Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Whatever happened to Ali's Blog?

Something happened to me during my Peace Corps service that I didn't foresee happening. This whole crazy experience became my life. I'll explain.

When I first arrived in Peru, everything was different and so new that it was all novel. The simplest activity like going to the store would end up being a hilarious incident that I couldn't wait to come home and share it with those who read my blog. I detailed my day to day life, my vacations, my work, and my ups and downs. Over time, my entries became less about all the stuff that was new a weird around me, and more about interesting events and broad ideas I'd been thinking about.

This was my first venture into the blogosphere, and I learned a lot. I learned that you cannot share every thought and fleeting emotion, unless you are really prepared to have the whole world know about it. The more I got used to my life in Peru, the less I wanted to share publically. All the sudden, the things that really stood out to me when I sat down to write my blog, was not about my next door neighboor and the pig head she gave me as a present, but about the way my boss talked to me and how much it upset me. Now, I couldn't very well write on a public blog that my boss was hurting my feelings. She could read it and then I'd we'd have even bigger problems.

Around January, I started thinking really hard about what I wanted to do after Peace Corps. I figured, all my friends back home would want to know too. I thought many times about writing a blog about what my plans for after I closed my service, but the problem was, those plans changed every week. I didn't want to make my readers go through the same roller coaster ride I was of trying to decide if I would stay in Peru or return to the states. Making a lot of these decisions was deeply emotional, and I didn't want to revel my deepest feelings.

Another big change since January is that I started dating again. Of course, this took over a large chunk of what I thought about throughout the day and also dominated the majority of emotions. I can't think of anything more terrifying than coming home from a date and blogging about it. Writing that I went out with such and such guy and that I really liked him or disliked him, and then having him google me and find what I had written would be mortifying. I realized I'm a lot more private than I thought. There are so many things that are happening in my life that I just don't want shared.

Well, what about things I don't mind sharing? There was a ton of stuff I could have written about while never touch the subject of my future, dating or any other emotion. But when I did write while all that other stuff was going on, it felt like a half truth. What was real and on my mind everytime I sat down to write, was stuff I didn't want the entire world knowing. I instead turned to personal emails. I've been writing a lot to my close friends and family and they have been helping me through the big emotional stuff.

So to the rest of you who do not recieve personal emails, I am sorry you've been out of the loop. I will say that as of now, I plan to finish my service some time in august, travel and hang out for a few months and return to California in the fall. From there, I don't really know what I want to do. The world is literally at my feet and I can go in any direction. I'm not necesarily done with blogging, I may find the whole readjustment back to the US compelling and start sharing more stories. I just know for the time being, I want to figure some stuff out on my own, before I open my life back up to the public.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I heart Frisbee

It's the simple pleasures in life that make it so enjoyable.

My last quarter at UC Davis, I found myself with an excess of time on my hands. My buddy Vaughn had recently left the Joe-job world in search or his first real job. We seemed to be the only people around not bogged down with school, jobs, theater practice, sports or internships. Because of all this free time, Vaughn and I would find completely useless means to entertain ourselves. Thus, Vaughn is credited with introducing me to my love of Frisbee.

On random week day mornings, as all my roommates where getting ready for their impossibly full days, Vaughn would show up at my door with a frisbee and some form of alcohol. Usually a bottle of champagne or 6 pack of New Castle beer. We would go to a near by park and toss the Frisbee around for hours. It was winter time, so sometimes we would play in the rain. No matter the weather, Vaughn would always be in shorts. Sometimes he would demand we wear funny hats and we'd play with felt lobsters or stove pipe hats on our head. There was no reason behind any of it, it was just fun.

Vaughn was very good. I sucked. I couldn't throw very well, but I could run and catch like a wide receiver. So when I say we "played" Frisbee, what I mean to say is that Vaughn would chuck the Frisbee as far as he could throw it and I'd sprint off toward it leaping like a gazelle at the end to catch it. It was kind of like playing fetch, but I loved it. There are few opportunities at this age where one can just sprint all out as fast as their legs will carry them. It's the most amazing feeling to drop all your inhibitions and run like an 8 year old.

