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In some of my more, let’s say, loose-lipped moments (which may or may not include a couple of Cusquenas) I’ve called Lima the Cleveland of South America. The responses I’ve received from this statement have been enlightening for two reasons: it not only reveals what many of the American extranjeros think about Lima, but also what they think about Cleveland. Usually, they take my statement as an insult to one city or the other. For many Peruvians the answer is much simpler, they just ask, “What’s Cleveland?”

The main reason that I’ve associated Lima with Cleveland is because, despite Lima’s size and economic boom, it strikes me a bit like the red-headed stepchild of Latin America. Lima’s Clevelandness is more metaphorical than actual because it represents a kind of international invisibility. Lima just doesn’t have the international cache of Rio, Buenos Aires, or Santiago, just like Cleveland doesn’t have the cache of LA, NYC, or Chicago. If many Peruvians have no idea about Cleveland, I’m willing to bet many Americans don’t know a thing about Lima (except thinking it might a city popular for beans that, by the way, are pronounced incorrectly).

An example of this Clevelandness can be found in Lima’s relation to international music acts.* For most of its history, Lima has not been a destination spot for touring bands, most of which would flyover to the more global cities of Rio, Buenos Aires, or Santiago. This rejection of Lima as a destination was, I have been told, mainly a result of the instability in the city created by the horrific terrorism of the Sendero Luminoso. Thankfully, Lima seems to be gaining traction on the international touring circuit as many international performers, like Britney Spears, Elton John, and Morrissey, have all performed in Lima during the last year. Now, what you may think of performers like Spears is irrelevant; the fact that Lima was even a destination on a tour of that magnitude is what is important.

A couple of weeks ago, I gathered up some friends and went to experience this cover band culture for myself. An interesting aside about the show is that, like many cover bands, you could purchase the tickets for the show from the same booths that sell tickets for “real” shows. The cover band we went and saw as modeled after The Strokes, which I chose since the “real life” version is one of my favorite bands. The show was in a club called the Yield Bar in downtown Lima (right on the Plaza de St. Martin, which is very pretty at night). The cover band, Los Outsaiders, appears to have pretty decent-sized following–judging by their Facebook page–and there was a pretty substantial line of folks waiting to get into the club. Of course, it’s hard to interpret how much of that following was die-hard Strokes fans who, like me, had no previous connection to the cover band. That said, at the end of the show much of the audience was chanting the Los Outsaiders name and more than a few admirers mobbed the band for pictures and autographs.

Like many things Peruvian, the show started 20 minutes late but, overall, Los Outsaiders did a pretty good job of embodying The Strokes. The band was particularly excellent, which was impressive because they were also short one member (The Strokes have 4 part band, the cover band had your typical guitarist-bassist-drummer trio). The lead singer did a serviceable impression of the mannerisms of Julian Casablanca, though maybe was trying a bit too hard in places. The only real criticism would be that, since lead singer obviously learned the lines phonetically, he hit a few off notes here and there. In the end, my group went in thinking that the band would probably have the same level of skill as college garage band, but we all were pleasantly surprised by the quality of show.

*The caveat, of course, being international Spanish-speaking bands.

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This post was done without the help of “Google Translate,” but does have an assist from my Spanish tutor, Fernanda.

The Most Typical Scene of St. Paddy's Day in Lima

Para el día de San Patrick, nosotros queríamos cocinar un desayuno tradicional de Irlanda. En Irlanda, un desayuno tradicional consiste de huevos (normalmente un huevo frito), tocino, salchichas de morcilla (o salchichas normales), los frijoles (blancos), tomates y panes. Para beber, hay te fuerte, no el tipo de té que se pone en Starbucks. En EEUU, este tipo de desayuno se llama “El Desayuno Irlanda” pero en Europa lo se llama “El Desayuno Completo.” Fue un poco difícil para nosotros encontráramos los ingredientes Irlandeses pero yo pienso que ella cocinó una buen aproximación al desayuno tradicional. En Perú, por ejemplo, hay muchas variedades de las salchichas y nosotros las usamos en nuestro desayuno.

