Thursday, September 30, 2010

Museo de la Nacion

Outside of Museo de la Nacion

Inside of Museo de la Nacion

View of Lima from the 6th story

Exhibit on Peruvian art through the years

A message to visitors to begin the Shining Path exhibit. I really recommend reading it (or translating it first, if necessary).

More of the Shining Path exhibit

Part of the Shining Path exhibit

More of the Shining Path exhibit. Plaques to the left are passages from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that investigated human rights abuses during the 1980s and 1990s

Huaycan room

Plaque in the Huaycan room

Two weeks ago, we went to the Museo de la Nacion (National Museum) for our volunteer trip. The museum is being renovated, so they only have three exhibits open right now. However, two of them were the best and most important exhibits in the museum, so I don't think I missed out on anything at all. Plus, admission was free because of the construction!

The first exhibit showed Peruvian art through the years, beginning with the very first indigenous art in the country and ending with very current pieces. I really enjoyed this exhibit because it showed so much about Peruvian history. The art progressed chronologically, so we could easily see some of Peru's most important historical events, like the arrival of the Spaniards.

The second exhibit was fairly small. It was a small room with examples of indigenous art from the last century. The art was great, especially this huge colorful mural on one wall. But it didn't show as much about Peru as the other exhibits. All in all, it was a good exhibit.

The third exhibit was my favorite by far, though it definitely wasn't cheerful like the others. It was about the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s. This exhibit was really different from the others. Where the others had brightly painted walls, this featured stark concrete walls and no decorations, only the photographs and plaques with historical information. There were 23 rooms, each focusing on a different aspect of the terrorism. (Note that there were 24 large historical plaques entirely in Spanish. I read them all!)

A quick history lesson: Shining Path, less commonly known as the Communist Party of Peru, is a terrorist organization in Peru. It began as a small revolutionary group led by philosophy professor Abimael Guzman. In 1980, it began acts of terrorism, with the aim of using violence to bring down the government, disrupt the economy, and ruin the state's reputation to create a communist government. It initially targeted low level political figures and upper class people, but eventually started killing anyone and everyone. The state's counter-terrorism campaign was equally brutal, since they killed anyone they suspected of having ties to the Shining Path. There was also a Marxist terrorist group at the time called Tupac Amaru (MRTA) that joined in the violence, but it was much less popular and effective and was more short lived. The violence continued from 1980 until about 2000. It's estimated that 70,000 people were killed between the Shining Path and government terrorism. This time was one of the most important events that defined Peru.

Something that seemed so foreign to me at the beginning really resonated with me by the end. Part way through the exhibit, I realized that even though the terrorism happened in the past, anyone close to my age would have lived through and been affected by it. For example, one of my students from conversation club is named Jason and is 23 years old. He had previously said he moved to Huaycan from Ayacucho before, but we then realized that he moved because of the violence since Ayacucho was the beginning and epicenter of the Shining Path terrorism. And Huaycan was actually created during the 1980s because so many people fled to Lima from the inside of Peru, and Lima didn't have the space to accommodate them. In fact, there was an entire room devoted to the creation of and consecutive violence in Huaycan. That was a complete shock to me, since the places in the photographs were ones I probably see every day, and had no idea about the history behind them. And the vast majority of the people in Huaycan are living there because of the terrorism. Though Huaycan is very safe for us now, ten years ago it would have been completely unthinkable to create an NGO in Huaycan because of safety.

I don't mean to make this a sad post. It really isn't. The museum was a great experience for me, and I now understand a lot more about Peru than before. Yes, it was solemn, but in a good way if that's possible.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Halfway through the line for tickets

Inside the festival

Bread area

Tent with food for sale (and free samples!)

Chef cooking paella

Spicy octopus with potato

Spinach risotto

Ceviche sushi

Aji de gallina ravioli

Dim sum

Seafood and vegetable dish served with cancha (roasted corn)

This Wednesday and Thursday, we went into Miraflores and stayed overnight. I'll talk in detail about my adventures later, of course, but it was a lot of fun. My cough disappeared before I left (woohoo!), so I typed up this post then, but I didn't have enough time to upload all the pictures before I left. (They ended up taking 3 to 4 hours to upload, so everyone better appreciate them.) Then halfway through Thursday, I ate something that made me very sick to my stomach. I got home at about 8 pm and was camped out by the bathroom the whole night. Point is, I thought it was a good time to update this.

