Sunday, November 28, 2004
On Friday we had another bright, relaxing and altogether lovely day at Puerto Eten. I have, in fact, been meaning to write about Puerto for some time, as it is one of those rather rare places that gives me those thrilling 'South American Moments'... those much sought-after feelings which are not readily available in central Chiclayo. It's not that Puerto Eten is so thrilling in itself. It's quite the opposite - and indeed, therein lies that great South American vibe. You can't catch that vibe yourself, you must simply let it
. Crumbling colonial residences with shady balconies, optimistically bright but peeling paints, old men playing cards in the park, sunny corners where fishermen sit repairing their nets... it's that sort of place. Puerto used to be a very prosperous port, with wide bustling avenues and it's very own train service. The trains ran from the 1800's until the mid-eighties, when their cost could no longer be supported in years of massive devaluing of the Nuevo Sol. The trains now sit, rusting in the sea air, in an open-air and unofficial museum. Interesting to look at, but rather a shame... the trains are British made, and apparently Britain wants to buy them back, but Eten is saying no (even though there's no local funds to build a museum that does them justice). These days, Puerto is a bit of a ghost town, there's no industry except for fishing and most of the population have moved elsewhere. However, families in Chiclayo have sent their children to spend their lengthy three-month summer vacation next to the ocean for generations, and it livens up considerably in the summer months when houses are rented out. It is still early in the season, but myself, Tito, Monika, Linda, Marco and Wanpi are raring to go (even the mini-tornados the gusty wind causes on the beach haven't put us off)... Especially when we can have excellent, really fresh cebiche, pan-fried fish, or absolutely loaded arroz con mariscos for our lunch at the oldest restaurant in town, Heraclio. The place has buckets of atmosphere with it's lofty ceilings, bright white tablecloths and ancient, humid floorboards. Just across the road from Heralio's, Marco's family has a charming little place which they are restoring - it used to house the town's open-air movie theatre in the back garden in better days, but now the whole place needs a lot of work. There's a courtyard with a grassy area round the back, and no end of fascinating nooks and crannies. They have got several rooms looking really cozy and stylish, and, more importantly, structurally sound. Most places in Puerto Eten are made with a stick-and-adobe construction, which get literally blasted away by the winds coming in across the Pacific, the stronger ones are stone/pebble reinforced. Tito and I would really love to fix a place up in the future; it would be a perfect place to write, and I even heard a rumour that Puerto is where Hemingway wrote 'The Old man and the Sea'. The thought of it tickles me no end, typing away in my adobe palace, running out for a dip in the bracing waves now and then, buying hot fresh bread for tea from the wonderful local bakery. (Wistful, dreamy exhalation of breath, faraway look in eyes, smile plays on lips...).
Thursday, November 25, 2004
Thanks to the British Embassy, Lima.
... for absolutely nothing. I am totally baffled as to what it is that they are they for, if it is not to answer totally relevant and logical, rather politely phrased inquiries from British Nationals. OK, I know that they ARE there to rake in lots of dosh for doing virtually nothing (that goes without saying, doesn't it?). However, I have tried to contact the useless buggers for information that is only available through them (regarding the process of obtaining the randomly necessary-to-get-wed 'Certificate of No Impediment' and general visa process) time and time again. I have had to absolutely drag the information from them... in a such a painstaking way that I should be forgiven for thinking that they are actually employed to keep the crucial information secret. My email of inquiry received the most cursory reply, my calls received the snottiest of all uninformative replies, and my letter simply went unanswered. This has finally come to a bit of a head as I have just found that I will not be able to go to Lima again this weekend (a 12 hour bus trip) to pick up my 'Certificate of No Impediment' as I will be teaching on the weekend. I called the number on the receipt for the 660 soles I had parted with to them last month, but that was defunct. Another number I called reached a human being. I asked her if Tito would be able to pick up the certificate without me. She reluctantly told me that she believed that perhaps he could. "Could you confirm that?" I pleaded, "we live a long way from Lima." No, she said, she could not. Is there another number I could call? After much thought, she said that the consulate might possibly answer the phone in the afternoon, if I am lucky. IF I AM LUCKY!!!?
