Church Year Begins with … Bagpipes?

Our church does not hold regular services during the summer.  It’s not that we completely shut down — there are still some informal services held in the air-conditioned common room, but the regular ones in the sanctuary stop for three months.  Then we start up again, the Sunday after Labor Day weekend.  And, weather permitting, we hold that service outside on the green.  Our minister says the same thing every year: “I’m not ready to be back inside yet!”

Well, this year, we had an excellent reason to be outside for the first formal service of the church year.  Bagpipes.  Yup a corps of nine bagpipe guys played for us.  Turns out this group was first formed in 1964 when the then minister of our church (can’t recall his name) asked the “men of the church to form a band.”  They thought about a banjo band at first but could not find anyone to teach them to play that instrument.  So they turned to bagpipes!

Over the years the group lost all association with our church, and now not a single person in the ensemble is a member.  The award-winning group lives on, though, and last week we had the pleasure of listening to them play…outdoors…on the lawn.  It was a windy day, in fact, the day after the remnants of hurricane Hanna passed through New England. I honestly didn’t think we’d be outside that morning, but when I saw the bagpipers, I understood the particular need.  Bagpipes are pretty loud.  Cool.  But loud.  Really strange instruments, I think.

Here’s an odd tidbit.  I always find myself humming the drone note when I listen to bagpipe music–you know, the note that stays the same throughout the whole song.  Why is that?  How weird of me!  But I do it every time.  It’s like I get dragged into the song, riding along on that plodding underlying tone.

Anyway, when the band played “Amazing Grace,”  we stood and listened in honor of our fellow UU’s in Knoxville, Tennessee, who were killed and injured by the lone gunman who entered their church and began shooting during a children’s performance this summer. The music was incredibly moving. All the more poignant as we could look off to the sides of the town green where our church is located and see our children running and playing during the service, climbing a lovely ancient mulberry tree–their perennial favorite.

Many of us brought water from our summer travels and dropped some into a common bowl.  We will use this (later sterilized, of course) for child dedications throughout the year.  I brought water back from Sweden and Norway especially for this purpose and was happy to add my drops to the pool.  And I was happy to be back in my beloved community.  It is good to be together.  I am ready to go back inside.

Dear Grandma…

Dear Grandma,

I miss you.  Lately these flashes of memories keep intruding on my day.

Your laugh.  You looked so regal, so classy.  But your laugh was down home, real folk, spilling out of you whenever the smallest opportunity for mirth arose.  How much we laughed, working on your book, our book.  Every Sunday night when I called you on the phone, we inevitably found our way into a laughing fit.  Such simple things, too. Silly, really.  But you and I, fifty years apart, found so much to chuckle over.  No cynicism in you.  Honest and kind good humor.

I miss you.

Your reassurance.  When I sometimes had not had a chance to work on the book that week and we spoke on Sunday, I knew you were disappointed, but you always said such kind words. You knew I had other responsibilities. You never pressured.  You had faith in me to carry on after you were gone.  And I feel so bad that sabbatical is over and the book is still not finished.  I’m sorry, Grandma.  I’m still working on it. I thought I’d get farther.  Of course, I traveled a lot to research the book settings and stories.  And that was a jolly good thing I did since I found so much usable information that the book is being transformed into a much fuller account.  You’d hardly recognize chapter one anymore, Grandma.  Did you know that Grandpa Skaug’s mom was illegitimate?  Did you know your Dad’s relatives were soldiers back in Sweden?  Did you ever hear about the shipwreck at Kløkstad, Norway?  Did you know our famiiy church was built in 1240 and is still standing?  Did you know that the sea off the coast of Bodø can be as still as a pond and turn savage within minutes? Did you know in Sweden they had a big stick in church to poke people with when they fell asleep during the sermon?  No, you never knew these things.

I miss you. Lately all I want, suddenly, is write your story.

