Wednesday, December 28, 2016

If it’s raised or grown in Peru... can find it in Moshoqueque. Moshoqueque is like a small city inside Chiclayo that is dedicated mostly to selling food. In terms of size it dwarfs Chiclayo’s famed mercado modelo. To someone not accustomed to third-world farmer markets it is blocks and blocks of absolute bedlam.

Moshoqueque awakens at about 3:30 AM when farmers begin converging on the site with trucks full of produce and livestock. And there are buyers there to greet them at that hour. Many of the buyers have kiosks on the spot to resell whatever they buy. Other shoppers are from small grocery stores in Chiclayo, or come from small villages miles away. These people are buying for their families, but also probably sell to neighbors much of what they purchase. It’s worth it to get up at that time and to travel some distance; prices in Moshoqueque for a comparable food item can be as much as half of what it would cost in a store.

Streets in the area that were once asphalt paved now look like scarred battlefields. Wondering the aisles through rows of kiosks crammed with people is at first awkward, but there is a rhythm to the traffic and once found walking is manageable.

Many of the kiosks are selling identical items, with only a slight variance in price. There are sections where a particular product is dominant, for instance fish or meat. And there is a section of several square blocks where livestock is sold. Here you can buy live chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, sheep, pigs, goats, calves and I don’t know what else. Only the calves were allowed to stand. The sheep, pigs and goats were lying on their sides with their legs tied. If you don’t want to kill the animal yourself, there are men nearby who will kill and clean it for you. These men are very aggressive and will be in your face the moment you stop to look at an animal.

We were in Moshoqueque this morning in search of a ham. We were not able to locate a cured ham anywhere in Chiclayo so decided that a fresh ham would have to do. We were told that many vendors in Moshequeque sold fresh hams at half the price of a Tottus or Plaza Vea supermarket, and that turned out to be true.

The ham that Antonio is holding weighs 8.8 lbs and cost $14.30, or $1.63 per lb. The Plaza Vea price was $2.97 per pound. Curiously, Antonio does not buy pigs from the farmers who deliver to Moshoqueque, but instead buys from a farmer in Morrope, because he says the meat is tender with better flavor. He doesn’t kill his pigs, instead hiring a man to do it.

Our New Year’s Eve dinner, traditionally eaten at midnight will not be the ham I’m accustomed to. It won’t have the red color or the smoky, salty taste. It will be what amounts to a pork roast, but hopefully with cloves, pineapple slices and a honey glaze it will satisfy us and the rest of the family, who don’t know what a cured ham tastes like anyway.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Congratulations Brian!...

...for achieving your degree in business administration. It probably seems to you as if it took forever to reach the point in life you are at now. To your mother and for a shorter time me, it was the blink of an eye.

Your mother remembers attending your kinder graduation as if it were yesterday. You were five, and probably didn’t have much of an idea what the ceremony was about, but to her it was the accomplishment of your first educational milestone. And like all mothers, she was proud of “her Brian” and had thoughts and dreams of your future success.

I was here for your grade school graduation and vividly remember you proudly escorting your mother up the stairs to the second-floor ballroom, to be formally presented to the other graduates and their families.

I didn’t know at the time that you had been elected ‘mayor’ of your graduating class, so was surprised when you stood to make a speech. There you were; microphone in hand scanning the audience as you spoke, as if this was something you did every day. I told your mother that I was impressed with the way you conducted yourself the entire evening, and that you probably had the tools to be very successful. She already knew that.

Last Saturday your mother and I and other members of your family attended your college graduation party. I can’t begin to estimate the number of people who were there, certainly in the high hundreds. I do know there were dozens of professors, other graduates and friends who stopped at our table to speak with you and share your and their happiness.

It was fun watching the hundreds of young graduates, all dressed to the nines dancing, drinking, and laughing. You and they certainly earned this party. It’s been a tough four years at a top-rated university that has a reputation for being demanding.

In May your formal cap-and-gown graduation takes place. We’ll be there to applaud your triumph. You did it Brian…you did it! We’re proud, and we hope you are too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pablo the Pavo

This is Pablo the pavo. He was given to us by the folks from the village of Los Bances. He is now living on our roof. While that is not unusual, most people don’t have a turkey living on their roof, even in Chiclayo, but as the holiday season approaches, the roof-top turkey population soars. Many Peruvians who don’t raise their own turkeys prefer to buy them alive, because they know what the bird has eaten in its last days; usually corn and lettuce, and that it was fresh.

