What grows more and more apparent everyday is that change is slow to materialize. Achingly slow. Oscar said it correctly this morning that as an outsider it’s extremely easy to distinguish right from wrong, dirty from clean, and good from bad by just glancing around Almeria. For instance, anyone could probably tell you students should be in a classroom, paying attention while their teacher carries out a lesson. But, more often than not, the kids here take it upon themselves to leave class early, deciding it’s time to play outside, or that climbing trees would be entirely more entertaining.

The same goes for our pueblita’s trash burning. Walking past one of our two trashcans while plastic burns and acrid smoke plumes not only scores your lungs as you mosey to class, but it’s nearly impossible to shake the creeping thought of long-term adverse health effects. It’s obviously a terrible idea, but as the gringuitas, who are we to say that Almeria should stop burning their garbage? Not to mention it’s pretty much ubiquitous throughout the Cusco municipality. But on the flipside, how are we supposed to stand idly and not even attempt to nudge change to take shape?

It really doesn’t take much to make Peru feel like you’re back in the states — at Oscar’s house at least. On Sunday Mads and I were sucked into a lazy afternoon of watching movies with Oscar’s three kids, sprawled out over his living room couches. In between the flicks, the kids kept flipping through TV stations, finally landing on Animal Planet, and for half an hour we watched footage of kittens rolling around houses, exploring their new surroundings while the narrator called out their cute names like “Oreo,” but with a Spanish accent. It was actually pretty surreal. Animal Planet never snuck its way into my life before, but here it was in full bad-TV form speaking to me in Spanish and throwing cuteness in my face. It’s funny what trends spread and actually catch, and before you know it America is everywhere.

After hauling close to 40 cinderblocks and digging six foot-and-a-half deep holes, Mads and I were almost able to finish the duck house today. We fixed the door, paved the inside with cement blocks and covered it with dried grass for bedding, dug post holes and planted the six logs that Baltezar had cut for the frame of the duck tunnel. The idea is to build a tunnel from the door to the small pond and cover it in chicken-wire so we won’t have any more perrito-patito encounters. Easier said then done when the only chicken-wire that’s available is part of a dilapidated fence. That’s where we hit our roadblock. We managed to clip out some chunks of bent and broken wire from the fence, but not enough before the sun set. While I very much appreciate the recycling mindset at Almeria, I wish things were maintained a bit better — that way they’d be infinitely easier to reuse.

Mads in the duck house

Las palabras del dia
Wacos — holes
Madera — wood
Pico — pick-ax (This is definitely the Peruvian tool of choice. People use it for planting seeds, breaking up manure, weeding, digging post holes and just about any other outdoor task.)

Oscar arrived this morning to oversee parents day — apparently three times a year the parents of our students all come together to volunteer at Almeria. This morning they were tasked with planting papas. But, even more exciting than waking up to a long line of mothers with babies on their backs and pick-axes in their hands was that Oscar came bearing a small-child of a package that had journeyed all the way from the USA. Mads’ “aunt” had sent her 22 lbs. of every non-essential you could think of, and we wasted no time indulging in the goodies. The three of us were practically royalty this morning as we enjoyed a lovely cup of tea accentuated by chocolate-covered acai berries.

As Mads kept pulling out more and more delicious items, piling conditioners on top of designer face creams on top of Italian biscotti and organic granola bars, Oscar surveyed our kitchen table and chuckled to himself. “Siempre en los estados,” he muttered as he skeptically examined a bag of Crystal Light lemonade packets. “Que consumo,” he added with a shake of his head. He was totally right. Everything in that package was exactly what had been missing from our lives thus far, and we hadn’t even realized it. That’s what a little fragrance and pretty packaging will do to you.

Later that night Mads and I experimented with the variety of hair treatments, lotions and foot scrubs, appreciating the irony that we weren’t even this pampered in the states. Thanks auntie Jeannine.

Today was our most accomplished day at Almeria, and to top it off, Mads and I finally ate dinner in style — with some flavor that is. We started the day by feeding our ducklings, who are sadly down to 30 (we think, it’s hard to count them), but are slowly starting to come around now that there are regular feedings. Still, we lost one overnight, whom Mads and I had named Salvester just yesterday. He was easy to pick out because he was acting sort of drunk, wobbling at the food dish and closing one eye at a time, sort of unfortunately winking at the others. Yep, Salvester wasn’t cut out for Almeria, and we fed him to the hungry chanchos this afternoon.

But we couldn’t grieve Salvester all day, and Mads and I headed up to the school to teach our second- and first-graders after lunch. As usual for these two grades we were met with intense enthusiasm, followed by a swiftly dwindling attention span, especially after our short video on fruits concluded.

