Monday, September 27, 2010

The school at Monte Hermoso – Part II

I realize this is the third post on Monte Hermoso and the second about the school, but Thursday, September 23rd was a special day for a couple of reasons. First, we were able to take part in Jorge Châvez Dartnel’s 25th anniversary celebration. I think there were about 300 kids from Monte Hermoso and the surrounding schools plus some 100 parents…mostly moms.

Dancing is usually a part of any celebration. A group of primary students in colorful costume started the program by dancing the Saya. Speeches from several local officials took up the next half-hour, following which a pair of secondary students danced the marinara. Peruvians revere the marinara with a feeling that seems to go beyond the dance itself. I don’t share that feeling, but I will say that watching 12 year old Carlos dance was inspirational. This kid has been dancing for 6 years and is just plain good for any age. I hope he keeps at it.

Mothers were busy cooking lunch to feed the huge crowd while fathers did the serving. First up was ceviche (I surreptitiously handed my plate to one of the kids who quickly wolfed it down) followed by a heaping plate of goat, beans and rice known as ‘cabrito’. It’s one of my favorite meals. In these remote village settings it’s even more delicious. Somehow food tastes better when it’s been cooked in these conditions and warmly given by people who don’t have that much to give, if that makes sense.

Another reason it was a special day is because we had the pleasure and privilege of delivering shelves, tools and materials needed to ramp up the student’s carved and painted gourd manufacturing enterprise. It’s interesting how that came about.

Last May while visiting our friends Ray and Rose Harris in California they mentioned wanting to help needy Peruvian families, schools, and clinics in some organized fashion. We had several discussions, including Maribel and I agreeing to be members of whatever organization might take shape, but life has other demands and upon our return to Peru the subject was put on the back burner by them and all but forgotten by me. Shortly after posting the initial story about the school I got a phone call from Ray saying the project looked interesting and that maybe it was time to forge ahead with the charitable organization we’d talked about. That sounded like a good idea, so Maribel and I spoke with some folks in Chiclayo while Ray and Rose contacted friends in the States and in a short time we had the money for the project, and a new charitable organization…Promesa Peru was born. Heartfelt thanks from us, the kids, the school's director Martin and the teachers to Ray, Rose, Joyce and the others who made this project happen.

If you’d like to learn more about Promesa Peru or help us with upcoming activities, visit the following link...

...or send an email to me

We hope to hear from you.

Tom & Maribel

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Getting plastered in Morrope

Nearly every home and commercial building constructed in the Lambayeque Region has its interior and exterior walls finished with plaster from the factories in or near Morrope. We were recently able to see the manufacturing process from start to finish. Not surprisingly there is almost no technology or sophisticated equipment involved, nor is it needed.

It all begins with underground deposits of gypsum rock. To my knowledge there is only one mine in the region, located 11 miles north of Morrope. We were not able to go to the mine but it was described in detail to us. The gypsum deposits are shallow. Men using shovels remove the surface dirt, and using iron spud bars break the exposed rock into manageable chunks which are hand-loaded onto trucks. Each truck has a capacity of 20 tons. At the factory the trucks are unloaded by hand. It takes two men one hour to unload a truck.

What happens next is determined by the intended use of the gypsum…there are two products that can result from the mineral: plaster or a soil conditioner used for agricultural purposes. The factories at Morrope produce both.

Making soil conditioner is the easiest and fastest of the two. Strong arms and sledge hammers simply make small rocks out of large ones. It takes a six man crew three hours to reduce one truckload. The small rocks are placed in buckets and then dumped into a surprisingly tiny crusher that grinds them into fine powder. Bags placed under the crusher’s downspout are filled and then sealed individually with a small hand tool.

Rocks destined for plaster go through an additional step. The rocks are placed into piles of predetermined size and then completely covered with large amounts of wood. The wood is then set on fire and rice husks are placed on top to force the wood to ‘char’ instead of burning with an open flame. We were told that the wood “comes from the desert” and that rice husks are a worthless by-product of rice processing and are free for the taking. There were enormous amounts of each piled around the property.

