Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chinchero en Chincha

Yesterday, I was walking back to the colectivo stop on the main strip in Chincha, Benavides. It was dark outside and I was accompanied by someone who is helping me look for a new host family for my remaining nine months in Peru. It seemed to be a night like any other: lots of people walking around (most of them on their way home for the night), and ambulantes (people selling things on the street) selling trinkets from Asia or factories from any country other than Peru...

Walking and talking, all of the sudden I stopped and did a double take. I saw something that I had never before seen here in Chincha: people dressed in traditional clothing. I looked down, and they were selling artesanías (artisan crafts). I took a quick look and decided that it was from the sierra, or mountain, region of Peru. I looked at the two woman -- a younger girl and an older woman, probably in her mid 30s. How strange, I thought. They were clearly out of context...

A lot of what they were selling I had already seen in Cusco. I've been to Cusco twice -- once with my dad, stepmom, my stepmom's sister, and her husband and a second time with my girlfriend. The fact is that in Cusco, you can find some of the most beautiful artisan crafts in all of Peru. But, you can also find some pretty cheap imitations. Last night, a lot of what the women from Cusco were selling was not handmaid. I asked them what they had that was handmaid and they pointed out only a handful of things. Nevertheless, what they were wearing was handmaid -- and it was beautiful. The younger woman offered to sell me her shawl, which she said she had spent a month weaving, for 600 soles. As a volunteer, I couldn't afford to pay that, but wow, it was beautiful.

Before I came to Peru, I somehow thought that I would be coming to a land where people would give you their last cup of water, their last piece of bread. That it would be a place where people would do anything for you. Last night, I got that vibe. Speaking to the younger of the two girls, I saw her openness, a willingness to share -- not only things, but experiences, thoughts, stories. It was refreshing. It was something I think that I needed. In my year and a half stint in investment banking, I became jaded very quickly. Here in Chincha, the same thing has happened. I constantly find myself asking what the purpose of development is. If the purpose of development is to allow people to buy laptops, televisions, BlackBerrys, iPhones, etc. I don't think I want to do development work. But if development is helping people live the life that they want to live, then I do want to be involved in that. What makes things complicated is that most of the people I am working with have somehow convinced themselves that laptops, televisions, BBs, and iPhones are what they should be striving for. In a way, after the westernization of the Peruvian coastal region, it is the life that they want to live. What happened to the culture? What happened to the tradition? What happened to Perú?

My time in Peru has been full of ups and downs. When I am busy, I am happy. However, after a year and a half, I still don't have someone I can call a socio, someone who wants to work with me for the betterment of their community. By the same token, a few days ago, someone asked me what I would do if I was in the United States, at home, and a Peruvian knocked on my door and asked if I'd like to work with him in the same way I am trying to work with the people I'm living with. Would I be as eager to work with them as I expect Peruvians to be in working with me?

I think I wanted to write this because it's been a long time since I've had something really great to write about. Last night, I felt that exuberance I had when I first got to Chincha. That excitement that I was going to do something special. Truth be told, I wouldn't still be here if I didn't think I could make a positive contribution. In the same way, I think I've learned about the type of development I want to be involved in and the type of development that doesn't really interest me.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

stage 2

well after having been in-site for 3 months, i think i've finally advanced past the honeymoon stage of my time in perú. reality is setting in and things are looking harder and harder every day. doesn't mean i've given up -- not at all actually. i am still as dedicated as i was day 1 -- it's just that i'm beginning to notice more and more each and every day the challenges and problems that exist at my site. i am realizing that one person alone -- a gringo probably isn't going to solve all of them. doesn't mean i shouldn't try to at least positively impact the life of some of the people living here. it just means that i'm not going to affect the change that i had hoped i'd affect.

yesterday i attended a capacitación in a place called cruz blanca right outside of chincha. i was warned that i should "watch myself" being that they aren't so used to seeing gringos. i went with a colleague of mine from an ngo i'm working with here. looks like this ngo may have its days in chincha and grocio prado numbered. they aren't advancing with their project with the speed that they're jefes would like them to. vamos a ver en diciembre que pasa...

