Bon Voyage: Another Crew Leaves for Peru

I just simply can’t believe it! Another Peru Crew is leaving this morning for Lima. How on earth the time passed so quickly since my own trip in January I can’t possibly tell you. But I wish the new crew all good luck.

Recently, when cleaning out my cell phone of old pixs, I came across this one that I took on the way down to South America:

I recall — so clearly as if it were an hour ago — the feelings of nervousness, eager anticipation, and fear that swirled inside me. I sat next to an undergrad student, K., who very kindly kept me good company on the long flight. And today I am going to K’s family’s house to celebrate her graduation. She earned the highest grade point average in civil engineering in her cadre of students and won a lovely award.

The Village Empowerment (Peru) Project seems to attract such high-quality students regularly. Perhaps being wicked smart leads one to be altruistic…. Do you think there’s any connection between intelligence and kindness? Obviously we can’t generalize too much. I’d be interested to hear what people think on this topic, though. 🙂

Counting Our Blessings

Yesterday I came upon a very fresh accident with a school bus and a munched car.  EMTs were on the scene attending to the injured (or worse).  I hurriedly told my son, who was in the back seat, to cover his eyes.  An awful sight, not for a ten-year-old.

I pass through this intersection at least four times a day.

It wasn’t me and my son in that munched car.

I had the stomach flu this week.  I rarely ever succumb to such bouts, so it is always a shock to me when I ACTUALLY throw up. (Now you know why I haven’t posted all week.)

But a person I know at church has stomach cancer and is only one step ahead of her disease, taking each new, experimental drug as it becomes available.  She’s a trail-blazer and a real trooper.

Me?  I just threw up a couple of times and then recovered a couple of days later.

Our yard is a mess and desperately needs some professional lawncare.  Spring is FINALLY here and the poor quality of our lawn is startlingly obvious as everyone else’s lawn is already getting pretty green, but ours remains patchy and gray or tan in many spots.  But we can’t afford to pay for services right now.

The village of Laguna in the Culebras Valley of Peru, though, has worse troubles.  The river flooded the whole town, wiping out not only all of the work that we did there in January (biodigestor, solar irrigation system) but also their very homes.  These people get by on less than a dollar or two a day.  They live in huts made of woven bamboo mats lashed to poles.  They have next to nothing and now they have even less.

So our lawns sucks.  Big whoop.

I’m counting my blessings today and they are abundant.

Herding Turkeys, Poultry SpeedBump, and Foul Traffic

After dropping off my son and his classmate at school today, I suddenly came upon a traffic jam on a back road. Morning traffic in New England is notoriously bad, but this particular spot puzzled me. It was well before the IRS complex and nowhere near Raytheon. What was the hold-up?

Earlier, when I was driving north on Interstate 495, I saw the poor suckers creeping along in the southbound lanes for miles. I just caught the tail end of a traffic report on the new radio station I listen to when the news on NPR is unsuitable for ten year olds in the backseat — accident at the intersection of 495 and the 3, cars backed up for several miles. I breezed by, heading the other direction but noted how long the slow down continued. On the way back from school, I thought, I definitely will not take the freeway.

So…there I was a half hour later, driving on a back road through the gray and brown landscape (most of our snow melted this weekend when torrential rains from the south stomped into New England). Then we came to a dead stop.

On my side of the two-lane road, there were only maybe a dozen cars stopped ahead, and I could see flashing lights in front of that. Oh, my, another accident, I thought. The folks in the other lane were not moving at all, but my predecessors kept slipping forward and escaping from the jam, so I rolled forward every few minutes. Finally, with only six cars before me, I saw the nature of the hold up. A turkey.

Not just any turkey, mind you, but the biggest turkey I have ever, ever, ever seen in my life. This gal was as big as a Saint Bernard!! Well, maybe not that big, but it really was huge. And the animal control guy was walking along patiently behind the thing with a loose, three-feet diameter net, trying to get close enough to toss it on the bird and thus remove it from rush hour traffic.

The turkey wove in and out of the immobile cars. The uniformed officer tailed him on foot, zig-zagging in a steady and persistent fashion. Since the turkey was moving in our direction, folks in our line were one by one being released from captivity. The poor commuters in the other lane were moving forward at a turkey’s pace … which is not all that fast.

In a split second I had a decision to make. As soon as I saw what was happening, it occurred to me that someone should help the animal control guy to herd the turkey into a tight spot so she could be captured. I thought to myself, I am your gal, mister! And I began to pull over.

