Oh, and I should correct a previous post where I claimed that we found a wounded and dying blue-footed booby. I have been corrected and it is actually a Peruvian booby. I´m getting better at bird identification, but I still have a long way to go!

It was still in the same spot as two weeks ago when we went to the mangroves yesterday. However, this time it was decapitated: without a head. Quite dead. The poor thing!


My host sister, in the eyes of the people from my town...eloped. Yes, that´s right. I know someone who has eloped. I never thought I would be able to say that: "My host sister eloped". That just seems so much like something from the ´50s. But alas, in this corner of the world, when a woman moves in with a man, they become husband and wife. And since my host parents are so completely stubborn and traditional, they drove Reina to the point of desperation as to humiliate her family and elope with the man she loves, rather than endure the man her parents want her to continue dating.

The irony of it all is that when my host parents got married themselves, their own parents, who disapproved of their love, were not aware...until my host grandmother noticed her daughter was pregnant.

Despite the shame of having a daughter elope and the mixed emotions of feeling betrayed by your offspring, things had been quiet in the house. I think my host mom cried every once in a while and tears welled up into her eyes when we told her she should go say happy birthday and "I love you" to Reina when it was her birthday. My host dad now gazes at his newborn granddaughter with an empty silence.

On Sunday night, I was trying to eat the usual Sunday night special of fried chicken and french fries that normally gives me major indigestion, when a car drove up and in walked Reina with her new "esposo"! The brazen couple stood in the doorway, Reina mustering a pretty smile for her cousins, grandmother and aunts looking on. I got up to give her a little kiss on the cheek and one cousin gave them chairs to sit in by the doorway. Besides that, nobody came to greet her or to say hello. They all just kind of stared at her with gossipy curiosity. Her parents were in the kitchen. My stomach turned when her father went upstairs without a word. Eventually, but late enough to make a statement, my host mom came in and sat down with her newborn granddaughter without looking or speaking to them. Instead, she apologized to me for not having invited me to a church retreat. I told her it was FINE. Then she finally spoke to her daughter uncomfortably for a moment, then said she´d go call her husband. My host dad sent for them to go upstairs, thankfully.

They talked for about an hour and I have not a clue what was said, not said, decided, not decided. However, the sullenness of the house remains, especially considering that my host sister with the new baby finally went to go live with her husband, so now my host family is suddenly down 2 daughters. 1 daughter and 1 son remain. Everything seems really quiet.

Besides for home life, things are good. I went with Cactus again to the mangroves for her environmental education program with youth. Unfortunately, there were no flamingoes, but there were plenty of other shorebirds! I will be working on a wildlife guide of the Mangroves with the biologist and we are working on taking good profile shots of each species, which will be a chore since there are 100 of them. As such, we decided to walk out of the Mangroves instead of catch a ride with Cactus and her crew to take more pictures. It turned out to be an excellent idea! We detoured first to the beach area to the north of the mangroves where we found a group of turkey vultures working on a dead dolphin that was still bleeding: recently dead. It was pretty small and I of course, have no idea why it died. Apparently, this is normal.

We are trying to perfect the art of taking pictures through a telescope, as our field equipment is limited to his telescope and my Canon Powershot SD630 with 6.0 megapixels. It´s difficult to get good shots since focusing and aligning the camera with the telescope lens is a skill I have not mastered. We got bad shots of sanderlings, yellowlegs, and different species of herons, terns and seagulls.

On the way out through the dry forest (bosque seco), we looked for an endangered species of bird, the Peruvian Plantcutter, which we excitedly discovered in the forest adjacent to the mangroves in October. There are only about 600 individuals of this bird between the departments of Piura and Lambayeque of Peru. The discovery was big news for these mangroves, as becoming a RAMSAR site of international importance was more attainable in light of it.

In the geological remains of a deep, dried up river bed that is now a crevice of the Earth, we spotted a goat separated from its herd, a Peregrine Falcon, a Red-backed Hawk…and then a fox ran by us without us noticing until we saw it below us! It was good to get some nature into me and to hike a bit...I have a lot of work to do before I can hike the Inca Trail to Macchu Pichu with Parijat in August!


A few things

So to update the entry below: My host sister, Jenny, actually has gallbladder stones, so it is totally understandable why she was in so much pain and wanted to cry. I was mistaken. Although I still think I would be driven insane if I had her life.

Well, if my life isn´t driving me insane, these kids from the Environmental Workshop certainly are. On Tuesday, I sent them home 40 min early because they were uncontrollable. They couldn´t even form a circle. Ohhhhh, they are at that age: when girls don´t want to be near boys but at the same time they´re hitting each other and play-fighting just to flirt. At the end of the session today, I drove them out again (but we made it to 5:00, just on time) because they erupted into a knocking-the-boys-on-the-head-with-your-notebook war. And of course, the boys took advantage of the opportunity to reciprocate. Oh, the hormones.

