Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Coming Home

August 24, 2011 at 9:00 am, my family eyed the uncommonly shiny, new taxi waiting for us in the parking lot just down the hill from our Pisac hospedaje. A long seven months ago, on February 8, 2011, we piled into a larger, rougher-looking taxi at the Cusco airport – our first non-air transportation in our new temporary home of Peru. So much had happened in the interim, but in such small increments that we could hardly describe the metamorphosis we all had undergone. We noticed the new car, a rarity in this part of Peru, that was for sure. Our understanding of what is common and what is not had grown more comprehensive each day that passed in the small community of 3,000.

As we started loading our bags into it, I noted that, as opposed to our first taxi ride, this time we had more stuff and less taxi.

The driver managed to squeeze the hatchback closed and the four of us clambered into the available seats, holding the smaller of the bags and satchels on our laps. After more than half a year in this foreign place, we were almost ready to leave – leave Pisac, leave Cusco, leave Peru. The taxi took us down the hill about 6 blocks to a restaurant on the main carretera. The bright orange sign showed a Lambayequan god in a large, ornate headdress, poling his canoe into the sun, his name blazoned over his head: “Naylamp”. We had one more family member to pick up.

We spotted the grey-haired Otorongo, his grizzled face softened by the now-smudged, blue tattoo of a nautical star between his eyes, and his young, pregnant wife Diana sitting outside the entrance. Their boys, Prem and Sebastian, moved about on the sidewalk outside the restaurant like impatient farm animals waiting to be fed. The restaurant owners, Mama Nelly and her partner Angel, were there, but one person was noticeably missing: the namesake of the restaurant, our new godson and soon-to-be exchange student in the United States, 15 year old Naylamp. He was not in the restaurant, but his bags were.

I heaved one of his backpacks into the already-stuffed station wagon, remembering how, upon our arrival, I was not allowed to lift anything over 10 pounds. I had had major abdominal surgery 2 weeks prior to our departure from Portland and wasn’t allowed to do a lot of things, but going to Peru was not one of them! Lucky for me, my husband had been ever-accommodating: he carried two of his own backpacks, plus mine, from Portland to Los Angeles to Lima to Cusco to Pisac. This time, strengthened by months of high-altitude living, lots of walking and simply time passing, I could do my fair share.

Naylamp’s family passed around hugs and kisses and we chatted in limited Spanish as we awaited his descent from his grandma’s living space above the restaurant. All of a sudden, he appeared, racing towards us, wet from a shower, smiling as usual, and looking a little bit frantic. Of course he was frazzled. He was about to embark on an 11-month journey, far from his family and friends, to a strange place, a strange house, a strange family.

The taxi-driver had an appointment to pick someone up at the Cusco airport after he dropped us off, so he was in a hurry. He goaded Naylamp and his family into gathering the loose items that hadn’t made it into the backpack – the poncho, the chullo, two sets of Andean pipes – and herded our newly-enlarged family of five back towards the car.

More kisses and hugs all around, more bags wedged between knees, under feet and above heads. We waved goodbye and blew kisses from our squashed positions within. The doors slammed shut. Through what little window-glass was still unobstructed by luggage, I saw Naylamp’s grandma Nelly, standing in the entrance of her restaurant, wiping her eyes. She is Mama Nelly to Naylamp, having raised him since he was small. With no time for sentiment, the driver stepped on the gas, and we were off! I couldn’t see into the back seat to gauge my new dependent’s expression. How did he feel leaving everything he knew? Who were these strange Americans who would presume to be his parents for the next year? Was he scared? Excited? We were all too crammed together to feel much other than the sharp pang of knitting needles and toothbrushes stabbing us through our carry-ons.

The next three days did not impress me. We spent them in Lima, not the star tourist attraction of South America. Dirty, busy and dangerous, it left no impression in my already richly-filled visitor’s brain other than that of expensive taxis, bad food and noise. It was like drinking powdered skim milk after seven months of fresh buttercream straight from the cow’s udder.

