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Posted on 4:14am Monday 20th April 2009
I find myself now half way through my project with Bruce Peru, where I am spending a month working in schools for disadvantaged kids who aren’t in school: teaching them, giving them a bit of food and generally supporting them in the hope of getting them back into mainstream schools for the following academic year. It’s terrifying, awe-inspiring, endlessly frustrating and eternally rewarding work. When I signed up to work in Peru, I really had no idea what I was in for… I was expecting basic, but there is “basic” and “Basic.” This is “Basic.” Our school, in a barrio called "Nuevo Jerusalém" consists of 18 children ranging from 7 to 14 years old, all jumbled together in a building with no roof, only 3 walls, and packed with more chickens than children. The floor is sand, so if you drop your pen, you lose your pen. The tables slope at all sorts of interesting angles and if you don’t put the breakfast food high up, don’t expect it to be there when you return – those dogs are hungry. The only blessing is that in Trujillo, it doesn’t rain, because that really would be miserable. I can’t say I find it easy working with these kids, nor that they are immediately endearing. When you work daily in a landfill sight between 8pm and 4am, you aren’t terribly predisposed to long multiplication the following day. Plus, the majority of these children´s parents are illiterate and see no value in education. “If I manage without literacy, why can´t you?” seems to be the message passed down daily to the children. On top of this, there are also horrendous problems with domestic violence – 40% of women suffer from domestic abuse, and the figures for children are thought to be higher still.
Posted on 11:43pm Saturday 11th April 2009
It’s been 1 month since I first entered the country and I feel like this weekend for the first time I have seen the “the real Peru.” 3 hours up in the mountains, at 3,300m lies the little village of Mache, where an Irish nun agreed to host us for a couple of days. The ride up was an experience in itself with lots of views over the edge of the cliff that I could have done without. But then, 3 hours later, we stopped and my heart rate slowed. We had emerged in a tiny village constructed from mud and tiles with donkeys, pigs, chickens and small children running wildly around. Defying our weak lungs, which were feeling the 3km climb, we began walking up one of the highest peaks around. The path curled its way around the mountains, dipping down and rising up and licking its way to the top. The views were spectacular. Between green patchwork mountains the mist rolled in and out. Had a dinosaur emerged from around the next bend, I don’t think it would have shocked me. This really was Jurassic Park country. But the kindly Irish nun (whatever you are imagining here, you probably aren’t far off) had prepared lunch for us so pretty soon we were having to make our way back. Instead of following the path we decided to make our own way down. We are young, we can do anything, we laugh in the face of danger… Not happening! The mountain turned into cliff face all over the place and soon we were forced to go to the nearest house (which curiously had a taxi outside) to ask for direction.
Posted on 10:28pm Sunday 5th April 2009
Its Sunday in Trujillo and a day of rest alter 1 month of absolute epic journey. I feel like I really have seen more that my 19 year old eyes are able to contain. I have met 1 million interesting people who struggle down every walk of life, I have seen the worlds biggests birds swooping over the worlds second biggest canyon, boarded down the worlds highest dunes, swam in the clear blue pacific as the sun goes down and watched sea lions giving their cubs the first tender nudge towards the sea. Can I ever be impressed again?
Posted on 11:21pm Sunday 29th March 2009
Its Sunday morning and I can officially claim to be recovering from my first ever peruvian night club experience. It goes without saying that the option to visit the clubs and bars has always been there, and at times the need for a good beer, or the local speciality: the pisco sour, is overpowering. But going out in a gringo group is just no fun, so when the opportuntiy arose to accompany some real locals here in Nazca, I jumped at the opportunity. Nazca is famous for the enigmatic lines left in its surrounding desert in times before Christ. It is famous for this, and only this. As such the night life is not great. Still, I´m always game for a new expeirnece and I was unlikely to be able to effectively tell a good peruvian night club experience from a bad one anyway.
Posted on 9:28pm Sunday 15th March 2009
Well, after 5 days in Bolivia, I am a changad woman! Argentina is kind to travellers; you pay a little extra, but you get what you pay for and they will catch you if you fall. Bolivia is a wild swirling mix of colour and flavour. Travellers are few and hostels are basic. In this country, the seatbelt is off!
Posted on 7:16pm Wednesday 11th March 2009
After saying a teary goodbye to Cordoba, I head up further into South America through Uruguay and into deepest darkest Bolivia. As always though, there´s a fair few odd English types to brighten (and darken) the journey!
