Sunday, December 26, 2010

A 232.5 million year old mystery solved!

Several weeks ago family members who own a farm near the city of Jaèn were plowing a recently cleared plot of land to plant yuccas. The plow unearthed this oddity shown in the center of the photo. Knowing that I collect and have shelves of unusual things I’ve found, they brought the piece to Chiclayo as a Christmas gift for me. Opinions during a family discussion about what the object might be ranged from an octopus tentacle to a man-made artifact to a part left behind by alien visitors. To me it looked like a fossil of a giant snail, so that’s how I started my Google search.

It didn’t take many tries to learn that what I had was an ammonite fossil. These fossils are very common and are found all over the planet. The internet is loaded with photos like this one. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, but all have a typical snail shaped shell mostly with ribbed segments, though they were related closer to octopuses and squids than their shelled relatives. Black ammonites are of the species Asteroceras Obtusi.

Ammonites first show up in the fossil record about 400 million years ago. Fossils have been found in Huancayo Peru dating back 350 million years, and in other parts of Peru to 150 million years. The species went extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs, about 65 million years ago.

So the newest and most senior member of my oddity collection is an ammonite fossil dating back 232.5 million years, give or take 167.5 million years. Almost makes me feel young again!


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Last Chocolatada…

The last chocolatada for this Christmas season was a bit unusual. It was held in a private home in the district of La Victoria; one of Chiclayo’s poorer areas. This was the only Christmas party these kids will have and honestly, if you judged it with a ‘fun meter,’ it wasn’t much of a party. We were told the kids were not accustomed to gringos, which probably accounted for the look of apprehension on most of their faces. They weren’t a whole lot warmer even with Maribel. These poorer communities tend to be close-knit and don’t easily warm up to strangers. The house dog shared their uncertainty…growling at us continuously from under a table all the while we were there. Still…when we passed out the toys, paneton and chocolate milk there was a ‘thank-you’ from each child and a momentary look of excitement in their eyes.

They didn’t loosen up until they got outside, and even then many of them ran to their homes, apparently to show mom what they had received. I’ve been wondering about this situation since we returned to our apartment. I’m sure these kids play normally among themselves, but have they ever been to a party? They didn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. This location is only a 10 minute taxi ride from our apartment. I’m already thinking that next year we’ll return, and this time do it right. We’ll do it outside, and have a clown and games and loud music and we’ll do it for the whole neighborhood! And we won’t let the party end until every living soul has a semi-permanent smile on their face!...well, maybe not that damn dog.

We’re going to take off our Promesa Peru vests for a few days and relax. Joyce returns to the States in two days, and there are still things we want to show her. And I’d like to get back to Patapo to do some mountain climbing, and Maribel swears she can hear the pier at Puerto Eten promising lots of fish for our baited hooks.

We’ll be updating the Promesa Peru web page soon and hope you’ll find the time to check it out occasionally. In the meantime Happy Holidays to all of our readers!

Tom & Maribel (and Joyce & Brian)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas means Chocolatada

When we first decided to ask for donations to help us sponsor various activities in the Lambayeque Region, we had no idea what to expect. We know the world economies are not doing great and there aren’t a lot of people standing in line to give away their money, but we needed help so thought we’d ask. The short story is that you answered the call. Thanks to the generosity of Chris, Maria, Jim, The North Hills Country Club of Menomonee Falls, Karen, Rose, The Wednesday Women’s Golf League of Germantown, Pauline, Ray and David, we’re able to sponsor two chocolatadas and contribute to a third. What follows happened and will happen because of you.

The Promesa Peru team arrived at the Jose Carlos Mariategui school in the village of Collique Alto on the 15th after a grueling 1½ hour combi ride. Nearly all of the non-perishable food along with balls, jump ropes and other gifts had been transported to the school some days in advance. Fifty pounds of chicken had been purchased the previous day. All we brought with us were bags of candy and 200 empanadas.