Then it hit me. This guy doesn’t want some lay person interfering and maybe getting run over by errant cars or worse, freaking out the turkey. My offer of help would not be appreciated … or accepted. So I straightened the car out and watched the show instead. It was quite a sight to observe this magnificent creature and her ability to stop us all in our tracks.

Two random facts spring to mind now that I am here writing about this insignificant little event. First, I am reminded of how Grandma, when she lived in Opheim, Montana, used to herd the family’s turkeys. She would sit outdoors with them and play a concertina (kinda like a little accordion) to pass the time. She said they had no grain to feed them, so the poultry ate the locusts who had devoured the remnants of their withered crops.

Second, I recall a speed-bump in a little village in Peru. We wondered why there was such a thing on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. For the chickens, said a villager. Ah. So they don’t get run over when crossing the road. In America we just send out an animal control officer in a big van with a net to stop morning traffic. While Benjamin Franklin did not succeed in his campaign to name the turkey our national bird, one would almost think it were so by all the hulabaloo!

As for the turkey, I left her in the dust. It seemed to me that the animal control officer had met his match, but then again, as I was driving away, I heard another siren behind me in the distance. Perhaps another officer was on his way to assist in the rescue operation.

Too bad Grandma wasn’t there. She’d have done the job in a jiffy.

Hog in the Fog: A Huacuy Story of a Peruvian Pig

I was sorting through pixs from my trip to Peru today and came across this picture of a little pig:

Huacuy pig

We were in Huacuy Central that day, installing a vaccine fridge and replacing a broken radio in the medical clinic. It was very foggy up there at 7,000 feet, and I was a bit bummed that I had absolutely no view — as usual — of the mountains. (Serves me right for going during the rainy season, I guess!)

Anyway, I was taking a look around the village after the first hour had passed. Let’s face it, there wasn’t much I could do to help with this technical stuff — wiring a circuit breaker isn’t exactly my forte. So I decided to try and see what I could observe in the village. I was too timid about going far from the posta, though if this had been later in the trip, I would most certainly have been walking farther afield. In any case, I ventured out and took a few photos, but mostly there wasn’t much to see with the thick mist.

Then I heard a strange noise out there in the mist. You know how sound does weird things in the fog…? Well, I hear a low sort of grunting-whining sound coming from the village. What the heck is that?!

I stood still and waited. Then, right before the creature appeared, it dawned on me. Pig. That’s what makes that sound. And there he came, waddling along, heading straight for the ambulance truck that we had ridden up to Huacuy from neighboring Quillo. Upon arrival, he set to work rubbing every part of his itchy, black body on different parts of the truck. Satisfied, at last, he walked over to the posta.

Will he enter the clinic…? I held my breath. I’d seen dozens of dogs, cats, and even chickens go inside medical clinics in Peru. But this little guy had other plans and continued walking along the perimeter. I heard him out there in the fog and eventually followed the sound. There he was eating grass over by the septic “system.” YUMMO.

Today’s Students and Some Reflections on Service Learning

My colleague pointed out the video below to our English department in advance of our annual retreat (devoted to discussing our dept’s recent accreditation review and our future goals). Then today another colleague, “Gandalf” from the Peru Project, in fact, just forwarded it to me as well. So I figured it was time to share it with y’all. After you watch, I have posted some thoughts below about the message of this video and the goals and benefits of service-learning (the kind of teaching and learning that went on in our trip to Peru).

One of the things that struck me so powerfully about this video is how the students seem to be begging for relevance in their education, and I think service-learning fills this need in meaningful ways for most students.

What is service-learning?

Basically, s-l occurs when the skills/knowledge that students learn in class are put to use to serve the greater good of the community (however that is defined). In our case, engineering students design engineering projects (solar powered drip irrigation systems for an arid and cold climate, cheap biodigestors to produce methane cooking gas from animal and plant waste, etc.) and then they actually SERVE the Peruvian communities with which we partner by installing these actual systems. Learn through serving. Serve through learning.

Anyway, it seems to me that part of what this video above is telling us is that students need to feel their schoolwork matters, that what they are supposed to learn is important. (Can we blame them for that?) Service-learning has a way of helping students achieve just that feeling of satisfaction (whether they are installing water systems in Peru or writing grants for a local non-profit as a student intern). I have utilized s-l in my English class for over a decade and feel convinced that s-l (though taxing for teachers who must put in a lot of extra work to make sure the s-l experience goes well) is still one of the best ways for students to achieve deep understanding.

