchens (comedors) and schools within walking distances of residents, remains on the outskirts of Lima, an hour-long bus ride from the neighborhoods where money flows freely.

As we sat on a park bench near her house, within sight of a cancha, or soccer field, where many of the older boys were playing on the dirt field without shoes, a small boy came over several times asking for money. Laura said that one of the most difficult interviews included the revelation that one family was leaving a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old on their own for part of the day.

She has learned that one mototaxi driver, who earns his living in the little three-wheeled carts that zip around town, earns about 40 soles, or $14, a day. Another family has a small business that brings in 70 soles, or $24, a week. All the families have electricity; most have running water; TV’s are plentiful in the home, but computers are not.

“The families are always hospitable,” she said. “We are often offered tea or snacks, and one time we were served lunch. Even when we are welcomed, we don’t always know where to sit. In one home the hermana told us to come in and sit down, but there were no chairs to sit on.”

Three days a week Laura conducts these interviews. One day a week she enters data onto a computer at the central church office, preparing a report that officials say will help them to know the congregation better and may assist in fund-raising efforts. Two days a week she helps out at a comedor near her house, cutting up carrots, celery, and broccoli, and peeling potatoes.

Her family served us a generous lunch of chicken soup as the starter, and aji de gallina as the main meal. Before the meal, Laura joined them in singing grace. The words, in Spanish, went something like this:

Por la comida que tú nos das
y por la luz el día de hoy
por nuestro pan, hogar, y salud
Padre las gracias te damos a ti

For the food that you give to us,
and for the light of the day,
for our bread, home and health,
Father, we give you thanks.

Laura told of one adventure that came about because of her concern for the quietest member of the household, Gringo, a yellow kitten who arrived just a few days before Laura herself did. Well, one night the family went to bed with Gringo apparently missing. Laura woke up around 3 and thought she heard Gringo mewing outside.

She tiptoed to the front door and wanted to open it a crack, just enough to let in Gringo. At that moment, in the middle of the night, she and the neighbors learned that her family had a very powerful house alarm. And as for Gringo? It turns out that Gringo was actually safely at home, but in hiding. All is well. Padre las gracias te damos a ti.

Posted at 23:02 #

Thu, 10 Jul 2008

Service Visit #6: Chimbote
Grace, Heather, Lane and Monica

Grace, Heather, Lane and Monica entered the private room where an elderly woman, an anciana in Peruvian terms, rested in bed. As with her neighbors in this hospice in Chimbote, she was weak from the cancer that was laying waste to her body. Grace asked the woman, Juliana, whether they could sing a few songs. Juliana nodded yes, and so they began.

Without a pitch pipe to fix the starting note or a piano to accompany them, the four students began singing "Be Thou My Vision." In her bed, Juliana said nothing, but she was soon shaking and crying. Next they sang "Caminamos en la Luz de Dios" (We’re walking in the Light of God). She continued to cry softly.

The students went from room to room, singing to nearly all of the nine patients in this hospice that is part of the ministry of the Parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor in La Victoria, one of the poorest areas of Chimbote, in one of the poorest cities in Peru.

In another room, as one song ended, Zacarias said, "Muy bonita, muy bonita" (Very pretty, very pretty). Manuel sat up in his bed, folded his hands, and prayed through three songs, as the quartet added "Joy to the World.”"

Sister Juanita Albracht, director of the hospice, said the four are welcome back for a return singing engagement at any time (Heather works here a couple of days a week). On the day of our visit, Sister Juanita was overseeing the expansion of the garden in the entryway, an oasis of trees, flowers, grass and pathways in a city that some guidebooks describe as painted in shades of the same color: dust brown.

It’s a good bet that the travel writers have not visited the parish. If they had, they would know that there’s a place where love, hope and faith put the dust in its place (or at least make it more tolerable).

Grace, Heather, Lane and Monica are part of a large and evolving ministry team, led by Father Jack and Sister Peggy (Unfortunately, at the time of our visit these two parish leaders were away, fund-raising in the United States. On a side note, Father Jack is scheduled to speak at Goshen College in October as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of SST).

At any point during the year, one will find volunteers helping at the parish. We just missed meeting two high students from Alaska, but did have a chance to visit with Peggy, a middle school phys ed teacher from the Midwest who is spending her summer in Chimbote.

