Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Foto Story: A day in Belén

To give you a bit more of a visual understaning of my life and work in Iquitos, I’ve put together the following story of pictures from an afternoon workshop in Belen. Though I spend most of my time at La Restinga, I go here twice a week in the afternoons to do workshops with the kids, mostly around issues of child abuse and exploitation. As I hope I’m able to portray through the pictures, Belen is an area of great poverty, but it’s also so much more than that. Working this kids gives me so much hope and joy, and I wish you could all get to know them. But for now, the pictures will have to do... By the way, you should be able to see most of the pictures in larger size by clicking on them. This is also true for all the other pictures on this blog.

Above: Arriving in Belén in the afternoons, we are always met by a drastically different sight than what we see downtown Iquitos. Belén is both its own city as well as part of the larger Iquitos. The whole area lies much lower than the rest of the city, so the houses are built on stilts. When the river rises, which it will in a few months, the streets are filled with water and the only way of getting around is in caoes and boats. Here's a boat in construction.

As we walk through the neighboorhood, on the way to the community house where we work, we usually see lots of the kids on our way. Here is one of the educators, an Italian volunteer, Alessandro, greeted by Wellixer, Justin, and Franklin - three of our most rambunctious but wonderful boys.

Some of the kids, and Carmen (another educator) and I laying down to pose for the camera.

Katty (12) flashing her beautiful smile.

Carmen and Wellixer goofing around..

Victoria taking a break and smiling to the camera. This day's lesson was about stragtegies for coping with sexual abuse, and here the kids are drawing their ideas for how to respond to different types of abuse.

As I've described before, several of the houses in Belén don't have a fourth wall. This is the house accross from where we work.

On this particular day, we decided to go visit Giler, one of the participants in a young leaders program in Belén. He lives right down the street from the house where we work to the kids, and this is us sitting outside, getting to know his family and some of his neighboors while we waited.

Giler´s little sister looking curiously at us...

Carmen doesn't know how to swim, so she was smiling with fear and joy as we set out.

Turns out Carmen had reason to be scared. There were so many times we thought the boat was about to tip over, including in the moment when this picture was taken (not incidentally while I was trying to steer...).

The sun setting down as Giler steered us (including his two younger sisters in the picture above) safely back to the shore.

As we headed home our day was made, if possible, even better by the sight of a beautiful rainbow rising out of the dirt roads.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The day Liz Tánia found lice in my hair..

As 12 year old girls so often do, Liz Tánia, one of the girls at La Restinga, loves playing with hair. This particular morning she was braiding and poofing my hair when she suddenly let out a small scream at the discovery of a small insect crawling out of my hair right above my ear. She called another girl to come over and take a look, and before long they found another one...and another one...and another one. Yup, you guessed it. I have head lice.
I have been having itches in my scalp for a long time, but when I asked Elin (my roommate) to check my head about a week ago, and she didn't find anything, I figured my scalps was just irritated by the perfume from the shampoo or something like that. Oops.
"MIRA, la muchachona tiene piojos," Liz Tánia shouted after the discovery, and soon I had a small team of people picking lice out of my head (loosely translated: "LOOK, the tall girl (which btw is one of my more popular nicknames) has lice!). Hoping that a lice shampoo and a serious round of cleaning of the apartment and our clothes will do the trick, and that my tiny friends will long gone in a few days... :)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Last minute Christmas present? Make it a good one..

To those of you out of ideas or still looking for Christmas presents, here are some suggestions for sustainable and life-giving gifts. Just click on the text in blue (note that some of the websites are in Norwegian):

From HIV to HOPE

December 1st, as many of you know, was the World AIDS day. Though everyone, regardless of age, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and lifestyle can be affected by HIV/AIDS, the fact is that persons in the sex industry (and in particular younger women) are much more vulnerable to becoming infected. Here in Iquitos, there are exceptionally high levels of child exploitation and prostitution, which contributes to the fact that Iquitos is the city with the second highest cases of HIV infections in Peru.

