A girl who fell from a train

I’ve met many fascinating people.  Yesterday the heartbreaking picture of the Syrian boy who drowned and washed up on a beach in Turkey reminded me of a girl I knew many years ago, Anne, she was a friend of a friend.

In the aftermath of World War II and the advance of Mao in China, an American GI named Frank Chisari watched a train packed full of refugees go by at a railroad crossing when he noticed something fall of the train.  He walked up to find an infant beside the dead body of her mother, a young Chinese woman.  Chisari took the infant to his base and – along with a few other GIs – sheltered her in the fuselage of a disabled C47 airplane.  Upon his return to the US, Chisari was forced to leave the girl in a Chinese orphanage but enlisted the help of the NY Daily News to adopt the girl and bring her home to New York.  Anne went on to have, for lack of a better word, a normal life: she raised a family, moved to Florida, had several jobs, opened her own restaurant, she had what you might consider an All American life.

The poor Syrian boy who washed up in Turkey will never have those chances, he wasn’t as fortunate as Anne was.  But just like Anne these refugees are real people.

I’ll say this about the current refugee crisis in Europe: don’t believe for a moment these events are just an unfortunate circumstance or the result of some crazies in Raqqa, they are the result of years of geopolitical policies that prioritize business and strategic objectives while marginalizing the value of “ordinary” lives.  I’m not saying the so called West is to blame for everything but you can’t see the current events separate from foreign meddling, Cold War politics, Europe’s colonial past, go as far back as the Crusades if you will.

Finally, if you think this refugee wave is “bad”, forget the Middle East and look at the demographics in Africa.  Do you know what the median age is in Tanzania?  It’s 17.  Anytime people feel they don’t have a fair shake at life or a representative government, it’s only natural they’ll look for greener pastures elsewhere.

Think about that next time you entrust your foreign policies to some dude in an expensive suit who’s never traveled outside of their own country other than 4-star resorts and diplomatic missions shielded in bullet proof limousines. Whose interests do they represent? Have they studied the history of places like the Congo or Guatemala? Until there are structural changes in geopolitical policies, I’m afraid the refugee crisis won’t get better.


Back side of the lagoon

Monday morning musings.

The moon circles the earth in 28 days, exactly the same amount of time it takes the moon to rotate around its own axis. This means that the same portion of the moon’s surface is always facing the earth – just take a pair of binoculars and look, the moon always looks the same. Until the US and Soviet space programs in the 1950s and 1960s, humans had stared at the moon for centuries but never seen the far side of the moon.

So it happens sometimes that you look from a different angle at a sight you’ve known for a long time and find yourself surprised by what you see. This weekend we took the unimproved “dirt” road from Izcuchaca to the back of the Huaypo lagoon. We’d been to the lagoon before but always from the main road between Cusco and Urubamba, I’d never been to the far end of the lagoon before. I’ve seen the Urubamba mountain range many times – and it’s always a great view – but never from this particular spot.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have seen many beautiful places and stunning scenery. From the Greek Islands to the Florida Keys, the Yucatan to Niagara Falls. I’ve seen the Greenland Icecap and the Canadian Arctic, flew over a volcano in Iceland and stayed on the shortest street in the world. I’ve seen the Saudi desert and the Amazon jungle, Budapest, Nairobi and London too.

I think most of my traveling days are behind me now but that’s OK, to see great sights you don’t have to travel to the 4 corners of the world, all you have to do is ride out to the back side of the lagoon.

Urubamba mountain range

Urubamba mountain range from the back of the Huaypo lagoon

2 thoughts on the Minera IRL (MIRL.L) (IRL.to) saga

I’ve been casually following the Minera IRL (MIRL.L) (IRL.to) saga on IKN and at this point there are 2 thoughts I just must share:


Seriously, if there was a love triangle in this story I would never need to watch another soap opera again (*). The Minera IRL (MIRL.L) (IRL.to) saga has intrigue, deceit, money, power struggle, exotic (sort of) location… everything a soap opera needs except the love triangle. Come on, somebody please get on with it on the romantic slopes of the Andes.

2) IE9?? Seriously?? That lawyer outfit uses IE9? What freaking year they think this is?

In all seriousness this saga isn’t funny, it affects real people, real lives, real investments. There’s no way the Minera IRL (MIRL.L) (IRL.to) board has any choice other than to clean house, start over and fix the community relations at Ollachea – fast. This far up in the Andes mountains the Peruvian gov’t has very little practical say, the local community leaders call all the shots. Lose the support of the community and you’re screwed for a long time.

(*) I don’t, really.

Andes mountains lagoon

Not too far from Ollachea. In these parts the locals live a hard life. Treat them with respect.

If you’re self conscious, read this

We had a lovely day today, I drove mamacita linda and the kids around the Puray lagoon near Chinchero and then on to Urubamba for lunch. We love to get out of the city on weekends, the kids enjoy the countryside, the views are spectacular and frankly the best food in Cusco isn’t in Cusco, you find it in the country style restaurants “quinta campestre” outside Cusco.

