Monday, November 26, 2012

Feliz Dia Del Pavo

Some of the dinner party! 
As Thanksgiving was encroaching the American calender and Facebook posts, I wondered what I would do for the holiday here in Peru. I tossed around the idea of putting a dinner together but nothing had been planned. We had to work as it was just another normal Thursday here in Peru.

As it turns out, one of my colleagues asked me if I knew how to make banana bread. She was craving it and hoped I could help her make it. I leaped at chance and also suggested that we have a Thanksgiving dinner. She agreed and we put together a small group of guests and a menu.

Turkeys like you can get at your neighborhood grocery store are hard to find here in Piura. The stores had small turkeys, but with our work schedules, we didn't have time to devote to a half-day or full-day tending a tender Tom.  We decided on turkey breast fillets, mashed potatoes, Stove Top stuffing (thanks Mom!), and banana bread. Another colleague was going to make another desert as well.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we went to the grocery store and got our supplies. I carefully wrote down the ingredient lists for our meal. I was in charge of the mashed potatoes, stuffing and banana bread. We purchased everything and went on our way.

Thanksgiving Day
After frantically marking final exams, my colleague Elizabeth and I went to Marianella's house because she was hosting the dinner. We were on siesta so we wanted to prep the food so we weren't eating at 11 pm at night.

Banana Bread 
I started prepping the banana bread. I can't find baking soda here, so I found a recipe that called for baking powder instead. Also, nobody had a loaf pan to make the bread so we settled on using a casserole dish. I had in a rush scribbled down the cooking instructions for the bread, and noticed after I made the dough that I wrote "mix flour, sugar and baking powder."

Sugar?! Sugar? I didn't have sugar on my separate ingredient list.  No internet, no smart phone. No way to call my go-to cooking expert Kristina in the United States. What was I going to do?  The dough tasted lousy.  Luckily, Marianella had sugar. The next step was to try to figure out how much sugar to add. Most people don't have measuring cups or spoons here, they eyeball measurements. Marianella handed me a tablespoon and I proceeded to add several tablespoons of sugar into the dough and crossed my fingers.

Elizabeth had brought bananas from her father's farm in Tallara. She mashed them up and she proceeded to pour the banana goo into the dough. I stirred it until it looked somewhat familiar to what I'm used to with banana bread. She poured the batter into the casserole dish and put it in the oven. I was really anxious about the bread. Was there enough sugar? Would it cook okay in the dish?  I fretted about it, I didn't want to waste the ingredients or be embarrassed in front of my friends if it didn't turn out right. About an hour later, the knife test proved it was done. When we were actually ready to dine at about 9 pm, I made sure to test the banana bread first to make sure it was edible - it was! It was pretty close to what you would expect in the United States, it tasted good and with a little butter, it was delicious! What a relief!

Back in September,my first care package included a box of Stove Top Stuffing. Those that know me,know my deep affinity for Stove Top Stuffing. Sometimes, I just prepare a box and eat that for dinner. So, this box had been sitting in my food shelf for 2 months, taunting me, calling out to me... "Eat me..Eat me."  I refused, because I was saving it for Thanksgiving. My friends, and Marianella's mother and brother had never seen stuffing before or heard of it. I explained that it was dried bread crumbs with seasoning.  I boiled the water and butter, and viola...the stuffing was done!

Mashed Potatoes
In my humble opinion, you can't have Thanksgiving without real mashed potatoes. Luckily for me, Peru has thousands of varieties of them.  However, I stuck with my favorite - the yellow gold variety. I wanted to leave the skins on them for extra texture and taste, but my friends said that "wasn't secure."  I also learned that the way to peel potatoes in Peru is to boil them first, then pull the skins off.  So, we put the potatoes in the water to boil.  Ever wait for potatoes to boil? They seem to take forever.  Finally, the potatoes were done. I observed the experts peel the skins of the potatoes. Armed with a fork and a knife, I proceeded to operate on each yellow potato.  I felt like I was opening up a body with forceps as I was carefully peeling the skin off, but leaving as much of the potato behind as I could. It was tedious work and the potatoes were hot. I wished I had a peeler and had peeled them beforehand, but that would be tedious too, so it was really sixes. Thankfully, Marianella's mom helped perform the post-boiling surgery on some of the potatoes.  I mashed them, added butter and my grandfather's secret ingredient - evaporated milk.  I did a taste test and man they turned out perfectly creamy and delicious.

The Spread! Yes, Inca Cola is delicious!
As far as the other dishes, Marianella's mother cooked the turkey fillets. Marianella made a fruit salad with lettuce, red grapes, mango and apple, with a dressing of lime juice, sugar and salt. It was fresh and delicious. She also made a vanilla wafer desert that was heavenly.

We had a wonderful evening. It was so nice to have a dinner party and I can't tell you how comforting eating mashed potatoes and stuffing was to me. It was like a taste of home with familiar food that I knew and enjoyed.

Everyone tried the stuffing and enjoyed it. All the dishes were perfect and it was a lovely evening.  I enjoyed my Peruvian/American Thanksgiving - even if I couldn't go Black Friday shopping! I am grateful for the friends I have made here in Piura!

My delicious plate of Thanksgiving food! 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

La Lavadora Love

Responding to President Thomas S. Monson's recent conference address, I share the following experience.

During my sojourn here in Piura, I haven't had access to a washing machine. My colleague who lives in my building tried hiring a woman to wash her clothes. I too, thought this was a good solution. However, it was expensive and the woman didn't really do good job for my liking... and I know some of my clothes weren't each touched. As far as I knew, there weren't any laundromats. There were laundry services where you could drop your clothes off and pick them up, but it was far from me and the thought of lugging dirty laundry and paying for it didn't thrill me. That only left one option.  Hand wash. On the roof there is a sink, so I would hand wash all my clothes. Yet, my clothes and sheets would never quite come clean.

The language center's administrator offered to bring us a washer from his home in Trujillo - 6 hours away.  September passed and it hadn't worked out for the washer to get sent up.  Then, during the first week of October, the washer arrived.  The administrator had an opportunity to go to Trujillo and arrange the shipment of the washer to my landlord.
I feel like I'm in a rhetoric class...what do these symbols mean?

On Wednesday, the washer had arrived! It was a glorious site to see. It was hooked up Thursday. I'm glad I didn't have to lug that washer up the 3 flights of stairs.  My coworker washed a load of laundry.  On Friday, I attempted to do a load of laundry.  Yet, as I looked at the hieroglyphs on the washer, I couldn't figure out how to make it work. There were no words. Just letters and pictures. I tried every combination. Nothing. I got frustrated. I got angry. I tried checking the power, I turned it off and on again. I stomped my feet.

"I shouldn't have to be a rocket scientist to use this. How could I be so stupid? Why can't I make it work?"  I chastised myself.  It taunted me with the bright blue sticker that proclaimed "European Standards!"  Maybe that's why I couldn't get it to work. The washer must hate Americans.

Finally I gave up and went downstairs.  I'd have to ask my colleague.

Friday evening, I asked her how to use the washer and she just vaguely replied that it took her a while.

Saturday morning, I woke up early, and I simply included in my prayer that I hoped I could figure out how to use the washer. It was a simple and maybe even petty request among the huge problems in the world, yet it was important to me. I went back upstairs, and turned on the washer again and it fired right up. The same thing I did on Friday, worked on Saturday!  The water filled the washer drum and away it went.  I found that the "X" setting worked.

However, as I watched it for  few minutes, the power strip started to smoke and  burning smell filled the air.  I tried plugging the washer cord into another plug, but it smoked again.I unplugged everything and went downstairs. I had to look up how to say "smoke."  I got the landlord. He thought I was asking how to use the washer! And, of course, there was no smoke from the outlet!  He called up another tenant to translate and still there was no smoke.  As we talked, the cord started to smoke.The landlord brought up a heavy-duty power strip and finally, the washer was humming along.

After I came back from work, I had officially my first, full load of really clean laundry.  I thankfully hung the clothes on the line and I was so happy. I felt blessed. I came home after the Saturday afternoon session of conference. I gathered my clothes off the line. Oh, they smelled so fresh! They were so clean! The deodorant  stains from the arms of my shirts were gone!  

 This simple blessing of having access to a washing machine and having it work brought happiness and joy to me. It may seem to be such a simple thing to have a washing machine, but after months of washing by hand, it is a wonderful gift that my colleague Jose brought for us.

