Packing Again: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Yesterday (Mon.) we spent the whole day repacking our bags and getting ready to split into four groups.  I am told that this is the most stressful day of the trip usually.  Certainly it was stressful, though I am impressed with how well the group is working together.  No biting off of heads, no fisticuffs (sp?), no name calling 🙂  Really, it is such a nice group of people — a pleasure to be with everyone.

What makes the repacking so difficult is that the group splits into four small crews, each of which must be self-sufficient.  If a group gets to a village and does not have everything they need to do their project installation, then it may not be able to be done with the materials at hand.  There are no Home Depots in a village with 20 houses!  Also, each group must bring enough water and toilet paper and snacks for when there is no food available.  Organized chaos.  Yet somehow in the end, each group had a pile of equipment bags in a separate room on the second story of the parish building.  I heard they usually pack in the courtyard downstairs, but since the last time we were here in June, the Parish has made a little garden area there, so we moved upstairs.  I thought using several different rooms upstairs worked beautifully, actually.  Much easier to organize and stay out of each other´s way.  I was not able to do much to help (because I know nothing about this equipment), but I took a lot of photographs and signed some official papers and all that.

Huarmey is a nice little city.  I felt that it was cleaner than much of what I saw in Lima (I mena in the nieghborhood of our hotel, not El Agustino, which of course was very run down).  But in Huarmey there seemed to be less garbage on the street and sidewalks, a lot less graffiti, too.  The buildings are very basic, but it felt to me that people do take some pride in their neighborhoods.  Then again, I have only seen a small part of Huarmey and Lima.  I ought not to generalize.

At one point in the evening, someone came upstairs to tell us that there was a woman in the parish office who wanted to talk to us.  Turns out she had made contact with the group on the last trip (?) and wanted to check in with us and continue to build some sort of relationship with the project.  She has organized a group to serve children (0 – 18 yrs) who have disabilities (MS, Downs, etc.)  We asked her what kind of stuff she might need but didn´t promise her anything.  She said she would give a list to the Parish secretary.  I gathered that mainly they would like things for entertainment and recreation: coloring books, balls, things like that.  She was very quiet but so lovely and calm.  I enjoyed meeting her.

After finishing up all of the packing, the whole group went to supper together at a restaurant that I think was called Jessica´s.  I ordered a tortilla, which is actually a flat omelette served half way on top of a mound of white rice.  (It looked like a volcano with a lava flow to me, but someone else said mud slide — yikes!)  Deliciosa!  I´ve been craving eggs, so this was perfecto por mi. We sat around for a long while, enjoying each other´s company and laughing a lot.  So nice after a stressful day to unwind with friends and let off steam through laughter.

I don´t remember how it came up, but after a while I found myself telling a few of the students about the summer that I was a door-to-door salesperson.  I think we were talking about cold showers (which we took when we were selling — just like here in Huarmey).  It was great to remember that crazy summer.  In many ways this trip feels similar — so much was up in the air back then.  We drove into the town of Florence, Alabama, and started knocking on doors to ask if someone would let us live with them for the summer.  And someone actually said YES, if you can believe that.  That work was difficult, and I was often tired and sweaty.  Money was tight and I often was confused about where I was. So I feel right at home in Peru!  🙂

Right now I am in an internet place in Casma.  The worker just came over and asked me something in Spanish.  I asked him to write it in Spanish, but unfortunately I still didn´t know what he wanted. He just went to try to find someone who speaks English.  Wish I had studied harder to refresh my memory of Spanish before coming …

Ah, he came back. He was warning me about a half hour having passed and I will be charged for a full hour if I didn´t stop.  I laughed and said,  ¨Bueno!  No Problema! Yo quiero mas tiempo.¨

Okay, so anyway, we had a lovely dinner together last night and then we went back to the hotel to sleep.  My group (1) had to be ready at 7 a.m. to go to Casma hospital to try to beg for transportation for group 1 and 2.  Group 3 and 4 have the Huarmey hospital truck until they split (when another project participant arrives on the 10th of Jan.)  Then group 3 or maybe it´s group 4 will get Padre Ruly´s truck for a week.  Anyway, we went to Casma to try to take care of this transportation issue.

