Friday, 1 April 2011

Laura's Experience: Carnaval Huanchaquero or how I learned to apply body glitter

I’ve never been one for the spotlight. I’m a terrible dancer and a panicky public speaker/performer. So, why did I agree to parade around in front of hundreds of people? Maybe it was the resurfacing of my distant go-go dancer dreams; maybe it was my weakness for paper mache and glitter. Perhaps, the enchanting gravity of the Huanchaco waves fashioned a tide in my heart. I still find myself trying to figure out what possessed me to take a flying leap out of my comfort zone and into a set of bedazzled lingerie. I imagine this will remain a great mystery to me, similar to the construction of Machu Picchu.
Carnival, like almost every modern celebration, is rooted deep in the tenants of religion. The tradition of Carnival came to South America from Europe; it was originally a forty day stint of fasting and prayer before Lent. Somewhere in the transmission of Carnival from Europe to Peru the tradition became infused with utter revelry. In Huanchaco, entire month of February and even a week into March, Huanchaqueros celebrate with coronations of queens, street parties, paint parties (everyone throwing paint on each other and climbing oil slicked poles for prizes) and parades. Although each of these events is significant in their own right, the Carnival parade (for adults) is the event of which all other events orbit. Inspired by carnival fever, volunteers and the staff (operations manager Najin and assistant manager Diego) of Otra Cosa Network decided to take part in carnival parade to fully immerse ourselves in local tradition (party!) and to celebrate our once in a lifetime madness!
Our Carnival Fever was finally materialized during a routine volunteer lunch after the coronation party in early February. We were all eating a delicious meal and discussing our projects, airing the triumphs and failures of our volunteerism for the week. During a lull in the conversation, Najin’s eyes lit up with the hope that only infancy stages of Carnival planning can bring and said “who wants to volunteer to be the Carnival leaders”? Luckily, Brianna, the young, vibrant firecracker of the group, bravely offered herself as our commander-in-chief, but who will be her lovely assistant? Why, me, of course! I happened to be the only one in the room who made explicit eye contact with Najin and Diego thus earning me my co-captain label. Many days of idea brain-storming followed our volunteer lunch. (I’m still slightly regretful we didn’t go with our “alpacas from space” theme.) Eventually, after the assessment of talent (i.e. Bob and Jimmy the hard working builders turned best friends) and viability of materials, our giant snake idea was born. Consequently, from the birth of our snake, came the classic theme of man vs. nature set in the Peruvian jungle, and from our sweet, fiery, stage-mom, Diego, did the rest of the theatrical pieces fall into place.
Over the course of building our snake, putting together our costumes and rehearsing our dance moves, we developed a cohesive plot to our brigade. The plot: there is a gigantic snake made of chicken wire; its head is made of paper mache, girlish, swirly designs painted around the eyes, with sequins and a tongue made of red lace. She is called Yacumama. Yacumama is terrorizing the village, invading homes at night and snatching children from their own beds, feeding on fishermen who came to work on the river. Two handsome warriors, from another village (Joachim and Mariano), come to kill the serpent without afore knowledge of it being the village deity. Four warrior princes and princesses, (Brianna, Jimmy, Diego and I) equipped with body oil and fabulous make-up, an Asian monkey (Najin) and the cutest sunflower in the world (Jorien), try to defend Yacumama, their snake goddess, and are ultimately killed by the two scantily clad warriors. In the end the snake seeks revenge striking the warriors dead with venomous silly string.
I must take another moment to mention the others who were involved and their roles. We had the beautiful, immensely popular carnival queens, Jess and Heather, bringing theatrics and regal waving. We had the snake boys: Matt, Jan, Brooks, Bob and Rafael providing crowd and inner group entertainment. The Otra Cosa Network street team: Anna Maria, Natasha and Levi. Last but certainly not least, hair/make-up/duct tape woman, Catherine and her amazing cameraman/cheerleader husband, Eric.
I’ve done many things in my life that loomed on the verge of impossible. I survived high school, graduated college, got married, ate nothing but Taco Bell for an entire week; organizing 20 adults to pull off a proper, “Peruvian-standard” Carnival group in two weeks definitely had its moments of doubts followed by the moment of complete clarity when we actually pulled it off (and even placed in the top 3)! And in the process, as with any rich and unique life experience, I learned something. I learned a whole lot of something actually, about myself, my fellow volunteers and Peruvian culture. Peruvian culture is a gracious culture that afforded me the opportunity to simultaneously face a life-long fear, bond with my new, multi-cultural Otra Cosa Network friends and have one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

By Laura A. Hammet from USA (OCN Office from Jan. - March, 2011)

Brooks Experience: Small people can make big waves

I remember searching online before I came to Peru in December 2010. I was scanning organic farms in Ecuador and teaching projects in Argentina before I came across an organization called Otra Cosa Network. Specifically, I became interested in the Un Lugar Surf School Project, one of the local businesses working with Otra Cosa Network. I grew up surfing in Florida and the early memories of learning how to catch waves are still some of my favorite. This project coupled with the amazing landscape of Peru was enough to convince me to book a plane ticket in January.