After two days only the blackened rocks remain. They’ve lost 75% of their water and through a chemical change are now no longer gypsum but instead are ‘plaster of Paris.’ The finishing steps are the same as for the soil conditioner…big rocks to little rocks to powder to bag.

The factories operate Monday through Saturday 6:00am to 1:00pm and produce an impressive 30 tons of product per day. Plaster is sold in 15lb bags for $0.29 and 26lb bags for $0.46. The soil conditioner is packaged in 110lb bags and costs $2.15. The factories will sell individual bags to the public but most of their output is destined for building contractors and retailers.

One of several crews at the factory. It’s not hard to figure out who the boss is. As usual, people were willing and eager to talk about their jobs and answer any questions. It was an enjoyable and informative experience.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Would you like to take a walk in Monte Hermoso?

There really isn’t much to see and it won’t take more than 5 or 6 minutes to walk from one end of the town to the other, but I’d like to show you what there is of it. I call it a town, but it’s really more of a mini-village. The Spanish word for it is ‘caserio’ which means, well…I’m not sure what it means.

We’ll start at the school. You’ve already seen a photo of it in a previous post but this is a slightly different angle. The school sits in the middle of the town. This is Main Street running off ahead into nowhere. The scenery isn’t any different behind us. Notice that there are no adults to be seen in any of these photos. The people are inside their houses watching us. That’s always the case in these remote villages. I’m not sure why. And there is always quiet...silencio. I mean nothing but bird sounds and the occasional bray of a burro. You see that green building under the tree next to the school? We’ll go there next.

This is Monte Hermoso’s medical clinic. The plaque on the wall next to the door reads – “The Government of the United States donated this medical post to the Government of Peru as a symbol of friendship.” If I understand it correctly the building was actually erected by members of the United States and Peruvian armed forces, which would account for the sloped roof. Peruvians living on the coast build flat roofs. The clinic was commemorated on September 15th 2006.

We’ve walked about 100 feet from the clinic to an intersection and typical street. I don’t know what your reaction is to this view. I guess it depends on where you are and how much experience you’ve had with developing countries. I’ve grown accustomed to this scene. It is everywhere up and down the coast of Peru. Even in the larger cities including Lima you don’t need to get very from the city center before you find yourself in these conditions. Do you see that pig in the center-left of the photo? Let’s follow it around the corner of the house on the left.

The pig got a little nervous as we approached and joined its comrades…a burro, another pig (lying down), a dark colored cow in the background, and whatever that thing is with the horns and rope wrapped around its face. It looks African to me. Maybe you know what it is. When I first saw the significant numbers of cows and pigs in the area I questioned whether these people were really poor. After a little research I learned that the value of a scrawny cow is less than $250 and a pig much, much less.

Now we’re at the very next yard. See what I mean about ‘scrawny’? The pigs look more like starving dogs than the porkers I’m accustomed to in the States. The pig in the foreground is a nursing mother. Her piglets are lying to her right.

This is the park. It’s only ½ block from the pigs we just left. The central theme is of the different types of birds that inhabit the area. The park doesn’t have the manicured look of the bigger city parks, but for a little desert village it’s not bad. And you know what’s remarkable about this park? No graffiti. Go back and look at the photos of the school and medical clinic. No graffiti. I have never been in a town where walls and park benches and statues were not plastered with scrawling. In fact in most towns I’ve been in the bird statues would have been stolen long ago for resale. Not here. The school director told us there is no crime or delinquency in Monte Hermoso, though he did add that some of the men like to drink. To which I replied…and that’s bad because…?

Did you notice these little urchins following us during the tour? I thought not. Don’t worry, they won’t beg or bother us. There probably haven’t been any gringos here since the clinic was built in 2006 so they’re just curious. If you want to give them a piece of candy or a sol (coin) they’ll gladly accept it. I usually do.

I could see myself living in Monte Hermoso. Yeah…there’s lots of desert and not much to do but there’s also lots of green cultivated fields. And there are trees and birds and animals. And quiet…don’t forget the quiet.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The school at Monte Hermoso

A 45 minute combi ride from Chiclayo gets you to Morrope. From Morrope to a nameless intersection in the desert wilderness is a 30 minute back breaking, head banging combi ride over a wagon trail ‘road’. At said wilderness intersection you wait for a moto to take you the remaining 2 miles to Monte Hermoso, and when you finally arrive you ask yourself…”Why?”

