Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hey Russia!....what’s goin’ on?

On September 1, 2009 I wrote my first post on this blog. This post is #387. I had a statistics counter program running in the background but never paid much attention to it and forgot about it some time ago. This last weekend I was cleaning out old photos and documents to free up space on the hard drive when I came across and old ‘favorites’ list, and there was the link to the statistics program. I clicked on it and was surprised that it recognized this computer and was still accumulating information.  I like numbers and did an analysis to see where the visitors are coming from. The top 10 countries have remained fairly consistent, except for Russia (click on the chart to enlarge it).

I can think of no reason why the sudden interest from Russia, unless it was the ‘Chiclayo…A spy Capital’ post about Nikita and James Bond, but probably not. If any of you Russian readers would care to enlighten me I would appreciate it. And by the way, Promesa Peru has never had a donation from Russia. We and PayPal will gladly accept Rubles. J

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Business side of Promesa Peru

Promesa Peru is a small charity focused on furthering education in the poorer areas of the Lambayeque Region. In the posts on this blog and on the Promesa Peru webpage we show photos and write about the village schools we visit and donate to. That’s the visible part of our organization. Behind the scenes is the business end.

We rely on donations to fund our activities. The people who donate to us rightfully expect us to use their money wisely, and that means doing our best to control the costs associated with purchasing and transporting donated items to schools often located in difficult to reach villages.

Transportation has historically been our holy grail. The ideal vehicle for our needs is either a medium sized truck or a full sized combi but both are too expensive to rent, costing $65 and more for use in adjacent districts, and at least three times that amount for remote districts. By using a combination of motos, taxis and combis we’ve been able to keep transport costs to about 8.5% of total project costs but frankly it’s a real pain. To illustrate…a typical trip to a Tùcume District village involves tying a whiteboard, storage shelves, teaching aids and whatever else to the top of a moto or taxi at our home. From here we go to the Chiclayo combi station that provides service to Tùcume, where we transfer the items to a combi, paying for the seats the items take up. In Tùcume we unload the combi at a moto station and reload everything in /on a moto. From there we go to the carpenter’s shop who hopefully has the tables and chairs ready, unload again and reload everything in a motocar. We need to hire a separate moto to transport me and Maribel, and finally we head for the village. If there is no motocar available we need a fleet of motos.

Hopefully, with the recent advent of our partnership with the Pronoei Education Management Unit of the Lambayeque Province that hassle is over. They have the means to transport our donated items to any village in the province. I said hopefully because we have yet to test the system.

Let me digress for a moment. To avoid repeatedly typing ‘Pronoei Education Management Unit of the Lambayeque Province’ we're going to start using an acronym...PEMU. I hope regular readers will remember it.
Purchasing items is the other facet of the operation. We have an Excel spreadsheet with all of our suppliers and current prices listed. On it is everything we typically purchase, from tables and chairs to uniforms to sweet bread for Chocolatadas. All we have to do is enter the quantity and current exchange rate and it gives us the cost in US dollars. That’s how we estimate the cost when we ask for donations. Keeping that list current takes time and diligence. Suppliers come and go and prices change.  Last week we learned that the 3 shelf storage shelves we always purchase for $24.42 were discontinued. A five shelf unit costs $38.16. The kids can’t even reach the top two shelves on a 5 shelf unit. We’re going to keep looking for 3 shelf units, but until we find them we’ll be paying $13.74 more per shelve.

When we picked up the tables and chairs for Tabacal last week the carpenter told us he was raising the price of chairs from 46 to 50 soles. That’s an increase of 8.7% or $1.18 per chair. Even at that price he is still the lowest priced carpenter we’ve found, but both Maribel and I feel the quality of his work has slipped and he’s missed a couple of completion dates. We need to give PEMU (that works pretty neat!) three days’ notice to schedule a truck so it’s important that the furniture is available when promised.