anyways, back to the capacitación. the project the ngo is doing is meant for my site grocio prado and the provincial capital, chincha alta -- not necessarily for cruz blanca. but, the president of the artisan association has some family members, friends, other connections out there and as a result, the ngo is testing out doing some of their capacitaciones there rather than here in grocio. in order to achieve this, they need at least 25 people. at one point yesterday, there were 30 y pico artisans in attendance. but, in the end, just 9 or so remained. my colleague then went on to praise the 9 artisans remaining for the attendance of all 30 artisans completely ignoring the fact that more than 20 had left.

the problem was that my colleague wanted to take a short break -- that we did. upon returning, we saw a flood of female artisans going towards the bodega to take a break themselves. we waited a few minutes for everyone to return...then a few more...and a few more...and then we started. i went out to let everyone know that we were starting up again but no one listened. at a few points, i mentioned to one of the artisans that did remain at the end that she should let the other women drinking a gaseosa know that we were starting and that they were going to miss everything. she didn't. they weren't coming back she said.

my colleague went on to present on the tema of enfoque al cliente or customer service. i don't believe that he was the one who had created the presentation and i don't believe that he reviewed the presentation. as a result, he read directly from the slides. to me, it seemed like his goal was to get through the presentation just for the sake of getting through it without much regard for whether the artisans were understanding anything.

bueno...i left a bit frustrated and with a massive headache. the house we were in was dirty. it was really dirty. i guess my gringo body isn't accustomed to that type of environment and so upon returning to chincha alta (the city), i had a massive headache. sick again, i thought. qué suerte!

i recount this story not to be negative. there is no doubt that it is a negative story and it was not an incredibly fun experience. was it valuable? yes. did i learn something? yes. am i frustrated? yes. am i giving up? no.

Friday, November 11, 2011

artisan fair y otras cositas

so, it's been a while since i've posted. apologies but i've been extremely busy since my jefe's site visit. most of my attention has gone to prep work for the peace corps artisan fair in lima. all in all, very very happy with the way things turned out. i was supposed to attend the fair with three groups of artisans, but in the end only one artisan attended. i like to think that he was one of the most successful artisans at the fair. our stand was located at the entrance of the artisan fair, so everytime someone walked into the fair, his stand was the first one that they saw.

in the beginning, alex (yes, my artisan's name is also alex) was a bit shy. this was the first fair he'd been to and i don't think (1) he really knew what to expect and (2) he didn't really know how to talk to the asistentes. any time someone stopped to check out his pieces (he brought a chair tipo fred flintstone, two mirrors, and a biombo, pictured below and translated roughly as folding screen or room divider lol), i encouraged him to start up a conversation. at times it was tough being that a grand majority of asistentes were americans and some did not speak much spanish. i told him that they liked his work and wanted to learn more. i encouraged him to befriend them and to take down contact information of those that were interested in learning more and in possibly making a purchase. in the end, alex sold one of the mirrors he'd brought to the fair and a juego de muebles, a set of two chairs and a table for a living room space. but, i think overall he took back home with him his first feria artesanal experience. people here in grocio prado are so used to staying here and at times, actually appear afraid to leave. for example, i believe that one of the artisans i was planning on taking to the fair did not go precisely for this reason. everyone here always says, but what if it doesn't go right? but what if i don't sell it? yeah, there is always the chance that you don't sell. but you'll never know if you never try. and with good preparation, you're more likely to have success than not to have it.

bueno, in the end, very happy and very impressed with alex. even though not everything has gone right for me thus far, i think this has been one of my early successes and i am really looking forward to working with him for the two years that i'm going to be here in grocio prado.

on another note, on thursay, i had the opportunity to present in the u.s. embassy in lima on the tema de cómo armar un stand que llame la atención or how to put together a stand that attracts attention. i did it not so much because i am an expert in desiging artisan fair stands, but more for the experience speaking spanish in public -- not an easy task. on that note, yesterday i had another opportunity to put my spanish public-speaking skills to use in cañete. there are two business volunteers from my promoción within an hour's drive of me -- patrick and jason. we are planning to do talleres on how to write a business plan in each of our sites, starting with patrick in cañete. yesterday jason (from pisco) and me (from chincha) headed up to pat's site for a charla to discuss what cuerpo de paz is, what we do, and why a business plan is so important. the audience was primarily made up of farmers from the area and it seems like they could really use our help. we are going to do our first taller in cañete in january and then go forward with talleres in pisco and chincha after. all in all, a very successful charla. everyone in attendance seemed excited about our presence -- hopefully everyone shows up for the taller in january!