3 Questions You Don't Ask

After midterm exams a few weeks ago, we had  break from English classes.  It was a nice but quick break.  During that week break, I volunteered to go to Colegio Santa Maria, a secondary school for girls.  I would be talking with 3 English classes on two separate visits.

The levels of English were different, yet each class asked me the same questions. I asked them about music, movies, family, etc. In every class, there was at least one girl who professed love for One Direction, the British boy band.  I assured them that they would outgrow that love in a few years. They didn't believe me even though I told them I was once like them with New Kids on the Block.

1. Do you like Peruvian food?
Yes, I responded. Everything I have eaten has been delicious.

2. Do you like ceviche?
Yes, which is funny because I don't like seafood.

3. Are you married? Do you have a crush?
I said I wasn't married, but I might have a crush...

But, perhaps the best question every class asked was:

3. How old are you?
Yes, every class asked how old I was!  I took this opportunity to educate them about the 3 questions you don't ask American women.

1. You never ask how old a woman is.
2. You never ask how much she weighs
3. You never ask if she is pregnant because she may just be gorda (fat!).

This answer would be met with peals of laughter! I asked them to guess how old they thought I was. I loved the answer that I was 21.  Most of them guessed mid-twenties. I was pleased. One girl though ventured I was 40! I answered them in Spanish that I was 33.  Boo. Even typing that makes me depressed. Hah.  

I told every class that by learning a foreign language while they were young was an excellent decision. I encouraged them to travel and to see the world and Peru.  It was a choice experience meeting with the girls and a lot of fun, even if they thought I was middle-aged.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A few new pictures, deer, dancing, and comic saaaaannns

Now I'm Cooking

Living in another country forces you to be resourceful.  Certain things that you take for granted back home don't always come standard.

For example,  you may take a kitchen for granted.  You come to expect things like a microwave, fridge, stove, or a sink with hot water.  Maybe you take it for granted that you can cook a hot meal.  

Now, I must point out that of course homes and apartments have kitchens here in Piura;however, in my boarding house, I don't have access to a kitchen.  So I have to be creative in what I eat. I don't like to eat out for all my meals since that adds up!

So, yes, you can do the math. For the last two months, I haven't had a way to prepare a hot meal at home.  When you don't have a fridge or stove, you have to be creative in your meals.  Also, when you don't have a proper sink with hot water, you have to wash your dishes in your shower to get some slightly hot water on them.

After my colleague moved into the room next to me, we got a fridge, so I could store deli meat, cheese, yogurt and fruit. The possibilities expanded, it was like adding a new set of colors to my crayon collection.  After cold meals at home for months, I was so excited! I normally enjoy cold leftovers, but to be able to heat them up would be nice.

Finally, last Saturday, thanks to a financial contribution from mother, I purchased a toaster and an electric skillet! Now I feel I'm almost cooking with an entire color spectrum!  My first dish?  Spanish rice. Thanks mom! Yeah, rice...but hey, by the time I got to the store, it was so crowded and I did not want to stand in a huge line, plus I am nervous about trying to buy carne o pollo.

I took the skillet out of the box and set it up.  I have to use my desk as not only a computer desk, but it also serves as a food prep area, and now kitchen stove and food prep area.  I tried plugging in the cord and for some reason, it didn't fit the plug!  It also was a short cord, so I had to move the desk closer to the outlet.  Thank goodness for my trusty international converter.  Now I was cooking. The skillet heated up quite fast.

The rice cooked quite nicely and I added a bit of the Mexi-Salsa from the gas station to the mix (wishing for some good queso, olives, and green chilis to add), and then made some wheat wraps for dinner.

I can't tell you had great it was to make a hot meal at home! Now I can make all kinds of things: soup, pasta,  meat, chili, etc... any other suggestions? Oh, yeah, mac and cheese!  It's the little things that make life worth living.  Next time, you complain about "slaving away over a hot stove," maybe remember me and be glad you have one.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Last Monday was a religious holiday and while some people hiked to the town of Paita,  my colleague and I took a day trip to Chulacanas, known for its pottery.

We took a moto to the bus depot, one I'd been to before, in the outskirts of town.  Each bus company has their own booth and you locate one that goes your direction, not one direction. :P

My colleague N and I went up to a counter and she said "Chulacanas?"  A man answered "Si." It costs us s./4 soles ($1.53 US) to get a one-way bus ticket to the town.  We went outside to meet our trusty chariot only to find a rickety relic awaiting us, complete with a young boy checking our tickets and directing us onto the bus. Granted it was a holiday, so I hope he was there because of that.

I momentarily thought my feet would go through the floorboard of the bus, but we took our seats. Sometimes   on a bus, you'll have an assigned seat. This time, we were instructed by the boy we could sit anywhere.  N warned me not to sit too far back because there are no real set bus stops. So, if you're not careful, you could blow past your stop and be out of luck.

The bus pulled out of the station to begin our trip. Our first stop? The gas station across the street.

Onward and outward we finally went... and it wasn't too long into the journey that the boy porter started his sales shill. He eventually started passing out candy. N explained that he was hoping for a donation. I had taken some of the candy, so when he walked by, I gave a 50 cent piece (roughly 25 cents).

As we hurtled down the highway and out of the city, the landscape started to change and so did the houses.  Many of the homes were barely more than shacks, with brightly colored outhouses for bathroom facilities.

We approached our stop, or so we thought, and jumped off the bus in a little village area. Of course, there were taxis and motos waiting for the fresh meat.  We had to make a beeline for the bathrooms at the gas station across the street.  While not luxurious,  they were clean, thankfully N had brought tissue and graciously let me use some (clean) ones. :P

She explained to the manager that we wanted to the ceramics market. Apparently, we weren't near the village after all. A moto taxi pulled in for gas and the manager hired the driver for us.  The ride would cost s/.4  - the same as the bus ride!

After the driver was done, we hopped in and away we went. Apparently, we weren't close to the actual city of Chulacanas at all.  The young man kept driving when we passed a sign that said pottery with a left arrow. I remarked to my colleague that there was a sign, but the driver didn't stop. We assumed he knew where he was going.  We drove into the town, it was festive, bright and interesting.  He turned left and then right and around again. I had no idea where we were, and it turned out - neither did he. He stopped, and before we could get out, a swarm of men started coming towards the moto! Finally, he asked for directions and away we went again, on a serpentine journey though Chulcanas proper.  Around we went and finally, we went through their mercado. No pottery to be found.

He stopped for gas again and away we went back out of town, back the way we came. The novelty and humor was wearing off for us. Where were we? Where was this elusive market? Finally, we made it back to that pottery sign and he went down the road. It was a barely graded dirt road for about 5 or 6 miles, in a moto taxi, so I felt like I was in the tumble setting on a dryer.  I felt all my fat jiggle into new formations on my body.

We went further and further away from the main road. My wild imagination started running. We certainly were going to get shanked or fillayed like two pieces of fish.  Thankfully, my worry was assuaged when I saw otehr motos coming our way with happy shopper clutching their ceramic treasures.

Finally, we reached a dusty, low-slung little village. He went down a dusty dirt path and stopped down the main street, if you could call it that.  My colleague jumped out to use the bathroom and left me to negoitate payment.  Suddenly, the payment he wanted was s/.20 soles! ($7).  I argued with him in my limited Spanish. Next, he wanted s/.12 soles! Nope. I said s/.5 and that was it. It wasn't our fault he got lost!  Finally, we just walked away.

He didn't follow after us as we perused the shops.  We wandered into a small shop and ran into three men. My colleague asked them in Spanish how much a moto driver should charge for a ride. They responded in English. They said they'd wait for us from what I heard, I was wandering around the shop.  I figured they were going to help hire us a moto back to town, so we could then catch the bus.

As we were leaving, our moto driver pulled up, with a passenger, he was ready to go. I shoved a s/.5 coin in his hand, and walked off. He took off and that was the end of that hustler.

I enjoyed lookig at a few more shops and it turns out that the men had their own car, and were offering us a ride all the way back to Piura!  So, we climbed in with the 3 guys into the nice silver steed.  Now, this sounds alarming, but I didn't get any weird vibes from the men. Away we went, they were all colleagues and were out in the town on a sales call for an international food company.

We enjoyed a 45-minute ride with them as opposed to a moto ride back to town, then on a bus, then on a moto home. Having your own transportation is such a blessing.  They dropped us off at our house and all was well.  After they drove away, I remarked that we were pretty brave or stupid to take a ride like that. My colleague, having lived overseas for several years, said you have to learn to size up help really quick in a foreign country.