The three of us in group 1 walked to the Huarmey bus stop: the Peruvian grad student (M), the woman who has been on the trip eleven times before (JK), and little ole me. And then M found us a car going to Casma.  I thought maybe he was kidding when he pointed at a compact car with two adults and a child already inside, but the driver said he could take three more, and M said let´s go!  JK sat on the hump up front next to M.  I sat in the back with the Peruvians.  I actually wanted to have a chance to speak with the woman and her child, hoping for a little interaction…

¨¿Quantos años, su hijo?¨

Tres.

¨Mi hijo tiene diez años.¨

Ah, grande!

WOW.  I just had a conversation with a Peruvian.  Wooohoo!  Of course, my Spanish was terrible, but we understood one another.  I waited another twenty minutes.  Her son seemed bothered by the wind coming from M.´s open window, so I asked if she wanted me to have M close it.  SI!!  I didn´t really ask in Spanish, but we communicated fine.

As we sped along the Pan American highway (and I do mean SPED), we passed through a landscape very much like what one would find in parts of Arizona.  The mountains are light brown in color and rockier than the highway to the south (which was more sandy).  Every once in a while we would cross an area where there were some scrub bushes, but mostly it looked completely barren and lifeless.  Ah, but I know better than to think that this perception is accurate.  Once along the way, I saw a hawk soaring high in the air, no doubt, he knows there´s food down there somewhere, and I trust his opinion. 🙂  Another time I saw a stray dog standing on a hill overlooking the freeway.  Not sure what he was doing there or if he could find anything to eat.  I didn´t see any houses in that bleak landscape.

Just a note about the dogs….  They really rule the streets!  Everywhere you look there are dogs.  I even saw a Husky this morning. Imagine that — a sled dog in Peru!  On our way back from lunch yesterday, a dog was sprawled out in the middle of the road.  ¨I own this street!¨he seemed to be saying.  In front of the restaurant where we ate lunch three dogs went crazy when the gringos came forward in a big group. Oh, and that reminds me that we had the most fabulous lunch at that fish restaurant.  I ordered ¨steamed fish¨ but it was really more like fish poached in a flavorful sauce, very garlicky with some light tomato sauce.  Others had ceviche and the rest fried fish. Wonderful!  I am definitely eating well here.  Of course, we walk all of the time and I am always standing, so I work up an appetite.  Meal times are never predictable, but always we eat well (so far).

Back to the cab ride to Casma…so after I asked M to roll up his window a little, the señora said gracias and we smiled at each other.  Then she nursed her son for a while.  I got up the gumption to talk to her again after another twenty minutes.  M., JK, and I had been talking a little throughout the trip, and there were lots of place names floating around the car, so I figured she might be curious about what we were doing. 

¨Vamos a la pueblitos.¨

Ah, bonita!

¨Bonita?  Bueno!¨

That went well… try another sentence… I thought.  ¨Vamos a los postas medicos por …¨ Then I couldn´t hink of the Spanish word for help, so I relied on my French… ¨por aider los…¨ oh my goodness, what is the word for people?!  ¨Ah, por aider los pueblos con agua, radios, etcetera.¨

Ah, bueno, the nice lady said and smiled.  And with that we had arrived at our drop-off place near the hospital.  I felt so proud of myself for making the effort to speak despite how poor my Spanish is.  It was a nice conversation, and I am gaining a little confidence with my Spanish.  As M. says, you don´t have to speak correctly all of the time to communicate!

One more thing about the cab, the car looked pretty dinged up, but so did the other cabs.  Ours had a cracked windshield.  At a point on the windshield right near the rear view mirror, where the impact of some object had started all the cracks that crept across the glass, the cabbie had placed a sticker of Mickey Mouse in a santa suit.  Now usually in that spot or near it, drivers hang pictures of saints to help them keep safe on the road and all that, but this guy had Mickey Mouse.  Ah, but he was dressed as SANTA claus, right? So maybe that counts.

Casma looks somewhat different than Huarmey. It is a little bigger and the area is a little greener, more of an urban feel, I think, though it shares much in common with Huarmey.  For instance the hospital in Casma is EXACTLY the same as the one in Huarmey. I guess that makes it easier to find your way around!

Once at the hostipal in Casma, we met with the new director.  M was happy to see that it was someone he knew — a man who had helped M to make a cast of a leg once (for assistive technology?)  Anyway, M negotiated and we got a ride for both group 1 and 2 from Huarmey to Casma and then on up into the mountains to Quillo (only 1,800 ft. or so) — seven project people and the hospital´s driver in a truck which in the US would maybe seat five.  Gonna be a tight squeeze, but we are thrilled to have use of the truck for any part of our journey.  By the way, group 2 includes the other Peruvian grad student, R., and three undergraduate women.

