A few pictures

Finally was able to upload and access more of my photos.

Here is a shot from a festival back during training in Chaclacayo. It is a “loco toro.” A bull is made out of paper mache and bamboo and covered with fireworks. A person gets inside, the fireworks are lit and the person runs around like a “crazy bull.”img_2725 The woman that I was living with and another of the host moms each grabbed one of my arms and made me run through the sparks with them. They were laughing like it was the funniest thing.

In Pátapo I live with Chayo and Beto. Here we are on the dayimg_2808 that I met them. They are my age, and have three sons and seven grandchildren. Chayo manages the house and Beto works at the sugar factory in Pucala. Every week his shift changes and he works different hours.

We live about an hour from the coast. Every day a lot of fishermen come to our market to sell fish. We eat it several times a week. Thank goodness I love ceviche! Another of my favorites is caigua rellena. I am not sure why we don’t have caigua in the US. Maybe you can find it in the southern US? It is in the cucumber family, but is hollow like a pepper and like a pepper, you can eat it raw or cooked. Chayo makes it stuffed w191_caihua1-1340068135ith ground fish and breadcrumbs and it is delicious.

I spent one Sunday at the beach inimg_3419 Santa Rosa with a family that have gotten to know and love. We met a fisherman on the beach with a tub of mackerel and then went to the fish market. Lots of boats, old and new.





Chicha is a pretty common corn beverage. It can be served fermented or unfermented. I went to a food festival in Monsefú img_3379and in addition to all the food, bread and pastries, there were a few bread sculptures, including this of a woman making chicha


Outside of our town they are planning a mirador with a fiberglass statue of Jesus nine meters high and nine meters across his outstretched arms. The top of his body is complete and on our visit to Monsefú we stopped to see it. It was pretty dramatic!




Settling in Pátapo

I arrived in site to live on July 22nd. These first few weeks have been full and fun and at times frustrating, but overall interesting despite the challenges. My Spanish is coming along, but there are times when I wish I was getting better faster, I suppose it is sort of like watching your children grow, you don’t see it but “poco a poco” it happens. It is interesting to observe how different people react to my language struggles. People with a little patience can usually figure out what I am trying to say and when they repeat it back to me correctly, I can tell that they understood. People with little patience try to finish my sentences before I can spit them out and that is the hardest, because then I not only have to explain what I am trying to say, but also that that wasn’t it! Occasionally people will just shake their head and turn away. This usually only happens at the market or in stores. One day I was at the market with another volunteer who struggles with Spanish more than I do, but he is fearless and persistent. It was fun to watch him push until he got the vendor to pay attention and answer. Good lesson for me…

There are a lot of possibilities for me here in Pátapo, it is just figuring out how to define the projects that I want to do and then break them into parts that I can actually accomplish. Meeting a lot of people and a lot of ideas floating around. This week after a community bank presentation to a group of mothers who run a comedor the conversation inevitably turned to food. One of my favorite dishes here is “ají de gallina,” chicken in a slightly spicy creamy sauce. At first they wanted to invite me for ají de gallina, but when they found out that I haven’t tried cuy (guinea pig) yet, they invited me to a birthday party at the end of the month so that I could try it!

A comedor is essentially a soup kitchen. A group of women get together and form a comedor. They receive some staples from the government and buy other ingredients and prepare meals. People with limited resources sign up to eat there and pay to cover costs. There are 25 comodores in my district of 21,000 people. There are also 49 groups of “Vaso de Leche.” These are organizations for families with small children and few resources. They get a small allotment of milk and oatmeal from the government every month. Last week I visited each one when they received their monthly delivery. I expect to work with some of these groups on community banking and financial education.

I am working with some teachers at one of the high schools. We’re working on financial education in a math class and business skills in a vocational program. Today I am going to talk to one of the English teachers who is also hoping that I can work with her. Our district is opening a new library and I am excited to be able to promote that. Also excited to help with some of their programs. As I am fond of saying (in both English and Spanish!), “si puede leer, puede hacer todo” (if you can read, you can do anything).

