El Niño Peru 2017

This is all over the news in Peru today, a woman miraculously escapes a landslide caused by El Niño rains by Punta Hermosa, just south of Lima.

El Niño related rains have caused devastation in many parts of Peru this year, Piura and the North of Peru have been hit hard and now Lima.

There’s rain in the forecast

Raising kids is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. By a nautical mile. Our middle child gives me the most grief at the moment, I often feel like I’m just not getting through to her. For example, she says “por nada” (you’re welcome) when she should to say “gracias” (thank you), like she’ll say “Por nada para la rica comida papi!”. Even though we’ve pointed this out to her countless times, she keeps making the same mistake. She’s slow in learning to speak, even at 4 years old, I don’t know to what extent that factors into it.

Of course there’s the normal kid stuff that drives parents crazy. No matter how many, many times we’ve asked our 2 oldest to be quiet when their baby brother is asleep, it never happens. Clean up your toys at night? Hang up your coat when you come in the house? Not happening.

We’re staying at my parents’ house for a while and the other day my oldest asked me about the barometer on the wall. I’m not sure she’d ever seen one before so I explained to her it’s an instrument that helps us predict the weather, that the atmospheric pressure changes as weather systems move and the barometer helps us predict if it’s likely to be sunny or cloudy and rainy.

My middle daughter was in the room but she wasn’t paying any particular attention to the conversation. Then 2 days later I happened to pick up my middle daughter as I walked past the barometer. She looked over at the barometer and casually goes:

“Hey, there’s rain in the forecast.”

Go figure.


Dutch language music playlist / Part 2

I only remember 2 things from high school: (1) the day Raymond Van Het Groenewoud performed in our school and (2) erghhh, wait, no I don’t remember anything else.

Unlike most popular Belgian music, Raymond Van Het Groenewoud is not always easy to listen to, a lot of his music tends to be rather raw, emotional, sometimes lighthearted to the point of being silly but at other times more dark and sad.

Fennel is a big black guy

People here in Peru have been asking me practically non-stop since Wednesday morning, “how is it possible the US voted for Donald Trump?”

I find it amusing how Peruvians have rather low self esteem when it comes to the politics of their country. They earnestly ask me “aren’t WE supposed to be the ones who vote clowns and con-artists into office?” Then with trepidation in their voices, as if such a thing isn’t supposed to be possible, they ask “don’t you think OUR President is better than theirs now?” To which I respond that in my opinion PPK is far better and would have easily beaten either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

Here in Peru perhaps the defining issue of the US election cycle was Trump’s stance on immigration, which for Peruvians has a degree of ludicrousness to it: there are strong Native American cultures in Peru, such as the Aymara and the Quechua cultures and Peruvians are keenly aware that “up there” in North America, practically everyone are descendants of immigrants. They find the strong anti immigration sentiment in North America just absurd.

However I lived in the US for a long time and while most Peruvians perceive the US election results as incomprehensible, I do understand the anti establishment and anti liberal sentiment that prevailed in the election and tell my Peruvian friends a personal anecdote about the time I worked at GE.

Fennel was one of my coworkers, he has roots in Liberia, West Africa, but lived in the US most of his life. Fennel is a big guy, he’s not a kid anymore but he still pretty much has the physique of an NFL lineman. Fennel has scars on his forearms, he used to tell us guys he’d worked with for a long time that as a kid he got attacked and fought off a wild cat of some type in Africa, probably a small jaguar. We’d joke about not messing with Fennel because “he once beat up a tiger” but as the jet engine shop got bigger and we hired more and more technicians, Fennel didn’t want to talk about the scars on his forearm anymore, seems he didn’t want to be known as “the guy who once beat up a tiger”.

As far as I know Fennel spent some of his younger years in tough areas of Detroit and New Jersey but he’s one of the nicest guys you could work with. I only remember one time seeing Fennel get mad. We had another coworker who was a complete jerk. He used to be a reasonably nice guy but for whatever reasons had personal issues and became a total a**, frequently offending people to the point where you’d worry things would get physical. One night this jerk had gotten into an argument with Fennel and luckily Fennel walked away. He came up to me, tense, beads of sweat on his face, voice trembling. He tells me “I haven’t been in a fight in 20 years but it’s like, when somebody insults your mother”. So I say let’s go outside and punch a few trees, cool off, nobody needs to get fired because of this jerk.

All this to say I knew Fennel well, he was one of the guys I was close with.

One night another technician came to me for advice on some obscure technical issue. Building jet engines is very interesting, there is a lot of really deep technology and minute detail involved, so once in a while when a part or assembly has an anomaly, you go looking for a technician who may have particular expertise in the area. I don’t remember the details of the issue but it was something Fennel would have known a lot about, so I sent this other technician to look for Fennel. Most people in the shop knew each other but this technician didn’t know Fennel.

I said: “You don’t know Fennel? Big black guy, always comes in around 4:00, works CF34-10 in the back? Ask anybody in shrouds or rotors.”

A few people overheard our conversation and stopped me. They said I’d better be careful calling somebody a “big black guy”. HR or somebody else might take offense.

