Saturday, April 23, 2016

Birthdays and Earth Day

Gosh, it can be weird starting (and ending) a blog entry. I've started this over at least three times now, which is silly, so I'll just jump in.

I'm glad this week is over.
I am feeling increasingly comfortable with my role at FSD, and this week I started feeling like I was running out of things to read and do to prepare myself, especially when we won't see interns until early June. Yes, you read that right, early June. It's been really interesting working as part of a team in Kenya when the other half of operations is ten hours behind. I guess it's nice in that if I don't get around to doing something right away in the morning and have to put it off until the afternoon, it's not always a huge deal, since they're sleeping and won't see it until I've left work anyway. It can be frustrating though, since if someone is out of the office, or doesn't respond within the day, it means another full day of waiting. The first few days this week involved a lot of waiting. Welcome back to Africa, Katie.

Thursday was tough for other reasons. Even my run in the morning wasn't great. I woke up feeling off, and was on the verge of getting upset with myself, but when I got to work and realized the date, I understood (or at least partially rationalized). It would have been Dan's 29th birthday. It's interesting - I think that because some of my fondest memories with him were traveling around Europe, and some of my most enjoyable travels after studying abroad were with him, he's on my mind more when I'm traveling or in unfamiliar places.

After almost three weeks in country with little "real" social interaction (spending time with people, by choice, outside of work, for the purpose of enjoyment), I decided it was time to venture out of Kakamega to meet up with several friends from grad school who are also working in this part of Kenya. In fact, one had a birthday on Friday, so I met a handful of the expat staff and we had a lovely potluck dinner. I was also fortunate to be able to lump this visit in with an invitation from One Acre Fund to come to Bungoma and see where they operate, as well as some of their programs. If you're not familiar with One Acre Fund, look them up. Really, do it. They're an incredible organization, working with farmers in four different African countries, and doing seriously amazing work.

To give some idea of the scale of what they do: I had the opportunity to go into the field with a field officer (one of over 30 for Bungoma's south district alone), who is the contact person for 110 local farmers; some field officers work with closer to 140 farmers (in Kenya, they work with ~135,000 farmers... that's quite a few). We were driven (along with two others from the office) maybe 20 minutes outside of the center of town along rural (very bumpy) dirt roads until I was completely turned around, and then got out at a field where half a dozen people were planting. They were not One Acre farmers, as One Acre farmers had received their farming inputs and planted a couple weeks prior, but told us they were using One Acre methods, and hoping that they could enroll next season, as they had seen the benefits of being One Acre farmers. They then invited me to help them plant a row of maize.

Let's talk for a second about humbling experiences. Seeing the rope they'd stretched the width of the field (with knots tied every 8-10 inches to mark where each individual seed should go), and seeing how they worked across the field, perfectly aligning the deepest part of each hoe-swing with the little knots in the rope was pretty remarkable. I was then handed the jembe (hoe) and they insisted it was my turn... to take the jembe down the row, followed by a small scoop of fertilizer in each hole, then covering it up with a thin layer of dirt before placing one maize seed in each hole and covering it with more dirt. Wow.

My family has always had backyard gardens with the iconic summer fruits and vegetables (lettuce, carrots, raspberries, tomatoes, etc), and I've helped plant those. I even had my own garden in Lesotho, and a shared garden in Minneapolis, but this was something entirely different. This maize in this field likely represented a fairly significant portion of their entire livelihood, and not only were they planting it seed by seed, they were entrusting a portion of that to me, a mzungu (white person) with zero legit farm cred (as could be seen in my crooked row, unevenly spaced maize seeds, and embarrassed laughter). Maybe maize is something that even I couldn't really screw up, and they weren't really risking much by letting me work that row, but I don't think that would've changed their dispositions or eagerness to share their pride in the field and in their work with me.
Opening the bag of fertilizer

Apparently dirt feels good on your bare butt

The marker stick - you can see the knots along the rope

Demonstrating how to appropriately space the spots for seeds

My turn to try!

