Sunday, December 20, 2009

How Can I Put This?

The kid I met when I saw Ginna off at the bus station in Trujillo. Osvaldo, who wore a navy blue school uniform and a million dollar smile, called me "Señorita Jessica" and introduced me to his family. When Ginna walked onto her overnight bus, he said, "Que triiiste," and touched my arm. As we walked past a statue of a saint on the way out of the bus station, he asked me if I believed in God. Then he asked for my e-mail address. I swear he was God, some small incarnation, come to visit me and bless Ginna on her trip. His family dropped me off at the combi (shared vans, popular public transport in Peru) stop, and we went our separate ways, but I never forgot the kindness.

I feel blessed to be with family, but I am itchy. No one calls me Señorita Jessica, or lliki-lliki (which means tiny-tiny in Kichwa) as Osvaldo or Fabiola did. There are no more llamas, or showers where there is a possibility of being electrocuted, or mamitas carrying something (a baby or potatoes? I never could tell) wrapped in bright textiles and slung on their backs. I could whine for a long time about everything I miss about South America and everything I can't stand about the United States, but ultimately I created this reality. When a friend of mine was debating whether or not to attend a gathering where there was some "bad blood" between her and the hosts, a mutual friend advised her to "paint harmony." She stopped, turned her head and asked coyly, "Well I wonder who was painting all the drama . . ." The problem (because there is always a problem. Like most other humans, I seem to thrive on them.) with this "paint harmony" advice is that I can't paint.

Until Next Time,

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Where have I been since the last time I wrote?

I have been in concrete kitchens and I have been in the biblioteca at Salasaca. I have been walking up the dusty Patuloma road and I walked the loop at Quilatoa lake. I got a ride on the back of an Ecuadorian army truck to Cuenca. I stayed in a half-built hostel on the beach where I shell-searched and meditated and ate the best chicken dinner of my life. I missed my flight to Guatemala, stayed up all night at the airport on the phone to airlines, only to decide to come home. I have come home.

Wait, that's a lie. I am physically here, my vessel, my tissue and bones and blood, but I do not feel like I ever landed. I touched down on November the 22nd in LAX, and I am staying with my grandparents on the avocado ranch. I am in this bubble of Ventura County and family. I am in this bubble of concrete and resedential streets, Targets and paid parking. I am in this bubble of the United States of America where the produce comes in plastic packaging and waxy coating. After nine months, I am driving on freeways and shopping in supermarkets and speaking English. Don't let me tell you I never once spoke English or set foot in a supermarket on my travels. Don't let me tell you there aren't things that I enjoy about living in the U.S. And please, oh please, don't let me become one of those x-travelers who only talks about what life was like in other countries. Part of me can't help it, I am in culture shock, and every time I hit a speed bump or merge on the freeway my heartbeat quickens and my body tenses, eyes darting to check mirrors and mouth remembering to let the breath out. I forget that I can put toilet paper in the toilet, but it doesn't shock me to find soap or toilet paper in public bathrooms. It's funny the things the body and brain remember, the things that come easy to me, the differences in culture that I have so easily synched myself with again, and the others that grit against the new grooves I built in order to survive in South America.

So what will it take for me to come home? To land. Grow new roots. I think because my feet have been doing a lot of walking lately, in the dust and around the lake, in Peru's red earth and lush jungle floor, my roots are everywhere now, just an extension of where I put my feet and intentions. I grow everywhere I go, seeds scattering and losing their skins only to give themselves to the earth. I am losing my skin and giving myself to the earth, but how do I do that here, when we placed cement structures of wasted space on top of soil and called that progress? I can't plant feet in Target aisles, on brake pedals or laminate kitchen tiling.

Maybe coming back to the states is akin to the process of transplanting. I have been scooped up and out of South America, and with careful hands carried to the United States, only I don't see my soil, dark as the skin I used to be surrounded with. I am wilting without the Spanish language. I am wilting without the culture, color, and richness. I know there must be soil here because some people are alive and plants still tilt their heads to the sun like they are ready to drink in her light. I am ready to drink in her light so I will keep my transplanted self safe within my own soil, nestled in the earth that surrounds my terra-cotta heart. She can live on the blood and breath and pump my heart and fill my lungs. Or is that pump my lungs and fill my heart? Because soil, which is sustenance and nourishment and the things that foster growth, should always fill our hearts, and when our hearts are full our lungs should be pumping, full inhale- and exhalations, small deaths and rebirths.

I look for soil, for earth so rich I could eat it, for somewhere to plant my feet, for somewhere I can ground. In the meantime, I feel like the stuff the air is made of. I feel like the stuff the air is made of and I feel floored.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

31.Aug.09: In Which I Almost Milked a Cow and got Engaged.

There´s this family I teach every afternoon. I visited their farm yesterday after class to milk a cow. Jennifer, the younger one, brings me a noisy piglet, telling me to hold him tightly like a baby. I do. The cow I am to milk doesn´t have any milk after all. They invite me back this weekend, they invite me to the river, to eat soup, to sit by the fire. I do, but not until Jennifer, Kevin and I bring fat, fluffy sheep up to the farm, pound wooden poles into the ground, and leave them in the dark field. We all sit by the fire, talking and laughing. We talk about life in the United States, life in Ecuador; they tell me their brother, Fabian Freddy, is working in Italy. He is a good person, they say, with a degree in Engineering. We could get married and I could live in this house, sitting by the fire and milking the cows. I could take care of their parents; they have a house down the road that only needs windows and doors. Can he cook? I ask. Rice, Jennifer tells me. I am not sure this will work out. Jennifer brings me his University ID so I can see his photo although it is outdated. ¨Do you like this bracelet?¨ Marta asks. Yes, it is beautiful, I say, a bracelet made of thin orange thread. She tenderly ties it on my wrist. Comprometido! she cackles. Engaged, ooops!

The people are strong here in Salasaca, they tell me. Yes, I agree. The women. We laugh, but it´s true. Mamitas and Abuelitas carry heavy bundles of hierba and plant on their aching backs, bare feet padding down dusty roads.

My students teach me Quichua. It is their turn to write on the whiteboard, to give me vocabulary and correct my pronunciation. Small hands show me how to move my mouth. I can say small words; good morning, thank you, you´re welcome. I can´t seem to remember ¨hello¨ but I haven´t yet given up hope.

There is a hammock on the porch and when the sky is clear I can see the volcano. Dan plays fiddle when the stars are out and Jose is lending me his guitar. I was sick this weekend and the crew who went to Baños brought me back a small ukelele I named Patito. Sim and I have started Singing Club. Our reportie includes Lauren Hill and the Beach Boys. There is talk of a barbershop quartet. Look out, Salasaca! Here we come.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


We eat green-ish-looking but surprisingly delicious oatmeal in the mornings. We live in the campo and walk to the library each day to teach classes. There are volunteers who work at the school doing construction and preparing for the school year, and we join them for lunch. I teach beautiful kids math and English. We play lots of bingo and label the things in the classroom.

Today I had a class of girls, 9 girls bubbling to bursting with energy, yelling and shouting to be heard while drawing fruits and vegetables on posters outside, ¨Daaaame tomate,¨they whine for the orange crayon. The girls are eager to learn, with bright eyes and terrible grinning teeth. Today we (the teachers) were late to class, and when we arrived at the library my group of girls were perched outside, waiting. I sent them upstairs, and told them I would follow in a minute. I gathered my supplies, and headed upstairs, only to find them ... sweeping the room, and putting the desks in order. ¨It was very dirty,¨they tell me.

Isaac and Daniel are precious boys; 11 and 12. Isaac has white-white teeth, scrunches his nose so he resembles some cute animal, and wears a pink, purple, and white knitted scarf and baseball cap, which covers his head of thick hair that falls to his shoulders. Today we wrote auto-biographies. We were talking about what we could do and what we liked to do. ¨Isaac is fisherman,¨Daniel tells me, grinning. Isaac denies it. ¨I like to fish,¨Daniel says. ¨I like to cook fish.¨ Isaac lifts his head from his desk, ¨I like to cook fisherman.¨ We laugh.

Teaching is energizing and exhausting. I have to close the library up, so that´s all for now.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Misadventures in Ecuador: in which I survive for two days in Guayaquil on 11 centavos and kindness

I made it to Ecuador. It has been a trying journey, but here I am in Baños, which, although jam-packed with tourists, has already won me over with its small-town charm and natural beauty.

Long story short, I arrived in Guayaquil with 11 centavos (that´s 11 cents in soles, which is approximately 3 cents in USD, because the 1 centavo (penny) isn´t even accepted) and somehow, with the help of lots of other people, not to mention the universe, I persevered. It was rough, and I cried a lot, but I also learned a lot. Too cheesy for you? Just wait. For two days, all I had to eat was a macandcheese cheese packet and angel hair pasta. Thank god it was angel hair. I can´t imagine crunching (not to mention digesting) anything more substantial.

Sometimes I forget how necessary money is to ones´survival in the world. Then, I am in this huge city unable to pay for anything, and without money to make a call for help, and I remember. It is humbling. I have such shame about asking for help sometimes, although that is one of the greatest lessons I am learning on this trip. I can only imagine what it is like for people who are always asking, begging, pleading with their eyes, hands, and mouths. Comprame, they say, and sometimes I don´t even look them in their eyes. Finding and embracing your humanity is a big deal.