Irish Dancers, all of which are Limenos or Limenas

 

Tradicionalmente, los Irlandeses comían los desayunos grandes porque, especialmente para los obreros, ellos solamente comían dos veces, en la mañana y en la noche. Ahora, por supuesto, los Irlandeses comen igual que en otras partes del mundo occidental. Dicho esto, la mayor parte de Europa y EEUU toma un desayuno mucho más grande que aquí (a excepción de España, por supuesto). Normalmente, en EEUU, durante el Día de San Patrick muchas personas comen “corn beef” (una carne que tiene muchas sal) y berza. Por lo tanto, en Lima, a mi me parece que “carne de vacuno” y berza no existen aquí. Nosotros estábamos contenta porque a ella no le gusta carne de vacuno.

An Irish Band, full of actual Irish

 

Después de hicimos el desayuno, los amigos llegaron a nuestra casa. Cuando ellos llegaron, yo estaba viendo el partido de futbol (era de mi equipo favorito). Después del partido—que terminó antes de la primera mitad porque un jugador tuvo un ataque al corazón—comimos bocadillos y bebimos tragos. Muchos irlandeses creen que el día de San Patrick es un día donde EEUU humillo a Irlanda y están siempre hablando de tragos. En EEUU, hay muchas personas creen que ellos son totalmente Irlandeses. Esas personas llevan camisetas verdes y siempre están tomando tragos. Los verdaderos irlandeses llaman a esas personas “Irlandeses de plástico.”

A las tres, salimos del departamento a una festiva Irlandesa en el Cricket Club de Lima. Primero, es muy raro que el festival sea en un club de cricket. El cricket es un juego que uno asocia con Inglaterra, los antiguos colonos de Irlanda. En Irlanda, que juegan un juego llamado “hurling”, que es un poco similar al hockey sobre hierba. Por supuesto, nadie juega este juego pero los Irlandesas.

The Gang

Pero, en este festival había Guinness (la cerveza de Irlanda) y que f ue una mejor razón por la que fuimos al festival. ¡Había una escasez de Guinness en Lima! ¡Que horror, que horror! En general, el festival fue interesante porque era una fusión de Perú y Irlanda. El festival fue una fiesta en la piscina, donde hijos y padres llevaban trajes de baño. Había algunos bailarines (ellos no eran Irlandeses, pero ellos eran buenos) y una banda irlandesa. En cuanto a la comida, había salchichas y helados. En total, el Día de Santo Patrick fue interesante.

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First, before I begin discussing my trip to Lima’s Interpol branch, I want to make a quick statement about the weather: It’s really nice. I mean really, really nice. As a lifelong Midwesterner, I’ve basically become accustomed to crappy weather. In Winter, it’s too cold and snowy; in the Summer, it’s too hot and humid. In the Midwest, you really get only 1 nice month in the Autumn and then another one in Spring. And that’s it, that’s the list. Hell, I was so inured to these craptastic seasons that I had convinced myself that everywhere else on the planet only had 2 good months of weather. Right now, Lima is transitioning into Summer and it’s absolutely gorgeous. And, though I still don’t believe this because my native Midwesternness won’t let me, it’s supposed to stay this nice for months. Months, I tell you! I’m worried I might turn into one my Midwesterners-turned-Southerners-or-WestCoasters friends who can no longer handle crappy weather.

So, my continuing search for a Peruvian work visa has taken it’s next, and hopefully second-to-last, step; namely, a visit to Interpol. In this step not only are you required to pay money to the Peruvian government but also are required to send some cash back to Good Ole Uncle Sam. I’m still not quite sure why the FBI needs to keep tabs on me while I’m living in Lima. Though I can assure you it’s not because I’m some super-secret drug smuggler (oddly, the FBI wouldn’t accept my “cross my heart” promise). I’ve been told it’s because the US government wants to keep track of me in case of an emergency, but I can’t really see US government being that concerned with British/Postcolonial scholars. I don’t see us getting on one of those big ships in that dumb John Cusack movie.

