Week three random highlights

Everything in this house shocks me.  Like electrically.  I’ve been shocked four times today.  The computer cord, the light switch, the other light switch and now the my camera charger.  AHHHHH.


People in Zone D, where I live, have a little bit more money than the other zones.  The houses are more legit and they can afford life little extras, like pets.  The thing is that, even with a bigger home, it wouldn’t be fair to say anyone’s house is really big enough for a pet, and no one has backyard.  So you want a dog and you don’t have the space…how do we solve this problem?  You get a roof dog.

That’s right folks.  A roof dog is exactly what it sounds like.  It’s a dog.  That you own.  That lives on your roof.  All the time.  It’s kind of awesome.  They’re kinda like guard dogs because when you get near a house that has one they run to the edge of the roof and bark at you.  And for a second, you’re afraid.  And then you’re like, wait, that dog is not going to jump off the roof to fight me.  For sure.  But then you aren’t sure.  Because they always seem like they just might do it.  Go ahead.  Just give ‘em a reason to jump off.  Make his day.   And then you’re not so sure.  So you back up.  Ingenious!  I want one for the house.

Roof dog and her roof puppy
Roof dog and her roof puppy


I brought my Kindle into the library today to read to the kids.  I have Twilight in Spanish and they all take turns reading it.  One kid named Enzo is so excited about the Kindle he can barely stand it.  But he’s excited for all the wrong reasons, because no matter how many times I explain it to him, he can’t get the idea out of his mind that with this magical device I can turn any movie into a book.

– Can you get me that movie “300” on here?  I love that movie.

– Right, Enzo, it’s got to already be a book.  This doesn’t turn movies into books.  It’s just the electronic version of something that was already a paper book.

– What about the Fast and the Furious?

– Yeah. Sure.  I’ll look for that one.


Things I’ve been asked to hold on the Combi:

  • A backpack
  • A sack of onions
  • A baby
  • A plastic bag that leaks an unidentifiable liquid onto my toes/flip-flops. But there’s no where to move so I just keep holding it and letting it drip all over me.
  • A potato sack containing a screaming animal.  Well now I have to ask:

– What’s in there?

– My cat

– To eat?

– (Horrified.) No! No he’s my cat.

– Oh, well.  I’m okay to just hold him, maybe we should take him out of the bag?  He seems upset.

– Oh no!  We can’t do that.  He’d run away.  He hates the Combi.

Hm.  That makes two of us.


Trekking the Colca Canyon

Peru shuts down for a few days before Easter, so all the voluntarios plan a trip to Arequipa.  Six people chose to take an 18 hour bus both ways.  Tricia and I opt for the one hour flight.  We win.  Clearly.

Where we lose, is with the hostel.  I use the term hostel, loosely.  Really it’s a nightclub with a bunch of beds in it.  So if you’ve ever walked into a really smokey, bumping club and thought “wow, I could really take a nap here,” then this would be the hostel for you.   The voluntarios don’t see quite enough of each other living in the same house, so now we’re sleeping in one hostel room with 8 bunk beds.  Awesome.

Arequipa is a real city.  Beautiful. Safe. Legit.  A few of us walk around and check out churches, and shops and various parks.  Then I see it in the distance, a coffee shop!  A real live, honest to god, coffee shop that could just as well be on any street corner at home.

– You guys wanna tour the rest of the city?

– No.  I’m not going anywhere.  I’m going to sit in this shop and read and listen to my Ipod and drink coffee until I’m sick!

I walk over to the counter and grin like a fool at the menu.  The barista eyes me suspiciously.  I seem to be from this planet and yet I look as though I’ve never seen a café before.

-Can I help you?

– I’ll have a latte.  No!  A mocha!  No!  A latte AND a mocha.  Oooh and a chocolate chip cookie!  Oooh and that little scone thing!