Main Street in Monte Hermoso. The town is pretty much like hundreds of other small desert settlements…adobe brick houses in varying states of decay; the people scratching out a living through subsistence farming. Yard occupants are mostly scrawny cows, pigs, goats and other livestock. It’s a flat country with no hint of mountains anywhere on the horizon – an unusual condition in the Lambayeque Region. The area is subject to flooding during the ‘rainy’ season, with the 1998 El Niño flood causing extensive damage.

The school…Jorge Châvez Dartnel sits like an island on the main street. It is larger and definitely better maintained then I expected. Upon entering there is a vibrancy… a something is happening feeling in contrast to the quiet of the surrounding town. It’s almost lunch time and some kids are outside playing while others are organizing classroom material; cooking lunch, and making liquid soap to be placed in empty pop bottles and distributed where ever it makes sense to wash hands. Signs mounted everywhere state in one form or another, “Poor does not mean dirty.”

Several kids were tending the gourd gardens located all over the school yard. These gardens are the source of the raw material for their handicraft project. It takes an average of 10 months from seed planting until a ripe gourd of sufficient size is available. To become familiar with the production process is the reason we were there.

Last March some of the high school students under the direction of teachers began making artifacts from gourds. The meager tools and material were supplied by parents. The artifacts sold surprisingly well at various handicraft fairs throughout the region. This room is dedicated to artifact manufacturing.

This boy is proud of his creations. The designs come from purchased stencils but also from some of the more creative students and teachers. The common theme is their Moche heritage. During the Moche culture people from the Morrope area believed in an iguana god, so a representation of an iguana is featured on many of the finished products.

Shared oven to cook lunches and heat the painted gourds. Paint tends to smudge on the hard surface of the gourds if not heated. Besides competing for time with the cooking crew, the present oven doesn’t give them any control over the temperature or allow for even heat distribution.

A teacher and the school director Martin Rolando Angeles displaying several different products. It is my understanding these men are the driving force behind the project. Encouraged by early success, they would like to expand the concept to provide for increased production and better quality. To do that they need $450 to construct an oven, purchase hand tools and replenish materials such as lacquer, paint and paint thinner. If successful their plan is to use the money from sales to help parents purchase school supplies, keeping only enough to make the operation self-sustaining. Martin joked (perhaps) about someday exporting to the United States. Who knows? We think their project is worthwhile. We like to see people trying to help themselves rather than simply asking for charity.

On September 23rd Jorge Châvez Dartnel celebrates its 25th anniversary. We plan on being there.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Sorry…the doctor is sick

That’s what 18 patients scheduled for endoscopies were told this morning at Chiclayo’s hospital Naylamp. They hadn’t eaten for the required 24 hours previously and several of them had traveled overnight to Chiclayo from remote villages to be at the hospital at 6:30am. An older woman from Guadalupe tried to plead her case but was told along with everyone else to make another appointment for sometime after October 4th.

Even if the doctor was not sick this morning, those people who arrived at 6:30am stand a good chance of not being seen until late in the afternoon. I have not yet discovered what mystical process is used to determine whose turn is next, but it’s sure not scheduled appointment time. What happens is when a patient is seen leaving the consultation office everyone hurriedly stands and crowds toward the door, hoping whoever is in charge will point at them.

In other posts I think I commented that the lack of organization, systems and procedures is what many expatriates living in Peru complain about most loudly. The above is not an isolated incident - it is an example of the inefficiencies rampant in all processes. When I set out in the morning to pay a phone, water or electric bill, claim a package at the post office, pick up our laundry, check out a book at the library or transact any other business government or private I fully expect what Maribel and I have come to call the ‘whoops.’ The system will be down or will not accept the information; the forms or regulations have recently changed, a rubber stamp or stamp pad is lost, or it’s time to close business for the day no matter how many people have been admitted inside and are standing in line. If a transaction is successfully concluded in one stop and in less than 2 hours or so I actually feel a sense of victory, but only after I have safely exited the building.

