Thursday, September 9, 2010


We may be back in our various homes, but Conectados is still continuing. From now on, your best source is See you there!

Friday, August 13, 2010


Joseph is off studying, Katie is in Calgary, and I'm en route to Minneapolis. I guess that means our portion of the project has finished.

I'll need a few days to be able to explain how I felt in the last days, or how I feel now. I could almost be on a bus to Huancayo rather than Minneapolis, but the streets are too smooth, too wide, and there's no terribly dubbed film playing at beyond max volume. People converse softly and no one has gotten on to offer me drinks, nuts, chocolate bars, or slices of fruit: what terrible service. Now that the sun is up, I can also see the miles and miles of trees and greenery that should be familiar. It is, but it's familiar in the way that white faces and blonde hair are familiar. I recognize them as part of where I come from, but at the moment I can't help but stare in curious wonder. Why do all the cars stay in their lanes? Who waters all these trees? It will take until the first true rain I've seen in three months for it all to make sense again: I'm not in Kansas anymore (ironically, it's almost the exact opposite). Peru is a sort of home for me, although I'm always an outsider because of physicality, my accent, or some of my mannerisms. The one fully positive thing I can say about being back is that no one has stared at me since yesterday at 10pm. I am normal again, and people don't make conversation with me because my hair is unusual. In fact, it's reversed: a couple was speaking Spanish on the train from the airport, and I felt the urge to join in. Peru isn't a society that teaches multiculturalism: it's either foreign or it's not. Foreign things are longed for, and likewise foreign people. Here, greeting someone who is speaking a foreign language is unusual, or maybe rude. Greeting someone is strange enough.

Be on the lookout for the website showcasing the Conectados project, complete with summaries of results and student work. It should appear within two weeks at

Thanks for following. See you again in 2011!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Two opposite worlds

Matt commented that the previous blog entry sounded like I had written it. I have no idea how much I weigh now, but I now have to wear a very tight belt with everysingle pair of my jeans which previously fit me comfortably.
I haven't written for the blog in a while... it has been a crazy last 2/3 weeks since I last wrote. I went away for two weekends and to two completely different worlds.
The first world I went to Matt has dubbed, Disneyworld aka Gringoland. After teaching all morning in Villa Maria del Triunfo, I got on a bus and was wisked away to the land of Hot Showers, 6 soles cups of teas, clean streets and restaurants where everyone spoke english. This was strange because I had just spent the last 2 months living in the exact opposite world. This is the Peru that the government presents to the gringos and I live and work in the world they seek to hide. I stayed at a nice backpackers hostel and met some really cool people. All of them had been travelling around Peru... Cuzco, Mancora etc. They all spoke English. On my first night, I sat in the Loki bar drinking a beer with a guy from Newcastle. This did not feel like Peru. I am not going to lie, I enjoyed my beers, hot showers, meeting lots of interesting people. I met a funny guy from Wisconsin who was my travel buddy around Lima. We went into the centre of Lima and watched the World Cup on a massive screen surrounded by thousands of people for both the 3-4 game and Final. As I navigated this world, on the one hand, I felt more comfortable. Partly because I didn't have all the peruvians around me telling me to be careful, but even more so because I was navigating a world that I recognized because it was designed to be like home, the world I know. They installed the metropolitano bus system. The food was the same. The restaurants were the same. I had a hot chocolate at Starbucks and it tasted like home. On the other hand, I knew it was false. There were guards everyone. There were men who spent hours polishing the bulbs of the lamp post. I could have bought the New York Times in parque kennedy when I woke up on Saturday morning. The food that I eat everyday with my family, which I knew cost 2 soles to make, cost 20 soles at an "authentic Peruvian restaurant" in Miraflores. On Monday morning, I watched the sunrise over the Pacific, sipped a hot chocolate, picked up my laundry and returned to my Peru.

Fastforward to the following thursday, where we went to Pucara, just outside of Huancayo. This was a completely different world. After having spent all night on a cold bus chatting to Isaac, we got off the bus and into another region of Peru. The climate reminded me of Calgary, in the mountains. Not really surprising when you consider that we were at an altitude of 3000+ meters. We went to Huancayo to do research for a possible third project... It was strange for me, because as tempting as it is, I know I won't be coming back to work on the third project. This trip was more for Matt, Isaac and Joseph. We were there for two days, and Matt and I were both very happy that ISaac was there. We visited Pachachara (??) a very rural school about an hour away from Pucara, which is about 30 mins away from the provincial capital. The school had around 120-140 students and is largely ignored by the government for support and investment. It has to compete with a much larger school that is known for having better facilities and more support. We all "fell" for Pachachara... the director was understood the project and the importance of technology for kids. There was clearly a need, it was small enough that 10 computers would have a deep impact. We know that the project will help improve their admission rate. The next day, we walked around the community of Pachachara and talked with some of the people. It became clear that we will face more challenges that we first anticipated. As for the Sierra, it was a completely different world. People could offer us plates and plates of food, but could not pledge 4 or 5 soles to pay for the internet. We encountered a strange adversion to foreigners and even to Isaac, I'm guessing as a result of the recent history with the terrorism in the Sierra. This was an isolated world, with few paved roads, cows and sheep causing traffic jams, no fixed line internet. It is an area largely ignored by the central government. We chatted to families who did not know their monthly intakes because they ate everything they grew. They only sold food when they needed to. We talked to a women who left her family to work as a nanny in Lima.. but spent as much living as you earned. We talked to a young mother who already had 4 children. This was a different world from Miraflores. I felt like I saw so much of Peru without having to go to Maccu Piccu or Mancora like most of my friends or the people I'd talked to.

