New Year

Wow, I’ve been slacking lately. It seems as though I have a lot of things to catch you up on.

We’ll start with a brief discussion/description of my volunteer job. As I already mentioned, I’m teaching English for a school called Espaanglisch. It’s a slightly disorganized operation, so I’m pretty much left to figure out everything on my own. We have very few books (and I don’t really like the ones we do have) and almost no other materials. The classroom is not so much a room as a space, since it doesn’t even have a roof. There is electricity though, so I don’t have to teach in the dark. The students have desks (you know, those one-piece desk-and-chair combo deals) and the room has a large white board for me. The walls are made of muddy bricks and the floor is dirt. Usually the desks are coated in a layer of dirt as well. I’m just trying to set the scene for you.

I teach 3 classes a day, 4 days a week. First up is the Kids’ English class. I co-teach this one with Paul, who hails from Ireland. Together we try to live through an hour of class with about ten 8-13 year-olds. We play games like Pictionary or Bingo; sing songs like The Hokey-Pokey and Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes; and color pictures with vocab words. Mostly, I just try to survive. Some days our lesson is a hit, some days it flops and they just want to run around. Usually I leave crying or with a headache. Just kidding….the kids can be cute little monsters sometimes.

At night I teach two more classes by myself. Each class usually has 1-6 adults in it. Attendance is rather fluid. The first one is more or less beginner level and the second is for students who can already speak and understand simple sentences fairly well. We work on pronunciation, vocab, and grammar in both classes, with a conversation element in the more advanced class. I like teaching these classes, but often have to decide what to teach shortly before class begins. Some materials would certainly make my life easier. Ah well…

Mike and I have been taking it pretty easy since we got to Huanchaco — we’ve kind of turned into homebodies. We’ve been doing lots of reading and Internet surfing. I have developed a sick obsession with politics lately, and I find myself on more often than is healthy. I suppose with my ASU online courses kicking off again next week I will soon be too busy to waste my time watching news clips.

Along the lines of the last post, I have a few more anecdotes/observations to share with you:

1) Grocery stores are fascinating places in Peru. Most are little more than a convenience store, in truth. The one next door to our apartment, the one I previously described as “the largest grocery store in Huanchaco,” is no bigger than our one-room apartment. Nevertheless, it carries most essentials like sugar, flour, milk, eggs, fruits, veggies, corn flakes, and Coke. If we want anything special we have to go to the big grocery store in Trujillo.

The grocery store in Trujillo is in a Tottus, which is basically a Super Target. While the grocery section is easily 20 times the size of our grocery next door, it only carries twice as much in terms of variety. “Why does such a huge store have such a pathetic inventory?” you might ask. Because they fill the shelves with thousands of whatever they do have in stock, of course! No room for anything else.

One aisle in the Tottus was devoted to vegetable oil. I’m talking 47 feet long, by 5 shelves high, by three feet deep of vegetable oil. There were a few different brands, sure, but c’mon! I don’t know about you, but when I buy vegetable oil it lasts for a good long time. I use a third of a cup to bake a cake every now and then and that’s it. One bottle might last me 6 months or more. Of course, the vegetable oil is merely an example. Try the rice aisle, the tea aisle or the Inca Kola aisle, and you get pretty much the same phenomenon repeated.

Peruvians have the option to buy more items from a bin as well. You know how some movie theaters sell candy in bulk? It’s the same idea. Pick up a scoop and you can measure out the perfect amount of flour, rice, sugar, pasta, beans, spice, or even french fries. Of course, your selection won’t be as sanitary as those neatly packaged items an aisle or two over — flies and even licked fingers go delving into the sugar.

I do have to admire the produce section, however, because as I’ve mentioned before there are loads of fruits and veggies that we don’t see in the States. And many of the fruits or veggies we do have are far cheaper in Peru.

