Donnerstag, 18. November 2010

Cuzco, Peru (?)

My first week in Cuzco is almost over now and I think I got a good impression of the city in this beautiful environment. I'm not yet able to volunteer, so I have 4 hours of Spanish every day which is good as I begin to improve. In the evenings I luckily get additional practice as my host parents (Wili Sr. and Gloria) do not speak English. They are a really lovely couple who greatly care about the students living in their apartment. Every time Gloria finishes cooking her delicious meals she yells: “Hijo, ven aqui! Come!” (Son, come here! Eat!). Their friendly and honest behavior made it easy for me to feel at home in their home very fast. However, I feel like a tourist rather than a “resident” in Cuzco. Back in Piura, when Javier told me that Cuzco does not feel like Peru, I did not quite believe him but he was correct. All over town there are people from different countries and if I wanted to I could strike up a conversation in German in any restaurant. Of course the locals here are much nicer to foreigners as most of the people in Cuzco depend on them as customers. It might sound funny but the men's evil looks in Piura made me feel more at home than the nice smiles of the young women who try to sell massages to me here in Cuzco.
At the moment I try to avoid acting like a tourist and therefore do expeditions of my own. As I was walking up one of the hills in order to get a good view of the valley I had to turn around as every two minutes a tourist bus shot up the road right next to me. That wasn't a problem for me but for the German Shepherd who had followed me from the city center all the way up the mountain. I couldn't get rid of my hairy companion but also did not want to as he gave me the feeling that a “local” liked me for other reasons than money!
Another strategy of mine is to go to restaurants where mostly locals eat. The school has advised us not do so because of stomach issues but so far so good! The fact that the stray cat, which was sitting in the door way staring at our food, was tolerated by the restaurant and that a street vendor came in to ask for left-over bones from our plates in order to feed his puppy made me happy. It mentally threw me back to bohemian Altos de los Mores with its strong sense of community.
However, I have to admit that there is a good side to the tourism: There are a lot of cafes with good coffee and funny tourists. Two days ago I was enjoying my cappuccino when a German couple caught my attention. They were discussing how to take a picture of the husband with the coffee and the scenery in the background. After finding the perfect distance between the camera and the husband they encountered the problem of the coffee not being in the picture. Finally after another two minutes of hectic problem solving the camera made: click! In Piura I would never have experienced anything similar to do this. However, in Cuzco this little almost ironic scene can be seen in many occasions.
In January I will start working in a home for mentally and physically challenged children. Around that time I will write my next entry to inform you about my work experience!

I hope that you enjoyed reading this less informative entry.
Best wishes from Cuzco,

Class in Altos de los Mores

5th grade

A horse in Altos that broke free

 A school in Cuzco

One of the many alleys in Cuzco

A church on a hill over Cuzco

The city of Cuzco with a glacier in the background


Plaza de Armas - Cuzco

A hill on which my school is located

Freitag, 5. November 2010

My role in Piura

Dear All,
as some of you might know I’m writing to you from Germany this time. No, I did not quit but my grandmother’s funeral will be held this week. Of course it is sad to loose a family member but for her death meant relief. Although it is hard, we should not only feel grief but also contentment. We should be happy that we had such a wonderful, caring and joyful woman in our lives. Let us hold her in the light!

        On my long trip back from Piura to Osnabrück I had a lot of time to reflect on my experience in Peru. Now that some kind of routine has settled in I can focus on more detail concerning my role in Piura/Altos. I have to say that I feel very comfortable and happy in my new setting. I found my „niche“ at work and the 3rd and 5th graders seem to accept me both as their teacher and their friend which is great! Even the children who I do not teach do not call me „Gringo“ or „Ingles“ any longer when I walk over the school grounds but „Benjamin“. This acceptance is a good thing but can also be tiring because now one seems to have a magnetic effect on the children in Altos. As soon as we enter the play ground up to 20 children come running up to us and hold on to our arms, want us to play soccer with them in the burning sand or just want to know if we are going to be there for „biblioteca“. Of course it is fun to play with the children but I have to admit that I have not yet adjusted to the insanely hot climate of Peru. Over the last days the temperature has shot up the thermometer and I regret bragging to my friends having a year-long summer....
        One week before I went home I also found a woman who is willing teach me some Spanish. Her name is Hildegard and she really is a nice woman who also speaks German because her mother immigrated to Peru before she was born. However, she is not a real teacher and therefore has a hard time giving me proper lessons. I notice that I make some progress but it is neither fast nor good enough to properly teach the pupils. Especially as some have learning deficits and therefore are in need of more intensive teaching. In some cases these deficits are to such an extent that there are 14 year olds in third grade! Because of my limited ability of teaching I made up my mind and decided to change the project. This decision wasn’t of a light heart because the children have grown on me and I really get a long great with the other volunteers. On the 14th I will move to Cuzco, located in the south of Peru. Luckily I will fly and not have to take the bus as I did when I had to travel from Piura to Lima last week. As I am much taller than the average Peruvian the space to the seat in front of me was rather limited during the 17 hour ride. Also I won’t have to endure the blaring and badly synchronized movies and the mandatory bingo-game. In Cuzco I will have an intensive language course and later, again, engage in teaching and microfinance. But I will update you as soon as I know more about that!