Laughing because it is more difficult than it looks

Small scoops of fertilizer into each hole

Another demonstration: how to cover something with dirt :)

Planting maize seeds (which are pink!)

I realized later that it was Earth Day, and couldn't help but grin.

Weeding the older plot
Two weeks old! So cute.
From there, we saw the plots of a farmer who did work with One Acre, and I was again handed a jembe - this time to weed the rows, which had been planted earlier this month. It was neat to see the progression, from bare field to little green sprouts in neat rows (with lots of other green - weeds - in between the rows).

Lots of chickens - 
The last stop on my tour was the livestock research station, where they grow and experiment with several kinds of feed for cows, as well as different breeds of cattle and chickens, including one they call the "local" breeds. They had an adorable 2-week calf, who I befriended, and almost a dozen other very curious cows. There were five different chicken coops; the birds were separated based on the type of bird and amount/type of food they received. From the coop/house, they had long, narrow stretches of ground, which extended into a sort of yard, and there was no fence enclosing the far end! Apparently the chickens knew enough to return to the same yard and house each night, even if the food was different on the other side of the fence. I don't know a ton about chickens (even as the egg lady at my school in Lesotho), so I don't know if we call it smart or dumb, but I was really impressed.

Seeing familiar faces (and meeting new faces) in the evening was a treat, and a very enjoyable way of ending the day. I know some very motivated, talented people who are doing some really meaningful work. Even a slight change in environment has been refreshing. The gorgeous banda (round hut) where I've stayed the last two nights has wifi (not to obsess over having internet access or not, but wow, is it nice), and I've been able to stream the Current's Prince tribute while writing this... it feels right.

I'm optimistic that this next work week will be busier and a little more interesting. It's hard to believe that May is just around the corner.

Love from Kenya,

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Karibu Kenya

I’ve been in Kenya for just over two weeks now, and after assuring many people back home that I did indeed intend on blogging while abroad, I’m finally writing. And so it begins...

After perhaps the most stressful departure I have experienced (I don’t recommend trying to travel with a ticket where your name has been misspelled – TSA doesn’t especially appreciate it), my long layover in Amsterdam was perfect. I found my way to the center of town and met a dear friend for lunch outside on one of their first real spring days, followed by a bike tour of the city, complete with several stops for beer. One more overnight flight, and I made it to Nairobi, only to find out that my luggage had not left Amsterdam. Whether or not this was my fault, I’m still unsure, but there was nothing I could do except talk to the desk to figure out when/how I could get my luggage and be thankful that I’d thought to pack a spare outfit in my carry-on.

I arrived in Kisumu and was greeted by Peter, my supervisor, who remarked as to how well I had heeded his advice to “pack light.” Hah. I explained what had happened, and we were off to Kakamega, my new home.

My position with Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) is only a six-month contract, so this international stint has already been very different from my experience in Lesotho. No pre-departure staging in Philly. No group of volunteers to travel with, to compare anxieties and aspirations as we crossed the Atlantic and the equator. No central training center to stay in, no official language instruction, no other Americans. This time, I’m largely in charge of my own training, doing a lot of learning on the fly.

Kakamega is a town of about 80,000 (I’ve seen different numbers from different sources), just across the equator from Kisumu. The neighborhood where I’m staying is definitely in a nicer area of town – it’s mostly pretty quiet and very safe. Unlike my home in Lesotho (which I very much liked for the most part), I have reliable running water, semi-reliable electricity, a hot shower, a fridge, and a few other kitchen appliances I never could’ve dreamed of in Lesotho (microwave, toaster, waffle maker?!). Plus a TV and DVD player in my sitting room! I’ve been reminded, however, that although I pay rent, I am in no way am I the sole inhabitant of the house. At least one rat lives in the ceiling, and I’ve seen three slugs (one was at least six inches long, and the other two made it into my bathroom and bedroom), a handful of gecko/lizards, many (big) moths, and countless other insects. At the end of the day, I’m thankful for the mosquito net above my bed.

