Friday, May 22, 2009

So this is my last time sitting in this little internet cafe... atleast until I come back. I will be coming back and next time I think it would be fun to bring someone and continue traveling throughout South America. There´s so many things that I want to see! I decided to go with Sean and Ryan yesterday into Lima and I am so glad I did. We went in early and saw the huge Basilica and two of the famous monastaries (Santo Domingo and San Franciscan). I was in complete awe of how beautiful these places were! The monastaries were decorated in this gorgeous Spanish tile and both had libraries overflowing with books dating all the way back to the 16th century. We went to the more ritzy part of the city and ate lunch (we decided to eat a gringo restaurant since we´re burnt out on beans and rice). Then we spent the rest of the day shopping in markets where I found some jewelery and hats! One thing that is funny about Lima is that there are always about six stores in a row that sell all the same stuff. There were definitely some parts of the city where people looked at our skin like we were from another planet. Police officers actually stopped us and asked us if we were lost. There are some pretty parts of Lima, but the poor parts are really poor... to the extreme.
We ate a small dinner at a tapas and wine bar then headed to the Brisas of Titicaca, a traditional show of Peruvian dancers. It was fun because everyone can get up and dance during the dancers´ breaks. Their costumes were incredibly detailed and bright. My favorite was a huge gorilla running around. I thought I´d be adventurous and ordered this drink called the Machu Pichu and it was actually disgusting, but it looked cool with about six different colors. Our day trip to Lima was a fun way to wind down my trip, but I am glad I get to spend today with the kids. The taxi is coming to take me to the airport tonight after the kids sing and pray. I´m taking the redeye to Atlanta and I will be in around 8 am.
Although I am sad to say goodbye, I am so happy that I came to the Hogar when I did. Just in two weeks, I have developed more patience than I ever thought was possible. Being here has given me the oppurtunity to interact with people that live an entirely different life than me. The childrens´ stories and backgrounds make me even more grateful for my life, my family and all of the blessings God has given me. It´s easier now to laugh at the problems I think I have sometimes (when they are actually not problems at all). My eyes are opened wider after being with people who live in unfortunate conditions but continue to be full of joy. Besides, what is there not to be joyful about in this life?