La Restinga's approach to this issue is broad and includes everything from education, to workshops, to theatre, to visual arts projects. This year, one of the highlights was taking part in a campaign against discrimination towards people living with HIV. All the kids got t-shirts that said VIH (HIV in spanish), and were given the chance to change that word into something like VIVO (I live), VIVIR (live), or VIDA (life). This was to send the message that getting HIV is not neccesarily a death sentence, and those who are infected are not just sick people, or case studies, but living human beings. After everyone had made their Above: Having a blast at the hospital with Luis and Julio

own shirt, we went to the regional hospital, where we split into groups and asked the medical personal if they wanted to be part of the campaign. If they accepted, we put the VIH shirt on them and painted symbols and words on it while talking to them about how they could work to stop discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.
This was super interesting, because there is still a lot of fear within the medical community (some medical personell still insist on putting on gloves before examining a HIV patient, which is of course ludacris, since HIV cannot be spread through physical touch). The campaign turned out to be a huge success, and we had a ton of people coming up to us asking how they could get involved. When we ran out of t-shirts, some people (including patients at the hospital) came up to us insisting that we paint directly onto whatever clothes they were wearing (see picture below).
Above: After we ran out of t-shirts this man asked if we could paint onto the t-shirt he was wearing that day.

Aside from this event, La Restinga has been working all throughout the month of November, dealing with issues of sexuality, gender roles and gender identity, abuse, trafficking, and STIs (sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS). I got the exciting challenge of co-teaching a weeklong workshop with an overview of all of these issues with some of the younger kids (10-13yrs), which was really interesting and but also daunting. The average age of first sexual intercourse in Iquitos is 14yrs (and in some isolated parts of the city it's as low as 12yrs), which is scary and heartbreaking (especially because sexual abuse definitely lowers the average). Given all the health risk associated with this, it's extremely important to start talking to the kids about these issues at an early age.

Picture above: As part of one of the art works promoting the use of condoms to protect against HIV/AIDS, one creative teenager made a copy of Munch's infamous scream-face. If you look closely, you´ll see the same face happily trapped inside a condom.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

So what am I actually doing here?

I realize that I have yet to tell you anything about my job description and what I actually do at La Restinga on a daily basis. This is partly due to the fact that my job description changes all the time depending on how many other volunteers are here and what the greatest needs are. But I will do my best to give you a basic idea of my schedule and what the everyday life is like here.

Pascual helping Betman, who has just learned how to read.

Elin and I usually get up around 7.30 and arrive at La Restinga around 8.30 each morning to help out at Aula Movil. This is a homework help program (most of the kids go to school in the afternoon), but there are always other workshops and projects going on. Each month they choose a new theme to work with, and for the last month we have been working up towards the World AIDS Day on December 1st with the theme Sexuality and HIV-AIDS. I'll write more about this, and our celebration of December 1st in a later post. The homework help and workshops usually lasts up until 11.30 or noon, when we all have lunch. There's a strict rule that everyone has to finish their food, which could seem odd because the portions are huge and there are kids and youth in all different sizes and ages, but this is usually not a problem since this is the only meal some of the kids get consistently every day.

After lunch, we slowly disperse (the kids go to school and I go back to the apartment). Two days a week, I return in the middle of the day to go with the team to Belen (a poverty stricken part of the city) where we have a separate project with at-risk kids and youth. Here we work as health promoters, and our workshops are centered around the prevention of sexual abuse and explotation, HIV-AIDS, and STIs, and promotion of healthy behavior, self-esteem, and personal hygiene. Taking part of the planning and execution of this project is definitely some of the most demanding, but also the most rewarding work here. It is so fun to plan and be part of the planning process and figure out how we can best reach the kids, but really hard to put it into practice, because of countless challenges, including lack of attention (keeping a group of hyperactive kids interested for a full 2 hours is like a mission impossible), lack of attendance, lack of place to work (when we arrived on site last week, we were surprised to find that the roof of the building had been removed, which, in 100 degree heat made it impossible to work, so we had to cancel the next two sessions until we had a roof over our heads). Needless to say, I'm learning to be flexible.
Good friends: Angela and Lucero are always together when they're at La Restinga.