Can I also mention I trusted a lot of older men to help me out of my sticky situation? Not sketchy ones, but still, there is a stereotype. If you´re not supposed to accept a piece of taffy from an older dude, why would you let one a) accompany you to the bus station, or b) walk you to the ATM machine late at night? Just wanna send a shout out to the really nice older men who helped me in Guayaquil. Hah.

Also, after I e-mailed my mom to let her know I was ok (in our last conversation, in the thick of my Guayaquil mis-adventures, I basically blubbered,) she sent me this hillarious and loving e-mail, which I just got this morning:

What a relief! I was having visions of you huddled in an alleyway, fending off men and begging for food! But mostly I knew that you are a resourceful young woman, and that you would be fine. I look forward to talking to you soon.



She´s the greatest.

Headed up to Kaititawa School tomorrow. Found an amazing Americorps opportunity at Mason County Literacy in Olympia. It´s community-based literacy work: working with the immigrant community, doing tutoring and ESL work, etc. Sounds perfect, right? Yep! So . . . altogether, things are coming together and looking up, up, up.

Which brings me to life lesson #1359500: keep trusting the universe and everything will work out, even if you only have 11 centavos and nothing to eat but raw angel hair and a mac&cheese cheese packet.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Guadalupe Bits and Pieces

Marjorie and me. I look pretty pink in the first one, but check out her peace sign. It's her favorite pose. Isn't she cute as a button?

Watching Force-G, the guinea pig movie, with Christopher (9), who is watching intently, and Marjorie (4), who is also watching, but not very quietly. She exclaims to me, "Mira, un cuy! Miiiiira, dos cuys! Estan saltando!!!!!"

Chris growls intermittently, tells her "callate!", shhhs her. She shhh-es him back, just as seriously, a small finger to her lips.

After about five minutes of this, Chris puts a hand against his forehead and asks, "Jessica, do you have any aspirin?"

"Why do you need aspirin?" I ask him.

"Because Marjorie keeps talking and it's giving me a headache."

"No, I don't have an aspirin," I tell him.

"Well do you know where one is?" he asks.

"At the pharmacy!" Marjorie chimes in helpfully.

He growls, and sighs, before yelling at her: "Maaarjoriee, caaaallate!"


"I have to go downstairs," says Marjorie.

"Why?" I ask.

"The cuy have long nails. I am scared."

Chris and I both tell her they have tiny nails, it's okay.

A cuy is on the screen. She points to it, eyes wide and mouth open, "Ya ves? (you see?)"

We are shaking our heads and I am trying not to laugh at her four year old fears because it's not nice or respectful, but it's difficult.

Her head burrows into my chest, before it peeks out to inform us, "And their teeth! They have big teeth, verdad?" She tells me to open my mouth, adds her fingers to my teeth, demonstrating the length.

"Cuy are tiny! And cute!" Chris tells her.

But Marjorie is not convinced. She scampers out of the room.

We walk to the cemetery on Tuesday, three different generations. The kids run around the cemetery, which is different from any other I have seen. Nothing is buried in the ground, there is no green grass or ordered lines of crosses. Instead, it is crumbly and reminds me of bird houses. Some of the graves are in gated rooms, big enough for families to gather inside in rememberance. There are elaborate tombstones and statues, standing proud on platforms. The kids climb on them and no one admonishes them. The women share the flowers they have purchased from the stand outside (roses, rosemary, babies breath) and touch two fingers to each graveplace, then crossing themselves. Tears gather in tired eyes and the kids ask to see "Tia" or "Abuelita." They are sober, but there is still a lightness that exists.

I teach Marjorie how to say "thank you" (or, shank you, as she says it) and "you're welcome" but she uses them at all the wrong times. The kids' favorite phrase is "Oh my god!" which they pronounce the way religious kids spell it, "Ohmygaw!" Stefania's cousin taught her "mouse poopies" when what he really meant to teach her was "boca de caca" or in English something like poop-mouth. I go so far as to let her know mouse means ratoncito and mouth means boca, but after that she's on her own.

After 5 months, I finally got my hair cut. In Guadalupe. For the equivelant of 1 US dollar. It looks great. Probably one of the best hair cuts I've gotten and my first experience with side-bangs. I was nervous to get a haircut in Peru because many friends have recounted their haircut disasters: uneven sides or having way too much cut off. Alice took me to her friend's mom's house, where you sit in her living room/hair salon on a rolly office chair and she does her work. I was scared, but I just kept breathing and smiling and envisioning a flattering, beautiful haircut while I sat in the office chair, and guess what, it happened! It's longer than it looks in this picture.

Cholo, Mama Juani's son, has a bakery underneath the house. Even three floors up you can smell the bread and yeast, activating, rising, baking. The smell is comforting, nourishing and soft like the dough the bread is made of. We eat the bread, crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle, with eggs, olives, avocado, butter, and tea. At each meal we have canela and clavo (cinnamon and clove) tea. I have a fondness for canela y clavo. We eat plates of rice and delicious salads, duck and chicken and carne. Fried bananas (which I love), fresh-squeezed and blended fruit juice, soups and cancho (a type of corn that is baked until it is crunchy and seasoned), ceviche. Alice (Raul's daughter, who lives in Olympia but is here for the summer) and I talk about foods we miss; mashed potatoes, we both agree. The next day, for lunch, Sonia (Alice's mom) made them for us. What a sweetheart. I am lucky.

The women sit in the living room, embroidering pillow cases with butterflies and roses while telanovelas (their stories) play. I try an follow the plot, but it's difficult. Sonia offers to teach me how to embroider. I might take her up on it tomorrow, but what I really want to learn is how to cook. These women have such huge souls, mama, caring and open. There are always family members or friends in the house, at the table. The saying mi casa es tu casa is alive here. They share their table, extra beds and rooms, smiles, joy, and laughter. Peru has a very "invitame" culture, from "invitame una cerveza" to "you are invited into my house." The doors at the Ramirez house are, literally, always a bit open. Maybe this is because of the Guadalupe heat, but I like to think they have other reasons.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I am having this really rough night where I am hungry and feeling alone in my host family house, where they are talking at the dinner table or watching the news in Spanish, and I wish I was in my own house where everything and everyone belonged to me so it would be easier to talk and connect and where I could eat anything I wanted anytime I wanted but I am not, I am in this family's house and they are not mine and the food is not mine and it's probably as simple as asking for a piece of bread and it's probably as simple as, not blaming myself, not freaking out, chewing more gum (I don't have more gum), breathing. It's probably as simple as trusting and anchoring and opening, and none of those things are really that simple at all. Hmph. I need to wash my clothes and wash my hair and stop spending so much time on facebook and stop getting in the way of myself and everything. I am researching volunteer opportunities, and scholarships, and massage schools. I am conjugating verbs in my head at the dinner table and I am making small talk, sometimes successfully, but most of the time I don't say anything, I just listen to the Spanish and smile at the right moments. Did I ever tell you that whenever I am in a group setting with Spanish speakers and they are drunken or speak quickly, or both, I just smile and laugh along with everyone else? And did I ever tell you my trick, which is a pretty good one I think, where I pick the person that seems most like me or has the most similar sense of humor, and I cackle when they cackle and I smile softly when they do and I give myself a break from acting when their faces are still? I do that. This is what my life has become. Because I either feel like the biggest cheese or like an anti-social jerk. And I called John tonight, because he is one of my best Cusco friends, and he asked how I was and if everything was okay, and I said yes, me crees? (do you believe me?) and he did. It sucked. He is not supposed to believe me. He just wants everything to be okay. So do I, but here we are. I bet I'll feel better when I sleep, and tomorrow I am going to buy snacks for this exact type of emergency situation. I am reminded of my tiny cups moment in Wanchaq and I am reminding myself that I am just feeling a little bit lost and that it's okay to feel lost. It just doesn't feel good. But Pema Chodron, who is one smart lady, says, there's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. Yep. I can definitely identify with that right now. Still not sure what I'm doing, exactly, but I don't think I'm going to stay in Guadalupe much longer. Internet-researching, listening, intention-setting, rinse and repeat.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


I keep forgetting to tell you, but Huaraz had a yogurt course at their local institution!! Why didn't I stay and do that? Do you think Evergreen would have awarded me credit? Hahahahahahahaha.

Also, I am thinking about: massage school, aromatherapy, breitenbush, earth ovens and earth houses, social justice, activism, energy work, reiki training, panama, volunteer opportunities, kids, jobs, teaching english, gum, water, the water crisis, carlos, cusco, streets, kids on the streets, sustainable change, intentions, goals, connection, abby, meditation, centering, stretching, sleep.

It is one of those nights. I am all over the place. I am also centered, envisioning my energy rooting itself into the earth. It is funny how plants can grow abundantly and wildly, and their roots stay grounded. I feel like that right now. Grounded and sprawling and growing. It's neat.

That's all!

