Monthly Archives: April 2012

There is no way to be alone in a house with ten people

Walking down the street with a fellow voluntario, speaking English sort of loudly.  We pass by a store with the lights on.  No one comes out of the store, but a voice from inside suddenly begins to bellow over and over:

“Hello!  I am Jose!  I am fine!  I aaaam fiiiiine!!”



Art therapy workshop was a big success. The women in both zones really appreciated it and the therapists are now likely to come out a few times a month work with them.  At first all the ladies were unsure of what this whole thing was really about.  It’s like, um, okay we’re doing art now? I’m busy.  I have mouths to feed, kids to take care of, clothes to launder, whatever.  How is this helping me?  What am I really learning here?  And why?  But eventually the women really came to understand what was happening.  The head therapist had the ladies go around and introduce themselves.

Each woman basically said her name, and then said she was a wife, a mother, a cook, a cleaner, whatever it is that they do all day.  And the therapist was trying to stress, these are all good things, all valid titles, but the point is you spend all day being someone else’s something.  Caring for people, cleaning up after them, whatever. So much so, that when asked to introduce yourself, all you have to offer are the titles of your responsibilities to other people.  No one said, “I’m so and so, and I really like this, or enjoy that.”  They just listed their responsibilities, really.

So the therapist was trying to stress that this one hour or so a day is an hour for you.  You.  Yourself.  Not your kids, or your husband, or your employer.  Just for you.  And taking that time for yourself will make you a better, happier person.  As westerners, we really take that idea for granted.  The idea that we need time to ourselves, to decompress, to think, to relax.  Here, these women don’t relax.  There’s no time for that.  They’re up at five a.m. hiking to the top of a tall hill to get water to start the day, cooking, cleaning, getting the kids ready for school, laundering clothes by hand, whatever.  Whatever they’re doing, there is never any time for themselves.  And really, they’ve never had a reason to even realize it’s something they could have.  Or should have.  Or deserve.

This little session didn’t cover much, but what it did cover was the value of taking time for yourself, and I felt like you could see in their faces how excited they were about it.  That they could come to this place that is usually associated with nothing but work and use it for enjoyment.  It seems like a no-brainer to us “rich” Westerners, but to them it was an eye-opener.  I hope we have more moments like that.


There is no way to be alone here.  It’s just  impossible. You share a bedroom with at least two to three other people who are basically always home when you’re home,  and gone when you’re gone, and there’s just no escape.  So the only way to ever really be alone is to try to be mentally alone.  You put your headphones on and stare at your computer screen, or lie in your bunk reading a book with earplugs in.  You’re not alone.  But it’s something.

The only problem is that there are some people here who absolutely refuse to respect the mental alone time boundaries.  The rules are unspoken, but really I feel like any normal person who found me  wearing a hat, a scarf, sun glasses, and headphones all while reading a book called “I hate people who insist on speaking to me when I’m wearing headphones” could see that I’ve obviously gone out of my way to erect every barrier possible between myself and the outside world.  I don’t want to effing talk to you!  And listen, if you’ve got something important to say, a question maybe that only I can answer, or something very specific that must be said right now, such as, I dunno, “FIRE!” maybe , something like that.  Then okay, sure.  Feel free to say it.  But at midnight on Sunday don’t walk over to me when I’m reading, pull my earphone out of my ear-!- and ask if this milk smells funny to me, too.  Or worse, definitely don’t open my closed bedroom door some morning, see me half awake  and launch into a conversation about Fairtrade regulations.  What?!  No!  No!  It’s six in the morning.  Six!  I don’t even get up to pee before six, we’re not gonna have a jam session about human rights issues.  Who are these people?!


The moment you realize you’ve failed as a teacher:

English for 6-9 year olds.  Exam.

Question 1:  Write out the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 in words.

Eduardo’s answer: One true tree trour trive.

…….I guess we’ll have to go over that lesson again?



I will never complain about my job again

Random highlights

 Successfully organized a workshop with a group of art therapists fromLima.  Got the boss to agree to a taxi.  The taxista calls me to say he’ll be in Huaycan soon and to meet him on the corner of the main street where he will drop them off.

– Perfect!  Okay, what color is your taxi?  I’m in a blue shirt and a red…

– …and you’ll be the gringa, yes?, well yes….

