New Website!

Hi – This blog has moved to a new page http://www.abbywashuta.com/blog

A new site = hopefully the motivation to get back into writing all of the things that I promise myself I will sit down and write.

Definitely.

Certainly.

I’m pretty sure.

Come find out!

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Flashback: Grad School for Grown-ups – Random Highlights

3 months post-grad is better than never okay. I don’t need your judgement!

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I live in….a hovel would be extreme….it is not a hovel. It is more of a dump that doubles as a sort of comedic device. It’s full of teenage physics majors who are involved in varied whackiness, random occurrences where things don’t work, and a landlady who walks the line between slumlord and legit business woman. This is an actual excerpt from an actual email from my landlady –   there’s not even a funny comment to make here.  This is just my life and it’s funny in its own right. Emphasis added is mine:

“We are busy with a final solution [whoa!] for the heating system. For now the radiator at the entree [delicious!] has to stay on at all times [note it’s late August at this point]. If we shut it, you don’t have any hot water anymore. A firm needs to come to look for a solution. [I’ll say!]

In the kitchen sometimes the metal appliances seems to be give electrically little shocks. There were already 3 firms who checked this and they could not find anything what could cause this problem. [So basically all the appliances shock you, allegedly, but we have no real evidence of that. The moral of the story is, the shocks will continue.]

The sink in the bathroom seems to be a problem as you say to me. I did not hear about this before, but I will check this. There is a loud squeal. [For three weeks, every time you touched the sink, it would let out a high pitched squeaking noise for the next hour that you could hear through the entire house. I like the idea of a squeal here, though. The anthropomorphic idea of this thing literally screaming in protest of, I imagine, living in this house, it’s perfect].

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Following that email – this sign appeared on the house bulletin board. I love my life.

Picture1

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Fun with ESL:

Got a text from a Dutch guy:  “Come to the bar, we’re all here.”

“Sorry I’m in PJs”

“Wait, where is PJs? We’ll meet you there!~”

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Do you smell something burning?

Early one Friday night a number of girls arrive at the front door in search of Nigel. I send them up to his room, but it turns out he’s not there, and they want to wait around in the kitchen. Sure. Whatever. It’s his birthday, they inform me and we’re going to make something for him. Great. Go nuts. “Everything in the kitchen will shock you, although Danielle says there’s no evidence of that, other than, well, the shocks. So just best of luck.”

I head back upstairs and it eventually starts to smell like weed. So it’s the Netherlands and it always smells like weed, but this is extreme. I’m on the tippy top floor, it’s usually just a faintest scent, but today it’s really serious and…then…the fire alarm goes off.  Of course. I run down to the kitchen where Nigel and four screaming girls are beating a large batch of flaming pot brownies positively senseless with towels and oven mitts. The kitchen is a full on hot box.  What on EARTH?!

“They caught fire!” A girl screams at me. Yes. Clearly. I can see that.

“Well put it under the sink!” I yell at no one in particular. “Hello. Now! Run the water.”

“But…but…you’re not supposed to put water on, well I thought,..” Gotta love a pothead trying to puzzle it out after inhaling flaming pot brownie smoke for five straight minutes…

“Oh Christ, it’s not a grease fire! It’s chocolate and weed. Put it under water!”

I run and open the door and windows and smack the smoke alarm repeatedly with a broom until it stops. They all just giggle their brains out.

Whose life is this?

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Working with world’s worst partner on an assignment. We’re meant to be writing a paper, so I’ve written it, and she’s been like, “Yeah I have a party I’m throwing, so I don’t really have time to look at it tonight [ever!].” And when she does look at it she’s got nothing of substance to say: “Should there be a comma there? Oh wait, no sorry, that’s fine. A period is fine.” – Due tomorrow, she’s now meant to do JUST the bibliography since she did nothing else. She sends me what she’s done at midnight  It’s basically this:

  • Author, Author. Is this the title? I think so? Probably Need the Year here. Is it Year first and then the publisher?
  • Author, Author. I couldn’t find the name of the Publisher for this one. Do we even need that
  • What if there isn’t an author? Title. I have no other information.

And that’s followed by a text “Does it need to be a certain format?”

Oh no. Just whatever you feel like. Academia’s really chill about that kinda thing. The 200 page APA book they handed you — merely suggestions. Definitely just wing it.

Going to be a long year.

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In order to fix the heating situation in the “entree” area, someone came and installed a digital thermostat and since I was the only one home, he explained to me how it all worked, and showed me the new little thermostat. It’s not one of those ones that gets built into the wall, it’s just a free standing thermostat that works remotely or whatever. Fine. Basic. Okay.

After a few days it starts to get really unbearably hot in the apartment and I go in search of the little device repeatedly and can’t find it anywhere. Eventually I catch all the flatmates chilling in the kitchen and ask about it. They all look at each other kinda wide-eyed.

Dennis the Flemish Menance: You mean that little clock thing?

Me: Yeah, sure, it’s a thermostat. I guess it could have looked like a clock.

DtFM: Oh dear.

Me: Oh dear?!

They all look at each other and burst out laughing.

DtFM: We dismantled it. We needed the wires. We were going to make a robot.

Me: There’s no way you’re serious.

Other random guy who I don’t think lives here: We thought it was something someone just left behind. So we just figured….

Me:…That you’d immediately disassemble it and turn it into a ROBOT?!

They all sorta shrug at me and roll their eyes, like yes, of course, what else would you do in a situation like that. When in doubt, make robots! I give you, Huaycan, Netherlands.

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Walked into the kitchen to find Nigel eating pasta out of a pan and giggling to himself. I’m like hey?…um did you notice you’re bleeding?

He grabs his neck.  “Oh yeah, rough one. I’m drunk. And a bit high. I’ve been at a squat all day with some people. Hippies live there and there’s like live music. You should totally come some time…”

….Right, sure. A squat. Definitely send me the address. You look at me, and you think, there is a girl who would enjoy some live music with unshowered hippies. Yes!

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More awesome group projects

My partner and I are writing a paper on a Google doc that tells you when someone else is also in the document. There are little icons at the top right of the screen that show you who is in the document.. I get a text from my partner that she’s looking it all over RIGHT now and will send me her comments ASAP. RIGHT NOW.

