Current Status

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This guy made it to Peru! 

  • PC trainee, but soon-to-be Youth Development Facilitator. 
  • Current status: in week 2 of pre-service training and battling diarrhea. 
  • One day at a time, poco a poco.
  • Proud new member of the Flores family: Gloria, Roger, Anthony, Marcos, Reynaldo & baby Sherel.
  • Utterly overwhelmed and motivated for service all at the same time.

 

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Window to the World

We come as windows to the world our trainers say.

Little do they know we are as dirty and broken as they.

How can I serve as the glass through which to see,

All that has shaped the person that is me?

Translucent and fragile,

I barely keep up. In these times I wish I was more agile.

Speed is a need, but patience is the lesson.

Poco a poco, this reliance I lessen.

A world to them; as they to me.

We become grateful for this vision, a chance to see.

 

Looking Glass Self

The staging and pre-service training (PST) portions of my Peace Corps experience have been extremely busy. Since our arrival in Miami, for a short but sweet staging, we have had our plates full with discussion, group work, paperwork and individual reflection. Lucky for us, each day has been insightful and encouraging. I’ve been a part of a lot of bureaucratic/institutional trainings and they are not all like this. The Peace Corps staff we have the opportunity to work with are really special. They are passionate, qualified and energetic teachers. So, many thanks to the PC Peru staff, both within the U.S. and in-country!

Perhaps some of my favorite exercises and discussions I’ve participated in, both in staging and PST, have dealt with topics of self-identity. In staging we were instructed to construct an identity map. This is a graphic heuristic where one places themselves (their name) in the middle of a sheet of paper. Growing outwards from the center are additional lines all connected to more bubbles. The idea is to fill these bubbles with aspects or characteristics that construct their identity. Once completed, an identity map’s true potency is revealed, elucidating the intersectionality and complexity of one’s identity.

identity

When we completed this exercise in staging, we had a blank sheet of paper and plenty of room to list out the myriad elements that coalesce to construct our identity. My identity map consisted of things like (in no important order): vegan/veggie, bi-lingual, spiritual, mid-twenties, extrovert, master’s student, coach, American, soccer player, rock climber, white, younger brother, symbolically ethnic, son, upper class, heterosexual, male, skier, poet, mindful, community developer and good listener. These were all things, at the time, that resonated with the identity I held and was projecting. We then were instructed to share these maps with a partner, and talk about which facets of our identity we thought were going to be easy to maintain during our service in Peru and which we were going to struggle with. I was glad to have a thoughtful conversation with a fellow trainee, Joe, who helped me unpack a bit more the complexities embedded within a person identity.

Today in PST, during a discussion about diversity, we were instructed to construct another identity map. I remember thinking, ‘oh, here we go again’, because after all, we were all pros with identity maps right? Enlightened, self-aware, soon-to-be Peace Core volunteers, no doubt.

Our instructor, Miryam, made it clear that she understood the fact that we already made a map in staging. Nonetheless, she wanted us to make a new one, but this time, with a few stipulations. After doling out sheets of paper, this time with only 8 bubbles in which to fill, she left us to our own creative devices; subsuming the infinite facets of our identity on one sheet of paper with 8 bubbles…

After some contemplation I provided these 8 elements of my identity (again in no important order): white, American, athlete, comedic/satirical, writer, male, observer/listener, and minority (in Peru). Already I saw a difference between the map I created in staging, and the map I currently had in my hands. After finishing the first version of our map, we then were instructed to cross out 3 of the 8 elements.  I eliminated: American, comedic/satirical, and athlete. We then were instructed to cross out two more. I chose: white, and male. Finally, with the three remaining elements, which for me were writer, observer/listener, and minority (in Peru), we were told to switch maps with a partner, and without talking, eliminate the two least important facets of each other’s identity. Much to my satisfaction, and thanks to the careful contemplation of another trainee, Lesia, the last portion of my identity standing was: observer/listener.