We started our day with a visit of the church programs and centers where the four are working, fortunately, all within walking distance. There was a national strike, or paro, in effect that day, which meant that buses, taxies and mototaxies were out of commission.

We stopped at the Centro Juvenil Aguilas Sagradas, a center for former gang members, where Grace and Heather are leading a mural initiative; the Salon Juvenil Sagrada Familia, where Lane directs children in singing; La Casa de la Juventud, where Monica is helping young women make bracelets to sell; and the Matt Talbot Center for recovering addicts, where their joint landscape efforts include a rock pathway.

Singing is a big part of the service experience for all four. They have sung together in the choir at Santa Ana, one of three neighborhood chapels within the parish. Both Lane and Grace have started choirs at youth centers.

During our family visits, we also enjoyed spontaneous "tributos al amor" y "melodias de las pasiones" courtesy of Monica’s host father, Jose, on the guitar.

And then there was the wake. Early in their stay a woman who was part of the parish died of a heart attack. Though they didn’t know the family, Benjamin, who supervises several parish programs, suggested that the students attend the wake as a courtesy. They arrived to find a huge funeral tent filled with mourners, all gathered around the deceased, who was in a glass-top casket. The family wanted the students to sing and so they did, first in English and then in Spanish. Some of the recovering addicts joined them in "Caminamos en la Luz de Dios."

"We didn’t know if 'Caminamos' would be appropriate for a wake," Lane said. "But Benjamin said that yes it would, and that the grandmother had asked for 'Caminamos.'" Grace added: "We didn’t even know who the members of the bereaved family were until we left." That’s service by immersion.

One of the students closed out a journal entry with a quote from Rabindranath Tagore: "I slept and I dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I served and saw that service was joy."

Posted at 12:20 #

Sun, 13 Jul 2008

Service Visit #7: Chulucanas
Jill and Jocelyn

While Jill and Jocelyn are comfortable finding their way around the town of Chulucanas, the place they come back to, again and again, is Casa de Oración, the 300-member church that their families attend and that sponsors the physical rehabilitation center where they work.

Several times a week they attend services there. We just missed a chance – by two days – to take in a special performance at Casa de Oración, or the House of Prayer. Jill was scheduled to sing "How Great Thou Art" in English, alongside soloists in Swedish and Spanish. And then all three soloists were going to lead the congregation in singing the Spanish version.

While the Plagues of Egypt may be an abstract lesson for most Goshen College readers of Exodus, Jocelyn and Jill know firsthand how a swarm of crickets, or grillos, can cover a person’s body and a church sanctuary, if not cast a shadow over the land.

In their first week in Chulucanas, the crickets were out in force. Jocelyn and Jill described a church service with crickets flying in by the score through open windows (it’s hot, very hot, in Chulucanas; you have to keep the windows open).

"We were freaking out," Jill said. "People were picking them off of each other. I killed 10 where I was sitting. For a while I didn’t do anything but kill grillos."

Jocelyn added: "I was afraid to sing. I was afraid one would go down my throat."

Jocelyn would demonstrate the three-step termination procedure later when she found one in her bedroom: catch a cricket, throw it to the dirt floor, and then squish it. Or, as she put it more bluntly, "It’s grab, stun, and stomp."

They described a wall turned black by crickets. Some people in town link the cricket swarms, especially thick this year, to the heavy spring rains.

Jocelyn and Jill work at RBC, or Rehabilitación Basada en la Comunidad, where they help to provide physical therapy for children, all of whom have some form of cerebral palsy. It’s an excellent service pairing, as Jill is studying to be a physical therapist and Jocelyn a nurse. We had a chance to meet Maria, a 10-year-old with a smile that can light up a room.

During home visits, we saw the little store that Jill’s host mother manages and the pottery that her host father makes. In Jocelyn’s home, we shared watermelon with her host father, who grows mangos and watermelons on his small farm, and her sisters, who work in a nearby school.

Jill and Jocelyn might hold the GC record for the best deal on churros, the pastry roll often filled with manjar blanco. When they asked a seller in Chulucanas for 3 soles’ worth, equivalent to about $1, he started filling a bag. And then another. And then another. They had figured they were getting two or three churros. When he was done, though, they had 30 churros.

