Monday, June 29, 2015

A Sunday afternoon in the city of Eten

This was a good weekend. Saturday we had dinner at the home of some old friends and met one new friend. We hope to see you again soon, Dustin. And then there was the question of what to do with Sunday. We’ve been to Eten a couple of times for specific reasons but never really looked at the city. Although winter has officially arrived in Peru, the temperature in Eten on this day was in the high 80’s with a brilliant, blinding sun. The breeze from the Pacific Ocean brought no relief.

A Wikipedia article places the population of Eten at about 2500 inhabitants. I would guess that it’s probably twice that figure. The area has been inhabited for many years. Moche and Chimu descendants were there to greet the conquering Incas and a century later the colonizing Spaniards.

In 1660 a Tsunami destroyed the town, probably not for the first time. Most of the survivors moved to higher ground a mile to the northwest and rebuilt the town. All that remains of the old Eten are the ruins of St. Mary Magdalene church.

A very short distance from the old church is the chapel of Divino Niño del Milagro, a site that is revered throughout all Peru. It was widely reported at the time and is firmly believed to this day that the child Jesus appeared twice at this site in 1649; first on June 2nd and then again on July 22nd. There was a steady stream of believers to visit the chapel on this Sunday afternoon. In 2009 a cemetery was discovered in front of the chapel containing the remains of 500 burials dating back to the mid 1500s.  The site was excavated from 2009 through 2011.

And speaking of burials, Maribel was told she has relatives buried in the city cemetery so we checked it out. Like most small town cemeteries it has islands of elaborate family mausoleums like this one…

…scattered among burials in community mausoleums; most of them ancient and no longer maintained. This section with burials dating in the 1920s and 30s appears to have collapsed some time ago but there has been no attempt to clean the area or deal with human remains, as evidenced by the rib cage, craniums and others bones mixed in with the rubble. The coffins were of metal, wood, or simply woven baskets. This is not the first time we’ve seen these conditions and it puzzles me. This culture has a strong reverence for the dead and yet these remains are left to lie there.

On a less somber note, in addition to the chapel of Divino Niño del Milagro, Eten has another claim to fame…the world’s largest straw sombrero that I am told is in the Guinness book of records but haven’t been able to substantiate. The sombrero is kept in a private home that we were told was closed on Sundays. The principal park has a large concrete sombrero as a center piece but it’s not an attention grabber.

Eten has a large produce market under roof and also an artisan park on a boulevard running the length of four blocks, unfortunately also closed on this day.

We’ll be going back to Eten soon, only this time on a weekday. We want to see what the artisans have to offer, and I know I won’t be at peace until I’ve seen the world’s largest sombrero.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Concerning the village of El Pavo…

El Pavo is probably our favorite village in the Tùcume District. No, not probably - it is our favorite village. There’s nothing there except a few houses, dogs, farm animals and the warmest and friendliest people we’ve met…kids and adults alike. Whenever we stop by, usually unannounced, we’re greeted like returning family. School comes to a temporary halt; the village women stop whatever they’re doing and there’s lots of friendly chatter. And when we leave the air is filled with people shouting the Peruvian version of, “Y’all come back now…ya hear!” And they mean it!

During the past year we donated school supplies, furniture and other equipment to the pronoei, and sponsored a chocolatada in December. Regular readers may recall that the pronoei was located in a private house, and that the owner wanted her house back. Our brief visit earlier this week was prompted by a rumor we’d heard in another village that the pronoei had moved.

The new location is one room in another private house, less than 50 feet from the former location, and contains everything that we had donated. It is again a temporary situation, with the understanding that the village must find another option in a reasonable time frame.

Some of the parents along with Amelia the school director have met with authorities several times in Tùcume to ask for help to find a permanent solution. They were told that the district has the means to erect a modular school building in El Pavo, but the village must provide the building site.

This large lot is in the center of the village, and the owner has offered to sell it to the village provided it is used for a school. Her asking price is 4000 soles – about $1270 USD. That figure is probably negotiable. This raises an interesting prospect. Could Promesa Peru take part in building a permanent school in El Pavo by helping with the land purchase?

There are a lot of issues to consider and explore before we would seriously consider attempting a project of this scope. For example…is the present land title properly filed and clear of any liens or litigation?  What are the legalities and responsibilities involved in community ownership of a property? Who provides and pays for electricity and property taxes if any? Who maintains the property including building and lot? Will Tùcume authorities provide some sort of assurance that they will erect the school and in a reasonable time frame if the building site is provided? Will restrooms and a water connection be included?

