Saturday, October 19, 2013

Catching Up!

Once again I have let way too much time pass between posts!  Now I have too much to catch up on, so I will try to keep it simple.  Not a lot of photos this time, it's just too time consuming with our slow internet!

June was an exciting month for me because my mom and my brother Tim came for a visit!  My mom comes every year but Tim hadn’t been here in 15 years! (Brian hasn’t been here in 34 years, or never in other words- I think it’s time for a visit!)  We started their visit in the jungle, first going to Explorama Lodge.  We spent a lot of time at the library, and went piranha fishing and visited a beautiful lake.  We then went to Explornapo and headed to the Canopy Walkway.  Thankfully Cliver was with us most of the time, guiding a woman with her grandson.  We spent some time at Ceiba Tops enjoying the pool and visiting two different animal reserves, Monkey Island and Fundo Neiser.  Back in the city we spent some time relaxing. Tim left a few days before mom, and before she left we had a dinner at our house with most of Cliver’s family.  It was so nice to finally have my mom meet them!

Tim and Pirata with his Portrait
On our way to the Floating Restaurant
The same day that my mom left my only Global Explorers group for the summer arrived.  They were a really nice group of students from St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago.  I was able to go to Lima with the group and visit with our niece Valeria, who moved to Lima at the beginning of the year.  We had many visitors at the library through the month of July, summer is always a busy time at the Lodge. 

In August I headed back to Michigan for a visit.  This time I flew directly from Iquitos to Panama City, then to Chicago on Copa Air.  Not stopping in Lima saved a lot of time and money, I highly recommend it for anyone thinking about visiting me! :)  My mom picked me up and we went straight to Fremont.  I spent a few days there and got to see one of my nieces and my nephew for a little while.  I then headed to Wisconsin, crossing Lake Michigan on the ferry to spend a few days with my friend Hillary and meet her new baby!  We went to the Wisconsin State Fair with her girls, did a little shopping downtown Madison and spend some quality time together at home and at the park.  It was wonderful to spend some time with them, last year’s visit was too rushed!
With the Girls at the WI State Fair

 We headed to Kenosha to see our friends Dena and Erich, who also have a new baby!    My mom met us there and we all went out to dinner.  From Kenosha my mom and I headed to O’Hare to pick up Cliver.  We spent a couple nights in the Chicago area, visiting my cousins Tracy and Ryan and their kids.  Cliver had met Tracy last year but this was his first time meeting the rest of the family. 

We had an appointment at the Peruvian Consulate downtown Chicago to finally register our marriage in Peru.  After returning to Peru last year we found that registering out marriage at the consulate is much faster than trying to do it in Peru.  We jumped through a lot of hoops trying to get it done in Peru without any success.  I had looked up the consulate’s address on line, and I saw that it was very close to the hotel we had stayed last year, but I still couldn’t believe it when I saw how close it really was.  We literally walked past the building over and over again while we were there.  Since it is on the 18th floor, there is no sign outside that shows that the consulate is there.  Our 2 hour appointment went smoothly, and finally our marriage was registered in Peru!  There are still steps to take now that we are back in Peru, but this was a major hurdle.

From Chicago we headed to Decatur Illinois so Cliver could meet my mom’s side of the family.  We had a nice visit with my grandma and my uncles and then headed up to Michigan.  We had nice weather and Cliver got to enjoy Michigan in the summer for the first time.  We spent a day at Lake Michigan and went tubing down the Muskegon river another day.  All of my nieces and nephews came over for a campfire and taught Cliver how to make s’mores.  We celebrated my mom’s 60th birthday with a fabulous party hosted by her fun-loving friends.  We had a few days to hang out with Tim and Brian before heading back to Chicago to fly home.  Again we went through Panama City, but this time we had a 21 hour layover, so we got a hotel and went to see the Panama Canal, which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its completion this year.  We had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the locks. It was a pretty amazing sight, even at night there were huge boats coming through being pulled through the locks by little trains. 