There are two kinds of turkeys in Peru…black and white. Whites are raised for their meat on large scale turkey farms. They are mostly sold in the frozen food sections of supermarkets. Pablo is a black, which means he was raised in semi-wild conditions, often having to fend for himself in terms of food and shelter, though his owner would provide just enough food to keep him in the area. As a result blacks are thin and tough to eat. Peruvians prefer blacks because they say the flavor is better.

Gobbling and peeping turkeys are sort of the unofficial Christmas carolers in Chiclayo. Walking the streets, especially in the early morning is a treat if you like turkey music. Our turkey doesn’t gobble. He peeps a lot. That’s because he is not quite full grown. Unfortunately for Pablo his time to grow is limited. On the morning of the 24th Pablo will bid the world goodbye. There is no hope for a presidential reprieve.

Pablo doesn’t know his time is limited, and even if he did he probably wouldn’t react. Turkeys seem to me to be pretty stupid. You can pick them up and they don’t do anything. People walking downtown selling turkeys usually have two in each hand, held upside down by the legs. The turkeys bend their necks so that they can see things right side up, which looks really comical, but that’s the only thing they do, seemingly not concerned with their circumstances.

You can take them in a vehicle – car, combi, taxi or mototaxi (shown) and they sit quietly, as if enjoying the ride. When in a vehicle though, you need to have them wrapped. Turkeys are fierce poopers. I mean, pooping is something they are really good at, second only to eating. Most vehicle drivers won’t transport an unwrapped turkey, and if they do you probably don’t want to ride in that vehicle.

At midnight on December 25th Pablo will once again be the center of attention. More precisely he’ll be in the center of a platter, surrounded by empanadas, sweet potatoes and other items that have given their all for the cause. 

Thank you Pablo.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A good time at the Los Bances and Alto Peru chocolatadas

We didn’t miss a beat this morning when our transport phoned 30 minutes before our scheduled 9:00 AM departure to tell us that he couldn’t make it. Living in Chiclayo you learn that things like that are normal. Two days before we had discussed that possibility and had plan B and plan C in place if necessary. Plan B worked just fine.

Our first stop was Alto Peru where we unloaded all the items for their chocolatada including the entertainers, and then proceeded to Los Bances where Martha, the kids and parents were waiting for us. The classroom is so small that there was barely room for the things we brought. The chocolatada meal was to be eaten in some other location. We stayed just long enough for the parents and kids to see and appreciate the items we delivered, and to listen to some speeches. The good news is that Martha will have a different, larger classroom next year for her 20 students. When she asked about the possibility of Promesa Peru helping with some additional furniture we told her to call us when the new term begins next March.

On our way out Martha presented us with a live turkey on behalf of the parents association in appreciation for our earlier donations and the chocolatada. That is a kingly gift in Peru, where a live mature turkey sells for a minimum of $40. On the combi ride back to Chiclayo the turkey was mostly tranquil; peeping only occasionally. The other passengers didn’t pay any attention to it.

The cost for the Los Bances chocolatada was:

Toys - $23.47
Paneton – 29.33
Candy – 20.41
Transportation – 12.48
Total - $85.69

Back at Alto Peru everything had been unpacked and organized. The ‘Chikidalinas’ entertained for an hour. Perhaps it was because there were more of them, but these kids were even more energetic than those at El Carmen last Friday.

As usual the men and older villagers did not attend, but many of them could be seen watching from a distance. And some were seemingly not interested at all; just going about their normal business.

The traditional meal was served after the entertainers had finished. The chicken had an especially delicious flavor to it. I’m told the flavor came from a special marinade.

The kids were a bit reserved when receiving their toys. We suspect that was because their mothers had told them to conduct themselves properly. We’ve noticed that discipline in these remote villages is a concept that is strongly enforced and followed.

