My Little Mountain

This post was originally published on ColeTries.com.

The Peace Corps is filled with all sorts of adventures. To be honest, I feel like I tried at least one new thing per day when I first arrived in Peru. But after 8 months, I began to fall into a rut. I know what you’re thinking: “You’re living in a foreign country, learning a new language, eating cow heart… how could you possibly fall into a rut?” Well, believe it or not, moments like this become the norm after almost a year abroad.

After realizing I was doing more or less the same thing every day, I decided to branch out a bit and start working on my Peru bucket list. First up on the list… sandboarding. According to Wikipedia, sandboarding is “a board sport similar to snowboarding. It is a recreational activity and takes place on sand dunes rather than snow-covered mountains. It involves riding across or down a dune while standing with both feet strapped to a board, though some sandboarders use a board without bindings.”

 

One of the top places to sandboard in Peru is located in a southern region of Peru, Ica. Unfortunately, that is a little too far (as in 15 hours away) for a quick day trip, so I headed to Trujillo, my department’s regional capital instead. We decided to go later in the afternoon to avoid the strong sun, and arrived around 3pm. I am glad that we went with someone who had gone before because we definitely would have been lost on our own. Below is sandboarding 101, and my thoughts on each step of the process.

Step 1: Rent a board. We rented one board and it cost about $8 USD. In addition to the board, the company should give you wax to put on the bottom of the board. This allows the board to move smoothly over the sand and prevent getting stuck halfway down the hill.

My thoughts: I would recommend renting one board for a group of 2-3. At first, it may seem a good idea for everyone to have their own board, but the reality is you have to hike your way back up the hill after boarding down. Let’s be real, you’ll most likely want a break once you reach the top, which is the perfect time for the next person to go.

Step 2: Find your spot on the hill.

My thoughts: If you are a newbie, like me, walk about halfway up the hill and start from there. Test out the waters for a few runs and move further up the hill once you get the hang of it.

unnamed

Step 3: Apply the wax to the bottom of the board. The company we rented from gave us a candle-like shape of wax to streamline our board.

My thoughts: Make sure not to put too much wax on your board the first time! You’ll fly down the hill, wipe out, and end up with sand everywhere. Not that I learned from personal experience or anything…

Step 4: Strap your feet in and go!

My thoughts: Sandboarding is a lot easier to do than I had imagined, and I really enjoyed it. Despite having access to the beach in my region, I haven’t been able to pick up surfing, so sandboarding is a fun way to do break my routine. Pro Tip: Be sure to wear closed toed shoes and make sure you have access to a shower and clean clothes afterward.

Sandboarding was a great way to spend a few hours with some friends, and I plan on going back again! I hope to make it down to Ica to sandboard with the pros one day, but for now I am content with practicing on my little mountain.

 

 

Sierra Strong

International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th every year. It is a day to recognize the strengths and contributions that women bring to the world we live in, but also a day to bring attention to the gap that still exists in gender equality around the world. Given the fact that I live in a fairly conservative town that is located a 3 hour trip up in the mountains, I wasn’t expecting the town to do much as a whole, as sexism is still a very large issue. I had planned to do some activities with some girls in my neighborhood and contribute that way, but was shocked when one of my counterparts invited me to the “El Día Internacional de La Mujer” event located in my town. Several local organizations were partnering up for a march around town, as well as an event after to honor women leaders in the community. I was ecstatic and I am so glad I participated.

We began the morning by participating in the march with several community organizations including the local & regional government, the school board, several students, women leaders in the community, CEM (an organization to help women (and men) who are victims of abuse), and various community members. After the march, we gathered in the theatre to hear various leaders speak, as well as honor women leaders in the community.

17200982_1336704409706632_6726731096085014609_n

Photo courtesy of Municipalidad Provincia Santiago de Chuco

It was a day I will never forget. I was marching alongside 500 other women who varied in age from 5 – 85 years old. Some women had not studied past elementary school, while others held a Masters Degree. Some lived in small neighboring towns (caseríos) and traveled 2 hours to attend, while others came from just down the road in the “big” city (aka my site, which I am beginning to see as a big city after visiting caseríos, haha). Some live in extreme poverty, while others took pictures with their iPhones. But in that moment, none of that mattered, we were all there for the same reason. Gender equality.