I just looked back at my blog and realized that I'm several weeks behind in recounting the volunteer excursions. I thought I had already written to explain those events, but apparently I forgot. I'll start with what happened longest ago, then work my way until the most recent events. So here goes.

Three weeks ago, on Wednesday September 9th, we went into downtown Lima for the Mistura food festival. Peru is known for having some of the best food in Latin America, so the Mistura food festival is a world-renowned event. The first day it opened, which I think was a Monday, there were 17,000 people there.

We went into Lima early Wednesday morning to buy tickets. All of the online tickets were sold out, but there was still a limited number available starting at 10 am each morning. By the time we got into Lima at 9:30 (2 hours by combi) and found the Plaza Vea where tickets were sold, there was a huge unmoving line of people. The line wrapped all the way around a plaza, then doubled back on itself. When I saw the line, I suggested that we do something else because I thought there was no way we'd get through the line before they ran out of tickets. Luckily, we decided to wait. They finally started selling tickets at 10 am, and the line had already increased by 50% by that time.

We finally got through the line and bought our tickets at 11:30, with plenty of drama over people cutting in line, trying to get us to buy tickets for them, and a lady who kept leaving the line and returning every 20 minutes with more people. And the ticket was only 20 soles ($7)!

The festival itself was incredible. It was a huge open area surrounded by hundreds of the best restaurants in Peru. To try the food, you bought either a half or full plate ticket, and then used the ticket at whatever restaurant you wanted. Two other volunteers and I each bought 3 tickets for half plates of food, and then shared them among ourselves, so I got to try 9 different dishes. Most of them were classical Peruvian dishes, but with a twist. It was all really good, but the best was probably a spinach and cilantro risotto with chicken, spicy octopus with potato, and aceviche (Peruvian/Japanese fusion sushi made with ceviche). Other dishes I tried were aji de gallina (traditional Peruvian sauce) ravioli, dim sum, and Spanish paella.

We also found a huge area of vendors giving free samples of their food. I got to try so many different candies, cheeses, drinks, and more. I bought a box of organic Peruvian tea and an alfajor there, which wasn't as good as the homemade ones I get in Huaycan. And there was also a huge area featuring pisco (a type of Peruvian liquor), so I got to try about 8 different free samples of pisco, plus one person gave us pisco sours.

It was another activity centered around food, but I really enjoyed the trip. The food was phenomenal, and the festival was an awesome opportunity. I doubt I'll be able to go to another world-renowned food festival for only $7.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


When I first read LLI's website, I saw that its programs included adult classes, community development, women's programs, and children's education. So when I signed up for this internship, I expected to be learning about and helping with all of those areas, as well as teaching English as is expected of long-term volunteers.

Yet when I first arrived and was given my schedule, I saw that it was completely full of English classes, with two slots for starting math and chess classes. And most of these classes were with kids ranging from 6-13 years old. I was really unsure of this. After all, I've never been a natural teacher. While I've done plenty of one-on-one tutoring, it's always been with people close to my age, and I've never even thought about how I would control and engage a class full of 6-9 year olds.

So from the start, I wasn't sure how good I'd be as a teacher here. But I definitely feel like it's getting better with time. Each of my classes poses completely different challenges, but I feel like I'm finally beginning to figure it all out.

Here's my schedule as it stands now is below. In general, classes run from 10-12 am, 2-5 pm, and then 6-8 pm each day. I don't really have many morning classes, but I have evening classes instead. I used to have evening classes every single night, but I just gave my Sunday conversation club to someone else. The Saturday art/dance class is one that I recently haven't been going to because I have so many other classes that day. But I think I'll start going to it again in the future.

3-5: English and sports for 6-9 year olds (Zone Z 232)
5-6:30: Women's English (Zone Z 232)

10-12: English and sports for 10-13 year olds (Zone D)
2-4: Art and Dance (Zone D)
4-6: Chess (Zone D)
6-8: Women's English (Zone D)
8-9: Private Tutoring

10-11: Math for 6-9 year olds (Zone D)
3-5: Chess (Zone Z 231)

3-5: English and sports for 6-9 year olds (Zone Z 232)
6-7:30: Advanced English (Zone D)

2-3:30: English for 6-9 year olds (Zone I)
3:30-5: English for 10-13 year olds (Zone I)
6-7:30: Intermediate English (Zone D)

When I first started teaching my Zone Z 232 6-9 year old class, the kids were absolutely crazy. I couldn't even get them to be quiet or do any work, and I spent most classes trying to keep them from leaving the classroom or climbing on the tables. I actually considered it a personal victory if I had a class where no one climbed out the windows. But I've been trying out lots of different types of lessons and incentives (stickers!), and it's been getting much better. I actually had a couple of classes where the kids were so perfectly behaved that the other teacher was afraid to enter the class for fear of disrupting it.