The Panama Canal
The night before we left the States, Cliver and I received an email from our boss back in Peru telling us about some important news for when we return.  First, they have found someone to rent the house we were staying in for free, and we have a month to find a new place. Second, they want to offer Cliver a promotion to work as the cruise manager on an Amazon cruise ship owned by International Expeditions! So when we got to Iquitos Cliver hit the ground running and immediately went to meet with the man in charge of running the ship. Cliver still works for Explorama, but International Expeditions has contracted Explorama to oversee certain operations on board.  We had one week in the city for Cliver to learn about his new position and for us to find a new place.  While we had a month to move, Cliver had to travel the rest of the month so we had to find some place right away.  It was fun looking at apartments and houses in Iquitos, but of course stressful too with the tight time frame.  We lucked out and found a great house to rent that pretty much has everything we are looking for.  The only thing it is lacking is a little garden, which meant that was also had to find a new home for our two cats.  They now live with another guide, who I know will take good care of them.  At the end of September we moved to the new place, it already feels like home!  Cliver has been really enjoying his new position.  The cruise leaves on Saturday nights and returns Saturday mornings. So Cliver arrives Saturday, and leaves again the same day. This has been a really hard adjustment for me.  He has some time off about once a month, so I try to work in the city while he is there.   We were able to be together for our first anniversary thankfully!  Once again October has been a month of change for me, moving into a new house and a new job for Cliver!

Our House

Cliver's Boat

 We  have not had a chance to go file our marriage paperwork locally, when we have had time little things have gotten in the way like a city wide strike and an unexpected holiday.  Hopefully next time he is in the city we will be able take care of that.  Once that is done I have a long list of things to do in order to change my visa to a family visa rather than a work visa, which will involve two or three trips to Lima.   There are fewer taxes for this visa and in two years I will be able to have residency and not have to worry about a visa at all.  I have been living in Peru for three years now!

Things at the library are going well, we just held our annual field trip.  It was great, the kids were really looking forward to it since last year’s trip was cancelled due to lack of funding.  We went to Ceiba Tops luxury lodge first to swim in their pool and have lunch.  The kids loved the pool!  It is a great pool with a waterslide, a waterfall, and a fountain, I didn’t think we were going to get them out of it!  After lunch we went to Monkey Island where the kids got to interact with a variety of monkeys, many species that they have never seen in the wild.  The owner gave a great talk to the kids about why monkeys should live in the forest and not as pets.  On some of the monkeys he showed the kids scars from where they had been tied up before they were rescued. 

Water Slide!
Monkey Island

Next week kicks off a busy season for me, starting with a visit to the library from a Chilean international school.  Then we have a family coming to volunteer at the library for two weeks, and our first concert from our music program.  We’ll have students from an international school in Lima too, and then begins our two week community evaluations where we visit all 56 of the communities that we work with.  Hopefully I will have some Cliver time in there somewhere too!!


Monday, May 6, 2013

Oh How Time Flies!

Amazingly enough, Cliver and I have now been married for 7 months!  Well, at least in the States…  We have run into major problems getting our marriage legalized here due mostly to a little misinformation.  When we arrived back in Peru our plan was to get married here in order to celebrate with family and friends here.  As it turns out, that is illegal, and according to the immigrations office in Iquitos, we were supposed to register our marriage at the nearest Peruvian Consulate to where we were wed.  The closest consulate is in Chicago, two blocks from the hotel we stayed at while we were there…  Long story short, that’s an old law, and now all you need to do is have an apostilled copy of your wedding certificate translated by an official translator and that is enough to have the marriage legally recognized here- it’s easy! Oh, one more detail, this has to be done within 90 days of returning to Peru.  We spent the first 90 days writing back and forth with the Peruvian Consulate in Chicago and visiting the immigrations office in Iquitos trying to figure out how to make this right without having to go to Chicago, but they insisted that that was the only way.  Finally I found information on a blog about having documents apostilled, and discovered that it is a simple way to make any document legal in many countries.  We got all of our documents together, and were one click away from being legally married in Peru, when we were rejected due to the 90 days rule!  Now we have to get a lawyer and go through some sort of judicial process in order to have our marriage recognized!  Had we received the correct information right from the start, this would have been resolved last year!  It has been frustrating to say the least. We took a little break from our quest to be legal and will hopefully be getting advice from a lawyer very soon.  