The hospital director said that there is a truck in Quillo and group 1 could use it to go higher up in the mountains (to install radios) while group 2 stays in Quillo and the neighboring town of Yanacaca (where they will be surveying the land a bit for a possible bridge project).  Group 2, once done in Yanacaca, will head down to Casma by public transport, and then they will join group 3 in a different valley to work on their biodigester project.  Originally, we had hoped to keep group 1 and 2 together for a longer time, but looks like only one night.  Ah, well, R is an excellent group leader and will help the undergrads, I´m sure, quite ably!

M suggested that I stay behind this morning in Casma while he and JK went back to Huarmey in the hospital truck to pick up group 2. I jumped at the chance to stay behind and get a little blogging done and call home while they drive back and forth.  They promised to come back for me 🙂  In fact, when they get back to Casma, we will eat lunch and then head for the hills!

Group 1 plans (tentatively — always, tentatively) to spend the night in Quillo with group 2 and then to drive up tomorrow to several higher villages: Huallmi, Pampacancho, Huacho, Punap — or at least maybe some of these.  We also need to try to install a vaccine fridge in another town on the way down.  JK says that the highest elevation we are going to will be 13,000 feet.  Whew!  I hope we can get up there slowly, but we may need to go up to the top and then work our way down.  A very confusing process, so mostly I smile and nod. 

In any case, we won´t be back to Casma probably for a few days, so don´t be surprised if there´s no more news about us for a while.  I feel confident in JK and M and trust them completely.  They have good judgment and know what they are doing. The only thing they have said is that our group has the most work of any of the four and will need to travel the most yet we have only three people.  It´s nice of them to count me in as an able body, even though I AM only an English Professora.  I hope I will get the hang of what I need to do quickly, as they will obviously actually NEED my help.  I will be assembling antenae for the radios, I think.  These will be installed on rooftops.  And I will be in charge of getting donation agreements signed and also of distributing volleyballs and soccer balls to the villages.

Well, this is a long post.  I´m terribly sorry if this stuff is boring to my regular readers.  I gave this blog address to all my family and friends and some of the students and other participants´significant others are coming here for news, too.  I guess it´s a good place to record what happened on the trip, as well.  And I hope ¨Gandalf¨has had a chance to look into this crystal ball and see how his crew is doing.  When last I saw everyone, we were all fine.  Folks are taking good care of themselves and each other.  We are eager to get our work done and optimistic about accomplishing many things (maybe not everything we set out to do, but much will get done, in any case).

I miss my family, but I am doing really well.  I feel comfortable and safe.  I am excited to see the mountains!  Let´s hope we are able to get to where we´d like to go and make some difference in the lives of these good people.  I will write next chance I get — maybe not for four or five days, maybe three?  Who knows?  Life´s an adventure.

 ¡Hasta luego!

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4 Responses

  1. Congratulations on the Spanish conversations. I was trying to translate what you were saying while I read here. I did OK I guess. It’s much easier to read than to translate when a native speaker is talking, I’m sure. I had three years of Spanish in High School and two Spanish courses in College.

    By the way, I’m halfway through The Hobbit and am really getting into the story.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I’m looking foward to reading more post. Let Dane know that if he needs anything he can contact Jeff and I.

  3. So like The Hobbit, yet, there are parts that remind me of the Discworld novels, too. Do you remember me telling you about Carrot Ironfoundersson, the six-and-a-half-foot man who was raised as a dwarf? This is like his journey to Ankh-Morpork, where he learns what it is like to be a person, instead of a dwarf, only in reverse, of course. You, Una Professora Ingles, are going up into the mountains to learn how to be a dwarf.

    Carrot takes to it like a fish to water, although it is disorienting, at first. And he finds out that he is the rightful king of Ankh-Morpork, too, but he hides this fact. So if you find yourself the rightful lost queen of the Inca peoples, please resist the urge to rule the Peruvian highlands.

    Oh, and thanks for the offer, Kelly. You guys are the best.

  4. Hi everybody and thanks for the comments. I doubt seriously that I shall rule anybody here 🙂 But I am enjoying myself despite being pretty obviously out of place. Ciao! (which is what they say here instead of adios!)

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