My intermediate class has completely changed from when I first got here, but all for the better. When I arrived, there was a basic and intermediate class on Tuesday nights for teens/young adults. (The students are between 16 and 20 years old.) But we realized that in the basic class, there were two levels of students: absolute beginners, and high beginner/low intermediate students. And in my intermediate class were two girls who are currently attending an English college, so their English is amazing, and a boy who is also pretty advanced. So we decided to break up the basic class. The absolute beginners stayed in the basic class, the more advanced people from the basic class formed the intermediate class, and we created an advanced class for the people from the previous intermediate class. And there was one boy who didn't fit perfectly into one level (too advanced for intermediate, not as advanced as the advanced class), so he's currently attending both classes. It's been working great so far. Both classes are so much fun to teach since the students are so interested and smart. We actually got through an entire chapter in the curriculum last night in my advanced class, including a 40 minute conversation, page-long reading activity, two grammar lessons, and more.

My women's class in Zone D is a really great class. I have 10-15 students ranging from 18 to 40 years old, including the lady who cooks for us. At first, the students were pretty afraid to speak, since they didn't want to pronounce it wrong. But then I told them that their pronunciation in English couldn't be much worse than mine in Spanish. And since then, they've been talking a lot! I'm glad my horrible accent is good for something.

What else can I talk about? My Zone I class is funny, since the kids are really smart, but sometimes unmotivated. And they're at the age where the girls and boys give each other a lot of crap during class. My math class is interesting, since I've never had to think about how to teach math in Spanish. And one of my students is a genius. He already knew everything, but when I asked it he had learned it in school, he said that he just knew it. I think I'm going to start private tutoring him, because he's way too advanced for the class. And my Zone D Saturday English class is full of adorable kids.

So the point of this massive post is that I'm really having fun teaching. I never thought of myself as a teacher, and I'm now sure if I still do entirely. After 7 weeks, I still keep trying out new types of worksheets and new activities to figure out how to best teach my students. But I'm liking this far more than I expected.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Why I haven't called or blogged in a while

After a perfectly healthy month here, my body decided to crash and burn. First my digestive system suddenly realized that I'm in Peru and went on strike for an entire week. It was annoying, but easy enough to ignore.

Then a couple of days after I started feeling better, my immune system decided to follow the trend and go on strike as well. I think I caught a cold from a volunteer who only stayed here for a week. Colds aren't a big deal, so I pretty much ignored it.

But my immune system apparently isn't fighting back, since this cold started morphing into something even lovelier, even after two full days of rest. What started out as a runny nose changed into sinus pressure and a sore throat, which led to a cough. I went to a pharmacy and got medicine to deal with the sinus pressure, so that went away completely, and also antibiotics. (I got the medicine checked out by our resident doctor, who said that it's what she would have prescribed.) But then the cough moved from my throat down into my chest, where it's wreaking havoc right now.

So if I promised to call and/or write and haven't, this is why. In theory, the antibiotics will clear this thing up soon, even though they've been ineffective for the last 3 days. And if that doesn't work, two Peruvian women keep giving me herbal remedies that should clear it up. The first attempt worked, but only temporarily, so now they're trying something different, which is doing well so far.

As soon as I feel better, I promise that I'll catch up on the blogging and calls I was supposed to do. It'll just take some time, but it'll definitely happen soon. It's way overdue.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Water Inequality

This is a good article about Peru having the highest inequality for water access in Latin America. Shantytowns like Huaycan are most affected by this, so it's really important to the people I live and work with. Read it.

"Peruvian Time"

Something I learned really quickly here is that people here never come on time to anything. "Peruvian time" refers to the idea that arriving up to an hour late is normal. Peruvians are generally laid back and relaxed, so they say it's not that they're always late, just that they're not in a hurry.

