A view of the pillars

Life as a JV in Tacna has been difficult.  We´re passing 8 weeks here and I have yet to really feel like a volunteer.  But the difficulty has not be in the living of life…I have done a lot of that…but rather in living in accordance with the values we ascribed to when we applied/were accepted as a Jesuit Volunteer.   The values we seek to live out fall into 4 categories: Community, Simple Living, Social Justice, and Spirituality.  While under normal circumstances living these ideals in community is difficult given the difference of opinions that exist in communities as well as the difficulties of living in another country, but for me in Tacna there have been even more obstacles.  We´ve been tasked with the job of setting up a new community in Andahuaylillas, but we have yet to set foot in Andahuaylillas.  Instead we have been living in Tacna, with host families, for the past 2 months.  While it has been really useful for my Spanish skills, and for understanding some of Peruvian culture, it has made it difficult to live as a JV.   To better organize my thoughts, I´m going to go according to the pillars of JVC.

Community has meant different things these past 2 months, and I think that the 2 different meanings will continue to exist even as we move into Andahuaylillas and make it our home.   Here in Tacna more dominating meaning of community has been that of my host family.  I have spent 6 weeks living with a family in Tacna.  They are the people that I have seen every day and spent the most time with while in Peru.  I love them, they´re amazing people and have really taught me a lot…about a lot of things.  The only reason it will be difficult to leave Tacna is because of my host family.  But with this form of community, it makes it difficult to have the other form, the form which JVC seeks to create, namely a community of volunteers.  The difficulty here is that we don´t live together.  We don´t see each other every day.  And one of us is even living in the States for January…so it´s been difficult.   To add to this, we have been watching the Tacna volunteers begin to form their community (both with each other in their own house, and with their neighbors who will be their neighbors for the next 2 years).  While I can´t fault them for doing what only seems natural, especially given that they have all moved into the community house here, it makes it a bit more difficult being on the outside.  When all 7 of the new Peru volunteers were living with host families, it was easier…

But you can´t really change the hand you´re dealt.  And I signed up for this.  I wanted to help start a new community in a new location.  I just never realized how difficult these three months would be with regards to community, nor did I realize how important the idea of forming a community among the 5 of us that will be in Cusco would be to me.   We´ve done our best to work towards an idea of community, but It hasn´t been easy….I´m excited and ready for the work in Cusco.

Simple Living
This also has been complicated given the living situation.  My host family certainly did not sign up for a life of simple living when they invited me into their home.  So I have been living at their life style which is not the simple life style of the volunteers.  While we certainly aren´t overly extravagant at my house, we are very well to do in Tacna.  Living with my host family has also clouded what I thought it meant to live simply.  Is living simply supposed to be in the things we have?  Or is it more in the way we live?  Should we do away with all the things in life to get to the “purest” form, or is it more in how we live with each other?  My family here always has someone coming through the house to chat.  They spend a lot of time talking and being with people.  They live simply, meaning without too much complication, but they have internet, a microwave, a washing machine, and other things that might not fit the definition of simple.  Just something to keep in mind as we move to Andahuaylillas in February.

Social Justice
What does this mean?  I really have no way to judge what this would even look like here in Peru yet.  How do you do justice in a society you don´t understand?  I think again, I simply have to wait until I understand where I am better and what it is that I will do once I get to Andahuaylillas.   For now, I can only be present to those I am with.  And once January 9th comes, then I´ll be on Mission Month with 53 high school boys…that surly has to count somewhere in this column?

This is the easiest to articulate because it comes from a language deficit.  One of the surprises that I wasn´t expecting was the frustration I would have in mass.  Going to mass for me is something that I draw strength from.  And when the language shifted from English to Spanish I lost something.  At first it was difficult to even understand what was being said (I knew what was going on by the fact that mass works the same in all languages).  I didn´t get anything from the homilies and I missed a lot.  It was tough for a while, but now that my Spanish is improving I´m getting more from mass and the difficulties here are subsiding.   There is more to type here…but time is always getting shorter.