in other news, no one showed up for the first reunión of my club de orientación vocacional tipo career club today! this past tuesday, we had the second reunión of the club we're doing with high school juniors. today's meeting was supposed to be for seniors. the seniors are going to be graduating in december so if this tema is important for anyone, it would be them. qué se yo...

so, yeah, having finished up with the artisan fair, it looks like alex (the artisan), gino (his brother, also an artisan) and i are going to continue working together. looks like our first goal is getting a website going which we will then send to the people we met during the artisan fair in lima. other than that, i am going to keep the club de orientación vocacional going with the juniors.

it's truly amazing that i've already been at site for three months. have learned a lot during my short time here. have learned that i take my education for granted. that as a develoment worker, you can't work with everyone and shouldn't work with everyone. that sometimes you are going to fail. that sometimes you are going to succeed. that sometimes you don't really know if something is a success or a failure -- at least at first. ya.

all in all, been having a great time. hopefully i can keep this going for another year and nine months...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

estrés y éxito

so today was a semi-big day for me. after a few weeks of anticipation, we had the first reunión del club de orientación vocacional (o sea career club) and por casualidad today was also the day of my site visit with the APCD (o sea Associate Peace Corps Director del programa de pequeños negocios), the regional coordinator for ica, and the PCVC (o sea Peace Corps Volunteer Coordinator for el programa de pequeños negocios).

preparation for the career club has been in process for a while and although i had planned everything out, somehow, as always, i end up leaving stuff for the last minute and getting a bit stressed out.

my day:

7.30am to 8 - wake-up and go to the colegio Melchorita Saravia to collect permission slips and to remind the kids from cuarto año de secundaria (the equivalent of junior year in high school) that the first meeting was to be today between 3pm and 5pm.

8am to 9 - sleep

9am to noon - cleaned my room since we were told that the site visit would include a quick look at our rooms, showered, shaved (which is not something i've been doing so often!), breakfasted, and lunched.

noon to 1pm - went to the comedor to prepare materials for the career club -- papelotes (o sea big pieces of paper -- not actually sure what the english translation is) and cut-outs of my hand for one of the exercises we were going to do.

1pm to 3 - went into chincha to print some documents for the career club, to buy tape and markets, and to print out some photos to show everyone at the beginning of the meeting.

at 3pm, i was at the school en punto ready to go. sadly it was just me and Miss Lidia, the English teacher that is working with me on the career club project and on some other things i am doing at the school. thankfully, helping me avoid the potential embarrassment of no one showing up, kids trickled in one by one. at about 3.30pm, we had 25 kids. 33 had signed up when i had gone classroom-to-classroom signing people up last week, but just 16 had turned in their permission slips. thus, i was a bit surprised!

i kicked things off by talking about my life in the united states, showing pictures of washington, then talking about buenos aires, showing pictures of friends, family, and alejandra (sorry 15-year-old grociopradinas, i'm taken jaja).

at that point, my colleagues from peace corps showed up. i introduced them to the class and then alfredo, the APCD gave a short talk on what peace corps is and basically what i'm going to be doing here for the next 2 years (which is now just 22 months!).

Miss Lidia then spoke for a few minutes, talking to the kids on a more personal level about her life and about the three years she spent in the united states. in perú, schools are extremely formal and there is not much one-on-one personal contact between teachers and students. teachers come (or don't come), dictate class, and leave. in the u.s., based on my experience, i feel like kids and teachers are able to form relationships, talking with each other outside of the classroom and just getting to know each other on a more personal level. anyways, Miss Lidia did a great job.

i then had the kids get in groups, having them introduce themselves to one another, talk about their interests, and finally their expectativas for the club (i.e. why they were there). after a few hick-ups (in that the kids weren't speaking with each other!), we got things rolling. after giving the kids a chance to talk in small groups, they came up to the front of the room one-by-one to introduce their partners to the rest of the class. seems like this isn't something many kids are used to, but i think it really helps build self-confidence (o autoestima) in the kids, so i hope to incorporate more excercises like it in the future.

