November 2, 2007 Bonus Blog
Just got an in depth report from my son Thomas in Peru:
1. Guinea Pigs, or Cuys, are from Peru and its an old custom here to eat them. In fact its considered a delicacy. They taste similar to the dark meat of chicken, but I have to say I'm not a big fan. There just isn't that much meat and their skin is very thick which makes it chewy. To make matters worse you have to chew around rodent claws to get to the meat on the leg. I would eat it again but more as a matter of being polite than by choice. Cuy meat actually has more nutrients than any other meat. Chicken comes in at a not-very-close second. Cuys are also easy to maintain and easy to breed which is part of the reason for their popularity here.
2. Studying abroad in college had its challenges but over all it was a blast and I would recommend it to anyone. My first semester I took Spanish classes from teachers at the University of Valencia who were hired by NAU. Living in a Spanish speaking country and taking classes at the same time is the best way to learn. The second semester I took Psychology classes in Spanish, mostly electives, but the few real classes I took were really hard as there was a lot of technical terminology in another language. Needless to say I didnt do very well but I learned a lot. Probabley the hardest part was just being away from family and friends but you learn to cope.
3. Alpaca tastes a lot like beef. Its quite good.
4. From what Ive seen, the average Peruvian family has about 3 to 4 children. Its more common here for different generations to live together. A lot of times the grandparents live with the family and the kids dont move out untill they are married. For us, a 30 year old living at home is kind of embarrasing, but here its normal. Families here are also less mobile than families in the U.S. For example its not uncommon for a North American family to pick up and move to another city or state. Or for the kids to move out at 18 or go away to college. Here the kids might go to the nearest city to look for work or to study but they generally stay close to the family. Theres just not as much financial freedom. For these reasons I would say Peruvian families are closer than North American ones.
5. As a volunteer, after the initial adaption period, you just live your life normally. Whatever hobbies or likes you had before you came or whatever new ones you picked up, you do. I like to read, play cards, play basketball, watch movies and go on hikes, all of which I do here. Peruvians in my town do similar things with their free time. Theyll play soccer, watch TV, hang out with their friends. They do have more chores than I ever had. On the weekends during planting season you spend all day planting crops or if youre a girl, cleaning, cooking and taking care of your siblings. I know that sounds sexist but Peru is a pretty machismo country.
6. Peace Corps decides if a town has potential for a volunteer. They have staff members that scout the towns out. Theyll then give a presentation to the mayor and town leaders on what Peace Corps is and what a volunteer does. If the town decides they want a volunteer they make a formal, written, request to Peace Corps asking for one. That means that Peace Corps must not only be invited to a host country, but also to each individual town. Imperialism is not the goal here.
7. There is not a market in my town which is unusual for a Peruvian town its size. The reason being that the provincial capital, Chivay, is only 15 minutes away so all the commercial activity goes there. Markets here are really cool by the way. Vendors jam the streets with everything from fruit and nuts, to pirated DVDs and hoax medicines.
8. There are scorpions, condores, hawks, eagles, foxes and of course llamas. Probably the biggest threat animal wise are the stray dogs. I cant remember if I already told you guys but a dog bit me in the back of the leg during training near Lima. It wasnt bad. Just some bite marks. Then in my town I got bull charged by a dog and I didnt know what to do so I jumped straight up in the air. As he came in to bite me I gave him a jump kick to the face. He ran off after that. Guess he couldnt handle the Judo Kick.
9. I sleep on a bed that my host family provided for my room. I bought another mattress because the original one was pretty thin and I could feel the boards underneath.
10. There is running water and electricity at my house. The sink is in the dirt courtyard and thats where we get water for everything. I have to brush my teeth at night using a head lamp. The outhouse actually has plumbing which is pretty lucky. A lot of my friends have bucket flush toilets or they just go in a hole.
11. I live with an older couple who are grandparents. All their kids have their own families now. Four of them live in town so even though its just the three of us there is always someone coming over to visit. Tons of grandkids around town. My host mom had 13 kids! 10 of which are still living.
12. It doesn't snow in the canyon where I am but there are snow capped volcanoes all around. Winter is the dry season and its sunny all day and really cold at night. When it rains during the summer its too warm to snow. You probabley know this already but the seasons are opposite here. December, January and Febuary are the summer months.
13. The native peoples use a lot of local herbs to try and cure things but my village has a health post with a full time nurse so people tend to use that. Its free to see the nurse but medicine costs money so thats where the herbs come in. They believe in mountain gods and the god of mother earth and while planting crops they do an offering to them. Whenever you drink Chicha for example you first have to pore a little out on the ground giving some to Pacha Mama, mother earth or Santa Tierra because if you drink first its like saying youre better than her. Comparable maybe to a gang in East L.A. pouring some out for their homies. If theres a specific mountain you're planting your crops on, you dip you finger in the Chicha and flick some in the air saying, 'Taita Mismi.' Mismi being the name of the mountain and Taita meaning god.
14. The English lessons are going alright. Once you get past the very basics like colors and start getting into sentence structure and verb conjugation people start dropping like flys. The last class for example only one person came to. He works in the church and is very motivated to learn English.
15. My favorite thing about my experience is so far is the relationships I've cultivated with people in my town. My host family and I are becoming really close for example and Im learning a ton from them. They treat me like a son and worry about me when I come home late. I call them Mama Luisa and Papa Gerardo. They are very sweet people.
My favorite line in the whole thing? "They do have more chores than I ever had."
"Is that a guinea pig in your pocket, or are you just happy to be in Peru?"
—Tasteless Father Joke
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