My arrival to the house is short of epic. Everyone is crowded around computers in the dining room, not really speaking to one another. The house is smaller than I thought it would be. The house manager shows me to my bedroom. I sleep in a room with three other girls and two bunk beds. She rattles the ladder on my bunk, “It seems like it’s coming loose, but it’s not.” – Oh. Well, as long as you say so. I climb to the top and pretend that the whole bed is not rocking. It only seems like it’s rocking, I’m sure she’d tell me.
The town is rough. Okay the pueblo. The pueblo is rough. I live in the nicer area too, in Zone D. All the different areas are identified by letters, and the farther along in the alphabet you go the worse things get. The boss, explains that we mostly work in Zones S, R and Z. Wow.
Today we head up to Zone S, where one of the girls is giving a presentation to the women. Three of us get on a Combi (their version of a city bus, that’s really more of a 16 passenger van). The signs on the bus apparently don’t necessarily correspond with the direction the bus is actually traveling. This Combi heads in the wrong direction. We get off and take another back to where we started. They overcharge us because we’re gringas, but we’re late and we don’t care. We try to get on a Combi going the right way. No Combis show up. We try to take a mototaxi.
All the drivers pretend not to know where Zone S is located because it’s uphill and they don’t want to spend the money on the gas. One agrees to take us up, but he stops exactly at the border of the Zone and goes no further.
– No, we need to go to those stairs up there.
– What stairs?
– Those stairs directly in front of you. The yellow ones.
– I don’t see them.
– Do you see them for another 5 soles?
– Oh THOSE stairs! Yes.
We drive up the dirt hill at a 45 degree angle. I feel like we’re going to flip.
This Zone just got electricity. It’s full of little shacks built into the side of a dusty, desert hill. As soon as a child can walk, he’s free to run around the hill totally unsupervised – half dressed, dirty children are everywhere. The older ones holding the hands of their younger brothers and sisters. The kids all yell to the three gringas, “Meees. Oh Meees. Hola Meees. (Miss)”
As we arrive a woman who has a big loudspeaker on her house (read: shack) is announcing that there will be a presentation for the women and that everyone should meet in the school room to attend. Her husband is something like the mayor of the Zone and this is how they make announcements everyday.
The class begins and it’s total chaos. Everyone has brought their screaming children. I take the kids outside so we can color and try and stay quiet. Stray dogs abound and two make their way under the table where we’re coloring and get into a huge dog fight. I scream and try and drag some kids to safety. They look at me like I’m crazy. None of the kids even flinch, everyone just keeps coloring while I try to convince them to move away from the table. One of the mothers comes out and picks up a long reed from the ground and whips the dogs with it ‘til they break up the fight.
The kids start asking me to draw them various things. Art is not an area that I excel in, but whatever, they’re like five right? Who cares? One little girl asks for a dog and I draw one.
– Eso no es un perro, eso es una salsiccia! (That’s not a dog that’s a sausage!)
Another kid: – I want a sausage dog too! Can you make me a sausage tiger?
I draw another kid an elephant and write the word underneath it. Later one of the other volunteers comes out of the classroom and compliments the five year old on the elephant she drew. I don’t say anything.
9 hour overnight bus to the jungle at top speed. There is a sign in the bus that says the driver is not allowed to go over 90km/hour. But instead of having a regulator on the bus that keeps it from being able to go over 90, it actually just has a effing ALARM system where all the lights go on and a siren goes off in an OVERNIGHT bus where people are trying to SLEEP. Alerting the passengers to the danger of which they can do nothing about. Awesome. We are speeding around these winding ass roads with the side of the cliff just centimeters away. A few hours into our bus ride our driver side swipes another car, gets into a fight with the driver and leaves, I’m going to assume, before an appropriate exchange of insurance information occurs.
The bus alternates between being so hot you want to die when we are in the valleys, and so cold you want to die while we drive through mountain peeks high enough to cause altitude sickness. I ask for a blanket. There are no blankets. I pass out and wake up a few hours later to find every Peruvian on the bus covered in a red blanket with the company logo on it. Hmmm. I take the clothes out of my bag and layer a tank top over a skirt, over a t-shirt and use them as blankets. I take the little cover off the back of the seat, put my arms through it, and shiver myself to sleep.