The highlight in Lima was meeting and saying goodbye to more of Naylamp’s extended family. Other activities included visiting a military museum that offensively celebrated the very weapons used to subdue indigenous Peruvians and bring their race close to extinction; and walking through a famous shopping mall, famous for no other reason than it is ridiculous for people who earn so little to spend so much on stuff they so don’t need. We hailed cabs, packed into rapid transit busses at rush hour and generally spent most of our time getting to and fro within the gigantic maze that is the typical urban setting in developing countries.

Matt and the girls flew to the US on August 28th. Naylamp and I followed on the 29th. Getting away from Lima was a blessing, in more ways than one. Escaping the city itself was a relief. But moreso, it felt good to eliminate the ambiguity caused by being the responsible ‘parent’ for Naylamp, which started when we left Pisac, while his real family was also present. I felt like I could finally be the authority and the responsible adult without guilt. And then there was immigration. We were a bit nervous as we approached the border-crossing immigration officer stationed just before our boarding area. He looked unkindly at Naylamp’s long hair and paperwork. He silently noted my skin color and my American passport.

“Where are your parents?” he asked Naylamp in Spanish.

Naylamp explained that his mother was outside in the airport right now, having just seen us off, and that his father was in Pisac.

“Who is this notary?” the man asked, pointing at the notarized form authorizing a minor to travel. It was an Asian last name.

“He is in Supe.” Naylamp responded, “Outside of Lima.”

The officer went away to check with someone else about the notary and the documents. The two of us stood there, apprehensively waiting to see if Peru’s infamous make-them-up-as-you-go rules would come into play here. The man returned. He silently stamped Naylamp’s passport. He folded up the original Authorization to Travel and put it away in a drawer, then waved us on our way without another word.

As we rounded a corner, we both let out the breaths that we had been holding. We could finally breath easy. From that point on, we could let down our guard knowing that we had cleared the biggest hurdles. All that remained was US immigration once we landed in LAX. I had heard that, even there, they could decide to send you back if they didn’t like your attitude. But I thought that was pretty unlikely. So we enjoyed the long airplane ride, the raunchy movie selection and the two and a half meals served during our 9 hour flight. Naylamp asked two fellow passengers to take photos out the window for him (we were in the center seats). We made it to the US pleasantly and uneventfully.

Landing in LAX, passing through immigration bleary-eyed at 10 pm, dealing with a small-potatoes hotel chain and their aggravatingly limited shuttle service, even eating at the diner close to our hotel – it was all a blur. We went to bed at midnight and awoke less than 4 hours later to catch our final flight, destined for Portland.

By 8:00 am on August 30th, we had made it home. Matt and the girls had already dived in to the long lost of things necessary to jumpstart our old life in the house. Over the next few days, the five of us visited doctors, filled out paperwork, registered for classes, organized our stuff, cleaned, cooked, visited… It was real. We were back home. As surreal and as jolting as it was, it was shockingly easy and familiar. I once again understood people – truly understood them – when they gave me directions. I knew how much a loaf of bread should cost. I didn’t worry about getting ripped off, or getting lost, or hurting someone’s feelings inadvertently. I didn’t have to look around at others to know where to stand, where to sit, how long to wait, which side of the street to walk on.

I felt empowered, like a long-estranged master of my surroundings. Every traffic movement, every social interaction, every simple custom bowed to my command. The things I took for granted before our travels, when we were completely familiar with the culture and the language, had reappeared, magically fat on the vine for the picking. The frustrations of being less than fluent, idiomatically and socially, fully dissolved the moment I set foot on that loud, American carpet of red and blue at the Portland International Airport.

How easy life can be, how at-rest my mind, securely running on auto-pilot as the complex rituals of time and place once again become background noise. But I never would have known how much I know, how competent we all truly are in our own cultural setting, had I not flung my poor flailing brain into the equally complex culture of others. As I now rest my overworked brain, Naylamp’s is the one swimming in that confusing vat of foreignness. We should be patient with him.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back Home

After seven months in Peru and elsewhere in South America, our family has returned home to Portland, Oregon.  It was quite a trip and I can't speak for the whole family about all of our overall feelings about it.  But I think we all found it at different times rewarding, challenging, fascinating,beautiful, trying and certainly significantly different from our life here in the US.  Hopefully, we've all come back with a different perspective both on life in Peru and on life here in North America. 

