Let The President Pay You!

Sorry, not much blogging as of late, I’ve been so busy with work and family that I haven’t had much time for it. A while back I contemplated shutting the blog down but Stuart told me that’d be like book burning. Not a particularly good book in this case but I can see his point. At any rate, jungledrums have it that Stuart is a proud new first-time papi so congratulations are due!

Not to change the subject too much but our maid came in this morning with a very Peruvian story. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She rides a “combi” to our house and back – “combis” are Peru’s horrible version of private enterprise public transportation. That’s to say combi routes are assigned by local municipalities to “qualified bidders” and the owners of the route then hire drivers and busses. Many or perhaps most of the busses are privately owned, one-man type operations, where the driver pays a very significant royalty for the privilege of running the route to the route owners. The combis are mostly old and dilapidated and also a favorite hangout of petty criminals, a good place to lose your wallet or cellphone.

All this not to complain about the combis or the drivers, it’s the system that’s the problem but it would take leadership with cojones to fix it.

When our maid passed by a large public school on her way in this morning, a kid in his school uniform jumped out of the combi and ran. He was maybe 8-10 but looked younger. The boletero (the person who rides on the combi to collect fares) ran after him and shouted for his fare. The kid was too quick but when he was out of reach of the boletero he turned around and shouted:

Let the President pay you!!!

Our maid said it was sort of a funny moment at the time but sad when you think about it, the kid is largely a product of his environment and obviously it isn’t good. As a sidenote, public schools in Peru are woefully underfunded and the particular school where this kid jumped out is known as a tough school. The kid’s probably left to his own devices most of the day while his parents are out working just to get by, then he’s in a 50+ class of kids in similar situations.

Saqra dance

Saqra dance for Father’s Day. If Joan Jett was Peruvian?

Flying to the Yucatan

Not much flying for me lately but I did have a nice trip to the Yucatan last month.

Ratero!!!!!!!!

I’m walking back to our house. Deep in thought about some computer code for one of my customers.

A lady in traditional Peruvian dress on the opposite side of the street looks a bit upset or out of place. She’s carrying a baby on her back. She’s yelling something I didn’t understand right away. I’m still in my own world.

A young man – maybe still a teenager – walks by quickly, his head down.

The lady’s yelling louder and more clearly now. RATERO! RATERO!

Other people in the street are looking up and start yelling as well. RATERO! RATERO!

The young man starts running down the street.

I finally snap out of my own world. “Ratero” means “thief”. Apparently the guy had robbed something from the poor lady but she was alert enough to notice. A bunch of people are now running after the ratero and a bit down the street they catch up.

I was mad at myself. I missed my chance. If I hadn’t been in my own world so much I would have stood a decent chance of being the first to catch this little robber. I didn’t stick around too long but it looked like all ended well for the poor lady and the little robber was about to get what he deserved. In 4 years here in Peru this was the second time that I witnessed a public chase after a ratero. Unfortunately both times I was just too late to run after the guy myself.

Peru is generally a safe country but petty crime is quite noticeable and people are understandably upset about it. You can probably argue that in the most recent Peruvian presidential elections the final vote came down to the 2 candidates that were perceived as the toughest on crime. We regularly hear about break-ins and the like. It’s happened to friends and neighbors. At Patricia’s work there’s always a line of people looking to buy new cellphones because their old one got stolen.

The only thing I’ve lost to a ratero was a camera about a year or so ago. That was my own fault because I was in a large crowd and put the camera in an open pocket. More recently kids took a ball and a little purse that belonged to Brianna but again it was my own fault because I left the stuff unattended in the park while Brianna went to play in a different area.

The rateros like to “case” houses pretending to be utility company employees and the like. They prey on empleadas (maids) who are home alone and may not know any better. One guy came to “case” our house pretending to be with the gas company. I let the dogs out and haven’t seen the guy since.

Roxi and Manchita keeping a watchful eye outside

Roxi and Manchita keeping a watchful eye outside

Patricia laughs at me and thinks the dogs won’t do anything if a ratero came to our house. Maybe that’s true but even the appearance of security alone is typically enough to make the ratero move on the the next house. Quite frankly most Peruvians don’t have any experience with strong protective dogs (the street dogs are generally skittish) and I have no doubt in my mind that our mutts would put the average ratero in the hospital for a very long time – especially if any of us are home. The little dog is a Jack Russell mix and hates everyone but me. The bigger dog is a Blue Pitbull and has never had an original thought in her life. She just does whatever her “big sister” does. When the little dog gets mad the big dog gets madder. The big dog is mild mannered and timid by herself, but the little dog isn’t scared of anyone. I’ve seen her get mad at 10 people or a Mastiff that outweighed her by 140 pounds.