Right now our attention is focused on Cliver’s arm.  About 7 years ago he broke his arm in a motorcycle accident and needed screws to mend the break.   When the screws were put in his arm, his nerves were damaged resulting in problems with regular function of his right hand.  There are no specialists in Iquitos that can treat this type of nerve damage, and so year by year the problem has gotten worse.  Each year Explorama hosts doctors from Centura Health in Colorado who work with a local clinic offering specialized surgeries and treatments.  This year they send a hand specialist, who performed a tendon transfer surgery to repair the nerve damage. The doctor was very happy with the results of Cliver’s surgery, and expects him to recover almost 100% of his hand’s function.  He will have his arm immobilized for at least a month, and then use a splint for another month with physical therapy.  He is having less pain each day, but is very bored!  It is hard for me to leave him to go back to the jungle to work!   

Celebrating Cliver's Birthday

Before Cliver’s surgery we had the chance to work together for a week during our annual Adopt A School volunteer trip.  It was my second year helping with school supply deliveries to the 56 communities in our program.  Surprisingly, it was Cliver’s first time guiding for the Adopt A School program, especially because the program is celebrating its 20th year this year!
At a Village After Deliveries
It’s always a great experience, not only because of all of the beautiful children, but also because of the volunteers!  Many come year after year- it’s like a Conapac family reunion.   The second week of the program is more community service than school supply deliveries; Cliver had to head to Iquitos for surgery as I continued on with the group.   It was hard for me being in the jungle while Cliver was under the knife, luckily our group was a lot of fun and kept me distracted!  
Kindergarteners Receiving Their 1st School Supplies
Just before Adopt A School Cliver and I got away from the city for a night to celebrate my birthday in the town of Nauta. Foolishly, when I moved to Peru I thought I would be able to travel around, get to see more of this incredibly diverse country.  Foolish because I know very well that Iquitos is not accessible by road, only air and water.  So it's not as if you can take a weekend bus trip from Iquitos to check out the Nazca Lines or something like that.  Nauta is the only exception!  It is a small city, about 100 km from Iquitos.  We traveled by motorcycle, in the evening, getting pelted by bugs the whole way (think AMAZON sized bugs!) and getting soaked about 1/2 way there! It was worth it! Nauta is a lovely little city, with a big turtle and fish pond in the center of town, and amazing jungle views.  The city is located at the junction of the Ucayali and MaraƱon rivers, where the Amazon river officially starts.  The landscape is a little more hilly than the Iquitos area, it was a nice change of scenery and a nice little getaway with my sweetie pie!

Feeding the Fish and Turtles
Our street- Rioja Street!

Heading Home (With better weather!)
Now we are getting geared up for a busy summer!  I have a group of high school students coming to the library for 2 weeks at the end of May, followed by the most important guests of the year- my mom and my brother Tim!  It’s been a year since my mom was last here, and 15 years since Tim was here! I am very excited for their visit, I’m sure it will go by much too fast!

And finally, a photo of Pirata!  High water season has been above average again this year, but not with the record breaking flood levels of 2012.  The water is beginning to go down now, I know my students are looking forward to some solid ground to play on!

Pirata, Leaving the Sapo Playa Library (those are all aquatic plants)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Way Overdue!

So, once again, time has gotten away from me and my blog has been idle. The biggest news from the past few months was our wedding, so I’ll start there!

Just Married!

