Saturday, March 30, 2013

From Morocco to Chiclayo in just 113 Years

History and all things historical have always held a fascination for me. Over my lifetime probably 75% of my reading has been directly or indirectly about history. Occasionally when I feel the urge to change directions for awhile I pick up a Stephen King novel. Anyway, this is a story about two spoons. It’s an incomplete story because there are huge gaps of time between known events, and because the story of the spoons will continue on to whatever their ultimate end may be long after I and anyone reading this has finished our journey.

The spoons were sent to me some years ago by a friend in Poland. The friend knew nothing about them other than that her mother had owned them for many years. I kept them in a curio cabinet alongside other artifacts that only I and a relative handful of people on this planet would appreciate. I know this because I could see people’s eyes glaze over as I explained what I knew about the history of each piece. It’s hard for me to understand why people don’t get excited when holding, for example an original nail from Andy Jackson’s Hermitage, or a minie ball from the Gettysburg battlefield, or an Egyptian coin minted in 256 BC. I mean…it’s not like I was showing them a stamp or plate collection…that kind of stuff would bore anybody!

Other than posting inquires on a couple of antique forums that resulted in no information I didn’t make any serious effort to identify the spoons, but every time I picked them up I was intrigued by two things…one, the design appeared to be either Arabic symbols or writing, and two, the numbers 1320 and 1321. Was it possible that the spoons were from the middle-east, and from medieval times?  

It seems that information on the internet grows daily. I know that in my genealogy research I find church and cemetery records that weren’t available only two years ago. That may have been the case with my spoons when I sat down at the computer one recent morning determined to make an all-out effort to identify them. I started my search with the term ‘snuff spoons’, simply because I thought that’s what they might be. The resulting search images showed lots of small spoons, including a collection of coin-bowl spoons which closely resembled my spoons. Next I searched specifically for coin-bowl spoons and added the number 1321. Bingo! under 5 minutes a mystery that had intrigued me for years had been solved.

What I have are two Moroccan souvenir coin-bowl spoons manufactured probably by an artesian by hand from Moroccan coins minted during or after 1903. The larger coins are the Moroccan AH 1321 BE ¼ Rial. AH 1321 is a date that translates to 1903. The coins were minted during the reign of Abdul al-Aziz, (1903 - 1908) in Paris, London and Berlin. Apparently Morocco did not mint its own coins. The smaller coins are Moroccan AH 1321 BE 1/10 Rial. The coins are 0.835 silver. The spoon’s stems are hard wound wire of unknown material.

My spoons began their lives as coins minted in Berlin Germany. At some point the coins were shipped to Morocco where an artesian made spoons of them. Then they were either purchased by a tourist in Morocco, or exported to another country for sale. Either way they somehow found themselves in Poland. What other countries and continents they may have visited before arriving in Poland is unknown but it is probable there were several. From Poland they made their way to the United States where they rested for a few years before continuing on to their current address in Chiclayo Peru.

During my search I found that many other countries have impressive examples of antique coin bowl spoons including Peru. The example in this photo is of .925 silver. The bowl is a 1908 Peruvian ½ Sol.    

That my spoons have no monetary value is of no concern. That they don’t date back to medieval times is only slightly disappointing. As with all my artifacts they provide pleasure to me in thinking about what they’ve seen, where they’ve been and speculating about where they’ll go to next. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Promesa Peru needs Help

During a recent board meeting Promesa Peru members discussed the possibility of discontinuing our charitable activities due to a lack of financial resources. Over the course of our four year history Promesa Peru board members have on average personally paid for two-thirds of all activity costs, the other third coming from donations. Lately it’s becoming difficult for us to continue our activity because the US dollar continues to lose value against Peruvian currency; costs for everything associated with our activities keep rising while donations have not kept pace.

Because of the work we’ve done we’re regularly contacted by schools and communities who have been referred to us by district authorities or others that we’ve helped, and invited to visit them. In the past few months we’ve become hesitant to accept those invitations because, even though we clearly tell the people who contact us that we’re dependent on donations and can make no promises, our simply being there creates expectations. Recently we’ve had to say no to some deserving requests for assistance simply because we’re not confident we can raise the money. That’s a disappointing and discouraging position to be in.

There are kids in school today because of the school supplies donated by Promesa Peru. There are people who have gotten medical and dental treatment because of Promesa Peru’s medical campaigns. And there are children and families who have been able to celebrate Christmas because of a Promesa Peru chocolatada. We believe this work is worthwhile and would like to continue but that’s not likely to happen without help. If you’d like to see the work we’re doing continue please consider helping us with a donation. Thank you.

