Sunday, March 15, 2009

Home sweet home

Well, I arrived in Madison at 4PM on Tuesday, a very tired woman after a trip full of plane cancellations and missed connections. Sean picked me up, deposited me with my luggage at Bridget’s house where I am resting and eating good food. I finally went to the kitchen and drank water from the tap with only a little trepidation. I’m sleeping a lot!

I’m glad I went to Peru with the Peace Corps and I’m glad to be home. I am very, very tired but well with no lingering illnesses. Now that I’m home and resting, I question whether I ever could have completed 2 years in that challenging environment and occasionally wonder if asking for a site change would have enabled me to complete my service. I’m sad about coming home after only 6 months and have a feeling of loss for not having done the work I wanted to do in La Cruz.

Despite coming home early, I have a sense of gratitude for:
• Improved language skill. My 2nd day home, I went for lunch at my favorite Mexican cafĂ© and the owner was astonished at my changed conversational ability.
• Wonderful friendships that reach across a 40+ year age difference as we learned together, laughed together and moaned over the tough times together.
• I got over my fear of traveling around by combi, moto, and by flagging down random cars on the Pan American highway.
• I had a hands-on experience in simple living and hope that the knowledge of how little I need to be happy stays with me the rest of my days.
• I have wonderful friendships in La Cruz and can stay connected through the wonders of e-mail and Skype.
• My host family had never known anyone from the US and now they have a friend from Wisconsin.
• The youth group leader, Henry plans to go to the municipality with my host mother to request another Peace Corps volunteer because they see the possibility for support in community development.

I’ll miss people and aspects of Peace Corps life a lot, especially
• Robyn and Sarah, good friends, smart, capable women, great support and the best people to have nearby in the north of Peru!
• My host family, especially my host mom, Sylveria who is one of the most committed community activists I’ve ever met.
• All the great people in my group, Peru 12. We had so much fun together.
• The ride from La Cruz to Tumbes in beat up old cars driving through the beautiful green rice fields full of egrets.
• The children on my street running toward me with open arms hollering for hugs from Sarita.
• The adolescents in the youth groups who were open and welcoming.
• The ocean, the beautiful, beautiful ocean. Swimming in the ocean with my host family, with my Peace Corps friends and with the children.
• The good humor of the hard working staff at Central de Salud in La Cruz.
• Hanging out on the front porch in the evenings with my host family and half the neighborhood.
• The music, dance and laughter that are so much a part of Peruvian culture.

Of course I won’t miss
• Looking at food wondering how sick I’ll get if I eat it
• Trying to sleep in a very noisy environment
• Dogs, dogs, dogs barking all night.
• 22 hour bus rides to get from La Cruz to Lima
• Flies everywhere, covering the food at the market and swarming the kitchens
• Not having water for days at a time and boiling water to drink.
• Getting sick regularly, always on the lookout for a bathroom and always with a supply of toilet paper in my pocket.

I’m keenly aware of all the support I received from family and friends through this whole time period. I couldn’t have done it without both the material support and encouragement, especially Helen who was my banker and business manager. She cheerfully gave back my checkbook this week. All the comments on my blog felt like a cheering section, especially when I felt like I was running a marathon.

One tired, retired and returned Peace Corps volunteer!


Monday, March 9, 2009

Waiting to fly home

So, as I wait in an airport hotel to get onto a flight home (last night’s flight out of Lima was canceled), I reflect on this incredible adventure with both gratitude and sadness. The goodbyes to my friends in La Cruz and my Peace Corps friends have been very tearful. Yesterday I sat in a park in Lima calling my family and friends in La Cruz. When I said goodbye to Henry, the youth group leader, he put his sisters, Gasdaly age 15 and Danuska age 8 on the phone. They were both in my English classes and little Danuska said her goodbyes in English. Henry and I had gotten to the point of teasing each other and joking in both languages. We had plans for work together with his teen group and many long conversations.

Then I said my goodbye to Gladys, the midwife in La Cruz who had been concerned about my weight loss and illnesses. We too had plans to develop a prenatal education program, childbirth classes and more. I have so much respect for the staff at the health center who provide the best care possible in difficult circumstances. The birth room at the health center has the barest equipment and no water. Last year, they lost 2 women to eclampsia, one because her family wouldn’t take her to the hospital in Tumbes.