In relation to many of the other steps throughout my visa process, the trip to Interpol was relatively painless. Essentially, the process is a simple trip to a small government building tucked out in Surco where you’ll get poked and prodded by bored officials in dusty suits. It is a wee bit depressing, with these folks in their dusty, faded military green suits working in a dusty, faded military green building with bad tile. The key bit of advice I can give is to be prepared and get all the necessary documents finished before you get in the cab to head out to the building (which only does Visa stuff on Monday and Tuesday, btw). Unfortunately, like many steps in the visa process, nobody really tells you what you need, so it can become a frustrating guessing game. Therefore, allow me to help out, in the smallest way.

The key documents required by US persons seeking a visa are as follows:

  • Passport
  • 2 copies of your passport, including your front picture and contract stamp (ideally, I would suggest a person bring 10-15 copies of there passport before even coming to Peru, given the amount of places in which you need to hand out copies)
  • A receipt for 73 soles paid to Banco Nacional for the Canje Internacional
  • A check (giro de credito) for 30 USD given to you by BCP/SoctiaBank for the FBI (you give them the cash, they give you the check)
  • 18 soles for photos to be taken at Interpol
  • And a bunch of forms to be filled out that they’ll give you at the office.

"El metro es una película porno. Las aceras son un desastre. Yo sé que usted me ha apoyado durante mucho tiempo.De alguna manera no estoy impresionado"

First, these are the requirements for USians and, I think, Canadians who are seeking a visa. If you’re from Asia, Europe, or another South American country, some of the items you need will be different. I would highly suggest you visit the banks–and, of course, you can’t do it all at one bank–a day or two before you plan to head to Interpol. The weekend is particularly helpful because if you can go early enough (around 11), many of the banks aren’t that crowded. Also, I would avoid the Banco Nacional in Surco because when I was heading to Interpol there were 2 lines that stretched around the block, full of pissed off people waiting to get into the building. If you can get the copies and bank documents in order before you head to Surco, then the experience at Interpol can move quickly and smoothly.

The rest of the trip is essentially a documentation of your body and appearance. I felt a bit like a horse, being examined for a sale as my teeth, face, and fingerprints were all given a good once-over. The teeth examination is particularly strange because the only reason I could think of as to why they’d need to take notes on my teeth would be to identify my body after something terrible had happened. It was unnerving. All the other examinations will be pretty routine to anybody this far in the process, just another round of pictures and fingerprints. Honestly, given the amount of times I’ve had my prints taken there must be 15 or so copies of my fingerprints floating around Peru.

Overall, the trip to Interpol should be one of your easier Visa experiences, as long as you have all the documents prepared ahead of time. My last suggestion would be to have somebody who speaks Spanish accompany you if you’re not that familiar with the language. The staff at Interpol, like all government officials, are fairly abrupt and don’t really like answering questions that begin “I’m sorry, can you help me with…” I felt fine with my level of Spanish, and I’m by no means fluent, but I did have to ask a few questions, which received a sigh or two from some sclub behind a desk.

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Hello, it’s time for another lovely edition of random musings or, by it’s fancier sounding name, unrelated observations of Peru. The random musings tactic is like the clip show of blogging; it’s something that the blogger can do to provide content without the structured thinking that a normal post requires. Or when your life is just a bit boring (really, how many times might people who are not my family want to read about getting taxis and grading papers). Essentially, this is the lazy person’s way to blog and, if you notice the time between my posts, I’ve been pretty lazy. Of course, like all lazy people I’ve got a ton of great excuses, like “I’m super busy at other things!” Well, the semester here is winding down and plenty of students need help on their final projects so…on with the show:

