Let’s Play School

It’s incredible what we take for granted in America. Education is huge and sadly, the basic education I received by age 3 is more than most of the kids at the clinic have received in their lifetimes.

Few of them have experienced any sort of formal education which is sad because many of them could benefit from a little schooling and are more than capable of learning. There’s also a handful of them that express an eagerness to learn. All they lack is someone to devote time to teaching them and I’ll be there another 6 weeks so why not me?

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Meet Nayda. She’s 10 years old and she has never been taught the alphabet. Another girl her age has never learned how to count 😦 It blows my mind… I spent all day teaching them those basic things and they especially loved learning extra phrases in English! I kept asking if they were bored and all they wanted to do was learn more.

Today was very rewarding for all of us. I can’t explain to you how appreciative they were to have someone sit down and dedicate time to teaching them. I also can’t truly describe to you the looks on their faces when they learned something new or understood something for the first time. Learning is so fun for them. I’ve never been much of a teacher but today I think I did alright. I think I’ve found my new job, for now.

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Suicide Showers

Suicide showers. The concept is relatively simple. You turn on the water, the water fills your shower head and exposed wires quickly heat (thaw) the water inside the head just before it dribbles out and onto your body. It’s the execution and electrocution (or avoidance of) that are slightly more complicated.

When I first received the details about my housing assignment here in Peru I was ecstatic to learn there would be running water. It’s a luxury and I’m definitely grateful but what I didn’t realize was that this water would never ever be warm, be shut off between the hours of 12:45 and 5pm (the only hours warm enough in an unheated house for an ice shower), and a complete deathtrap altogether… These contraptions have rightfully earned the nickname “Suicide Showers.”

Showers in Latin America aren’t built to any codes (or maybe they are and the codes were just made up by drunken gremlins) Exposed wiring, electrically charged knobs, and uncertainty of survival are all part of the fun. That scary room is like a box of chocolates, (aside from ice cold water that usually smells like eggs) you never know what you’re gonna get.

So you’re still convinced you wanna take your shower? Okay, I’ve created the following short survey to help you determine your fate:

Has it been more than 3 days since your last attempt at hygiene? Y/N
Is there anything living growing in your hair? Y/N
Do people seem to be keeping a greater distance from you than usual? Y/N
Do you want to be very sad or very cold? Y/N

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, come back tomorrow or next week. If you answered “yes” to all of the above, it’s time… Roll the dice to move your token. Doubles get another turn. The first player to reach the end wins. Fun!

Approach the bathroom with caution. Outside you will find a breaker box mounted very safely to the exterior wall of the bathroom with average clear packing tape. Switch it to the “on” position – but not with your hands. You must do this step with some sort of magic. (Last night I stupidly used my hand and received 100s of volts of electricity through my body. My hearing was gone for a little while but it’s back now so no big deal right?) Are you still breathing with senses intact? Proceed into the bathroom.

Whatever hour you’re deciding to test your fate is undoubtedly cold because there is no water during warm hours so undress quickly and try not to think about it too much. Say a long prayer and turn and face the music (the whole thing makes a very angry and ominous noise) I’m not even almost an electrician and I can tell you with absolute certainty that just looking at this thing is risky.

The wires from the breaker box run exposed through a hole in the wall and directly to the shower head. DIRECTLY TO THE SHOWER HEAD. What would normally be a large hot water tank far from your face in The States is now a charged shower head heating water directly and electrically above your vulnerable, wet body. A fine mix of electricity and wetness hanging right above your head 🙂 Sound unsafe yet? That’s because it is. Moving on.

Adjust the temperature on the shower head before turning on the water unless you’ve already planned your funeral for next week. Once that water is on you’re a grounding pole for the electricity from all those exposed wires to the puddle of water on the floor at your feet. Temperature choices range from arctic to freezing so you can pick whichever makes you the most comfortable.

Carefully turn on the water using a dry towel being mindful not to touch the metal parts of the knob. Take two towels in for good measure; a wet towel is about as good as no towel at all. (Better yet, just try the magic method from the breaker step again. I’ve used my hand here as well and it’s not fun.)

Now begin your dance of hopping in and out to lather and for the love of God, don’t accidentally bump into the shower head or the shower knob. Remember, you’re standing in a puddle of water with stray sparks and volts all around you. Just because the people who constructed these showers aren’t as concerned about the basic rules of electricity doesn’t mean they don’t apply.

Enjoy your 3 minute shower. I promise you won’t want to be in there longer than that. Also make sure you’re completely 100% dry-as-a-desert before turning everything off.

