|The rain continued but at a continuously decreasing pace. People were still walking around with their ridiculous plastic ponchos as we headed into Ollantaytombo.|
|This is one of the many amazing things that the Incas did. This is a food storage place that’s high up in the mountains where it’s cold and the food can be preserved.|
Rain jacket traffic jam!
The Incas were really good at stacking stones. From what I’ve gathered, special structures got rocks that were smoothed down and fit together almost perfectly without mortar.
When the Catholic church arrived, they set up right on top of Inca buildings. Good thing they didn’t go after Machu Picchu sites.
Using various additives, like salt, many shades of each color can be made, as seen here.
|Picture of those various additives.|
This is the Salineras, known as salt mines in English. Water flowing out of the mountains enters these pools. Evaporation occurs over a period of time, and eventually the salt is scooped out.
Stairs were just rocks sticking out of the walls.
View from the top of Moray
|We stopped in between historical sites to visit a collection of souvenir shops. This lady was working on making a traditional quilt in the center of the shops.|
|I thought it was rather comical that people showed up to Cusco were not prepared for the cold, myself included. This usually meant shopping for clothing. This woman here went full out and a bit over the top in my opinion.|
I’ve been debating for some time how I’d like to “celebrate” my one year abroad mark on this blog. Originally, I thought I’d post a collection of my favorite pictures throughout the year, but since I already post my favorite pictures on here, I figured that wouldn’t quite cut it. I got inspiration about what to post while vacationing in Peru these last two weeks. I was with some friends and they originally opened up with questions such as “How is Peace Corps?” and I find that in such moments it’s hard to capture 12 months in a country into a few short sentences, especially when Peace Corps is a sum of all of its highs in lows. Instead, I’m going to propose a question to myself and answer it, in hopes of explaining to others, and in doing so, discovering myself, the answer.
Would I do it again?
Originally upon proposing this question, I wrote a good 250 words, deemed them inadequate, scratched them, wrote another 600 words, and did the same. I hope that this time around, I’ve captured the answer to the best of my writing abilities.
Before answering the question however, I would like to point out a few things that make coming to a conclusion a bit more complicated than it already is, and it already is rather complicated.
Your job is 24/7. When explaining my job on a good day, it sounds like I have the easiest work in the world. I get to walk in the mountains, get my hands dirty, work 4 to 8 hours a week and relax the rest of the time. But my job also includes visiting neighbors, playing baseball, and working on a sombrero. For the first 3 months of service, my only job was to do those activities. You’ll begin to notice the fine line between work and personal life begins to blur. It gets further complicated by the fact that people are always watching and your personal preferences about religion, alcohol, dating, etc. could have an impact on your work and success within the community.
Your service is what you make of it. Outside of four visits during the first year, three trainings, and three submitted reports a year, my bosses have almost no involvement in my life unless I request it. This means, if I wanted to I could just make my service a two year vacation. Of course that’s not the path I’ve chosen but it is something that could happen. What I really wanted to say about this point is that if you don’t take initiative, you could inadvertently wind up vacationing. That was my life for the first few months and it was a rather tortuous period of time. Due to various reasons, I didn’t quite make connections when I first move in and resorted to activities that didn’t require much interaction: studying Spanish, reading, and drawing. Eventually I got myself together and started meetings and work days but it took a bit of struggling in the beginning.
Every volunteer’s service is unique. While I was struggling through my “vacation” I continuously compared myself to other volunteers. In one example, I compared myself to a friend who was having meetings and work days long before I did. Eventually I realized that she had a farmer’s group of 14 guys ready to work from day one while my community needed a bit more time to get organized. This is just one of the many examples of how one person’s service and the service of someone twenty minutes, walking, down the road, can be completely different.
Peace Corps is a roller coaster of ups and downs. Week to week, day to day, highs and lows can drastically alter the answer to that question. The answer after my first successful meeting as compared to my first meeting with zero attendees would be completely different. But then there’s the issue, but your service isn’t over, how can you answer? I believe that after a year of ups and downs, I’m finally getting to the point where I have experienced enough of the roller coaster that is Peace Corps service to understand them better and be prepared for the fact that neither highs nor lows are permanent.
Now that I’ve introduced some of the factors clouding the answer, I’ll continue on.