Friday, July 31, 2009


On Sunday I went to Cajamarca with Rosita, Emily, and Pierre. Cajamarca is a gorgeous town in the sierras, and we stayed with Berta, Telmo, and family. We went to two birthday parties, a get-together for a zany family friend, two movies (the Knowing and Loca Por las Compras), Baños del las Incas (hot springs piped into separate bathing rooms), and a Grupo 5 concert. I didn't see any ruins. I was far too busy passing cusqueños around at family events and feeling awkward.

The bread in Cajamarca is really delicious. I can't quite explain why; you'll just have to trust me. I put cream cheese and strawberry jam on it in the mornings. Do you know how long it has been since I have had cream cheese? Months! And it was glorious.

I am learning how to dance the cumbia! Pierre is a super dancer, like, I mean, a really super dancer, so at the Grupo 5 concert I stole him away from Emily when I could and we got our cumbia on. It's on my list, learning salsa and cumbia, so it's nice to work (on) it when I can.

Sometimes I feel like I am really bad at "plugging in" with families, or being a host kid, or smiling and being polite, appropriate, interested but not too interested, not too cheesy, and myself.

There are over 25 people (including kids) at the Guadalupe house, and I feel kind of guilty for not connecting with them right now, but my batteries need a recharge. It's 12:24 and I don't think anyone is sleeping. Maybe I'm having trouble connecting because I don't think I will be here for very long. Maybe I am over-thinking things. Probably. I don't need to worry because I am this genuine whole person who is kind of funny and nice and people can like me, or not, and we can connect, or not, and the world will go on spinning.

I have noticed I have a bit of an oral fixation lately. I am always chewing gum, which feels nice when I am anxious. Last night I had a sucker, which was a great experience. It's a good thing to keep the body busy when the monkey mind is overactive. Maybe I should stretch. Yoga > suckers.

Still setting intentions. Writing them, saying them, praying them. I believe in intentions, although it's sometimes hard to release them, and only when you release the attachment will they manifest. I also believe in releasing, which is also sometimes difficult, if you would like to know.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I'm in Guadalupe, staying with Raul's (my professor) family. The town is somewhere between 8 and 20 thousand, or so they tell me. No one knows exactly. His family is fun, welcoming, and warm. Rosita and Juanita do most of the cooking, which is amazing. I am spoiled. There is another Evergreen student here, Emily. She is also doing travel writing and volunteering, and this is her second time in Guadalupe. We're going to Cajamarca tomorrow for a big festival. In Peru, there is always a big festival. Emily, Pierre (her boyfriend and also part of the Raul family), Rosita, and myself are going. I'm not sure if I can afford to stay here in Guadalupe, but I am looking into it because so far the town and the people seem really lovely. It's small, and calm, and meets my standard for markets (fruit and otherwise).

What else? Stressing about money, not having enough of it, not being able to afford the homestay, or lots of traveling, not finding a job. Feeling poorly because I am not supporting myself right now, because I can't support myself right now. When will I be able to? I am blessed because I have a super-supportive family, financially and otherwise, and I know hoping for a money tree is pushing it, but maybe a small shrub?

I have a little bit over a year left until I have enough credits for my BA. For some reason I thought I had less time. Guess not.

I keep getting calls from boys I know in Cusco, asking when I'm coming back, asking me to come back, saying, "Jessiquita, quiero que tu vuelvas!" I want you to come back. Jessiquita. Over the top? Not for Peruvian men.

My new favorite song is "Pasame la Botella" by Macha & Daddy.

And it's time for a hair-cut.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Trujillo is balmy palm trees and white-gray skies. I sip 7-up from a glass bottle with a straw and take a sweaty nap in my hostel with my hiking boots on.

Too many men are cat-calling, telling me hallo in heavily accented English, buenas dias chica linda. The tour guide who tells me all about my options kisses me too close to my mouth.

If I have to see another Plaza de Armas (main square) I might puke. If I have to eat in another menu I might puke. And the next dude to whistle at me is getting punched in the nose.

The End.

P.S. The cutest seven year old in the world (dark lashes, black plastic wrist watch, cowlick, sober expression) is playing Grand Theft Auto in the internet cabin next to mine and it is slowly, but surely, breaking my heart.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Today as I was walking in Huaraz, a lady was working in her garden and as I passed I got a big whiff of soil. Upon smelling it, I missed Yachats, which always smells of ocean, pine trees, dirt, and earth. Dirt smells like sustenance, nourishment, vitamin and mineral, potential, and growth. Sometimes I wonder how much longer I'll really keep traveling, if I'll make it to December, or if I'll feel pulled to come home sooner. For now, there are only small tugs, and I feel that I still have work to do here, in the present, where I am. Which is South America.

Taking off for Trujillo tonight. I've been looking into free volunteer opportunities, so we'll see what comes of it. I would love to work with kids, even though lately even the sight of a cute kid is enough to make me weepy. What's this all about?

Filling out a Peace Corp application.

That's all.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Here I am in a mountain town in the Andes. Snow-capped peaks skirt the dusty town center, which is humble, and grew on me pretty fast. The effects of the altitude, though not as high as Cusco, are definitely noticeable. I am staying in a 15 sole a night hostel, which doesn´t include breakfast, but does include a private room. It´s been great to recharge. Tonight I´m going out to a bar called 13 buhos (13 owls) which should be a good time. It´s been awhile since I´ve gone out dancing, and the last time I went out I went alone, and ended up finding amazing people. People keep telling me how freeing it is to travel by yourself, and sometimes I can´t help but feel more lonely than free, but I am reminding myself of how blessed I am. People also tell me about wearing my money belt, and being careful as not to get harrassed, robbed, ripped off, taken in or taken out. I am definitely practicing, living, and learning discernment and good judgment, but I am also practicing some other things. Like trust, and having faith in humanity. It´s worked out for me so far, to be a safe, smart, trusting traveler. I listen to my body, which is pretty smart, although incidentally in high-altitude towns if you tell me to ¨trust my gut¨ I will burst out in laughter and then I might burst out in something else entirely. :)

I get more comments and whistles on the streets here than I did in Cusco. Maybe this is because in Cusco there were more grings to choose from, and my ratio was better, or maybe this is a sign of what´s to come further north. I´m not sure, but we´ll see. So far the dudes have been using a combination of blanca, flaca, and chica. The first couple of times I just breathe and walk on by, but by the fifth old creepy dude, I am silent and scowling. Overall the people here in Huaraz have been super nice and helpful. It´s so funny to me that now I am always classifying people and their behavior, attitude, etc. with where they are from, much more-so than I would do in the states. From an anthropological standpoint, how much does where we are from shape us? What about the culture of where we are from? The lifestyles and the customs.

Stayed in a lovely hostel in Miraflores, Lima. It was super-comfortable, the owners and staff were fun and friendly, and they had a clean equipped kitchen, two computers with internet, two tvs with cable, hot-ish water, couches, and breakfast that included a fruit of your choice! I keep toying with the idea of opening a hostel. It would be fun, and challenging, and you would get to meet people from all over and be a part of their journey. I keep thinking my mother hen self would thrive in this situation, where I could give people advice and answer their questions about their travels. I am also becoming a hostel expert. I would have lots of hooks in the bathrooms (so your clothes don´t get soaked) and a bountiful book exchange. I would have a patio and a guitar and a breakfast with a little somethin´more than bread and jam. It could, one day, be sweet.

We´ll see. I´m off to take pictures of the mountain sunset and find dinner. I hope this finds you enjoying your summer, wherever you are!


Friday, July 10, 2009


The other night I made a list of things I want to do in my life/in Peru/in my travels. It included things like, go to a soccer game, pick fruit off a tree, and cook a traditional meal. Last night John came over and we made a delicious vegetable quinoa soup and the best mashed potatoes I have eaten in my life (okay, in Peru.) Apparently we´re making rocoto relleno on Saturday. Talk about a send-off.

I´m learning new words and local slang all of the time. Lechuga, for instance, means both lettuce and frigid. Amargo, which means bitter, is used for both flavor and people. I´m entertaining the idea of learning another language, but my hands are pretty full. Some hip French people were at the hostel for awhile, and listening to their French was entrancing. Or maybe it was my flu medication. On another note, more annoying travelers have arrived at my hostel. One American talked about Africa as being, ¨As real as it gets.¨ I don´t know what that means; do you? Do you think he does? The real-as-it-gets dude has scruffy facial hair and one eye that droops closed. Over breakfast, he harrasses the Frenches about their travel plans (¨journeys¨), and gives sage advice that only a wise, experienced, and enlightened traveler could. The French seem amused, but I suspect otherwise and would love to make some kind of snide remark, like, wasn´t that dude from this morning pretentious? but I keep my mouth shut. You never can tell who is on your side...

Another Frenchie arrived last night. I offered him soup, which he drank from a coffee mug. He is an incredibly cocky bastard, with big ears, scruffy hair, and eyebrows that don´t stop dancing. He back-seat operates the remote control, and chats non-stop. John whispers to me that his slang, mannerisms, and attitude are all very ¨Argentina.¨ Maybe I´ll take it off my destination list after all.

