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 BaƱos, 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!