She gives me a funny look.  “I live in Huaycan,” I want to tell her, but I don’t think she’d really get it.   I look around and see another voluntario sitting at the back of the shop with two coffee cups and a book.  She sees me and waves, obviously just as excited as I am,, holding her cup up in the air as if to toast me.  I nod and smile like a maniac.  Living in Huaycan is like prison, or like being at war maybe, the only people who really understand are the people who are there with you.   “This is happening right now,” she calls to me.

It is indeed.




2 day Andean mountain hike into Colca Canyon


11PM– Bed time

11:15– Switch out foam earplugs for the better silicone ones

11:30– Grumble toss and turn because of the club that is happening outside our door

12:00– Sit up in bed and look around for someone else to commiserate with.  How are all you people asleep right now?

Toss and turn.

2:00 AM  – Wake-up call (had I hypothetically been able to sleep)

2:30 AM– Bus pick-up

We travel by bus for three hours to a little town where we have breakfast and consume massive amounts of coca leaves and tea to ward off the altitude sickness.  No, you don’t get high.

An hour later we arrive at abou 3300 meters to begin our trek.  Our guide talks to us about safety (try not to fall to your death is the basic general rule).



A fluffly black dog who appears to have a broken paw is following us as we head down the path.  I name him Amigo and share my water with him.  We walk for awhile and despite the broken paw he’s determined to come with us.

The first three hours of the hike bring us 1000 meters downhill which sounds easier than uphill but it’s not at all.  You have to step pretty gingerly because the rocks on the footpath will slide out from under you at any second causing you to slide over the edge of the not very wide path to your death.


(Not even enough path to walk side by side with anyone other than a dog.)

I have the world’s worst backpack for this trip and it must weigh 30 pounds with the two giant 2 liter bottles of water I’m carrying.  Not fun.  Kills your knees.

Eventually, Amigo passes by all of us even with his broken paw and he’s gone.  Sad face.

We get to the lunch place after three and a half hours….I’m exhausted, starving, and gross and grumpy.  I don’t want to go any further.  Then I look up and Amigo’s there!  Waiting!  Day brightener!  If he can do it with a broken paw I should stop complaining.

After lunch, we’ve got three and half more hours of hiking, some uphill, some down, to bring us to the lodge where we’ll spend the night.  Amigo limps along with us for two more hours, until he meets his little dog girlfriend (I assume this was his plan the whole time) and he takes off with her.

The Oasis is very pretty with a built in pool that’s filled up with fresh water directly from the mountains…..and then there’s the little puppy who lives there “Borbuja” (Bubble), who looks more like a little polar bear.  So cute….


But there’s no electricity, and our rooms have dirt floors.  I’m exhausted and want to shower, but it’s too cold to do it without hot water.  And now in the dark no less.  They give us dinner and we head to bed at8PM.  As soon as it gets dark we go from sweating to freezing.  I’m wearing a tank top, a long sleeved t,  a fleece, a scarf, a hat, two pairs of pants and socks to sleep.  I hang some of my other clothes out on the line outside my room to dry.  When I wake up they are soaked.  It rained.  Perfect.  My bag will be even heavier.

Next day we’ve got a 4am wake up call.  We have to hike for 3.5 hours to our breakfast.  It’s about 1500 meters uphill.  In total darkness for first hour or so.  Intense!  The fastest in our group finish in 2.5 hours.  I finish in 3 and am so proud of myself.  I wasn’t last!  I am dying though.  As I approach the top, the early finishers start yelling to motivate me, “Abby, there’s a friendly dog up here that you can pet if you hurry.  And we’ve got a Snickers waiting for you.” – So I’m officially the chubby animal lover of the group.

Six days of this crazy hiking in Machu Pichu is going to kill me.


The Zone S Turtle!

You just can’t make this stuff up.



Frankie (yes, Frankie) insists that the turtle is a land turtle because one time he tried to put him in a pool and he couldn’t swim.  But when he brings the turtle a bowl of water to drink, the poor little guy sticks his whole head and neck into it.  I’m sure he just needs a shallow pool to cool off in.  You’d be surprised by how hard it is to find a baby pool around here.  I’m trying to Huaycan-rig something for the little guy.   Maybe dig a hole and put a tarp in it?



