Sunday, April 17, 2011

Human folly and a school closing

Pedro Ruiz Gallo is the name of the National University in Lambayeque. It has a reputation of providing a quality education in all fields including medicine. The problem is that classes are often disrupted by protesting students, teachers, maintenance workers, administrative staff, etc. It is a serious problem.

This space is where the Chiclayo extension of the Pedro Ruiz Gallo National University was located until recently. It’s on Balta Avenue next to Elecktra and has been there for 4 years. The staff of the extension, including the director, sub-director and teachers is hired by the director of education at the Lambayeque facility. The school hadn’t done anything during its short existence to attract attention out of the ordinary until the middle of last year when it made national news concerning protesting students who voiced the opinion that the director was too authoritative. Students supporting the director held counter protests. The director was interviewed by news stations and claimed that the sub-director wanted his job and was stirring up the students and parents. The sub-director denied the allegations and claimed the director was incompetent. The director of education in Lambayeque apparently took a hands-off position, hoping the situation would work itself out. It didn’t and after a period of escalating squabbling what apparently happened is that the university, instead of replacing the director or sub-director or both decided instead to close the school.

I don’t know if Chiclayo needed the Pedro Ruiz Gallo school. My guess is probably not, though the out of work employees would certainly disagree. What I do know is that in Chiclayo’s flourishing economy buildings in the metro area don’t sit vacant for long. They’re quickly remodeled or demolished to make way for some new enterprise. Perhaps the students who were formerly educated in this location will instead be able to buy a cheap jewelry item, or gaze in a window at the latest clothing fashion. I hope it’s not a restaurant. We don’t need another restaurant.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chiclayo street snacks

Much has been written over the past few years about Peruvian cuisine. With the increase in tourism and the resultant increase in hotels and restaurants there has also been a rash of cooking schools starting up, as well as new cooking courses offered at the leading universities. Often there are food fairs sponsored by municipalities where cooking schools and universities display the art of cooking and offer to sell their creations to fair goers. Personally, though I enjoy Peruvian cooking, I like street snacks even more.

Street snacks are sold by mobile vendors on the streets. There are actually two broad categories of street snacks based on time of day. In the morning and early afternoon lighter snacks dominate. Toward late afternoon and into the evening the heavy duty, substitute-for-a-full-meal snacks appear in the form of tamales, humitas, empanadas, hot sandwiches, anticuchos and brochetas. We’ll explore those in a future post.

Street snacks are tasty and they satisfy that ‘between meals’ hunger. You don’t have to walk very far to encounter a wide variety of inexpensive snacks offered by corner vendors. Of the lighter snacks nearly everything is available, from candy to fruits and nuts and…well, let’s have a look at some that I enjoy.

Fresh squeezed orange juice is a big seller. Other beverages available are soya, cebada, chicha morada, emolientes, jugo de caƱa (sugar cane juice), raspadilla (slurpee) as well as bottled water and soda.

This woman offers a variety of baked goods including an item filled with apple. I don’t know what they’re called but I’ve learned how to point to them and say “un sole” (35 cents) which gets me four of them. The man has crackers, candy bars, cookies and juices in his display case.

Slices of pineapple, watermelon, granada, raw sugar cane and higos are popular items especially during the summer months.

Besides an assortment of packaged snacks including powdered pollen, this woman is offering bottles of honey and algarrobina for sale. The honey is processed locally in homes and sold in recycled rum and wine bottles.

Fruit in this wheelbarrow consists of grapes, limas, granadillas and ciruelas. Wheelbarrow vendors are almost never stationary, instead walking regular routes and selling to homes and small businesses as well as passing traffic.

Hot dogs are also available…okay, lousy joke. These aren’t really street snacks, but I had my camera out so what the heck. The puppy the woman is offering is the famed Peruvian hairless dog with its origins in pre-Inca cultures. Custom has it that sleeping with these dogs will cure asthma and bone aliments.