The FSD office is in the busy part of town, a 15-20 minute walk from my house, depending on how long it takes to cross the two main roads, which can be quite an undertaking as there are bicycles, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, plus normal cars and trucks, all competing for space, traveling different speeds (along the left side of the road), equally unconcerned with pedestrians. I’ve discovered that if I can time my crossing to coincide with that of a local, I’m usually safe.

Work has been a lot of reading, trying to learn my way around both geographically and in terms of policies and procedures. The first interns won’t arrive until June 11, but there’s plenty of prep with host organizations and host families. I’m working on learning Swahili, but it’s slow going without formal instruction, and my brain commonly reverts to Sesotho or Spanish. I went with my supervisor to see the host organizations last week, and meet with the individuals who will be guiding our interns and their work. I’m reminded how well I learn both by seeing and by doing. The others in the office laugh at my requests for them to show me where something is located on a map (I think I have my father to thank for the map infatuation).

Speaking of running, it continues to be how I truly wake up in the morning, and for that I am thankful. My mileage is down from where it was before I left, but that's to be expected. I had a nice break between leaving Minnesota and the day my bag (with all my running clothes) arrived. I'm settling gradually into a routine: my alarm goes off at 6 and (usually after a snooze - old habits die hard) I stumble out the door by 6:30, as the sun is starting to rise. I’m acclimating to being at mild altitude; the challenge now is really just the temperature and humidity combination. I'm told this is the cool season, and that it will heat up again once the rains stop, maybe mid-June, so I've got that to look forward to. It rains most afternoons, and again sometimes later in the evenings, never on any sort of predictable schedule, but the sky always gives it away. When it doesn't rain one day, the next is noticeably hotter. Gotta love the weather.

As my iPhone is finishing its reboot (I'm practically holding my breath that the power doesn't go out and take the WiFi with it while it's still updating), I've got some other stuff to check on while I have WiFi. I've got regular (low-volume) internet access, so shoot me an email! Skype with video is a bit more of a novelty, especially with the time difference (I'm 8 hours ahead of CST), but is definitely doable.

I miss everyone from home, as well as screens on windows, fresh salad greens, craft beer, and good ice cream, but I'm still confident that my decision to be here was the right one for this point in my life, which is a really encouraging feeling.


Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12, 2013

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two full weeks since I last updated… but I guess it has. Happy July, Happy Independence Day, and Happy Last Week of Data Collection (that last one is only recognized by the three of us and those directly involved with our project here, in case you were curious). July has been pretty action-packed so far, let’s see if I can re-cap…

