Sunday, September 11, 2011

One Month, One Day (Sep 11, 2011)

So, it's been one month and one day since I arrived in Arequipa, Peru. I figured it would be a good idea to be sure that I at least post a blog on a monthly-anniversary-type-basis.
During my first month here, I have met so many wonderful people. I have felt welcome into homes and accepted as a member of the family in my class. Of course, there are hard times, that is part of the experience. You have left everything you have known and all the people who have always been there for you and thrown yourself into a new family, a new language, a new school, a new culture, a new everything, but every time I've felt  a little down, I just think about how I would feel to leave, right now. The idea makes me sick and want to cry. I have known most of these people for no more than 3 weeks and I am so attached that I would go through anything to stay with them. (I'm in denial that the end of this year will ever come, and that's totally ok with me right now). It's true and rather well known to most of the people who are close to me in my life that I connect with people faster than most. Some see this as a bad thing, as being overly vulnerable and perhaps it's like asking to get hurt, but it has blessed me more than it has ever hurt me. By being open and willing to just meet people, I have been honored to call so many people my friends and, in fact, most of them feel more like family, because I know they will always be willing to help and support me. I know my exchange has barely started so I look forward to the new amazing people I have yet to meet.
As everyone in the US knows, today is 9-11. I'll be honest and say that I was incredibly curious as to how it would be to experience today in another country. I've officially been in another country for a big American holiday, but I felt a day of mourning would be an interesting thing to experience. I guessed that it probably would not be a really big deal here and I was right. My family here knows what day it is and even brought it up because they know I am from the States, I have family in New York and I love the city, but it's not all over the newspapers, you can't flip channel to channel and see the towers fall a million times, no one has flags up or is wearing pins or red white and blue. I can say that, it's a little refreshing. Perhaps a little more healing than remembering all the sadness and rage from ten years ago. Of course, honoring the memory of those lost in the terror should always be important and they should be remembered, but it should also be remembered that the world is changing and it is vital that the United States, as the massive force they are, should be setting the example as a positive nation looking toward a better future, not an angry nation, constantly reliving their past. I'll go to church today and pray for those families who lost loved ones ten years ago and that they have the strength to not hold rage and hatred within themselves, but instead remember that the world is always changing and it's time to be sure it changes for the better and that they, as the individuals directly affected by that attack, have the power to use their actions and words to spread a message of hope and healing.
On a lighter note, yesterday I went with my friend Maria to this BEAUTIFUL cafe that overlooks the Plaza de Armas. We saw the sunset there and then wandered around the little shops, nice and relaxing.
Today my family and I went for a Sunday drive. I swear, the more I see of this city, the more I love it. We went to el Molino de Sabandia where I got to ride a horse and then my host mom and I walked around taking pictures. It was absolutely stunning!

So I'll try to keep a bit more up to date on my blog! I have a couple trips coming up, so there should be more to post about as well!!!


Friday, August 19, 2011

The Sites to See (Aug 16, 2011)

El Mirador de Yanahuara

Yesterday, my host mom and brother and I went out to see a few famous sites. The first was El Mirador de Yanahuara. It is a look-out in the district of Yanahuara where you can see all three mountains of Arequipa. The first is Chachani, farthest left, in the middle is the main mountain of Arequipa, El Misti, and Pichu Pichu is the final mountain on the right. It's a truly stunning site with a beautiful cathedral next to it, completely made of the stone and ash from El Misti, and a park behind it with a beautiful view over Yanahuara in front.
Next, we went to La Plaza de Armas which is the main square of Arequipa. It is absolutely breathing taking, usually filled with people, and lights up (literally) at night. I wanted to cry, it is something that can truly only be explained by seeing it with all the people and energy. We went inside the cathedral with high domed ceilings and intricate designs.
The cathedral in La Plaza
Spending some time at the more touristy areas made me realize how not touristy Arequipa is. I am sure there are tourists from other areas of Latin America, but when it comes to the gringos and gringas, I am one of the few. Honestly, I much prefer that because I am not a huge fan of the typical tourist or the amount of show that is put on for them, so it has been really nice living in an actual neighborhood and only seeing the occasional white person. Of course, that also means I stand out more and, trust me, despite popular belief here, being told you look like a barbie/angel due to your hair can and does get old quite quickly. Thankfully, I have greatly enjoyed being apart of a local family where you don't go out to restaurants every day or have to take taxis every where. I think my favorite thing is when we go to the grandparents house and have a big meal with the whole family. It's confusing, but incredibly fun.
Local Fruit Market
I have also been able to spend some time with my host mom recently. We got our nails done (yay) and today we went to one of the mercados. Down the aisle of fruit, you can buy pretty much any kind you want and the Arequipeños are very proud of their food (especially fruit) because it is all local (and absolutely delicious)!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Never Say No (Aug 14, 2011)

