Expectations vs. Reality

As a PCV, you are constantly being told to lower your expectations. Some might think that this approach is nihilistic or demotivating. However, from my experience it has helped a lot. Entering into an experience with very few and very low expectations (or non at all) is actually an extremely rare experience…. and really hard to do. But when it’s done correctly, you prepare yourself for success. After all, the only direction you can from the bottom is UP!

When in life do we get to immerse ourselves in complete mystery? Often times there is some background knowledge, some expectation of what that experience might be. We’ve done our research, read books, blogs and asked questions. And sure, I’ve done some of this myself, but a Peace Corps service is entirely your own. Entirely a mystery until you step foot in your community and begin to live.

So if you want a taste for what I mean, please check out this video. I hope it makes you laugh. It had our entire training class rolling in laughter.

I’ll just leave this here.

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Being Sick in the Fishbowl

So far the hardest thing about my time in Peru has been sickness. It seems like at times I am getting hit from all sides. When I eat I get sick. When I travel, sick. When the weather changes, sick. When my host mom is sick, sick. It seems as if my immune system is constantly battling something.

To exacerbate the sickness I feel, I have very few resources to feel better. When I’m sick in the States I have my own comfy space to sleep in. I have access to the plant medicines that help me heal. I am in control of the food I eat to accommodate my ailing body. But here in Peru I don’t have that.

As of now I am still not moved into my own room. I’ve been staying in another room because mine is being refurbished. I am entirely grateful that my host family wants to do that for me, but I am also ready to stop living out of suitcases and create my own space. Especially in these moments of sickness.

Prior to Peru I had phased out all types of Western medications, over the counter and prescribed. I did not take Dayquil when it was sunny and Nyquil when it wasn’t. I didn’t pop Ibuprofen with each sudden onset of minor headache or sickness. I drank water and tea. I invested in herbs and oils that come from the earth to help me feel better. I slept. I meditated and manifested a healed body. I cooked with superfoods and medicinal spices.

My PC experience so far has been quite the opposite. Each volunteer receives a first aid kit with enough medication to kill a small animal. We are instructed to keep it close and pack medication to go when we travel. Without my normal strategies for healing, I’ve resorted to the medications and their inherent chemicals to help me feel better (ironic, I know). Yes this process works. But is it the best for my body? I really do not think so. And until I find an alternate solution, I’ll continue to medicate.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Teddy is a dingus, there’s gotta be all types of plant medicine goodness and alternative medicine in Peru.” And to be truthful, you are right. Unfortunately though, I have not found it. Yes I’m drinking tea but when it comes to medicinal herbs to consume and foods to cook with I am still struggling. I hope as I become more integrated that I’ll find more holistic resources to help me feel better when I am sick.

Now for the fishbowl… all this sickness is occurring in a fishbowl. What I mean by this is that my community is small. And I am the only gringo fish swimming in it. So all my fish neighbors and their neighbors somehow find out I am sick. Specifically, everyone at my school found out. In fact, the psychologist was sent to my house to check on me. When I didn’t answer because I was dead asleep,  one of the doormen for the school came to visit with my host siblings. They knocked once and barged into my room. Disorientated and blind because the lights were just turned on, I had to figure out who the hell was in my room (not my room) and why.  The doorman, Miller, was offering to take me to the regional capital hospital because he heard I was sick.

When I made it back to school the following day, every professor and personnel of the school made sure to tell my why I was sick, and how to feel better. Dress warmer. Don’t drink cold drinks. Take cold showers. Mind the changes in the climate. Don’t wear shorts. Drink tea with lemon and honey. Take pills. Rub something on my face. Abrigate, abrigate, abrigate. 

Now I know all these people are coming from a caring and loving space. And yes, some of their reasons why I am sick and how to feel better might actually be true. But for some reason all I can feel is frustration. Frustrated that so many people know that I am sick; that I am weak. Frustrated that my privacy was invaded. Frustrated that when I don’t show up, everyone feels like it’s their job to find where I am and tell me what to do.

This is for sure a culture shock moment. As if only a certain amount of caring is allowed. That too much caring violates my independence and my individual experience of being sick. It’s funny because in the past, I might feel bad for myself when people didn’t care enough. Or when my friends or family weren’t giving my sick self the attention I deserved. Poor me.

So where is the line drawn? Between caring just enough and caring too much? Will being sick in my community feel this way always? Or will I get accustomed to every community member suddenly becoming a trained doctor in the moment that I sneeze or cough? Why am I frustrated when people care about me? Why do I feel like being sick is a private experience? But when it’s too private, why do I feel like I’m being neglected?