I personally wasn’t worried about getting fired but that’s the kind of thing that has driven white Americans away from progressive politics in droves and created the “angry white man” sentiment that Trump rode to victory: white Americans, especially white men, feel like cultural and economic changes are jeopardizing their way of life. They feel like they might get fired because liberals have decided that simply identifying a person’s race might be offensive, or that anything which any person of color perceives as offensive is therefor by definition offensive.

Many Peruvians still have an idealistic view of the USA, they don’t understand there are people who struggle everywhere. When white American men struggle or feel like society hasn’t given them a fair shake, they feel like the newfangled ideas of progressive politics are to blame and they perceive Hillary Clinton as the most visible and long term leader of progressive politics, the embodiment of those newfangled ideas. So I tell my Peruvian friends, unlike what the media and pollsters say, the US election result was NOT a surprise, as soon as it was decided the final choice was between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the writing was on the wall.

For my part I knew darn well Fennel didn’t take offense. In my opinion everybody ought to be proud of their heritage and if a person was born in West Africa and looks like an NFL lineman, they might be described as a big black guy without anybody taking offense.

My Tractor Driving Skills

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series! Nothing’s sacred anymore in this world, not even 108 year losing streaks. Just kidding, congrats to all the Cubs fans out there!

I have a great arm, had I grown up in the US, Cuba, Dominican Republic or any other baseball crazed nation I would have been a pitcher. I remember tossing a baseball in an event when I was 6 or 7 years old, all the other kids were throwing underhanded, 8 meters, 10 meters. I think the longest throw was 14 meters by another kid. When it was my turn I threw the ball overhand, 28 meters, nobody could believe it.

Another time when I was only 4 or 5 years old all the kids in the family went out to the field on my grandpa’s farm to help harvest potatoes. My grandpa had one of the first tractors in town, I think it was a small Farmall or something of that nature. We picked up the potatoes by hand and threw them on the trailer while my dad was driving the tractor. By the time the trailer got fuller, most of the kids could no longer throw the potatoes on the trailer. I picked up a potato and since I was a little kid, everybody on my side of the tractor thought they had to encourage me:

“Throw it as hard as you can!!”

So I hurled the potato as hard as I could, it went sailing wide over the trailer and hit my uncle Hubert in the head on the other side of the trailer. He comes running around the tractor yelling that I hit him in the head with a potato but nobody believed him, they couldn’t believe I could throw the potato all the way over the trailer. After the commotion died down it was decided I would ride on my father’s lap and “help” drive the tractor to avoid any further unpleasantness, thereby starting my tractor driving experience.

Of course I thought it was the greatest thing, driving the tractor. Little did I know at that time that in a reasonably clean field the tractor pretty much drives straight down the field on its own accord. I did learn a few tricks about driving tractors later on, my dad for some years kept farming on the side and when I went to live in the US I’d help out a bit here and there on my friends farm.

All this came to mind a while back when I decided to drive up to Alto Q’osqo to drop of a bunch of no longer needed baby stuff – no more babies for us!! We piled some stuff in the car and I drove up to Alto Q’osqo with our maid Delia who lives there, so she could give it to people who have better use for it. Driving the car up that hill I had to pull out my best tractor driving skills not to get stuck. On the way back down I started to think it was a bad idea to drive up that mountain, it’s not comfortable at all. I’ve flown single engine airplanes over the Atlantic Ocean, the smallest planes I’ve flown over the ocean have less horsepower than many cars nowadays. Driving down the hill from Alto Q’osqo feels more dangerous than flying a little Cessna over the ocean.

I feel bad for people like Delia who ride up that hill in combis every day. If I ever change careers again I’m going into public service, try to do something meaningful.

Rock and Roll

These kids know just what papi likes!

That’s OK, he’s always been old

Some of the places I used to live have a very high median age, Belgium, Florida. I remember walking into the old Langford Hotel in Winter Park with a friend of mine who was in his 60s at the time. One of the patrons at the bar said in all seriousness “nice to see a couple of young guys in here!” So I’m a bit fascinated in Peru by the mob of young people you see everywhere, the median age here is so much younger than in the places I used to live.

Mamacita Linda went to Lima earlier this week to see Aerosmith live. Big week for rock fans here in Peru, Aerosmith played in Lima on Monday and today the much hyped Guns N’ Roses reunion tour hits Lima. BTW, is that why you’re on the road Otto?

While Mamacita Linda was in Lima for the concert, her and a few friends were browsing rock stars on Youtube and she called me in a great big panic:

Mamacita Linda: “Papiiiiiiiiii!!!”
Me: “Erghh? You OK?”
Mamacita Linda: “Nooooo!!!”
Me: “What happened?”
Mamacita Linda: “We were looking up videos on Youtube and we saw Jon Bon Jovi, he’s old now!!!!!”
Me: “Erghh? He’s about 10 years older than me?”
Me: “And by the way, you just saw Aerosmith, I think Steven Tyler is older than Jon Bon Jovi.”
Mamacita Linda: “But for me Steven Tyler was always an old guy, so it doesn’t bother me that he’s really an old guy. But Bon Jovi used to be young and PAPI*!”