October in Michigan
Cliver and I left Iquitos October first, beginning my month long vacation and Cliver’s whirlwind visit to Michigan.  We got off the plane in Grand Rapids and were met by my mom, my brothers, Jamie, Coco, and Hillary.  We headed directly to buy a suit for Cliver and for Tim.  We then had a drink and it was off to David’s Bridal to see about a dress for me. Dress shopping is almost never a one stop, first try, perfect fit experience for me, but it somehow all worked out!  We walked out with a dress that I really liked, it was a miracle, I honestly expected to have to settle for whatever was available. We picked up the boys who were getting very well acquainted over a few drinks, had dinner, and headed to Fremont. Cliver met dad the next day, and the rest of the week was pretty much a blur!  We went to White Cloud to apply for our marriage license, which we had to pick up Saturday before the wedding, at the county jail! 

We did some more shopping for wedding and rehearsal dinner clothes, and met with Kevin Schappert who officiated the ceremony.  Cliver and I also went to Lake Michigan, while he has been to the States many times, he has never been in our neck of the woods.  It was a beautiful day, Cliver was impressed by our lovely lake, definitely something I miss from Michigan!

At Lake Michigan

Our rehearsal dinner was held at the Gerber Guest House, where the ceremony would be the next day.  Since Cliver’s family couldn’t be there, my mom’s amazing friends took over to be Cliver’s “tias”, preparing everything for the party, making everything perfect!  Cliver and I made pisco sours to share a little taste of Peru with everyone.  The day of the wedding, after heading to the jail, I had my nails done and had a lunch shower with my best friends from high school.  Kari even joined us from Arizona via skype.  It was nice to be able to have that moment with them before the big event, it’s been so long since we were all together!  Coco did my hair and makeup for the wedding, I loved it, it was very glamorous- I don’t think Cliver recognized me!  Hillary was my matron of honor, and Jamie also stood up with us, along with my brothers.  My nieces and nephews participated too, and were adorable.  Everything was perfect, thanks to my mom and her friends who put everything together.  The weather was a little chilly, but we had a little sunshine break through the clouds during the ceremony.  Our rings are beautiful, my mom had them made for us.  My ring is made from white gold from my dad’s wedding band and a diamond from my grandma, Cliver’s ring is made from gold from my grandma’s ring and three diamonds from my mom. They are truly one of a kind. The reception was held at the Stone Lodge in Fremont, a good time was had by all! Thank you to everyone who made the day so memorable and special for us!  

After a little relaxation at home, Cliver and I headed to Chicago for a couple of nights at the Hard Rock Hotel, thanks to my cousin Tracy!  It was definitely the coolest hotel I have ever stayed in, in a very beautiful building.  Cliver and I saw some sights in Chicago and did some shopping.  It was his first time in the Windy City.  I wish we had more time, but it was already time for Cliver to fly back to Peru, sadly I dropped him of at O’Hare and drove back to Fremont.  

At the Sears (Willis) Tower

The rest of my time in Michigan went by pretty fast although I was missing my new husband!  I took care of my name change on my drivers license, social security card, etc.  Officially my new name is Megan Thomas de Rioja, having two last names will make things a lot easier in Peru where everyone uses two last names.  I went with my mom and Tim to visit my grandma in Decatur IL, and before I knew it, it was time for me to head back to Peru too!

Back in Peru my library students were anxiously waiting to see my wedding photos (thanks Jane!) and my wedding video (thanks John!).  They made us a huge wedding poster with lots of cards and drawings, it was super sweet.  I don’t think they recognized me in my dress with my makeup and hair done either! They thought it was really funny to see Cliver and I kiss on the video! Cliver’s family was also very excited to see our pictures, he waited for me to come home before he showed them any!  We had our annual library spelling bee when I returned, it was a success- we had a great turn out, almost 200 students.  Andrea, one of our library students from Palmeras, won first place.  Cliver and I spent our first Thanksgiving together in Iquitos.  I was at the library during the day and made it back to Iquitos around 5:00, no time to make a real turkey for Cliver, so I made him one out of paper and glitter at the library!  We had a nice dinner at a restaurant. 

