October 24, 2007

Week 3+ in Huanchaco

Filed under: Culture,General — mmrobins @ 4:07 pm

It’s been a good week since moving. I didn’t surf as much as I wanted to because I wanted to let an injury to my toe heal, but as it was close to being better I slipped and stubbed my injured toe. Ouch. Oh well. I got Kim to start going out with me and she’s rocking the surf scene. We’ve been taking a few lessons from Juan Carlos from Un Lugar Surf School. Kim got hit in the nose with her board the other day. Overall though we’re having tons of fun even if it’s a little cold. There’s been more sunny days lately.

I’ve had ups and downs teaching. Some days I really enjoy it. Those are the days when I feel like my small class of three students listens and learns. It’s rewarding to see students “getting it”. There’s some days though where I feel like I’m in front of a pack of crazy brats. I know an hour and a half is a long time to sit and learn stuff, so I try to make it as active and entertaining as possible. I’ve found with such a small class doing a question and answer format seems to work best for me. I ask them questions about the material until they start to seem comfortable, then I have them ask each other questions. Sometimes we do a jeopardy style game, sometimes spelling bees, sometimes bingo, and other games too.

I’ve got the page up for Espaanglisch, the school I’m working for, even if it needs some polishing. David Mercedes is the head of the organization and the best Peruvian friend I’ve made here. He’s passionate about languages and cultures, and I hope the organization can make good use of the new web presence.

We haven’t gone too far out of the city since we’ve been here, which has been really quite nice. We keep meaning to take a weekend trip to Chiclayo or someplace a few hours away, but the chill atmosphere keeps us nearby. We visited some more ruins called the Huacas del Sol y Luna. I think they were cooler than Chan Chan since they were better preserved. They’re temples that are pretty big since every hundred years they’d fill up the temple with bricks and build a new level on top of the old.

I’ve got some interesting observations about culture and people here:

  • Wall clocks never work. They either don’t have a battery or have the wrong time
  • People here have a higher tolerance for noise. Honking horns, blaring stereos, skipping movies, constant contruction, and barking dogs don’t seem to phase the locals
  • There’s no such thing as too full when it comes to local transportation. Even if the aisles are stuffed, people are sitting in each others laps, and the ticket man is hanging out the door the combis will stop for more people.
  • Business hours are flexible. Even more so than Spain where the siesta was at a consistent time. There’s one restaurant that was open only a couple times in our first two weeks. Now it’s open all the time. Sometimes the restaurant will appear open when there’s nobody there to actually cook. Sometimes the wait staff will tell you this, sometimes they won’t…

The end of the month is approaching quickly, and we’re not sure exactly what we’ll be doing. We’ve had trouble getting the Otra Cosa volunteer coordinators to nail down our next volunteer project, so we may just head north to Ecuador for a little while before we figure out what we’re doing next. We might end up doing a project near Iquitos, in the jungle, but it’s all up in the air right now. Whatever happens, I’m sure it will be fun and interesting.

October 16, 2007

Week 2 In Huanchaco

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 9:49 am

The biggest change this week has been that we moved out of our first living place with Wilma and into a room across town that’s a lot nicer. It actually feels like we’re living indoors now, which makes it feel a lot warmer. The best part is how quiet it is. We were able to sleep in until 9 today without any problem. Normally I’ve been lucky to get any sleep after 7AM. The room is carpeted too which I really find nice. I can stretch on the floor and not be absolutely freezing because of cold tile. We’ve got a rooftop view and a really nice attached, private bathroom too. And someone has a wireless connection open!!!!!! I can connect to the Internet from my room again. We’ve only been here two days in the new place, but we’re already happier. Oh, and the price is the same. Go figure.

I’ve been surfing almost everyday. I took a day off because I hurt my toe playing soccer, but I’m getting to the point where I can catch most decent sized waves. Yesterday my main problem was that there weren’t enough decent sized waves. It’s a lot of fun, although I do wish the sun was out so that it was warmer. It’s amazing it’s been so cold considering we’re only 8 degrees from the equator.

My small rant for the week is that there’s no toilet paper in any public bathrooms. You really have to carry some with you at all times. We went to a jazz concert a few days ago and the bathrooms at the theater had no toilet paper, no hot running water, no soap, and nothing to dry your hands. I’m amazed by the lack of such simple sanitary things. Kim and I have each had boughts of stomach problems. I think we’re becoming immune to some stuff here. The locals don’t get sick too often, which could still mean up to once a month. That’s still an awful lot of sick time due to bad sanitation and hygiene. And one local tells us that if he travels to some other city in Peru he’ll probably get sick there because he’s not immune. Hopefully there’s some sort of educational campaign at some point.

Yesterday Kim and I went with some other volunteers to the ruins of Chan Chan. It was a huge adobe city hundreds of years ago, and I didn’t even realize it, but the highway that I’ve been taking back and forth from Trujillo to Huanchaco passes right through the ancient city. Only a small part of the city has been excavated and restored. It’s mostly brown and dry, but there’s one room that you walk in and it’s full of water, plants and birds.

After visiting the ruins we went to David’s, the guy who’s running the Espaanglisch program I’ve been working for, and he cooked dinner for my birthday. A bunch of the other volunteers showed up and we ate, drank and talked for a while. It’s really fun to hang out in multicultural groups. Fortunately for Kim and me English is the common languange, so even with Peruvian, German, Dutch, French and Finnish people all talking we can understand everything. It really makes me feel language poor realizing how many languages most Europeans learn growing up, but at least I think Kim and I probably have some of the best Spanish of any of the volunteers. After David’s we went back to Huanchaco to hang out at La Tribu for a little while. I got a hold of a guitar for a bit which was nice. The owner and local artist Luis joined me with a drum and a harmonica for a little while, and it may not have sounded great but it was fun.