Nevetheless, the exercises I tried out on them DID work. This time, I was able to get them to practice the "mirror exercise" (one person is the mirror that does exactly what the other person does). And I EVEN got them to practice it pair by pair in front of other people. It was hard for them to concentrate, especially since their peers chose to whistle and make smart comments at them...but it was an impressive first step at gaining confidence doing something while everyone is watching you, anyway. They did OK when I made them make different faces: happy, angry, sad, annoyed...and I knew they were not going to do this one, but I ended it on "in love". From there, we did little sketches. I tried to get them to do something they would find amusing. So the boys did sketches where one person stole the other´s girlfriend. They really liked that one. And I have no idea what the girls did since they wanted to all work together and I didn´t have to hold their hands to create their scenario. Unfortunately, their giggles and mumbles and turning their backs to the audience didn´t help me understand what storyline they had created. Oh, well. The point is that they actually performed SOMEthing in front of their peers. Although I had to start each group at least 3 times each, since one member inevitably lost control of themselves and hid their faces in their notebooks or took a seat. Fernando settled on just making really loud grunting noises instead of doing the scene. Kids are so strange.

Asides from that, my mangroves are doing really well. I went on Friday with a group of Cactus´ environmental camp kids. Cactus works in a really rural, poor area of lower Piura. Her town is actually composed of people who moved the town to an entirely new site because of the last significant El Niño event in 1998. For one of her girls, it was the first time seeing the ocean. That´s one of the perks of being in this line of work: offering new experiences to people who otherwise might never have had that opportunity. After I gave them a briefing about the mangroves on the hill where you can see a panorama of the area, we went down to a clearing in the mangroves. Luckily for them, there was a group of bright pink flamingoes within meters of the shoreline. That was a special treat for them, and for me.

Ever since we corroborated fishermen´s assertions that there is a wild cat living in the mangroves (which we doubted earlier) with our own eyes, I have been looking into the mangroves searching for it. It´s called the gato montés, and is a very shy cat that usually inhabits higher ground. As I was looking for it, I found a blue-footed booby just sitting there! The poor thing must have been wounded because it did not look alarmed at our presence, which is rare. It´s location was also rare: it´s hardly ever found on the shore in my mangroves -- they´re always on open water here -- plus they usually rest in rocky areas. It seems to have just given up since it is defenseless without wings that work. My "Mom, can I keep it?" side wanted to take it home and try to help it, but my skeptical scientist side knew that was just going to mean heartbreak and a big mess. I could just see the face on my host mom if I had brought it up. "Well, you said you liked birds!" haha. But alas, I believe that the booby eats small silverfish like herring and anchovies, and I don´t think that includes the canned version.

Anyway, that was the adventure for the day. Then we walked south to the beach side where a woman aggresively approached me trying to practice English. So annoying!

I´m a camp counselor...ah, identity crisis!


A word of advice: if you select kids for “leadership potential” by interviewing them and seeing who responds the most articulately and intelligently, you get a group of independently-minded savages.

OK, I exaggerate.

But not by much.

We started the Environmental Workshop for a group of 16 kids I selected last week, mostly 11-year olds. The first day went relatively well, despite that the kids imitate their parents and arrived an hour late. I tried a little game on them to test their creativity and teamwork abilities. They split into two groups, and using only what they had on them at the moment, see which group could form the “longest line”. Some kids started opening their notebooks rather than simply placing them closed shut. Some of the boys even took off their shirts to make a longer line, which is when two of the municipal elected officials decided to come in to take a look. Oops. I did another activity to warm them up. First, they introduced themselves. Then I made them do a second round, but in a loud voice. The person who presented themselves in the loudest voice won a point for their team. I didn’t think it would work since kids here aren’t used to being silly, but it worked out better than I thought. Most of the girls just introduced themselves at an audible volume – as opposed to inaudible. Some of the boy just made a face as if they were shouting but what came out was still a hesitant, pre-pubescent plea. Only Fernando, who is THE only black boy in the entire town, gave me a strong presentation that matched my own shouting. That was the first activity to get them ready to do plays and theatre.