Our Wedding Card From My Students

December started with Conapac’s annual community evaluations.  For two weeks we visited all 58 communities that Conapac works with, plus two additional communities that are interested in joining the organization. It is a long process, but always interesting.  Each year I get to go to some communities that I have never been to before, as well as visit some that I have gotten to know well.  It is a great feeling to visit a remote little village on the Amazon and be greeted by name!  After the evaluations were finished, we held our first spelling bee in the native Yagua language!  We didn’t have too many participants, and there were some bugs to work out, but I think overall it was a success.  We worked directly with some of the teachers from the Palmeras school, and as long as they are on board we will make this an annual event and invite more native Yagua communities that are involved with Conapac.   We wrapped up the year at the library with our annual Chocolatada parties.  Like last year, we had one party at Sapo Playa and another one at the main branch, serving hot chocolate and panetones (bread with fruit chunks).  I spent the holidays in Iquitos with Cliver.  We went to his sister’s house for Christmas Eve.  It was very nice, I made mashed potatoes, banana cream pie, and sangria.  Cliver’s mom and sisters made turkey and special Christmas rice with raisins.  In Peru Christmas Eve is the big event, everyone lights of fireworks at midnight and stays out celebrating all night.  We stayed out until 5:30 or so, and slept all day the 25th! We spent New Year’s Eve together too for the first time, we went out with friends.  

Christmas Dinner

2013 is off to a busy start at the library, right away we had our hand embroidery workshop with Bella Lane, it was great!!  We had two full days to work with Bella, she taught us how to make arpilleras, a traditional Peruvian embroidery.  Everyone did a great job, we even had some kids participate too.  Bella and her husband John , are so much fun to work with, it was a real treat for all of us!   Right after Bella’s workshop we had a visit from our supporters at the International Fund For Economic Development out of Atlanta Georgia.  We had submitted a proposal to them to upgrade all of the technology at the library, and while one of the members has been here many times, the others wanted to see first hand what this proposal was all about.  We had a great time together, and they decided to continue to support our library with new solar panel batteries and new computers!  They also brought us a new inverter which will allow us to really make maximum use of our solar panels, and will allow us to finally use our projector! What a great start to 2013 for the library! We are just starting our annual inventories at both branches, when we finish we will open for full days until school starts for the kids again in March. 

My Favorite Arpillera from Bella's Workshop

Cliver and I have been married for 3 months now, so far so good! We are enjoying married life, when we are both in Iquitos anyways!  I have even made fish for Cliver once- since I don’t eat fish this is a big deal, although strangely enough he hasn’t asked me to make it again! (He swore it tasted fine!)  It looks like we might be back in Michigan in August, or at least that is the plan for now.  We haven’t made our plans for our Iquitos wedding celebration; I brought my wedding dress back to Peru with me, maybe in April.  We are having trouble getting our marriage legalized in Peru, it is a long story, though I think we are getting close to finding a solution. (At least I hope we are!)  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's Been a Great Summer!


The 2012 student travel season kicked off in June here at Explorama.  We started with a group of 90 people, mostly students, from Indiana.  Our next group was the most important one, well to me anyways!  June 14 my mom’s Fremont Rainforest group arrived with 17 kids, my mom, and Rachel (a teacher leader/my mom’s substitute daughter).  It had been almost a year since I had seen my mom, so needless to say I was looking forward to their trip.  They arrived extremely tired after over 24 hours traveling, but we still hit the ground running!  We spent 6 nights in the jungle and one night in Iquitos.  Overall they were a wonderful group.  We saw a lot of wildlife, had a great service project painting a school that had been flooded, and had a wonderful afternoon interacting with my students at the library.  Cliver was one of our guides so it was a great opportunity for my mom to get to know him a little better.  (She did meet him last year but only briefly).  It was hard to say goodbye again but now I have my October trip to Michigan to look forward to!  I worked with another Global Explorer’s group in July, they were another great group of students!  