I don’t have the answers to these questions. Nor to the other questions that are currently running through my sick brain at the moment. I could keep writing but I feel as if this is sufficient for now. I now will turn to more a more personal strategy of introspection in order to grapple with some of these thoughts. I truly hope I feel better soon. I will feel better soon. And all these frustrations will melt away. At least until next time I am sick. Or maybe these feelings won’t manifest again. Perhaps more reflection and patience on this subject will help my next sickness not be so culturally jarring. Surely that is the goal.

And now, two mantras that always give me company in moments of sadness, weakness, sickness, injury etc.

…This too shall pass…

…Don’t rush your healing. Darkness has its teaching. Love is never leaving…

Los Lunes Son Para Libros: 3rd Edition

Let me just say…WOW. From the minute I picked up this book I was impressed and immediately drawn in. The Story of B, written by Daniel Quinn, is compelling, thought provoking, funny and sad all wrapped up into one book. Written in 1996, Quinn chronicles the journey of a young priest who is sent off by his superior to investigate another priest whom they think in the antichrist. Along this journey, the priest finally finds the man who is now only known as B. Charged with recording and transcribing the ‘antichrist’s lectures’, the young priest begins to not only investigate, but to also follow. Soon enough the priest moves away from his religious background and becomes a disciple of and believer in the secular teachings of B.

Quinn writes the book as an extension of his earlier book Ishmael. Expertly done, Quinn draws from his lessons in Ishmael and fleshes them out with more detail. Throughout the book, the character B references multiple times how some of his inspiration comes from the teachings of his mentor Ishmael. Throughout the novel, B lectures to multiple audiences. His speeches are included verbatim in an 80 page long appendix. Each speech contains golden nuggets of knowledge, mind twisting hypotheticals and anthropological stories.  In fact, Quinn is responsible for the famous boiling frog heuristic that so many us of have learned about to help explain climate change.

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Because there’s simply too much to talk about from this book, I’ve decided to pull out some of my favorites quotes. Some of them I might explain. Others I might just let them marinate in your own brain.


“Nothing in the community lives in isolation from the rest, not even the queens of social insects. nothing lives only in itself, needing nothing from the community. Nothing lives only for itself, owing nothing to the community. Nothing is untouchable or untouched. Ever life is on loan from the community from birth and without fail is paid back to the community in death. The community is a web of life, and every strand of the web is a path to all the other strands. Nothing is exempt or excused. Nothing is special. Nothing lives on a strand by itself, unconnected to the rest”

DQ quote 2

“What works evidently, is cultural diversity. This should not come as a surprise. If culture is viewed as a biological phenomenon, then we should expect to see diversity favored over uniformity. A thousand designs– one for every locale and situation– always works better than one design for all the locales and situations. Birds are more likely to survive in ten thousand nest patterns than in one. Mammals are more likely to survive in ten thousand social patterns than in one. And humans are more likely to survive in ten thousand cultures than in one– as we are in the process of proving right now. We’re in the process of making the world unlivable for ourselves– precisely because everyone is being forced to live a single way. There would be no problem if only one person in ten thousand lived the way we live. The problem appears only as we approach the point where only one person in ten thousand is permitted to live any other way than the way we live. In a world of ten thousand cultures, one culture can be completely mad and destructive, and little harm will be done. In a world of one culture– and that one culture completely mad and destructive– catastrophe is inevitable”

DQ quote

“This isn’t something that will be undone by any one author– or by any ten authors. Nor will it be undone by any one teacher or by any ten teachers. If it’s undone, it will be undone by a whole new generation of authors and teachers.

One of which is you.

There’s no one in reach of these words who is incapable (at the very least) of handling them to another and saying, “Here read this.” Parents teach your children. Children, teach your parents. Teachers, teach your pupils. Pupils, teach your teachers.

Vision is the river, and we who have been changed are the flood. 

I suppose people will ask you to summarize what it’s all about. I offer you this, knowing how inadequate it is: The world will not be saved by old minds with new programs. If the world is saved, it will be saved by new minds– with no programs” 


 

“I’ve written the words, and they’ve found their way to you– I don’t know how, exactly. […] The words have found their way to you even if, having read them, you hate them– even if you hide them from your children’s eyes and consign them to the flames. They’ve found there way to you, so its already too late. Even if, in the meantime, Fr. Lulfre tracks us down and send his assassins to us, he’ll be to late–because of what you’ve read here.