Chao amigos.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I can´t believe that I am heading into the end of my stay at the Hogar. I have just started to get used to being a part of the household and the daily grind. I can´t help but wonder if it´s hard for some of the children after they become attached to a volunteer and then must see them go after a certain amount of time. I imagine they are immune to the process by now, but it´s sad to think that since day one, most of them have had to say goodbye far too many times. Maybe I should be more concerned with my attachment issues with a few of the kids. I wish the little ones were old enough to email and stay in touch so I could see what how they´re doing.
I also have been thinking about the children with severe burns. Although they are outgoing and comfortable with themselves now, I hope that once they hit puberty and begin to think more about their differences that they will be okay. I have no idea what middle school is like here, but if it´s like it is in the states, they might have a rough road to walk down. On the other hand, housefires are common here so it may be more widely accepted in social situations. I sure hope that´s the case. I also hope that there will be more done about the ridiculous number of young mothers who have no idea how to care for their babies.. let alone the means to feed them and care for them. I used to think America had a problem with that but compared to Peru, it´s nothing.
I just got done ¨painting¨ (or throwing paint everywhere but the paper) with a few of the kids that don´t go to school. It´s unfortunate that some of them don´t have the oppurtunity to go to school because of their condition. The ones that do are so eager to learn and even to help me with Spanish if I ask for it. Alex, who is only 7, is the brightest of the younger ones when it comes to schoolwork. I was helping Jose, who is about 12, with his English work and it made me realize how complex are language is and how hard it must be to learn if it´s not your native language. Our grammar and vocabulary really doesn´t make much sense if you think about it. Jamie is 22 and is determined to master English and teach it here. Jarred and I were helping him study last night... we have too many meanings for just one word!
After eating at a local place the other night, I have to admit that Peruvian cuisine is not high on my list of dining preference. Avery, Suzannah and I laughed through the entire meal. They ordered the ¨traditional¨ dish and Suzannah claims that it actually had dirt in it. I got lucky with mine. I asked the waitress to bring the best fish that they have and it was light and yummy. Their huge portions could be in competition with the obsurdity of America´s portions. My plate could have been for three. On the bright side, their pina coladas were perfectly refreshing. Desserts here are usually small but satisfying. My favorite is this chocolate ball with graham cracker and marshmellow.. YUM.
Suzannah and Avery left yesterday and it´s wierd here without them! They are both so laid back and so much fun to be around. I realized it´s nice to have other people on the same wavelength as you when you are doing this kind of work. I became good friends with them both in only a week and I hope to visit them in Jackson, Wyoming later this summer. I am now sharing the little room with three other girls, but we make it work. A girl named Kate arrived two days ago from Maine. I am thinking about taking a day with two of the guys tomorrow to go into Lima and see some of the sights.
It never rains here and it is making me wonder how the flowers stay so vibrant and perfect looking. The colors of the flowers and the kelly green grass is unlike anything I have seen before. There´s butterflies everywhere and constant sunshine. Chaclacayo es muy bonito.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I woke up a few days ago wondering why in the world I was dreaming about my third grade classroom. I realized that it´s probably because about 70% of my time here is spent living in the mindset of children. It´s amazing to see how long a kid´s imagination can keep them occupied and living with these children has certainly given me the chance to regress back to .. third grade maybe? That was my favorite year anyways. Despite the devestating conditions that these children live in, the Hogar is one of the happiest and loving places I have ever been. I found myself wondering what I will do when I leave and don´t have 50 little children to hug me and kiss me! My favorite little boy is probably Alex, because he gives me these little kisses and just wants to cuddle all day long.
Although it is really positive and the staff does an amazing job at keeping things that way, the stories I continue to hear about the childrens´backgrounds exceed my comprehension. Imagine being 12 years old and having Leukemia. Your parents send you to a house full of children that you have never met before. Wouldn´t you be upset? That´s why I understand why this little girl, Elizabeth, does not speak to anyone. She will nod to me sometimes when I ask her how she is or if she wants to walk with me to mass, but she is basically mute. I am hoping that one day she will realize that she is being given the best care that her family wouldn´t be able to provide for her. Another girl, Roxanna, was given a few months to live about eight months ago and is beginning to hang on by a thread. I am amazed by this little girl, because she lost her sight about a year ago, her time is getting shorter and shorter, yet she is the sweetest girl in the house. Two of the baby twins lost their hearing and their vision after being locked in a dark room for six months, because their parents didn´t know what to do with them.

