A few notes about staging

A few other notes about staging/arriving in Peru, first week with the family:

1) Total baggage weighed in around 70lbs, but didn’t feel that bad. Especially considering I had to hike around Baltimore/DC with them for an extended period.

2) Boots were a good choice, especially since I’m going up the giant hill every day. A couple volunteers have Chaco style sandals, trail running shoes or even just tennis shoes as well. Flips flops aren’t worn outside of the house.

3) Language: every volunteer has a different level of Spanish and even then different abilities. We have a few native speakers in our training group, but a wide range from advanced to beginner. So don’t worry too much about language level, as there’s a wide range…and everyone is living with a family and at the very least getting by so you’ll most likely be all right.

4) The community I’m living in is very close knit, and while they’ve been hosting trainees for a while, each family loves having trainees living and visiting their house. I can’t tell you how many pieces of cake I’ve had at someone else’s house.

5) Internet cafes are within walking distance for any trainee in the neighborhood (a few trainees have internet in their house as well). Calling cards can be purchased on the cheap (around $2-3 for around an hour to the USA), and can be used at the family house if they have a landline. So staying in touch is very possible during training, but I’ve been offline for over a week and haven’t really felt that big of a compulsion to check Facebook

One week in

(This is poorly formatted due partly to the Keyboard and everything being in Spanish)

To be very honest, it feels like I’ve already been in Peru a while (much longer than seven days), since every day just flies by. Each day has been different with challenges, learning moments, frustrations, and a lot of different emotions and experiences. My family in Yanacoto (a small city outside of Lima, and about ten minutes by bus from the PC training center) is awesome, and I really like where I’m living.

My day starts off around 6:45-7 when I wake up, and join my family for breakfast looking as beautiful as ever while they’re all nicely polished up and ready to start the day. However, since I wear my Wooster Intramural championship t-shirt, they know I’m serious business. Breakfast usually consists of rolls with your choice of ham, jam, butter or sometimes a special filling. Add on a little coffee and juice, and Tony the Tiger would be proud. Other trainees report getting anything from a lumberjack sized breakfast, to oatmeal, eggs, and anything in between. After breakfast, I hit the showers…hard. Although I’m lucky enough to have running water inside the house, there’s no water heater to speak of. My showers are freezing cold in the morning, making the even extra fun when my body starts going into shock. I pop out of the shower, change into something decent and then either head to a) another trainee’s house for 4 hours of Spanish b) the training center for 4 hours of Spanish. Depending on the day, language class is sometimes hosted on site to allow us to get out and practice a bit in our communities.

My Spanish class is just four people and our instructor. Thanks to the wonders of Middlebury, I currently sit at the language level that we’re required to have by the Peace Corps. Also thanks to Middlebury, I get mistaken for an actual Castellan here and there, due to the accent (which I didn’t know I had), and the excessive use of ‘vale’.

After class its lunch time…if we have class on site I get to go home, but if we’re at the training center my mom packs me a lunch. Usually starts off with soup, and followed by a hearty plate of rice, chicken, and maybe a few veggies. After lunch we have usually have technical trainings at Center for our various programs, or talks from the doctors/security advisor/anyone else who probably has something important to say. Classes end around 430/5 and some people go home, while others either stay to run or go grab a coffee. I’m usually back by dusk, and hanging with the family the rest of the evening. But to get back home is a fun little game. After making sure we don’t get overcharged for the bus, and that it actually stops at our stop, we get to climb up a giant winding road. That hike usually takes a good 10-15 minutes. And then my house is a bit further up, so when I see the family dogs running towards me I know I’m close. I get home, great everyone, talk/annoy them until dinner. We eat dinner around 9, which is late even by Peruvian standards. Dinner is usually some smaller variation of the rice/chicken/potato combo. I annoy the family a little more and then it’s off to bed around 10-10:30.

So who is my family? That’s a little complicated because it is a bit of an extended family living together. The dad (el Señor) is an elementary school teacher, while the mom runs a little restaurant on our front porch every knight. Yes, that’s right a restaurant. To be fair, a lot of other trainee families run internet cafés or bodegas (small stores), but I still think the restaurant is pretty cool. She serves French fries, fried chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers, and a few rice dishes. Their oldest son is in the Navy, and doesn’t live with us. Two of the other brothers drive motor-taxis in the neighborhood, and attend university. The youngest just attends school full time. Also in the house is a niece and nephew. She helps out at the restaurant and studies nursing, while the nephew drives a motor-taxi full time. On top of that, the family has three dogs and some birds. The dogs just roam around the house and the perimeter of the house without leashes or anything, but typically stay within striking distance.