But timing is everything.  I know you’d say now that I ought not to be too hard on myself.  That I have to work and take care of my family.  You’d never begrudge me that.  I was thinking only the other day about the story you told me of when my mother was a baby and Grandpa wanted to go to a movie (always go go going, that Grandpa).  So you swooped up the baby in a blanket and got your coat.  In the theater, you wondered what was poking you, only to find the coat hanger still inside the coat you were wearing.  I understand such exhaustion. I know it’s okay with you that this project is taking a while longer than anticipated.  After all, we moved at a snail’s pace, and I asked you if you wanted me to speed up.  You said, “Do it right!  It’s more important for it to be good and to be read than for me to see it finished.” So you died without seeing it.  And here I am pluggin along over two years later. Still.  I’m sorry, Grandma.

I miss you.

Tracing my Family’s Roots: My Trip to the Old Country

Did I mention I’m going to Sweden and Norway in less than three weeks to find my roots?

Yeh, well, I am. I’ve been planning the trip for months — it’s meant to help fill in the gaps in Grandma’s first chapter: “The Old Country.” I’m very excited about going and have been working frantically the last couple of days to finalize details that I had not taken care of earlier. My friend, W., is going with me, lor’ bless her!

Anyway, when we are there, I will be meeting my long-lost cousins in Sweden. Actually, they are not lost, technically speaking, since it was MY branch of the family that left the homeland! I contacted them via email as soon as I met a distant cousin for the first time and discovered that she had tracked down these good people. Nobody in my grandmother’s family knew of them or how to reach them, so this is really exciting.

These cousins made a reservation for us at a local hotel in their little town. I don’t know the hotel name, but I’ve been searching the internet for lots of other info and found what I think is the hotel. I used that wacky translator feature on google to read the website and LOL! That translator creates some funny phrases. Here are some to make you smile:

Under “Rooms” we find the following:

We have 31 rooms that can take up to 66 people, the hotel is newly renovated 2005, so the rooms are fresh.
But for us is not fresh rooms and comfortable beds enough …

When you live with us, you have access to broadband and lånedator, we have also kettles, coffee, tea, mineral water and a chokladbit in rooms which are part of our guests when they arrive. These things are natural to us that they will be available for your välfinnande.

Under “Activities” we find the following:

Take the opportunity to dream up something that förgyller time for us to the edge.
We have many activities to choose from that fit old as the young, boy or girl, CEO or employee.
Put the head in place through a variety of 5 or 10 – or struggles rid catch up in Iceland in a beautiful environment

We can offer different packages for your conference or kick-off.

  • Wine tasting
  • Whisky tastings (Single Malt)
  • Golftävlingar, greenfree or putting contests
  • Canoe trip on nossan with food in the open
  • Segelflygning if weather permits
  • Different 5 or 10 struggles
  • Vikingafest with contemporary get-up and grisbuffé
  • Blombindning
  • Pausgympa, learn how to streamline your work
  • Various speakers
  • Fishing trips on Sämsjön
  • Riding on Icelandic natural beauty
  • Crosscart
  • Bowling
  • Different bus with cultural and historical elements such as in Arn’s footsteps
  • Health on the farm and see how milk comes into existence.

Wrapping Up the Road Trip: ¡Adios, Peru!

Well, it´s been a pretty long two weeks, but as always happens, the end sneaks up on ya and it´s hard to believe it is almost over!  Tomorrow we leave Huarmey for Lima on the 11 a.m. bus.  We get to the airport early, rent lockers for our bags, and then take off on a whirlwind shopping hour in a great marketplace in the Mira Flores neighborhood of Lima.  Back to the airport to check in and fly out at nearly midnight.  Red-eye flight puts us into Newark, NJ in the morning, where we go through customs and get on our flights home to Boston (and Chicago, for our student from another univ.)  Unless customs takes too long and then we miss our connection…. In which place, I guess we´ll be calling our rides. 🙂

Right now we are all trying to do inventory here in Huarmey to make sure we know what equipment we have in stock for the next group coming in June.  I have been going around town with M., buying bus tickets, arranging rides from the hotel to the bus station, etc.  Tonight we go to the beach for a short little R & R time together at the end of our time together. Therefore, this shall be my last post from Peru! (Though you can bet I´ll be writing more after I get back since I´ve been keeping notes on things to write about later.)