– Right, so no need to describe your shirt color, then. I’ll find you.


I will never complain about a job again after this experience.  To think about what a huge complainiac I was about the stuff I was required to do at my previous jobs is completely laughable to me now.   Like now I wish my biggest issue all day was that that the subway to work takes 40 minutes. Or that I have to work late, so my company pays for me to take a pretty luxurious Mercedes Benz cab home directly to the front door, of my own personal house, that I only live in with one other person, instead of 10.  I wish the copy machine was jamming and that we were running out of tabs.  I wish that I needed to make a few more binders for a presentation and it looks like I’ll have to pull an all-nighter.  I wish some jerkface boss would hand me a stack of documents that he’d helpfully organized “in reverse alphabetical order based on feeling” and asked me re-order it and turn it into a pdf.  God do I wish.

Instead, my work day stresses run the gamut from being chased down the road by a pack of ferocious stray dogs, trying to find a moto-taxista who will not rob or kill me to take me up to Zone Z after being pushed out of four separate Combis because there is no room for me and my huge gringo backpack, taking children to play in an abandoned building for “gym” class when the “court” isn’t free for us to use and hoping to hell that no one falls through the floor and dies.   Those are just the standard worries.  Then there are the things you can’t even plan for.  You think the day is going in one direction, you think you’ve prepped for all possible contingencies, but you haven’t.  You’re wrong.

Today I wait an hour for a Combi to take me up to Zone Z.  Four pass by, and there’s absolutely no room for me.  For Peruvians to actually tell you that a Combi is too full for you to get on is a pretty serious situation.  I’ve been on Combis so crowded you’re literally covered in other people’s sweat.  These people have no qualms about maintaining personal space.  So if the cobrador says it’s full, it’s full.  Okay so eventually I get on one that is full by all normal human standards, but not full as far as Peruvians are concerned.  There are no seats so I have to stand and hang on.  This Combi is actually the smallest of any I’ve been on, and even I can’t stand up straight.  I also can’t wear my backpack, nor is there any room for it on the floor, so I hang the strap around my neck and it dangles in front of me.

Eventually we get to another stop, and, amazingly, more people get on.  Now there’s a woman crouching next to me and as soon as we start moving she is literally being repeatedly whacked in the back of the head by my dangling backpack, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.  I don’t have a free hand to hold it (you can’t Combi surf with any less than both hands, and I wish I had a third in most instances) and she can’t move.  I keep telling her I’m sorry but I also can’t stop laughing, so it probably sounds a little bit insincere.  We ride this way for the better part of 25 minutes.  Thwack. Thwack.  I crack up.  She turns to looks angry and possibly yell at me.  The bag whacks her directly in the face.  I apologize.  Thwack. I laugh.  I apologize. Thwack. I laugh.  This is awful.

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I get off the Combi and go about my business.  Today I have to go from house to house to pick up the various items the women in our artisan program have made for us.  I run into one of the women I am looking for on the road on the way back from the market.  She and her five year old son are carrying huge bags and I offer to help them and follow them up to her house….except…we don’t seem to be going the way I’d normally go to get there.  She lives pretty far uphill away from the main strip.  “It’s a shortcut,” she tells me.  Oh well, good.  Who doesn’t like a shortcut?

What she doesn’t explain is that this shortcut involves a death defying ascent up a path just a little bit wider than my foot, with sheer cliffs on either side….oh, and did I mention I’m in flip flops…and now I’m lugging her huge grocery bags and my huge backpack, and I’m clumsy and not a fan of heights to begin with, and the rocks are sliding out from under my feet.  I slip and fall, and lose a few platanos out of her bag into the ravine.

– Sorry!  I’ll pay for those.

– No, I’m sorry.  Maybe this is too dangerous for you.  And those shoes…

– …yeah…

– Those shoes are no good for this.

– Right, well, I didn’t plan on mountain climbing so… I’m okay.  I can make it.

She and her son, who are in sneakers and are clearly experts from doing this every day, hop around the path from rock to rock like a couple of mountain goats, and here’s the big, clumsy, stupid, gringa teetering behind them and dropping their groceries everywhere.  At one point, she directs the five year old to come back over to where I’ve stopped and take the bag back from me.  Low point.  I need to be rescued by a five year old.  I bet he doesn’t understand what the word disdain means, but he sure looks at me like he’s feeling it.  Can these damn gringas do anything?