One option is Maribel’s former classmate supplying us with metal chairs manufactured in Lima. The cost per chair at the current exchange rate would be $18.07 delivered to our home, or $16.56 if 24 or more are purchased, as opposed to the new price of $15.03 from our present supplier. On a typical purchase of 16 chairs the total increase using the volume discount rate  would be $24.48 . That’s not too bad and there are several advantages. Quality would be consistent; the chairs are stackable requiring less space for storage and transport and they’re more durable than wood chairs. And assuming transport costs have been eliminated that savings would more than offset the increased cost. The disadvantage is we'll have chairs on hand that we don't need at the moment and money tied up in inventory. It’s an issue we have to make a decision on fairly quickly if we’re going to supply furniture to the school in Surupampa.

Anyway, the point of all this is that when we’re not in the field  there is still activity going on in the background. We’re never complacent when it comes to monitoring and controlling quality and costs. It’s not just that we feel a responsibility to our donors and ourselves; it’s also a fun challenge to see how cost effective we can be.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Village of Tabacal Project is completed

It was two weeks ago that we first visited the pronoei in Tabacal. We had expected to deliver the donated items a week ago but the carpenter who builds the chairs and tables told us he was having a problem locating dry lumber. This morning everything was ready to go.

We chartered a motocar in Tucume to transport the items four miles to the path leading to the village. Motocars are handy for hauling small to medium size loads and they’re not very expensive. Motocar owners usually do a brisk business.

It’s a 20 minute walk from the road to the village and the only way to transport anything is to carry it. The kids carried the chairs while the adults handled the tables, storage shelves and whiteboard.

The wood chairs are sort of heavy and the kids needed several rest stops though I think some of those stops were to make a game out of sitting in the field in their new chairs.

The cost of this project was:
3 tables - $109.89
8 chairs – 108.09
1 storage shelf – 38.16
1 whiteboard – 45.76
Markers & erasers – 6.11
Toys & candy – 19.82
Transport – 27.86
Total - $355.69

The final cost was $41 over our estimate. Most of that was for toys, candy and erasers that I forgot to budget for. Also, we were told by our supplier that the 3 shelf storage shelf is no longer available. We purchased a 5 shelf unit for $38.16 – a 56% increase over the previous model.

The toys and candy are something we recently decided to include when we donate to pronoeis. The kids like their new furniture but they get really excited over a simple toy and candy. Maribel and I are paying for those items. I show them in the cost figures only for a complete record of the project cost.

The pronoei in Tabacal was another worthwhile project. Chris Raupe, Johany Glen-Webster University, and the Alice Cool Foundation made it happen. Please accept our thanks and the thanks of the teacher and kids of the pronoei Joyitas de Cristo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

About Mountain Villages

I’ve been in Peru for eight years. The sights and sounds that at first were so different from anything I’d known have faded into the background. I don’t see them anymore. I’ve become indifferent to sights that tourists spend a lot of money just to get a glimpse of on a ‘once in a lifetime’ vacation.

Back in the early 1960s when it was my time to be young and foolish I could never have imagined that someday I would be standing on an Andes mountain top in northern Peru, being welcomed to a tiny village by some of the poorest, friendliest people on earth and that they would invite me into their homes and share their food with me...fresh food that was grown or raised just outside their door.

Surupampa sits on a long narrow ridge running east-west. The houses to the left and right in the photo define the limits of travel north and south. Just a few feet beyond the houses is an abyss. The villagers joke that if you fall into the abyss on Monday you will arrive at the bottom in time for the weekend.  Electricity and lights came along with a rough road that connected Surupampa to other communities two years ago. No one in the village owns a vehicle. Some homes have radios. There are no televisions; the signal is too weak. The daily routine consists of getting up at sunrise, work in the fields, tend the animals, and go to bed by 8:00 pm. Perhaps once a month if there’s transportation available some people will go to a town ‘down below’ to sell or buy something, or maybe just get away for a while. They don’t blend in with the people ‘down below’. You can always recognize people from the mountains by their dress and mannerisms.
The story of Surupampa and its people is the story of thousands of villages in these mountains. Civilization is slowly starting to encompass them but for now they still occupy their own part of the world. I am just now beginning to know these people and to understand what they think and feel. Basic needs, beliefs and values are really no different than those of families occupying condos in Manhattan. It’s when you get beyond the basics, when things like social standing, wealth and appearances come into play that the differences are apparent.