Except I’m in the document. And she is not. And I spend most of the rest of the night in it, and my lonely little alligator icon is the only one that ever appears. This is a serious annoyance for two reasons. 1) Obviously she’s not doing the work she’s lying to me about doing RIGHT NOW. But 2) and more importantly, she’s clearly NEVER ever been on Google docs at all, or she’d KNOW full well that I could tell if she wasn’t actually working on it….and we’ve been working on this thing for two weeks.

Loving life.

PERU REDUX Part 1: How soccer games end in the developing world

The following is my attempt to put together snippets of Peru moments that I noted down at the time and was too lazy to write up. Here goes:

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The kids, another voluntario and I come down the Zone S mountain for a soccer game during gym class. There are obviously no official soccer fields in this desert, but there’s an open space at the bottom of the stairs. Life in Hauycan is full of novelty. No two days are alike and I am almost (the tree on the combi story aside) not surprised anymore. Today there is a huge, fat pig tied to the railing of the stairs, standing near to one of the “goals”.  He’s there.  Just chilling. Fine. Okay we’re going to have to move one of the goals a bit, but the game can proceed. We play for a bit and things are going okay until I start to notice a situation developing near the pig. Some children have started to come out of their houses. A few adults. They’re standing around the pig and I hear him begin to squeal. I can’t see the little guy anymore, but I see one of the adults leaned over and the rope the pig is tied to going crazy. Oh my god they’re gonna kill the pig. Right now. Here. On the soccer field.

The kids realize what’s happening and run over to watch. I don’t look. “Watch, Mees. Watch!” No way. I walk away and listen to what sounds like a very in-expert form of pig slaughter that takes, I’d imagine, just way longer than something like that should. I mean, I’m not exactly a vegetarian, but come on. When it ends one of the little kids come over to me to report that we’ll have to wait for all the pig blood to be soaked up before we can play again. The other voluntario turns to me, “1st world problems, right?” Yep.

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Ruta is five years old. She’s the youngest of like 47 (estimation?) from a family in Zone S. She is possibly one of the cutest little girls you’ve ever seen. She’s teeny, tiny, with huge brown eyes and long, thick black hair down to the middle of her back, and when she looks up at you from under those long dark eyelashes and gives you a shy little smile, you want to snatch her up and cuddle her to bits.  And so you do. You pick her up and coo at her. She looks at you and smiles sweetly, leans in, and proceeds to bite your cheek hard enough to draw blood.

As you drop her to the ground out of shock, you feel badly for a second. You think, whoa, this little girl obviously isn’t violent enough to try to bite my face off on purpose. Kids are kids. She didn’t mean it, and you look down for a second like you might apologize for dropping her, but she looks up at you as you hold your cheek in pain, and she laughs this evil little cackle, and the glimmer in her eyes tells you that she knows exactly what she’s doing. That’s right “Ruta” is Spanish, for devil-spawn (loosely translated).

Ruta was one of the first little children I’d come to know in Zone S, and possibly the only child I’ve ever met that I think may be a certifiable, Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Illness status, textbook case of a sociopath. And there is nothing scarier to me, than a teeny, tiny, potential homicidal maniac. She’s like every made-for-TV version of the evil child you could ever imagine. The female, Peruvian version of Macauly Culkin in the “Good Son”.
mac

I’ve seen her bite, punch, kick, slap, throw and throw dirt on everyone and anyone within her reach. Occasionally, provoked. More often not. And sure, kids hurt each other, the get into little tiffs and they push someone down and it happens. You see the way their faces scrunch up in anger, and you get it. They’re kids. They can’t control themselves yet. Anger overtakes them and they burst. But anger isn’t overtaking Ruta. You’re standing there, coloring quietly and she reaches up and pinches the soft underside of your upper arm with all her little might. Or shoves a crayon in the ear of the kid next to her. For no reason. Out of the blue. And you want to toss her off the side of the Zone S cliff when you look down and see her bliss at your pain. But child murder is frowned upon. You have to remind yourself.

She’s too young for classes so she just hangs around when the other kids come to class to torment everyone. As I stand up teaching my 8 year-olds about prepositions, she slams open the door to the classroom and begins a loud jump rope (read: piece of found black cable that she’s found somewhere) game, singing and interrupting. I try to ignore her. She gets louder. I finally look back and make eye-contact with her. Ruta! I try and say sternly.  Nothing. It’s like I’m not there. I go back to trying to ignore her. She gets louder and louder, I look up to say something to her again and she drops the jump rope and looks at me. Then she smiles her homicidal little smile and holds her hands up in the air, making little pinching gestures with her fingers as a sort of threat.  It’s as scary as it sounds.

Gum is a hot commodity Huaycan. If someone’s chewing some, everyone wants a piece, but there aren’t enough pieces to go around, so usually if a child asks for piece of gum, a negotiation takes place whereby they decide how much longer kid X will chew the gum before giving it over to kid Y, who may then later be required to give it back. Lovely. Ruta’s sister asks her for a piece of gum she’s chewing. One more minute, Ruta tells her. She walks away from the table where we are coloring and hides behind the classroom building. I see her drop the gum into the sand. She picks it back up, walks over and hands it to her sister. There you go, she says smiling. You don’t even have to give it back.

At some other point a kid brought his tiny kitten to class and put it down to sleep on his backpack while he worked. I see Ruta standing near the kitten, inspecting it for a bit. It’s sleeping all curled up and cuddled and purring. Ruta leans down and puts her face close to the kitten. It looks like she’s being sweet, nuzzling it. Then she hauls off and smacks the kitten in the face. I scream at her like a crazy person. How can you treat a defenseless animal like that? There will be no hitting of animals ever. Ever. Certainly not in my classroom. She doesn’t flinch. “Why?”, she asks, “does it make you mad, Mees?” I lift her up, holding her out in front of me like she’s a stack of dirty towels and proceed to carry her out of the classroom. She kicks me in the chest. Hard. She laughs. Is it immature of me to hate a child? I put her outside, and in the end have to get one of the older kids to lock the padlock on the OUTSIDE of the door to keep her from coming in. I’ve literally locked us all into the building to keep her out. A Ruta-proof panic room.

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A disgruntled woman from the neighborhood bangs on the gate early one morning repeatedly yelling for someone to “Send out the white Miss”.  Four of us walk to the door and open it up to see what she wants. She stops yelling, looking surprised, moving from one face to another. “Which white miss?” I ask her.  She seems unsure. “I don’t know now. You all look alike to me.”