The contagion has been spread.

You are B.


 

Well if those quotes don’t tear your heart out and then breathe life back into you, you might not be human. Or perhaps you’re blind to the realities of our earth. Or perhaps you see clearly whats occurring to our home and don’t care, or don’t feel empowered to do anything.

I’ll admit…I’ve been in each of those positions. I’ve been ignorantly and blissfully blind. I’ve also been awoken and educated full well on the atrocities that are committed everyday and every second on our earth–to your earth.What did I do? Sometimes nothing at all. I continued living, continued consuming, continued polluting. Why? Because I felt powerless, small, futile. Like whatever impact I had, good or bad, just would not matter.

Now though, when I read books like The Story of B, or when I research in my discipline of environmental sociology (or cross disciplines for that matter), I feel deeply. The truth found in the texts, in the words, pulls out of me a yearning to care, to do something– to be apart of the flood.

I am in a unique position in my life where all that is asked of me is to show up. Part of being a Peace Core volunteer is simply to spend time. To live and to be an example. Teaching, classes, projects and behavior change come along the way. Before that though, I simply need to be. To care. If each day I can make one person smile wider, think more critically, respect more deeply–then all goals, objectives, outcomes, outputs and measuring tools aside–I’ve done my job. The trickle has begun. The river is forming. I and others like me are wading in it. The water is rising. The flood is coming.

Swearing In Ceremony

The day has finally arrived. The Peru 30 cohort swore in as official volunteers. After some trainees returning home, 20 community health volunteers remain along with 23 youth development volunteers.
The ceremony was short and sweet. The ambassador from the U.S., the PC country director, and the training manager all shared words. After short speeches, the program directors from CD and YD proudly announced the names of the brand new volunteers. Each was presented with a certificate and given a few handshakes. After the ceremony we shared gaseosas (soda) and bocadillos (snacks). Later in the evening the volunteers put on a talent show for the host parents. There was singing, salsa dancing, zumba, hoola-hooping and poetry. In general it was a really good day; full of lots of love and pride. To finish this post I am going to share some photos that were taken when we became volunteers. In each are special people.


 

In this photo is my host mother Gloria, host father Roger and my baby sister Shirel (aka la muñeca). For the past 3 months these two have treated me like a son. They were patient with my broken Spanish, stayed up late when I was sick and made me laugh harder than some of my friends can in English. They cared so deeply that there wasn’t a single day where I didn’t feel like part of the family. Gloria and Roger are some of the hardest working people I know. They rise before the sun every day and stay up late making sure every little thing was accomplished that day. Their commitment to their family and to making a better life for themselves inspires me. To them I am grateful for: patience, love and trustworthiness.


Here you see two of my host brothers Reynaldo (7) and Marcos (12). This photo was taken on our last morning together before they went to school and before I went to swear in. I by far was closest with these two. From day one they treated me like a brother. I remember vividly arriving on my first day to them screaming from the patio “hermano!” Each night after that they greeted me the same, sometimes even running down the street to meet me halfway. We ate popcorn, candy and watched The Simpsons in Spanish. I played more games of Uno in 3 months with these two munchkins than I have in my entire life. They also taught me how to play marbles, jacks and trompo. To my brothers I am grateful for: playfulness, honesty and naiveté.


 

This lady here is Elizabeth Burger (aka EZ Burgs). Our friendship began during Staging in Miami. From day one we bonded over Colorado, coffee, poetry and similar senses of humor; mostly brutal sarcasm. Our relationship quickly grew into one of older sister and younger brother. I looked up to her and she called me out when I was being annoying. EZ is a powerhouse in our group. She is a great teacher and facilitates classrooms/ groups of people with ease; she demands your attention and keeps it until she is done. She is committed to her family, friends and her work as a health volunteer. Because I this I know she will be a great volunteer. To her I am grateful for: laughter, commitment and humor.


The man I am hugging in this photo is our Youth Development Program Director Jorge Delgado. In the background you see the US ambassador of Peru on the left and the Peace Corps Country Director Parmer Heacox on the right. This photo was taken just after swearing in and receiving my certificate as a YD volunteer. I am hugging Jorge because, well, he hugged everyone. But I am hugging him because he also deserves a hug. I am very lucky to have been trained by Jorge. He is the perfect mix of organized professional and loving father. He is skilled in what he does, answers every question with care (even dumb ones) and leads with his heart first. Every time we had sessions with him we were happy because we knew we were about to receive important information in an entertaining and inclusive manner. He is 100% committed to the YD program and to his country. I look forward to seeing how our work relationship grows over the course of my service. To Jorge I am grateful for: professionalism, organization and leadership.