In the sweets category is this baked coconut mixture. Bottom-right in the cooler is the equivalent of a popsicle…known locally as bodoques. Bodoques come in three flavors…tamarindo, coco and fresa, all of which in my opinion are forgettable.

I’ve kept my favorite snack for last. For 35 cents you get six peeled hard-boiled quail eggs in a plastic bag plus a toothpick to eat them with and a light sprinkling of salt if you want it. I always tell myself I’ll eat just one on the spot and save the rest for home, but I never get more than two blocks before looking for some place to dispose of the empty bag.

There are many more snacks that I haven’t mentioned. I will typically buy one or two different items when walking around town, but only from regular vendors that I recognize. Even the locals don’t trust what they refer to as ‘casuals’ …sellers who haven’t been seen in a specific location before and appear not to be experienced at what they’re doing. Nobody wants to risk Montezuma’s revenge.

Tom & Maribel

Monday, April 11, 2011

I watched a woman chase a bus today.

Maybe chasing isn’t the right word. It’s hard to run with a duffle slung over the back and large plastic bags in both hands. She had sent a boy of about 10 running ahead of her in an attempt to stop the bus. The woman and boy weren’t alone…several adults were running the same race.

Getting a seat on a bus to Lima involves either buying a ticket at the terminal or standing two to three blocks away hoping a bus leaving the terminal has empty seats and will risk stopping in the prohibited zone to pick up a waving passenger. Ticket prices in the terminal are about 40 to 50 soles…on the street it’s 20 to 30 soles. For many people the terminal price is out of reach. Though Peru’s economy has grown 7% annually for the last five years, there is a large segment of the population that the growth has not reached. Chances of boarding a bus on the streets is about 50 – 50. Those who make it will be in Lima in about 12 hours. Those who don’t will find some place to sleep and try it again tomorrow.

We watched the boy, who was also burdened with bags chase the bus for three blocks before giving up. When he returned to the woman who had herself run two blocks she shouted at him a bit, probably out of frustration, because she had to know it wasn’t his fault. We watched the woman, boy and other ‘chasers’ begin the trek back to their starting point. What they somehow missed, and what we had seen from our elevated position alongside the road was that the bus was full. None of them had a chance.

Maybe the woman and boy will luck out yet tonight. If not there’s always tomorrow. When they do get on a bus another little drama will play out. If she’s lucky an understanding attendant will let the boy sit on her lap; not a comfortable situation for either of them. If not, the boy will sit on the floor between her legs. She won’t pay for a second seat, and the attendant won’t kick her off the bus.

Every time I see a scene like this or something similar unfold, I experience all sorts of emotions ranging from sadness to guilt (for watching them) to respect, which the bus chasers would probably not understand. For them and many other Peruvians this is nothing out of the ordinary.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Mariscal Caceres School

Chiclayo’s Mariscal Caceres School is located in the La Victoria district and is a five minute moto ride from our house. We were recently invited to visit the school to learn about some projects they would like to implement.

Our initial impression upon entering the school grounds was that this is a happy place…a vibrant, full of life institution with a strong sense of community and attachment. That impression didn’t change during our one hour visit. The school has an enrollment of 800 students in kinder and primary grades, with 400 attending morning classes and 400 in the afternoon. The school does not offer a secondary level. To serve the students there are 17 classrooms and 34 teachers.

The buildings are well maintained and classrooms are bright and cheery and populated with what appeared to us to be well fed, well clothed happy kids. All of the teachers we met had an air of professionalism about them as did the director (center) and sub-director (right).

There are some improvements that Eladio Gonzales, the school’s director would like to see. He feels the school needs a training/meeting room for the use of faculty and parents. He estimated construction cost at 30,000 soles ($10,900 USD). They would also like to construct permanent concrete stadium seating in an outdoor area for school activities. A third project is to upgrade the present computer classroom and add more computers. Of the five they have now two don’t work and there is no money to repair them.

Another interesting project would be to convert this strip of unused land to a mini farm for raising guinea pigs and ducks to sell to raise money for various school activities. The farm would be managed by students to teach them business concepts. The University Cesar Vallejo has promised to develop construction and implementation plans.

