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:
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.
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”.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
…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.
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.
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?
-– Dong Fong?
Perfect. The natives will never know the difference.
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?
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…..♫♫
Slow day (week/month/year) at the HighlandFalls police department. Not at all characteristic of a military town but amuses me all the same.
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.
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!
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.
– 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.
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.
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?”
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.
…..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.
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.
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.
Because nothing is simple inPeru, a bunch of us have to go to the bus station to purchase tickets for our weekend trip to Paracas. It’s not possible to buy them online. Why would it be? The station is about 45 minutes away inLima. We decide to use a cabbie we know, have him take us to the station, and from there to Miraflores where we’ll get some drinks. Then he can drive us home and we’ll have had a safe and successful night. He’s scheduled to arrive at 8. At8:15he says he’ll be 20 minutes late. This turns out to being the Peruvian 20, which is to say that the real time is about double that. We’re all antsy and we don’t have all night so we decide to take a Combi to a more populated area and try to grab a taxi from there. The night devolves from this point.
We’ll still go to Miraflores though later and have a drink though, right? Right! Totally. Oh. Wait…we won’t be able to find a taxi to take us back. Almost no one will drive to Huaycan.
Okay, well we can go to Chanclacayo maybe and have drinks there. We’ll get our taxi to drive us there and then bus it back. Yes!
We get toSanta Claraand start heading for the taxi stand. I use the term loosely. Almost none of the cabs, well okay probably exactly none, are even licensed. You can just buy the little taxi sign and stickers and wait somewhere and be considered a taxi. Taking a ride with these guys is always a risk. A few years ago a bunch of (very stupid) voluntarios got into a cab in the center of Lima, a place you shouldn’t be caught after sundown, at about 1am and obviously ended up getting dragged to some awful part of town and robbed at knifepoint. So the point is, you have to be careful. We all try to do the Peruvian thing where you look into their soul, but it’s hard. How do you ever know who to trust?
I’ll tell you who not to trust though. Anyone, absolutely anyone who Pollyanna thinks we should trust. Not one minute after we get off the bus, I turn around to find her talking to three boys who could not be more than 16. She points to them:
– They’ll take us.
– You must be kidding me.
– No. Absolutely no.
– Abby, come on. Geez. They said they’ll take us.
– Polly, how is that a good idea? Three children walk up and solicit us before we go to them? Too eager. No. And where the hell is their taxi? Did they tell you they’d drive you there before you even told them where we were going? No. Just no.
I cross the street and the rest of the volunteers follow. Herbie and I begin talking to a guy who actually has the decency to fake being a licensed cabbie. I turn around, Pollyanna is talking to two more sketchy guys near a car. Perfect. NO! No! I signal to her. The cabbie gives us a reasonable price, he even haggles a bit to get more, which always gives me a false sense of confidence. If he was just planning to take all my money anyway, why would he be haggling for that extra 5 soles? We tell him we’re going to the bus station in LaVictoria. He asks, “Javier Prado?” Yes. That’s the road.
A few minutes into the drive he starts going on about how there are two bus stations in LaVictoria. One on Javier Prado and another somewhere else. This is news to me. I tell him no we want to go to the one on JP. I call my house manager to confirm I am not nuts. She confirms. She has never heard of another one. So I tell him just to go to JP. He’s kinda sketching about. He confirmed before that he knew where it was and would take us there, and now he’s all like, oh maybe we need to go to the other one.
– No. No. Just take us to the one we asked for. Do you know where JP is?
-Yes of course. You see we are on our way there now.
Then he pulls off for gas which is always a fun little Peruvian taxi detour. He gets out of the car and says he needs to make a phone call. I start yelling at him not to call anyone and say we’ll get out if he does. This is the M.O. of these guys before they take you somewhere and rob you, they call up some friends and try to coordinate the heist. So he gets back in, muttering about how he just needed to find out some info about God knows what. We’re on the right road, so I’m not worried about him messing with me. We get to the station and buy our tickets and he waits outside. Everyone’s a little nervous. What if he called some friends while we were inside? No one really wants to be the person to bug out and say let’s not go with him. So we don’t.