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John the Irish kid doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. He’s new here and for a few weeks has been hearing our conversation before we leave the house and return with loads of junk food and candy. One night as we’re headed out, he asks if we can bring something back for him. “Yeah, what do you want?” I ask him.  “I dunno. Whatever. Maybe get me one of those bodegas you’re all always on about.”  Will do. One bodega, coming up.

Republican Burritos and other gems in a one horse town outside West Point military academy

I went to a wedding outside West Point last weekend. It was kind of awesome but the town outside the base is great.

If you’ve never lived in or around a US military base, allow me to assure you that it’s a special experience.  Anyone who has ever lived in one can pretty much identify major (state issued?) characteristics that all military towns must adhere to. The little town of Highland Falls outside West Point does not disappoint. In fact it might be the most dense display of military-town-ness per square inch  in America.  I tried to look up some stats on that, but you’d be (not) surprised to find out that there’s not a science to measuring the military-ness of a town – you just have to feel it.  So now for your viewing pleasure, I give you, a tour through Highland Falls. You decide.

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…and justice for all…burritos?

Rand Paul approves —–They’re a bit like Mexican burritos but without all that nasty socialism that goes straight  to the hips.

American burritos – as undelicious as Chinese apple pie.

There’s nothing I like better than the gratuitous exploitation of core American values in the service of a $1.99 bean burrito. Tastes like freedom.

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No tax…!  Let’s face it – laundry tax is what’s wrong with this country.

Have you ever been to a laundromat where the coin-op machines were advanced enough to tax you on that quarter? If you answered yes, you’re probably some kind of communist that voted for Obama. Go back to Europe.

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World’s least authentic Chinese food as described to me by the Irish man who handed me a menu.

–What should we call this restaurant?  We need a good name. Something Chinese-y.
—   Bing- Bong?
—  Ching-chong?
-– Dong Fong?

Perfect. The natives will never know the difference.

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Look closely. Becuase that’s a  Boar’s Head logo — always the symbol of quality I am looking for in a sushi restaurant.

Do you want oil and vinegar on that spicy tuna roll?

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Pawn shop, check cashing place, and we buy and sell watches.  I’ll effing bet you do.  if you’re ever near one of these places and wonder if there’s a military base around, let me stop you right there. Yes. Yes there is.

♫ ♫Our country ’tis of thee…..♫♫

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Slow day (week/month/year) at the HighlandFalls police department. Not at all characteristic of a military town but amuses me all the same.

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World’s sweetest public library.  So cute you hardly notice the censored book selection.

50 shades = Satan.

And we don’t carry anything by anyone named Marx – even Groucho – especially him.  He is probably hiding nationalized health care under that mustache.

Foam and Parties

foam

Have you ever been out at a party and thought to yourself : I am enjoying this party, but I wish I was wetter and stickier and felt more of a burning sensation in my eyes and mouth.

If so, then foam parties are for you.

I went to one the other night.  Mostly because it was two feet from where I’d already been out with some people, and everyone was going and I thought, okay, why not?  I’ll try it.

The thing about a foam party is that there’s no reason to have a foam party.  None.  Like no one has ever been to a party and thought, “all that’s missing from this party is some soap.”  That’s not a thing that happens.  Because parties are already fun, there are drinks and music and dancing and people to meet.  Soap doesn’t need to enter into the equation here.

And yet somehow it ended up that someone (read: Frat guys or possibly the makers of Dawn?) decided that  foam and parties should be paired up, and now people wrongly believe that it makes perfect sense.  Peanut butter and jelly.  Burt and Ernie.  Foam and parties.

So I went.  They give you a little ziploc bag for your electronics when you walk it. Oh dear. It’s about 678 degrees inside (which as we all know, has scientifically been proven to be the temperature at which foam is the foamiest) and packed full of people. You can’t even really dance, you can just step a little to the right and then a little to the left and and smile and bounce your head about and pretend it’s dancing.

I overhear a young girl, obviously a professional foam party attender, providing some sage advice to some younger greener party goers:  “One thing is that you should try not to eat it or get it in your eyes,” she tells them condescendingly.  They all nod in solemn acknowledgement of this wisdom. — Wow, yes, thanks. Helpful. So as long as you don’t try to breathe or see, you should be all set.

I turn and head directly to the bar and buy two beers. The only way to be at a party like this is to be drunk at said party, and I am working on it.

I turn back from the bar and THWACK! foam covered beach ball directly in the face. I drop a beer in a belated attempt to defend myself from it. I look at the other beer now filled with soap. Bad start.

I tried to stay away from the foam machine and dance around by the door, hoping only to get my shoes wet. But  clean dry people at a foam party are not to be tolerated and the foam monsters are legally bound to throw soap and soapy beach balls at you.

And the thing is, maybe, MAYBE, if we were like in bikinis in “Ibi-tha” you could MAYbe see how it could be tolerated.  But it’s the Netherlands.  I’m literally in boots.  I am standing here, “dancing” and there is soap in my boots.  I tell myself it is fun. I like wet boots.

Two more solid thwaps in the face with a beach ball.  Someone in my group raises their glass to me from across the bar in a “cheers, isn’t this fun?” sort of gesture.  I raise my beer and try to smile, mascara running down my face, a frizzy foamy afro forming on my head and a cup of soap filled beer.

And I ask you, is this fun?  Are we having FUUUUUUN?! Whoooo!  Spring Break!

Abby in the Dutch jungle. Alternatively titled: Tyler Perry’s Grandma goes to college

Skyline

The truth is that at the end of Peru I really fell off the wagon about being able to write. The house got excessively crowded again and somehow I was back to square one with having to remake friends and not be the girl hiding in her room writing. I have a bunch of notes about the end of my time there that are amusing, and at some point I’ll summarize them into something decent. But for the moment I might as well talk about the present before it too ends up just being a set of scribbled notes that I no longer understand.

So I’m currently living in what will hitherto be referred to as Huaycan, Netherlands. I am starting my masters program in Maastricht a town just over the German border. Very cute and quaint.

My living situation is what prompts the continuation of my “adventure” blog. It’s a different kind of adventure filled not with dangerous ghettos, death defying mountain climbing activities or rabid dogs, but with loads of college kids who blink at me without really seeing when they find out how old I am. :::Blink blink ::: You don’t seem 31 :: Blink blink….Um, thanks?

I arrive to my apartment on day 1. My room is a four floor walk-up, which is fairly painful considering the bathroom and the kitchen are 2 floors and 4 floors away, respectively.