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Everywhere I go these days I keep seeing signs for 'raffles' for US visas. To be entered you need to apply with your documents, a photo and a small fee. 'What a ridiculously obvious scam!' thought I... but actually it is not. Both the USA and Canada set up lotteries for visas in countries such as Peru (where everyone is absolutely gagging to get out and live somewhere more civilised). Why the dickens would they do that? I hear you say... Don't they have tides of the great unwashed applying for visas as it is? You would think so, but apparently the aim is to populate remote areas of the two vast countries, and to provide willing staff to work in factories that may be set up in such places. Erm, won't be setting up a scheme like that in the UK, then...
Saturday, November 20, 2004
More Visa Fun!
You may (or may not) remember how my passport, three months ago, took a little jaunt to Ecuador all on its' lonesome. It returned safely back to me complete with a brand spanking new Peruvian border entrance stamp, and the 90 days visa that the stamp grants one... clever little thing.! All I had to do was slip the nice men at immigration in Chiclayo 40 US dollars. Peru's great! (sometimes).
Well, yesterday was an exciting day (and not only because I sat in very fresh and wet pee in the back seat of the taxi on the way into town). No, stranger's urine-soaked clothing aside, yesterday was an exciting day because it was time for my passport to go on holiday once again.
It was also, coincidentally, time for Monika's visa to be renewed, as she has now been in the country for three months. Or so she thought. She handed her passport to the nice man at immigration. He took one look at it and told her she was illegal and would have to leave the country. Monika was suitably gobsmacked, until it was explained to her that a little scribble on the stamp she had received at the airport (which she had taken to be a signature) had, in actual fact, read '60'. '60' as in only 60 days visa... not the 90 days that she had been assured repeatedly by the Peruvian embassy in Hungary was automatically granted upon entry. Interestingly, the stamp also normally reads 'DIAS', in miniscule print, in the area where '60' was scralled. That might have been a hint that the illegible scribble on the stamp was actually very important, but on Monika's passport the word 'DIAS' was mysteriously absent.
Anyways, it was eventually agreed, after much umming and ahhing, that Monika's passport could pop up to sunny Ecuador with mine, as long as Monika paid the dollar a day tax for overstaying at the Bank De lLa Nacion first. The bank is a total zoo, but we had no choice. We went in and pressed a button to receive a ticket stating what number in the queue you are. Monika was, no joking, 1203. The electronic board showed that the number 794 was currently being served. And only two of the 12 cashier counters were open. Stomachs rumbling, we resolved to come back after what might be sufficient time for 400 people to part with their hard earned dosh to their mother country. However, as we were leaving Tito suggested, for 2 soles, Monika might like to buy a number from one of the blokes hanging around outside posing as photographers. Monika said that indeed she would like to purchase number 807.
Moral of the day: All problems you may encounter in Peru can be overcome with money, except pee on your skirt.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Gringa Am I
When in England I am, frankly, just another pasty highlighted blonde, but in Peru somehow I manage to achieve a sort of 'Goddess of Gorgeousness and Symbol of Western Wealth' status with exactly the same look. It really makes me very conscious of my race, and that's not such a great feeling. In fact, it's precisely the same feeling I used to get in Japan after a day of pointing, whispering, intense staring, and obvious giggling (and that was just the teachers at my visit schools). No, seriously, brown haired people of any shade will never know what it's like to be a blonde in the world today. Of course I realise that I bring it on myself by travelling... and that even the men who leer in Peru and the old ladies who stared in Japan don't really mean to cause offense... I nonetheless sometimes crave desperately for anonymity. Perhaps people feel fascinated, intimidated, horrified, or stimulated by the colour of my hair, eyes, and skin. Fine. It's just strange to think that my appearance gives people the right to regard me as a non-human object. Think I'm being dramatic? Well, just imagine the sensation that a Asian, African, or