Junín - Work:
            The project has continued to go well, for the most part. It’s been sort of hit or miss with organizing focus groups and interviews, but we’ve got a lot of really good information. We made it to all of the communities around the lake except for one, because the president of that community gave us a phone number that was short one digit. After guessing a few times unsuccessfully, we decided to just let it go. Most places have just been interviews with the president of the community and frequently another member of the community as well, either the VP or someone who is said to know a good deal about the lake. Much of the information is the same from each place, but it’s still really good to get.
            This is not to say that the past two weeks have been a walk in the park (even if they had, it would be a huffing and puffing walk in the park, thanks to the fact that there is something like 2/3 the oxygen here as there is at sea level – how nice!). On the 4th of July, we had an interview set up for one of the communities on the other side of the lake for 9am, meaning we would leave Junín at 8am to make it in time. Now, I’m not much of a morning person, especially if I can’t run, shower and have coffee. I managed to run (though it was super early) and we were on the road in plenty of time. We arrived shortly after 9am to find the president of the community had not even read the letter we’d hand-delivered probably a month prior. He asked us what we were doing and what we were hoping to accomplish, why we wanted to talk with him, etc. Never mind the fact that we had anticipated a group of 8ish people waiting for us to hold the focus group, this was a bit of a disappointment. Finally, after we managed to convince him that we were not working for the municipal government, he agreed to let us talk to someone else. And this someone else wasn’t going to be in town until 12, supposedly. So we waited around (doing surveys and drinking lots of coffee at a cute little café) for 2.5 hours until 12, when this man, who, we were told, knew much more about the lake, was to arrive. At 12:30, the president emerged from a meeting and told us that the guy wasn’t there yet, but he would probably be there around 1:30… so we got his number and called him to verify, and to make sure he knew we were waiting for him. The weather was awful – raining/hailing off and on, fairly windy and just unpleasantly cold – so we sat in the car for another hour. At just about 2pm, we were tired of waiting (at that point, it had been almost 5 hours of waiting), so we started to pull away, and finally the lake-smart man appeared. Needless to say, we were all slightly upset. Not only had the president of the community not read the letter we dropped off weeks earlier, he told us 9am, knowing full well we were coming from an hour away, and then he wouldn’t even talk to us, he pawned it off on someone else (who did know a fair amount, and I’m glad we got to interview him, but still). Thankfully that has only happened once. The guy we did talk with was very helpful and agreed to arrange a focus group for us, so we’re returning to that community tomorrow morning to finish up. Hopefully we’ll leave there on a more positive note…
            After that meeting tomorrow morning, we’ll be heading to another community whose president has also been very helpful. He took us out to lunch a couple weeks ago to get more information on what exactly we’re doing, and see how he could help. I’m fairly confident that tomorrow will be productive, but I guess time will tell!
Sunday will be an easy day, a non-work day (I hope), though probably a planning day. We’ll have 10 days to finish transcribing and translating and then compile our report and get our presentation ready… Like I’ve said, I think we have a good amount of information for a very rich report; it will just be a matter of making sense out of it all and forming it into a report. Next week we have an interview (as interviewees, not interviewers!) that will be broadcast on the radio and probably also the local TV station to promote our report and invite people to the presentation, which will be on the 25th in the morning… I’m slightly nervous about presenting in Spanish to a full room of (hopefully) very interested parties. It’ll build character, I’m sure.

Junín – Non-Work:
            I’m almost finished knitting my first scarf, and I must say, it’s quite pretty. It’s been a learning experience for sure, a couple screw-ups plus my stubborn perfectionistic tendencies have been a bit of heartache and lots of backtracking on several occasions, but I have no regrets. I wish other things (like hats or mittens or leg-warmers or anything with a non-rectangular shape) were easier to make… Not sure how much I have left, maybe a foot, maybe less. Next up: another scarf! (And I’ll have to be very careful since Janelle, my saving grace when it comes to knitting, probably won’t be with me to help me fix my mess-ups…)
            Food continues to be very starch-heavy, but every Tuesday, I load up on the good stuff at the market. I have a dozen tangerines, a kilo of apples, half a dozen bananas, several kiwis and grenadillas, a handful of limes, and a bunch of avocados to tide me over when I can’t stomach the starch. I also finally got around to toasting the peanuts I bought several weeks back, not realizing they were raw. I also discovered that there are a couple women who sell almonds at the market. They’re expensive treats, but they’re totally worth it. I’ve also tried a couple new fruits – one of the perks of being near the selva I guess! One is a lucuma, which is just… heavenly. I don’t know how else to describe it, but sometimes we have it blended with bananas for breakfast, and it is seriously, dangerously delicious. We’ve also had it in pies and cakes and it is absolutely delicious.
Another is the chirimoya (sp?), which I only tried yesterday. It’s a strangely lumpy green fruit that you break open, and there are lots of white sort of stalagmite-looking things that form the flesh of the fruit. There are a few black seeds, and you don’t eat those or the skin, but the white flesh is really very sweet. Another is the grenadilla. I’ve had grenadilla-flavored things before (Lesotho loved it), but never the actual fruit. It’s sort of like a pomegranate in that you eat the seed-things, but it’s a lot easier to open – you just smack it hard on the table so the shell cracks, and then scoop the insides out. I got scolded when I chewed them, so I’m still not exactly sure the proper method of consumption, but nothing bad has happened to me as a result of chewing the seeds, so oh well.
            There are also lots of herbs they make tea with (including celery leaves – bleh!). Each has its own purported purpose, but I drink them because I just like drinking warm things when it’s this cold outside and inside (so long as they taste like herbs and not celery water!).

