Can you believe it? Today was the last day of summer school! I’ll admit that part of me is a little sad, but a bigger part of me is excited for no more late nights of hot gluing antennae on 30 robots.

A turtle and a lady bug robot

Our morning was relatively uneventful. I spent about an hour fixing a couple of the robots that we ran into trouble with yesterday, including the one that started smoking when we put batteries in. I’m still not really sure what happened with that, but after I switched out the battery holder, it started working fine. I’m happy to not question it anymore and instead just be pleased with the fact that it works and is potentially no longer a hazard. I say potentially because you really never know… Who knows what happened to it this time, so who’s to say that it’s not going to happen again?
A couple of butterflies and a spotless lady bug

Anyway, not my problem anymore! All of the kids took their things home, so I wash my hands of any responsibility for the well-being of the robots. I give it a week until everyone’s robots are completely destroyed from the kids handling them like they’re indestructible. On the contrary, they are quite destructible and have already managed to be a pain in the butt with all of the repairs we’ve had to make. Granted that has something to do with the quality of assembly when we first put them together, but that’s not the point. Point is, you need to be careful with these things, and the kids are anything but careful.
The room set up. Our tables are all the way in the back of the picture

Two of the kids who volunteered to talk about their robots

Okay I’m getting sidetracked. Back to business. Since it was the last day, there was a bit of a showcase in the afternoon before the parents took their kids home. All of the teachers put out/hung up their kids’ work from the program, and the students showed off some of the things they learned. The three older classes got up and recited the weekly Bible verses that they have been working to memorize, the oldest class did a dance that they learned from Madeleine (she’s been helping Ingrid with her class), and Debbie gave a bit of an explanation about what the mini-engineers course involved.

The oldest kids’ city

The cities looked so cool!! The parents were all taking pictures, and I don’t blame them because they turned out so well. Debbie and I also had an extensive photoshoot before the showcase started. The best pictures were the ones taken at street level that kind of make it look like you’re a tiny person in a cardboard city. The older class especially did an awesome job, even adding some stop signs, traffic lights, trees, light posts, and street names.

Puff ball people on a swing set

The most epic museum. Yes, broken CDs are giving the roof its shimmer

Stop sign, light post, bottle car

The stadium with chess piece fans in the bleachers

The little kid robots from the kit. Cute, right?

After the performances and such were over, everyone was invited to walk around and check out the work. We pulled apart the city models so that the kids could take their buildings home and handed out batteries so they could finally play with their robots. I also ended up fixing something like six robots which means that, inevitably, they’re all going to break again.
Endings are when you get all sorts of surprises. For example, the kids who thank you the most and give you hugs are the ones that you thought hated class and wanted nothing to do with you. I had some good moments with a few of the kids which was nice. It’s those things that make the whole teaching thing seem like slightly less of an overall bummer. Without a little bit of positive feedback, you’re left feeling drained and tired and wondering if it was even worth the effort. Between today and what Irma said about more kids saying that they want to be engineers when they grow up, I feel pretty good about the whole teaching experience.

The municipal building, compete with balcony, streamers, and glitter
Just walking down the street…

Nice public green space

Another thing… Time here moves so much more quickly than in Ghana. There’s nothing to mark the passage of time, like new volunteers showing up, and I definitely feel like I have more of a purpose here in what I’m doing. That’s a nice feeling (but I also makes the days go by even faster). It will be interesting to see what the rest of my time here is like! I know that there are a bunch of projects they want me to get involved with before I go, so I’m not worried in the least that I’m going to find myself without anything to do. It will just be a less routine/predictable something to do than it has been during the summer program. (Don’t even talk to me about how much time I have left here. It’s something I’m consciously choosing not to thinking about.)
I know I said that last weekend was going to be a real relaxation weekend, and it mostly was, but THIS weekend is the real deal! No Sunday evening lesson planning, no random class-related tasks that need to be accomplished. We’re having an actual WEEKEND! Wish me luck… I might not know what to do with myself with so much leisure time.