Thankfully, we were safe and sound, and got some good deals on pottery, just next time we'll know where to get off the bus.

It's Prounced GUY-YETTAS

When learning a new language, it's important to practice pronunciation  Let me say it again. It's very important to practice, especially pronunciation.

Yet, you can't learn or improve unless you try, so please learn from my fail.  On the 22nd of September, I helped host a YSA (young single adult) church activity around the idea of American cookies.  I already blogged about that event;however, I didn't mention the most embarrassing part after the fact.

It was after 10 p.m., and we'd cleaned up every trace of cookies in the church building. We were standing around talking in small groups.

In an effort to initiate a conversation with one of the young men, I asked "Te gustan las gallatas.." (Do you like the cookies?). I pronounced it like "gall-lett-as."

He gave me a strange, puzzled look so I asked again... "Te gustan las gallatas?"  Again, he gave me blank, confused stare with a tinge of pain.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of silence, another guy said ... "It sounds like you're saying a word that means naked pictures."  

I basically was asking him if he liked naked pictures!

I probably turned so red, I could have been mistaken for a stop light in the dark city night.  I was so embarrased -  I mean, we were still at the church!

Everyone laughed about it and I know the double ll in Spanish, really I do.  And, by the way, he did like the cookies.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Assorted Piura Photos

Various shots from around Piura.


Canchaque is a town in the highlands of Peru, about 3 hours away from Piura. I went on a trip with friends from UDEP.

The Great Peruvian Cookie Caper

Ever hear that careful what you wish for...because you might just get it?  It's true.  Also, no matter how well you plan, things always will not go as expected!

Earlier this month, I was attending a church activity where a light dinner was provided.  I was thinking that I wished I had a way to make dinner for the young adult members of my congregation.  Oddly enough, about 30 minutes later, some of the people asked me if I knew how to bake cookies. Somehow, it evolved into a planned activity to have an American cookie night.  The night was set for the 22nd of September at the church.

You can't find everything you might find in a typical American grocery store, but I looked for recipes that would work here.  I stressed out all week about ingredients, supplies, back up plans and an agenda so things were planned. I tried to think of every possibility that would hamper the event. 

As I found easy recipes, my next step was to convert the recipes to the metric system.  As the week progressed, I started cursing the French. Do I really need a reason? :D

Just because you're ticked off at the royals, doesn't mean you have to invent a new system of measurement that everyone but the United States uses. 

I scoped out the church kitchen. It certainly isn't like what you would expect in the US. There's a small oven,  a sink and some empty cupboards. The room is also the primary room and the cultural "hall."   It would work though. We'd need baking supplies and hopefully people would bring them.

Procrastination kicked in again, and it was Friday afternoon that I started double-checking my measurements from All Recipes. The site had most of the conversions already figured out for me, but I needed a specific measurement for the chocolate chip cookies. I checked another site for a measurement and about had a heart attack.  The measurements were totally different. I was about ready to give up.  A quick call to my best friend and superb baker,  Kristina did the trick. She asked me to check the website again.  The website had a typo! They listed 1/3 cup twice, instead of 2/3 cup. Phew! 

I woke up early and went to Listo's to buy Reese's Peanut Butter cups for brownies.  I also made copies of the recipes for anyone who wanted them. 

Then I went to a small get together at a colleague's house and I tested out some chocolate cake cookies with M&Ms.  My colleague is a bachelor and lives with his three nephews, so he didn't even know how to turn on the oven or have a proper cookie sheet.  Then I looked at the oven and the temperatures had worn off on the oven.  I used a cake pan to make the cookies. They actually turned out a little more like brownies in texture, but they worked. Good, I felt a little more at ease. I was seriously stressed. 

I was told I could come at 5 pm on Saturday and my plan was to start baking some of the box mixes so some treats were already ready.   But before that, I ran to Open Plaza and got some basic supplies: a cookie sheet, a baking dish, a spatula, a bowl, and a measuring cup. I couldn't find any measuring spoons though. What did people use?  I just had a sneaky feeling that I needed to bring as much of my own things as possible. 

I got to the church at 5 pm.  There was a baptism scheduled so I thought I'd start baking during the baptism. However, the room was set for the baptism, so no pre-baking.  Okay, we'll work with it. 

Problem #1
I checked out the oven and realized it only went to 230. I started thinking about what I could do... I just figured I'd add more time. 

As a side note, the baptism was my first one in Spanish. It was really nice and the spirit was there! 

Finally, at about 7:30ish, we kicked the activity into gear.  I had a trusty translator - Jorge.  I split everyone into groups and had them prepare different recipes. I'm so glad I brought supplies or we'd be stuck with one bowl and nothing else!

Problem #1.5
How did I turn on the oven to start pre-heating? I plugged it in but it wasn't doing anything. Luckily, one of the women knew how to get the gas turned on.  Phew! If there was no oven...

Problem #1.7
Because we were short on butter, I nixed the brownies from scratch. I had one group prepare the box mix with the peanut butter cups. Then I realized it would take 45 minutes to bake! With the oven that didn't go hot enough... it would take about an hour to bake.  Oye!

Problem #2
The chocolate chip cookies went well but when we were ready to put them in the oven (after I showed them how to roll cookie dough), came a major problem!  The cookie sheet was too big for the oven! It wasn't a full-sized oven! I didn't know what to do! Thankfully, one of the girls, Andrea suggested we use the roasting pan after we cleaned it. So they cleaned the pan really well and we used that to bake for the night.  How do you even plan for that? 

Problem #3 
Time. With only one cookie sheet, things were slowed down and we couldn't do all the recipes I planned. 

There were other minor problems, but everything turned out well. Everyone vacuumed up all the cookies and brownies. There weren't even crumbs. The chocolate chip cookies were my favorite, but the peanut butter cookies were a hit. Some of the people had never tasted peanut butter before!  The brownies were thick but delicious.  The oatmeal raisin cookies were... interesting... with chocolate chunks.. that someone decided to toss into the mix. People didn't even mind the burned cookies! Everyone said they had a good time. There was lots of socializing while we waited for cookies and brownies. 

Lessons Learned:
No matter how well you plan, there will always be something that you didn't expect.  The key to success is not to panic, adapt, and relax. Each of the above listed problems were easily solved and we figured out solutions. The event turned out well and even when some of the cookies were a bit "cajun-style,"  we still just enjoyed the experience.  Another lesson learned... Sunday morning I woke up and realized the oven wasn't bad. It just was in Celsius. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Tale of Two CDs

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Scratch the best part.

Funny that even after several weeks of teaching, that I expect things like technology to work properly, especially during quizzes and midterms!

The last week and a half at school has definitely been a change of pace. We had to administer our third quizzes on Tuesday and conclude the balance of the week with listening, written, and speaking midterms. What a grueling schedule for the students.  Here, individual teachers don't create quizzes and exams for their own classes.  We have set quizzes and exams (with different versions in an attempt to discourage cheating) that we use in our classes.

My tale begins with a normal class session. Previously, on the Friday before, I was in my Upper 1 class and I couldn't find the CD.  I ran back to the office to find it in my drawer. It wasn't there!  I got another one from the center office and luckily, my students were still in class when I came back!  I couldn't figure out where my CD went. Did somebody steal it?   Guess where I found it?  As I was packing up after class that night, I found that the CD had slipped in between the pages of my notebook. Of course.

On Tuesday, I felt really good. I had a good talk with the center director who also is my mentor.  She gave me some advice for classroom management and curriculum.  I felt prepared to administer the quiz, I had everything I needed.  I checked to see what the listening recording track was in advance.  I kicked back a little bit, feeling totally confident that for once I was totally prepared for class.

However, that wasn't true.  I got to my classroom for that day (since I am in a different classroom each class each day), set up my things, and felt good. I was on time, there was no teacher taking more time in the class before me, I didn't need the cartuchara (pencil case with projector remote and computer keys)...

But then... I was in the middle of review prior to the quiz when I realized I didn't bring the CD player I needed to play the audio track for the listening portion of the quiz.  I forgot the CD player.  I did have the CD though, so that's a start compared to Friday the 14th. So, I gave the students a workbook exercise to occupy them and I hustled back to get my CD player.