This is especially true for classes. The kids' idea of "on time" is a half hour late, and some kids will even show up 15 minutes before the class ends. It drove me crazy at first, since I still had to arrive on time. If I arrive late, the kids will just arrive later. But I'm now starting to get used to it. I use the time to put my lesson together, relax, eat a snack, and I even wrote out a blog post today waiting for my advanced English students.

That's what makes this article so hilarious. It's from February 2007, and at the time the government was trying to make people more punctual. It was such a problem in government that they named a special type of Peruvian time after the president -- "Cabana time", which means being over 2 hours late. Obviously, this initiative wasn't successful, but I think it's pretty funny.

Chess Club

Photos of the class. The room isn't normally filled with concrete and wheelbarrows. People in the area were building a new canchita nearby at the time, and they used the classroom to store their supplies.

I started a chess class here in Huaycan 6 weeks ago, and I can now safely say that it's becoming a success. The class is in Zone Z UCV 231 with a group of kids who can sometimes be unenthusiastic about classes. Yes, they've started arriving to my class 5 minutes early! This might seem unremarkable, but it's extraordinary for a class that is on Sundays and a group of students who habitually show up a half hour late ("Peruvian time").

The students have been incredibly enthusiastic. Even though the class is 2 hours long, they rarely are ready to pick up the chess boards at the end. And 2 kids were so invested in the game that they started playing for money in my last class. Money hasn't exchanged hands yet, so I technically haven't encouraged gambling in my class.

I think I love the class as much as the kids do. I usually have to work really hard to get the kids to stay in their seat and learn the material (the kids in one of my classes are fond of climbing out the windows). But in this class, they're so excited to play that they can hardly sit still through a lesson. I've started shortening the lengths of my lessons from an hour to only 20 minutes. I've discovered that the kids will read and study all material I give them. So I can briefly explain the important points of my worksheets in class and let them play chess for longer, and I still know that they'll learn the material.

The kids are improving so quickly that I'm almost to the point where I will run out of lessons and they can learn more by just playing. I'm not sure what I'll be teach them in another month, but I'll worry about it when I come to it. For now, I'm just taking it one class at a time. My curriculum so far is below:

Week 1: Names of pieces (in English and Spanish!) and how each moves; how to set up the board properly

Week 2: Rules for check, checkmate, stalemate, and castling; the 3 ways to get out of check

Week 3: Opening strategies (in general); forks

Week 4: Chess notation; basic checkmates (ie double rook, back rank, queen next to the king, etc); 4 move checkmate

Week 5: Opening strategies in response to e4; pins; strategies for each piece, strengths and weaknesses

Week 6: More common checkmates; attacks, defenses, and threats (how to know when to capture or attack pieces)

Plus we do several "find the checkmate in one move" puzzles at the beginning of each class

If anyone reading has ideas about future lessons, please let me know!

For now, I'll just leave you with a fun linguistic fact about Peru. Instead of using "kill", "take", or "capture" to describe taking another piece in chess, Peruvians use the word "comer" or "eat". So instead of having kids yell "He took my queen", they yell "He ate my queen!" I think it's a really awesome way to describe it, and will probably be saying that my pieces were "eaten" by the time I return.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I'm just starting to realize how normal everything is feeling now. It's not like this is a strange place that I'm visiting anymore - it's where I live.

Yesterday during my sports class, I was sitting on the side of the canchita, watching my class and the neighborhood around me. And about 5 minutes later, I realized I hadn't been thinking about how different my surroundings were and inspecting all the weird signs and buildings like I often find myself doing. Instead, it all seemed ordinary to me.

I actually had to do a double take. I realized I had been glancing over an abandoned half-finished building, election posters so covered in dirt they were illegible, little stores that sell "bread, gas, and beer", and a canchita with only one basketball hoop. And I hadn't thought of any of this as different. It seemed normal to me.

A similar thing happened when I was talking with a friend online. He mentioned that cell service in his dorm was really bad. And at the words "cell service", an unexplainable little spark went through my brain. It was almost like the idea of cell phones were foreign and exciting to me. Even though I have one here, I rarely use it and can go at least a day or two without touching it. So despite the fact that I've constantly used my cell phone for years, the idea of using one frequently now seems foreign.