After returning from Belen, we make dinner in the apartment, which is always an adventure. Elin and I love trying new things, and with a market full of unfamiliar vegetables, fishes, and fruits, we've had lots of exotic (though not always that tasty) dinners. Then, at around 7pm we return to La Restinga to help out or particitpate in different workshops (including juggleing classes, making t-shirts, capoeira, moviemaking, danceclasses, theatre, and much much more). The workshops usually last till around 9pm, but sometimes people keep hanging around late into the night telling stories and talking. These late night talks have made for some of my best memories so far. I especially remember one of the first nights when a group of about 10 of us, including Puchin (who is one of the founders and basically the second father to all the kids) were gathered around the table eating a late night meal. Everyone was laughing and making fun of each other in such an intimate way. In that moment I realized that La Restinga is not charity, not a project, not a center, but simply family. And I am so thankful to feel part of it.

La Restinga as seen from the outside. The banner across the heart says "Creo en ti", which means "I believe in you."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Belen baptism

The seasons here in la selva (the jungle) are pretty much non-existent, as the climate usually stays around 95 degrees farenheit or 35 degrees celcius all the time. Unlike in Norway, where you always need to bring extra clothes and be prepared for a sudden change in wheather, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt is usually always all you need here. However, we are now entering into the rainy season, which means that within just a few seconds, the weather can change from completely dry to torrential downpur.

We got our first taste of what this looked like when we first came with to a workshop with 3-5th graders in Belen, an area of the city where the majority live in poverty or extreme poverty. On this particular day, we had just spent hours making paper kites with the kids, and just as we were wrapping up, the rain started pouring down. As is the case with most of the houses in the area, the roof of the house where we were gathered is made of straw. It’s really fragile and must be replaced every few years, but most people don’t have enough money saved up to invest in a more sturdy and safe roof (even though this would of course be much cheaper and safer in the long run)**. Anyway, this particular roof was pretty old, and had large holes all over the place. So when the rain came down, large parts of the room (including many of the childrens’ kites) became soaking wet. Seeing the dissapointment in the kids eyes as they ventured out into the torrential downpour outside, I wondered if even a single one of them would be able to bring their kite home safely. But when we left the building a few minutes later, the kids had apparently already forgotten about the kites, and were running around laughing, playing football, and enjoying the coolness of the rain. Thank God for children's ability to just move on and find something positive in every situation...
Above: A typical example of what the straw roofs look like
**This makes me think of the eternal problem of the poor: the lack of capital. Because most banks don’t want the business of poor people (the cost of handeling their business is greater than the gain), many poor people have to accept loans with APR as high as 200% because it’s their only viable option. In other words, the life of a poor person may be far more expencive than the life of middle class. Many microfinance institutions, however, are giving many poor people new opportunities by providing collateral free loans, both for building private businesses, but also for other needs, such as housing. Learn more about how Stromme Foundation uses microfinance to eradicate poverty by clicking HERE.

Floating down the Amazon

After having spent less than a week in Iquitos, Elin and I were invited to come with Pascual and Willy (two young leaders at La Restinga) on a weekend trip to Requena. Since Iquitos is technically an island, surrounded by jungle on all sides, the only way to get to Requena is through a 15 hour long boatride on the Amazon. Impressed by the incredible warmth and hospitality of the people here, and intrigued by spending the night on the river, we accepted right away, and a few hours later were streched out in our hammocks on the top deck of the lancha (boat).
We had an absolutely incredible weekend, but rather than giving you a long list of what we did, I just want to describe one of my favorite snapshot moments from the trip for you:

The view from the hammock

It is 6pm, and I’m stretched out in my hammock, admiring the lush, green lanscape as we slowly float down the Amazon. The sun is slowly setting behind the majestic clouds, and the fresh breeze from the river alliviates the humidity of the air. Though the deck is crammed with people and their belongings (including a small cage with live chickens right behind me), I’m filled with a sense of awe for the vastness around me, knowing that I am surrounded by miles and miles and miles of largely untouched jungle. In the hammock next the me, Elin is sitting upright, smiling and chatting with the young girl that’s brading her hair. Behind her, is another group of other curious kids surrounding us, one of them slowly tracing her fingers up and down my bare calfs (not sure if she is fascinated by my leghair or just wants to cuddle). The kids listen intently, and laugh from time to time, as they observe the spanish lesson playing out before them. Jenni, the 40-something woman in the hammoc next to me has made it her mission to teach me spanish in the course of the next few hours, and we move systematically through my notebook of vocabulary words.