As you would expect, for the Upper 1 classes, I also had CD problems.  The one track I had to play for the quiz skipped so bad I thought Max Headroom had made a career reappearance. My usual fix-it prior to that night was to wipe it down with my shirt. No go.  The chipper British voices stuttered worse than a backyard yokel hitting the big city for the first time.   What could I do? I couldn't stop the quiz.  I couldn't leave and get another CD, I had already passed out the quizzes. I am not allowed to send students alone to the office (in case they don't come back?).  So, my only option was to read the passage myself.  Thankfully, the transcript was in the back of the textbook.

After that, I tried texting some of my colleagues to get me another CD.  Of course, no response.  Plus, my 5 pm class took longer to finish their quizzes, so the office staff were gone when I got back. So, for 7 pm, I had to read the passage again.   I did try the CD again but no go.  I can't tell you how angry and frustrated I was that night. In addition to those problems, I got upset with my 7 pm class.  They were not listening to my instructions when I told them it was time to put their books away so I could pass out the quiz. I actually took books away.

The next day, Wednesday were the listening exams. One of the other teachers sagely recommended that I figure out what tracks the listening exams were using (since we don't get informed of these). The answer keys have the information but sometimes they are wrong! Really.   Anyway, I figured out what tracks the listening segments came from in the workbooks.  I tested the CDs. The audio tracks came from the workbooks for both levels. Of course, first thing I did was give back my Upper 1 textbook CD and got a new one.  Let me smash that sucker. It had definitely given up the ghost.

Then, it was time to test the Intermediate II workbook CD.  Guess what? It also skipped on the tracks I needed.  Yep. It is true.   So, I exchanged the completely scratched CD and got a new one.

Thankfully, my prayers were answered. There were no glitches with the CDs in any of the three classes.  And if I find any more CDs, I think I am going to stomp on them in high heels.

Convenience Store Comfort Food

I wasn't quite sure I had enough material for a blog post from last week's adventures. Thankfully, life presented me with a couple of related experiences around one of my favorite topics: food!

First, I am still suffering from a cold hangover... let me explain, not a hangover from being drunk (obviously, I don't drink), but I'm still suffering from the effects of a cold that lingered around last week. Feeling like death warmed over is bad enough, but when you're in a foreign country and when you still have to teach is no pleasure cruise.

The gas station down the street from the main gate of the Universidad de Piura carries Vitamin Water. To me, it stood out in my mind's eye like the Holy Grail of I've got a Sore Throat and I Want More than Just Water.  I thought to myself, "Oh, precious nectar of the Gods, I must have some of that Vitamin Water." I don't care what flavor either.

However, when my first class was done and office hours were over, I was exhausted. The thought of walking all that way didn't appeal to me. Nor did paying for a taxi ride work for my budget either. So, I'd go home, sleep, and trudge back to the university.

Finally by Friday, I had enough umph to go down to Listo's. They actually are one of the few places in town with a/c.  So, it's not a bad place to visit while you're pursuing overpriced snacks and convenience store items.   I searched high and low for the Vitamin Water. I went down each aisle, even the liquor case. I scrutinized, bent down, and scanned carefully for the bottle with the snappy copy on the label. Nothing. Nada!  So,I settled for a pineapple juice beverage.

Sexy Rexy loves Salsa too!

But, all was not lost. In my determination, I found salsa! Named Mexi-Salsa, the jar is small. I bought it and upon tasting it on Friday night, it's not bad. It's about the quality of Pace, but probably a bit better. So the visit wasn't a total loss. Plus, now I know where to get Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  Don't take the 2/$1 specials for granted though, a package here costs me a $1.60.

Anyone who has lived in a foreign country knows that even the smallest reminder of home can be a big comfort even if it's Peruvian-made "Mexi-Salsa" from the convenience store.

Monday, September 3, 2012

1 Kilo of Lunch Meat Please

As I've been in Peru, each week as I go to the grocery store, I try to be more adventurous in my food selections. Yesterday, I felt like the Queen of the world, I just got paid on Friday, I had money, I had a fridge, so I felt that Tottus (the WalMart like store) was my oyster.

As I hovered near the deli counter, trying to determine what actually each package of mystery meat actually was, an intrepid sample lady swooped in and started machine gunning rapid fire Spanish at me.  My eyes got wide and I somehow got the gist that she wanted me to try a sample of lunch meat.  I didn't quite know what kind it was or any more detail than it was a meat like color with a tinge of orange-colored rind.  I sampled the lunch meat with great trepidation.  My taste buds kicked into gear and sent good vibrations to my brain.

"Hey brain! This is pretty good stuff!"  My buds exclaimed to my brain.

I decided to be adventurous and get some of the meat. I still didn't know what kind it was yet.  I know she told me, but she could have told me it was moldy wall paper paste from India and I wouldn't have know the difference. She pointed out that there were no pre-sliced packages of the meat, but the deli worker could slice the hunk of meat for me. Of course the label was torn away so I couldn't even use that as a guide.

"Cuanto questo?" I asked. She responded with some amount. She might as well had marbles coated in a honey glaze for all the good the answer did for me.

Yet, I went ahead and nodded that I wanted some of the still mystery meat.

"Cuanto te quiero? She asked.  I panicked. How do you order lunch meat? What are your options? I had heard people order in kilos, so I said with all the authority I could muster, " 1 kilo please."  I assumed (yes assumed!) that 1 kilogram was equal to 1 pound. Why do we have different systems anyway? I blame the French. Really. I think that's why the metric system was invented... to annoy the French aristocracy. Or it was something like that from what I remember hearing at Versailles when I was in Paris in May.

She gave it to the deli worker, who started slicing it up. I watched the scale and was trying to figure out the system.  I watched the price go up and up and up some more.  I thought maybe it was a mistake. I saw the deli worker continue to pile on slice after slice of meat.

How much did I really order? My brain started to revolt.

Finally, I got a package, nicely wrapped in styrofoam and cellophane.  My eyes bugged out of my head it seemed. This was a huge package of lunch meat! There was no way I could eat all of it before it went bad. Plus, the other American is a vegatarian so she would be of no help in the lunch meat fiesta.

Then came the real shocker - the cost. s/48 or roughly $18! $18 for lunch meat? There was no way.  I slunk off and went to the produce section.

What was I going to do with all this lunch meat?  

A million ideas ran through my head as I bagged up tomatoes, apples, and cucumbers.  Finally, I hate to admit this, but I was a bad, bad, person. There was no way I could use this lunch meat. I couldn't pay $18 for it. So, I quickly glanced around the cold case of imported Chinese vegetables and left the package of lunch meat next to the section of peas.

Call me a sinner or call me a saint, this is what happened.

When I got home, a quick Google search told me the shocking truth - 1 kilio is equal to 2.2. pounds!

Lesson learned: Just say no to free samples! And, know how to order before agreeing to do so. Or, maybe being vegetarian isn't such a bad idea!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mi Testimonio

As the first Sunday month,  LDS church members are asked to participate in Fast Sunday.  We are asked to participate in a fast by abstaining from food or drink for two meals and then to donate what we would spend on those meals to help members in our congregation. It is also a time to commune and draw closer to God through spiritual study and prayer.  As part of Fast Sunday, we also have the opportunity to  share our testimonies about our faith to our congregation. It is edifying and uplifting to be spiritually fed by other's thoughts and feelings.  

I was excited for this Fast Sunday. In my old ward in Utah, I was one of 650 members. It was so big, that the bishop would call people to bear their testimony as an attempt at crowd and time management. I hadn't had the real opportunity to bear my testimony since 2010.  

While we are encouraged to let the spirit guide what we say, the spirit doesn't speak to me in Spanish, so I thought I'd prepare a few thoughts so I could share them in church today. I wrote out carefully what I thought I wanted to say in English and used Google Translate to get the Spanish version. Google Translate is pretty accurate but before I read anything, I hoped to have somebody read through it.  

Sunday came and as I sat in church this morning, during the worship (or sacrament) portion, I realized I didn't want to say what I really had prepared. I knew what I wanted to say in English, yet I had no way to figure out how to say it in Spanish. I thought, do I just say what I can say in Spanish? Do I just say it in English? Do I read what I prepared?  Should I go up or wait another month?  

The inner dialogue continued. Should I? Shouldn't I? I kept looking at the clock. I'd feel a stir in my heart and then it quickly faded as my self-preservation (i.e., fear) kicked in.  Each person that stood up and than sat down was another reminder that I'd been looking forward to this.  Then I worried about my pronunciation, I needed to practice speaking first. I didn't want to look like a fool.  