In summary of this I think the word is: Unsettled (thanks Walter for the word).  Life has yet to settle down, and it won´t for another few months.  Patience is something that I don´t usually have a lot of, but I´m learning a bit more about it every day: patience with myself, with my surrounding, with the Tacna Volunteers, with my community (however you define this).


A belated Christmas update…

Hola todos,

Sorry for the delay in this post…while it seems like I have all the time in the world, it also seems to fly faster here than it does back home.  Going to work on New Years too, and also some other things to post before I leave on Sunday for Mission Month where I won´t have access to anything really.

Noche Buena…Christmas Eve
In doing things that aren´t typical (like being in South America for Christmas) we decided to take a 1.5 hour car ride up to Tarata.  Those of us who went were Mo, Mo´s family, Jessica, myself, and two of our neighbors in Habitat Martin and Edith.  Tacna sits about 20km from the coast and while we can see the mountains from where we are, we most certainly are not in the mountains.   But after a lengthy car ride we had made it a long ways (i don´t know how far exactly) and we had climbed more than 3000 meters (roughly 10,000 ft).  It was a gorgeous ride and nice to get out of the desert and see lots of vegetation.

After arriving we checked out the church  and sung by the market to grab some bread for the day and maybe explore the possibility of getting some breakfast.  Being Xmas eve there werne´t many vendors or people in the market, but fortunately there was the bathroom attendant who didn´t take the day off.  Paid my 50 cents and got my paper so that I could do my business…you have to take advantage of these opportunities when you aren´t sure the next time you´re going to be given the opportunity to go.  Not that I would have minded popping a squat in a farm or along the trail as we were hiking, I just thought it would be better in the present company to get my business out-of-the-way.

The hike was beautiful…and I hope to show pictures at some point, but as for now you just get the words.  We hiked down into a valley, crossed a river, and back up the other side.  It was so much fun to get out of the desert and see some real vegetation.  And it even rained a bit…the real kind of rain, not the puny mist that has happened twice in the last 8 weeks here in Tacna.   This also gave me time to enjoy the presence of other gringos…sometimes you just need a break from the

One of the cool things we got to see on this hike were the ruins, well not really ruins ruins but the bases of long defunct granaries the Incas used to store food once harvested.   They were well up on an opposing mountain side so we didn´t get to explore them, but non-the-less still cool.  The other really interesting thing was up in some “caves.”  Really just some massive boulders and rocks overhanging the trail which we climbed up in between…but in there exists an altar to Mother Earth (pachamama) as was explained by our guides from Habitat.  There were a bunch of bones on the altar left from the various animals that had been sacrificed for the blessing of the earth upon the harvests in the region.

After reaching the far side and climbing up through the rocks we got to hang out on top of the side of a mini-mountain while we waited for a taxi to take us up another 15 min to the Baños Termales.  Here I played with the panoramic function on my camera and hopefully it turns out well…but again, at the moment I don´t have the pictures with me.  It was unbelievably gorgeous and made me really excited for our home in Andahuaylillas which is quite nicely nestled in a valley with many mountains.

The Baños were a great way to end the day trip into the mountains…it allowed for us to relax in on the side of a mountain in a bath heated by the flowing magma beneath the Andes Mountains.  So relaxing to be in the aura of the mountains and relax in a bath.

After getting back to Tacna, I took advantage of a few free hours in the day to take a nap before the evening festivities.  Mass was at 7:30 in Habitat with the Jesuits.  It was jammed packed which was a change from the normal Sunday mass.  Granted many people had traveled down from Tacna (about 15 min by bus to the north) to go to the Jesuit Christmas mass, but it was still a cool feeling to be in a standing-room-only Christmas eve mass.  To close the mass the Jesuits had all who spoke different languages to give a short merry Christmas message.  Languages included among the audience were: Spanish, Aymara, Quechua, French, and English…pretty cool to be in such a diverse crowd and a nice way to bridge some of the language gaps.