And that’s it! You live to smell bad another day. Congratulations.

So if any of you are wondering why it looks like I never shower in any of my pictures it’s because I don’t. Each and every shower could just be my last.

(I’ll add pictures later to give you all a visual)

Trips and Trips

Last night after dinner I stayed up chatting with my host brother. After a while he asked me if I was tired and since I wasn’t he offered to take me to some cool spots around the city. We walked all over Cusco and made stops as we passed important plazas, churches, ruins, etc. It’s really amazing how many hidden gems there are in Cusco that tourists would never find. It was really sweet of him to show me around. One of the churches we went to was built around some ruins and offers one of the best night skyline views of the city. I forgot to take pictures but I do have a video on my snapchat story for those of you who are cool enough.

We ended up getting back home sort of late and I had to be up early this morning for our horseback riding trip through some of the local ruins. Our first stop was Templo de la Luna. We also went to Temple de los Monos and Zona X.

This is me assuming my position on the throne the leaders sat on during sacrificial ceremonies at Templo de la Luna

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Underneath the sacrificial area was a cave used for fertility treatments. Women who were unable to conceive came and sat on this table for various fertility ceremonies:

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And here I am sitting on that table, for good measure…

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On our way home, we passed a natural drug shop which was its own interesting experience. Outside they had San Pedro cacti growing in pots

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I won’t pretend to be super knowledgable about San Pedro but the cactus is used to produce a popular psychedelic recreational drug in this region of the world. Supposedly some people never come back from their trip and are left permanently crazy like the girl from Germany that lived with my host family before me. Last night my host brother told me she spent the rest of her stay yelling at the walls in her room. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, or mind…

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On Wednesday we’re going back to have our coca leaves read.

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Week 2

Working with special needs children is particularly challenging, especially because it’s something I’ve never done before. As my time at the clinic progresses I’m beginning to understand and learn more about the individual personalities of the kids and how to differently approach each of them. Volunteers cycle through the clinic very quickly/often and as such, the higher functioning kids are usually more hesitant to get close to volunteers. But my position at the clinic is more permanent and a lot of them get excited to see me now and even know me by name.

The kids are technically patients so I don’t really feel comfortable publicly sharing details about their conditions and how those conditions affect their personalities but here are some pictures. They really love to take pictures.

Meet Vilma: Some previous volunteers taught her a bit of English and a few English songs, her favorite of which is Jingle Bells.

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This is Flor. She’s also a really sweet girl.

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The art of the selfie is universal. It’s fun in every language. These are my selfie queens. They ask for my phone everyday just to take selfies.

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Selfies are truly amazing, aren’t they?

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They also like to create masterpieces on snapchat

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Outside of work

This weekend is a dry weekend here in Peru because elections are tomorrow. As of midnight last night it became prohibited to buy or sell alcohol. I think it’s technically also prohibited to be drunk, but it’s sort of unclear and I’m not gonna test my luck. In Peru, everyone is also required to vote. I guess they think you’re better off making a terrible decision sober, I’m not sure.

Today my roommate from Holland went back to Europe and because of the dry weekend rule we decided to have her main going away celebration Thursday night. We went to a bar first and then a club at the main plaza. It was my first Latin clubbing experience and I really wish I had taken more pictures.

Pisco sour is the “typical” drink here but I think it tastes terrible. My teacher also told me it’s a bit of a joke because the natives don’t drink pisco sours as normal drinks. They’re meant to be palate cleansers during meals. So they’re really just made and offered for tourists. I can’t seem to find anything to back that claim up but I do know they’re terrible and that’s what matters. What Peruvians have actually perfected is the mojito… 😛

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And this is how you get herpes. I really wanted to tip the bartenders because they were great but this changed my mind because they were super creepy… Notice “Only girl”

Last night we went out to a final dinner and then to the highest Irish Pub in the world. We made it an early night though because we were all pretty exhausted from the night before. Supposedly the new roommate moves in tomorrow… Part of me hopes they’re American because sometimes I feel a bit ostracized being the only American among most of my friends here. Europeans are great but sometimes I miss the company of a good old American…

Tomorrow I’m going horseback riding through some of the local ruins with girls from Japan, Holland, and Germany! Hopefully when I come home someone cool will be there, regardless of where they’re from.

Be a Hero

I haven’t posted anything this week simply because I’ve had a hard time wrapping up my experiences at Machu Picchu. I think I’ve now determined that no combination of words will ever sufficiently convey how incredible it was so I’ll just do my best with my word vomit.