The two in this photo are last but certainly not least. This is Lesia (aka Danny-Loo) and Braden (aka Brady Boy or Doble B). Like EZ, we started to become friends during staging. Braden was my roommate and Lesia ordered our first Uber ride to South Beach; Elizabeth was also in this carpool. On the way there we bonded over similar world views, attitudes, and once again, style of humor. We quickly became friends, spending almost everyday day together at the training center. We ate popcorn, doodled during training sessions, ate lunch together on the couches and went for walks to the park when we needed to escape. We adventured to Lima, created memories in Chosica and explored Chaclacayo. Unfortunately, none of us were placed in the same department, but maybe that’s for the better. Our friendship will continue to grow long distance and when we reunite for trainings or vacation, it will be just like old times. To Braden and Lesia I am grateful for: friendship, independence and spontaneity.

Lunes Son Para Libros: 2nd Edition

harry potter.jpg

Due to the fact that mostly everyone has either already read this book or seen the movie, I am going to avoid writing any sort of synopsis. If some how, you have been living under a rock and have not read or seen the movie, I recommend you end your hermit lifestyle explore what J.K. Rowling has to say. If this is you, don’t just watch the movie. Pick up the book because it’s better and contains more detail.


Some might be wondering how I came to read Harry Potter. In fact, this is my second time. The first was when I was a child. I consumed this book just as it came out like many kids my age. In due time, the book also became popular amongst adults. I didn’t make it far in the series for various reasons. I did however continue to watch the Hollywood representations  that were pumped out annually. J.K. Rowling and her stories took a leave of absence from my life for many, many years. I fell down other literary rabbit holes instead.

The adventures of Harry Potter did not make a resurgence in my life until this year (obviously). Before I left the country for my Peace Corps service, a special friend Whitney gifted me the Spanish translated version. If anyone knows Whitney, they also know she is a huge fan of every Harry Potter novel. In fact, when I met her, she was sitting on a rock in Jackson Falls, IL reading Harry Potter instead of rock climbing. Whitney was well aware that I was trying to reintroduce fictional books back into my repertoire. Having been a graduate student, my life quickly became consumed by journal articles, history and non-fictional essays. I was inundated with social science. Don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff. But at a certain point, it became necessary to balance all that with something light and fun. Whitney, being the good listener she is, picked up on my whining and one day, sent me Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal. She wanted me to revisit my childhood, enjoy fantasy/fiction again, and perhaps, share the translated version with any curious kids that I would soon be working with in Peru.

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I was very thankful for the book and quickly began reading it. Like a good student, I began annotating every word in Spanish I did not understand. Despite the target audience primarily being children, my vocabulary in Spanish was lacking.  So each time I sat down to read I also brought my dictionary and a pencil. However, this habit was quickly broken. Reading and the translating takes forever. I was averaging a chapter every 4 or 5 days. Tired of being slowed down by my Spanish, I just started reading and filling gaps. Although accuracy was lacking, I began to finish a chapter within one sitting. Choosing to read like this opened my mind to a few interesting thoughts I would like to share:

  • The Power of Translators: Having now read the book in two languages and seen the movie, I have become interested in the power that is beholden by the translator. That is for any text, not just Harry Potter. I first became aware of this concept when I learned about the discrepancy over Max Weber’s “iron cage of rationality”(stahlhartes Gehäuse). According to another translator, the idea that as rational humans we are limited is actually the “steel shell of rationality”. To some, the different translations would mean nothing. To others, such as sociologists like myself, the discrepancy between the two is actually quite profound. But that is for another blog post (no promises it gets written). For now, you can do your own research.

    The point is that as translator you reproduce knowledge. You take words from one language and transplant them into another. Sometimes with accuracy, sometimes perhaps not. Sometimes informed by your own biases, sometimes completely objective. And sometimes, there just isn’t a perfect translation, so then what do you do? The translator, although beholden to some literary ethics, has the power to create whatever the hell they want. When an author (or artist or sculptor for that matter) publishes something, the work simultaneously exits the private and enters the public realm. It’s no longer the author’s brainchild. It is prone to consumption and interpretation by some sort of audience. This also happens with translation.