The Alto Peru chocolatada cost:

Toys - $110.00
Paneton – 33.83
Candy – 11.77
Entertainment – 52.86
Transport – 30.25
Total - $238.71

Both the Los Bances and Alto Peru chocolatadas were made possible by Chris Raupe, “a friend in America”, Amy Brown, Denny Wallette and others. Thank you.

The completion of these chocolatadas today will mark the end of Promesa Peru’s activities for this year. It’s been a good year. We’re looking forward to 2017.

Friday, December 16, 2016

We knew this would be a lively chocolatada

Every time we’ve been in the village of El Carmen, the teacher, parents and kids have been enthusiastic and energetic. Today the energy level was at maximum.

The Chikidalinas are a mother-daughter team who have been performing at a variety of activities for a few years. They are very good at relating to younger kids in the three to five age range. They led the kids through dances, songs and games. The kids had never played musical chairs and at first didn’t understand the object, but when they realized what the goal was, and that a prize would be awarded the competition got fierce. Actually, every kid who took part in the activities received a prize.

After an hour, when the kids and Chikidalinas ran out of gas (it was hot in that room!) we all sat down to the traditional chocolatada meal…hot chocolate, chicken, empanadas and paneton. As usual it was finger-lick´n good.

We had to leave before the toys were handed out because the Chikidalinas had another engagement, however the toys had been unpacked earlier and every kid in that room knew exactly what was there and which one they wanted. There is no way this boy is not going to get this truck.

The cost for this chocolatada was:

Toys - $82.91
Candy – 11.77
Paneton – 29.42
Entertainment – 52.94
Transportation – 39.12
Total - $216.16

We want to thank Chris Raupe, Denny Wallette and “a friend in America” for sponsoring this chocolatada.

Monday we’ll be in Alto Peru and Los Bances for their chocolatadas.

Monday, December 12, 2016

I was at a birthday party Saturday night….

…but I’m not sure what town I was in. It was either Mocupe or Nuevo (new) Mocupe. There is a difference. Mocupe sits in a valley close to a river originating in the mountains to the east and emptying into the Pacific Ocean, about 6 miles’ distant. Quite a few years ago during an El Nino the river flooded and destroyed much of the town. Many of the residents moved to higher ground, about 1 ¼ miles to the north, and Nuevo Mocupe was born. In the meantime, some of the more optimistic villagers began rebuilding the original town, and so today there are two Mocupes…not that it matters because everyone who lives in the area simply says Mocupe. Except for those who say Ucupe, which as I understand it was an ancient Moche culture town that stood just to the west of Nuevo Mocupe. All that remains of Ucupe is some archeological ruins.

The birthday we attended was a typical Peruvian birthday with lots of loud music, food, drinking and dancing. Some of the dancing was influenced by the town of Zana, located nearby. In the 1600s and early 1700s Zana’s population was mostly slaves brought from Africa. After a couple of manmade and natural disasters much of the Spanish and native population relocated, leaving the area to the black slaves. They developed their own customs and culture, including a variety of dances. The ancestors of the slaves are still in Zana today and their dances are seen throughout the Lambayeque Region and beyond.

Slave dances are lively affairs and have certain movements that are normally associated with them. Usually the dances are performed by experienced performers, but at parties, after the alcohol has been flowing for a while it’s not unusual to see villagers doing their version of a slave dance.

With a little imagination it is not difficult to see through the smiles of these dancers and realize that a slave is being punished.

Another classic slave dance movement is more difficult to explain. A length of material or paper is attached to the back of a dancer, apparently representing a tail. A second dancer tries to ignite the tail. I do not know what this movement, called Prendeme la vela is supposed to represent. 

The food served at the party was cabrito…goat with beans and rice. The beverages were beer, and a Peruvian cocktail called Chilcano. The ingredients are pisco (a Peruvian wine though it tastes more like whiskey to me) and ginger ale, at a 1 to 1 ratio. Add a splash of lime juice and some ice cubes and you’re good to go. Warning…the ginger ale softens the harshness of pisco, but does not negate its effect.

At one point in the evening, no doubt after having patriotically consumed his/her fair share of Chilcanos, someone decided that I looked like Bruce Willis. After due consideration others agreed. That triggered a series of ‘selfies with Bruce’. I wonder how many Facebooks I was on yesterday morning?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

December´s first chocolatada went very well

I hadn’t realized how poor the neighborhood of San Francisco, Campodonico here in Chiclayo really is until I took the time to walk around it this morning while the women were setting up for the chocolatada. It is one of several areas in the city that visitors would probably label as a slum.