South American would cause by walking down the street in Europe or America. Picture it, an Asian walking down the street brazenly in full daylight... would anybody turn a hair? I really don't think so. For a blonde abroad things are still rather different. People stare, shout, whisper, leer, follow you. People treat you like you are thick and can't believe that you can speak a word of their language even if you are speaking it to them. They think that you are loaded, gulliable, and a total whore. (I saw a bumper sticker in Lima that said: 'Better a Peruvian Girl than a Gringa With Aids'). Believe me, by all this I am not meaning to make light of Western racism or problems minorities encounter; rather I believe that I can understand it all the more accutely now I have been very much on the receiving end.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
I don't believe I've mentioned that (great haircut and scathing wit aside) I am now even further
along the rocky road to becoming a Supreme Being. But why? you may well ask. Well, I've started to go to the gym. 'Nueva Fuerza' to be exact, a place full of grunting, sweating men and many lingering pongs. It's a cheap (20 soles per month), purely functional place with no fancy gadgets but plenty of weights. I must say, being asthmatic, I have until this point, generally avoided all physical exercise outside of walking/cycling for purely tranportational purposes. But with summer coming up I have finally summoned the courage to join Tito at the gym (yes, Mucho Macho loves it, of course). Before doing so, however, I protested not a little. Why should I waste my precious time at the gym? Am I not fine the way I am? I HATE going to the gym, etc. So it came as quite a surprise to me when I found that, quite frankly, I LOVE going to the gym. I really do. I have finally embraced a way to get in shape - without exerting any cardio-vascular effort whatsoever. This may be a down point of standard gyms for many, but for an asthmatic it's a real boon. I do not feel like my throat is bleeding, I do not gasp desperately for air. I do not wheeze and splutter and collapse on the floor like an ungainly land mammal. Excellente!
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Big Woofer Devours Random Object
I don't understand my dog at all. Wanpi downright refuses to eat many kinds of perfectly good food, at the moment she is 'off' fried chicken skin and sweet potato... which are pretty much doggy staples in Peru. If you dare to offer her dry dog food, she turns her nose up completely (does make you wonder what they put in that stuff). She doesn't even regard it as edible when disguised in a stew, she simply licks the pellets clean and leaves them in bowl. Given Wanpi's irritatingly faddish eating habits, I am even more baffled as to why, yesterday, she ate one of my bright orange earplugs. I might hazard a guess that it didn't look, smell, or taste like a food. But, as my colleagues speculated, I suppose it may have had an enticing texture, akin to a tough marshmellow?
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
As requested, I have been doing a little research into money matters in Peru...
Current rate of exchange: 1 nuevo sol (s./) = 16 pence / 1 pound = 6.15 nuevo soles
Peru's economy was advancing in the 1950's and 60's, and the average wage also rose accordingly. Since then, wages
have steadily dropped, at times devastatingly. The years from 1980-89 were shockingly severe - the real minimum wage fell by 77%. Thus, minimum wage earners had less than one-quarter the buying power that they had started the eighties with. In 2004, minimum wage is S./480 monthly. However, this is rarely adhered to, and most workers find themselves working long hours for much less than minimum wage. Of course, independent workers, of which there are multitudes, fall outside of minimum wage laws anyway. Over half of Peru's population has been found to exist on less than a dollar a day
(Very) approximate average wages at the present:
Domestic workers - s./120 monthly
Market vendors - s./6-7 daily
Sales assistants - s./480 monthly
Taxi drivers - s./500 monthly
Qualified state school teachers - s./600 monthly
Private school teachers - s./1000-3000 monthly
Private doctors/lawyers - s./3000-5000 monthly
Take into consideration, these wages are for the lucky few who have jobs. One wage earner will often also be trying to support their (extended) family on their income. In recent studies, it was found that of Peru's 26.6 million people, 14.6 million are living in poverty
. Poverty was judged as not having sufficient income to buy a basic basket of essential foods.