We don't feel there is a role for Promesa Peru in this school's plans. The construction of a training/meeting room is beyond our normal scope both financially and philosophically (not really a need), as is the stadium seating project. And while we sympathize about the broken computers, we think back to the school in Collique Alto that has zero computers and a single restroom with no water. Mariscal Caceres School seems rich by comparison.

Providing assistance for the mini farm does meet our criteria of helping people to help themselves, but its our feeling that the parents and teachers of this school are competent and capable of finding a way to accomplish their goals without us.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Story of John Augustus Fiegen

John was born somewhere in Prussia in or about the year 1820. We don’t know anything about his parents or siblings. What John didn’t know was that his life would end just 44 years later in a foreign land and under circumstances he could not possibly have imagined.

Whether he came to the USA by himself or with family is unknown but April 3 1845 found 25 year old John standing at the altar of a church with Maria Elizabeth Hoffman in New Trier Township Illinois. Their home was on what is now Illinois Road, Wilmette, and was then called Reinwald Avenue in the Grosse Point area which was incorporated as Gross Point Village in 1874, and annexed by Wilmette in 1924. From various records we know that John was a carpenter and also served as "Constable of the territory of New Trier". Physically he stood 5 feet 6 ¾ inches tall with hazel eyes, dark hair and sandy complexion. Between 1845 and 1862 he and Maria would have 11 children, though 3 died at birth, one at age 5 and another at 10. Of the remaining 6 children only the first-born, Anna Maria would live a long life. Which turned out to be a good thing for me, but we won’t go into that here.

April 12 1861 was the official start of America’s Civil War. Whether for patriotic or other reasons, John apparently enlisted in the Union army soon thereafter, because his service record indicates that he was a veteran when he enlisted in Chicago in March, 1862 as a Private in Company A Twenty-third Illinois Infantry Volunteers. On March 8 1864 in Greenland Virginia John mustered in for a third enlistment. There’s no doubt that he was a veteran and had seen many battles when hostilities began at the second battle of Kernstown Virginia on July 24 1864. John wouldn’t live to fight another battle. His official military record states that he was…"wounded and taken prisoner at Winchester, Va. on July 24, 1864. Not been heard from since." He was 44 years old.

Now, that statement “Not been heard from since”, plus the fact that records from the infamous Andersonville prison contain a similar name have led to some confusion about John’s fate. But the facts are that in 1868 his wife Maria applied for a widow’s pension, and John’s former company commander in a sworn affidavit said that John had died of his wounds and that his fellow prisoners had buried him on the Kernstown battle field on or about July 24, 1864. A second affidavit was submitted by a fellow prisoner who said he had helped to bury John on the battlefield. Maria’s pension was granted…she received $12 per month.

The army does a good job of supplying records. In response to my letter requesting information regarding John I received numerous documents including his service record, the two affidavits mentioned above, Maria’s pension application, and the one I treasure most…a four page letter to his wife written from Winchester Virginia on June 13 1864 just 11 days before his death – probably the last letter he wrote. It’s written in German, and though I’ve tried several times over the years to find someone to translate it have had no luck. I’ll hold on to it in the hope that some future technology will enable me or someone else to hear John’s words to his wife from that battlefield so many years ago.

John Augustus Fiegen was my great-great-great grandfather.


Monday, April 4, 2011

The Story of Unknown Filipowicz.

Jaskiewicze is a small village 3 km north of Indura (formerly Amdur) in the Grodno region of Belarus. Variations of the spelling are Yazkevichi, Jaskevichi, Jaskieviche and there are probably others. One day long ago around the year 1740 a male Filipowicz was born in this village. We don’t know his given name, or the names of his parents. Nor do we know his wife’s name who in 1763 would give birth to Peter and at some later date his brother George. There were probably more children but their names for now are lost in time.