When we arrived at 10:00 AM little preparation had been done.  When our taxi arrived a bust of activity took place, with mothers and kids coming from all directions, most bringing plates, chairs and other things with them. We later learned that they were not sure we would really come, and didn´t want to disappoint the kids if we didn´t show up. Their doubts quickly disappeared when we took the candy, panetone and toys out of the bags.

We had to leave before the toys were distributed and the traditional chocolatada meal was served, but not before taking photos and receiving the appreciation of mothers and kids. There was not room in the small building for a group photo including everyone, and it was too hot outside. This was a happy group of people, and we think this chocolatada is going to last far into the afternoon. They will enjoy and remember it for a long time.

The cost of this project was:
Panetone - $29.33
Candy – 20.41
Toys – 86.26 (21 toys at an average cost of $4.11)
Transport – 4.49
Total - $140.49

This chocolatada was financed by Chris Raupe and Denny Wallette. Chris and Denny, an entire neighborhood in Chiclayo knows who you are and thanks you for what you´ve done for them.

Others folks have contributed to the remaining three chocolatadas this month. The next one is El Carmen on the 16th. Stand by for photos.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Musing and Reminiscing about Eleven Years ago Today

Exactly 4018 days ago, on December 9, 2005 at 6:15 am I arrived at the Chiclayo, Peru airport. Now…I’ve made a lot of bad decisions and wrong moves in my life but arriving in Chiclayo on that day was not one of them. But let me back up just a bit. In early 2010 I began writing a memoir. I’m still working on it. I’ve made a lot of revisions between then and now, but what hasn’t changed is the very first paragraph of the first chapter. It reads:

“Though I didn’t know it at the time, an email I sent on Saturday, September 3, 2005 at approximately 3:00 PM would mark the beginning of what I’ve come to view as the second phase of my life. The first phase lasted exactly 64 years 8 months and 12 days; the last few years of which had been especially rough with a divorce, forced early retirement, a ton of money lost in the tech stock crash, and more recently a relationship that was on its last legs. No…even if I had known that that period of my life was passing I wouldn’t have mourned it one bit. In fact I would have celebrated. I would have had an even bigger celebration if I had known that the coming years were going to more than make up for what I’d gone through and give me greater happiness than I could ever have imagined. Every day is better than the last. And that’s the truth.”

So much (all?) of our lives is governed by chance…a chain of events in that if one little event in that chain had changed, our lives would be dramatically different. I had a friend in Miami; Dino, who had developed an internet relationship with a woman in Chiclayo. He wanted to go there to meet her, and though he spoke Spanish he didn’t want to go alone so asked me to join him. I didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t even know where Peru was. As an inducement, he sent me a photo and email address of a friend of the woman he was communicating with. Her name was Maribel and for the next two months we sent emails back and forth using Google translator. I felt comfortable and so did Maribel. I told Dino I was in and to make the flight and hotel arrangements, which he did.

Going back to my memoir again:

“When Dino phoned a week before our scheduled departure to say he couldn’t go I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t speak the language and don’t know anything about the country, culture or customs. How could I even get to Chiclayo without speaking Spanish? And if I did get there do Maribel and I just smile and nod at each other for the next seventeen days? What if I get sick? Do they even have hospitals and doctors there, and if they do how can I get to them or I tell them what’s wrong with me? These were the questions going through my mind as I sat at the picnic table next to the patio deck. A friend had sent an Oleta Adams CD to me and it was playing on the stereo system inside. I was only half-listening when I heard the lyrics “…and if you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” I had pretty much made up my mind I was going, but those words put the period to it. Too many times in my life I had let indecisiveness control me. I would go to Peru….I was going to dance.

The plane touched down in Lima at 11:30pm on December 8, 2005. It took me awhile to get settled down enough to figure out where immigration and customs were located and what I had to do to get through them but it wasn’t too bad. The only problem I had was my luggage somehow had gotten misplaced but I finally located it. It’s a big airport and there were hundreds of people milling about - seemingly half of them shouting “Taxi Senior?” at me. Feeling that it would be impolite to ignore them I responded ‘no’, and with my hand imitated a plane taking off while saying “Chiclayo!” Brilliant, huh?