On the way out I see him waiting and walk back to the car with him. “Ready to go back?” I ask. He answers but doesn’t really look at me. I’m not digging this. During the ride back he keeps checking his rearview and giving all of us the creeps. I find myself looking behind us at license plates to see if anyone’s following us for a long distance. Then he starts to get off the highway where he should not be getting off. I have only done this route a handful of times, and my sense of direction is awful, and even I know that we don’t exit here. I start yelling:
– What are you doing? No. No. Straight.
– Oh. Sorry. I didn’t know. I thought we could go that way too.
It occurs to me that I’m anywhere from 6-10 years older than all the other people in the car. Maybe I need to just be the grown-up here and get us out of this situation. After hearing the story with the voluntarios that got robbed back a few years ago, I always wondered what was the moment when they were all in the car, realizing they should say something, but keeping quiet for whatever reason? Like what was the point that they were all like, oh shit, we’re in trouble, but then kept their mouths shut? I promised myself I was not going to be that person.
A few minutes later he tries to exit the highway again. I yell again. Pollyanna turns to me and says, “I don’t like this guy.” That’s all I need to hear. If Polly doesn’t trust him, and she trusts everyone, then we’re getting OUT of this thing. BAJA! BAJA right now! He pulls over and drops us off on the side of the highway near a major bus stop. Forget it. Let’s just take a Combi back. I toss half the fare at the guy and slam the door and we all walk away. “Oh no, Abby! He’s getting out.” Bah! We argue about the fare. I told him half was fine, but he went on and on about how he thought he was taking us to another Cruz del Sur station which was closer and blah blah (Upon further research, no such other station exists). We eventually toss 5 more soles out to him and hop the first of three busses we’ll need to take to Chanclacayo. Everyone still faking excitement about heading there for a drink.
Forty or so minutes into that bus ride I say a phrase I never thought I would: Can we just go back home to Huaycan, where it’s safe? Let’s have drinks there.” Everyone enthusiastically agrees and we all admit that we are tired of being constantly scared out of our minds. Enough adventure for one night. Let’s go back to the bad we know.
There’s a little local bar down the street where one of our students works. It’s beyond cheap and they have the tastiest Pisco sours around. We all feel like we need a few drinks after this evening.
There’s no food at the bar, so after a few pitchers, Herbie and I head to get pollo a la brasa for the group, but everything’s closed. We head to Quince and I try to buy some French fries from a street vendor.
– You don’t want chicken?
– No. Just fries.
– I don’t sell my fries.
– I don’t sell my fries without the chicken.
– Right, but I’m going to pay you for them.
– They’re not for sale.
– They are if I pay you and you give them to me.
– No. Then when people buy chicken I will have no fries to give them. – I take a big, obnoxious look around the empty street. It’sone a.m.on a Tuesday, lady…what people?!
Where am I right now? Germany? Kenkos? What do you mean you don’t sell your fries? You’re a frigging street vendor! What? Is corporate going to come by and audit your till and realize you’ve been just willy nilly selling fries and not chicken? Will you be fired? Demoted? Nuts! But okay, fine. We buy about 6 soles worth of junk food from the lady next door. She looks at us so happily, and thanks us profusely, like we’re the most business she’s done in a year.
We take our sad snacks back to the bar. Tasty Piscos aside, it’s been a fail of a night and we all want to just head home.
On the way we run into the original Amigo. Back in March when I arrived, I was walking down the street with two other girls and the saddest, skinniest little dog stood next to me on the sidewalk. Though he was pretty gross he had such a sweet face, so I scratched him a little behind his ears. That’s all it took. He started following us. He followed us all the way down from our house, and down Quince. Stopping and waiting with us as we ran our errands. We started laughing and saying he was our Amigo. Sad, terrible looking Amigo that he was, he was ours, and really he was so very sweet. Eventually we lost Amigo in traffic, but we always talked about the little guy. I never saw him again until this night. He ran over to us. I can’t believe he’s still alive! He looked worse than before, having clearly been run over, he was now only walking on three legs. His fur is missing in places and he looks just truly terrible. But he walks right over to us and starts wagging his tail.
