Happy September everybody! As lots of folks head back to school or feel like they are having a new start but for me, this is the beginning of the end. Whoah. And part of my big finish here in Laraos was our big youth event – The Amazing Race: Nor Yauyos or in Spanish, La Gran Carrera Nor Yauyina! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the reality show The Amazing Race, but it involves teams of two racing from location to location around the world, completing challenges based on the culture of their destinations. And while we couldn’t fund tours around the world for our participants, we could set up challenges in three different towns in our region. And that is exactly what we did!
The last weekend of August, 42 youth and 15 volunteers met up in Tomas (about an hour from my site and home to my good buddy, Alex) to begin the Amazing Race! Some participants had to travel eight hours to attend. If that isn’t impressive enough, add in the 5 hours they had to walk to get around a roadblock set up by some strikers against the construction of an airport and then you’ll really be dropping your jaw. The unhoped-for strike led to us here in Yauyos to be very worried that six of the teams and their volunteer chaperones wouldn’t make it at all. But by lunchtime the day of the race, all participants had arrived.
The first leg of the race took place in Tomas. There, the teams of three competed to place historical events in order, separate trash, construct the food pyramid, dance the Cha cha slide, run 2 kilometers carrying a watermelon, find endangered animals in the field (cut outs of course) and race one final stretch to the finish where we were waiting.
From Tomas, we all boarded the bus to drive up to Laraos where, because we were behind schedule, we set up the tents by the full-moon-light in the dried out lakebed. We lit a campfire, toasted s’mores and then tried to rest up for the next day’s challenges.
In the second leg of the race, Laraos had the teams digging in the lakebed sand to find and identify “arqueological artifacts,” demonstrate knowledge of the reproductive system, remove materials from the garbage that shouldn’t be in the landfill (i.e. batteries), know the politics of Peru and the United States, identify non-native species and medicinal plants and answer questions about pregnancy, STIs, HIV and AIDS before racing to the finish.
Back on the bus and we were heading to Yauyos for the final leg of the race. The challenges of the provincial capital were to again separate trash, prepare bags of soil for seedlings in a tree nursery, demonstrate knowledge of first aid, speak English, play baseball, play soccer and race to the final finish.
I don’t think I have felt so much success after putting so much work in to a project in all of my Peace Corps service. So either I worked much harder on this project than on others, or this one was much more successful than other projects. I like to think it was a little of both. I could not have been more proud of the collaborative effort put in by all the volunteers and their communities. We had judges and support coming from the municipalities, health posts, schools, mothers’ clubs, natural resource committees and park service. And I don’t think I can say enough how happy I was to welcome my fellow volunteers to our small little region. And how happy I was for their help in this crazy event.
After the awards ceremony and a Pachamanca dinner, we all went our separate ways to get the kids safely home, exhausted but so satisfied with the event’s success.
The very next morning, I was on my way to Lima for our close of service conference. This was a week full of doctor appointments, dentist appointments and meetings where we learned about our benefits come the end of our service, what the office needs to officially close us out and how to deal with reverse culture shock. They put in our head the importance of tying up loose strings and saying goodbye to our communities. So I know that I should be thinking about what these last two months will be and to whom I will give my things and how I will say goodbye. But the truth is that I feel like I still have so much work to do before I can begin to think about saying goodbye. There is no doubt that these next couple of months will be incredibly busy and will fly by. Time to think about what’s next…