I said goodbye to my host family. We’ll miss each other a lot as the connection there was strong. Robyn and Sarah will help my host mom get an e-mail address so we can keep in touch. My host mom and Henry are planning on going to the mayor to write a letter to the Peace Corps requesting another volunteer. Sylveria said to me, “We’d never known anyone from the United States and now we have a friend there!”

Sarah Walker once said that we have two lives here, one with our host family and community, the other with our Peace Corps friends with both being important. She’s quite right as those connections with the other volunteers who understand what you are going through and can laugh with you are vital. I never dreamed 6 months ago when I walked into a hotel in Washington DC that I’d have friendships with people 40 years younger than me. I’ll miss Sarah and Robyn a lot along with lots of other fine people in the wacky group that made up Peru 12. There will be care packages in the mail…

I said goodbye to the dream of completing 2 years in the Peace Corps. I must say, I’m ok with the decision to return to the states even though I’m disappointed. I still think the Peace Corps goals are important and attainable. While I didn’t carry out my work plan, I know the goals of increasing understanding and friendship have been met. I hope to talk about Peru, its people and challenges when I return to Wisconsin.

I also hope to sort out my thoughts and feelings about being an older volunteer in the Peace Corps which has a stated goal of 10% volunteers over 55. Pretty tough even for this woman who left the US in good health with a lot of camping experience so the latrines and bucket baths were not ever a problem. On the other hand, when I was tempted to say that I couldn’t do this because of my age, Michael McGuire reminded me that a number of young people have gone home early for similar reasons, some people’s digestive systems never adjust to the bugs. Speaking of which, I do hope I don’t bring any home with me! When I was repacking my things, a half dead cockroach crawled out of my suitcase. I couldn’t stop laughing!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Getting ready to fly home

I flew to Lima yesterday and am staying at the home of Kathleen and Leo. Kathleen is training center director for Peace Corps here and most generous with her support. I´m very weak and tired so I expect to mostly rest until my friends, Robyn, Sarah and Michael get my things packed in La Cruz and transported to Lima this weekend. Then I´ll be on a plane home by Monday at the latest.

I´m quite disappointed not to be fulfilling the 2 years here. I shed tears telling the midwife that I won´t be returning to La Cruz as we had great plans to develop a prenatal education program for the clinic there. However, all the prenatal materials sent by my friends in the US will be hers to use now. She especially loved Mientras Espera, the Spanish prenatal book. More tears saying goodbye to my La Cruz family and my Tumbes Peace Corps friends. Robyn and Sarah are the women you want to be with at the beach, in the campo and about any other adventure!

I wouldn´t have missed it for anything. I would never have known how far I could stretch, would never have met such great people and seen first hand how difficult life is in a developing country.



Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tough decision

Well, this last illness scared me. I've lost 30 pounds in my 5 months in Peru and no longer feel I have the physical reserves needed to continue Peace Corps service. I am aware that my ability to rebound is significantly different from the younger volunteers. I have begun to dread more illness and know that they are inevitable in the challenging living circumstances.

So it is with a great deal of regret and sadness that I have made the decision to return to the United States. I'll be resting for about a week before returning to La Cruz to say my goodbyes and pack. Then on to Lima for Peace Corps final processes and home to Madison.

I fully expected to serve 2 years. I'd like to have given back to the community a small measure of the love and support I received from the people. I had projects lined up that would have been quite satisfying to bring to fruition. I'd like to travel in Peru and see more of it's incredible diversity. I've made great friends who I'll miss dearly.

Ryan asked me last night if I regretted coming. No,not for a moment.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rough patch in Peru

Well, this PC volunteer has indeed hit a rough patch. I’ve had a couple of illnesses that have laid me low and necessitated me going to a city 5 hours south of my site for medical care and rest. No weird tropical diseases, nothing I won’t bounce back from but tough.

Right now I am staying in a hostel, eating Jello and sipping Gatorade. I may never want to see Gatorade again! And I do hope never to have another combi ride like the one that brought me here. I’ll spare you the details except for my gratitude to a woman on the ride down. My host brother had helped me get to the combi and saw that I had a window seat. As passengers were getting on, they started grumbling about the gringa having the window seat. One woman piped up and said, “The gringa is sick, she’s nauseated, she needs the window”. Bless that woman.