Our last jaunt up into the mountains was very interesting and quite a bit different from other valleys and mountain areas group 1 has visited so far.  The Culebras Valley, where we went the last two days, is agricultural (asparagus, avocado, mango) and very poor.  I got to see where group 2 and 3  had been staying in Laguna, and it was pretty basic.  No toilets, only an outhouse, limited water, very hot, rocky and dusty.  Looked pretty uncomfortable, but the folks who had been there for a week were in good spirits.

We mixed up the groups a little for this last part of the trip.  I left M and JK and joined the other Peruvian Grad student, R, and one of his undergrads, K.  A different undergrad, S., and the history prof. joined JK and M. They went up to Raypa to move the radio from the old to the new posta there.  We stayed in Quian at the posta there.  Interesting dining place there … a private person´s kitchen hut with kitchen on one side and dining room on the other.  They serve food to the miners (for gold) in the area and to gringos passing through!  The food is pretty good.  David, the Quian Posta staffer used to own a restaurant and loves to cook.  The kitchen is pretty filthy, though.  And then there´s the constant squealing of the cuy (i.e., guinea pigs) who scamper around in the kitchen.  There are maybe forty that live there.  Oh, and the chickens that sometimes jump on the table.  And let´s not forget the flea-bitten dogs that sleep and/or beg under the table.  I think that´s it, but maybe I´ve forgotten another critter that I can edit in later 🙂

The night we stayed in Quian, R and KO and I went door to door to get the community excited about building a fence around the biodigestor.  R was a good ambassador for the project.  In our company was the mover and shaker of the village, Paco (aka Paquito).  I kept thinking that this is like a barn-raising.  Every family contributes some labor and/or materials.  Only we were doing a fence-raising! the fence was necessary, by the way, because the kids have been playing on the biodigestor (which was not yet operational at that time).  The structure is very large and made of metal and cement (whereas the biodigestor made by the undergads in Laguna is smaller and cheaper to construct, made of flexible plastic in an adobe-lined trench, etc.)  Anyway, it seems like the kids are always using our projects as jungle-gyms.  I can´t blame them, but yikes!  In the case of Quian, it was clear that we needed to keep the kids out now because it will be operational and will thus be producing methane gase!

So, after our door-to-door beggin, the next morning, by golly, those folks came to the site and poles appeared and we constructed a beautiful chain-link fence around the biodigestor.  Then they started on building the roof and were continuing to finish the project when KO and I left that afternoon.  R. stayed on to see it to completion.  Good guy.  We call R the ¨Energizer Bunny¨ because he is always going, going.  Thank goodness we have folks like that on the trip.

We completed a number of projects along the road back to Huarmey, arrived right before 9 p.m. last night at Hotel Paraiso again.  I´m tuckered out but feel good.  Think I´ll wrap up the wrap up with a couple of random thoughts and observations….

This morning at breakfast JK and I were at the Jugeria (juice bar) and all of a sudden we hear the theme song from Bonanza coming from the stall behind us, where they had a television on.  I went over and watched for a minute.  It was the episode when the bad guys break some poor guy´s guitar.  Hos and bros. make the bad guys pay money to buy a new guitar.  ¨¿Es todo?¨says Hos.  ¨Si, Hos,¨ says the sullen bad guy who had just flung some money into Hos´s hat.  Somehow that show worked just fine for me in Spanish.

While waiting for JK and M to finish the very last install in the very last village (Quiapampa), history prof, KO, and S started a pick up game of volleyball with some local kids.  It was  sheer delight to watch.  Those little Peruvian girls are REALLY good players!  It´s so terrific that my son´s school was able to donate balls to so many villages.  They really appreciated the gift, I know.

A couple of days ago, we stopped in the posta at a little town on the way into the Culebra valley, Molino.  After checking to make sure all is well, we intereviewed Anna, the worker there, about how the radios have helped save lives.  She gave us a lot of terrific stories, all on tape, thank goodness!  Then I gave her my volleyball kit and my little speech that I always say.  Muchas gracias.  De Nada.  Then right before I left, she tugged on my hand and put a bracelet on my wrist, a gift of thanks.  Makes me choke up just thinking of it.

I am so grateful to have been able to come on this trip.  What a privilege to be here and to be made so welcome.  And now, adios, Peru.  Whether it be hasta luego (see you later) or hasta nunca (see you never more), I hold in my heart all you gave me. 