I was lucky enough to be paired up with another American girl named Suzanne for the weekend trip to Machu Picchu. She’s a 28 year old devout Mormon from Los Angeles. She truly is/was one of the sweetest and most interesting people I’ve ever met. We spent tons of time talking about her religion. I really enjoyed her company and she taught me a lot.

We got to know each other really well because the journey from Cusco was a long one. We began in central Cusco where we were picked up and taken to a bus station at the edge of the city. The bus then traveled two hours to a train station where we boarded a train and traveled for another two hours to the small town of Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. The train ride was almost the best part. If I could ride that train everyday for the rest of my life I probably would. I’ve never seen vistas so incredible. If possible, I’d absolutely recommend doing the train ride during daylight hours so you can see everything we saw for yourself.

As the train travels deeper and deeper into the Peruvian jungle, you enjoy a river and snow capped mountains to either side. I guess the flawless mix of all those unique ecosystems is what made the ride such a “mystic experience” (that was written on the cups on the train) Since we were moving most of the time my phone didn’t take the best pictures but I did manage to get a few…

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Suzanne and I were really grateful to have each other because once we arrived in Aguas Calientes we were sort of on our own. She got a parasite her first week here in Peru so we were both a little paranoid about eating out. To make matters worse, almost every restaurant in the entire town had the exact same menu in a different design. Me thinks microwaves were involved. The first restaurant we sat down in actually had a pet monkey so we got up and left… Obviously we survived so actually this part of the story is not so important after all, moving on.

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The next morning we had to be at the bus station by 5am to board the bus that took us up to the ruins. To be honest, the bus ride was a bit scary because you wind up hairpin turns in a big bus on the edge of cliffs with no barriers but again, we survived. You have to use your passport to get into Machu Picchu. There’s also a sign at the entrance that explains that Machu Picchu is a sacred place and any nudity is reported to the home embassy of the offender. That’s really all you have to know.

Past the entrance is where I begin to lose my words… For me, my time there was a very emotional experience because there’s something special about knowing whatever you’re experiencing in a given moment is probably once in a lifetime. And there’s almost a certain sadness in knowing that you may never feel or see something so beautiful again. I felt like a sponge and all I wanted to do was soak in and remember every second of my time there. Machu Picchu is also such a unique place with such a rich history. It may be lame to some people but walking around an ancient city and learning about everything that happened in the middle of those mountains was such a remarkable experience for me.

I really can’t describe it to you. It’s definitely called a Wonder for a reason. Since a picture is worth a thousand words and I’d need billions to even scratch the surface of my experience I suppose I’ll just let you enjoy some of the pictures I took. You just have to know it’s so much better in person.

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Machu Picchu Catastrophe 2k14

Before leaving for Peru, I bought a gopro to help document my time here. It’s a pretty expensive camera and I usually buy 5 dollar shoes so for me that’s like, a really big deal. Anyway, I stupidly forgot the screw which secures the camera into all the special mounts at home. Ugh. No problem though, I thought. I’d just gently place the camera on top of the mounts with no issue, right? Wrong. So wrong.

As you can see from my pictures, the ancient city was set up with sections of terraces meant for gardening – many of which were carved out of the side of the mountain. I set up my tripod mount at the edge of one of these terraces and placed my gopro on top of the tripod.

Well, as I’m sure you-with-the-brain already predicted, my camera fell off the damn mount and toppled right over the mountain. It was like watching a car accident in slow motion. It tumbled its way down and over two terraces before landing out of sight in a tree branch about 40 feet down – an inch and a half from a vertical drop to the river/its death. So of course I, being Indiana Jones, decided I needed to go find it. And looking back I feel really stupid for trying and also really grateful to be alive to tell the tale.

Anyhow, below those terraces was a muddy cliff, the home to the tree that saved my camera. The only way down there was by navigating the rocks and once I got down there I realized the muddy cliff was really more of a crumbling death trap. At one point the ground began to give way and I started to drop. I scrambled up the crumbling mud which felt more like a treadmill. My life actually flashed before my eyes but I managed to grab a tree root and hoist myself back to semi-solid ground. When I looked back and watch the clumps of mud descend I honestly questioned if I was still alive or not. I think in an alternate universe I’m probably a pancake.

But just as I was about to give up and make my way back up to the safety of the terraces I spotted my camera and after slowly testing the ground I went out on a limb (literally) and made the reach for it. The small crowd that gathered and I are still in disbelief that I found it, rescued it, and survived. Gopro or go home… I really do feel so stupid for risking my life like that over a camera but the point is I got it back… Sorry mom.