They definitely hold the record for longest bus ride to a service location (it’s a 24-hour bus ride from Cusco to Lima, but that group flies). Jill and Jocelyn have a 15-hour ride along the coast to get back to Lima, time for a couple of movies and a long night’s sleep.

After we picked up their bus tickets at the Ittsa terminal in the city of Piura, we were headed by cab to a local station to take a bus to their homes in Chulucanas, an hour away. The cab driver, Hernan, said hello to us in English, French, German and Russian: "I always want to give a nice welcome to visitors," he said.

Then he sang a song, testimony to his Christian faith. One of the passengers volunteered to have Jill and Jocelyn sing "Caminamos en la Luz de Dios," which drew a rave review.

"Que bien bonita," said Hernan, who then wrote out his phone number, ready to provide the best in taxi service to future GC students.

Posted at 13:09 #

Sun, 20 Jul 2008

Service Visit #8: Chancay
Erica and Stephanie

We recently returned from a wonderful visit with Erica and Stephanie in Chancay, a small coastal town a few hours north of Lima.

Here are our photos. A few words about our visit are forthcoming.


Posted at 18:09 #

Thu, 24 Jul 2008

Service Visit #9 Caraz
Mark and Steven

For a couple of cuy specialists like Steven and Mark, it was a dream buffet. A shipper had mistakenly put a load of 60 young cuy, or guinea pigs, in a sack without sufficient air. The cuy arrived at Steven and Mark’s service home as the main course for an unexpected feast.

Steven and Mark had been working for Zoothecnocampo only a week when the cuy arrived. Their host father, Fredy, manages the cuy consulting business, along with his wife, Rosana, and a business associate, Walter.

They work with several agencies to empower local cuy growers. One effort is to unite farmers in a collective, which increases their bargaining power for cuy sales. They also help farmers to develop business plans, keeping an inventory of cuy on hand and projecting ideal herd sizes to meet income goals. They prepare and sell a supplemental wheat and corn feed, high in minerals and vitamins.

What happens when a shipment goes awry? Call friends and neighbors. Rosana spent hours preparing the cuy for a meal. The Lauras (Dyck and Schlabach) arrived from Mancos, half an hour down the road, and Andrea and Caitlin from Huaraz, more than an hour away. All could have their fill of the Peruvian speciality (cuy are generally reserved for holidays and occasions of importance).

How was it? "It tastes like chicken, but was more salty," Steven said. "I loved it."

The guys in Caraz have been kept busy with cuy – usually counting them. Typically, they will go to several farms in a day and help to take stock of the cuy on hand (for example, the total number of baby cuy, and the number of males and females of reproductive age). One student goes with Walter to farms in the Caraz area, and the second student goes with Fredy to farms out in the country, often an hour or more away.

"The people in the small pueblos are incredibly shy," said Mark.

During our visit, all four of them went to a farmette in town owned by a man named Jaime, who also owns the restaurant La Punta Grande, a few blocks from the main plaza. (Of La Punta, the Lonely Planet guidebook says, "This is definitely the place for a typical highland lunch"). Some of the cuy that Mark and Steven counted that day (there were 85) may eventually appear as sauteed cuy with salsa criolla at La Punta.

The guys have learned to know the road between Caraz and Huaraz well, what with work and visits with the four Goshen women in the area. Vans drive from town to town, packing in as many passengers as they can. Mark and Steven, who can only fit in these vans if they turn their legs sideways, said they once shared a van with 23 other people.

Once, Mark and Fredy hitched a ride with an American woman in a pickup. It turns out that she was from Ohio, she was doing Bible translation in Peru for Wycliffe, and she had heard of Goshen. She also had run into Andrea in Huaraz.

Steven and Mark have done some adventuring in their free time. They paid for a van ride up the Cordillera Negra (the Andean ridge without snow), and rode rental bikes about 36 kilometers down old mining roads. "We saw three cars and a whole bunch of donkeys and sheep," Steven said.

Evenings they might be found playing a table game with their host sister Sarah, who is in high school (one game involves putting hundreds of picture pieces in the middle of the table – say, of a bus or a dog -- and then each person has to race to find pictures that match the ones they have in their "hand."

Also in the house is Fredy’s mother; Maria, a maid, and her daughter, Gimena, 3; and Maria’s sister, Vilma, who helps prepare the cuy feed and take care of the family’s herd.