  • Well, even though it’s not quite summer yet the weather has definitely changed. The temperature has risen and it gets pretty sunny (more or less). The most unusual aspect of the weather is how most days begin overcast but changes into a brighter day with slightly clearer skies. Even when it stays a bit overcast, it usually warms up to a comfortable level, even if most days start of a bit gloomy.
  • A few weeks ago, we hired a maid on the suggestion of one of our friends. Her name is Teo, and she does a fantastic job with the apartment. The thing is, I still feel a bit awkward about having a maid (or limpiadora) in the first place. My family never had a maid nor did we ever rent a cleaning service, so it’s a change to have someone in my house cleaning up after me (Comment from my mother below in 3…2…1…). I don’t know if my feelings about Teo are leftover baggage of bourgeois guilt or just one the new cultural differences with which one must be accustomed.
  • My new favorite food here are anticuchos. I don’t want to spoil them for anybody, but if you happen to meat eater they’re delicious.
  • I feel like my Spanish is definitely (or at least hopefully) improving. A lot of times, I can understand what is been asked or said to me, even if I can’t necessarily translate the words verbatim. Of course, I still get a little lost whenever a person uses too much slang or mumbles. Yet improvement is improvement, so I’m just happy that the language blocks are getting fewer and fewer.
  • After quite a few experiments, all done in the interest of science mind you, I’ve discovered that Cusquena is much better in a bottle. Though, if you must, drinking it in glass is still pretty good.
  • Finally, on a bit of a home sickness note, I absolutely miss Autumn. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, this time of year (calendar wise) has always been my favorite part of the year. The changing flora and fauna, along with the opportunity to wear all my cool sweaters, puts me in a good mode. In Lima, the opposite change is, of course, occurring as the seaons is getting warmer. I feel all discombobulated as my body seems to expect the weather to get colder. Yet, whenever I’ve mentioned this to any of my friends back in the US–especially the ones living in colder climates–they tend to give me a fairly snarky remark. I think I can actually hear them roll their eyes through the computer.

 

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It would be banal to say that moving to Peru has been an eye-opening experience (or any number of clichés that come to mind about learning of life lessons). Often, it’s easier to forget some of the more glaring (if that’s the right word) elements of a developing country. Or, maybe, forgetting is too harsh a word. Possibly I’ve just become more accustomed to living in Lima, which means I’m taking the city’s flattering and less flattering elements in stride. However, one of the aspects of daily life that continues stay at the forefront of my thoughts is how my definitions of what qualifies as a necessity and what qualifies as a luxury have changed. Life in a developing country forces one to confront differences that, while living in what is called the first world, are normally just considered in the abstract.

Clean water is not a given in Peru (image from "Lima Bean" Blog)

The most significant revelation, even for a first-timer in South America like myself, is the necessary distinction between good and bad, clean and unclean drinking water. Now, anybody who has taken a vacation to a developing country—for most people from the States, I would assume this would be Mexico—can understand the need to drink bottled water, avoid wet silverware, and keep their mouth closed while in the shower. Yet, it’s hard to appreciate the daily concerns about clean water and the necessity of it for many actions central to daily life. Recently, I’ve purchased a water jug that can be refilled for around 10 soles or so. This is my primary source of water for drinking and cooking, and it’s a much better solution than my previous routine of trips to store to buy large bottles. It’s amazing how quickly this water gets used; consequently, it’s also amazing how much I pay for the necessity of having clean water. Now, yes, I did pay for water back in the US, but that water was multipurpose. I was never “out” of clean water as I could always just pour myself a glass from the tap.

The result of having to always be aware of clean water underlines how clean water is closer to a luxury, even though I’ve always thought of it as a necessity. While finding clean water isn’t hard, the need to be aware of the distinction between clean/unclean water has never been made clearer to me. Also, my privileged position makes my access to clean water pretty easy, especially when compared to the majority of people in Lima (or the world).