Teaching is still fun. I’ve only been doing one hour and a half long class a day to the 11-12 year olds. Last week I had them doing a spelling bee. In Spanish this wouldn’t be too challenging since everything is spelled how it sounds, but even simple words like “chair” are a mystery to people first learning English. I haven’t made as much progress with the Espaanglisch website as I’d hoped, but now that I have Internet here a home that should change. A major challenge initially was they rejected my domain registration since my IP address was in Peru and my other info was US info.

October 8, 2007

La primera semana en Huanchaco

Filed under: General — mmrobins @ 6:13 pm

We arrived in Huanchaco in the evening and met our senora who will be living with. Her name is Wilma and she’s nice, but she’s a little nosy and likes to tell Kim how to cook stuff which I think drives Kim crazy. Initially she tried to overcharge us too, but we got that sorted out amicably and I think things are pretty good now. We’re paying a little over $6 per day for our own small apartment. Some small hostals are cheaper, but we have our own kitchen, even if we’re sharing it with Wilma until she gets hers fixed, which I suspect might be never, partly because she likes the excuse to interact with us and partly because it takes longer to get things done here. I’ll give you and example of Peruvian time: someone says to meet at 7pm for a party, and I show up at 7:20 thinking I’ll arrive fashionably late and I’m the first person. Nobody else shows up until 7:45. It’s similar to Spain, but here they don’t do siesta. Shops just close kinda randomly and you have to check back later.

The first day we just walked around town to get the feel of the place which didn’t take too long. We met with the volunteer coordinators of Otra Cosa, Juany, who is Peruvian, and her husband Peter, who is British. After getting our volunteer assignments setup, I started working the next day with a cool, 24 year old guy named David who runs the Espaanglisch school. I spent the first day working on the electrical system in the school which consisted of cutting wire with my tiny keychain letterman scissors, running it over bamboo in the ceiling, and hacking together a replacement fuse.

The electric and water systems here aren’t very modern in most places. Water is only available from 7am to about 2pm since it’s a desert climate, but most places have big water tanks so they can store water for the evening. The water also isn’t drinkable. We even tried to sanitize it with our steripen but it still tasted terrible. It’s a little better after boiling it, but we’re just buying drinking water and boiling most of the other stuff we use. Also showers can be interesting since there aren’t separate pipes for hot and cold water. There’s an electric water heater in the bathroom that we have to turn on and let heat for about 15 minutes before showering. If you wait too long you’ll burn and if you don’t wait long enough it’s fricking freezing. You can’t really adjust the tempurature too easily.

As far as internet goes there’s lots of internet cafes, but high speed internet in the home is pretty rare. Heck, even the high speed internet in the cafes isn’t all that high speed. The connection I’m on now feels only about as twice as fast as a modem. If you want something that even approaches DSL speed in the US it looks like it will cost about $100 a month. That’s a LOT here. I think a large part of the problem is that there’s a monopoly on telephone service here through Telefonica. I thought the telecom companies back home were bad. Anyway, for web browsing and email it’s fine, but I can’t download new episodes of The Office or easily work on my web pages. We’re trying to get some photos uploaded too, but we might have to be more selective with what we upload considering how long it takes.

We haven’t had any trouble yet, but people keep telling us to keep careful about getting our stuff stolen. Unemployment is very high. I don’t think they really know how high since a lot of people have ‘jobs’ that mostly consist of selling stuff on the street. The Espaanglisch school sadly had a bunch of stuff stolen from them including books and I think desks. In Wilma’s house there’s an outside door that we have to lock that has to deadbolts in addition to locking behind you everytime and you need keys to get in or out. Between the outside door there’s a courtyard and then two inside doors that also lock behind you and have additional locks. To get everything locked or unlocked you have to turn the key three times. I feel like I have OCD every time I leave or enter.

Anyway, I’m teaching a few classes to very beginners, so it’s good that I know Spanish since I’m having to speak a lot of it to explain things. One class is mostly 11-12 year olds and the other seems to be 16-17 year old kids. They’re learning introductions, numbers, the alphabet, etc. I’m also working on designing a web page for the school to attract more volunteers, so check out espaanglisch.com in a week or so and there should be something there. I’ve also filled in for one conversational class which was fun because there all I have to do is speak English since the students are more advanced. Kim came too and the students took us around Trujillo and told us about it, so we essentially got free, English speaking, local tour guides.

The weather has been a little disappointing since it’s been cold. I’ve had to wear the warmest clothes I brought already. Everyone keeps saying it’s not normal. Oh well. Kim got sick too so she was a little miserable for a few days but is feeling much better now. She attributes the feeling better to going out to a dance club until 5 in the morning. What a cure, eh? Today we also had our first surf lesson. I had a blast, and boy did it wear me out. Kim and I were both catching waves. It was cold out, but we were fine in the water with our wet suits. I’m hoping to continue surfing everyday from here on out. We’ll see how well that goes.

So far it’s been a great experience and I’m sure time will pass quickly once we settle in, even if the pace of life is slower. It’s hard for me to believe that Kim and I still have 6 months or more in South America, but all the volunteers who have been here for a while say it will fly by. Doesn’t it always