One of the most important qualities an AV volunteer can have in a place like Chulucanas, Peru is the ability to be flexible, open to new ideas and experiences, and comfortable with the unknown…and the uncomfortable. I tried to come into my year of service without expectations, because if I knew one thing for sure, it was that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The great thing about Chulucanas is that you have the opportunity to have multiple and numerous jobs that may change throughout the course of the year and may accumulate as well, so it is a good thing that I didn’t have some fixed idea of “my job in Peru”. Instead, I tried to take advantage of them all.
The theme of my blog started out with my new local friends teasing me about how I always say yes….yes to taking on random jobs or favors or activities. I guess they got tired of me always dividing up my time, but I would like to elaborate on how each time I said “yes” I got unforgettable and unique experiences in return.
1. Michael Jackson
Peruvians really love MJ. I mean, I am a huge fan myself but these people don’t even know what he is singing about and they go crazy for his songs. It’s great. The students I teach at the parochial school found out I shared their love for the King of Pop (RIP), and they asked me to choreograph a dance for them for the annual Mother’s Day celebration. Of course I said yes, thinking it would be a small side project that would end up being one of many numbers at a small after school gathering of some students’ and moms. WRONG. First of all, they wanted to do Thriller, which I was all for because I remembered some choreography from when I danced it for my high school dance team one Halloween. I guess I didn’t take into account that they didn’t understand the song was about terror and zombies, but I figured their moms would appreciate the creativity. After a few weeks it was show time, and the kids had gone out and rented a smoke machine, strobe light, made costumes by cutting up old shirts, and found a guy to paint their faces like dead people. We were the last number…the grand finale in an auditorium packed with moms…some even standing outside the doors looking in. It was a huge success and the kids were so happy… I don’t think the moms even cared that their mother’s day gift was their son or daughter acting like they were back from the dead. Not only was this something they will remember from their last year of high school, but it was something I will never forget either. The whole experience helped me reach out to the students who may not always be present in class and show up with their English homework done, but who have these extraordinary personalities and talents that I would not have never known had I limited myself to the classroom setting. I was able to gain the kids’ trust within the first months of teaching, and this has been so helpful for the rest of my year volunteering at the school. The number was asked to be performed at another school a few months later, and I was also asked to help choreograph for another group of girls for a dance competition. Opportunities like these helped me to meet more of the youth in the community and feel more involved in and a part of Chulucanas.
I never imagined that being able to speak English in a poor Spanish-speaking town would be so incredibly valued/sought after. Almost everywhere we go, we are asked by people where we teach, how they can enroll, if they can get private lessons, etc. It was a little overwhelming at first but I took on classes at the high school, classes for adults at a community center run by the Sisters of Mercy, and classes at the new seminary of the Chulucanas Diocese. The advantage here for saying yes to all three jobs as a teacher was the amazing relationships I was able to form. Not only do the kids at school make me smile every day, but they can make me forget about any problems I have instantly because they have a way of sensing when something is off, and I am so grateful for each one of them. The seminarians are also friends I will miss. I don’t know what our 4th of July would have been like without them at our house for an “American style” party, and I am not sure I will ever have the opportunity to be buddies with future priests again. Lastly, one of the most special relationships I made was with my conversation class, consisting of two girls close to my own age. In Chulucanas, it is very difficult to make friends with a) women b) women my age. Why? Well, sadly it is not rare in this culture to have a family or be a single mother by the time you are 23 (meaning you are stuck in the house), and if that is not the case, you don’t necessarily stick around Chulucanas. Many of the girls go to the city to study and only come home on the weekends, making it difficult to make friends with people who are not 12 or 70 years old. I was lucky to be able to have these two girls as my students, but more importantly my friends. It is amazing how you can tie in a conversation lesson with watching movies and listening to music in English!
So as not to make this entry obnoxiously long, I will conclude with a brief summary of other “yeses”. Yes to learning and dancing a traditional Peruvian dance in front of a team of volunteer doctors from the U.S. Yes to quitting vegetarianism and eating pig intestine my second week in Peru (which turned into eating a lot more meats…that I ended up really enjoying). Yes to going to baby showers and birthdays and saying yes to participating in their games (which may or may not have consisted of dressing up as Barney). Each of these experiences were unique and (as cliché as it sounds) once in a lifetime.
I will miss the beautiful and random life I have lived in my year in Chulucanas, but from it I will take so much. Above all, an adventurous outlook that looks to suck out all the juice life has to give.
Chulucanas, Peru 2010