I remember reading one time that in the game of poker; it is much easier to recall bad beats compared to wins. The big wins for whatever reason seem to slip from mind much more quickly. For a time, during my service, I was writing down the wins so that I wouldn’t forget them when faced with one bad beat after another. I think it is best then, to layout the next section in terms of the overwhelming negativity before delving more into the subject.
You’ll have more free time than you know what to do with. The first two months in country consists of training. I had four hours each of Spanish and technical skills training each day. Thrown in are several day and week long trips to different volunteer communities, scavenger hunts to practice Spanish and familiarize ourselves with the country, and other similar activities. After two months of this, we disperse to our communities where we are faced with a blank schedule that goes on indefinitely. For me, my worst times have been school vacations in which I have months of free time. I wasn’t looking forward to so much free time. For a good period, maybe a few weeks, I suffered due to the lack of structure.
However, realizing from the start that this would be a challenge, I set about actively searching solutions. It took a few attempts but finally I was able to bring stability to my daily routine. How magnificent it was. I studied Spanish, learned to make a sombrero, started a garden and ate some fresh tomatoes, learned to juggle, read books about many different topics, introduced myself to statistics, decided to give painting and drawing another shot, took out my DSLR camera and finally got around to learning how to use it, wrote a bunch of blog posts, tried to make origami, and the list goes on and on.
Besides the immense free time to start and cultivate my hobbies, I was given a chance to look inside. What did I figure out? A friend put it well in that Peace Corps breaks you down to your very core and builds you back up again. I’ve had a whole lot of time to analyze my faults and strengths. I’ve been able to conquer my faults and further develop my strengths. Of course this isn’t an easy feat and at times, most of the time actually; there isn’t really an option besides facing yourself head on. As Cheryl Strayed puts it in Wild, “The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer – and yet also, like most things so very simple – was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay.”
Alone or lonely? I remember writing in my journal one day that is was bizarre to be lonely when surrounded by so many people. I tricked myself into thinking that jumping the cultural barrier would be a piece of cake after integrating in China. Except I realized there is a vast difference between integrating in the most international city in China and rural Panama. Loneliness was a big issue for some time. Being unable to connect with my community members or even my host family was frustrating. But the thing about it is, nothing lasts forever, change is inevitable, no matter how slow it is. It’s taken me longer than most but I’ve finally found myself friends with several community members, have played baseball in my free time, and feel more comfortable where I am. The change isn’t complete and at times I still feel loneliness creeping up but relative to where I was just a few months ago, I feel much better.
Development work is a beast. I had helped Engineers without Borders (EWB) with a project in one of the indigenous areas for some time. I asked a volunteer for some help with basic greetings in the language and as we got to talking he asked me about the community and said he’d never heard of it. A week later I got a call from him saying I should get permission from my boss since there was an issue back in 2011 about a volunteer being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I decided it was best to bring it up to him, and within a minute of beginning the conversation, I was forbidden to join EWB on their trip. I called up my sister in frustration and she told me how recently her friend had a development project in country X. Overnight, a coup occurred within the country, funding dried up, and her friend lost her job. These problems are neither the exception, nor the rule but somewhere in between, life happens, and development work gets caught in the crossfire.
Food, latrines, lack of electricity, no AC, no English, bugs, snakes, spiders, no refrigeration, no internet, bad phone signal, the rainy season, laundry by hand, etc., etc. I can’t say any of this bothers me anymore. I’ve come to realize I’m perfectly fine dealing with or living without many of the comforts that we are afforded in America. There’s something satisfying about trekking through the rain to get somewhere, washing clothes by hand, and being comfortable with spiders that have freaked me out my entire life.
To end things, hopefully I’ve answered the question you’ve theoretically asked me. If not, I’ve definitely answered it for myself.
Would I do it again?
|For less than $2, a 3 course meal. These were absolutely amazing and everywhere in Cusco.|
|This was the walk up to my hostel for the first few days. The altitude of Cusco and stairs made for a rather rough walk.|
|There were beautiful stone buildings throughout the city like this.|
|View of Cusco|
|Stray dogs were much healthier in Cusco than in Panama.|
|An aspect of city design carried over from the Incas. These are the rain drainage systems throughout the city.|