Phew…that’s a lot! It’s been a good first week thus far, and I really like where I’m living. Having the restaurant is nice because it allows me to interact with more people in the community, and also avoid just sitting and watching TV. I also help set up the restaurant a bit, and am learning to cook a few of the dishes. I run some plates out of the kitchen to tables, to the chagrin of the dinners (especially when I know basically what they’re saying but just can’t quite follow along)! Since the family hosted trainees before, anything I say or do (supposedly) doesn’t bother them and that I am free to (and do) ask seemingly basic or strange questions about the neighborhood or anything else. I usually understand what anyone is saying at about 75-80% of the time, but sometimes it just doesn’t register.
I’ve actually been really happy thus far (I know it’s only a week in, but…) if not exhausted/frustrated/confused part of the time. I’ll try to post again in a week or so, but vamos a ver!

DC Staging

So first of all...I'm in DC safely....   I stayed with friends in Baltimore and took a train out to Washington DC today.   Although it wasn't as easy as planned.  I walked about a mile with all my stuff (about 50-60lbs worth) to a metro station in Baltimore, got on the rail, and then found out the rail didn't go EXACTLY to my station.  So I had to hike it about three-four more blocks or so to Penn Station and wait for a train.   Got into DC and waited for a train, got on and whatdoya know but someone allegedly got hit by a train a stop or two before mine.   So I hopped off the light rail, and hiked it about six blocks to the hotel, dripping in sweat but feeling accomplished.  But the moment I walked in, there were other PCT waiting who were not really interested in my harrowing story (okay, so not really harrowing or dramatic, but I had story!!!).  Beyond that, registration went okay.  As did 'orientation', which was explaining our fears, aspirations, and the rules of the PC.   Nothing to really write home about except that there were 60 of us (three groups of about 20), which surprised me. There's a lot of us loading onto the bus tomorrow.

After orientation, myself and a few other PCTs went to a bar to eat and watch the Steeler game.  While the crowd was good, the other PCTs wanted to go back to the hotel while myself and one other PCT decided to head to another Steeler bar to watch the game.  It was kinda cool actually...the bar had a 'special' of I.C. Light for $2.50 (those from Pittsburgh are probably saying what???).  Myself and the other PCT talked with some other ex-Pittsburghers in DC and mentioned that we were Peace Corps and leaving tomorrow and it might be the last Steeler game we saw.  Everyone we met was really cool and fun for the most part. In fact, I met/saw two people I graduate high school with.  What a coincidence!  I think it just proves the idea of the Steeler nation.  We're everywhere!

We head out at 8am tomorrow, but I'm a leader so I have to make sure everyone's there, plus a few small tidbits not mentioning here.  So we head off to Miami tomorrow at 1:15, and we leave from Miami to Peru at 5:15.  We're expected to arrive around 9-10ish, with a crew of current PCV waiting and greeting us.  It should be an interesting experience for sure.  And to continue on a lifelong tradition, here is your Bon Jovi Thursday link...salud!

How do you pack for two years?!?!?

Pretty common question.  One, in fact, I was asking myself many a time.  It was about two years ago to date that I was throwing my life into an oversized suitcase (seriously, one of those massive ones on wheels), a duffel bag, and a backpack before heading to Oman for three months.  But after living there for awhile, I realized I overpacked.  Some of the clothes I packed I never wore and others I wore a couple times a week.  Turns out, contrary to the packing list, we didn't need entirely nice and formal clothes all the time; just presentable clothes (the packing list said the Omanis dressed 'formally').  I didn't need to pack all the toiletries for the three months as there was a corner store a block from my family's house, and a Carrefour (Wal-Mart like store) and Hypermarkets all around the area.  I even remember one girl in my group who brought a printer!  Whew!   So what I learned from that is a) take packing lists lightly, b) you can buy anything you need in country.

When thinking about packing for the Peace Corps, the question is 'How do I pack for two years?'.  But really, I think, it's the wrong question.  Think about packing for three months, or even shorter.  Maybe even a month.   People bathe, wear clothing, wear shoes, write, etc in whatever country you will be working at.  So things like soap and toiletries, just pack/case/bottle of each.  For the most part, in most other countries, people try to look neat and presentable.  That doesn't mean formal business clothes all the time.  Usually that means pants (depending on where/the situation, jeans might work, but they can be a pain to wash/dry) instead of shorts, and either a button down t-shirt or long sleeve button down.  It's hard to say until you're actually there.