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 2.22.40 PM
The women that I have met here in the sierra (mountains) of Peru are some of the strongest women I have met in my life. It’s a strength that is hard to put into words, but after living here for 8 months, it’s evident throughout my town. So cheers to the women of Santiago de Chuco, Perú, and the world. Let us continue to demonstrate how strong we are, not just one day of the year, but everyday.

Love Is In The Air

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend my first Peruvian wedding! I had asked a friend to go with me and he said he hadn’t recovered from his last wedding. I thought he was being a baby, so on I went to the wedding solo. Well, after experiencing the wedding for myself, I realized he was not exaggerating. It was by far one of the craziest parties I have been to, but it all seemed normal to the other attendees. Here are some of the similarities and differences between weddings in the U.S. and in Peru (or at least the weddings I have been to).

 

Top 5 Similarities
1. The ceremony started off in a church and there was a reception immediately after.
2. There were flower girls and a ring bearer present in the ceremony.
3. The bride & groom shared a first dance together, along with a dance with their parents.
4. The attire at the wedding was almost identical to the U.S. (white dress for bride, tux for men, and fancy attire for guests).
5. Bridesmaids and groomsmen were a thing, though they did not stand beside the couple
during the ceremony, they sat in the first pews of the church.

Top 5 Differences
1. Peruvians can out eat, dance, and drink us Americans. The wedding started at 7pm and
went until 5am.
2. There was a live band that played all night, but we did not do the YMCA, Cha Cha Slide, or the Macarena. Typical music that was played included Cumbia and Salsa.
3. The dinner consisted of a traditional Peruvian meal, including a Pisco Sour. The rest of the night they only served beer, no cocktails.
4. It seemed as lots of people were at the wedding without a date. The only “dates” were people who were seriously dating or married.
5. There is a part of the reception called “la hora loca” (the crazy hour). There are clowns, balloons, and lots of confetti. See picture below.

IMG_2141.jpg
Here in Peru, Valentines Day is celebrated similarily as it is in the States, BUT it is also known as the “Day of Friendship”. What a relief for all the single people. Unfortunately, I spent my Valentines Day recovering from some food poisoning, but many people in my town celebrated by enjoying lunch & dinner together. I couldn’t eat much while I was recovering, but I did manage to get a piece of chocolate. That’s just like medicine, right? I wonder if the extra chocolate is now 50% off, just like in the States…. 😉

xoxo,

Jenna

My New Normal

I think back to almost 8 months ago to the day, when I left the United States to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. In less than 12 hours, I will be reunited with my friends and family in Chicago during a visit for the holidays. As I sit in the airport terminal waiting to catch my flight, I find myself reflecting on the past 8 months.

I think back to the fears that I had before moving to Peru and now realize that the majority of those no longer exist. Will I like my job? Will I be friends with the other volunteers? Will I feel like I made the right decision by leaving my job in Malibu, CA, to work in a small rural town in a developing country? How will I maintain my friendships back home? Will I find a balance in my life? Will I ever be able to use the right form of por and para in Spanish (wait, this one is still an issue).

I think back to my first few weeks in Peru and how my eyes were so aware of the differences between my two lives, but 8 months later, my eyes are open to the similarities between my two worlds. Once I dig past the bucket baths, eating guinea pig, not understanding 100% of what is being said to me, it’s easy to see that there are so many similarities between my life here and in the United States. The reality of our divided world is that each human functions in the same basic manner, has the same basic needs, and despite extreme differences in our lifestyles, all seven billion of us are more alike than we realize, an idea that can be learned, if we take the time to invest in others. I have found more similarities between my life in Peru & the United States than I even imagined I would.

After 8 months…                                                                                                                                        

My alarm clock has been exchanged for a rooster that has no indoor-voice.      

A 5 hour bus trip to visit my friends seems like a breeze, not to mention a close trip.

No electricity, no running water, no internet? No problem.                                            

Somedays, my commute to work can include a 45 minute car ride that is followed by a 30 minute hike up a mountain to go give a presentation, all while passing sheep and cows on the way.

After 8 months, I have come to love my life here in Peru. To be honest, it felt weird to say goodbye, even just for two weeks. I will miss seeing my host family, my counterparts, and friendly faces around my community. This is a mental state that I could not even fathom being in, even just a few months ago.

After 8 months, my life has been filled with more love, adventure, trials & errors, and more learning experiences than I could have ever imagined.

