Saturday, March 27, 2010

It’s the change of climate

There have been a lot of benefits in moving to Peru for me. One that I hadn’t thought about and didn’t expect was an overall improvement in my health. In the States my blood pressure/pulse wouldn’t go below 160/82/70 no matter what I did. My doctor suggested medication but I didn’t want to start that. If I didn’t take two allergy pills every morning every day of the year I was constantly congested and had sinus headaches. And about once a week I’d get a bomber of a headache that demanded four aspirins as its price for leaving. Since moving to Chiclayo my blood pressure/pulse has settled in at 128/70/62. I have no need for the allergy pills, and the handful of headaches I’ve had in the twenty months I’ve been here are minor - the two aspirin variety.

In spite of what seems to be a more tranquil body, I still have trouble sleeping so continue to take my 0.5mg clonazepam nightly, but even that has an upside. In the States I paid 50 cents per pill. Here most pharmacies charge 14 cents and some even less, which amounts to a savings of $130 over a year. Now, that’s not to say everything’s been perfect here health wise. I have had one bout with bronchitis requiring a doctor visit, and then there’s what I have come to call “Brian’s Disease.”

About every three months Brian will start sneezing and coughing, followed soon by a sore throat. It’s not severe enough to keep him out of school, but it is strong enough to pass on to me. I get the extra-strength version. For the next four days I spend a lot of time in a chair or in bed. I become a coughing, sneezing, mucous machine. If I do get out of bed I take a roll of toilet paper with me (Kleenex is too expensive here). I wonder if medical science has an explanation for how my sinus cavities can produce mucous faster than I can blow it out? Some days are two-roll days for me…well, maybe one and a half. And this happens every three months. Seriously. Maribel has charted it on our calendar. Maribel may or may not get Brian’s Disease, but if she does it’s usually a milder version.

To me it’s just a cold, though I don’t understand why it appears every three months. To Peruvians it’s something else. See, it’s not enough to just say you’ve got a cold. Peruvians have to assign the cause to every illness. The current catch-all is climate change. Sniffles? Climate change. Coughing up chunks of lung, and blood in your stool? Climate change. That guy over there hanging by his neck from a rope? Climate change, although in his case it may also have been drinking cold liquid, or standing in front of an open refrigerator – two other popular catch-alls. I don’t know…these beliefs are so pervasive maybe there’s something to them. Beyond Brian’s Disease there is one other annoyance.

Everybody knows Wisconsin gets cold in the winter, but in July and August it can get extremely hot and humid. But even at the exact same temperature and humidity, I swear there is another element here in Chiclayo during the summer months. It’s like an invisible membrane that coats the entire body. It feels clammy and sticky and feeds on the body’s energy. Sometimes I think it may be an alien life form, or perhaps the remnant of some Inca curse. A shower helps for about 30 seconds after which the ‘membrane returneth.’ If it is an ancient curse maybe I need to see a shaman for an exorcism first, and then take a shower. Perhaps I need a showercism. But then again, maybe it’s just climate change.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Expatriates in Chiclayo

If there is an English speaking expatriate community in Chiclayo, or any expatriate community for that matter, I’m not aware of it. At first that surprised me. I know there are a number of us here. I thought there would be an automatic bond between same language and same country expats, but in hindsight realized it takes more than that to draw people together. Just like in the States, there’s got to be that chemistry that allows people to enjoy each other’s company. Also just like in the States, the expats I’ve met are a diverse group of personalities ranging from what I would call the ‘average Joe’ to some really bizarre characters. I have expat friends in Chiclayo and Lima who I enjoy spending time with. I’ve met other expats I don’t classify as friends but will tolerate. I know that sounds snooty but can’t think of another way to phrase it. I’ve met others whom I honestly hope I never cross paths with again, though I’ve discovered in Chiclayo the places where expats tend to frequent are too few for that not to happen.

I think another reason to explain the lack of community is the basic nature of people who would choose to live in a third-world country. The vast majority I’ve met seem to have an independent, self-contained temperament that normally doesn’t lend itself to joining or herding. Probably that individuality is the reason they’re here to begin with. In fact I’d go so far as to say these types of personalities might even shun the company, or at least frequent company of other expats…sort of a jealous guarding of one’s new existence and territory. I’ll admit I’ve experienced that feeling.

Perhaps that’s why, whenever I see a bus from the airport disgorge a group of tourists in front of a hotel my thoughts are that I sincerely hope they discover, enjoy and appreciate Chiclayo as I do. And I hope they have return tickets home. Is that being selfish? It feels like it is, though I’m having a tough time trying to explain and understand for myself what it is I’m being selfish about. I think maybe men like Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket, who moved on because “the towns are gittin’ too darn big” would understand.

Anyway, Mister and Misses tourist, when you’ve returned home and are having a quiet get-together with friends and the subject of your vacation in Chiclayo comes up, as they gasp in wonder over all those spectacular photos you took please tell your guests you loved it and suggest they come here. But also please say to them that, "while Chiclayo is a great place to visit, I'd rather live in Lima.” : )


Monday, March 15, 2010

Quote the Raven – “Not Again!”