Average prices of 'essentials' (obviously some of the items on this list are too expensive for the average Peruvian, but are listed for the sake of comparison):
1 kg rice - s./2.50
1 kg sugar - s./2
1 litre cooking oil - s./4.50
1 litre olive oil - s./30
1 kg carrots - s./.50
1 kg broccoli - s./2
200 gr. Kellogg's cornflakes - s./5.50
6 loo rolls - s./4
20 cigarettes - s./3.50
355ml Herbal Essences Shampoo - s./11.85
25 teabags - s./1.80
Milk (sold in the supermarket only in evaporated form) 415 gr. tin - s./2
330ml tin of Heineken s./3.60
620m bottle of Cristal or Pilsen lager s./3.50
Tin of baked beans (imported) s./6.50
Most people live day-to-day, with little security. Everything is available in single use size: teabags, washing powder, deodorant, etc. Even middle-class people buy cigarettes individually, and share a glass around the group when they drink a bottle of beer. There is a Social Insurance System
(SNP) to which a government employee must contribute 13% of their wages. To this 13%, the government adds nothing, nor does the employer. The SNP does, however, guarantee a minimum pension and a legal minimum wage. There is also an optional Private Pension System
(SPP) to which you may choose to pay 10% of your earnings.
Saturday, November 06, 2004
Last night when Monika and Linda got in the car I asked them if they noticed something was missing in the back. The big woofer, I added. "The woofer?" said Monika "oh, you mean Wanpi?". "No," said Linda, "she means the thing that goes BOOM, BOOM". "Oh, I thought she meant the thing that goes WOOF, WOOF"... This made us laugh quite a lot.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Beggars Can't Be Choosers
As I sit here in a comfortable internet cafe I am interrupted approximately every 5 minutes by a street urchin whinging for money. It's a real shame, but unless you want to give to every single last one of them you quickly learn to avoid eye contact and to answer their pitiful pleas for money for their mum's medicine with a gruffly barked 'NO!'. Any tinge of weakness and they are stuck on you like glue until you cough up. I had thought that living in a developing country would deepen my concern for the world's poor. I'd thought I would develop my compassion, and perhaps even decide I'd like to work full-time for a charity in the future. No such luck, I'm afraid. I have become a cold-hearted bitch. Yes, I carry a stock of small change to give out, and yes, I care. But overriding that is my overwhelming desire for poor people to just piss off and stop bothering me. OK, lady, you have five kids and no money. Well, why they hell do you have five kids then? Would you like to support MY children? No? Well, neither would I like to support your snot-nosed brats you bore without sparing the slightest thought to trivial matters such as: Will I have to send my family out to beg on the streets every day? Will they contract terrible diseases through eating rubbish? Will my children have any future, or will they live like animals? etc.
I must say, however, thank god it isn't as bad here as India. Lauren and I always say after the hell that was the beggars in India, we can handle anything. In Delhi, people throw themselves on you, praying to you and kissing your feet, which is rather hard to get away from if you don't feel like kicking them in the head. And unlike here, even if you gave to them they didn't then go away. They asked for more, more, more. The lepers knocked on our taxi windows in the heavy, congested traffic, if we tried to give to them we found, more often than not, they had no fingers with which to take the money.
What's to be done? I've no idea. Everyday I think about it, and I never have the faintest idea. If I give a dollar to every poor person I come across, it won't make the slightest difference to their lives beyond the moment. If I give to a charity my money will be distributed to it's well-paid employees before it eventually (perhaps) reaches it's destination. Even when I donate my own time to fund-raising, as my friends and I did for our Habitat trip to Sri Lanka, the guilt never, ever fades. The guilt for being a Western person, the guilt for having opportunities, the guilt for my over-consumption. More and more I find myself thinking: it's the way of the world. Some people are below, some people are on top. People below me think I'm rich, people above me think I'm poor. It's tough, but in this world we can like it, or lump it.
Of All The Things I've Lost...
I am going through a grieving process sparked by the loss of my absolutely favourite, totally irreplaceable t-shirt. I managed to loose the bugger on the final taxi ride home, after our whole journey to Lima. I've now been through the whole process: the denial, the sorrow, the anger, the acceptance... and have decided it simply has to be remembered as a learning experience. Here's what I learned/remembered afresh:
1) Don't do things against your instincts. If you think, for example, ooo, I should put this in my bag - DO!
2) Always look behind you when you stand up/get out.
3) Possessions are attachments which prevent us from feeling free... (thanks, Mr. Tenzin Gyatso!)