Seeing the evolution of my identity map was a valuable experience. One that I will more than likely repeat throughout my service. I appreciated these exercises for their ability to elucidate a few important points:

  • The Fluidity of Identity: Self-identity is highly dynamic. It changes with the context in which it exists. For me, the identity I shared in staging was different than the identity I shared in PST because of the setting. I shared more of my identity not only because I had unlimited space, but also because I identified with different elements, each with varying intensity, that construct myself.
    Just a few weeks later my identity shifted. Some elements were replicated while others were brand new or generalized into a broader concept. What I shared in PST was specific to my identity in Peru. Each element I shared had more importance now that the self had been moved to a different country. Charged with crossing out elements, my identity continued to shift. I had to contemplate which were most important, or more potent; which facets of self I wanted to preserve and which I was willing to let go. It was interesting for me to be left with observer/listener, a choice made by a fellow trainee. Which leads me to my next reflection.
  • The Looking Glass Self: How much of our identity is actually chosen by us? Are we really fully in control of the identity we project? Charles H. Cooley makes a point that perhaps we are not. Cooley contemplates the role of other people in the construction of self-identity; our family, friends, co-workers. The looking glass self is the idea that our identity, in large part, is constructed based on what other people perceive of us. By looking through the looking glass of other people, we see ourselves. Therefore, identity, or self, is the product of seeing ourselves as others do. This idea especially resonated with me because of the fact that Lesia chose for me, the last aspect of my identity. If I had given my map to Lesia right away, would she have written similar identity characteristics?
    I, in part, agree with Cooley. His thoughts on self-identity are extremely important for a lot of psychology and sociology. Our identities are no doubt constructed on the basis of what others see, as well as how the cultural context in which it is being seen. I would however, like to reserve some autonomy over the process, and believe that although parts of our identity are loaned to us from other things or people, we still get to choose and foster facets of the self that are most important to us.
  • Thoughts for Future Self: How will my identity change throughout the two years of my service? More specifically, what aspects of my identity will be reinforced throughout my service? What aspects of my identity will be left behind?

 

Watch the Earth Turn

Eyes to the sky I watch the clouds revolve.

Feet on the ground I seek to evolve.


With each passing turn I feel a greater burn.

My place in this world makes my stomach churn.

Feeling uneasy, feeling queasy,

How I deal with this is not easy.


The earth can’t stop, won’t stop.

You can clean up these emotions with a mop.

Having expelled this sickness,

I look to recover with quickness.


Wiping my mouth I regain my composure.

Back on the path,

In search of closure.

El día de los Niños

Sunday’s are special days in Peru. For many pepole, They symbolize togetherness, religiosity and family time. It’s a day where the markets and parks become bustling with eager shoppers and children playing games or flying kites. Others can be found attending mass and celebrating their god.

For my Peruvian family, Sunday was a day to spend together, to run errands and to attend a parade that was helping celebrate los niños.

It began by accomplishing a few tasks in a small town called Chosica. Surrounded by what I would call mountains (but to Peruvians they are only cerros), Chosica offers urban convenience but in a small, old fashioned package. We pulled over multiple times in front of various stores and markets.  My host brother Anthony would then get out of the car and disappear for 10 or 15 minutes as we slowly drove up the busy road. He then would appear once again in front of us with an arm full of important items. He purchased some shoes and other items for his work as a street performer and diapers for our baby sister. This repeated itself a few times until we dropped him off for work at a day club. There are many of these in Chosica due to its natural beauty. Clubs are places where families go, they pay for entry and spend the day playing on manicured grass lawns and swimming in pools. Both highly sought after items in this area of Peru.

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After running errands, we proceeded to a smaller town called Ate. After turning around abruptly,  and me thinking we were lost, my host father Roger pulled over to offer a ride to a women sitting on the side of the road. Her husband (I think?) appeared out of nowhere as well and joined the carpool. Turns out, she is my host mother’s, Gloria, cousin. So here we were, a large Peruvian family sitting intimately in a small car, and one gringo pressed up against the window. It was better that way for sight seeing.

After arriving at the parade, my host family and I quickly joined the procession. Gloria with the baby, and my two younger brothers,  Marcos and Reynaldo, followed the parade on foot. Roger followed slowly in the car. They taught me how to dance appropriately and were very patient with my lack of rhythm. The orchestra that was playing was very good, and knew the music and the cues from the parade leader perfectly.

I even learned how to drink beer by Peruvian custom. The parade would stop at various houses. The host would come out, say a few words and pass around what seemed to be endless boxes of beer. The bottles were big, and thus, supposed to be shared. The drinker would poor a sip or two in a small plastic cup, pass the bottle to the next person, finish the drink, and empty the foamy leftovers on the ground. Then they would pass the cup to the new bottle holder, and the cycle would continue. And wow did it continue.

The parade ended in a small side street that was made into a dead end because of the giant stage that was constructed. Which was Decorated elgegantly with the local beer sponsors. As the parade arrived, more and more people filled in behind us. Next thing I know, there’s a full blown Peruvian block party occurring.

