A little over a month ago Roberto, our one-year old son Teo, and I left for Peru. Our mission had three parts. First was to visit our volunteers to assess the project, give feedback and suggestions, and discuss how best to continue as an organization. Second was to conduct interviews with several Peruvian organizations to find a suitable new partner. And third we had to pay our social visits to past friends who would be irate at the idea of us passing through Peru without making time for them.Our visit with the volunteers was the highlight of the trip. We were able to stay a full five days in the village of San Francisco (for longer than anywhere else we visited), meet the youth, the families, and share some fun times. The first day we arrived fairly late in the afternoon… just in time for a community kids class reviewing hygiene and nutrition. It was a lot of fun to see the kids in action recalling all they had learned.
James’ host family gave us a room with two straw beds. Although not the most comfortable, we were glad to have a room to ourselves, and a seperate place to put Teo’s bed (Pea Pod tents are great for travel!). Teo promptly woke us up each morning at 6am with a distinct “up please!”, and then we would head off to eat breakfast with one of the two host families. Carmen and Leoncio introduced us to the local sausage, made with pig intestines, blood, fat, and herbs. No meat is included. Roberto, Teo and I all tried it, but the strong sensation of biting into bacon-flavored sticks of butter kept us from eating very much. The rest of our meals were varied preparations of banana, rice and yuca, all of which were very delicious. Because the community has crops of coffee beans, we had a hot cup every morning. Although they also produce large amounts of cacao, the majority is exported, so we didn’t get to try the local hot chocolate.
The temperature steadily climbed throughout the day, and I would guess it got close to 95 degrees. Supposedly the hot season (which also corresponds to the rainy season) has just begun, so I imagine the heat will reach well into the hundreds as January comes around. I went for a walk with Monica the first morning about 45 minutes up the road to where we could see a beautiful view of the valley. Later we went and visited all of the kitchens that had already been installed, including one that was being installed that day. They were all done a little different according to the wishes of each family. The metal planks that the pots sat on were starting to warp which was a hot topic while we were there. Many ideas were thrown around by the families and local kitchen experts about how to secure the planks to keep them from warping. Back in Piura we later found out that the families simply need to burn less wood to decrease the heat. Because there is a canal surrounding the fire, it is able to burn more efficiently and at a higher temperature. As a result, using the same amount of wood as they were used to creates much more heat. Using less wood will still boil the pots quickly while using less wood and keeping the metal planks nice and level.
Roberto was able to play soccer and volleyball in the evenings which helped him get to know more of the community. I also spoke with the two host families a lot, finding out that they have come a long way in the last two years because of the recent formation of a cacao cooperative that has begun exporting their goods. The influx of money has turned the new installations of electricity and a sewer system into television with cable access, and full bathrooms with toilet and shower stalls. The new kitchens being installed is a great compliment to the quickly modernized homes, while maintaining local tradition and the great flavor of food cooked over a fire.
The best part of the visit was being there for the film festival. One night we set up benches outside the school, borrowed a sound system, set up the projector we had brought from the city, and announced that the youth would be showcasing all four videos they had produced during the past four months. About a hundred people showed up, which is at least everyone from the immediate village. Including a short video that showcased the recent town festivities from flag day, there were also videos on the environment (focusing mostly on trash and water), nutrition, the kitchen project, and first aid techniques. The youth in the audience had to be proud of themselves as their peers, families and neighbors cheered, laughed at the jokes, and applauded each movie.
Besides the videos. and the kitchens, a gorgeous mural welcomes all visitors and residents into the village with a reminder to take care of the environment. Also all of the bottles that had previously “decorated” the town have been collected awaiting transport to the city where they will be recycled for a little extra cash. When we held a final fun day with the youth and children who had participated this year, almost all of them noted the environmental education activities as their favorites of the year. Some of the games we played were also pretty fun as well.
As our second motive for visiting Peru, we were able to meet with four amazing Peruvian organizations and talk with them about the possibilities of working on future proejcts together, reinforcing and complimenting each other’s goals. These organizations were Soluciones Practicas, Expand Peru, ODAER, and Centro ECO. We met with each group in person, found out more about their inspiration, successes, and goals for the future. It was decided on this trip that soon we would send both of our volunteers to spend time with our top two choices, so that we can feel more confident in making a final decision. Hopefully this will be done by the end of December, and we’ll be sure to send an email and post a blog about our volunteer’s visits to each organization.
Although our personal time was short, and sandwiched between the real work of the trip, we enjoyed it immensely. Teo was a trooper, putting up with being touched by almost all women and children we passed on the streets, stared at by everyone, and being drug to a new place nearly every night. Our old town of Salacat was glad to see we kept our word by coming back with him, and once the word spread that we were there with our little boy, everyone came to pay us a visit. Many of them even came with bags of wheatflour, dried peas, cheese, and lentils to take with us on our journey. I was quickly and effectively reminded why Salacat became so important to me, and it felt like coming home. We were also able to visit the new Peace Corps training center where our host sister from training was now a language trainer herself! We’re so proud of her! Our friend Mahlon put us in his guestroom and fed us delicious picante de gallo in Lima. We visited old friends in Chosica who taught us step by step instructions on how to prepare the traditional Pachamanca feast. We also shared meals and laughter with friends in Cajamarca city, and stayed at Rolando’s house in Piura.
The trip couldn’t have packed much more into it or been more satisfying. It is good to be home, but I always feel a deep sadness that tugs at my heart when I think about how long it might be until my next trip.