&& this have become my new normal.

P.S. Whether your beliefs lead you to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or simply another seasons of life, may you enjoy this season with family and friends. Happy Holidays and thank you for following my journey thus far.

This Is Home / Descansa En Paz

A few weeks ago I headed to our regional capital, Trujillo, for my Spanish tutoring class. Given the distance, I normally stay overnight and return the next day, and this weekend was no different. When I returned to my site, there was an eery feel and the plaza was unusually empty. I figured it was because of the recent rain and didn’t think much of it. When I returned to my home, my host family was no where to be found, also a little unusual given that I knew my host brothers had been visiting that weekend. After unpacking my bag, I decided it was getting late(well, late considering I have a 9pm bedtime here in Peace Corps), so I went to bed and planned to catch up with my host mom in the morning.

When I woke up, I went to the kitchen for breakfast and my host mom didn’t really talk much. I  wondered if it was something I had done, but couldn’t think of anything that would have upset her. I continued on with my day and went to work, where my coworkers also seemed unusually quiet. I asked one of my friends in the office how her weekend was and that’s when everything began to make sense.

She informed me that past Saturday night, a professor from one of the local schools had been murdered in our town. I couldn’t believe it and asked her to repeat it to make sure that it wasn’t a misunderstanding due to a language barrier. I didn’t know the professor super well, but he was always very friendly & welcoming towards me when we would chat in passing on the street. Given that he was a literature teacher, our work lives never crossed paths, but I couldn’t believe the man I had spoke to just a few days ago was gone.

The following week was filled with several memorial services and concluded with a mass in the main church in my site. It was one of my more emotional days here in Peru; it was so hard to see the professors’ wife and three children say goodbye to their father for the last time. It was heartbreaking to watch hundreds of students mourn the loss of their beloved teacher. There were 1,000+ people in attendance and the majority marched to the cemetery with the casket, where a second ceremony was held for the professor before he was laid to rest. In my town, it is customary to hold a mass for a person immediately after they pass, and another after 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year has passed.

The murder is still under investigation with the local police, but the attackers are believed to be a group of teenagers, all under 18. The motive is still unknown because these kids were allegedly not students of the professor, so the mystery remains. This was such a horrible event for my town to go through, and there are still weekly marches protesting his death and the way the police are handling the situation. Somewhere between finding out the news of the murder, the multiple conversations about the professors life, and the funeral, I realized I am more connected to my community than I knew, and that’s when it hit me, this is home.

So to the man who was a dear friend to my host dad, a beloved teacher to my host brothers and countless others, and a friendly face around town, may you always descansa en paz.

The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.

Despite Peru being one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, I am not here to just travel around for two years, but rather work. There are a lot of stereotypes about people who join the Peace Corps. Free spirits, hippies, tree huggers, etc. The reality is that our Peace Corps friends are probably one of the most diverse group of friends we will ever have in our lives. The US Government pulled 40 strangers from almost every state in the US, from various careers, across economic classes, across social classes, to come to Peru because we all have the desire to share our knowledge, while remaining students ourselves as we continue to learn.

In Peace Corps Peru, there are currently 5 technical sectors. These include Community Economic Development, Youth Development, Environment, Health, and Water & Sanitation. Unfortunately, Peru will not be replacing the Environment volunteers after the current volunteers leave, so we will soon have 4. Regardless of our technical sector or host country, all Peace Corps Volunteers share 3 primary goals:

Goal 1:To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
Goal 2: To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
Goal 3: To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

So what the heck do 175+ Volunteers do in Peru for two years?! Well, I can’t speak to the other sectors’ goals, but I can give you some insight into the work of a Community Economic Development Volunteer in Peru (aka my work for the next two years). Our sector has three primary goals that each volunteer is expected to work on for the next two years.


Goal 1: Business Development
1.1 Business Management
1.2 Product & Marketing Development

Goal 2: Economic Opportunities
2.1 Youth Entrepreneurship
2.2 Income Generating Activities (with a focus on IGAs for women)

Goal 3: Personal Money Management
3.1 Financial Literacy
3.2 Savings-led Microfinance (also known as Community Banks)

Depending on several factors, including the level of development in the volunteer’s site, the community’s interests, and resources available, all determine what projects are completed in site. For example, some communities may have a strong education system for youth, but may lack financial resources for adults, so that volunteer may focus on Goal 3 more than Goal 2. I’m still exploring the community, but I am hoping to work a lot on Goal 1 and Goal 3. Of course Goal 2 will be worked in there somewhere, but I have a stronger interest in the other two.