If you close your eyes at night, Chiclayo becomes a town of barking dogs, motos laboring to some unknown destination, and the plastic whistle of the neighborhood vigilante, the purpose of which I’m told is to drive fear into the hearts of anyone contemplating thievery and also to signal those paying him that he is indeed being vigilant. But mostly barking dogs. The roofs are full of dogs. Dogs of all sizes and shapes. They bark often, usually at other dogs who have the audacity to invade their territory, but often for no apparent reason…at least not for a reason that’s apparent to me. Maybe they’re trying to uphold the cultural thing. Noise and Latin America are inseparable.

I bought a pair of ear plugs at Sodimac several days ago. See, there’s this place…Maribel calls it a restaurant but it plays loud music and packs in lots of young people so I don’t think it’s a restaurant. Anyway, every Sunday afternoon at about 3:00pm they start with the music (which I call noise). It continues until about 3:00am Monday morning. Imagine that folks!...a solid twelve hours of prevent-me-from-reading-and-later-from-sleeping music (which I call noise), and all for free! This ‘restaurant’ is located five blocks from our apartment. Five blocks, and yet the music (which I call noise) is so loud that I literally have to use ear plugs to read or sleep. The ear plugs work fine. True…they’re joined by a cord that sometimes pulls one or both of the plugs out of my ears as I turn while sleeping, but the thirty seconds it takes me to make things right again is a small price to pay. And I don’t believe the cord is long enough to strangle me in my sleep, as Maribel warns is sure to happen.

Shortly after the noise (which I don’t call music) stops, the chickens take over. I always thought chickens crowed to ‘greet the new day’. To my knowledge there isn’t even a hint of ‘new day’ at 3:00am. I’m convinced they do it simply to avoid the danger of a possible period of tranquility. They keep it up even beyond the time when motos, taxies and myriad other noise makers have marshaled and deployed their full force. I think Chiclayo must have a NO SILENCE regulation. But the ear plugs have proven successful…until very recently.

Now there’s a new assault on peace. Maribel’s son Brian has discovered rap – that thing that only serves to prove we humans have not progressed far from the caves. Hour after hour I am forced to listen to – dah dah da da duh, dah dah da da duh, dah dah da da duh, dah dah da da duh. Because the enemy is within, even the ear plugs don’t completely shut it out. And so tonight, out of pure frustration and perhaps retaliation, I stalked into the kitchen where Brian was regaling Maribel with his latest rap creation, and wearing my pants down nearly to my knees (as cool rappers do); with sunglasses and a baseball cap worn backwards I recited as loud as I could Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” to a rap rhythm. Please don’t judge me too harshly. I’ve tried to stand up under the constant onslaught, but this latest invasion has finally and completely beaten me down. I’m sorry Edgar.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

I knew Chiclayo was growing…..

…and have mentioned it in several posts, but I had no idea that Chiclayo and Arequipa to the south are the two fasting growing cities in all of Latin America according to statements made in a recent interview given by David Ramos, Peru’s Deputy Minister of Housing and Construction.

That point was driven home today in the auditorium of Chiclayo’s Universidad Catòlica Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo. At a sales and marketing seminar keynote speaker Nano Guerra-Garcia from Lima combined the presentation style of a circus tent evangelist with the message of a high level business executive to hold the attention of over four hundred business and tourism industry people.

The guy is good. I’m told he is a lawyer, business man, has a weekly television and radio show plus does motivational speaking on a regular basis. He began this seminar with a minute or two of general ice breaker chit-chat. He then had two musical notes played over the sound system, and asked if anyone recognized them. Several people shouted out “theme from the Godfather”, which was correct, and led to a half-hour lecture on brand recognition. Pretty crafty. He went on to talk about the need for paradigm changes – a term I thought I left behind me years ago in some forgotten boardroom, and plans for growing a business. He finished with a fifteen minute question/answer segment, and based on the reaction of the audience the questions and answers were well thought out.

Nano kept the attention of an audience of four hundred note-taking professional type people for over two hours without a break. It seemed to me the attendees were well satisfied and certainly got their monies worth (no admission charge). Next week Maribel and I have our second English class with the police, and then travel to Monsefù for an introductory English class for artisans and city officials. I may ‘borrow’ some of Nano’s stuff to juice up the dry process of learning a language. If it works out I’ll tell you about it. If not…


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Fine Finish for a Festival

The Festival of Friendship and Gastronomy 2010 finished its two week run Sunday, February 28th on the campus of the University Señor de Sipàn. This was my first visit to the campus and I was impressed with the buildings and grounds. Everything appeared to be fairly modern, clean and well maintained. I’ve written in other posts about the lack of data to judge the quality of a school so can’t comment about the quality of education from this university, but can say it is not highly regarded among Chiclayanos.