Yesterday was another long and tiring day! I started writing this last night, but I was doing the whole fall-sleep-and-write-nonsense thing, so I figured that finishing it would be better left to today.

Wednesdays are usually kind of chill because we don’t have any classes, but yesterday was definitely the exception. The big activity for the day was finishing up the soldering and antennae on the C3 robots to get them ready for class today. I got started in the morning and had only finished the soldering and antennae bending by lunchtime.

The ring-passing game

The afternoon was completely booked by a birthday party for the people with January/February birthdays. The kids get to drink soda and eat candy, and there were some pretty hilarious activities. They started off with some races where each person on the team had a straw in his/her mouth, and two teams raced to pass a plastic ring from straw to straw without using their hands. After that, they did a relay race where the team members had pass a balloon over their heads and through their legs, and then afterwards, the front person waddled their way around a chair while holding the balloon in between their legs. The process repeated until the entire team got a chance to waddle.

Balloon hops

It was fun watching the kids play the games, but my favorite part (besides the cake, of course) was the dance party at the end. Ligia explained the rules: you dance around with the music while it’s playing, and once it stops, you freeze like a statue. The real fun began when the kids started to be creative with their frozen poses, the girls usually opting to hug each other and the boys pretending to fight.

Getting creative

The birthday crew

After the party, we had a little down time to work on our robots, until about 5:30 when we left for a staff bonding excursion! I wasn’t sure about going because we still had a lot to do with the robots, but I’m so glad I did! It was cool getting to spend time with everyone outside of work, plus the excursion was great.
The wrong way up

The right way up

We went to Las Salinas in Chilca to do a group hike. The first part of the hike is pretty short, and you make it to the top of the first hill where there’s a huge cross and a nice view of Chilca. There are two ways to get there: the way you’re probably supposed to go, with a bunch of switchbacks, and the way we went, with an aggressive incline (I’d guess 60 degrees) and shale-type rock pieces sliding around. I thought the view from there was cool, but then we kept going! We went up more super-steep hills until finally reaching the top… where there was a random rock wall. I was confused about why it was there until we got closer and I realized that it wasn’t just one wall, it was a square of rock walls, and inside was a rock circle with one rock in the middle. Weird. The explanation of what it is makes it no less weird: aliens.
The front of the Chilca pamphlet. Alien.

Chilca is obsessed with aliens. The tagline of the city is “Chilca es de otro mundo” or “Chilca is from another world”. There are a bunch of reports of UFO sightings, and the Chilca marketing people have run with the idea, making it the center of their marketing material. The pamphlets describing the attractions in Chilca feature pictures of a red-orange alien participating in activities from horseback riding to bathing in the lagoons that supposedly wield “energy from another galaxy” and have various healing powers (here’s the website).

The rock shrine

Julie, me, and Debbie

Vanessa said that people come from all over the world (alien-enthusiast types of people) to do rituals or something to communicate with the aliens from inside the rock shrine. There’s some claim (by a Peruvian “UFO contactee” Sixto Paz Wells… if you’re interested, here’s a weird interview with him) that they’re drawn here because Chilca is on a geological fault and the released energy creates a magnetic corridor that their ships use. Or something. I’ll let you form your own opinions about that.
Whatever the reason for their existence, they’re impressive. The walls are made from rocks just stacked on each other without cement to hold them together, and they aren’t cut into specific shapes or anything to make things easier. Whoever put that place together had a lot of time on their hands.

Anyway, the view from the alien communication square was even better than the first lookout. I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Check out the mountains in the background!

Super cool

Debbie and I still had hours of robot work to do after getting back which is why I was falling asleep last night while writing. We finished the antenna connections around 10:45PM… ugh. But now they’re finished! And the hiking break was well worth the time.
Today wasn’t extremely eventful. We had our last period with Vanessa’s class and tried to wrap up their city and robots. It mostly went fine except that one robot started smoking when we put batteries in… ehh well, we’ll figure it out. That’s a problem for tomorrow!

