Meet my friend Steve. Steve is a Community Economic Development Volunteer in Peru. I met Steve out in Lake Tahoe, California where we both worked in similar positions that focused on community and regional development (I had a lakeside office, Steve did not). During winters, we played together on a broomball team, which is a ridiculous and fairly dangerous hockey-like ice sport that I will most likely never play again in my life. Today, Steve is going to tell us what it’s like living and working in Peru as a PCV.
When and where do you serve in the Peace Corps? Did you get to pick your country?
What program are you in? What’s your title?
How long was your flight to Peru?
Do not get me started. Ok, fine. My fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and I left our staging site in Philadelphia for the Newark International Airport at 5am. We arrived at the airport at 7am, checked our two overloaded 50 lb. bags, and set up shop in the terminal up for the day. Our flight to Lima, Peru, did not leave until 3pm in the afternoon.
When we took off, the flight was roughly 10 hours direct. We collected our luggage, passed customs, and made a train of volunteers and Peace Corps Peru staff and shuffled to our bus. The bus took everyone to our lodging for the evening where we lugged our 50 lb. bags down a set of concrete steps, into the dark, and into our rooms for the night. From Philly to our lodging outside Lima, Peru, we were traveling for a total of 19 hours.
Where do you live? What’s your house like? Do you live with a host family?
In site, I live in the center of town. It’s a great location because the municipality, schools, and local market are all within 15 minutes walking distance. In Peru, you must live with a host family for your entire first year as a volunteer. Even though I am more than a year into my service, I have continued to live with the same family. It’s a huge family and they are all jokesters. I’m so thankful to be living with a great bunch of people!
Host dad and uncle / Making tea with my host sister
What’s the climate like where you live?
Motupe, Lambayeque, Peru, is within a dry forest that looks like the african sahara. Everything is dry and hot. 3 months out of the year it rains but it doesn’t really help to cool off the scorching temperatures. Things just get more muggy and gross. Between 12-2pm the sun is fierce and people tend to rest because it’s just too hot to work. During the day, temperatures are around 95 degrees and at night they drop to 70 degrees. I really enjoy the warmer climate here but I am almost always sweating. Profusely.
What’s your transportation like in and out of your site?
I basically jam into a 12 passenger van whenever I’m going anywhere. It is always SO hot. I’m not kidding. I always have to pack a pair of clothes to change into because of my mansweat. Anytime I’m in the van everyone just passes out because of the heat and it’s just the driver and me awake (see exhibit A).
What is your daily routine? Weekly routine?
Every day I wake up between 7-8am and make a french press of delicious Peruvian coffee. I’m one of those people who can’t speak before my morning cup a joe. My host family knows this and we call it my “gasoline.” For breakfast, I eat eggs or some kind of meat with yucca (a root vegetable) with my host sisters and then set off on my morning duties.
After my morning errands and meetings I come back to the house to eat lunch with my host sisters and aunt around 1:00pm. Everyday, the kiddos are dreading the shower before preparing to leave for school. In the afternoons, I finish work reports or hit the gym (yes, I have a gym in my site). Most Peruvians take a siesta during this hour because it is WAY to hot to work.
At night, I eat dinner with my host family around 6:30pm and then say good night and retreat to my room to read or relax.
Below is what I do day-to-day:
Mondays: Teach Business Plan classes to high school students with another volunteer and occasionally the professor. We are preparing them to participate in a Peruvian Entrepreneur contest on the national level. At night, I work with an evening school facilitating Financial Education.
Tuesdays: Hold meetings with work partners or search out new partners to work with (usually business owners, teachers, or people that work in the local government). I prep posters for upcoming presentations and I study Spanish.
Wednesdays: Study spanish in the morning and facilitate a community microfinance committee with women from the municipality.
Thursdays: In the morning, I prep again for upcoming tasks and meetings or I have an hour of tutoring with a Peace Corps Spanish tutor.
Friday: Community bank with a new group!
What do you eat? What are your favorite foods?
Rice and potatoes are staples in Peru and lunch is always the biggest meal of the day. For lunch, we start with a bowl of soup with meat or vegetables. If the main dish is chicken, my host aunt uses the extra chicken parts to flavor the soup, for example, the feet or innards (YUM). My favorite dishes are: rice with seafood, rice with goat, rice with chicken, (we got it Steve YA LIKE RICE), ceviche, and spaghetti in a spinach sauce.
The fruit and vegetable scene in Peru is incredible. I love afternoon snacks of mangos, avocados or maracuya (passion fruit). Dinner is usually something pretty boring like leftovers with bread.
Oh…and guinea pig is a popular Peruvian delicacy.
What is your connectivity like? How do you call friends and family?
Peru’s connectivity has grown substantially over the past few years. Most individuals have at least a cellphone, if not, a smart phone. I have WiFi in my house but it’s slow and the quality is not great. I mostly use the application Whatsapp to communicate with friends and family back home, which uses cellular data.
What language do you speak? What’s your language training like?
In Peru we speak Spanish. Currently, I am at an intermediate-advanced Spanish-speaking level.
During pre-service training (the 3 month in-country training we receive before going to site) I received daily, 4-hour language classes outside of Lima. Although I was practicing Spanish on the reg, I feel like I was misplaced in a higher level and did benefit as much as I could from language lessons. Since I am still at an intermediate level, I qualify for tutor sessions that are paid for by the Peace Corps. For months I tried to find a tutor in site or my capital city, but I wasn’t jiving with any of the tutor’s teaching methods. Now, I have weekly calls with a language teacher in the Peace Corps Peru program to practice Spanish.
How close is the nearest volunteer to you?
My department in Peru is small. Unlike the mountainous sites, I have several volunteers within an hour by somewhat paved roads. The closest volunteer to me is only 15 minutes away and on Mondays, we work together on projects in the school in her site.
What sort of work do you do in your site? What is the biggest project you are working on?
I have fallen in love with financial education! Peace Corps Peru utilizes the community bank tool, which is basically a microfinance program for small business owners. I have had so much trouble organizing a group to start a community bank in my site because people do not understand the concept of it very well. Currently, I have three 6-week “practice” banks to help explain the concepts and methodology of the community bank to members in my community. So far, it’s going great! One of my second year goals is to teach community leaders how to open a community bank.
I have also worked with over 60+ business owners, students, and facilitators on business plan development. I’ve facilitated weeklong workshops with other PCVs that teach teachers how to teach business plan classes in line with the National Peruvian Business Plan contest. If you speak Spanish, check it out! http://www.minedu.gob.pe/crea-emprende/.
What is your favorite part about your Peace Corps experience?
- Acting as a facilitator and setting up all the logistics. The workshop may flop, but everything is always prepared and ready to rock n’ roll
- Working with an array of different people including students, professors, government employees, the motivated, unmotivated, funny, friendly, and interesting individuals
- Learning Spanish and the Peruvian culture that comes with it
- Spare time: surf trips, the gym, eating new foods, EdX classes that help my Peace Corps work, and practicing meditation
- The difficult aspects of Peace Corps has made me appreciate the things we have back home, like the convenience of things and having a dryer and hot water (just cold water here!)
- Teaching my host sisters how to skateboard
- Feeling like an outsider, always, and sharing that experience with Peruvians and friends or family in the United States
- Carrying a book with me everywhere and busting in out when waiting an hour for transportation or my coworkers (hora peruana is a real thing)