Wednesday, March 24, 2004



Tito’s frail ninety-one year old grandmother has come to stay for several weeks. This is great for Keila, as she has a constant, captive audience (Grandma doesn’t move around much these days). Today she asked her great-grandmother if she’d like to play with Barbie dolls together. She agreed, but soon tired (as you do) of playing Barbies with a six year old. Grandma asked if she could have a little rest. “No” Keila was heard to reply, “if you stop playing Barbies with me I won’t help you to the toilet anymore.” Fair enough, I thought.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Little Ernest

To expand upon the gringa/cholo thing... something that’s difficult to get used to in Spanish speaking culture is the way that seemingly insulting nicknames are bandied about, without causing any offense whatsoever. For example, Tito calls his father ‘Viejo’ (Old) rather than ‘Papa’. Everyone has a nickname, and it is usually based on personal appearance or racial background – just the things we seem to most avoid talking about in modern English. Politically correct Spanish will never come to pass! Tito has introduced me to his friends: El Chino (the Chinese One), Gordo (Fat), El Negro (the Black One), and Maldita (Motherf**ker). Whilst I realise that they accept their nicknames without visible resentment, I nonetheless never know what to call these blokes to their face. Spanish nicknames are meant for general use by a much wider circle than English nicknames. Alot of people here don’t actually know each other’s real names. Nicknames really stick too, ‘Tito’ is so-called at 35 years of age due to his childhood handle of ‘Ernestito’ (little Ernest). The Ernest was (thankfully) dropped and only the dimunitive ‘Tito’ remains. All this seems somewhat shocking informality after my three years in Japan, where people are only addressed by their surnames plus the honorific ‘san’, unless they are family or intimate friends!

Friday, March 19, 2004



Went into town shopping with my friend Sara today. I always feel a bit like a wannabe movie star in central Chiclayo because of all the attention I get for being non-Peruvian. However, today just about topped it off when a policeman suddenly stopped us in the street and spoke at length with my friend. I was, understandably, rather concerned. “What did he say?” I asked Sara urgently. “He said you are the most beautiful woman he has ever seen” she informed me. It was hard to know what to say, and I stuttered a denial as we walked on. Although flattering, it’s really embarassing. Being white, and blonde, and blue-eyed in Peru somehow manages to be infinately more desirable than the national traits. It’s the rarity value. Peruvians are a very mixed race, but some typical characteristics are dark skin, eyes and hair, a round face, and a short, thick stature. Peruvians are called ‘cholos’, by others and by themselves; it simply means someone who looks Peruvian, or is Peruvian. So, Tito is a ‘cholo’ because he is Peruvian, despite having an entirely different look. He would be hard pressed to define his race – other than South American - having Chinese, Black, European and Inca ancestry. Many people I have met here have similarly mixed ancestry, especially in the city. Oddly, the term ‘cholo’ works as both an endearment and an insult. So when people I don’t know call me ‘gringita’ (dimunitive form – literally ‘little foreigner’) I call them ‘cholita’ (‘little Peruvian’)... which works well as a counter-insult, and surprises the crap out of them!

Wednesday, March 10, 2004


The Beach

One excellent thing about having the car is that we can take off to the beach whenever the desire strikes. There are surprisingly few private cars in Chiclayo, so this really does feel a great privilege. The drive only takes 10 minutes or so, and there is virtually no traffic except the occasional collective van-cum-bus, or disintigrating 70’s Ford, which are invariably carrying passengers sardine-style (for a fare of approximately 15p each). As this area is a big desert the drive is not particularly inspiring. There’s sand, and many, many plastic bags blown out to the plains by the constant gusty sea air. We pass a few villages built on the huge sand dunes; it’s difficult to imagine what there is to do all day - but then I suppose few houses have proper plumbing - so the most basic of household tasks must take an eternity. The approach to the beach itself is likewise uninspiring, endless sand and horrible construction rubble line the road. Beside the road people set up huge nets on the plains to gather bird droppings, which they presumeably sell as fertiliser. There ain’t much happening, but the beach itself somehow manages to be mesmerising; the sand is soft and the sun intense. Pacific waves crash in at a level just right to dive into, and fisherman set out in their traditional straw canoes, the same as those used in Inca times. They sell their catch to the little huts that line the shore and serve as restaurants during the summer months – fresher fish can’t be had. The restaurants will go to great lengths in their attempts to hook customers. Our favourite place has a girl of fourteen who runs down the beach to ask us if we’d like a cold beer bringing to us (sold for five soles on the beach, instead of the usual three and a half, she stands to make about 20p a bottle – a sizeable profit.). She’s a pretty, dark girl, very poor, and she has a dozen true stories to tell us everytime... about how last week a couple parked their car on the desert plain for some nookie, went down to the beach for a swim, and returned to find thieves had carried off most of their car... or some such story. Peruvians always seem to have a tale to tell, I bet most of them could fill a book!

Sunday, March 07, 2004


Baby Stew

Had a good laugh today when the missing baby’s bracelet turned up cooked in a stew. Tito’s dicovered an inedible morsel in his portion, but simply put it to one side without further investigation. It was only after the meal that he realised what it was. There were some worried looks concerning the other stew ingredients, but the baby cooed reassuring from the next room!

Tuesday, March 02, 2004


Beer Drinking Etiquette

Have discovered that a night out in Chiclayo most often involves standing in a gusty street outside a corner shop with one glass and an assorted collection of men, all of whom I am required to kiss upon arrival (yuk). The beer drinking etiquette is:
1) If you want to drink, buy a 600ml bottle of beer (or three for 10 soles - ₤1.70).
2) You will receive a glass, fill this to the level desired.
3) Before drinking, direct a salut (cheers) to the person next to you.
4) They will indicate whether or not they would like to drink, if so, pass them the bottle.
5) Chug your beer, fling the foamy residue onto the ground, pass the glass on.
6) This will be repeated around the circle, until, blessedly, the beer comes around again.
7) There may only be a warm foamy inch left, but if you drink it, you buy the next round.
This way of drinking is extremely sociable, and encourages people not to get unfeasibly intoxicated too early in the evening, as consumption is monitored (if you pour an unfeasibly hefty glass for yourself everyone asks you if it’s your birthday). The down side is that you are in for quite a wait in between glugs if there is a big group. Plus, you’d better hope nobody has oral herpes...

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