Peruvians don’t like the lack of organization and occasionally show their frustration, but I don’t think they or the people in charge realize there are better ways. Or perhaps they do…maybe it’s just a lack of money that prevents better systems and procedures. Maribel has a tougher time putting up with the ‘whoops’ than I do. She knows there are better ways. Her two years in the States spoiled her.

Anyway…Maribel’s father is sitting at the kitchen table wolfing down a big breakfast as I type this. He was one of the 18 at the hospital. We’ll try again in October.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Houston…we have CHILI!!

One night last week I went to bed thinking about a big bowl of chili. I mean I wasn’t just thinking about it – I could almost taste and smell it! Over the last few days the thought of chili became an obsession. I like Peruvian food generally (except for ceviche) and appreciate Maribel’s cooking but there are times when I would like a change. I imagine myself perusing the menu at Texas Roadhouse or Red Lobster or Dave’s Famous Chili and nearly start salivating. Today was the day to do something about it.

Back in the States I used to make some damn fine chili if I say so myself, so decided to see how close I could come in Chiclayo. The only ingredient I couldn’t find was canned kidney beans. I thought maybe a can of pork n’ beans might work if I added them late in the cooking process so they wouldn’t get mushy. To compensate for the extra tomato paste I added one less can of pure paste than I normally would.

Now I suppose you want to know my recipe. It’s simple…cook all this stuff together in a pot. Well, ya gotta brown the meat first of course and don’t let it form chunks. I add the onions to the meat immediately and the mushrooms after a few minutes. Next comes the tomato paste and then the condiments. Look out for that Sazonador…the stuffs got a bite to it! Next time I’ll use one tablespoon instead of two. Besides the stuff shown I added ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Last I added the pork n’ beans and let the whole shebang simmer for about ten minutes. I like to add elbow macaroni to individual servings, which of course is cooked separately.

And here you are…a pot of chili that looks and tastes very close to what I had been salivating about. A couple of times while we were eating lunch I got a little giddy and was close to shouting ‘praise de Lord!’ but I think I can be excused for that. No more dreams or obsessing over chili…I can have it any time I want, including dinner tonight.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sometimes fate steps in

I truly believe that sometimes fate decides to play a hand when it feels the inclination. Take today for instance in the town of Morrope. We where there because I wanted to learn about the local plaster industry and perhaps get photos and information for a blog entry. We were having a hard time getting directions on where to go and how to get there. Even the officers at the police station couldn’t provide information. We had about decided to give it up and return to Chiclayo when, as we were leaving the police station a man approached Maribel and asked if he could talk to her about a project he was working on. We both immediately thought ‘scam’, but it turns out that Martin Rolando Angeles is the director of the school in Monte Hermoso…a dirt poor little village some thirty minutes from Morrope and that the Morrope municipal officials had just turned down a school project he wanted to implement, not because they didn’t like it, but because they don’t have the money. He was discouraged, tired of knocking on doors, and mistaking the emblems on our travel vests as an indication that we represented some agency, unapologetically began to pitch his project to Maribel right there on the street.

Within minutes the two of them said almost simultaneously…, “Did you study at Karl Weiss?” It turns out they were classmates and graduated in 1980 (see the previous post entry). After a minute of chit-chat Martin returned to his project. His presentation was thorough and included facts, figures and photos for support. The bottom line is that he needs 1250 soles ($450) for hand tools and several other items to be used by the kids to make artifacts for sale. I like his project and respect his tenacity. We’ve been looking for a place to help out and if our visit to his school next week goes well we told him we’ll consider helping him.

We were about to say goodbye when he asked why we were in Morrope – a town no tourists ever visit. Informed about our plan to learn about plaster, he said he knew an owner of a manufacturing site and offered to take us there. We went – were welcomed and got all the information and photos I need for the next blog entry.

Nobody’s going to tell me that fate wasn’t hanging around in Morrope today, and having nothing better to do at that moment decided to put a win-win situation together.

By the way, today marks the first anniversary of ‘My Slice of Peru’. Here we are one year and 84 posts later. That sure went fast!

Tom & Maribel