I will never complain about my job again.  I will never complain about my job again.  Just let me live through this hike.  Just let me make it to this woman’s house.  We get there.  I’ve managed to live which is pretty awesome.  She hands over the sweaters she’s made and tells me that she’s one short, but that I can come pick it up tomorrow.  She looks at me and then back at the path we’ve just walked.

– I’ll come down there and meet you this time.

Awesome.  Thanks

Driver’s ed and blogs

Driving rules in Peru

I imagine all driver’s ed classes in Peru go something like this:

Rule 1:  Never be happy in the lane you’re currently in.  Every second you spend not trying to get into a different lane is a second wasted.  The best thing to do is attempt to drive most of the way straddling two lanes so that you never have to feel that you’ve committed to either.  It’s very important to switch to a lane that is going even 1 mile an hour faster than your lane is going.  Even if you have to come to a dead stop in your lane for a many minutes in order to switch, it’s still totally worth it.

Rule 2.  Never brake.  Braking is for pussies.  If you come to an “intersection” and you’re thinking about stopping to avoid a collision, just stop thinking.  Braking is not the answer.  The proper way to proceed is to simply lean on your horn, and sail through the intersection on your hopes and dreams.  This is all you’ll have for protection because of course the seat belts don’t work.

Rule 3.  Constantly use the horn.  In other countries, people use horns for two reasons (1) to alert other drivers to your presence when they seem to have not noticed you, or (2) to say: Hello, I’m outside your house, waiting to pick you up.  Come outside.

Horns in Peru are used differently, because people here drive with their ears as much, or more, than with their eyes.  So when you’re switching lanes in other countries, you check your mirrors and then your blind spot. Here it’s different.  You maaaaaybe check your mirror, but for the blind spot you don’t have to turn around and look.  All you have to do is listen for anyone blaring their horn and know they’re coming at you (see rule 2).  Then you know not to change lanes.  And/or more likely, you’re skilled enough at detecting how close the horn really sounds, and you’re going to gamble with the lane change thing anyway.

Rule 4.  Attempt to come as close as possible to the cars in front of you without actually touching them.  There is never a reason to leave any space whatsoever.  Treat driving as if it were a lesson in how to approach infinity, surely you can get just a little bit closer?  If, at any given point you find yourself in traffic, and realize that you can’t determine what the driver next to you had for lunch, you’re not close enough.

Rule 5.  Always be in a rush even when there is absolutely no reason to be.  Even if you’re just a bus driver and you have to do this route all day, anyway so why the hell does it make a difference to you when you get there?  Yes.  Even then.  Even if you have no where to be, you must get there immediately, if not sooner. Second place is losing.


I teach a computer class for four women in Zone D.  They’re all about in their 50s and have never had contact with a typewriter or anything even approaching a computer. Ever.  Maaaybe a radio.  Maybe.  But even then, it’s the old timey kind with the rolling dials.  Digital is mind blowing.  So these women are all very sweet, and very eager, but very confused and extremely frustrating.  There must be some special fine motor skill that all computer users develop in order to manipulate a computer.  Or some synapse in our computer using brains that allow us to do it.  Whatever it is, these women do not have it.  And listen, these are smart capable people, who I’ve seen knit beautiful sweaters, make backpacks on a loom, baskets out of grass.  They obviously have the ability to use their fingers and eyes, but hand them a mouse and a computer screen and holy god it’s a nightmare.

Most of the class is spent with the women clicking wildly around the screen as I try and point them to the day’s lesson.  I point my finger directly at the little “-” to minimize a screen.



-Where? There?

-No here.  Right near my finger.  The line.  Click the line.

-Where?  Here?

-No. Do you see my finger?

-(nasty look) Of course!

-[Well you could’ve effing fooled me.] Good then, click here. Click!

