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Alpaca Farm in New Jersey

Well, I think it’s safe to say that for the past year or so my blog has been one neglected child. I guess once I left Cusco I had one thing on my mind. Getting that fiancé visa for Atreyhus and bringing him home to the U.S. And you know what? After a few months living in Callao with Atreyhus’s sisters in a teeny tiny house with no privacy and a brief stint teaching English to business professionals, I did just that. Looking back, I’m not sure why I was so anxious to leave Peru. Maybe it was because I knew I was there because I HAD to be there. We didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t hop on a plane with Atreyhus and bring him to stay with my parents and see my house. Even after my parents came to visit in April I still missed them. And a big part of me felt like Atreyhus had to come here to the U.S. and make sacrifices similar to the ones I made to go to Peru and live with him. Oh, and the fact that Atreyhus couldn’t find a job in Peru. In the U.S. he already had one lined up with my father.

We’ve been here in New Jersey for about six months. Time passes so quickly. Atreyhus is working with my Dad in construction and he loves it. He spends all day singing and joking around with the guys. The only down side is that now that’s it’s December, he’s experiencing cold weather like he’s never felt it before.

And as for me, well I’ve been conflicted as of late. I think the new-ness of being back in the U.S. has worn off. And despite all of my complaining when I was in Peru, I miss it. I miss it a lot. I miss the culture, I miss the crisp, clean air of Cusco, the feeling of the mountains surrounding me like giant, kind soldiers. I miss meeting new people. People are so friendly in Peru, even the foreigners. I miss feeling like I’m making a difference. When I taught English I was helping people advance their education, when I was working for the NGO ProPeru, I was helping people get clean water and clean air in their houses. Now I’m working at an office, performing menial tasks that use neither my intelligence nor my creativity. I miss the excitement in Peru. Whether in Lima or Cusco, there was always the chance for something unexpected to happen, whether it was meeting someone new, or finding a new café or bookstore I hadn’t stumbled upon before. And there were many more job opportunities, as I was an English- speaking gringa.

When I think about it, ever since 2007, I haven’t spent more than 4 months outside of Peru. I was always going back and forth between here and there while finishing my undergraduate. And then I spent a year there without going home. Maybe all’s I needed when I was in Peru was a good visit back to the U.S. to cure me of my homesickness. I still hold the dream of moving back to Peru in my heart, but I came to the U.S. for another reason, to get my law degree. I’m thinking human rights or something along those lines. I’m not sure where the degree will take me, but I hope it’ll take me back to Peru. It’ll be a tough 3 years, but at least I have Atreyhus at my side, and it’s going to take that long for him to get his U.S. citizenship, anyway, if not longer. We hope to go back to Peru for our belated honeymoon this summer. Until then, I get my fix of Peru any way I can, reading online newspapers, blogs, listening to Peruvian musicians, and spending time with my hubby.

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Moving In

Hey folks. Sorry that my blog’s been sorely overlooked for the past 2 months, but I’ve been adjusting to life in Lima- living with the in-laws. I write this entry with the sound of children screaming in the background. I’m in my room. In a house made of cement. The floors are concrete. You have to wear shoes everywhere you go. My fan hums steadily in the background. I’ve put newspaper on my lap to prevent the heat from my laptop from burning my legs. It’s hot here. And grey. Except for when it’s sunny.

With the exception of the days I go to the beach (which totals 1 in the month I’ve been here) I prefer the grey days.

When I’m not looking for a job, I’m busy playing the role of Atreyhus’s tail. Where he goes, I go. Maybe if we were living in Miraflores I’d have a little more freedom. There, the streets are open and there are many restaurants, shops, and cafes. There, I can walk comfortably. But not here. Not in Callao. The other day I walked to the nearest Plaza Vea, which is a 10-minute walk. At one point, every car that was stopped at a stoplight honked their horn and whistled at me. It’s not flattering. The constant attention coupled with Atreyhus’s exaggerated worrying when I go out on my own, make me hesitant to walk the streets. The center of Lima is about a half hour bus ride from here. Miraflores is an hour.  And I only sort of know how to get there. Life in Callao is definitely different than the life in Lima foreigners from expatperu.com are always talking about.

But it’s not all bad. Callao’s pretty nice. There are carefully planted trees separating double- laned streets, open vegetable markets and a supermarket nearby.  Small bakeries, pharmacies, and Internet cafes line the streets. People live in square houses with flat roofs that are guarded by metal gates. Young boys stick their shirtless browned torsos out of the windows to see what’s going on down below. The smell of browned garlic escapes the windows as mothers prepare lunch.

