Falling asleep to the sounds of a cumbia, salsa, or merengue is what I have come to enjoy the most out of my stay in Peru. The first time I went to the Miraflores District, I noticed a large group of people circled around something. As I approached the crowd I expected to see a street performer, juggler, or comedian but to my surprise it was three couples of older Limeños dancing to one of the most popular songs of the summer! Needless to say this song was reggaeton, with mixes of merengue and salsa, not exactly their generation’s type of music, but either way they were having the time of their lives. The moment I saw that, I just smiled and thought to myself, “This is exactly why I love Latin America.” It’s not exactly out of the ordinary to see older people dancing to reggaeton of the younger generations’ music; we are a people that love to dance, whatever the music!
Adjusting to life in Lima has been no difficult task. My experience may be a bit different from others considering the fact that I myself am Latina. I am first generation American, and my entire family is Mexican. Though born and raised in the United States, I grew up speaking Spanish, and I have been instilled with the values, culture, traditions and way of life in Mexico. Though I have only traveled to Mexico, Costa Rica and now Peru in Latin America, I have had the privilege of meeting several other people from different nationalities (El Salvador, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Argentina and Puerto Rico) and I have come to realize that besides the language, certain cultural norms exist throughout all of Latin America. Because of this, I had an idea of what to expect. I am used to the ‘crazy and wild’ driving, know that pedestrians never have the right of way, public transportation is not always a sure thing, don’t flush toilet paper down the toilets, always say ‘provecho’ as you begin a meal, and that greeting people requires a kiss on the cheek, among other things. Nevertheless differences exist in the use of everyday language, words, phrases food, etc. that make each country unique and I have enjoyed learning more about them in Peru.
I am now halfway though my stay in Peru and I can honestly say that I have been welcomed with open arms by the people I work with. Everyone is so kind, constantly suggesting places I should visit, inviting me to their outings with friends and families, and planning little weekend trips to places around Lima with them. Lima’s food is very international, and as such it is not odd to find dishes that you would find in the States as well, such as spaghetti, Caesar salad, hot dogs, burgers, and lots of Chinese food (the Peruvian way). With almost every meal you can expect to see some white rice, potatoes, avocado or hard-boiled eggs. The well-known Peruvian pop Inca Kola; a yellow colored drink that to me tastes a little like cough syrup replaces Coca-Cola for Peruvians as their ‘go-to’ choice of drink. For those who prefer something else, including myself, there is the ever so popular, tasty and refreshing chicha morada made from purple corn.
I am lucky enough to live only 10 minutes (walking) away from my internship while all my co-workers have an hour commute (one-way) daily because of heavy traffic. Work was a bit of a slow start at first, considering I spent my first two days playing solitaire on my laptop while the entire office was in meetings trying to kick-off the New Year’s project plans and priorities. By mid-week I was given a document to translate and since then the files have not stopped coming. I feel as if I have become the project’s official translator. Just yesterday one of the project members asked if I was done with the document I was working on because he believed he was next on the list! I had no idea such a list existed and neither do I know how many more documents await me. All I can say is that, looking at the bright side, my Spanish vocabulary is growing fast and so is my formal and technical use of the language in writing.
The project is called SUMA Perú por la Educación, a project sponsored by USAID and run by the Academy for Educational Development (AED). SUMA is responsible for providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Education, five regional governments and the National Education Council regarding educational decentralization policy and practice, improvement in teacher quality and professional development, innovative education methodologies, and enhancing policy dialogue and communication strategies. While this all sounds very interesting I cannot say more about it because I have not seen any aspects of the project. The little I have learned has come from the documents I have translated. I hope to become more involved in the actual project during my last five weeks so that I can learn more about how it works and how things are done. For now I try to keep my spirits up by constantly repeating what a co-worker told me during my second week of work after commenting that I had only been given translations to work on. He said, “Tú solo piensa que todo es en nombre del desarrollo educacional,” meaning “Just say to yourself that this is all in the name of educational development.” So as I sit at my desk translating yet another document…that is exactly what I do.
March 15, 2011
It always amazes me how fast time goes by; it has been over 4 weeks since I last wrote and now here I am, at my last day of work. Though I am sad to see this chapter of my life come to an end, I take with me all the memories, experiences and lessons learned from my time spent in Lima. I know I will eventually return to visit the new friends I have made here. They are what I will miss most. They have shown me around the city, invited me into their homes, taken me in as a new member of their family, as well as spent large portions of the day with me sitting at our desks during work hours. It is because of them that I am now starting to speak Spanish like a Peruvian and they are starting to sound like Mexicans. We have exchanged phrases that are common to each country and have also run into many awkward and funny situations where one word means something in one country and the same word means something completely different (often inappropriate) in the other. But as I had mentioned in my previous entry, this is all part of the differences between countries, and it’s always interesting to learn about them, no matter how embarrassing a situation I might put myself in.
My work during the last few weeks at SUMA has been a little of everything. I’ve done a few more translations, collected data regarding budget spending in education and how it has changed over the last few years, and helped begin a study of different statistical indicators that can be used to assess the progress of schools in a specific region of the country. Peru is currently preparing itself for Presidential elections, scheduled to take place next month. The purpose of the study for budget spending in education was to see if the current president, Alan Garcia, met his goals and proposals for education during his term and to give the incoming president information regarding its current status.
The work that SUMA does is largely behind-the-scenes. Most of the project members spend their days at the office in Lima making sure trainings and workshops are running smoothly in the regions where they are involved. Their work is important, serving as the intermediary between the Ministry of Education and political and government authorities and the education authorities, teachers and mentors in smaller regions. It is their job to maintain communication between these groups and insure that what one does doesn’t negatively affect the other and that Peru is always moving forward in terms of education. There is a joke in the office where everyone says that no one really knows or understands the project completely, even our Chief of Party. Their work, activities, and tasks-at-hand are constantly changing depending on the other people they work with at the Ministry of Education and the rural areas.
My internship in Peru has not been at all what I expected before arriving. I thought I would be a given a project to work on and develop during my time here, or work more closely with someone in a specific area of the project, but things never seem to go as one expects. Though I ended up working on a day-to-day, task-by-task basis I like to think that my work was of some use to the other project members.
Every experience is a learning experience. Though I am no closer to knowing if I want to make a career out of development work, I learned a lot from the people and places I’ve met while in Lima these last 10 weeks.