Tag Archives: South America

Volunteering: Aldea Yanapay Comissary Project

My last article about volunteering with the Aldea Yanapy school project brought up some controversy with the organization itself, and had to be edited quite a bit.  I’m going to try and keep this one less controversial, but I still pledge honesty. And sorry, no pictures this time.  This project did not allow photographs.

For one week of my time while volunteering with the Cusco organization Aldea Yanapay, I was working with the commissary project.  Though the school’s primary mission, and the vast majority of its volunteers are working with the school, the commissary was started later in Yuri (the director’s) career.  The project is only open to people who have a good grasp on the Spanish language, which is why I had to wait a few weeks for my Spanish to improve before I could work there.  At any given time it there are about 6 volunteers working in two groups (a morning and then evening group) 6 days a week.

The project itself takes place in a s, which seemed to me to be a police station for domestic crimes.  The building itself was in a bit of a dicier part of town, about a 20 minute walk from the school.  I worked the morning shift, and would meet up with my team around 9am.  We’d walk over together, quietly chatting.  Walking there often felt like calm before the storm, because with this project you could never quite be sure what you would expect.

Though the commissary was a place for families to come who were victems of domestic violence or crimes, there was also a holding room there.  This was the room where we worked.  It was on the second floor, a locked door with hanging pictures and colorings drawn by children hanging on the outside.  As we would approach the door, little eyes and fingers would poke through the hole below the doorknob to examine us.  Eventually the “tech”, a guard assigned to help us that day, would open the door and our day would begin.

Inside the room were children ranging in age from about 7 to 17 or 18.  I had heard from other volunteers that sometimes there were only 4 or 5 children there, and other days there were up to 40.  The entire week I worked there was a pretty regular group of 15 or 20 kids.  There were three types of kids who were being held there.  Some were kids who had been convicted or accused of crimes, mostly burglary, drug charges or prostitution.  Others were kids that had been abandoned.  One of the other volunteers told me there was one little girl there before I got there who had been dropped off by her mother, who was going on vacation.  The rest of the kids were street kids who had been picked up by the police, or else had run away from home and either refused to give out or did not know the address of their parents.  All of these kids were kept together in one room, circled by ramshackle bunk beds with one window with bars on it.   There was a separate room with less bunk beds where the girls slept at night, but during the day all of the kids were kept in one room.

There was some debate among the volunteers as to whether or not this place could be referred to as a prison.  It was not an official prison, and both the director of the program, Yuri, and the guards at the location called it as “la comisería”.  But the children were not permitted to leave, had to do some menial work such as sweeping and laundry.  So I will leave it up to you to decide.  However, the circumstances inside the room were dire.  There were a few chairs, many of which were broken or crumbling, two tables, and a small closet where Yuri had stocked some art supplies.  The volunteers had a key to this room, and we were also able to lock our personal items in there since there were some cases of theft with previous volunteers.

When we arrived, just like at the school, many of the younger kids would run up to us and hug and kiss us.  Though the kids were labeled “trouble makers”, I found them to be just as polite and kinda (perhaps even kinder) than some of the kids at the Aldea Yanapay school.  Though I must admit, they could be sneaky, like all kids.  The reason more Spanish is required to work at the commissary is because the kids can be somewhat manipulative, though I never really experienced that.

Before the week began, during Yuri’s weekly meetings, the team I was working with got together to plan out some activities to do during that week.  Without the volunteers, the kids at the commissary wouldn’t have much to do.  There was a checkers-board and some broken markers and scraps of paper, but this is not enough to keep 15 sometimes wily kids busy.  So we planned out to have them do origami, make masks for carnival, etc.  The kids obviously had done stuff like this before, and some of them complained, but by the time we got into it most of the children there wanted to join in the activities.

I liked working in the mornings because three days a week we got to go to “patio”.  This was the kids only opportunity to go outside.  After arriving in the morning we would line up, taking 2 basketballs, a jump rope and a soccer ball.   The kids would all hold on to a rope, and then would be led outside by the “tech” to the patio, a large, walled in concrete soccer/basketball court.  It wasn’t much, but even concrete and sky seems like a lot when you spend most of your life inside.