I had a nightmare a few nights ago. I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I do remember being in a car with my mom, driving up a very steep road. When I say steep, I’m talking probably an 80-degree incline. We were halfway up when these massive spools of wire started flying down the hill towards us, and we avoided every one of them until the very last which left a foot-long gash in our back left tire. What does this dream mean? Who knows? But if we’re taking guesses, I’m going to say that those giant spools were probably filled with solder wire, and I’m officially having robot-inspired nightmares.

Explaining/demonstrating the soldering process

It’s amazing how wrong you can be when you take a guess at how long something is going to take. These robots are one of those times. Our time estimate: 3 classes. The actual: hahahahahahahaha. TBD. We got the kids as involved as possible in the assembly process, but some things, like the soldering, are not in the scope of things we’re comfortable letting the kids do. If we had only three kids in the class and could fully supervise and give them some training, maybe it would be a different story. With these circumstances, though, Debbie and I are doing all of the soldering. That led to a late night on Friday and another late night yesterday as we tried to get the C4 kids’ robots ready for their shells to be glued on today. We also had to do some jerry rigging to get the antennae to stay in place (it involves a complex system of dental floss – the strongest thread known to man – and hot glue), and the method we came up with was way too precise for most of the kids to handle (a lot of them are still at the age where detail work is a challenge. As architect and engineer, Debbie and I are trained in painstaking detail work).
The C4 city!

Aside from the extra hours yesterday, things went very well! We only have 2 classes with each older group this week, and we need to assemble our cities!… while also finishing the robots… Yesterday, we reviewed the city project, did some city planning by deciding where we wanted to put each building, and split into teams to paint/name streets, make stop signs, traffic signals, trees, and street lights, and glue the buildings into position. Everything is starting to look really cool! We had the C4 kids again today, and their city is almost completely finished. The trees, street signs, and other details got installed today. I’m excited about the work the kids have done!! I think they have a couple things left to finish, and hopefully Ingrid will give them some time before Friday to wrap everything up.
A few of the finished robots

The last robot steps are to glue on the shells that the kids decorated and test to make sure everything is functioning correctly. It was a lot of fun to see the kids play with their robots for the first time and how excited they got when the robots ran into walls and turned around like they’re supposed to (I was also excited because it seems almost inevitable that someone’s robot out of the 29 we made shouldn’t work… but fingers crossed because at this point, we’re still doing okay). At the risk of sounding like all I ever say is that everything is “great!”/“awesome!”/“so cool!”… the robot shells that the kids made are all of the above. I’ll work on some new adjectives, but for now, I’m going to back up my claims with photo evidence so that you can all agree with me.

Some intense glitter application

The C3 kids have one more class on Thursday, and they still need to finish up the details of their city. They’ve done some awesome (yeah, I know) work so far, though. Even the kids who seemed completely disengaged produced great buildings! Debbie and I also have to finish up their robot soldering and antennae installations before class so that they can glue on their caps. Thank goodness for class-less Wednesdays!
One of the girls working on her “stores”, complete with window displays, a swingset, and little puffball people with sequin eyes.

Some intent block-work

Finally, this afternoon was our last class with each of the younger classes. Julie deserves a round of applause (and a paid vacation) for helping me out every week. We started in her class (2-3 year olds) and decided to do another lego day because our creativity was wearing thin, and we had to mentally prepare ourselves for what we were doing in the C2 (4-6 year olds) class. No matter though… the kids loved it and stayed engaged for an entire hour. You count it as a win when you have seven 2-3 year olds doing ANYTHING (besides freaking out and trying to escape) for more than 20 minutes.
Making a hand-wall to keep the robot from falling onto the floor

Laughing about their three robots getting stuck together

With the C2 class, we were making robots! Nothing to the extent of the ones we did with the two oldest classes, but it was complicated enough. Debbie found these kits online ( which are nice and basic. In hindsight, it would be easy to get the parts for these on your own and make them for a lot cheaper, but it was nice to have something that we didn’t have to think about. Forty minutes and a lot of troubleshooting later, we had 10 working scooter bots! The kids loved them! I thought they were kind of dumb because they just vibrate and wiggle around, but even I have to admit that they’re fun. If I was 6, I would be pumped about them. After finishing the construction, they spent the rest of class running around and finding different places to play with their robots.
I may be exhausted, but I feel really good about the last couple days! Everything is coming together, and I think I understand why people keep teaching. There are some tough days, but when you get to see your kids grow and show them something new and exciting, it’s super rewarding.