As for shopping: most PC'ers are going to visit REI or Cabella's at one point I imagine.  I would start making a list of things you need that you don't have, especially high-end or things you can't pick up at a thrift store: boots, sleeping bag, pack, etc.  Search online for REI alternatives, such as backcountry.com, sierratradingpost, campsaver.com, etc.  These sites are typically cheaper than REI or other similar stores.  But shop as early as possible, so you can take advantage of free shipping and be able to return items if needed.  I also learned that REI is pretty cool about letting you try stuff out, so if you don't know what type of sleeping bag you want or what size boot/Chaco to order, check it out at REI.  And on the other side, sometimes you just won't find a better price unless you find a sale (such as with backpacks).
Saying all of this, I know I overpacked.  Namely, I took a few too many shirts, but ones that will remind me of home.  I took the Doink shirt, the Sidney Crosby shirt, and the Wooster Pipeband shirt, plus my favorite plaid/flannel shirt.  While these shirts will definitely make me stick out as a foreigner, my six foot+, floppy blonde/brown hair really don't help the cause either.  And then again, These will be good mementos for when I'm homesick, or something to tell people about as they all represent a different part of my life.
I think what might be worth noting is what I'm NOT taking: 
-long underwear (never worn them even in the coldest of winters, why would I start wearing them all of a sudden?)
-suit jacket: I can get one in Peru as needed, and it looks like the volunteers swear-in wearing PC track suits (?)
-Most OTC medications since they're available in Peru and provided by the PC
-Fannypack/moneybelt: see long underwear, never used it in Europe or Oman
-Food: I can get it shipped down later and there will be plenty to eat once I arrive!
Below is a list of what I'm taking.  However, this actually means very little as I still have no idea of what I actually need, or what is useless.
So here's what I'm taking:
(Here's all three bags packed. The two main ones weigh about 50lbs, half as much allotted by the PC)
Osprey Atmos 50L bag (I originally ordered the 65L and actually thought it would be unnecessarily large, and the 50L was on sale at REI) (Final weight: ~30lbs)
Large Army Duffel bag: $23, solidly built and durable (Final weight: ~10lbs)
Jansport backpack: carry-on for a few days, plus day-to-day usage
Also, compression sacks are really useful to make room and keep everything on the small side.  I fit all of my clothes in an XL and a M bag and then used another M bag for my sleeping bag + sleeping pad, so consider using them to make travel easier.  
(Two compression sacks stored all my clothing.  The larger one is the width of a sneaker, about a foot tall and weighs 10lbs!  The other one is markedly smaller)
4 pairs of 'work pants': Columbia and Ex-Officio.  Check out the Exofficio pro-program for PC volunteers, and check out Sierra Trading Post (SierraTradingPost.com) for great deals on overstock, or last season's merchandise at fantastic prices)
1 pair of jeans
1 pair dress pants (some of the work pants can double as khaki pants if needed)
1 pair sweat pants
1 pair track pants
1 pair swim trunks
2 pair athletic shorts
10 pairs of underwear, some are travel or underamor which can be washed easily and dry out
5 pair of Smart Wool/REI hiking socks (once again, check Sierra Trading Post)
6 pairs of regular socks
1 pair soccer socks
1 pair formal socks
2 belts (one leather, one fabric)
3 t-shirts: Pittsburgh Penguins shirt, Doink the Clown, and College of Wooster PB shirt
3 solid color travel t-shirts 
2 long sleeve t-shirts
2 long sleeve shirts button downs (one solid color, one striped shirt for 'going out, but looking nice')
2 short sleeve, button down shirts (plaid, of course)
1 flannel shirt
1 short sleeve polo
1 packable rain jacket
1 rain jacket with a bit on insulation
1 fleece jacket
1 hoodie
1 pair dress shoes
1 pair running shoes
1 pair hiking boots
1 pair sandals (could be bought in Peru)
Sun glasses
Soap/shampoo combo (one bar)
3 tooth brushes
2 tubes of toothpaste (more than enough)
Floss (According to my dentist, flossing is the key to prevent any tooth/gum problems while abroad)
Contact lens solution
A year's supply of contact lenses
2 pairs of glasses
2 pack towels (1 XL, 1 Medium)
Athlete's foot spray/foot powder
1 Leatherman Wave (check eBay, they're much cheaper)
1 Leatherman knife
Photo prints of family/friends/home
Digital camera, memory cards
Rechargeable batteries (AAA and AA) w/ charger
MP3 player
Travel speaker for MP3 player ($20 at Best Buy, good sound quality)
2 Thumb drives
External, USB powered hard drive (as a backup and to store movies)
Simpson DVDs (also in Spanish!)
Travel notebooks
2 Nalgenes
Deck of cards
Travel alarm clock (runs on batteries and decently loud)
Duct tape
Sleeping bag/sleeping pad: we do a lot of travel to other sites, so it's helpful.  Plus, from my experience with mattresses in foreign countries, sometimes you need a little extra support. 
Few random things:
Terrible towel + Pens rally towel
A few small desk items that have been following me around for some time 

(Army duffel: XL stuff sack (10lbs), sneakers, dress shoes, sack of misc stuff, fleece)
(From the Osprey pack: sleeping bag and sleeping pad (stuff sack), other purple stuff sack, toiletries/contact lens solution, pack towels, insulated coat)

So I'll try to update at some point and say what's kind of useless to pack.  Just remember that you don't need EVERYTHING on the packing list, and you can get most of anything wherever you're going...and if not, you probably don't need it!