Then she will inevitably click the x and close the whole damn thing.  Awesome.  It’s going to take us 35 minutes to get to that point again.  What about right click, you ask.  Forget about it.  Just forget it.  It took me two sessions to get the left double click down.  They’d click once, and then maybe a full second later click again.  No!  This is not a double click.  Quick.  Quick.  Right in a row.  Bum. Bum. 1. 2.  Click click.  They will inevitably then highlight something and accidentally drag it somewhere else.  Noooooo!   Right click is for next semester.

The best part about the class is that the women just want to keep learning increasingly more complicated, and totally useless (for their purposes) programs.  We should be focusing on typing and games that teach them how to use a mouse, but we’re onto Word and Excel, and most recently, blogs.  Yes.  Blogs.  What seems to be happening is that these women go home each week, tell someone they’re learning about computers and someone will tell them about some program or site they should be using, and then they come to class and want to learn about that.  Okay.  Listen, I’m here for you ladies.  If you want to learn something, I’ll show you.  If 57 year old Luz Maria Jose Gutierrez Santos wants a Facebook account, okay. Fine.   Sure she’ll never really understand what it means to “friend” someone.  But whatever makes her happy.  If she wants to use all five of her names strung together followed by her birthday as her username for her gmail account then okay, sure, you can be all day if you want to be.  I keep trying to lead them back to typing practice to no avail.

So someone came up with the idea that we should be “having a blogging,” so fine.  We’ll have it then.  I spent two class periods showing them examples of Spanish language blogs and trying to explain the idea behind them and what they’re used for.  I showed them travel blogs, and movie blogs, and personal blogs.  This week I asked them to come in with some ideas for a blog topic of their own and we could go from there.

I sit down with one woman.  She’s not sure what exactly she’s going to be having a blogging about.

– Anything you want, really.  It could be a blog about cooking and recipes you like.  Or a blog about your kids.  Or a blog about flowers.  Whatever you like.

– Okay.  Recipes.

– Okay then let’s start.  Okay your blog needs a title.  For my sample blog I’m going to title it “Clase de Computadoras.”  Now you pick a title for yours.

– I have to think.

– Ok.

I give her a few minutes.  She types something. I look back over.  The title is “Recipes.”  I start to explain to her the purpose of the title, maybe it should be something catchy.  It’s got to make people want to read….oh forget it.  Recipes it is.  She tells me she knows some good recipes for arroz con pollo and can type them up and share them with her friends.  Good!  She’s getting it.  Okay now we’re getting somewhere.  She understands the concept of a blog.

– Okay.  Step two requires us to choose a web address for the blog.  They already give us, you just need to add something before it.

– Like what?

– Like anything you want.  Okay for example, I’ll call mine  Okay now you pick one.

– Anything I want?

– Yes.  Anything.

I look over at her computer.  She’s typed “movies.”  I nearly fall out of my chair laughing.  None of the ladies understand why.  It’s going to be a long semester.

Names have been changed to protect the guilty

There’s a new boy in the house who is about 19, very sweet, very green and very 19.  Sometimes, there are so many different people of different ages in the house, all doing the same sort of work, it’s easy to forget how old people really are and what that might actually mean.  We’ll call the new boy Herbert.  Ooh, or Herbie?  I like that better.  Okay so on Herbie’s third or fourth night in the house a few of us decide to buy some bottles of wine (read: cardboard containers of wine called “Gato” ) and have a few drinks on the roof.   Sidenote:  we’re not allowed to drink in the voluntario house.  So the way we circumvent this rule is to drink on the roof of the classroom building, two feet from the house.  We’ve never specifically been told not to drink there, but let’s face it, it’s probably even worse to be drinking where we teach, and I think we all know we really shouldn’t be up there.

So, with that in mind, we head up to the roof and have a bunch of cartons of wine.  Herbie is starting to slur a little bit, but big deal, I think.  We’re two feet from home.  Let him slur.  Most of the others leave about1am.  I stay with Herbie and another voluntario who we’ll call John.  Herbie goes to the classroom to go to the bathroom.  He returns.  One minute later he gets up to go to the bathroom again.  Shortly thereafter we hear a loud crash, like something shattering.  I guess we should check on him.  I let John go ahead of me.  I stand aside, wanting to give Herbie privacy if he needs it.  John opens the bathroom door and just stares in disbelief.

-What is it?  What’s going on?

-Herbie!  What the f___ is going on in here?  Herbie.  Jesus!