City of Eternal Sun: Casma Post-Mountain Excursion

It has been raining in the mountains.  It started the day we arrived in Peru, sadly. That means the mountain region, above about 7,000 feet in elevation, is relatively unaccessible for the rest of the trip, unless we decide to rent donkeys to take us and our equipment up the dirt roads in the drizzle for several hours to try to do some installations of equipment up there.  Since another group will return to Peru in June when the rains will have stopped, we decided to concentrate more on lower elevations.  Thus I find myself back in Casma once more.

Anyway, I´m getting ahead of myself…. We left the city of Casma, nicknamed city of eternal sun because it rains here less than one inch per year, on Monday for the mountains, as I said in my last post.  The Casma hospital truck, driven by Lolo, took seven of us (group 1 and 2) up a rugged dirt road to our new homebase, Quillo.  The truck seats maybe five but certainly not seven.  Ah, my poor back, with the window handle digging into it all the way up the bumpy road.  Ah, but we ALL suffered during that hot, uncomfortable ride.  It´s par for the course! Along the way, we stopped at three villages to see what help they might need later and to make a tentative appointment.  In Huanchuy, one of those towns, I made friends with a little girl who was thrilled to have her photo taken on my digital camera.  She would burst into gleeful giggles whenever I showed her the photo I just took.  Must have seemed like magic to her. When I get home, I´ll be uploading some photos to show you. I discovered that taking photos of niños is a great way into conversation with moms!  They like to see the photos of their kids, and then I pull out my printed photo of my son to show them ¨mi hijo¨and we have a nice chat. That´s usually when I also pull out the soccerballs and volleyballs for the town´s school children.  They are always so happy 🙂  Anyway, we were glad the trip to Quillo was broken up by a few stops — yikes, what a drive! 

We were told by one of the personnel at the medical posta in Quillo that that is the poorest city in Peru. Of course, there are pueblitos (small villages that are poorer, but as far as cities go, Quillo is pretty poverty-stricken). At Quillo, we slept in a storage room at the posta, and it was great to be able to stay in one place for a few nights.  I used my mosquito net for the first time, though we only saw one mosquito!  I liked sleeping in my little net tent, though.  Very comfortable with a Permarest inflatable mattress and sleeping bag inside the net, even though I was sleeping on the cement floor. Chilly up there at almost 4,000 feet. I was glad I had packed some warm clothes.

In Quillo, we made friends with several people, including our driver for the next few days, Antonio (goes by Tonio); the director, Elizabeth; a dentist named Monica (whose grandfather was Italian); Max, a dispatcher; and Lily, a nutritionist. Our first night we fixed a problem with Quillo´s radio, so that was a good start.  They are on the electric grid there, but they also have blackouts sometimes and there was one when we were there.  The solar system is a good back-up for them, especially because Quillo serves many surrounding communities and is a big posta. Our first night we met two Quechua women from mountain villages who had come down to Quillo.  One of the women had brought her son, who had cut off his toe in a machete accident.  And the other had brought in her husband, not sure for what.  Quillo is a very important posta for thousands of people.

The next day, Tonio drove us down to Yanacaca, where we had several projects to complete: checking on the water tower we had built there a year ago but that was not entirely structurally sound, testing water as a part of M.´s project, and measuring for a possible bridge where the road crosses a river (swollen with raging water once the rains start and thus not passable via car) — the undergrad´s project. We also discovered once we were there that the water pump was not working for the tower, and the faucet had been taken.  The water tower was basically being used as a jungle-gym by the kids, and the water, when there was any flowing directly out of the pipe, was a fun thing for kids to play with.  Hmmm.  Service learning gone awry…?  We hope to go back to Yanacaca at the end of the trip with JK´s husband to see if we can fix the pump problem, since JK and M. could not figure out what was wrong. Maybe we can get to the bottom of why the system is not being used….