The next day we took them to the Mangroves to do a few learning activities. Of course, they only wanted to play. I tried really hard to get them to observe, discuss within the group and figure out some differences between shorebirds and songbirds. One of the girls told me that shorebirds seem more friendly (“amigable”), which I liked. We were getting somewhere. Unfortunately, the rest of her group was wandering off like sheep. Another girl figured out that the white shiny stuff on the mangrove leaves is salt. Girls are definitely smarter than boys…

After I couldn’t take the wandering kids and the vicious mosquitoes anymore, we took them to an area of ankle-deep water, despite the fact that I promised an overprotective parent three times within one week that her only daughter will indeed, NOT enter the water. I figured if she yells at me, at least her daughter got an afternoon of happy memories. Plus, her daughter couldn’t have drowned unless she shoved her head in the mud. Luckily, this girl was one of the few who didn’t cut her feet on the mussels in the water. Despite the protests of my fellow Peruvian facilitator, César, “they’re fine, they don’t need band-aids”, my North American instinctive fear of overprotective parents made sure to wash out every single one of their cuts, throw some antibiotic ointment on and bandage it up before leaving, even though I knew the band-aids weren’t going to stick to the wet feet of children. I don’t want any parents knocking down my door. Despite that, I did actually receive one concerned mother at my door…Fernando forgot his soccerball in the truck. However, cutting short the educational activities turned out to make it a more memorable afternoon. Some of the boys found a fisherman’s net full of crabs. César took advantage of the opportunity to teach them that it’s important to let the little ones go. All the kids got really into freeing the little crabs from the nets and tossing them back into the water. And then other kids tried to get out the big ones, which they then tossed live into their Tupperware that used to contain their lunch to bring home to their parents to cook. I don’t know who the net belonged to, but he didn’t get a catch that afternoon….

I never wanted to feel like a camp counselor, but I guess that’s what I signed myself up for. I’m not going to miss this experience, but I don’t think I’ll regret it either. I’m going to start them on theatre activities soon. Thanks, mom and dad, for the theatre and dance classes when I was a kid!

Family issues


So I’ve been meaning to write in my blog for the past week or so, but the internet here has been very spotty…argh, I took unlimited cell phone minutes and dependable, fast internet for granted in the US and now I miss it like crazy.

Life in my house has been getting interesting and slightly telenovela-like (telenovelas are Latin American soap operas). My host sister’s newborn baby has been making my host mom a nervous wreck. My host mom takes full charge of it, telling Jenny to get the baby ready for a bath because she’s going to bathe it, asking Jenny if she forgot about the fact that she has a baby because Jenny didn’t give it her daily vitamin pill, etc. All this has created a very tense environment. Perhaps it’s scaring away the father of the baby, who I very rarely see.

A few days ago, I heard my host sister Daní crying to her sister on the phone about something and I thought someone had died. It turns out that she was just worried because her mom was having heart problems – a rapid heartbeat despite that her pulse and pressure were normal. This was in addition to a slew of other problems she’s been having, mostly linked to her worrying about this person and that person, even resulting in her having thoughts about death. My friend suggested that she’s depressed, and I do believe he’s right. The woman NEEDS to calm down and stop worrying and making everyone else insane. In the same conversation we had with my host sister, Reina, about how her mom is depressed and should go to the gynecologist to perhaps take hormone pills since she’s menopausal, Reina confessed that she recently broke up with her boyfriend of 3 years. As this was strongly against her parents’ wishes, she received some physical punishment from her father and her mom is freaking out about what other people will say. Apparently if you’ve already had a boyfriend you can’t find another decent man. All of this wasn’t a surprise to me since I’ve known that Reina has wanted to break up with her boyfriend for a while but her parents didn’t let her. Furthermore, a few years ago, she had another love interest, but her parents didn’t let her continue seeing him since that boy was going to be a fisherman, which is a job without a future. What DID put me in shock was her confession that she wanted to escape the house before her father returned from Lima. My friend guessed that she had a new love interest, and I suggested that it was an old love interest. She blushed and looked down. I was intrigued at her bravery and determination in the face of a confining home environment, yet worried at who this bloke is and whether she’d become another abandoned mother. Overall, however, I was decidedly ambivalent, just rooting for her happy future. When I came home, she was absent. In the morning, she was missing. However, nobody looked worried so I asked where she was. Apparently “she’s traveling” and in the city of Talará, which I know from word-of-mouth, is not exactly a city anybody vacations to. My guess is that since she was asking her mother to visit her aunt in the big city of Chiclayo south of here, they settled on a compromise and Reina went to visit her Envangelical aunt. I don’t know where her new man fits into the picture, but I’m glad she got a bit of breathing space.

