Thursday, January 31, 2013

World-wise schools, letter #3

Dear class,

Thank you for your letters. I am doing well here in Peru.

Just after I last wrote to you, I was in a parade for saving the environment. There is a lake near us that is in danger from pollution. I marched with the people who want to make the lake into a nature reserve to help protect it. A lot of the children from our region were in the parade, too. 
Then we had Christmas and New Year’s holidays. There was a lot of dancing in the plaza in Marco during the New Year celebration. Every neighborhood has its own costumes. They practice throughout the year. There are many opportunities to dance because there are many holidays here. This is the dance team for the Jajachaca neighborhood in Marco.
After the holidays, I started teaching summer school. One subject I teach is English as a foreign language. There are 67 children in our summer school, divided into 3 classrooms. The youngest classroom is for age 5 to 8. The middle classroom is for ages 9 to 11. The oldest classroom is for ages 12 to 16. So far I have taught them words for meeting people, like “Hello” and “How are you?”, and colors, and numbers and parts of the body. They like learning English.

Here is a picture of my students practicing words for parts of the body.
 I taught them the songs “Hokey-Pokey” and “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” because those songs have lots of words for parts of the body. Do you know those songs?

I also teach environmental education because I’m here in Peru to help take care of the environment. One day, the whole school focused on trees. The children made a list of all the reasons they could think of to plant trees. Our school came up with 14 different reasons to plant trees. One was because trees give the air oxygen. Another was because the leaves, bark or roots of some trees can be used to make medicine. I bet you can think of other reasons, too. Then, all of my students planted trees at our school. There were baby trees left over from a tree planting project in the town. No one wanted them. My students rescued these trees and planted them at the school. They did a great job!
As I told you before, I am growing trees also. They are special because they’re a native species of Peru. The tree is called ‘tara’. We’re helping to restore it because it is very good for the soil here and provides a healthy habitat for Peruvian native species of birds and insects. The leaves are good for stomachache if you make a tea of them. My little tara trees have just sprouted. We’ll plant them in a few months when they’re big enough.
We have a new member of our household. One of our cows had a calf! He doesn’t have a name yet.

Now I’ll answer the questions that you asked in your letters. You sure had a lot this time!

The total number of animals at my house (chickens, turkeys, Guinea pigs, cats, dogs, sheep and cows, but not counting the bees) is around 80. One of you wanted to know what the animals are for. We eat the chickens, turkeys and Guinea pigs. The sheep are for wool and for meat. The cows give milk that we drink and that my mother makes cheese with. The bees give us honey. The cat kills mice and the dogs guard the house. My family grows potatoes and beans—we eat some and sell some. No, we don’t grow tomatoes here, it’s not warm enough.

Yes, I do like living here. It is very interesting to live in a new country. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I’m a part of the community, not a tourist. I like that. I miss the United States and my family and friends sometimes, though.

For Halloween I was a dancer with pink and yellow veils.

No, they don’t play American football here. They play lots of soccer, which is called futbol in Spanish.

Yes, I am calm here. It’s a quiet kind of place.

Many of you want to know what Guinea pig tastes like. I think it tastes like pork. The thing is, the animal is so small that you don’t really get that much meat. They usually serve it in a spicy sauce that’s like taco sauce. It’s not my favorite.

Our dogs are named Donkey and Colita. Here’s a picture of them. Colita is the white one.

The cat is named Michin. Yes, it is a little scary to hear her chasing mice in the ceiling at night.

You had lots of questions about weather and seasons. How long is a day in winter? Well, I don’t notice that much difference in the length of day as the months go by. I think that’s because we’re so close to the equator. Right now it is summer, and it gets dark by 7 at night. Summer is rainy season. It rains every day, sometimes for just an hour, sometimes all day long and all night, too. Winter will arrive in June, and it will be dry with colder nights and slightly shorter days. It might go down to freezing a few times. It almost never snows in Peru. Last week it snowed high in the mountains and completely stopped traffic for a day because they aren’t used to dealing with snow. It never gets very hot here, though. Even the hottest days aren’t more than 65 degrees. Most of the time it’s about 55 degrees.

Yes, some of the people here believe in Santa.

A few of you asked what I do for a living. Normally I teach college in Colorado. In Peru, I work in the Peace Corps environment program. That means that I do things that are good for the environment, like planting trees, helping with trash cleanup programs and teaching about nature in the schools. One of you asked if I miss my old job. No, I don’t. I like what I’m doing. Another of you asked what I’ll do after my two years in the Peace Corps. I haven’t decided yet. I may go back to my old job, or I may not.

Yes, I like animals. It’s a good thing I do, because my family here are farmers.