Jenni and I in the middle of our session

”Re-co-no-cer,” she says slowly. Reconcer. ”To admit or aknowledge” according to my vocab list. Next she gives me an example of how to use it in a sentence: ”Tengo que reconocer que hice algo...” I quickly write it down. We continue with the next word: tacacho – the name of a typical Peruvian dish made of grilled platano (a non-sweet banana) mushed in pork grease. Sounds strange but is actually delicious. Jenni tells me that if I ever come back to Requena, she wants to show me how to make it. She even writes her phone number in my notebook, and says she means it seriously. I believe her. The sincerety and geniune warmth of the people here makes me feel at home, and as we curl up in our hammocks go to sleep a few hours later, it feels like I’m curling up to family.

Elin looking out over the bustling bay as we arrived in Requena at 7am

Floating houses outside the bay in Iquitos

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A little FYI to all my loved ones: If you should feel inclined to send Norwegian chocolate, a postcard, an update from home, or anything else that's transportable by mail, you can do so at the following address:

Janne Kristine Dale (Please remember to include my middle name - that's the name I go by here)
La Restinga
Jr. Raymondi 254

Sunday, October 26, 2008

48 hours in heaven (a.k.a. I LOOOOOVE IQUITOS!!)

Since Iquitos is famous for being the largest city in the world that cannot by reached by road, Elin and I had to leave Lima in a plane. After a short flight over the Amazonian jungle, we dove down to the small airport in Iquitos. I knew that the different regions in Peru (coast, highland, and jungle) were fairly distinct, both in landscape and culture, but I was still taken aback by how totally different it is up here.

Picture above: View from the seaside restaurant, where we had our first taste of the local fish.

For starters, I can (FINALLY!) put away the woolen undershirt I wore religiously in Lima, along with the three longsleeved sweaters I usually wore on top of each other every day. The weather has been just perfect so far – hot, but not in a suffocating way. The second most obvious difference from Lima is the air and the evironment. Iquitos is completely surrounded by beautiful lush forests and though the river is pretty badly contaminated, the air is fresh. The landscape with the small straw huts along the roads, the houses built on stilts in the Belen neighboorhoos (more about that later), the small motocarros filling the streets (there are almost no cars here), and the bountiful open air markets is incredibly charming, and I feel almost giddy with excitement that I get to live and work here for the next six months.
Food picture: Unlike Lima, where fish is usually served with rice, the fish here is usually served with platano, a less sweet type of banana.

Above: Puri and me at the restaurant.

Our first day was made extra special by Puri—a previous Hald student who works at La Restinga—who spent all of Saturday with us, showing us around town, helping us by some essentials for our apartmant (a fan, water, toilet paper, and other little things), and introduced us to some culinary specialties from la selva (the jungle). She also brought us to this beautiful getaway place, with a small pool, lots of hammocks, and small huts with views over the Belen neighborhood (see picture below). What she didn't tell us, however, was that in one of the small tree huts, there is a cage with a big snake. Having inherited my dad's fear of snakes, I was not exactly thrilled about this. The picture on the right was incidentially taken in the exact moment I discovered the snake... Yes, that is what fear looks like in its purest form. :) Thankfully, I now have half a year to learn to love these creatures...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Snapshots from Lima

It's crazy how fast time passes by! Our first month in Lima is nearly over, and on Saturday morning Elin and I get on the plane to Iquitos, where we will be working for the next six months.
I am so grateful to have had these first few weeks in Lima, though, and I feel so much more confident in my language abilities, and much more acquainted with the culture.

