The content of this webpage, and everything associated with this webpage, is independent of the Peace Corps and the United States Government, though I think they should read it too. This blog solely reflects the experiences and observations of Jake DeBerry.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Day in the Life

Peace Corps is not a standard 9 to 5 job and every Peace Corps experience is different (though there are similarities), so describing a typical day is difficult. I try to mainly blog about the fun things, but there should be some funny things in this one, though it's a description of the ordinary.

My day yesterday wasn’t particularly interesting. I woke up around 7am...pretty standard. I rarely ever wake up to an alarm clock. I wake up naturally around then and there are very few instances of meetings before that time. I dislike alarm clocks and their symbolism. I look at them as a Pavlovian bell to the rat race.

After getting up, I go out to the sink and there is no water from the tap, though that’s not unusual, in fact, it’s more common than having water. Not having any water is probably the most annoying aspect of my Peace Corps service to me. So no washing my face or flushing the toilet or rinsing off my toothbrush, but there is some water in a barrel I can use to rinse off a couple dishes for breakfast that I didn’t do the night before, because there was no water. Then, almost everyday, my breakfast is a Peruvian version of Honey Nut Cheerios, sliced banana, granola and then mix with lucuma yogurt, there is no such thing as fresh cold milk (which is a detriment to me, I drink about a gallon a week in the states). Lucuma is a fruit here that I’ve never tasted before, and it’s delicious. I also have coffee from a French press…the coffee is grown about 2 hours away from me, from another volunteer’s site. It’s the best coffee I have ever had, it’s so fresh!

The water situation is interesting. I have a few 2.5 liter bottles in my room that I fill when there is water. I use this for drinking water, after boiling. However, if I just fill them up with the tap turned on, the water will come out brownish or relatively clear with brown stuff floating in it. But if I just leave the tap at a drip, then leave the water bottle under it to catch the drip, though it takes longer, the water comes out cleaner (to the naked eye). I used to buy the big water jugs from stores, but that got expensive. So, as part of a Peace Corps budget, I use the ‘drip method’. The water in the bucket/barrel is usually yellowish because most of the dirt has drifted to the bottom, but the bugs stay to the top. I don’t drink that water…though I sometimes boil noodles with it.

Around 9am I walked to the artisan center, my primary project, and no one was there. Again, not surprising. Two weeks ago, we agreed that people would work on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (and today is Thursday). Out of 18 members of the association, 12 had come to that meeting. There are two separate groups of 9 and they would alternate those days. I mentioned two days a week might be better, just to get things going. Three days a week, I thought, might be too much to ask. They went with three days.

So I walked back down the hill and to the house of the president of the association. We start chatting so I mention that no one is at the center and ask if he thinks the group will actually follow through on the agreements of the last meeting. Probably not. Unrelated to the association, he has some documents to deliver to Paltay, a town about 30 to 40 minutes by foot. So we set off, on the way I bring up the website and we discuss ideas for it. He has never used a computer, other than with me, so he doesn’t really have many ideas. The typewriter is the most popular writing device in my town.

I should mention the previous Monday was the town anniversary. The custom here is to celebrate birthdays and holidays the day before, that way once midnight hits, you’re celebrating. The party continues into the next day usually. Sunday night I drank a lot and danced around like an idiot (which everyone loves)…then Monday around 2pm, as I’m walking towards the plaza, which still hasn’t been completed though they’ve already had the inaugural party for it (they’ve been working on it since before I arrived), the group of guys is drinking. There is going to be a concert later in the evening, between 4 and 8, of traditional music. Well, let’s start drinking. It was actually a lot of fun – it was raining the entire time but everyone just got wet and danced. So, because this happened earlier this week, it’s expected that things will still be relatively calm.

On our way back from delivering documents, we take a grass path back home, not along the main road. I, of course, carry a rock the entire time I’m walking in case some dog decides he doesn’t like me. Dogs back off when you act like you’re going to throw a rock at them. Luckily, I don’t have to use it. We get back around noon. All that walking, I’m pretty thirsty and I don’t have any drinking water ready. I would have to boil some and I have a hankering for a soda…so I look for a soda – of course, there aren’t any cold sodas anywhere around. I talk to the woman who has a refrigerator in her store and tell her she should put some sodas in there. She says drinking cold drinks will give you throat problems – which everyone here truly believes. I try to educate her on the topic but I don’t think she believes me. And since everyone else believes that, cold sodas don’t sell.