Mark once was called from his room at midnight to help pack up cuy for a buyer (Steven was not feeling well). We had a tour of the family’s cuy quarters, or galpon. Mark held up a son of a cuy called "the Champion," a heavyweight by any measure. We asked what the son was called. "You think of a name, Mark," Fredy said. Mark paused for a few seconds, and then said, "How about Goshen?"

We said goodbye to Mark and Steven in Caraz, and to a cuy who we hope will have a long and satisfying life, Goshen.

Posted at 22:11 #

Service Visit #10 Mancos
Laura and Laurita

Living in Mancos and teaching in nearby towns, Laura Dick and Laura Schlabach share two things that no other SSTer can lay claim to: a view of the snow-capped Huascarán from their bedroom door and a good 20-minute walk to the nearest paved road and combi.

They also share the same first name, which can be a problem. To a Spanish speaker, their last names appear with too many consonants to be useful. All the weight of identity falls on the first name: Laura. But which Laura?

Fortunately, the Spanish language also offers an artful solution. To their host parents, Noemi and Walter, Laura Schlabach is Laura, and Laura Dick, shorter by several inches, is the diminutive Laurita.

The giant in this place is Huascarán, which dominates everything around Mancos; its southern peak, measured at somewhere between 6,746 to 6,768 meters (22,132.5 to 22,204.7 feet), is the highest in Peru and the fourth-highest in South America.

Noemi runs a bed-and-breakfast hostel called La Casita de Mi Abuelita, or Grandmother’s House. From the gardens and patios of the hostel, guests have a perfect view of the mountain that is named for an Incan chieftain, Huáscar.

When we arrived (confession: bearing gifts and suitcases, we gave ourselves permission to take a cab up the dirt road instead of walking), we found Laurita reading on a section of pathway that was catching the last rays of sun. Laura was with a class of college-age students that she has been helping to teach English; the class had planned a party to celebrate her 20th birthday.

Later that night we would all sit around the dining room table with Noemi and the family’s oldest son, Walter Gianfranco, a 23-year-old civil engineering student, who served us cups of cedron, a lemon-flavored tea that is said to cure stomach aches.

At breakfast over slices of marble cake and cups of coffee and Cocoa Winter’s hot chocolate, we gave Laura another round of "Cumpleanos Feliz" and "Happy Birthday." Then it was off to school.

First we went to a third-grade class in Mancos, where Laura was in charge. The class actually started a little late because the students were doing marching drills for an upcoming celebration of the school’s anniversary.

Once the children were seated, she worked on numbers. She had written number figures and their English names on the board. Two at a time students would walk to the board and she would call out a number like "eleven," and they would have to write the figure on the board. She also brought a banana, orange, apple and avocado as props to use when they learned fruit names.

A short combi van ride later, we were in Tingua, there to take in two more classes. First, Laurita’s third-grade class. She started out with a review of colors. "Que color es blanco?" White. Azul? Blue. She moved to family names. She went table to table with a photo of her own family, repeating the words "mother" and "father" and "two sisters." Then she had the children draw pictures of their own families.

Meanwhile, down the sidewalk, Laura was leading her class in a game of bingo – all numbers pronounced in English -- on homemade cards, with candies for the prizewinners.

Speaking of sweets, in the nearby town of Yungay you can buy some of the best ice-cream in Peru. For 7 soles, or a little over $2, you can buy a quart of ice cream with flavors like chocolate chip and peanut butter. Some of the six students who are in this region (Andrea, Caitlin, Laura, Laurita, Mark and Steven) have photographic proof that it’s possible for one person to eat 7 soles’ worth of ice cream at a sitting.

Oh, we just thought of one other thing that the Lauras may lay claim to that no other SSTers share: earliest start to the work day. Their teaching is coordinated by the World Vision staff, and during their first week they were told to be ready to leave for a field trip shortly after 3 a.m. They woke around 2:30 a.m. and walked down hill in the dark to wait for the bus, hoping they hadn’t misunderstood the instructions. They were not sure where they were going or what the day was all about.

Sure enough, a big tour bus stopped and the World Vision staff waved them on. The bus was filled with teachers in their 30s and 40s. They drove for a while. More teachers got on. They kept driving. Around 8 a.m. they arrived in a small town, where teachers were given flowers, speeches were made, flags were hoisted, dances were danced, and music was played.

