Trip Start Sep 28, 2012
11Trip End Apr 09, 2013
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What a crazy 4 weeks its was!
Made home here in Peru relatively quickly as we, the Quest group, quickly transitioned from Ecuadorian spanish school to volunteering amongst hundreds of kids. One can certainly anticipate or have an idea of what something is going to be like, but I learned that it is not until you are there, emersed in it, that you really understand the essence of a place. I found this to be true about Villa Maria, the place I called home for February.
Villa Maria has in-and-around half a million inhabitants, but is considered a barrio, or suberb of Lima, the capital city of Peru - even though it takes usually 1.5 - 2 hours to drive to the centre of Lima! It is a barrio situated amongst low mountains in a climate that allows for almost zero greenery, only cactai and sand or dust to keep you company :) Well, no thats not true as there are gazzillions of dogs here, usually kept as guard dogs which works because a passing person sets of the barking domino effect at any time of day! The people here live happily, often with very little. Deluxe houses have more than a ground floor and are made of cinder block or bricks. They have access to running water and some electricity as well. The moderate level of living is usually playwood and tin built homes with a barril outside for water and one or two bulbs of electricity. The water barrils get refilled by the city about every week or so, which is sometimes a struggle because it is normal to have 6, 7, 8 or even more people living in one house. There are also families living in homes made of cardboard or wood slats with no water or electricity. Homes here are built all the way up the sides of the mountains and thus there are a lot of stairs to climb up and down to get places! Despite some of the living conditions, the people here almost always have a smile on their face. Its admirable. They live for their families and spend much of their time together or within the community. Every community within the barrio of Villa Maria, has a central ¨pitch¨ or sports tarmac where young kids come to play, older kids and adults come to play football and volleyball, or simply just to socialize. The sports skills of the folks here are amazing! REGARDLESS of age! The other day us ¨gringas¨or foreigners, got completely schooled by a team of ladies who were at least in their 40´s! They were fantastic!
The community vibe here and atmosphere is again different to that of the rest of Lima. We have spent some time in Miraflores, a neighborhood more in central Lima and its the kind of place with a Starbucks on every street corner and McDonald´s, casinos, fancy shmancy hotels, and good ol´ KFC all over the place too. In comparison, I don´t think I have seen a single restaurant in Villa Maria, instead people invite people into their house for meals if they are hungry. Or instead of the giant grocery stores, the corner shops and mini produce markets are the shopping locations of choice. All of Lima is certainly not like Miraflores, but it is curious to see that two completely different atmospheres can be found within the same city.
So what have I been up to for the month of February? A LOT! We have been kept so busy that we have had little rest, but I have been loving every moment. We are living on the top floor of the Quest Overseas School in Villa Maria, a school that was founded by Quest over ten years ago - it was actually the very first project Quest ever took on! Living conditions are basic although we do have a water and electricity supply. All of us share a bathroom and we live in a dorm room in which we sleep on banana beds (bunkbeds where the mattress is so old that it has a permanent human indent!) which I have actually started to miss since being back on the road. We live amongst some of the head haunchos of the school: Alejandro, the heart and soul of the place who has been their since the school´s founding who is also the mastermind behind many of the daily pranks played on us volunteers (it isn´t uncommon to hear girly shrieks as buckets of water are dumped on our heads, fake terds left in the bathroom, fake rats in the bedroom, unscrewing the kitchen tap so that it explodes when turned on, or the classic water balloon invasion!), Lucho who is a clown by profession and runs a children´s tv program (I think its rather self explanitory that he is again quite a goof-ball!), Martha the sweetest lady who is head teacher of the school and a mighty fine cook, and all their kids who take after the naughty prankster role models outnumbering us volunteers (although we managed a few revenge tricks of our own not to worry!). It is an absolute blast living with such a big family
Our week is usually pretty jam-packed with activities. Every weekday, we spend the morning on the communal pitch of a community, have lunch, then set out in the afternoon to a different community to do the same thing. These communities can be kilometers away and although we usually walk to most of them, the furthest this year we have had to take mini buses to. We have visited a few new communities this year that Quest has never been to before which always excites the kids. During these morning and afternoon sessions, we play games, sports, crafts, etc with the kids of that community. We can have 10 - 80 children aged 2 to 15 with us 5 volunteers at any one time making the experience sometimes crazy but always rewarding! After the afternoon community session, we take that community to the swimming pool, a huge treat for most of them who cannot afford the $1 entry fee during the hot summers. I find this time with the kids a blast, but extremely exhausting as the kids always seem to have more stamina than I do in the water! Wrestling, races, and playing in the pool for an hour, and us volunteers are ready for some down-time!
The evenings during the week are usually prep times for the upcoming days and weekends. We make posters and flyers, get or make equipment, and make plans. About 2 or 3 times a week, we hold movie nights in different communities outside. We carry the projector, screen, speaker, and all necessary cords around the valley to give the kids a ¨movie night experience¨ which usually involves multiple little ones sitting on your lap for the duration of the film (and Debs always falling asleep!). The favorite movie definitely has been Despicable Me shortly followed by Madagascar 3, always a hit. Hearing the giggles and laughs during these films is always a hoot, making me feel like a little kid again!
Saturdays are fair days. Every week we choose a community and theme (animals, superheroes, etc...), plan games for the children centred around the theme, dress up accordingly (however dorky we may look!), then head off to have a morning of fun. Popular games included the water balloon toss (in the crazy heat of the Peruvian summer the cool down was much appreciated!), obstacle race, and face painting.
Sundays are show days. Every Sunday evening, we talk the ¨walk of shame¨ in whatever ridiculous and usually embarrassing costumes Lucho has put us in (often spandexy or my personal favorite - a giant furry rabbit costume), to the central plaza of Villa Maria for a series of performances presented by us volunteers, dance crews, Lucho the clown, and more. Every week we present at least one dance number (usually designed so that we make complete fools of ourselves while making the audience of over 250 people laugh!) and we often throw in other dances, short plays (Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, yes all in spanish!...yipes!!!), and magic shows. We have done everything from hip-hop to bollywood taught to us by the seemingly crazy yet absolutely awesom Lucho, usually learned a day or two before show time. We always looked forward to the Sunday shows, however nervous we were to perform, we always had a blast and made people smile even if we did make complete fools of ourselves!
Any other spare time we spent giving bracelet-making sessions outside the school as well as art and paint activities keeping us constantly on our toes and involved with the kids!
The four weeks that was the volunteer phase was an absolutely extraordinary experience. I was pushed to improve my spanish skills (with the thankfully exptremely patient children!), and pull out my childish-ness to just be a big kid again. We were able to make great connections with some of the kids, I will definitely miss Raul, Bryan and Elizabeth, as well as the people we lived with who absolutely made my time in Villa Maria memorable. These connections meant for a tearful goodbye as we left the homey barrio and headed into the big city of Lima onto our next phase. That wasn´t until Alejandro pulled the greatest prank of all soaking all of us in one blow over the balcony though!
The kids taught me much about myself. My need to loosen up and let go being the most dominant. Spending time with children also opened my eyes to innocence and curiosity again, making me look at ordinary things as opportunities to learn and explore. Every step of the way during this gap year I have been pushed outside of the comfort zone in some way or another and my time in Villa Maria was no different. I have taken away so much from the experience there, that I have the desire to one day return and contribute more. One day soon.....
With the volunteer phase coming to a close, anticipation and excitement is rising for the expedition phase and the adventures that surely lie in the next month.
The trip continues! Stay tuned for an update from the exped road!