Joyce Ann Cline – Treasurer, Promesa Peru Inc

Rosario Maribel Mestar Macalupu de Filipowicz – Treasurer, Promesa Peru Chiclayo

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Visit to Tablazos

Many of our travels to the more distant villages, say twenty miles or more begin at Chiclayo’s Terminal EPSEL. It’s a chaotically cheery place, with upwards of ninety combis in the process of arriving or departing. Popping in and out of the combis are vendors offering everything from sunglasses to razors to beverages and food of every flavor. Often the vendors inside a combi outnumber the waiting passengers. From this terminal you can get a combi to just about anywhere in the Lambayeque Region. Frequently they don’t go directly to your destination; sidetracking to various off the path villages to pick up passengers or off-load groceries or other items, but eventually you get to where you want to go.

This morning we wanted to go to Tablazos. To get to Tablazos what you have to do is take a combi that is going to Chongoyape of which there are many, but one that also detours through sugar canes fields on a rocky wagon path for five miles to Tablazos before continuing on to Chongoyape, of which there are not many. The Toyota combi in the photo was going to Tablazos. It was scheduled to leave at 9:00am, but in Peru schedules are only broad guidelines. Most combis don’t leave until they have enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile.

Our combi pulled out of the terminal at 9:45. It turns out we were waiting for this bag of pigs, that were to be delivered to one of the small towns we’d be going through. After the pigs were securely tied to the combi’s top (sometimes we catch a break) we were on our way.

The initial impression after getting off the combi is that Tablazos doesn’t have a whole lot going for it as a tourist destination. It’s got this old steam engine on display next to the principal and only park, but it’s surprising how many villages we’ve been to that have that same engine or one like it in their park as well. There is no vehicle traffic and few people on the dirt streets. It has that familiar look and feel of a town where men are in the fields cutting sugar cane and the women are indoors washing clothes or cooking. The church is located a few blocks from the park.

The school dates back to 1950 when it was converted from a grand hacienda owned by a wealthy family.  The high ceilings, wood floors and large ornate doors all speak of an impressive appearance in days gone by.

One of what were many inner courtyards now contains restrooms and showers. Another former courtyard contains a kitchen area with large pots and a brick cooking stove, but these things are not used on a daily basis. The regional government says that Tablazos does not qualify as a poor community so does not donate food. We saw many students buying their lunch from a woman with her house adjacent to the school and assumed these kids lived some distance from the village. Those students living in Tablazos probably go home for lunch.

The school is set up for six classrooms but only three are being used. According to Teresa Luk the school’s director, school enrollment has dropped primarily because parents object to first, second and third grade students being taught in the same classroom at the same time, so have placed their kids in different schools in other communities. Teresa says she has no control over the situation because the Minister of Education will not provide additional teachers. When we asked her what kind of improvements she’d like to see, she said her first wish would be for two more teachers. She’d also like desks and chairs for the kids, and a canopy constructed outside to keep kids and parents out of the sun when outside activities/ceremonies take place.

Following our visit to the school we briefly toured the village and came upon a couple of things we’d never seen before. The sugar cane fields surrounding Tablazos are owned by the cooperative in Tuman. On the 15th and 30th of each month a cooperative’s paymaster sets up inside the blue doors and then hammers on the metal gong to announce his presence. Hearing the gong, the men line up in front of the office to receive their pay.

Another unique item was this ‘tower’ adjacent to the school. Many years ago the regional government placed a large television in it so people could watch news and soccer. No one we talked with remembered how or when the TV disappeared.

Though some combis go through Tablazos on their way to Chongoyape, none pass through the village on the return trip to Chiclayo. It is necessary to take a moto taxi five grueling miles to the highway. We like these off the beaten path excursions but the travel and desert heat has a way or wearing us (me) out. It feels good to get home to a shower and relax in a favorite easy chair.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Matter of Pride

I received an email in response to the recent post, The Caserio Casa de Madera. In the email the writer commented that, in contrast to the poor conditions I’ve described, the school and people in the photos “don’t look poor”. I’ve occasionally heard similar comments about other posts I’ve written. What I’d like to do with this post is to try to deal with the philosophical question, “What does poor look like?” But in doing that let me explain that this post is not a rebuttal to the email I received, and I’ve already hopefully made that clear to the sender. I appreciate constructive comments, questions and criticism.  