Sunday mornings are always a bit of a rush when we want to go out to the country. Have to walk the dog, get the car out of its garage, get the kids ready, and so on. Our middle child wakes up early with us so I take her with me to pick up the car, she loves to ride in the car with papucho. By the way, did I tell you there’s a middle child now? Things are crazy around here with 3 little munchkins.

But I was going to tell you about being self conscious. When I cranked up the car this morning a Madonna song was on the radio. Now I’m not a fan per se but at that particular time and place I wasn’t out to intently listen to one of my favorite pieces of music, a mindless pop song was just fine for the middle child and me.

In my morning rush I had walked 5 blocks to the garage dressed in my pijamas, boots and a baseball cap. I carried my daughter on my shoulders, dodging low hanging tree limbs along the way. Then we rolled down the windows, cranked up the volume and rocked out to a Madonna song like there was no tomorrow. And no, I can’t hold a tune.

I’m belting out Madonna in my PJs, playing air-drums on the dashboard and in passing I thought, “I used to be self conscious.”

Very much so.

Many years ago I was very self conscious. There isn’t any one particular moment that I would say “I got over it” but I remember going through a bit of a hard time personally and professionally in my twenties and thinking “this isn’t supposed to happen to me“. I’m not rich or famous but in the big picture I was definitely born into a good life, a white kid from a “good family”, in a “good part of town”. Despite that I was very self conscious as a teenager and young adult.

Getting older and having kids changed me completely but long before that, when I was going through these hard times, at first I didn’t want anyone to know. I was embarrassed. I eventually realized everyone has their ups and downs, what defines you is how you deal with it. I slowly quit worrying about what people might think, I got busy pulling myself up by my proverbial bootstraps. I found strength in those days from a few people I was close to but also from some I only knew in passing.

Nowadays when our kids have an event in their school and the teachers need someone to make a fool out of, I don’t think they even ask anyone other than me. No matter how silly they know it’s all fair game with me. People who haven’t known me for 20+ years wouldn’t believe there was a time I used to be self conscious. Sometimes our thoughts dictate too much of our lives. Thankfully, I got over it.

Huarocondo – Authentic Peruvian Pueblo

Hey Lyle, I stopped by the Gringo Wasi last Sunday but nobody answered the door. Not sure if you were out and about or perhaps taking your afternoon siesta?

Other than not getting together with Lyle our Sunday outing was very nice. Huarocondo is a small town about an hour outside of Cusco but unlike the towns on the typical Cusco tourist circuit, Huarocondo is authentic Peruvian. Of course “authentic Peruvian” isn’t one thing or another – it’s many different things – but the average tourist would be mistaken for believing that the towns on the tourist circuit outside Cusco (ie. Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, etc) are representative of a typical small town in the Andes.

They’re not. A thousand square meters of land ( < 1/4 acre) outside Urubamba will cost you over $100K US.

Huarocondo on the other hand is a very traditional, authentic Peruvian pueblo. Lyle is the only gringo in town and barely a few dozen city slickers make their way out on the weekend to sample Huarocondo's delicious lechon. If you’re in Cusco and you want to spend a few days away from the hustle and bustle of the big tourist city, give Lyle a call and check out Huarocondo.

Raqchi Ruins

We took a trip to the Raqchi archaeological site a while back. The site is about a 2 hour drive from Cusco, tour buses which take you on an excursion from Cusco to Lake Titicaca or Arequipa sometimes stop in Raqchi but overall it’s a pretty quiet site. Much of the ruins appear to be reconstructed but I like going to places like this because it gives you a glimpse of what life in the Inca empire could have been like. By the way, a good part of what you see in Machu Picchu today is also restored, as you can tell by the pictures from the Hiram Bingham expedition.

Educate Me

Note to self: delete this post before kids reach university age.

I walk about 5 blocks every morning to get our car out of a garage (the parking lot by our house is still not finished). My walk takes me along the back of the main public university in Cusco, the UNSAAC.

The sidewalks behind the university are full of students rushing into their early morning classes. They say looks are deceiving but you can sort of tell the serious academic students from the cool kids and the fashionistas, the privileged kids from the ones who work their way through school. There are 15-year olds who are in university 2 years early because their parents obsessed about studies and there are 20-something career students. Some are happy, some look sad, at 7:00am young kids don’t have their guards up so much, they’re like open books rushing into the university.

One girl was walking while reading a book, getting a quick last minute of study time on her way to class.

“Poor girl” I thought to myself. “So worried to study some useless cr*p at 7:00am on a Monday.”

It was just a subconscious thought, not to be mean to her. However, I do wonder, as university education has become more and more popular have the academics been watered down and traditional liberal arts been replaced by cramming useless stuff?

You can describe pretty much any university course nowadays as “How to survive in your parents’ world, part XX of 250” (or however many credit hours there are nowadays.)