We arrived back in Cieneguilla to finish the last full week of teaching. I was terrified, I was scared to teach without our third group member. It was a tiring, but very positive week. Despite lacking a group member, the classes went well. All the kids worked well to finish their presentations. They adapted to our teaching style and respected the rules (for the most part) It saddened me to explain to the kids that we would not be coming back to do more classes. One girl mentioned to me that she likes how we teach, its fun. That was fulfilling. I am going to miss the big personalities of each class. Matt, Joseph and I now have alot of fun impersonating the different personalities. The most fulfilling part is that the kids did learn the basic skills we taught them and could apply them when we allowed them to work independently. I am excited to go through all the presentations sometime in the near future to find out all the personal, inciteful answers the kids gave.

I have less than 2 weeks here in Peru. How do I feel? at this point, I can't answer that.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I weigh 139 pounds.

I knew I was losing weight here, but I had no idea that there was even that much on me to lose--I'm not sure how much I weighed before, but I think I've lost about 30 pounds.

Why do I know this? Well, sooner or later while in Peru some new and exciting illness will get you. I was pleasantly surprised to not have had any health problems, but in some ways I knew it would come sooner or later. I'm not entirely sure what it was. My best theory is altitude sickness, although strangely it hit me coming down from altitude, not going up. Food is almost out of the question for me, both because it felt nothing like food poisoning or really anything I've ever felt and because I ate almost nothing in the 24 hours prior to getting sick. The 8-hour bus from Huancayo to Lima didn't stop, so I was left with half a bottle of water and a bag of bread. Everything I ate after that either Katie or Joseph also ate.

Anyway, at some point while I had collapsed outside and was unable to move or speak more than three words at a time, Joseph said we should go to the medical post and given that I had just spent five minutes trying to control my entire body shivering, I didn't even feel like arguing. Peruvian medicine to the rescue! Obviously since I'm white and foreign the only explanation for them was food, even after I explained my recent eating history. They gave me some sort of injection which helped for a while and mostly made me tired beyond belief. That was fine by me because asleep I didn't have to remember what was happening to me. I woke up today at about 7am to eat one little bread and again at 1pm where I managed both soup and a lamb's eye--guaranteed to cure me, according to my host dad Oscar. The fact that I ate almost half of it before I had to spit out the rubbery mass in my mouth shows that I've improved significantly.

And thanks to my extension to the Huancayo trip to meet with the parent's group and now today's events, Katie and Joseph have done 11 of our 14 classes this week without me.

Gold star!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

The sierra may as well be another country.

This is what I believe after three days in Pucará, a little town near Huancayo. I had been to Cusco, but Cusco is Disney's version of the sierra. This is the real deal. I won't steal the thunder in describing the majesty of the place because I know Katie won't be back in Cieneguilla until tomorrow and doesn't have the chance to write yet. So I'll tell my part...

This little story will be one of two things for you: 1) a string of incredible coincidences or 2) God. Big, fat in your face signs from above.

I'm not sure how to tell it all adequately, but I'll try not to cut out too many details. It begins on Saturday, where I decided to go with Katie on a walk to take advantage of her last day in Huancayo. (I'm here until Tuesday morning for a meeting.) We had just got out the door and up the hill when we ran into a nun guiding a Jeep across a makeshift bridge over the ditch. "Gringos in Pucará?" she said with enough enthusiasm that I wanted to stop and actually talk to her. In order to get to today, I'll skip over all the rest and say that as it turns out, she's a Slovenian nun working in the town, who has been here for a year now. This means that she has the foreigner's analytical eyes but the insider knowledge to help evaluate our project plan. We said goodbye that day and exchanged emails and I didn't expect to see her again, until maybe next year when I'm back in Peru. As we walked out, a brief shower had just ended and a gorgeously intense rainbow was forming. Then a double rainbow. And then triple.


This morning the rest of the group left, to get back for classes and work. My plan was to hang around the plaza and interview as many people as possible about the education system in Pucará and Pachachaca, our target community. Again, just as I was leaving, I saw Andreja the nun. I went over to say hello and she invited me to Mass at 10. It was 9:30 and I hadn't had breakfast yet, so it looked perfect. Besides, I wasn't too sure how this randomly approaching strangers plan was going to work out.

Mass was lovely, since I knew several of the songs from my Villa Martha days. Andreja introduced me as it was starting and everyone was impressed and curious at once. After Mass, Andreja introduced me to the president of Pucará as well as a community leader from Pachachaca, both of whom were excited to talk. Juan from Pachachaca was heading out to see his brother, so we decided to meet in the afternoon. Inés from Pucará is taking me to see the other school tomorrow morning. It's funny because I recently had a conversation about how the church used to be the center of connecting with a community as a newcomer, but that the tradition is slowly fading as churchgoers decrease in number. Looks like it still works.