Life in the mountains is a solitary, simple, hard existence. If you ask these folks if their life is a good life you’ll probably get the same answer I did…”We are accustomed to it”. I still haven’t decided if that was a yes or no.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Above the Clouds Again in the Village of Surupampa

Surupampa was officially certified and recognized as a caserio (a community too small to be a village) in 2008. A road connecting the caserio to the rest of Peru was carved out of the mountainside in 2014. It is still being worked on. Previous to that it was a 7 hour walk to Motupe, the nearest town of any size. Surupampa is dead center in the photo (click on it). Surrounding the village are cultivated patches of wheat, corn, sugar cane and coffee. Further down the mountain where the land is a little more level there are vast tracts of papaya and mango trees.

It was the rich patches of soil and a perfect growing climate that brought people to the area. As mentioned earlier Surupampa officially began in 2008 but there were people planting crops here long before that. Some of the village residents are over 70 and were born in what was to become Surupampa.

To understand the people who live in these mountain villages it is necessary to remember that they have lived in virtual isolation for many years. They are friendly but shy and reserved with strangers. In the low-lying desert villages it is usually women who welcome us; tell us about their village and answer our questions. It is the complete opposite in Surupampa and Shita Loma where we visited last week. We saw the women only when saying goodbye.

This photo says much about the village and culture. Notice how they grouped themselves…with one exception women and men separate. The expressions, even on the kids showed their reservedness. The kids are dressed in their best clothing. You won’t find women wearing pants, even when working in the fields. In the background are fields of coffee, corn and wheat. Farming is all hand labor; there is no machinery up here. A pronoei/community hall is to the right.

The pronoei, Niño del Saber was started this year and has eight students. Anastacio Ventura (yellow shirt) is the teacher. Two kids were added just recently and with the new road providing access more families are coming. Fernando Vilcahuaman (red jacket) is the director of the pronoei education management unit for the Lambayeque province. He and his 17 coordinators are responsible for the 205 pronoeis in the province. He and the Salas district coordinator Maria Elena accompanied us on this trip. Maria visits every pronoei in her district once each month.

Having just started up the school has many needs. We’d like to provide:
3 tables - $109.89
12 chairs – 168.50
1 whiteboard – 42.74
2 storage shelves – 48.84
Erasers and markers – 7.63
Teaching aids – 100
Total - $477.60

One hundred dollars may sound like a lot for teaching aids, but this school has absolutely nothing. They need puzzles, coloring books, crayons, pencils, poster paper, glue, etc.

Notice there is no transport cost. The Management Education Unit in Lambayeque will transport donated items anywhere in the province at no cost to us. That is a tremendous savings and will make it financially possible for Promesa Peru to contribute to the needs of these isolated village schools.

As always, we’re going to need your help. Please visit the Promesa Peru webpage to contribute to this project. Thank you.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Above the Clouds in the Village of Shita Loma

It’s an adventure getting to Shita Loma, and frankly one that I don’t want to repeat again. We left Chiclayo at 6:30 AM, arriving at the city of Salas at 9:15 where we picked up Maria who is one of two pronoei coordinators in the Salas District.

From Salas we took a boulder strewn, deeply rutted dirt road that twisted its way upward into the mountains. At first our vision was obscured by clouds but when we broke through the cloud line we were greeted by some beautiful scenery though it was nearly impossible to take photos due to the violent motions of the truck. It was 45 minutes after leaving Salas that we arrived in Shita Bajo. That’s where the road stops and the climbing begins.