Sunday – Huaycan-rigged gym class

The voluntarios have taken to calling things that we’d normally call ghetto-rigged, “Huaycan rigged.”  Doors that we keep shut with sand bags, sinks held up by bricks, etc.   It’s my new favorite saying.


English and gym class for 6-9 year olds.  Highlights:

Milner is a chubby little boy of about six.   He has a big round face and always wears a  Brazil soccer jersey with his name on the back that’s just a liiiittle too tight for his frame.  He is shy and mumbles a lot.  Very sweet.  He comes to class today with his mother, who reports that he has a really bad rash and shouldn’t be allowed to scratch it.  I look at him.  His face is covered in cortisone cream in all the places where he hasn’t already succeeded in scratching it off.  He wants to kiss me hello, as all the little kids do here, but I hold him at arm’s length.  Whatever he has, I don’t want it.  He sits in class and starts maniacally scratching his arms.  Is it on your arms too, I ask him.  He looks at me very seriously. Yes, but don’t tell my mom.

I tell his mom.


Played soccer with the kids today for gym.  Made the first and probably only goal of my life.  These six year olds have nothing on me.


Huaycan rigged gym class game #1: Play volleyball without a net.  Not just without a net, but without even a string or anything to denote the location of a net.  So what happens is we just bonk the ball over the imaginary net, and then argue about whether or not it “went over.”  My eye is obviously off, because I keep “hitting the net.”  Jeez, I even suck at imaginary sports.

Huaycan rigged gym class game #2:  Huaycan at this time of year is incredibly windy. It’s too windy to play Frisbee, so instead what we do is lodge the Frisbee in the side of a large rocky hill.  Then we climb the hill and throw rocks down onto the Frisbee. The first person to dislodge it, wins.

Huaycan rigged  gym class game #3: Scale the side of the rocky mountain without your shoes on.

Huaycan rigged  gym class game #4:  Imaginary jump rope is just what it sounds like.  All the girls hop around pretending to have ropes. It’s not a bad system for me, because this way I never mess up, but really this is sorta pathetic.  We apparently had a jump rope at one point. I need to buy some.

Friday – Rules

This is how you give directions in Huaycan:

– Go about halfway up the mountain til you get to the third trash pile on the left.  It will seem like there’s only two piles, but there’s a third, it’s smaller, and you can’t see it til you really get past the second one.  Okay so pass the third trash pile of the left, then you take a right onto that dirt road.  You go three or four shacks down on your right, I can’t remember how many, but you’ll get to that one with no roof…no, no, not that one with no roof, I know the one you mean, that’s the other direction.  If you’d gone left at the trash pile.  This is right.  So you go right, get to the house with no roof, make another right there and walk down until you see the classroom.  It looks like all the other buildings but you’ll know it because of the three roosters out front.  It’s sorta hidden, so you’ll know you’ve gone too far if you see the dog with the underbite.


The weekend for the voluntarios is actually Weds and Thursday, which apparently only means that we end up having a four day weekend.  Everyone wants to go out Friday night for someone’s last hurrah.  I’m exhausted and don’t want to go, but I’m still new and who wants to be that girl, so I go.  I’m informed that we’re going to a club called Kenko’s about a 15 minute combi ride away from the house.  I obviously don’t know much about the bar scene in Huaycan, but I’m not expecting much.  A club? Like a club?  15 minutes from where there are people who, not two months ago, didn’t have access to running water?  Well, this I’ve gotta see.