The undergrads, meanwhile, took a ton of measurements for a possible bridge at the bend in the road.  I got to help measure altitude at three points (distance from the water to the road, straight up!)  It felt good to have an idea of how to do it and have that idea accepted.  Who woulda thunk an English prof could figure out such a thing?!  Clearly the people of Yanacaca could use a bridge for trucks to reach their village.  Right now all they have is a footbridge consisting of a log that is far too skinny in the middle, and a handrail that juts far too far away from the log in the middle as well to b of much use.  Most of us were very uncomfortable going over the log bridge, but we did it anyway. I was proud of us all!

We had lunch up at the top of the road in a little town that has a restaurant.  Jorge, Yanacaca´s mayor (sorta) escorted us — it was his family´s cafe.  After lunch, R. did a pesticide use survey with Jorge, so that was helpful, too. A graduate student in the US wants to try to see if he can help Peruvian farmers to use fewer pesticides. While in Yanacaca we were told that the government is going to build a footbridge over the river and they had already collected soil samples and done an analysis.  We were promised a copy, but never got it.  The undegrads decided to trust that they would get that info.  Now I don´t know what they will do, as we left without taking our own samples.  Interesting.

Since we finished all of the tasks that we COULD do in Yanancaca, the undergrads and R. (group 2) decided to leave the next day (Wed.) to try to get to another valley where they might be installing a biodigster project.  They caught a ride from a station wagon in the central square of Quillo, and headed for Casma and Huarmey.  Two days later when we were working at another posta, we actually heard R. on the police station´s radio in Huarmey (we had discovered that it had a problem, but were unable to fix it earlier).  So anyway, we know they arrived safely in Huarmey.

The night we got back from Yanacaca, by the way, I did an interview with Elizabeth, the Obstetrician at the posta in Quillan, asking her how the radios have helped them. I am clearly not a great film-maker, but I am trying my best to get some usable stuff on tape.  Anyway, I waited two hours for the 10-min. interview, and that´s when I got to know Lily.  She was reading a book in the waiting room!  So I asked R. to ask her what she was reading.  It was so nice to find someone who appreciates literature like that.  We had such a lovely converation.  I told her about my grandma´s book, and she said I must translate it into Spanish so she can read it. It was so nice to see someone here so interested in MY work.  I do feel a like a fish out of water, and this conversation reminded me of why I love what I do!

The day that group 2 left, we went to Huacuy (¨central,¨ as opposed to ¨alto,¨ which is at 9,000 ft.)  Huacuy is pronounced wah-koo-ee.  Tonio, Quillo´s posta ambulance driver, took us in his ambulance, which is a 4 x 4 with a large back for equipment.  Good transport.  The road to Huanchuy was the worst we´ve been on and it was pretty misty in the mountains, but we were in good hands with Tonio at the wheel.  At the posta, we met Alfonso (goes by Fonso), the Obstetrician at Huacuy.  He was VERY friendly and kept talking to me despite my obvious lack of understanding.  But he took me on a tour of the residence next door and the entire clinic.  I was surprised to see such a nice posta so high up, but later I found out this is not common.  Huacuy does function as a central place for several villages. We installed a solar system and radio.  I got to help strip wires. Very cool!  When we left, Fonso insisted on my giving him my email address.  He said we must be penpals.  I laughed because I kept saying I can´t speak Spanish. He said, No importanto!  That ought to be interesting.

The next day, we left Quillo with Tonio, who brought us down to Casma, via three villages where we stopped to fix or install systems: Huanchuy needed help with their microphone on their radio, El Olivar needed a radio and antennae installed(they have electricity), and Buena Vista´s radio wasn´t working right but turned out to be an easy fix. El Olivar was a pretty cool installation becasue we raised a 17 meter bamboo pole with the antennae on it. I did get that on tape. I hung around a lot and played with the kids, who were so totally psyched about the balls.  One girl, about eleven years old had the hugest smile on her face and was playing with the volleyball.  So sweet!

At last we arrived back in Casma last night (Friday) and were thrilled to enjoy a cold shower and bed.  Yeehaw!  It´s all about perspective.  🙂  We had Chinese food last night — pretty good! Today I took a rest day here at the hotel while JK and M did a couple of quick installs in nearby towns. Where are we off to next?  Huarmey, I think….  We are hoping to rejoin some of our friends in another valley and help them with their projects to free up JK´s husband to come back to Yanacaca with us at the end of the trip and figure out that pump problem.  Ah, but if there´s anything I´ve learned it is that nothing is set in stone here.  Whatever plans you make are always tentative.  Once one accepts this, it´s no big deal.