Everyone gets excited. The original Amigo! We must bring him home and feed him. He’s slow on only three legs so Herbie picks him up and carries him some of the way. He follows us the ten or so minute walk up to our house. Everyone is drunkenly excited to save Amigo. We’ve had a bad night, but geez, this dog has had an awful life and he’s still so sweet and adorable and loving. After all the awfulness that has clearly happened to him. Maybe we should stop complaining. So now we’re on a mission to save Amigo…wait…AmigA as it turns out. She’s a she! Okay so everyone wants to save Amiga. Herbie carries her past Rex, the huge guard dog that lives next door. I run inside and pull out all the food I purchased today. Cheese, turkey, crackers. We give her a bowl of water. She gobbles it up like crazy and then sort of wants to cuddle, but really she’s just way to gross to be cuddled with. She looks awful. I realize that she has these awful ticks all over her and start pulling them off. Herbie starts to help. We’re officially the Huaycan drunken veterinary service.
After an hour or so it’s time to go inside. We bring Amiga out a little towel and wrap her in it. She seems happy and passes out. Amiga has brightened everyone’s night. I tell myself that she will live here as the house dog from here on out. It seems even the worst night can be redeemed.
Eleni is hands down the prettiest and most well educated girl in Huaycan. Obviously, this is a little bit like being the tallest midget, but she wears these superlatives like badges of honor, the way big fish in small ponds the world over do. Like an asshole. (I’m sorry mom but sometimes only a bad word conveys the meaning I’m looking for.) So far, she’s failed to be my favorite adult student. Every word she says to me is in this disdainful tone, like it pains her to even have to speak to me. The only time she smiles when she speaks to me is when it’s to say something mean.
– I heard from Jose you got your bag stolen. – (To be read in the tone of “I heard you just got a new job.”)
– Yeah. It sucked a bit, but I’m okay and really, it’s just stuff. What can you do? I’m really only mostly sad about my diary.
– Hmmm. Well, really you should be more careful next time. How do you say ‘naïve’ in English?
Um, I think it’s “you’re an awful bitch.” I think that’s how you say it.
For our second trip back home from the bus station, I decide we’re not taking any chances. We’re gonna splurge on the one secure taxi company inLima. The taxi driver arrives, he’s a cute little old man, maybe approaching seventy, and reminds me very much of a Peruvian version of my grandpa. I ask him to confirm the reservation name for me, and he does, assuring me that we’re safe with him and his taxi. “With us. No problem.” He squeezes my hand. Then we tell him where we’re going.
– Huaycan? Huaycan? Sure?
– Yes. We’re sure. We live there.
This is basically the format of every conversation we have with people when you tell them where you’re going. Huaycan is a notorious ghetto, and most people fromLima, even most taxi drivers won’t go there. They just won’t. And they can’t believe you want to go there either. They think that maybe you’re mispronouncing it.
– No, it’s M-i-r-a-f-l-o-r-e-s. Say it with me. Miraflores. Not Huaycan. No.
– Yes. It is. I live there. Truly.
So this poor little old man cannot believe his (lack of) luck. Here it is, 1am on a Thursday, and he’s managed to pick up a fare to the worst place he can think of. He tells us he knows how to get to the entrance, but not how to get us to where we need to go, and we assure him we can lead him from there. He looks nervous but nods and starts driving. He looks petrified.
– Have you ever been to Huaycan before?
– No! — It’s like I’ve asked him if he’d ever been to Mars before…. if Mars was a horrible scary place that you’d never want to go ever, even if you were being paid a large sum of money.
As we drive and begin to get into the sketchier parts of town the poor little driver is starting to look panicked. We all joke amongst ourselves about how this is the total reverse of our normal taxi situations; since here, I am pretty sure our driver’s worried that we’re taking him to the ghetto in order to rob his ass and drop him off in the middle of sketchville with nothing. He keeps asking: “Are we close?” “Will it be much further?” in a high pitched tone that I’ve heard myself use a number of times while fearing for my life and safety. We try to assure him we’re close. He drops us off and we give him a tip that is maybe the equivalent of $3, and he is shocked and very grateful. Then the role reversal continues while I make sure he knows how to get back and that he’s okay. When Peruvians aren’t robbing you, they’re really a helpful sweet bunch, so I hope our taxista will feel that way about Americans he’s got to drive to Huaycan in the future.
