Monday, October 28, 2013

A Broom Factory in Sasape

Don’t bother to look for the caserio Sasape on a map. None of the maps I have or have found on the internet show Sasape. It is visible on Google maps but it’s not labeled. If you’re curious, paste these coordinates: -6.510802,-79.904206 into Google maps. A green arrow will appear in the center of the village square. The large building complex below the arrow is a school that serves the surrounding area. If someday the village is included in Peruvian maps, I’m not sure what its name would be. Technically it is Sasape, but if you ask the residents they will tell you they live in “Hacienda Vieja” which translates to ‘old hacienda’… hacienda being a Spanish word for ‘estate’. I don’t know why they call it that and neither do they. Just another example of a community name lost in the past.

There isn’t much in Sasape, but there is a broom factory, although the word ‘factory’ may be a bit pretentious. Manufacturing businesses in small villages are ‘cottage industries’, usually located in one small room of a house and that is the case with the broom factory we visited. This shop is owned and operated by Herminio along with his son (left) and wife.

The broom making equipment is hand-made and manually operated. The raw material is inexpensive and gotten locally. The straw-like substance is sorghum, grown throughout much of Peru’s Pacific coast. It has a pleasing fresh-mown hay aroma. The wood staves are gotten locally and can be from several kinds of trees. The metal wire and strap and red twine probably come from Chiclayo’s Mercado modelo. At the time of our visit I didn’t think to ask how long it takes to make a broom; how many they make in a given time period; how they market them, etc. I wish I had, but it had been a long morning and we were tired. Perhaps we’ll return to ask those questions someday.

Several of the manufacturing steps probably date back 1500 years. For example, the sorghum stalks are pounded with a wooden mallet and anvil to soften and separate the fibers.

When the broom has worn down to the wire - about three months of everyday use, it’s time to dismantle it. You don’t throw it away. There are uses for the wood handle (herding cattle, cooking fuel, etc), the metal strap and wire, and even the red twine. Some of it could even end up as another broom.

Besides learning how these brooms are produced, what I enjoyed most was the slow, easy pace of assembly; the soft tap-tap of the mallet and the sound of birds outside. No power equipment, no conveyor belts, no assembly lines and no time clocks. Just a father and son earning a living with their hands doing what their ancestors may have done hundreds of years ago.

On a more important subject, we’re stuck at $160 in donations for Luzmila’s new house in La Raya. If we’re going to do this project we need lots of help, and soon. Please visit the Promesa Peru web page to make a donation.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

More about the Village of La Raya

La Raya is an interesting village primarily because of its history and location. There’s more to say about it than was written in our original post, but before we do that…we’d like to report that as of this writing we’ve received donations of $160 toward the building of a new house for Luzmila and her girls. That’s already 10% of our goal. Also, several Chiclayanos have come forward with offers of food for Luzmila and medicines for the clinic. Hopefully we’ve got some momentum building. If you have a few dollars to spare please visit the Promesa Peru web page to donate. Okay; back to La Raya.

This is an aerial view of a small portion of the Lambayeque Valley. In the upper left corner is a part of the city of Tùcume. To the right in the center of what looks like a large white circle is Purgatory Mountain. The village of La Raya is the long, narrow strip of dwellings to the right of the mountain. The mountain is surrounded by 26 pyramids and mounds. The outline of many of them is visible in the photo. Some of those sites are under active excavation…others have deteriorated and been lost to time. 

These cows are grazing atop what may have once been a royal tomb or majestic pyramid rising hundreds of feet into the air. There is an excellent English language article discussing the history of the pyramids here.

Modern day residents of the area including La Raya are mostly indifferent to the pyramid complex and its historical significance. There is a site museum, but tourists are few and little to no income is generated by the ruins. In fact some residents in La Raya resent the ruins, because the area was declared an official historical site not too many years ago, which means land use including new construction is strictly governed. Residents also claim that the historical designation is used as an excuse by government agencies to ignore their needs. While there may be some truth to that, it can’t be denied that La Raya has a modern medical clinic staffed by a full-time doctor, and an impressive school… two advantages that many larger villages don’t have.

And speaking of the school, we were impressed with the vision and candor of the teachers we met. They voiced the opinion that there are some aspects of Peruvian culture/customs that need to change. They hope someday to have the electronic equipment to “…show educational videos to the students and residents about hygiene, trash disposal, nutrition and respect for the environment.”

I took this photo as we were leaving the school grounds. Shortly after, the woman holding the plastic jug asked Maribel if people in the United States would see the picture. When told that people in many countries of the world would see the photo she seemed momentarily stunned, but when Maribel asked her if there was anything she wanted us to say to the people who would see the photo, she quickly recovered and holding up her jug said, “Tell them I sell chicha!” So someday if you happen to be in La Raya, look her up. She sells chicha! For those who aren’t familiar with chicha, in our area of Peru chicha is a beverage made from boiled ground yellow corn to which sugar is added. It’s a refreshing drink sort of like lemonade, however if it sits awhile it ferments, and then you’ve got an alcoholic beverage with a wallop to it.  The making and selling of chicha is an activity common to many women in small villages.

