Saturday, April 20, 2013

Little hands, big smiles

                We went from the developed city of shopping centers and green parks, highways and taxis, crowded streets and crowded sidewalks to the desert. Unpaved roads of sand. Unfinished dwellings that could barely pass for housing. The occasional straggling tree. Devoid of all commerce. The odor of burnt trash. Hidden faces. This was Callao, one of the poorest districts located just outside the city limits of Lima. With a volunteer group from the university called Forjando, I went last Sunday to an elementary school there to show the kids some love. The idea is to go once a month and teach them values such as friendship, leadership, respect, etc., as we put on some day-camp-esque programming for them, help give them the tools for a brighter future.

Introductions for 5 and 6-year-olds
                Despite the absence of development, though, we were far from complete desolation. As our bus pulled up outside the school, the uninhibited smiles of the children and their bubbling laughter and cheers greeted us. And the barrenness gave way to fullness. As I carried the head of a chicken costume into the school, I was bombarded by little hands and little heads elated with the costume, trying to put the head on themselves. ¡QuĂ© risa!

                We unpacked, got the materials ready, and then entertained the kids a bit before the theater group put on a small performance for them. While we were playing one girl just came up and hugged me. Another held my hand and refused to let go. How sweet, how desperate, how pure is the love of children. They just wanted to give and receive this beautiful gift that we so often complicate. They reminded me of how simple it is—to love is to beam your heart into that of another. Simple gestures, simple faith. Aren’t children so wise?

Fiorella--the girl who held my hand

                After the theater show, I went to work with the 5 and 6 year-olds as they colored little animals (which were the characters in the show). We made them friendship bracelets of painted pasta, which they proudly displayed on their tiny wrists. Although all of the children were beautiful, my favorite to observe was this 6 year-old girl, Arecela, and her niece (yes, that’s correct) of one year, Aymi. It was incredible to see the patience and love with which Arecela treated her infant niece, helping her walk around, helping her with crafts, acting as an intermediary communicator between us and Aymi. For so young, she acted with such maturity.

The theater show on friendship
                And dear, sweet Aymi became my buddy. This little girl barely made even the smallest sound the entire time. She let me assist her in coloring and try to stimulate her senses of touch, vision, and hearing, something which she obviously not had much of. At the end, during the “hora loca” (“crazy hour”), she was reluctant to boogie and go crazy as the other kids did, so I scooped her up and danced with her in my arms. Holding that sweet pea, I looked straight into her big brown eyes and told her how important she was. How much she was loved. And she gazed right back into my eyes. Maybe she didn't understand the words. Maybe she did. But I know she got the message. It was probably my favorite moment of my trip so far. Ever since then, I have not been able to get her face out of my mind; I feel so blessed to have had that opportunity to connect with Aymi and the other kids. I absolutely cannot wait to go back next month!

La dulcita, Aymi

"The world is as many times new as there are children in our lives."
~Robert Brault

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

In Her Shoes

                This week feels like it has been the first “normal” week I’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m finally getting on a schedule and getting my activities in place. So I thought maybe I’d take you for a walk in my shoes to show you what I’ve been up to.

Now shall I walk
or shall I ride?
"Ride," Pleasure said:
"Walk," Joy said.
~W.H. Davies
                In the mornings and/or evenings, I lace up my sneakers and set out for a jog. These dusty beauties have carried me through so many memories, particularly the Jill Behrman 5k color run last year, in which they were assaulted with jubilant color from all sides. I can still seem some yellow and green streaks on the laces. Now, they’re pounding the pavement once again as I train for a 10k (6.2 miles) in May. Although I have never gone that far, I am relishing the challenge and taking training seriously. Unfortunately, though, I think these shoes are a bit too old, and I may have gotten a stress fracture because of them. This weekend I’ll be trading in the tried and true pair for a new model. Got to love shoe shopping!