This is something I wish those of you who contributed could experience. To have 50 or so little kids rush up to you smiling and yelling and wanting to hug and kiss you to thank you for giving them a party…well…it just feels good. And that wasn’t all. Inside the classrooms were more kids waiting their turn to march out to greet us; each carrying either a Peruvian or American flag. Several of our team wiped away tears and I admit to a lump in my throat.

The kids, teachers and parents had obviously put some work into this party. There were signs expressing friendship, and each class from kinder through secondary put on dance/song performances that were very entertaining and made their parents proud. The Promesa Peru people on site for the party are Betzy, Maribel, me, Joyce and Yesenia.

We were told that the kids had never seen a clown so we brought one with us. When the clown first appeared many of the younger kids were frightened, and some of the parents looked uneasy, but Jorge aka “Kokoroko the Clown” did an excellent job of entertaining and involving the kids, parents and teachers.

It’s customary to prepare food and beverages for a chocolatada in the school’s kitchen or at the town’s community center but Collique Alto has neither, so the food was prepared at parents homes and brought to the school where the students ate in their classrooms. Each kid had a plate heaping with chicken, potatoes, paneton and empanadas plus all the chocolate milk they could drink. Looking at some of their faces I had the feeling that they had never seen so much food on their plate at one time.


For me personally the chocolatada I will enjoy most is one we didn’t sponsor; at least not directly and probably will not attend. The Jorge Chàvez Dartnel school will hold their chocolatada on the 21st. Our only contribution is a couple dozen balls for the school and bags of candy for the kids, which we dropped off today. The school doesn’t need any further help from us.

In September Promesa Peru supplied tools for the students to increase production and improve quality of their carved and painted gourd enterprise. The plan worked, and with the proceeds from their increased sales plus money from two bake sales the community is able to finance its own chocolatada. This is a great example of helping people to help themselves.


And with the money we have left over we will sponsor another chocolatada this coming Monday; this one in a very poor district right here in Chiclayo. These kids live in an area where the schools, churches and communities simply don’t have the money for parties. With the help of some friends in the area we’ve identified a number of needy families and are presently working on a location for the party.

We hope you feel good about the help you’ve provided. You’ve got our thanks as well as the thanks of the kids, parents and teachers.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ole’ Boy Turned 70!

When the clock struck 12:00:01am this last Sunday I reached 70 years of age. Now…lots of people live to that age and beyond these days, but still…70 is getting up there. I blew right by 50, 60 and 65 without even thinking about it – no big deal, but I wanted friends and family with me for this birthday so we held a celebration at the Beirut Restaurant in Chiclayo. I’ll let the photos summarize what for me was a very special and memorable occasion, though I do want to repeat some words spoken at the restaurant by my sister Joyce somewhere around 2:30am…”Maribel throws one hell of a party!”

Some last minute finishing touches

Me, Brian and Maribel

My sister Joyce flew in from Milwaukee.

We had a clown as part of the entertainment. His instructions were to help as many guests as possible make fools of themselves. He succeeded admirably.

I’m pretty sure my friend Lucho didn’t expect to be wearing a toilet plunger as a hat at the party.

I was not immune

Maribel planned several surprises for me this evening. One of them was these young Marinera dancers. I had seen the boy Carlos dance previously. Our guests appreciated them as much as I did.

So you think you can dance?

Another surprise was this jazz combo, who played during dinner. I like many types of music, but jazz has always been my favorite.

Perhaps the nicest gift I received was this banner given to me by a group of friends.

It was an evening I will never forget. My thanks to those friends and family members who were there to share it with me.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

It’s Election Day Again...

…which means Peruvians are voting for their favorite candidates, and I am doing without wine tonight because I forgot to buy it yesterday and it is illegal to sell it today. Anyway, I thought you might be interested in the voting process in Chiclayo. It’s quite similar to the process in the boonies of northern Wisconsin. In Lima electronic voting is just beginning to be put in place.

