Wednesday, 7 November 2012

still in Andahuaylillas

Now I have been in Peru, as a volunteer, at the Qéwar project for two months and I really feel a part of everything, I am always happy and comfortable here. I feel like I could just stay here forever!

I had a really nice visit from my mum, which seems like a very long time ago! We travelled to the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca, Macchu Picchu of course, spent some days in Cusco and I had the pleasure to show her around the project and Andahauylillas and introduce her to all the lovely people here.

I have been busy with the kindergarten, I am helping the teachers, translating songs, games and stories, and mostly just sharing ideas. Two weeks ago we had a meeting with the parents in which I gave a talk about the importance of play and why children shouldn´t watch television. It was very difficult but a good experience to prepare in Spanish! I was soooo nervous someone would ask a question that I wouldn´t understand, but mostly they are so shy and don´t say a word. As each parent arrived there was a brief form for them to fill out. I was surprised to learn that at least three of about 20 parents were unable to write their own name.

I also visited another (kind of) Waldorf kindy in Cusco. The teachers are a middle aged couple and the kindergarten is inside their house. There is a small courtyard in the centre as a playground and a small inside room also. I gave my talk at their parent meeting, I am pretty sure my popularity as a speaker is more to do with me being a foreigner then because of anything that I have to say. It was very interesting the difference between the two groups of parents; Andahuaylillas and Cusco are less than one hour apart but the people and their lives are so different. In Andahuaylillas only one parent spoke the whole meeting and the majority didn´t look at me the whole time but in Cusco they all spoke nonstop, sometimes four at once.

I have some friends here around my age which is really nice. There are two German volunteers; Sandra and Martina and I have made friends with the kindergarten teachers and some of the women who make the dolls. It is very interesting for me to hear about their lives which are so different to mine. In particular I have made friends with one girl, aged 22, a year different to me. She is studying nursing in Cusco and has one older brother who is working in the jungle to pay for her student fees. When she finishes her course, she will work to pay for his study. Each morning she wakes at 5.30am, cooks lunch for her parents and her and leaves to study in Cusco. She returns at 2, eats lunch with her parents and works from 3 – 6 (or when it is busy, until 8) Then she studies until 11pm. On Saturday she works a full day and studies on Sunday. Her mum passes the day caring for their sheep and her dad passes the day drinking. She will finish her course in July and wants more than anything to work as a nurse in Canada. She doesn´t have the money or at the moment the time to go to classes, so for now is learning from any English speaking person she meets.

I have done some travelling with with Julio, Lucy, Sandra and Martina to Puno (The Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca) and Arequipa. I really love to see beautiful places, explore the area, try different foods and drinks, admire local handicrafts and all these things but my favourite part is meeting interesting strangers on the bus, both Peruvians and travellers. My least favourite is most definitely the music on the bus.

On the weekend we sometimes go to Cusco or other nice places nearby. We have been to discos with some of the Peruvian girls who are much milder partiers and especially milder drinkers than Australians (and Mexicans). One night we went to a disco in a nearby, slightly bigger village. It was a concrete room covered with graffiti, no tables or chairs, a one sole (40c) entrance fee and a tiny bar with one type of drink for sale – a horrible brand of beer. The German girls and I felt like we must have been the first white people to ever enter, as when we did everyone stopped dancing to turn and stare and whistle.

It´s really interesting the separation between the areas tourists do and do not go. In Andahuaylillas there is a famous church that brings busloads of tourists every day. But outside the plaza where the church is, apart from the other volunteers, I have only once seen other foreigners. And it was such a strange occurrence that afterwards two people asked me if I know who they are. In Cusco the central part is completely designed for tourists, but go two streets away from the centre and there are no foreigners. When I walk just ten minutes from the centre all of a sudden I go from being a regular person, hassled to look at paintings and buy sunglasses, to a complete novelty. Children come to me to speak English, which is usually ´hello´, followed by something elsenot understandable or ask how to say ´how are you´ in English, men constantly call out at me, and if I ask for directions I am usually asked why I am here.  

Also I have been walking in the farmland. Everywhere there are little plots of maize, growing in the valley and partway up the mountains and tiny little mud brick, usually one room houses dotted around. It is so beautiful and different I feel like I am walking in a dream. The people are very friendly, they always call out hello and sometimes just wave at me and laugh. I passed two water catchments for the irrigation. They don´t look very clean, are about the size of a big family swimming pool and had people swimming in them.