Juan showed up (miracle! Only 25 minutes late) and we chatted for a few minutes before his nephews appeared. They were heading up to Pachachaca, and I saw him go talk with them and then separate, so I quickly volunteered that we should go up together. "Walking?" he asked rather incredulously. "Of course!" I replied. I had done the walk down yesterday and I knew that it was almost an hour. Going up wasn't thrilling but the prospect of talking to all of them was.

The route from Pucará to Pachachaca is about 5 miles. That does not mean five minutes. There is a car that goes that way occasionally--as they please, sometimes every few hours or so--making the only practical way between the two a long walk at 10,000 ft above sea level. Fortunately, this gave us a sure hour of conversation, and as it turned out both Juan and especially his nephews are insightful and analytical. I desperately wish I could get to know his one nephew better. Strangely I never got his name. Names aren't always exchanged immediately here. Anyway, they offered several good critiques as well as solutions to our internet woes and plans to generate the money to pay for the connection.

Not only that, when we arrived in Pachachaca Juan showed me over to the gentleman's house who has the only internet antena in the pueblo. People had told us about internet existing, but that it either doesn't work, isn't open, or has been disbanded. Jorge the internet man explained it a bit more clearly: through some work network of his, a company installed the antenna and 2 computers but nothing more. About two months ago, something went wrong with the antenna and it hasn't been fixed yet.

Now Jorge the internet man is a farmer like all the others, so he spends most of his time there. This leads to a very "flexible" schedule. Besides, he tells that in an entire month, he sees about 30 people. Compare that to our project at La Libertad, where we see about 50 weekly. Why is this? This is exactly the problem with installing a computer lab and not providing computer training. No one above the age of 16 knows what the internet really is or why it's useful for anyone out of school. Jorge told me he doesn't have the skills to teach, and based on the fact that he runs the internet and has no email address, I believe him. He gave excellent insight into the community mentality, and the enormous problem of introducing a new technology that could revolutionize their farms, health, and futures--except that no one knows that.

Coming down from Pachachaca, I ran into a guy who recognized me but whom I couldn't immediately place. I guessed I had met him as part of the governor's group on the first day. He asked where I was headed and since I had no exact reply, he invited me to his house for dinner. I eventually figured out how I knew him--I had a glass of orange juice at his mom's stand this morning at breakfast. I was talking a bit and mentioned the project then, and of course I'm the only gringo around right now so he recognized me. But to invite someone to your house, prepare them dinner, show the family, and spend two hours talking would normally require a bit more than a five-minute business exchange. They aren't kidding when they talk about hospitality in the sierra.

So that's that. I can't remember at this moment whether or not I left my backpack at his house or in the place we're staying. Strangely I'm not too worried, because I can't imagine it disappearing and I know both where he lives and where his parents' store is. I don't doubt that if I did leave it there, they'll have it for me tomorrow morning when I get breakfast.



Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More of what Matt said...

It hit me last night after we arrived back from Lima that I am going home in a month.... or exactly 4 weeks to the day. I haven't blogged in a while because the last 2 weeks have been jam-packed. Matt said alot about how the activity sessions are progressing. The activity sessions show how much much kids can learn with just a little bit of instruction in how to use a computer. Most of the kids we are teaching didn't know how to use a mouse or left and right click. Now, they are formatting and creating their own powerpoint presentations about themselves. They also have the confidence to explore the menus and figure out what a computer does on their own. Before, they would press capslock and call us over because they were afriad they had hurt the computer. We're also very happy about their confidence to follow their own instincts when it comes to creating the presentations, rather than doing exactly what we tell them. This comes primarily, I think, from the difference in teaching style that we are using. It has developed to the point where today, we did not have a lead teacher like we used in the past. Instead, we had a leader for 10 minutes and then, we circulated giving kids instructions and having them work through the presentation at their own pace. It was incredible how much they learned and remembered .Today made me very proud of what we are doing and how many kids we reached. Also, I was proud of the three of us, this whole project we have been learning and experimenting with teaching styles. We have 2 full weeks left of activity sessions... and then some catch up days at the end.
The catch up days at the end are actually going to be really useful, given that we have had 3.5 school days of feriado in the last 2 weeks. The public holidays caused us to change our schedule around alot over the last few weeks. It also caused us to lower our expectations about what we can achieve. Not all the groups will be at the same level, but we can proud that they have a basis of Word, while others will have more advanced skills. We are planning classes with the Primaria teachers so that they can continue working with the programs after we leave. Slowly we are realizing that time is running out and we need to start equipping people and delegating responsibilities to people to fill in the gaps when we leave in a month.
On my side, I am going to Miraflores aka Gringoland aka Disneyland as Matt calls it. I'm looking forward to my hot shower and a bit of relaxation. It will definitely be a culture shock to be there, but a nice break I think.
All for now,