Missed connections

I had a birthday last week so we had a small party at the house with family and friends. If my grandfather were still with us he would’ve said something like “God willing, you’re about halfway there!”

I’m a pretty traditional party food guy – the pizza and wings type – but this time around we’d decided to get Chifa for our guests, Peruvian style oriental food. Mamacita Linda called in a big take out order to Chifa Status and my brother in law and I set out to pick up the food. The restaurant was busy so we sat down and had a drink waiting for our order.

A large group was seated at the next table. The group consisted of about 12 or 15 young men and one beautiful young girl. The men were all dressed alike in black leather jackets and the girl also dressed in black. The men all acted confident, almost cocky, as if they owned the place. Rarely any of them made eye contact outside their group. I started to get a bit suspicious. If you’d ever been to a restaurant owned by the Italian mob in NY, you’d expect the mob family to look just like the group of young men I was seated next to. Was I seated next to a gang? Or maybe not? Peruvian gangs don’t exactly get dressed up to go out to the best Chifa in town. The guys all looked confident and slightly cocky but didn’t look they were up to anything.

When one of the guys got up I had a chance to look at the design on the back of his black leather jacket, and the words “Rosita de Espinar.” Wait, what?! All these guys were wearing “Rosita de Espinar” jackets. And I’m her biggest number one gringo fan! So 12 guys with one girl, the girl has to be Rosita de Espinar right?

Unlike me, many middle class Peruvians would rather die than to be caught listening to Peruvian folkloric music. Me, on the other hand I’ll go nuts playing air-banjo, air-guitar, air-drums and air-anything else in the car when some Peruvian folk music comes on the radio. With the kids all yelling “change the station you’re embarrassing us!”

Now I wish I could tell you I ran over, got a picture and an autograph from Rosita de Espinar for my best birthday present ever but I didn’t 😦

I couldn’t believe this group of guys who – save for polyester pants – could’ve come straight out of “Saturday Night Fever” were a group of Peruvian folkloric singers. Frankly, I wasn’t even sure if the girl was Rosita de Espinar. I’ve never seen her perform live or seen her pictures other than where she’s always dressed in traditional folkloric costume promoting her shows. Here she was all cosmopolitan, the girl in black dressed to the hilt, looking nothing like those folkloric images. In fact, she’s much prettier in real life than in the pictures where she’s in costume.

Right about this time the group started to leave and our food was ready so we left as well. We got to the house and of course Mamacita Linda was fully understanding of my idiocy:

“What do you mean you didn’t know if it was Rosita de Espinar??? Do you think 12 guys with Rosita de Espinar jackets are going to be hanging out with Dina Paucar or Lady Gaga? You missed your chance you big idiot!!!”

Hey Rosita, come back and have Chifa with us another day, my kids would love to meet your musicians!


At breakfast today, during a conversation Mamacita Linda was having with our maid Vasilia, I learned that the Spanish word “romero” means Rosemary, the herb. I didn’t know that before. Mamacita Linda has been bothered for a while by a minor discomfort in her ear and our maid Vasilia suggested some natural concoction with “romero” would help ease the discomfort.

I didn’t know “romero” means Rosemary so you can imagine the surprised look I got from the two of them when I blurted out “If I ever have another son – which I’m not – I’d want to call him Romero.” They looked at me all puzzled so I added “After Bishop Romero.”

More puzzled looks.

I was surprised neither my wife nor our maid knew anything about Bishop Romero. It’s not polite to talk about girls’ ages but both Vasilia and Mamacita Linda are old enough to remember when poverty and social injustice were far more obvious in Latin America than today.

When you have 3 little ones, you live in the moment, the experience of 3 little kids is just so overwhelming. So on the rare occasions we discuss life before marriage and kids, it feels almost foreign, like a previous life. I explained to Mamacita Linda and Vasilia how I used to fly shrimp larvae from a shrimp farm in the Florida Keys to Honduras many moons ago and got to know Central America a little bit. Even though I didn’t know him well, I attended a few meetings with the late Ambassador White who spoke out against social injustice and the geopolitical forces that perpetuated it in Central America for too long.

Neither Vasilia nor Mamacita Linda knew much about the complicated history of El Salvador but our conversation quickly turned to Peru. Not unlike El Salvador, the latter part of the 20th century was a very tough chapter in the history of Peru, with hyperinflation and the Shining Path terrorism. Mamacita Linda talked about how the Shining Path terrorism wasn’t felt too badly here in Cusco but she remembers as a kid seeing the reports about car bombs in Lima on TV.

“It was bad in Lima”.

There’s no such thing as a lesser evil or trauma when it comes to kids living in a world marred by violence but when Vasilia finally spoke up, her story was much more personal. Growing up in the country she didn’t experience Shining Path terrorism over the TV but very personally. Her parents would hide out behind the house whenever the Shining Path guerillas came to town, or at least hide the kids. The guerillas would come and take whatever they’d want and terrorize the town. Fortunately Vasilia and her family all lived through it. Her grandfather wasn’t so lucky, one day the Shining Path guerillas came to town, took Vasilia’s grandfather away and he was never seen again.

To the average tourist or casual observer there isn’t much history of terrorism in Peru nowadays but for those who were affected the wounds are still there.

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.