 Last weekend, the German girls and I finally climbed one of the Andes Mountains. We left at 5.30am (to avoid the midday sun), the sky looked perfect, a few clouds but not too many. We felt well prepared with all our water, lunch, sun hats and sunscreen. We found a path and started off. After about 10 minutes the path disappeared and soon after the rain started. So we had a great adventure, climbing through bushes (some very spiky) and freezing in the rain. But the view was so beautiful (when it wasn´t blocked by mist) that it was definitely worth it. Next time we will try one of the many surrounding mountain with clearly defined paths.... (and bring rain jackets)

For October and November everyone is very busy with doll orders for Christmas. I have been involved with different stages of the making process and every time I am just amazed by the amount of detail and care taken. The curly hair alone takes over a day to make, there are different styles of underwear for boys and girls, each head is weighed at least twice, and for each piece of clothing, the bits are extracted by hand, then washed by hand and then brushed with a toothbrush. Everyone is working very hard, the women are given the choice to work two hours overtime each night, but no one as hard as Julio and Lucy who spend almost all their waking hours co-ordinating the orders and making the dolls. I have really come to understand that it is only with such an incredible dedication that something so amazing can be so successful and help so many.
I have now decided that I will stay here for Christmas, I think it will be so lovely, and I would atleast like to be able to spell Andahuaylillas before I leave.  The longer I stay, the longer I want to stay!


Aa little village an hour and a half walk from Andahuaylillas

The view from the mountain

Wawa Munakuy, the kindergarten

The playground
Lake Titicaca

And finally... the dolls! 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Andahuaylillas, Peru

I have been in Peru for three weeks and I am very, very happy here!

I am living at the Qéwar project, a Waldorf project in a little village in the Andes. The project is run by Julio and Lucy, a couple who were living in Lima and ten years ago made a decision to move to Andahuaylillas and help the people here. Since then they have worked extremely hard and dedicated their lives to this very inspiring project. For ten years the Qéwar project has been making Waldorf dolls. There are now 46 women and a few men employed fulltime and over 20 women from surrounding farms who work on Saturdays. They are all very grateful to have humane employment. There is a lovely kindergarten for the village children and afternoon care for the children of the employees. A ceramics section is also in development.

It is very, very peaceful living here and everyone is sooo kind, friendly and welcoming. Andahuaylillas is very tiny and traditional. There are about 2,500 people living in the village and many farm animals. While walking I often pass cows, herds of sheep and women in traditional dress.  There are a few cobblestone streets in the centre of the village, but mostly the roads consist of dust and rocks. Most of the houses are made from mud bricks. I have heard that it is common for houses to have televisions and music players but no toilet or separate sleeping area for people and animals. Surrounding the village is farmland. Mostly families own their own plot of corn, wheat or potato, and eat it themselves or trade with neighbours.

I pass the mornings in the kindergarten, which is very nice and simple. The children are really adorable and always have big happy smiles!! They all have a great openness to the world, ready to receive and do everything the day has to offer. Today with the children, we planted potatoes, maize, quinoa and wheat in a small plot above the kindergarten.  A few times a week we walk with the children to the farmland. There we watch people working, at the moment they are ploughing the fields to prepare for a new crop. The children love seeing many animals and people working. I am very impressed by how far and competently the children walk, better than many adults in Sydney!!

Then in the afternoons I sometimes return for the afternoon care but I usually sit with the women and knit doll´s clothes. Well, I learn to knit doll´s clothes, I am very far from knitting any clothes of selling quality! I am being taught by a most amazing women, possibly the best knitter in the whole world. She has six grown children, studied knitting fulltime for three years and has been knitting professionally ever since. And she told me she still feels like a little girl when she sees all the beautiful knitted doll´s clothes.

Now I look forward to a visit from my mum, next week!

Just five minutes walk from the kindergarten

Helping the farmers


Sunday, 5 August 2012

So I will back track a little because I have had many adventures since I last wrote. I have now come to understand why this is not such a common thing that people do. Because it is really, really hard.