We've now been back about a week and are still adjusting to some degree to the culture shock of returning.  Just being in my own house has a bit of a surreal feel to me at times.  And not only are we adjusting to a return to school for kids and work for Cathy and I, but we are also getting used to having a new family member here.  As many of you who have followed our blog or communicated with us recently know, we brought a Peruvian exchange student back with us.  Bruno Naylamp Adananque moved into Katie's room last week (she'll live in the attic while he is with us) and began his sophomore year at Cleveland High School this week.  Living and going to school in the US will be a serious change for Naylamp but he is a smart, outgoing and resilient kid and we're confident he'll make the best of it.  And having a teenage boy in the house is big change for us but also a great opportunity and we're really looking forward to the coming year.

I'm not sure how many new blog posts you will see in the near future and we may eventually leave this blog in a state of suspended animation.  However, at least in the coming weeks, we will continue to add more pictures from our travels and possibly some of our thoughts on our trip and experiences as we reflect back on them.  As always, thanks to everyone who has supported us in this adventure.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Changing Lives, for Better and Worse

Worrying seems to have been my volunteer 'project' here in Peru.  For the past 3 1/2 months (has it been that long?!), my primary worry was one thing or another regarding the details of a study abroad program I got involved with.  I had been named an official Peruvian representative for ISE, an international student exchange program, and spent countless hours finding documentation and filling out forms for one student in Pisac, Peru who wanted to study in the US. 

The first stressor was turning in the application to ISE.  We had gotten started late, and the deadline had already passed, so time was of the essence.  We gathered documents, got vaccinations, paid fees, administered tests, searched for records and finally turned in the application, 6 weeks later than the normal deadline.  But, I like to think due to our hard work, the student was accepted instantly!  We also lucked out with a very special exception to a Portland School District rule and they held a spot for the student at Cleveland High, 1/2 mile from our house.  The hard part was now over... or so I thought. 

At the tail end of that major accomplishment, what I thought was simply highly sensitive parents expressing their disappointment that their kids couldn´t go abroad too, turned into an all-out war of words between some of the leaders in the student's school and supporters of the exchange program idea.  The student took the brunt of the pain.  Important adults in his life acted childishly and irresponsibly.  It was a sad and difficult time.  Friendships were broken.

The next stressor was raising money to pay for the program.  You all have probably heard about that part enough already!  I learned how to create my own website expresssly for fundraising.  I made connections with people I have never met before.  I found that people can be amazing!  From the $9 donated by a Peruvian neighbor, to the $900 donated by an anonymous gentleman from Michigan, I managed to raise the funds in record time with one or two days to spare!

Next was the US non-immigrant visa.  I thought we had it pegged.  After all, it was for an internatonal exchange program sanctioned by Hillary Clinton and the State Department.  It should be a simple "Yes", right?  Slowly, I learned that the US Embassy in Lima is like a colonial fortress, prepared for enemy attack at all times, where even US citizens have to pay to gain access, with blood, sweat, tears, and of course, money.  I tried to ask questions to clarify conflicting information on the government websites.  I was rebuffed:  there are procedures for asking questions.  I followed the procedures: the responses either never came or were meted out as though every word cost a hundred dollars.

Finally, I figured I had squeezed as much information out of the rock as possible.  I made checklists and gave my student assignments to prepare for his interview.  He arrived at the intimidating, razor-wire gates with every shred of paperwork we were told he might need, and...his application was rejected!

We were shocked and dismayed.  But I hustled.  I made more lists and gave more assignments.  I rushed to Lima and scheduled an appointment to see the citizen services branch of the embassy (where I learned nothing).  I got another load of documentation ready for a second try.  To make a long, stressful story short, he returned to the embassy two days ago and was granted his visa.