As for me, I feel a good deal better for today´s respite.  It´s been a challenging trip in many ways, but I have not regretted coming for one minute, even when times have been pretty tough.  As Sarah Orne Jewett once wrote: ¨You are growing when you feel most hindered.¨ 

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?¨


¨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!

Pan American Highway: Lima to Huarmey

We left Lima on the four o´clock bus to Huarmey, traveling on the Pan American highway for most of the trip.  That road follows the length of South America and  goes up into the United  States  as well.  I remember hearing about it when I was a kid, but I don´t know where in the U.S. the Pan American Highway goes.  I´ll have to learn more about that later.

Anyway, it took over an hour just to get out of Lima.  I´m going to call that bus ride one of the three most ëxciting¨rides of my life…. It is very dry on the coast; in fact, it´s a desert with sand dunes.  One stretch of the highway cuts right through these huge dunes.  I have no idea how they build and maintain such a road.  Why doesn´t it slide down the mountain??  The driver was going so fast and passing ¨slow¨trucks on this relatively narrow road.  Hay carumba! But we made it to our destination alright in the end.  The view of the Pacific Ocean was stunning —  as long as you didn´t look down to see the sharply angled  slope of sand upon which the road was resting … oh, and no guard rails, of course.  🙂

Every so often the bus pulled into a little town or city and stopped to take on or let off passengers.  Vendors buzzed around the outside of the bus whenever it stopped, selling cold drinks, food, and other items. It was a little hard to watch the children trying to make money in this way, but I understand that this is reality for them.  But the  kids here get to me — I keep thinking of my own child and wondering how different life would be for us if we were poor. How very lucky we are!

We arrived in Huarmey (which is sort of our project´s homebase)  around 10 p.m. and piled our bags on the sidewalk at the bus depot.  Two children were watching us, and they asked me what were doing.  At first I answered that I didn´t speak Spanish, but then I tried anyway.  I told them we were going to the mountain villages.  They looked very surprised to see us and all of our gear.

Huarmey is a smallish place.  No big taxis or vans to help us carry our bags.  We took about nine tiny taxis instead.  These taxis are three wheeled and look sort of like a giant tricycle with a back seat enclosed in a pliable plastic box.  We had a LOT of gear to bring to the Parish house before we could do anything else.  After we left our equipment with Father Ruly of the parish, then we carried our personal bags to the hotel Paraiso.

Our hotel here is smaller than the one in Lima, a little less comfortable and clean but still not bad, I think.  We had a short group meeting after we all got our rooms, and then a group of folks went out to try to find some supper.  (That was about 10:30 p.m.) Some of us, however, were too wiped out and stayed behind to go to sleep.  I was one of those who stayed behind. I decided to forego using the elctric heater for the shower water.  Yes, you read that right!  You turn on the water first and then with your dry hand you flip on the electricity. I thought, ¨Hey, I don´t really need hot water to get clean…¨ So I enjoyed a bracing cold shower before bed.  Refreshing. 🙂

This morning we ate  desayuno (breakfast) at the jugueria (juice bar) in the marketplace.  I ordered jugo de piña, mango, y platano  (pineapple, mango, and banana juice) and pan con pollo (a white roll with shredded boiled chicken meat).  All deliciosa!  The señora told us to come back tomoprrow. Nice.

After breakfast I tagged along with M. (the Peruvian grad student) and we went to the hospital to see about whether they can help us with transportation into the mountains.  The hostipal is on strike, but they are still going to be able to help.  Whew!  I also met a man, Antonio,  who runs a technology center for kids from the mountains.  I had brought a digital camera to donate to his center.  The camera was a gift from my son´s school.  I have to say, Antonio was SO HAPPY!!  He saw iummediately all the uses for this gift and was very appreciative.  The kids are on summer break right now, but before they return in March, he will take some photos and send them to my son´s school.

I´ve got to sign off now.  I do not know where we will be in the next few days since transportation is still not all set.  We have about half of what we need (in trucks) and are still working to get the rest.  Maybe we will take local buses to some places…  Meanwhile, the crew is working hard to repàck our equipment for each team to make sure they have what they need.

