One of the biggest challenges we face as volunteers is learning how to adjust to a slower pace of life. Most of us come from crazy University/Internship/Part-Time Job/Full-Time Job combinations. Breakfast was on the go every morning and we were lucky if bedtime was before midnight.
The reality of life in a developing country is slower, and even more so in a Peru where meal times and family time are hands down the two most important parts of life! Meetings start 30 minutes to an hour late, the entire town is closed for lunch so everyone can eat with their family, and sometimes people just decide that they don’t need to go to work or open shop for a week.
At first I will admit it drove me nuts, but I’m happy to say that after I changed my mindset I’ve grown to appreciate the slower pace of life here. I bring a book while I sit and wait for things to start, I expect to go somewhere three different days before it will actually be open, and I laugh to myself as I “turtle walk” through the town with friends.
So to be honest “A day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer” consists of 2-5 hours of work and 19-22 hours of conversation with neighbors, household chores, and free time. In order to give you a broad overview of things I am going to combine a weeks’ worth of days into the ultimate “Day in the Life”.
Buenos Dias! The morning starts around 6:30 am with the sound of the blender and roosters crowing in the background. Mangos, bananas, pichuberries, pineapple, apples, chia seeds, and oatmeal in some combination get thrown in and come out as a delicious smoothie.
Then it’s time for a quick run or an exercise session with the resistance bands. I pass by the woman on the corner selling hot quinoa and the alfalfa lady going door to door with her donkey in tow. Beyonce plays softly so I can still hear the “good mornings” coming from every person I pass.
After a “warmer than cold” shower I chat with the women who have arrived to start cooking for the restaurant downstairs, and then it’s off to the office.
In order to get to my office in the municipality I have to walk three blocks. Three blocks takes 15 minutes because every two steps I am stopped and offered anything from a hug to an avocado! I don’t mind though, it puts a smile on my face when I get to talk to people who genuinely care about me.
Once inside the office I going around and greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek and small talk about their lives. Then it is finally time to get to work preparing for classes or projects. My office is internet-less and we don’t ever turn on the lights to try and save money. (That is just a general rule in Peru… lights don’t come on until the sun is down.)
I have an amazing municipality who lets me print, make copies, and use any supplies they have stocked up for classes. Free stuff! A Peace Corps Volunteer’s favorite two words.
It’s now 9 or 10 in the morning and time to head to the high school to continue the youth entrepreneurship workshop. My students sit in plastic outdoor chairs and I use a small white board and already prepared posters to teach the session. My students use their laps as a desk and pay extra attention when I say there is piece of candy for the person who answers the question correctly!
Buenas tardes, Lunchtime! It’s my favorite time of day, because I mean who doesn’t love to eat. The window of opportunity is 12:30-1:30 pm and not a second later, or there won’t be any food left. There are 4 restaurants in town and if you don’t eat in your house you have to pick one and go to the same one everyday. Pick wisely! If you later decide to switch you will offend someone and the town gossip will be brutal.
I eat in Doña Mari’s restaurant everyday for lunch. It is the restaurant in my house and also where most people from the municipality eat lunch, so it was an easy choice. Everyday there are 2-3 options and lunch always starts with a soup.
The restaurant has limited seating, so it’s totally normal for random people to sit together. I usually sit with my co-workers from the muni and we have a little more than an hour for lunch. The conversation always includes politics, jokes, pop culture, and sarcastic jabs at one another.
After lunch I usually take a few hours and run errands, do laundry or relax, if I’m not teaching classes. To buy food or anything else I head to the market. Being in a town of 2,000 the market consists of only 6 different shops.
The walls are stacked floor to ceiling with products and the floor is covered in crates of fruits and vegetables. There is usually just enough room for two or three people to enter at a time and there are no prices marked on anything. You ask for what you need and the shop owners have all the prices memorized! After a while it’s easy to memorize prices because the only ones that change are the fruits and veggies depending on the season.
Buenas noches! Around 6pm the greeting changes again and it’s time to drink a tea, eat tamales, and walk circles around the plaza to try and stay warm. My evenings are usually spent in the town hotel with my “family”. I don’t live with them, but they have figuratively adopted me. We sit in a circle for hours and talk while they crochet.
As the hours pass we get hungry and prepare a small meal. Dinner usually consists of tea and coffee, bread and cheese or tamales. Recently I brought a container of peanut butter to share and it was a bit hit!
Around 9pm Contumazá turns into a ghost town as people finish their dinner and head to their houses. It’s now time to watch the popular telenovelas with the family or in my case the latest New Girl or The Mindy Project episodes. Then it’s off to bed with an alarm of rooster crows set for the following morning.