Last day of class

The school where I teach English (ESL) is on a monthly schedule, like many of the private institutes here in Cusco. Last day of class is typically quite an experience and yesterday was no exception. This month my schedule was in the afternoon, when most students are teenagers, and here’s how it all went down:

  • I arrive about five minutes before class starts, when the students are feverishly copying each other’s workbooks. In true Peruvian fashion, they generally ignore my daily reminders not to wait until the last minute.
  • We get in the class and all the 15 year old girls pretend to really like me, tell me I’m the best teacher ever.
  • I go over everything that’s on the final exam. Most students ignore me entirely and instead make a feeble last-minute attempt at studying for the exam.
  • I hand out the exams and someone promptly asks me to explain the very same question that I was giving them the answers to about 30 seconds earlier… At that point I can’t help them because I’m busy tracking down the one student who tried to steal an extra copy of the test so he can sell it at Molino later.
C.C. Molino, a place full of pirated CDs, movies and ESL tests...

C.C. Molino, a place full of pirated CDs, movies and ESL tests...

I wish I hadn’t said that…

After I snatched the exam back from the kid who tried to make a profit of extra exam copies, one girl gave me a mean look because I wouldn’t explain to her the very same thing I was talking about a few minutes earlier… and that’s when I told her exactly how I felt. In no uncertain terms I explained to her this is my “fun job”, that I get paid as much to teach the class for an entire month as I used to make in 3 hours and that she better not give me any grief because it’s not worth it to me.

Shame on me šŸ˜¦

Then I went home, graded the exams and saved the grades on a diskette. You read that right, a diskette. Some fool in IT conned the “Directors” into believing diskettes are somehow safer than email.

Teacher… I have to have a really good grade or else my family will…

When some kid fails class, it’s often a huge problem in their families. I wish someone would explain to parents here that it makes no sense to send their kid to the next class – where they won’t learn a thing – if they haven’t mastered the fundamentals in the class before. The point isn’t to get some arbitrary grade, but to be able to express your ideas in a new language.

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you do with your knowledge that matters.”

My best friend, Bert, used to tell me that, and he did more to bring an end to the Cold War than Pope John Paul II. It took me years before I actually started to believe him.

Here in Cusco kids study a lot of things, but they often don’t apply what they know. Many families want their kids to bring home good grades and fancy certificates from institutes all over Cusco, but none of that matters unless you actually apply what you’ve learned.

Overall I really enjoy teaching English. Most students like me because I’m a gringo, and for that same reason I can get away with flaunting all the petty rules our “Directors” make. Instead of teaching my kids good old fashioned values like the Directors want, I play loud rock ‘n roll music in class and tell them all to be rebels, not to accept the status quo in Peru but to fight against poverty, prejudice and the injustice of “haves vs. have nots” in society.

Then I walk out, smile at the old ladies who run the place and say “hola chicas”. Bert would be proud.

Looking for names of Inca princesses

In an instant I’m no longer the guy who tells tall tales of flying old airplanes or traveling the world. I’m now the guy who shows baby pictures:

5 months - Thank goodness she looks just like her mommy!!!

5 months - Thank goodness she looks just like her mommy!!!

2 big tummies

2 big tummies

We found out yesterday that everything is going well with nuestra calatita and it’s going to be a girl !!!. Suggestions for girl names are welcome, since everyone told Patricia up to now it was going to be a boy, she was looking mostly for boy names…

Due date is June 14, so we’ll keep up the news on what it’s like to have a baby in Cusco, Peru šŸ™‚

Help us out. Patricia speaks Spanish and English. I speak Dutch, English and some Spanglish. My parents speak Dutch but Mama Vicky prefers Quechua… Please vote:

Google speaks Quechua

A lot can be said about the success of Google, how the company largely took over the lucrative internet search business from one-time internet darling Yahoo!, and many of Google’s other success stories are the stuff college case studies are made of.

Here in Peru I noticed one more reason why Google became so successful: Google speaks Quechua.

Quechua is a native Indian language spoken here in the Andes region, it is believed to date back well before the Incas’ time. Today Quechua is an official language in Peru, it is spoken by the native Indian, typically rural, population in both Peru and Bolivia.

Of course lots of websites are available in different languages, that in itself is not the point. But think about this quote from Umair Haque’s Smart Growth Manifesto:

“Outcomes, not income. Dumb growth is about incomes – are we richer today than we were yesterday? Smart growth is about people, and how much better or worse off they are – not merely how much junk an economy can churn out.”

The significance of Google’s Quechua site is that I can’t imagine Google sees any substantial revenue from it.

I don’t say this to put down the Quechua language, but simply because most of the native population who speak Quechua also speak Spanish, and they revert from one language to the other seamlessly, with Spanish typically spoken in the cities and used in business.

