Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Beautiful Scene and... Raw Onions

September 4-5, 2011

Sunday morning began with a lot of internet work. When I stay at Alex’s in Cusco I have decent wireless all the time so I need to take advantage. I sent out emails to over 100 former Rustic students asking them to send letters to their host families that I could deliver over the next few months. I also asked if anyone was interested in starting a club at their school to fundraise and raise awareness for the dorm or young women’s education in general. I hope we have a strong response, the new dorm will probably cost around $15,000. I got back to Ollanta around 3:00 and just headed to the dorm.

Sunday afternoon at the dorm was my favorite so far. Only the first years were there, and they didn’t have much homework. So I grabbed a deck of cards and asked if anyone wanted to teach me a game. Cliset jumped at the chance and taught me a game called “casino”. It is actually a really fun game and uses lots of math skills. I like it and will probably teach my friends/students back home. It took me one game to get the hang of it, but then it was a good time. I am sure we will play again. Later, Maria Elena asked if I would help her with math, so I told her after dinner, since I had to move my motorcycle and unpack from the weekend. When I got back to the dorm, everyone was in the main room eating dinner. I sat down and Maria (house mother) made me a plate of rice, potatoes, onions, and a little beef all mixed together.

As I sat during dinner it kind of all came together. I looked around the table, with Alex and Maria at the ends, and the girls lining either side. They were talking and laughing, eating and simply enjoying themselves. Alex would throw a few sentences into the conversation to rile them up, and everyone would laugh. It was like he was the father, Maria was the mother, and all the kids were gathered around for family dinner. This is the scene I wish I could send to people back home. There are many problems for the girls here, they struggle in school and at home. The current dorm is going to be leveled due to corruption. There are questions, money shortages, drama, tough decisions to be made, etc. But this moment, this dinner, was everything that is right about what we are trying to do here. And I know people think, “Why are so many resources being expended on 11 girls from the highlands of Peru when they could be much better spent on other things?” There are problems in the U.S. There are students there who could benefit from my help, time, or money. We’ve got budget problems at my own school, and a population of at-risk students as well. Why? Why? Why? Now, I am not saying those aren’t legitimate concerns, in fact, they are. Very much so. But I suppose Sunday night I fully understood what Paul Farmer was trying to say when he spent the $20,000 on the dying child from Haiti to receive help in the U.S. These girls are gaining so much from this experience. It is good. Yes it is difficult, and I will not argue for a moment with anyone saying that we could spend resources on something nobler or that benefits U.S. citizens. But that dinner was real, and those girls are learning and growing in a safe and healthy environment. So it became my favorite moment of the trip so far. And I am glad I was a small part of it.

Monday morning Alex, Elena, Maria, and I headed to the market for breakfast. There is a woman who serves a huge plate of rice, fries, chopped tomato/raw onion mix, and an egg for $1. It is a great breakfast for cheap. But before I continue, I need to tell another story from last year.

In Pallata , Elyse and I got to know one woman very well. Every day she would wait for us when we did our rounds and invited us in for tea, sometimes we stayed for hours. So when I found out her birthday was during the next group, I told her I would stop by and visit. So I took a night off from the last group and walked 40 minutes to her house on her birthday, bearing a few small gifts. She was so happy that I came she immediately killed 3 guinea pigs (big deal, that’s very expensive) and prepared dinner for the whole family. I sat down and half of a fried guinea pig and some potatoes were placed in front of me. I was determined to eat the whole thing to show my appreciation. I kind of put my head down and hunkered in. I ate all the meat and even the fat of the guinea pig. All that was left were the guts and the bones. Then, I heard a strange, crunching noise. I looked up to see every single plate was spotless and they were chewing on the bones. Wow. I just couldn’t do guts and bones. But I realized that when dinner every night is rice and potatoes, things like bones are at least a different flavor.

In Peru, practically EVERYTHING is covered in raw onions. I am not a fan, and have been picking them off meals since the day I got here. Well, Monday morning at the market I devoured the tomato/onion mix. Every meal I eat here is almost entirely rice and potatoes. I can’t believe I am saying this, but I now love the taste of raw onions, possibly for no other reason than it is at least a different taste. Who knows, maybe bones are next…

After doing some laundry, Alex and I headed back to Tunupa to do more work using their wireless. Once again, we were offered lunch. It was exactly the same as breakfast except there were a few beans thrown in. And yes, I took several spoonfuls of the tomato/onion mix and dumped it on.

It was then more math at the dorm in the afternoon. The girls are doing some pretty difficult problems. They are doing what I teach in my Honors Algebra II class, but some of the problems are much more difficult that what I assign. I know I won’t be able to help myself when I get home and students complain in class about the problems. “There are girls in Peru who grew up in mud-brick houses, with no electricity, and have to walk 6 hours to school each week who can do these problems!” Haha, that will get old in a hurry.

That night around 8 pm I went back to Tunupa to tutor Astri. She did a great job and her little sister sat nearby watching. When we finished her homework, the three of us sat around for an hour just chatting. They think I am crazy for wanting to ride my motorcycle home to the States. But it was fun to chat with them, and I did an alright job. I can’t wait until I can speak with ease and understand everything people are saying to me.