Once I’m back home, I make lunch. Lunch is usually a couple of fried eggs and some toast (the one electrical kitchen appliance I have is a toaster), maybe some vegetables. But today, one of the ladies in the market killed a couple of chickens to sell, so I bought a chicken breast, which is going to be a pain taking off the bone, cutting, and washing my hands afterwards because there is still no water, but there is still some water in the bucket, that’ll work. I take it off the bone, cut it up, throw some flour on it and cook it with some oil. I use some Frank’s Hot Sauce on it, which a friend sent me from the states, which is amazing. I also made some mac n’ cheese (I found a store in the main city where I can buy it for 3 soles/1 dollar).

Between one and three, nothing is going on. During that time, if I look down the street, one of the main streets in my town, I won’t see anyone. So, during this time I usually read, play guitar, study Spanish, work on something, or watch a movie. Due to the Grammy’s back home, a lot of quality DVD’s are out now, all pirated. Basically, someone who has access leaks the original (to be viewed for award consideration only) and then it gets copied and burned and is in all the DVD shops here. This way is much better than the new films that are recorded by a viewer in the actual theater, the sound and visual quality is not that good, not to mention when someone gets up in front of the person filming. The movie pirates put on Spanish subtitles and often times, the translations are incorrect. There is actually not a single place I could buy an original DVD or music CD in Huaraz, a city of 80,000 people. Anyhow, these pirated movies cost 3 soles/1 dollar, pretty good deal.

I recently bought “Slumdog Millionare” since a friend back in DC mentioned it was good. The title in Spanish on the DVD cover is “Quien Queire Ser Millonario?”, which translated is “Who wants to be a millionaire?” So I decide to watch that…and if you haven’t seen it, I certainly recommend it.

After the movie I work on the website a little bit, though I’ve never done one so it’s a slow process. But I hope to have it up soon…so be on the lookout. Around 5:30pm some people are playing volleyball, so I go down and play too. Volleyball is the second most popular sport in Peru, after soccer. Everyone knows how to play well. I’m quite the commodity because I’m taller than everyone…even though I’m only 5’11”. I don’t play that frequently, but it’s not raining, so I take advantage.

I’m home around 7pm and start to cook dinner while listening to music on my laptop. Dinner, Monday through Thursday, is usually ramen noodles…gross, yeah. But it’s cheap and perfect for a Peace Corps budget. I’ll usually throw in some vegetables and an egg. Friday through Sunday I’ll usually spend a little more and make something more palatable, like stir-fry, alfredo, or spaghetti with tuna. The water from the faucet is back on, so I can wash dishes and start filling up water bottles. Around 7:30pm, I turn off the lights and music, light a candle and practice meditating for 30 minutes. I’ve been trying to teach myself to meditate for a couple months…though I’m no good at it, but I keep trying a couple times a week.

A little after 8pm, Aldo shows up. He’s pretty much the last-man-standing from English classes, he’s 25, has a good heart, and lives with parents (as does everyone who is not married). We used to use a room upstairs, but since we don’t have a big group anymore, we just use my room to avoid paying rent on the other room. His progress in English is impressive. Every so often a couple others might show up too. I like it though when it’s only Aldo because he works hard and we can do more when it’s only us. We work on English and talk about other stuff until around 9:45pm. Once he leaves I get ready for bed. Luckily, there is still water from the tap, so I can wash my face…though the water is freakishly cold and my hands will be cold for the next 30 minutes.

I lie down in bed and read until about 11ish. Right now I’m reading a book called the “Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity”. It’s a book that focuses on the aid situation in Somalia during the 80’s and 90’s and how it was a catalyst to deteriorating the society. The author was a previous Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and then worked in Somalia for 5 years dealing with food aid. The book also goes into detail about the hypocrisies and bureaucracy and corruption of today’s “development organizations” like CARE and Save the Children.

Anyhow, so there is a typical day, but like I said, there really isn’t a typical day.
Much love,

I just wanted to include this - I got this email from my Dad today. If you remember, there is a picture of me while in the jungle holding a sloth making a silly this was the attempt to look like me...maybe making fun of me too? Pretty funny though! (Yes, we look alike)


Blogger Eric said...

I didn't question it was you 'til you mentioned it, then I had to look twice!

February 6, 2009 at 2:23 PM

Blogger coderifous said...

I love reading your posts, Jake. The pics are great too. I brag about you like your my kid.

Let me know if I can help at all with that website you are talking about.

February 6, 2009 at 5:00 PM


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