I took another trip to the Lima hospital the other day, but took only one baby this time. Her name is Maylie and death is also a possibilty in her near future. She has a tube in her nose that feeds her the nutrients that she won´t eat. Her hands are usually covered in mittens and tied together so she won´t pull her tube out of her nose. I could barely understand the doctors in the offices, but I realized that if an operation was not done soon on Maylie, that she didn´t have much hope. The doctors removed the tubes from her nose before we left (I am not sure why, because they talked really fast) and she grabbed everything in sight, including my hair and the people on the bus ride home. I could understand the little girl. I know that I would want to touch everything if my hands were tied together all the time.
After I returned home from Lima on Friday, I knew that something was up with my stomach and the inevitable happened. I had my food poisoning experience that most of the volunteers usually encounter at some point during their stay. My sickness only lasted for about 16 hours and I slept most of the time. Everyone understood and Jarred, who went to med. school, hooked me up with some antibotics and some other pills. By Saturday morning I felt fine, but I have been living off cereal and bread for the past few days to stay on the safe side.
The kids clean the whole house top to bottom on Saturday mornings. They know how to clean better than I do (that´s not saying too much), but it´s impressive. The other volunteers and I tagged along with Mami Terri and one of the Mamittas to the huge market in Chosica. That´s where they buy all the produce and meat for the week. They had everything there and ridiculous amounts of people. I bought five bananas for 1 sole. We also loaded up on some delicious mandarin oranges that are better than any I have ever tasted. One thing that really freaks me out is when the kids eat chicken feet in their soup. They love that stuff.
There´s one girl I have started to admire throughout the past couple of days who is about 26. Anita is one of the most determined people I have come across. Everytime I see her she is writing and reading by herself. Since she was never educated, she is teaching herself everything from scratch so she can go out and get a job.
We have had four new volunteers arrive over the past few days. Ryan and Sean came from Rhode Island and are juniors and seniors at University of RI. Ashley and Morgan came yesterday and they´re from New York. I am enjoying meeting so many different people. The weekend has been a good time to get alittle time off and get to know them. The night life around here is low key, but it´s interesting to see. We went to a little bar the other night where they were playing ¨Laffy Taffy¨, which I think is about two or three years old in the states. This morning, a few of us went on a four hour hike up this mountain right here in Chaclacayo. My calves are mad at me but it was definitely unlike any hike I have ever taken. The mountain was full of rocks (or more like mini boulders), sand and dirt. It was almost like being in the dessert or on a little planet with craters. It was quite challenging and a little dangerous, but reaching the top was amazing. By the time we got back to the Hogar for lunch, the kids were in their Sunday afternoon movie mode. Tonight, a few of the volunteers and I are going out to eat at a local restaurant. I´m excited for my first Peruvian dinner out! Today was a good day to have time to ourselves and I am set for another week with these kids. I have started to wonder why I didn´t plan a longer trip.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Buses in Peru are nothing like buses in America. The only reason I got to sit down is because I was carrying a litle baby girl. Otherwise, I would have been among the crowd of people basically suffocating eachother. It was funny to me though. I got a kick out of watching the guy jump on and off the bus every few blocks to get people on the bus. Although its chaos, everyone is really nice and when Andrea(the baby I took into the Lima hospital) started crying and wouldn´t stop, a woman gave me a lollipop that made Andrea stop crying for the rest of the trip. It was ¨brilliant¨as my Irish friend Darrah would say. I went into Lima with Graciela, a woman who helps out at the Hogar, and that woman speaks so fast that even locals can´t understand her Spanish. She was sweet to me for the most part despite my confusion in the hospital, which is nothing like any hospital I have been to before. It reminded me of a really busy train station in America, with people everywhere, lots of noise, and little food stands. We stayed there most of the day while the children got treated. We had three boys with us too- Alfredo (he´s gorgeous and the ladies man of the house), Jefferson, and Jose. Jefferson is burnt really badly all over his face, but he has more energy than any kid and wants to talk to everybody. Baby Andrea has no fingers or toes and some deformities on her face, but she is still precious and really calm. The air in Lima is very foggy in the Winter (which is now over here) and the streets are lined with vendors and little markets. The kids and I all slept on the bus ride home. A day in Lima will do you in. After dinner and helping the kids with their homework, I unwinded a bit with the other volunteers and tried my first Peruvian beer.

Being here just for a few days has already made me so desperate to learn more Spanish. My dictionary helps me a little, but I like to interact with the locals and the kids here more to help me learn. A group of people from the Peace Corps rented out this BEAUTIFUL house just around the corner from the Hogar. The woman showed me around and told me I could come lay out by the pool during my time off on the weekend. I should probably take her up on that. She asked if Jarred, Darrah, and I would be willing to help them out and tested our Spanish levels. They told me I was intermediate and that I needed to expand my vocabulary. The younger kids just started reaizing that the volunteers don´t speek Spanish all that well and they get quite a kick out of it. The older kids in their teens ask for help with their English work and always want to have a conversation in English. The thing I know that I won´t be able to do is send the kids into ¨Casta gerde¨ or time out. I have just started to use some discipline, because most of the time it´s hard not to laugh at milk coming out of their nose or to let them have a piece of gum. A huge difference from American kids that I have noticed is these kids ability to laugh things off. Although the little ones naturally cry sometimes, the majority of them can bash their face on cement and get up and scream in laughter. In my opinion, these kids are just less dramatic than American ones and tend to let things roll off their back a lot more. One of the girls, Flor, is a bit chubby and has to drop some lbs before she gets operated on. They have her on a strict diet and she is not allowed to eat dessert. They caught her with a stash of candy in her pants and banned her from school for eating the other kid´s lunches! She´s quite the character.

I was so happy when two new girls came to stay in the Hogar. Suzannah and Avery are both 20 and are from Wyoming. They just came from Cuzco and are traveling all over South America after they leave Chaclacayo. They all make me want to travel more, especially Darrah´s endless list of destinations. I have a new desire to go to Columbia. Darrah claims that it´s beautiful and most travelers have the misconception that it´s dangerous there.

¨Mami Terri¨ showed us where the supermarket was this morning and I bought 2 kilos of avacados (¨paltas¨) ! Son muy deliciosas. Things are pretty laid back at the Hogar today and I am on my way to meet the kids and other volunteers at the park.

