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.