I peak into the bathroom and there is Herbie.  A tallish, skinny, lanky, effeminate boy of 19, standing in the middle of the bathroom surrounded by shattered ceramic, bleeding profusely from his foot, and trying unsuccessfully to stop the high powered stream of water that is shooting out of the wall and all over him/the bathroom.  John just stands there, frozen.

– Well don’t just stand there! Help me!

The bathroom’s not big and there are already a few inches of water on the floor.  I push past them and start crawling around looking for the knob to turn the water off.  There isn’t one.  Why does every damn thing have to be different here?  I crawl around on the floor, intermittently being shot in the face with toilet water, as Herbie and the John shout unhelpful suggestions from outside.  Great.  Thanks for the help dudes.  This is totally how I envisioned my night going.  We eventually locate the off switch.

– Herbie, go home and deal with your foot and go to sleep.  John and I will stay here and clean up.

John’s not pleased.  So what I’ve gathered from the forensics here, is that Herbie got sick, found that the toilet did not flush for whatever reason and so he proceeded to remove the lid off the tank to fix it.  He drops the lid and it shatters, stabbing him in the foot.  That much is crystal clear.  What is not quite so clear is how or why he managed to rip the pipe connecting the toilet to the water source completely out of the wall.  Like, it’s not just disconnected, it’s ripped out.  Broken.  Awesome.  Perfect.  So now we have a toilet full of vomit, with no water in the tank, or water source with which to flush it.   So John and I spend the next hour or so filling up the tank with water bottles that are so small no comedy writer could have written a more amusing set-up.  So we fill up, and dump.  Fill up and dump.  Eight ounces of water at a time.  Eventually I get the toilet to flush.  I Huaycan-rig the remnants of the tank lid, and we dash out of there, hoping we can just blame it on a student the next day, like any responsible adult would.

It really wouldn’t do to explain to the boss that while the teachers were getting drunk, in the classroom building, we also broke the bathroom beyond all simple repair.

Okay, so that isn’t great, but no big deal.  We’ve all been 19.  It happens.  John and I head back.  Shortly thereafter I hear ruckus coming from John and Herbie’s bedroom.  Herbie got up to go to the bathroom, and in his absence, John noticed that not only had Herbie !pooped! – in his bed, but that it was actually leaking down onto John’s bottom bunk.  Herbie comes back and we point this out.  He bursts into tears.  He had no idea.  So the three of us go into frenzy mode, ripping off sheets and mattresses.  I’m not sure what else to do so I just star pouring massive amounts of bleach on the mattress.  It’s the only cleaner we have. It’s bad.  Obviously.  And Herbie can’t stop apologizing and I feel bad and we try to make it so it’s not a big deal.  We’ve all been 19.  I’ve never been “poop-in-my-own-bed-19,” but I’d be lying if I said I don’t know some pretty respectable people  today, who have pooped in some less than desirable circumstances.  You all know who you are.

Then, today, I asked Herbie if he could cover a class for me so I could attend another meeting and he whined about having to do it!  It was very hard, but I refrained from pointing out that here, in this program, we all help each other out.  I cover for you, and you for me.  Sometimes I clean your vomitty, poopy, toilet-breaking ass mess up for you, and you spend a half fricking hour in a computer class for me.  Fair trade right?

English Class in San Lorente – Alternately titled – Epic Fail

I’m scheduled to begin teaching an English class to a group of teachers who work at a local private elementary school.

Day One:  Huaycan is just about the dirtiest, dustiest place around and for the most part the voluntarios only wear t-shirts and shorts and ratty old sneakers that no one cares about.  We’re mostly only teaching a bunch of dirty, dusty children and/or adults, so it wouldn’t make sense to look nice anyway.  But since I’m teaching at a private school I put on a dress and black flats.  It’s hardly the nicest dress around, it’s somewhere between a summer dress and a business casual one, but hardly fancy.  I walk downstairs and all the voluntarios are shocked.  It’s not often any of us even showers to go to class, so this is a big deal.

I walk down to the school.  The director meets me and tells me that on account of Semana Santa, most of the teachers have either forgotten about the class or don’t have time.  I tell him that’s fine, I’ll come back next week.  But no, he wants me to wait, just in case.  He takes me to the classroom, sits me down and says he’ll be back shortly.  He comes back an hour later.  No one’s showed up.  He apologizes profusely and we agree to start next week.

