Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Chocolate Journey

In Milwaukee’s Brookfield Square Mall there is a chocolate shop. Its name is Maroon Bells. They offer a wide variety of attractively displayed chocolates. At the door of the shop is a table containing free samples. The intent is clear…one sample = one sale. It is a very effective strategy. This is the story of how a box of chocolates made a journey of some 3,500 miles from Milwaukee to a remote village in northern Peru. But first a bit about chocolates in general.

Chocolates don’t need a visa or passport. They don’t go through immigration. They don’t go through security as you and I do. They don’t have to bother removing their shoes, belt, watches or “other metal objects.” They also don’t have to be scanned nude at security, which is good because as everyone knows, chocolates are painfully shy and not given to exhibitionism.  They are required to pass through customs with their guardians but in this instance they were lucky and got the green light at the Lima airport.

They travel well. They don’t delay fellow passengers by trying to force their impossibly oversized carry-on into the overhead bin during the boarding process. They don’t need to be entertained; their ears don’t pop at altitude; they don’t experience restless leg syndrome; they never pace the aisle waiting for the “occupied” light to go out, and they don’t have to decide between “chicken or pasta”

For all their positive attributes chocolates are not very bright. No chocolate has ever won a Nobel Prize nor contributed anything meaningful to the advancement of humanity. But their claims to fame…appearance and flavor have endeared them for thousands of years to the gods and we mere mortals. They know they’re desirable and for many, irresistible yet they remain humble which only adds to their attractiveness. Anyway, let’s return to this particular box of chocolates.

As we have learned, they began their journey at the Brookfield Square Mall. From there they were gently and securely placed in a virgin piece of Nautica luggage which their guardians had purchased both because it was needed and because of the distinctive yellow stripe for recognition purposes at the airport carousal (imagine the look of surprise on the guardian’s faces when they saw a man with identical luggage at the Lima airport!). Next they were driven to the Milwaukee airport where they boarded a plane to Atlanta. After changing planes in Atlanta they flew to Lima. Following a six hour lay-over (chocolates never complain about lay-overs) they were winging their way to Chiclayo.  In Chiclayo they were repacked and taken to a bus station to begin a seven hour ride to Jaèn, where they were picked up by a man who drove them into the Andes Mountains and after crossing one river by barge and fording another arrived in the village of Zapotal.
Mountains, palm trees and jungle foliage indicated to the chocolates that they were definitely not in Brookfield Square. But no matter…they took comfort from the smiling face of the little girl who had been eagerly waiting for them. Claudia Joyce in Zapotal knew that her Godmother Joyce in Milwaukee would not forget her. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Construction Workers Massacred!!!

Chiclayo Peru (AP) All of Chiclayo is reeling with shock and disbelief this morning over the ruthless massacre of eight city construction workers on Chinchaysuyo Ave yesterday afternoon. According to a police department spokesperson, the workers were apparently forced to line up against a wall and were then savagely gunned down.

Asked if there were any leads as to the murderer’s identities, the spokesperson said, “…we know who is responsible. It’s a rival gang of construction workers from neighboring La Victoria. For months now they have been stealing sand and gravel from our project site late at night. Two days ago we placed night security guards on the site to stop the thieves. We never imagined they would resort to an act this desperate and despicable over a few shovels full of sand and gravel.”

When asked what happens next, the spokesperson replied, “First we will mourn for our brave fallen workers. Then, when they least expect it, La Victoria will experience a defeat so crushing they will never be able to bother anyone again! Vengeance will be ours!!”

Okay…you’ve probably guessed the above was written tongue-in-cheek – that there was no massacre. But the thing is I actually thought something was drastically wrong when I initially saw bodies sprawled on the sidewalk, looking as if they’d been placed there for collection. And there were several more groups just like them over the next three blocks. They laid there as if they were dead while passersby had to walk in the street to get around them. I’m not being critical because this is Peru and customs are different here. It’s just that I can’t imagine seeing anything like that in the USA. Sure, city workers take breaks, but they and their bosses are aware that tax payers are looking at them so are a little more discrete about their image.


The Class of 1980

Chiclayo’s Karl Weiss school recently celebrated its 51st anniversary with a parade and other activities over a four day span. The parade is an annual event that is held in the downtown area. One of the classes participating in all the activities is Maribel’s class of 1980.

The class is probably typical of an organization with people in that age group. Its members include a judge, a police comandante and several police officers, taxi and moto taxi drivers, a doctor, vehicle mechanics, teachers, self employed business people and, unfortunately, an alcoholic or two who can’t seem to get their lives in order but are still treated with respect by classmates.

Every year the class seems to have less members participating in the anniversary celebration, not because they’ve departed the planet, though there are a couple of those, but because they’re scattered around the country. I am no longer surprised when Maribel unexpectedly meets a classmate in Lima, Trujillo, or as has recently happened, a moto taxi driver in Jaèn. Still, there is a fair amount of communication between many of them who are separated by distance.

The celebration this year was special, because soon every single building on the school grounds will be demolished, to be replaced by modern construction. Karl Weiss as the class of 80 knew it will be no more. The sadness was evident as some of the former students drank a last toast at the door of their beloved classroom 15.

‘Toasting’ continued on the school grounds later that evening, where there were at least 1,000 people in attendance. There was dancing to a live band, food was available, and enough beer was sold and consumed to float Noah’s ark. Proceeds from the admission fee, food and beer sales will be used to fund the celebration next year.

Several days ago it was learned that a classmate has severe anemia and is in financial trouble. Within hours 20 – 25 classmates were in communication with each other and it was agreed to hold a benefit dinner. Maribel, as is almost always the case was ‘elected’ to organize the event. Contributions have been received from classmates in far away places. Others who could not attend the dinner have contributed to a piggy bank circulated by Maribel. And a respectable amount of money was raised at the dinner.

It’s heartwarming to see the attachment these folks have for their school and each other.