Our neighbor makes the best tamales in town. Atreyhus knows just about everyone on the street, and they’re getting to know me, too.  Just the other day when I was about to be ambushed by a group of kids with water balloons (it’s carnavales time, again), Atreyhus’s friend spotted me and escorted me to my house (a block away) in the safety of his car. His sisters know where to go for everything. Want to buy fresh fish? Go see Walter at the Dos de Mayo market. Want to but hair products? Go to Santa Rosa. They don’t jack up the prices like they do in the supermarkets. Want to go to Miraflores? Center of Lima? San Miguel? His sisters can tell me 10 different buses that’ll take me there. People drop by without notice. I go in to take a shower and everyone’s having breakfast. I come out and Tia Chela’s dropped by for a visit. Or La Ballena’s here, an eccentric family friend who used to drink and do drugs, but has recently found god.

In a way I’m thankful that I’m experiencing a Lima that not too many foreigners are exposed to.  My experience is no foamy, milk- filled Starbucks latte. Here, we drink our coffee strong, with all the grit and grinds that come with it.

But sometimes I long for the squeaky- clean Miraflores life. Miraflores is the manifestation of Peruvian capitalism and modernity.  The sidewalks are clean and straight. The streets are wide and freshly painted. Traffic cops rise up through throngs of noisy cars in small circular platforms from which they blow their whistles. Large, new buildings line the streets, most of them institutes of some sort, offices, or restaurants. There’s Starbucks, sunglasses shops, baby stores, and large Walmart-like stores such as Tottus, Plaza Vea, or Wong’s. This is where the tourists come. This is where the foreigners and rich Peruvians live.  I wouldn’t have to take a bus anywhere if I lived there. It’s all there: work, shopping, and entertainment. It’s even got the beach.

But is all that luxury and convenience worth giving up the everyday culture I’m experiencing here in Callao? I’m not so sure. Just now, Atreyhus’s little nephew Zahir wobbled into my room (he’s almost 2), climbed up onto my bed, and stole Flop-Flop, my stuffed bunny rabbit from when I was a kid. Then he ran away with it, giggling all the while. He’s precious.

Maybe I’ll be singing another tune once I find a job, which will probably be in Miraflores, and am commuting an hour back and forth every day. But I guess we’ll see. Atreyhus and I came here to stay with his family and save some money. And that’s what we’ll be doing, for as long as we can stand living in this cement jungle.

18 Days in Iquique, Chile

Everyone runs in Iquique. That’s the first thing I noticed when I arrived here 17 days ago.  They run early in the morning, in the afternoon when the sun is burning, and in the evening when it’s dark out. You can run here any time, really, because all of the cars are new! There are no big trucks leaving behind thick clouds of black smoke that burn your lungs like in Cusco. The air is clean and filled with the musty, salty scent of the sea.

Atreyhus and I have been staying here with his cousin, we’ll call him El Gran Jefe. He was nice enough to let us stay at his place, which is right near the beach.  I’d never been to Chile before, and since my 3- month visa was up in Peru, we figured it’d be a perfect opportunity to get it renewed again by going to Chile and then re-entering Peru.

Iquique’s a beautiful town, pleasantly sprawled out along the coastline. It’s got a movie theatre, big shopping malls, bars and restaurants, even a Casino (Iquique’s a port town so it’s a tax free zone). The only problem is getting around. Their bus system is seriously limited and a “collectivo” taxi, which you share with other passengers going to a destination near you, costs 500 pesos a person. So whenever Atreyhus and I want to go somewhere it ends up costing us 6 soles just to get there. That might not sound like a lot, but compared to the 3 soles I’m used to paying in Cusco for a private taxi, it is.

Chilenos are very nice people, though I’ve only met a few of El Gran Jefe’s friends. Their accents were tough to make out at first, but I’ve gotten the hang of it, po. They eat a lot of red meat and (much to my delight) drink a lot of red wine. Chile seems more developed than Peru- at least in Iquique. Like I said, everyone drives new cars, the cars actually yield to pedestrians, and supermarkets have frozen goods like meat and vegetables. The streets are clean and well- lit, there are bike lanes on the sides of the roads, Iquique’s even home to South America’s biggest skate park (which Atreyhus was just thrilled about).