Awesome.

I’ve been drinking a lot less water both because it’s hard to motivate to the first floor to get it, and because the resulting bathroom trips are daunting.

In any event, on day 1, I meet my first roommate – Nigel, the British 19 year old freshman whose parents are here helping him assemble the furniture he bought. “I’m so happy you’re here,” his mother tells me, “you can be the house mother.”

On floor three a boy comes out of his room in just his underwear, mumbles something incoherently and proceeds on by me. Later, I meet him again cooking (still in just underwear) in the kitchen. He informs me that he is NOT a freshman, he’s a second year, and that the rest of four rooms in this apartment will be filled by his other (teenage?) friends shortly. “So, what are YOU doing here?” he asks me. “I’m in grad school. This apartment doesn’t require a year lease so I hopped on it, and now I guess we’re roomates” :::Blink Blink. “You’re in school?” :::Blink.

Dennis is Flemish. But it’s complicated and he stutters over the answer to the simple question, “Where are you from?” and launches into an explanation of his heritage. I stop him. What’s the deal with the kitchen? Do you guys have your own shelves for your food? Is there a cleaning schedule? What about the fridge? I go to open the fridge door

– DON’T!! There was rotting food in there and now it’s full of flies.
– Have you called the landlord? Did you try and clean it?
:::Blinking
-Okay I’ll call her.

Awesome.

I walk back out to the car to get a suitcase and when I come back inside, the fire alarm is blaring, as it seems Dennis the Flemish Menace has burned his noodles. He looks at me, the girl who’s lived in the Netherlands for 5 minutes. “Do you know the number for the fire department?” It’s going to be a long year.

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Day One: Arrive at orientation group. Group mentor asks my name, checks it off on the list, and then to his friend “She’s the one from ’82.” – like 1982 is a weird place you can be from and not a perfectly reasonable time period in which to have been born, thank you very much.

– Yep. Guilty. ’82. That’s me.
– Where are you from?
– The States.
– But where?
– NJ.
– Jersey Shore!!!

It used to be that I’d say NJ and no one had ever heard of it, and I’d have to say it’s by NY to get them to have even a glimmer of recognition. And now, thanks to Euro-MTV, I no longer have to explain where I’m from.

– Have you ever met Paulie D?

Kill me.

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This is the first week of a two week orientation, but it’s not an orientation at all, it’s a giant party. One week of pub crawls, foam parties (ala every travel show you’ve ever watched about “Ibi-tha” during the 90s on E) concerts, boat rides, dinners, club nights, drinking. My liver hurts thinking about it. The school takes over the central square for a concert packed to the brim with people that lasts all night. They shoot t-shirt cannons at people, there are laser light shows, body paint parties, girls dance around on stage, beer is poured over white tank tops, everyone sings along to trashy Euro pop music, and then there is the strange performance by the Dutch version of Weird Al, and the crowd goes wild.

“What about my class schedule? I don’t even know where the library is yet. Are we just going to drink all week? When does the orienting start?” My group just stares at me. Right.

Later I meet someone’s boyfriend and after I say two words he says “You’re the one from NJ!” I look down at myself for signs of Jersey-ness – Is it that obvious?

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Everyone exchanges phone numbers. A girl in my group shows me the text message she received from our mentor: “I am your orientation Daddy.”

I am worried.

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Huaraz – Those campesinos will kill you

Huaraz – Those campesinos will kill you

A few of us went to Huaraz for the weekend with plans to do some hiking.  It’s this cute little town in the middle of the Cordilleras, where we planned to eat well, relax and hike in the fresh air.  We arrive at 6am via the overnight bus, and things are going well.  Too well.  A tour company that works with our hostel offers to take us there for free and when successfully arrive at the hotel, un-robbed and alive, they don’t even want anything in return.  No promises that we’ll tour with them, no payment, no tip.  They just drop us off and leave.  Despite the early hour we’re allowed to check in and sleep off the night bus fog.  The hostel is the nicest I have ever stayed in, a big fireplace, floor to ceiling windows overlooking snow capped mountains.

There is no heat, as such a things don’t exist in Peru, but our very comfy beds in our private room have huge fluffy down comforters.  We are warm and happy and pass out.  The boys get up at 8am and knock on our door wanting to do a tour.  No chance.  I am on vacation.  We let them go ahead and sleep ‘til noon, eventually wandering over to a local café that’s been recommended.  The café is the perfect blend of alpine ski lodge meets hippie granola hangout.  They serve homemade bread and some of the tastiest breakfast options around.  And coffee!  Real coffee!.  We each have two cups and take a third to go.

This late in the day we’re not sure what to do.  We head over the local tourist office and the very helpful woman gives us a map and directions for an “easy” two hour hike up to a small lake.  She tells us we can only do this hike today, because tomorrow we’d have problems on account of the “paro.”  I’ve never heard this word before but decide it means parade.  Pa-ro = pa-rade.  Sure.  Why not?  So I’m like, “oh, awesome.  I love paros That’ll be cool to see.”  She looks quizzically at me.  “You love paros…?”  “Er…yeah…”  And we’re off.

The hike is awesome and just the right amount of difficult for our first day acclimatizing.  It’s a beautiful day and we meet all sorts of happy and helpful farmers along the way who direct us to the lake when we’ve made a wrong turn.

We meet a little girl with an armful of puppies

Ladies on donkeys returning from the market.

And see a shepherd(ess?) heading home with her sheep.

We make it to the top and the lake is so pretty. A guy rides by on  his horse and offers to let us ride him (the horse!) for a photo opp.  We decline the offer but it’s a nice gesture.

The day has gone too well really.  It does not bode well for tomorrow.  This is how I live life in Peru, either things are going wrong, or they’re going much too well for me to feel comfortable.

The next day, we all get up at the crack of dawn and head to the café for breakfast.  After we’ve ordered, two of us head out to the local tour offices to book a hike.    The woman at the tour agency looks at us as if we’re nuts.  “Nothing today on account of the paro.  The miner’s paro.”  Ooooh.  Paro ≠ parade.  Paro = strike.  No wonder that woman was looking at me like I was insane yesterday.  “Oooh  strikes!  I love strikes.  Civil unrest is my fave!  How very Latin America!”  Lord.