Odds and Ends: Various Interesting Queries Leading to My Site

From time to time, I see interesting search terms that people used to find my site, and I try to provide the needed information, however belatedly, for which those folks were searching. Here are three random queries of note:

(1) “Village Empowerment Project” donation

Ah! Is this a query about HOW to donate? If so, please go to the website of the Village Empowerment Project and contact John Duffy, the Director of the program. He will let you know how to make a tax deductible donation to the Peru project. (And a worthy cause it is!) The project is run primarily through the generous donations of individuals. Talk about a big bang for the buck — about $200 buys a transceiver radio which can save dozens of lives in these rural outposts and about $300 buys a vaccine fridge that can protect hundreds of children from deadly diseases. Now that’s a bargain! 🙂

(2) Time of the day Peruvians eat breakfast

As in my post of two days ago, the answer is “depende.” Those who work in the fields or mines, eat breakfast according to the needs of their work schedule — early, undoubtedly. My impression is that they have a light breakfast of coffee and a roll before heading to work as early as 6 a.m. Then they take a longer break for lunch and enjoy a big meal (starting anywhere from noon to 3 or so and lasting at least an hour usually). We ate breakfast anywhere from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and when we ate in restaurants, there were others around at that time, though never huge crowds. But maybe there are never huge crowds in restaurants in that part of Peru anyway…? I imagine most of the working poor, though, eat early.

(3) recipe for malfattis

I mentioned a while back that my Aunt D’Vern (Grandma’s sister) used to make malfattis and bring them to family gatherings, but I did not provide the recipe at that point. These are so delicious that I must share our recipe now. Not sure how many Weight Watchers points these are (though if I were making these while on the program, I would lighten up the ingredients with low-fat ricotta, etc.) I have trouble figuring points out sometimes because so much depends on the number of servings per recipe, and family recipes do not usually include that detail…. Anyway, here is D’Vern’s malfattis recipe (and, yes, it is Italian food and she was of Scandinavian heritage):

1 pound of ricotta cheese
1 cup of french bread crumbs
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, grated fine
2 eggs
1 package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed
1 clove of garlic, minced
black pepper to taste

Drop by spoonfuls onto about 3/4 cup flour on cookie sheet and shape into little finger size rolls. Boil in salted water until they float, then drain in colander. Arrange in alternate layers in baking pan with extra thick meaty spaghetti sauce. Bake for about an hour at 350 degress (F) to mix flavors.

Looks like a simple recipe, huh? The mixing is simple, but the rolling into finger-sized bits take a while. Delicious, though. Now I may just need to make this recipe!!


On a side note, I hit a milestone of sorts for my blog this week. I have now had over 5,000 views of the site recorded since beginning on Sept 6. Not bad for a little experiment during my sabbatical. I am surprised by how much the blog has come to mean to me, though. And I suspect that I will be finding ways to use this technology when I return to teaching in Sept. of this year. Thanks to my readers for making this such a wonderful writing experience!

“what to get peruvian women as a gift”: Which Peru?

I just noticed that someone came to my site having searched: “what to get peruvian women as a gift.” A mere commodities search or something more philosophical? My first response is clean water, health care for their children, enough food to feed the family. But then it hit me: WHICH Peru did that person mean?

Since I’ve been back from my service trip to Peru, a great many people have mentioned that they or someone else has been to Peru, too. My repsonse is always, “Which Peru?” They look puzzled at first but soon are nodding along with me as I explain that I am asking about where they went because of the huge socio-economic range of that developing country’s inhabitants.

“Ah, yes, of course,” they say. “My Peru was lush and green, with interesting archaelogical sites. My Peru had some fabulous deals on pima cotton tee shirts and silverware. My Peru had some wonderful restaurants — did you try the ceviche?!”

Of course, that IS most definitely Peru. I can see it, having stolen a glimpse of that place for an hour and a half on the last night, when we snuck away from the airport to the Mira Flores neighborhood. We went shopping there, and I found some great deals. I bought a little silver ring that I wear every day to remind me of the trip. I bought each of my family members an alapacha hat. I found a llama stuffed animal for my son and a doll with a baby on her back. R., one of the Peruvian grad students, was our fabulous guide to Mira Flores. After shopping, we had just enough time left to take the “dulce tour de Lima,” i.e., we walked from sweets cart to sweets cart, sampling Peruvian treats. We strolled around the lovely Kennedy (as in JFK) Park and licked our fingers dripping with syrup and honey, listened to the band and watched the couples dancing, observed the ladies taking their cocky little Schnauzers for walks and the lovers smootching in the darker spots between the glowing street lamps.