    For example, the translator of La Piedra Filosofal, Alicia Rawson, is bound somewhat to the story created by J.K. Rowling. At the same time however, she as translator is empowered to essentially rewrite the book, or certain parts of it. The translator decides how the work of art becomes consumed by another audience who speaks and thinks in a different language; by an audience from a different culture. Rawson reproduces the knowledge first crafted by Rawling. The work of translators, I think, is extremely important. In fact, I don’t think they get enough credit. I’m sure there is much more to say on this topic, but I’m over it. Next…

  • The Power of the Brain: The entire time I read La Piedra Filosofal I was shocked at my own personal brain power. I know this might sound douchey, but I was genuinely impressed and intrigued. As I said before, I struggled with some of the vocabulary and sentence structure found within the book. I did a lot of translating and rereading. After a certain point however, I gave that strategy up. I just began reading.

    When I started just reading, the ability for my brain to fill in the blanks was astounding. Words I didn’t originally know were suddenly part of my vocabulary. I began understanding complex sentence structures and grammatical conventions. This all began because of my brain’s ability for inference. Context clues and educated guesses became more conducive to my reading than attempting to translate words. At some points I wasn’t translating from Spanish to English anymore. I was just reading and understanding. By just reading I began to have thoughts like “So that’s how you say that in Spanish” or “Oh, so that’s how you conjugate that” and “Now I understand how saying one thing in English looks in Spanish”.

    All of this is to say that I still do not consider myself fluent in Spanish. Despite the many lightbulb moments and leaps forward in my reading comprehension, there is still a lot from the novel that did not understand. And a lot that I did not care to translate directly. In general, however, It was not a debilitating or demotivating experience. On the contrary, I found reading La Piedra Filosofal to be very enjoyable. The entertaining story, the Spanish comprehension I gained and the ability to revisit my childhood are three reasons why I loved reading Harry Potter again.


The next book on my list is not in Spanish, but I do plan to return to that realm soon. For now, I’ll be cracking open The Story of B, written by Daniel Quinn. Only 325 pages to go.

story of B

 

Site Exploration: Week 3, Part 2

My 3 week site exploration has now come to an end. As I find myself back at the training center, I reminisce about my weeks in Ancash. I come back to Lima feeling grateful and motivated to return back to my service. Living in the mountains once again provided a homecoming I would not have traded for any other site. My host family, colegio, and PCV Stephany all played a part in a super special site exploration.


 

During the second half of week three, I continued to attend going-away lunches with Stephany. These were great opportunities for me to meet new people, learn from how Stephany interacted with her community and gage just how integrated Stephany really was. She was/is practically Peruvian. She spoke like it (Quechua included), dressed like it, ate like it and acted like it. The depth at which she had placed herself within Matacoto was obvious at her despedidas. The community showered her in hugs, kisses, gifts, and cuys. Stephany loved them deeply and they loved her back. Watching her hug practically every student on her last day was heart warming. And having to stop the car multiple times on the way down the hill in order to hug and say goodbye to more people spoke to her influence. It was cool to be apart of the process. I served as her official photographer. Attempting to crystalize the moments with her beloved community into digital representations of cariño, amor, and gratitud.

On a slightly less emotional note, the soccer game I was invited to play in was cancelled. This was a bummer but thats how some things go down here. Lots of last minute changes; some for good reasons and others not so much. Instead I shared a favorite soccer game with the security guard of the school, Miller. He too loves the sport, and plays quite well (much better than I thought). In the game, a player begins juggling the ball, after a few touches the player passes it to someone else in the air and says a number out loud. The other player must fluidly receive the ball, and continue to juggle it up until the number that was shouted. If they succeed they pass it back and say a new number (always bigger than the last), but if they don’t, the player who served it to them gets a point. We played this game until we were sweating and breathing hard (thanks to the altitude). In some rounds we got up to 100 juggles.

Afterwards, Miller taught me how to play soccer tennis. I thought I knew the game, but of course, there were different rules. This is played exactly as you might think. It’s tennis, but with your feet. We played countless rounds over the course of two days. I have yet to beat Miller. He plays more intelligently than I do, and utilizes lots of different techniques to keep me guessing. Hopefully, if we play enough, I will be able to beat him some day. I’ve got 2 years. Nonetheless, the juggling and soccer tennis have helped keep me in shape and my touches soft. I’m really proud of my ability to play in Peru. It serves as a language, a cross cultural bridge. United by a common passion for sport, a soccer ball and two goals, people from different parts of the globe can share space and enjoy each others company (or not if you’re loosing badly).