The clock struck 10 a.m., and my chances faded as the bishop stood up and closed the meeting.  How I did want to be able to express my deepest gratitude, faith and knowledge to the congregation, but I hate being a prison of my own lack of language. I feel caged, smothered and mute but I have no one to blame but me. 

However, this being the 21st century, I can have a chance to bear my testimony. So, it is not exactly the same as sharing my thoughts in person, but here is my testimony.

I am grateful for the kindness, support and friendship I have felt in my ward here. Being here is one of the hardest things I think I have ever done in my life and every bit of friendship and kindness means so much to me.  I am grateful for the knowledge that God lives, His Son Jesus Christ is my Savior. Together, they have helped me overcome challenges I could never face alone.  I believe in Christ. I know God is real. He knows us, each of us personally. His blessings are abundant. I am grateful for His Atonement. He lives. Prayer works wonders. I have been at rock bottom in the pit of despair, looking up for any hope or any reason to keep living, and it was only through the healing power of Christ and God that I made it out. Stay faithful, stay true. God is always here. I love the temple and the peace and comfort I feel there. I love reading the scriptures and finding answers to my questions in the words.  I am grateful that when I am weak, God makes up the difference and blesses me in ways I could never imagine.


Earlier this week, in my Upper I English classes, the theme of one of the lessons was "Great Teachers."  As I am apt to to do, I searched for video clips to enhance the book work and bring contextual examples into the classroom and mostly because I like video clips as a visual learner. I planned to show video clips of good and bad teachers.

Of course, for bad teachers, I thought of Ben Stein's character in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."  "Bueller? Buullleer?" Buuuuelller?" I find myself thinking that in my classes after I ask a question, even as benign as "How was your weekend?" and find 20 faces staring blankly at me.

For a good example, I thought immediately of the movie "Stand and Deliver," about a high school math teacher, Jaime Escalante who was a math teacher in a tough LA school.  I found an NBC clip about his legacy in memorial of his death. Part of the segment talks about the Spanish word - ganas.

Ganas, according to Escalante, means "determination... discipline.. hard work."  According to the Spanish dictionary, ganas also means "wishes or desires (to do something)."  Ganas can mean something as simple as  "Tengo ganas de dormir," literally "I have wishes to sleep." (Source:

What a powerful word and what an electrifying combination of meanings. To me,  it means that whatever you wish for or desire in life... requires your utmost determination, discipline and hard work to achieve.

As adults, we lose sight of our wishes or desires to be well, more "adult." We have to be grownup, responsible, and mature. We have to have that house, car, job, etc... but what was the last time you spent time thinking about what your wishes, desires, or goals for life?  Once you have those goals,  what are you willing to sacrifice to achieve them? It takes  determination and discipline to keep doing what is hard even when it would be infinitely easier to give up. It has been said that "there's no shortcuts to anyplace worth going."  

Sometimes, during the daily battle towards our goals, it doesn't seem like any progress has been made. We can get discouraged and want to throw in the towel. However, goals, like life is determined step by step and day by day.  There's a scene from the movie "Any Given Sunday" where Al Pacino tells a football team that "inches determine greatness."  Now, I haven't seen the movie, and I only came upon the clip during graduate school. It's a great speech with a core piece of truth.  It is our daily effort, our daily determination that shapes and molds us towards our dreams.  Then when we look back at our efforts, we see the whole picture, instead of just the daily small changes.

Lastly, to paraphrase, the Grand Canyon didn't become grand overnight - it took time and ganas.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Career Paths

I always have felt like I haven't achieved career success in my life after college.  I don't have a fancy title, nor did I in the United States. No corner office, no assistants. I wrestle with the idea that at my age.. I should be this or doing that. I don't really have a career path, yet the term came up this week for my Upper English students. We began a new unit on the theme of work. One of their vocabulary terms was "career path."  This was a pretty new concept for most of the students in both sessions, so I explained what I thought a career path was - thank you professional development classes.  I felt like I was in an undergraduate business course.  I drew a diagonal line on the chalkboard with ticks at 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. I explained that when you have a plan, it helps you focus on your goals or steps to achieve your dreams, rather than just float along.  A career path or plan helps you gain control of your future, or so I explained.  Yet, I don't have a career path, nor have I had a solid one since way back in college. I always had planned to work at an ad agency after college to be a copywriter. Yet, in my junior or senior year, I realized I didn't want to work at an agency, working 80-hour weeks on a campaign for mustard.  But, I wasn't going to change majors then.  In hindsight, I've had a lot of experiences and been able to use my communications education and interests in a variety of settings.

I challenged the students as homework to do their own career paths towards their dream job.

After class, one of my students approached me and told me he hated doing these kinds of activities. He said he didn't worry too much about the future, he kept himself open to opportunities rather than be too focused on a plan that might prevent him from seeing something else.  There was more to life than work he explained.

We in America get so focused on our careers sometimes we forget to enjoy where we are at now.  Sometimes we get caught in the "I should be here" game that we forget it's not a race.  Is it more important if we were a bigwig or if we had a big heart?

Maybe I'll never been known to anyone outside a handful of people, but what really matters is that those people (hopefully) remember that I tried to treat them with respect and kindness.

Maybe instead of  worrying or being depressed about where my life is and the lack of "success" I have, I should be grateful for the opportunities I have had to do many different and exciting things. I may never have an important job title or be power player, but who says I have to do so?

 After I'm done in Peru, I don't know what I will do. Teach? Get a doctorate? Return to higher education? Write a novel? I don't know and maybe that's okay.

Feliz Cumpleanos (Monday)

On Monday morning, I went to work like usual.  Fellow colleagues wished me a happy birthday.  They had made me a little poster with Snoopy on it as well! I figured the birthday festivities were over.

One of my students wished me happy birthday before class. I wondered how he knew. He said a friend told him. He wouldn't tell me what friend but things in Piura get around!

However, my 11 am Intermediate II class was a bit restless. We had concluded a series of activities, and I was about to launch into the next batch, when they resisted. I could sense they were bored,so I said great, let's take a break. Then, some of the students proceeded to bring out bags of snacks and goodies, plus a card for me that they'd passed around to sign for me! It also was another girl's birthday too! I was so surprised. Some of the students presented me with goodies and the card. I was really surprised and touched.

Later that night, I went to the church party organized for me. They all were waiting for me. I'm glad I prepared a speech. We ate dinner and then the dancing started. I tried to learn two salsa steps but to no great end. I ended up dancing anyway and had a good evening! The cake part was funny, I didn't know what they were asking me to do, but it ended up that I was supposed to take a bite of the cake. I did and then it was "smushed" in my face.  Hah hah.

Monday night, one student in my Upper English class asked me when my birthday was. I told her it was the day before. On Tuesday, she brought me a gift!

I was really touched by how welcoming, genuine, and  kind (some!) of my students and ward members have been for me to actually make this effort for me. Plus my colleagues are all nice to me. This has been an easy part of the transition, thanks to the people.  It's a great lesson for me to make sure I also reach out and care for the people around me - here in Piura and at home.

Estoy Aqui

In my efforts to try to learn more Spanish, I thought I'd start listening to Spanish music.  I stumbled upon an artist and I can't tell you who he was now, but one line in the song stood out to me - Estoy Aqui.  I'm here.

The song was a love song and it at first made me think about how I wished I had someone (as in a significant other) in my life to turn to when everything was falling apart. To hear the words, "I'm here" whispered in my ear when I was at rock bottom seemed magically impossible. Perhaps I won't experience this in my life, but my mind quickly turned to who else would say "Estoy Aqui."   I realized that God and His Son, Jesus Christ are always here for us.  No matter where we are in the world - Peru or Paris or Panguitch - the Lord and His Son know each of us and knows what we are doing. I don't know how they know where   one lonely, awkward American woman who doesn't speak Spanish in Northwestern Peru is... but they do. I have been blessed by their care and guidance.

Honestly, being here is one of the hardest things I've ever done - in a different way than my other challenges. It's hard because I am stripped of all my self-reliance. I am stripped off all my pride in my intellect.  I have to (and must) ask and rely on others to help me and show me the way to survive here.  Sometimes I wonder.  Why did I chose to come here? Did I make a mistake? Why don't I know Spanish better? It is so humbling to be the one in a crowd that can't speak and is made mute by my lack of ability.  For someone who is so expressive with language, not being able to speak is incredibly challenging.  I attend church services and sit and wonder why I bother. How presumptuous of me to expect these people to attend to me or help me. I have to stand on my own two feet.  I'm an adult.  It is actually easier for me to sell 99% of my things, quit my job, take a job in a field I've never done before... than to approach someone and ask for help or to fix something (like the water heater).  But yet, here I am. The people have been generous and kind.