As it turns out, they were there to celebrate the success of these particular local schools. On the way home, teachers and at least one of the Lauras danced in the bus aisle. They arrived back in Mancos at bedtime: 8 p.m.

Posted at 22:29 #

Service Visit #11
Andrea and Caitlin

For six weeks, Andrea and Caitlin are part of a team of caregivers for a very large and energetic and loving family: 23 children, ranging in age from 7 months to 19 years old.

This is the family of La Casa-Hogar, a house and home for children who are orphans or who have been mistreated or abandoned. In some cases, the children are adopted; Manuel, who is 7 months old, is headed to a permanent home at the end of the month. The oldest child there, a 19-year-old young woman, can leave at any time; she is finishing high school, with hopes of attending university.

Tia Andrea and Tia Caitlin, as they are known to the children, work a split shift. The first of these two aunts to arrive is Caitlin. After a typical breakfast of bread, eggs and hot dogs, she walks about 20 minutes to get to La Casa-Hogar, a pretty good workout given the altitude (3,091 meters, or 10,141 feet) and the incline.

The house is situated at the top of the hill, overlooking the city of Huaraz, which itself is nestled between the Cordillera Blanca on one side and the Cordillera Negra on the other. As with the students in Mancos and Caraz, Caitlin and Andrea can see snow-covered mountains with one eye and dark-but-still-lovely Andean mountains with the other.

Most of the time, though, they have to keep their eyes on energetic young ones. In the morning, Tia Caitlin is responsible for the three youngest children: Manuel, 7 months; Angel, 1 year; and Nicole, 1 1/2.

In the backyard, the children can use a teeter-totter, merry-go-round, swings. Kids being kids, the bigger draw is sometimes a section of dirt and rocks along the back fence. When we were there, Tia Caitlin had to make sure that the rocks stayed close to the ground and the dirt away from the eyes. Often there are diapers to change. ("As a parent, I will be prepared for anything," she said). Toward noon, she may help out with lunch and picking up older children from school.

When Tia Caitlin leaves around 2:30, Tia Andrea arrives. Like Caitlin, Andrea walks up the steep hill to get to work. The energy level in the house is at a high point. Children are home from school, gathered around a big table in the living room to do homework. There’s a sense of urgency. Once homework is done, they can play.

One boy of about 10, a scientist in the making, came over to show us a bit of what he called magic. Tia Andrea first made sure that he had finished his homework. He had. So he showed us a jar that was filled up with water. Next he took a cup, turned it upside down, and submerged it in the water.

When he removed the cup, the bottom (or the top end, when submerged in the water), was still dry. "Magic!" he said. Then, to confirm the results, he stuck a wad of paper in the bottom of the cup. He flipped the cup over, submerged it, and wala – dry paper.

La Casa-Hogar is one of several programs operated by the Arco Iris Association, or the Rainbow Association, which in turn is sponsored by several organizations, including the Alianza Evangelical church in Spain. The association has been operating in Huaraz since 1999. There is also a comedor, or community kitchen, serving children who are at risk of malnutrition.

During our stay in Huaraz we paid two visits to Café Turmanyé, or Rainbow Café in Quechua, which opened several weeks ago. The Arco Iris Association manages a bakery (you can see the bakers at work from the swings and the merry-go-round) and now café, staffed largely by boys who were living on the streets of Huaraz. We recommend the café americano with pastries like tortas, mousses, tronquitos and danesas. We walked by one night to find many people – including Caitlin and two friends - eating pastries and drinking coffee for a good cause.

We also visited with Andrea’s host mother, Blanca, and her grandson, Matias, who is just over 1 year old. Blanca manages a kind of boardinghouse, largely for relatives and volunteers with Arco Iris.

At Caitlin’s house, we narrowly missed seeing her host parents, Francis and Tracy, who are environmental consultants and were away on business trips. We did get to meet their 5-year-old son, Francis Sebastian, and both grandmothers, Marino (Francis’s mother, just arrived from Honduras) and Edda (Tracy’s), and Tracy’s cousin Domitila.