When a volunteer arrives in site, they are given a list of potential counterparts (aka socios) to work with in the community. There will always be at least one socio from the local government because they are the ones that send the request for a volunteer. An important factor to note about the Peace Corps is that we only work in countries that formally request a volunteer from the Peace Corps. Therefore, if a community request a volunteer, this means there is at least one person that wants to work with us (well, in theory). Some volunteers choose to work with these Peace Corps given socios, while others search for their own. There is no right or wrong way to go about this process, but it is very helpful to have some contacts going into site. 

My socios (at this moment) are as follows:

Economic Development Office of Santiago de Chuco (In theory,could apply to all 3 goals)
Two local artisan groups (In theory, could apply to all 3 goals)
Two high schools and a few primary schools (Goal 2& 3)
SERNANP, the environmental organization of Peru (Tourism – Primarily Goal 1 & 2)
The School Board of the province I live in (Goal 2 & 3)
Local Businesses ( Goal 1)

Our first three months in site we work on a community diagnostic. This report allows us to assess the needs, interests, and desires of our community before we start our projects. This time also allows us to meet more members of the community and potentially find other socios to work with. After this diagnostic is complete, we will then formally begin our projects, not to say we can’t start earlier, but the Peace Corps recommends using these first three months to adjust to our new home, meet community members/leaders, and really get to know our community. After all, we have two years here.

Aside from completing our technical goals, an important factor to our work is that it is sustainable. The idea is that when a volunteer returns to the United States, their projects will continue on without the assistance of the Peace Corps. It’s very obvious to me that my community is quickly developing and without a doubt there are several strong leaders in the community, but it seems as the idea of sustainable development is still a thought vs. an action, but to be fair, I think this is true in various countries throughout the world at this moment. As the old phrase goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In all seriousness, today the local government handed out fish to everyone in town.

Just like anything in life, this will be a process and after being a PCV for exactly two months, I am beginning to understand the Peace Corps phrase, “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.” 5 months down, 22 months to go. ¡Vamos!

The Prologue

Well, it has been a little while since my last post and that is because the past six weeks have been insane. After our three week site exploration, we returned to Lima for one more month of training. This month was filled with final reports, too much cake and emotional goodbyes. When we arrived at staging, on April 27th, the Peace Corps told us to look around because the people in that room would become some of our best friends. On that day it seemed a little hard to believe, but on July 21st when we swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers, I came to learn the full meaning of that statement.

You build a bond unlike any other with your Peace Corps training group. Of course, we have the love and support of loved ones back home, but no one will fully understand your experience like your fellow trainees. They understand how annoying it is to get ripped off on the combi because you look different; they understand what a great feeling it is to understand a joke your host family tells you; they understand the feeling of being so far away from home, and on July 21, 2016, we experienced the unforgettable moment when we were sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteer, and what it took to get to that moment.

Our last 24 hours in Lima were packed to the max. We hosted a party for our host families, packed our bags(ugh, why didn’t we all bring one bag like Brandon did?), said goodbye to our host families in Lima, swore in at the US Ambassadors house(best snacks ever!), said goodbye to our training group, and were on our way to our sites. If anyone from Peace Corps staff is reading this, I fully support spreading out all these activities because it makes for one stressful/emotional day.

