Field based training (FBT) was a whirlwind of a week. Everyday was full of activities; visits to local governments, schools, restaurants and PCV’s homes. It was a really good feeling to use the information we have been learning in PST. The interactions I had with Peruvian youth and parents were by far the best. Besides that, the aesthetic beauty of the valleys and mountains were traveled through was extremely comforting. Here’s part 1 of 2 from the experience.
After leaving Lima around 10 pm, we finally arrived in Tarma around 5am. Prepared for frigid temperatures, I was pleasantly surprised by the cool climate and crisp, clean air. The bus ride was luxurious to say the least. Peace Corps takes good care of their trainees during FBT week. We ate snacks and reclined comfortably, gossiping about the movie that was being played.
After succumbing to dramamine induced sleep, I woke up at the highest point in our drive. Flanked by mountains on both sides and washed in star light, I dozed off again at around 16,000 feet above sea level.
We arrived at the hostel and quickly went back to bed. We knew we would have valuable time to sleep in and so we did. After waking up a second time, this time with the sun, we went to explore the city. Tarma sits at around 10,000 feet above sea level so any bit of exercise was quite intense. To cope, we ate fruit, drank juice and I bought groceries.
The rest of the day was spent exploring more and going to Spanish class. Even during FBT we hit our 20 hours of Spanish.
Finally we got into the field! We awoke early to travel to Huaricolca, a small community about 45 minutes up from Tarma. There we found the first colegio we would visit. We were welcomed by passionate teachers and staff and by shy students. We spent the morning observing classes and spending time with the students. I sat in on a math class, and learned about the Fibonacci sequence. Not ever being a math whiz made this class hard enough, and with the Spanish, even harder.
The afternoon was for presentations. We heard from the principal, director of tutoria, students and doctors from the local health post. I even got to stumble my way through a short presentation about the Peace Corps.
Every free moment was spent gazing upon the surrounding mountains and agricultural fields. Light rain fell all day and clouds kept the temperature below optimal. The mountains here are beautiful. They are fraught with opportunity for exploration, hiking and even rock climbing. It’s interesting to see them in that light, as a recreational privilege. For the locals, they mean something completely different. The ways we socially construct our understandings of the natural environment, how we use it and how that changes based on the context we are found within will forever entertain me.
We finished the day with Spanish and cultural training. Charged with the task of learning more about Peruvian ceremonies and celebrations, we each were assigned a topic. My partner Joe and I received marriages and were set lose in the city to gather information via interviews. The first man we approached was not having it. The second group of women we approached, a mother and daughter, were happy to share with us about the Peruvian customs surrounding marriage. We learned that weddings can last up to a week and promote copious amounts of beer drinking. In some cases, a gift giving competition, called la palpa, is held between the families of the bride and groom. The winner is the family that gifts the biggest, most expensive items, such as furniture and cars.
Tuesday morning we visited a town called Tarmatambo. It’s a bit smaller and less developed than Huaricolca. However, they seemed to be a bit more welcoming, probably because a current PCV is working in the community.
We arrived early and waited to be let in the school. As the students arrived, they organized into their formation. Every school does this, but a little different. Today’s school was surprisingly militant. In rows they stood in different positions, moving only by command and chanted responses to prompts given by one of the teachers. After a few words from the director, we introduced ourselves and quickly made our way to the classrooms to begin our facilitations.
I had the 13 and 14 year olds and was co-facilitating with another trainee, Phil. Our session was about the importance of setting goals, and how to do it. Halfway through the session, as the students were quietly working on an activity, Phil whispered and told me how surprised he was by how comfortable he felt in the classroom. I agreed with him and became grateful for both my past experiences teaching as well as our training with the PC.
The session continued and ended very smoothly. I hope the students enjoyed the session. We keep getting told that it’s hard to see an impact while we’re here and that changes in behavior often occurs slowly and later down line. If anything, we broke up their normal routine and provided some gringo entertainment.
During the middle of the day we had our Spanish class. The topic of the day was traditional Peruvian games. First we began by taking nostalgic games played during childhood in the U.S. and and translating them into Spanish. Then our instructors gave us Peruvian toys and told us to go into the community and ask for instruction on how to play. My partner Selena and I received a trompo, which is essentially a Peruvian version of a spinning top. You wrap a string around the trompo in a certain way, throw it in a certain way and watch it spin. Simple right? Well it was surprisingly difficult for all of us to figure out. I only had success once despite multiple lessons for students, teachers and even my host brothers 3 weeks prior.
During recess we played soccer. I’m not sure who won but having nutmegged 2 youngsters made it a win in my book. For lunch we walked to the current volunteer’s house and enjoyed a meal prepared by her host sister. Since having arrived in Peru, I’ve changed my diet drastically. I’ve eaten pretty much everything that’s been served to me, including animal protein and fruits I’ve never seen before. This has been both a rewarding experience and extremely difficult.
For many, food in Peru is extremely important. It’s a physical manifestation of the cook’s love, patience and gratitude for the ingredients. Often times, rejecting food or not finishing it all is taken very personally. The cook, especially in a host family situation, thinks that you not only dislike their food, but also them. So, as part of my integration, I’ve eaten everything. More times than not the food goes down well and tastes delicious. However, what happens next is not entirely fun. The hardest part of my trip so far is my gut sickness. I’ve struggled to have a week where I felt 100% due to the fact that the food makes me sick. In times of sickness I’ve tried to stay humble and learn from the experience. Two mantras that have helped me through have been: ‘this too shall pass’ and ‘never trust a fart’.
In the afternoon we facilitated a classroom session for parents and grandparents of some of the students. The session was designed to talk about different communication strategies and ways to promote a healthy relationship with their youngsters. The parents were shy at first, but really opened up towards the end. We shared cookies and soda afterwards and got to share in small groups. Afterwards we took took pictures. Some trainees were more popular than others. For some of these families, the different skin tones and eye colors we possess are real special novelties. Overall the facilitation was really nice. The parents participated, working closely with their peers and with us, and shared a small portion of their lives with us.