Agriculture in the form of rice, sugarcane and corn is the area’s economic base, though there are also small scale industries including broom making and adobe brick manufacture. Adobe brick is the primary material Luzmila’s house will be built of. It is easy and inexpensive to make and will last for many years. If protected with a coat of plaster it could last a lifetime.

Many of La Raya’s residents also have a fair number of goats and pigs, which they sell when money is needed or keep for personal use. Nobody is wealthy in la Raya, but people seem generally content with their lives. We’re looking forward to our next visit.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Caserio La Raya

Last February we were contacted by Gilberto Santa Maria, a police officer who works in Tucume. For many years he has helped needy families and sponsored Christmas parties for poor communities at his own expense. Gilbert had learned of Promesa Peru’s charitable activities and invited us to visit La Raya, a poor community located just east of Tucume at the foot of Purgatory Mountain. We finally had the opportunity to do that recently. Gilbert was in Lima on the day of our visit so we were escorted by several village leaders and curious residents; all of them eager to show us their town and answer questions.

There really isn’t anything that sets La Raya apart from dozens of other caserios we’ve visited, other than that it looks a little poorer and a lot older, which it is. The village has existed in the same location for over 100 years, and the land has been continually occupied for at least 1500 years. Purgatory Mountain is surrounded by 26 pyramids and mounds dating back to the Moche culture. In fact parts of La Raya appear to have been built atop mounds.

We began our visit at the school. Our first stop was at the kinder, where we found 35 happy young kids; many of them surprisingly in uniform and in a bright cheery classroom. Carlos Fernandez is their teacher. He has been there 22 years and obviously enjoys his work. He’s got an enthusiasm about him that shows in the kids and in the atmosphere of the class room. The school’s primary grades have an enrollment of 80 students for a total of 115…unusually large for a village the size of La Raya. 

Our next stop was at the medical clinic where we met Dr. Corrales, a young woman who is at the clinic 6 hours each day Monday through Saturday. She sees on average about 15 patients daily, and if there are no patients she visits the homes of people with medical concerns. She told us the single biggest health concern is malnutrition, caused primarily by poor diet and contaminated water. She said that a lack of vitamins is also a problem.

The subject of malnutrition led us to the community kitchen where Maria Sandoval (green vest - the kitchen is behind her) runs the show. The purpose of a community kitchen is to prepare and feed to the poor food supplied by the government. Usually the parents take turns with the cooking. Maria told us that she receives only enough food for 60 people each day. The village has a population of 1000 people, and though not all of them need free food, decisions have to be made as to who gets fed. Maria indicated that there is one family whom everyone agrees is a priority.

This is the home of Luzmila Valdera and her daughters Ruth (9), Romelia (7) and Ariana (2). Luzmila is 27 and is a single mother. Five months ago her husband abandoned the family. The rumor is that he took off for Argentina.  Frankly it’s hard to understand how she’s any worse off without him. Based on what we saw he obviously didn’t contribute time or money toward the upkeep of the homestead. Perhaps there are circumstances we’re not aware of.

Luzmila’s income consists of a few soles for tending a neighbor’s goats and when work is available in the fields she earns a few more coins. The kids get a glass of government milk every morning, and the community kitchen feeds her and the kids a noon lunch Monday through Friday.  Weekend and evening meals are less sure.

The condition this family is living in has to be seen to be believed. She has hung old sheets, potato sacks and plastic bags over most of the holes in the walls in an attempt to keep out the wind and sand, but she can’t cover the gaping holes in what remains of the roof. And after repeated urging from the neighbors that had gathered, that is what she asked us for…a new roof. The problem is a new roof won’t do it. The walls of her home are constructed of cane and mud. They have deteriorated badly and there is no way that house is going to survive another rainy season, which has already started.

And yet despite her poverty she is doing all she can for her girls. If you look closely at the photos you’ll see freshly washed clothing hanging to dry, and the inside of the house with its few meager possessions is as organized and as clean as possible. That is the Peruvian pride and dedication to children we’ve so often commented on in this blog. But Peruvians sometimes also feel shame and despair which, according to Maribel is probably what prompted the tears from Luzmila and her oldest girl during much of our visit in her house.

After leaving Luzmila’s house we had a brief discussion with some of the village leaders. We were told that a replacement house could be built for her at a cost of about $1500. It wouldn’t be fancy…the walls would be adobe brick and the roof corrugated plastic, but it would be large enough for her and the kids and with luck would provide adequate shelter for the next 20 years.