There are several archaeology sites in the surrounding area. In 1987, there was a major discovery very close to here. “El Señor de Sipán” was an astonishing find. It was an intact burial site, containing seven people and the remains of several animals (including a dog and a llama) as well as 451 ceremonial items and offerings, much of it gold. Other tombs were discovered and a museum was built in the city of Lambayeque about an hour away. It is reputed to be one of the best museums in Latin America. The actual Sipán – Huaca Rajada – excavation site is just a few minutes away from where I live and so far a total of 14 tombs have been excavated there (although none as dramatic as the 1987 discovery). There is a great little museum at the site and you can walk around the excavations. I had the opportunity to visit there last week and was delighted. Huaca Rajada is a Moche site dating to around 300AD. They were agriculturally based and constructed an elaborate network of irrigation channels to divert river water for their crops. In addition to their irrigation systems, they are known for their ceramics, gold work and ceremonial constructions that are often astronomically oriented.

I have also been guided on two different hikes up into “El Cerro de Pátapo.” This is a Chimú site that was built around 1300AD. The Chimú worshipped the moon and their metal work and monochromatic pottery are distinctive. The Incas conquered the Chimú around 1470 and abandoned this site when the Spaniards arrived. It is just a short walk from my home, but the hikes are steep and difficult in places. Some of the areas have been disturbed by treasure hunters but the site is vast and efforts are being made to explore and develop it. There just aren’t adequate resources available.

I still have limited internet access and am hoping to resolve some of these issues this week. Hopefully, I will be able to get at my pictures and post some soon!

Week 9


I’ll apologize in advance – there won’t be much to this post. I haven’t had a lot of time to organize and write and have had very limited internet access, so getting to my photos has been a challenge. I do have some data on my phone, so I have posted photos on Facebook fairly regularly.
I spent three weeks in my site (with even less internet access). I really enjoyed it and am eager to get back. I’ll be in Patapo –a district of about 21,000 people about 30 minutes east of Chiclayo (Peru’s fourth largest city). We’re fairly close to the coast, so we eat a lot of ceviche. Also, my district has a stretch of highway known for its pork, so there are some great pork restaurants. Monday is the main market day and people come down from the Sierra to sell, so there are more types of potatoes and cheese. (It is all about the food!) We’re in a river valley, so agriculture is the main industry – especially sugar cane. The nearby sugar factory is the biggest employer. They do grow other things choclo (think big corn kernels like corn nuts), onions and watermelon to name a few. Also, there are a lot of avocadoes, at least three different varieties. It seems that there are always archaeological discoveries, including some interesting recent discoveries, so they are also interested in developing tourism.
That is all that I have time for right now. Sorry no pictures for now! I’m hoping that once I get to site (July 22) for good, I’ll figure out access to post more regularly.

It takes 2-3 weeks for mail to get to us.
My mailing address in site will be:
Michele Mancuso
Cuerpo de Paz
Casilla Postal 208
Oficina Serpost SA
Chiclayo, Lambayeque

Getting Through Week One

What a week it has been. Training has been long, full days. I was pretty sick for three days of it. Antibiotics kicked it out pretty quickly (just in time for the weekend).

So far, the training has been well structured and seems to be thorough. I love the language classes. I tried a pisco sour after class on Friday. It was lovely! It reminded me of an unblended daiquiri only better. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture (I am sure that there wispicesll be another opportunity).

There is a 12 year old who lives in my house and there was a Mother’s Day celebration at her school on Saturday.

We went to the market and bought some things to take to the event. One of the stalls was herbs and spices, including bowls of ground herb and spice mixes (including basil and ground garlic), you can mix and match.

The event started with a mass and then the show. The kids’ performances were fun to watch – dances from different regions of Peru and South America mixed with dancinsome readings and music. At the end, everyone was invited to get up and dance. We proceeded to the classrooms for beverages (including wine) and snacks.

Marina is the head of my household; she is a couple of years younger than I am and has hosted a couple of other Peace Corps Volunteers. Her brother had a Día de la Mama party and made Panchamanca. Basically, you dig a hole, make a fire, heat up stones and line the hole with grass. Then you fill the hole, put potatoes and sweet potatoes on the bottom, then meat (in this case, duck, chicken, beef and pork), humitas (sort of sweet tamales), cheese, choclo (a corn that is more like hominy) and these other tubers like the olluco, mixing herbs and the hot rocks. Then you cover it with paper and mound dirt on top.

You let it sit for a couple of hours and carefully uncover it. It is served with a couple of different sauces and is pretty delicious.

Am I really here?