After arriving in Huanchaco I was eager to begin my project. The assistant manager, Diego, showed me to the Un Lugar Surf School on the induction “walking tour”. I stepped inside and it was like entering a giant tree house. Surfboards lined the walls and hammocks draped beneath bungalows that were built above the shop. I was introduced to the owner Juan Carlos who took me on a tour of the shop. He began explaining in broken English, “This is where we repair the board, this is the place for the repair of destruction of wetsuit, it is necessary for kids to begin on large board.” He went on to explain how teaching the kids helped to build their confidence and help them to love the ocean.
The kids would show up Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9:00a.m. Two fellow volunteers, Tom and Rafael, worked on the project with me. The day would begin with a few local kids banging on the door yelling “tabla, tabla.” A few moments later all the children from Mundo de Ninos (a local home for ex-street children in Huanchaco and another project working with Otra Cosa Network) would show up. The volunteers would distribute the wetsuits and rash guards. We would then help the kids pick out boards and walk with them down to the ocean. Everyone would do stretches together and a light run down the beach to warm up. Once everyone was ready the fun began. All the kids were smiling just to be out in the ocean.
I noticed a younger kid named Brian who stayed on his body board very close to the shore. Every time I would try to take him in deeper water he would start yelling. Finally after about an hour, I asked if he wanted to get on the long board with me. We paddled out and after we caught a wave he was yelling again. However, this time he was screaming to go back out and catch more. Brian made me think about the kids and what they had been through before they came to stay in Mundo de Ninos. I realized how important building their confidence really was. By 11:45 Tom and Rafael were in the water trying to get the kids to paddle in. “Vamos! Vamos!” we yelled as the kids laughed and ignored us to catch a few more waves. I didn’t get upset because I remember doing the same when I was their age. Finally, everyone came in and we headed back to the shop to rinse off the equipment.

When I first arrived in Peru all of my idealistic notions of helping the world were rocked by the realities of what actually needs to be done. After being here a while I realized how important hundreds of volunteers doing just a little bit for the community is. Now I take comfort in knowing the problem is huge but the solutions don’t have to be.

By Brooks Hammet from USA (Un Lugar Surfschool, from Jan. - March, 2011)

Diego's Dream: First steps and great challenges

I really like changes and challenges, but the one I was about to experience was something brand new. Some say you need to feel like you have a command over your challenge before achieving, but for me this was not the case. November 2010, I started training to become the new assistant operations manager at Otra Cosa Network. So, this is me, Diego Velasquez Pastor*, a young Peruvian guy preparing for an amazing job and at the same time a huge duty. Now you may wonder, how did I come across this opportunity?

It was a cold October and I was about to finish my 9th semester at the National University of Trujillo. When searching for jobs on the internet, I found a posting from OCN and it caught my eye. I put everything else aside because the ad was in English, my beloved second language, the one I try to improve every day. “Otra Cosa” is also the name of my favorite record from Mexican singer Julieta Venegas. A sign? I thought so and decided to apply! For one week there was no response which devastated me considering most Peruvian recruiters call right away to arrange a personal interview. Some people even get the job that same day. I didn’t know at the time that Otra Cosa is an alternative NGO and they would have a unique and personal interviewing process.

Two weeks later, Najin Kim, OCN operations manager sent me an e-mail. She asked me to come by the office the following week for a personal interview. It was a Friday and as soon as I stepped foot into the office I felt the great vibe and their professionalism. Najin and I talked about my resume and OCN expectations. She made me write a couple essays. I waited for a whole other week. Finally, she emailed me again to arrange a Skype interview with the directors: Juany and Peter Murphy. I was feeling sick that day, a bad cold. I was afraid I couldn’t speak loud enough for them to hear me. I was glad that they did. They were very polite and nice while asking me very specific issues. Once again I waited another week and to be honest, whether it was my sickness or the long time they took to do this selection, I started to become negative about it all. Maybe they are not going to choose me. Maybe they are looking for someone older. Maybe I didn’t fit their mold. Maybe…

On another fine Friday, Najin called me to tell me they wanted me to join the ONC team. I remember taking the phone call next to my window, it was a sunny day. I knew it was another sign that I was on the right track. Thank God, I stuck through it all. I´m amazed by the chance I have every day to work on something I really enjoy. However, it is not an easy job. It takes a lot of time planning things, thinking of them, dreaming of them and smiling when they work out as expected and needed. At times there is a lot of information to process and plenty of things to get done; you always have to be ready to change plans at the last minute. We work with and for volunteers, local social projects and international partners; we learn new ways to improve procedures, but our main rule is flexibility, moving in like the waves on the sea. It’s funny and so true when Najin called it “organized” chaos. From Juany and Peter Murphy to our local collaborators, we all work with passion. And we don’t mind getting tons of sand in our sandals as long as we can make a difference in people’s life. We do our best to give everyone hope and the best reward for us is seeing that everyone understands this and appreciates it.

I`m writing this article from the OCN office and it`s so inspiring to see the garden glowing under the sun as usual. I’m sure I’m going to stay here for a long time. Obviously lots of things have changed since I first got the job. We’re growing in a very fast way, like a caterpillar shedding its cocoon. Human beings and organizations need to shed their skins to find better ones. The first trimester of 2011 is almost over and a new shiny day has come for Otra Cosa Network, we hope to not only keep getting better, but also fill the fresh air with social awareness of the crucial work we love to do.

By Diego Velasquez from Peru (OCN, from Nov. 2010 - June 2011)