Despite all this modernity, I miss Peru. Neighbors aren’t very neighborly here. I don’t even think El Gran Jefe knows his neighbors. Everyone on his block is so concerned with keeping people out. They have high metal gates and high tech security systems. A lot of them also have aggressive dogs that bark at any passerby. In Peru, you’ll see friends hanging out on street corners, neighbors dropping by to say hello, children playing in the street. Chile reminds me of the U.S. a little in the way that it has a lot of nice, expensive things but it lacks the grit and grime that I love about Peru. It’s like comparing Brooklyn to Boston.

One thing I never realized was the large divide between Peruvians and Chileans. In the 1800s there was a big war between Peru and Chile, which resulted in Chile gaining some Peruvian territory, now called Arica and Iquique.  Apparently, both sides are still pretty sore about it. So much so that our first few days here, Atreyhus was speaking Spanish like a gringo, so no one would know he was Peruvian. El Gran Jefe seems to like it here and when I asked if he felt like Peruvians where discriminated against, he said no. But then again he owns a successful auto parts business, so I doubt anyone treats him badly. Chile has a pretty strong army and just a few months ago there was a big scandal when it was discovered that a Peruvian military official was giving insider information to Chilean spies. Now that’s just downright playing dirty.  Atreyhus told me a quote Peruvians often say, “Chile makes a great student, but an awful classmate”. Well, maybe in politics anyway.

Unfortunately, I can only stay in Chile for a short while, so that doesn’t give Atreyhus and I any time to visit Santiago or any other Chilean cities. We’ll just have to leave that for another trip! Well, that’s all for now- time to hit the beach!

I’ve been thinking lately about celebrities, and after careful consideration, I’ve decided that I’d rather be famous in Peru than in the U.S. If you’re famous in Peru, you get to have money and fine things and be upper class, BUT you don’t have to worry about people invading every corner of your life. It seems people here respect the private lives of celebrities a bit more. At least in comparison with the United States. Take for example Johanna San Miguel. She’s the funny, bubbly talk show host for the morning news program called America Espectaculo. About a week ago, she mysteriously disappeared from the news program.  Instead, the 2 news anchors, Federico Salazar and Veronica Linares, were doing her bit, which basically consists of gossiping about celebrities. Try as they did, they just didn’t compare to Johanna.

For 2 weeks I tried to figure out where she went. In vain, I typed her name into Google, trying to find some news article about her.  Was she fired? Was she sick? Did she quit? Atreyhus teased me that they fired her for being too fat (she’s a little “gordita”). I knew he was joking, but then I started to wonder…

Then one day she was back! Federico and Veronica announced her return and the camera panned over to a cheerful, notably thinner Johanna. Veronica mentioned that the reason for Johanna’s disappearance would always be a mystery. Johanna simply said that she’d done something “very intimate”.  After about 3 minutes of everyone talking about how great she looked, a strange thing happened. Actually, NOTHING happened. The show continued on like normal as Johanna relayed the top celebrity gossip of the day.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find a single scandalous news article about Johanna’s mysterious weight loss (ahem, Liposuction). I looked at every tabloid-like newspaper in Cusco and found nothing. The only thing I uncovered was a slight mention of it on a Peruvian blog.

I may sound like I was disappointed, but I was just in shock. If that were some celebrity in the U.S. you can bet her face would be plastered over every cheap tabloid in the country.  It was refreshing to see that no one was being malicious about it.  It made me think about when Teddy Roosevelt was president and, out of respect, no one ever took a picture of him in his wheelchair. Ok, well maybe I’m being a little dramatic but it’s a nice image.

Now, Johanna isn’t extremely famous, even by Peru standards, and maybe if someone like Magaly Medina (who everyone in Peru seems to hate, but who gets A LOT of news coverage) had gotten liposuction, it would have been a bigger deal- but I still don’t think it’d be as bad as in the states. And when it comes down to it- who cares? Is it really necessary for magazines and Internet blogs to write about every little detail and scandal that goes on in celebrities’ lives? Do we really have nothing better to do? Is it really more important than what’s going on in Iraq or Africa? Maybe the US should take a cue from Peru and BACK OFF. Of course, as long as tabloids are still selling, they’ll still exist. So I don’t hold out much hope.

Down to the Last Centimo

Currency is a peculiar thing in Peru. The break down’s pretty similar to that of the states; there are bills for 200 soles (or s/. 200), 100 soles, 50 soles, 20 soles, and 10 soles. Then there’s a 5 soles coin, a 2 soles coin, and 1 sol coin. Then we get down to centimos, where there are 50 centimos, 20 centimos, and 10 centimos. These are the most common types of money used.

