Thursday, September 19, 2013

Judging the Science Fair

Earlier this week, I served as a judge for the science fair at the Instituto de Educacion Superior Tecnologico Publico de Marco, the local technical school. It turned out to be much more formal than I expected. I thought I'd just walk around and look at displays and talk to students, but no. Instead, I was assigned to the food science program and was given 5 lengthy term papers (in Spanish) to read and grade according to a very specific rubric. In an hour. Then, I went to each of the groups' tables and the students gave me a presentation on the food they'd created. A lot was riding on this, because the winners get to go on to the provincial science fair, and if they win there, to the regional fair.

The projects were all good ones. The task of grading papers was awfully familiar.

This group made yogurt that used local milk and a Peruvian fruit. Instead of sugar, they sweetened it with stevia. Their idea was to produce something beneficial for consumers with diabetes. It was excellent.

These students also used handmade yogurt, baked into a flan flavored with local fruit. The great thing about being assigned to the culinary program was that I got to try all the food!

The next group invented an empanada (pot pie) with Guinea pig meat. It was yummy. Cuy (Guinea pig) is high in protein and low in fat, making it a very healthy meat. It's also very cheap and easy to raise. Archeological evidence has found cuy bones in human living sites going back 5 thousand years in our region.

Next was a baby food made from quinoa, a traditional grain that has been raised here since antiquity. The students tested it at a local nido (infant care facility) and the babies had a very low spit-out rate.

The last food I taste-tested was an instant lunch made of dried olluco (a native tuber kind of like a cross between potato and yam) and alpaca meat. (Alpacas are like a smaller version of a llama.) These students did an especially professional job with their data analysis.

I was glad to be able to help out as a judge. It was a very tasty morning!

Friday, September 13, 2013

I kind of have a dog

If you know me, you know how improbable this is. I don't like dogs. I'm a little bit phobic about them. But Banban doesn't seem to be aware of this. He lives with a friend but sometimes stays at my boyfriend's house and he thinks we're all part of the same pack.
Like most Peruvian dogs, he hangs out outside his house. When I go by on my bike Banban jumps up and gives me a full-body wagging greeting. Then he follows me wherever I'm going. Earlier this week, he followed me all over Marco while I delivered officios. I was on my bike and Banban seemed to enjoy running alongside. Here we are on the only paved road in Marco.
I went in to the technical college to make agreements with the Director about various things. I'm going to judge the science fair Monday. We scheduled a meeting between the watershed committee and the agriculture and culinary arts teachers about how to include organic gardening in our GeoTour (ecotourism circuit). We also discussed how the director will choose a representative to the municipal environment committee (CAM) before the swearing-in next week.
Finally, we reached an agreement about a tree-planting day when some of the Peruvian students will work with Peace Corps trainees to finish a demonstration "living fence" around one of the school's fields that we started back in May. My tara trees will finally get planted. They're ready:
 All this took a while. But when I came out, Banban was waiting by my bike. I thought that was a pretty smart strategy. We headed back to Marco.
My neighbors were loading eucalypus branches on their donkey.
They let me take pictures.
Banban shared his latest news with their dog.
I still don't like dogs. But I have to admit, it's kind of cool having a dog follow you everywhere. It's just possible that I might like this dog.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In the Andes of Peru GeoTour

