I arrived in Perú April 28, 2016 and here I am April 28, 2017! A large reason I wanted to join the Peace Corps was to learn about myself and life through an experience of independence. I wanted to be around people who live and think differently than I do so that I could gain perspective and better myself so that I could make a tiny dent in bettering the world. Ambitious, right? Well I think through my experiences I am on the right path.
To celebrate my one year, I want to reflect and share some of my favorite memories (in order of events) from one year abroad in Perú.
- My First Hora Loca
My host family in Lima are some of my favorite people in this world. My host mom still messages me all the time to make sure I’m wearing a jacket in Ancash and my host sister sends me photos of her art projects since she knows I am a huge fan of her work. I love them like a real family and I have so many great memories with them. Probably my favorite was learning how to party in Perú. I went to a 50th Birthday party with my host mom, Ana Melva. We got there around 10 PM, which is way past my normal Peruvian bedtime. There were chairs lining the room and there were groups sitting and groups dancing their hearts out. Around midnight, the lights go dark and a short silence floods the room before colorful lights and loud music start to blare. In comes 3 scantily clad clowns throwing prizes and twerking on all of the 50 year old women. It is a site I will never forget. We danced with the clowns until 2 AM, and then a huge dinner was served. After dinner, I was so tired I asked Ana Melva if we could leave. She got a friend to drive me home and she stayed at the party until after 5 AM. Lesson learned: Peruvians can party!
2. Learning I Would Serve in Ancash and Taking My First Trip to Site
Ancash is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Perú. I mean, it is one of Perú’s top tourism destinations, so how lucky am I that I can LIVE there? It is also a place with the traditional Quechua Peruvian culture and has 43% poverty, so it is an area in NEED of support. Finding out I would be a Peace Corps volunteer in Ancash was probably the most excited I have gotten throughout this experience.
I also found out I would be serving with my closest Peace Corps friend, Chris and two other volunteers who quickly became my best friends, Joe and Jessica. We are a pretty weird group, but so perfect for each other. I am so thankful for this group because they have been the ones I cry to, drink a glass of wine with, and have the best time with when I need a break from my isolating community.
After the excitement of finding out I was going to Ancash, site exploration increased my realization of how unbelievable it was that I would be living somewhere so beautiful. The glaciers and snowy mountains were breathtaking, and I would get to look out of my window and see that every single day.
3. Hiking in the Cordillera Blancas of Ancash
When living in Ancash, the only real entertainment we have is the great outdoors. I have spent weekends hiking with my host family and friends and just enjoying the breathtaking scenery. Some of my favorite hiking experiences were going to Pastururi with a third year Peace Corps volunteer, Brooklynn, hiking Laguna 69 with a group of Peace Corps volunteers after a training, and hiking to Laguna Bayococha with a group of mountain guides looking for more routes in the area I live in.
4. The Fiesta Mama Ashu of Chacas
The huge town fiesta in Chacas was my first glimpse into the real culture of my town. I watched a goat be sacrificed, watched local dances, and experienced local traditions. The whole entire town participated and it was the first time I really felt apart of my new atmosphere. I was also gifted my cat during the fiesta, and she has been my best friend on some of the lonely days in site.
5. Little Free Libraries
The project most near and dear to my heart. I love the impact this project has had on my community more and more every day. Since putting up the libraries, I have had community members talk to me about learning how to read and I have seen all types of books in Spanish, Italian and Quechua to be shared amongst community members. Other communities have asked to duplicate the project and I am so happy that literacy is becoming a focal point in communities due to this push. My community even opened up a real library in part due to the popularity of the little libraries of Chacas!
6. Meeting Jorge
Not wanting to be sappy, but I would be completely remiss not to mention Jorge, the greatest support I have had throughout my Peace Corps experience so far. I came to Peace Corps with a boyfriend from home but we decided to end things very soon after I moved to Ancash. It was a tough time, but I knew that being in Perú was important to me and I would have to be strong and move forward. The best way for me to do this was to dive into my new life in Ancash and focus on myself and working in my community. Completely unexpectedly, I met Jorge during my town’s fiesta. He lived in Lima, so there were no expectations of what would come, but we stayed in touch and our friendship grew. I learned that he was one of the kindest people I have ever met and he had a big heart, also working as a volunteer for the Italian organization, Operation Mato Grosso. Since I met him, he has been a big part of my life every step of the way. He has definitely listened to me cry more than any person in my life but he also makes me laugh more than any person in my life.
7. My Family’s Visit
Probably my favorite memory of all time! It was absolutely incredible having the people I love most come check out the country I am living in. My favorite part was that my mom was able to see where I live in Chacas, meet my host family, and even cook for them!
8. Summer School
Working summer school was the best thing I have done for myself so far. I wasn’t really looking forward to teaching English for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, since my focus is community economic development, not English. However, I got to know the most amazing kids in my community and now have connections to 100 families who have interest in working with me more. I learned a big lesson here. Teaching English is a huge crowd pleaser that helps me to build relationships that lead to other amazing opportunities. I can’t wait to do this again next year!
9. Carnival in Jambón
Every time I think of Carnival, I just laugh. Every time I tell someone in my community that I was the one to cut down the yunza (the tree centerpiece of carnival), they laugh for a solid 5 minutes straight. I was so clueless and it was such a classic moment of just going with the flow that I will never forget it. Since I cut the yunza, I will be hosting next year’s Carnival, so all my readers are invited! See you in Jambón!
10. Peace Corps Trainings
Peace Corps holds several trainings where they invite a Peace Corps volunteer with a community member to learn about ways to improve our communities. I love trainings because it is an opportunity for me to see other Peace Corps volunteers plus it is a way to bring more opportunities to my communities. I especially loved a recent training on Study Circles that I will be implementing in my community this May!
I have so many memories, but these are the ones that stand out to me most. Thank you, readers, for following me on this journey! Here’s to one year down and 15 more months to go!