Wednesday, July 21, 2010

swearing in

So we swore in yesterday! I am officially a Peace Corps volunteer! I don't even know what to write, I'm super exhausted. This weekend has been super long and...exhausting. We had a week to buy everything we need to move in to our new houses. That's a lot of stuff. It's been a lot of logistics and shopping bags.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 8

Thursday, July 8, 2010
So it's about 9:30 p.m., which is my bed time. Yes, I go to bed incredibly early here. And when I go to site I imagine I'll be going to bed even earlier. Between waking up at sunrise, and the fact that washing laundry is as exhausting as running a few miles, I'm pretty exhausted at night. Also, when I get to site and have no electricity much of the time, there won't be a whole lot to do after 7:00, sunset.

Right now reggae music is blasting, which strangely enough is part of a week and a half long funeral in my community. I think this is the last of the events (at least for now). It's been really intense and crazy. It started a few days after she died when we had to clean around the funeral house, which I already wrote about. Then, last Saturday the body was brought to the town from the city. The city swelled to about twice its usual population. That day everyone gathered and cried and danced. The next day I think there was a break. Then, Monday was bookode. I had come back from our 4th of July celebrations (pool party at the Ambassador's house!) that day and it was super overwhelming to have so many people in the village. Two host-relatives were visiting and staying in my house, which put us at 11 people living in this 25' by 15' house. That night I finished washing up at about 6:00 and went in the house. The kids locked the door behind me and told me that I couldn't go outside anymore. They seemed kind of scared and anxious and it sounded super crazy outside, with lots of running and shouting. I just figured it was a cultural thing with the funeral and didn't worry too much. Finally, my language teacher came and got me. We stood on the porch and watched everything for awhile. All the men of the town were running around with machetes, bricks, stones and sticks. Basically, anything they could find. If they found a rooster out of the chicken pen, they would throw things at it to kill it. They were killing all the roosters they could find in the village. Also, if they found a child outside they would chase the kid, catch him and bring him to the casket to scare the crap out of the kid. I realized that's why they told me I couldn't go outside; the kids think I'm a kid. They don't really realize that I'm actually older than their mom. I walked around for awhile that night and it was pretty crazy. They were cooking a ton of food and the men were running all around. They stayed up dancing and playing music all night that night. By the way, during all of this I was really sick. Not a great time to be sick, when there's a week of all-night parties that can't be avoided.

The next day was the burial. The morning was full of traditional music and dancing, which was pretty cool. Then all the adults went to bury the body. They made a ton of food that day called toowe nyannyan = "throwaway food". They dig a big hole and throw a ton of food in it. The last two nights have seemed to just be all-night music. Thank god for sleeping pills.

Today my little 2-year-old brother was walking around in rain boots with a foot-long knife. They're really not concerned with kids having knives here. It was pretty cute, though. He had two of his little buddies with him, and they were all sharing one sucker. I'll try to post a picture of them. Despite their super snotty, disease-spreading noses, they're adorable.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

June 30

Only 2 weeks left of training. I know that a lot is going to change, and change can make me somewhat anxious, but I think it'll be really good. I think the hard things (at least the things that will be harder than where I am right now) about where I'm going will be: I won't have electricity, I don't get to meet up with the other volunteers every few days, I don't have someone to cook for me. The things I'm looking for are: I don't have someone cooking for me (ok, I don't get to be as lazy, but I get to make whatever I want!), I'll have my own place, my community is super awesome, no more training assignments, and I'll feel like I'm really starting this! I just think it's going to be super different from training, but once I adjust to it, I think it'll be really good.

On a not so good note, today was the day of my Grandma's funeral. She died about 2 weeks ago. She was nearly 99 years old, so it was definitely expected. When I left I said goodbye to her, but it was still really sad. She's just always been in my life, and it's strange knowing that she's just not there anymore. Last Friday I got a package from my family and there was a bunch of photos in it, one of Grandma and I, the last time I saw her. When I saw the photo I just started crying. I think dealing with things from home while here is really hard.

Anyway, here's a happy thought so I don't leave it on a sad note. I saw a wild boar chasing a rooster today. I laughed out loud. He's technically a wild boar, but he's my family's pet, named Kucha. So, it wasn't completely crazy to see him chasing a rooster. His bristly hair was standing on end, making a funny sort of pig mohawk. I love that pig. He's pretty cool. The other morning I found him in my wash house, and it made me laugh when I realized how normal that was for me right now: finding a pig in my wash house.