The second aspect of my daily life that has changed has been the difficulty of securing stable Internet access. While obviously not as vital as drinking water, having a stable connection to the Internet is a pretty important thing for many. The Internet is my main connection with my family and friends, as well as my main problem solver for things like directions or useful Spanish phrases. In Lima, whatever speed a company charges you for Internet service, expect to receive only 50% of the actual billed amount. The telecommunications infrastructure of Peru is not as reliable as someone coming from the States would expect (though in some of the wealthier boroughs of the city it’s not too bad).

If you had asked me before I moved to Peru if Internet access was a luxury or a necessity, I probably would’ve quickly placed it in the necessity category. Heck, I’m pretty sure I’ve said it was “impossible” or “torture” to live without Internet service. When I think back about thoughts like this, I just think how silly that they seem now. And it’s not silly in an anti-consumerist Eat, Pray, Love sort of way. Not having internet service at times hasn’t taught me about the need to find myself or any other Julia Roberts inspired drivel about disconnecting from the modern world; instead, it has clearly marked how, in many ways, I was naïve about the condition of the rest of the world.

Overall, my experience in Peru has shown me a nuisanced difference between commodities as luxuries and commodities as necessities. If the value of a commodity depends on the demand as predicated by the totality of a market, then I should be able to create an equation that balances my need for water with my need for Internet access. How many bottles of water make an equivalent exchange for a month of wireless Internet access? In my personal budget, am I willing to go a little a thirsty for access to better communication? In fact, my ability to have the decision to go a little thirsty is a privileged position; as for many, it’s not a decision at all.

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Don't worry, those people are just metaphors. Cannibalism isn't the bedrock of the Latin American Food Pyramid.

Since moving to Peru, I’ve lost weight. Quite a bit of weight, actually. By my estimation, I’ve probably dropped 15 or 20 pounds, which puts me right back at my fighting weight of 165 or so. I can only provide guesses about my weight, as we don’t own a scale. This drop in weight is especially interesting because back in the States I was a gluten-free grad student. In Lima, I’ve relaxed my eating habits and have started to drink beer again. So, I really haven’t gone on any sort of diet since arriving in Peru. I haven’t been able to exactly pin down the reasons, but I have a couple of guesses (and no, it’s not from Ole’ Monty’s Revenge).

First—although I could be proven wrong—I don’t really think my slimming down is due to diet (though not having the stress eating caused by finishing a PhD probably helps). Now, plenty of Peruvian food is probably better for my diet than US food as there’s less deep-fried food available; however, fatty food is not scarce and some of the traditional Peruvian dishes are uber-starchy. Hell, that’s the reason why many Peruvian dishes are so good; they understand that all the “really good” dishes are created by the things that aren’t necessarily good for you, like butter. Lomo Saltado, for instance, is grilled steak with onions and peppers, served with rice and French Freedom Dumb-jingoistic-renaming-of-potatoes fries. And there’s no skimpin’ on the rice and fries. Yes it’s delicious, but that’s a lot of carbs. So not everything in this city is healthy like ceviche. Plus, I still have my general laziness when it comes to cooking, which isn’t helped by the fact that almost everywhere in Lima will deliver. So there are a variety of food options available, many of which can be sent directly to your doorstep.

I mean, seriously, the food here is great. The amount of restaurants that look great is just staggering, from little shops or cevicherias to swank Italian/Peruvian fusion places. Not to mention the sushi restaurants. Oh the sushi restaurants! Lima knows my one and only weakness, sushi restaurants.

Cause it's a cute picture: That is all

As for exercise, yeah there’s probably something to that. Since I don’t own a car, I walk a lot. Even if I take a taxi or combi, I usually have to walk at least a bit to get to my destination. Also, taking a taxi everywhere can get expensive, so if it’s possible I try to huff it to my destination. The other major reason I think I walk a lot in Lima is the nice weather. Even during this winter, the weather hasn’t been too bad (especially if you’re coming from the Midwest with its Sub Zero weather).