After class we managed to snag just about every big kid and shove a survey in their hands. Last week Mads and I had come up with a list of questions regarding the future of Almeria that we wanted to ask the parents of our kids. Hopefully this questionnaire will give us some guidance on what projects to revive or initiate at Almeria, as well as the school.

And lastly, after the last kid shuffled through our school gates, Mads and I picked up our really dull pick-ax and headed down to the old duck house to get started on fixing the front door. In order to do that, however, we had to remove a six-foot bush that had rule of the place for probably the last 12 years. Plus, we only had this lame tool, and Mads’ “survival knife,” which I think she bought to intimidate people more than anything else. Several blisters and cuts later we had the entire plant removed, and the old chicken-wire door actually managed to shut. Now we just have to turn the place into a patito paradise.

Las palabras del dia
Pera — pear
Platano — banana… our fruit song for the little kids says something like Miss Ana is norteamericana and she orders a banana — it rhymes better in Spanish
Manzana — apple
Cereza — cherry
Durazno — peach
Damasco — apricot
Fresa — strawberry

Back to school today, or at least, that’s what we figured when we woke up this morning. Alas, we were unaware that today was Dia de los Estudiantes as well as the first day of spring. We did, however, manage to sneak in our first English class with 5-year-olds who are actually getting pretty good at Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

The celebration started around 10 and involved all 300 (mas o menos) students, plus their teachers. As far as I can tell the event was more like a talent show than anything else. For about 20 minutes three of the oldest boys at Almeria put on some comedy skit that had the younger kids falling out of their plastic chairs laughing and almost choking on their gelatinas. One boy was the scapegoat stooge of the group, stumbling over invisible ditches and having his Xeroxed American money routinely stolen. About halfway through he was held up a knife-point by his classmate, which was sort of shocking to see at a school event, but the kids thought it was hilarious nonetheless.

Primavera festival

Then three profesoras paraded onto the small quad in some sort of traditional dress, combined with much more modern-looking tall, black leather boots. They sort of hula danced for 10 minutes, twirling around, getting only lukewarm reactions from the kids.

But, everyone perked up once the principal started passing out snacks, and later, lunch. Indeed today must have been a big deal because we killed one of our sheep to feed everyone. After downing strawberry yogurt and salt-less saltines, each kid got a heaping bowl of pasta, half a boiled potato and some mutton sauteed with onions and spices.

Turns out, Almeria’s meat isn’t too bad. The only problem was kids were mostly just picking the meat off the top, poking at the potato and ditching the bowl of white spaghetti. Good thing Mads was there to collect it all in our chancho bin. In fact she filled that sucker up three times, filling it to the brim with greasy pasta, sheep bones and the occasional papa. Our pigs have never been that excited. Even Flaca is starting to grow a belly. Yay for spring!

Las palabras del dia
Primavera — spring
Verano — summer
Invierno — winter
Autono — fall

I think I just witnessed the impetus for the revolution of George Orwell’s animals in Animal Farm. The Friday feria in Inquilpata is really quite a sight — enough so in fact, we weren’t even the only white people there. Two tour vans pulled up Friday morning and European tourists stood on the side of the road gawking, slack-jawed at the weekly market to buy and sell animals…among other things. Mads and I were there to meet Oscar and Baltezar to sell our fattest pig, and also buy some piglets, rabbits and replacement ducklings.

To find the pig section we meandered through dozens of gorgeous, dirty-blond dairy cows munching on cut alfalfa and followed the sound of screaming to the source. The many burly Peruvian woman selling their pigs seemed completely unfazed by the objective wails coming from their tied up, up-side-down, prodded, harnessed and bagged chanchos. Making a path through moving, screeching sacs on the ground, and stakes tethering larger more energetic pigs, we decided to wait for Oscar and Baltezar on the edge of the action.

As prospective buyers walk through the pig section, the saleswomen try to entice them by unveiling their piglets from nylon sacs, lifting up them up by their ankles, and pointing eagerly at their two perfect rows of 16 nipples. Apparently this is what everyone wants to see. If the buyer is interested in a larger pig, the woman will flip the chancho onto its back, and shove a stick in its mouth to keep it from biting her while she grabs its tongue and taps its teeth. The only downside here is you’d think the pig wouldn’t be able to scream with a cane-sized stick in its mouth, only it really doesn’t seem to make a difference. The sound is somewhat deafening, especially when combined with the background noise of surly cows, diesel engines and some guy with a megaphone desperately selling blankets. Once the saleswoman hooks a buyer, it’s just a matter of tying a rope around the pig’s back ankle and another loop around its neck.