We don’t have the money to do that alone. If you would like to help us to literally put a roof over the heads of Luzmila, Ruth, Romelia and Ariana please visit the Promesa Peru web page to make a donation. If we’re successful in raising the money we’ll post updates and photos of the construction progress. If we’re not successful we don’t know what we’ll do, but it’s not a situation we can ignore.

Monday, October 14, 2013

An Entertaining Weekend in Piura

October is the month the University Of Piura (UDEP) holds its annual internal Olympic competition. The competing disciplines are Business, Engineering, Communication, Education and Law. The competition begins with a parade starting on campus and finishing in downtown Piura. Each discipline constructs its own float based on a theme assigned to them. There is obviously a lot of time, money and effort that goes into these creations. During the parade each float is accompanied ahead and behind by students from the respective career; all of them chanting rehearsed routines at the top of their lungs.  The schools of business and engineering have the largest enrollment, and both of them had at least 500 marching students. The noise and enthusiasm as these groups passed was absolutely incredible.  

Maribel’s son Brian is studying business at UDEP and participated in the celebration (he is holding the second ‘E’ in the photo). That bias aside, it was our opinion and the initial opinion of whoever was judging that the business float was the most impressive.

The theme was American jazz music. At the front of the float were two couples dancing the Charleston. Unfortunately, after at first declaring it the winner the decision was reversed and the float disqualified because, as I understand it, there was an issue about the music played on the float or the music sung (or not sung) by the students.

In the rear ‘Ray Charles’ was playing the piano accompanied by a trio of jazz-singing beauties. The photos of this and other floats do not at all do them justice. They were so large and elaborately detailed on both sides that it was impossible for one picture to capture it all.

At the conclusion of the parade the second phase of the Olympics began in various locations of the city. The games included competition in swimming, some track events, volleyball, basketball and soccer. The school of business triumphed in four of seven events; however this success did not satisfy some of the business students who were already vowing revenge for the loss of this year’s parade float award.

This weekend also marked the anniversary of Piura’s founding 481 years ago. Part of the celebration involved a series of 3-round amateur boxing matches on Saturday night next to the Plaza de Armas in a boxing ring constructed in front of the city hall. The large crowd was very vocal during and after each bout in support of the contestants. The boxing ended at about 10:00pm and shortly after there was an impressive fireworks display lasting until after 11:00.

Sunday morning we watched the flag raising ceremony and parade in Piura; an event that happens every Sunday morning in every town in Peru, and then boarded a combi for the 30 minute ride to Catacaos; a town with a reputation for the unique and beautiful creations of its artisans. There isn’t much to see in Catacaos beyond the 3-block area of artisans shops but it is worth the time to walk through the nearby outdoor market and the principal park for a taste of local culture.  

At 4:00pm we were back in Piura aboard the bus for the three hour ride to Chiclayo. It was a good weekend.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Birthday to Remember

Saturday evening October 5th at 8:30pm marked the beginning of a two-day event Maribel had been both looking forward to and dreading. It was an occasion when friends and family from Chiclayo, Lima and elsewhere would come together to help her celebrate her birthday. That part she liked. The part she didn’t like was that the occasion marked her 50th birthday. Fortunately as of this writing she has made the mental transition (she doesn’t have to worry about a physical transition…she still looks like she’s 30) and we can look forward to another 10 years of peace until the dreaded 60th looms on the horizon.

Following weeks of planning the party began at the Perla de las Flores (Pearl of the Flowers) banquet hall. After most of the guests had arrived, as is the custom Maribel was formally presented to the guests; first by her son Brian and then by me. The remainder of the evening consisted of dancing, dinner, lots of conversation and laughter, and a clown for entertainment.

A wide variety of music for dancing was played, and Maribel danced with every man, woman and child who attended. At one point I found myself singing the words to the Bee Gees ‘Stayin alive’ and disco dancing with our family dentist. 

When the banquet hall closed its doors at 4:00am the party moved to a private home where the festivities continued to about 6:00am, when everybody agreed to go to their respective homes/hotel rooms for a few hours sleep. The celebration didn’t stop…it just paused while people recharged their batteries for the next phase.

The party reconvened on Sunday the 6th at1:00pm; the exact time and at the home where Maribel was delivered by a mid-wife 50 years ago. During the afternoon Maribel was surprised (so was I) and serenaded by a mariachi band that her friends and family had chipped in to hire. Following the entertainment there was dancing, and then a delicious lunch of heaping portions of fresh duck and rice, topped off by what seemed to be an infinite supply of birthday cake.

It was in the early evening, when the people from out of town began to leave to catch planes and busses that the party finally wound down. After helping with the clean-up the local people said their goodbyes and the celebration was officially over.

Though I am sure she doesn’t need them, Maribel has a ton of photos and gifts to help her remember this birthday. What I will remember most is how much my wife is loved, respected and appreciated by so many people. When I married Maribel, not only did I gain a great wife…I acquired a large number of quality friends and family, all of whom will be talking about this past weekend for some time to come.

Happy birthday Maribel!