June 26

This morning was pretty exhausting, but it was very...cultural. Ok, I'll get to the point. A woman died in my village yesterday. She was only about 50 and she seems to have been the sister of my hostmom (family connections are super confusing and shaky to me). I know I'd met her, but I can't quite figure out who she was. Apparently, she had a fever for a few days and then died. I'm sure that's nothing near what actually happened, but the complexities of illness and death don't fall under the scope of my language abilities right now. Brittany (the other trainee in my village) and I went this morning to help the village clean the area around the death house. It's basically like a village's funeral home. But, it's just an open-air thatched roof hut. I don't know if they lay the body out there or what. But anyway, so we cleared the grounds for a little over an hour today. It was super exhausting because it was really hot and cloudless this morning (and then crashing down rain and thunder this afternoon, that's how it works in the rain forest I guess). It was also exhausting because, like everything else, we were being constantly corrected on our raking and hoe-ing techniques. It wasn't as bad as it could have been. I think we were both getting a little fed-up also because this one really enormous woman kept on just laughing at us for some unknown reason. That's what she always does. I really liked something that Brittany said about her: "obnoxious knows no culture or language." Also, I got bit by about 20 red ants. Those things hurt like hell. So, we were feeling a little under-appreciated, but then we finished up and a bunch of women came up and told us that we had worked so hard and thanked us a ton, so that made both of us feel much better. I know we were being a bit whiny, but when you're doing work for someone else and getting laughed at in the process, you get a bit upset. Oh, another thing was that all the men sat on a log and watched. There was one older man who was picking up vegetation in a wheelbarrow, but the big strapping young men were just watching. This country's gender roles really get me some times. The women raise the children, do all house work, clean, work in the fields, chop the wood and do just about everything else, frequently while pregnant. The men basically just go to work. And when there's no "9 to 5" jobs, that many times involves a lot of watching the World Cup. Wow, this entry was whiny. Sorry, I never want to have that super-whiny blog. Hmmm...let me think of something good from today. The thunderstorm today was really awesome. There was super loud thunder and just violent downpouring rain. Then, we were walking down the hill to the village after the rain and there was mist across from us in the trees on the hill. It looked like we should see a silver-back gorilla or something. It was pretty.

June 22

Yesterday I was sitting on my porch when I received a call from a fellow trainee, telling me a group of them were in my homestay village. Sure enough, about 3 seconds later my little brother, Sheka Boi (that's his nickname, his real name is Alferardo), runs up to tell me that Peace Corps is here. News travels fast in this town, especially when it regards a troupe of bakaa (foreigners = white people). So, I walk to the street (because there's only one) and the health group of the trainees has arrived to visit with the local traditional healer in my village, Winston. I've met him a few times. He's a man in his late 30s who owns one of the little local stores, the one that's never actually open and sells mostly notebooks, thread and beer.

We all go down to the river and sit in a circle. Surrounding us are what I've known to be the traditional entrance-points to a village, placed at any place someone can enter, usually at the river. They are made up of 2 vertical sticks with dried palm leaves draped between them. It looks like an old, not very festive end-point of some kind of race.

Winston arrives in traditional healing garb. He has a pangi around his waist and another larger one tied like a toga around one shoulder. A third small one is tied around like a bandanna/scarf. All three are a matching rich blue color with white pieces of cloth sewn into them. The white cloth are shaped like the things he uses for healing, like a pot on a fire or instruments he uses when singing.

He told us a fair amount about traditional healing, although I'm sure we just scratched the surface. He heals things like broken bones, snake bites and other physical ailments. But then he also deals with issues concerning the soul, which is called yeye. Another word for some kind of soul thing is winti. The winti can present itself (possess?) to himself and others, which usually makes them speak in tongues and do unusual things. He is possessed by the winti so he can understand the language his patients speak when they are possesssed.

The spirit first possessed him and he knew he was a traditional healer when he was 13. The healing abilitiy passes through the maternal line, so it'll pass to his sister's children. It passes to someone when the current healer either dies or is too old to properly heal.

He has 4 buildings he works in. One is where the winti resides. There are 2 buildings for patients to stay, because they stay there until they are healed, which may take some time. There is one for men and one for women. The 4th is for larger gatherings, like dances. No one is allowed to enter any of the buildings if they are menstruating or if they've had sex in the last 3 days. He said people respect this because bad things happen if they don't, like a woman who enters on her period will have a continuous period for months and months on end. This culture definitely does not like menstruation.

