Life in Peru

Peru – country of almost

Happy birthday Milagros! Twenty-something years ago today, my Peruvian sister-in-law was born in the back seat of a taxi here in Cusco. True story. Mother and baby are fine – in case you were worried. Anytime my mother-in-law tells the story of how her youngest daughter was born in a taxi, the most entertaining part to me is that she always insists that “we were ALMOST to the hospital”.

As the saying goes, “Almost” only counts in horse shoes.

Here in Peru one thing that I find frustrating is that people tend to accept things that are “almost” right, “almost” finished, “almost” useable, etc. People put a lot of effort into something but stop short of finishing or doing it right. And they’re happy with it.

We live a privileged life and I don’t want to sound fussy, but sometimes a small discrepancy makes a big difference.

Would you eat a piece of chicken if it was almost cooked?
Would you get on a flight to Hawaii if the plane had almost enough fuel to get there?

Of course you wouldn’t.

In Peru people do accept things that are “almost good enough”. For example, we are supposed to be in the middle of a construction boom. Real estate prices have skyrocketed and there are new buildings going up everywhere. Most new buildings leave the sides unfinished, sloppy looking bricks between concrete columns. Looks very redneck. A (comparatively) small effort to finish and paint the sides would make a big difference.

That holds true in more important things as well, such as education. The public schools in Peru have classes of 50 kids or more. If you think about the combined effort of kids, parents, teachers and administrators that goes into someone’s education, hiring some more teachers and building some more classrooms isn’t a huge additional effort. In fact, for society as a whole it would be a trivial burden but the difference in the quality of education would be huge, if the kids sat in a class of 25 or 30 instead of a class of 50.

The same could be said for other important aspects of life in Peru, such public transportation, occupational safety, environmental protection, etc. The quality or results don’t reflect the effort or investment, in part because the society accepts “almost” as good enough.

sunset in Huanchaco Peru

Beautiful sunset in Huanchaco. We just returned from a short vacation at the beach.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Life in Peru | , | 1 Comment

Cha`ska Ñawi Niñucha

Our goose has been singing this song for weeks now, she sang it with a choir from her kindergarten the week before Christmas. Brianna’s choir was all 4 and 5 year olds, not quite Mozart yet but I found this version on Youtube, I like it a lot. There are actually 9 people who “disliked” it. Do they not have a life?

Here’s a picture of our goose in her choir. In case you can’t pick her out, she’s the one with her hands to her face yelling at the public :)

cusco-childrens-christmas-choir

That’s my girl!

* * *

PS: how not to talk Spanglish

“Brianna, come rapido. Tu comida se va resfriar!”

January 3, 2014 Posted by | History and culture, Life in Peru | | 1 Comment

Merry Christmas

Brianna: “I want Santa Claus to bring me everything I like (in the commercials) on Disney Junior.”
Me: “Isn’t that a lot?”
Brianna: “Santa Claus can borrow my suitcase if he needs one, so he can bring everything I like from the North Pole.”

Vivasa!

A Merry Christmas to all, from cold and rainy Cusco.

December 24, 2013 Posted by | Business & Economy | , | Leave a comment

Todays Peru politician look-at-me photo-op

On page 8 of today’s Diario el Sol del Cusco:

alcalde-foto-op

A few local politicians with their look-at-me foto-op:

  • On the bottom LH article, if you don’t read Spanish, the mayor of Wanchaq (the district where we live) gets his picture in the newspaper for giving toys to 2,000 kids. For all I know he’s done very little during his time as mayor.
  • The top article is about the regional president, Coco Acurio, at an opening ceremony for electricity to 8,500 people in Alto Qosqo.

My mother-in-law was in the crowd at Coco Acurio’s ceremony in Alto Qosqo. Wanna know why? Because she had to pay a fine if she didn’t participate.

December 23, 2013 Posted by | Life in Peru | , , | Leave a comment

Alto Cusco – your tour guide didn’t take you there

A while back we went to visit friends who live in “Alto Cusco”. “Alto Cusco” is an informal name for the houses and neighborhoods that have sprung up on the sides of the hills and mountains around Cusco. “Alto Cusco” typically refers to the neighborhoods up from the San Sebastian area but there are similar neighborhoods all around Cusco.

These are poor areas. The people we visited call themselves “humble”. “We are humble people here” they say. There are few paved roads up the mountains and even the paved roads are barely useable because they are so steep. Twice on the way up our taxi got bogged down to the point where we had to jump out, lighten the load. If you’ve never seen a gringo in his best Sunday suit push a Suzuki taxi up a hill, this was your chance.