My first week after school finished I did many fun things with very nice company. I watched the sunrise over the ocean, spent a very, very fun day exploring a cenote, a place kindof like a lake with secret caves and great snorkeling and went snorkeling with enormous turtles! The turtles were absolutely incredible, one old big guy stayed right underneath my friend and I, close enough to touch for over five minutes!

I then took six days travelling on my own from Playa del Carmen to near Mexico City. Altogether I spent 35 hours on the bus and visited three towns. It was very interesting but probably not my favourite kind of travelling. I saw three beautiful waterfalls, one cascade Aqua Azules (blue water) was so far and incredible, I walked beside for an hour and didn´t yet reach the top. I also took a tour of old mayan ruins and stayed in a very pretty small city, San Cristobal. I liked walking through the outskirts, the further I got from the centre, the poorer the living conditions, the more people stared at my white skin and the more easily people smiled. I met with other travellers and spoke Spanish with many, many people. Everyone was so friendly, whenever I was somewhere on my own; in a restaurant, a shop, on the bus, at the bus stop, almost always someone would talk with me. It was so nice and made my adventure much more enjoyable.

My favourite part of the trip was while I was waiting to change buses on the road next to the jungle, outside a single shop with cheeky local girls out the front selling bags of fried bananas. While the other tourists stood around looking bored and tired I asked the girls if they would like me to braid their hair. One teenage girl was brave enough and although I didn´t think I did such a bad job, they all passed the rest of the time laughing and repeated to me what I thought was, ´now she is your daughter!´

I arrived in Cuernavaca Sunday night, ready (kindof) to begin the course Monday morning. The first week was incredibly overwhelming and it might just be the hardest thing I´ve ever done. By the second week I began to really enjoy it and make friends and I could see how well my Spanish was improving. I still need a lot more time though. Learning a language takes so much time and effort, I now have so much admiration for people who can speak two and even more languages!

Despite all my external adventures, of course the most interesting has been my internal experience. After going through a period of feeling unusually miserable and very confused, to the point that someone suggested I have a melancholic temperament, I made the difficult decision that I am not going to stay and work for this school for the next two years. I came here to work with disadvantaged children so that´s what I will do, and unfortunately it´s not possible with this school.

I have been researching Waldorf schools and projects around Latin America, at the moment I think the first thing I would like to do is return to the Qéwar project in Peru (where they make the beautiful dolls). So now I look forward to a new adventure!
The Cenote
Snorkling with Sonja from Germany
Aqua Azules

My classmates at the Waldorf training

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

I have been in Mexico 11 days now! I came here for a challenge and an adventure and so far it has been just that! It was very hard for me to say farewell to many special people and I am missing everyone very much. Sometimes I feel homesick and lonely but mostly I am excited and full of adventure!

I first spent five lovely days in California with my good friend, we went bushwalking, biking riding and spent a day in Lake Tahoe and a night in Reno, a mini version of vegas. California is very beautiful!

Playa del Carmen (my new home) is very beautiful! The beaches are picturesque and calm, the water is sooo warm and the beach stretches for what seems like forever! The jungle is also amazing in its wildness. When I first arrived the heat and humidity was a real shock. I thought 'this is definitly the second hottest place I've ever been! (central australia in January being the hottest) but now I'm more accustomed to it I now think it's only the third hottest.

I've spent a week at the school, it is incredibly beauitful, the setting is so natural and it is really in the jungle! There is a great garden with so many foods I've never seen growing or even heard of before. And the teachers and families are very nice and friendly. Last week it was very strange for me to attend the school's midsummer festival!! My collegue brings her baby with her, she is 6 months and is sooo cute and always happy, it's so lovely for everyone to have a baby with us.

The school has only solar power. There is an office with a computer, internet and printer but the administrator told me sometimes the power only works for 10 minutes a day! Last week it rained for a few days and the sky was so dark we could hardly see inside without the lights, which work less than half the time. I really liked it, it was excited to experience the weather so strongly all day. When it rains the playground filled up very quickly with enormous puddles and the groundskeeper uses a crowbar to dig holes so all the water seeps underground. The primary school boys love helping!!

The classrooms are very simple, with a lot of natural materials and a few handmade toys. They have probably a quarter of the toys then we had at Glenaeon Preschool and a 10th of any traditional child care setting but I wouldn't add many more if I could, the children play so well and creatively with what they have.

I have one more week at the school, then 2 weeks of holidays! I look forward to hearing news from home!