Here are a few of the highlights from the last month, including some pictures:

  • Getting to know our host family! For our goodbye dinner with our wonderful host family, Elin and I wanted to make some typical norwegian food. We decided to make fiskegrateng (a dish with fish, macaroni, and white sauce) and lapper (almost like pancakes, except made with yogurt), and the video below shows Elin, grandma, and Diego (our little host brother) in the kitchen. (You may notice that grandma is the one cooking the lapper, because after Elin and I failed repeatedly and grandma knows best).

  • Nightly family gatherings in the livingroom to watch Victoria, a ridiculously wonderful soapopera I've developed a small obsession with. Watching this show has definitely helped me learn the language better, because I have to REALLY listen to catch the meaning of everything.

  • Our last night in Lima, we also had one final hurrah with the other Norwegians before parting. It’s been really great being with them this month – looking forward to seeing them during infield (a 1 week group corse, probably in Bolivia, in January)! (see picture below)
  • Seeing Oles and my good friend Karin! Many of you know Jared Brandell and Frieda von Qualen, who are both in Lima right now with the peace corps, and we had a wonderful little luncheon together to catch up. I also got a visit from my good friend from high school, Karin, whose sister is studying in Lima. So good to see them all again!

  • Visiting different Stromme Foundation projects. In addition to the center for teenage mothers (see previous post), we've also visited Tierra de Niños (which has lots of different projects with kids and teenagers), and Ágape (which works with issues of family violence). The picture below is of a girl from one of the Tierra de Niños projects, where they (for lack of other materials) used sawdust and sand to make art.

  • Going to the water park in Lima with Kristine, Thea, and Thea's host sister, Claudia.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Just wanted to include a few pictures from our "Pizza and Salsa" night. Thea, one of the girls from the program, has a host sister, Claudia, who is a national champion in marinera, a tradidtional Peruvian dance. She has won over 40 championship, danced for the Norwegian princess and the Peruvian national soccer team, and is basically one of the best marinera dancers in the country. Naturally, her mom, Filomena, (who is in charge of the Center for adolescent mothers described in the last post) was super proud and brought out all of her trophes and prizes (see pictures).
Originally, were invited over to their house to bake pizza and learn to dance salsa, but after getting down the basic salsa steps (enough so that we can survive our first trip to the salsa club tonight!), we got to learn marinera, which was much more memorable. The dance is supposed to be a romantic courting dance, and everyone has handkerchiefs as props! The pictures below show Claudia instructing us, and us failing misorably...

12 years old and pregnant

Do you remember what you were worried about as a 6th grader? I seem to remember just moving out of my Barbie phase (a little late, I know) around that age. For the mamasitas (little mothers) we visited a few days ago, reality looks pretty different. Meet Gloria: a 13 year old girl from the local community who already has a 10 month old daughter, Cielo (the picture on the right). Most of the girls come from communities plagued by poverty, family violence, sexual violence, and drug abuse, and several of them have become pregnant through cases of incest of rape. Luckily, the Centro para Madres Adolescentes (Center for Adolescent Mothers) is giving these young women a chance to deliver their baby safely and break out of the cycle of poverty and abuse.
Our visit to the center was moving and disheartening, but also left me with the sense that these girls have hope for the future. The leader, Filomena, and the psychologist on staff gave us a presentation about the project, and afterwards we were shown around the center, got to see the Anacoda dance and a Peruvian polka performed by the girls, and got a few minutes to talk to them in the end.
The project currently has 15 adolescent girls (and 15 babies) living at the center, but every day kids from the community come there to take part of the vocational trainings and other types of education. The center offers vocational training in beautycare (see picture frm the classroom on the left), textiles, and bakery, so that the girls will be able to support themselves when they leave the center (usually after about a one year long stay). While there, the girls are given holistic support (including psychological care, counseling with their families, legal advice, health care, social services, etc). The goal is that the girls will have safe pregnancies, learn how to take care of themselves and their children, and be able to reintegrate into their families and communities with a new perspective and ambitions for their future.

Since the Center receives support from the Stromme Foundation, two of the girls from our programs will be working there for the next six months. In the textile training, they were making adorable sweatsuits for the babies reflecting this partnership in their logos (see picture on right).
One of the things that struck me the most as we walked around the center was the writing on the wall above the soccerfield in the back of the center. In bright yellow letters it proclaimed Jesus' words that "los úlitimos seran los primeros" -- "the last shall be the first." These words take on new meaning when found in this setting where "the last" desperately need to know that they are not forgotten.

