Monday, May 31, 2010

¡Feliz cumpleaños a Los Cachorros!

Ayacucho, PERU

To celebrate the seventh birthday of Los Cachorros, we had three days of festivities this past weekend. On Friday night all the kids and staff of Los Cachorros (accompanied by a brass brand from a local school) walked through the main streets of Ayacucho with candles and anti-drug and anti-domestic violence banners. Peruvians love street protests/marches/processions, and although there seems to be at least one a day in Ayacucho nobody seems to mind when streets and traffic are blocked.

Saturday morning was filled with activites, games and dancing - the boys in the permanent shelter who I work with put on their version of "Thriller" and all the staff did a traditional Peruvian dance. This involved a line of eight men (jumping and doing "sexy" shoulder movements) facing eight women (in very short skirts). After seeing such dances in Ayacucho and especially during Carnaval, it was a fun experience to don the traditional outfit and entertain the kids. On Sunday we held the "premiere" of the twenty minute movie that one of the other volunteers has been working on with the kids. For the event the boys were all dressed up to look like movie stars and they loved the paparazzi-like attention that we gave them as they walked down our improvised red carpet. Apart from the celebrations at Los Cachorros, in the last few weeks:
  • As well as teaching English and PE, I started giving computer classes - when they obey the rules of the house and do all their chores and school work, the kids earn time on the computers we have for them in our study room. Usually they just play a war/shoot 'em up game, so I was pleasantly surprised when they liked my "learn to type" game;
  • There was an earthquake. It measured 6.0 on the Richter Scale and its epicentre was just south of Ayacucho - thankfully there were no injuries or damage done to the city;
  • On a trek with a few friends (Ayacucho is great for trekking - the city is at an altitude of 2800m and it is surrounded by mountains) one of the guys fell into a gorge! We were trying to descend into a dry river bed, when the ledge he was on gave way - we couldn´t see him but heard the ledge breaking, his cursing and then the sound of him and rocks falling. Very luckily once we got down to him all he had was a badly scraped arm.

What with taking part in a street procession, doing a traditional dance and experiencing an earthquake I feel I've had a very Peruvian (and fun) few weeks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Talking in Spanish to dogs

Ayacucho, PERU

Ayacucho is famous for having 33 churches - one for every year of Jesus' life. While this guidebook image of a city full of churches - some big, and some very small - is true (I walk past five churches on my twenty minute walk from my house to the shelter), Ayacucho is also a city full of dogs. The dominant sound of the night in Ayacucho is that of dogs barking and my walk home in the evening involves walking past several packs. As I am not the most comfortable around dogs, the first few times I had to do this were stressful experiences (which I did with a fast pace and a large stone in one hand).

But then I discovered that if I talked to the dogs as I approached they would be calm. So every evening I walk up to my house repeatedly saying "Buenos noches perros. ¿Como estan? Sean tranquilo, gracias". This has worked so well that now a few dogs happily follow me all the way up the hill to my door - while this wasn't quite the result that I wanted, I am quite proud of my newfound ability to cope with dogs.

Since they are up all night, the streets are full of sleeping dogs during the day. So for me a true picture postcard of Ayacucho would be one that includes both a church and dogs, like this photo I took 100 metres from my house.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Its not "all work and no play"

Ayacucho, PERU
In case my last few posts have given the impression that all I´m doing in Ayacucho is selflessly working to save the world, I feel I should clarify that I´ve been having plenty of fun too. We have had several barbeques, a flower-power themed birthday/leaving party,
cards and poker nights, I´ve sung karaoke on a staff night out (Peruvians love their karaoke!), and I´ve celebrated the Dutch national holiday of "Queen´s Day" - I never thought I would be celebrating the birthday of a queen, let alone a descendent of William of Orange, but I hope all of you in Ireland will understand that I couldn´t turn down a party.

I´ve also taken advantage of living in the Andes by walking up into the mountains which are right behind my house to get great views of the city.

And this week I had my first visitors when an English couple who I travelled with for a few days in Honduras back in November spent a couple of days in Ayacucho. I showed them around the city and my tour included obvious highlights like the main plaza with its cathedral, as well personal highlights like:
  • my local market where, along with a lot of cheap fruit and veg, you can buy guinea pigs (just to clarify this is a food and not a pet market) and juice drinks with a frog blended into the mix; and
  • a drawing of Winnie the Pooh pleading with people not to piss on the street, which is something the locals (men, women and children) do a lot.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

La Chocolatería

Ayacucho, PERU

Over the last few weeks my work at Los Cachorros has involved a lot of varied things, including:
  • being a referee at a football blitz between some of the organisations for children in Ayacucho;
  • bringing one of the kids to hospital when he fell and broke his arm - unfortunately Jorge was already phyisically disabled and he broke his good arm; and
  • discovering that four of the boys had run away from the shelter during the night when it was my turn to have the sleeping shift (i.e. I was in charge of the shelter at the time) - thankfully they all came back later that day so my worries that they would go back to their old ways of sniffing glue and sleeping rough were unfounded.

A lot of my time in the past week was given over to our chocolatería. As a way to raise money, as well as to help the kids develop some skills and to earn some pocket money, Los Cachorros operates a little chocolatería. It is run by one of the volunteers and one of the teenagers being helped by Los Cachorros, Dayse (an eighteen-year-old mother of two). Initially I was brought in to assist on the administration and accounting side of things - they knew I worked as an economist and so I "know about numbers". As those of you have have studied economics will know, a knowledge of economics does not mean you know anything practical about how to run a business. So I had to go back to my Colemans Car Care training in order to tidy up and streamline the bookkeeping. While Dayse understood why I emphasised the need for clarity in accounting, I have a way to go yet in my effort to teach her the fundamentals of running a business - but I am confident we will get there.

Then two events meant that I got heavily involved in the making chocolate side of things. Firstly Los Cachorros decided to operate a stall at Ayacucho's monthly food and crafts market. All the volunteers had to help out making chocolates, cakes (I made two lots of brownies, which sold very well!), as well as baby mobiles - the kids of Los Cachorros had been making these for a few weeks, but the trickier part of finishing them off was left to us. Like with my baking skills, I was pleasantly surprised with my sowing abilities. I also then worked at our stall - while being the only gringo (white foreigner) working at the market attracted attention to our stall, the selling was tough going given the high level of competition (it turns out that I am more of a fan of competition in theory that I am when faced with it in practice!). Still, we sold a lot and made some money.

The second event was Mothers' Day. We received orders for 1400 chocolate roses - we only had three days to make them and, because the volunteer who normally supervises the running of the chocolatería was on a week off to travel with her parents, I found myself in charge. By getting the kids involved and by me working two 24 hour shifts in the space of four days (the 2pm - 10pm afternoon shift, the 10pm - 6am sleeping shift, and then the 6am - 2pm shift), we made our deadline and raised lots of money. However by the end of it I never wanted to eat chocolate ever again! Well, we'll see...