Saying goodbye to my host family in Matacoto was surprisingly sad. I was only there for 3 weeks and already feeling apart of their lives. My mom even told me she would miss me. Besides them, I was super happy to hear the excitement in other community member’s voices when we talked about my long-term return in November. My socios at the school, family and friends are all excited for me to come back and live with them for 2 years. For some trainees, site exploration is an experience that tells them that a Peace Corps experience is not for them. However, for me, it showed me the opposite. Not only was I ready to serve and to live, but also my community.

I accompanied Stephany to Huaraz before she left on her bus. We met our psychologist socio Jose and PCVL Devan for dinner. We went to a place called Luigis. It has the best pizza in Huaraz, and probably in Ancash. The restaurant plays reggae music, other Western beats, and totes signatures on the walls from customers arriving from all over the world. This eclectic and delicious eatery will definitely be on my list when I am craving some good pizza.

Afterwards, I quite literally ran into the other trainees as they were leaving the hostel and as I was turning from dinner. I quickly dropped off my stuff and turned back around to join them at a local bar. Everyone was in a celebratory mood for having completed another milestone in our PC training experience. Much to our surprise, there was live music. A previous PC volunteer, and another gringo from North Carolina named Sam were playing music. Acoustic guitar and banjo combined for bluegrass in Peru. I couldn’t really believe it! It had been a while since I’ve heard the twang of a banjo. Immediately I was reminiscing about my summers at the Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colorado. Afterwards we popped around a few other establishments. Lucky for us, the second place we went to also had live music. This time a Peruvian cover band was playing the likes of Eric Clapton, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and other Spanish speaking bands. I was really impressed at the vocalist’s ability to not only change languages, but accurately match the vocals of so many different types of bands. It was fun because as the North American rock came on, the gringos went nuts and sang along. And when the songs in Spanish were played, the Peruvians made sure to represent as well.

The following day I woke up to a hostel full of trainees and current volunteers. We shared the morning on the rooftop patio, drinking coffee, eating breakfast and watching the clouds swirl around the Cordillera Blanca. Quickly I met a volunteer name Joe. And as PC gossip (chisme) would have it, Joe already knew I was a rock climber. Lucky for me, he was headed out to climb with other volunteers. I immediately asked if I could attend, and much to my appreciation, I was invited with open arms. I rented a pair of climbing shoes for 10 soles and loaded up my pack to follow along. The closest crag to Huaraz is called Los Olivos. Its only about a 10 minute cab from the hostel and a 10 minute approach from where you get let out. The climbing can be seen from the road.

Los Olivos has a fun mixture of rock climbing. From low grade moderates, to some over-hung harder routes. There’s even rumors of a multi-pitch climb somewhere. I was able to get in 4 pitches. I could have climbed more, but I was grateful to just get up one. I was happy to see that I can still on-sight 5.10c. It had been a while since I had been on rock outside, so I wasn’t sure where my strength might had fallen. 3 of 4 climbs were on-sights. The fourth gave me a harder time, going at 5.10d-5.11a. Safe to say there’s already a project out there for me to tick. While we were out there, a previous PCV named Chris introduced me to a man named David. David is an owner of a guide company in Huaraz, and co-author of the local climbing guide. David’s climbing partner turned out to be a man named Javier that I met when I was climbing at a gym in Lima earlier this month. We had exchanged numbers and talked about climbing when I officially got to Ancash. Running into Javier at the crag was yet again another omen that I was mixing with the right people and hanging in the right places.

After climbing, Joe and Pete took me to a local restaurant called Krishna Bog. Vegetarian Indian food in Peru? YES PLEASE. We showed up to a cute, practically hidden home. We sat in the living room and were served all-you-can-eat Indian food for 15 soles. Whatever was made for the day was served to whoever showed up. We’re talking vegetable salad, rice, vegetable curry and homemade bread. Served and served until there was no room left. Pancha Hunta (I am full in Quechua). Easily the cleanest burning food in Huaraz. I will definitely be returning. Afterwards I said goodbye to my new friends, leisurely strolled back to the hostel and threw myself on the couch. It was there that I spent the rest of the evening with friends, chit chatting and waiting for our bus to take off.

As I was slipping off into a another dramamine induced sleep while the bus bumpily made its way onto the highway, I breathed easy that site exploration was over. Reflecting back, I very much enjoyed the experience. I feel lucky, grateful and motivated to get back to work. Some trainees return from site exploration realizing that the PC experience is not for them. In fact, our Peru 30 group has already lost 3. Others get back to Lima like me, only thinking about the next time they can get back to site and get back to work.