The plane for Chiclayo wouldn’t depart until 5:15 AM so I had lots of time to kill. I sat in a chair and tried to sleep a bit but mostly I just watched, trying to develop an understanding for what I was seeing in this strange country. About an hour before the plane was to leave I found myself in a restroom shaving, and experienced the only moment of doubt during the entire trip. I looked at that tired face staring back at me from the mirror and asked…” Tom, what the hell are you doing?”

I arrived at the Chiclayo airport at 6:30 AM on December 9th.  For having spent 8 hours in 3 different airports and 9 hours in the air with virtually no sleep I wasn’t feeling too bad. Standing at the luggage carousel I could see maybe 30 people outside waiting for other passengers. Maribel wasn’t one of them. After a few minutes more and still no Maribel I began to wonder. What if this whole thing was a joke? What if Dino, with the help of Maribel (if that was her real name, and if she even lived in Peru and if she even existed) had put together a gigantic hoax? I could picture him laughing his ass off at this exact moment, knowing I’d be standing in the Chiclayo airport without a clue in the world as to what to do next.

So now what? Do I try to find my way to some hotel? I had no Idea what hotel I supposedly had reservations at or how I would get there. Do I try to communicate with someone in the airport to see if I can get on the next plane to Lima? The phone call to Miami to hire a hit man to take out Dino could wait until later. Grabbing my last piece of luggage off the carousel I took one more look outside and there she was. In the back of my mind I had wondered if maybe the photos she had emailed to me were old or not even her. I should have known better. Standing in front of me was a beautiful woman with that same genuine smile I had seen in the first photo. I walked directly up to her, said hello and kissed her full on the lips. Maribel smiled and said “Welcome to Chiclayo Tom.” She was wearing a white blouse, red slacks and held a blue helium balloon that read Happy Birthday. My 65th birthday would occur in Peru in 3 more days. Happy birthday to me!”

Now it’s eleven years later. I’m still in Peru and about to celebrate my 76th birthday. This morning we ate breakfast at the Don Benny restaurant where we were on that first morning. Then we walked to the principal park and watched the Christmas decorations being put up, as we did eleven years ago. While walking home we stopped at a Topitop store. Maribel bought a dress and blouse. I bought two shirts. We didn’t do that eleven years ago but it felt like the thing to do. Tonight we’ll go out for dinner, wearing some of our new clothing and continuing to reminisce about that first day together and the fantastic years since. Every day is better than the last. And that’s the truth.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

It’s going to be a good December

All four chocolatadas are fully funded, thanks to some folks who stepped forward in response to our recent request for help. That means 71 kids in four different villages will be getting toys, panetone, candy and a decent meal. Two of the villages; Alto Peru and El Carmen will have live entertainment. Los Bances and the vaso de leche program in San Francisco, Campodonico were last-minute decisions so their chocolatadas, because of time and finances will be scaled down, but that beats no Chocolatada at all.

The dates of the chocolatadas are:
Saturday, December 10 - San Francisco, Campodonico
Friday, December 16 – El Carmen
Monday, December 19 – Los Bances and Alto Peru

We’re close to finishing all the buying, organizing, sorting and trying to find room in our house for all of this stuff. It’s a good thing Brian is at the university because he couldn’t get into his room. We haven’t sorted out all of the costs yet but it looks like we’ll be under our estimates.

The parent’s association in Alto Peru and El Carmen have told us that several villagers have volunteered the use of their homes for the chocolatada and have CD players available and people who know how to operate them. This last item has often been a problem at past chocolatadas. Much of the entertainer’s routines requires music.

There won’t be any more school projects this year so the four chocolatadas will wrap up 2016. Any further donations received will be held for projects next year.

We’ll be posting photos of the chocolatadas and thanking those responsible for contributing to them. As always, we wish that the people who contributed could be with us to feel the excitement and accept the appreciation. It’s been a good year, and being able to finish it with four chocolatadas is the pièce de résistance. Thank you.