Final Blog

Hey y'all.

So ... I got home on Thanksgiving Day, and I'm sorry to admit that I've neglected wrapping up my story. Perhaps it was because I wasn't quite ready to see it close. Or maybe it was sheer exhaustion -- who knows. But I owe some closure at the very least to those who have checked back in with me and followed my adventure in Peru.

Below is the last e-mail I sent after I'd been home for a few weeks. It was the first time that I allowed myself to pause and reflect on what had just happened.

I'm now a full month into my first semester at Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, where I'm studying for my masters degree in health education and communication. Every day I'm finding my experience in Peru more applicable to my courses, and I'm starting to realize how much my service in PC has shaped me as an adult and chilled me out as a person. New Orleans is an entirely different challenge. But many would say it's not too far from the Peruvian truth, and I look forward to finding that out.

Anyway, thank you for following me when you have. Please feel free to look me up if you're ever in the Big Easy.

Cuídate mucho. Take Care.


I'm sitting at my parents' dining room table. There's two feet of
accumulated snow outside the window, and the windchill is supposed to be -14
today. I couldn't feel further from the hot, dusty, Peruvian town I once
called home.

I've had a month to adjust back to the U.S. I arrived Thanksgiving Day,
where I went straight from the airport to a house full of relatives and
delicious food. It was my first real Thanksgiving in three years, and I ate
my weight in my uncle's venison jerky and mashed potatoes with white gravy.

The whole thing was surreal. It was like I had pressed pause on the remote,
left to go out for an errand, and pressed play again. Little had changed,
like I had never left. And yet, a lot is different. People got married, had
babies, a new president was elected and sworn-in. The country is not the
same as when I left it two years ago.

Even so, as far as culture shock goes, I think I have gotten off easy. No
panic attacks in the grocery store over which cereal to choose. No long
nights curled up in my bed, weeping. Mostly it has been quiet reflection, a
gratefulness that I had the opportunity, and a sadness that it is now behind

Some culture shock has not escaped me, however:

  • Tap water is amazing. Did you know how awesome it is to have 1. running water ALL DAY and 2. water that is already clean?! You don't have to do anything with it. You don't have to sit and wait for it to boil, and then subsequently cool. You don't have to put it in a plastic bottle and have it sit on your roof for six hours under a hot sun. You don't have to filter it or add chlorine. It's READY MADE. How COOL is that?
  • Our politicians are absolutely crazy. I have no idea what is going on with our government, and I'm wondering if anyone really does. There's so much fighting and rhetoric and loudly voiced opinions with questionable foundation on both sides. And oh, hey -- Sarah Palin has a TV show now? When did that happen??
  • And what's with everyone always being on their phones? It's a wonder ERs aren't full of people who have run into walls, fallen into manholes or gotten into wrecks because they wouldn't look up from that little touchscreen.
  • Also, how did animal hats, pantsless outfits and these "snuggies" become trendy?
I suppose I could also go on a diatribe about the small shocks of watching
America at its height of consumerism. I won't though. We know how fortunate
we are ... And while I imagine it is always good to have a wake-up call, I
won't preach. We are a nation of wanters, takers and buyers. But we also
give. And although Christmas is a time of greed, I saw a lot of compassion
and giving this year, despite hard economic times. And that's something.

In a few days I will be on a plane to New Orleans, where my low-key
transition period will come to a screeching halt, and I'll start my next
adventure at Tulane University's School of Public Health. There, I will get
my masters in Health Education and Communication -- a good way to combine my
journalism and Peace Corps experiences. My life is already packed into two
medium-sized suitcases and a single carry-on. I'm ready to go.

When we were closing our service, a friend asked me this question: What
would I do if I were to wake up on the plane from Miami to Lima to discover
that the past two years had been only a dream?

My initial thought was panic.

It had been two years, two months and 12 days since I left the U.S. to live
in Peru. During that time my feelings flew across the board. I hated Peace
Corps, loved it, lamented it, relished it.

The past six months were some of the greatest of my life. I met some
incredible people, saw amazing things, and I had never felt more at home in
my work. I left Peru with a red, splotchy face and a lot of tears. It was
intense and at times overwhelming, and while I'm grateful to have done it, I
don't know if I'd really want to rewind and do it all a second time. At
least not yet anyway.

Thank you to all who sent me care packages and notes of encouragement. They
kept me smiling when I needed to and reminded me of what great people were
waiting for me back home. Please keep in touch, and if you're ever in New
Orleans, please let me know.

Un fuerte abrazo.

Cuídense mucho (take care),


Sorry ...