Obviously I’m not expecting much.  We get there and wait in line to pick up the free entry passes that someone has managed to finagle for us (the Jerseyin me feels at home).  They hand over a pass to each of us, which seems strange, because the pass-hander-outer is already inside of the door.  Really you should just give her your name, she should confirm you have a pass, and then you should walk right by her.  This is not the system.  What you do instead is give your name, get your pass, and step maybe six inches to the right, and hand it to another person, who then let’s you pass by.  And I kid you not, he then hands your used pass back over to the pass-hander-outer lady, who places them back in the pile of passes to be reused.  I’m simple minded, so I just tell her to keep the pass, and I’ll walk in.  This is very upsetting to all the employees involved and they make me do it their way.  Wait, am I inGermany right now?  This isPeru.  There aren’t any rules inPeru.  But okay.

We walk in, and it’s seriously the most disconcerting change.  You leave the outside Huaycan world behind: sounds, smells, noises, trash, sketchy characters, roofless shacks, and enter a very nice, very clean, very pleasant and modern indoor/outdoor club.  We could seriously be in Florida.  The dance floor is outside under a huge roof.  There are white leather lounge-y couches and chairs everywhere.  Plants all over the place.  A quieter grassy knoll area where you can sit and talk.  I rub my eyes.  This is the desert.  Maybe it’s a mirage.  No.  It’s not.  It’s still here.  It’s an oasis! We sit down at a table. One kid who’s been in thedesert ofHuaycan too long asks:

– What’s that smell?

– What smell?

– I don’t know, it’s like herby somehow.  Fresh, kind of.

– Um, I think that’s grass.

– It’s awesome.


I bring back a report from the ladies room:

– Guys, there’s toilet paper in there!  On rolls.  Provided for you!  I brought my own, but they just give it to you here.

Five voluntarios in unison:

– Woooow.

I take a bottle of water out of my purse and a bouncer walks over to me before I can even have a sip.  They don’t sell that brand here.  No outside drinks.  Really?  Here?  InPeru?  Where there are no rules?  Kenko’s is the only place inPeruwith rules.  I hand it over.  I guess this is the price you have to pay for luxury.


More rules: I walk to the bar and order a drink.  The bartender asks for my receipt.  What?  He points to the cashier at the other end of the bar.  Order with her.  Pay first, then he’ll make it.  I’m at a bar in the back completely alone.  Not a single other person around.  I figure he will start to make my drink while I pay.  He doesn’t make a move.  I walk three feet to the cashier and order my drink.  The bartender watches me, stands his ground.  I pay.  He doesn’t move.  I walk back over with the receipt.  “What can I get you?”  Um, the same thing, I just ordered from you one second ago, maybe?


Still more rules:  For about an hour at midnight ladies drink for free in a little roped off area.  They basically feed you watered down kool-aid with the Peruvian version of watered down Gordon’s vodka, the kind that comes in the plastic bottles with the handle, and can cause blindness from over consumption.  I don’t want any of those free drinks, but I walk over to stand with everyone and take my drink with me.  A bouncer stops me.  Can’t come in the roped off area with the drink. But I bought this here.  Just over there.  At this bar.  No.  If I come in with a drink, I’ll actually save you guys money, because I’m not drinking the free stuff.  No.  But it’s ridiculous.  No.  I stand on the other side of the rope and chat with the girls from there.  Crazy!

One of the girls gets tipsy quickly and wants to leave.  I go with her.  We get into a Combi.  The Cobrador starts talking to us and eventually tells me he loves karaoke.  I tell him to show me what he’s got.  He asks the driver to turn up the radio and turn down the lights for effect, and belts out whatever we’re listening to.  Other people on the Combi start singing. Then we’re all singing.  Ladies with babies strapped to their backs in blankets.  Men carrying huge bags of rice.  The loud Americans.  All of us.  It’s funny and random.  I tell him that we should make a regular event of the Karaoke Combi.  Like on nights where it’s not in service we’ll just get a little strobe light and a karaoke machine and drive around Huaycan picking people up for the party.  He thinks it’s the best idea he’s ever heard.  If he starts turning a profit on it one day, I’m hoping for a cut.