That is Peru. Yes. But…

So is the Peru of Quian where R. also took us on an hour and a half tour in the twilight (I mentioned this earlier in the Jan. 18th post). In Mira Flores our goal was to shop for gifts to bring home. In Quian our goal was to convince the community, one family at a time, to each donate a big wooden post and some labor to build a fence around the biodigestor we built (but did not finish) in their village a couple of years ago. The children have been playing on the structure, and it is quite dangerous for them to do so. A fence is needed both to keep the children off the contraption and to hold up a roof from which we would be able to hang the methane bag (biodigestors convert animal and plant waste into methane gas for cooking and effluent for fertilizer).

Anyway, that night R. and a villager, Paco, led us from house to house. As we stumbled through the darness with one headlanp between us, dogs, so complacent during the day, barked and growled furiously at us in the night. People emerged slowly out of their houses, so slowly. Most shook hands with us, weakly as they do by custom in Peru. Their touch is so light as to hardly resemble a hand shake. The more common greeting is a hug and a kiss on one cheek. One woman we met that night in Quian was so sweet. She shook our hands weakly when introduced and then hesitated, finally going in for the hug and kiss. You could see her almost thinking, “Oh, what the heck. They may be gringos but I know the proper way to greet someone!”

That, too, is Peru. My Peru. Dusty roads and dirt floored houses. Little water and even less sanitation. Kind friends and generous hospitality. Great need and great hope.

Before we went on the trip, a group of us used to meet every week on campus for a Spanish immersion lunch. After a short time, we noticed that the grad student, M., always seemed to answer our questions with the word “depende.” It depends. Eventually, it became a big joke that M. was Señor Depende. When we arrived in Peru and throughout our trip, we often discussed how we could now understand a bit more about why M. always responded that way. OUR Peru seemed, by American standards, to be in a contant state of uncertainlty. Will we have transportation once we get there? Will transport, once secured, actually arrive at the time we arranged? Will the truck break down? Will that clinic where everything is supposed to be fine actually have some major problem with their system that we will need to fix on the fly? Will anyone want these student projects installed in their backyard — biodigestors and rocket stoves? Will the systems work if they ARE installed? Will villagers even use them if the systems DO function correctly? Who will maintain systems when we are gone? How can we keep kids from using our systems as playgrounds? Do we need to build them some playgrounds?!! It seemed like everything was up in the air: transportation, lodging, food and water — not to mention logistics about the engineering projects that we were in Peru to install.

Then one day whewn we were discussing how we thought of Peru as “depende,” R. took issue. He was reminding us that we were seeing only a small portion of Peru, and our experience was heavily influenced by the socio-economics of the places and people we visited and our mission to work directly with the poor. Of course, this made perfect sense, but it is only as I sit down to write this post that I see that R. was actually confirming our perception of Peru as land of depende. He was saying that everything depends on which Peru you visit!

So, what ought one to give Peruivan women as a gift? Clean water. A gold necklace. A composting toilet. Tickets to the opera. Job training. A shopping spree in Paris.


Final Word (Probably) on the Odd Congruities between The Hobbit and My Trip to Peru

My husband and I were reading The Hobbit to our son, as some of you may recall seeing in earlier posts where I pointed out several ways in which the book seemed relevant to me (as I prepared for my service trip to Peru). Well, we almost finished reading before I left — got through the climax at least — but still had Bilbo’s return home to read. As expected, said husband and son finished the book without me. Boo hoo! So when I returned, I read the final pages alone.

Bilbo, after being knocked out during the final battle and thus unable to help his friends, returns to consciousness when the battle is over. “He was now weary of his adventure. He was aching in his bones for the homeward journey. That, however, was a little delayed….” Ah, yes. After being out of commission for a while in Peru, having succumbed to all manner of intestinal bugs, I, too, was ready to go home (and felt as if I had been of little use to my friends on the last part of the trip, especially). As you may imagine, going home (when one begins that process in rural Peru) is a long, drawn out process which necessarily includes things like completing inventory of equipment left behind at home base, bringing the group together to reflect and feast at the beach, taking all manner of public transport to get to an international airport, flying several hours, passing customs in the US, transferring to another plane, and getting home from Logan International.