While playing frisbee and drinking all day may seem like the ideal life, it was a relatively torturous time for me. I hate down time and I was bored out of my mind. I was actually jealous that my roommates had so much going on. It was those moments though, when I was chasing after a frisbee that let me get all my pent up angst out.

Once again I find myself in a position similar to my final quarter at Davis, too much down time. I found varying ways to deal with the anxiety that comes from boredom. I'd go to the local gym and participate in crazy 80's aerobics classes, I blogged, I even trained for and ran a marathon. A few months ago, some US embassy employees started a weekly Ultimate Frisbee game. I had heard about it and knew that I needed to get myself involved.

I'd only played Ultimate Frisbee a handfull of times, usually it as a reward for friday's track practice in place of a work out. After all those frisbee sessions with Vaughn, I still couldn't throw very well, but I could run and I could catch. The group that plays at the embassy is mostly men and I'm probably the youngest person out there. I definitely surprised a couple guys with my athletic ability and soon became a staple of the team.

Frisbee is a very simple game. It doesn't take much skill or thinking. You just get out there an run as hard as you can. I'm evening getting better at throwing the frisbee! Frisbee Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week now. It's the one time I can leave it all behind and just run. When I go back to site on wednesday night, I feel more at ease and can better appreciate my free time.

I can't wait to see Vaughn again and show him my new skills.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Overnight Results

It's a very common experience for a Peace Corps volunteer to arrive in a community and for all the locals to expect that this foreigner is going to teach them English. Most PCVs try their hand in one way or another at teaching English. Whether it's teaching artisans basic words and phrases like "how much?" so they can more effectively sell their products at fairs, helping kids with their English homework, or working everyday in an English institute. Teaching English is almost unavoidable during our two year service.

Luckily, the initial idea that every person you come into contact with that you are going to teach them English wears off after they realize they cannot learn a language over night and without a considerable amount of effort on their part. My favorite is when the host country national blames the volunteer for not being able to learn through osmosis. So unless the volunteer is wildly motivated to teach English or they are magically blessed with enough people willing to put the back work into studying, the volunteer can eventually focus on projects closer to their heart.

I continuously side step working with English. But I have found a similar mentality in another area that I have been unable to avoid. At my girls home I do a lot of different projects. I teach classes on communication, self esteem, sexuality, etc. I have a theater group and mural painting project. But from the moment I arrived at the home, the girls have demanded exercise and aerobics classes. While setting up my summer schedule this year, the girls agreed to all of my proposals as long as I would have exercise classes.

I started the classes just a few weeks ago. Twice a week I show up in the morning, before it gets too hot, and we do a fairly basic routine. We run on dirt roads around the farms for about 20 minutes. Actually, the running only lasts from 5-10 minutes because only about 3 of the 10 girls jog while the others have varying paces of walk/jogging. We get to our half way point where we turn around to go back, but sit and wait for the rest of the girls to finish before we return. At our rest stop a lot of the girls by sodas. I try to explain to them how water is a better choice, but so far no one has bought a bottle of water.

Then we stretch and do simple exercises like squats, lunges, chair dips and push ups. And of course, no day of exercise is ever complete without sit ups and abs. If you remember back to my blogs about going to the gym in Lurin, you'll remember that most Peruvian woman have a muffin top belly and are adamant about doing 2 seconds of ab work to get rid of it. Resources are limited so there isn't much else to do. There are no weights or steps or even a radio to do a more intensive and thorough work out. But the regiment I have complied is certainly enough to help the girls maintain a healthy lifestyle.

If only that were enough.

After two weeks the girls started complaining the the exercise classes weren't working. They weren't loosing any weight and they looked exactly the same. They made comments about my body and wanted to know what I did to look the way I look. It was then I noticed the pattern that is persistent with learning English. The moment I walked through the gate at the home, the girls looked at me and thought that i could teach them to look just like me, and overnight at that. I tried at first to simply brush off the remarks that the girls wanted to know my secret, hopding they would forget about it and just enjoy the classes as they are. But they got quite demanding and I've tried with great difficulty to explain to them than in order to loose weight one must really put a lot of effort in; exercise everyday and change their diet.

But the answer isn't as simple as applying one's self to learn English. I try to explain that they don't need to loose weight, that they have healthy bodies. Not just that. If say, some one really wanted to learn English, they could study and practice and one day, they would indeed speak English. But no matter how hard they worked, they would never look like me. My body type is completely different. Every one is built a different way with different natural shapes and metabolisms.