We get back to the center of Huaycan.  Our place is like a four minute walk away, but it’s too dangerous at night, so we have to take a mototaxi.  Of course those are just as dangerous sometimes, so I become the Goldilocks of mototaxistas, trying to find one that is just right.  The dispatcher points out the first one.  No.  That one has doors.  I don’t do any with doors, because I want to just be able to just tuck and roll if some shit goes down.  He points to a doorless one.  No.  The driver’s not wearing the standard garb.  He looks as if he was just walking by and decided to take a spin in a mototaxi.  A few drivers are standing around yelling and trying to get us to choose them.  The dispatcher points out another guy, youngish.  I try and do the Peruvian move where you look into his soul….I don’t know if it’s working but I don’t like the look of how eager he is.  There is an older man standing aside, not soliciting us.  I pick him.  He doesn’t kill us.  I get out and pay him and study his face so I can remember to choose him next time.


On Saturday’s our boss eats lunch with us at the house.  The house manager is yelling at everyone to clean up the table and not to leave stuff around, because the boss will be mad.  She doesn’t like personal items on the table.  She also doesn’t like people to eat lunch at different times.  She also doesn’t like when someone gets up from the table before we’re all done.  Someone notes:

– There sure are a lot of rules in this house.

– Yeah.  I think our boss used to work at Kenkos.


Wednesday: Huaycan is literally the loudest place I have ever been

There are the usual busy city sounds: dogs barking, people yelling, horns blaring.  But there are also a series of distinct sounds for everything here. The garbage man comes every morning.  He rides a little moto around and sings a sort of song into a megaphone:  “Come with your garbage.  Come with your garbage.”  People then come running to give him their trash.

There are some other words to that song, but I’m gonna need to Google the lyrics – the megaphone tends to distort.


Then, we have the mothers who use horns to call their children home.  One toot is not enough.  They toot until the child shows up.  Around sundown the mom-horns start to kick in.  Each horn is a little different, and the voluntarios who have been here long enough can even tell which kid belongs to which sound, and thereby deduce who is in a crapload of trouble for not showing up on time.  Alejandro seems to be in trouble a lot.


Then, there are the sounds of the whistles that the security guys use to ward off would-be thieves.  The sound of the lady who sells bread from her bike basket: just a standard bike bell while she yells “PAAAAN.”  The man who sells his wife’s leftovers is my favorite. He’s got a pretty good voice and he just sings about whatever she’s made.  The papas rellenas are pretty legit.  When all the sounds start to happen at once, it’s all so very Oliver Twist ala the “Who Will Buy” number.  All the street vendors singing about there wares.  “Who will buuuuuuy my sweet red rooooooses, twoooooo blooooms for a penny…”



A bunch of the voluntarios pile into a Combi.  There are no seats and we have to stand.  I realize I’m literally the only one in the bunch who doesn’t isn’t required to be doubled over in order to “stand-up.”  In fact, I couldn’t even touch the roof with my head if I stood on tiptoes.  I feel a little bit like the Bee Girl in that Blind Melon video… I’ve found my people!  We’re all sort of short, and stout, and into carbs.  I totally fit in here.  Take that tall, fit, handsome Germans!



The Combi system is really ridiculous.  In addition to there not being any legit stops or schedules, you also can’t actually trust the cobrador to tell you where you’re going.  They get a commission for every person they get on board, so sometimes they just lie to you about where they’re headed.  Or, actually, it’s not that they lie really, but they omit.  So if you walk up to one and ask: “Avenida de Quince?” they don’t actually say yes, they just yell:  “Sube. Sube. Sube.” (Get on. Get on.)  They bang the side of the bus and yell to people walking by on the streets trying, I can only assume, to solicit them into taking a Combi ride they weren’t otherwise planning to take.  (“You know, I wasn’t planning on spending money to be packed so tightly into a van that I’m actually covered in other people’s sweat, all just to go somewhere I don’t even need to be, but that Cobrador is quite the salesman.”)


They just act like they didn’t hear you, or that they’re so busy taking money and advertising that they don’t have time to say anything but “Sube.”  So they just keep yelling at you, and so eventually you just sube and hope it’s going to where you need to be.