I am really, truly, leaving on Monday for the North (ocean!!!!!). The plan is to travel, and if I find somewhere I love with opportunities, I´ll stay for awhile. It´s in my intentions to gain some teaching experience, volunteer with kids, and meet amazing people. I need to improve my meeting-people skills. I find it difficult at hostels, as I am not sure what language people speak and the shyness sets in, but by clamming up I am missing lots of opportunities, so I´m working on it. I´ll most likely hop up to Ecuador for visa reasons. I´m sure the whole deal will be grand. I´ve been getting excited thinking about Mexico... tequila, reggaeton, burritos, the beach... visiting Carol, Al, and Alejandro... I´m ready!

I could spend all day listening to people speak English as a second language. The words people know, as opposed to the ones they don´t, never cease to amaze me. I am fashion, so fashion, is my newest favorite.

Out. Peace.

Monday, July 6, 2009


So I went to a chicken fight? With my new friend John. Who does not seem like the chicken-fighting type, but let me assure you, he is all about it. He met me at San Pedro market decked out in pointy shoes, a jean jacket with sheepy inner lining, and a cowboy hat. It was a little much, but it was his birthday so I forgave him. He kept checking in with me during the fights, making sure I wasn´t going to cry, I think. I didn´t cry. I did bet, but I lost. It was quite the experience. I have precious pictures of us in cowboy hats, which I can´t wait to upload. I also have some not-quite-so-precious pictures of the chicken fights. Testosterone and feathers filled the air as men chugged their Cristal (beer) and yelled for their fave fighter (¨Derecha!¨or ¨Izquierda!¨) We bet on Papa Micki, which was a mistake as he was not the winning rooster, but it was all part of the experience. And a name like Papa Micki inspires confidence, don´t you think?

Also, I am sick. I have been soooo horrifically shivery-sweaty sick with a sore throat and a cough, headachey and snotty, muscle and bone soreness, holed up in my hostal. I left once yesterday to buy lime and soup. I have left today only to hop on the computer at a nearby internet cafe. I asked John to bring me a shaman, but I think it was a little short notice. Being sick in a foreign country sucks, but what can you do? I am chugging tea with limon and honey, chupa-ing my throat lozenges, and taking my medicine. I am also sleeping loads and reading a mediocre John Grisham novel. I cracked open ´Pedagogy of the Opressed´this morning, which was a huge joke. It turned into table decor.

John (and every other Peruvian I know) tells me I am sick because I don´t abrigate-- dress warmly. It also might be because I caught a virus, but this is a bit hard for the Peruvians to swallow. Jenna, my English-teaching friend, has her students work in pairs to complete an assignment where they give advice to people who are sick. They are supposed to write things like, don´t eat junk food, and, get enough sleep, but instead it goes like this:

A: I have a cold.
B: I have a jacket!


A: I have a cold.
B: Did you drink a hot drink and a cold drink at the same time?

Okay, in all honesty, I don´t know if the last example is true, but the first one is (I swear. It´s cute, huh?) Sometimes I hate my Peruvian friends when I am sick. They tell me to cover my ears from the cold, and not to drink a cold drink and a hot drink at the same time, and not to shower after I eat because it will disturb my digestion. When they tell me not to take a nap because I will get a fever, I want to punch them. At this point, I am sure they are trying to piss me off. I am sure they want me to be sick and miserable forever. What about the good old American cures of attention, bad cable, and chicken soup?

Also, it seems noteworthy to mention that my friend´s boyfriend honestly believes that if you eat ice cream while you are pregnant the baby will freeze.

I still can´t believe I went to a cockfight.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sharks and Thievery

Francisco, the owner of La Estrellia (the hostal where I am staying), talked to me about men last night. The ¨too many fish in the sea¨ saying came up, and he told me to beware of sharks (tiburones.) First, they will bite your cuello (neck), he tells me, and then your pecho (chest.) And then . . . yo no se. Yo tampoco, I tell him, laughing and walking away. But we both knew and know what comes after the chest-bite. No duermes con los tiburones, por favor, he advises me, as I walk into the hostal kitchen.

Alejandro (do you remember the one? he has dreads and we dated for a couple of days and he took me on the longest walk of my life in which I felt like a hot sweaty baby? and then I saw him the other night and his friend kept my three soles?) . . . anyway. The night of the 3-sole-sham, Alejandro walked me back to my hostal. He was in my room for a minute, he left, I slept. In the morning, I woke up and my favorite (and only) hoodie was gone. I called him and he didn´t answer, and then I saw him on the street and cornered him. ¨Donde esta mi polo?¨ I asked. ¨I told you it´s chevre*. I told you, Jessica, be careful.¨ He is giggling. ¨I can give you this one,¨ he offers, unpeeling his windbreaker to reveal another sweatshirt, ¨I like tu polo!¨ I punch him in the chest softly. I like it too. That´s why I own it. I call him a ladron (thief) and he says, no, I am not a thief, I told you I had it. Okay, so maybe you´re honest, I tell him, but you still stole my hoodie (which makes you a thief.) He has had enough of my truth-telling, and telling-off, so he staggers down the street, probably to get drunker. He promises me he will call. I doubt he will call, but it is my mission to retrieve what is rightfully mine before/if I take off for the north in two days. I´ll keep you posted.

Also. Remember the guy I ran into at the Huancaro fair? John? I gave him my information at the fair, hoping he would get in touch, but not thinking he actually would. Yesterday, I got an e-mail, which will soon be followed by a phone call. We´re getting together before/if I go (look how tentative I am, covering all of my bases.) I don´t know what we´ll do, but I am sure it will be a fun evening. It´s great to make connections. Keeps the world going ´round.

I am reading ¨The places that scare you¨ by Pema Chodron and it´s full of simple truths. I take it with me to restaurants and underline my favorite passages. She is talking about wishing happiness for ourselves and for others.. people we love, feel neutral about, envy, and can´t stand. This is one of her suggested intentions:¨May this really annoying person experience happiness and the root of happiness.¨ I read it and nearly spit out my soup because giggles are tumbling out of my mouth. Sometimes I am a really annoying person, and, nevertheless, I wish to experience happiness as well.

Pema also says,
For an aspiring bodhisattva, the essential practice is to cultivate maitri. In the Shambala teachings this is called ¨placing our fearful mind in the cradle of loving-kindness.¨ Another image of maitri or loving-kindness is that of a mother bird who protects and cares for her young until they are strong enough to fly away. People sometimes ask, ¨Who am I in this image the mother or the chicks?¨ The answer is we´re both: both the loving mother and those ugly little chicks. It´s easy to identify with the babies- blind, raw, and desperate for attention. We are a poignant mixture of something that isn´t all that beautiful and yet is dearly loved.

On that note, blessings to all the mamas, papas, and baby chicks. You are dearly loved.


*Chevre = cool

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Yesterday/Last night/This morning I (in order):

Went to a fair! A real fair! With livestock and ferris wheels and soy chiccharones.

This old slightly shady dude, Alberto, was there with his brother and cousin, and he paid for my ticket, bought me a jungle seed necklace, had a polaroid taken as a souveneir for me, and told me all about the dangers of cholesterol. His helpful hints included, when you eat pollo a broaster, you need to take the skin off, and, oooof pizza? Terrible for you. Cheese, meat, flour, TRIGLYCERIDES!!!!

Met a Quillabambino at the fair named John who spoke in unbelievably high tones when he switched to English. He told me my eyes looked sad, and that I was looking for something. He was right. He told me one time he looked at his parents at the dinner table and they didn´t look like his parents. He told me a lot of things, with eyes that wouldn´t stop digging into me. He was a truth-teller, if a little bit preachy. We talked about all of the usual ¨Wow you´re not going to flip out if I talk to you about energy?´ stuff, like feeling scared to be alone in nature even though you are a child of everything that exists in nature, and listening for the calls, and trusting. He exclaimed, ¨Wow!¨and ¨Fuck!¨a lot. ¨Fuck¨sounded tame in his mouth. He lent me his jacket, and told his acquaintences I had diharrea so they wouldn´t hassle me about drinking. Disculpame, he told me, laughing, all teeth. His friend touched the bottle over to my hand, and I said, no, like he said, I have diharrea. We were all teeth.

Before Percy arrived at the fair, I received a text message from him that was as follows:

A las 8 estoy alla? Full dance gringuita.

Whoever taught him ¨full dance¨ definitely wins points.

Met biologists. Entimologists specifically. The line-up included a 50 year old pirate with a curly, hairy chest and a big beer belly, a quiet guy in a green preppy vest, and Williams. Williams was short with rectangle black framed glasses and spoke cliched and proper English. He told me that most jungle spiders are cute and surprisingly harmless. He told me that he needed time to ¨explore himself and find out about who he is and really grow inside¨ before he gets into another relationship. He asked me, ¨Shall we dance?¨ and shared his theory about why ´jungle girls´ have a bigger sexual appetite. It had to do with the jungle diet, but I feel like I added significantly to his theory, as I am thinking it is due to a) heating, and b) boredom. Must be cold and boring at night in the jungle. There are no discos.

Ate a delicious street sandwich with Percy from my favorite mamita, Rosa.