Outside we would play games, and some of the kids would just run around in circles, happy to have more space in which to operate.  These days were joyous and heartbreaking at once, because after only 3 hours, we would have to move back inside.

Anyway, that was how it worked for a week.  I’m not going to offer much opinion on the program, except to say that if you find yourself in Cusco and have good Spanish skills, I recommend it.  It was true volunteering, helping out children who are in real need of contact, love and support.  You will feel rewarded.

Liam as a Ted Kazcynski Look-Alike in Lima

DISCLAIMER:  If you are a member of the FBI, CIA, any other like minded organization, or Dick Chaney, I am not in any way a terrorist, and the title of this entry is a joke.  You all could use a laugh.

Krystyna, my love, dropped me off at LAX around 10pm.  The line for check in at Taca, the Peruvian airline I flew with all the way, was out the door.  I felt like shit waiting there in line, probably because I hadn´t slept in a real bed for a few days, and simply had not been taking care of my body. 

I had about an hour to kill after I made it through security.  They pulled my bag aside when they saw my flask, but the ornery little TSA man gave up trying to pull it out from underneath all of my tightly packed things and let me go through.  Good thing I´m not a terrorist.  I fell asleep quickly at my gate, and even quicker once I was on the plane.  I woke up only for food, a nasty mess of alfredo pasta and a roll so hard you could bounce marbels off it.  When I woke up the next time we were landing in El Salvador.

I had 5 hours in the tiny airport, and wasn´t confident enough to leave.  The El Salvador airport is situated in the middle of a wide field ringed with short-stumped, long-branched trees that resembles, oddly, pictures I have seen of the Sahara.  There wasn´t much to do besides sleep and read, so thats what I did.  Here´s a picture of the place.

The El Salvador Airport

The El Salvador Airport

I reboarded my flight, and was surprised to find that Taca airlines serves unlimited free alcohol, even to the pleebs sitting in coach. 

TRAVEL NOTE:  When flying to Peru, book your tickets through Taca.  It is an excellent airline, the staff is friendly, and the prices are cheaper through their website than on expedia, travelocity, etc.

It was a managable 7 hour flight, nothing particularly special to comment on.  The real fun began when I arrived at Lima at 7:10pm. 

The Lima airport is a bustling, hyper-modern airport.  It is a hub in South America, and therefore very crowded and chaotic.  Unfortunately, flights to Cusco during the rainy season only take place in the early morning hours because that is when it is clear enough to fly a plane through the valleys of the Andes.  I was booked for Taca´s first flight, but that was still a good 10 hours away from when I landed.

Fortunately, you can sleep in the Lima airport.  However, it is a terrible experience.  First, a picture of my lodging that night.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Note the brightness of the place.  That never ceases.  Most airports and train stations have a personalized jingle that plays before an announcement is made over the loud speaker.  The jingles in France are particularly frightening.  The jingle in Lima is only three notes, the first three notes of the song “Happy” by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins.  Not too bad, except that those three notes, and subsequent ear-shattering announcements made first in Spanish and then in English, occur at a frequency of about 1 every three hundred miliseconds ALL NIGHT. 

Lastly, Lima is a very warm, very humid city.  It makes sleeping akin to lying in a shallow puddle.  And yet, somehow, the airport in the middle of the night was very cold.  So I had to keep my sweatshirt on.

And this is how I came to resemble the sketched image of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, while sleeping on a row of chairs at the Lima Airport.  Sunglasses on to protect myself from the lights, headphones in and playing Sovay by Andrew Bird on repeat to drown out (unsuccessfully) the announcements, and hood up to protect my sweaty head from the cold. 

Three times during the night a man riding a miniature zamboni around the airport would wake me up and tell me to stand up.  Then he would drag the row of chairs, surprisingly unbolted from the floor, to a random location in the airport, so that he could Zamboni where they once were.  I felt like a stray dog.

Finally 3:15am arrived and I was able to join the long line to get my boarding pass.  Sleeping by the gate to my flight was a similar experience, so I resolved to stay awake since I was anxious about flying anyway.  When I did get on the plane, the pilot announced that there was a delay because the clouds had settled.  It only lasted a few minutes, and I got into a pleasant conversation with the older Canadian woman seated next to me. 