Some years ago there was a slogan on the wall of Chiclayo’s post office that read, “Poor does not mean dirty.” I was never sure if the intent was a defense of poor people or if it was to exhort people to focus on cleanliness, but either way it’s at the heart of what I’m about to write.

Peruvians are a proud people, and especially in the small villages where a sense of community is still found. They may not know where their next meal is coming from, but they will do everything humanly possible to insure that their church and school are clean and provided for.

Does this classroom look poor? The furniture was donated five years ago (and has been kept in remarkably good condition). The paint on the walls and ceiling was donated last year. When a floor tile breaks, the schools director, Maribel Andaviza Vilchez, who with the other teacher mops floors and washes walls, will get a donated replacement tile and one of the men from the village will install it. The food the kids eat for lunch is donated by the Peruvian government. The kids don’t wear the required school uniform because the families can’t afford them. The teachers are paying transportation costs for at least three students to and from the school out of their own pockets because the parents don’t have the money. We have a formal request in our files from Maribel asking us to donate a chalkboard because the village has no money to buy a new one. The classroom in the photo is bright, clean and well maintained. It is kept that way not because of any wealth in the community, but through the diligent effort of the parents and school staff and donations. So…is this classroom poor or not?

Do the kids in this photo look poor? Peruvian pride carries through to personal appearance. These three kids of the Fuentes family are well dressed in what appears to be new clothing, sandals and shoes. The kids are clean, well groomed and their hair is freshly washed. We see this every time we visit a family if they know we are coming. Every person in the house will wear the best clothing they have. If they don’t have suitable clothing they will disappear until we have gone. The clothing these kids are wearing is used clothing and was donated by a family in Lima. It arrived a few days before our visit with their older sister who works as a maid for the people who donated the clothing. What will happen after we leave is the clothing will be taken off and put away, to be replaced by raggedy shorts. Young girls with developing breasts will wear a tattered t-shirt. Kids under the age of five or six may go naked. Nobody will wear shoes. All seven members of the Fuentes family live in one room behind the kids. They washed themselves and their clothing in the red tub in the room on the left. Occasionally there isn’t enough food in the house. Their teachers pay for their transportation to and from school, and that’s after the kids have forded a dangerous river to get to the highway. So…are these kids poor or not?

What does poor look like?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Caserio Casa de Madera

Frequently, when I ask how a caserio got its name the answer is lost in time. Not so for Casa de Madera. The English translation of Casa de Madera is ‘lumber house’ and the name dates back many years to when a huge hacienda constructed of wood dominated the site and served as the administration offices for the cooperative sugar factory in nearby Pomalca. When the administrative functions were centralized in another area the cooperative donated the land with the provision that a school be constructed on it. Whether the hacienda was dismantled or deteriorated over time to nothing is unknown. School I.E. 11575 now sits on a very small portion of that land at the end of the road adjacent to the church.

Casa de Madera is home to about 80 families. Beside the school the caserio has a church, water and electricity but nothing more…not even a bodeguita; a tiny one-room general store usually located in a private house. The school offers kinder and primary classes. Those graduating from primary go to secondary school in Pomalca to finish high school. There are presently 18 kinder and 26 primary students enrolled. School officially starts each year on a date proclaimed by the Minister of Education – this year the date is March 4th but that date is regarded as a guideline in the smaller towns and villages. What happens in reality is that when the school is ready to accept students, word will spread throughout the village, and on the appointed day only a few kids show up. It will take a few more days before teachers, students and parents are settled into the school routine.

Luisa (left) teaches 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. Maribel (center) is the director and also teaches grades 4, 5 and 6. Both have been at I.E. 11575 for 20 years. On the morning we arrived they were busy wiping down walls, mopping floors and generally getting organized for the return of the students. We were impressed with the upkeep of the schools exterior and interior. Maribel told us the village has an active parents association that takes pride in keeping the school in good repair. A year ago they were able to get donated paint from a Chiclayo business and held a ‘painting party’. The three classrooms are clean and bright. Desks, tables and chairs were donated five years ago by Solaris Peru, an NGO based in Spain. The furniture has been kept in surprisingly good condition, indicating discipline on the part of the teachers and students.

Government donated food for a two-week period consisting of rice, sugar, canned milk, quinua (a seed from a species of goosefoot), canned tuna, cooking oil, and oats had arrived an hour before our visit. The food will be prepared in a communal kitchen and served to the students for lunch. Village women take turns cooking the food.