The altitude—yes, at first it made me sick. I felt a little dizzy and if I climbed up the stairs it was hard to catch my breath. I felt weak. But now I’ve been up here above 11,000 feet for 2 months and I feel better. I just sleep more than I used to. Maybe my body needs the extra rest. The highest place I’ve been in Peru so far was 15, 807 feet. Here it is:

You asked why I left my other town to come here. All Peace Corps volunteers in Peru train in one town at first, where we have a Peace Corps school, and then move to new towns afterward. There were 57 of us who were in training together, but all of us live in different towns now, in places all over Peru.

So far, I haven’t gone on vacation, so I can’t answer the question about what I do for vacation yet. It sounds like many of you had fun during your Christmas vacations. I stayed in my town for the holidays and had good holiday meals and made a pretty nativity scene with my family.

You had some questions about the pictures in my last letter. No, the birthday cake wasn’t mine, it was my host mother’s. Her name is Fabiana. What it says on the cake is “Feliz cumpleaños Fabiana, con mucho cariño”. That means “Happy Birthday Fabiana, with much affection”. Another picture several of you asked about is the first one. No, it’s not a zoo picture. The taller animal is a llama and the smaller one is an alpaca. They are pets that live at a hotel near here. There are free herds of llamas in my state but they live a little higher up in the mountains.

Yes, I like movies, too. Sometimes I watch them on my computer. I just watched E.T. in Spanish. There is one movie theater in my state. It’s in the state capital. I haven’t watched a movie there yet, but I want to.

The reason my road isn’t paved is because it’s expensive to pave roads and keep them in good repair. In Peru, the highways are paved, just like in the United States. The main road that comes to Marco is paved. But all the rest of the roads in the town are gravel or dirt. 

Why can’t you get pizza in Peru? Good question. Well, you can get it, in the big cities, but not so much here in the country. I think part of the problem is that the kind of cheese everyone makes in Peru isn’t the right kind for pizza.

No, I don’t have any relatives in Peru. I live with a family and call them my mom and dad and sister and nephew, but they’re not really my relatives.

Yes, the people chase the cows out every day. But why do they bring them home at night? Good question. One reason is that they bring them home to milk them. Another reason is because they don’t have cowboys or sheperds that stay with the animals to protect them. Instead, the custom is to bring them home so they don’t get stolen and so they can be cared for.

That should answer most of your questions. Thank you for all the letters. It was very fun to read them. I look forward to your next letters.

I hope you are working hard in school and enjoying the winter in New Mexico. Please give my regards to your families.

Your friend in Peru,



Sunday, January 27, 2013


It’s been raining most of the time, day and night, for the past few days. I knew my usual route would be terribly muddy. This is what one section of it was like the previous day.
 So I decided to walk home from the highway on the road that cuts across the pastures instead.
The pastures are flooding badly. Each family in the valley has a specific area to take their cows, sheep, donkeys & horses to. They take them out each morning and bring them back to their homes each evening. Some of the pastures are completely flooded now, forcing those families to stake their livestock in less desirable locations or keep them in the barns and bring in fodder. This was all dry land, with animals grazing on it, last week.
These cows have lost half their usual pasture and did not seem very happy about it.
 The road flooded, but we all had to use it anyway.

My feet got wet. By the time I got home, my pants were soaked up to the knees.

These women had gathered beans and were waiting under a tarp for their ride to show up. They had many bags of produce to take to the market in Jauja.

 Harvesting was probably not much fun with this much water in the bean field.

I met some of my students on the road. “Senorita Elena! Buenas tardes!”
Peruvians tend to just ignore the rain. In any case, they had their boots on. In my English class, these girls are learning numbers. This morning we played Bingo, in English.

The best thing about this rainy season flooding is that the water birds come much closer to my house. They fly in to enjoy the new ponds that have appeared. I like watching them.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The tara experiment continues.

In a previous post, I told you about planting tara trees with the students and staff at the technical college in my town. I went back today to have a look at the plants. The first group we planted are now 5 weeks old, the second group 4 weeks old.
It's vacation right now so no students were around today. The college secretary helped me record data. She also helped me weed the bags. Thanks, Ana!
We counted the number of trees that germinated in each treatment condition. I'll need to track down a way to run the statistics, but there's action for sure. First of all, there was a main effect of nicking. The germination rate was much higher for the seeds that we nicked open than for those we left alone. At this point, 93 of the 200 nicked seeds have popped up, but only 17 out of 200 of the un-nicked seeds.