 

 

El Lunes Son Para Libros: 1st Edition

I am going to try something new. In my free time I often read books. So in order to praise the authors, talk about interesting books, and share one of my passions, I want to start “El Lunes Son Para Libros”. Maybe it will be a book review, maybe my favorite quotes, or maybe just some photos. I don’t know yet, but it’s my damn blog and I do what I want. So here is the first edition:

earth abides

Earth Abides is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel written by George R. Stewart in 1949. On the back cover it reads, “A novel about tomorrow that could happen today.” I’ve always liked this idea. That an author, equipped with their imagination, could project into the future and write about something, or parts of something, that very well might occur will always be an infinitely interesting idea. The story of how I chose to read this book, and how the storyline of the main character would begin to intertwine with my own personal journey quickly had me captivated.

“Between the plan and the fulfillment stands always the frail barrier of the Human Life”

As I sat in a coffee shop in Huaraz, Peru I became bored with my computer. Not equipped with my own book, I looked to the bookshelves of the coffee shop for something to read. With my head at a 90-degree angle in order to read the spines of the books, I was drawn to a blue and ancient looking text with yellow pages. The book’s cover art interested me and the description on the back drew me in (touché Stewart). The smell wafting from the pages as I quickly flipped through them was the icing on the cake. I had my book. I sat down to read and an hour later, when I had to leave, I nonchalantly placed the book in my backpack. It felt like stealing, but I knew I would be back to return it. For the following 6 days, I read Earth Abides during every moment of my free time. It’s resonance with my own life, had me captivated, and at times, in tears.


 

The first similarities arose between myself and the main character, Isherwood Williams. Besides sharing the name William, we both are white, socio-economically privileged and graduate students. Ish studies anthropology and I sociology. The similarities between the two disciplines are many. I’ve always been drawn to anthropology as a second specialty of study. In addition, Isherwood loves camping, as do I, and describes himself as “moderately practical, but not mechanical”. On top of that, we both are alone. After recovering from a feverish delirium induced by a rattle snake bite that occurred while he was camping in the woods, Ish finds the world around him to be empty. While he was sick in bed, isolated in a mountain cabin, a disease had swept the United States, killing majority of the population.  He wakes up alone and in a panic. I too am alone. Yes, I am surrounded by people and interact with them on a daily basis, but a certain degree of isolation and loneliness comes with being a Peace Corps trainee/volunteer. Physical isolation is potent in this experience. Loneliness however, is a social and often cultural production; a state of mind that can be altered.

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So to begin, Ish must rebuilt, reconnect and find meaning in a post-apocalyptic world. One of the first things he decides to do is road trip east in search of survivors and possibly a new home. His journey, like mine, begins in California. He travels from the north, down through Bakersfield and eventually to Mojave. Ever since I can remember my family as being camping and riding dirt bikes in the Mojave Desert. Every trip we use Mojave as a pit stop for food and gas. As Isherwood arrives in Mojave, he too has a motorcycle. He travels with it as a backup just in case his car fails. However, in Mojave, he decides to deserts his motorcycle. He does so as a commitment to being fearless, and not letting the worst case scenario control his decisions. The desert, and the high adrenaline experience of riding dirt bikes is mixed. It contains moments of fearless invincibility and bliss as well as debilitating pain and terror.

After Mojave he drives through Needles, CA, Kingman and Flagstaff, AZ. I’ve been on that road. I’ve spent time in those cities. Yes, many people have. But the reality that a random book, on a random shelf, in a random coffee shop would begin to have so many similarities with my life was beginning to resonate deeply. The serendipitous of the situation was profound. Eventually, Ish continues east and finds himself on the famous Route 66 headed towards Chicago. The most recent place I lived before coming to Peru was in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. A portion of Route 66 ran through my town. I rode my bicycle on Route 66 towards Chicago. I continued to be shocked by how Stewart, completely unknowing about my life and my journey, had somehow inserted himself within in.

At some point during his road trip it begins to rain. As the rain fell against the windshield of Ish’s car, I too began to hear the slight patter of rain droplets on my roof and window. In the exact moment that it started to rain in the book, it also started to rain on me in Peru. As the stormed strengthened outside my house, as well as in the book, I couldn’t help but be brought to tears. Not knowing exactly why I was crying, I welcomed the tears. The synchronicity of my reading experience, with my living experience resonated deeply within me. In that moment I felt that I was exactly where I needed to be, and had arrived at precisely the perfect moment. I felt gratitude for this omen. For showing me that where I was, in my own journey, was where I needed to be.