You know what else? This is my favorite thing: Irma said that a ton of the kids are saying they want to be engineers now. How cool is that?!

If I never have to solder another connection, it will be too soon. The fact that I’m going to have to do it again on Monday means that it’s DEFINITELY happening too soon. I’m going to have robot-filled nightmares tonight.

Measuring a wire before cutting and stripping it.

Next week is the last week of summer school, so we really have to get this robot project wrapped up so that we can finish the city project too.  Even though the robots aren’t finished yet, I’m happy with the progress we’ve made, and I don’t think we could have possibly worked any faster than we did. There’s just too much to explain, and every single step has to be almost fully supervised because they’re using tools and are way too likely to jump ahead and mess something up if you don’t keep an eye on them. Today, all of the groups were finally at the point where they were ready to start soldering, and there was nothing we could do to put it off any longer.
I would love for the kids to have a chance to try to solder, but I don’t know that we’re going to have the time for that. With all of the explanations and safety stuff we have to do, there’s no way that we would be able to get through all of the kids. Maybe we’ll try to at least let each of them do one connection so that they have the experience… And maybe not… We’ll have to just play it by ear and decide if we think they can handle it.

Vanessa helping with wire cutting.

We had class with the older kids in the morning, and it was a bit chaotic. I always expect the younger class to be somewhat out of control, but not this class. Someone must have been giving out pixie sticks at the door when they got to school today or something because they were all over the place. Debbie gave them the whole talk about how soldering is dangerous and the iron is very hot and they need to listen and be careful, and then as soon as we started working, the whole class was crowded around the table and touching things and stressing both of us out. She basically told them that if they couldn’t behave, they weren’t going to get to work on their robots anymore. That did the trick, at least enough to make it through the end of class without anyone getting a burn.
The younger kids were in the afternoon, and working with them was like something out of a dream (for the most part, excluding the one girl who was pouting instead of participating because “this is a boy project”. I won’t even tell you how I felt about that comment. I’m sure you can imagine). They were all so calpm, they listened and followed directions, and they did a great job. Vanessa must be working some magic on them because their behavior today vs. the first week of summer school is like having a completely different group of kids. I still think that part of it is the excitement of the robots (kids keep asking when they’re going to get to work on their robots again), but part of it is absolutely also them being much improved in general.

Debbie, finishing up the last robot of the night.

The kids got all of their wires cut and stripped, and we started soldering them during class.  We got through most everyone in the afternoon group (which is only half of the class, keep in mind), and after all of the kids left, Debbie and I decided to keep on going to finish up the connections so that next week can just be putting the finishing touches on. That was the most exhausting part of the day. All I wanted to do was snack and eat dinner, and we didn’t end up eating until 8PM.
I’m falling asleep while typing again, so I’ll do you a favor and wrap things up before my writing really starts to tank. Hooray for Friday, and hooray for weekend days when you can actually sleep in!

The more I think about it, the more I realize how much the team week threw me off. I’m currently feeling a little stressed and overwhelmed, and I was trying to understand what is different about this week that has me feeling that way more than usual. I think that it’s partly because I didn’t accomplish much of anything last week since we were so busy, and now I have an extra week’s worth of things on my to do list. The other part of it is that I’m in the planning stages of a few different things (including my trip to Machu Picchu before I leave Peru, some stuff for my time in Armenia, and some randoms), and that always gives me a feeling of unrest until the planning is finished or at least underway. No need to worry about me though… I’ve done a re-write of my to do list, and that’s making me feel a bit better. Now I need to get to crossing some things off!