Of course petty crime doesn’t just happen in Peru. My father was working in his garage in Belgium one day when a thief snuck up beside the house and stole a bicycle. I got pickpocketed at the Atlanta airport once. When Patricia lived in Ohio some guys came to “case” their neighborhood. I guess it happens everywhere.

If you’re visiting Peru some ideas for your safety/security are just be alert and watch your belongings while you’re in crowded places or on a bus. Don’t be a dumbass like me and walk around Inti Raymi with a camera in an open pocket. Be alert at the bus stops, people will enter the bus to sell candy and drinks, or from outside through the bus windows. Rateros will enter the bus to steal your stuff while you’re distracted or asleep. Don’t flaunt expensive jewelry or electronics, don’t leave your belongings unattended, common sense stuff like that.

If you want more security I’ll be happy to rent you a pair of protective mutts 😉

Cusco’s barbed wire obsession

I thought barbed wire was for prisons and farms, but here in Cusco people have different ideas. Barbed wire is everywhere. Take a look…

barbed wire in Cusco

barbed wire

more useless barbed wire

I could take a hundred pictures like this within 2 blocks of our apartment. We live in the heart of the city, yet you see barbed wire everywhere, wrapped around fences, flower beds, gardens, etc.

At first I thought all the barbed wire in the city was a by-product of the huge migrations to the cities in Peru since the 1960s, with people bringing a lifestyle from the country to the city, but you frankly don’t see much barbed wire in the countryside in Peru. Most of the animals are herded and the lands are treated somewhat as community property.

So what gives, why is there so much useless barbed wire everywhere? I say “useless” because every last piece of barbed wire you see in the city is jerry-rigged in the poorest possible fashion, and none of it would even appear to keep any person or animal in or out.

Was there a big recall on Chinese barbed wire that someone down here got a good deal on? Or is it simply the middle-class in the cities paranoia about crime?

There’s definitely a fair amount of petty crime in the cities, but this barbed wire won’t stop any of that. If the powers-that-be were really interested in fighting petty crime, they could simply shut down the black markets where all the stolen goods are sold, like “Paraiso” and “Baratillo” in the Santiago district of Cusco.

At the end of the day, the barbed wire doesn’t stand out too badly because most of it is wrapped around regular hedges and fences where you won’t notice unless you’re looking, but when you have a baby who’s just starting to walk and grab everything, it’s certainly a nuisance. In fact, one time when we were at an elementary school in a small town, a young girl of about 9 or 10 who was playing a blindfold game ran into a barbed wire fence. That’s right, a barbed-wire fence, around a flowerbed, in a school !!!

I still have a 10″ scar on my left leg from running into a barbed wire in my hometown when I was about 8 or 10, so dumbassery certainly isn’t limited to Cusco, but I found the only piece of barbed wire in my town and ran into it… over here, it’s everywhere.

Peru, safety and pitbulls

How safe is Peru? How dangerous are pitbulls?

Got an email from my mom a while back, loosely translated:

“… Two friends of mine were thinking about visiting Peru. They’ve planned out their trip to Lima, Machu Picchu, and Cusco, and have already bought their tickets. But someone told them Peru is dangerous, and then they also read that Peru is dangerous on some government website. Now they’re thinking about canceling their trip, what should they do?”

So is Peru dangerous in my opinion? Here’s my response, again loosely translated:

“… Jee if I had known how dangerous it is here I could have been scared for the last year and a half !! Peru is very safe in my experience, BUT, it is a poor country so you have to be mindful of petty crime. It often amazes me how some tourists walk around Cusco as if they’re in Disney World. You have to be aware of your belongings, especially in busy places and on buses. Pay attention when the bus stops. There are bad parts of town in Lima, just like anywhere else in the world, but there’s no reason an ordinary tourist would end up there. I imagine the reason the government website said Peru is dangerous is because in a few of the provinces along the border with Colombia there are drug cartels, but again there’s no reason the average tourist would end up there.”

And then I made the mistake of adding some humor…

“Besides if your friends are really scared they can borrow my Pitbull while they’re here…”
We think Manchita is a Blue Pitbull

We think Manchita is a Blue Pitbull

Response from my mother….

“O my God, I’m so worried about what you’re going to do with the dogs now that you’re going to have a baby…”

Sometimes you just can’t win. There are lots of documented benefits of having dogs around children. Needless to say if you have strong, protective dogs like ours you have to pay attention to them, especially around children. But the notion that pitbulls randomly attack people is even more ridiculous than the idea that Peru is some bad unsafe place that you shouldn’t visit.