So, is moving to South America a weight loss plan? Probably not. I definitely don’t want to essentialize Peruvian food or lifestyle as some sort of exotic cure all because that comes with whole lot of yucky stereotypes about the developing world. However, I think that it’s okay for me to state that I’ve changed my diet and increased my exercise; consequently, it is probably fair to say that there’s something about the lifestyle here in Lima has impact my eating habits for the better.

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I’ve been thinking about the transportation system in Lima quite a bit lately. Maybe because I spend a decent amount of time in transport, going to an’ fro between the university and my apartment. As I’ve mentioned, Limeños tend to talk about the traffic, with all its congestión and embotellamientos, like Midwesterns talk about the weather. So much that it becomes a type of greeting: “Oh, hello Jim. How about that traffic?” “I know Jane, it’s just so crazy!” It’s a common enough small talk topic that it will serve you well if you’re ever caught in a conversation with a new acquaintance, start with the traffic.

One of the major frustrations for Limeños is that the infrastructure of roadways in the city hasn’t, it seems, been able to match an increased growth of vehicles that use this infrastructure. I want to look at two of the vehicles that are hyper-visible on Lima’s roads: combi’s and taxis.

First, the taxis. As almost any guidebook will tell you, all cabs in Lima are negotiable. You barter with the driver to reach a deal, depending on your destination and the time of day. On a personal note, I sometimes find this a stressful thing because it is always a constant challenge that combines city life and language skills. You don’t really want to pick cabs that are too beaten up (some cabs here are about the size of a bumper-car and are powered by gas; not gasoline mind, but propane) or drivers that look sketchy. Also, no cab drivers here speak English, so both the negotiation and directions (don’t expect every cab driver to know your destination) must be done in Spanish. I’ve gotten to the point where I can give directions and hold small talk with my cabbies (basically about the traffic!). This is an accomplishment, I believe.

Since all cab fare is negotiated in advance, I come to the conclusion that this influences taxistas to drive ultra aggressively, since it will be the same price if you arrive at your destination in 10 or 15 minutes (sometimes they might try and wheedle an extra sole or two). In order to maximize their profits, then, cabbies here depend more on accumulating passengers that accumulating time. This is compounded by the sheer amount of cabs on the road. There is no regulation of cab service, so anybody who so desires can start picking up folks. So not only does a cabbie need high turnover, but also they must compete with the market to hit the right price point. There will always be another cab who might meet your price, always. With no meter, time equals wasted cash for the cabbies as they’re only burning gas; consequently, competition and the barter system means loads of aggressive drivers.

The combi system, Lima’s collection of buses and vans, is similar to the cabs. It’s not an organized bus system as some might recognize; instead, it’s a collection of privatized companies and small owners who operate their own vehicles. The combis themselves can range from a nice standard size bus to a small van—I mean small, like no bigger than a midsized SUV. While not as noticeable as taxis, there are still plenty of combis on the roads. Former President Fujumori completed altered the transit system when he opened up bus transport to the market, allowing business to create their own people carriers. As a result, combis exploded on Lima roadways like reality television shows on the airways (Topical Blog humor Alert! Zing!).

Riding the combi is very cheap, often a single Nuevo Sol or so. As you can imagine this creates a ton of pressure on the combi company/driver to maximize profits. Combis can be packed with people to the point that the barker (each combi has a person who tells you the price at each stop) hangs on to the outside of the bus. And this gets us to a very interesting point about transport in Lima because, if we look at the taxis and combis, the free market nature of traffic puts the passenger at risk. The emphasis both taxis and combis place on speed and passenger turnover help influence the aggressive driving and congestion for which Lima is famous. The roadways of a free market are interesting as an example and to some extent an effect of deregulating the rules of the road. It’s more than just a simple case of “Los conductores son locos” but of how the economics of a situation trickle down to our everyday experience on the road, in which speed is emphasized over time as normal characteristic of driving.

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