See you soon,
Election campaign in Peru

Food market in Piura

Eddison and me finishing a puzzle

Samstag, 9. Oktober 2010

First impressions

For two weeks I have now been in Piura, Peru. It is somewhat what I have expected but luckily there are differences from my image prior to my trip and the actual reality. If it wasn’t so my time here would not be as exciting as it is. Now I want to tell you about my “new life”.
Piura is the oldest Spanish a city in Peru. Although there are ca. 362,000 people living here it feels a lot smaller. I live with a host family in the nicer area of town. One of the benefits of this is having semi-warm water in the mornings :-) My 27 year old host brother Javier has his own sandwich place and takes very good care of me. He has many friends of whom some speak English. Although it is nice to communicate to someone it’s not very beneficial for my Spanish. When I arrived last week I promised them that I will take lessons and start conversing in Spanish soon. However, I am having a hard time finding lessons… When we go out to do something they tell me that just by speaking they can teach me. That is true but I want to learn proper Spanish and therefore might move on to another city soon… But more about that later! Now I want to explain to you what my work is like and what I have experienced so far.
AYNI (the NGO I am working for. Got to for more information.) is situated in the village of Altos de los Mores. In the mornings the other volunteers and I take “combis” to Altos. They are privately run and really an experience when you are used to public transportation. Sometimes there are up 25 people in a van made for 12, while going 110 km/h and overtaking slower vehicles/things such as horse carriages, ice vendors or cattle. This might not sound too bad but you should know that there is oncoming traffic also wanting to go faster. But I haven’t seen an accident yet and do not plan to be in one some time soon…
In the village where around 2,500 families live we teach grades 3 through 6 English. Or at least we try to… The volunteers are often seen as play mates by the pupils and therefore the class atmosphere is fairly bohemian. When we enter a classroom we first hear a crowd of children yelling our names running up to us to hug the girls. Me being a guy am greeted with high fives. It’s great to be greeted so warmly but then it gets hard to start the actual lesson. Part of the reason for this is that most children will probably not need good English skills in their lives as most of them work at home, become Mototaxi drivers or join gangs after grade 6. It is awesome to see that some children really appreciate us but many take greater pleasure in tossing paper planes at our faces.
            Each week we have lunch at another family’s house. There are two things about this which are great. First, we get to see how the families live and second we experience their cuisine mainly consisting out of chicken, rice and potatoes. So far I have had lunch at two different places of which both received a loan by AYNI. One family just started recently and the other has been breeding and selling chicken for a long time. You could really see the positive impact the loan had on the latter. They live in a properly constructed house, have a solid floor, a TV and a computer as opposed to crooked brick walls with no floor. However, the family who just started working with AYNI does not seem to be unhappy. The attitude here in Peru seems to be a very positive one. On the first day Javier was encouraging me to speak Spanish with him and to never give up. He told me that it is normal in life to experience setbacks and times of suffering by which we may not be defeated. We have to move forward and make the best out of what we are given. Then he told me about his younger brother who passed away last year and he said that it was, and still are, hard times for him and his family. Nevertheless, he moved onwards, started his business and now is proud of himself: seguir adelante!
            In the afternoons we host biblioteca. For me these are the most exhausting two hours of work. The children of Altos can come to the library and we will play games, read them stories or draw pictures. This might not seem hard at first but often there are around 30 children who somehow never seem to become tired. Also, my Spanish is not good enough yet to settle their fights over pencils or toys. All I can say to them when one, for example, empties the contents of the pencil sharper over another’s head is their name and add “malo” to it. But that will change and then I hopefully can also tell them to swipe the floor so I do not have to do that myself any longer ;-) When we finish we are again met by many kisses on the cheeks and hugs by the girls and high fives from the boys.
            In the evenings I usually go to Javier’s place (1 block from here) and get a sandwich. One reason for this is that they are delicious but also because going downtown on my own might not be safe. It’s really interesting to observe people’s reactions on me walking through town during the day. Some are really nice and sit down next to me on a bench and strike up a conversation (often about soccer when they hear that I am German and also because it is an easy topic to talk about with my limited Spanish skills). Others just give me a look which tells me that I am not very welcome in their country. Especially a lot of younger men do this but I am not yet sure why. Luckily many are very nice people and try to help me when I’m having troubles expressing myself. 

            Okay, so this was a little account on how things are so far. I am happy here and enjoy the laid-back Peruvian life style. I hope that some of my pictures will give you a better image of my new surroundings! 

All the best!

An ordinary street in Altos de los Mores

Children playing during "recreo" on the school grounds

During bibloteca some kids peek through the window and watch the others play. One reason is that there's only limited space in the library but also becasue some families do not want to by 50 centimos (0,15 €) in order for their children to join.

Kids hanging out after school

The other volonteers at lunch

Housing in the outskirts of Piura

Soccer: favorite acitivity in Altos