Running has continued to improve, even though the mornings are considerably colder now, and it’s still hard to get out of bed. I have to catch my breath less frequently, and my lungs don’t hate me quite as much as they did several weeks ago. I’ve been seeing some cool animals on my excursions, too – lots of birds! The latest (and most exciting since that of the flamingos) sighting was the famed (and endangered, unfortunately) zambullidor de Junín (grebe), a small fluffy duck thing with red eyes, almost loon-esque in shape and diving abilities. I saw two in the canal along the road where I run, both yesterday and the day before, and when the close one saw/heard me, it dove and came up maybe 20 feet away. They make a cute little noise as they swim. When I got back to the Parroquia, I was excited for having just spotted them, and one of the hermanos here told me that if you see a zambullidor, it means you’ll have good luck, especially in love. Ha, I guess we’ll see about that…

            I’ve started making travel plans for after we finish here, and I am getting really excited. After our presentation, overnight on the evening of the 25th, I’ll take a bus down to Lima to meet up with a friend from home, who will have arrived the evening of the 25th. From Lima, we’re bussing to Cusco, which will be a solid 20+ hours in a bus – but we have second floor, front row seats, so hopefully we’ll at least have some good views! We’ll spend a week in the south of Peru: Cusco, Puerto Maldonado, Ollantaytambo, and (of course) Machu Picchu (with an added excursion up Huayna Picchu, which also looks stunning). I’m counting down the days. It’ll be nice to only have to wear one pair of pants at a time, and not worry about layering up quite as much. It’ll be nice to be able to breathe more normally, to be able to run a more normal pace and maybe even get my legs tired after a run (instead of just my lungs), and to be able to (hopefully!) run with people. It’ll be nice to be able to be active during the day and not be completely exhausted as a result. I’m hoping for good running, plenty of hiking, maybe some biking, possibly some canoeing or kayaking and lots of photography.
            There’s still a good amount to plan, and I love seeing everything come together. With that said, we’ll still have a good deal of flexibility with what we do each day… I’m stoked to see another region of Peru. At the end of our week, the plan is to fly back to Lima (90 minutes in a plane sounds better than 20 hours in a bus, no?) and then home!
Time is such a funny thing – right now, two weeks sounds like a long time to wait until traveling and adventures, but if the past two weeks are any indication, the time will surely fly, which is a good thing since the temperatures have dropped even more. There were several mornings we heard the overnight temps dropped to -10 C, around 15 F, no big deal (BRR!)

I think that’s really all I have to report; the countdown to the end has begun, but we definitely have plenty to keep us busy until then! Fingers crossed for no more sickness (food-related or otherwise) and lots of sunshine (cloudy days are rough).
Love from Peru!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Five Weeks Down...

Buenas tardes and happy last day of June!
It’s sort of a strange feeling, realizing that we’re done with five (of our nine) weeks of work – on one hand, I feel like we’re only barely past halfway done. On the other hand, I feel like we have a ton of work left to do! We’ve decided that we will be done with data collection by July 13th, which will leave us with two weeks for going through all our data: our numerous interviews, focus groups, and surveys, as well as the reports and documents we’ve received from various parties over the course of our stay. There is a lot of information to sort through, but I think the diverse nature of our sources will make for a rich final report (or that’s what I’m hoping!).

This past week was a mostly pretty alright week. Monday we went to a celebration in Ondores (a few pictures are up) to a) see what it was all about, and b) try to get some of our surveys done. Naturally, the ride that was supposed to leave at 8 either didn’t have room for us or was going to the wrong place (or was non-existent from the get-go), so we waited around another couple hours and finally headed over around 10. There were plenty of people to interview, and we got a good start on our surveys. We also climbed a large hill (hence the view in some of my pics), which sort of reminded me of my time in PC, going to a friend’s house to hike up his or her mountain. This one was pretty small in comparison, though it did allow for some astonishing views of the lake as well as the town of Ondores.
Tuesday and Wednesday we worked around home for the most part, transcribing interviews, organizing data (I’ve taken this on primarily, I enjoy compiling data and looking for patterns, etc.), exploring the big market on Tuesday and going to a nearby town on Wednesday for what ended up being a very long interview. I got to Skype with Brian a bit on Wednesday night, before he went in for surgery Thursday morning. For what it’s worth, I find it really difficult to be away from home when big things are happening. My stepfather having brain surgery to remove a (benign, thank goodness) tumor between his inner ear and brain constitutes a big thing in my book, so I was sort of distracted much of the week.