Robot construction in progress! Debbie has been making the kids wear safety goggles even when they’re not doing anything that even remotely requires them. It makes them look like they know what they’re doing though, doesn’t it?

Otherwise, things are going well! We had our second robot class with the oldest kids this morning, and the excitement of making robots hasn’t worn off yet (thank goodness!). The half of the class we worked with today hadn’t even started their robots yet. We got them through the entire assembly process, and they had time to get started on cutting and stripping the wires to prepare them for soldering. They all did a great job with that, and I was excited because I want the kids to do as much for themselves as possible. The older class is definitely capable of doing most of the work with just a little guidance. Soldering will happen next class, and hopefully we can figure out a way to get them involved in that as well without having any safety issues. I think they can handle it, especially if they keep behaving as well as they have been. They’re taking this project really seriously.

Spaghetti, chicken, yuca, and carapulcra.

Lunch today was spaghetti, yuca (which is apparently the same as or similar to cassava… which I spent all of my time in Ghana not knowing what it was – even though we had it at the farm and I planted some – and too lazy to look it up), chicken, and carapulcra. Carapulcra is a Peruvian stew that probably varies dramatically depending on who makes it and where you are. From what I could gather while eating it, Delia’s carapulcra consists of potatoes, sauce that I couldn’t identify even if I tried, pieces of chicken (watch out for stray bones), garlic, and I have no clue what else. I know, that description couldn’t possibly be more unhelpful. All I can say is, I’m no food connoisseur, so that’s the best I can do. In summary, it was pretty good, even though I was sure I was going to choke on a hidden chicken bone.

Julie’s class loading their boats with bears.

Tuesdays are little kid engineering afternoons, so Julie and I teamed up to make aluminum foil boats with the two youngest classes. It’s questionable how much the kids actually did in her class (the 2-4 year olds) vs. how much we did for them, but it kept them interested for close to an hour, so that’s all that really matters in my book. Each kid got a piece of foil and as much tape as they needed, and after they finished, they put their boats into a tub of water and loaded them with these little plastic bears we found in the supply closet. Julie even fit in some teaching about how the bigger boats with higher walls held more bears and got the kids to compare the numbers of bears that each boat held to see which boat worked the best.

In the slightly older class (4-6 year olds), there was a bit more chaos, but the kids actually built their own boats (some with a little help from us). They had way too much fun splashing around in the water, but somehow we survived and the kids possibly enjoyed it and learned something? We’ll just say they did. None of you were there, so I can make things up like that. Let the records show that class today went perfectly according to plan and the kids were totally under control and engaged and they built fabulous aluminum foil boats and now they all want to be engineers. Wow! We did a great job, huh?

​We started the robot project today! It went so much better than I was hoping for, and thank goodness for that because my expectations were incredibly low. We had the oldest kids (C4) in the morning, and it was nice to have a chance to figure out the best process and work through some of the kinks while having a more controlled and engaged class.

I didn’t take very many pictures because I was mostly running around and trying to help different kids with the assembly, but here’s one of the two that I managed to snap.

We decided that the best approach was to split the class in half and have one group working with us on the robots while the other group watched a robot-related movie (today’s pick: Wall-E). Things went extremely slowly in the morning, and we didn’t get nearly as far as I thought we would (shocking, I know. One of the hardest parts of teaching is managing your own expectations of what you’ll be able to complete in a day). We wanted to get all of the assembly finished for all of the kids in the class, but we only managed to do it for half of them. We’re going to need to alter our plans a little if we want to have a chance of finishing these things on time. Good thing we have those flex periods next week!
The process went a bit more smoothly with the younger kids (C3, Vanessa’s class of 7-9 year olds), and we were shocked by how well-behaved the kids were. Her class especially is at that age where they’re usually running all over the place and kind of out of control, but today they were waiting patiently for instructions and did an incredible job of listening!

How cool does this look? There’s something about electronics and wires that makes anything look impressive. As soon as you have some wires in front of you, it looks like you mean business.

