Sunday, November 25, 2012

Camp ALMA and Thanksgiving

**Disclaimer; there is a lot of vomiting in this blog post**
Last weekend was the girls leadership conference put on by the volunteers in Cajamarca. The conference is called Alma; which means 'soul' in Spanish, but it is also an acronym for Activdades de Liderazgo para Mujeres Adolescentes (leadership activities for adolescent women). Camp Alma was a great success. Each volunteer brought 2 girls from their community to attend and all together there were around 30 girls at the camp. 
For my sitemate Diamond and I the trip from our site Tacabamba to the regional capital Cajamarca city is about 7 hours. We have to hop bus to bus; well it's actually public transport vans called combes, between all the bigger cities along the way. The ride between Bambamarca and Cajamarca is the worst stretch because of the elevation changes and all the curves in the road that the drivers take at full speed. We filled a whole van of just Peace Corps volunteers and their girls. That last leg of the drive the girls all started to get sick; one by one barf bags were passed around and the girls would quietly cough. I am always so impressed by how quietly Peruvians vomit on car rides. I know that it sounds weird, but they are so quiet you wouldn't even know they have been sick until they throw their barf bags out the moving car window. Since we volunteers make the trip fairly regularly none of us get too car sick.
We finally arrived at the camp at around 8pm and we were all exhausted. It was exciting to see all the other volunteers that live in southern Cajamarca that we don't get to see that often. Also we had pizza for dinner which was pretty great. Usually pizza that I have had in Peru has sauce that tastes like sweet ketchup or it doesn't have sauce all-which really makes or breaks the pizza in my opinion. Pizza is one of those elusive foods that I often try to make for my host family, but it is never as good as I remember it being in the States.
I'm not sure what brought it on, but I got really sick the first night of camp. I think it is probably parasites acting up, but I'll find out for sure in 2 weeks when I got to Lima for mid-service medical checks. The next day; the first real day of camp, I was miserable. As a group leader I was supposed to accompany the girls in all their activities of the day, but I ended up taking lots of naps and making frequent visits to the bathroom. I felt really nauseous all day, my stomach just hurt with what I like to call 'bubble gut', and I had a fever. I had sulfur burps which is the main reason why I thought it was parasites; gross carbonated smelly burps is a symptom of giardia.
Despite the nausea I would have stretches of time when I could be distracted enough to do fun stuff. The first day the girls had lectures on alcoholism, sexism, self esteem, and did a lot of team building games. We taught the girls how to dance gangnam style or 'the horsey dance' as the kids in my site often call it. I missed a lot of the first day, because I kept slipping off to my room to sleep. On day two I felt a lot better. We did field games with the girls and I was in charge of the human knot game. There was a career panel in the afternoon. Women with various professions came in to talk to the girls about their experiences. The girls in my group asked questions such as; 'did you parents support you in your studies,' 'is there sexism in your work place,' and 'do you enjoy your job?'
In the evening the girls prepared for a mock project plan that they prepared for imaginary communities. For example; my girls were supposed to think of a project to improve the self esteem of the high school students in their pretend community. They designed a pretend project with classes taught at the high school about various topics including; bullying, peer pressure, and self esteem. They prepared for a mock debate that they participated in on the last day of camp. And we had the girls practice how to put on condoms. The majority of the girls knew how to check the condoms and put them on, because they had been in the sexual education classes that volunteers often put on in high schools. There was also a bonfire that last night. We taught the girls how to make smores
On the last day of camp the girls wrapped up all the group project work they had been doing; putting on presentations about their imaginary community projects and the mock debate in teams. We left Cajamarca at around 1:30pm and made it back to our site by around 8 pm. It was a long long day. The girls all received special certificates and t-shirts. They had to do a lot of speaking in front of groups, working with other girls they had never met from the other volunteer's communities, and problem solving in the imaginary project plans.
This week Diamond, Ellie, and I went into Chota to make Thanksgiving dinner with Barbara another volunteer who lives in Chota. We made so much food; baked maccaroni, a baked chicken, sweet potato casserole, carrots and broccoli, and apple crisp. It was really nice to spend Thanksgiving all together. Being so far from the States at times like Thanksgiving is sometimes really emotional. It sort of caught me off guard, but the friday after Thanksgiving I went to visit my previous host family and all the sudden it hit me. I just sort of had a little melt down. I had traveled pretty far out of my way to go see my old family and when I arrived it seemed like my host mom was surprised to see me. I had called them earlier in the week to confirm, plus earlier that day and still she acted surprised. No one was home except my host mom, my brother Witman was playing with his friends. The room that used to me mine she told me was off limits, because they were renting it out to someone else. Instead she had me put my things into the room where they used to keep all the guinea pigs they raise to eat.
My old host family's business is buying milk from the neighbors and making cheese to sell in Bambamarca. I spent the afternoon sitting around by myself while my host mom Dalila was running around receiving the milk and making cheese. Neighbor women would walk in with their milk to drop off and see me asking 'where have you been?' I had to leave in such a rush in July, because it was technically an emergency evacuation/site change and apparently no one from my host family had bothered to explain where I had gone or why I had left. Over and over I explained why I left, where I was living now, and I tried to emphasize how it wasn't my decision to leave, because sometimes it felt like these neighbors where angry with me.
Anyhow, it surprised me how upset all this made me. It got better when we ate dinner together; Dalila, Witman, and I. Also I did not end up having to sleep by myself in the guinea pig room. Instead Dalila made up a bed from me upstairs in the family living space, where I had never previously been invited. Witman said something to me that made me feel so happy; he told me that he was reading Harry Potter and asked if I could find him a copy of the second book since he like reading so much. That was what I really wanted for him-to become a reader.
The next morning Witman had to go to school; kids in my department have Saturday classes to make up for all the school lost from the protests. I got to see my little cousin Eduar though, because his teacher apparently didn't go on strike with the others back in September. He showed me his new puppy and we talked about what he wants to be when he grows up. When it was time for me to leave he told me he didn't want me to go and I nearly cried. I really miss them both Witman and Eduar. They were my best friends for the first 8 months of service.
Visiting my old site is really difficult and it's hard to explain why. I miss the way that family made me feel about myself. I felt like I was apart of them and their lives. There were also not such good feelings. They would often ask to borrow money from me and I constantly felt like I needed to be on the look out for being taken advantage of. I think the good feelings outweigh the bad ones though and I feel like I still want to find a way to balance them into my life here in Peru.
So this Thanksgiving I had a lot to be thankful for, but mostly I just feel excited to be coming home to visit in December. I can't wait to see all my family and friends. I can't thank you all enough for the motivation and courage you have given me. I couldn't do this without you guys, so thanks.
Thanks for reading and see you soon!


my team of girls doing the spagetti challenge; they recieved spagetti noodles, string, a little masking tape, and a marshmellow the goal is to make the highest structure possible.

Hayden and I at the field games

human knot game

bonefire with smores!

my team presenting their project plan

hanging out while the girls ran around doing field games

I love how they put the earrings on the llamas

one of my girls Lesly (on the left) won a game where everyone puts a loop of masking tape on their nose and touch noses.  Whoever gets the most tape on their nose wins.

teaching gangnam stlye again

Diamond and I with all our girls from Tacabamba

the whole group

all the volunteers

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