Realistically there is little chance that we will get involved with this situation, but without help there is little chance that the El Pavo pronoei will ever have a stable home. Providing the means for a permanent school would be a worthwhile and rewarding accomplishment. It’s an intriguing thought that for the time being we’ll keep on the back burner. Who knows what the future may hold?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A follow-up visit to the village of Los Roijas

There were some happy faces in Los Riojas this morning when we dropped off several items for the pronoei and primary schools that we were able to provide from donations received. Tangrams, puzzles, books, abacuses, drinking cups and candy bars brought smiles to the faces of the kids, while the teachers appreciated the storage shelves and the promise of other things in the near future, one of those items being sport uniforms for each child.

Our seamstress, who was with us today to take measurements said the uniforms will be ready in about three weeks, which is when the temperature should start dropping and the jackets will be needed. We’re already looking forward to delivering those uniforms and the remaining items.

A big thank you from the kids to Chris R, the Alice Cool Foundation and others for providing the means to help them, their teachers and parents.

Monday, June 15, 2015

One way to earn a living in Chiclayo

There are a lot of different ways to earn a living in Chiclayo; some of them perhaps unique to Peru while others are standard throughout the world. Learning about the different and often unusual things people do to earn their daily bread in Chiclayo is an interesting pastime for me.

This is Walter. He is a furniture maker, a career he began 27 years ago at the same location. If there’s anything unusual about Walter’s job, it’s that he works mostly with rebar (reinforcing bar to strengthen concrete) and plastic cord. Walter’s production is split about evenly between customer order and make-to-stock. He produces on average 10 pieces per week but can do more if demand is there. All of the work-in-process material stays in the street overnight. He ties it together to prevent theft.

Walter’s raw material comes from various sources. Plastic cord is bought in spools from the central market. The metal can be either from used furniture he has purchased or new rebar bought at one of the home-improvement stores. He cuts, shapes, welds and paints the metal himself. He also weaves the cord. He will build to customer design or create something of his own. He said that he has no patterns; that the metal shapes and cord color schemes just come into his head while working.

Those pieces that he makes for stock will either sit in front of his house to be purchased by passersby, or Walter will sell them himself in the central market or to small furniture stores. The furniture is surprisingly sturdy and long lasting, as well as inexpensive. The chair in this photo is priced at $4.75; the stools $3.25. The black and yellow ‘sofa’ in the top photo, which took him 2 ½ hours to weave sells for $57, the pink circular chair for $25.

Walter starts work early in the morning, and his welding torch can often be seen late at night. He said no one taught him how to make furniture; it’s something that he experimented with as a young man and seemed to have a knack for. Making furniture is what he does…what he likes to do. He has kids but they’re not interested in working with him or continuing the business. But Walter is a young 56 and I expect we’ll see him making furniture for years to come.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Village of Los Riojas…

…gives new meaning to the phrase ‘in the middle of nowhere.’ If you look closely at the photo you’ll see our moto driver wondering off into the distance looking to find someone who could tell him where Los Riojas was located. Actually, I believe that by this time he had given up on Los Riojas and was hoping to find someone…anyone who could tell him where he was and how to return to Tùcume. I was at about that point myself. But as usually happens things worked out and after another 15 minutes of exploring we arrived.

Unless you’re a resident or student attending one of the schools, there is no reason to go to Los Riojas. Even the moto driver, who is a life-long resident of the area said after looking around...”There’s nothing here!” That about sums it up. The only reason why a primary and pronoei school are located here is because the village is in a central location to serve other remote villages, thus most of the students don’t live in Los Riojas and walk a long way to get here. 

We were in Los Riojas at the invitation of Maria Teresa Sanchez who is the director of the primary school. The building has 3 classrooms; two are fully furnished but only one is used at present. There are 21 students (including one special education student) spanning grades 1,2,3,4, and 6. There are no 5th graders. That’s too much of an age and education difference in one classroom and Maria acknowledged that fact, but says without other teachers she has no option. My understanding is that it’s not the case of a lack of funds for another teacher as it is an inability to find teachers who are willing to work in the village. Maria has been commuting to Los Riojas from Chiclayo Monday through Friday for the past 15 years. I can’t imagine making that roundtrip every day. She told us she continues to teach at the village because she fears the school would close if she asked for a new assignment. That is the dedication we so often see in these remote villages. 

The furniture was donated three years ago by a husband and wife from Germany, and is still in like-new condition. When we commented that the uniforms some of the girls were wearing have a Chiclayo school emblem, Maria confirmed that the uniforms are second-hand and were given to her in Chiclayo.