A few streets have regular utilities but for the most part the houses in “Alto Cusco” have no running water – our friends don’t have any. Water trucks come by in some parts and people store water in buckets or cans. There are many neighborhoods in Peru like this, such as the Pueblos Jovenes outside of Lima. All of the houses are “informal”, meaning the people don’t have title to the land, they just come and settle. None of the houses meet any sort of code, here in Cusco the next big earthquake will be an unmitigated disaster. There is actually a government agency in Peru that is tasked with issuing title to people who have settled in informal neighborhoods but in reality the progress in bringing those neighborhoods up to any reasonable standard of living is slim to none.

Spending a few hours in “Alto Cusco” doesn’t make me an expert on urban poverty in Peru any more than spending a few hours in a Nairobi slum makes me an expert on Africa.

But it’s a crying shame.

What passes for government in Peru – local and national alike – is a pathetic excuse of incompetence and greed. I’m not much of a “big government” person but you can’t expect individual families to build roads and utilities, just as you can’t expect the people in the country not to come to the cities in search of a better life when the government makes no effort to improve the economy or the way of life in the countryside.

On the way down from visiting our friends in “Alto Cusco” we passed a man walking up the hill on crutches. His left leg was amputated above his knee. Like most of the people who live in “Alto Cusco” he walks up and down the hill to get what he needs from the town below. There’s no public transportation and taxis barely make it there – if the people can even afford one. It’s probably a 45 minute walk up the hill for a healthy adult, this man does it on crutches probably 3 times a week if not every day.

Alto Cusco

A little friend in Alto Cusco

Alto Cusco view to San Jeronimo

View towards San Jeronimo. Not long ago only a few people lived in that area.

Alto Cusoc

Few paved streets and no running water

Alto Cusco looking down to Cusco airport

On the way back, looking down at the Cusco airport.

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Life in Peru | , , , | Leave a comment

Peruvian names

Did you hear Ringo Star is getting married in Peru?  No, not that Ringo Starr, just someone who shares his name.  It’s not uncommon in Peru for people to have famous names.  There are probably a hundred Michael Jacksons and John Lennons in Peru, a famous person’s name used as a baby’s given names. I’m told there are even kids with names like Exmen (X-men), just for something famous.

The thing about it is, perhaps the parents just liked the name or maybe they thought a famous name would help their child in life.  Peruvians place a lot of value on names. There are many ethnic influences in Peru and people tend to think they know a person by their name.  Huaman, Quispe?  That person must be Quechua (native Indian).  De La Vega?  Surely s/he’s a descendant of the Spanish Conquistadores.  Then you have European names, Asian immigrants and so on.  In Peru babies take both parents last names, so if someone’s last name is Perez Wicht they must be half Dutch and half Spanish right?

Of course if you know your family history it may be correct to make those conclusions but Peruvians take the last name identity much further.  A politician runs an ad, many people right away draw a conclusion about who that person is and what they will stand for in politics based on the person’s last names.  The university here publishes a list of kids who are accepted every year and it’s a local sport in Cusco to start rambling about which ethnic groups are the most favored or intelligent based on the names of the kids who got into the university.  Same for names of business owners, crime reports in the newspaper, etc etc.  Peruvians often think they know the “type of person” by the last names.

But it’s all bogus.

I flew down to Peru a while back with an ex FAP pilot.  He was a real war hero but doesn’t act like one. He said: “I know my names but that doesn’t mean anything.  There are so many influences in Peru, we’re all a big mix.”

Certainly for most people in the big cities that sentiment is true. Here’s why last names don’t mean as much as many Peruvians would like to think: babies take the first of both parents last names.

  • If “Carlos Kennedy Mamani” marries “Raquel Vanderbilt Condori” their kids will be “Robert Kennedy Vanderbilt” or “Mary Kennedy Vanderbilt” and make no mistake about it, many people will think kids with those last names must be really really special.
  • But if “Carlos Mamani Kennedy” marries “Raquel Condori Vanderbilt” their kids will be “Robert Mamani Condori” or “Mary Mamani Condori” and sadly be judged as just another Quechua kid.

Same ancestry with the names in a different order and the kids last names are entirely different. What’s in a name? Not as much as some Peruvians would like to believe.

* * *

As for the “real” Ringo Starr, back in the day some people said he wasn’t all that good of a drummer, compared to the likes of Keith Moon or John Bonham. He once responded to that saying something along the lines of “look at the guys I was playing with, it wasn’t about me or big impressive solos”.

While we’re on the drums, so you don’t have to sit by the radio all month waiting for it ;)

December 8, 2013 Posted by | Life in Peru | , | 2 Comments

Jesus said: Let the children come to me

As long as they are wearing long sleeves and skirts below the knees. Those wearing shorts must wait outside.

No?