And THEN today Jenny started to have pains in her stomach while breathing. It was such a strange location and Jenny was breathing so oddly that I thought almost immediately that she’s feigning something. Her mom of course starts flitting about talking about how she was never sick as a girl. Jenny’s aunt came. I think she knows a little bit about traditional medicine (which is full of outdated and erroneous beliefs, such as how opening the window ajar because it’s about 90 degrees F in the room is very bad for Jenny – they think the same for newborns and basically raise babies in greenhouses! That’s why they can take the hot weather much better than I can). She asked Jenny if she wanted to cry. Jenny nodded her head. “Well you’re all tight inside, just cry, don’t worry!” Jenny started bawling, her face showing more anguish than pain. I had no idea what to do so I just stroked her head and her arms, looking on with pity. In my opinion at the moment, Jenny was suppressing the panic and helplessness she feels now that she realizes what being a wife with child will mean to her in life: a ball and chain that does not let her reach what everyone wants in life – to be happy. All of her life, she has always known that one day she will get married and have a baby. Maybe she thought that was her mission in life, and it would make her happy. Unfortunately, her husband is never with her (and I don’t know what he’s doing if he’s not with her), her mom is stressing her out, she never leaves the house unless she goes to the doctor, and she’s dealing with the normal paranoid issues of a new mother.

What a life.


i´m back, i´m back, you know it

After receiving various complaints on my silence from various angry wannabe procrastinators at home in the US, I have decided it is time to get my writing back in gear.

So much has happened, I couldn´t possibly summarize it all. Most importantly, I have had a few successful environmental education events for kids. For example, in October we celebrated "World Bird Festival" by starting first with giving talks about bird biology in every single 6th-grade classroom in the district, even trucking in the few kids from the poorer, rural annexes. In total, we (or the biologist who did almost all the talking, hehe) talked to almost 250 kids. Then we sponsored a drawing contest where the kids had to identify a few birds from their community and identify all the body parts, which they learned about during the talk. The prize was a trip to the Mangroves...we chose about 12 from each school, a total of more than 60 kids. They were "little scientists" for the day, using a telescope and identifying birds using a bird ID book, as well as painting their surroundings and playing a predator-prey-refuge game. I realized that the 11-year old age-range is my favorite because they are young enough to be fascinated by the natural world without inhibitions but old enough to not make me feel like a babysitter. They loooooooved that telescope. They keep talking about that telescope.

Now I am starting a program for a group of 15 kids in about that age range that I´m selecting right now. The purpose is to develop their leadership potential through activities building their communication, decision-making and teamwork skills, creativity and self-esteem as well as to learn about the environment and become little experts on the Mangroves. They will apply these skills and knowledge through carrying out activities in the community: painting walls with environmental messages, performing plays, using the radio and TV to communicate with the public, etc. The idea is that one day, these kids will be town leaders. Through this small group of kids, I am hoping to take a baby step towards improving the future of the local environment by addressing current problems: dearth of participation from the general public, awareness of environmental issues and strong, effective, knowledgeable leaders. By fostering a culture of community service in these kids, I hope to change THEM so that in the future they can be strong leaders. We´ll see how it goes. I hope I get results...at the very least, I´m excited to start! And I thought I hated kids.

Just in case, I should mention before my mom gets her hopes up that I am still fervently anti-baby. I like borrowing kids for a few hours, and then sending them back home to their parents. My host sister, Jenny, who got married in September, just gave birth to a girl a few weeks ago. It´s really cute, but less fascinating than I thought it would be. Pobrecita Jenny is following a tradition (I suppose it´s a tradition -- my host family does things out of the norm a lot) where the mother is supposed to stay inside with the baby 24-7. The dad comes and pops in for a few hours sometimes. Ugh. That is so unacceptable. He is surely working for many of those hours, but I highly doubt he´s THAT busy. And why doesn´t dad receive some of the responsibilities of having a baby, hm? In this culture, not breast-feeding is unheard of, so I suppose he can´t wake up and give the baby a bottle while Mom sleeps. But at least be there for moral support and love, sheesh.

If anyone likes to surf, chill out in a very laid-back town with a few American-type restaraunts and a lot of yummy Peruvian seafood (CEVICHE), Huanchaco, which is a beach community next to Trujillo, is awesome. And it´s cheeeeeeeap. I stayed in a decent hostel for 20 soles a night (conversion 1 nuevo sol = US$3.20). And there are a bunch of places that offer lunch specials ("menú") for 5-10 soles where you get ceviche, a main dish and a drink. There are more expensive places, too. Such as the delicious seafood restaraunt in which I broke out my American credit card for a meal so I could evaluate prices using American eyes (so damn cheap!) rather than Peruvian eyes (so damn expensive!). Thumbs up for going there for Christmas, although I´m still broke broke. Especially after realizing that TWO of my 100 sol bills are COUNTERFEIT. dammit!

In other news, nobody from the US has visited me yet. I´m a loser, thanks. That, or everyone will come in my second year and I´ll never be in site until I´m gone for good. Hm.

That was pretty decent to revitalize this blog, eh? At least you all had something to read instead of writing that memo for your boss.