Immediately, my life changed.  No longer did I feel the typical fretfulness about the exchange program.  (Had I done the absolute best a person could do?)  No longer did I feel the overwhelming crush of possibly letting down this student and his family, who had risked so much for this chance.  I slept well.  I felt...calm.

I had practically forced through the success of this project.  When someone told me it was impossible, I ignored them.  When someone said it couldn't be done, I went ahead anyway.  Yes, I was pushy.  Yes, it consumed too much of my emotional energy.  But with the visa granted, it was finally for real.  I could happily say that we had won the battle.

That day, I was less grouchy.  I was able to look around me at the wonderful things I was expereinceing on my travels, at my wonderful family, at the amazing good fortune I have as a person who can do what we are now doing.  Such a heavy burden those worries have been. 

And now comes the good part.  The student will travel with us to Portland in August and his dream of studying abroad will become a reality.  It will be a life-changing experience for him as he learns more about a different culture and becomes fluent in English.  He will return to Peru in 2012 wiser to the world.  Equally important, he will have four more people who love him and consider him family, because that is how we already feel.  The time we have spent preparing for this adventure was itself an adventure, a time for growing closer, sharing secrets, laughter and tears.  Naylamp is already a part of our family.  Our lives will be changed forever.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Matt’s Many Mishaps

As many of you know, I am a clumsy guy.  I have a tendency to drop and spill things, trip, fall down and bump into people on a regular basis.  My clumsiness was in full force during our travels and to help share the pain (and hopefully laughter) I’ll recount a few of the more memorable mishaps.
-               Falling in the creek.  I have crossed many creeks in Peru, often with no incident.  But not this time.  My friend and co-worker Sandy and I were on our way into the village of Chaipa early one morning and it was quite cold (probably just a few degrees above freezing).  After trekking down a steep hill (where I miraculously didn’t fall), we had to cross a creek on a series of stepping stones.  Sandy, being smarter and more agile than me, crossed it without incident.  While I find that it is generally better to cross stepping stones quickly and confidently, I didn’t do that in this case.  I took the slow, tentative approach.  And sure enough, halfway across, I slipped on a rock, lost my balance and landed with both feet and my backside in the creek.  On the bright side, I did manage to keep my hands and the bucket of tools I was carrying out of the water.  And I provided some good entertainment for Sandy and for the two guys sitting on a rock about 30 feet away.
-     Don’t kneel there.  Towards the end of our recent travels, we visited the city of Valparaiso, Chile.  I think it is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve ever seen and I took a lot of pictures there.  For one photo, I was trying to capture a tall church steeple and needed to kneel down to get an unobstructed  view of the steeple.  I was very intent on my photo and didn’t hear my wife as she yelled the words “stop!” and “poop!”  The words “Matt, don’t do it” (or something to that effect) did finally penetrate my brain, but too late.  At that point, I was rising from my kneeling position and wondering if a car was bearing down on me or if the two guys moving church pews down the street were going to run into me.  But no, instead I discovered that I had just kneeled in a small pile of dog poop.
-     Bustin’ up the furniture.  This is a twofer, one for an incident that happened in the Pisac market and the other in Santiago, Chile.  The Pisac mishap occurred on Sunday market day as I was having lunch with Georgia and Katie at one of the lunch tables set up in the crowded market. I was sitting on a small plastic stool.  As I tried to shift my weight and the position of the small plastic stool on which I sat, the thing completely collapsed, landing me in the street, to the great amusement of everyone around me.  The Santiago incident had fewer witnesses.  In this case, as I sat down on Georgia’s bed, the mattress and wood slats holding it up collapsed.  At least this time it was a soft landing and I didn’t do any permanent damage to the bed.
-               Nice view.  As you may know from other blogs, one of my volunteer activities was to install concrete biosand filters in nearby local Peruvian communities.  This occasionally involved carrying these very heavy filters (180-200 pounds) up steep, narrow trails.  This required frequently setting the filters down to rest.  As Sandy and I set a filter down one day in the town of Totora, the sharp edge of the filter caught the front of my baggie pants and ripped a large L-shaped hole in the front of them.  The hole afforded a prime view of my leg and smiley-faced boxer shorts.  Since this happened early in the morning and we had a long day ahead of us, many people got to see my pants in this state of disrepair.  Our travels that day took us not only through Tortora but also past a nearby road construction site (a couple of miles long) and through the town plazas and main streets of the towns of Calca and Lamay, as well as on a bus full of people traveling between those two places.  Needless to say, I got lots of interesting looks along the way.  It is also worth noting that both Sandy and my daughter Georgia also suffered significant pant seam failures during our trip so at least I was not alone in this mishap.
-     Wheelbarrow incident.  I spent a lot of time in Peru moving things around in wheelbarrows – usually some combination of sand, gravel, concrete, tools and/or water filters.  One day I was helping Sandy and his neighbor move a load of recently washed sand and gravel up a trail between his home/workshop and another house.  At the end of the path, I needed to turn the wheelbarrow almost all the way around to face the path to the other house.  For some reason I thought I could do this without stopping first – just keep up my momentum and make the turn on the run.  Unfortunately I was wrong.  As I attempted to make the turn, the slope of the trail and weight of the wheelbarrow pushed me backwards and I slid right off the trail as I watched the wheelbarrow overturn.  I ended up sort of clinging to the slope, with just my hands and head above the trail.  Fortunately I escaped with only minor injuries and laughed about this one for days every time I thought about it.
-                Surprise on the bus.  I regularly rode the local bus from Pisac to Lamay and back for my volunteer work.  Most days on the return trip, the bus was very crowded and I had to stand.  On one such day, an older woman urged me to take her seat.  Having had a long day at my volunteer job, I accepted.  However, it soon became apparent that the woman needed the seat more than I did.  She seemed quite unstable on her feet as the bus swayed up the road.  I urged her to take her seat back several times but she refused, mumbling about getting off at the next town and I’m not sure what else.  As we neared her stop and the bus slowed quickly, she fell backwards into the aisle.  As nobody else made a move to help her up, I got up and lifted her to her feet.  A couple of minutes later, she got off the bus.  By this time it was apparent that she probably had been doing quite a lot of drinking before boarding the bus.  As I started to sit back down, a man behind me told me not to sit in the same seat, pointing out that it was quite wet – something I had somehow failed to notice earlier.  But now I discovered that the back of my pants were indeed quite damp. Bummer!  It seems the woman had had a bit of an accident before I sat in that seat.
I think these are the most notable of my various mishaps here but by no means the only ones.  Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the retelling.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hastie Travels – Breaking it Down