Missionary churches in Peru are typically far more conservative than their counterparts in their home countries. We went to a baptism last weekend, in a Catholic church in a poorer part of Cusco. I had never been to this specific church before and didn’t realize the church has mostly missionary clergy and nuns. All gringos in other words. The baptism was a group baptism for about 40 kids (ages between 1 – 10 maybe), with a concurrent/additional Confirmation service for about 60 or 80 kids from the local school. The entire service was 4 hours, uninterrupted. They saved the baptism for the youngest kids (less than 3 years old) until the end.

4 hours uninterrupted in church with our Brianna Nayaraq. Wanna know how that went? Nah, I’ll spare you the details.

A while into the service I stepped outside with the baby. Upon entering the church again, a boy of maybe 7 years old ran into the church alongside me. The nun who was guarding the entrance stopped the boy and pointed to the dress code sign beside the entrance: “You can’t enter wearing shorts.”

A few minutes later, inside the church building, a nun walked by a grandma with her 6 or 8 year old granddaughter. The little girl was wearing a sleeveless shirt. The nun asked the grandma to remove her coat and cover the child with the grandma’s coat.

Just in front of us 2 kids were playing, they couldn’t have been more than 3 to 5 years old. Suddenly one of the boys fell, hurt his head and started to cry. His mom picked him up and he stopped crying in no time. Not soon enough though. One of the patrolling nuns – who looked like she was in charge of things – quickly approached the mom. A Rosary in one hand, with her other hand she pointed the mom with her crying baby towards the exit door.

You thought she was coming to see if the crying boy was ok?

I sat through it all because we were invited by friends. Alright, you got me, I sat through it because there was food at our friends house afterwards. But I can’t get over how many of the missionary churches in Peru are so conservative in their “tribal customs”. Forget the Scriptures, I’m no Bible scholar but none of this is religion, it’s control.

Women who belong to a missionary church are typically required to wear heel-length skirts or dresses. Strange when “our” religion requires women to dress a certain way in the name of God, it’s a beautiful thing but when another religion does the same it’s discrimination?

I respect the so-called Mormon Church in that they work the same way in Peru as they do in their home of Utah. But the church we visited was a Catholic church and they operate in a way that would at best be considered lunatic fringe and at worst illegal in the home countries of those gringo nuns and priests. Make no illusions, many missionary churches here have a large following only because of strategic decisions (invest in nice buildings in poorer areas of town) and because of their centuries of built up wealth. Ironically, much of that wealth was plundered from the so called “New World”.

But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Luke 18:16

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Life in Peru | , , | Leave a comment

Do not mix

kaboom

One day an Alchemist working for the Good Creator was doing some experiments, dabbling in this mixing with that. Kaboom. Things didn’t work out as planned. The Alchemist wrote a detailed report for the Good Creator, 43-101 compliant, many pages of detail, temperatures, pressures, formulas and conclusions. He sent his report up to the Good Creator.

The Good Creator called down to his Alchemist and asked “What does this all mean?” He said sorry we’ve been real busy here with the war in Syria and that situation with De Bruyne in Chelsea, really don’t have time to delve into the details of the report. Would appreciate if you could explain in layman’s terms.

The Alchemist responded: “It’s about gringo and Peruvian genes. I suggest they not mix because the results can be very unpredictable.”

do_not_mix

The Good Creator sent the report down to his geographic department with a sticky note:

“Take care of this.”

A while later the geographic department responded that they had implemented a fix. The gringo genes would be placed well above the equator and the Peruvian genes below the equator. There would be an ocean and a big jungle in between the two. Most of the Peruvian genes were placed on top of a big old mountain where they would not likely mix with others.

And the Good Creator saw that it was good.

* * *

Seriously, our girls are little bundles of hellraiser. I should have read a book about parenting. I waited until I was 35 to have my first baby so I had plenty of time. I read lots of books, about knights and cowboys and wars, of course. I read “1984″ and “Catcher in the Rye”. Books about computers and airplanes. Never once thought about reading a book about parenting and forget about it now, no time.

I mean, we don’t have any real issues. I’m not talking juvenile detention here, only that some days it seems like every other parent is a better parent than me. Everyone else’s kids are easier than ours. So it seems.

  • When it’s time to eat, other kids sit at the table and eat nicely. Ours make a mess, barely eat when it’s time to eat.
  • When it’s time to sleep, other kids say goodnight and go to bed. Ours never go to bed until we do, and the baby who was sleeping good as a newborn now wakes up 5-10 times every night. Her older sister used to wake up 3-4 times a night until she was 14 months old.
  • When it rains, other kids put on their coat and try to stay out of the rain. Our Brianna will go out of her way to jump in puddles of water and make a big spash.
  • When it’s time to do homework, other kids follow instructions. Brianna turns every task into a Picasso. Same for the walls in our house.

“Brianna Nayaraq”. Nayaraq means “who has a lot of desires”. Should’ve known I guess.