Day two:  Because it’s a private school it’s basically on lockdown.  It looks more like a prison than a school.  It’s surrounded by an 8 foot high cement wall and steel gates.  There are a bunch of parents standing around the entrance and pounding on the gate when I arrive.  No one is answering.  The parents are freaking out.  Eventually the steel door opens, a little girl with pigtails lets us in.   Inside, there are children running wild everywhere.  In and out of all the classrooms.  Throwing things,  fighting each other.  Slamming doors.  Standing on desks.  Total chaos. Hmmm, little different than last week.  I walk to my classroom, the door is locked.  I knock on the director’s door.  No answer.  I stand around awkwardly for a bit and watch the madness.  A little girl walks over to ask me what I’m doing here.  I tell her I teach English (or well I would if anyone would let me).  I ask her why all the kids are running around.   “There are no teachers.  They have a meeting.” 

Hmm.  Okay so I guess the teacher’s just sequester themselves in a soundproof room somewhere and leave the children to run amok and take over the school.  Every child’s dream, really, but how is this allowed to go on? After awhile, the only adult I’ve seen in a half hour walks over to me and informs me that she’s the admin assistant and she can let me into the classroom.  She says the teachers are almost out of their meeting and won’t be too late.  I enjoy that the fact that they’re already a half hour late is not considered to be “too late” at all by Peruvian standards. We walk by a group of kids hurling rocks over the school walls, she doesn’t say anything and neither do I.  There are no rules in Peru.  Even in private school.

I set up the classroom.  Take chairs off desks, write some grammar points on the board.  “Hello my name is Abby,” etc.  I watch the kids go nuts outside.  A child runs by me chasing another with a broom.  Two kids are sword fighting with plungers, while their friends cheer them on.  A kid pops into my classroom, takes a broom and a dustpan and then looks up and sees me there.  He freezes.

– Um, can I?

– Are you going to use that to clean up or to fight someone?

– Fight.

– Um. Yeah, okay go ahead.

I think I’m getting the hang of this no rules thing.

Like everywhere in Huaycan, dogs abound.  Classroom dogs, much like roof dogs (see previous post) are actually pets that are well fed and basically cared for.  Two very friendly classroom dogs come and hang out with me and I name them Naranja and Cicatriz, because let’s face it, Amigo’s been taken.  “Do you want to learn English,” I ask them.  They just stare at me panting and wagging their tails.  “Sit,” I tell them in English and they do.  Wow.  They must’ve had this class last semester.

So I sit there.  The classroom is all set-up.  The name tags and attendance sheets are out, the lesson is on the board, the worksheets are all ready to be passed out.  I’m even dressed up . Still no one comes.  I have this ridiculous feeling that I’m being stood up for a date.  Class is over.  No one shows.  I erase the board and put everything away.   In the movie of my life there will be sappy music playing as I clean up.  The soundtrack to life in Huaycan, now available for download.

Huaycan comes from the word huaico which means landslide

At the airport  on the way back from Arequipa, I catch the news over breakfast.  On the screen are images of a terrible landslide/flood that happened this week in Chosica, a town just about a half hour from Huaycan, where we go out sometimes.

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Holy oh my god!  I grab Tricia and point her at the tv.  Oh my god.  If this is happening there, what about Huaycan.  What about the roommates who are home now?  And the people there?  Is everyone okay?

I call my boss and apologize for bothering her, but ask if she knows about what’s happened and if everything is okay in the big H.  She says it happened a few days ago, and that she “didn’t get any phone calls from Dina [chef] or Queta [cleaner]” so she assumes everything’s fine.  Right.  Unless they’re under a pile of rocks and couldn’t call you.  Wouldn’t this be a good time to call them?

When we land I chat with our resident taxista about it.  He lives a few towns from us, where landslides are not an issue. He tells us the government has been trying forever to get people to stop building in these areas, but that the people have no where to go.  It’s been over 15 years since the last one, but you just never know.  Since it rarely rains in Huaycan, he says, we’ve got nothing to really worry about.  But he points to the hills surrounding our house as we get home and says, “If you ever notice that it starts to rain really hard here, you get to your roof as fast as you can.”  Great.  Like I need another thing here that could potentially kill me.