After mass we went around Habitat with Fr. Fred and delivered a few Christmas baskets for some families that wouldn´t really have a Christmas dinner…the families had been chosen by Fr. Fred and we were just along to sing carols and be present to the gifting.  Once this was accomplished we made for the center of the city with everyone else.  Many of the volunteers were going to one family´s house, but I was headed off in a different direction to spend the evening with my host family.

Christmas here works a lot like New Years in the States.  The night before is more important than the day of.  There is a countdown to midnight.  There are fireworks, lots and lots of illegal fireworks.  We toast champagne.

Dinner was served around 11pm and the mass in the Vatican was put on the TV behind the table.  But we promptly interrupted the Pope when it got close to midnight to listen to the radio and the countdown to midnight.  But we didn´t really need a countdown, as you could tell when it was midnight by the amount of fireworks outside.   There is no “official” fireworks display for the city of Tacna, but I don´t think it´d be necessary.  Everyone thinks they´re an expert and everyone buys their own fireworks to shoot off.  It was quite a sight as everyone in the neighborhood was shooting off fireworks and all you had to do was stand in the middle of the plaza in front of our house and look in any direction to see a colorful display.

After a while the fireworks started to die down and we all went back inside to sit, converse, and open presents.  My family isn´t huge on the presents deal, or at least I didn´t see it Christmas Eve…but my sisters did get a Wii at their grandparents house which probably was the doing of their parents.  And then the visiting began.  The way it works is you chat with your family and guests for a while and then go out to visit other families and friends.  I didn´t understand how this would work because if everyone goes out, then there is no one at home to be visited.  But we were one family that was to stay put…my grandmom didn´t want to or need to or for some reason didn´t travel so we had some friends visit us.  My sisters and dad went to their grandparents´ house to spend the night around 2am.  And around 3am our visitors had all left and I got to go to bed.

Christmas day
A bit more tranquil, but we hosted a lunch with a lot of people.  It was fun though and they put me in charge of the grill (a real honor given the importance of the meat)…I think that the grandfather used to the one in charge and since he died in March they haven´t really used the grill…but we used it for the pork on Christmas.  It´d been marinating for 3 days and was amazing…my grilling skills didn´t really make a difference given the excellence in the preparation beforehand (of which I had nothing to do with).

And that was Christmas…

Summer break is here

Life is much more tranquila these days. Exams for most schools started this week which means that I really don´t have anything to do because I´m not responsible for giving any of the exams. But this is not to say that life hasn´t been easy-going for the last few weeks. Its been a difficult time adjusting here simply because there isn´t a whole lot for me to do except practice the language and learn what I can about the culture. The volunteers who will remain in Tacna for the next two years have been hard at work in their placements getting to know the people they will work with and getting a feel for the work they will be doing. They have been prepping classes and even teaching 1 or 2 periods each day. But for me, because I will not be here next year, the schedule has been much more free.

For the past 2 weeks I have gone to Colegio Cristo Rey each day to hang out / work. I would show up in the morning, sometimes for first period (7:45) and sometimes later in the morning depending on the breakfast conversation in my house or if I went for a run. Usually I would buy a newspaper on the way to school and then spend some time reading in Spanish which has been helpful in expanding some of my vocabulary. I would look at the schedule to see who was teaching what that day, and pick a class or 2 to sit in on. The classes I watched were mostly religion classes to get a sense of how that works in a Catholic School setting. Listening to the spanish spoken in the class room might have been more helpful than the class itself since I probably won´t be teaching religion in Andahuaylillas. When the service club at the school would meet, I would join them. During class breaks or lunch I would wander around occasionally to talk to the kids. The best thing that I think has come from spending time at the school are the conversations I had with the professores…practicing spanish and getting a sense for how things/kids operate in Peru. The school day would end around 2:45 every day and I would stick around for a bit to talk with the 2 volunteers who work at the school. Depending on the day or what was going on in the evening I would either head home or head to the Habitat community where the volunteers live.