Think about it. Go all the way back in the vaults of your alma mater to, say, the year 2005 and see how many thesis you’ll find in the computer science department on “application programming for Smartphones“. Or how many papers you’d find in the Economics section on “The orderly exit of a Eurozone member because you know some day it will happen.” Or look in the political science department for papers about the normalization of US Cuba relations, or the risk of civil war due to foreign geopolitical influence in the Ukraine.

These are all significant events in our time but 10 years ago barely a university would have touched on them. However, I bet you’ll find loads of papers in the 2005 computer science class on “Transitioning your corporate IT system to Windows Vista”.

We’re bad about predicting the future, so I think universities should teach less stuff that will be obsolete by the time the kids get their second or third job. Don’t cram useless stuff, rather teach these kids to ask questions, especially in a so called developing economy like Peru. Where are we going? What is really valuable in life? Why is traffic so dangerous here? What can we do about public transportation? Why don’t kids in small towns have decent schools? If 2 million tourists come to Machu Picchu every year and each spends a $1,000 where does that 2 billion US$ go? Why does a patient have to fly from Cusco to Lima for a fairly routine medical operation?

I don’t know the answers but somebody bigger than me should be asking.

A`ma nu-na nicho

Happy Monday! I don’t have a 9-to-5 job and I don’t have a commute so Monday mornings aren’t a big thing for me. In fact, I should admit I kind of like having the kids back in school on Mondays, I can sip my Peruvian coffee and quietly muse about work and life after a hard weekend of running around with the little munchkins.

But for those of you dreading Monday mornings at work I’ve got a handy Quechua word for you. Should someone at work ask you to do some useless thing that you don’t want to do this beautiful Monday morning, just reply:

A`ma nu-na nicho!

In Quechua: “I don’t want to”.

I don’t know if the spelling is correct because most Quechua speakers in Peru don’t read or write in Quechua, they only speak Quechua. I asked our maid – who’s fluent in Quechua – how to spell A`ma nu-na nicho but she doesn’t know. I don’t know if this is a throwback to the Inca culture, which did not have written word as we know it, rather, the Inca’s great understanding of architecture, math and astronomy was passed on in a system we call Quipu.

If using at work please be considerate and pick your battles because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for anybody’s firing. However if the time is right to tell someone that you can’t be bothered, kindly tell them A`ma nu-na nicho!

I may have been wrong about Messi going to MLS in 2015

The past few years when Barca wasn’t winning everything all the time I’d occasionally tease Otto that “Messi will play in MLS by the end of 2015”. That prediction isn’t looking so good right now.

As a side note I never meant that Messi wasn’t one of the all time greats, only that our expectations nowadays of top athletes performing at their best for such a long time are actually quite new – basically since the so called steriod-era. The achievements that made legends out of players like Sandy Koufax, Johan Cruyff or Magic Johnson were how good they were at the top of their game, not that they stayed at the top of their game forever and ever.

In Peru Messi is seen as one of the greatest, if not the greatest player of all time but in terms of pop culture legend in all of South America it’s doubtful that any athlete in my lifetime will come close to Diego Maradona.

It’s all Alan’s fault

Americans have a hard time with my last name and my first name isn’t very common. This led a former boss of mine to observe “Ward is like Cher or Madonna – everyone knows him by one name only”. The same could be said of Alan Garcia in Peru, he’s such a fixture of politics and popular culture (which are really one nowadays) that he’s simply referred to as “Alan”. When you say “Alan” everyone instantly identifies Alan Garcia.

I have a young man working with me nowadays, Alfredo. Recently I asked him about some code we wrote earlier and he replied that he didn’t remember the details, “I have a terrible memory”. I said “you’re young, you should have an excellent memory”. In my case I had a perfect memory until our first child was born, I would never forget important things and even trivial things I would remember perfectly.

Alfredo answered “It’s all Alan’s fault.”

With a mixture of sarcasm and seriousness he proceeded to explain that there was no milk when he was born during the disastrous first government of Alan Garcia, the period of hyperinflation in the 1980s. His mother suffered. “We – babies of his generation – suffered” he said wryly.

I asked Mamacita linda later in the day about that period and although Mamacita doesn’t like to admit to remembering the 1980s she does remember there would be long lines for basic items in the stores and you could only buy powder or can milk. The family “knew a guy” who would sometimes bring fresh milk and “it was soooo good”. Her mom used to “know somebody” at the store and at the bank who would always make sure their family had what they needed. Mamacita said you would only go to the store or the bank at certain times when you knew “stuff came in” and for even a few basic items her mother would pay with fistfuls of cash. I don’t think Mamacita’s family were privileged but they weren’t among the poorest or worst affected either. During this period Peru was also torn by violence and the terrorism of the Shining Path.

It all seems so absurd now. Thanks to demographics more than half of Peruvians have no memory of those bad old days. There’s been financial and political stability in Peru since the end of the Fujimori era in the late 1990s but I have some mixed feelings about the so-called progress since that time. What Peru gained in macro-economics isn’t reflected in institutional governance imho.

kids run at Señor de Huanca

Just a pretty picture