Monthly Archives: June 2012

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.