Three highlights from last week:
Soccer with the Cristo Rey Staff
Every Tuesday and Thursday there is a soccer match at 5pm with the professors and staff of Colegio Cristo Rey. It’s a lot of fun and they take it very seriously. There is a Jesuit priest and brother who play too…the priest is on the older side but really enthusiastic and all over the cancha. The brother has skills and its interesting to see the competitive side of the Jesuits. In my first game with them the score was 4-3 with the gringos combining for 3 goals and 2 assists in total, but we were not all on the same team.

Despedida for Cara, Nate, Gabe
This is was a big fiesta with all of the friends that they´ve made over the last 2 years invited. It started around 730pm and went until 3 or so in the morning. Lots of food, dancing, pisco, and you can´t forget the vino de chraca. The fiesta was held in a chraca (farm) to the north of the city and I would guess that more than 80 or 90 people showed up to say farewell to the volunteers.

Gabe´s Birthday Party
Peruvians love to fiesta. The first thing my host mom asked me when they picked me up was when my birthday was and what I was planning to do for it. But being more than 6 months from my birthday I said that it was a ways off to think about. Her response was that I was thinking as a gringo…peruvians start to plan their next birthday the day after their last one. So Gabe´s birthday was a lot of fun. His host family hosted the party and we brought over a few dishes and they cooked a lot. I tried my first Cuy (guinea pig) that night and it was an interesting experience. It is a difficult animal to eat because it is so small, but it was prepared well and tasted delicious. Gabe´s host dad has his own vineyard so he brought the wine and pisco and then the dancing began. There is always a ton of dancing at any proper peruvian party. And this was no exception. I´m working on dancing in step with the beat of the music, but that is going to take a lot more practice. I enjoy the dancing, I´m just not very good at it.

A look forward to the next few days…
Friday – all the teachers of Catholic schools in the area have a mass and then a Christmas Carol contest. I´m singing with the staff of Miguel Pro. (singing, like dancing, something I´m not very good at…but we´re all having a good time)
Saturday – Cara leaves for the US and will spend 6 weeks there before returning to Cusco with us
Next week – Summer vacation starts officially and will be spending time hanging out with the host family. Maybe hitting the beach up before Christmas. Maybe going fishing with some neighbors. Maybe doing whatever it is that peruvians do. Will be spending Christmas with my family here and most likely New Years at the beach with them. And then Jan 9 starts Mes de Misión.

Will try to get some more pictures up soon.
¡Feliz Navidad!

Some visuals…

You´ve all gotten lucky today with 3 posts…here are some photos for you to peruse at your lesiure.  This much free time and internet acess has been a gift today, and I don´t know when it´ll happen again.   Hope you´re all doing well!
Peace and love from Peru,

Map of Tacna...but not very complete. Habitat, where the JVs live, is on the far left.
The view of Habitat from the 3rd floor of one of the Schools JVC works at.
Same location but looking the other way. The JVs live on the block behind the church...
The church were JVC goes to mass...at 7:30am.
Colegio Miguel Pro celebrates their Día del Colegio with a re-enactment of the martyrdom of Miguel Pro, SJ. All the kids laugh when he dies as if Martyerdom is funny or something...
Cara dancing at Día Familiar...which is essentially a festival that happens the weekend following your school´s día del colegio. Lots of dancing...but I´ll write more about that when I get pictures of the Professor´s dance of which I was apart of.
Preschool students dancing for Día Familiar
Secondary students dancing at Día Familiar
2 of the dogs that guard the school at night…they´re big and scary if you get locked in at the school.
We all went out to lunch during the first week to sample some traditionalTacna foods. These are all 12 of the Peru JVs!
This is the biggest thing to happen to Tacna since they gained their independence from Chile. The first "modern" supermarket. And it just opened this month. We walked in and it was just like something you´d find in the US. I´ll write more aobut it later.
In the previous elections the mayor in an effort to get reelected constructed this bypass which current does nothing. It allows the North-South traffic to bypass a single traffic circle on which there isn´t much traffic. The Chisme is that they´re going to develop the circle more in the future which would then validate the construction of the bypass. The mayor lost reelection. The images you see on the sand dunes are made out of a plant that apparently grows in the sand...they go up there and plant them in the shape of the image they want. Good advertising.
And lastly for today...a sunset.


The front half is a bit of reflection on my part while the back half looks at the traditions of Christmas that I´m beginning to see.

Advent began yesterday which means that a new liturgical year has begun.  Hard to believe that its been a year has passed.  But the beginning of this new year is not about looking back at the year that was as we usually do with the end of the calendar year.  While there is bit reflection, it goes a bit further back than the past 365 days and is focused on the birth of Christ…he was born as we all were (although not the virgin bit).  He lived a life like we live (mortal) and he died as we all will.  So instead we begin this year looking forward in preparation of what is to come in the birth of Christ.  And while looking forward to the birth of Christ, we can´t forget to live in the present moment.  We must call to mind the meaning of Christ´s teachings, and how that looks in our day-to-day lives.

Yesterday I went to mass in this large church that was packed with people.  It wasn´t the mass I have been going to because I am now living with my host family.  The church is literally right outside their front door.  It was very different from the Jesuit mass I´ve been going to over the last few weeks.  The Jesuits just have a different feel to their masses some how.  This mass I went to though was cool.  They handed out the readings before hand so that you could follow along, and before each reading someone got up to explain the importance of the reading or author or book that the reading comes from.   Very useful for me given that I´m still working on my language skills.

The homily though had some very Jesuit tendencies, namely that it was packed full of insights both into the texts and into life…although a bit longer winded than most Jesuits I know.  As we look to the birth of Christ we must not forget to prepare for that birth.  What does this mean?  How do you prepare for something that already happened?  Christ left us teachings for how to prepare for this occasion, and I would even say that more than preparing for His birth we are preparing for His Kingdom which is to come.  The preparation I speak of (or the priest spoke of) must then come from a remembering of His teachings and a living out of those teachings.  While there are some outward signs that one is preparing for the Nativity, and here the priest pointed to some of the more obvious ones and also the more commercial like the Christmas tree, lights on the house, etc, the more important signs of preparation can be seen in how one lives his/her life….more thoughts to come.  Cara´s mom sent us a daily advent reflection book so I´ll keep you posted.


Some Christmas things Tacna style:

  1. All the advertising here includes people bundled up and with snow…even though its Summer!  (seems like the US has exported X-mas too)
  2. They also drink hot chocolate.  (still summer)  But the hot chocolate is not the same as the US.  They use butter or oil in it in addition to chocolate.
  3. Advent wreaths are also a big deal…everyone brought their wreath to mass on Sunday to have it blessed.  My family´s wreath sits on the dinner table.
  4. Paneton (fruit cake) is HUGE!  They love the fruit cake.
  5. Christmas presents are opened at midnight on Christmas Eve and I believe then followed by dinner around 1am.  My family will go to mass at 10pm.
  6. …more tidbits as I come across them.

Day by Day

Day by day…like play by play, but with broader strokes.

This past week was filled with meetings and Charlas (chats) around the city of Tacna.  We got to see all the places that JVs will be working and then some.  It was a great opportunity for us to get a feel for all of the Jesuit works in Tacna.  I could write whole entries about each, but here are snippits.

Miguel Pro
Founded in the 80´s in the Habitat community where the JVs live.  Serves many students from poor families and the majority of students come from the Habitat community.  It is an incredibly warm and welcoming envrionment and the students seem to enjoy being here.  It is a typical Jesuit school in the sense that the over-arching goal is development of the whole person and not simply what the students can regurgitate in class.  The school motto is ¨Simpre más alto¨ or ¨Always higher¨…essentially you can always be more or be a better human being.  We never stop developing and no one achieves perfection.  This hopefully becomes ingrained into the students, and pushes them to break the cycle of poverty and avoid the drugs and alcohol you find on the streets.  Cost is 18 soles (2.78 soles to the dollar) per month for the first child in a family, 5 soles for the second, and the third+ go for free.

Colegio Cristo Rey
More of an upper class school run by the Jesuits.  Founded almost 50 years ago by Fr. Fred.  It has grown so much in the last 50 years and is now a model of education around the world.  The Cristo Rey netowork of schools (many found in the US as well) was modeled after the one here in Tacna.  The school is known for academic excellence and they kids are wicked smart.  The English instruction there is also really good…the kids are really capable in their english skills.  The cost here is 300 soles per month I think.

Fe y Alegría
Another school founded in part by Fr. Fred…This one is currently run by the sisters of St. Joeseph and it had quite a different feel to it. The education level isn´t quite the same as Cristo Rey, but the relationships between the students and the teachers seems to be much friendlier.  There wasn´t as much distance between the two.  And the sisters are so amazing.  They are warm and welcoming and every student knows that they´re in a safe place because of the caringness of the environment. Or at least that´s how it seemed when we visited.  I´ll know more later this week since we´re going back to talk more about the campus ministry there.

Centro Cristo Rey de Niño Trabajador
I don´t know too much about this place because we were only there for a few hours and no one gave us the overview necessary to really get a good feel for the place, but just threw us in with the mix.  We ate lunch with the secondary kids and then played with the primary kids on the playground.  Later we all got placed into classrooms to help outfor a bit.  I was inthe special needs class and it was cool to watch.  I wasn´t able to do much, but I got a good feel for how the class worked.  We´re going to go back next week to talk more about the mission there and all the other work that they do.

Water…sweet water

Water.  Essential for life…both the human kind and the plant kind.  Really any kind.  Where do we use water in our daily lives?  I brush my teeth, flush the toilet (been doing this more frequently recently), make tea, fill my water bottle, shower (not as often as I used to), wash the dishes…and that´s before I´m out the door in the morning.  The plants that feed us need to be watered to grow so that they can nourish us.  Everything needs water. 

Tacna is a desert.  This simple fact means that there is very little water.  They claim that this is the driest desert in the world, but I´m not sure if I believe that…isn´t Antarctica drier?  (that´s another thing about peruvian cutlure…things get exaggerated here)  The water for Tacna comes from the Andes.  It winds its way down the mountains and slowly travels toward the coast.  There is actually a river that runs through Tacna.  This is the source of most of the water.  The odd thing about this river though is that they decided to pave over it.  It runs right through the middle of the city, but you would never know it because they forced it underground.  There are a few places here and there where you can look into a hole and see the river, but by-and-large you would never know about the river if you didn´t know where to look. 

I guess one useful thing about the river being underground is that it doesn´t get as dirty as it passes through the city.  But that really doesn´t matter at this point because it isn´t very clean when it arrives in Tacna.  Something that I´ve definitely taken for granted is the purity of the tap water in the US.  We boil everything here before drinking.  It reminds me of that time the Boston water line broke and we had to boil the water at BC for a few days…except this is every day and not merely a novelty that interrupted our day at BC.   To this end, we have a large 8-10 gallon water dispenser that we drink from.  Boil the water and dump it in and drink.  Then repeat.  

I mentioned that Tacna was a desert.  A dry desert with a river.  And in the last 20 years the population here has grown by roughly 300,000 people, which is leading to water shortages.  In fact, in the recent elections (I believe in September or October) there was a party running on the water issue, and you can still find their posters around town.  This shortage manifests itself in the form of water shut-offs.  Generally at night the water flow into Tacna is slowed or cut.  We live so far down the river in the city that we usually still have water because the pipes haven´t completely emptied, but we can´t use the water for much.  It becomes very cloudy with a milky white color.   And sometimes this doesn´t just happen in the evening.  Last week there were several spans of 3+ hours of no water at all in our house.   But funnily everyone still waters their plants and I´m not sure how much people are trying to conserve water…it just seems to be one of those things far off in people´s minds.

One more cultural differenence…water is not seen as a thirst quencher here.  People will reach for juice, soda, or anything before water.  They say that they don´t feel like their thirst is quenched unless it is sweet.  Something that might have become engrained because people don´t really drink the water out of the tap anyways…

Thanks for reading!