Never Say No is an unofficial rule of Rotary that the students kid about, because it could seem a bit like "just let it happen" and no one wants a Rotary student with that mind set. The actual meaning of Never Say No is simply meant to encourage the student to take every opportunity they are offered and, it's amazing how many times you'll be grateful that you went to a new place with new people.
Today, my host dad told me that we would be going to see his mother around 11:30 so we were all getting ready when 12:15 roles around and Vicky (my host mom) is just out of the shower. She works in a spa and is absolutely beautiful and enjoys taking her time getting ready. The boys aren't such big fans of that so they decide to go buy some food while she finishes up. They asked me if I wanted to come, because I was just in my room. Of course I said yes, thinking we were going to a normal grocery store. Instead, we drive to a little restaurant where you can also buy certain carnes. We grabbed a drink and sat and listened to the man walking around playing the guitar.
Only a few members of the family eating lunch
Off in a corner there was a little gum ball machine with a little girl practically trying to shove her arm into it, in hopes of reaching some candy. She was literally falling and hanging all over it and there is a chance she licked the outside of it. I laughingly pointed out the desperate little girl and Javier (my host dad) went over and put in some change. Her eyes went wide as she shoved her hands underneath the dispenser. In her excitement, the gum ball fell to the floor where it ricocheted off the wall and she literally scrambled for it on her belly, but it seemed to bounce off her hands every time until it hit my purse. I picked it up and she snatched it quickly from my palm, as though this gum ball was her only food (which it definitely was not as her family had piles of food on their table) and shoved it in her mouth before anyone could stop her to clean it off at all.
A small piece of the beautiful garden
Later in the day, we finally made it to my host grandmothers house. Now, technically, according to the information given by Javier, we could have just been going to see her, but knowing this was Sunday lunch (pretty much the biggest meal of the week), I assumed there would be family, but even I hadn't expected that 5 of the 8 siblings would be there, 6 of their children, and multiple spouses/significant others. At the table, it was much more difficult to understand, but after we ate, I was talking with some of the cousins or nephews or brothers or whoever they were and it was much better. They asked me if I wanted to see the grandmothers garden; that it was her pride and joy. I have never seen so many plants. It was absolutely beautiful and they told me it used to be twice the size. You'll be able to see more pics on Facebook soon too. I ended up talking with a couple of them for a long time, and they are honestly so helpful that it doesn't matter that I even know that what I'm saying isn't correct, because they help me and understand me.
Javier's family was so nice and after lunch, we went and watched the parade (tomorrow is El Dia de Arequipa so the festivities start today) and I got pulled into the dancing and spraying foam part and Vicky and I both got the pink powder in our hair...more on that later...
Traditional dance in traditional dress
Tonight, we are going to a huge party for the birthday of Arequipa. A lot of dancing a it should be super fun! Who knows, one of the cousins Salsas so maybe we'll throw some of that in there too!
Alright, we're taking off!


Saturday, August 13, 2011

El Primero Dia

After 21 hours of traveling, I have arrived safely in Arequipa, Peru at six in the morning. I was greeted by my very excited family and a couple Rotary members with a giant sign and gifts. My parents drove me through the city to their beautiful home. It's interesting to see the mix of very modern designs with the more traditional colors and accents. We ate breakfast and then they graciously let me sleep.
 Around one, I was picked up by Rotarians to take me to my first club meeting. On the drive there, I began to realize how much I have missed the rude driving where everyone is 5 inches from the next car and if your hand is farther than 5 inches from your car horn, well then, you're not a Latin American driver, the vibrant walls and unique doors and the way each building looks nothing like the last.
The food in Peru is exquisite and the Rotary lunch was no exception. We had the meeting and then went outside where the sun was shining to eat and talk. I must say, I obviously struggle with my Spanish, but I am proud of the amount that I say which is actually understood.
Left: The girl going to the US
Right: Another American student
After making it home, I watched a couple movies with my parents, sang happy birthday with them to my mom via Skype, finished unpacking, ate the late night snack and settled down to do some catching up.

Of course, I'm tired and can't sleep, but I am certain that will catch up with me. It's been quite the day.

Bitter-Sweet Goodbyes

This year, I was greatly blessed by being surrounded by so many wonderful people and saying goodbye to all of them was incredibly difficult, but it was time for a new adventure. Bestema and Dad both left before I did and, as anyone present will tell you, I was a mess, but knowing that my entire family supports me so much in everything I do is a great feeling.
This is what 2 1/2 lbs of gummy worms
 looks like
I can't say that I have ever had such a rewarding summer as I did this year. Thanks to my parents who let me spend massive amounts of time with my friends, often times at our house eating them out of house and home, I was able to make friends that will last a lifetime. A few of them left before I did for family trips or college or whatnot, but I am so glad that I was able to be with the majority of them until the very end.
To those of you who stayed at my house until I left at 3:30am, staying awake, making me laugh, dealing with me crying, and as always, eating as much as you could: Thank you. You have no idea how much that meant to me or how much I love each and everyone of you.
I am quite certain that I have legitimately never cried so much in my life, but knowing that I was crying because of the supportive people that I have in my life, I suppose, makes it a bit better.
Also, to those who snuck cards into my suitcase (The Bros, Lacey, Mom, and Hannah). I hate you (even though I just told you the exact opposite in the last paragraph). The cards were very sweet and, of course, made me tear up.
Anywhoooo, that actually isn't part of being in Peru, but I still consider it part of my exchange. Alright, on to some serious informative blogging...or whatever people try to do when they blog.