Week three random highlights

Everything in this house shocks me.  Like electrically.  I’ve been shocked four times today.  The computer cord, the light switch, the other light switch and now the my camera charger.  AHHHHH.


People in Zone D, where I live, have a little bit more money than the other zones.  The houses are more legit and they can afford life little extras, like pets.  The thing is that, even with a bigger home, it wouldn’t be fair to say anyone’s house is really big enough for a pet, and no one has backyard.  So you want a dog and you don’t have the space…how do we solve this problem?  You get a roof dog.

That’s right folks.  A roof dog is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s a dog.  That you own.  That lives on your roof.  All the time.  It’s kind of awesome.  They’re kinda like guard dogs because when you get near a house that has one they run to the edge of the roof and bark at you.  And for a second, you’re afraid.  And then you’re like, wait, that dog is not going to jump off the roof to fight me.  For sure.  But then you aren’t sure.  Because they always seem like they just might do it.  Go ahead.  Just give ‘em a reason to jump off.  Make his day.   And then you’re not so sure.  So you back up.  Ingenious!  I want one for the house.

Roof dog and her roof puppy

Roof dog and her roof puppy


I brought my Kindle into the library today to read to the kids.  I have Twilight in Spanish and they all take turns reading it.  One kid named Enzo is so excited about the Kindle he can barely stand it.  But he’s excited for all the wrong reasons, because no matter how many times I explain it to him, he can’t get the idea out of his mind that with this magical device I can turn any movie into a book.

– Can you get me that movie “300” on here?  I love that movie.

– Right, Enzo, it’s got to already be a book.  This doesn’t turn movies into books.  It’s just the electronic version of something that was already a paper book.

– What about the Fast and the Furious?

– Yeah. Sure.  I’ll look for that one.


Things I’ve been asked to hold on the Combi:

  • A backpack
  • A sack of onions
  • A baby
  • A plastic bag that leaks an unidentifiable liquid onto my toes/flip-flops. But there’s no where to move so I just keep holding it and letting it drip all over me.
  • A potato sack containing a screaming animal.  Well now I have to ask:

– What’s in there?

– My cat

– To eat?

– (Horrified.) No! No he’s my cat.

– Oh, well.  I’m okay to just hold him, maybe we should take him out of the bag?  He seems upset.

– Oh no!  We can’t do that.  He’d run away.  He hates the Combi.

Hm.  That makes two of us.


Trekking the Colca Canyon

Peru shuts down for a few days before Easter, so all the voluntarios plan a trip to Arequipa.  Six people chose to take an 18 hour bus both ways.  Tricia and I opt for the one hour flight.  We win.  Clearly.

Where we lose, is with the hostel.  I use the term hostel, loosely.  Really it’s a nightclub with a bunch of beds in it.  So if you’ve ever walked into a really smokey, bumping club and thought “wow, I could really take a nap here,” then this would be the hostel for you.   The voluntarios don’t see quite enough of each other living in the same house, so now we’re sleeping in one hostel room with 8 bunk beds.  Awesome.

Arequipa is a real city.  Beautiful. Safe. Legit.  A few of us walk around and check out churches, and shops and various parks.  Then I see it in the distance, a coffee shop!  A real live, honest to god, coffee shop that could just as well be on any street corner at home.

– You guys wanna tour the rest of the city?

– No.  I’m not going anywhere.  I’m going to sit in this shop and read and listen to my Ipod and drink coffee until I’m sick!

I walk over to the counter and grin like a fool at the menu.  The barista eyes me suspiciously.  I seem to be from this planet and yet I look as though I’ve never seen a café before.

-Can I help you?

– I’ll have a latte.  No!  A mocha!  No!  A latte AND a mocha.  Oooh and a chocolate chip cookie!  Oooh and that little scone thing!

She gives me a funny look.  “I live in Huaycan,” I want to tell her, but I don’t think she’d really get it.   I look around and see another voluntario sitting at the back of the shop with two coffee cups and a book.  She sees me and waves, obviously just as excited as I am,, holding her cup up in the air as if to toast me.  I nod and smile like a maniac.  Living in Huaycan is like prison, or like being at war maybe, the only people who really understand are the people who are there with you.   “This is happening right now,” she calls to me.