Danced salsa, cumbia, and white-girl grind with said biologists and other friends at a disco thick with heat and smoke. Sweat gathered in all kinds of places but I persevered.

Karaoked with Fiona, Travis, Percy, and Percy´s cousin.

Went to bed with the morning sun.

This morning Percy, Travis and I ate mamita soup at the Wanchaq market. Why hadn´t I done this before? So delicious, and a hangover cure, I´m sure of it.

Tomorrow I might take little Alejandro to the fair. It seems like the thing to do. He is travieso, but he brings me joy. And the fair will bring him joy. If you could see the squinchy grin he has, you would understand.

Also, throughout the evening I learned some new words in Quechua. Mostly body parts, but my vocabulary is improving. Although I can´t spell them, I know eyes, nose, mouth, feet, hands, and breasts. My recent favorite and most-used words in Spanish are: claro, echate, oyé, cholito/ita, and huevon.

That´s all for now.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Great Divide, or Dollars versus Soles

Maybe this isn´t PC, but . . . Sometimes I get so tired of hearing how I am a millionaire because I am from the states, because I am a gringo, because of the difference between soles and dollars. I know I have more than many of the local people here, I know that the sole is worth three times what the dollar is worth. I know my money goes farther, and I am priveleged and advantaged in comparison to many, but I am tired of hearing about it. Last night I ran into an old friend (more or less) at a street sandwich shop, who asked to borrow a sole so he could pay for his sandwich (which begs the question of, why would you order a sandwich you couldn´t afford?) and then proceeded to lecture me about soles versus dollars (as if I don´t know, I live here...) and told me I was a millionaire, blah blah blah. Then, we were walking his stumbling, bumbling drunk friend home, and I said I would pay for a taxi. I gave his friend the soles for the taxi, but we all ended up getting in together. When we got to his house and got out of the taxi, Drunk Friend proceeded to stumble off without paying. Where are the three soles I gave you? I asked him. No importa. Don´t worry about it, he says. Um, hello. That wasn´t a gift. That was taxi money. And he pocketed it. And I know this is petty in comparison with the poverty here, but it´s the principle. I didn´t have to give him the soles for the taxi. He could have walked his own drunk ass home. At this point, Old Friend paid for the taxi. Which begs the question of, why did you need my sole at the sandwich shop? Was he just seeing if he could get it? Drunk Friend stumbles into his house, and Old Friend touches me, says, I´m sorry, he is my friend, my best friend, I can´t cambio el, he tells me. Do you intiendes? Yes, I intiendo, I´m just over it. I am also thinking maybe you should find a new best friend. Don´t worry baby, he says in exaggerated English, five distinct syllables, a smooth tv-show line. I try not to laugh at him. I´m not very successful. His English, incidentally, has improved since the last time I saw him. We are walking now, on cold and quiet Cusco streets, and I tell him, me aburre (I am bored) with being called a millionaire, with all of the assumptions and judgements about my wallet and my lifestyle. I am heated, because apparently most situations involving drunken Peruvian men make me heated, and he apologizes again for his friend. Asks me if I understand. I do, I get it, his friend is stumble-drunk and poor and envious of gringo priveleges and finances. Poverty is overwhelming here, I know this, but I don´t always feel overwhelmed by it. Is this bad? What does this make me? Does this mean I am closing my eyes, choosing ignorance and bliss? I feel accustomed to the poverty here, but does this make me cold or apathetic? Poverty and quality of life are not always related. Cusco has shown me that. Of course, getting your basic needs met is important to survival and comfort, and of course we all want more money than we have. I am not trying to downplay the poverty that exists here. I feel like this cold priveleged gring (as Jenna calls us,) but I am tired of people only seeing my wallet or whatever pre-conceived notions they have about what they think is in there. I am from the states, the dollar is worth more than the sole, I have more priveleges than you do. If you are my friend, and you are Peruvian and eat at 3 sole menus, there is no way I am going to ask you out to eat at Jack´s (relatively swanky tourist place) without offering to pay. I am not going to intentionally flaunt what I have and, therefore, what you don´t. All I am asking is, until I am insensitive about money issues, don´t treat me like some rich bitch from the states who isn´t sensitive to the financial divide.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Some pictures from the trip (formatting is messy)

To the left: Pelicans in Iquique, Chile

Below: Psyched for breakfast in Uyuni, Bolivia after the longest, coldest, bumpiest overnight bus-ride of my life.

Jessica just remember that you are where you need to be. It's your dream to be there and there's a reason for that. Even if you don't know what it is now or even in three years, there's something there for you to learn or understand. Just listen for it and you're going to find it.
-TIM (thanks, Tim!)
Left: Train Cemetery in Uyuni, Bolivia

Above: I met this little guy in Uyuni, Bolivia, and he

commanded me to pick him up. I so adore and

admire the way this kid is eating this orange.

He is so voracious and zesty!

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Friday, June 19, 2009

Free Pass

When you decide to live in a foreign country, you get a free pass. People upon people assume that because you are living in Brazil, in Peru, in Africa, that you are up to all kinds of good, living an inspired and inspirint life, helping people and experiencing leaps and bounds of self-growth, when maybe you are really getting wasted and grinding at clubs, or getting accustomed to a daily grind not so different than the one you tried to escape from in the first place. Myabe you are eating too many oreos and reading shitty beach books, even though you are nowhere near the beach. These are just examples. Can´t say I´ve experienced any one of these things. But what I can say is that just because I am living in Cusco doesn´t mean I am automatically living a richer, deeper, or more exciting life. Sorry to all of you who thought you were set, living vicariously through my so-called adventures. But this is the very reason I am moving on. I know Cusco; it has become friendly and familiar, if a bit boring. I am still wowed by the mountains and the clouds, both magestic, and the people, so kind it could break your heart, or at least put a stop to a bad day. But I am ready for a new place, and new experiences. I need, I need I need I need, to start doing what I came here to do, which is to live beyond myself, and at the same time, get deeper inside of myself. Soothe the insides of my head, which are anxious and screaming and foggy, like wires upon wires surrounded by clouds. I need to live simply and experience new culture, I need to meet new people, I need a change. Because Cusco has become comfortable, and I am not ready to commit to it. I am not ready to buy blankets and a blender and rent an apartment. I am not ready, or willing, to take the free pass. I am ready, however, to re-commit to a new place, to existing presently in whatever place I´m in, and to getting involved more deeply in others´ lives. Hopefully this will help me jump outside of my own muffled head, which sometimes sounds like my brain is screaming into a blanket. I don´t know where this will take me, but I am sure it will be beautiful; beautiful and perfect. You can take the free pass if you want to, but I´m over it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


1. I just want to curl up and read books all day. I just read ¨Kindred¨and now I am reading ¨The Memory Keeper´s Daughter.¨ I love book exchanges.

2. I am still looking for a place to live. I mean, I found one but I am not sure how I feel about signing a long contract (actually, I am sure how I feel about it, which is unsure,) because . . .

3. I feel lost and lack direction, lately. I am sure there is a seed inside of me that knows, I just haven´t found it yet. I am not sure how long I will feel called to stay in Cusco, or even in Peru. I am definitely eager to finish school, and love that I can do that here in Cusco (through an independent contract through Evergreen learning languages and travel writing), and I can definitely find work in Cusco, but there is still the volunteer teaching possibility in Trujillo, or something else entirely. I can see myself teaching English to small children in an Asian country in the future, but the language barrier scares me. I have been consumed with realities, and hiding from them simultaneously, reading books and thinking between chapters (or paragraphs, depending on the day) about how I can ¨make it¨ in my life, economically, and about how I could be happy, stimulated, fulfilled with and within my life. I think about what I am doing and what is missing, about curriculum design and teaching jobs overseas, relationships and settling down, adventures and brave choices. I make lists in the vain hope of ¨figuring it out,¨whatever the it of the moment happens to be. Then I remind myself to breathe. To sit and listen. I tell myself that is okay to feel lost. Do you get tired of me talking about the same things? About apartments and financial woes and taxi drivers? About feeling lost and not hearing the guidance? I get tired of it too, this cassete tape that plays inside of my head. Some days I have trouble moving, even one baby inch, and I tell myself when I get a place and a job and a schedule it will be better, but we will see.

4. The hardest lesson in life might be listening, and then I think trusting is the runner-up.

5. That doesn´t mean all of the other lessons are easy.

6. This is part of my favorite song right now (I like Giants by Kimya Dawson), because it is full of so many truths:

When I go for a drive I look to pull of to the side
of the road, turn out the lights, go out and look up at the sky
and I do this to remind me that I´m really really tiny,
In the grand scheme of things and sometimes this terrifies me

It´s only really scary cause it makes me feel serene
In a way I´d never thought I´d be because I´d never been
So grounded, and so humbled, and so one with everything
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything.

We all become important when we realize our goal
Should be to figure out our role within the context of the whole
And yeah, rock and roll is fun, but if you ever hear someone
Say you are huge, look at the moon, look at the stars, look at the sun
look at the oceans and the dessert and the mountains and the sky
say I am just a speck of dust inside a giant´s eye
I am just a speck of dust inside a giant´s eye.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

little things

Taxi drivers overcharge me and then ask me out on dates.  The older ones, 50 or so, ask me to ceviche or cuy, con respecto con respecto.  Sure, claro, si.  I don't say yes, I don't say no.  I smile, ask about the best place to get cuy, then move on to a question about how long the cold will last.  Inside, my stomach is gritting its teeth.