Funny/Sappy side note: I wasn’t sure how I was going to react when I had to say goodbye to my host family in Lima. Then the day came and I cried like a baby. Classic. I first said goodbye to my Grandpa. Real talk, I can’t understand him. At all. Honestly, if he was speaking English, I don’t think I would have understood him. But he is so loving and the jokester of the family. After Grandpa, I gave mi abuela a big hug and she told me that they love me and to come back and visit (glad we are on the same page, I was pIMG_4969lanning on visiting anyways). My goodbye with my two younger host brothers consisted of a simple “goodbye, see ya later, good luck with life”. They’re 12, that’s how they roll. Then the two hardest goodbyes came. My older host brother (17) and my host mom. My host brother cried when I left, he tried to hide it, but didn’t work. Soy la única and always wanted a brother and he was so fun to hang out with, he felt like a real brother. I would ask him how his day was, expecting the United States response of “good, how are you?”, but he would tell me ALL about his day. His classes, the cute girls in his classes, the drama at school (ah, high school), his job, the party he went to and how it was cooler than the ones I went to, etc. Honestly, it turn into a 45 minute conversation, but I thoroughly enjoyed them, well, what I could understand of them.
After my host brother came my host mom. She has hosted Peace Corps Trainees before, so she was used to this process. It was still very hard to say goodbye and at the eIMG_5043.jpgnd of the conversation she looked at me and said “I will see you later.” I immediately agreed with her words and reassured her I would visit, we can stay in touch through Facebook, we can text, etc. Not too long into my plan of keeping in touch, she interrupted me and said “No, really. I will see you later, in 5 hours at your swearing in ceremony.” It made for a humorous moment during the emotional goodbye.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled blogging. Our swearing in ceremony was the conclusion of a challenging, yet incredible, 12 weeks. My life has never changed so much, so quickly. The week before we swore in as volunteers, we were eating lunch at the training center with one of our Peace Corps doctors. Side note about PC Peru doctors, they are some of the coolest people you will ever meet. Anyways, we were reminiscing on the good times we had during training but also mentioned how sad we were to leave Lima and all our (government issued) friends (una broma, we’re real friends!) The medico we were with chuckled to himself and us volunteers looked at him in confusion. How could he be laughing at our pain?! Okay, little dramatic. Anyways, he looked at us and explained that he always finds it comical that trainees get so sad about leaving. He further explained that the reality is our 12 weeks of training is just the prologue to our Peace Corps story. The prologue is never the best part of the book, and just like any book, training will not be the best part of our experience here in the Peace Corps. The best is yet to come. I’m very fortunate to have had an amazing introduction to my Peace Corps service, and based off how this prologue turned out, maybe I should start paying better attention to the prologues of the books I read, normally I skip them. Rebel, I know. But just like in any story, there is always a transition into the next chapter. And the following is my segue into the next chapter:

I, Jenna Houchins, promise to serve alongside the people of Peru.

I promise to share my culture with an open heart and open mind.

I promise to foster an understanding of the people of country of service with creativity, cultural sensitivity and respect.

I will face the challenges of service with patience, humility and determination.

I will embrace the mission of world peace and friendship for as long as I serve and beyond.

In the proud tradition of Peace Corps’ legacy and in the spirit of the Peace Corps family — past, present and future.

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer

27

Peace Corps Peru 27 with Ambassador Brian Nichols

The Sorting Hat

Unless you have physically been living under a rock in the United States for the past 18 years, you have probably heard something about Harry Potter. If you are completely lost, here is a short version. Boy is born. Boy’s parents die. Boy grows up with mean aunt & uncle. Boy finds out he is a wizard. Boy goes to Hogwarts. Boy makes friends. Boy spends rest of adolescent life battling magic forces with his two best friends. You’re welcome 😉

When Harry and his friends first began their studies at Hogwarts, they were placed into houses for the following years by The Sorting Hat. The magical hat is put on their head and based off each students’ personality, the hat places them accordingly.


Unfortunately, Peace Corps does not have a magical hat that decides where we will serve, but we do have Program Managers that do essentially the same thing. During the first 6 weeks of our training, we have interviews with our Program Managers to discuss our preferences for site placement. During my first interview, I was fairly open about where I wanted to go and my site preferences (willingness to serve, am I right?), but by the time of our second interview I had more concrete requests (please send me to a large site with a site mate and in the mountains. A little demanding, I know.). There are a lot of factors that go into site preferences, but here are a few of the questions that we were asked.               

  • Would you prefer  a small, medium, or large site?  Sites range from 500-55,000 people      
  • Would you prefer to be on the coast, in the mountains, or the rainforest?                      
  • What type of climate would you prefer?  Temperatures range from 50 – 100+  degree
  • Would you like a volunteer site-mate or live in the community on your own?        
  • Would you like to be a replacement or new volunteer? 

The week that our sites were announced was an anxious one for sure. The weeks leading up to site assignment day, I felt pretty relaxed. I will end up where I am supposed to be, right? When the day came around to find out where I would be serving for the next two years, I was filled with a mix of nerves and excitement. Our training group gathered in one of our meeting rooms and we sat in front of a table with 44 cards on it. Each card had a site name on the front and a trainees name on the inside. One by one our regions were called up and we found out our home for the next two years.