Posted at 22:47 #

Sat, 26 Jul 2008

Finding a Brother in Peru

Caitlin shares a journal entry:

Sebastián, my 5-year-old host brother (he is turning 6 the day that I leave Huaraz), is the first brother I have ever had. Ever since I was a little girl I have wanted a brother – younger or older. But I knew that I would never get one. I haven’t decided yet if Sebastián, who is also known as Seba, has cured me from ever wanting a brother or made me want one even more. Here are a few quick stories to illustrate our sister-brother "love-hate" relationship.

Love: When I was starting to feel sick, Seba came into my room wanting to play. He ran in and jumped on me (because that’s what he usually does when he wants to play!), but when I told him, "No esta noche, Seba, yo no siento bien" (Not tonight, Seba, I don’t feel well), he said, "Estas mal? Lo siento, chau" (You don’t feel well? I’m sorry. See you later.), and walked away.

This might seem like a strange response, but for Sebastián it was a miracle because I’ve never seen him give up on playing so easily. For that night, though, it was a relief.

Opposite of Love: The other day I was doing some journaling so I had my pencil and eraser out. My eraser is not your normal eraser so Seba quickly became interested in it. When I was ready to pack up I asked for my borrador back but he wouldn’t hand it over. So naturally I started tickling him for it but still he wouldn’t.

So I fake cried and he quickly turned it over. When he found out I was faking he jumped on my back and tried to wrestle me for it. Well, obviously I’m stronger so he had no success.

As a last resort to get the eraser, he yanked on my hair, right at the sensitive temple area. I tried desperately to get him off but he had such a firm grip on my hair that I could hardly do anything. After not too long, Seba figured out that I wasn’t playing anymore and that I was more mad and my head hurt from where he yanked on my hair. So he let go, luckily.

Love: Sitting at the dinner table one night we were discussing the day when I would be leaving, as we had many times before. Apparently Seba hadn’t heard or quite understood yet that I would be leaving on his birthday.

But when Francis, Seba’s dad, spelled it out for him very clearly, Seba’s face dropped. I had barely been there two weeks but it was clear that he was super disappointed that I wouldn’t get to celebrate with him at his birthday party.

Sebastián is the dearest little boy and in spite of the fact that he can make me mad sometimes (especially when he comes into my room and eats my Princesa chocolate bars without asking!), of all the people that I will miss when I leave Peru, I think I will miss him most of all.

He has given me a taste of what having a brother would be like and in spite of all its pitfalls (sorry brothers), he has truly been a great gift. I will forever remember him as my Peruvian baby brother. Thanks, Seba!

Posted at 13:31 #

Soldiering on the Coffee Farm

Joel shares a journal entry:

I live with the Peruvian Army. One of the most interesting things on this service term has been my interactions and everyday life with soldiers, members of the Peruvian Army.

One day, when my dad and I were sorting coffee out on the cement porch that is attached to the cooperative next to our house, a young man in black and yellow garb walked by carrying a bag of coffee beans on his back that he’d just picked.

My host father made some comment about the "soldado." I thought I knew that soldado was the word for soldier, but then thought "No, it must have another meaning." The young man took the beans to our house and sorted them with a similarly dressed friend.

As it turns out soldado really did mean soldier and that’s exactly what these guys are. They are a part of a Peruvian Army unit (kind of like the reserves, I think) that is stationed up the mountain from us at the "basa militar" or military base.

The reason that these boys are down at our house is to help out with the work around here. What they’ve effectively done is to knock Nathan and me out of work.

The soldados pick the beans and get paid 3 soles for each of a specified bucket size they pick. They then sort most of the beans for an unspecified amount of money, and I even saw one of them running the cleaning machines yesterday, which is one of the final steps before the beans are ready to sell. As I said, since they’re getting paid Nathan and I can hardly take their jobs from them, and so we don’t have a ton to do around the chacra.

To me, the whole concept is quite interesting. The soldiers themselves are boys, ages 14-17 from the looks of them. They have a black and yellow uniform they always wear and from my slight interactions with them they seem like pretty nice, respectful kids.

How they came to be soldiers I’m not sure. Right now it’s not mandatory to be in the army but many boys do it. My guess is that it’s a steady meal, classes, bed and roof, and even the occasional work opportunity like this one to make a little money on the side. I’m not sure what their schooling is like up there but I’m sure it’s not great.