"If you want to live, you must walk. If you want to live long, you must run."
~Jinabhai Navik
                But when I’m just walking around, my sandals get the most wear. This week, I stepped up to the information window at the local hospital to ask if I could shadow a speech therapist (SLP) there. After getting sent around to one site after another, I finally managed to find the SLP. So now I’m observing some of her therapy sessions! With about 30 years of experience, she has so much to teach me, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. She has a variety of patients from adults with aphasia to children with stuttering problems and toddlers with articulatory/phonological disorders. This should definitely add some mileage to my studies.

                In my flip-flops (called “eslaps” here) I trot around the house and the neighborhood. I think these are my favorite shoes that I get to wear because it means I’m home. I get to chat with Chela and Carlos (host parents) and laugh about weird daily happenings because of cultural misunderstandings with Elizabeth and Sonja (other international students in the house). Sometimes baby Carlitos (the grandson) and his mother Evelynn are over; one uninhibited smile from that 4-month-old, and my heart melts. How can you not be happy when that bundle of innocence coos and goos? One of my favorite habits that we’ve gotten into here is watching “Yo Soy” at dinner. “Yo Soy” (“I Am”) is a television show in which contestants try to impersonate famous musicians; they have to be similar physically and in voice. With the initial try-outs still going on, we have been cracking up at some of the worst and marveling at the best imitations. The best part, though, is Chela. She is perhaps the sweetest woman you will ever encounter. Yet with this show, she sometimes makes harsher calls than the panel of judges. Don’t get me wrong, she is still incredibly kind. But it’s fun to see her sarcastic side come out. What a familita I’m blessed to have in this home away from home!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Oasis Awaits

A stroll by the lagoon, an afternoon ice cream treat, watching a myriad of colors kiss the sand dunes as they faded away with the sun. We did it all. This weekend we had four days off of school, so a few friends and I took advantage and travelled to the desert oasis Huacachina. We relaxed and enjoyed the touristic activities the town and its nearby cities had to offer.

The mermaid reminiscent of IU's Showalter Fountain

La laguna

                The first day we went on a sand dune buggy ride, which was thrilling. Between the precipice-like edges of the dunes and the ridiculously tight donut turns, I thought we were all going to die. Luckily though, we had a very experienced driver who, just as we were expecting him to turn left, would swerve right causing us to squeal with excitement. What a roller-coaster! At a few points on the ride, we stopped to take photos and to go sandboarding, which in our case consisted of sledding on your belly, head-first down the dune on a snowboard-esque plank. At the top, it looked like an incredibly steep descent, but the joy of feeling the earth glide past me as I sped down was worth any anxiety felt at the top. If anything, seeing the height increased our excitement and satisfaction at having reached the bottom.

The dune buggy

                The following day we toured three bucolic vineyards nearby. Although it was interesting to hear about the production of pisco and of wine, my favorite part was simply the aesthetics of the grapes growing in the sun and the mountains presiding over them in the distance.

                On our final day, we travelled to Las Islas Ballestas (“The Islands of Arches”) in the Pacific Ocean. Formed by volcanic rock, these islands are home to thousands of birds; most of the species I can’t identify, but the Humboldt penguins certainly stood out. Due to the large population of sea-birds, there is also a high quantity of bird poop (a.k.a guano) deposited on the islands, so the people harvest it and sell as fertilizer. Guano was a huge industry in Peru in the late 19th century. Also on the islands were many sea lions. By far the best encounter with sea lions was the scene we saw of a mother carrying her child on her back in the water as she was teaching it to swim.

Humboldt penguins (right side); click on the photo to make it bigger

                After that, we went to the Paracas Reserve, which is a desert bordering the sea. The land of the reserve used to be covered by the waters of the Pacific, so now there are many distinctly colored sediments formed from oceanic mineral deposits long ago. From the cliffs, the views of the sand and the ocean were breathtaking.

                Twas a tranquil and beautiful trip!