Delicious dinner is being served mysteriously from one of the houses and boxes of beer continue to be bought from a small shack erected solely for the purposes of making sure the parade, which was now just a party, was thoroughly  hydrated.

The live music continued and we danced as a group. Unopened bottles of beer on the ground in the middle, with 1 or 2 on rotation. By this point, either I was getting a better feel for the style of dance, or I was just tipsy. Either way I felt like I was doing a decent job. Hours later we were still dancing, drinking and smiling.

As the time came to leave, we shoved ourselves back into our car, this time with one of my fellow Peace Corp trainees and her host mother, and bumped down the road towards our home in Yanacoto. We stopped for gas, dropped of my friend and her mom and continued back to Chosica, this time to buy groceries for the week.

We arrived to a very busy outdoor, but covered, market. I followed my host mom inside with my two hermanos. I watched  as Gloria expertly picked out her produce and bargained with the vendors. My brothers and I, close behind, made sure to take advantage of all the delicious samples that were being offered.

Inspired by the different fruits (thats a hint), Marcos told me a riddle: “Tienes una corona, pero no eres rey. Tienes escamas, pero no eres in pez”. Can you figure out the answer?

After the market, we finally returned home to play a few hands of Uno, one of the gifts I offered my new family, and eat a late dinner. Drunk munchies are thing here in Peru also. With a belly full of food, I brushed my teeth and retired to my room. I switched into my PJs, snuggled up in my quilted twin bed and fell asleep soundly. Only to be awoken at the perfect time (around 5:45- 6am) by my family’s rooster. Feeling rested and ready for my first full week of training I rolled out of bed and readied myself for a full, exhausting and rewarding day.

“The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love”

After being in Miami for 3 days, myself and the rest of the trainees took flight for Lima. I’m always blown away by air travel like this. A metal tube, with wings, hurdling through the air at 35,000 feet, stuffed full of human beings. Some people hate the idea of airports and travel, representing to them a busy, a frustrating and unsanitary experience. For me, a privilege.

There are 47 other trainees, so 48 total including me. We are split, some as health trainees and others as youth development. Majority are women, about 38 if I’m not mistaken. We all come from different parts of the United States and each have different backgrounds, levels of education, professional experience and logged volunteer hours.

Despite the myriad of differences amongst us,  we too stand on common ground. For one, we are all Peace Corps trainees. That then, comes with a lot of other similar motivations and a general passion for doing service. We’ve also each transistioned away from local cultures, favorite material items, and most importantly, our loved ones.

Lucky for me, my family and friends have been 100% supportive. However, that doesn’t make the schism that now exists between us any smaller. It’s very real, and spans thousands of miles and multiple time zones. Saying good bye to my immediate family was hard. There were hugs, smiles and some tears. Overall though their glowing eyes and warm hugs sent me off in good spirits. Saying so long to my friends was bit sweeter, but still bitter. Each of us, I think, attempting to be strong for the other.

I made sure also to call my grandparents on both sides. Each were thrilled to hear from me, and I of course, reciprocated the enthusiasm. In general though, it was sad. Time moves a bit differently at that age, and the thought of not seeing their grandson for 2 years was disheartening. It is for me also. I love them each deeply, and the thought of perhaps losing one during my travels saddens me. No sense in worrying though. Only time for thinking positively and manifesting good health. On a lighter note, my mom’s dad turns 89 tomorrow! So happy birthday to you grandpa, much love and many thanks!

I slip on my sweater now as the temperature in the airplane cabin begins to cool off. The cold sweat on my shirt reminding me of the heat and humidity we just left behind in Miami. We’ll be arriving during a Peruvian winter. Around 60 degrees on Lima, I think. Sounds pretty welcoming to me. As I settle in for our flight, I try to imagine what Peru will be like; where I’ll be placed, who I will meet and what type of work I’ll be doing. I think it’s good to try and visualize our futures, but there’s so much mystery built into this experience that it’s actually really difficult.

Only time will tell.

Unspoken

With so much to say,

I just wish there was enough time in the day.

These words I’ve left unspoken.

Here they are, they have awoken.

My feelings for you do all but shrink.

I swear you are my missing link.

The time we share, you make me care.

My heart still leaps like a hare.

I try to run from what’s been done,

But like my heart, I am undone.

Incomplete, I fall to my feet.

Eye to eye, I see defeat.

But you give me power,

to hold on just one more hour.

My love for you will never go sour.

If only we could be, just you and me.

Against the word, forever free.