Our host parents, Isidro and Carmen, then hire about five boys to do a lot of work for them. Monday and Friday there are a few but not many, and none on the weekends. Tuesday through Thursday then are the busy days. They get here around 7 in the morning and split up to pick, sort, and wash beans. The whole process is rather intriguing to me.

My parents at home, for one, would never hire soldiers, but it’s just a part of life here. Carmen and Isidro take it for granted that these guys will just be around so they might as well help, and coincidentally I don’t find their presence odd any more either.

Posted at 13:45 #

A Portrait of Poverty in Chimbote

Lane shares a journal entry:

"A Family in the Park"

if only money
it’d ease my stomach’s rumbling
green, sweet as honey

Go ask him young one
Do you want to eat tonight?
"un sol por cena?"

I cannot give it!
A sol and all will break loose
A lie: "No tengo"

"No, escuchame,
no tengo nada niño!"
Eyes go blank. He leaves.

I could slap his dad.
"Do not send your son to beg.
I know Spanish too."

But why not. No food.
What is he supposed to do?
It’s life in the street.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I work in a Catholic parish whose one goal is to educate the poor. But to educate, the people must be fed, given space to study, receive social services for domestic violence, and be kept healthy.

The parish provides the resources that would be utterly nonexistent without them. There is no government aid here except the occasional plaza. If the parish did not supply these services, no one would have access to them.

They have a medical post that offers all kinds of basic care. There are six libraries that provide study space; tutors; and donations toward public school expenses. There are youth centers, a drug rehab center, a shelter for battered women, a hospice, and career education programs.

If the parish does not provide, people go without. When it rained the parish gave out all its plastic to cover the estera [reed] roofs. Those who didn’t receive any plastic slept on wet beds for the next week. Mothers who have had their food allowances cut eat less because they still cannot find work. When the handouts stop, people get by because they are still breathing.

Everyone wants education. Kids try hard in school but because the government won’t provide paper, teachers pay to have the tests copied. If a child cannot pay 5 cents for her share of the bill, she fails. The injustice of it frustrates them, so they drop out.

There is another way to cope. Drugs. The percentages vary, but most estimates would put consumption at at least 50 percent for persons ages 15 to 30. The drug is called pasta. It’s a highly addictive, medium-strength cocaine. A drug-induced high looks attractive to young people with no education, no prospect of work, and poor living conditions.

A hit runs about 1 sol, or 35 cents. But with a family, 1 sol is a lot. Food costs are rising. The parish offers hope, but slowly, through hard work. Drugs offer instant results, and fighting the war against that is hard.

Posted at 23:20 #

Tue, 29 Jul 2008

Leaving Lima, One and All

In keeping with the Peruvian SST tradition, our final weekend together included a retreat. We went to a small, bucolic getaway on the northern edge of the city.

Much of our time was devoted to 24 very engaging research presentations. We sampled herbal teas; shared the pastry turrón; dipped chips in homemade aji sauce; blind-taste-tested Inca Kola and a cheap knock-off brand, as well as several varieties of juice. We listened to the stories of children living in an orphanage in Huaraz, and growing up poor in Chulucanas. We learned about the risks of Hepatitis B. And much more.

One of the highlights of the retreat was sitting in a storytellers circle. The sharing went on for well over an hour, ended by administrative decree since we had a special presentation waiting. Then, on the big overhead TV, students watched the premier showing of a video of the despedida, a farewell party for Lima families that includes songs, skits and a traditional dance. Each student received a DVD to take along home.

We left for the airport on Monday evening (except for two students who were traveling the next day, and two others who are spending a week in the jungle). We received word that the 20 students arrived safely in Atlanta, and from there most traveled on to Chicago, and then Goshen.

For the first time in a year, we'll be following students out the door. A taxi is to pick us up at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, and take us and our luggage (two suitcases a piece, each weighing right up to the edge of the 50-pound weight limit) to the airport.

This year in Peru has been an amazing blessing for us. We return to Goshen with a deeper appreciation for the educational value of SST and for the gifts that Goshen College students have to offer the world. We will forever remember our Peruvian friends and experiences, and hope to return before long. Whatever we have given, we have received more.

Posted at 16:28 #

Goshen College
International Education Office
Kevin Koch
+1 (574) 535-7346