On Thursday morning I woke up feeling slightly off. I figured I’d feel better after a run, but after only about two minutes of being vertical, I realized I just needed to go back to bed… but I couldn’t get comfortable and I sure as heck couldn’t sleep. I like to think I’m a pretty healthy person. In the States, I don’t get sick very frequently, and when I do, it’s usually because I haven’t been sleeping enough and my body freaks out. Here, if there is one thing for sure, it is that I have been sleeping enough. It’s like in Africa – it gets dark outside and I start to get sleepy. I easily bank 8-9 hours a night. I have absolutely no idea why I got sick, but oh boy, I got sick. No appetite, no energy, both Thursday and Friday. I am amazed at how much I slept, and I am, as my parents will tell you, a champion sleeper. The cherry on top of all this (being sick and being away from home while big things were happening) was that this Sunday (today, I guess) was the half-marathon in Concepción for which I’d already registered and planned to run. Needless to say, after two days of not eating, I wasn’t going to try to run a half-marathon at 10,000 feet, even if I have been “training” at 13,400 ft. Seriously disappointing, but definitely the right choice.
Back to the surgery - thankfully, everything went well. I got periodic updates from my mom (technology is absolutely a wonder and a marvel), saying the surgeon had made the first incision, or that they had started to remove the tumor. Brian spent just over a day in the ICU where they monitored his neurological functions hourly and was moved to a regular hospital room yesterday (Saturday) morning. Mom must have also brought him his phone on Saturday since that was when we started texting – again, technology is amazing (as is modern medicine). He’s hoping to leave the hospital tonight to begin his 6-8 week recovery at home (hello, Netflix!). I’m sure he’d be happy for recommendations of books/movies…
Like I said, it has been especially difficult to be away from home this past week. When I’m sick, I crave the familiarity of my mom taking care of me – cuddling up on our couch and watching Disney’s Robin Hood while sipping Sprite, nibbling on Saltines and popsicles, dozing in and out of sleep, but always having her there to check on me. Obviously those days are long gone, but being sick in an unfamiliar place is never fun, especially when people try to care for you differently. For example: I grew up drinking cold water (and Sprite and popsicles) when I was sick (even adding ice cubes to room temperature water), even healthy people here don’t drink cold water. I was actually scolded for drinking cold water. Furthermore, they believe that Sprite (or other sodas) are actually really hard on your stomach, so I have been hiding the Sprite I have and graciously accepting cup after cup of random herb tea (one was made from celery – probably the last thing I want to think about eating/drinking when my stomach is upset!), and dumping some down the drain.
Enough on being sick. Thankfully, I’m feeling much better. I only took a short nap yesterday and then had problems sleeping at night, so I think I’m caught up there. My appetite is coming back slowly and I’m getting tired of white rice, bread and crackers. I’ve actually been productive today (other than the hours and hours of knitting I did yesterday) – I managed to run 3 miles (and was thankful I hadn’t tried for the other 10). I sent some emails and tidied my room. My major accomplishment, however, was my shower…
I got back from my run and flipped the hot water switch to “on,” as I’d been instructed some five weeks ago. The shower in my room is nothing spectacular (temperature is a bit erratic and the pressure is way less than desirable, but hey, it’s a shower, which is way more than I could say in Lesotho). I waited a few minutes, turned the water on, and waited another minute to let it warm up to a civil temperature before getting in. Not only was the water still freezing, it was barely even a dribble. I climbed out of the shower and got my hot water bottle (I would have my shower), dumped its contents into my large bucket, and started scooping (very cold) water onto myself. I’d just come to grips with the fact that this would be a very quick shower when the hot water started coming back… and it was definitely hot. Then the showerhead started steaming and sputtering and sparking… I flipped the water back to cold and began filling my bucket again. This went on for some time, between cold water and warm water, which became hot water, which apparently initiated the self-destruct function on the showerhead. Not exactly sure why today was such an adventure in bathing, but I think it might have something to do with the fact that we are in the “dry season” (even though it still rains occasionally, and ice pellets fall from the sky other times), so water may be more of a scarcity, especially into the afternoon. Tomorrow is another day.