With young, fresh legs it would probably be a 45 minute climb to Shita Loma. It took us 2 hours. The path is covered with boulders, slippery mud, and deep ruts made by rain and burro traffic. Occasionally a mountain brook would be bubbling on either side of the path, and sometimes it became the path. That’s when we learned why Maria was wearing knee-high rubber boots. We were not and our tennis shoes took a beating.

At the time this photo was taken we were about half-way up. Shita Bajo, our starting point is below the orange butterfly.

The pronoei Estrella de Maria is located in one room of the second and only other house we saw. We were told there are 20 families in Shita Loma with houses scattered among the sugar cane and coffee fields that are the main sources of income. 

Dagoberto Rojas (blue shirt) has 9 students attending the one year old pronoei. The classroom is barren. Though there are only 20 families in the village, many of them are young and have one or two kids of pronoei age but because of space and equipment limitations most are not being schooled. The community has a plane to deal with that.

Like several of the villages we’ve visited recently, there is a building lot where the villagers plan to build a pronoei. They will make and erect adobe brick walls themselves, much as each of them did with their houses. They hope to have the walls up by October. What they need help with is corrugated metal for the roof, and a metal door and window. They have some donated chairs and tables that need repair and painting and have asked for our help with the expense of that.

We asked them to get costs for what they want, and in October when they have the walls erected we will try to help them. I asked how they will get from four to six large sheets of corrugated metal for the roof, and a large metal door up that mountain path. They told me that’s what all the burros we saw are used for. I’d like to see that but there is no way I’m going back up that mountain again.

Sitting on a log in the shade deliberately procrastinating about facing the path again I asked some of the men and women what their lives were like up in the clouds; what did they do during the days and nights, how often did they make the journey to Salas (once every Saturday) and was there a lot of visiting back and forth. Those are not normally questions you would ask a Peruvian so it took some time to get answers. My final question was, “Is it a good life up here?” They looked at each other with hesitant smiles, and finally one of them said, “We are accustomed to it.”  

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Invisible Village of Redondo

Somewhere around 90 miles north of Chiclayo; all of it on a decent asphalt highway is the small town of El Porvenir in the Olmos District. It took us 2 ½ hours to get that far. Public transportation would have added another hour. At El Porvenir there is a dirt road heading west toward the village of Redondo 15 miles away.

You need a guide to get there. We followed a guy on a motorcycle. There are no landmarks, and there are many forks in the road leading off in all directions. The country all looks the same; scrub desert growth. There is no agriculture here because there is no water. This is goat, sheep, turkey, and for some of the more affluent people, cattle country.
After 35 minutes the guide stopped and told us we were in Redondo. I thought he was joking. There was not one single house in sight. Other than a fence and a hut constructed of poles and weather-beaten fabric there was nothing visible that had been touched by the hand of man.

The hut is what we had been brought there to see. The hut is pronoei Alegria de Los Niños. It’s been there for one year with teacher Isabel Monja trying her best to teach the 9 kids regularly attending. 

She has absolutely nothing to work with. There are other kids in the area but they don’t come because of the limitations of the school. They’re not attending school at all.

In ones and twos from out of the woods a delegation of parents appeared. I don’t know how they knew we were there. They told us the same story we’re heard four times this year at other caserios. They have a lot to build a pronoei on but no money to do it and the authorities in Olmos say they don’t have money to build. One of the men works in construction in Olmos. He estimated that the cost of a concrete slab and modular building with restroom would cost $6,200. Labor would add another $1,550. That’s a lot of money.

It’s a helpless feeling…not being able to do anything for them. Those kids are not getting the kind of education they need and it’s nobody’s fault. Our discussion ended as it did in Olleria yesterday. A delegation will visit the mayor in Olmos to see if the district can contribute something if there were outside help. We’ll wait to hear from them.

Tomorrow we’ll be at the village of Chita Loma in the district of Salas. We don’t know what we’ll find there but it won’t surprise us if it’s another pronoei that needs a home.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Village of Olleria

An ‘olla’ is a largish pot. An ‘olleria’ is where ollas are made. The village of Olleria in the Morrope District takes its name from the artisans who hand craft decorative ollas. We didn’t see any ollas or evidence of their manufacture but we’ll take the villager’s word for it. What we did see was fields of corn, beans, and plaster manufacturing. We also saw lots of farm animals.

