Monday, February 29, 2016

How to Beat Chiclayo’s Heat

It’s that time of year when the number one topic of conversation is the weather. February and early March are the hottest months. In the early afternoon the outside temperature is in the upper nineties. A blazing sun, high humidity and warm ocean salt-spray breeze that corrodes metal and leaves a sticky film on everything makes it worse.

There aren’t a lot of options to escape the heat. Air conditioning in private dwellings is non-existent in Chiclayo. I am not aware of any single family homes, apartment or condo complexes that have air conditioning. I don’t know why that is. I know why we don’t have air conditioning in our home, but in the interest of preserving domestic tranquility I will say no more.

There are some tactics Chiclayanos employ to find a brief respite from the heat. They go to one of the nearby beach towns where the temperature is usually 5 to 10 degrees cooler and the breeze, though not cool is stronger. But at some point you need to get on a crowded combi to return to Chiclayo, and by the time you arrive your sweaty clothing is sticking to you as you exit the vehicle. And you have sand in your shoes.

The Real Plaza shopping mall is a popular temporary escape. Many of the stores have air conditioning. Cineplanet has air conditioning. We’ve seen three movies this week. The line at Cineplanet often has more than 100 people waiting to buy tickets. To avoid the line we go early when the box office opens and buy tickets for a later time that evening. The mall has six ice cream stands. Lines are usually 15 to 20 people long. These conditions will change in mid march when school opens and the weather begins to cool.

There is a large public swimming pool in central Chiclayo that is to me strangely underutilized. There are two water theme parks in the outskirts of the city that are inexpensive and very popular.

In the late afternoon people move chairs from their homes to the sidewalk. Entire families can be seen fanning themselves and drinking their favorite beverage. They block the sidewalk, forcing people to walk in the street but no one minds.  

But whatever option you choose, there comes a time when you have to go to bed. I don't like cold showers but I take one before going to bed. It doesn’t help. I still go to bed with that clammy feeling on my upper body and back of the neck. Several times each night I wake up; flip my damp pillow, stand by a window until I cool down a bit and then go back to bed. I wake up with the same clammy feeling, and dread what that rising orange hazy sun portends.

There’s really only one way to beat Chiclayo’s heat. Leave town. You can get on a bus in Chiclayo and 6 hours later be in a village high in the Andes Mountains where the air is cool and crisp with a daytime high of 72 and a low of 50 at night. There are decent hotels starting at $20/per night and restaurants are not expensive. That’s what we’re going to do. I am so looking forward to sleeping with a blanket and maybe shivering a bit.

We should be visiting some of the schools in the towns that have phoned Promesa Peru for help, but the thought of walking those dusty dirt streets in a hot desert village is not something we feel up to right now. We’ll see the villages and you when we get back.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Another School Year Begins

The school year in Peru officially begins Monday, March 14. If the weather phenomenon El Niño is active that date will be postponed to the beginning of April. Most district schools have already completed the enrollment process so the number of students eligible to attend each school is established. Between now and March 14 teachers will be focused on providing school supplies, teaching aids and furniture for their classrooms…an especially difficult task for pronoei teachers.

For the benefit of new readers, a pronoei is a school for 3 to 5 year olds usually located in poor villages where no government kinder is available. The local district government may provide a prefab building but nothing more. Often pronoeis are located in one room of a private house. It is expected that village parents as members of a parent’s association will provide electricity, water, school supplies, teaching aids and furniture. That almost never happens. Often kids are seated on dirt floors, pails, or the ubiquitous broken plastic chairs, and parents cannot afford even basic school supplies like pencils and notebooks. As a result a large number of the kids enrolled never attend, and that habit continues through primary school.

Four pronoei teachers have phoned Promesa Peru in the past week asking for assistance with furnishing their classrooms. Chairs, tables, storage shelves and often a whiteboard have become the standard request. Every year we go through the process of looking at potential furniture suppliers; balancing quality, price and reliability. This year the process is causing us some heartburn.

A few years back we could contract with local carpenters in or near a village to build tables and chairs. The average price of a table was $40 – a chair $12. This year we’re looking at $60 and $18 respectively. Even the price of plastic chairs has gone from $5 to $8, and we’ve decided we don’t want to supply those because they collapse and break. There is another option we’ve looked at but it’s pricy.

This is the chair that the office of the Minister of Education in Lima is supplying to kinders all across Peru. The chair has a welded metal frame joined to an industrial grade plastic seat and back. It is heavy and incredibly strong. I sat on it but declined the suggestion to stand on it.

Anibal, the man in the photo is a medical doctor in Chiclayo. In addition he is part of a family business in Lima that has been manufacturing chairs and tables for the government for over 15 years. He did not have a sample of a table with him, but the photos he showed to us indicated the same level of strength and quality.

The government is paying 400 soles ($114) per table and 100 soles ($29) per chair. Anibal is a former classmate of Maribel’s and offered a 20% discount to us. Still…we’re talking about $92 per table and $23 per chair. As an example, the pronoei in Patapo has 30 students. They would need 8 tables and 30 chairs at a cost of $1426. That’s nearly 3 times our historical project cost. Anibal has offered to speak with his family about shipping direct from Lima to whatever village we’re donating to to avoid transport costs.

We keep hoping that somewhere, located centrally to the districts we serve is a carpenter who can produce the furniture we want at a price we can afford. We’ll keep looking.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Rhythms, Voices, and Sounds of Sipàn

Rhythms, Voices, and Sounds of Sipàn - in Spanish Ritmos, Voces y Sonidos de Sipàn, is the name of a new organization whose purpose is to provide musical instrument training to needy kids who have shown an aptitude for music. The long-term goal will be to form a children’s symphony orchestra that will perform nationally and internationally. It is hoped that money earned from these appearances will help to sustain the organization.

Sipàn is a very poor village located 18 miles east of Chiclayo. To a visitor passing through Sipàn the image is that of an old, tired, dusty village. The only reason to be anywhere near the village is to see the nearby tomb of Señor Sipàn…the #1 tourist attraction in the northern third of Peru.

Most of the members of the new organization have a connection with Sipàn, many of them being associated with tourism in the north. Luis Chero (extreme left), who was elected president at a recent meeting is an archaeologist working in the Lambayeque Region. All of them have constant exposure to the poverty of the area and have a strong desire to help in some meaningful way. They believe that developing the kid’s musical talent will give them an opportunity they would not normally have for a better life.

There is a long road ahead from the initial organizational meeting to a performing orchestra. The first project is to get registered with SUNARP…an experience that can be daunting as we learned years ago when Promesa Peru went through the process. After registration other tasks will include finding volunteer music teachers and soliciting donations to buy instruments. A museum in Lambayeque has agreed to furnish space for music lessons (it helps to have a prominent archaeologist as president of the group).  As I understand it the method to identify students who qualify for training has yet to be determined.

Maribel and I do not have the time to be active members of Ritmos, Voces, y Sonidos de Sipàn, but we support their cause and will do whatever we can to help. We’ll be in frequent contact with the group and will post updates on their progress.