So today, in Zone Z, I discover a bunch of children standing around a giant turtle….wait….let me back up and paint a better picture for you with these actual pictures.

This, friends, is Huaycan.


It’s basically a desert valley between a bunch of mountains.


There’s no water for miles. None.  Like sometimes not even to drink.  The only wildlife I’ve seen so far are stray dogs.  Animals don’t live in these conditions.  People barely live in them.  I’ve seen cacti dried out and keeled over.  So marine life certainly does not live here.  And listen, I’m no scientist, right.  Maybe it’s a land tortoise or something…. but he doesn’t live in Huaycan anymore than he lives inManhattan.

– Um, Ernesto where did you guys get this turtle?

– We found him.

– You found him where?

– Here.  (Points to mound of garbage on the side of the road)

– Here in the trash?

– Si.  We wanted to feed him something, but I think they eat leaves and we don’t have those (See above In re: no water/vegetation).


Enter another voluntario.

Other Voluntario: – What the hell?  Is that a tortoise?

Me: –  I’ve been saying turtle, but what do I know?

OV: –  Yeah, it’s definitely a tortoise.

Me: –  You sure learned a lot majoring in Spanish literature.

OV –  But how did he get up here? (Looks down the massive hill.) There’s no way it climbed up the hill, right?

Me-  Doubtful.  I feel like we would’ve seen him making his way up here for days.  This is apparently the first sighting.

OV: – Crazy.

Me: – Yeah, the poor little guy probably got on the wrong Combi and shit.  He was all like “Galapagos?”  and they were like “Sube! Sube!”

OV: – Yeah, I guess.  But once you see you’re on the wrong Combi, you just get off.

Me: – Dude, he’s a turtle…

OV: – Tortoise…

Me: – …tortoise…by the time he was able to get moving it was too late.  Now he lives here among the Zone Z trash.  He’ll probably never be able to get up enough speed to catch another Combi headed back down.






Tuesday: The Guilt of Privilege



It’s amazing how little space you really need to live.  I’m in a house with ten people and I’ve managed to cram my entire life into a twin sized bed and three small drawers.  My bed doubles as a storage space.  I sleep all the way against the rails and store clothes, books, medicine and various other things along the side of the wall.  I cuddle with the neck pillow that I would normally use for the plane.  There is nowhere else to put it anyway.




We are working on a mural with the women in Zone Z.  They’re not quite sure about how it works or why we’re doing it, but we’re trying to teach them about the reasons murals are used/popular.  Giving them examples of Diego Rivera and various other types of political style murals.  One of the girls I work with designed a beautiful mural for them to paint on the wall of the school room of our building.  We gave them the mural broken down onto pieces of paper for them to do a test run of the grid system.  The mural is a picture of what is quite clearly a Peruvian woman with a child strapped to her back in a colorful blanket.  Each woman received a square to paint however she liked and every single woman who had any skin color in her drawing, colored her in to be a Gringa.  It was weird and a little sad.  Like those social experiments back in the day where little black girls were made to choose between two barbies, and they were always picking the white one.  I hope the real mural turns out to actually look like them.




After the mural in Zone Z, we run to catch the Combi to Zone S.  It’s starting to leave without us, and we’re already late.  So I start running and yelling. Chelseafollows me.  We already attract plenty of attention to ourselves and now we’re two loud-arse Gringas sprinting after the Combi in our flip flops and backpacks, yelling in poor Spanish.  The Combi stops and we get on, panting.  All the natives are shaking their heads and laughing at us.


Each of the Zones is sort of set up the same way.  There’s dirt road leading away from the main roads of the “city” that go uphill at about a 45 degree angle.  Off these “main” dirt roads, are smaller dirt roads where people have set up makeshift houses.  The further uphill you go, the further you are from the city, the worse the poverty becomes.  Zone S is one of the newer Zones we’ve started to work with.  The Combis for this area only go about halfway up the hill, at which point you have to get out, and hope to find a Mototaxista that you think/hope won’t rob you (“Look the driver in the eyes,” the Peruvians will tell you, “this is how you know it’s safe”).  Alternatively, you can walk about 15 solid minutes up this desert hill at a 45 degree angle, through an area of the Zone where no one knows you, all the way up to the tippy top of the mountain where we work.