It is indeed.




2 day Andean mountain hike into Colca Canyon


11PM– Bed time

11:15– Switch out foam earplugs for the better silicone ones

11:30– Grumble toss and turn because of the club that is happening outside our door

12:00– Sit up in bed and look around for someone else to commiserate with.  How are all you people asleep right now?

Toss and turn.

2:00 AM  – Wake-up call (had I hypothetically been able to sleep)

2:30 AM– Bus pick-up

We travel by bus for three hours to a little town where we have breakfast and consume massive amounts of coca leaves and tea to ward off the altitude sickness.  No, you don’t get high.

An hour later we arrive at abou 3300 meters to begin our trek.  Our guide talks to us about safety (try not to fall to your death is the basic general rule).



A fluffly black dog who appears to have a broken paw is following us as we head down the path.  I name him Amigo and share my water with him.  We walk for awhile and despite the broken paw he’s determined to come with us.

The first three hours of the hike bring us 1000 meters downhill which sounds easier than uphill but it’s not at all.  You have to step pretty gingerly because the rocks on the footpath will slide out from under you at any second causing you to slide over the edge of the not very wide path to your death.


(Not even enough path to walk side by side with anyone other than a dog.)

I have the world’s worst backpack for this trip and it must weigh 30 pounds with the two giant 2 liter bottles of water I’m carrying.  Not fun.  Kills your knees.

Eventually, Amigo passes by all of us even with his broken paw and he’s gone.  Sad face.

We get to the lunch place after three and a half hours….I’m exhausted, starving, and gross and grumpy.  I don’t want to go any further.  Then I look up and Amigo’s there!  Waiting!  Day brightener!  If he can do it with a broken paw I should stop complaining.

After lunch, we’ve got three and half more hours of hiking, some uphill, some down, to bring us to the lodge where we’ll spend the night.  Amigo limps along with us for two more hours, until he meets his little dog girlfriend (I assume this was his plan the whole time) and he takes off with her.

The Oasis is very pretty with a built in pool that’s filled up with fresh water directly from the mountains…..and then there’s the little puppy who lives there “Borbuja” (Bubble), who looks more like a little polar bear.  So cute….


But there’s no electricity, and our rooms have dirt floors.  I’m exhausted and want to shower, but it’s too cold to do it without hot water.  And now in the dark no less.  They give us dinner and we head to bed at8PM.  As soon as it gets dark we go from sweating to freezing.  I’m wearing a tank top, a long sleeved t,  a fleece, a scarf, a hat, two pairs of pants and socks to sleep.  I hang some of my other clothes out on the line outside my room to dry.  When I wake up they are soaked.  It rained.  Perfect.  My bag will be even heavier.

Next day we’ve got a 4am wake up call.  We have to hike for 3.5 hours to our breakfast.  It’s about 1500 meters uphill.  In total darkness for first hour or so.  Intense!  The fastest in our group finish in 2.5 hours.  I finish in 3 and am so proud of myself.  I wasn’t last!  I am dying though.  As I approach the top, the early finishers start yelling to motivate me, “Abby, there’s a friendly dog up here that you can pet if you hurry.  And we’ve got a Snickers waiting for you.” – So I’m officially the chubby animal lover of the group.

Six days of this crazy hiking in Machu Pichu is going to kill me.


The world’s most adorable absence note

This note was hand delivered to me before class one day.  It could not be cuter:

Good afternoon Teacher:

Forgive me for not being able to attend library because of my health I feel bad and I am going to the hospital and also my friend Jenny can not come because she is helping me to recuperate.

Forgive me professor,

Isbeth Yeraldine Romero Torres

The Zone S Turtle!

You just can’t make this stuff up.


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Frankie (yes, Frankie) insists that the turtle is a land turtle because one time he tried to put him in a pool and he couldn’t swim.  But when he brings the turtle a bowl of water to drink, the poor little guy sticks his whole head and neck into it.  I’m sure he just needs a shallow pool to cool off in.  You’d be surprised by how hard it is to find a baby pool around here.  I’m trying to Huaycan-rig something for the little guy.   Maybe dig a hole and put a tarp in it?