 So, for now, adios!

Headed to Peru in 5 hours: Please Stay Tuned!

Yes, I should be sleeping, but I’m writing instead. Just a quick post to say I’m headed down to Peru tomorrow. I am told that we will have access to internet maybe three or four times in the coming seventeen days, so I hope to post a few times before I return on Jan. 20.

Meanwhile, my family and I have almost finished reading The Hobbit, and I had to laugh (with the relevance once more of this good book) when we got to this part near the end:

“It was a terrible battle. The most dreadful of all Bilbo’s experiences, and the one which at the time he hated the most — which is to say it was the one he was most proud of, and most fond of recalling long afterwards, although he was quite unimportant in it.”

And isn’t that the truth? The times that are most challenging to us and most scary are the times we end up looking back on with pride in our accomplishment. When I think of the some of the most difficult times I’ve faced in my life — selling books door-to-door one summer in college, studying abroad in England, going for my PhD, giving birth to and raising a child, moving 3,000 miles away to New England where we knew nobody to start a job as a professor, and traveling 10,000 miles by car across America with my son this past summer — yes, it is these times, and more like them, that I look on with the highest sense of accomplishment.

And like Bilbo, I’m sure that the part I will play in this “battle” is pretty minimal. I will be there to keep an eye on the engineers, and I’m sure I’ll wish I had “Gandalf” around to conjure a spell from time to time. But other than observing, recording, and asking a lot of questions, I suspect I’ll give relatively little and gain much from what is to come.

I wish all of the Project participants in our “expedition” a great service-learning experience full of challenges overcome and expectations exceeded, with a heaping spoonful of good cheer and companionship and a deep sense of fulfillment for a job well done. May we all feel proud of ourselves when we come home again at the journey’s end.

And along the way, my friends, please stop by from time to time and see what news I am able to send your way!

“…there will be rats, too…”: Another Peru Trip Update

“I recommend you get some mosquito netting,” says a veteran Peru-goer in our group. Eleven of us were sitting around the table in Engineering 407, pizza boxes lining the center of the table, calling to me to abandon Weight Watchers in favor of a slice… ah, but I digress.

“Yeh, mosquito nets are good,” pipes up another. “And, well, they can be helpful in other ways … because, … well, … there will be rats, too. The nets seem to help keep them at bay somewhat.”

I was glad that I took a pass on the pizza, as my stomach did a flip at the mention of rats crawling all over us at night. Then it got worse.

“Remember, PPPPPPP, and how he got eaten alive by fleas? Those fleas just seemed to LOVE him! None of us got bitten. Just him. There were less than a hundred-fifty bites, though. Ha, Ha.”

“Yeh, WWWWW also got bit all over her legs. They both had to get injections at the Posta, they were so swollen up with the bites. But what do you expect, walking through the plantation wearing shorts?”

The veteran speaker turned to me and looked me in the eye. “Wear only long sleeves and long pants. And a big hat.”

Next agenda item, the issue of money and how the project funds will be distributed among all of us so as to prevent us from being totally cleaned out if the project director is robbed.

“Has anyone BEEN robbed?” I squeak.

“Well, nooooo…. I mean … not while on project business. My wife and I were robbed once in Lima, but we were being touristas at the time.” The conversation continued, but I couldn’t help wondering what he meant by “robbed.” It could just mean stuff was stolen from their hotel room or something. Stupid me, I had to ask…

“By ‘robbed’ do you mean merely money was taken or you were ‘mugged’?”

“Pushed to the ground with a knife held to my stomach, patted down. They took all our money … oh, and my watch, which was only worth five dollars! But they didn’t take our passports.”

Conversation continues nonchalantly and discussion turns to our traveling in the rainy season. Turns out for this part of the Andes, “rainy season” means drizzle season. Sounds like San Francisco to me. Heck, I used to live in the City. No problem. Foggy drizzle doesn’t bug me. Then someone mentions how IF it really rains, we will be worrying more about surviving than keeping our gear dry. Thus commenced the story of how Yungay was completely wiped out in 1970 by flooding that swept through their valley, burying 18,000 people alive. I look on the list of where the small groups are going. Yungay (?) is listed on my group’s itinerary. We aren’t sure yet whether we will make a stop there.