I am staying with my friend Melanie, who has a lovely house and a lovely boyfriend (Coco) and a lovely dog (Killa, moon in Quechua) while I look for my own place.  We watch bad movies in Spanish and cook together and go for walks.  Melanie and Coco and going to Qolloriti tonight, a festival that includes walking up mountains in the snow and dancing.  I am caring for the house and their dog when they are gone.

Two of my friends and I watch half-naked boys (two of which belong to my friends) with tattoos and board shorts play a pick-up game of soccer while reggae pumps from speakers.  Some of them dance in the middle of the field, strutting and bouncing to Marley.  They splash fountain water on their faces and tip red powerade into their smiling mouths.

We eat ceviche and jalea, and Nilton cracks crab shells with his teeth.  We drink jarras of chicha morada and lemonade and share fried yuca root, then go for ice cream in the Tupac Amaru plaza.  We come home to Melanie's house to watch soccer and take naps.

I wake up grumpy from my afternoon nap and head over to a birthday party for an artisan I know vaguely.  They are passing around a bottle of rum while Grupo 5 plays and drunken singing ensues.  I try to resist the rum, I can't drink because I didn't have cena, I say, they insist and insist, pouring more amber into the plastic dentist cup, tomalo tomalo, tomalo!  I am left alone with Alex, who is into me and talks with me about los ochentas, New Order and Ocean Blue, bands from the 70s and the 80s slurring thick out of his mouth like fudge.  I wait for them to come back, I sit close but not too close I talk about 70s and 80s bands.  At this point, I have toma-d more than I wanted to on a post-nap pre-dinner stomach which is never a good idea.  They come back and I am angry and I am upset and I have to go but the couch has been placed in front of the door.  I am commanded to sit, to stay, to drink, and then when I don't want to drink, I can either take the shot or kiss some dude (Alex).  At this point I am rude, I am a bitch, I say no outright, I must look disgusted, I am disgusted, I hate my choices.  Puta madre!  I don't want to be here, I need to go, I feel disrespected and forced and not listened to.  I make my escape to walk back to Melanie's house and Alex follows me.  He asks me ridiculous drunken questions and touches my hip (no tocame!).  Mid-way through the walk to Melanie's house he informs me he "doesn't want to walk anymore."  And he thought I would kiss him?  Que caballero, oh my god!  Thanks for walking me almost to my house, Alex, how chivalrous.  I cry in Melanie and Coco's kitchen.  Coco holds me and tells me it will pass, it is passing, it has passed.  I am upset and nothing horrible happened I just feel disrespected.  Melanie had chifa (a blend of Peruvian and Chinese food) waiting for me and my kitchen scene scored me a snickers bar, which she donated from trek snack stash.  So they leave and I hang out with Killa and eat my chifa and watch bad TV and skype my family and rant about taxi drivers and assholes.  

It is the small things that get to me, like taxi drivers trying to rip me off and take me out, or women whining at me to llevalo, it's hecho a mano, mi trabajo, puro alpaca lady.  Small things get to me in other ways, too.  Pictures of Sawyer growing up and smiling through every stage, picking up a guitar and playing it at the hostal, hearing a Spanish cover of a Damien Rice song during a breakfast out in Chile, the way Coco's tongue pokes through his smiling teeth, toilet paper in a bathroom, water.   

Sometimes its hard to get past the cultural differences and see and be seen as a whole person, not as gringo or Peruvian or poor or rich or cultured or not.  I am frustrated, as well, by gender differences here.  I am a woman so I will never be taught any swear words in Spanish and the boys will laugh at my expense and the boys will continue to make homophobic comments because this is the culture, the culture is asi.  Not that nothing can change, not that people aren't progressing, and of course I am generalizing.  What I do best.  I am the privileged gringo so I must love bricheros and be rolling in it and blow 9 soles on milkshakes, and I am a woman so I can't swear or do things for myself and without your consent, not to mention poop.  Girls don't poop, or at least not very much, and when they do it's dried violets and pearls that come out.  For your fucking pleasure.

Here I go again, wanting to break boundaries and borders and pre-conceived notions.  Wish me well.  Wish me luck. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

WTF, Universe?!

I am feeling extremely flip-floppy. There was a couple of days when I was considering moving to Chile and teaching English there, but none of the cities called out my name, and it´s spendy in comparison to Peru, so I got over it. Decided to move back to Cusco. Decided I needed to get a teaching job (or at least do private English tutoring and translating) in order to support myself. Decided the best way to make this possible was to leave my plant medicine and feminism Independent Learning Contract (ILC) for another time, and instead pursue writing, and write about my travels and experiences living in this new culture. This way I would have more time to work. I was pursuing the apartment next door to Jenna. I was stressing out about money and making frenzied calculations of predicted spendings and budgets on long bus rides. After much procrastination and guilt (because throughout this whole process, I have been very back and forth-y, or at least it feels this way), I e-mailed my professor willing to sponsor me for the plant medicine ILC to tell her I couldn´t do the ILC this summer. Then, this morning I get this email from Jenna´s sister that goes like this: I am not sure what is going on with the apt but I saw this add in South American Explorer's Club Newletter and thought of you... "Room and board in beautiful house in return for looking after the house. Would especially suit someone interested in learning about shamanism and holistic healing. Contact xxx.¨

Maybe the universe wants me to study plant medicine after all? Free housing? Learning opportunities about shaminism and holistic healing? I sent an email, of course. We will see what comes of it. At this point, I give up on trying to control my life. It makes me feel nutty. Unpredictable, flighty, waffly, indecisive. I am just trying, I really am trying, to go with the flow. I just wish the flow would stop changing. Or maybe I need to stop fighting. I would like to take this opportunity to say, Universe, if you want me to live in this beautiful house and study plant medicine and maybe tutor some English this summer, do your thing. I am trying to be cooperative and not hold onto the reins too tightly, but instead trust that the horse knows where he wants to go. So even if this makes me feel nutty, I will do it, because I am kind of nutty. I pray in the shower. I set intentions over bowls of pasta. I trust. It seems like the bravest and stupidest thing you can do these days is trust. I think I need to sit down and have a cup of something with Nick, an old housemate from Americo´s who one day assured me that we (the world) hadn´t fucked too many things up, really, when you thought about it, and that there was hope for the future. Also, one time we were talking about water, and he said (the British accent is important here, as well as the water hand motions for the italicized word, so imagine it,) ¨To have water, hot water, coming down upon you is just brilliant!¨ I need to remember things like this. Things like, wait a minute even if I am freaking out about money and missing and craving home and feeling psychotic and flip-floppy, things are brilliant. The universe is brilliant. The universe is also probably smarter than me, so I really should just shut up and feel grateful to have this guidance

I also have many stories about Chile, and I miss home. I miss home. I have Drift Inn dreams and miss Yachats and the Roby/ins and my family and the ocean. It didn´t happen until I moved out of Americo´s, but it´s been pretty constant until then.

I´m in Arequipa, Peru, right now. The white city. I´ll post pictures and tell stories when I get back to Cusco in a day or two. For now, I am going to pack my bags and find a healthy lunch and try not to beat myself up for being flip-floppy or unsure. You don´t know until you know. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We Are All Running From Something . . .

1. During my TEFL course and travels, it has been a great comfort to meet other travelers in similar places in their life, at crossroads and in limbo, traveling and opening, living more simply, giving themselves time and giving themselves to time. Out of a job and into TEFL, out of college and diving into life in Peru, traveling before making decisions regarding jobs and college . . . people tell me about the circumstances that brought them here, and many people I have met made the decision quickly, in one night, to come to Peru, but the idea had been brewing for a long time. Some people I have met are alive and awake in their new life, and they express how they love how simply they are living, and everything that they are experiencing. Others are jaded from long careers that stretched them thin and tight, or love gone sour. The traveling cliches are true. We are all running from something. I like to think, as well, that we are running toward something. Or maybe the point, above all things, is not that we are running from something or to something, but that we are running. Present, lungs pumping and feet pounding pavement and red dirt and the bright white salt flats. Awake to our surroundings, to what keeps us from sleeping. Not sure, exactly, where we are going, but knowing, feeling to our bones, that our legs will take us there. Running, present, here. Wherever we are. Because one time I read on a candle, ¨If you can´t see the truth right here, where do you expect to find it?¨

2. The kindness of strangers is immense when one is traveling. Without a community, the new towns and new people are your community. It is amazing how people reaching out can affect you. After Santiago, which was gray and swallowed me as big cities often do, I felt withdrawn. When I arrived in Valparaiso, the kindness of a taxi driver (have I mentioned how much I love taxi drivers?) put flowers in my cheeks. All he did was smile at me and tell me I didn´t need a taxi, and then pointed me in the right direction. It is not so hard to be kind, to be decent. The waiter at this wonderful vegetarian restaurant in Valparaiso, Jarden de Profeta, didn´t hurt, either. He was intuitive and sweet, as all good waiters should be, and offered me a shot glass of post-meal bitters.