Olleria is on the edge of the irrigated Lambayeque Valley. Less than three miles to the northwest is the Sechura desert; one of the most arid and forlorn places on earth. The people here are more traditional in terms of clothing and customs than those in the Tùcume district where we’ve been involved for the past several years. Many women wear typical dresses, and old customs such as a boy not having his hair cut until baptism are still preserved.

We were in Olleria along with the school’s coordinator Dora Nuñez to visit the pronoei Divino Niño Jesus. Dora visits this school and nine others every 15 days to monitor status. Mirta Chapoñan (pictured) has taught here since the school opened one year ago. The classroom is in a private house of a woman whose son attends the school. Though there are 30 kids in the village who are eligible to attend, Mirta has only 11 of them. The others are attending a government kinder in El Romero approximately one mile south. It is costly for the parents to have their kids in the national school but there is no room for 30 kids in Olleria’s pronoei, and there are concerns about the kid’s safety in Olleria. Immediately outside the classroom door is a main road with lots of traffic on it.

The community has a clear title to a lot dedicated to housing a pronoei but like so many other villages in similar situations the district government has turned a deaf ear to appeals to build. A delegation of parents showed us the lot and asked for our help in getting a pronoei built (school coordinator Dora Nuñez is extreme right). We talked about possibilities and agreed that the first step is to determine the cost of erecting a modular building on the site and what the district is prepared to contribute toward it. The school coordinator Dora Nuñez volunteered to go to the Morrope city hall this afternoon to see what she can learn. She will phone us when she has information.

Tomorrow we will be in the village of Redondo in the Olmos District. This will be our first visit to that district. We don’t have to concern ourselves with how to get there. The pronoei Education Management Unit of the Lambayeque Province has put a truck and driver at our disposal. He picked us up and returned us to our home today and will do the same tomorrow. Traveling just got a whole lot easier.  

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Welcome to the Village of Tabacal

Many years ago, when a large percentage of the adult population of Peru and the rest of the world smoked, much of the land to the west of Tùcume was dedicated to growing tobacco. In the midst of the tobacco fields the village of Tabacal sprang up. Tabacal means ‘land planted with tobacco’. The inhabitants of Tabacal didn’t own the fields they worked in. The land belonged to a collective. Now the collective and tobacco fields are no more. Kidney and lima beans, corn, sweet potatoes and rice are the cash crops these days. What hasn’t changed is that the people of the village still work in fields they don’t own.

Also years ago there was a narrow one lane dirt road leading to the village. It’s not there anymore because the man who owned the land that the road was located on decided that he needed the space for his bean fields. The only way to get to Tabacal now is to walk. The path starts at the sluice gate in the photo; continues beyond the tree line in the distance, turns left for about one-quarter mile and then north again for another half-mile. At a steady pace it’s a 20 minute walk. We viewed it as practice for next week’s visit to Salas.

The kids and a few of their mothers were waiting for us at the pronoei Joyitas de Cristo. There are about 100 families living in Tabacal. It’s not possible to take a photo of the village or to determine its center because the houses are scattered over a large territory.

Patricia Carrasco has been the teacher at this school for three years. The room is on permanent loan at no charge. There are 20 students for this school term. Four will graduate and attend primary school in a different city. The school has 2 tables and 12 chairs that are serviceable. Patricia has asked for 3 tables, 8 chairs, a storage shelf and a whiteboard. We think Patricia and the parents association are doing the best they can with limited means, and that the items asked for are a good investment in the kid’s education.

