Pee buckets, parades, and porcupines
After another relaxing weekend of “it’s just not a weekend if I have to leave my apartment”-ness, I thought it was time to give this blog some love. Every time I do this, that is, indulge my hermitage for days at a time, I start to feel a little bad. Namely, I start to feel like Nadege, the 23-year-old French teacher who lived with my family for some three months when I was twelve (I suppose now she’s 33). Nadege was moody. She had a Portuguese fiancée whom she was quite fond of, and she seemed to be in a perpetual malaise about getting herself into a situation that required spending three months away from him. She dealt with this malaise primarily by sitting by herself in the rocking chair in the living room, drinking orange juice with ice in it, and watching daytime reruns of “Beverly Hills, 90210.” I know that suburban Detroit might be somewhat disappointing to a 20-something European intent on seeing the United States in all its glory, but what I remember most about her being here was the feeling that my family was trying really hard to reach out to her, to do fun things like take a weekend trip to Chicago, and she just seemed impossible to please. Nadege was in sharp contrast to Yann, the 17-year-old French exchange student who stayed with us some three weeks the previous year, when I was eleven, who was awesome. We made him eat cookie dough (repulsion led quickly to awe) and drink apple cider (Yann loved him some apple cider) and took him to Chicago to buy these extremely specific shoes at Niketown and we were very sad when he left. A lot of conversations with Yann went like this:
Family member: Hey Yann, want to do X (go to the grocery store, for example)
Yann (in an imitable French accent): Why not!
When I left for the Peace Corps, one of the last things my mom said to me was, “I hope you remember to be more like Yann than like Nadege.” And I feel like I have done a lot of Yann-like things here in Santo Domingo. I’ve jumped off branches into the freezing cold swimming hole in my underwear, I’ve judged beauty pageants (yes, pageants, plural), I’ve helped name babies, I’ve stayed out dancing until 5 a.m., I’ve donated volley/soccer balls for high school field days, I’ve gone to church on Christmas, I’ve broken and chewed sugar cane with my bare hands, and I’ve eaten pig intestines all in the name of the cultural experience. But then there are weekends like this where I can’t help but feel decidedly Nadege-like, and then I think about the distinction between her abroad experience and mine, and I can mainly boil it down to two statements:
A, 3 months ≠ 2 years.
B, France (I don’t remember what part): Suburban Detroit ≠ Suburban Detroit: Rural Peru.
In two years, you can’t help but be yourself. Two years is long enough to get into spats with your neighbors and then make up with them, it’s long enough to teach people to high-five in appropriate situations and to use “okay” correctly, it’s long enough to really hone your personal guacamole recipe. You can suck it up and do things for three months that you can’t bring yourself to do for two years. A good example for me is cold showers. I really hate cold showers. In the three months I lived with a host family in Lima, I sucked it up and took cold showers because three months wasn’t long enough to find an alternative. Within three months of getting to my two-year site in Santo Domingo, though, I figured out that it’s pretty great to heat a kettle of water, carry it down the hill to the shower, mix it with the cold water in a tub, and dump buckets of warm water over my head. I’m not saying there aren’t some two-year quality-of-life concessions. A good example for me is my pee bucket. I tend not to discuss my pee bucket with friends and family in the United States, because I think it weirds them out, but now I’m saying it to the internet at large, I pee in a bucket. All the time. Not just when it’s raining, not just when it’s dark, not just when there’s no running water (though that’s how it started). Peeing in a bucket was one concession I really had no problem with, after the first week or so, and I generally forget that peeing in a bucket is unusual. Those two instances, cold showers and my pee bucket, are combination examples of point A and point B, I suppose. I’m sure there were things about living in our house that even Yann wouldn’t have been able to put up with for two years without some give-and-take, but I’m also pretty sure living with us wasn’t much a plunge in quality of life for either of them, so maybe Nadege could have put on a happy face and gone to the supermarket with us every once in a while. I’m sure they were both homesick and occasionally exhausted (from speaking a second language, from working, from culture shock), but you can put homesickness and exhaustion on delay (or at least relegate it to one or two days a week) when you know there’s a definite end to it on the horizon. The homesickness and exhaustion in two years just feels kind of infinite, and that’s why I sit in the hammock for an entire weekend and watch “Weeds” on my laptop (Rocking chair = hammock, “Weeds” > “Beverly Hills, 90210,” and who puts ice in orange juice?).
Things have been pretty busy lately (entire weekends in the hammock are also a manner of pacing myself to ward off exhaustion when it’s a 3-week stretch at site). This past Thursday was World Environment Day, and my environmental commission organized a day of environmental education and awareness. I had planned a more strictly “education” day with one of the colegios, since I think that’s often what lacks in this type of holidays here. All the kids have to make posters and banners and costumes, surely cutting into classroom time, all saying “Save the environment!” without ever learning about what sort of practical steps they can take to do so. So when we brought this up with the commission, their first thoughts were, “Let’s have a parade!” They did this, but only after a two-hour environmental education session in one of the colegios, soon to be replicated in the other one. The younger kids (11-12 years old) stayed in the colegio and did a cleanup day, as well as a contest about guessing decomposition times for different kinds of trash, and the older kids (13-14-15 years old) had a field trip down to the three sites involved in the waste management system in Santo Domingo: the compost piles, the house where all the inorganic waste and recyclables get separated, and the landfill. The events of this day are perhaps best told in pictures, so here:
I had to make three speeches about the environment before lunch, a record.
