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Archive for July, 2010


“We’re going over there,” pronounces Miri, pointing to the distant hill that rises from the mist.  Four days later,  we set off from Huanchaco towards the looming rise in the distance with Tomasa trotting behind us, unaware that we are destined for a long walk.  “We’ll be done in four hours,” I predict, “One hour there, two to climb it, and an hour back.”  Shortly after leaving, it becomes clear that this is another example of why no-one should trust in my abilities in the great outdoors.  The path to the summit across the yawning stretch of barren sand-scape is blocked, firstly by huge pits torn out for the apparent purpose of extracting rocks, and secondly by a selection of squat but long battery-farming chicken barns.  Between navigating man-made cliffs, fetid drains that shat out the waste water from the barns and the barbed wire fences that surrounded them, we arrived within straight shot of the hill after a solid two hours walk.

“This isn’t the delightful walk that I expected,” I admit as we stomp up the steadily increasing incline.  We decide to cut our summit attempt short with the prospect of a long return journey, mildly irritated with Tomasa’s still-present abundance of energy despite our fatigue.  Looking back, the speck of Huanchaco appears very small set into the coastline amidst the vast expanse of the flat Northern coast of Peru.  I realize for a split second that if I don’t get out of it for a break soon, I’ll go crazy in a suffocating bubble.

A couple of photos later we descend, heading for the ragged outskirts of Trujillo which seem to be more direct than our previous maze of chicken industry.  Our brief attempts to hitch-hike back to Huanchaco prove unsuccessful as Tomasa laps water from greasy puddles and we decide to move further into town to pick up a combi.  A dusty trio viewed with curiosity as we traverse the ragged suburb, we are accosted by a cheerful selection of chubby women playing volleyball.  “You should get home before dark,” they cheerfully explain after posing for a self-requested photo, “Or you could get shot or raped.”  With a building sense of urgency in the gathering darkness, we board the bus and begin the wide circumnavigation of Trujillo to return back to the bubble some six hours after leaving.

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The Festivities Begin - Independence Day Warm-up

I thread through the crowd, most of which come up to my waist.  The waiting masses for the parade sprawl over four blocks, maintaining a fragile patience as they await their turn to march twenty feet with varying degrees of success in-front of the assembled authories of the municipality.  There are two clear themes to the Peruvian Independence Day parade; small cute children and menacing, serious military.  The small cute children, through which I wade, are kept from rebellion by ample supplies of sugared snacks and the looming proximity of parents.  The variety of armed forces, polished and creased, looked equally disposed to mischief.  The only difference is the absence of their parents, a superior rank the disciplinary force instead.

The Festivities Begin - Independence Day Warm-up

Almost an hour behind schedule due to the rambling speeches spun from the gallery of military, political and religious officials, the parade queue lurch into action and began rolling past the spectators.  The choas funnel into six neat columns like toothpaste exiting a tube before exploding again into scattered hoplessness some thirty feet down the road.  No-one attempts to administrate the aftermath, but it seemed to be unneccesary.  After milling around like awkward guests at a wedding reception for a few minutes, the participants drift off adorned in their various costumes, ranging from khaki with large semi-automatic accessories to full-body chicken.

The Festivities Begin - Independence Day Warm-up

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Preparing for the preparation of Independence Day

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I got in touch with Celeste Hamilton from Idealist.org a few weeks back to have a chat about the Dunham Institute’s Volunteer Teach course, which I’m helping out to promote at the moment.  We ended up having a great chat about all things volunteer and I can only gush in a slightly excessive way about how great Celeste and Idealist are.  If you haven’t signed up for their new “Imagine” project, I strongly advise you to do so…

One of the results of my discussion was a  guest post on Idealist’s blog, La Vida Idealist.  I just got an email from Celeste to tell me that it’s now up online, so you can read a few hundred words burbling on about my experiences teaching in Mexico – enjoy!

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Monday was an important day for me. After trawling the internet for examples of good organizations in the hope of finding a project in Latin America with which to involve myself, I’d come across Fairmail, a non-profit that was based practically on my door step.  Needless to say, they’re a fantastic organization and I was delighted when an email to them to try and organize a meeting to discuss working together was replied to by the Peruvian country manager, Renato.  He set a meeting date for Monday at 10am, and I cheerfully agreed.

Monday arrived and I bounced from the spare bed at a friend’s house in Trujillo, ready to brush up my preparatory notes for the meeting and read some more of the inspiring book about social entrepreneurship that I had recently stumbled into on the bookshelf at my borrowed Huachaco pad.  My mate bid me farewell to go out to a job, leaving me home alone to read, prepare and become lost in my thoughts.  My head was buzzing with daydreams of social businesses by the time I slung my backpack on my back and strode out of the front door of the house in a fresh shirt with my laptop dangling purposefully by my side.  I closed the front door behind me, and as I turned I realized my fatal error.