Teaching is hard. I knew that. But it's hard when you have unmotivated students, it's hard when you aren't making progress, it's hard when you don't feel they even care. Or, when you assign homework, and only 5 do the project, out of 25.

Yet, I keep returning to the phrase - Estoy Aqui.  No matter where we are, or what time it is, God and His Son are there for each of us.  We don't need Skype or web cams, just our hearts.  In tears or in gratitude, we can converse with God for as long or as often as we need.

I had a really rough time in church today. I wanted to leave, but I stayed. Then in Sunday School, I was asked to read a verse in the Book of Mormon (in Spanish).

Alma 44:4

Now ye see that this is the true faith of God; yea, ye see that God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we areafaithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion.

This scripture spoke loud to my hurting heart.  It was no coincidence I was asked to read that scripture. I must remain faithful to the gospel I profess is true.  God says "Estoy Aqui." He means it. When we turn to Him, we can be healed, protected, preserved and supported. Maybe we won't get the answer or blessing we hope for, but we will be supported through our daily lives.  
Last Sunday, I was asked to read this scripture (in Alma 40:12)
 12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of ahappiness, which is calledbparadise, a state of rest, a state of cpeace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
Again, this touched me.  What a delightful blessing and promise. One day, all of our pain, suffering, hurt and sorrow will be removed, and we will have peace. If we remain strong, even when it's too hard to be strong,  we will receive relief and rest one day.  We just have to keep going.   
Today, I turned on the Mormon Channel radio station and a few songs later, I heard my favorite hymn - "I Believe in Christ."  My favorite lyric pierced my soul and tears flowed. 
I believe in come what may. 

No matter what happens while I am here in Peru or anywhere else in the future,  I believe in Christ, so come what may, no matter how dark, destructive or debilitating the future may be,  I know that the Lord and Christ will always say "Estamos Aqui."   

Epic Ecuador

It is said that when opportunity presents itself that you should take it.  This was my mindset when on the second Sunday I went to church, courtesy of the young English speaking ward member who served as a translator, I heard about an upcoming ward temple trip. The closet temple to Piura actually is in Guayaqill, Ecuador (some 700 miles north). I enthusiastically signed up to go. This was my opportunity to go to the temple with a group, instead of alone!

I didn't hear anything about the trip until the 12th of August. As luck would have it, the trip was set for the upcoming weekend. I had planned to have a karaoke night to celebrate my birthday with my colleagues.  I didn't want to cancel either activity, but I did not want to miss out on a trip to the temple. I worried that if I cancelled on the karaoke night, that people would be upset.  Yet, the organizer was fine with the change and understood my situation.  As the week dragged on, I still didn't have many details for the trip.  After the week from hell, I was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. I didn't even want to go on the trip. A nice, long weekend of relaxing sounded much better as I trudged home.  Then I got a phone call. "Where are you, are you coming to the temple?"  I said yes and raced home. I grabbed my bag that I had packed. Why didn't I listen to the prompting and take it with me to school? Why didn't I just call my contact and verify everything? I let class out early that night anyway. I usually have class until 8:30 at night, and the bus was packed to go at 8:30.   I prayed that I'd be able to make the bus before they left me.  I got a taxi and it seemed I had the most considerate driver in town- slowing down to make sure he didn't take corners fast or speed bumps too fast for me. At that point, after a series of hurried phone calls, I should have said, "hasta pronto Senor!  He knew right where to take me thank goodness. I gave him his 5 soles and hopped out of the taxi. I hopped on the bus and away we went. I made it. I made the bus and was on my way to Ecuador and to the temple.

We left Piura at about 9:15 pm.  Onward and upward to Ecuador.  The bus could have been heading to Wendover, Utah with the flashy seat fabric, lights and setup. After watching the hilariously stupid movie "Bloodsport," I fell into a fitful sleep.  At some unholy hour in the night or maybe the morning, we arrived bleary-eyed at the border. Everyone filed out into an office to stand in line, fill out forms, and hope to not be hassled at the border.  I didn't know what was really going on. I had my passport, but it turns out I also needed another document -the Andean Immigration Card I got at the airport. I had given that to the university so I could get my visa extended.  So, after some discussion, the immigration person determined I had to pay $5 US to get another one. So I filled out the card again and paid the $5 (which he put into his wallet) and he put the card into a drawer.  Then when I got to the Ecuador side, I had to fill out another card. At least this time, it didn't cost me anything else.

Back onto the bus we went. This time, my seat mate changed, and a young woman from the ward sat next to me to learn some English. She already knew much of the basics, and she helped me with Spanish too. It must have been in the early morning and finally we both drifted off to sleep. When I woke up, the sky was overcast and the fields were full of banana trees. It was like a jungle, exotic and green, not like the sandy desert of Piura.  I went back to sleep and watched the small towns, and farm land pass by as the sun peaked through the high clouds.  People were slowly rising and getting a start to their Saturday morning.

Finally at about 8 am or so, we arrived in Guayaquil. It seemed like a nice city.  We got to the bus terminal, and shuffled off.  The bathroom was a popular first stop, and of course, like in any country, anywhere in teh world, there was a line for the women's bathroom.  Also, there was no toilet paper.

Rule #2 of traveling. Take your own TP, wet wipes, anything. You never know what you're going to get (or not get!).  Rule #1 is always take a towel (Thanks HGTG).

After we reassembled in the taxi area, we tried to figure out how to get the group to the temple. I didn't really  have any part of that, just stood and tried to stay out of the way.  Finally, some of us got into a truck with a camper shell on it. There were two benches, so we squished everybody in.  I was on the end so I could look out the back.  There was no door or window, so I nearly fell out a few times.  Well, not really but it felt like I could on some of the corners.  Guayaquil was clean and pretty well-kept, at least the parts I saw.  We all arrived at the temple. Everyone rushed to a building next door. It was a hostel or hotel of sorts for travelers. The trip was roughly 12 hours.  After a quick shower and change of clothes, I tried to figure out the schedule.  There were no headsets, so I had to do a session in Spanish. Luckily, I felt prepared from my (nearly) weekly temple attendance in Utah so I could follow along fairly well.  Let's just say the last part was the hardest.

But, after a week that I had, I was so thankful to serve in the temple. All of the frustrations, angry, anxiety, fear and doubt melted away. It was a very special and spiritual experience. The Lord knows all of His people no matter where they are in the world. I felt the healing balm of Christ on my heart.

Afterwards, we changed and headed back to the bus terminal. We stuffed ourselves into several taxis (no trucks this time), and went back to the bus terminal. The bus terminal was also a mall, so I thought I'd just go get a bite to eat, but I ended up shopping. I got some new sandals for $5! Good deal. Shoes in Peru are expensive - even at Payless! The bus this time was smaller and not as flashy.  Off we went. We had several stops to pick people up and a mandatory "off the bus" stop somewhere on the way that required a walk-through the snack bar.  At immigration, I had a problem because I didn't have that Andean Immigration card again. The guy kept it leaving Peru. So, I had to fill it out again to enter Peru. At least this time it was free.

Is it me, or does the trip home always seem longer than the trip to a place? Maybe it's because we're anxious to get home, get changed and get into bed (or the shower). It seemed like it took forever to get to Piura. We had to stop for a security check and we all had to show our documentation. I wonder what would happen if  that happened in the US. Say you were riding the Greyhound  to LA and had to stop outside Barstow for a document check?

Finally, after a long, long 12 hour bus ride, we made it back to the bus terminal in Piura, got a cab, and I finally and happily made it to my room.  It was a very fast trip but one that was very well worth it.

Feliz Cumpleanos (Sunday)

After a certain age, birthdays seem to lose their luster. It's just another social construct used to gauge yourself against your peers. It just seems like  another year older and deeper in debt as the song goes. 

I fully expected this birthday to pass unnoticed as I was a newcomer in this dusty desert town.  My colleagues knew it was my birthday thanks to a department chart posted on a cork board of announcements and keys to the teachers only bathrooms. 

This year, my birthday kicked off on the tail end of a quick trip to Ecuador. After being hassled at the border back into Peru, I realized I'd never planned to spend my birthday in an immigration office in the dark, early morning hours of the dawning day. 