The tour agency lady continues to explain why we can’t go today.  “The strike starts at noon.  We’d be able to get out of the city, but we couldn’t get back in.”  It must be clear to her that we do not understand the magnitude of the situation, “Do you understand that these are campesinos (farmers)?  Campesinos.   You understand how these people are.  They’re uncivilized.  They’ll kill you.”  I like the idea of a group of people who are nuts enough to kill people over labor rights, but civil enough to at least notify people in advance so everyone knows about what time to expect the slayings to begin.  A very orderly bunch of murderers indeed.

“Those campesinos will kill you.”  Clearly this woman is a somewhat prejudiced city dweller.  All farmers are uncivilized, murdering, hooligans seems to be something of an overgeneralization, but all the same, she looks at us as if she might be explaining the most obvious of clear and present dangers.  Like “Those sharks will attack you.”  “Those dingoes will eat your baby.”  It’s just in their nature.

Okay, so we leave and try to make a new plan.  We befriend a very granola Brit back at the café who is also at a loss for what to do, and we all head back to the tourist information desk to figure out what our options look like.   Of course the woman to whom I proclaimed my love of civil unrest is working in the office today.  I feel compelled to tell her that I know now what the word really means, and actually, I’m reallynot as into strikes as I seemed yesterday…..but as a general rule, trying to convince people you’re not crazy will always make you seem crazier, and I know this, but I am usually unable to stop myself.  This time I manage to hold back.

She gives us the option of a hike that won’t be affected by the paro, but points out that it’s about a 2 hour drive, and then 3-4 hours of “pura subida” (straight up vertical ascent of about 1,000 meters!) followed by what she thinks is a “somewhat difficult” rock wall, before we can get to Laguna Churup at the top (14,763 feet.)   As the resident cobarde, it’s my job to voice all the concerns (possible issues with paro, too much ascent in a short time, my inability to rock climb, not enough days of acclimatization to be going that high) and then to immediately be shot down by everyone else and eventually fold under the peer pressure.

Okay fine.  We find a collectivo driver and he agrees to take us, picking up piles of other hikers along the way who’ve realized their day’s plans have been ruined by the strike.  Our collectivo driver stops off to get gas.  Then to get air in his tires.  Then to drop off some beer bottles.  A little light shopping.  Drops his wife and baby off at home.  Standard fare.  This turns it into more like a three hour drive.

The hike is intense.  We’re all dizzy and feeling the lack of oxygen, but the day is perfect and we’re trying to take it slow.  We run into a guy from our hostel and he hikes along with us.  A 20 something hip British guy who recently quit his big firm job to spend a year traveling South America.  He is literally doing the hike in pair of beat up Keds, which is insane.  He confesses to me that he’d been planning to get proper hiking shoes, but the more people told him he couldn’t hike in the Keds, the more he wanted to do it, so eventually, he did six days of the Inca Trail in them, limping all the way, and he was just planning to continue his bad-assery (I’m not sure he’d call it that?) by wearing through ‘til the end of the trip.  Very impressive.

So we hike.  At about 3.5 hours shit gets serious.  The hike goes from uphill ascent, to a scramble using your arms and legs, and then we get to the “wall.”   I wish I’d had the presence of mind to photograph what it looks like at this point, but fear set in, and I’d stopped thinking altogether.  There hike turns into just sheer slate at a 60 degree angle, with permanent steel ropes in place so you can drag yourself up.  To get up though you have to sort of pull yourself up over this huge boulder that is chest high (on me).  And if you lose your footing, or those permanent ropes should suddenly not hold up, that’s the end of you.  You’re done.

Herbie and I have minor panic attacks at this point and refuse to go further.  Another girl I’m with, who is very athletic and a full foot taller (not hyperbole) than me, pushes us out of the way.  “Come on, guys. No big deal.”  She puts one leg over and heads up.  I realize I’m doing an awful job of explaining what it really looks like here, but basically the mountain is windy at this point, so once she’s up and over we don’t see her anymore.  You can’t see what’s up past the ropes.  I know the lagoon must be close, and I want to make it over, but I’m scared.

Herbie works up the courage and leaves me.  I tell them to forget it.  I’ll just wait here for them to get back.  I’m not going to be able to get up the mountain and I’m so scared I’m shaking at the thought of it.  They leave.  I start getting worried.  How long will they be gone?  How long am I going to be here on my own?  What if it’s another hour before anyone comes back?  What if it gets dark, or they find some other way to get down, and they don’t come back for me, and I get lost, and then I freeze to death?  I make a few half hearted efforts up the ropes.  On try two my foot slips on the rock and I freak out and sit down and start to cry.  I’ve just done the hardest hike of my life, and I’m so close to the top and my un-athletic self is unable to do it.  I’m chickening out.  Just like always.  Me.  The cobarde.  I cry like a baby for a few minutes and then pull it together.

No.  I did not come all this way to not make it to the lagoon.  I must make it.  It’s one rope.  One rope.  It will take me under a minute if I can just be brave for exactly one minute it’ll be over.  I can do it.  I can do it.

It’s just one minute.
It’s just one rope.
One rope.

I get a running start and hurl myself onto the rock and drag myself up and around the corner to the next level…(I did it!)…only to find….

….four more sets of ropes, each attached to a progressively steeper and more death defying area of the mountain.

Of course.  I try to put the fear out of my mind and pull myself up and through the rest of the ropes, because physically I couldn’t turn back now if I wanted to, and the ledge I’m currently standing on is so precarious that I don’t have time to think about it.

When I finally get to the top I see another group of people on their way back down.  “You’re almost there,” they encourage me.  So I basically just start running uphill and finally make it to the lagoon.  I see my group on the other side and yell to them and jump up and down, like Rocky at the top of the steps, I fully hear Eye of the Tiger playing in my head.

It beautiful.  We’ve made it!  I made it!  I’m alive!  WEEEE.

******

The same volunteer who mistakenly told the children to go play in a small vagina, had another doozie during her last week here.  Over drinks one night we were teaching people how to play the card game “Bullshit,”  which we were translating to “mierda de toro.”

After a little while the art director looks horrified, “Wait.  Mierda means shit?”  I thought that meant ‘scary’?!  Oh no!”

Her last week of classes involved kids making paper fans with dragons on them.  She’d asked someone in the house how to say “How scary!”  so she could compliment the kids on their good work.  “Que miedo!”    Except she thought she’d heard “Que mierda.”  Or “what shit,”  so basically she’d taught six art classes that week and told a bunch of kids what shit dragons they’d drawn.

