Thursday, January 7, 2010

Getting Settled in Peru

At first glance, this is the stupidest thing I´ve ever done. I´m living in Pisac, a tiny town in the Sacred Valley region, and it´s a much more primitive area than I anticipated. My shower, for example, is a bucket in the ceiling with holes in it. The bathroom door is a sheet of plywood, and I spend my showers eyeing the spider who lives in the corner. My kitchen is a fire pit in a shack, which also serves as home to a family of guinea pigs (who are food, not pets). Each day, I have to take a one-hour ride on a rickety bus to Cusco or Urubamba, holding on for dear life on the hairpin curves.

The biggest problem of all, however, is that my hair dryer doesn´t work -- it´s too powerful for the electrical circuits here.

And yet, I am having an incredible time. My family, the Rivera Villanuevas, are welcoming and kind. On my first evening, the kids -- Rafael (12), Paola (10) and Gonlazo (7) -- took me on a tour of the town, pointing out the beautiful stars and the bustling square. My bedroom is large and private, despite the lack of furniture (just a bed and a table, so I really am living out of a suitcase). That one-hour bus drive is a visual feast of towering green mountains, with rainbows arching from mountaintop to mountaintop. Once we even drove under a rainbow! And, it´s incredible to have a home in Peru and interact with locals, rather than remaining insulated from the culture in a hotel.

I arrived in Cusco around noon Tuesday, and I was greeted at the airport by Tess, a staffer with Projects Abroad. She gave me a quick tour of the area and the PA office, and then I was introduced to my host family. They speak no English, so I´m finally using all of that Spanish I studied for years. Fortunately, I find that I know enough to communicate what´s necessary. We had a great conversation about our families, but they are perplexed by my husband´s willingness to let me wander around the globe without supervision.

Yesterday, I went with a group of other PA volunteers to Ollantaytambo, which was holding its annual festival. I took so many photos of Peruvians in native Andean dress, which I will post as soon as I figure out how. We visited a cafe, where the new volunteers all ordered coca tea, which is supposed to help with altitude sickness. For lunch, I had an incredible burrito with delicious homemade tortillas and guacamole. We also went to a humane bullfight, although we couldn´t figure out the rules or the scoring system.

Today, I had my orientation to the teacher-training program, which is my project for the first six weeks. We learned about ESL teaching strategies and reviewed the wealth of available resources. Tomorrow, in another workshop, we get a crash course in lesson planning. Then, on Monday, we´ll start teaching. The students will be divided into beginning, intermediate and advanced levels, and I´m crossing my fingers for the advanced course.

So far, I´m very pleased with Projects Abroad. My teaching partners are from all over the globe, including England, Denmark and Italy, and yet we´re all united with a common goal and here for similar reasons. As anticipated, I´m the oldest volunteer by several years, but it doesn´t seem to make much difference here.

Now that I´ve found the Internet cafe, I´ll post another update soon. So far, my only goal this weekend is to visit the huge market in Pisac. I´m in the market for a nice Peruvian hat.

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