i then talked about the topics we will cover between now and the end of the school year in december and had the kids make a list of rules that they then agreed to abide by. to end the session, i passed out cut-outs of hands to the kids and told them to write in the center of the hand their dream and then in each of the five dedos, a characteristic of theirs that will help them achieve their dream. the kids then taped their hands on the árbol de sueños. i thought this excercise was a bit corny, but it was actually a great success!

after the reunión, my colleagues from peace corps and i had a meeting with the head of the office of tourism in chincha and the head of fovida, an ngo that is doing a tourism project here in grocio prado and chincha. we talked about ways that the office of tourism (dircetur), fovida, and peace corps can work together on projects designed to improve the situation of the artesanos in grocio prado.

needless to say, it was a long, stressful day. but, in the end, it was a successful day! one recommendation the apcd had for me is to slow down, to not try and do everything at once, and to not try to do too many things at one time. i think, the fact that my last "real job" was in investment banking makes me prone to want to get things done quickly, efficiently, and comprehensively. i am realizing that things here in grocio prado don't function like they did at the investment bank. things take longer. and maybe the results and successes are not as concrete as they were at the i-bank. after having pushed really hard over the past couple of days, tomorrow i'm going to try and take it easy. next week, i'll be in lima for the peace corps artesan fair (thursday). on wednesday, i will present during the day of talleres, or workshops, given to the artisans. so, basically, i'll have a lot to do the rest of the this week, this weekend, and next week. should be a great experience -- i'm really looking forward to it!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

field trip

today i helped another ngo doing work here in grocio prado/chincha with a field trip they were doing for three private elementary school classes from the city of chincha. at 9.40, two busloads of 10- and 11-year-olds rolled up to the plaza de armas de grocio prado to begin a circuito turístico with the goal of introducing the kids to the artesanos and artesanías of grocio prado.

one of the directors of the ngo asked me to help one of the groups out and so i picked the group that was first to go to the house of an artesan i'm working with who lives less than a block from where i'm living. there, the artesano (his name, José), did an incredibly good job describing his work, how he learned the trade, who he sells his product to, how to creates his product, why he enjoys his job, etc. he also showed an incredibly accurate understanding of how the market works here -- basically artisans do all the work, purchasing the raw material, weaving various artesanías, and then selling them to comerciantes who then re-sell the artesanías to the final consumer. this process repeats itself over and over, generation to generation, until someone says that they want it to change and leads by example.

anyways, from there, we went to the house of another artisan -- suprisingly, after having reminded his wife about the visit, he was not in his taller. this meant that the kids from chincha had pretty much nothing to do for the half hour they were supposed to have been listening to the artisan talk about his work in much the same way that José had done earlier on. i asked the artisan's wife to come speak to the kids a little bit just to give them an idea of how the chairs, mirrors, and other artesanías are created, but she declined until just before we were to leave. after instisting and insisting that someone speak to the kids, she finally spoke.

from there we went to the taller of gino and alex (the two artisans i will be taking (hopefully) to the peace corps fair in lima. alex was at school i believe, but gino did a great job explaining to the kids his trabajo.

to finish the day, we went to the taller of margarita and her family. their artesanía is, without exaggerating, the life of her family. they get up, they work, they go to sleep and they do the same thing over and over again. and it appears as though they are extremely content with this life. the only thing they are a little bit discontent with is the fact that they are not paid as much as they should.

this last visit was extremely frustrating to say the least. the kids were to try their hand at making the same artesanías as margarita, her husband, son, and daughters. they had no limits. they were supposed to take two pieces of junco (the vegetable fiber used in their artesanías), but they were not content with that. they kept taking more and more junco and i appeared to be the only one telling them no -- that it was not theirs and that they could not take it. it was not free and they had not paid for it. the artesanos were doing them all a favor by taking time out of their day to give them a demonstration and teach them. they didn't realize or didn't care about the fact that their taller is also their house. dropping scraps of junco where they pleased, taking things that weren't theirs, going places they shouldn't have gone, they did things that i have never seen before out of 10- and 11-year-olds.

to end things, one of the directors of the ngo leading the field trip asked me to start cleaning up the taller. i said that the kids should do it since they were the ones that made it dirty in the first place. she did not agree -- she said they wouldn't do it and that we should discuss it in the office. i was surprised and extremely upset. afterwards, she went back to chincha with the kids and i stayed to help clean up.

in the u.s., i think we grow up with a sense of respect for the property, time, and kindness of others. it appears that these kids falta un poco when it comes to this...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

me duele la panza

translation: my tummy hurts. yes, i've been like this since friday when i ate some dubious-looking lettuce and tomatoes masquerading as a salad. so now i am taking cipro and spending a lot of time feeling tired and resting since i really don't feel good enough to go to the gym. it also sucks because the peruvian diet is not really so conducive to getting me the food i need to feel better. lots of oil and fried things. but i will survive. just trying to be optimistic...

bueno, in terms of the projects i've been spending my time on, i've got a few in-process.