“Some of them did look a little upset when I said it,” she remembered, “I thought maybe I was pronouncing it wrong.”

***********

The new guy is super musical and is always practicing, it makes me so happy.  It’s really peaceful to hear the sounds of soft piano chords and Spanish guitar floating around the house in the morning.  I’d like him to just follow me around and score my life.  It makes the whole house seem quieter and calmer somehow.  Whereas we’d normally be 10 girls chatting and yelling and laughing, everyone just sort of curls up with a book and sits quietly while he plays.  It drowns out the noise outside, the roosters, the mototaxis, the man selling papas rellenas, everyone seems to take a break for a minute.  Music really does soothe the savage beast, even when that beast is Huaycan.

************

I got bit by a puppy yesterday.  Obviously this was bound to happen.  This kid was trying to hand me his few month old puppy, but he picked it up like a maniac and hurt the little guy in the process, so the dog turned around and lashed out at the closest thing…my face, biting me through the lip. Nice.  And I have a Skype job interview tomorrow.  That’ll be cute.  Thankfully I’ve had all my shots and packed boxes of anti-biotics.  Will this stop me from trying to hold stray dogs you ask.  No.  It will not.

*********

A new kid came to class the other day and I overheard Franky (of Franky and the turtle) explaining to the new kid about who everyone was.  Then he points at me.  “Esta es Abby.  Ella es medio payaso.”  (Abby is half clown.)  Insulting!  I am a full clown, thank you very much.

How to be the first pick in gym class, Alternately titled: the moment I’ve waited my whole life for….

In gym class we usually end up playing volleyball or soccer.  I’m awful at volleyball, as I am at all sports.  Usually after a few minutes one of the little kids will tug on my hand and drag me to the way back corner of the court where I can do the least damage (“Meees, you stand here”).  Being older and taller than these kids has no advantage in volleyball, because you still have to actually make contact with the ball and get it to go in the direction you want.  And despite my advanced age, I still scream and run away whenever the ball comes near me.  I am a volleyball team’s worst nightmare.

I’ve found that soccer however, is a different story, because I’m tall enough to be faster than most nine year olds, and definitely weigh more, so in order to get the ball I just charge at it and the kids who’ve learned that I will knock them over now just take a step back.  It’s really ridiculous how hard I’m playing, but the fact is, me at 30 trying as hard as I can….I’m about as good as any 9 year old out there….and maybe not as good as some of the 12 year olds…but I keep up… I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’m literally tackling these kids and knocking them down because I am trying to live the athletic youth I never got to have…and the kids, they confuse my mania with skill, and they pick me first for their teams (and/or possibly to avoid being slide tackled by letting me be on the opposing side?). ….So I don’t mean to brag but, frankly, I’m basically the best player on this soccer team of 9 year olds.

It’s a little like that scene out of Dumb and Dumber where the girl playfully throws a snowball at Jeff Daniels, and then he basically slams one in her face.  I’m like way to serious about it.  It would be so cool to be a real athlete.

****************

Adrian comes to class today with his nose bleeding and informs me that some 10 year old beat him up. Adrian’s an adorable 8 year old with a major case of ADHD… if some kid beat him up, he probably deserved it, but it still makes me mad.

– Where is this kid?  What happened?

– He’s gone.  It’s no big deal.

– Yes it is.  Why did he do this to you?

– I owed him money.

– What?

– Yeah, I owed him money.

– Money?  What the hell do you owe someone money for?  You’re eight!  Did you go to some kinda 10 year old loan shark to get candy money, or what?

– It was money for lunch.  For my brother. He was hungry

I pull him in to give him a hug so he can’t see that I’m crying.

***************

One of the other volunteers here is this six foot tall model.  She’s been a good buddy of mine since I arrived, but the contrast between the two of us walking down the street is always amusing.  Today in art class one little girl looks back and forth between the two of us,  “You are beautiful, and you are precious,” she says.  Guess who got which adjective.  Precious?  Really now!

****************

Same art class.  We are making geisha style paper fans with dragons on them. Darwin asks: “What color are the dragons in America?”  Dear lord, could you be cuter?

–          In America, we call them “Republicans.”  Can you say that? Re-pub-li-cans.

–          That sounds scary.

–          Oh they are.

**************

More of the same art class.  It’s the model/art director’s last class with the kids after four months of working with them.  She keeps telling them that it’s her last day but it doesn’t really register.  “They don’t care,” she tells me.  But really that’s not it.  It’s that they really don’t understand.  In their lives, people don’t leave.  You are born in the same place where you will live, raise your own children, and die.  No one leaves.  They don’t really  have a concept of what it means to leave, to be gone forever.  Towards the end of class the kids start asking questions.  Her Spanish is not as good, so I translate some of it:

– Will you be back on Tuesday?

– No.  I won’t.  I’m leaving for good.

– On Sunday then?

– No, sweetie.  Sorry.  I’m going back toAmerica.

– For ever?

– For ever.

Their little faces start to crumble.

– But you mean you won’t visit? –  10 year old Gabriel asks.  The way he says it breaks my heart, and I start to cry before I can translate it for her.  I walk away a little bit and wipe my eyes.

– Mees, are you crying?

– No!  —- Yes.

I tell her what they’re saying and then we are both crying.  They all gather around to give her a big hug, and then they tell her not to leave yet because they have a surprise for her.  They make us both wait outside with our eyes closed.   After a few minutes of running around they let us back into the classroom.   They’ve apparently pooled their resources to buy crackers and juice and throw a goodbye party for her.   The two of us try to hide the tears.  It’s really the cutest thing.  They tell her that they’re going to give a little goodbye speech for her, and that they want her email and Facebook because one of the kids has a computer at school and he can send messages to her.

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As the kids are finally leaving at the end of class I hear Darwin say to Frankie: “When I get bigger I will go toAmerica and visit her.”

*************

This week’s installment of Combi adventures:

1. Combi crashes into mototaxi.  Door to Combi is ripped off and goes tumbling down the street. (Clearly this is not the first loss of this particular door.)  Driver and cobrador eventually retrieve it and the passengers all assist in tying the thing back on with rope.

2. The sideview mirror on Combi A, crashes through Combi B’s open door, and directly into the 12 year old cobrador’s chest, sending him flying to the ground.  Chaos ensues, Peruvians screaming at the driver of Combi A.  12 year old cobrador looks barely shaken.  Standard work day fare.