Tomorrow it will be two weeks since I left my apartment. So much preparation went into getting ready for this adventure, it didn’t really occur to me how it would have felt going home alone to an empty apartment. I am so grateful for the week I had at Jana’s; being with her back in the old neighborhood was a wonderful way to spend that last week. A nice visit with my sister and a couple of nights with Maggie and Peter in Portland…wow, a lot packed in there!
Tuesday I flew to Philadelphia; some of my group came in that day and some the following morning. On Wednesday morning, I walked around the Italian neighborhood and got some of the Italian things that I miss even in Seattle (lemon ricotta cookies) and I went to the Reading Terminal Market and got some of those wonderful chocolate covered pretzels that Barb used to always bring me.
IMG_2230We met everyone (44 of us) and had our first orientation session on Wednesday afternoon. (I was happy to find that there is one other person of a similar age.) Thursday morning we checked out at 5am and got to Newark many hours before our direct flight to Lima.

We had a wonderful, warm welcome by Peace Corps staff and volunteers when we got to Lima. A two hour bus ride to a retreat center and finally to bed at 1am.

Orientation began at 8am on Friday and went all day. Up today for more orientation starting at 8am again. At 2 we left for the training center about 30 minutes away, had a quick tour and met our training families at 3. My family is a woman about my age, her two sons (one is Nick’s age) and her 11 year old granddaughter. Dinner was a delicious chicken soup and a potato with a kind of a chili paste. Marina likes to cook, so I am looking forward to learning. I have already promised to make pizza. Muddling through with my Spanish; practice, practice, practice.

(I should probably say the same thing about WordPress formatting debacles – practice, practice, practice, but for now I need to go to bed!)

A couple of weeks now

It is difficult to settle down and write a current post. Thoughts, ideas and reflections are darting around in my brain like popcorn.

I am packing, or I should say that I am substantially packed. I’ve put most of my belongings into a small storage unit and will put the few larger items in this weekend. I alternate between dumping as much stuff as I can and hanging onto things that I question the sense of hanging on to. Oh well, I do remember how good it felt in September to unpack familiar items after they had been in storage for 14 months; I am sure that I will have a similar experience after 27 months.

I came to Seattle in 1989 for what I thought would be a “three year career move.” I always imagined that I would go back to Portland. Ha! I never left. In fact, I raised my children here. We strive to raise interesting, independent children and sometimes that means that they move far away…both are in college in Boston and who knows where they will go after that? I now understand how my parents felt when I moved from Albany, New York first to Madison, Wisconsin and later to Portland, Minneapolis and finally Seattle. As I am getting ready to leave Seattle, it is hard to imagine that I will come back here to live. Both Seattle and Portland have changed so much and the cost of living has gotten so high in both cities.

I am incredibly excited and enthusiastic about the impending changes. While I am certainly not the same person that I was in 1986 when I packed my belongings into my 1977 Datsun F10 and moved from Oregon to Minneapolis, I do have to admit that I feel a lot of the same emotions. I am excited and energized to tap into that part of me that needs to learn, thrives on change and is ready for a challenge. For over 17 years I have worked at University of Washington Creative Communications; my last day of work at UW is April 20th! I meet my Peace Corps Group in Philadelphia a week later and we head to Peru the following day.


We lived in our house in West Seattle for 22 years. I never really loved the house, the kitchen wasn’t well laid out and there wasn’t much room for a vegetable garden, but I loved our neighbors and the neighborhood. Once the kids started to set out on their own, I knew it was too much space for me and I didn’t want to take care of all that. In addition, the commute to the UDistrict had become aggravating and time consuming.

HOUSE.jpgUnsure what exactly I was going to do next, I sold the house and rented a room from a friend (thanks, Sue!) for a little over a year. I applied for the Peace Corps. As soon as I moved into my own little place, I got the invitation from the Peace Corps to go to Perú. Although I knew immediately that I was going to say “yes,” I gave myself a few days to sit with the idea. Nothing changed.

The whole process has been very straightforward; my group is now getting ready to leave at the end of April. I’ve been enjoying my little apartment, walking to work, baking lots of bread, having dinner parties and knowing that BIG changes are in store. I am starting to think about packing up again, what I will need, what I will need when I get back and what I can do without. Thank goodness I got rid of so much stuff when I sold the house! It shouldn’t be too bad and will be a good distraction to pass the time until we leave.