Actually, I have a lot to be grateful for including the patient Peace Corps docs who answer the phone whenever I call and arranges for good care. The my PC friends who call to check on me, the volunteers here in Piura who have brought me food and drink and all the support from home.

Needless to say, I’m discouraged waiting for energy and appetite to rebound.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stretch your limits

Part of life in the Peace Corps is dealing with the inevitable illnesses that are brought on by food, water and insects. I’ve been slowed down several times this month with frustrating intestinal illnesses that take time and energy. Fortunately we have great doctors on call, lots of raunchy humor about our conditions and medications when needed. I often look at food with suspicion and regret every bad decision! And with the stress of illness, I’ve been homesick this week. My host mother asked what I would be eating in the US and I couldn’t answer, everything is so different here. When we talked about rice, I tried to explain brown rice. My family said, “it must be toasted” or “it must be precooked” but consider it inedible with the hull. I compared it to whole wheat with no better success. They figured the problem was my Spanish so I called my friend Sarah who validated I’d been using the right words.

When the rains come, flies emerge and are everywhere all the time. Water is more contaminated than usual which makes washing fruit and vegetables difficult so even with boiling all my water, I’ve caught the bug. When I am talking with families about water, most boil water only for the smallest children while the adults drink crude water. I’ll never view water the same way again both because water in the US is plentiful and clean from the tap. We’ve been getting water every 4-5 days during the rainy season so I’ve learned to really use my tank conservatively. I can’t explain why we get so little water when it’s raining and rivers are full. Roofs don’t have gutters so collecting rain This week the dengue patrol came to my house inspecting my tank to see if it was clean and covered (it was!).

Now there are more mosquitoes and at first I was surprised to see how much fear people have of them as I think about the hoards of mosquitoes in Wisconsin every summer. But mosquitoes in the US don’t carry dengue or malaria which changes perception of them a lot. The question that comes to me frequently is if mosquitoes carry HIV as they go from person to person biting. When I say, “No, the virus dies in the mosquito stomach”, the next question is “Why don’t they study what kills the virus in the mosquito stomach”. One of my medical friends could send me a better explanation of this!

I have a sticker on my notebook here that says “Stretch your Limits” and I certainly have done many things I never thought I could. This last weekend, my friend Robyn brought 20 kids from her youth group to the beach for the day. Some of the kids from a youth group here joined them and started up a game of volleyball on the beach. Now I hated volleyball in high school and never played it again after graduation 48 years ago. I planned to watch and take photos but the kids really wanted me to play so I stretched my limits. I’m pleased to say I can still serve volleyball. When it came to volleying back and forth, my technique sent them rolling in laughter in the sand, especially when I ducked and covered my head exactly as I had done in high school. Now they want to give me lessons. I think I should act my age…

So that’s the news from Peace Corps Peru.
Sara aka Sarita

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pest control

Since it´s the rainy season here, bugs are multiplying rapidly including mosquitos. Dengue fever and malaria are endemic here as is vigilance against the diseases. There have been no cases of dengue in La Cruz and few cases of malaria. This Peace Corps volunteer is faithfully taking her anti-malaria medicine. The health post people are busy going door to door looking for standing water that is not covered, cleaning water tanks and putting some chemical in them that kills the larvae of mosquitos (only if they find larva). Saturday, the health clinic is closed while all the personnel go house to house on this campaign.

The other part of this battle is waged with pesticides. Last night as my English class was ending, I heard a horrible racket in the neighborhood. The door to door pesticide men were out in full force with portable machines that fog homes. Houses all over the neighborhood were emitting clouds of pesticides, the kids were running through the clouds shrieking and I was unglued. I´ve had all of 2 mosquito bites in my time here as the ocean breezes keep the mosquitos at bay in La Cruz. Today the pesticide crew was in my barrio and I stood at my door like a cross cat to make sure they didn´t fog my little house.

Rain last night and my roof leaked with drops on my bed. I was so tired that I put a washbasin on the bed under the drip and went back to sleep. Today my host brothers are mobilizing to patch the roof. And as I went house to house doing interviews today, I was very aware that my living space is luxurious for a single person here. I have a cement floor, cement walls and lots of space. My water tank lasts for 4 days if I am careful. Who could ask for more!