That’s one of the sentiments that fascinates me the most: the young people in Peru just know when they see an older person, that that person has always been old.

I have to admit, subconsciously I do the opposite: when I see all these young people who don’t remember a world without cellphones or internet, I somehow think that in 20 years time they’re going to understand a world without internet, cellphones or 24 hour news just because I used to know that world once, when I was the age these young kids are now. Of course that’ll never happen, no matter how old these young people ever grow up to be, they’ll never go back in time to a world without internet or cellphones.

(*) “PAPI” is used to describe handsome guys.

When Joe Biden and Mitt Romney had lunch

The other day Joe Biden and Mitt Romney got together for lunch, I happened to be sitting at the next table so I listened in (*). After a while the conversation naturally turned to politics:

Mitt: “Dude, you should’ve run.”
Joe: “I know, I know. I wish I had.”
Joe: “Dude, you should’ve run.”
Mitt: “I wish I had!”
Joe: “I suppose you’re still voting for Hillary?”
Mitt: “Exactly, a Hillary Clinton victory might be the last chance to keep the fringes and nutjobs on our side from taking over completely. I hold out some hope that a Hillary Clinton victory will lead to serious soul searching on our side, return us to a vision of big tent conservatives.”
Joe: “It isn’t my thing but I hear you dude.”
Mitt: “You still voting for Trump then?”
Joe: “Absolutely, a Trump victory is the only way to get rid of the Clinton clan once and for all, return the party to its ideals and progressive values, instead of selling our soul to hang onto power and money.”
Mitt: “I hear you…”
Mitt: “By the way, Barack’s kind of aloof and for so-called progressives I can’t believe what you guys are doing with the drone program but other than that, I’ve got to give it to you, you and Barack did alright.”
Joe: “Thanks man!”
Mitt: “Out of curiosity, who’s Barack voting for anyway?”
Joe: “I think he’s writing in Beyoncé.”
Mitt: “Good call, I mean I don’t totally agree with the cause but at least she owned her cause.”

* * *

(*) No I didn’t, I made it all up but you knew that already. I did want to say I no longer believe my own stupid prediction from back in Feb when I said the Rio Madre de Dios would freeze over before Donald Trump becomes President of the USA. At the time I believed there was no way the business/political establishment would allow the final choice to come down to Clinton vs. Trump. As that is the final choice, I’m giving Trump better than 50-50 odds. I think the media, the polsters and political elites are very far removed from Main Street USA and they’re likely underestimating both the dislike for the Clintons and the general feeling of being fed up with the status quo. The pollsters might be in for a shock just like the Brexit pollsters were.

The Gold’s Gym debacle in Cusco

I don’t work out, I probably should but I stay pretty active walking to the office, taking the kids to school, lifting my coffee cup, etc. Soon I’ll do a post on where to work out in Cusco, for all you fitness fanatics out there.

Mamacita Linda had been working out at the Gold’s Gym in Cusco, which turned into a hot mess here recently. Mamacita Linda worked out at the Gold’s Gym because it was the biggest, nicest gym in town. Had new machines, nice looking trainers and above all, it was located in a prime space in the only real mall in town, Real Plaza.

As all gyms do, Gold’s Gym in Cusco was quite aggressive at selling long term memberships. Mamacita Linda re-upped her membership for another year just 2 months ago.

Then word got out a few days ago that the Gold’s Gym franchise in Cusco was closing effective Sept 30. Mamacita Linda went to the gym to see what arrangements were being made for members only to find a mob of angry customers. So far there has been no agreement from Gold’s Gym to refund any partial contracts or transfer the contracts to the new gym that is set to take over the location. The next nearest Gold’s Gym is 8 hours away, so that’s not exactly an option for existing customers either. Some customers had signed 2 year agreements with Gold’s Gym Cusco as recently as 2 weeks prior to the announced closing. Surely the gym management knew they were signing customers up and taking payment up front for services they had no intention of delivering.

Every customer who came to the gym to see what arrangements were being made only ended up being hounded by Gold’s Gym staff to sign the piece of paper below, effectively saying “I acknowledge my membership is being terminated and I have no complaints with respect to the above.” In return for signing said piece of paper, the customers got a few discount coupons to the gym franchise that is set to replace Gold’s Gym. Of course, since no gym memberships ever sell at full value the discount coupons you get for giving up your entire Gold’s Gym contract are effectively worthless.

Should Gold’s Gym change their mind and do right by their customers I’ll let you know but for now it’s not looking good.

Update 10/3/2016: The new gym at Real Plaza, Smart Fit has offered Mamacita Linda a comparable membership to her previous Gold’s Gym membership at no cost for the remainder of her original Gold’s Gym contract. It’s not clear to anybody to what extent, if any, Gold’s Gym facilitated this or if it’s just “good business” on behalf of Smart Fit. The perception among customers is the latter. I’m glad that Gold’s Gym customers aren’t left with nothing but the transition was handled very poorly by the Gold’s Gym Peru franchise.