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After traveling to New York city, and realizing that he can no longer find clear roads to the east, Isherwood turns around and begins to travel home. He travels back through Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. Once again, using a road that I too have traveled. Eventually he ends up in Estes Park, CO. I love Estes Park. I’ve spent a lot of time there. During my freshman year of college, as part of my orientation, I went on a camping trip with other freshman in the Rocky Mountain National Park. We stopped off in Estes Park for groceries. It was this trip that helped solidify my love for Colorado. It was also in Estes Park where I attended my first fraternity formal. Besides that, a few other camping trips brought me to that area. Here again, Isherwood’s journey seemed to align with mine.

Finally, Ish makes it back to his childhood home in Northern California. He settles down there and recreates his life. He falls in love with a woman named Em and starts a family, which eventually they call their Tribe. One morning, Ish and Em wake up to red skies and a glowing, orange sun. In the distance black smoke bellows into the clouds and wild fires rage. From his vantage point, he sees that most of the land around him is on fire. At this point in the novel, all plant life and vegetation is thoroughly overgrown. Without firefighters, or running water, the fires burn out on control. Once again, Stewart writes a scene that strikes deep. As this very moment one of the worst wild fires in California history is burning out of control in Northern California. None of it is contained. 3,000 some odd homes have been burnt to the grown, 31 people are dead and even more are missing. My grandparents, who live close by to the fires are patiently waiting to see if they will need to be evacuated. A simple shift in the wind and their home and belongings could potentially all be destroyed. Now not only was my story in alignment with the text, but also the story of my beloved grandparents and the other victims of the wildfire.

After some time, Isherwood decides to head south in search of supplies. After driving through the city, he finds himself on the Golden Gate Bridge contemplating his life.  He stands in awe, gazing down to where the water crashes into the pillars of the bridge; a symbol of the resiliency of the technology of humanity. Eventually he makes his way through the breadbasket of California. Finally, in southern CA, Ish passes first through Burbank and eventually Pasadena. The exact city I call home. The city where I grew up and where my family and friends still live. While reading Isherwood to be in my home, I was swept with jealousy. He was so far from his home, yet so close to mine. I was immediately taken there, with my family and friends, spending time. Nostalgia. Once again Earth Abides inserted itself into my personal journey. I was confused. “Why did I choose this book?”; “Did something inside of me, or outside of me for that matter, purposely choose this book?”. Groundless, I found footing once again in my gratefulness of the moment. My reading experience, intertwined with my living experience reassured me once again that everything was exactly as it should be. Things are as they are and I am apart of them.

Isherwood eventually makes it home again. He grows to be an old, old age. At this point, generations have come and gone. The First Ones have passed on, making Ish “the last American.” He spends his days sitting in the sunlight, being fed and cared for by the younger generations. He has vocabulary, knowledge, and experiences originating from the time before The Great Disaster. Because of that Isherwood is a god. His hammer the symbol of the Tribe. They look up to him, and ask him for guidance and advice. Eventually, like all things in this world, [*SPOILER ALERT*] Isherwood’s life comes to end.  In an escape from more wild fires, Isherwood finds himself sitting on the Golden Gate Bridge. He has collapsed and a slow process of death has begun to take over. He is there with two men, one named Jack, the name of his most beloved son who died at an early age. He becomes cold, the men trying to keep him warm, and begins to lose feeling in his limbs. Confused, he sees the men trying to communicate to him, but only by moving their lips, and not actually speaking. He realizes he has also lost his ability to hear. He understands that they want him to choose one of them as his successor, to be the one to wield the hammer. He picks Jack, handing him the hammer and freeing himself of its weight. As the shadows close in around him, he begins to lose his sight. He gazes off into the distance and is drawn to the shape of the rolling hills surrounding the bay. He sees them and is reminded of the breasts of his long lost love Em, and even farther, of his mother. “The earth and Em and the mother all mingled in his dying mind, and he felt glad to return.” His last vision fell upon the men in front of him. “They will commit me to the earth,” he thought. “Yet I also commit them to the earth. There is nothing else by which men live. Men go and come, but the earth abides.”

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Overall, Stewart’s novel was captivating, moving and chillingly in line with my current reality. How I came to find this book, and read it at this moment in my life is something that continues to hold my attention. I return to Huaraz tonight. Tomorrow I will return Earth Abides to its place on the book shelf. I can only hope someone after me is drawn to its story just like I was. And that the novel, although it was written 68 years ago, can still have powerful meaning for an individual living in not so different times.