For months I've been working on an ecotourism project and in the past few weeks things have really started to happen. It's the brainchild of our Watershed Committee. We figured that tourism, if done the right way, could support environmentally-friendly changes here in our valley. There are three districts here in the watershed of the Yanamarca river: Marco, Acolla and Tunanmarca. These three local governments don't work together much. However, from an environmental standpoint, this whole watershed is one ecosystem. The water doesn't care about jurisdiction as it flows from the springs
 through the fields, picking up toxic agricultural chemicals,
then into the river, picking up the detergents from people washing their clothes in the river,
 and into the wetland where the birds, amphibians and fish live.
We hope this project will help the people here think in terms of the watershed, and so our ecotourism project will take visitors on a journey around the watershed. The circuit will have an environment theme. When people visit the archeological site, we'll ask them to pick up trash. When they visit the organic gardening demonstration, they'll learn about how to farm without toxic chemicals. We have a very successful reforestation area, and the GeoTour will celebrate that.
We'll require hostels and restaurants to pass a 'green practices' test in order to be part of the tour.
We're still trying to think of other ways the tourism circuit can incorporate environmental education, and ways it can motivate local people (and tourists) to care for the environment. If you have any suggestions, please write me a comment! We need all the creativity we can find. Tourism can be tough on the environment. Here in the Yanamarca Valley, we want it to do the opposite. We want it to help us toward our dream of becoming a "Valle Ecologico", an example to other communities here in Peru of how to care for the Pachamama.
I'm having a great time developing this project with the local ecotourism team. For over a decade, I've played a game called "geocaching". It's a treasure hunt game that uses GPS coordinates to guide people to interesting locations. I like this game a lot because it gets you outside and brings you to places you never would have seen otherwise. And the hunt aspect is exciting. I suggested to the committee that we organize our tour around this game. The "In the Andes of Peru" GeoTour was born. It's been a huge process. I wrote a Peace Corps grant, and after multiple revisions, it was accepted and my project was placed up on the Peace Corps website. At the time of this writing, we're actively raising money. So, dear reader, if you have some cash to spare, please donate to this project here.Update: the project is fully funded. Thank you donors!
     I'm also working with a tourism website that was developed by some Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. The idea is to bring tourists to communities where Peace Corps volunteers are posted. It's great for the kind of traveler who wants to get away from the tourist traps and experience the genuine culture of daily life. In other words, perfect for our ecotourism project. Things here may not be perfect, but they're real. This is deep Peru and our project will give visitors access to the inside story. The company is called Keteka. I've been appointed an "ambassador" for Peru. I'm writing a separate blog on their site that will follow the GeoTour project. You can have a look here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New World-wise school class

     The school year in the United States has started up again and it's time for a new World-wise school project. My partner teacher from last academic year, Mr. Klein, has retired from teaching. This year I've partnered with a Ms. Nielsen at Escalante Middle School in my home town, Durango. I'll be writing to them over the course of the school year to tell them about my Peace Corps service in Peru.
     I've also teamed up with Profesora Hilda, a sixth grade teacher here in Marco. She has a class of 22 students, most of them 11 years old. About half the class had English with me last summer (January and February) in the town's summer school program, "Vacaciones Utiles". We did a lot of games and songs to learn beginning English. These are the kids that call out my name ("Senorita Elena"!) when they see me around town, and often run up to give me a kiss. It's really comfortable to work with this particular class because I have a warm relationship with so many of them already.

     Each of Miss Hilda's students will have a 6th grade pen pal from Durango. Yesterday we picked pen pals. Ms. Neilsen had emailed a photo of her class and the names of the students. Her students also told us 2 things they like. Each of my students picked the name of an American student from a basket, and then rushed up to the photo on the wall to see what their pen pal looked like.
     Afterward, we had a lesson on the verb "to like". My students called out the things their partners liked. We collected this vocabulary on papelotes. I wrote the English and Miss Hilda wrote the Spanish.
     After that, each Peruvian student wrote two things they like on a slip of paper. Our pen pals in the USA will get their partner's name, age and two things they like, so they have something to talk about when they write their first letters to their new friends in the Southern Hemisphere.
     Pretty much all of the boys listed soccer as one of the things they like and most of the girls listed volleyball. Here in Peru, sports are very gender segregated. All boys play soccer and all girls play volleyball. Other favorite activities were acting, drawing, fishing, swimming, singing, writing, animals, reading, karate, riding a bike, football and computer games. I can attest to the latter. I live above the town's only internet cafe and there's a steady stream of kids down there, using up the bandwidth playing games. I can tell when school gets out because my connectivity drops.
     We went out to the school patio and took a picture of the class, which I have emailed to Durango so our new friends can see what their pen pals look like.
Then I told them I wanted to take "una foto loca" of the class. This was the result:
     Everyone here is excited to learn about the United States, make friends with American kids and practice some English!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Winter Solstice at Huaytapallana