3.  A huge Combi up to Zone S empties out before we’re even more than halfway there.  There are only 2 voluntarios on the Combi now, and it’s not worth the driver’s gas money to cart us up there.  Better to kick us off here and head back down.  One volunteer says “Hey, you can’t do that…oh, wait…I forgot where I was for a minute…”

4. I am late for class in a packed Combi.   We’re headed through the intersection but suddenly reverse course and begin backing up.  The driver backs up about 100 feet and pulls up alongside a lady selling mandarins.  What better time to do a little light grocery shopping?  “2 kilos, please,” he yells, “And do you have any potatoes?”  Oh perfect.  Other passengers decide that if we’re stopped anyway, we might as well all shop.  Oh the hell with it,  I lean out the window and buy one for myself….when inRome just accept that you’re always going to be late and enjoy your damn orange.

Lost in Translation

Computer class highlight.  Helping a woman create an account to check her cell phone bill.

“How does this thing know my mother’s maiden name?”

Face. Palm.

*************

The children’s classes here are each two hours long.  One hour for English and the other for gym.  During gym we usually head to the local field (canchita) and play soccer or do whatever.  Another girl who works here doesn’t speak Spanish very well.  She comes back home from class and relays a story to all of us about her day.  She was telling the kids they were going to head out early to spend extra time in the field playing because they’d been so good, and the kids all started hysterically laughing.   “Which field will we go to?” they’d ask.  “This one, right out here.  The smaller field.”  More hysterical laughter.

-Teacher, is it your field?

-My field? No? What?  No.  This field.  This field right here.

-We will play in the field all together?

-Yes.  Yes we will play in the field all together.  (More hysterical laughter.)

We ask her to tell us what she’d been saying to them exactly, in Spanish.   Canchita is only one letter off from what she’d actually been saying, which was “conchita,” which actually means “little vagina,” except in about the dirtiest way you could possibly say it.  So she’d basically been yelling “Let’s go play in the little vagina!” over and over again to a classroom of 12 year olds.

When is your job ever that fun?

******************

A dog bit my leg on the way to a meeting today.  He was pretty small. And it was not very hard.  He really sorta just gummed me, but it’s still not an awesome way to start a morning meeting.  (Oh, that I was still able to complain that my train was five minutes late, and that my gourmet coffee not hot enough…)  The girl I was with is super afraid of dogs, and it’s cliché, but they really can smell fear, and whenever I walk with her angry dogs come from miles around to bark and chase us.  I let her go ahead of me and tried to keep her calm as these dogs came after us.  Usually if you just keep walking they’ll go away.  This little pipsqueak did not.  I turned around and about punted him, and then promptly felt really bad.  I’m the only person who gets bit by a dog, and then feels sorry for the little guy when I hurt him defending myself.

****************

The class of 6-9 year olds have been studying hard with their teacher in preparation for the big upcoming Vocabulary Bee.   For practice during class the teacher goes around the room and says a word in Spanish to each kid, and they have to say the corresponding English word.

-Gato.

-Cat.

-Escritorio.

-Desk.

-Mesa

Silence.

-Milner.

Silence.

…..Milner  (who you may remember from….)   is not paying attention today.  The teacher gets to him: “Milner.  Milner.  Milner.”  Nothing.  The kid eventually looks up from scribbling in his notebook and just stares at the teacher.  “Milner.  Milner.”  Milner shifts uncomfortably in his chair and adjusts his too –tight Brazil soccer  jersey.  “Milner!”  He whispers something no one can hear.  “What? Milner, please speak up.”

-I said Michael.

-What?  What about Michael?

– (He shrugs and looks nervous.) I dunno.  Just Michael?

– What about Michael?

–  (He balls up his little fist and yells.) I don’t know the answer.  I don’t know what my name is in English.  Maybe it’s Michael!

….fast forward a week…Milner did not win the Vocab Bee.

***************************

During “English Conversation Club” one of the adult students is telling me about a trip to theU.S.:

– We went to this one place, it was great.  InLas Vegas.  Called “Pussy Lunch.”

– What? No! That’s not what it was called.

– Yes.  Yes.  I remember.  It was Pussy Lunch.  That was it.

– Gross. Miguel, gimme a break.

– No. What am I saying?  It is not bad.  It was just a fun dancing club.

– Like strippers dancing.

– No. No.  Why is it a stripper?  No. Dancing.

– Okay fine.

– No. I show you.

– Please don’t show me.

– No I show you.  They have a web.

–  Yes, I’m sure that they do. I’m not interested.

– No. I show you.

He pulls it up on one the classroom computers:  Pussycat Lounge.

Very close….

********

For gym class the other day the 11-13 year olds convince us to take them to the ruins.  Oddly enough, in the middle of this actual living ruin of a city, there are some actual ancient (Incan?) ruins just down the road.  I’ve never been to visit them because the entrance is on a street that is just about a hair sketchier than I normally go for.  The kids insist they know a back way.  What could go wrong?

So twenty minutes later we’re climbing the side of a dusty mountain, rocks slipping out from under my feet into the ravine below (there are a disproportionate number of ravines in this place).  In what world does this qualify as gym class?   A half hour later, we arrive at the back of the ruins just in time to see two cops on four wheelers, carrying rifles, and heading towards us.  My first instinct is not to be afraid.  Obviously this place needs to be guarded, we’ve got a bunch of kids with us, we’re clearly not a threat.  They’re not going to shoot a bunch of kids who are playing around.

“They’re going to shoot us!  RUUUUN!”  The kids all start yelling and running, and though I’m now I’m only a little less sure that they’re going to shoot us, when people start running and yelling about getting shot, you just run too.  Back down the steep mountain, the other voluntario cursing me for agreeing to let the kids come here.

– I told you this would happen!

– You did not say we’d maybe get shot.  That I’m sure of.

We get back down to the canchita.  “Why don’t we stay here for a bit and just play games like a normal gym class.”  But we can’t.  After a few minutes, one kid tugs my sleeve and whispers, “Rateros.”  He gestures with his chin to a group of guys on the other side of the field.  Thieves.  Apparently, well known theives.  So we gather up the kids and head back to the classroom.  This is the world they live in.  Every day.  Gym class consists of a trek up a dusty mountain, running from the police, and then from rateros.    I randomly find myself wondering what Mr. Kaltreider, by elementary school gym teacher, would think about that?