It's a nice situation. I still notice when things are interesting or different, so I don't miss out on new experiences. But I also feel comfortable with the ordinary experiences or sights I encounter everyday, and don't feel like I'm missing things from the US. When a moto driver starts driving down the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic, I don't get scared. When I get into a crowded combi, look down and see a box of chickens at my feet, it's not weird. I just shrug and laugh about it all.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Zone Z 232

Here are pictures of Zone Z 232. The classroom is higher up the mountain and located right near a cemetery. I teach a 6-9 year old English and sports class there twice a week. The class is very tiring, but the kids are so adorable it's completely worth it.

The classroom with the cemetery in the background. I might have already posted this photo before.

A picture of part of my class. From left to right: Nayeli, 5-year-old Willie, Eleana, Raul, and Jose (I think that's his name. He's new and I keep forgetting). And then Tara, another volunteer, in the background

View through the window of Jhim (left) and Alex (right)

Photo taken by another volunteer of me in the classroom

The canchita where we play sports for an hour before English class

The kids playing Duck, Duck, Goose

Zone Z 231

While LLI normally only teaches in one location within each zone, there are three different classrooms in Zone Z. 231 is the location farthest down the mountain, 232 is in the middle, and Los Alamos is all the way at the top of the road going up Zone Z.

I visit Zone Z 231 every Sunday to teach chess, and the kids are absolutely wonderful. Here are some pictures of the classroom and the area around it.

The classroom

Houses built into the side of the mountain surrounding Zone Z

Paths of switchbacks leading up to the houses

House nearby with campaign slogans painted on it

Huaycan - Zone D

I was notified that while my blog has a lot of photos of the food I've been eating, it lacks photos of Huaycan itself. So here's my attempt to remedy that. I'm going to put up several posts, each with photos focusing on a particular area of Huaycan, until my internet connection gives up.

This post includes photos from the area around the house (Zone D). A lot of the photos are taken from the roof because I can see all of Huaycan from there, but there are a couple from the street as well.

They aren't the best photos I've taken. Since it's so dusty in Huaycan, all photos come out a uniform shade of brown. But I'm sure they're good enough to show what the place looks like.

Just a note: all of my photos here appear small, but you can click on any photo to see it a lot larger.

An overview of Huaycan during the day. It's almost completely surrounded by "foothills"

Our street near sunset

Gonzalo, our security guard, in front of our house with his moto

Street near our house

Another view of our street

Houses built up on the foothills surrounding Huaycan

A woman doing her laundry on a rooftop near our house, with a view of Huaycan in the background

Thursday, September 2, 2010

More Lunch Photos

At the risk of making this into a food blog, I wanted to share photos of the awesome food I've had. I've been trying to take photos of my food to share. However, I often forget and start eating immediately since it's so good, and then can't take a photo. Lunch is the big meal here, so all of my photos are from lunch.

Peruvian food is really yummy to begin with, and our cook Dina makes it even better. Every meal except for pasta is served with white rice, and most meals are accompanied by a fried egg. Here are some highlights from the last two weeks.

This dish is called Locro de Zapallo (zapallo means squash). It's basically a bright yellow thick squash puree with choclo, served with a fried egg over rice. It's one of the house favorites, so Dina makes it once a week. We just had it today, and since Dina only cooks one meal each day on our "weekend", I get to eat it again for dinner :)

The above photo is fish, even though it doesn't look like it. When Dina and Sara went to the market to buy same fish as last time, the guy told them that there was a different type of fish that's really good. It's such a dark color that it looked like beef, and actually tasted a bit like it too. We spent part of the meal trying to decide whether it tasted like beefy fish or fishy beef. But it was yummy all the same, though we all prefer the normal fish. Then choclo (one of my favorite vegetables so far) made an appearance, along with a tomato, lettuce, cucumber salad that was seasoned with a lot of lime and a little salt. It was absolutely amazing, and I ended up eating 4 servings of the veggies.

This meal was the first time I've seen non-white rice served for lunch. It was white rice, but covered with herbs and spinach (I think), served with a chunk of chicken and more veggies. Wonderful, again.

Then this pasta was absolutely amazing. Dina blended up spinach into a thick sauce, and added pine nuts and spices to make a spinach pesto. It was served with a fried egg, of course. For my dignity, I'm not going to say how many servings I had of this dish.

On another note, tomatoes here are wonderful. They fall just below creole tomatoes and light years above California tomatoes. As I type this, I'm eating a tomato sandwich, and I ate a tomato just like you would eat an apple as a snack earlier today. Other than that, the avocados are amazing, so we occasionally buy 5 or more of them and make a huge batch of guacamole for dinner.