     Celebrating the solstices has been an important part of my life for many years. I didn’t expect that it would continue to be so here in Peru. How very wrong I was. I’ve become immersed in a community of people who are dedicated to revitalizing the ancient Andean vision of the cosmos and our place in it. I have the very great honor to be included in this community. I’m part of a women’s circle that does women-only ritual on the new moon, and ritual open to women, men and kids on the full moon. I’ve written a few songs for our ceremonies, with more planned. It’s so funny—when I went into Peace Corps, I imagined myself being a very different person. Not so. I’m still me, songwriting and all, just at a higher altitude.
     I was invited to take part in a winter solstice ceremony on June 21. We met in Huancayo and sorted ourselves into a flock of minivans and headed up and up to one of the two highest areas of our region: the Huaytapallana massif. These glacier-capped peaks have been the eastern edge of my world for the six months I’ve been here. Back in the states, I used the San Juan Mountains to orient myself; among them mount Taylor, the northern sacred mountain of the Navajo Nation. Here, it’s the Apu of Huaytapallana. An apu is a sacred place—often a mountain—that is an elder sibling, a repository of power, a protector that is often called upon to witness and share a ritual. For months I had looked forward to meeting Huaytapallana in person.
     After more than an hour of travel, we came to a place where the road was too damaged and steep for the vehicles to make it, so everyone got out to walk up the hill.
 To pass the time, musicians played and people danced and drank. I joined in.
 Some local herders came along with their horses and watched from the sidelines. Horses! Kristi has been longing to get on a horse ever since we got to Peru. Chasqui negotiated for us, and the men agreed to take Kristi and me on up to the ritual location on horseback for 10 soles apiece. It was an unexpected pleasure, riding along high up in the mountains with beautiful views.

We passed an icchu-grass home.
The family’s llamas regarded us with curiosity.
I was pleased to see that the forest service had posted numerous signs to urge people to take care of the environment. They used the "authority of the resource" strategy. In this sign, the apu Huaytapallana asks the visitor not to throw trash. As I used to teach in my environmental psychology class (in what feels like a different life now) people are more responsive to this kind of appeal than the kind that uses "the authority of the government", as in 'don't throw trash or we'll throw you in jail'.

I had forgotten that riding a horse can get uncomfortable, especially with unfamiliar tack. But it was worth it; we were so happy. We did feel suitably guilty to be culturally insensitive—the gringas on horseback leaving everyone else behind. Our guilt evaporated when all the vehicles, having surmounted the difficult part, passed us one by one, with people smiling and waving and taking our pictures. We were the last to arrive at the lake.
It’s a stunningly beautiful place.
Everyone marched along the road around the lake to the place selected for the ritual.
We set up our manta of offerings in amongst all the others on the “table”, including flowers and corn from our garden in Acolla.

The 'table' grew and grew as more people set up their mantas.
The ritual began, with many prayers to the sacred mountain. Also, one of the priests proposed to his partner during the ceremony,
Another recited a very moving poem to the coca leaves,

And a musician from Argentina played Native (north) American flute. I talked with him the next day, and he’s a friend of Carlos Nakai, perhaps the most famous Native American flute player from the United States.

During the ceremony it began to snow! Our first snow (well, grapple really) in Peru.

We had made friends with the people of the neighboring manta. This woman is a talented singer, and I really enjoyed her voice.
They invited us to join our manta with theirs for a prayer

Chasqui and I had our picture taken with our friend and his new fiance. We met him recently when he did the ceremony at another friend's (Yves) birthday. That ceremony was to honor and thank Yves' parents for giving him life.
 And then we went to do our offering. All the people fanned out over the hillside in small groups.

We drank beverages and the musicians in our group played and we sang.

 One of the men offered prayers

And then we buried our offerings in the Pachamama, the Mother Earth. It was a time outside of time. Sublime.

Twice, avalanches cascaded down the face of the glacier and all the people shouted back to the mountain. But it was also sad. The glacier is dying. You can see its former extent. It is now half the size that it was a few decades ago. If things go as they have been, in a few decades the glacier will be gone and the Apu will stand naked without his manta of snow.

After this, we went to the lake. Some brave souls were bathing in the lake. I doused my head with water and thanked the lake for a profound day. We ate our lunch and then returned to the vans to go back down the mountain. It was a tough trip home for me, as the altitude and energy and chicha had given me a headache, which was not helped by the lusty singing of folksongs in the van on the way home. But connections went well, and when I finally got to bed, I slept soundly and dreamed of mountains. It was a wonderful solstice.