(1) in the high school here, i'm trying to get a pen pal program going with peruvian 10- and 13-year-olds here and kids of the same ages from a bilingual school in d.c. turns out that the 5th grade teacher mentioned something about a trip to perú that the school is trying to orgranize -- not sure if it would be community service-ortiented or what but it would be awesome if we were able to get a written correspondence going. then when the kids from d.c. visited, they could meet the peruvians they'd been corresponding with.

(2) un club de carreras. i did a survey of kids in the last two grades of high school and it seems like there is a great lack of preparation for careers in that kids grow up without any real goals or plans. they leave high school and they don't know what to do or how to do it. basically with the career club, i want to teach kids to set goals, think about what kinds of careers they want, and finally achieve their goals and become, for example, a doctor or a lawyer. i'd like to start the club with about 25 students. i've been working with the english teacher at the high school (i'm also working with her on the pen pal project) and she seems really optimistic about both projects.

(3) this saturday i will be starting a boys club at the comedor here in grocio prado. kids 11 and up are invited to participate and my goal is to focus on getting the kids to talk, teach them leadership skills, talk to them about safe sex, controlling their anger, eating well, having goals and aspirations, etc. this saturday i am going to start with a "getting-to-know-you" thing and to try to develop some sort of trust. then, in future sessions, we can begin to talk about more serious temas. if anyone has recommendations for things i could do, please let me know!

(4) the artisan fair in lima. all of the sudden, prospects for the fair look pretty dim. i've just been informed that it doesn't look like we are going to be able to bring furniture into the embassy in lima. my star artisans are artisans of furniture made of wood and vegetable fibre -- think beach house stuff like chairs, mirrors, tables, etc. it's all really nice stuff but now the peace corps is telling me we can't bring it into the embassy. fock. so, i'm not really sure what i am going to tell the artisans. we have already started the capacitaciones and it would be a shame for them not to end up going. also, the other group of artisans i was going to take is not interested. after having told me that they were going to attend, they received another large order and said that they will have to spend their time filling that order rather than preparing for the fair. they also left me hanging today after having told me this morning that they would be attending my training session at 4 p.m. ¡qué boludo!

(5) other than that, i've started working with the owner of a restaurant close by with marketing. he is 23-years-old, just opened a restaurant in the center of town, and is a really nice guy. he moved back to grocio prado after having spent 4 years in Ica (the capital of my departamento, or state) and has a vision muy amplia for what his restaurant/hotel empire will eventally look like.

i've also started talking to people about a women's artisan group that would meet on wednesdays to talk about temas like marketing, pricing, costs, accounting, attending artisan fairs, etc.

i've got a lot of good ideas -- hopefully some of them actually come to fruition!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

late peruvians

i love peru. the people are great (most of the time), the food is great, and things are always interesting. but i don't like lateness and i guess tonight i get a taste of my own medicine. i know that i haven't always been the most on-time of people and tonight i have to admit that it sucks. and the even more suckier thing is that there is probably a lot more of it to come.

basically, i was supposed to have a training session with two artisans that i am going to bring to lima for the peace corps artisan fair (this group makes some really cool chairs, mirrors, couch-type set-ups, etc.). they are 24- and 20-years-old and i guess the positive is that they are young enough that i can teach them to not keep me waiting!

the session was supposed to start at 6pm in the comedor. at 6.30pm i walked over to their taller and one of them was in the house and the other was in the taller or workshop. i asked them what the deal was, and they asked me if just alex (yes, one of their names is alex) could attend. i said no, that they should both come. we then settled to meet up at 9.00pm at the comedor.

i was at the comedor at 9pm en punto y nada... at 9.30pm i left the comedor to come back to my house. i'll deal with them tomorrow.