Hasta luego!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I was pleasantly surprised after I had finally recieved my duffle bag after convincing myself that it had been lost. According to others on my plane, apparently lost baggage in the Lima airport is quite common. Terri, known by the children as ¨Mama Terri!!!!¨, was waiting for me with the taxi driver. I was so relieved that she had returned from her break in the states literally 20 minutes before I arrived. Terri is Dr. Lazzara´s right hand (wo)man and when the doctor is not around, Terri is in charge of the Hogar. The doctor has left for Tampa with one of the patients, Victor, who is 10 years old and has no arms and no left leg. He eats, drinks, writes, and everything else with his right leg. Every six months, Dr. Lazzara and Victor travel to the states for his treatment. The other volunteers were quick to inform me that despite his condition, Victor has quite the personality.
Arriving at the Hogar past midnight, I was greeted by one of the night nurses and knew that I would not see the children until the morning. I did meet one of the other volunteers, Darrah, who is 27 and from Ireland. He has been here for six weeks and I´m not sure if he knows when he´s leaving. There is only one other volunteer right now, Jarred, who is 30 and from Kansas. He has been here for four and a half months and plans to stay for another month. They are both so helpful with great sense of humors.
I woke up to the voices of the children singing and I wandered downstairs to find the ¨Mamitas¨ preparing for lunch in the kitchen. I talked to them about my cousins who they obviously all love and miss. I walked out into the courtyard and I was instantly swarmed by the most adorable kids on earth. ¨Como te llamas, Amiga!!¨ Alfredo was the first little boy who spoke to me. I felt a differnet kind of love that I have never felt before. I played with a few and then I took a look around and noticed the ones with the third degree burns masking their faces and the one with cerebral palsy in the wheelchair. I noticed the blind one sitting in silence. These kids from devestating backgrounds and live with horrible conditions, but all they really want is to be loved and to love back. All they want to do is laugh, give you kisses, run around, and eat chocolate. We walked down to the beautiful park, swang, and played ¨Gatos y rato¨ (I still don´t really understand how to play, but I tried). Later on, we went to mass and I tried to understand as much as I could from the Spanish sermon.
The stories that I have heard from Terri, Darrah, and Jarred continue to blow my mind. A precious girl, Angela, has a father who tried to kill her twice. Roxanna is a little girl who recently lost her eyesight and has to be on steroids. Luis and Flor are siblings and were burnt in a house fire. Flor wears a mask over her face and arms. She has become my favorite little girl, because she just does not stop talking and singing. I made the mistake of showing them my ipod, because now that´s all they want to do! My spanish is rusty because I haven´t taken it in a year, but some of the kids even know a tiny bit of English. They are being taught it in school and I have quickly realized that many of them are very smart.
It´s almost lunchtime at the Hogar, which will probably be rice, beans, and soup. Dinner is usually some kind of chicken with more rice and a little dessert. They start off the day with homemade bread and butter and warm chocolate milk. It´s yummy. Tomorrow they will be back to school and I will be traveling into Lima to assist with taking the children to the hospital.
It´s a lot prettier here than I imagined. It´s 75 degrees and breezy. I was able to run this morning and take in Chaclacyo´s residential area. The streets are lined with bright pink and yellow flowers and there are parakeets and green & yellow parrots flying around. I have never been anywhere where the birds I usually have in cages in my house are flying around outside.

Time to eat!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I am staying at the Hogar San Francisco de Asis, a children's clinic in a village called Chaclacayo, 30 minutes south of Lima. Dr. Anthony Lazarra opened the Hogar in 1987 and devotes his life to God. He spends his days healing destitute children who suffer from all sorts of diseases, such as TB, clef lip & palate and various types of cancer. Volunteers from all over the world come to assist the Hogar staff with the children and daily life at the clinic. A few of my cousins have been to the Hogar and tell me what an amazing experience it is. Some of them have been up to four times and can't wait to go again. I will admit that I am a little apprehensive about going alone, but I am ready to step out of my little world and see what life at the Hogar is all about. I fly out of the Atlanta airport at 5:15 pm tomorrow and arrive in Lima at 10:50 pm. I was told that after I go through customs, there will be a taxi driver with a sign with my name on it. Chaclacayo, here I come.