3. It is easy to be lonely when you are traveling by yourself, and it is easy to feel suffocated when you are traveling with others. Taxi drivers and hostel owners become your friends, as well as your sources of information. I am in Chile without a guide book. At first I tried to find one. I was tenacious, but it could not be found. Now I ask taxi drivers and waiters about geography and sites, population and weather. It frustrates me not to have all of this information in one place, in one tangible book, but I had to let go of this guise of control. I am depending, instead, upon others.

4. Traveling is transient, and you learn to make friends with small comforts like pizza, which is universal, and hot water, which is not. Walking alone down city streets I feel too toursity to look at my map or to take pictures, but I am not from here. Everywhere I go is never where I am from. Because of my pride, today I missed out on newspaper confetti scattered on top of old cars on the sideline of a protest in the Valparaiso streets.

5. Everywhere I go is never where I am from. That is the beauty. That is the truth. But here I am, headed back to Cusco, which is now one of my homes, which is where I have a nest of community and friends, familiar places and faces. I am from a small town on the Oregon coast and I am from not owning a TV and I am from gardening on Saturdays and sometimes forced Catholic church on Sundays. I am from a family with three brothers. I am from toasted marshmallows on saltine crackers and apples with tomato soup. I am from the United States, which I thought would be this bone of contention, but I haven´t run into any trouble so far. I am from England, it is in my blood, and I am from parents with different pasts and family backgrounds. I am from the white speckled sunglasses at the mall and theatre camp. Everywhere I go is never where I am from, but I am continually finding new ways to connect, to be here, where I am.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


In Iquique, Chile. Gritty ocean air backed up by muted mountains. Fishing boats and sea lions, salty shells and jewel green seaweed. I am so happy to be in a hotel and not in a bus. The sides of buildings are spraypainted and there are holes like mouths in the sidewalks. Breasts nearly fall out of shirts worn too tight on hot Chilean ladies with their boyfriend´s hand around their hips. Toddlers in sailor suits, handsome and kicking toy cars down the street. Men barking, helado, helado, helaaado, and then when we walk by, ice cream, good price. Blankets line the boardwalk, selling cartoon stickers and coloring books, jewelry and flashy blouses. People are friendly, charming, speak quickly and ad ¨cito¨to the end of everything. An older man called me ¨baby¨and I called him ¨Abuelo.¨ Empanada boys asked D to marry them, claimed she was the love of their life. We didn´t get free empanadas out of the deal, but everyone was laughing. This is how I envisioned South America.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oh, Bolivia

Bolivians couldn´t give you a headache with all the kindness they could muster. In my humble opinion. Writing from an internet cafe in the bus station in La Paz.

How did I get here? Let´s take a look. First, I took an overnight bus from Cusco to Bolivia on Friday night with some Maximo teachers. I feel like I have been pretty on top of it this trip, prepared with practical shoes and a sleeping bag, hand sanitizer and almonds, but the one itsy bitsy baby thing I forgot was the 135. I needed to cross the border into Bolivia. Ok, so, no big deal, I have a BCP card (local bank account after I left my mondedero in a taxi the other week) which works in Peru as well as Bolivia. The border holds my passport (sketchy, right?), I cross into Copacobana and .... the only ATM is directly connected to a local bank. I can´t use my BCP card, and I can´t access my benjamins. Lots of time is spend stressing, asking people for help and advice, trying to convince Copacobana that, yes, actually, it does have an ATM that will accept my card, and finally deciding that all I can do is go back to the border to collect my passport, take a bus back to Puno, Cusco (3 hours way), withdraw money at a BCP ATM, and bus back to Copacobana. At this point, three of my Maximo teacher-friends are in Copacobana, and I have already paid for a hostel, so I leave sleeping Nathan with a note (Hey Nathan- I´m going to Puno to get money. Back around 7. Jess) I´m not back around 7. I have to stay the night in Puno, paying for another hostel, and the bus back in the morning as immigration closes before my bus would get back. I can´t contact anyone because our phones don´t work in Bolivia. I watch shitty TV and sleep.

I arrive in Copacobana the next morning, bussed out with greasy hair and a mouth full of unbrushed teeth and walk back to the hostel in hopes with meeting up with Nathan, but he´s gone. After a mediocre breakfast I went back to the hostel to collect my bags and as I am walking around Copa, kindof aimlessly, I hear,¨JESS!!!¨ It´s my crew, with two new additions, Dee and Venla Kokko (volunteers from Maximo on their way out of Peru and on to other places). Guess where my travel-buddies are going? PUNO! In 30 minutes! We had lots of quality time together, from the hostel Nathan and I paid for that I never slept in, to the overnight bus in which I was on the upper level and they were on the lower, to all of the time we spent not together in Bolivia. :)

However, Dee and Venla sweetly offered to sneak me in to their hostel, which was warm, and added the spice of adventure my trip so far is obviously lacking. They are rad, and we got warm on hot chocolate with rum in a local hippie joint. We also had a game-playing marathon, including jenga, crazy 8s, go fish, and pick up sticks, which was so much better when I was five. Not how I remembered it at all! All in all, it worked out wonderfully, and I gained two new cool girls to travel with. Venla, by the way, told me to write that she is this ¨charming, clever, beautiful girl you met that sometimes can get quite drunk.¨ It´s pretty accurate. Dee is the sassy mama-bear with an honest sailor mouth. We´re a magnificent team, and I am so glad to be bumming around Bolivia with them.

Now we´re in La Paz, chilling in the bus station until our overnighter departs for Uyuni. We´re going to tour the salt flats, which I am excited about. Although... since Friday night, I have been on buses for a total of approximately 23 hours. I´m exhausted, and disenchanted with Bolivia, which is beautiful, but the kindness of the people I have encountered so far is nothing compared to Peru. The girls I am traveling with are from Finland and Ireland, and they are getting equally cold treatment, so it´s not just that I am from the EEUU. I am so spoiled by Cusco, where people are helpful, friendly, and genuine, going out of their way, again and again, to help me out and show great compassion. From my travel agent friend´s coworker who walked me to a cheap hostel when I was fresh off the Quillabamba trip and wandering around hostel-hunting in the plaza, to the taxi driver named Felix who is was just the most genuine guy you could ever meet and would, without a doubt, drive me out of any sort of trouble I was in, if only I knew how to contact him... I love Cusco, and I´m looking forward to going back.

For now, I am happy to be in good health and in good company, exploring Bolivia and this new culture and scenery. Pictures will come. I am trying to keep an open mind. At least this makes for good blog material, I hope...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Plans changing and then coming together...

Leaving for Bolivia tomorrow night.

Coming back to Cusco in June.

Studying women and plant medicine as well as Spanish and Quechua. I love my professor, and this contract is right up her alley. I´m incredibly excited because one of my favorite people/Spanish teachers here at Maximo, Jorge, is a native Quechua speaker and has agreed to give us (us being me and some friends, mostly Maximo teachers) weekly Quechua lessons! Whoo!

Today I found an apartment close to Jenna. It´s cute, sunny, with a panoramic city/mountain view. Plus, bonus, I get to choose the paint colors and tile. I am thinking something hot and Latin. I still need to firm up details, but I am excited about having a place in place for when I come back from Bolivia in June.

Off to get my bus ticket to Bolivia. Ciao!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Quillabamba, Machu Picchu, and the Joys and Sorrows of Towels and Toilets.

On Thursday night, I took and overnight bus to Quillabamba with Susanmi and her mischevious almost-three-year-old to visit her family. Quillabamba is a hot, humid, rainforesty town. Susanmi's family graciously welcomed me into their humble home, a two-room concrete house, complete with chickens. My first morning, I woke up to chickens strutting around the house. It was tough for me to have to poop when the bathroom was three feet away from the kitchen and divided by a sheet. There was no way you could pull the run-the-water-while-you-go trick because the only water in the bathroom was in the shower, and we all know you can't fool someone into thinking you are showering and shitting at the same time.

More on toilets: I know I am adjusting to life here in Peru because I am conscious of bathrooms, as in I'm always taking advantage of clean bathrooms (or just anywhere you can actually sit on the toilet seat), and I rejoice when I come upon a particularly wonderful bathroom. I've also become a tp/napkin thief. It's necessary for my survival. One time, when I was desparate, I used an old ATM receipt after I peed at the beer garden.

I would also like to note that although I am quite capable of roughing it (I think), it's pretty hard to shower without a towel. Like, you would think it wouldn't be so bad, you could just shake off like a dog, but it doesn't work like that.

Other Quillabamba happenings to note:
  • Swimming in the river
  • Visiting the saddest "zoo" ever
  • Super beautiful waterfall adventure
  • Food, food, food with the family!
  • This "sex shop" that offered potions of all sorts. I didn't nab a picture, and the regret is going to haunt me til the end of my days.
After three days in Quillabamba, sticky and sweaty, I boarded a combi (my mantra was "cool as a cucumber") and made my way to Machu Picchu. I combid to the train station, where I walked along the tracks up to Aguas Calientes (MP-town). I walked with this annoying Canadian girl, who was walking as opposed to taking the train because "it's like such an authentic experience or whatever."