After arriving home, I debated heavily on whether I would attend church services. It was already well after 9 a.m. when I walked into the door of my rented room.  I'd already missed sacrament, and I would just have Sunday School and Relief Society to attend.  

On the side against going to church, the argument was strong and I'll admit pretty rational:
"It doesn't matter if you go to church today or not. Nobody expects you to show up after the temple trip. Nobody even will notice or care if you're there or not. I mean you're just a burden to the ward since you can't even understand anything that is going on there. Just stay home and sleep."  

The argument for going to church wasn't as rational to my mind but stronger in my heart.  For some reason, I dumped my bag out onto my bed, as I rushed to freshen up.  I  ran a comb through my 2-day dirty hair, thankful that it was long enough for a hair clip. I splashed my face with some soap and water, put on a bit of foundation and mascara and brushed my teeth.  After pulling on a top and skirt, I ran out the door.  

As I was hustling towards the church building, the inner dialogue kept going.  I could easily turn around and go home. No one would be the wiser.  I hate walking in late to things in any situation.  Why would I walk in so obviously late to church? The siren song of sleep kept playing in my mind. Yet, my feet kept propelling me towards the building. I must do what I believe is right, even when it's too hard for me alone. 

With 15 minutes left of sacrament, I slipped into the chapel and took a seat. After the meeting was over, a ward member turned and said "Hey's it your birthday today isn't?"  I was surprised. How did she know? Maybe they read my records into the ward. Though, I shouldn't be surprised.  As I'm discovering in Piura, everyone knows everybody and everything.  

Yet, I was greeted with a steady of  hugs, handshakes and well wishes were regular and genuine. In Sunday School, the class wished me a happy birthday and from the conversations, I came to understand they wanted to have a party for me the next day, in conjunction with another girl's birthday celebration, and for another girl leaving for college in the United States.  I felt really touched and surprised they'd include me in the festivities. I was just pleased they told me happy birthday. 

In Relief Society, the women wished me happy birthday as well. At the end of the meeting, I was presented with the beautiful flowers that decorated the chapel.  I also was invited to lunch at a sister's home with the sister missionaries.  I got more well wishes.  As I headed home, I was filled with a sweet spirit.  I was not alone.  When I turned on my phone, I had text messages from my colleagues as well. Later, lunch was very nice and the sister missionaries presented me a Spanish Book of Mormon so I could study it and the language.  Later than night, my father actually called me and it worked on my cell phone! He actually said he could hear me better in Peru than when I lived in Utah and he called me from Arizona!

All in all, it was a lovely birthday, especially with the e-cards, emails and Facebook messages. Today, I felt that the distance between hearts wasn't as far as the map or language might indicate. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Brick Wall

Ever have one of those continuous bad days, you know, the kind where everything that can go wrong does... and even then some?  Last week seemed like a series of unfortunate events to borrow from Lemony Snicket.    It seemed like everything I tried to accomplish was thwarted by the uncaring universe of achievement.

Problem #1: My airfare reimbursement check

I was reimbursed for my flight down to Piura. That's very generous and I am happy I received it. However, it was in American dollars.  I need to get this check to the United States. I was told different ways to do it. I got the check on Friday. I first was told I could go to the bank and have it cashed and then transferred to my credit union. I didn't have my passport with me, so I thought I'd wait until (now last) week. Drat - totally my fault.  A friend suggested that I try mobile banking with my credit union. But, I don't have an Android phone or an iPod/iPhone.  My colleague does, so I asked her to download the app and I tried the picture taking thing.  It didn't work at all.  I contacted customer service and got several non-answers to my questions. So I gave up on that route.

So, at lunch, I go merrily down to the bank, and I prepared. I wrote down in Spanish what I wanted to do.  After trying to figure out the line system (there were numbers, but the system didn't make sense), I went up to a representative at the door and asked if I needed a number. I showed the written note to him. However, the customer service representative took the check (I did go with him!) and spoke to a supervisor.  He came back and said it wasn't possible to cash it or do anything with it.  By this point, I wanted to cry.  I literally did leave with tears in my eye.

So, I went back to the university and explained my situation to the center's administrator.  He called a person he knew at the bank and found out a completely different story. Basically, I need to find somebody with an account there that can accept American dollars and have them deposit the money into their account and then transfer it out to my account.  Oh great. Just want I want to do - go around begging people to transfer money for me and deal with that hassle.

So, I thought okay,  I am going to try Money Gram.  On Friday, my co-worker and I went downtown to where she knew Money Gram was.  We go into the store (that sells electronics and motorcycles), and head back to the cashier.  My colleague asked a woman sitting at a desk if they did Money Gram. She nodded and pointed to the caja (cashier) window. I approach the clerk and ask about Money Gram. Of course I didn't understand her, so my colleague jumped in and found out the location moved. The cashier was very snotty and we wondered why the first woman (about 20 feet away) didn't tell us first that Money Gram was gone.

So we got the run-around and finally, after walking through some sketchy parts of town, found the location. However, I couldn't cash my check, thus I couldn't send a wire.  Next, we tried to find an exchange place (better rates than the bank). However, they wouldn't cash a check.  By this point, I'm done. Done. Done. Done.  I am starving and I say forget it.  So, as of Wednesday, August 22nd, I still have this check and I don't know what to do with it.

Problem #2 - ATMs
As part of my temple trip, I needed to pay s/70 soles (roughly $27) for the bus ride. I hadn't heard any details about paying, times, or locations to meet really - other than it was the 17th -19th.  When I was at the bank, I tried to pull out cash to have on hand. However, the ATM didn't work. Of course not. So I went next door to the store. The bank ATM didn't work. The other bank's ATM didn't work for anyone. I was able to use the coin machine to get out s/5 coins (about $3).  I needed a few groceries so I used my debit card - no problem - except the cashier asked me a bunch of questions that I didn't know.  I just smiled and nodded and it seemed to work.  So after all that, I walk home.  I ran into the bishop and his wife. They told me they needed the money for the trip that night.  I was planning on seeing some of the ward members after class anyway,so I was okay.  Then about 4 pm, I got a panicked phone call from the 1st counselor saying I think that somebody was coming to go with me to the bank to get the money. I explained I had class at 5 pm and we'd have to hurry. Then, as I waited nervously for the person that I thought was coming, I got a call back. I was informed to give the money and give it to the ward member that night.  So, there's an ATM on the main gate of the school. I hustle over there before class, and yep - you guessed it. It didn't work. After class, I tried it again. It didn't work again.  My friends and I went to karaoke (another blog entry for sure) and there were two different bank companies with ATMs. I tried ScotiaBank, and it worked perfectly. I got soles and dollars (for Ecuador). Good grief. I was able to give the money to the ward member to pay for my trip.

Problem #3 Cell Phone

When I got to Piura, one of the teachers helped me get a cell phone. I don't know what kind of prepaid plan I got or anything. Nobody seems to really know what the cell phone story is around here that I ask. I knew I had run out of minutes because I couldn't send texts or get calls.  But, trying to figure out how to recharge my phone or what plan to get was impossible. While my colleague and I were downtown, we tried a store that said "Claro aqui." Yes! We go inside the drugstore and were told... "We can't recharge your phone here."  We go to another Claro store. They don't do recharging.  We stopped at a newspaper stand. Yes, the woman does have recharge cards. I was advised not to do it that way. I didn't even know what to say or how to ask for the phone recharge. Finally, it got too confusing and I was too angry and stressed from the check mess that I just left. My colleague finally took me to a neighborhood store in our area that she used. The owner recharged the phone and it works.  Whatever I had set up before, wouldn't let me call anyone. Plus, it costs more to call another carrier- or so I think. Who knows!

Problem #4 Post Office
I decided to go to the Post Office to buy stamps. My colleague went with me to eat lunch and hang out. We get to the post office. It was open ( I was told it wouldn't be). Crap. I didn't know how to ask for stamps.  I look at a picture on the wall. It has an arrow to a picture of stamps and it says "postales." Okay, that must be it.  We go to the first desk. No, not the right one. The 2nd desk. Nope. Finally, we get to the 3rd desk. Of course, just like in the USA, there's one worker and a line. We stand in line for 15-minutes. My colleague finally goes up and asks if we can buy "postales" there. The worker says no but we were told were we could buy them. So he and I go on a wild goose chase to many stores with no luck. My colleague just starts asking random shopkeepers where we can go. Finally, we end up at the City building.  They tell us to go to the tourism office. We got a bunch of nice postcards and brochures, but the clerk sends us back to Serra Post.  We get in line again and finally realize the word we wanted was "estampillas." So this stupid adventure was my own fault.  So, lesson learned. Always be prepared with what you're looking for in another language. Don't assume you know the right words.  When trying to do something, look up the words first.  So we get back to Serra Post and then I find I can't even buy stamps! I have to bring the letters and postcards to the office to send!  Then, all of our lunch options were ruined too.  We finally ended up at a fast food joint. I guzzled my Inca Cola and chicken sandwich like no tomorrow.