The cost for these items would be:
3 wood tables - $109.99
8 wood chairs – 112.44
1 storage shelf – 24.44
1 whiteboard – 42.77
Transport – 24.44
Total - $314.08

Please think about helping us with this project. $15 will provide a chair - $36 a table. If you can help us please visit the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Busy Schedule for Promesa Peru

On June 28 we attended a meeting at the Education Management Unit of Lambayeque. At that meeting we were introduced to the pronoei coordinators for each of the 12 districts in the Lambayeque Province. We briefly described Promesa Peru: its goals, method of operation and the projects we’ve supported over the last few years, mostly in the Tùcume District. With the exception of the Tùcume coordinator none of the coordinators knew we existed and neither did Fernando, the group’s director.

At that meeting we learned that there are 205 pronoeis in the province; many of them remote and lacking in basic necessities. We suggested that those coordinators who chose to do so gather information about the neediest pronoeis in their district and forward the information to us.
In a follow-up meeting in Lambayeque yesterday we were given solicitation letters from eight different district coordinators with supporting photos requesting that we visit eighteen poor villages with pronoeis that have basic needs. Most of the photos are date-stamped within the last week. Things usually don’t happen that quickly in Peru. It took time to get the information, write the letter and somehow acquire recent photos from far distant villages. 

We agreed on a plan to visit villages in four different districts over the next two weeks.

On July 12 we’ll go to the village of Surupampa high in the mountains in the district of Salas. Fernando and the district coordinator will accompany us. The vehicle we will be using is owned by the Education Management Unit. Surupampa will be our base. From there we will walk to several smaller villages. We were told that one walk will take 2 ½ hours. We will sleep overnight on the floor of the pronoei. A mattress will be provided. I don’t understand how a village can only be accessible by walking 2 ½ hours.  When I asked how things like tables and chairs or anything for that matter are transported, Fernando said piece by piece. This should be an interesting excursion.

The remainder of the schedule, all day trips is:
July 18 – The village of Olleria in the Morrope District.
July 19 – The village of Redondo in the Olmos District.
July 20 – The village of Chita Loma in the Salas district.

Tomorrow we’ll be back in the Tùcume District visiting two pronoeis. This will be our last visit to Tùcume District schools except possibly for a chocolatada in December.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Chiclayo…A Spy Capitol part 2

Authors note – My thanks to those who mourned my death in ‘Chiclayo…A Spy Capitol’, and to the folks who said they liked the story. I had fun writing it. I thought about a sequel; started typing and this is what came out. I hope you enjoy it.   Tom
Sometimes a guy gets lucky. Sometimes with a little luck a guy can survive when whoever runs this show we call life decides to sucker punch you in the gut. If you’ve been there you know what I mean. If you haven’t…well.

I caught a break big-time that day James Bond shot me in Chiclayo’s Plaza de Armas. Lying there face down in the grass I thought I'd bought the big one for sure. Call it what you will - spirit, essence, life force, soul, whatever, mine was slipping away fast. The wounds didn’t hurt much and I wasn’t scared. I felt kind of peaceful really. My consciousness was fading. I didn’t know what was real anymore and was thinking it didn’t matter when I imagined I heard way off in the distance a voice saying, “Let me through, I’m a doctor”. I thought my mind was replaying a Leslie Nielsen sound clip from the movie Airplane but it turns out I didn’t imagine it.

The voice belonged to Doctor Jonathon Huxley, THE world-famous surgeon who specializes in saving the lives of people who have been shot by spies. He just happened to be attending an international medical conference in Lima and afterward just happened to come to Chiclayo to watch his daughter play in an International League volleyball match hosted by Chiclayo and afterward just happened to be in the Plaza de Armas when James Bond aka 007 deposited three bullets in my body. See what I mean about luck?  And there’s more.

A nun who had just left the church across the street was passing through the park and loaned a six-inch switchblade knife she carries for protection to the doctor who used it to remove the bullets. The Topitop clothing store kitty-corner from the park sold him a blouse at half price to stop the bleeding and clean the wounds. The thread he used to close the wounds came from a fish-net stocking from one of the party girls who regularly patrol on Balta Avenue North. As she unraveled the stocking and handed the thread to the doctor she said, “If Tom survives tell him it’s for old time’s sake.” I swear I have no idea what she’s talking about.