Voting takes place at various schools. The first step is to determine what group you are registered to vote in and what room the group’s officials are in. You do this by checking lists for your name outside of the classroom doors. The voting ‘officials’ have their names and photos posted above the registration lists. Just as voting is mandatory, so is serving as an official if you are selected. Yes, that’s Maribel 4th from the left. This group has 140 people registered in it.

Once inside you will be greeted by three officials. All three of them must witness every step of the process, except of course for your selection of candidates.

The first step is to hand your DNI (Peruvian national identification card) containing your personal information plus photo to an official, who will verify your identity against their registration list and the copy they have of your DNI as seen on the desk.

When your identity has been confirmed you’ll be handed a paper ballot and pen if you need one.

The ‘voting cabin.’ There were only two candidates on the ballot for Regional President so most of the voters I watched took only a few seconds to indicate their choice.

The ballot box is clear corrugated plastic sealed with security tape.

After depositing your ballot you need to sign the official’s copy of your DNI. But you’re not done yet.

The final step is to place your fingerprint next to your signature.

Lastly your DNI is returned to you along with a tissue to wipe the ink off your finger. The entire process averages less than three minutes.

Voting begins at 8:00am and finishes at 4:00pm. The woman and man on the right in this photo represent the two candidates. When I asked what specifically they were watching for the man responded, “We want honesty.” After the doors close the three officials will tabulate the result in the presence of the candidate’s representatives.

Maribel will be home somewhere around 7:00pm tonight after 11 hours at the school. “What’s for supper?” would not be a good question to ask her.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Village of Collique Alto

I read somewhere that one should not use superlatives lightly because they will have been all used up when you really need them. Looking back at some of the posts I’ve written about villages, I see I was too liberal with the use of words such as ‘remote’ and ‘desolate’ and ‘poverty stricken’ and ‘middle of nowhere.’ I should have saved those words for the village of Collique (‘ko-yee-kay’) Alto and the Jose Carlos Mariategui School.

The school has existed for 35 years and according to veteran teachers (there are six for the 117 primary, 20 secondary and 12 kinder students) the school has never been remodeled or upgraded. Morning classes are for primary students only. They go home for the day at noon, which is when the secondary students arrive. This schedule exists because the school cannot provide lunches, so the kids hopefully eat a noon meal at home. The schedule also allows the secondary students to work in the fields in the morning, and the younger kids to work the fields in the afternoon.

This is the only school we’ve been to where uniforms are not mandatory. David, the school’s director explained that parents can’t afford uniforms, so the school has compromised and asks only that clothing be clean. Even that has got to be a chore because we didn’t see any concrete or asphalt within miles of the village. Nothing but dirt and sand everywhere, and some of these kids are walking several miles to and from school.

We visited the school at the suggestion of Promesa Peru Chiclayo board member Betzy Calderon who has a connection to the area through family and has a friend teaching at the school. Betzy is a full time student at the University of Sipàn where she studies administration. During her spare time she is a volunteer at a medical clinic in Chiclayo. When word spread that the ‘doctora’ was at the school, several mothers with sick children sought out Betzy to ask for advice.

It was through her teacher friend that Betzy learned the Collique Alto Christmas party was recently cancelled because parents were unable to raise the money. We’ve heard of Christmas parties being scaled back for lack of funds but never before cancelled. In our discussion we learned the situation is not unusual. I don’t know why Collique Alto seems to have ‘slipped through the cracks’ in all areas of government support but there’s no question that it has. Perhaps David and his teachers haven’t pounded on agency doors enough to demand attention, as most village school directors are forced to do.

We don’t get involved in politics, at least not yet, but through Promesa Peru we do get involved to the best of our ability in helping communities. We’re going to help these kids to have a Christmas party. We sure could use some assistance. Please visit the Promesa Peru web site at: to lend a hand.

Tom & Maribel