It's frustrating, cause they don't seem to get it. And why would they? It's no different from the millions of Americans who get suckered into buying quick fix, overnight result exercise equipment and diet fads products. This is a billion dollar industry. I can't really blame the girls that they have a hard time understanding they're not going to transform in a matter or weeks.

But it's hard. There is a girl in my exercise group who was abused and got pregnant at 12. Now she is 13 and has the body of mother. She wants to loose the extra weight around her middle. She wants to look like the rest of the girls. It breaks my heart. She is one of the most dedicated girls in the class because she was powerless to resist getting pregnant, but she is not powerless to loose the weight. This is something she can do and is determined.

One might think that after what these girls have been through, the way their bodies look might seem trivial or that they would want to cover up and hide their bodies after the abuse they have endured. But nothing could be farther from the truth. The female body image remains a point of much interest to me. Thought my exercise classes I am learning how to tackle health issues and self esteem issues. It won't happen overnight, but I have at least until August to make a change.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Update on listening to my body

I wrote my last entry right before heading out for the evening. In a way, I was trying to remind myself to take it easy and not over do it.

Well, I went to the beach house with 4 boys and we didn't go to bed till 5 in the morning and today my body REALLY hates me. Why is taking it easy so hard for me? I gotta stop hanging out with boys so much because they drink so hard and I always try to keep up.

I swear, tonight I'm staying in! and tomorrow during the super bowl I am not drinking at all.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Learning to Listen to My Body

Damn being human! Why can't we be robots or at least have a way of engineering the better more efficient parts?

Our bodies are very special and we must take care them as best we can because they are the only one we're gonna get. I swear, I try really hard to take care of my body. I eat right, I exercise, I keep it clean and I rest it. But I also push it. In my opinion, I don't push my body nearly as hard as other people around me. But apparently I don't know when too much is enough.

What I don't get is that I sleep a lot. Being a Peace Coprs volunteer, I'm subject to a 9-5 schedule and I take full advantage of that by getting between 8-12 hours of sleep on week nights. It's awesome. It's not the sleep that's so much the problem, it's how hard I push my body physically when I'm awake. I walk to work and back each day which adds up to around 2 hours of walking a day. At work, I play with mountains of little kids which is exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally. I'm known to party as hard as I work and I push my body to it's limits when I exercise.

This is how I got mono last year. My body had been screaming at me for weeks to take it easy, that it was on it's last leg, so to speak. After a month of being completely knocked off my feet, I promised myself I would take better care or my body and respect it's limits in second year in Peru. Coming back to my Peace Corps life after medevac was tough. It was a slow recovery and I didn't start to feel like my true self again until 3 months after the fact. I climbed the Inca trail and felt pretty good. I started exercising again. But then it started to snow ball. Summer arrived and with it all the out door activities that I had been missing for 8 months.

I started feeling tired and run down after a month of fun in the sun, but I couldn't bring myself to decline a single invitation to go throw the frisbee or swim in the ocean. Finally last weekend I said I wasn't going to go out. My friends were aghast. They wouldn't except it and demand I go out. I asked them to understand that I was still vulnerable from the mono and I needed to take care of myself so I didn't relapse. They weren't the most supportive, so I half to easy.

Sure enough the following monday, I was knocked off my feet again by a terrible fever. I wasn't permitting my body to fully recover, so my body was forcing me. I lay helpless in bed for a few days unable to do anything. I didn't leave my house for 72 hours, maybe a record for me in Peru. I strangely wasn't mad that I was sick, I knew I had it coming. So after a week of being sick as a dog, I'm going to attempt another low key weekend.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Broken Record

I have been having the same conversations with Peruvians for a year and a half now. It goes something like this

Peruvian: Where are you from?
me: the US
Peruvian: Wow, your Spanish is great. How long have you been here?
me: a year and a half
Peruvian: Wow, that's a long time. What are you doing here?
me: I'm a volunteer. I work in a home for sexually abused girls and home for small abandoned boys.
Peruvian: Are you a teacher?
me: No
Peruvian: Do you like our food?
me: yes
Peruvian: Have you been to Machu Picchu?
me: yes
Peruvian: Do you have a peruvian boyfriend?
me: no
Peruvian: Why not? we're so fabulous. Do you want one?
me: no thank you

I have really been flexing my social networking muscle. Which means, I have been meeting a ton of new people lately and having this conversation more than ever. This past weekend I was at a party and probably had that conversation 20 times in one day. After a very long and fun weekend with a bunch of new people, I headed into Lima on sunday night for dinner with some old friends. It was refreshing to be around people who already know my bio and can have a conversation that is somewhat stimulating.