Click.

The front door to my friend’s house has an outer metal gate, a foreboding twelve foot high black iron structure with spikes sticking out of it from all directions, bordered by smooth featureless concrete wall of equal height.  The Gate sends a strong message that the only way you will cross the threshold is by the permission of the person buzzing you through it.  The person pressing the door release button on the other side of the front door, inside the house.

I was trapped between the locked front door and the outer gate, and I knew from past experience that there was no way to scale the gate or walls to the outside world.  There was certainly no way back through the locked front door and I briefly marvelled at the architect’s talent in ensuring that anyone caught in my predicament without house keys would be stuck without mercy.

Hoping that one of the numerous house mates would be in, I tried hammering on the door, reaching a crooked arm through the gate to pound the buzzer and throwing pebbles at windows from within my temporary prison.  No response.  I tried to call my friend with my cell phone in the hope that they could return home to let me out, only to find that my battery was conveniently well and truly flat.  After twenty minutes, my cries turned more desperate, attracting the attention of a neighbour.  She approached the outer gate and eyed the trapped Gringo warily through the bars.  I felt like a zoo exhibit, tricked into captivity by my own stupidity.

“Que paso?” She asked.  In uptight burbling Spanish I flustered an explanation of my predicament.  “Tienes el numero del telefono de la casa?  Puedo llamar,” she offered.  No, I didn’t have the number for the house, and there was no-one inside anyway.

The time was slipping away; the ten o’clock meeting time was already passed, still a quarter hour bus ride across town.  The baleful stare of the neighbour upon me, I turned my attention to the lock of the gate, my nemesis.  It goaded me, the black metal easily relenting when encouraged by the jolt of electricity from the buzzer.  But there was no buzz to save me.

I bent down and examined the lock, reaching my fingers into the gap between the bolt casing and the housing on the gate in a last desperate attempt to see if there was space to slide a credit card up and force the bolt.  Something clunked, the bolt shot back and the gate cheekily swung open to afford me an unimpeded view of the neighbour’s incredulous face.  “Asegura la puerta cuando salgas,” she deadpanned.  Make sure the gate is secure when you leave.

Feeling my cheeks starting to burn, I grabbed my bags from the floor where I’d tossed them in a hissy fit half an hour ago.  Making sure the gate was firmly closed I accelerated away from the shaking head of the neighbour, already rehearsing the apology to Renato.

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Bathtime

I’ve noticed that my canine sidekick has been smelling a little less than fresh lately, so after deliberation decided that it was time to give Tomasa a bath. I’ve never given a dog a bath before, but the instructions on the back of the anti-flea shampoo seemed simple enough so I locked myself in the bathroom with the essential ingredients of dog, towel and shampoo and vowed not to leave until the job was complete.

Things started off easily enough, with Tomasa sitting dejectedly in the shower as I scooped buckets of water over her head. Shivering set in as I rubbed the shampoo into her coat, but any sympathy dissipated when I turned around to grab my camera in the hope of taking a picture of progress. My doe-eyed doggy comrade leapt like a foamy streak of lightning from the tiled shower base and vigorously shook herself, coating all and sundry with water and bubbles.

Doggy Bathtime

Undeterred, I re-instated her in the shower, turned around to get the camera again and took another face-full of dog-shake as the escape repeated itself. This physical comedy skit ran a few times more like a broken record until I realized we could go like this until the end of time. Camera in one hand and soapy dog in the other, I deposited the beast in the bath and snapped a picture whilst leaving my free hand hovering out of shot ready to grab her if she should plan a seventh or eighth escape.

Doggy Bathtime

Escape attempt #6

Having captured the moment, I washed off the suds with a few more buckets of water. More shivering. Triumphantly I lifted my soggy four legged friend from the shower and turned around to get a towel to dry her with, only to hear the all predictable sound of a thousand water droplets shot at every angle across the bathroom and feel the moisture seep into the fabric of the back of my t-shirt.

After a vigorous towelling the mission was deemed a success. Below is the team photo. All that was left was to mop the large quantities of water from the bathroom floor in an impromptu cleaning session.

Doggy Bathtime

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I try to derive insight and learn from my experiences out here, reflecting on things via this blog.  However, sometimes I get distracted by juvenile stuff.  Give me a break, I’m a boy…

Jam for the ladies

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Or perhaps you prefer something from the leading name in plastic disposable cutlery?

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