Comparatively, the rest of the weekend was less eventful. Suzanne and I did go to the famous hot springs in Aguas Calientes before doing the reverse journey home to Cusco. Last night we got dinner and tonight we’re taking salsa lessons! Unfortunately, she goes back to America this weekend.

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Team Jesus

Yesterday my roommate Lisa and I decided we’d go check out a museum with our free afternoon. When we got there, the entrance fee was outrageous (about 7 dollars) and they wouldn’t accept our student discount cards without passports.

So we left the museum with plenty of time on our hands and we looked up and saw the Cristo Blanco statue atop a mountain off in the distance. So naturally, we were both immediately determined to make our way there. That’s what people suffering from altitude sickness are supposed to do.

The Cristo Blanco statue was built in the 1940s by a group of Christian Palestinians who sought refuge in Cuzco. The statue was both a symbol of their gratitude and a parting gift to the city when the refugees returned home. It now overlooks the city and it’s even lit up at night.

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The easiest way up to the statue is by bus, past the gates of the Inca Archeological park entrance. And, rumor had it that so long as you specified at the entrance that you were only going to the statue, you didn’t have to pay the park entrance fee for the rest of the sites. Of course when we got there, schemers swarmed us and they all assured us there was absolutely no way to get in for free. They also kindly offered us some “great deals.”

Unfortunately, Lisa and I are both clearly not Peruvian and in Latin America it is common to target unsuspecting tourists with schemes. The cheapest price we were offered was 25 dollars each for a horse to get up the mountain. If we were unwilling to pay 7 bucks for museum entrance, you can bet your bottom dollar we weren’t about to pay 25 each for a horse. We’re far too savvy and poor to fall for expensive tricks.

So we knew there had to be another way up there and sure enough we found it, eventually. The “it” we found was a 60 degree climb up the side of a mountain… but it was completely free (because we’re the only idiots who would go so far to avoid paying 25 dollars)

It was a tough hike. We felt somewhere in between “did we eat McDonalds every day for a year” and “unsure if we’re going to meet statue Jesus or real Jesus” all the way up the side of that mountain but it was so worth it. The view from the top was incredible.

The entire city was visible and the mountains extended for miles. Pictures really will never do this place justice.

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We also got a sneak peak at Saqsaywaman, a ruins area which I’ll be touring in a few weeks.

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After our adventure I also took a traditional Peruvian cooking class which was a lot of fun. I made friends with some German students (one of which lives with the American girl I’m going to Machu Picchu with tomorrow) Essentially everyone here is German so I’m actually starting to pick up on it a little bit. Maybe by the end of this my German will be better than my Spanish. Ich liebe Deutchland ja feel

Auf Wiedersehen/Chao

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Only seats left were in the nosebleed section

I’ve always been pretty sensitive to changes in altitude. Even the altitude in Harrisonburg is bothersome to me and Cusco sits approximately 11,300 feet above sea level – about 4 times higher than Harrisonburg.

Knowing that, I definitely expected a tough transition so I did everything I possibly could do to prepare. But this altitude really hits you like a truck no matter what.

This morning I woke up with a bloody nose, a swelled face (you should have seen the other guy) and a migraine delivered from satan himself. My head felt like a slowly crushing watermelon.

But that’s pretty typical. My roommates both had similar experiences when they got here a couple of weeks ago. Supposedly it gets better but I’m not holding my breath (mostly because I can’t really breathe here to begin with)

So unfortunately I didn’t get to work today and I had to stay home but I got lucky with a really great host family here in Peru. When my host mom saw my state this morning she immediately got coca leaves and made me coca tea as soon as I emerged from my room.

Coca tea has long been used to treat altitude sickness in this area of the world. The leaves are the same leaves used to make cocaine… but it makes me feel better so, here’s my new favorite drink:

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When in Peru do as the Peruvians do.

Cusco is still one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in my entire life. Part of what makes this city so unique and incredible is the very thing that makes it difficult to adjust to. And how can I complain when I get to wake up to this every morning…

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…and call this place my home?

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There’s a silver lining in everything and here in Cusco, you don’t have to look far to find it.

Xoxo Peru Girl

9/23

I thought Americans were practically Olympic champions at finding any odd excuse to party but it seems the Peruvians have us beat… Sunday marked the celebration of the first day of Spring here in Peru and two days later the fireworks still haven’t stopped. Apparently this is really normal anyway though, Cusco is known for its party atmosphere – equinox or not.