4) I definately am marrying the right man. When Tito saw how upset I was we went in search of the taxi straight away. The other drivers suggested he go back to the same spot we took the taxi from at the same time the next day. So, yesterday and today, he's gotten up at 7am to go and wait at the taxi rank for two hours to see if anything turns up. It hasn't. But I think I love him even more, if that's possible.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Lima: El Horrible
So, speaking as I was, of Lima (and not my never-ending birthday - you'll likely be pleased to hear)... I liked it a lot. Sure, it's noisy and stinky and dangerous - but hey, so is every big city. I found that the notable character and eye-catching details of the architecture extended throughout the whole city; you really can see why Lima was previously known to be South America's most enticing city. It's not anymore, but we had a very varied and exciting time... We travelled around by cheap collectivos and bumpy buses, so we got to see many different parts of the city. We went to San Francisco church to see the former monastery and the catacombs, which were gorily compelling. I like things that make me feel insignificant (and if seeing the dry bones of 70,000 human beings won't accomplish that, nothing will!). We breakfasted on fresh cheese and croissants in a little corner shop, we ate dripping roasted duck from a take-out box in Chinatown, we had a vastly over-priced Thai meal in a beautiful restaurant. We went to a fabulous disco in a scummy area with a couple excellent, energetic 10-man salsa bands, we went to an alternative bar full of beautiful people in a rich area. We met Tito's old friend Frank and his wife and their baby. I stopped a crime in progress by shouting 'OI' at a man trying steal a sleeping woman's watch on a bus. We wandered through central Lima's pleasant old roads and plazas stopping in ancient churches and houses, we trudged through disreputable neighbourhoods searching for used tyres for the Celica (we found some nice fat ones). We stayed in a nasty retire teachers hostal, and in a tacky hotel with a shiny red bedspread and a saggy mattress. (Tito and I may indeed be classless, but we are also unargueably fabulous). Anyway, as I said, I liked Lima a lot. It wasn't horrible at all.
Mi Cumpleanos Actual...
My actual birthday was spent in Lima, though I'd been celebrating it so much it was hard to tell the difference! We arrived at nine in the morning on Thursday the 28th after 10 hours on a 'bus-cama' (bed bus), feeling surprisingly well-rested. We then rushed to get to the hostal, shower, and become less smelly and more presentable before going to the British Embassy in Miraflores to apply for my 'Certificate of No Impediment' (ie. I'm not planning a polygamous union). The procedure was simple, the painful bit was parting with 660 soles for a simple piece of paper. Plus we will have to go all the way back to Lima to pick it up at the end of November...
After the embassy we spent the day exploring Miraflores. It's the most exclusive and expensive area of Lima, and our attempts to find a cheap hotel were entirely in vain (the really cheap hostals were for grubby gringo backpackers and turned their noses at Tito's stylish leather jacket and my high heels!). But I was very impressed with what I saw of the area. The buildings in Miraflores have oodles of character and style, and there are lots of decidedly diverting bars and shops. I bought myself a little birthday present (ahem) to celebrate, a pair of wonderful red sandles made in Brazil. We went to D'nnos pizza for lunch (yum) and later had a horrendously expensive cappucino at one of the charming, candlelit outdoor cafes surrounding the park. It was a perfect day; we returned happily exhausted to our grubby hostal for retired teachers (!) and didn't mind half as much as we could have that the hot water was non-existant and the beds were rock-hard. 'Cuz we were together with the roof right over our heads... and 'CUZ WE'RE GETTING MARRIED!!!
Monday, November 01, 2004
My Birthday - Parts 3, 4, 5 and 6, etc.
OK. I'm back from Lima and ready to start some serious posting. But first I have to tell you more about my birthday. Part 3 involved waking up to nice bowl of steamy, oishii miso soup for breakfast on Wednesday... straight from Japan (by way of the ever-thoughtful Katie). Part 4 was the tasty fried chicken lunch Glavis cooked specially for me. Part 5 was wearing the gorgeous 'cholita' earrings Monika got me. Part 6 was when my Advanced class sang 'Happy Birthday' and presented me with a 'Bob Esponja' stuffed character, with little messages from all of them written on the back!
I've had such a super birthday, thanks so much to everyone who has thought of me, near or far. I love you guys (blub!).