The flight from Lima to Cusco only lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes, but it is one of the most breathtaking flights I´ve ever been on.  Outside the windows, the peaks of

Snowcapped mountains reach up through the clouds.  As you approach Cusco, little villages with red roofed houses come into view, growing in size until the low, bowl-like city of Cusco comes into view.

Examples below.

The Mountains Through The Clouds

The Mountains Through The Clouds


My New Home

My New Home


Coming up next, my first exhausting and strange few days in Cusco.  Should be up the next few days.


Hola todos!  I´m going to apologize in advance for any blog I post from South America.  The keyboards here are screwy and spellcheck doesn´t work.  So forgive.


This beffuddled entry was written at a hostel in Cuzco.  I came here unprepared, so there will be updates soon.  I´ve been in Peru for 3 days now, but I realize there is more to my trip across America that I need to write about, so here goes.

It was sad to leave my Rita, but we had some good times, of course.  Rita took me to see her old hometown of Taos (only one letter away from TACOS), which is a beautiful, quiet mountain town.  Pics will be coming.  It was only the beginning of the massive amounts of massive mountains that I have encountered.

I took the train from Albuquerque to Los Angeles.  It was a 16 hour trip, and out of all of the treks I have made by train I have to say it was the worst.  The people on the train weren´t very friendly (probably because most of them lived in either Albuquerque or Los Angeles.  I wouldn´t be happy either).  I slept for most of it, but the desert of Arizona and the mountains of New Mexico that I did see was magical. 

I was surprised to find that Union Station in LA was the most beautiful out of all of the many train stations I visited on my trip.  It had incredibly high ceilings, and winding courtyards throughout.  But maybe I´m being biased because when I arrived it was already 75 degrees and it was only 8:15am. 

Brandi Baho was my knight in a white rental car. He picked me up so early in the morning and drove me around LA with some techno music bumping and the windows down.  A pic is coming of him too.

Brandon and I rested a bit, cooked a very manly carb-loaded breakfast, and then took a tender hike up the hill behind the complex (property of Emerson College, kind of) where he lives.  Last year a fire raged across that hill and almost consumed Emerson, and it was neat to see all of the burned trees and bushes as we climbed.  When we got to the top you could see all of LA, and it was un poquito disgusting.  The smog was visible from up there, even though it was winter.  But nonetheless the view was enjoyable, as was conversation and beers with Brandon. 

Brandon also took my to a very strange store that I wish I had taken pictures of to buy a sketchy new ¨ipod¨ for 25 bucks.  It´s a piece of crap, and probably wasn´t worth the money, but at least it plays music.  It came in handy in the Lima Airport, which I will explain later.  PS Check out my entry on the homeless in Chicago for an update on my old ipod. 

Eventually I met up with my true love Krystyna, who whisked me away to her Paris Hilton Is My New BFF-esque mansion.  We had a simple, lovely night of partying with her roommates and friends, and it actually turned out to be one of the wilder parties of my life.  If you want details,  you´ll have to find a way to talk to me about it directly.  Or call Krystyna. 

I woke up slightly dazed on an air mattress in Krystyna´s hallway.  It wasn´t long before we got up, went to a delicious and expensive (LA) breakfast place just down the street from her, and then quickly made our way to DISNEYLAND.  I kid you not.  I actually went to one of the centers of American Capitalism on the day before the night I flew to South America. 

Krystyna plays Sleeping Beauty used to work for a disney affiliate, so she had a silver pass that allows her to enter the parks with up to three friends.  Score.  What followed was a bizarre day of animatronics, homosexual safari boat drivers who looked like an ugly version of Matt Starring, and the biggest moment of all, Turkey Legs.  Pictures below.

Main Street!

Main Street!

Waited for 45 minutes behind this gem.  The front has a pic of Malificent.

Waited for 45 minutes behind this gem. The front has a pic of Malificent.



This makes me consider heterosexuality.

This makes me consider heterosexuality.



And there you have it.  After Disney we blasted home through a moving parking lot of traffic, regrouped for a moment, and then I packed my things and Krystyna took me to the airport. 

Overall, I don´t think I´ll ever be living in LA.  I like the weather and the people there, but that´s about it.  Upcoming posts tomorrow or the day after on my flights and arrival in Cuzco!  Hasta luego!