Cost/benefit is an entirely different concept from revenue/cost. Even though Google may not see much revenue from its Quechua site, thanks to Google lots of schoolkids in little towns all over Peru can read and search information in their native language.

I believe it’s well past time to stop managing companies like we did during the era of supply-side economics in the 20th century. In the 21st century, businesses will find opportunity when they do things because it’s the right thing to do, when the outcome is something you would be proud of.

Kids in rural Peru whose native language is Quechua learn Spanish in school.

Kids in rural Peru whose native language is Quechua learn Spanish in school.

Nectar de Sabila

This weekend I spent 4 Neuvo Soles on a bottle of “Nectar de Sabila” at the local market here in Wanchaq. This concoction is some type of cactus juice that, according to its producers, has both nutritional and healing properties. The label states:

“Nectar de Sabila presenta caracteristicas nutricionales ademas se puede recomendar con propositos curativos: ejerce una funcion analgesica antiinflamatoria cicatrizante y antibiotica.”

The part I find most interesting is the claimed anti-biotic properties. The nectar is produced here in Cusco “por la asociacion de productores y transformadores agro industriales Kay Pachapi Llank’ay“. Anyone who speaks Quechua please tell us in the comments if that name has any meaning.

Nectar de Sabila by Natunec, Productos Ecologicos

Nectar de Sabila by Natunec, Productos Ecologicos

The recommended use is a half a glass before or after breakfast, so I’ve been faithfully sipping my cactus juice every morning. It doesn’t taste quite like fruit juice, but not medicinal either, it actually tastes pretty good.

Natural medicine is popular in Peru. Hotels and chamans offer ayahuasca sessions and many typical Andean or Amazon plants are believed to have healing powers, the most famous of these is, of course, the coca leaf.

I’m honestly not a huge fan of the so-called natural medicine here in Cusco, because it is very commercialized for the tourists, just like anything else here in the city. Once you leave the main tourist area in Cusco behind, I do find it fascinating to learn about the healing powers believed to exist in the culture and nature of the Andes.

Nectar de Sabila

Nectar de Sabila

Micro enterprise in Cusco, Peru

Micro enterprises are everywhere here in Cusco. On every busy street corner you find vendors selling snacks, ice cream, magazines, etc. The vendors typically use some type of converted bicycle as a vending stand, such as the one in this picture.

Typical micro enterprise in Cusco, Peru

Typical micro enterprise in Cusco, Peru

The girl in the picture is 13, she helps her mother about half a day, 6 days a week, taking care of her vending stand. I usually stop by to say hello and buy a piece of candy during my morning walk with Roxi and Manchita.

Ward Welvaert

Leader of the Year: Alan Garcia ???

I just stumbled across this article in Latin Business Chronicle:

“What a year it has been for Peru. It managed to post its best economic performance in 14 years (and Latin America’s second-highest growth rate), post another jump in foreign direct investments, achieve investment grade and host key regional summits with Asia and Europe…Much of the credit goes to Alan Garcia…”

My first thoughts were something like “Madre de Dios… Ayude me pues!!!”. Now I have often said life in Peru has been great to me and there are a lot of wonderful opportunities here, but I find it disappointing that both the media and political / business establishment in Peru often view “progress” strictly in macro-economic terms, levels of foreign investment, nr of free trade agreements, etc.

The unfortunate reality is that the macro-economic gains Peru has made in the last 2 decades have not improved the quality of life of all Peruvians proportionately, hence Alan Garcia’s (and before him Toledo’s) low approval ratings. In addition, in light of the collapse in commodities prices I wrote about earlier, anyone who believes Peru won’t be affected by the global recession is dreaming.

The good news, I agree with Umair Haque that “this is no mere recession: it’s a tectonic global shift in savings, consumption, and investment”. There has never been a better time than now to tackle some of the issues that will improve the quality of life for all Peruvians, such as economy in the provinces, environmental protections, occupational safety, corporate culture, cost of home ownership, etc.

Finally, one of the accomplishments touted by Alan Garcia was the free trade agreement (TLC) between Peru and China signed at the APEC summit. Here’s a wildly speculative, yet extremely intriguing question about what will happen to La Oroya now that the Chinese are coming?

Another demonstration in Cusco

Since we live in front of the Ministery of Labor and around the corner from the Ministery of Agriculture we see occasional demonstrations and street protests in front of our house. I usually have a hard time understanding the slogans the protesters are shouting, but I believe this morning the issue was around zoning and land use.

Here in Peru there is only mild civil unrest, the demonstrations are usually mellow and good-natured. Typically the demonstrators are organized labor or indigenous peasants, while the current government in Peru is center-right. Not meaning to get into politics, I will say that in my observations there is a great disconnect between the middle class / establishment and the poorer / rural populations.

I usually don’t venture out too much while the crowds are in front of our house, since I obviously don’t fit in with either the crowd or the riot police who are 4ft outside of our house. The pictures were taken from our yard.