Posted on 2:18pm Monday 23rd February 2009
This weekend I find myself in Salta, a colonial town right in the north of Argentina, near the border with Bolivia, in a hostel with walls painted the colour of a mexican sunset and constant re-runs of a pirante copy of “Benjamin Button.” Having been spoilt by Cordoba’s clement climate, arriving in Salta in what turns out to be the rainy season was a bit of a shock. Rain in Argentina should mean dramatic downpours followed by brilliant sunshine. Salta has managed to produce only a measly english drizze. I am very non-plussed. The only solution was to get out of the rain, and the only way out of the rain was to go above and beyond it. So yesterday morning, me and an American friend headed up into the mountains. We cut through the jungle and its misterious steam-shrowded hills and up into the mountains, where cacti stand like solitary western rangers on the top of barred mountains, and goats perch precariously on scraggy rocks. The town we reached is called Humauaca, and stands at nearly 3000 meters above sea-level. We wedged a bunch of coca leaves into the side of our mouths and ventured out. Silence. A lonely quechuan woman wandered along a cobbled street with a sleeping baby strapped to her back. We smiled and said hello but she didn’t respond.
Posted on 1:22am Sunday 15th February 2009
My poor parents have suffered the stress of having their first-born take off to South America for 5 months, received nothing but a few emails and quick calls, and listened to her whine about how she wants to be Argentine. Now said devil child calls them to inform them that she is to work in a girl´s prison. “How lovely, dear.” If my father has any hair when I return, I will be impressed.
Posted on 11:36pm Friday 13th February 2009
Last week I wrote an article about the people in my workplace here in Argentina, and I mentioned certain people in particular, giving one line to sum them up. But one line expresses nothing truthful and in this case it expressed quite a lot that was about as far as one can get from truth and clarity. So here I am mid-week (sort of) setting the record straight. Leélo en inglés o español!
Posted on 9:00pm Saturday 7th February 2009
This week officially marks one calendar month in Argentina – a marker which seems to have come around both impossibly fast and incredibly slowly. The night I left England feels like part of a different life. There I was, a white, nervous little girl sat with a backpack which still had all the labels, fidgeting nervously and pretending to read the news. Now I find myself tanned and “argentinified” sitting at a bar with my new friends cursing Kirchner. (I have to be honest, I am still not wholly sure of my opinions of the Argentine president but if you want to get anywhere here, you have to hate her.) I am now fully integrated into the marketing and publishing team for a local restaurant chain and accompanying newspaper. For anyone not aware, after a couple of weeks work with the stylish fashion magazine, I quietly packed my bags and left – I couldn’t pretend that I cared about the merits or otherwise of the Atkins diet and I would never have acceptable hair. Now I am working with an eclectic team of young people in what is a rather foreboding building in the city centre. There is Sebastian, the editor, a young dreamer who wants to change the world; Lore, the administrator, who exudes bubbliness and charisma. There is Mariana, the writer, who has a strange bob with long straggly bits hanging down apparently on purpose; Mariana 2, who somehow makes frizzy hair work (an ability I envy greatly), and Mauri, the camp design man and my fix-it when I have my daily argument with the computer. And then me, the Brit with the hair. Correction: the Brit with the fur ball on her head. Remarkably, this seems to have been a slot in need of filling, and never have I been made to feel so welcome.
Posted on 9:12pm Saturday 31st January 2009
"You are from England?? Seriously?? Take me with you!!!” For real? I can’t think of any good reason why anyone in their right mind would exchange sunny, friendly Argentina, for a sodden island hanging onto Europe’s shirt sleeves like a child in a tantrum. But it would seem that England has some irresistible appeal to the people of this country that goes beyond wealth and history. Such is the appeal of this “greener grass” that complete strangers who have never visited our sceptered isle regularly spout odes of romance about the joys of life in England, until I also find myself imagining apple-cheeked maidens and lambs skipping gaily hand in hand. This week it has been hard to decide exactly what to write about because life is beginning to feel so very normal. I go to work at the magazine, return and chat to my funky-to-the-core host mum, help to make supper and then go out with friends. In many ways, life in Wiltshire was not so very different, but it has still been far easier than ever expected to slip into a new mould and become semi-argentine to the point where I begin to believe the mysterious rumours of this other land on the other side of the Atlantic that I have called home since birth.
Posted on 12:00am Saturday 24th January 2009
Three weeks into my Argentina experience and I am beginning to live, breath and dream this delectable country. No longer do I confidently walk into the middle of the road looking right and have to frantically dodge the cars plowing mercilessly towards me from the left; my pink, traumatised English skin has been tamed and subdued and is now a more acceptable tan colour and I have even been mistaken by one blind and deluded soul for an Argentine!! Get a load of me! And so, it was with this new-found Hispanic confidence that I headed boldly towards my first ever Salsa lesson, an experience that put me decidedly back in my box.
Posted on 10:52pm Saturday 17th January 2009
It’s exactly one week since I first arrived in Cordoba and I have been distinctly singed around the edges. I am walking around pink, flustered and looking very conspicuously “foreign.” And the “loco” argentine weather is not the only thing to have made its mark this week. On Wednesday morning I stepped over a threshold and into the office of one of the most happening magazines in Cordoba to begin my posting as an argentine journalist. Big gulp.