I refused the doctor’s order to go to a hospital and sent the ambulance back to the barn. Bond probably thought I was dead, but if somehow he knew I survived he might try to finish the job. I thought I had a better chance of staying alive at home. In the US I’d taught Maribel to shoot and she became pretty handy with a gun. Too bad we didn’t have one. I would have to deal with security later.

The first thing I had to do was get home. My brother in law hung up when I asked him to come get me with his moto. Some people can really hold a grudge. Four taxis refused to take me. You know you must look like crap when a Chiclayo taxi passes on a fare. I finally bought a cheap hollow-core door at a hardware store to be used as a stretcher and hired six guys lounging in the park to carry me home. They put the door on their shoulders; three on each side and we started out.

People on the street thought it was a funeral procession. Police blocked traffic at the intersections for us. Before long there were 40 to 50 mourners following. Several of them placed flower petals on me. Many of the women were sobbing; one so hard she passed out. I don't know when the band joined us. The guys carrying me got into the spirit of the thing and started swaying with that side-to-side motion they do here while carrying caskets. I tried not to move and kept my eyes closed. I didn't want to intrude on the crowd's grief.

When we got to my house the guys carrying me didn't know what to do and I didn't either. I didn't want to interrupt the solemnity of the occasion  but I couldn't lie there forever so I told the guys to put me down and I sat upright. A woman screamed, "It's a miracle, praise God!" and everyone fell to their knees. I had to put a stop to this so standing erect I growled in a loud voice, "I am the devil!" That worked. In ten seconds the street was clear.

Getting up the stairs was a bitch. We live on the second floor of a three level apartment building. The old woman living on the first floor couldn’t help me, and the family on the third floor was out doing their daily thing. With Maribel’s help I finally made it into our home. The first thing on the agenda was a shower and then a trip to the bedroom for some clean clothes. I sat on the bed to put on my pants and passed out.

The next day was better. I was as stiff as a week old dishcloth but the pain from my wounds wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was able to take care of myself if I moved slowly and carefully. Later I was sitting in my favorite chair just starting to doze when Maribel handed me the evening edition of El Comercio. I was stunned at the headline.

Shoe shine man foils/shoots robber
Yesterday morning a heroic shoe shine man foiled an attempted robbery of a Chiclayo landmark bookstore by first wrestling the robber away from the store and then running after him and finally shooting him three times. The man declined an interview, saying only that he did what any fine, upstanding citizen would do.

The robber, an English speaking gringo survived with the help of a doctor who was in the park at the time. The robber refused hospitalization and would not give his name. Police refused to arrest him, saying no crime had been committed.

A crime may not have been committed, but it was certainly attempted so this reporter followed the would-be robber, who tried to pretend he was dead to his home at 200 Airzola, and then warned the neighbors that a thief was in their midst. Some sort of action will surely follow to see that justice is done. 
Great….just great. Can you believe it? Thanks to a fledgling reporter trying to be a Carl Bernstein or Bob Woodward (look um’ up if you want to know) Bond is a hero who knows I survived and exactly where I live, and I’m the bad guy who, if the crowd protesting outside my door has its way will soon be deported.

I was pretty sure that Bond and Nikita would try to finish the job now that they knew where I lived. I thought it would be better if instead of waiting for them I left the house but I wasn’t in shape to do that. I needed to do something to buy myself some time to heal, but what? I looked at the entire building to see how a person could gain access. All of the windows on all three levels are protected with ornamental ironwork. There is no way to climb to the roof from outside. I suppose they could fire rockets through the windows but if they had rockets I was screwed no matter what precautions I took. Besides, spies prefer sneaky, subtle ways of doing things. The only way I could see to get inside is through the door. It’s a metal door with three separate bolts but it wouldn’t stop me so I knew it wouldn’t stop my enemies.