I was so tired on sunday and when I got in a cab to head back home, the taxi driver started the
"where are you from? You speak good spanish. What do you do? how long are you staying here?" He was a very sweet man who actually seemed interested. It was late, the streets were empty, he probably had been working a very long shift and enjoying having some one in his car to chat with. But I hated him at that moment. The last thing I wanted to do was have that conversation again. I wanted to zone out and be left alone.

This is why they say a Peace Corps volunteers job is 24/7. It can seem like there is never a break for us. We are always on. Sometimes I feel guilty that I made ex-pat friends in Lima and feel the need to escape to the sanctity of their company so often. But in the back seat of that taxi I realized how important my friends are to my sanity. I'm sure the moment I finish writing this blog entry, I will step outside and have to have this conversation again.

deep breath.

ready, set, go.....

Friday, January 16, 2009

I'm Gonna be a Mom!....Someday.....Maybe

No, no, no, I’m not pregnant.

I was standing, crammed into a combi this morning and all of the sudden I had an epiphany.

Having kids or getting married is not something that passes through my everyday thoughts . I’m certainly asked on a regular basis not if, but when, I’m going to get married and have kids. I always take this chance as a learning opportunity that a woman doesn’t have to be married or have children to validate her life.

I’m 25, single and have no idea what I want to do with my life exactly. How on earth would I know if I want to have kids?

But then this morning, out of know where it hit me. If I ever do decided to have kids and I have the ability, I want to adopt a child from Peru.

For a few months now, I’ve been feeling that all my work with the kids is not enough. I can’t help but have this hopeless feeling that no matter what I do, these beautiful boys and girls are destined to fall back into a life abuse and neglect. I wouldn’t have the opportunity even if I wanted to take home any of the kids I work with. None of them are technically orphans or “up for sale” anyways. But there are so many children in Peru who are.

Last month while I was traveling, I met a Peruvian woman and her beautiful family. She was born in Peru and moved to Paris to study, married a French man and has been living in Norway for the past 8 years. As I had drinks with her one evening, I told her about my work in children’s homes and she confided in me that she adopted both of her children. She came from Norway on two different occasions to adopt her children and told the story of the adoption process and the actual experience of going to pick up her children.

It was a really inspiring, beautiful story. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but all of the sudden I am seeing the great honor it is to adopt a child. Especially from a country that has come to mean so much to me.

I have never understood how people pay tens of thousands of dollars to have their seed and egg harvested into another donor carrier just so their spawn can live on. To me, this is one of the most selfish acts a person can commit. There are so many children out there who need homes. The want to have your own flesh and blood live on is understandable and biological. But by all standards, if you are unable to have a child naturally, surrogacy is completely not practical.

I believe in Darwinism. Even if you don’t and you believe that God created everything and has a plan, maybe God’s plan is that you shouldn’t procreate. I know that can come off a bit harsh. Many women I’m sure would tell me that I couldn’t understand unless I was in their position. Maybe, but I have felt this way for as long time. And now that I work with abandoned children and see just how many need homes, I have become quite passionate against surrogacy.

A woman unable to bear her own children may tell me I couldn’t understand unless I was in her shoes. Well, I’d like to tell that woman before she goes and spends $70,000 to artificially place her spawn in another woman, to come spend some time in my shoes. Come work a few months with all the abandoned and forgotten kids of the world. Then see if conscienceless she could turn her back on them and go create a test tube baby

I feel after I leave Peru, this feeling that my two years wasn’t enough may find it’s relief in the adoption of one child who won’t be forgotten. Again, it is too far away for me really consider. But if someday it ever happens, I will remember the morning in the combi when I thought to myself “hey, maybe someday I’ll adopt a Peruvian child”.