Everyone here wants exact change. It’s super annoying. If you try to pay with anything larger than a five people bug out, and just forget paying with a 100. Just forget it. The most annoying part though is that all the atms dispense 100s, so you’re always stuck trying to figure out how to break it. Overheard in Lima: frustrated American yelling at a cashier in broken Spanish: “Por que…. bancos….cocinan…cien?! Por que?!” (Why…banks…cook…hundred?! Why?”)
I saw a blind man wandering around Quince the other day trying to get on a Combi. Whoa! Bravest blind man on earth/or unluckiest blind man on earth. Successfully getting around Huaycan using all my sense is still pulling off a daily miracle. How he is doing it without his sight is beyond me. Maybe his other improved senses help. Sniff. Sniff. Yep, I’m in Zone Z…
Lowlight. On the way back from class I saw a dog get hit by a Combi. No one flinched. I turned around and walked in the other direction, away from home so I could cry for an hour.
Counterfeit cash is a big issue here. Anytime you hand over cash, even in the smallest amount, even in the form of coins people triple check to make sure it’s real. It’s pretty tough to determine if what you’re looking at is real because the government decided to just ever so slightly change the format of their currency every year. So if you’re looking at a 20 from a year ago and a 20 from this year, they’re not the same. You just have to know what the bill from that year should look like and what the watermark should look like. It’s ridiculous really. In any case my boss went to a Citibank atm inLimathe other day and withdrew a bunch of cash. Counterfeit cash, as it turns out, and so far they’re not going to refund her the money. If this was some local El Sketcho Banco de Peru, maybe, maaaybe, you could see this sort of sh*t happening. Although even then it seems pretty ridiculous. But a big huge international bank? Really? Your atms dispense counterfeit money and it’s our problem? She’s trying to get it resolved at the moment. I told her to threaten to write to some major paper about it…gotta be bad press for a huge bank to be screwing a poor little NGO like that?…
Don’t play Monopoly with Peruvians if you can at all avoid it. Peruvian monopoly is not monopoly as we know it. It’s basically a bunch of people sitting around a board screaming and yelling as if they’re watching a soccer game. Go! Go! Take it. Take it! It’s your turn. GOOOOO! It’s like whoa, slow down…I have to count my bank here and see if I can afford this hotel.
– Afford it? Nah. Listen, you can pay half the money now, and pay the rest when you get it.
– I don’t think that’s how it works….
– It works however you want it to work. Or you can give me 20 soles.
– What? I’m not giving you real currency in exchange for a monopoly hotel!
– Your watch?
In the end, since, for a change we’re not betting on the winner, nobody really cares who wins.
– I dunno Gringa, let’s just say you win since you care the most…..
Geez. I know some people who would literally explode with rage at this scenario. You know who you are loved ones who take the rules for games super seriously 🙂
Another voluntario and I get to the corner in time to see what could be our bus pulling away. The cobrador looks at us “Zona T?” Yes! Ha, they’re really getting used to the gringos around here. They even know where we’re headed. We can’t see the front of the bus to see what line it actually is, but we both confirm with him that it’s T. A few minutes into the ride the bus hooks a left it wouldn’t normally, but I assure my companion that there is one bus that does take this route, it will come back around to where we need to go in a minute. So for whatever stupid reason we just stop paying attention. The cobrador walks over to take our money and I look up.
– Wait. Where are we? You said T.
– I said G. – He’s laughing like he’s just messing with us.
– You did not. You said T. I said T. You said T.
– I didn’t say it. I said G. – He keeps laughing. Most of the Combi joins in, turning to laugh at our dumb asses. I’m so annoyed. He totally gave us the wrong info on purpose. G is not T, that’s not even close, even to my gringa ears. Baja, I yell, and we get out without paying.
So now we’re in a zone I’m not familiar with. I want to take a bus back to Quince where we came from, but we’re already late and the girl I’m with lacks a sense of self-preservation and wants to just hop in a mototaxi. We’ll call her Pollyanna. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we don’t know where we are, and we won’t know if this moto is taking us the wrong way until it’s too late. Additionally the only motos in this area appear to be the soft-top ones. These don’t have motors powerful enough to sube up these 45 degree angled hills. But despite my protests, Pollyanna stops every moto that comes by. The first three say no way, the last guy insists he has a magical powerful mototaxi that can make it. I’m not so sure but rather than have major conflict I just hop in.
