Saturday, June 24, 2017

Things We Didn’t Expect

In Peru, before I lost my awkward tourist mannerisms, I was panhandled nearly every day. It would usually start as a friendly discussion, “You are not Peruvian…where are you from?” Inevitably it would lead to, “Senor, two soles for bread please?” In addition there were women sitting on sidewalks in the downtown area; a baby in their arms and pleading to buy their candy. I often saw many of those same women over the years, sitting in the same locations with babies who never seemed to grow.

We’ve been in the US for three weeks now, and I have been panhandled several times, each time beginning with a seemingly friendly comment. We’ve seen many men (and some women) standing at main intersections holding hand-printed signs reading, “homeless – hungry – God bless.” We saw three college-age kids sitting under upturned shopping carts in a slight rain hold a sign saying “please help us.” At least one was a female. They had smiles on their faces as we passed, making me think that perhaps this was a college survey for a sociology class. We expected to see these things in Peru, but was not expecting them in the US. Maybe we had lived a sheltered life up there in northern Wisconsin.


We’re not sure when the closing on our house will happen but we do know that when it happens we’ll need furniture and a car quickly. Yesterday we were at a car dealer in one of those small towns I mentioned in a previous post. We were talking with a salesman about a particular SUV we liked, when Maribel mentioned it was smaller than most SUVs and could be a problem for transporting furniture items to our house if we needed to. The salesman replied, “No problem…come into our dealership and borrow one of our trucks. We do that often”. Okay! Then I raised another possible issue.

Maribel hasn’t driven in nearly eight years, and will need some practice before taking to the road again. If we were to buy the car we were looking at, we’d be at the dealership with our new car and the rental car. We’d need to return the rental to the airport, and I obviously can’t drive both. The salesman, never missing a beat said, “We’ll deliver the car to the airport for you.” When I asked him if he was really serious about the offers he was making, he looked at me with a slightly offended expression and said, “You’re in Georgia now.”


Speaking of motor vehicles, we did not expect the seemingly constant congestion on the interstates and secondary highways going through and around the city. The city population is less than 200,000 yet traffic conditions are equal to Miami during rush hour. Stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper is the norm during peak hours. That is something we never considered during our research of the area. We thought we had left behind the chaos of Chiclayo streets during ‘hora punta.’ We are very happy that we chose a home in one of those outlying communities, with enough shopping and entertainment support to allow us to go into the city center only when we choose to.

It seems as though we have a lot to learn about living in the south. We’re looking forward to the journey.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Huaca de Toro is a go!

On June 15, we wrote about the village of Huaca de Toro and the equipment needed for the pronoei Mi Nino Jesus. We’re happy to report that thanks to Denny Wallette and The Alice Cool Foundation we have the money to go ahead with that project. The time table for the delivery of the items has not been worked out yet but should be within the next week.

We learned a little more about how the village got its name. There is a hill in the distance that, using a little imagination, resembles a reclining bull. At various times in the past people have reported seeing a bull running in the area at night. It was so long ago that the story has been relegated to legend, but still, no one goes there in the evening.

When looking at the photos and reading the report from Magali, Maribel and I both felt good that Promesa Peru is continuing, and yet a little sad. For the first time in eight years a Promesa Peru project is happening and we’re not there.

So where are we? We’re in the United States. Before leaving Chiclayo we spent months researching weather, taxes, cost of living, geography, crime rates and availability of leisure time activities. We ended up focusing on one metropolitan area, and so far it looks like we made a good choice.

It’s a nice town…not too big and not too small. The 117 page official visitors guide book is full of things to do and places to see, as well as the usual listings for hotels and restaurants. We walked four miles of the river walk today, stopping to talk with just about anybody who indicated a notion to pass the time. People are friendly here. We talked with fishermen fishing on the bank of the river that flows right through the town and learned that although catfish are the prized catch, the river holds perch, crappie, bluegill, rock bass and walleye among others.

Trees are everywhere; so are birds and squirrels. There are no palm trees, but plenty of pine and oaks along with others that I have yet to identify. The town is in a valley surrounded by mountains. Flat terrain is at a premium…you’re always walking or driving on an angle. It’s a good thing they don’t often get snow or icy roads here. In fact January is the only month with an average low temperature below freezing, but the average January high is 50 so any snow or ice melts quickly.

The city is within easy driving distance of three major cities and is itself surrounded by smaller bedroom communities just 20 minutes from the city center. It’s the best of both worlds…all the advantages of a big city while living in a home in a country setting. 

We felt so good about the area that we made an offer on a home in one of those smaller towns and it was accepted. Now we’re in the process of going through all the stuff involved in buying a home. We’re told we’re within ten days of closing. We hope so, ‘cause living in a hotel is not fun.

Another thing on my mind is what to do about this blog? I don’t live in Peru anymore, but I’ve got so many memories and experiences during my time there that I probably could continue writing about Peru, but that would somehow feel like cheating. I don’t know if anyone would be interested in reading about My Slice of Smalltown USA. I guess I’ll wait awhile and play it by ear.