Maribel told us that though it’s a burden, most of the families are able to provide the basic school supplies for their children. Also, as with all poor caserios the requirement that students wear uniforms is waived. When we asked her if there was anything Promesa Peru could do to help the school or community we were surprised by her response. She said one of the classrooms needed a new chalkboard to replace one that was no longer serviceable but then added that the primary reason she contacted us was to see if we could help Edith Fuentes and her family.

In April 2007 Edith’s husband Julio Campos was driving his cousin’s car in Chiclayo when he was involved in a fatal accident. Julio was judged to be at fault and was sentenced to four years in prison or a fine of 50,000 soles ($19,000 USD). Not having money Julio went to prison. Julio’s prison sentence expired in 2011 but he remains in jail. More about that later.

Edith has seven children. In the photo with her are the two youngest. Leslie is 8 and Janina is  9. Both attend school in Casa de Madera. Her eldest son, 18 year old Julio Jesus cuts wood in Tuman and other villages to help with expenses. Her daughter Alexandra is 17 and has not attended school for two years because of a neurological disorder that prevents her from retaining what she learns. Alexandra spends her time looking after her younger siblings. Another daughter, Luz Angelica is 15 and attends 3rd grade in Tuman. She enjoys school activities and hopes someday to be a singer or actress. For the past year Edith’s eldest daughter Evelyn age 19 has worked as a maid in Lima. The day before our visit Evelyn had just returned from Lima for a two-week vacation and brought with her used clothing for her siblings that had been donated by her employer. Attending school with his two younger sisters in Casa de Madera is Jean Piere, age 13. The two teachers at Casa de Madera pay the combi transportation cost for these kids each day.

About a year ago the old adobe home that Edith and the kids were living in literally crumbled down around them one night during the rainy season. Now all eight of them occupy one room (the door behind Leslie, Jean Piere and Janina…their kitchen/shower is on the left) in a small house owned by Julio’s mother and shared with her, her other son and daughter-in-law.

Edith works 7 days per week at a store in Chiclayo. She works from 9:00am to 7:00pm as a sales clerk, and from 7.00pm to 9:00pm cleans the store. She arrives at home every evening at about 11:00pm. Just getting to the highway for Edith to reach Chiclayo or the kids to get to school is a difficult task. The Reque River has to be crossed, and at the crossing point on this day it was about 50 yards wide and hip deep with a strong current. The depth of the river varies daily depending on rain run-off from the mountains. There are days when the river can be crossed by stepping from rock to rock without getting wet. On days when it is too deep or the current too fast the kids don’t go to school, but Edith somehow crosses it to go to work. Once across it’s a 15 minute walk to the highway. It’s difficult to imagine the smaller kids crossing this river safely every day, and Edith fording that river in the dark at eleven o’clock at night. There is a road of sorts that loops around the river through sugar cane fields which is how we arrived at Edith’s house, but it took us 30 minutes to drive it. To walk it to the highway would take nearly two hours.

This family is living in the most depressed circumstances we have seen and is just barely hanging on. One of the younger girls told us she didn’t like it when there wasn’t enough food to eat. Edith’s husband remains in jail because of the Peruvian judicial system which, as it was explained to me, requires a lawyer and many formal documents to be filed before a person whose term is completed can be released. This family doesn’t have money for a lawyer. And even when Julio is released there isn’t going to be any dramatic changes in their circumstances. Julio cuts wood and sugar cane for a living...he’s not a bank president.

The immediate future doesn’t look promising for the Fuentes family. As we see it Edith has two needs. Most importantly she needs a lawyer versed in judicial system law to get her husband home. We’ll explore that and do what we can to help. Secondly, she needs a break. She’s done an incredible job of holding this family together the past six years and we’d like to take the pressure off of her…at least for awhile. Two or three new sets of clothes with shoes for her and the younger kids would help. So would stocking her house with non-perishable food items like rice, sugar, beans and cooking oil. We don’t know at this time what an attorney will cost, but around $500 should cover the tangible items.

If you would like to help Edith’s family, clicking here will take you to the Promesa Peru donate page. Please…we need your help. And for anyone who has experienced problems in the past with our PayPal button, we’re happy to report that the problem has been corrected.

Oh…and we can get a new dry-erase board with mounting hardware and markers for the school for about $80. We’d appreciate help with that also. J