Wow – where to start. Here are just some random thoughts in no particular order…
The 1st week was the in-country training which was exhausting due to my lack of Spanish and folks talking fast, asking a few times to speak more slowly. I know from many many years ago when I was involved with international youth/student organizations after I got my bachelor degree, that speaking slowly in one’s first language is a learned skill. It was interesting to see how different Spanish speaking countries are different in terms of speed of speech and articulation of words. There were three Costa Rican volunteers, obviously Spanish speaking who alas I just couldn’t understand. Fortunately, my spanish has already improved but I felt completely inadequate in the 1st few days and feel I missed much important info about Peru & the culture.
Love the heat but hotter than normal according to CUSO staff and Limenos – the citizens of the city of Lima. There is supposed to be a squiggly thing over the ‘n’ but can’t find it on the keyboard I am using. It does seem the whole world loves to complain about the weather, a common cultural trait perhaps. However, the weather is no laughing matter when the greater heat is caused by climate change. Of course we have had our first patches of sunburn after walking around for hours at a time over the past weekend. I do use suntan lotion, Ross does not although he has now changed his mind, but with the sweat the protection doesn’t last the whole day.
Getting back to climate change. We have been here just over a week, and there has been heavy rains inland causing reservoirs to overflow, causing debris to clog up the dams so in the city here there are water shortages. Last night roads were destroyed due to rushing waters on outskirts of the city, the peri-urban areas which are for the most part people who are poorer live – the typical case where the most vulnerable suffer the most – causing major traffic headaches in the city which we experienced since we just happened to be in the downtown for a meeting re: apartment rental. And in neighbouring Chile forests are ravishing the countryside. I saw on TV images of horses – not sure if wild or on a farm – essentially trying to escape the flames but more or less encircled by them. As you know I am an animal lover and so this was pretty upsetting.
From walking down many streets and now in many neighbourhoods, I feel the people do not look happy. There are many reasons this could be the case, but that is a discussion for another time. Of course we stand out – me for blond hair & Ross being tall as was to be expected. In a tour of Lima downtown organized by CUSO during our in-country training, at one point we were being followed by some children in a large plaza. The children tried to take Ross’ photo which he with hand signals said no. Because we kept being followed, we thought the kids were maybe trying to scam us, a situation that alas does take place where adults/parents use their children. It turns out that the children thought Ross was a famous WWF wrestler – can’t tell you which one since we don’t follow this ‘sport’. Of course we felt bad but then this was just another ‘oh well’ situation, becoming a common occurrence for us. The security/safety issue is paramount to CUSO for obvious reasons and so we are ever vigilant about our surroundings.
The food has been excellent from the beginning, Lima being a global culinary powerhouse at the moment, with the exception being prepared food at the grocery stores we have been eating trying to keep our costs down as we are still living in the hotel. Two experiences stand out at the grocery stores so far, just minor incidents which show differences in how daily life is. I tend to check my receipt whenever I shop at stores, especially grocery stores, just something I do since I am either very frugal or stingy depending on your perspective, being one of those who seek out the 50% off stickers at Stupidstore. I am also just not used to the currency at the moment and check my change after I purchase something. Well I just happened to review the receipt while we were waiting for a food item to be heated up. I just mentioned it to the 2nd store employee who was serving us. Well after telling the cashier who was very clearly hot and tired, it turns out she had to go get the manager in a very busy store which took a few minutes. They did say something to me but I didn’t understand so I just smiled. Finally she was going through the process of doing a return on the cash register where I had to provide my ID and I had to sign the return receipt the latter being common at Stupidstore, but in her ‘distress’ – she was clearly pissed of at me and made this known to the next in line customers – she made a mistake and yet again had to get the manager. In the end it took probably 10 minutes and all for 60 soles which is about 24 cents. Needless to say I felt bad, although Ross later said the cashier was actually quite rude from the beginning. If I had known this was the process I would have said no worries, so next time I know.
The 2nd incident had to do with the use of the self-scanning machines at the checkout in one of the big grocery stores, a supermercado. We were with a CUSO staff person apartment hunting and went to the salad take out bar. With just a few items we thought let’s use this system, you know the one that is supposed to save you time…maybe …?, the CUSO staff person not ever having used it before. The process here is that you scan everything, scan your credit or debit card, take your receipt, and then go to a cashier where she re-checks everything and you then actually pay with your card, so in effect a complete duplication of what you just did at the scanning station. Talk about strange.
We have managed to find a great apartment which is great since this was the big stressor for us and all the other volunteers. Unfortunately the signing of a lease became a three hour process or should I say ordeal. We saw the place and then had to have a meeting with a lawyer who worked on behalf of the owner. Because of bad experiences with renters although not sure if this was the owner’s personal experiences or simply from other landlords, she did the lease process with a lawyer. The two were not familiar with CUSO which would not be unusual. The lawyer actually worked for the government I believe doing mediation legal counselling. We were initially asked to sign what they called a conciliation contract prior to a lease, something the CUSO staff had never experienced before. So after very much discussion between the CUSO staff and the lawyer, the latter then got the owner to come by and a contract was written up on the spot, read out loud, signed by us, owner and one CUSO staff person along with our fingerprints. Yes fingerprints. Creepy. Not sure why since the fingerprinted documents were not going to be digitized thankfully. This was the 2nd time we had to provide our fingerprints, the 1st being at the Scotia bank where CUSO organizes volunteers to get bank accounts. We had learned that we would be using Scotiabank, yes the same bank as in Canada, and were not impressed, and we had no choice in the matter since normally unless you are a Peruvian citizen you can’t open up bank accounts. From my travels in the Caribbean and South American, I knew that this bank was and has been active there since colonial times. In my opinion from the stories we have been told of exorbitant interest rates crippling small businesses and thus indebting individuals and governments, Scotiabank is a corporation that should be boycotted.
So in a few days we will move into a new affordable 6th floor apartment with a great view, not of the ocean but simply of the surrounding areas. It will be nice to be out of the hotel although the hotel has been fine. Till the next time when I will begin to discuss the work that I will doing and the complicated situation pertaining to organic and ecological urban, peri-urban and rural farming and the dizzying network of organizations involved in all of this. Take care folks.