Archive for the ‘Everyday life in Lima’ Category

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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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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Who knew, an old NES game called "Montezuma's Revenge"

As in shit. And other fluids. I have been in Peru just over two months, and have been inflected with my first case of food poisoning. Or the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge as it’s more commonly known (though Peru is the wrong country). And yes, it’s as bad as everyone says. Fortunately, my episode only lasted about 24 hours, which at least made it painfully brief. Unlike me, however, it did create a bit of a blockage  in my blog posting (Zing!). I’ll post about my experiences teaching soon, as I’ve had that post in the hopper for awhile now.

Throughout my stay, I’ve been incredibly careful about what I eat and drink. Hell, I even keep my mouth clamped shut in the shower. I’m not kidding. It’s like I’m a little kid at the dentist who is refusing to open his mouth (Spoiler: I totally was that kid). Yet, I think that an episode is unavoidable. If you’re traveling, it seems pretty easy to take enough precautions here in Lima to avoid any real contact with the dreaded “la venganza de Moctezuma.” Basically, if you avoid tap water, ice, and eat at nice places you’re pretty much in good shape. Yet, if you’ve decided to relocate here, your chances of getting stomach problems is probably 100%. Given enough time, all results will trend toward zero. Many ex-pats often speak of it as a sort of right of passage. Get it, deal with it, and then move on.

Actually, I find it pretty funny as almost everyone, from family to friends, has made a joke about it. Something about moving to a South American country elicits jokes about the shits. That said, it’s not the most terrible thing. Most good restaurants in Lima–even the cheap ones frequented by many locals–are very clean establishments. Of course there are dive bars/restaurants you want to avoid, but they’re pretty easy to spot. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Peruvians take their cooking really seriously, so most restaurants are clean, well-run, and offer delicious food. However, mistakes will happen. In my case, I don’t even think it was the actual food. From our deduction, we think it was from breakfast, which was basically just tocino y huevos (bacon and eggs). No fruit, uncooked meats, or fish. What probably happened was that the plate wasn’t completely dried off before they served me. Or, maybe, I just had a bad reaction to something. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not exactly known for having an iron stomach. In fact, I’m pretty famous for weak stomach. Or infamous. Or notorious. But, without a doubt, always embarrassed by it. Ah well, as a great man said: “It happens.

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Perception is, bluntly, a summabitch. One of the most annoyingly persistent, and difficult, perceptions I still have about Lima is the fact that it’s dangerous at night. And not just normal dangerous, but “where is the goddamn Batman!” dangerous. Now, like many of my beliefs about Lima, this an idea is founded in some fact. Peru is a developing country and, therefore, it has dangers that many cities, even large ones, in developed countries do not possess. To ignore this fact is to be dishonest about the realities of this country in which I’ve chosen to live. Now, of course, it’s also a developing country and not a war-torn nation. Also, this fear is compounded by my language difficulty. However, unlike any of my fears or anxieties I have about not knowing Spanish, the night has more of an irrational hold on me.

If you look closely you can see Batman

The are legitimate dangers that occur (or can occur) at night, more so than any of the possible results of my simple fear of looking like a douche at the Vivanda cause I can’t order meat properly. It’s smart to be vigilant at night in Lima, this is just a fact. However, vigilance can easily (for me) mutate into paranoia. Paranoia is no fun, despite what Thomas Pynchon may think. Not every corner hides a mugger, nor is every cab driver looking to separate me from my kidneys. Trying to find a balance between these two emotions is difficult, but the main thing I’ve decided is to not live in fear. To live in fear is to live such a small, isolated life.

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