2) Watching the escalator can be nearly as much fun as watching a comedy show. Many people in Peru have never seen escalators before, but the new mall in Trujillo has a pair in each of the two large department stores. Stand at the bottom where people get on, and you’re in for a treat. There are often lines backed up because almost everyone pauses and looks at their feet before cautiously edging onto the crazy moving staircase. Old ladies often have to be guided on by a brave young man after a minute of contemplating the frightening “electric ladder,” as Peruvians call it. Some people take giant steps or time things perfectly so they can be sure to stand on a whole step rather than a crack. Mike just stands at the bottom and stares at the people, blantantly laughing at them. I find the spectacle equally amusing, but feel a bit awkward gawping as he does. It’s quite funny to watch, though.

Well, that’s all I can think of now for “Peruvian Phenomena that Amuse Us,” but we’ll be on the lookout for funny cultural differences. Now, onto some way overdue pictures:

There are loads of oil wells like this one in the deserts of northern Peru.

This is a typical Peruvian shanty town. Peru appears to be quite a bit poorer than Ecuador is.

How would you feel if you had to bike across miles of desert with strong headwinds…

….with sand or garbage the only scenery?

Mike calls this photo “Peruvian Shoe Store.”

I’ll admit that the sand dunes looked pretty cool, even though I was less than pleased about the rest of the desert.

The scenery changed whenever we got close to a town. In one section, rice was a common crop.

It looks a lot like southeast Asia, except for the mountains in the background and, as Mike says, the lack of pointy hats.

Yay! Rice!

The sign says, “Smile…you’re in Pacasmayo,” but I didn’t really feel like smiling at that point. Besides, we were still a good 5 km from Pacasmayo and the wind was brutal that day! Looking back, this stunning photo of Mike makes me smile, though.

Inca Kola is the choice beverage in Peru, but it’s pretty nasty. Tastes like bubblegum. Bleh.

Pacasmayo turned out to be a pretty nice town. Look at this pretty church, for example.

Pacasmayo has one of the longest piers in Peru.

It also has a giant cement factory.

Because it is right on the ocean, Pacasmayo has a strong fishing industry. Here, some fishermen are repairing the nets.

Not all of the boats were out to sea.

Pacasmayo had several lovely parks, but sadly the seahorse fountain was not working. This is not too surprising, however. It’s worthwhile to note that the town is in shambles behind this elaborate fountain, which is also typical. Due to all of the construction and all of the unfinished projects we see, Mike likes to joke that the motto or slogan for this counry should be “Peru: Coming soon…”

This was weird. Out of nowhere this giant chicken restaurant appeared in the desert. There was a tollboth nearby, but literally nothing else. The closest buildings were mere shanties.

Okay, this brings me to the end of my current post. I have only one more image to leave you with:

This is a life-size doll, dressed in its owner’s old clothes, and ready to burn. This is one of many New Year’s Eve traditions in Peru. The symbolism is rather obvious, I think — basically, you say good-bye to the old you and make room for a new year. In order to ensure that it is a good year, you wear lucky yellow underwear and eat 12 grapes under the table (one for each month). If you plan to do any traveling, you pick up your suitcases and run around the block, which will make your travels smooth and enjoyable.

Far fewer Peruvians seem to have guns than Hondurans or Guatemalans (for instance), so it’s NOT a tradition to shoot your gun into the air at midnight. Fireworks do just fine.

Well, I hope 2008 is going well for you so far!

2 Responses to “New Year”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Yay! A new post!!I’m glad you made it out of that desert okay – that part did not sound fun. Love the sexy Mike picture! I think you had a lot of people fooled with your ‘run around the block with your suitcase’ answer. That totally sounded like something you and Mike would make up. Hope you enjoy being in one place for awhile.Love ya, mom

  2. Josh says:

    Hehe, I think Inca Kola is what Sarah Michal is in love with now after their trip down to Peru. She pulled a bottle of it out at the last gathering over at Steve’s house. I did not try any of it, it looked scary.

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