Days 50-64: Volunteering in Arequipa Part II

Trip Start Oct 15, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa Region,
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

As we have settled into staying in one place for longer than a few days at a time, Rachael and I are loving both our time in Arequipa and our work at the orphanage. We have seen a lot more of the city as we have adjusted to our work schedule at the orphanage and had a couple days off; and have taken full advantage of having our own kitchen. It's nice to save some money by making our own food, but more than that we feel a lot more at home making some some of the regular meals we've made so many times back in Canada.

Although cooking familiar foods has been nice, one of the highlights of our week was taking a Peruvian cooking class. The class was put on in the main floor kitchen of the house that we are staying in by our landlord's aunt. She was a Peruvian woman who had been making these recipes all her life and who as it turned out didn't speak a word of English. It doesn't get much more authentic than that. We were both surprised by how much we could understand as we sat in the kitchen and she started to go through the three course dinner plus a drink. We made tamales, a spicy chicken dish called aji de gallina, queso helado for dessert, and pisco sours. It was a lot of fun. We got to do a lot of hands on stuff from chopping pepper to shredding chicken and juicing limes, and Rachael cooked the filling for the tamales which afterwards we all were taught how to stuff and wrap the tamales in the banana leaves. Of course the best part was when we got to eat at the end of the two hour lesson. It was one of the better meals we've had yet and hopefully one we will remember how to make again. The teacher even grabbed a plate and joined in for the meal. Over dinner we talked with a German man who also took the class and traded travel stories. He had been taking trips all over South America for the last couple of years and had spent a lot of time in Chile and Argentina. We got some great tips for our next couple months.

Everything has continued to go well at the orphanage, the first impression turned out to be right on and we are still loving each shift. The kids are wonderful and from what we hear three of them may be in the process of being adopted. We're not sure how long it will take for this to happen, if it does at all, as we have been told the adoption process in Peru is very long and difficult. Although I'm sure the Tia's who have been there longer and have watched the children grow up will be a little sad for them to go, everyone is hoping that it works out and the kids find great homes. In what was probably the cutest thing that happened this week one of the older kids sat with Rachael and helped as she folded laundry. Yon Su told her who each piece of clothing belonged to and then took her downstairs and showed her which drawer they should be put away in. She was pretty proud of herself for being able to help.

Both of our Spanish is slowly but surely improving. This is partly because the need to communicate with the 2 & 3 year olds makes sure we know the basics. We both have a good grasp on words like slowly, be careful, and share. Our breakfasts with the Tia's are where we learn most of our new words and phrases because if we don't learn we don't get to be part of the conversations that are taking place very quickly and all in Spanish. Delia, the director at the orphanage and one of the nicest people we have we've ever met, has taken it upon her self to make sure of two things:

1. We learn as much Spanish as we can.
2. Rachael makes a great wife come October.

She is always helping us pick up new words and helping us improve what we already know in exchange for us helping her improve her english. She always makes sure we are part of the conversation and doesn't let us zone out during the times where we are completely lost as far as what everyone is talking about. She likes to show Rachael new recipes and rushes her to the kitchen to show her how to make anything that we especially like after we eat. This week Rachael's lesson was how to make natural peanut butter starting with raw peanuts.

As tempting as it is to go back to our house and relax after chasing 8 or 10 kids around, we have still made a point of getting out and seeing as much of the city as we can. We certainly haven't missed out on anything during the trip but we have been pretty careful about money so far; so this week to celebrate two months into the trip and our five year anniversary we decided to splurge and go out to the #1 restaurant in Arequipa. I got beef, duck, and alpaca and Rachael chose beef, alpaca and lamb lamb filets all cooked and served on sizzling hot slabs of volcanic stone. Both the food and the experience were incredible. We've also done a lot of walking around the city and a few of the surrounding districts and finally made it into the Cathedral, which was beautiful. The church is just as impressive on the inside as it is from the outside with amazing architecture and art, and a massive pipe organ covering the whole back wall. We read somewhere that it is the largest in South America.

My favourite attraction we went to see was the Monastery of Santa Catalina. This huge Dominican monastery right in downtown Arequipa is a city within the city that was at one point home to almost 500 nuns. There is a small section where a few nuns still live today but the rest is open to the public and has been rebuilt after an earthquake in the 1960's to look like it did in the 16th and 17th centuries. We were lucky to take the tour on a perfectly clear night which was amazing as there are almost no electric lights and the whole place was illuminated only by fireplaces, oil lanterns, and the moon. It was a surreal and sometimes spooky experience walking through rooms set up just as the nuns had left them with the smell of biting kerosene in the air and the dim light casting shadows in every corner. Every time you took a picture after the flash you half expected to see a nun sitting at the desk in the corner of the room looking back at you. Rachael was a little scared walking around at points as we were at most times completely alone. PThe monastery itself is beautiful with big open air courtyards, cobblestone streets, an orchard, and the walls painted bright blue and red. Adding to this was that all of the nuns who lived there came from very wealthy families. This meant there were incredible sculptures and art donated by those families in every room. Frescos were painted on the walls of the courtyards and chapel, and extremely intricate paintings and sculptures in just about every one of the nuns quarters. There was also a large art gallery at the end of the tour and I'm sure all these paintings were once hanging throughout the mini-city as well.

Keeping busy has been easy on this part of the trip but getting deeper into December in a city where just about every day has been 25 degrees Celsius and sunny has made it pretty hard to feel like it's Christmas. You see a few decorations in the stores and there are two huge Christmas trees in the town square but without snow or family and friends it takes some work to get into the spirit of things. So far this has included shopping for lights and garland at the cheap pop up Christmas markets in town, and watching our favourite Christmas movies and videos any way we can. This meant buying pirated movies on the street corners and finding them on YouTube or anywhere else they pop up on the internet. So far this week we've watched National Lampoons Christmas Vacation a few times, Home Alone, the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rankin/Bass' Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Donald Duck and Chip & Dale Christmas shorts, and a Sobeys Christmas commercial from 1990. I'm sure everyone back home in Nova Scotia knows exactly the commercial we mean. We're keeping our eye out for the movie Elf and are planning an attempt at homemade egg nog too. We also are in the planning process for a huge Christmas Eve feast with our house hosts and fellow volunteers.
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Jenna on

The "Star of Christmas" commercial? Best Christmas commercial ever!

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