14 May 2011

My first week ...

Cusco city street
My first week here in Cusco has sped by and I’m slowly getting acclimatised. I still feel the altitude when I’m walking up hill, especially if volunteer Mat’s in front ‘cause he sets a cracking pace. I’m still getting headaches during the night, or waking up with one in the morning. I’m not sure if that’s from the altitude or the pillow or the bed – sleeping in a single is very strange and I tend to wake up to roll over – I think my brain triggers my body to wake up so I don’t fall out! And I wake up with puffy eyes every day, even though I’m sleeping well – not sure what that’s about. The climate here is very dry so plenty of moisturiser is a must and, as the air is clear and altitude high, sun block is also a necessity as my pink and peeling nose testifies!
Delicious fruit at one of the markets

The weather here is ideal for me. Most days the skies have been clear and blue, with only occasional cloud, and it gets hot, so I strip down to a t-shirt. But, as soon as the sun is obscured by cloud or goes down (and that’s early here – it’s dark about 6pm) then it gets cold and I need to rug up. We have had one thunderstorm, with no lighting that I could see but huge claps of thunder that echoed off the high hills surrounding Oropesa, Cusco and the towns in between. I think the average daytime high this week has been about 19°C and the night-time low about 5°C – just perfect!

I’ve met some really nice people. There’s Mat, a 28-year-old lawyer from Norwich, who’s been travelling and volunteering in various countries – Vietnam, Cambodia, China, New Zealand, Guatemala – for 10 months but is off home after his 5 weeks here. He arrived the day after me so we’ve chatted a lot together. Monika, a Canadian English professor, and her 14-year-old daughter Natasha arrived Tuesday and we’ve also spent some great time with them. We eat out together most nights, so I’m been enjoying the company and the conversation. I think getting to know the volunteers, who come from all over the world, will be one of the many highlights of my time here.

Judy, the current project manager, a young Canadian, is great – very friendly and helpful and she has the project running smoothly. She will be a hard act to follow! Nelida, the Peruvian teacher at the project, is lovely – very patient with my totally inadequate Spanish (and I will almost certainly employ her to teach me once I get settled into a daily routine). I know I will be relying a lot on her in the coming months.

And as for my new job at Picaflor House ... well, my orientation so far has been going well. Globalteer has changed its focus in Peru this year, from supplying volunteers to help out in various orphanages and other projects around Cusco, to running their own dedicated project in Oropesa, a small town about 45 minutes’ ride outside the city. Globalteer only acquired their own property at the beginning of April so the project is in its infancy but already Judy has got three separate classrooms furnished, one for the English classes, one as a library area where Nelida works with the kids on their reading and helps with their homework from public school, and the other room for arts and crafts. Jim’s wife Camilla currently runs that but, as she’s expecting their second child in September, we’ll be looking for a new art teacher soon. There’s also an office – Judy used to run everything from her house – and a bathroom – a huge novelty for the kids as they’re not used to a sit-down toilet. It seems the fields surrounding their houses are where they usually go.

Picaflor House
The facilities are quite basic but over the coming weeks we hope to add some paint to brighten the place up, and clear the large yard of the junk and stones left behind by the previous occupant. Then, the plan is to have a football field, a basketball/volleyball court, a covered area for outdoor activities in the rainy season, a sandpit, paths between each area and a garden, plus we want to leave room for more classrooms as the project expands. When few children came to the project yesterday, we made a start, clearing most of the junk and starting to move the stones into one large pile. The painting and setting up of the sports areas will take money, of course, so all donations are welcome!

The children’s attendance is quite spasmodic – it depends on what’s happening at home, whether their parents need them for child-minding or other chores. Another thing Nelida and I will do in the coming weeks is visit the local schools, village people and families to explain what we’re offering and try to encourage more regular attendance.
Monika and Natasha teaching body parts
At the moment, the weekly routine at the project is at follows: on Mondays, there is often a smaller number of children, so we split them by age into two groups, and they have English or Library for an hour, then half an hour of sports, then English or Library for an hour. On Tuesday and Wednesdays, the increased number of kids means we split them into 3 groups, with 45 minute lessons of English, Library and Art. On Thursdays, the high school children are encouraged to come for English lessons and homework help, with one period at the end for other activities – this week it was traditional Peruvian dancing! And Friday is sports and games day for everyone – and so the most popular day with the kids.
Kids enjoying the birthday cake

And this week, Friday was also my birthday party. Judy had organised two cakes so all the kids could have a piece – what a treat that was! Some of us dressed up in funny hats, the kids sang me Happy Birthday in Spanish, and one little girl performed an extra item then rushed over to give me a big hug. It was just lovely! And as the kids trooped out the door, happy from their sweet treat, volunteers Monika and Natasha gave them each a new toothbrush and toothpaste to take home – a timely gesture!

Later, Mat, Monika, Natasha and I went out for a delicious dinner and lively conversation at a local restaurant. It was a wonderful end to my first week here in Cusco and a birthday I will always remember.