I’m happy to report that my humble presence here has not been the cause of any civil unrest ;).

Reunion de compaƱeros de la UNSAAC

Despues de casi 9 aƱos mis compaƱeros de codigo de la Facultad de Economia nos reunimos para revivir buenos momentos de la epoca universitaria, muchos de ellos ya tienen trabajos, planes de formar sus propias familias (claro yo fui una de las primeras en haber empezado con lo de la familia…), algunos de ellos ganaron algunos kilitos de mas y otros estan teniendo un futuro por delante en paises del exterior. La reunion empezo a las 7:30pm, pero como buenos peruanos todos llegamos tarde, el reencuentro se llevo a cabo en un karaoke llamado Milenium, segun yo el lugar estaria vacio pero me lleve con la sorpresa que en el local este ya no entraba ni un alfiler…al llegar, algunos de mis compaƱeros ya estaban en el lugar deleitando a los presentes con sus mejores voces, despues de oir esto mis planes de cantar se fueron al tacho, porque me tope con muchos cantantes frustrados.

Lamentablemente, no todos los de mi codigo asistieron a la reunion, pero se logro convocar a 15. Fueron momentos agradables ya que todos hablabamos de las cosas que hicimos de “cachimbos” y en los aƱos posteriores…ahora, los planes son realizar otro encuentro de codigo para fines del 2009, pero con mas asistentes….

Con los compaƱeritos

Con los compaƱeritos

Mi querida Helvi deleitandonos con su voz

Mi querida Helvi deleitandonos con su voz

Sonrian chicas

Sonrian chicas

Happy 2009!!! New Year’s Eve in Cusco, Peru

Feliz AƱo Neuvo! Last night we celebrated the New Year at the Plaza de Armas and a pub called Norton Rat’s here in Cusco. Old married folks like us don’t celebrate too hard, but we had a fun time anyway šŸ˜‰

Here in Cusco thousands of people gather at the Plaza de Armas on New Year’s Eve. Exactly at midnight the famous Maria Angola bell on the Cusco Cathedral rings in the New Year, and the crowd circles the Plaza de Armas, which is supposed to bring good travels for the next year.

The famous Maria Angola bell on the Cusco Cathedral rings in the New Year

The famous Maria Angola bell on the Cusco Cathedral rings in the New Year

New Year’s in Peru is all about YELLOW. Yellow hats, yellow leis and most of all… yellow underwear! That’s right, one of the traditional beliefs in Peru is that wearing yellow on New Year’s Eve brings good luck for the New Year.

Some of the Peruvian New Year’s traditions I’ve seen so far are:

  • Eating 12 grapes at midnight for good luck.
  • Putting some coins in the corners of the house for good fortune.
  • Wearing yellow underwear!

Fireworks are sold legally all over the city, so New Year’s Eve in Cusco is not for the faint of heart. Since we are now well into rain season, it was also raining all night, which didn’t really spoil the fun.

New Years Eve at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

New Years Eve at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Inside Norton Rats on New Years Eve

Inside Norton Rats on New Years Eve

Manchita decided to drink her 12 grapes at midnight - JUST KIDDING!!!

Manchita decided to drink her 12 grapes at midnight - JUST KIDDING!!!

Despite the rain we had lots of fun.

Happy 2009 to all!!!
Feliz AƱo Neuvo!!!
Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!!!

Christmas in Peru

This year was my second Christmas in Peru. Like in the US and Europe Christmas here in Peru is a time for family and celebrating the birth of Christ Jesus. Of course Christmas in Peru also means food, gifts, fireworks and watching “Home Alone” 1, 2 and 3 for the 23rd time.

One interesting aspect of celebrating Christmas in Peru is how the traditional Andean religion and culture has blended with Christianity. For example, church altars are often adorned in gold (a throwback to the Inca’s time) and a very typical Peruvian “baby Jesus” figure is used in nativity scenes.

Typical Peruvian baby Jesus figures, NiƱos

Typical Peruvian 'baby Jesus' figures, known as 'NiƱos'.

Peruvians celebrate Christmas eve (“la Noche Buena”) with a dinner, followed by an exchange of gifts and fireworks at midnight. The traditional Christmas meal is turkey, and in the weeks leading up to Christmas the typical treat is hot chocolate with a sweet bread called “Panettone”.

I’ve noticed a lot of “Santa” images and figures, but Peruvian Santas don’t seem to follow the US tradition of putting gifts under the tree at night – gifts are simply exchanged between family and friends on Christmas eve. Unlike in the US, Christmas shopping in Peru is typically done only in the last week or even last few days before Christmas.

Last minute Christmas shopping at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru.

Last minute Christmas shopping at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru.

Overall we had a great Christmas, wishing everyone all the best.

Ward Welvaert