There are a little over 20 volunteers in the CED (community economic development) program, so it is nearly impossible to accommodate all our requests, but overall our CED group seemed to be pleased with their placements. Now, the moment you have ALL been waiting so patiently for (and my ALL, I mostly mean my mom), here is some information about my site:

Site: Santiago de Chuco

Region: La Libertad, Peru                                                                                                            

Population: Between 5,000-6,000 (does not include the roaming chickens)            

Elevation: 10,000 feet


I am the first business volunteer in this community, so it’s time to get to work and hike/bike some mountains!

much love,

Jenna

FBT.

FBT.

Free Banana Toast, Friends Baking Together, Fabulous Bro Time… Okay, none of these are actual acronyms in the Peace Corps, but Field Based Training is the newest acronym in my Peace Corps vocabulary.  A few volunteers and I were joking this past week that we’ll be trilingual by the end of our service. English is our first language, Spanish is our second, and Peace Corps acronyms will be our third. There are so many and it’s insanely confusing at first, but it makes life a lot easier once you catch on. Here is an example for you:

Peace Corps Lingo: “Today my LCF conducted my LPI, which is a requirement for my TAP.”

Translation: “Today my Language & Culture Facilitator conducted my Language Proficiency Interview, which is a requirement for my Trainee assessment Profile.”

Anyways, back to the actual FBT. This past week our group of 44 trainees was divided into 4 groups and went to various regions in Perú. The goal of this week-long trip was to give us an insight into what Peace Corps life is like outside of our training bubble and apply what we are learning to a potential site. My group was placed in Cascas, La Libertad, which is about 10 hours away from Lima by bus.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 2.19.26 PM.png                                                              Photo by Marina Sandoval

We took the night bus both ways and it was fancy! Our seats reclined 180 degrees, we soaked up some wifi, and we could watch movies. Of course, I just slept. Cascas is a beautiful town in the mountains of Peru and known for uvas, which means there is a lot of wine in town. You could think of it as the Napa Valley of Perú, but here wine costs less than water.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 2.24.05 PM.png                                                                 Photo by Trent Davis

During our week-long stay, we worked in pairs and taught an entrepreneurship workshop. To be honest, it was a little overwhelming at first. We had three days (9 hours in total) to teach three months of material to 25 students. The goal of the course was to have students create and execute their own business plans. The Peace Corps training staff is constantly telling us to lower our expectations for our results in site, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the business plans. There were three groups in our class and all turned a profit! I suppose I shouldn’t play favorites, but I was most impressed by the group that created their own marmalade company. They ended up with about $60 USD profit to split amongst themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 2.17.13 PM.png

Aside from our teaching, we spent a lot of time in the community learning about the current volunteer’s work, meeting her counterparts and of course, eating. When aren’t we eating? Unfortunately, some of that food got us sick. 8 out of 12  of us to be exact. One by one we were taken out. Some say it was our meal at ‘Chicken Palace’ and others put their money on our lunches at a local restaurant. Regardless of where the bacteria came from, this was a rough experience that left me in bed for about 24 hours straight. We all knew getting sick was inevitable, I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.

Another cool aspect of FBT was the time we had to explore new areas in Perú. We spent a total of 2 days in Trijullo, which is the regional capital of La Libertad. A few of the Peace Corps staff members are from the area, so they were able to provide some recommendations on places to check out or eat at (I told you, we are always eating!). This day was definitely a “treat yo self” kind of day, also known as Posh Corps. We had hot showers & wifi in our hotel, went to Starbucks (they still spelled my name wrong. Different country, same struggle), and had sushi for dinner. The good thing about treatin’ yo self in Perú is that it is generally still cheaper than the US. For example, at dinner I had sushi and a huge salad for less than $10. But we are on a Peace Corps stipend, so we can’t do this too often.

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 2.16.56 PM.png

We’re back to our normal training schedule now and time is moving fast. This week we will find out our final site placements, aka the place where I will live and serve for the next 2 years. It’s both terrifying and exciting; now I know what Harry Potter felt like when ‘The Sorting Hat’ was put on his head. Now if only there was a province in Perú named Gryffindor…

Stay tuned for more information about my final site placement, humorous Spanish mistakes and navigating a foreign country.

much love,

Jenna (aka Yenna due to Spanish pronunciation)

A Day In The Life

Today marks completing the 3rd week of my Peace Corps training and 3 weeks without eating peanut butter, both are still hard to believe. In less than a month, I have made 50+ new friends, moved in with strangers I now call my family, embarrassed myself with my (lack of) Spanish and learned more than I could have ever imagined. There is no “normal” day in Peace Corps training, but the following is a typical day for me so far.