However,  the currency breaks down even smaller than that, into itty-bitty silver coins that are as light and plastic-y as play money. Yes, my friends, meet 5 centimo and 1 centimo. Think of 1 centimo like 1/100th of a penny. Now most places don’t use these coins. The super market called “Mega”, for example just rounds off. If your bill is s/.10.27, they charge you s/.10.30. If it’s s/.10.23, they charge you s/.10.20. I think it’s much simpler this way. A lot less messy. But the supermarket right near my work, “La Canasta” calculates everything down to the last centimo. This is a problem, because I always pass by it, and always stop in on my way home from work. Don’t get me wrong, their prices are great and they sell things like small bags of pureed garlic for 50 centimos, rather than like in the Mega where they only sell large tubs of it for about 5 soles. What are ya gonna do with a huge tub of garlic!?? Anyways, back to my point. As a result of going to the Canasta, I have a change purse filled with these little, silver- colored, plastic coins. It wouldn’t be so annoying, if it weren’t for the fact that NO ONE ACCEPTS THESE COINS. Is it legitimate national currency? Yes. Do 10 little 1-centimo coins equal 10 centimos? Yes! So why doesn’t anyone accept them? Beats the heck out of me! I guess they’re small and easy to get lost, but hey, so are diamonds, and you don’t see anyone refusing to accept those!

I did get away with using 2 5-centimo coins on the combi once.  But the guy gave me a really dirty look, like I was being cheap or something. A few days ago I tried to give a 5 – centimo coin to pay for a roll of tape. DENIED. “No lo aceptamos”.  I informed the casheir that they’re legitimate Peruvian currency, and that there’s no reason not to accept it, but she simply replied with another “No lo aceptamos.” So now, I’ve devised a plan to save up all the little 1- and 5-centimo coins I can and cash them into the bank. If I get denied there, I think I may finally snap.

These troublesome coins are annoying, but they’re also another reason why I love Peru. It’s another one of those quirky things that make absolutely no sense, but that the people firmly believe in (well, in this case they believe in their refusal of them!).

I just wanted to remind foreigners/tourists to be careful this time of year when taking taxis in Peru. 2 of our volunteers have been robbed in the last week in taxis. In both cases, the taxi driver took them down a dark street and 2 or 3 other men jumped in, taking whatever they had. One case happened in Cusco, and the other in Arequipa. SO please be careful. Never carry more than you need, and always take registered taxis and try to remember the number of the taxi (it’s usually painted on the inside of the door, below the window.) Also, if at all possible take a taxi with someone else. This doesn’t just go for late at night….the volunteer in Arequipa was robbed at 7:30pm! Better yet, take a combi.

The torrential rains in Cusco

The rainy season’s begun in Cusco! That means choclo, mangos, and mandarins aren’t far away!!! Luckily, it’s mainly been raining at night, which is fine by me. It lulls me to sleep. But I also think it’s been making me lazy. Somehow as I lie in bed at night and listen to the rain drops pitter-pattering on the rooftop I lose all determination to go running in the morning. At least that was the case all last week and this morning. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

January is when it gets really bad. You’ll wake up and it’ll be a sunny, clear day and then by lunch the rain will be coming down like the sky cracked open and the ocean fell through, turning the streets into rivers. Really. There’s no way to keep from getting wet. It comes in from the sides, from above, and from below. So you either settle for getting your shoes wet, or you wear rain boots every day, rain or shine. The rain usually only lasts for about 15- 20 minuutes, then the clouds part and the sun breaks through, and it’s hard to believe that you’re standing there soaking wet. It’s like a temper tantrum. Strong and ugly, but short.

Luckily, Omar and I will be in Lima come January. Hopefully the hotheaded rains will hold off until then. Then you’ll hear me complaining about humidity. But we’ll deal with that when we come to it. I’m getting excited about life in the big city…a new place to explore, new restaurants to check out (granted they’re not too expensive), I’ve even been thinking about trying to learn how to surf- I hope I don’t chicken out!

On another, completely unrelated note I just learned the word for handcuffs in Spanish. Esposas. “Wives” in English. And no, it’s not slang. That’s the actual, official word. That says something about Latino mentality. Maybe that’s why Atreyhus hasn’t proposed yet…….