The winti will not allow payment to the healer and his ancestors weren't allowed to accept any. However, he explained to the winti that times have changed and that everything required in life now requires money. The winti deliberated on this and finally decided that he could accept money, but he couldn't accept it personally and no one could accept it in his healing buildings. So, someone else usually is paid elsewhere for him.

There were 2 women with him during this talk. One was this very old woman who is always super raunchy. She has asked me every dirty horrible secret about my sex life. She wants to hook me up with a local so bad I think it makes her hurt. She's just going to have to hurt. Yesterday earlier in the day I went to visit her and she had a shirt on (kind of unusual), but there was a very large hole at one of her boobs and an entire breast was hanging out of it. Pretty great. When we first got to the healing session and sat down she went around and hugged each person and gave them each a name in Okanisi. Her job is basically to translate when Winston is possessed by the winti and speaks in tongues, because he is not aware of what he is doing.

The other woman, probably in her 40s, is basically his secretary. She handles the money, arranges things, and makes sure the house and surroundings are physically appealing to the spirits.

Later he sang a song that's supposed to summon the winti to present itself. It was pretty cool. He was a good singer. I don't think I would want to see it at night though, I think it would totally scare the crap out of me. The instructor, who is a Surinamese woman, kept on getting freaked out talking to him. She said she's terrified of this stuff.

While we were listening to the talk a group of tucans were playing in a nearby tree. And then, a bit later, we saw a caiman in the water. It seemed like some kind of fake tourist attraction, it was so perfect. Traditional healer. Check. Tucans. Check. Caiman. Check.

One last thing. The other day I ate a piranha head for dinner. It just looked like a fish head (apparently the favored part of the fish, the cheeks are excellent), and then I flipped it over and the huge razor sharp teeth were there. It was pretty big too.

This was long, but I thought the traditional healer stuff was pretty awesome.

June 19

I just got back from a week of visits with current Peace Corps Volunteers and to our future sites. To say the least it was a pretty exciting and illuminating week. I'll be honest, I'm very proud of myself for just making it through it. That makes it sound like it was awful, when in reality it was really great. I was just very very nervous about it beforehand. I wasn't really nervous about the PCV visit, but there isn't a current volunteer at my future site, so I was very nervous about that. I knew that I had to spend 4 days alone at my site, introducing myself to my community and just hanging out.

So we flew out on Saturday and spent a night with a volunteer, Michael. We weren't supposed to stay with him but we had trouble finding a boat to the place we were supposed to be going. So, the next day we managed to get a boat and made our way to visit another volunteer, Shelly. Her site was super awesome. It was beautiful and fun and the people were awesome. We got to turn a compost pile, which we were told might be full of snakes because snakes love to hang out in them. Luckily, there weren't any. Most of the time we just walked around talking to people and hanging out with people.

Then on Tuesday they dropped me off my site. It was very intimidating. Three current volunteers and two trainees and I all came to my site. They brought me up to my house and we opened it up to find 2 bats flying around and a dead rat in the middle of the floor in a pool of blood. Someone tried to move the rat with a dustpan, but the rat was apparently not quite dead, so it started sluggishly moving. Pretty gross. My place was pretty dirty, since no one had been in there in about 5 months. I was pretty proud of myself for just dealing with it and hanging up my hammock and going to sleep with huge spiders, bats and gigantic toads jumping around (not to mention whatever other animals I didn't happen to see). My community is super awesome. They're super chill. Everyone was really welcoming and friendly, but not in my face. Sometimes in training it seems like everyone is constantly in my face, trying to correct something I'm doing or just staring. At my site people were just nice and treated me like just another person. I was super amazed that no one corrected a single thing I did in 4 whole days!

My village is also really pretty. It's on a big river and then there's a small creek near my house. Both have white water rapids. It's pretty hilly and rocky. I have an orange tree in front of my house and then a lime tree behind my house. There's also a belibon tree. It's a large green spiky fruit. If you know what durian is, it kind of looks like that. But inside are pods. They're nuts that you cook in water and salt and then peel and eat warm. They were pretty delicious. they reminded me of a less-Christmasy version of chestnuts roasted on an open fire. The lime tree is apparently my tree, so I'll be making lots of lime-ade. Yumm!