The clinic is no exception to this as today we had another party to celebrate the beginning of Spring! Performers came in dressed as characters from Frozen and did some dances and a few skits. They picked me out of the crowd to volunteer for a demonstration to teach the kids their vowels. It was actually a lot of fun and I think it was a really special experience for the kids.

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But nothing was more special to this little girl than a pink balloon and my hand. We played for a nearly an hour and every time the balloon went into the air she was just as amazed as the time before.

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Tonight my Peroomies invited me out for a bingo night at one of the bars at the main square. Should be an interesting experience.

Hasta luego

A day of firsts

A day of firsts

Today was my first day working at the children’s orphanage/clinic. I think I almost llorared like four times but somehow I kept it together… I’m hoping it gets easier. I nearly broke down within the first five minutes when I asked a girl how old she was and she genuinely had no idea. That’s a reality for some of these kids.

All of the children at the clinic are in wheelchairs and most can’t speak. They’re still some of the happiest kids I’ve ever met. They are so appreciative of the few things they have and have learned to entertain themselves using whatever they’ve got. Another volunteer (an older woman from France) brought in a cheap basic toy today – one of those cones with the stackable colored rings – and I swear it was like Christmas morning. A few of the younger girls and I played with that for nearly an hour and they never got bored. They were so grateful just to have a toy and someone new to play with.

Another woman and I picked flowers with two of the older girls who enjoyed distributing them to the rest of the kids. Most of the girls had pigtails so they all had fun putting the flowers in each other’s hair.

Today was also a special day because it’s the first day of Spring here in Peru. There was a small celebratory party for some of the older kids. The party was a huge treat for them – bread with eggs and some juice at a fancy table in another building. They love to take pictures and unlike in the states, there aren’t really any restrictions on doing so.

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Many also lack the muscle coordination to feed themselves. At lunch, all the nurses and volunteers (including myself) fed the kids who couldn’t feed themselves and supervised the rest.

Some of the children are unable to hold up their heads and require special wheelchairs. Today a little boy’s head slipped from the brace and it appeared he had been sitting lopsided that way for a few minutes. I helped him reposition and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way he smiled at me in gratitude.

I also navigated public transportation on my own. And by “navigated” I mean I “sube, sube-d” and “baja, baja-ed” from moving buses at the right stops without getting hit or falling… That’s success. There aren’t many rules here (although it’s evidently required that men give up their seats to women entering a full bus, and that’s enforced) Everything is extremely fast paced, at least by my standards.

Many of the roads are old, one-way, cobblestone streets with sidewalks about a foot and a half wide and they seem scenic until a bus comes within inches of your face. If you’re not careful there’s a 100% chance you’ll get hit by a moving vehicle. Also, as I mentioned, there really are no rules so “green to cross” actually means “run strategically for your life.”

I got lost walking home which is pretty typical of me but it was kind of fun to explore a little. Usually I wouldn’t have minded but Cusco is a very hilly city (think Port and Neff) and I’m still trying to adjust to the lower oxygen levels so it was difficult physically. Even getting to my room on the fourth floor is a bit tiring… The altitude here is no joke.

Also, these guys are everywhere.

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More later.

Xoxox

First morning in Latin America

WOW, what an eventful morning in Peru. My flight in Miami was delayed which caused me to miss my connection from Lima to Cusco. Why do bad things happen to good people?

Immigration in Peru is also a bit odd and there’s a second “luggage customs.” PSA: even if your luggage tag says your bag is going all the way through to Cusco, they’re actually gonna make you pick it up in Lima for “luggage customs” and re-check it for your domestic flight. Guess it’s a good thing I missed my original flight or my checked bag would still be sitting in the Lima airport… Blessing in disguise, #blessed

So I sorted all that out and thankfully LAN airlines honored their delay policy and got me on the next flight out to Cusco at noon.

Oh, by the way, nobody here speaks English. But it was the same way in Miami, too. Sink or nadar, y’all.

I also bought myself subway successfully! (Having no idea what I paid for it is irrelevant) I almost put lettuce on it and then I remembered I can’t do that anymore 😦 A man also bought me a cookie. He was probably just trying to be nice, but I didn’t eat it anyway just in case. Throwing that probably-perfectly-fine cookie away may have been the most challenging part of my morning.

Everybody here is very accommodating and tolerant of my crappy Spanish and that’s all a girl can really ask for on a morning like today’s. Off to Cusco, forreal this time.

Xoxo Peru Girl