Mom and I at the Library

Cliver, Mom and I Enjoying the Amazon Mud!

Mom Stealing a Ride with Cliver


Also in July, we started a construction project at the library.  We disassembled a building that used to be used for our library sewing co-op, and moved it to our main branch.  The new building is about finished, plus a new porch on the library.  We also had a canoe made for the library, although now the water in the small river is so low that we can walk across on a log!  I have been spending a lot of time at the library cataloging the new books we received from groups this summer, mostly donated by an awesome organization, REACH 4 Books.  Its kind of a tedious process, but putting the new books on the shelves is a great feeling!

Our New Addition and New Porch
Pirata in our New Canoe


I am happy to share that last week Cliver asked me to be his wife, and that we will be getting married in October in Michigan!  We couldn’t be happier, Cliver is a wonderful man and I am so glad that I get to spend my life with him!  It is going to be a bit of a challenge planning a wedding in MI from Peru, but luckily I have a great family and wonderful friends helping get it all together!  We also plan to get married in Peru, but we have not set a date for the big event here, one wedding at a time! October has been a good month for me the past few years.  October 2010 – moved to Peru. October 2011 – I became a Peruvian resident and officially employed by CONAPAC.  And now, October 2012 – I get to marry Cliver!  Who knows what’s in store for October 2013… 

Cliver and I in the Canopy

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Land Ho!

Well, after historic flooding in the Amazon, the water has started to recede.  I arrived at the library after the weekend to find land again!  Well, sort of….

As you can see everything is covered in THICK mud!  The kids were all schlepping through in order to get to a huito tree and eat huito fruits.  

On the way home the kids made a paper hat for Tello.  I think they are all relieved to see some land, they know that soon they will be able to play outside again!

Thursday, April 26, 2012


It’s hard to believe it’s almost May, and even harder to believe I haven’t written a single word on my blog all year!  Fortunately things have been going extremely well, and the lack of blog posts is mostly due to being busy.    


At the library we started the year with a complete inventory at both branches, closing the libraries for the first couple of weeks.  Once we finished we opened for full days until the school year started in March.  (Normally we are only open in the afternoons since the kids have school in the morning).  It was a lot of fun, mostly we played games and had special activities in the mornings and our usual reading activities in the afternoons.  I think my favorite activity was cooking with the kids. We read the book “Stone Soup” together and then made our own soup.  All of the kids brought something to add, and I brought carrots, celery, and chicken.  Most of the kids had never tried celery before, and some didn’t believe me that you could eat carrots without cooking them! (Neither of them grow locally).  We even had stones for the soup, which were brought by friends from the Seattle area since we do not have rocks in this part of the Amazon!  It was so much fun cooking with the kids, I think they really enjoyed it too.  I found alphabet pasta in Iquitos so the kids all spelled their names in the soup!  I’ll post my latest library newsletter for other library updates. 

Sopa de Piedra


School started in mid March but in many communities the schools had to close by April because of seasonal flooding.  This is very unusual for this time of year.  Typically the river rises in April, peaks in May, and starts to go back down again, with schools closing for a week or two in May. This year the river was way above average in January, and approaching record highs by March.  By the end of March the river passed all recorded levels.  It has been amazing to watch the river rise.  At first it was exciting to see how far it would go, but once it broke the records it started to get scary.  The people here know it is going to flood every year, so they have built their houses up high, using the last record as a guide as to how high.  But this year the flooding was more than anyone prepared for.  In the villages people have been continuously raising their floors or moving to higher ground.  Many people have lost all of their crops and all of their farm animals.  It is not uncommon to see a house with a floor raised so high there is no room to stand, with a balsa raft tied to the house full of chickens!  I still pick up the kids to go to the library in the afternoon, one boy we pick up from his 2nd story window! We had to close our smaller branch for the time being because it is underwater.

