The Dark Side of Peru

How are things going at home? I might try to call later tonight….I only have 18 min on the card but don’t worry about it. I feel like I´m gonna be home soon enough that adding more isn’t necessary. When is mom coming home?

I got a bit sick on this last trip….headcold and sore throat. My motivation is slipping away more quickly with every afternoon thunderstorm. Apparently there is a major major holiday around the 25th-28th and nothing will be running in Peru….so I am very much considering flying out before then. I still kinda feeling like doing one more climb…we’ll see though.

In any event, I need a favor. Do you have a digital scan of my airline ticket hanging around? STA travel needs a copy in order to change my flight, and if you already have it that is easier than scanning it here.

That´s about all….here is a little tidbit for the group, some stuff I left out of my Huaraz descriptive email…


The dark side of Peru

A week or two ago I wrote about my home for these weeks, Huaraz. I explained the history of the area, the natural beauty of this place, some of the funny quirks to life in Peru. I left some things out, though, that in retrospect deserve mention.

Not all is picture-perfect mountains and enlightening cultural exchanges in this country. Peru is not a very highly developed country, and the ugly associated problems manifest themselves in so many aspects of daily life here. Poverty is everywhere, and sadly worsened by the blatant show of wealth foreign visitors put on. A meal here at a local restaurant costs s/3, including soup and a plateful of rice and meat. A quarter of a roasted chicken generally costs s/3.50.

Even this paltry sum is too much for a startling number of Huaracinos. Walking down the main street in town, dirty children in tattered clothing pick out gringos in the crowds and try to sell hard candies out of a crumpled bag, eyes downcast and mumbling unintelligibly. A step higher on the social rung are the shoe-shine boys. Same dirty faces, same rag clothing, same mumbling and groveling…but these boys have blackened hands and carry a homemade box over one shoulder full of shoe polish and rags…trying to earn themselves a meal. Walking about town in sandals sometimes saves a considerable amount of guilt…

Others try to sell rolls of toilet paper, or lollipops, or anything they could pick up on the street. It is an absolutely normal occurence for dinner at a local restaurant to be interrupted two, three, or ten times by various beggars. Local comedors see a variety of interesting schemes, beyond the usual hard candy and toilet paper sellers. Perhaps the most frustrating are the ‘entertainers’ that show up. Sometimes a lone singer, sometimes a child who screams more than sings, and sometimes a full band with instruments will show up uninvited and play a song or two, then pass a plate around the restaurant for tips. Sean, Shana and I were once ‘entertained’ twice in the same day, at different restaurants….by the SAME band!

It is hard to know when you are being scammed…a host of older Peruvians sell candies on the street in the name of orphanages, etc. Sometimes it is clear though….more heartbreaking than the children who sell candies are those who simply beg food scraps (chicken bones, etc) off finished plates in the restaurants. I have issues giving away money, or buying useless dirty little candies…..but I have less reservation about helping those that are truly hungry. Here though, the problem is so common that inviting one child to dinner may simply make you a target for twenty more. You cannot feed the world…

Many foreigners (and wealthy Peruvians) eat at fancier touristic restaurants where paying twice the price for the same food buys a guard at the door to ward off these shows, the street children and beggers.

There are reasons that Peru is not a highly developed country….reasons that should not exist in my mind. Peru has resources, it has a working populace, and access to the ocean and trade. But still, old Quechua women beg a sol ‘for dinner’ and children beg ‘regalame un caramelo’ from trekking gringos. Why?

I do not have the real answers…but I can offer a few observations and anecdotes. Let’s start with the street children. Walk a block and if you don’t have a candy shoved upwards towards you by filthy little hands it is a real surprise. The vast majority of these children don’t say a single intelligible word; not because they cannot (when listening to groups of street children talk, they speak perfectly clearly)… why? The average gringo here has a difficult enough time understanding clear Spanish, let alone the ¨hmmmumm, unsol, ahummmm, a comer,ayahmmmm…..¨ that these children mumble under their breath. Moreover, NO ONE WANTS the candies or toilet paper! Any of these kids could make a killing trying to sell bottles of water at restaurants, rather than candies and toilet paper.

A story I heard last night from Jim, the owner of the cinema on Plazuela Belen: Opening his little theatre last month, he needed some chalkboards to display the menu on the wall. A kid was selling chalkboards on the street corner outside his theatre, but they had a whiteboard on the backside. Jim asked the kid if he could make a few chalkboards without the whiteboard on the back….and the kid replied, “No….I buy them in Lima.” Jim made himself a few chalkboards in two hours that afternoon with local material for a fraction of the price the kid was selling boards for. And now the neighboring internet cafe wants Jim to build a few for them! There is something wrong with the mentality here.

And people blame the government. Today is the “Paro Nacional”…the national strike. The teachers´ union SUTEP has been on strike since the 21st of June, demanding a 100% increase in salary. Today EVERYONE is on strike; stores are closed lest the rioters throw stones through their windows and taxis aren’t running within the city for the same fear. Right now Peru is hosting the America’s Cup soccer tournament. I am sure that this strike is encouraging people all over South America to flock to Peru for tourism….when you can’t even take a bus today.

The president, Toledo, has a nearly 0% approval rating…..people on the street tell me he is in Spain right now, avoiding the problems. I recognize that the government here makes promises that it blatantly cannot and does not follow through on, but people expect the government to MAKE jobs. There is work to be had….people just need the initiative to take it. What do they expect of the goverment?

I haven’t studied the history here, or the government…but some of these problems are so clear. They are not pleasant, indeed, sometimes the problems can be straight up heartbreaking, but after some time you become desensitized to it, even angry. Speak clearly! Sell something useful! Think about what you are doing!
So these are the things I left out of my last email. Together, the two present a more accurate picture of how daily life really goes here in Peru.


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