We misjudged the time, and walking to Aguas took longer than we thought, so as it's getting dark, she says to me, "I think maybe we missed it." (Mind you, there is NOTHING ELSE on the way to Aguas Calientes except for train tracks, river, and natural beauty. No way we could have missed it.) And then, she says, "I think we should turn back." In the dark? And walk for two and a half hours back in the dark to the train station? I don't think so. Eventually, when I've talked her out of turning back, I see signs of life (a.k.a. a town) and point it out, joking that I might be hallucinating. At this point, Canada-girl tells me that she did coke last night, in Peru, for her first time. "Well, maybe that's why I felt so sick this morning, but I don't know, I am about to get my period, and my stomach always hurts a few days before that," nervous laugh nervous laugh. Yeah, much more likely it's your menses and not THE COKE FROM PERU YOU SNORTED LAST NIGHT! Oh my gosh. She wasn't even cool, or cooky, or grungy like you would expect a coke-snorter to be. I know I am being completely judgmental, but just wait. It's about to continue.

Sometimes I can't stand travelers, with all of their boastful adventure stories and the snobby ways they have about them. This is what I have to hear all day (and some of it comes from my own mouth):
  • I don't have a guide book.
  • My plan is not to have a plan.
  • I haven't showered for xxx days.
  • Oh really? I woke up with chickens this morning.
  • Well when I was in Bolivia...
  • It's like, such a unique experience or whatever.

Also, for clarification, I also love travelers, but Matt Vail summed it up perfectly:
"there are many kinds of travelers
some are looking for material for their first novel
some are looking for cultural capital
some are looking for stories that will shock their friends and families
and others are there by accident
some others have a genuine passionate need to see something they've read all about
others had nothing better to do"

Okay, and so maybe I am going to sound like an annoying traveler right now, but when I arrived at my hostal in Aguas Calientes, after smokin' hot Quillabamba, combis, and my three-hour train-track trek, I was sooo glad to have a shower and a towel that I shrieked delightfully in my room, and took a picture to document the joy. I have never been so happy to have a towel in my life, clearly. If you're ever in Aguas Calientes, Hostal Adela is nice, comfortable, and cheap at 15 soles for a private room, not to mention they provide breakfast and the staff is super-sweet.

In the morning, I met my tour guide and group and got my Machu Picchu on. I have to say, I wasn't WOWED. I wasn't AWE-STRUCK. I wasn't . . . impressed? You can hate on me, but what can I say, I'm a truth-teller. I know it's impressive, grandiose; those Incans were mighty ambitious. Throughout my trip I was itching to tell someone (or maybe I was itching from my mosquito bites, hah!), to confess that I didn't feel like all the other visitors, the ones who I am sure, upon leaving, made this deal with god, like, "Okay, now that I've seen Machu Picchu, you can take me. I'm ready, because I've been wowed. I've been wowed, and I've been humbled. Whoo lordy take me away!" But I just couldn't bring myself to do it! I can see it now, me confessing, secretly, with ginger-lips, and getting trampled by all of the other Machu Picchu lovers, pelted with their Kodaks and Canons, thrown off the bus and into the river.

Regardless, here I am, at good 'ol Machu Picchu.

I mean, I may not look impressed, but I don't look bored, do I?

It also didn't help that our tour guide informed us that MP might not even BE the lost city of the incas, and that there are other, cooler, more impressive ruins, but MP is famous only because there is a train. Maybe I need to visit those other, cooler, more impressive, more lost-city-er ruins. I'll look into it.

For now, I am home, back in Cusco, figuring out my summer plans. My life's pretty awesome. I'm all free from my TEFL course, and doors are opening, always. I have roots here in Cusco, friends and places I know, a home base. I think in soles, speak Spanish more naturally (more and more each day) and I have lots of opportunities ahead of me. I am remembering (or trying to remember) to count my blessings, reserve judgment, breathe, take each experience for what it is, live presently, take pictures even though sometimes it makes me feel like a dork, ask questions even though sometimes my questions make me feel like a dork, let go, move on.

Until next time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Salineras and Baby Syndrome

Don't worry, it's not that I want a baby, it's just that I feel like one. This morning I went to Salineras with Alejandro (also known as Alfredo, or Rasta-Man, although he doesn't know about the first one), and because he couldn't find his identi(ficación), we took an alternate route. I think he was testing my American lungs, or perhaps the strength of my heart. So... many... steps. My body does fine, my calves love the burn, but my heart and lungs are two very different stories. I swear we went up ten flights of the steepest stairs in my life. I should have seen heaven at the top, I tell you.

It was beautiful, and ruinesque (although I'd also like to see it from the non-alternative route side) and I was a hot sweaty baby throughout. I tried to explain that I felt like a little thing that had just woken up from a nap and felt mussy and fussy and disoriented but I think he just thought I was lazy (floja.) This could also be true, but I much prefer my metaphor.

We had chica (not the made-in-the-mouth kind) and it tasted of sweet and sour apple. He tipped some of his chica onto the concrete floor in the chicaria (for Pachamama, he said) and I told him I had already given my offering, referring to my nature-pee at Salineras. I'm getting quite skilled at peeing outside, although today I made the splashy mistake of peeing on dirt. Maybe this is too much information; I don't know. This is Jessica Jackson Peru Adventure 2009 UN-CUT version, with behind the scenes passes to the outside-peeing scandals.

Plans are coming together for the upcoming weeks. I think a bunch of us (Máximo teachers, my fellow teachers, my housemate/s) are going to go camping in the Sacred Valley on Friday. Whether or not we camp, we're going to do something adventurous for the long weekend, and I'll probably take off for Machu Picchu from there.

I still feel frowny and mussy. It's just one of those days. I think a dance marathon is in order. But first, listening to "Get Up, Stand Up" and heeding the advice to look for my life on earth and see the light (jah!), and then maybe a nap.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life after TEFL

TEFL course is over! Look at all of those proud and beaming graduates!

I am finishing up my portfolio and Grammar paper this week, and then I will be free and my certificate will be in the mail to me!

During our TEFL party (pictured above) at Máximo Nivel, Mojito got spilled up my nose, and there was plenty of dancing. At the spill-over party in Roots, arguably the best disco in town, our TEFL professor as well as another English teacher and two of our students danced on the bar. I even got down with someone who had nothing to do with Máximo. Score! You might be sad to hear that I didn't dance on the bar, but don't worry, I got into my own mischief. ;) The night on a whole was super and I spent the next day in bed, which was also super.

I am giving myself a week or two here in Cusco to re-ground. This TEFL course really did eat my life, and I'm getting it back. Enjoying spending more time at home or outside, as opposed to my TEFL classroom... I'm enjoying taking pictures and exploring and walking and breathing, and being.

After I've decompressed from the course, I'm planning to travel through Peru, with spots and sites including but not limited to: Machu Picchu, Arequipa and Colca Cañon, and Lake Titicaca. Next up, Chile and Argentina, maybe, who knows. Not me.

If you have ideas, give me a holler.

For now, peace.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TEFL and the Village People

I love my TEFL course! It is rapid and intense and full of all kinds of teaching tools. I feel like I have learned so much, am equipped with so many more tools and concepts than I was before. My brain is busy with new teaching techniques, rapid-firing, full of curiosity and questions.

Something about teaching English as a second language feels really wonderful. There are a lot of parameters to take into account when lesson planning, which keeps me focused and from spinning out of control. As a teacher, your goal is for your students to talk, so you spend little time talking, your directions are short, and you plan your lessons with "potential issues" in mind, as well as solutions. You have to have clear learning objectives, and specific tasks and practice for how to reach those objectives. Having these guidelines and structures to follow iws so comforting to me! I know I have tendency to be scattered, and to try and cover so much in my plans for teaching, and this keeps me focused! It felt great during my mini-lesson to feel so prepared, in control of the classroom and my material. Not to say that it is rigid; teaching so far has been fun and creative! The students are a blast.

I have class observations this week, and I'm teaching a mini-lesson on a specific grammar rule or concept on Monday. We start practice teaching full classes for full class periods (60 minutes) next week! It's crazy to think that I only have three weeks left of this course, and in my homestay. I am putting the feelers out for another place to live, considering working at Máximo, and I sent my resume to the progressive bilingual preschool.

I adore my classmates, and we've been hanging out after class as well as in class. It's great to be branching out on my own, meeting new people, taking on the challenge of "being a great teacher." We're starting to study more English grammar this week, and I am excited for that challenge as well. My head can feel so messy sometimes, but everything is simple and calm in my TEFL classroom, whether I am in my role as a student or a teacher.

It just occured to me that I also have similar feelings about teaching Preschool. I still keep vocalizing that TEFL and Preschool are the only "school" settings in which I can see myself teaching. I wonder if this is true, or if I will continue down the educational path and find that I can fit in other avenues, with other grades or subjects. I am so curious as to what lies ahead of me!

Also, 20 soles for a ticket to see the Village People on Saturday. In Cusco. How could I not? A bunch of people from my class are going. And with the current exchange rate, that works out to be 6.34 USD.