We arrived safely back in Pisac yesterday after about five and a half weeks of travel in Peru, Ecuador and Chile.  We were fortunate enough to visit many amazing places, some of which I’ve described briefly in a couple of previous travel update blogs.  For this blog, because I’m kind of obsessed with numbers, I’m going to provide some quick statistics for our trip.  Here goes.
-          Days of travel: 37
-          Places visited: 3 countries, 5 islands, 27 cities and 33 museums, ruins and other archeological sites
-          Different lodgings: 18 hotels, hospedajes or hostals, plus two nights on buses/planes
-          Hotel reservations before leaving Pisac: 1
-          Bus travel: About 2,000 miles with 13 different bus companies, plus various combis, cars and taxis
-          Air travel: About 10,000 miles on seven planes
-          Hours spent on  buses, planes, combis and/or waiting in bus stations and airports: 160
-          Days with no travel (i.e., no long bus, combi or plane ride): 16
-          Illnesses: 2
-          Times tear-gassed: 2 (both in Chile)
-          Attempted robberies: 1
-          Items stolen: 0
-          Lost or confiscated items: 3 (book, camera and swiss army knife)
-          Ice cream consumed: 51 ice cream scoops, bars and/or popsicles
-          Fistfights: 0
-          Arguments, disagreements and debates: Too many to count
Of course, this pales in comparison to some of the other people who we have met recently and who are in the midst of around-the-world tours and/or even more extensive travels in South America (like our friends the Vances who did something similar to us but for 6 months!).  Look for photos of our recent travels in the  blog sidebar in the next few days and possibly more information in future blogs.  In just 10 days we’ll be back home in Portland and look forward to seeing many of you soon.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Another Travel Update