In Zone Z, we work with the people who live right in the middle of the mountain path, we’ve been there awhile and everyone knows and sort of watches out for the Gringos.  The ladies wait with us at night after class, the children greet us.  It’s safer.  But in Zone S, all the locals in the middle of the hill know, is that a few times every day a bus drops off a bunch of Gringos in backpacks, ostensibly filled with loads of expensive, stealable, items, and they trek uphill to do god knows what, totally unattended.


During the day it doesn’t feel like that big of a deal.  Lots of people are out and about, women and children, etc.  It’s busy.  You’re always with a voluntario buddy, so it’s fine.  At night, it’s less so, and I’m not keen to walk down the mountain in the dark every night at the same time.  It seems like just asking for trouble.  The other voluntarios keep telling me they’ve never had a problem and it’s fine.  But it’s not for me.


Tonight, three of us begin walking down the hill and we’re suddenly surrounded by four very large, ferociously barking dogs.  Stray dogs abound in Huaycan, but mostly they’re either disinterested or friendly.  These four are obviously neither.  The Peruvian non-friendly-dog-repellent-method is a three step process.


Step 1) Clap your hands and make noises in their direction;

Step 2) if step 1 fails, pick up a rock. Usually even motioning in the direction of a rock is enough to send them flying.

Step 3) if steps 1 and 2 fail, throw rock.


I have only ever made it to miming a rock pick-up and it’s been pretty successful.  But now it’s dark, and we’re outnumbered.  Maybe we could scare off a few of them, but really, who knows?  Maybe one of them will end up being really brave and attack.  We all try to stay calm and keep walking at an even pace.  Don’t look back!  We’re in their territory and as soon as we’re out they’ll go away.  We walk with them nipping at the air behind our heels for about a solid 40 seconds, and they give up.  We start to laugh and feel relieved, but this is obviously a sort of provocation as far as one of the dogs is concerned, because he chases after us and starts up again.  Dear God don’t let a dog bite one of us.  It’s not even the bite itself that worries me; it’s the Peruvian hospital I’d have to go to thereafter.  Or possibly even the transportation I’d have to take at this late hour to even get there:

– How’d Abby die?

– Dog bite.

– Geez, I thought it was just a minor wound.

– Yeah. She got shot on the way to the hospital.


The dogs all give up and we survive.  Halfway down the hill we run into some kids we know from class and warn them about the dogs up the hill.  “Oh, those dogs are okay.  You just have to remember to never run and you’ll be okay.  If you run, they’ll bite you.”  Noted.  I can’t believe these kids have to trek through that everyday to get home.  Alone.  In the dark no less.  I wish I were as brave as this 11 year old.


We get to the middle of the hill and wait for the Combi with a large crowd of people.  Three little girls are staring at us like we’re aliens.  They take turns pushing each other forward, no one wanting to be the first girl to speak to us.  They finally walk over.

– Do you live here?

– No. We live in Zone D. (Looks of disbelief)

– But where did you come from?


– English!  You speak English?

– Yes.

They each take turns mimicking the way English sounds to them “Wa wah wah wah.”

– Yep that’s about right.

– How did you come here?

– In a plane.

– No way!  What is a plane like?

– Like a Combi I guess.  But it flies, and there’s no cobrador [and the seats are welded to the floor, and you don’t have to shut the windows in the 90 degree heat because people walking by might reach in and steal something from you, and the driver’s not nuts, and no one is asking you to hold their chicken while they make change…but other than that, it’s mostly the same].

– Do you think we can visit you inAmerica?  Can we take a plane?  Will we take a plane one day?