I think that a big part of the reason for the good behavior is that all of the kids are super excited about this project. When we showed them the demo of our robot, they all got wide-eyed and were clearly pumped about the fact that they were going to make the same thing. Even the kids who act like they’re too cool for school were getting excited. Hopefully this good behavior lasts the entire time that it takes to make the robots because this isn’t exactly a quick process, and having a bunch of kids running around and screaming would make it about a million times more painful. All in all, I’m very happy about how things went, and I can’t wait to see how the robots turn out!
In other news, I’m falling asleep at the computer again, so please excuse me if anything I wrote makes zero sense because it probably happened when I was asleep. I think I caught all of them, but my brain isn’t functioning quite well enough to go back through and process everything. I need to see if I can find time to hibernate this weekend.

​**This is from yesterday, but I literally fell asleep writing it.

THE ROBOT WORKS!!! This is BEYOND exciting news!! To sum it up really quickly, Tony got the idea that Debbie and I should teach a robotics class, and we gave in slightly and agreed to do one robot project in our class. We found an instructable online that doesn’t require any programming (because that makes things WAY more complicated) and decided that was going to be our project. We brought the motors, wires, switches, and battery holders from the States, figuring that the rest of the parts would be easy to find in Peru.

Meet Buzz the Bot!

That was a bit of a mistake… We have managed to find the essential parts and pieces, but it certainly hasn’t been easy. We eventually tracked down a soldering iron, flux, and solder, but then we found out that the solder was too thick. Debbie bought some thinner solder this morning, and that has made all the difference. We also bought sheet metal here, which they didn’t have at the two big hardware stores we shop at, so instead we were directed all over Chilca to this construction supply warehouse where we bought a piece of sheet metal that is at least 20 times bigger than what we need.
Anyway, everything finally came together today, and we finished assembling our robot! We were having soldering issues which were quickly resolved after buying thinner solder. Now it works!! And thank goodness for that because I wouldn’t know what to do to troubleshoot if it hadn’t. The basic description of the robot is that it goes straight, and when it runs into something, it turns itself and keeps going. AND OURS ACTUALLY DOES THAT!! (You can watch a video of it on my Instagram @larakaiserian… If you’re on a computer, there’s a link on the right sidebar. The internet is too slow to directly upload it here.) Debbie and I are ecstatic, even though we still have some logistics to figure out, because we didn’t have a backup plan. No problem though because it worked!!

Shopping in Chilca

The rest of the day was pretty cool too. This morning, the team went into Chilca, got split up into groups of two or three, and had a shopping list of items that they needed to find. All of the Spanish speakers (myself included actually) were assigned to groups and told not to intervene unless someone was in desperate need of assistance. It’s a valuable exercise because it helps to give the group an idea of what it’s like to be in a situation where you’re completely out of your element and trying to figure things out without speaking the language. It definitely required some creativity (and charades skills) and confidence to go up to people and sound like an idiot while trying to find your things. If anything, the whole exercise made me realize that I know a lot more Spanish than I thought. I would have easily been able to ask shopkeepers about the things on our list. The groups all did well, and I was impressed with how willing they were to just go for it.

Tonight’s sunset

The afternoon was filled with more vinifan-ing notebooks. I’m getting good at it and have my pace down to a science. In about four hours this afternoon, I wrapped 15 notebooks that needed paper and plastic coverings and 10 that only needed plastic. That means, I did 40 wraps in 4 hours, 10 wraps each hour, or 1 wrap every 6 minutes. I had previously estimated my pace at 5 minutes per wrap, and I think that might still be correct because I probably spent about 10 minutes per hour doing other things like helping people, organizing notebooks, cutting paper and plastic in bulk for everyone to use, etc. Exciting because I now know my exact pace… discouraging because at that rate, it would take me close to one eternity to finish all of the notebooks… hopeful because the team is still here, and anything they get done is less for me to do. In conclusion, sometimes it might be better to know less.