A weariness set in for both Bilbo and me. By the time Bilbo returned to Elrond’s house, he “had fallen quiet and drowsy” and slept exceedingly long. The elves, in fact, remark, “Tomorrow, perhaps, you will be cured of weariness.” This week since I came back, I have gone to bed uncharacteristically early, sometimes on the heels of my ten-year-old son at 8:30 p.m. I have also eaten with voraciousness, clearly making up for the lost calories of my starvation diet in Peru (not that the food didn’t look delicious — I just couldn’t eat anything). Yes, I am now fully rid of my intestinal bugs, thank goodness, and my appetite has returned with all manner of cravings. For someone who has been doing Weight Watchers since October, I am, understandably, cautious about wild abandonment when it comes to food. But honestly, I have decided that for this week alone, I just wouldn’t worry about what I ate. I felt that somehow I needed to feed my body and soul, and I wasn’t counting points along the way!

In the end, Bilbo returns to his home in disarray. This is where our paths diverge. I came home to the three things I asked my husband for in a desperate email from Casma one day: (1) clean bathrooms, (2) a clean, pettable dog, and (3) a few food items that I knew I could eat to get me back on track (Activia yogurt, instant chicken noodle soup, pasta, applesauce). My child did not fall apart upon my return, as he has sometimes done in the past (though we found out Friday that he had NOT done the work for his book report due that day … or a whole host of other in-class work in January!) Anyway, I am deeply grateful to my husband for holding down the fort while I was in Peru. He did a great job of juggling a huge number of tasks.

Back to Bilbo…. The book does say that Bilbo became a bit “queer” after he returned home — that “he took to writing poetry and visiting the elves,” in fact. And, of course, he began writing his memoirs, “There and Back Again.” AH! Yes, I can clearly see the impulse to write and process the trip as well as the love of poetry that emerges from a personal encounter with danger and deprivation. The yearning to listen to the elves’ beautiful music and enjoy their feasting and merriment makes perfect sense.

In Montessori education they discuss the Fundamental Needs of Human Beings. Yes, food and water, shelter and clothing, etc. But also religion, friendship, and art are fundamental. Without these latter things, we cease to be fully human. I have not fully fathomed my reaction to this trip to Peru yet. As someone suggested to me the other day, I am still “filing” things away in my brain. I do recognize in me a much stronger attraction to art in all shapes since I went away. I might even call this attraction a clear and pressing need. While I was in Peru, too, I found myself searching for the beauty and found much of it in that place, most often in the faces of the people, but elsewhere, too.

I leave you today with some of those beautiful faces…









A Few Peru Pixs

I only have a few minutes to post today but wanted to share some photos from my trip to Peru. Is a picture worth a thousand words…really!? Not sure about that old adage, but in any case, these’ll have to do for now! (These pixs are set up for on-line viewing and won’t come out well if you print them. I’d be happy to provide higher resolution pixs for project participants. Just email me!) Meanwhile, for the rest of y’all, here are some moments, randomly selected for viewing (click on thumbnail for larger photo to appear)…

Cuy (guinea pig) for dinner:

cuy (for) dinner

El Agustino neighborhood in Lima:

El Agustino neighborhood in Lima

Village of Huacuy Central:

Village of Huacuy Central

Pan American Highway:

Pan American Highway

Grocery store and cafe above Yanacaca:

grocery store and cafe

Village life…neighbors chatting:

village life neighbors chatting

More later on photos. I hope to get back into routine blogging soon. At last I am feeling more myself — only took a week:-) See you soon!

Home Again, Home Again

Top ten things I most love about being home after my 17 day trip to rural Peru…

(1) running water, i.e., plumbing
(2) a flushable toilet with toilet seat actually attached and that I can SIT ON!
(3) hot water from the tap that I can use to wash my hands without needing hand sanitizer afterwards
(4) hot shower with water that can accidentally slip into my mouth without me worrying about dying a painful death
(5) a clean and pettable doggie — no fleas or mange
(6) electric lights whenever I want to see something — no fumblling for my headlamp necessary!
(7) a fridge filled with food that makes my body healthy
(8) a car that I can get in and drive where I need to go when I need to go
(9) roads that are paved and have working traffic lights and other cars that mostly obey traffic rules
(10) a TERRIFIC HUSBAND AND SON waiting for me at the airport!!

Glad I went, but it’s great to be home, too! More later when I get settled back in.