In the meantime, Promesa Peru is still in Peru and is alive and well, and needs your help to continue providing an education for those village kids. You can do that by visiting the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Village is Huaca de Torro

On Monday when Magali Mestar, our new Promesa Peru representative in the Lambayeque Region visited Huaca de Toro, she learned that there are about 20 families living in this little village located about 15 miles south west of the city of Mochumi. Huaca de Toro means land of the bull, though no one knows or remembers how the village got its name.

There is a small chapel in the center of the village named La Manito de Nuestro Senor Jesucristo. Inside the chapel is an ornate statue of a hand (upper center). The villagers refer to it as the hand of Jesus, and every August 5th there is a three-day celebration of the “little hand of Jesus.” Throughout the year villagers pray to the hand, asking for a good growing season, avoidance of illness, and prosperity for family and friends.

Monday through Friday the chapel is home to the pronoei Mi Nino Jesus (my baby Jesus), where Regina (left) has taught for two years. She has 12 students ages three to five who attend more or less regularly. The furnishings are sparse, and the few chairs are broken or nearly so.

There has been discussion with the mayor of Mochumi about constructing a modular pronoei, perhaps as soon as august, though there is no guarantee. If a building is constructed, it will be just a shell, with nothing else provided, so whether class continues in the chapel or a new building, equipment for the school will still be needed. 

We would like to provide 3 tables, 12 chairs, two storage shelves and a whiteboard. Those items will cost $377.44. Transportation will be costly because we’re talking long distances for the furniture from Tucume and remaining items from Chiclayo. That will cost about $55. Magali’s time at an estimated 8 hours will add $48.90, for a total project cost of $481,34.

We believe this is a good project. If you agree with us and would like to help, please visit the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.

By the way, We think that Magali did a fine job gathering information and taking photos on her first solo project. And there is no doubting her ability to relate to the villagers.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Full Body Contact Shelf Assembly at La Carpa Casinelli

There was a holiday feeling in the air when we arrived this morning at the village of La Carpa Casinelli with the items we had promised. Maybe it was because the sun was shining and the fall temperature was perfect. Or perhaps it was excitement about the new furnishings being brought one by one into the classroom. Whatever it was, the village women descended on the two storage shelves like kids racing for free candy. As usual there was lots of discussion about shelf spacing. As I watched, one women placed a bolt in the wrong location. A woman next to her pulled the bolt and placed it into another hole, promptly followed by the first woman pulling the bolt and throwing it on the floor. This led to an outburst of group laughter and before long bolts and nuts were flying in all directions. When the free-for all finally ran out of steam all nuts and bolts were accounted for and the shelves proudly stood against a wall.

We’ve noticed a gradual improvement in quality in the tables and chairs. We suspect that is because we’ve given the carpenter a lot of business and he probably wants to continue to be our supplier. He has held his price this year, and with quality improving that’s a win-win situation.

The teacher, Martina (left) and the Mochumi District pronoei coordinator Patricia know that we’re returning to the United States, and to thank us for our work presented us with a beautiful wall plaque. It will occupy a place of prominence on our living room wall, wherever that will be.  

We did make a brief stop at El Carrizo to deliver the whiteboard we’d promised. Maria seemed pleased to receive it.

The costs for the El Carrizo project was:

One whiteboard       $51.96
Markers & erasers       7.64
Transport                     1.52
Total                         $61.12

The cost for La Carpa Casinelli was:

Three tables & 12 chairs    $265.56
One whiteboard                     51.96
Markers & erasers                   7.64
Two storage shelves              51.96
Puzzles & books                      3.97
Transport                               42.77
Total                                   $423.86

Not charged to either of the above projects is the training time for Magali, mentioned in previous posts and who will be ‘the new face of Promesa Peru’ in the Lambayeque Region. We agreed to pay her 10 soles per hour while training, which is now completed, and 20 soles per hour when she is fully on her own. Her training time amounted to 12.5 hours for $38.17. Her future time will be charged to whatever project she is working on at the time.

As always, our thanks to Chris Raupe, Clif Brown, Denny Wallette, and The Alice Cool Foundation for funding these projects.

The completion of the La Carpa Casinelli project brings to an end Maribel’s and my in-the-field involvement with Promesa Peru activity. We’re going to miss those tiny, isolated villages, the warm and friendly villagers, and the excitement and gratitude upon first seeing the donated items. But who knows….? We’ll be returning to Peru for visits and may not be able to resist the urge to get back into the field one more time.   

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Significant Change for Maribel, Me and Promesa Peru

After nine wonderful years of living in Chiclayo Peru and traveling the length and breadth of this fascinating country, Maribel and I will soon be returning permanently to the United States. Maybe some day we’ll get into the various factors that led up to this decision, but for now it's enough to say it's the right time and the right thing to do.

Our focus at this moment is planning the move to the US, but also in our thoughts is Promesa Peru. For eight years we've been visiting make-shift schools in poverty-stricken desert villages, providing them with classroom furnishings, school supplies, uniforms and teaching aids. There are still so many more schools in need of help that the thought of discontinuing Promesa Peru is weighing heavily on us. After giving it a lot of thought, we believe we have an option to continue helping those kids.