Cool guayaquil trash cans that the kids in wood shop made!
Jorge explains composting to these kids.
I made worksheets.
Kids dressed up for the parade.
I'm still unclear on the practical message here. Noooo indeed.
You can never go wrong with a kid dressed like a tree. And a kid behind him carrying a bag that says "cloud."
The little kids picked up trash in the plaza.
The trash workers led the parade.
The environmentally-minded kids from every school met afterwards to watch end of the world videos. Here they are picking up the trash in the municipal auditorium.
And then, after that exhausting day of activities when all I could think about was a nap, my counterpart Jorge informed me that we were going to eat some celebratory ceviche. When I met him at the restaurant, there were already two large beers on the table, and he immediately and appropriately asked me if I wanted a pop, but I did not. The social situations in Santo Domingo in which I find it is acceptable/safe for a señorita such as myself to drink alcohol are few and far between, and I wanted some cerveza. And there went the afternoon. It looked like this.
I’ve always been pretty fond of Jorge as a work partner, but spending an afternoon drinking with him (along with Wilmer and Juan, who work in our office) established that he and I are really on the same page about a lot of things. We were discussing one teacher, who, at the end-of-the-world video event, told me to tell Jorge he thought we were scaring the kids, and then, as soon as Jorge made a “don’t be scared” speech, made a “no, BE scared” speech. He then continued talking long after his point was made and closed with something like, “I mean, I’m not from here, and neither is Señorita Alyssa, but we can tell you that you guys need to get your act together, environmentally speaking.” Jorge told me that he found it “absurdo” that he needed to put in an “I’m not from here” caveat, since his wife is from here and they now have teenage children who have never lived anywhere else but here. Jorge and I talked for awhile about how I don’t do that, how when it comes to environmental awareness I always put things in the “we” form, somewhat unconsciously, because the goal isn’t self-exclusive environmental shame. Jorge and I established that neither of us was fond of this guy’s beat-you-to-the-punch attitude. Another example of this was before the event, when I told him the kids were going to pick up the trash in the room as an act of “sensibilización.” He grumbled, “The people who should pick up the trash are the people who were here earlier and threw it on the ground!” Another teacher, Ingeniera Luz (ironically, his wife) took the high road, and made a speech about how some people don’t have the “educación” (that word can mean either education or manners, or both, in this case) to clean up their trash, especially people from the campo, and we need to lead by example. Instead of feeding the whole city-campo hate fest, though, she made a point to say “our parents” in reference to the campesinos (which is fair, the vast majority of those kids’ parents are campesinos). I like to think that there are people like Ingeniera Luz teaching the children of Santo Domingo. Her husband remains a mystery to me.
In the vein of odd marital pairings, Jorge was also telling that afternoon about how his mother-in-law was in town. I asked him if that’s why he was drinking. He laughed really hard and gave me high-five. Peruvians don’t, by nature, high-five, that’s my doing right there. He then went on to ask me if, in the United States, people have issues with their mothers-in-law. I have mixed feelings about really general questions about the United States, ones that can be answered, “Yes, we are humans too,” but that one was funny. I just gave him a look, and he said, “That’s universal, huh,” and more hilarity ensued. I only knew he was serious when we left the restaurant and he said, “Here come my wife and mother-in-law! Don’t say anything!...but let’s invite them for a beer.” This was bad news for me, as his wife, I am nearly certain, hates my guts, and has since I got here. As far as I can tell (and I’ve fished town gossip to make sure), her hatred of my guts doesn’t have any deeper source than that I am twenty-two, blonde, not Peruvian, and work with her husband. I can understand that, I guess, I just wish she could spend like thirty seconds in my brain so as to fully comprehend the extent to which I do not want to sleep with her husband. I was mildly inebriated at this point, or else I maybe would have tried to get out of sharing a beer with a woman who hates my guts (douchechill…). Alcohol told me that it would be a good idea to talk incessantly about my boyfriend Andrew, plus, someone had to break the awkward silences. Another phenomenon I discovered that day to be universal is the pathetic nature of a drunken man trying to explain to his lady that he is not, in fact, drunk. They always know, man.
THIS IS WHERE I START TALKING ABOUT ANIMALS. (Yeah, I know what some of you come here for.) So a couple nights ago, around 10 o’clock, Humberto’s buddy Inche came to my door and shouted, “Alyssa! Do you have a banana?” I did have a banana, but I wasn’t willing to give it up without an explanation. The explanation was this: “We caught an ‘osito’ (small bear) in the campo and we need to feed it.” I was pretty excited about this. A small bear! In my house! Imagine the possibilities! I asked to see the small bear, and when I went to Humberto’s part of the house, I found…a porcupine.
Despite his lack of small bear properties, he (or she, who wants to flip over a porcupine to tell) is pretty badass. Humberto loves him (even though he smells like crap and makes the whole back of the house smell like crap). He built him his own two-foot by two-foot cage, and feeds him bananas and sweet potatoes (yes, he boils sweet potatoes specifically for our pet porcupine). Today the porcupine did a little shimmy to shake out his needles and Humberto positively squealed with delight. I get the honor of naming him. SUGGESTIONS ACCEPTED. It has to be something a Spanish speaker could easily say, and could make reference to any of the following qualities possessed by said porcupine:
-he is sharp
-he is small
-he could be mistaken for a small bear if one couldn’t remember the word for “porcupine”
-he smells like crap
-he seems to really like bananas but not apples
This is the interactive part of the blog, go nuts. It’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book…but more small bear-tastic.