As soon as we get to the rocky, unpaved bit of the hill the car starts teetering around and the engine is audibly struggling. The soft –top motos don’t have doors, and we’re fully going to fall out and to our death. The driver then starts yelling something to us and patting the side of the taxi. I can’t hear him. What?! He yells it again and I realize he’s saying he wants us to each move to the sides of the seats to keep the thing balanced. I go from keeping myself under control to livid. And it’s not really all this guy’s fault, but he is about the get the brunt of the anger I would have liked to show to every cobrador/taxista around since I’ve arrived. I start telling him we want to get out, but the engine’s so loud he can’t hear me.
-Baja! Baja! Señor! BAJAAAAA!
Nothing. So I begin to just slap him in the back through the thin piece of plastic material that separates the driver’s seat from us.
– F*cking BAJA!!!! – He stops and we get out. I throw half the fare at him.
– You’re angry?
– Yes! Yes I’m angry! I am. You said you could make it up the hill, you obviously cannot. Forget it! Just forget.
Pollyanna gets out and is laughing hysterically. She has the sort of laugh you can hear from miles away, it’s loud and long and full of her screaming voice re-capping whatever just happened to make her laugh:
– You…hahaha….we…..could have fallen…hahah…out….of the …hahah…he wanted us to move…hahaha
We’re in an area that still a 15 minute walk from where we work. No one knows us down here and I really don’t want to attract more attention to ourselves, but Polly will not quit. A car full of guys passes by very slowly and mimic her maniacal laughter while yelling random English words: Hello. Niced to meeet jou.
I try and calm Pollyanna down so we can not be attacked. We sube uphill on foot. It’ll be good practice for the Macchu Pichu trek.
Still more ghetto children’s games/toys
– I am playing hide and seek with a group of children outside the classroom so that the women can have some peace and quiet during their seminar. After a little while, everyone is tired of it and they yell out other games we can play. It seems like the two most popular choices are between a game called “Rabid Dogs” and what I can only assume is the Huaycan version of “Cops and Robbers,” called “Robbers and Hooligans.” Note the lack of a “good guy” role….
– Adrian plays with a little gecko during class until he manages to kill it. Great. Thank you. Now can we get rid of that thing and pay attention? He puts the dead gecko into his shirt pocket, patting it he looks up, “For later.” Oh great. At home this would be the moment in a child’s life where we’d predict that he’ll be a murderer. Here it’s just what passes for a toy.
– A little girl in Zone Z sees me walking to class and starts yelling for me to come over and see all her dolls. She has lined up about five of the saddest looking dolls on earth. All are naked, exposing their filthy cloth bodies, and there are only about six eye balls and 15 strands of hair between them. If you were living in a horror movie it’d be just this sort of creepy doll that randomly keeps appearing in your child’s crib after you know you’d thown it away. Then one night you wake up and find the doll in your room, it pops its eyes (eye) open and starts speaking to you and you scream and throw it down the stairs. That kinda scary. “You wanna hold one,” she asks me….Uh, thanks kid, maybe later.
I slept through an earthquake the other day. All the other roommates woke up and I slept through it. That’s how loud it was in that hostel. It was literally louder than an earthquake.
I’m eleven years old. My boss is giving me directions somewhere:
“It’s right next to the Combi stop. You’ll know it because of the huge Wang on the corner.”
Wang = large grocery store that I have never heard of. It doesn’t stop me from laughing for five solid minutes, and then again, every 40 seconds or so, for the rest of the meeting. The harder I try to suppress it the worse it gets. It’s not even really funny until you’re trying to behave like a grown-up in front of your boss. Then it’s as if I’ve never heard anything funnier.
“There is officially nothing that could happen on a Combi anymore that would surprise me.” Not even an hour after announcing this to my housemates, I walk down to Quince to grab a Combi up to Zone Z. I wait and wait. The Z Combi pulls up. It’s full. Half of the Combi is full of people. The other half is full… with a tree. Not like a small tree that someone could buy and maybe plant in their yard, but a giant–headed-to-the-lumber-mill log, that extends the full length of the vehicle. Leaves pressed up against the windshield, through right on out of the back door of the Combi, where the tree, roots and all, extends at least two feet out into the street. The cobrador looks at me: Sube?