There were somewhere around 50 kiosks, each costing the presenters 200 soles to display whatever it is they wanted visitors to see. The majority were restaurants demonstrating their cooking techniques, and then selling the finished product. Other exhibitors included hotels, bus lines, handicrafts and even a bottled gas company. The published starting time for this event was 10:00am. When this photo was taken at 12:30pm half of the presenters were still setting up and almost no visitors had arrived. Several hours later every chair and table was occupied and people were sitting on the grass.

Many kiosks were occupied by cooking schools, with students doing a good job of demonstrating their skills. This school chose to focus on the ancient art of drink making. When I asked this young man if he was a student, he replied in fairly clear English that he was “a professional mixologist.” After we had talked a bit about him and the school and sampled an excellent but tiny Pisco sour, I asked why he used that particular brand of Pisco (Pisco Vargas), expecting to hear about its quality, tradition, subtleties and nuances. He delayed a moment before saying – “it’s cheap.”

When things would slow down this group of tourists from Argentina made their own fun (and invited everyone else to join them). Fueled by friendly and willing Peruvians; dancers in native costume and plenty of Cusqueña beer, these folks danced and bunny hoped around the grounds for hours. The television crews present to cover the event ate it up. I don’t understand the purpose of the stage behind them. We were there for most of the day and except for a five minute dance presentation by school children it was never used. Perhaps some expected performers didn’t show up.

As we seated ourselves in the stands to watch the riding exhibition and Marinera competition I noticed four dignified, older gentlemen sitting to the left and below us. They were dressed exactly as these horsemen are. Seconds after this photo was taken the rider on the left looked at one of the seated men and said “Padre, por ti” (Father, for you). The look of pride between them seemed to indicate there was some emotional importance to the moment. We watched him put his horse through its paces. It seemed to us he rode as well as everyone else. I still wonder what that was about. Maribel thinks maybe it was the changing of the guard.

The day finished with a Marinera dance competition, pairing a horse and rider with a beautiful woman. For most visitors this was the highlight of the day. Now, I do enjoy watching a really good professional couple dance the Marinera. If done correctly the dance combines graceful choreography with stunning sensuality to tell a story of love, but when one of the performers is a ridden horse, to me instead of a dance it more resembles a Texas quarter-horse trying to cut a calf out of a herd. But that’s just me.


Friday, March 5, 2010

¡El tiempo es hoy…!

“The time is now…!” is the slogan of the newly formed Tourist Management Committee for the provinces of Chiclayo and the Lambayeque Region. The committee’s twelve members were sworn in this morning in a ceremony held at the Costa del Sol hotel in Chiclayo. I know Peruvians are sometimes big on pomp and circumstance but this turned out to be a bigger deal than I expected. Chiclayo’s mayor was being sworn in as president of the Tourist Protection Network of the Province of Chiclayo by the authority of the National Tourist Protection Network, and he in turn was officially creating the region’s Tourist Management Committee.

I don’t claim to know what exactly happened this morning, or who all these folks are, but I do know the guy third from left is a colonel of police from Lima and president of the National Tourist Protection Network (his name is first on the banner behind them); the man on his left is Chiclayo’s mayor, and the uniformed guy next to him is representing Chiclayo’s general of police. The other folks are representatives from both the private and public sectors who have promised to be a part of this effort.

I also don’t know what we swore to, but I know Maribel and I are part of an impressive group of people who have a sense of urgency and an image of a re-born Lambayeque Region in terms of tourism. As I understand it, our five-year charter is primarily to work with representatives of the districts and cites to help them identify and improve the presentation of their attractions, including craft manufacturing, natural and historical attractions, and cultural events. It’s actually much, much more than that but plans are still evolving and I’m slow in coming up to speed because of the language issue.

Norma Muro is the president of our committee and is a human dynamo. She is the type of person who has a phone in one hand, a pencil in the other and a notebook on her lap while on a plane waiting to take off to Lima to meet with the Minister of Tourism. She knows everyone – apparently has the respect of everyone and has no trouble getting support for whatever is on her mind at the moment. Sometimes I wish she’d slow down and involve the committee a little bit more, but as long as she keeps making the right moves I’ll stay along for the ride.

Though we were officially sworn in this morning our work actually began on several fronts some weeks ago. Maribel and I had the privilege of teaching an introductory English course to 21 members of Chiclayo’s tourist police earlier this week, which was a very rewarding experience for me. These officers are extremely motivated to learn and are excellent students. In the near future we’ll finalize a regular schedule of classes for them. We’ve also been asked to teach English to museum personnel and to city officials at several near-by cities…all so they can better interact with English speaking tourists.

We’ve been spending a lot of hours on committee work, and our tour business has started to show signs of life which also takes time. I don’t have the luxury anymore of waking up in the morning to many unscheduled days. I miss that a bit, but it also feels good to contribute to the people and communities. I think it’s a question of balance.