Time for another quick travel update - whatever I can do in the next 15 minutes.  Since our last update, we have spent most of our time in 3 places - Los Organos on the northern Peruvian Coast, the city of Cuenca, Ecuadar, and currently the Galapagos Islands.  Here are a few quick highlights:

- Los Organos.  This is a fun little beach town in northern Peru, south of the much busier surf mecca of Mancora.  We rented part of a house which fronted a beautiful beach.  It was a great place to relax and do a bit of swimming and body-surfing, plus eat some great seafood.
- Cuenca.  This is purported to be one of the prettiest towns in Ecuador and we really enjoyed it, from the laid-back and relatively tranquil atmosphere, to some great museums, beautiful plazas and colonial architecture, and a fun place to stay (Hostal El Barranco).  Georgia used some of her dishwashing allowance money to buy a Panama hat (misnamed since these types of hats actually originated in Cuenca).
- Galapagos.  Tough to know where to start here but we have seen some amazing wildlife and sights.  The highlight so far was probably snorkeling and swimming/playing with a young sea lion yesterday.  We have also seen penguins, blue-footed boobies, sharks, manta rays, giant land tortoises, sea turtles and lots and lots of lizards.  Activities here have included boat trips, hikes, bike riding, snorkeling, horseback riding and kayaking.  This is our last day here and then it is on to Chile tomorrow.

That is all I have time for now and unfortunately my connection is too slow to upload any more photos.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Travel Update

It´s time for a little travel update from the Hasties.  We´ve been traveling for about 12 days now.  That means lots of miles; lots and lots of buses, combis and taxis; many sights; and even more photos.   Here´s a quick summary of a few of the highlights:

- Arequipa.  We stayed there for three nights.  Highlights included the Santa Catalina monastery - a beautiful monastery in use since the 1500s; great food (particularly liked La Capitana where we got a smorgasbord of local dishes); lovely plazas; and some beautiful residential neighborhoods.
- Colca Canyon.  We did three days of hiking and spent two nights here in the second deepest canyon in the world (the deepest being the nearby Cotohuasi).  Unlike places like the Grand Canyon or Zion Canyon in the US, there are several towns in this canyon, including places to stay, which means we could pack in a minimal amount of stuff - just snacks and clothes for three days.  The place was beautiful and tranquil and the girls were awesome hikers.  On the last day, we hiked out of canyon - a climb of over 3,000 feet which we finished by 8 a.m., including a moonlit start.  In nearby Cabanaconde, as part of the local festival of the Virgen de Carmen we were also treated to one of the best fireworks displays we´ve ever seen.
- Paracas Reserve and the Ballestas Islands.  Both of these places feature outstanding marine life.  The Ballestas in particular are home to thousands upon thousands of gulls, cormorants, penguins and other birds, as well and sea lions and other sea life.  The sheer number of birds was astounding.  The Paracas National Reserve is a seemingly barren but beautiful landscape that still contains an abundance of marine life.
- Moche Pyramids and Chan Chan.  Today we visited some fabulous ruins from the Moche period (the Huaca de Luna) and Chimu period (Huacas de Esmerelda and Arco Iris and Chan Chan).  Below is a picture of carvings at the Huaca de la Luna.  This square shaped pyramid has five levels.  Every 70-100 years, the Mochicas built a new level over the top of and around the previous one, covering all the artwork, sculptures, tombs, etc. from the previous incarnation - fascinating.  The associated museum was one of the best we´ve seen in Peru showcasing an impressive collection of fantastic pottery from teh site.

That´s enough for now.  In the next few days we´ll see more of the northern coast of Peru, including stops in Lambayeque and Los Organos for more museums and hopefully a bit of relaxing on the beach.  Then it´s on to Ecuador and the town of Cuenca followed by a trip to the Galapagos Islands.  We´ll try to do another post somewhere in there.