... to be THAT person, but with 2 months left to finish everything up, I've been a little too busy to write. ... Sorry.

Feel free to check out these pictures I posted on Facebook.

Hasta pronto ...

The Harvest

A milestone, everyone. Our garden now has enough real-live plants to actual make food from it. We made the ceviche with the cilantro we picked. And the spinach salad I made for myself was perhaps the most delicious thing I have ever made ... maybe because I spent two months growing it ...

Ceviche, the traditional dish of my region, is made with raw fish chopped up and bathed in lime juice and salt, with onions and cilantro.

I washed and cut up the Spinach, then added carrots and tomatoes, with a splash of lime and salt and pepper al gusto.

Several awesome things

Exciting Thing (ET) 1: I have a cat now. She loves me. And my life is so much better because she's in it. I don't even care (yet) that she has fleas.

ET 2: We're doing sessions with men now, and we're getting a lot done. Last night we gave a talk to a sports club in a nearby village, this afternoon we gave a session with the banana exportation workers, and tomorrow night I'm giving one to a mototaxi committee. My MRA (wooden Male Reproductive Apparatus) is coming in handy! (Best five soles I've ever spent.)

ET 3: The carrots in my garden are almost ready to eat!

ET 4: Engineer for the latrines project is coming tomorrow to start the whole They're-Really-Going-To-Get-Latrines thing.

ET 5: My teens are in the midst of doing their community activities. I got to go shopping for beads today for the Message Jewelry their going to make, Saturday we are rehearsing the movie that they are going to be filming very soon, and next week we are walking out to a very rural school to give a Sex Talk.

ET 6: The new health post doctor just approved a space for us to use specifically as a center for health promotion. Which is kind of a big deal because the last doctor (recently promoted to the head of the entire Dept. of Health in Tumbes) wouldn't let us use any spaces because he needed them as unnecessary closets and for future "residents" who would eventually come to live there. Por fin! A doctor who sees the benefit of having health promotion put before people hanging their laundry on the second floor of the health post!

... That last one might have been a little bitter.

:-) At any rate. Lots of exciting things are happening. I'll post more photos when I can!


Last night, my host sister, Keysi, turned 15.

Turning 15 is a big deal in Latin American culture. It signifies the entering into womanhood and is usually accompanied by 15 damas, 15 cakes and a really big party.

True to her style though, Keysi decided not to make a huge deal of it. Opting instead to invite family and only a few close friends, with the family computer serving as the DJ. She had three simple cakes -- just enough to feed those present. Her best friend, Patricia, stepped in as her godmother. And she put on a fluffy pink dress just long enough to pose for pictures before changing right back into her jeans and tank top.

I stood mostly in the wings, watching my little host sister flash her cheesy popstar grin and tilt her head slightly to the right for the camera the way she always does. I couldn't believe that just two years before, she'd been this tiny middle schooler in my youth group. Now here she was, wearing lipstick and dancing with her father to the quinceñera waltz.

So grown up.

I stood next to my host mom, Norma, as she gave the traditional toast. And I took the camera from my host brother Samir so he could take his turn to dance with his big sister. I posed for pictures with Keysi behind the cake, and nearly teared up when I saw her coming down the stairs in her beautiful pink dress.

Sparkling. Vibrant. Confident and poised.

Up until that moment, every birthday, wedding, baptism I celebrated here in Peru reminded me of all the ones I was missing back home. But as I stood watching Keysi ... my Keysi ... I realized that this might be the last birthday I ever celebrate with her.

And suddenly, I felt ashamed. How could I have ever considered coming here ... sharing my life with these people, and letting them share theirs with me ... a sacrifice?

The Evil Eye

For the past few days, I have been rather ... well ... cranky. Easily angered. Bitter. Basically a terrible human being. And all the things that normally make me feel better – venting, exercise, chocolate – weren't working. This, of course, made me even more frustrated ... and more cranky ... and a worse person. It didn't take long for people to notice, and I was soon offered a possible cause for my situation.

The Evil Eye.

Now before I go on. I have to say that I do not believe in The Evil Eye. I believe in science and fact checking and Western medicine. But there are a lot of things that seem crazy but I have faith in anyway, so when someone suggested that El Mal Ojo was afoot, I tried to keep an open mind.

For those unaware, The Evil Eye works something like this. A person or animal shoots a glare at another person or animal, causing them to feel crappy, fall ill or die.