I couldn’t sit on the stairway 24 hours all day every day waiting for them. I had to devise some booby traps (I called them Bondy traps ha ha). The problem is the family on the third floor. The parents and kids come and go at all hours so of course they would trigger any traps I set. Then luck stepped in again. The wife told Maribel they were going to Cajamarca for two weeks to visit family. Two weeks would buy me the time I needed. If you’re wondering about the woman on the first floor, she’s 94; walks with a cane and spends all day looking out her window with her cat named Muffin. I cringe every time I hear of a pet with a cutesy name like Muffin. You just know the owner is the kind of person who says stuff like, “Muffin…oooo is so sweeeet – yes oooo issss.” On a list of the most irritating forms of human behavior the ’Muffin’ owners of the world rank in the top five. Anyway, the old lady hasn’t been near the stairway in 10 years. Perfect.

There are eight wooden stairs on the first flight and seven on the second. To keep Nikita and Bond away from my door I needed to stop them on the first flight. This is what I did.

On the second step from the bottom (in case they climbed two steps at a time) I removed the wooden step and placed a lever attached to a thin rope, and then replaced the step. The rope led to an eye-hook on the wall an inch above the step and from there to another eye-hook placed one inch from the ceiling directly above the stair. Next to the upper eye-hook the rope went through a hole I drilled in the exterior wall. The rope was attached to 55 gallon barrel filled with sand positioned on a collapsible shelf. There was a second length of rope also attached to the barrel. The other end formed a loop on the second step. Stepping on the stair would cause the lever under the step to release a pin holding the shelf the barrel was on. When the barrel fell the loop would ‘lasso’ the leg(s) of the offender causing them to be suspended upside down inches from the ceiling.

In case the lasso trap was somehow avoided I placed a second trap on the forth step. I removed the step and placed two springs under each end and replaced the step. I then drove a nail in the center of the step. When stepped on the nail would contact a detonator causing two explosives placed under the step at each end to explode, forcing the step and whoever was on it rapidly upward. Their head slamming into the ceiling would result in a coma for at least a week. I tinkered with the springs until even a soft breeze would set the trap off.

The lasso trap was unintentionally tested when Maribel forgot to tell me she was leaving to shop for groceries. Her momentary discomfort from hanging upside down, and broken eggs all over the stairway is a small price to pay for proving the trap worked. She doesn’t agree. I completed the setup by installing a silent alarm flashing strobe light in our bedroom.

Nothing happened the first three nights. On the forth night at exactly 2:32 AM the strobe light turned on. When Maribel became frightened I told her to relax, everything was under control. I didn’t need the strobe light to wake me. Before it turned on I heard both traps activate; first the explosives and then the lasso trap when the barrel hit the floor. I had caught both Nikita and James Bond! I smiled and savored the moment as I walked to the stairway and turned on the light switch.

Muffin wasn’t so “sweeeet” anymore. What remained of the cat was splattered all over the stairway ceiling. A little further down the stairway the old lady was dangling in mid-air. She was suspended upside down in a weird sitting position. How was I supposed to know that she would forget to close her door that night, and that the cat would climb the stairs and trigger the explosive trap which catapulted it at warp speed into the ceiling? How was I supposed to know that the old lady, hearing the noise and seeing what happened would try to get to the cat? She couldn’t climb the stairs so she tried to go up backward on her behind, using her legs to push herself to the next step. When she sat on the lasso trap step the looped rope lassoed her butt and pulled her into the air. This was a discouraging development.

Afterwards she phoned the reporter and blabbed the whole story to him. He promptly printed it, which increased my neighbor’s calls for my deportation and spoiled any chance I had for catching the spies. It was a bad situation but at least it got me the time I needed to heal my body. No more running away, hiding and being on the defensive. It was time for me to be the aggressor; to take the battle to Bond and Nikita.

To be continued??

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Birthday America!

Some of our group were unable to attend lunch today. Others are in the United States celebrating with friends and family. Those of us who held the fort here in Chiclayo on July 4, 2016 say: