26 November 2008

Andean lungs

A few days in Lima has really taken the edge off; I’m feeling refreshed and ready to face the field again, although I will first spend a few days out of the country renewing my visa (specific details still to be determined).

Prior to dropping down into Barranco (a hip, up-and-coming neighborhood of Lima) I arranged several meetings with various heavy hitters in academic and development circles of Peru. These meetings have been a great success for general (and social) networking and also helped me to put Copa life in perspective. Although not in so many words these ex-pats, who have each spent 30+ years living and working in Peru, reminded me that I need not be constantly apologizing for where I come from or what I am doing, particularly since it will likely (hopefully) reach useful conclusions on many levels. Taking back a little control of my life in the village will go far in alleviating previously mentioned stressors (that and some noise canceling headphones).

I am taking full advantage of my adjusted lung capacity while spending some time at sea level this week. First day down (after almost two months without running) I jogged 5 kilometers and today I managed over 11, which felt great and is the longest I’ve run in years! No doubt this will not last, but it feels great to do some intentional exercise, as opposed to the typical and almost entirely unintentional work of scrambling up rock walls and climbing down mountains. The extra running also comes in handy with regard to the many yummy restaurants in Lima…

Unfortunately, this month brings despedidas for friends in Lima and Huaraz as they return to their home countries to complete studies or move on to explore entirely new pastures. Following the spirit of international travel and ex-pat circles, others groups will inevitably form, but these folks will be missed (and should expect visits in the coming years). Not sure yet what the Huaraz good-bye will look like (it will have to wait until after my border crossing), but we are sending off the Lima folks in style with a little help from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, a fun Argentinean ska/Latin-rock band, this Saturday.

Happy Thanksgiving for those who are celebrating! Fulbright and the U.S. Embassy are throwing us a Thanksgiving party/dinner tomorrow night which will certainly be interesting. No doubt there will be a Peruvian spin and we are all anxious to see how that will turn out…

22 November 2008

Guilt and guinea pig

My second week of living in Copa went well, which I am especially happy about since one of my committee members joined me there to help me think about framing my project and to get to know Copa. He immediately fell in love with it, although he thought he would constantly compare it to other field sites in Peru, and as a result will be working with me in a larger comparative project on perspectives of glacier retreat. Quite exciting! We had a full week: hiking up to the glacier itself and making glacier ice snow cones, participating in a large-scale eucalyptus tree planting, weeding a corn field and preparing it for winter rains, escaping for a day to soak in the nearby thermal baths (where I might consider going regularly to bathe…), and sharing mutual concerns with the director of the national park over some well-deserved drinks.

Sunday I will travel to Lima to visit with some national characters and give a presentation at Fulbright about the work I’ve been doing thus far…this seems to be coming at an ideal time as I grew increasingly frustrated last week with the language obstacles and just generally being constantly under what feels like surveillance. While I was prepared for the people of Copa to speak mainly Quechua, the reality has been eye-opening. Not only am I unable to communicate with over half of the population, but those that do speak Castellano speak it ‘poorly,’ or mejor dicho, functionally. The result however, is that I can barely understand what they say to me nor do they fully understand what I say to them. Obviously this makes much of my work difficult and beyond that I am very uncomfortable not being able to speak clearly with, or in some cases, directly to people. Not to mention my own Castellano suffers due to lack of practice and less than ideal examples, so I become a real mix-up of three poorly spoken languages, which is exhausting. Beyond this, or perhaps in part because of it, I am feeling more and more as though I am walking on eggshells (a skill I have acquired but am tired of) with regards to how I eat, what I do, who I visit, when, what projects I am supporting in the community and how I dress. I have finally convinced (I think) a local friend that just because I arrived in Copa only three weeks ago does not mean I only just arrived on this earth, and that yes, I do know how to fry an egg and keep bugs out of my sugar (although my mother might disagree). In any event, the anonymity of Lima will be a welcome change for the week before returning to full-speed ahead in December.

Before leaving Copa for my travels to Lima, I was able to finally secure a field assistant who will also serve as my Quechua-Castellano translator, set-up regular Quechua classes with a professor in a nearby town and record my first test interview (after several more tests the real deal will start up in January). Today I finally met with the Quechua professor I’ve been bugging for months and we’ve set up bi-monthly classes and he will find folks to transcribe my interviews. All in all, things are moving forward…I think.

Meanwhile, some friends from Lima made the trek up to Huaraz to visit me and we hiked to Laguna 69 today, a glacial lake at 4800 meters. It was an absolutely wonderful trip and although it is the rainy season, we really lucked out and had some amazing panoramic views of several heavy hitters in the Peruvian glacier scene (photographic proof coming soon). To celebrate our now going out for what we are told is great Thai and then likely some dancing…

07 November 2008

The field!

Holy s***...I have officially completed my first week of field work. Arrived in Copa the day after Halloween (with the appropriate and expected exhaustion that comes from a long night of celebration) without having a clue where I would be landing. During my last visit to the site, which unfortunately fell on a day when everyone had left the town to do their weekly shopping, I left the task of finding me a place to stay in the hands of J., a man who volunteers as a connection between the village and the main health center for the district a few hours below. I was pretty nervous about what sort of place he would come up with, but it has far exceeded my expectations in many ways!

Life in Copa is going very well thus far, although the real work has not quite begun. For now, I am allowing for time to get to know the area, and for folks to get to know me. The area is stunningly beautiful with 180 degree glacier views in the morning before the clouds roll in and everyone in the village has been amazingly receptive and friendly ('gringa, come to my house and visit!' which is every anthropologists dream). I've managed to introduce myself at a community meeting (to a round of applause if you can believe it, and even a question about what exactly is the meat of anthropology), scheduled some visits to the glacier, commandeered maps from the engineers installing potable water and waste water systems, and learned a few Quechua phrases. The rains have even temporarily stopped, thankfully, which allows me a much larger window for exploring. Apparently this is the last reprieve before it really starts coming down in December...and continues to do so until April!

The room I'm renting is part of the president's one-story adobe house near the center of Copa Grande. It has its own entrance and the door into their house is half-locked (I picked up a second lock in Huaraz this weekend to fully privatize the space...the two kids love to just barge on in and stare at me, which is really enjoyable as you can imagine). The living situation is great and I have electricity which makes life so much easier in a million small ways. The worst part being the bathroom situation. The outhouse, which theoretically I have no problem using, is about three feet high and has no door, so you have to squat in all kinds of odd angles to get into the damn thing, remain squatted for the entire duration of any and all business and then chicken shuffle back out. The lack of door would not be a problem if, say the bathroom faced away from the house, but no, it looks directly at the most used space and exposes you absolutely. Not really a problem for the other women, since they are typically wearing polyeras (knee-length skirts) which allow them to just squat down without any fuss, but I've not yet gone totally native (although I will very soon) so struggle a bit. It is really difficult and makes for grumpy trips to the lou in the morning. The health director told me to harass the family about it since they should be installing an ecological bathroom anyway...something I thought would be out of line but with her blessing will get right on it and even put in for some construction costs.

This weekend I am bringing up a gas stove and some other creature comforts (like a pot and frying pan) and found a carpenter in Copa Grande who is making me some chairs and a bookshelf that will be ready on Wednesday. The kitchen being the most important and exciting piece, as I will no longer be at the whim of the family for breakfast and dinner, which along with lunch, looks a little something like this:

Breakfast: if you are lucky, fresh milk, otherwise hot water with sugar; a serious bowl of potato and egg soup and fried pork bits or other much less appetizing pieces of pork
Lunch: another hearty bowl of potato and egg soup followed by a heaping helping of rice, about 15 potatoes and again, if you are lucky, a piece of chicken or really really lucky, boiled corn which is absolutely delicious. The local corn won't be harvested in March and until then it is a rare treat. [On special occasions, like when the gringa comes into town, they fry or roast guinea pig, which is super yummy as long as you are not expected to suck out the brains, which may be scrumptious but I simply refuse...]
Dinner: you guessed it, another bowl of potato and egg soup occasionally accompanied by the local alternative to coffee (quite scrumptious and even good for you!)

Their motto, apparently, is work hard, eat hard. I try to explain in a variety of ways that I eat like a cat or have different types of work than they do so don't need the calories, etc. but nothing seems to really work as far as making my portions any smaller. The women respond by telling me that the men in Copa prefer larger women so I should fatten up...and I don't really know what to do with that quite yet. Women speak little Spanish, less than I do really, so our conversations are often misunderstood or confused past the basic name, nationality, and current occupation. They are all psyched about my hat however and are exciting about getting me into a polyera, which will no doubt happen sooner rather than later. Men are typically bilingual, unless they are much older, but who wants to talk to men all day?? But the Quechua will come...

One of my committee members arrived yesterday for a week to get to know the village and the Callejon de Huaylas. My work will fit into a larger project of his that compares tropical glaciers in several other sites around the world, so he is here helping to dovetail our interests. He was a very significant influence in the development of my project (long before he contacted me about working together) so our interests are quite closely aligned already. He has been here less than 24 hours and has already provided a wonderful amount of guidance, empathy and help with methods and other matters of the field. We will hike up to the glacier, follow the canal system around Copa, and visit with families throughout the larger district of which Copa is a part. It will no doubt be a busy and productive week!

[So I swore to myself that I would not be eating anything while in Huaraz since they feed me as though I am an elephant in Copa, yet I find myself eating a banana split while catching up on life outside my adobe hut...]