On our way to the library!

In the city families have had to relocate, some moving in with other relatives, but many with no place to go.  The government declared a state of emergency and closed public schools so that people could seek refuge there, and they have set up tents for temporary housing.  They estimate that over 80,000 people have been displaced because of the flooding.  Some houses aren’t flooded but they are still in trouble because the sewer systems are maxed out, you can’t put anything down the drain, no showering, no toilet, nothing.  Fortunately the house where I stay in Iquitos has not been affected.  The bar at the Lodge is underwater, and the dining room was too for about a week, however the staff hasn’t missed a beat and has been adjusting and adapting each day to keep the Lodge fully functioning and to keep the guests comfortable and happy!  It appears that the river has started to drop a little, but with the early start and the record breaking levels, it is hard to predict when things will go back to normal.  

The library with 22 cm from the floor to the water.

Flooding in Iquitos


 I just finished a little over week of Adopt A School deliveries.  Conapac’s main program is Adopt A School, we provide school supplies for interested communities near Explorama’s lodges, and in return the communities make a commitment to their children’s education and quality of life by making sure their kids go to school everyday (no staying home to harvest rice!) and by participating in community projects like fish farms and community gardens that benefit everyone.  Once a year we have a group of volunteers come for a week to deliver the supplies to all of the schools.  This year was my first year participating, and a new challenge due to the high water.  Many communities that are totally flooded had to travel to other communities on high ground to receive their supplies.   Some had to meet us in the water to pick up their supplies on the Amazon Queen, Explorama’s big river boat.  It was a great experience, I got to visit some communities I had never been to as well as get to know some great volunteers (many from Michigan!).  Despite the flooding and the very difficult circumstances in most communities, we had a great turn out which really demonstrated how much the people value this program.  This week is the second week of the program, more volunteers have arrived to build a water plant in one of our communities, and we will also have a service project at the library this weekend.



Like I said, things are going extremely well here, I am very happy.  I have been working at the library for a year now and enjoying every minute of it.  Cliver and I have been together for over eight months, we are having a great time together.  I recently had the chance to meet his family, they are very warm and friendly and extremely welcoming.  Cliver is coming to Michigan with me for a couple of weeks in October, he has been to the States many times, but never to MI.  I will be there the entire month.   I am getting anxious to go since it has almost been a year since I last visited.    When ever I Skype with Faye, Owen, and Ryann, they never fail to make me feel like a terrible aunt for living so far away! (They also make me feel very loved and missed).  My mom will be here in just over a month with her students, unfortunately only for about a week.  I will be working with her group with Global Explorers and one or two other Global Explorers groups this summer.  I will try to be a better blogger but it doesn’t look like things are going to slow down any time soon!

Cliver and I

Tree climbing (before the flood)
Andres didn't have a paddle so he hitched a ride with us!

My sweet boys!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays

December has been another busy month!  At the beginning of the month I was finishing up my 2nd week with the Conapac end of the year evaluation team.  This was my 2nd year helping out.  Conapac visits all of the 57 communities that we work in, plus some communities who are interested in working with us next year.  I went to a few communities that I had been to before, and a few that were new to me.  The community evaluations are always interesting; it’s so rewarding to visit a community that really takes full advantage of all the support Conapac has to offer.  At the same time, evaluations can be very frustrating, some communities are struggling, maybe because of lack of organization among the community’s authorities, or lack of initiative from the community’s teachers.  Either way, these communities always serve as a reminder that there is a lot of work to be done next year.  

2011 Evaluation Team
We wrapped up our year at the libraries with a traditional Peruvian Christmas party called a Chocolatada.  As you may have guessed from the name, a Chocolatada involves chocolate!  The highlight of the party is drinking hot chocolate, made on an open fire in a huge pot, mixed with cinnamon and cloves.  It is a mystery to me why anyone would want to boil a giant pot of chocolate in the middle of the day in the steamy Amazon, but I have to admit it was tasty, even while sweating! 