**********

Two days before I need to be a bridesmaid in a wedding, I take some photos with the kids from S.  In their excitement I get tackled to the ground and gash both! of my knees open on a rock.  Perfect.  Now I’m going to be the bridesmaid with legs like an 8 year old tomboy.  Awesome.

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You’d think there’d eventually be some end to the Combi stories…

I hop on a bus in Miraflores one day on a way to my meeting in Lima.  About two seconds after I pay the cobrador and sit down, our bus side swipes another bus, knocking off the side mirror. Peruis apparently not the sort of country where you then pull over and exchange insurance information.  Our driver keeps going as if nothing happened.  At the next stop the cobrador from the side swiped bus gets off his bus and onto ours and starts yelling.

Combis are not really public buses at all, they’re just a bunch of people who rent or own a van or bus, get together and drive a particular route.  The driver and cobrador split whatever cash they make (less the bribes they pay to the cops and “Combi oversight board”) between themselves.  So when accidents happen, the money comes directly out of the driver’s and cobrador’s respective wallets.  So obviously when issues arise, chaos ensues.

I have the misfortune to be seated in the seat closest to the front, directly near the open door.  The two cobradors are screaming at each other and are so close to me that I am actually sort of being spit on as they argue, but there is no where to go. The driver gets into it, and then, inevitably, so do both busloads of people, each routing for their own team, and blaming the driver of the other Combi for the issue.  Peruvians are a lot like people from NJ in this way; they love to insert themselves into shit that has nothing to do with them.  If two people on a Combi are in a fight, everyone on the Combi must pick a side, get involved, and shout their two cents at the other side.  It feels like home.  I can’t decide if Peruvians have a very strong sense of injustice, or if they just like to argue, but either way, it reminds me of home.  How many incidents of a similar caliber can I remember taking part in, on say, the boardwalk? I can’t even count.  If you’re from Jersey, you’ve done it too.  You saw something happening that had nothing to do with you, and you walked over and got involved.  I have so much in common with these people.

Anyway, round two in any bout between two cobradors, is that our driver begins driving maniacally enough so as to attempt to throw the other team’s cobrador out the open door and into the street.  He swerves left.  The cobrador hangs on.  He swerves right.  The cobrador hangs on.  The thing is that I’m barely in a seat and if anyone is going to fall out of the Combi, it’s probably me.  I wrap myself around the closest pole and hang on tight.  The old man in the seat next to me offers to hold my coffee so I can cling to safety with both hands.

The other team’s cobrador eventually gets off the bus, but that is by no means the end of it.  Round three in any fight between Combis is that the victimized Combi will now block the path of the victimizer Combi so as to keep him from moving forward/making any more money.  So the other team’s Combi does just that.  Our Combi starts to move and they swerve in front of us.  We swerve left, they go left.  Our driver floors it, their driver floors it, at one point placing the bus almost horizontally across the lane.  So now we’re totally blocked.  The other team’s cobrador gets back on our bus and the screaming and swerving continues.  This has gone on for about 20 minutes and I’m going to be late to my meeting.  Not to mention I may fall out of this thing.  So in a rage I stand up and push both Cobradors out of the way.  “F*cking BAJA!” I scream at them. The bus doesn’t stop.  I look at the driver with my wildest, crazy person eyes.  BAJA!  BAJA NOW!  So he stops and let’s me off and I’m so mad that I’m just screaming at no one in English as I cross the street.  “Everyone in this country is NUTS!”  All the Peruvians walking around stop and stare at me, and I just continue my rant in English “What?!  Is it me?  Oh yeah, I’m the crazy one.  I’m the crazy one!”

Although, now it does sort of seem like I am the crazy one.

Bah!  I’m going to be late to this meeting.  I walk up to the next bus stop which is about ten minutes away and hope there will be another Combi I can hop on.  As it happens the next Combi that appears is the one I just got off of, they appear to have shaken the other bus.  The Cobrador gets off and speaks to me like I’m a small petulant child: “Are you ready to get back on now?”   Everyone on the bus is smirking at me.  Silly American girl.  I get back on, and don’t look at anyone.

********

Five year old girl on the Combi with me and a few other voluntarios.  She pops her head up over the seat and turns around to look at us with a big adorable smile.  Then without warning or introduction:

“My dad drinks!”  she tells us enthusiastically.  I can’t help but laugh, and get scolded by another voluntario who tells me not to encourage her.  Well geez, I didn’t mean to encourage her, I wasn’t expecting that.  She caught me off guard.  Okay I try to change the subject

– Um, okay.  Um, where are you going now?  Into town?

– Yes.  We have to leave because my dad drinks and he’s a drunk and he fights with my mom.

–  I see okay well, did you go to school today?

– No.  I’m too young for school!

Too young for school, but not too young to know her dad’s a drunk that fights with her mom.  So sad.

**********

I get onto the Combi with two other volunteers.  It’s a particularly packed day and we squeeze past a lady with a bag full of live chickens desperately trying to escape.  I suddenly feel something wet and gross dripping down my leg onto my flip flop….

– Oh my god, I think a chicken just peed on me!

– Chickens don’t pee – a volunteer who lives on a farm offers helpfully.

– Oh well that’s very comforting.  Whatever it is that they do, it just did it on my leg!

I miss the worst part of my commute being that the beautiful, clean, safe, German train is two minutes late.  I will never complain about my job again.  I will never complain about my job again.

**********

Had my first experience getting gas on the Combi the other day.  Do they shut the enginge off while they’re filling up, you ask?  No.  Don’t be silly.  They do not.  And waste all that money?  Better to risk life and limb filling up while the enginge is running, than lose out on the 30 cents it might cost to start the car again.  I’m literally going to die in a Combi here.  It’s not enough that I’m in danger the whole time it’s moving, but now even when we’re stopped, there’s still a good chance I’m going to blow up.

*********************

As told to me by my boss:

My strangest Combi experience was during my first month here.  I was coming down from Zone S and there was a teeny, tiny, Quechua woman sitting next to me.  She must have been in her late hundreds.  Old, shriveled, no teeth, traditional clothing, the whole bit.  After a few minutes of staring at me and another volunteer, she turns to us, and I watch her big toothless face say to me, in English,  “Cash! Money!  Caaash! Moooneeey!”  We nearly peed ourselves. To this day we shout it at each other whenever we’re on the bus.