In fact, just last week, a 42-year-old man died suddenly in his home. A few days before, an owl (yes, an owl) had flown into his abdomen, wounding him. He went to the hospital, was given a once over and sent home with some antibiotics. His daughter claims that he was perfectly fine, and then *poof!* he keels over without so much as a word. Most people in my town attribute his death to The Evil Eye given to him by the owl. They accept this as fact; any other explanation would be preposterous. And it makes sense, when you think about it. There aren't many things that would make an apparently healthy 42-year-old man keel over on the spot.

Anyway, I approached the topic with my host mom, Norma. I had a hunch that if, indeed, I was the receiver of The Evil Eye, it was probably given to me by the cat we kind of, sort of abducted to solve our growing rat problem a couple days prior. The one we borrowed against his will and tied to a post in our back yard.

My host mom nodded thoughtfully and suggested a "cleansing ritual" that she would do with her children when they were really young and colicky. She would pass a newspaper over their bodies, breathing a prayer as she did it, and then burn the newspaper. The newspaper would absorb the bad energy, and the ashes, she said, would reveal its source. She told me that the ritual typically is only done on Tuesdays and Fridays. As this was a Wednesday, she wasn't sure if it would work, but she said she'd give it a try.

We went to my room, where she passed the newspaper over me. The paper tickled the soles of my feet, and I started giggling. I checked my host mom's expression to see if my laughing fit had made the entire act void, but she didn't seem to mind.

It didn't take long – a minute, max. And then we went outside to burn the paper. We stood there silently watching the newsprint turn to ash, when suddenly –

"Robyn," she asked. "Do you see the rat?"

I had been looking for the shape of a cat, but lo and behold, there it was. The ashes made the unmistakable form of a rat. Stringy tail and all.

Of course!

For the past few months, the rats have been trying to take over my room. A few days before, I caught one stealing a whole wheat bun from my shelf. We had a good long stare before I clapped my hands and waved my arms to scare it off.

As the realization dawned on me that that rodent had perhaps given me The Evil Eye, I was furious. How DARE that little jerk curse me when he was trying to steal MY wheat bun?

Before I could say anything, Norma guided me back to my room and splashed holy water against all of my walls and doors.

Maybe it was because of the ritual. Maybe it was just the placebo effect, or the nurturing of my host mom. But soon the feelings subsided. The wind came and picked up the ashes, and I felt better. For the first time in days I felt light and happy.

Coincidentally, the cat got loose shortly after, and I brought over another from my former host family's house. Her name is Chilimasa, and she's cuddly and playful. She pushes her face against the mosquito net when I'm about to go to sleep and hangs upside down from the rungs of my chairs while I'm working.

Oh, and she loves to eat rats.

Delicious Veggie-filled Recipes I Make with my Host Family

Veggie Pizza
My host family, counterparts and friends in site all love this recipe.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp oil
  • Tomatoes
  • Green Peppers
  • Onions
  • Spinach (... and really any other vegetable you'd like to throw on there)
  • Cheese
  • Pepper
  • Oregano

To Prepare:
Several hours before you even start to get hungry, mix the flour and salt in a bowl (I also like to throw in some oregano) and gradually add the hot water. When you have more or less a good dough, punch a hole in the center, and add the oil. Work the dough well so it is good and soft, and leave it sit for a few hours. Then separate the dough into three balls, and roll it out (with a rolling pin, wine bottle, or work it out with your fingers) so that it is even and more or less the shape of the pan you will use. Pre-bake the crust for a little while until it is no longer raw.

Chop the tomatoes and lay them out to cover the crust. Then add all the other chopped vegetables and top it off with cheese. Add salt, pepper and oregano to your liking.

And then bake until the cheese is melted. If you're using a bubble oven, expect every pizza to take ~45 minutes to bake.

Veggie Burgers
I just recently tried these with my host family, and they really liked them -- especially with BBQ sauce.

  • Lentils (soaked, cooked, mashed and completely drained of liquid)
  • Carrots (shredded)
  • Onions (diced)
  • Green peppers (diced)
  • Egg (beaten)
  • Bread crumbs
To Prepare:
Mix the veggies in with the mashed-up lentils. Add the bread crumbs and egg whites. With your hands, scoop up the picture and make little patties.

Fry the patties in a little bit of oil, and then place them on a plate covered with a layer or two of paper towels to soak up the excess grease. Add some salt and pepper, and stick it in a bun. The whole process should take you under an hour, and it's a great activity for kids.

Note: Once in the pan, the egg should help hold the patty together. But if the mixture is too liquidy (because of the lentils or veggies), they will break apart in the pan. Try adding more bread crumbs or a little flour.

For extra delicious veggie burgers, add some cheese and stick some spinach and tomatoes in the bun. My host sister tried it with some BBQ sauce and mayo and loved it.