Lara Preparing the Hot Chocolate
The other tradition at a Chocolatada is eating panetones.  A paneton is a large round bread filled with raisins and dried papaya that is dyed red and green.  Personally, I am not a huge paneton fan, I don’t really like the dried papaya, but it is a treat here. 

Cutting Up and Buttering the Panetones

We held our first Chocolatada at the Sapo Playa branch where they recently completed a new mural for the outside of the library.  The mural was started with students from a school in Lima during a service project in November.  There were about 60 people at the Chocolatada in Sapo Playa.

New Mural- "Navigating the River of Reading"

The next day we had our Chocolatada in the main branch.  There were about 120 people there, it was a lot of fun.  Pirata and Tello got in the holiday spirit too!

Pirata and I
Tello was not a fan of getting dressed up.

Kids in Sapo Playa

Ronald and Robinho

In December, James from Conapac finished up 2 mini water treatment plants, one in each branch!  We received funding from one from the Fremont Michigan Rotary club, we are still looking to fund the 2nd one. Thanks Fremont Rotary!  In January we will have water workshops to teach the students how to use the water plants and to teach them about the importance of drinking clean water. 

The New Mini Water Plant in the Palmeras Branch

Last weekend was our first Christmas concert. The choir and guitar students from the library had been working since March to prepare for this concert.  The students arrived in Iquitos Saturday, for many it was their first time in the city.  The kids stayed at a church retreat center with bunk beds, flushing toilets, and showers- very different from home!  The kids are used to sleeping on the floor, bathing in the river, and using latrines or nature for their bathroom necessities.  Saturday we had some downtime before rehearsal, so we watched “How to Train Your Dragon” (THANKS MOM!) and drew pictures.  The concert was put on by a youth cultural center in Iquitos called Irapay.  Their choir and our choir joined together for the show.  The kids went to the Irapay center for rehearsal in the afternoon, and back to the retreat center for dinner and bed. 


The same weekend, Conapac organized an art exhibition at Irapay with student art from the communities of Yanamono I and Sapo Playa.  It was great.  Yanamono had a lot of recycled art- picture frames made from recycled newspaper, Christmas trees from recycled plastic bottles, and imaginative sculptures made from roots.  

At the Art Exhibit with Teachers and Students

Sunday morning the students rehearsed at the cathedral where the concert would be held that night.  It was my first time in the cathedral, it was very beautiful.  It was neat to see the kids reactions, most of them had never been in a building even remotely like it.  

Inside the Cathedral

 We had a lot of free time in the afternoon, so we watched more movies, and I painted all of the girls’ fingernails!  They all reassured me their parents would be ok with it!  

Showing Off Their Pink Nails!

The concert went very well, our kids were wonderful!  There were also presentations from flute and violin students from Irapay.  A few of the kids were super nervous before and during the show, one little girl sang with her eyes closed the entire time!  Another little girl kept grabbing her brother’s hand while they sang, it was very sweet.  


After the concert we all went out to dinner.  The next morning everyone was exhausted, but we kept going, visiting the Quistococha Zoo. It was a quick visit, with kids puking on the bus on the 40 minute ride there, and the 40 minute ride home!! They’re not used to traveling on busses either.  Even though we all had fun at the zoo, I think we were all ready to go home!  They headed back to the jungle and I stayed in Iquitos for a few days.

Now we won’t have students at the library until mid January.  We’ll be working on a complete inventory of both branches, and enjoying the holidays a little too.  I am spending Christmas in Iquitos with Cynthia and Pam and her family again.  Cynthia is an amazing cook, and my mouth is already watering thinking about the turkey, stuffing, pies, and everything else she is making tomorrow!!  We will be spending New Year’s Eve in the jungle, celebrating with families in the community of Palmeras.  

Merry Christmas!