Friday, September 30, 2011

The beginning of my Peruvian journey

Hola de Ollantaytambo, Peru! I arrived here on Tuesday but I didn’t write anything because I was absolutely miserable. I’m not going to sugarcoat it – the culture shock was substantial and the transition was hard. But today, finally, I had my first good day (free of any crying, except almost crying at the end of a really sad book which DOES NOT count)

There is SO much to tell but I know that prose can be boring, so I’ll try to keep it relatively limited.

Monday: I leave the U.S., in tears off and on since leaving my Mom at the security gate. After grabbing some drinks in LAX with a new German friend (you will come to see that I use that term loosely now, as a friend now qualifies as anybody I’ve talked to for more than 5 minutes) I boarded my 10 hour flight to Lima. No vegetarian meal option, so the 2 Argentines next to me offer their salads out of pity.

Tuesday: We land in Lima and I had a mini panic attack thinking that they lost my bag. In Peru, your bags don’t just transfer, you have to pick them up and re-check them for your next flight. I almost missed my flight to Cusco because I failed to realize that I was waiting by the gate for the 10:45 flight, not the 10:20 flight. So basically everybody saw me standing around for 30 minutes, then run to the gate when they said last call after I finally realized which was my real flight. Soy una gringa estupida, no?

I land in Cusco to blaring Peruvian music, a man dressed up like an Inca, and people shoving pens with little woven dolls in my face. I was pretty frightened, so I ran to meet my driver. We made the hour and a half journey to Ollanta, with my eyes wide in amazement as I was sure I was on a movie set. I went to the Awamaki office for about 2 seconds, and then I was showed to my homestay where I met most of mi familia nueva. The house consists of a courtyard of sorts, with a kitchen, bathroom, and living room (which I have yet to see) attached to it, and a set of stairs leading to all of the bedrooms. I forced myself to eat some fish soup, then rested before heading out to see my first patient – a man that had a stroke a year prior and has total paralysis on the left side of his body. I don’t know too much about him now, but I’m sure I’ll be working with him a lot in the future.

Wednesday: I don’t remember too much – just a tour of the city and a despidida (goodbye party) for one of the volunteers at night. I had my first pisco sour (THE drink of Peru, look it up) and it was pretty fabulous. I decided to spoil myself and order a salad and I was sure to savor the taste of fresh veggies. Only now am I thinking about the possibility of getting sick from the rinsed vegetables…dangit.

Thursday: I get up early to meet 3 other Awamaki volunteers to help with the Fluoride campaign. This involved traveling to some of the elementary schools in nearby villages, which resulted in my first combi ride. A combi is essentially a van stuffed to the brim with people. I believe there were 14 “seats” on this combi, and 22 passengers. I had the pleasure of having to be one of the standing passengers, and believe me, it’s not the most comfortable of situations.

When we arrived at a school in Urubamba (a nearby village), we went door-to-door at the elementary school giving them fluoride paste to brush their teeth with since dental health is more than an issue here. (Side note – a volunteer and I were hit on by a drunk old Peruvian man that didn’t say a single thing to me except about my teeth. I’m pretty sure he may have had 3 still intact). The kids were really excited, except for those that forgot their toothbrushes – they had to use some makeshift toothbrushes Awamaki made. Read: cotton on a popsicle stick. Yum yum!

After getting back, I offered to help one of the education volunteers put posters up around “the city”, which really turned in the city and all surrounding villages. After walking around for an hour and a half, completely sunburned and covered in glue (made with flour and water – highly effective!) she relieved me of my duties and I retired to my home.

Besides eating and sleeping, I also took mi hermanita Samira to a festival that the schools were putting on at the Plaza de Armas, the center of town. All the little kids were SO adorable in their traditional attire and performing Peruvian dances. Afterwards, I FINALLY gave mi familia their gifts from the US and they seemed…interested. Luckily, the 18 year old LOVED her Thomas the train toy and it allowed me to redeem myself.

A little bit about my family before I depart:

Mi Madre, Ruth: She’s very sweet and very accommodating. I still think she’s a little wary of me since I make her cooking life a little more difficult, but she’s still very friendly.

Mi Padre, Valentin: So friendly and funny. He taught me how to speak in Quetchua (the other language here) but I completely forgot everything. He is very patient with me and my broken Spanish and always offers me food and mate (ie anything hot to drink)

Mi Hermanita, Alex: 18 months old and absolutely adorable, although she gets a little testy at times. At first she was afraid of me but now she’s intrigued. I have figured out how to get her to smile when she’s crying by just making odd faces at her.

Mi otra Hermanita, Samira: 8 years old and my new bff. Since Alex can’t talk, she is the most on my level when it comes to speaking Spanish. She loves to show me how to do things and laughs at me when I say things wrong, but she’s adorable and a total chatterbox.

Mi OTRA Hermanita, Annalis: She’s 15 and I’m probably butchering her name. She goes to school pretty late so I don’t really get to see her much, but she’s very gracious and sweet every time I’ve interacted with her.

The other 2 kids (thankfully) go to college in Lima so I have yet to meet them. Right now Tia Rosa from Lima is visiting for the week and I reallyyy like her. She’s already tried to set me up with her sons (not necessarily connected to why I like her).

This morning I had my first home visit with Alex, and 12 year old boy with Cerebal Palsy. I'll write about him later I'm sure as I've definitely exceeded my "keeping it short" amount.


  1. Julia!

    I'm sorry your first week was rough, but it sounds like you're getting acclimated now. I'm surprised you're getting along with the children, you go girl.

    It's pretty awesome that they've thrown you into the volunteering right away and sounds like you're going to do some pretty amazing things down there. Whenever you're down just remember how much what you are doing means to the people around you. Miss you, love you, I can't wait to keep reading about your adventure!

  2. I love reading this!! I enjoyed my trip there so much and it's so exciting to relive it through your stories. Don't worry, the homesickness will go away and you'll have an awesome time!