This coming week, we have plenty to do (no surprise there). I haven’t looked at the team calendar in a few days, but as far as I know, it’s just going to be more interviews, focus groups, surveys, transcribing and translating. If I get my way, we may start outlining bits of our report to take some of the pressure off the last two weeks, but that will depend on how much else is going on and what the other two think. As of right now, I don’t think we have any solid plans for the 4th of July, but perhaps we’ll have to plan something with the PCV in town, even if it’s just the four of us. I’m always proudest of my American-ness when I’m out of the country… something about the grass always being greener? But for real, think about it – America is pretty cool.
One more exciting thing! I get to start planning for my week of travel post-Junín! So far, I know it’s going to involve a lot of hours on a bus (20 hours between Lima and Cusco!), probably some pretty touristy things, but ultimately Cusco, Machu Picchu, and hopefully some other towns in that area of the country. Though plans are still in the making, I’m hoping to catch a flight out of here August 4th, so I should have just less than a month of real summer vacation before going back to school in September. I can’t wait!
Now time for another chunk of work before watching Brazil take on España in the World Cup Qualifiers… we’ll all pile in to the living room and crowd on the couches to watch the tiny (black and white) television… totally living the dream!
Hasta luego,

Sunday, June 23, 2013

One Month In...

Well, as promised, here is the update, but it might be shortish...
First, to put things into perspective: I arrived in Lima on May 21st, so Friday marked one month in Peru. We’re planning on being done in Junín on the 26th of July, so today is right about halfway (not including the little bit of travel I’m hoping to do after finishing). Technically we have five weeks of work left: three of data collection and two of reading, analyzing and writing for our final report.
Now, a recap of the past week or so… Gosh, where to start. Maybe an update on our project…
Ok, so we’re still doing an assessment of the understanding and perceptions of the effects of water contamination on lives and livelihoods of the various communities here and around the lake (what a mouthful!). We’re using several “tools” to conduct this research – interviews with leaders in the community (each community has an elected president as well as a mayor) and other prominent figures (the Agricultural Agency in Junín, Director of the Hospital, Father of the Church, etc); focus groups with members of the community; and random surveys (also of community members). This sounds like a lot of work, and yes, it has been, but I think we’re all pretty pleased with the progress we’ve made so far.
On Thursday the 13th, we took a spin around the lake. This was to introduce ourselves to the various community leaders and actually see the lake (since we hadn’t up until that point). Like I mentioned – check out my photo site for pictures of the lake. There are somewhere between 10-15 of these communities, depending on how you define them, and I think we made it to 13, dropping off a letter, introducing our project, and getting contact information of the community leaders in order to get in touch with them again in the remaining weeks. Just about everyone we talked to was very enthusiastic about meeting with us again and seemed eager to help in any way he or she could, which was really encouraging. We set up appointments with some of them, and others just gave us a week that might work, so we’ll call them when the time gets closer.
Our project advisor came that weekend and stayed for several days to help us out where we had questions and make sure we’re on track. We showed him the lake on Monday and filled him in on as much background of the project as we could. I found it especially helpful to be able to talk things through with an outsider (and native English-speaker!) to see what we’re doing well and what we need to take into account for future research. Overall, I think he thought we were doing well, and he was able to offer a lot of ideas for our work moving forward, and eventually, our report. I’ve gotta give him big points – he came to Peru with no Spanish language skills, and was a champ at handling the altitude (which is, as he would tell you, pretty brutal for the first few days).