As I was just starting to get used to the whole feria process, I saw something totally surprising yet utterly Peruvian. In the midst of this hog-tying mess, food vendors would pass through selling the usual gelatina, galletas and other sticky sweets. And to my amazement people were actually buying them. Call me a newbie, but for some reason after poking at pigs and carrying poop-laden sacs around I’m not exactly in the mood to suck ice cream out of a bag. But, I guess I’m in the minority here.

Guilty machoI hate to say I told you so, but really, this was a no-brainer. Oscar popped in on us this morning (doing yoga, which was actually pretty funny) brimming with excitement because today he wanted to move the patitos into the great outdoors. Only one problem, the duck-house was in no way ready. Sure there’s a house out there that used to house many a water foul, but the fence surrounding the cinderblock home has fallen apart and anyone — more importantly any animal — can pretty much waltz into the duck-house and chow down on yummy little patitos. Mads and I repeatedly asked Oscar whether the ducklings would be safe in their door-less home, pointing out the four dogs that live in Almeria, not to mention the other dozen or so that show up for lunchtime, are all ravenous and would love the opportunity to gulp down some duckling. Oscar said yes, of course they’d be safe. We’d dump the little guys in their house for now, Baltezar would make a door, and Oscar would have a chat with our puppies.

Well, he did talk to them. But the wiliest of our four perritos (my favorite, the one Mads and I call Noche) really, did not listen. After coming back from class, Mads and I headed down to the duck-house planning to give them some vitamin-enriched water when we noticed one duckling had a splotch of red on his back, bleeding into his yellow feathers. Looking over the duck-house entrance we noticed four very dead patitos laid across the roof of their unfinished house, each in a different stage of dismemberment. Hilda (Baltezar’s girlfriend) came running up behind us just as we noticed the dead ones. She said the culprit was the la negrita, and Noche had gone crazy-Peru-dog on six of our ducklings who had been sunning themselves just outside the front of the house. Easy pickins for Noche.

We scooped up the remaining 14 patitos, cleared out an old rabbit pen, barricaded the door with some cinderblocks (we’ve had issues with the pigs sneaking into the rabbit pen and eating the little ones), and plopped them into their new home. They seemed content, and will be an even 20 again by this weekend.

Dead ducks

Las palabras del dia
Perritos — Puppies
La negrita — the little black one
Noche — night

DucklingsWe bought 20 ducklings today! Oscar had mentioned on Monday that he wanted to start raising ducks on the farm to eventually feed the kids duck eggs, but with their house not yet ready, los patitos are staying at our place. More or less on a whim, we bought the little fuzzy guys this morning on our way back to Almeria from Cusco. At the bird store, the duck vendor corralled all 20 into two cardboard boxes and they sat in our laps chirping noisily the whole way home. Getting them out of the boxes, and into their makeshift abodes was a bit more challenging.

Once we set up three rectangular milk-crates, it was a matter of pouring the patitos in and covering their house with another crate. Sounds simple. Only we were one roof short, and these guys are smaller than they seem.

We eventually had all 20 divvied up into the three houses, two with crate roofs, and one with a piece of cardboard, ready to settle in… or so we thought. We opened the door to their room a while later and found about half of them had escaped through the handle hole in the crate and we running around the room nervously squeaking at their brethren. I managed to chase them into a corner of the room and then one-by-one I snatched them up and dropped them back into their house, with Mads quickly replacing the top each time. After we patched the hole with a piece of cardboard they seemed less inclined to escape, and were even more distracted once we gave each patito house some food and water.

Me and Mads with our ducks

Pato/a — Duck (Apparently pata also means really good friend, but only in Peru.)
Patito/a — Duckling

we unveiled our chancho bin! Really it’s just a bucket that we carry around and ask kids to throw in their apple cores, banana peels, orange rinds and whatever else pigs might find appetizing and edible. We were a little unsure as to how our — essentially it’s a trash bin — would go over, but once you win one second-grader, pretty soon you’ve won them all. Being gringitas also worked in our favor, because we tend to attract attention no matter what we’re doing.

By mid-lunchtime we had a whole gang of 6- and 7-year-olds following us around picking up orange peels, rummaging for discarded bananas and digging up crackers all in the name of happy chanchos. This was part one of What to do with your trash. Hopefully we can move onto Littering es no bueno, and finally Hey, how about we don’t burn garbage.


Las palabras del dia
Organicos — organics
Cascara — peels
Chanchos — pigs, though this word is only used in Peru. Cerdos is more commonly used.