When asked what issues she faced, she said her only real problem was concerning lunch. Parents cook the government supplied food in their homes and because many of the kids live a long distance from the school, lots of class time is lost in travel and the kids straggle back individually after eating. This is the identical problem we encountered and resolved in Tùcume Viejo last August. Maria would prefer to have a rotation of mothers cook the food at the school. She estimates that one hour of classroom time would be gained each day. A couple of cooking pots and serving spoons should take care of that issue. For the classroom she needs storage shelves. For the students she asked for donations of used clothing and added that it would be a great help to the parents if the kids had uniforms.

Adjacent to the primary school is a pronoei that was built about three years ago, but has been unused this year for the lack of a teacher. Diana Valdera, who is a sister of Amelia, the pronoei director in the village of El Pavo accepted the assignment 2 months ago. She is shy, young and inexperienced but seems to have the right attitude and with Maria as a mentor will learn on the job along with her students. There are 20 students registered for the pronoei but only about half were present when we were there. Both teachers believe the reason the other kids aren’t attending the pronoei is because the parents either don’t know the school has reopened or aren't sure Diana will be there permanently.

Except for the desk, tables and chairs donated by the previously mentioned German couple the room is empty and cheerless. Even the government issued gym equipment we see in every pronoei is absent. Diana has asked for a table, 5 chairs, 2 storage shelves and an assortment of books, tangrams, abacuses and puzzles.

We’d like to continue the example of the German couple by donating to both schools. The items for the pronoei would cost about $275 including sport uniforms. For the primary school the cost for the cooking equipment would be $65… storage shelves and uniforms another $500. So we need $900 including transportation to accomplish this project. Please visit the Promesa Peru webpage  if you can help us with this activity. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Village of Las Salinas

Las Salinas has been in existence for thirty years according to Jorge, who is the unofficial mayor. Most of the structures look much older than that, but it's difficult to judge the age of a desert structure because adobe brick, mud plaster and cheap paint age very quickly. There is electricity but no water. There are about 20 families living here, with houses so widely spread apart that it is impossible to point to one location as the center of the village. Most of the houses we saw had truckload quantities of freshly picked corn packed in large black bags stacked in their yards. The corn will be sold in nearby cities for animal feed.

Besides corn, pumpkins and honey are the base of the economy. And to transport everything there are burros…lots of burros. We watched a steady procession of people either mounted on burros or sitting on carts pulled by burros all carrying pails or water bags and going to the well for water. From the several descriptions we were given of the well I am not sure if it is a drilled well or a natural pond. I wanted to follow the people to see the activity and take photos but we were told, “…it is very far.”

A pink wall surrounding the primary school dominates the landscape. The wall encloses an area of over 6,200 sq meters. The classroom buildings inside the walls occupy only a small space against one wall. We were unable to learn why so much space had been allocated for the school.

In all of our travels in the backcountry this is the first neglected chapel I have seen. Usually they’re the best maintained building in the village. The door was ajar and I was curious to see what was inside so I opened it to look in. The lone occupant, a buzzard that appeared to be the size of an Andean condor blasted through the open door inches above my head. Thankfully my pantaloons remained unsoiled. It turns out that the chapel predates the school wall, and after the wall was constructed it was decided that the chapel was now in an inappropriate location. All religious artifacts were removed and the chapel was decommissioned, or whatever you do to a chapel that you no longer want to use. There has been talk lately of remodeling the building and once again using it as a chapel.

We were invited to Las Salinas by Karina Suyon, the director of the pronoei. Inside the pronoei looks pretty much like every other pronoei…the same colors, same basic furnishings and not enough chairs and tables. When we entered the building four boys were sitting on the floor, which an embarrassed Karina told us is their usual location because of the lack of furniture. She has 21 students...10 boys and 11 girls.

Karina doesn’t need school supplies, teaching aids or uniforms for her kids. She asked for two tables, ten chairs and storage shelves. We can do that for $190 including transport.  Please consider helping us by making a donation at the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Mission accomplished in Santos Vera

We were in Santos Vera bright and early this morning to deliver the tables, chairs and storage shelves we’d promised several weeks ago. The carpenter who we contract with to supply tables in the Tùcume area villages did his typical quality work and has kept his price at $22.95 per table. We usually come in at or under our budget estimate , which for this project was $184.70 including transport, but this time the chairs and storage shelves cost more…$3.28 versus $3.02 per chair, and $42.62 versus $29.51for a storage shelf. We hope that’s not a continuing trend. The final project cost was $214.75 including transport.

Cost aside, we accomplished what we set out to do…provide the means to help teachers teach and kids to learn. Thank you to Chris R, the Alice Cool Foundation and others from the director Maria Bravo Vera and the students of Santos Vera.

Santos Vera wasn’t the only village we visited today. We also visited Los Riojas, and earlier in the week the villages of Las Salinas and El Pavo. We’ll be writing posts about those visits very soon.