Patricia does believe in the whole mixing of genes thing. She says her friends who married gringos all have wild little kids. We had to take a blood test before getting married here in Peru, to test if “we were compatible” and we’d have good kids. Sometimes we talk about going back to that clinic and asking for our money back :)

In all seriousness I’m not complaining. We have 2 beautiful, healthy girls and that’s all I could ever ask for. They’re healthy, happy and growing. I am fortunate enough to be able to provide them a decent home, pay for private school (for the oldest) and a maid who cooks like Gaston Acurio.

Every day!

But am I the only one or do you sometimes wonder, why does parenting look so much easier for other parents?

* * *

As for the story of creation…

They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple but man I ain’t going for that, I say it was a pink Cadillac.

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Life in Peru | , , | 2 Comments

Red Sox win World Series: why Peru should care

The Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series last night. Strange how the North American sports refer to the winners of their big leagues as “world champions” when their league only spans the US and a few Canadian cities but that’s a subject for another day.

It’s the Red Sox 3rd World Series win since 2004 and also their 3rd since 1918. Did you know the Red Sox didn’t win the World Series for 86 years between 1918 and 2004 because of the Curse of the Bambino? I remember after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, a Yankee fan made a sign that said something like:

“Hey Red Sox fans, there was never a curse, your teams just sucked for all these years!”

Like those Red Sox of days past, the Peruvian national soccer (futbol) team has been long suffering, the last time Peru qualified for the World Cup (Mundial) was 1982. Peru suffers badly for their national futbol team, as Otto rightfully says, you people up North have no idea just how big of a deal futbol is down here in South America.

But to the point of that Yankee fan: perhaps those Red Sox teams were bad for all those years because they believed in the curse. They had a culture of losing. Similarly, I would make the case the Peruvian futbol team is bad because they believe they are supposed to be bad. Peru has this sort of feeling of national tragedy anytime their team takes the field. The coaches, the players, the fans have been disappointed for so long that they don’t want to get their hopes up high.

You won’t win if you don’t believe you can win.

Don’t get me wrong, no amount of delusional bravado could make Cienciano beat Barcelona right now (or ever?) but at the top of any professional sport, the teams are so competitive and differences between teams so small that you must take the field believing you can win, or you simply won’t. A winning culture matters as much as talent does.

Peru has a lot of talented futbol players but when they give up a goal or fall behind you can usually see the team packs it in right away. The fans are worse than the players. Watch your Peruvian friends on Facebook when their team gives up a goal. You don’t think it matters, down a run with 2 outs in the ninth, the difference between 40,000 fans hoping and praying or 40,000 people heading to the exits saying “we’re losing again might as well go home now”.

Look at the Miami Heat in game 6 of the 2013 NBA finals. The league had started to roll out the trophy to give to San Antonio with only a few seconds left in the game. Miami got some lucky bounces but if those players didn’t still believe they could win, they would’ve never chased down those loose balls, made those second shot attempts.

The good Belgian soccer teams of the 1980s, they had to know deep down they weren’t as talented as some of their opponents but they always believed they had a puncher’s chance. They played very strong defense and had a goal keeper with the character of a Jack Russell terrier (ie. you’ll have to kill me to get past me). They knew they didn’t have the best talent but as long as they kept the other team to a big goose egg, all they needed was one goal to win. The best team doesn’t always win, the team that scores the most wins.

There’s probably a lot of reasons why Peru’s futbol team doesn’t play up to their potential. The national organization is weak, the agents take advantage of the players, the players are reluctant to play for the national team for fear of getting hurt and then being left on their own, etc.

Frankly it’s a bit of a thankless exercise to be a player on Peru’s national team. On top of all the other stuff, Peru has a sort of weird pretentious prude attitude: the players constantly end up on Magaly TV when they go out drinking or partying as if it’s a big scandal.

It’s the culture stoopid.

Somewhere in 2004 the Boston Red Sox shook the curse and started a winning culture. Peru won’t have a chance to go to another Mundial until Peruvian players, fans, coaches and media all start to believe the team can win and the culture becomes a culture of winning.

* * *

Hey Otto, remember when Belgium beat Argentina in 1982?

Belgium is supposed to be have a really good team for the 2014 Mundial but here’s a few things you should know about their qualifying group:

  • 3 of the countries in our group didn’t exist when I started high school.
  • 2 of the countries in our group are only countries when it’s time for futbol, the rest of the time they’re part of a Commonwealth. Or something.

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Life in Peru | , , | 1 Comment

Danos tu bendición

Señor de los Milagros Cusco

I almost forgot, today is the central day of Señor de los Milagros.

October 18, 2013 Posted by | History and culture, Life in Peru | | Leave a comment

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