Whereas the first couple weeks were a mix of developing interview/survey questions and trying to come up with an overall plan of attack, the last week and a half or so sort of fell into a pattern of actually acquiring information. We’ve done many interviews and several focus groups; we’ve gone to several places around the lake and set up many focus groups and interviews for the next couple weeks. Our work feels pretty productive (even if I’m not patient with “la hora Peruana” – Peruvian time – sometimes), and each interview or focus group feels much less intimidating than the last (even though I usually am content to sit in the note-taker’s chair). It isn’t uncommon for a community president to hand us a document or two about the lake, frequently one that the provincial government doesn’t even have. In that way, it feels a bit like sleuthing. Needless to say, we have (what feels like) a TON of information. There will be plenty to read and sift through in our final weeks.
This coming week will be similarly busy. On Monday, we’ll go to the town 20km away since they’re having a sort of fair/festival much of the week. We’re hoping to find people from many places around the lake, and gunning for a good chunk of our surveys. Plus, there’s supposed to be music and dancing and (hopefully) good food! Tuesday is the “Feria Grande” (big market) in Junín, and I recently learned that they do sell almonds in Junín (even if they are 3 almonds for 1 sol – exorbitant), so I’m hoping to find some of those as well as the natural yogurt I’ve been hearing about from one of the guys who also stays in the Parroquia (all the yogurt I’ve had so far has been incredibly sweet and very thin, nothing like the thick, plain yogurt I eat so much of at home!). On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we have interviews and focus groups in various communities around the lake, sometimes two places in a day. I enjoy keeping busy (to a certain extent), and seeing the other communities has been really interesting. It is especially nice to climb into a truck when the sun is out – I think that may be the warmest place I’ve been in Junín so far!
Next weekend, Janelle and I are going to go back to Huancayo for a night so I can run (jog) the half-marathon in Concepción. I don’t anticipate running fast or doing anything even close to resembling racing, but I have participated in a race on every continent on which I’ve spent any extended amount of time, so this will be a way to keep up that trend. If, as in Italy, by some fluke, I finish within the top 5 women, I guess I win money (though in Italy it was pancetta and salame)… so that wouldn’t suck. I’m definitely not counting on it though! It should be a nice break from Junín’s altitude and cold though – I only have to wear one pair of pants and three layers on top in Huancayo!
Otherwise, running has definitely been improving, slowly but surely. I made it 4 miles without stopping on Friday – I was pretty stoked. With that said, it is slow going, 2-3 minutes per mile slower than I’m used to at home, and boy do I miss the Mississippi River Trails! I asked our advisor to bring my heart-rate monitor when he came, so I’ve been able to use that along with my watch. I’d never really used it in the States (since I worry much less there about pushing myself too hard), but I’m learning a bit about the various zones and how much harder my heart has to work here. (I found a website the other day that said that at 4,105 meters above sea level, there is somewhere around 63% of the oxygen that is available at sea level… that is crazy to me. It also means that once I get back to MN, there will be roughly 150% of the oxygen I’ve gotten accustomed to up here…)
I believe I continue to get used to the cold as well. I’ve been plenty warm at night (a hot water bottle full of boiling water helps a lot). I think running helps a lot, to be honest. It’s really hard to get up in the morning, but if there ever was a reason to get up, it would be a run (followed by a hot drip-shower and a couple cups of coffee). I am so thankful for my continued running health and lack of injuries (shout-out to Run’n’Fun!).
What else? The food continues to be very starch-heavy, but I’m eating less of what they prepare and finding more fruits and vegetables (and non-meat protein) to supplement throughout the day. I found my stomach is able to tolerate avocados again (thank goodness!) so I’ve been buying those at the market. So delicious, nutritious and filling! It’s all about compromise. I learned to knit, as I mentioned, and have actually made 4-5 inches of progress on a scarf. It’s certainly not professionally done, but considering it’s my first knitting project, I’m pretty proud. It’ll be a nice brainless activity for all the time we spend waiting around (which is a considerable amount). Laundry continues to be painfully cold. Never take your laundry machines for granted. Never.
I don’t think there’s much else to report here, and it’s time for me to get my butt outside since the sun is out! Hope all is well at home (or wherever), and I’ll write again soon.
Love from Peru,