6:15am: Wake up to my first alarm and hit snooze (some things never change)

6:20am: Get out of bed and get ready. “Getting ready” includes throwing my hair up (no blow dryer, minimal hair straightening) and almost no makeup. Dress at training is causal or business casual, it depends on the day

6:45am: Eat my desyauno, which normally consists of pan and huevos

7:00am: Meet my friends at the combi stop. The combi is one of the most common forms of public transportation here in Peru

7:10am: It normally takes a few tries, but we can usually find a combi we can all fit on

7:11am: Rethink the concept of personal space and dream of wide open spaces

7:35am: Arrive at the centro de capacitación after a short walk from the combi stop. One of the main reasons we get there early is to make coffee. Priorities.

8:00am-5:00pm: Training! Our training consists of…

Medical: Every week we have a session with our PCMOs (Peace Corps Medical Officers). This team has been working together for several years and they are super helpful! I have a lot of confidence in their ability to help any volunteer with whatever health condition may arise, no matter how big or small. In addition, the team has a great sense of humor, which makes these conversations easier. Did you know diarrhea isn’t worth calling the doctor for unless you’ve had it for over 14 days? Yikes. I will spare you the images, but we’ve seen more alarming pictures of medical conditions to last a lifetime. Did you know that a spider bite could discolor your entire thigh? Me either.

DIVE: The DIVE technique is used to help us understand the new culture we are living in and to help avoid coming to incorrect conclusions about our new home and its people. DIVE stands for D(escribe), I(nterprete), V(erfiy), E(valuate). This training is done through observations, hands on activities and group discussion.

Safety & Security: Crime happens everywhere but when you are living in a country where there is 0% chance of you blending in, safety becomes an even bigger concern. Over our 12 week training, we will be educated on safety concerns, reporting procedures, volunteer resources, and everything in between. These aren’t fun conversations to have, but they are important.

Technical Training: This portion of our training relates to our Goal 1 program, which is Community Economic Development in my case. The majority of our technical training will be in the coming weeks, so hold tight for more info. Peace Corps Peru currently works in the areas of Community Economic Development, Water & Sanitation, Youth Development, Environment and Community Health. Unfortunately, the Environment program is in its final year, but there are still a few volunteers in Peru.

Language: Over the past 3 weeks, it seems like most of our time has been spent in language class. My language class is facilitated by an extremely patient mujer, Cristina! She is Peruvian and speaks English too, but it’s rare that we hear any English from her. She has been an awesome facilitator and kudos to her for putting up with 6 crazy gringos in her class. I laugh a lot in general, but I probably laugh more in this portion of training than any other. We have a running joke that “Gringos understand gringos”. Somehow us volunteers are able to understand each other, no matter how far off the words/grammar of the Spanish sentence are. I’m super thankful to be learning in a supportive environment, it takes a lot of the pressure off.

5:00pm-6:00pm: Fit Corps time! After sitting all day, movement is necessary. A group of us volunteers will head to the park to workout. Some of us run, others play fútbol and some do resistance workouts. Gotta burn off all those carbs somehow!

6:00pm-7:00pm: Wrap up at the training center and head home

7:00pm-10:00pm: The evenings are when I spend time with my host family. There is always someone home, which makes coming home fun!  My host mom makes dinner around 8:00pm and we eat together as a family. After dinner, I normally have some studying to do, but I can be easily distracted by playing cards with mi hermano anfitrionó; it’s one of my favorite parts of my day. We play a game I learned as a kid called “speed”. While we play, we listen to music on my iPhone. A lot of times it is a surreal experience to realize I am sitting in a house in Peru, playing a card game I learned when I was 10, with my Peruvian brother I met 3 weeks ago. I’m coming to learn that it is going to be the small things like this that make these two years so meaningful. After cards, it is bedtime. If I can stay awake until 10pm, it’s a miracle, but considering how packed our days are, I appreciate the 8 hours of sleep.

much love,

Jenna