Word to the wise, study abroaders: I am of the school of thought that packing for too many contingencies is just plain silly; just bring your tools.  However, do yourself a favor, and bring yourself a full supply of GOOD Q-tips!

Last night, a Peruvian friend and I went to a really cool restaurant turística called La Candelaria  Also, there was a lot of audience participation and an MC has everyone come up and instruct people in folk dances.  It was a great time; a mix of watching these amazing dancers dance to the live band and also in between, we danced the salsa and cumbia to the live band.  At one point, all the foreigners were brought up onto the stage; the only other folks from the States that night were a family from D.C. and a gal whose mother is Peruvian from Oklahoma.  There were people from all over South America and Europe, quite a representation!  We had to dance our own ”cultural” dances for the audience.  For example, the French folks were made to do the can-can; this also experientially gives the outsiders a caution of how ridiculous it really is to water down a culture into a spectacle of festival and fashion.  I assure you that I well represented our culture with my interpretation of Boogie Nights and disco.  ¡Viva disco! 

Today, I went to Pachacamac with some other friends; these are the ruins just outside the city.  We walked and saw amazing Incan ruins on top of the ruins of other civilizations; just as the Spaniards built Cathedrals on top of temples later to prove their superiority, so did the conquering Incans.     

On a side note, not having other people my age in a study group around me, forces me to have to be outgoing and make friends with people here.  I love this because I actually spend my time relating in Spanish, which is exactly what I intended.  Not that I couldn’t have done that otherwise, but it’s too easy to slip into the comfort of your first language.  From this foreigner’s experience (in this case a US foreigner in Peru), it really does help when you raise your voice to speak to a foreigner!  It forces the native speaker to talk a little more slowly and annunciate the consonants.   I’ve been thinking a lot about my friends here.  I’ve always heard that the U.S. has one of the most mobile labor forces, and that sounds like a boring and ridiculous fact.  Knowing all the expenses of moving and the number of people who feel trapped and can’t move, this doesn’t always ring true to me…until you see the way that family works in a fairly poor and traditional working class barrio.  Here, in Callao, people build their houses, literally, floor by floor, partition by partition.  I was shocked to see a friend’s house that looks like a gutted out building with doors because it’s just cement.  Getting by is a full family effort, and it’s interesting to have conversations with people of my generation of late twenties and early thirties young adults, who have passed their youth phase and are truly into their young adulthood.  The pressure to live at home after all that time with family-not only before marriage but also after and with kids- is so strong and sometimes takes negative, guilt manifestations.  My peers I talk to are so interested and somewhat jealous in the fact that I live such a separate life from my parents, so independent and can hardly imagine it.  Family networks may be an economic survival mechanism but definitely not one that everyone would chose if they had a better economic option.

With all due respect to the multitude of belief systems, this is just a commentary of my observations.  We have become accustomed in the States to accepting nothing less than true religious tolerance, and that freedom of religion truly means freedom to practice one’s religion, not forced to follow the tenants of someone else’s.  Ahem, um, mostly.  There is a whole lot of interesting things going on in the Catholic Church in Peru, and this is a matter of political importance here since there is not separation of church here.  Internationally, and in Peru in the last decade, the Catholic Church is becoming very conservative and into evangelizing and abolishing all the ideas and music of Vatican II.  Part of it is a response to growing Protestantism here, but not in the way we even think of in the States.  To me, it’s so fascinating that many Peruvian folks don’t have a concept of how you can coexist in a family with different beliefs, nor who have a concept of what we think of mainstream Protestantism in the US.  The majority of the formation of new, Protestant, aka non-Catholic churches that are here takes on the form of holy wars with pictures of the bishop as a devil and all.  The Catholic Church in Peru for its part is now responding in kind, with similar, authority language.  Old style, liberation theologian, and community modeling Catholics still exist, but they have all been removed from any power and, some, even from their charges.

Ciao for now!

Another Two Months Later

Well a lot has been going on since my last post. Since May, I’ve traveled to a city called Da Tong in the Shanxi province, finished my semester at Shandong University, and performed at the international student graduation ceremony.

Da Tong was a very interesting experience to say the least. Since Da Tong is not a very big city by Chinese standards the only way to get there from Jinan(where I was staying) was by bus. The trip by bus takes about 11-12 hours. My friend suggested we take a sleeper bus. I thought a sleeper bus was going to be great, but the conditions of the bus was far below my expectations. The bus basically has twenty beds about 16 inches in width and 5 feet in length, no bathroom, and 20 pairs of feet. I don’t know about you guys but that smells like a good time. Anyways, Da Tong itself was a great city to visit. The city is a lot smaller than Beijing and Shanghai, but the cultural experience, natural, and industrial scenery is amongst the best in China. You can check out this link My Pics for photos of my travels.