Sometimes if you have a backpack or suitcase with you that’s too big, they make you pay for the space that bag is taking up too. So if I get on with a full bag the cobrador will analyze the size of it very seriously and then quote you whatever extra price. And they’re always all official when they’re quoting you the extra cost. Like as if he’s not just pulling that number out of thin air. Like maybe there’s actually some chart somewhere he’s memorized:
Bag – 12x15inches = 10 cents.
I would love to have been on there when whoever it was Sube-ed with that tree.
Arbol? – 2 soles!
So I sube, because whatever, it could not be any weirder than this, and I need to be somewhere. I step over the tree and hang on. A few minutes later the driver veers off to one side of the road, and starts screaming maniacally out the window. I look out to see that we just missed killing a man crossing the road on…wait for it….STILTS. Stilts. Yeah. The full on circus clown, parade type of stilts. Although I assume he’s using them to paint houses or some other something that’s way less fun than a parade. But all the same. It’s STILTS. And what makes it even better is that he’s carrying two bags filled with groceries, purchased from, what I can only assume must have been an outdoor market without a roof…or possibly a very large Wang…..
What I carry with me when I leave the house normally:
– The equivalent of 75 american cents
– 3-4 rocks to defend myself from dogs
What I had when my bag got stolen yesterday:
– Cell phone
– A two-ish pound wallet containing 16 different types of credit cards, 3 forms of ID, and about 75 random business cards
– Somewhere on the order of 7-10 pens
– Huge bottle of water
Obviously, I’m the most torn up about the loss of the snacks….
One of the women in our program has a flower shop, and I go by once a week and buy a big beautiful, bouquet for the equivalent of 2 USD. Anytime anyone sees me walking with them, even total strangers, they will just stop and ask me, “who died?” It’s sorta sad that there’s never a happy reason to buy flowers here. When I tell them that no one is dead, they don’t really believe me. They figure it must be a failure of my Spanish, so they just annunciate a little harder: “Whoooo is deeaad?” No one. No one is dead. They shake their heads at me. “I’m buying them for decoration for the house.” This doesn’t go over well, because I must seem like a rich, wasteful gringa buying this stuff for decoration. So now I just kill off a relative a week and try to keep track of who went last…
“How many great-aunts do you have exactly?”
Once a week, I bring leftover food up to Zone Z to feed a few of the hungrier, friendlier dogs. Usually it’s food that’s going bad from earlier in the week. This week there wasn’t much, so I supplemented it with some crackers and milk I bought from a local market. I was up there at a different time of day than usual, so this time, a few minutes after I started feeding the dogs I was surrounded. By dirty, sad, starving….children….
One little girl, maybe four or five, extends her hand out to me shyly:
– I saw you were throwing away food.
– I’m not. Um. I’m not throwing it away. I am um, feeding, the, um….dogs
She eyes me quizzically.
– You are throwing it away. On the ground.
– Yes. But. Um. (I’m sweating like I’m in an interrogation room, now and probably looking as guilty.) I’m not throwing it away, I’m feeding them.
– Feed me?
I give her and the rest of the kids the food and slink away feeling like just the worst kind of jerk. How am I feeding dogs when people are hungry? I dunno. I try to make excuses about it. You can’t just walk up to random children on the streets and give them food. I mean, at home, it’s exactly the sort of thing our parents warn us about. Don’t take treats from strangers. So am I going to now go and be that stranger. Hey kid, want a Zagnut? Futhermore, most of the food is rotten/rotting anyway. It’s okay for dogs, but I’m not going to proudly hand over food I’d have thrown away to some growing child, right? I give it to the dogs because they’re, well, dogs! They eat whatever…And what if their parents were around? What an insult for a parent working hard to provide for their child if some self-righteous gringa just showed up and started bringing their kids food. You can’t provide well enough, so let me? I dunno. I don’t feel right about it. It doesn’t make any of it seem any less like an excuse though.
So what do I do? Stop feeding the dogs? Hide it better? Feed the kids too?
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?