Unknown Filipowicz, like his ancestors before him and several generations after him lived as bonded peasants on a huge estate owned by the family of Vandalin Voitekhovich Puslovski encompassing the village of Jaskiewicze and much of the Grodno region. The peasants had no rights; could not leave the estate without written permission from the landowner and could not even utilize the fruits of their labor with the exception of that which was given back to them by the landowner for their subsistence. Their condition was very close to that of the slaves in the United States during that same time period.

On February 13 1794 Unknown’s son George and his wife Kristina were parents to twins - Janush and Elizaveta. That apparently worked well for them so they did it again on August 27 in 1797 with Lavrentij and Viktorija. Perhaps the children were in answer to his brother Peter, who earlier with his wife (another Kristina) were parents to George (1785), Bartholomew (1786), and Victoria (1789). At this time there were two poor but thriving Filipowicz families in Jaskiewicze, with lots more births to follow. We won’t bother to detail all of them. The one we want to follow is Bartholomew’s son, Bartholomew B. Filipowicz who was born on July 17 1817. And here’s why.

In 1863 a land reform took place in the Grodno region. We don’t know the hows or whys of it, but the end result was that the peasants acquired title to plots of land. An official document transferring the land reads in part:

“According to the order of His Emperor Majesty, the purchasing documents was given to peasants of village Jaskievichi, the former dependant peasants of landowner Vandalin Voitekhovich Puslovski." Among the peasants named was:

"Varfolomej Varvolomeevich Filipovich (Bartholomew son-of-Bartholomew Filipowicz)…got a plot of land:

One garden lot - 953 sazhen (1 acre)
One tilling lot - 8 desjatin 1654 sazhen (23.5 acres)
One haying lot – 1 desjatin 791 sazhen (3.5 acres)
Total – 10 desjatin 998 sazhen (28 acres)

And just like that the Filipowiczes and other peasants were freed and became land owners. Though he had long ago passed on, Unknown Filipowicz would have been pleased.

Property owner Varfolomej Varvolomeevich Filipovich…well, let’s stay with Bartholomew B, along with his wife Rosalie went on to have five kids and many grand kids on their new land. One of them was Kasimir, born January 13 1862 who married Christine Lukaszewicz on November 7 1882. They were married at Trinity Catholic Church (constructed in 1825) in Indura. Jaskiewicze apparently didn’t have a Catholic church as all marriages and christenings took place in Indura.

Kasimir and Christine were parents to Mikhail, Ivan, Michelene, Ignatius, Cecelia, and Vikentiaj in that order, as shown by the first official Russian census of the region in 1897. The new-found freedom and land probably didn’t improve living conditions all that much and like many people during that era some of the Filipowiczes decided to find their fortune elsewhere. Of Kasimir’s children Ivan was the first followed by Mikhail and Cecelia, to try their luck in America, initially settling in Bellows Falls, Vermont. Michael (Mikhail) passed through Ellis Island on June 7 1910. He lived with his brother Ivan (John) and worked at a paper mill. Sometime later he returned to Jaskiewicze, married Theofila and again came through Ellis Island January 30 1913, though his bride didn’t arrive until six months later.

Theofila had just 5 years to enjoy her new life in America. She died on October 26 1918 at the age of 25 during a flu epidemic in Bellows Falls, but not before giving birth to Stanley, Henry and Edward. For whatever reason Michael with his boys left Bellows Falls shortly after his wife’s death, eventually settling in Milwaukee. Michael has passed on, as have his sons, but they left sons to carry on the line.

There are no Filipowiczes living in Jaskiewicze today. The village, never large is almost deserted. I can’t help but wonder what happened to those 28 acres. A few Filipowicz descendents are living in Indura, but they’re mostly older folks…the young have moved elsewhere.

I wonder if Unknown Filipowicz ever gave thought to the kind of life his descendants would have? Could he even imagine a life of freedom and land ownership for his progeny in Jaskiewicze, let alone later generations living a completely different life style in a foreign land? And of course he couldn’t know that some 270 years later a distant grandson living in Peru would be thinking and writing about him. Unknown Filipowicz was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.