No.  No, you won’t.  That’s the sad thing.  Most of you will probably never even take a Combi to another Zone….and with that, the guilt of privilege sets in….

Week two: Monday


Teaching English.  Practicing sentences with “instead of”  — thought about all the “instead ofs” since I arrived here

  • Instead of using lotion I use bug spray.
  • Instead of the standard four food groups we have the Peruvian 4: rice, potatoes, corn, platanos.  – You can have anything you want to eat for dinner provided it contains these items.
  • Instead of drinking lots of water before I go to bed, I drink almost none, because I can’t be bothered (read: am scared) to climb down the rickety ass ladder of my bunk in the middle of the night.
  • Instead of loving to do things on my own, I go nowhere without a buddy.


Teaching a Spanish literacy class to a group of women who never learned to read or write.  It’s ridiculously rewarding to see how excited they are when they read a sentence aloud and realize they can do it!  They’re reading!


Violeta is our nosy next door neighbor.  She’s a little intense but you have to be nice to her because she could make things rough for us. When you walk by her place you can see her eyes peaking out through her curtains, following you like the creepy eyes in a portrait in cartoons. I walk by and wave to the eyes.  She comes out of her house and calls me over for a conversation.

– Hello, I’m Violeta and you are new.

– Yes, hello.  I’m Abby.

– I know.

– Are you Catholic?

– I’m sorry?

– Catholic.  Are you Catholic?

– Um. No.

– Are you something else? Jewish maybe.  One of the girls in the house is a Jew, you know.

– Um. No. Not Jewish.  Not anything.

– You believe in God though don’t you?  Because otherwise you will go to hell.

– I must not be understanding you.  My Spanish is not great.

– You understand.  You understand.

I back slowly away apologizing for my language failures….this place is actually a lot like my experience in Georgia…..


Teaching a computer course.  Helping a very creepy man learn Excel while he leers at me and generally acts like a creepster.  He keeps typing things into the cells while I show him what to do: “You smell beautiful.” Etc.  I yell at him and tell him not to come back to the next class.  We’re learning here, we’re not a frickin matchmaking service.  I don’t know the word for matchmaking.  It probably doesn’t come across as forceful as I’d like it to sound.


The pre-teens in my biblioteca have requested I read them Twilight, in Spanish, during story hour.  They are clearly a perceptive bunch.

Week One: Random Highlights

A woman on the Combi is falling asleep with her baby in her arms.  She’s so tired she can’t keep her eyes open and keeps almost falling out of her chair and dropping the child.  The Peruvians take turns standing guard over her and the baby to make sure they don’t fall.  When someone reaches their stop they just tap the next person, and they take over the job.


Every conversation I have with a Peruvian woman goes like this:

– Are you married?

– Yes.

– How many children do you have?

– None.

– None?

– None.

– How many will you have?

– (I launch into a two minute description of the reasons I don’t have children and the reasons why I don’t want them.  They stare blankly)

– So how many children will you have then?

– Two.  I will have two.

Alternate conversation:

– You won’t see your husband for six months?

– Correct.

– Amor de lejos, amor de cuatro (Long distance love is a love with four people.)


The Combi stops are pretty hysterical.  There aren’t any actual bus stops, especially in the areas where it’s the most run down. (Um, Abby, we use the term “developing” not run-down.)  People just yell descriptive terms at the driver, which eventually become the standard stops.  My favorite stop name so far is “Two Posts” – which is exactly what you think it is –  two metal poles stuck in the ground in the middle of nowhere.


Lowlight: Saw an adorable puppy….. so skinny, starving….. eating a dead dog.


At night there are security guards that patrol around to try and ward off would be pick-pockets, etc.  It’s a little bit homoerotic.  Two men ride around on one motorcycle, sitting extremely erect and taking their job pretty seriously.  The first man drives, and the second man intermittently blows a whistle, which I can only assume works on thieves the way dog whistles do on animals.  The rest of us can’t really understand it or hear it, but they can’t help but be affected.