Raw octopus, guinea pig, and other Peruvian specialties

Living with a host family, we've gotten to eat a lot of traditional foods. The different regions in Peru, la costa (the coast), la sierra (the highlands), and la selva (the jungle) all have very distinct cultures and foods, but here in Lima you get to have a taste of it all. Luci, our housekeeper, is from the highlands, and the other day she prepared a specialty from her region: cuy -- also known as guinea pig. It tasted pretty good, but the legs were still intact, with claws and everything, which definitely startled me a bit at first. We've been served lots of other delicious (and less scary) foods, including papa a la Huancaina (sliced boiled potatoes covered in a cheesy, slightly spicy sauce served on top of lettuce) and chicha morada (a sweet beverage made from purple corn).

Yesterday, our group went out to a Cevicheria, a seafood restaurant where they serve the traditional Peruvian dish ceviche: raw seafood in a lime and onion sauce. I would be lying if said I didn't cringe a little bit at the sight of raw octupus tentacles in front of me, but after a few deep breaths I was ready to try it out. To my great surprise, it actually tasted really good! Granted, I think I'll still need to take a few more deep breath the next time I take on a plate of raw slabs of octupus, shrimp, and squid, but at least I'll know what to expect... :)
The picture above shows fried seafood (octopus rings, shrimps, etc), and the pictures below show seafood in a rice and beans mix, and Svenn (another Norwegian from the program) taking a big bite of raw fish.

Monday, October 6, 2008

I'm Here!!

Just wanted to write a quick note and say that I have safely arrived in Peru, and have had five wonderfully confusing days here so far. Elin (the girl I'm going to Iquitos with) and I live together with a super nice host family in Salamanca, which is only about a half hour in bus away from downtown Lima and from ESAN, the university where we'll be taking spanish classes every day, from monday to saturday. The spanish classes are absolutely fantastic -- it's really challenging, but not so much that it feels impossible. I'm determined to really work hard at the language these first three weeks, so that I'll be able to communicate more with my host family and feel more prepared before going to Iquitos in November.

After five days here, I'm starting to feel like I've got the hang of the basics: we know how to take the bus (though it's quite the adventure every time you climb into a little "combi" -- a 13 seat car with about 25 people crammed into it), we know the basic schedule of the host family and how to communicate basic things with them. I have to admit, much of the time, I have no idea what's going on, and I spend much of my time wondering if I've understood correctly, or not understanding anything at all. But that's all part of the fun and adventure, and I feel a lot more secure already. I'm excited to keep learning and keep exploring the city and the culture -- I think I'll have a great stay here!Picture: From the famous Plaza de Armas downtown Lima.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Changing seasons

I've been home in Gjøvik for a few days now to pack and get ready to start the journey. As I arrived home, I was awestruck by the beautiful fall colors, bright and burning, draping the forests. At first, it made me think back to the majestic trees at St. Olaf in the fall and for a second I wanted nothing more than to go back there to the safety and comfort of my home on the hill. But then I was reminded by one of my favorite Donald Miller quotes:

"Everybody, every person has to leave, has to change like seasons, have to or they die. The seasons remind me that I must keep changing, and I want to change because it is God's way. I want to keep my sould fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it's time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same pages recurrently."

In a few hours I leave to go to Oslo, and before the sun rises tomorrow, I will be on my way to Peru. I have no idea what to expect -- all I know is that I'm leaving the comfortable and allowing myself to be changed by new surroundings and new challenges. Here we go...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bono and Bush and a tsunami every month

If you click on the picture below, it will take you to a video of musician/artist Bono's visit to the White House a few months back, addressing the global food crisis and representing the ONE campaign to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals. Believe what you will about Bono, but I think he has some pretty thought provoking things to say on the state of our world. About two minutes into the video, Bono talks about the difference between charity and justice. Please spare 3 minutes of your day to hear what he has to say.

If this stirred your curiosity, you can see the whole speech by clicking here.