But the good news is, I am told, such flooding hardly ever happens, and if there were a danger of a disaster, we’d know about it because there’d be an uncharacteristic amount of rain. “Yeh, and the locals always tell us whether to go up the mountain or not,” piped in the veteran Peru-goer’s wife (who herself has been to Peru even more than her spouse). “I remember so-and-so walked out of her house and looked up at the mountain and said, ‘yes, you can go to XXX today. It’s okay. But leave soon.’ She could tell just by looking at the sky that it was safe.”

I didn’t ask why those 18,000 people didn’t look at the sky.

Anyway, I’m still going to Peru.

The good news is that mosquito/rat netting is readily available. DEET bug spray and long-sleeved shirts and pants and readily available. Malaria and altitude sickness pills are readily available, as are Hepatitus B and Yellow Fever vaccines, a tetanus booster, Cipro, Immodium, and sunscreen. Water purification systems are also readily available, and I can eat nothing but cooked foods and Cliff bars for 16 days.

And here’s the kicker…I will have one heck of a good story to tell afterwards.

My Grandma’s memoir would not be such a fantastic story if it didn’t have so much adversity in it. The overcoming of obstacles is what makes both an intereating and enjoyable story and a well-lived life. I signed up to go on this trip to make a difference by donating my time and talent to help others. And I signed up also because I wanted to make sure that I did not settle too comfortably into the life that years of hard work have created for me and my family.

For so long the goal was to earn a degree — first a BA, then MA, then Ph.D. — and then the goal was to find a job practicing my profession (no easy task in a field with a glut of over-qualified candidates and only a fifth of the needed jobs). Once I found that job in academe, the goal was to earn tenure. After six years of proving myself, I did that. Two years later, I am now looking at my life and wondering what next? Yes, to do my job and do it well. That’s very important — make no mistake. But where is my career headed other than teaching (which I love but which is only one part of a teacher-scholar’s life)? What new challenge lies ahead? Is exploring my creative non-fiction writing going to be a new focal point for me? Will my experiences this year deepen my love of literature and the analysis of literature?

And what will I learn from Peru?

How to avoid having rats crawl on me? How not to mind that rats are crawling on me? How to write about rats crawling on me? How to offer a fresh interpretation of great works of literature about rats crawling on other people? We shall see.

Bring it on. Rats and all, I’m going to Peru.

Peruvian music and the trip ahead

So that YouTube stuff is pretty cool… Yeh, I’m behind the curve — I never said I was a technogeek, just a lowly English professor. I’ve known about YouTube for a while, but finally had occasion to visit the site because, of all things, my son’s Spanish teacher gave the kids an assignment to go on-line and watch some videos with Peruvian music and dance. They are taking a fieldtrip this Friday to see some Peruivian and Flamenco music and dance in Cambridge, Mass. Their maestra wants them to get the most out of the experience, so the children need to prepare. Fun homework!

I was struck, in listening to the Andean music with my son, at how prominent the flute is. I wonder if there is a practical reason for this…like, for example, flutes can be hand-made and are very portable. I’ll have to look into this more. In any case, my son loved the music and got a real kick out of the colorful clothing of the Peruvians in the videos. He was even more intrigued by the pictures of Lake Titicaca (which he just likes saying the name of!) and the Nazca lines (loved the monkey the best of all).

I understand from the leader of the group I am joining for the January trek to Peru, that I will be in the team that is going to the most remote Andean villages with the most interesting clothing and traditional culture, etc. In fact, some of these villages have never been visited by a North American. Of course, the Amerindians in these remote villages are also known to be extremely shy, so I expect I will not be meeting many of these villagers up close and personal. I was told that in the past when the teams have come into towns like this, the women take to the hills. And I was told that it will make no difference that I am a woman. I am American first and foremost. They will not approach me. The children, however…. They cannot hold back their curiosity more than a few minutes.

YouTube has a lot of great videos of Peruvian music. Here’s one I enjoyed:

I don’t yet know how to get the video to actually appear on the site, but the link appears to work.