I had hypothesized an interaction between nicking and soaking. There is one, but not what I expected. I thought that the nicked seeds that we soaked would do the best, but I was wrong. The best germination was for the nicked seeds that were planted dry. Soaking actually has hurt our germination rate. How weird!
Here's my data. (I love data.)
Here are photos of the different conditions, from the older group of trees. Condition 1 was dry, un-nicked seeds. Only 3 have germinated as of today.
But look at the difference--here's group 2, dry seeds that were nicked to help the seedling break out of the hull. 45 of 50 seeds germinated! We planted 2 seeds in each of 25 bags. Soon, we'll remove the weaker plant from each bag. I was planning to throw the culls away, but maybe I'll put them in their own bags.
Here's group 3, not nicked, and soaked. 7 germinated in this condition.

Finally, group 4, nicked and then soaked in warm water overnight. 13 of the 50 seeds have germinated, so far. I wonder if soaking really is a bad idea, or if the way we soaked them was a problem. Kristi (nearest Peace Corps volunteer, who helped with the project) and I talked about it. She reminded me that she had originally soaked the seeds for the day we thought we would be planting. However, when we showed up to plant, it turned out that it was a bad day for the institute, and planting was postponed a week. We poured out the water and left the damp seeds in a plastic bag for a week. Was that too long? Maybe a short soak is good and a long time damp is bad? Sounds like a question for another experiment!
That's the results from the first planting week. We got 100 bags (200 seeds) planted that first day, then it was time for lunch and everyone left. A week later I got a crew together and did it all again: 25 bags for each condition. The data for the second week is similar to the first week.

I'll collect data each month. What I want to know is whether the important outcome is in terms of how quickly the seeds germinate or how many germinate. Maybe the other conditions will catch up over time and it will turn out that the effect of nicking and soaking means nothing in the end. We shall see. Whatever the results, there's enough going on to justify a presentation at a conference. That will be a great resume-builder for the Peruvian college students I'm working with.
And the important thing is that we have baby tara trees for our community!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Fiesta in Yauyos, part 1: The Dancers

I live in the small town of Marco, and the nearest city is Jauja, with about 20,000 people. Jauja is really two cities: Jauja and Yauyos. This week is the annual fiesta in Yauyos. There are 26 orchestras in town for the fiesta, each associated with a group of dancers. On Sunday, I went to watch the dance competition and judging.

All around the plaza the streets were lined with stalls selling food and goods. Pork was popular. And here, it’s really clear that pork comes from a pig. Recently.

 And that meant lots of work for the knife sharpener.
I stopped for a treat at this stall.

A family from Marcos was there. This neighbor recognized me and sat with me to keep me company.

After my snack, I went to see the action. In the plaza, the dancers performed in the center of the plaza.

On a stage nearby, the orchestras played.

And the announcers kept us informed.
 The judges watched and gave scores
All around the plaza, there were wooden viewing stands that had been erected so people could watch the show.

Each group of dancers marched in with their banner, carried by leaders from their sponsoring organization. These people are probably the steering committee of a community farmer’s association.

For the dance featured at this fiesta, there is a set cast of characters. Every dance troupe has examples of each character. This is “Chapeton”, a parody of the ruling class during the conquest era. Chapeton always has large handkerchiefs, a plumed hat and embroidered knee pants.
But is just as tied to the cell phone as you or I.

Here’s “Jaujina”, who represents the mestizas, the children of intermarriage between the native Xauxinos and the Spanish. She represents the upper classes.

Huanaca represents the descendants of the Inca, and the upper class of Xauxa who made alliance with the Spanish invaders and settled into the middle class. These dancers had amazing embroidered mantas and dresses. Here’s front and back of one costume:

And another

 This character is “Chuncho”, who represents the people of the jungle. Chuncho usually carries a bow and arrow, to represent the role they played in the fight for independence from Spain. He carries products of the jungle as well. For thousands of years there has been brisk trade between the Andes, where I live, and the jungle to the east.

There are two characters with fuzzy white masks. Chuto is middle class, and is a clown character who interacts with the public. He often has a pipe.

Indio is lower class and represents the exploited campesinos.

These two are the domineering Maria Pichana and her cowed husband Viejito.
Cuzquena represents a woman of Cuzco, with her artisan goods

And Jamille is the curandero, or herbalist.
 Arriero is the trader, from Argentina, who travels everywhere and encounters all the other types of characters.
 I noticed that this character always wore spurs.
 That got me interested in feet. Here's part of my series of photos of dancers’ feet.

I watched from one of the stairways to the stage. This little girl shared my step.

After a while, I took a stroll around the plaza. There were plenty of goods offered for sale.

I bought anitcuchos (grilled slices of beef heart), one of my favorite Peruvian foods. Of course, you get potato with that. In the Andes, you get potato with everything.

I love the fiestas here.