On Friday, when my other colleague and I were downtown, I was successful in mailing a few things! One minor success.

So this week, my hot water heater stopped working along with the cable reception. Also, the classroom technology repeatedly fails when I try to introduce multimedia.  The non-stop domino effect of frustrated plans and hopes ... welcome to my life- nothing changes when you move to another hemisphere.

RIP Pepe!

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that Pepe the Peruvian Pony was lost in Ecuador. May he find the banana tree fields better stomping ground for his travels than the arid desert of Piura, Peru.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

When is the Semester Over?

Hats off to my K-12 teacher friends who day in and day out hit the trenches of teaching.  I knew teaching was tough but after one week of teaching every day,  I have new found admiration and respect for you.  Typically at a college level, a teacher might teach three times a week, but here the visiting teachers (i.e., Americans) get to teach every day.  Maybe it's not a full straight eight-hours, but for this novice teacher, I was worn out on the first day. 

Like many novice teachers, I planned all sorts of activities and multimedia enrichment for the week for my classes.  Then I got the text books and the program syllabus, which didn't quite match what I was given originally.  I started with very detailed, typed lesson plans for each day, with objectives and assessments.  Yet, by day 2, I realized that was overkill.  I was quickly going to learn that you can't count on technology or spend too much time going overboard with lesson plans.  Plus, the curriculum is British, so I have to explain the difference between American and British English - not that one is better than the other - just that they're different. 

One of the things I have to adapt to while at the university is their scheduling.  Since my classes are every day and space is at a premium, I am in a different room every day for each class.  Sound confusing? It is!  Since I am in a different classroom, different schools (i.e., the school of communications, or engineering) have control of the multimedia equipment (projector remotes, a/v cables, workstation keys).  So, I have to cross-reference what room I am in for that session on that day with what school has the equipment if I plan to use any a/v that session. Each school has a different requirement for getting the cartucharas (literally pencil case). One school's office has a sign-out sheet. Others just hand it to me.  After class, I have to return it. If they're not there or it's 8:30 at night, I have to find a building custodian or a drop-box, depending on the school.  

I didn't get any classroom technology training either and like in the US, every building has a different setup. There's no white boards either, just chalkboards and chalk (which you have to bring yourself).  On Monday morning, the Centro de Idiomas' box of chalk was filled with fresh and bright full sticks of chalk. By Friday, all that was left was neon green and purple.  Sometimes,  if you're lucky, you'll find a left over piece of chalk in the classroom that another professor left behind. 

Monday: The first day of second term. My first class was at 11 am - Intermediate II. I was very nervous but I was in my dress suit, heels, and pearls. I went to class to set up before hand, but there was a class already in there.  The professor helped me set up the computer, but the prezi didn't download right. So, I thought I'd just go to the live one online, but the computer didn't have Adobe Flash. So, no fancy presentation.  Rule #1 of teaching = never count on technology! I learned this over and over and over during the week. If the computer worked, then the projector didn't. If the projector did work and the computer did, the sound wouldn't work. 

Like in the United States, nobody talked before class started and nobody talked to each other.  
I went over the rules and we did get to know you activities. You would have thought I asked my classes to jump into a pit of acid the way they reacted.

The students for the most part are respectful and good.  Though, perhaps it is normal, but I felt like I connected more with my first two classes than the 7 pm class.  I feel like I'm a parent and I don't really like one of my kids as much as the others.  But, the 7 pm class is slowly starting to warm up.  Some activities that work in one class don't work in the other.  The students are mostly your typical college-aged student, but I have some working adults in my classes.  

Another interesting scheduling quirk is that students can have overlapping schedules. They might have a M/W/F class during my English class.  In the states, if you had a class conflict, you had to pick which class to take.  Here, they can miss 12 classes without penalty.  Then, they can miss 6 with an excused note if they make up the class in a different session.  But after 19 classes, they might be dropped from the course.  So, trying to figure out names and attendance, and who is late is proving to be a challenge.  I'm also trying to remember names which is hard when students switch classes around like some people switch socks. 

On Friday, in my Intermediate II class, I had a surprise evaluation. I had planned to play some videos (more for fun) because it was Friday and our unit's theme was Ireland... yes, I was going to play U2... but I scratched that.  I think tomorrow I will have my review. 

I hope I am helping the students. The curriculum is scant with in-depth information.  If I'm explaining question tags, I have to supplement my knowledge with internet searching.  Thank goodness for the internet.  I knew teaching was a tough job, but my respect for the good teachers I know has grown just in one week.  Can I make until November? 

Moves Like Jagger

Peruvian people love many things, but perhaps if they were hard-pressed, they'd narrow their favorites to dancing and socializing.  After meeting some of the local LDS young single adults last week, I was invited to a birthday party for one of the girls.  I wasn't sure how I was going to get there after my class on Friday, but arrangements were made to have some of the members meet me at the university after my class.  Or so I thought at that point. Phone numbers were exchanged and the soon-to-be birthday girl (who spoke English and studies at BYU) assured me I was welcome after I confessed I didn't want to invite myself to her party.

After a long week of teaching, Friday finally came around. The woman who was supposed to meet me called me but I was in class. I hemmed and hawed about whether to go or not.  I was tired, a nice quiet evening on the computer sounded fine to me. Parties where I don't really know people are frightening enough, but a whole party where I could literally only talk to a handful of people, why on God's green earth would I do that to myself?

Cell phones work differently here and because she was on a different network or I didn't have a good prepaid phone plan, I couldn't call her back. However, texting works fine.  I finally decided I should go, I felt like a flake if I didn't attend.  So, we sent a few texts back in forth - in my poor written Spanish and her English.  I actually finally had one of my students send her a text for me.  We agreed to meet at the main gate of the university at 8:45.  After class, I hustled to turn in my cartuchara (multimedia case) and race to the  main gate. I met three people from the ward and they hailed a taxi.  We arrived at the house and I nervously went in with the group.  I have to confess, greetings can be awkward - speaking of adaptation and accommodation - do I adapt to the kiss on the cheek with men and women - or just let them accommodation me as an American and shake their hand?  Mostly with women, it's been a  kiss on the cheek and hug - and so far with men, it's been either way.  I play off what the other person does.

So here I was, in a house full of people I had just met, but everyone was very friendly and nice to me.  Here I was worried we were late - the party was supposed to start at 8, but we got there after 9 and it hadn't really started.  I worked on my Spanish and other guests worked on their English.

Then the music and dancing started.  Man, these kids could move.  I enjoyed watching people dance. They made it look so natural as they swayed and shook to cumbia, merengue, and salsa music.  LDS Church dances had nothing on this party. Guys actually asked girls to dance!  Yet, just like in the US,  when a slower song came on,  everyone scurried to their chairs and emptied the dance floor - but only for a few minutes before it filled up again.

A few guests teased me that I should dance.  The birthday girl said I should dance, so I promised her the next dance I would.  I do confess, I like dancing, I just don't feel I'm good at it - let alone trying Latin dancing in Peru!

Suddenly, the strains of "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 started pumping out of the speakers and the group started chanting "Emily! Emily! Emily!"  Yes... me. No other Emily was there but blonde and white me.

So, I hit the floor and I shook my groove thing and danced. People were watching what I was doing and some copied me. Uh oh.  They even told me I was a good dancer! Me? Double uh oh.  While I didn't take a spin on the dance floor during the Latin music,  when something with a beat I was familiar with  came on on- like American oldies, hip-hop, or dance songs- I ventured on the floor.  I got into dancing and just had fun. If people thought I was a fool, they probably thought I was just doing what all the other Americans do... hah hah sorry to my country for misleading the young adults of Piura!

Also, I was actually was asked to dance a couple of times - something that never happens in the US.  Hey, even if it was a pity dance,    it was more action that I got in the states at a dance.  

The party wasn't over, but finally at 1 am, my friend and I went home.  I don't know how much longer the socializing went but I am glad I went, even if  somewhere Mick Jagger was feeling ill because of my moves.