Shandong University was a great experience, I met great people, had a good time, and my Mandarin has improved tremendously. By meeting all these people I now have a place to stay in Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Italy, Korea, and Malaysia. Through school, interaction with the locals, and tutoring I am now able hold a decent conversation using Mandarin. After the final examinations, there was a graduation ceremony for all international students. At this ceremony I sang a song and performed a skit from a popular Chinese sitcom. Video footage coming soon….

I am currently living in Beijing waiting anxiously for the Olympics to start (I found a job). Thank you Allie!!!! Well hopefully it will not take another two months before my next post. Talk to you next time!


Un montón de cosas (as the limeños, or people from Lima, say)

cemetery-callao-peru8.JPG21 de junio

Last night, we went to the mass for P*’s mother.  It was really beautiful.  The whole church is the color of lavender because it represents one of the patron saints of the country.  This saint is called the Lord of the Miracles after a building that collapsed in a sismo or earthquake and left only a wall upon which a certain picture of Jesus was painted.  Every October, people who want to ask for a miracle wear a purple dress or covering all month. I was so sad for my friend P*.  She lives one block from me in Kentucky at the house where I did my internship.  She is a Peruvian, but won the lottery and has been a resident of the U.S. for several years and works in Louisville.  She is very dear, and we were planning to travel together for months just on my way to Peru, so I could help her carry her things for her and her infant.  There are quite a few Peruvians in Louisville, and I brought a whole extra suitcase with things just for some my friends’ and acquaintances’ families.  However, when her mother suddenly died, she had to leave quickly for Peru.  She still missed the burial.  I’m really glad I was able to be there.  At the very least, it demonstrated to her family, that even her friends from Kentucky, from another continent, mourn with them.  She has many friends in Louisville through her work at Kenwood and the people at St. Williams. 

The ceremony was very large, several hundred people.  The mass honors the one month anniversary of her death and is a very common celebration in addition to the traditional funeral.  It is a way to say thank you to the friends and family who supported them through their grief because at the end, a large meal is given to everyone in attendance.  In this case, C*’s favorite, the dish, Ahi de gallina, which reminded me a lot of etouffe but with chicken.  I think it’s very beautiful because families are usually too in shock at the time of a funeral to truly be present in spirit to celebrate the life of their loved one.  There were hundreds there because her family is very well loved and respected in the barrio.  Her father was involved in neighborhood politics for years, even once a city council person.  The mother ran the capilla’s program to teach First Communion classes for years, which included supervising the parejas guias and young animadores who helped and included classes for parents on raising your children in the Catholic tradition.

The humorous thing – and C* warned me about this – is because I’m hanging with the Sisters and look a little different, many people assume I am a nun.  They call me Hermana Emily and Madrecita.  This is all a stretch considering I am not Catholic!  Sister C*, or just C*, has been excellent.  She has taken charge of being my own personal tour guide.  Yesterday, we went to the market, and she pointed out all the unfamiliar fruits, and the llama jerkey, charqui.  Through her, I’ve met street vendors, people on the street, the people at the market she knows, and know who the neighborhood thieves are.  I need to get started looking for the alpaca jerkey and meat for Dr. Markowitz.  This is going to be a fun adventure.  There is much more and mostly lamb, chicken, beef, and fish.  Cow stomach is especially popular. 

Callao where I’m staying is a poorer suburb of Lima.  The buildings look ok from the street, but seen from above with the roofs, many of them are more like shacks for the quality of the roofs and the way houses are on top of one another.  The sisters try to live as close to the lives of the people in the barrio as possible, so we eat and live very simply but comfortably.  That’s what I love about my trip to Peru, many might think it is a waste of time to have to clean, cook, and hand wash their own clothing, but for me, I feel like I am gaining more of the culture because I can have deeper conversations in Spanish because I understand the language and can conform to practices of not just the people in the richest neighborhoods.

I start my charges in the parroquial school on Monday.  I’m helping tutor in math and supplement their English classes.  I think this will leave me plenty of time to handwash all my clothes, do my research paper, and study for the GRE in the afternoons and evenings.  Hasta prontito!

UPDATE – Here are some pictures.  I spent part of the afternoon at P*’s mother’s grave with the family, talking and visiting and saying some prayers.  Cemetaries are very different here.  This cemetery is most like ones we know in the United States but because land is so costly, in one grave spot, they bury five people.  A more common way in the city because of the urban problem are more like these mausoleums that are huge and are now being constructed even with second stories.  C* took me to visit to see this important and interesting cultural difference in terms of how families in a place where families and parents and grandparents are highly valued and often live In close proximity deal with the loss of a loved one.  This is an economic problem, how they honor their dead and make funerals sacred when encountering a serious scarcity of resources: land (because most Latin America countries are even more urbanized than the States with megacities like Lima attracting a huge part of the population) as well as money.