Magali (center) is Maribel’s younger sister. She is a wife, mother and teacher. She has a bachelor's degree in literature and teaches the subject afternoons in a high school. She does private tutoring in the morning to augment family income. On weekends she studies toward a master’s degree.

During the past six weeks she's had an unexpected break in her tutoring schedule, and has accompanied us on some projects so is familiar with our routine. Being a teacher she relates well to the pronoei teachers. Several times she has offered solid suggestions to us and the teachers about how to deal with specific problems, including physical classroom needs and administrative issues. 

We're confident that Magali could carry on with the work. She is willing and enthusiastic about helping Promesa Peru to continue, but a problem is that she cannot afford the loss of her tutoring income to work on Promesa Peru projects. She would need to be compensated for her time, which is in conflict with the philosophy we started with eight years ago that no one in the Promesa Peru organization will ever be paid for their work. To this date that has been true, but conditions and circumstances we could not have foreseen at the time have changed. We never imagined a time when we would not be in Peru to do the work. We don't have another option...we either compensate Magali for her time when working on a project or close the doors on Promesa Peru.

We have had several discussions with her about formally taking on the responsibility of representing Promesa Peru in the Lambayeque Region, and have been training her for the past month. We agreed that if she were to represent us, 20 Peruvian Soles per hour for her time ($6.15 at today’s rate) would be fair. A private tutor typically earns 25 to 40 Soles per hour. Depending on the complexity of the project this could add anywhere from $45 to $75 (9 to 14%) to the cost of an average project.

Maribel and I would continue to make all decisions. The scenario we see is that when Magali receives a request to visit a village she would forward that request to us. If we approve the visit, Magali will go to the village with a questionnaire we've prepared, designed to learn as much about the area, village, people, pronoei and pronoei needs as possible. Magaly will send the information she gathers to us along with photos and her opinion as to what if anything should be donated. If we approve we will write a post describing the village, school and scope of the project. If we receive donations to fund the project Magali would be responsible for purchasing and transporting the items. She would take photos of the donated items in the classrooms as we do now and send them to us for publication in this blog and the Promesa Per webpage. In theory the system would operate as it does now.

Magali is the only person we would trust with this responsibility. When circumstances permit we're going to do a trial project with her flying solo. If it doesn’t work out for her or us, or if it turns out to be too cumbersome or costly, we will have to say goodbye to Promesa Peru.

We would welcome any thoughts from our readers about this subject.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

When we have to say no…

We always write about and post photos describing our visits to the villages/schools that we decide to donate to. I don’t think we’ve ever written about the schools we visit and decide not to support. The pronoei Caritas Felices (Happy Faces) in the village of El Carrizo is one recent example. Readers may be interested in how that scenario plays out.

We stopped at El Carrizo on the same morning we visited the village of La Carpa Casinelli. The pronoei in El Carrizo is unusual in that it is located in an unneeded classroom inside of a government sponsored primary school (pink building).

There are other very obvious differences between the two schools mentioned. In La Carpa Casinelli the schoolroom is bright, cheery and organized. In El Carrizo the classroom is dark bordering on gloomy. There is the feeling of a lack of organization; a sense more of a storage room than classroom.

Maria (not her real name) has 11 students. She’s been teaching at Caritas Felices for three years. She has a nervous energy about her that contributes to the unsettled feeling in the classroom. That being said she is probably a very effective teacher. We have no way of knowing so we don’t form judgements.

Maria asked us for new furnishings for the classroom. Sometimes, when trying to provide the best possible learning environment for their students, teachers forget the distinction between need and want. Maria has enough tables and chairs for the present enrollment. Yes, they’re old and mismatched but they are still serviceable. She has an odd assortment of storage shelves. They’re not the greatest but they do hold things. Rather than getting more shelving, in our opinion fully half of the things on the floor in front of each wall is junk and could be tossed without being missed. Among all the stuff we noticed a good assortment of learning materials.

This is not an indictment of Maria. We don’t fault her for asking. She’s seen the shiny new chairs, tables, storage shelves and whiteboard we supplied to nearby Carrizo Bajo two weeks ago. She knows that we also provided books and puzzles for the kids. We’re certain that she has the interest of the kids at heart and is working to the best of her ability. If we were to be critical at all it would be directed at the parents association. They could help to organize the classroom, and should see that a fresh paint job with vivid colors is long overdue. An old plaster chalkboard is badly pitted and chipped. We will donate a whiteboard with erasers and markers ($60), but declined Maria’s other requests.

We don’t like saying no. There is always the downcast facial expression, and usually a final plea to provide “only a few of the things” asked for. Our explanation that we have limited funds and in our opinion there are other pronoeis with greater needs never seems to assuage the disappointment. It is those moments when we try to remember all the schools we have supported.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Back in the Mochumi District Again

We had completed the 45 minute combi ride from Chiclayo to Mochumi and were in the mayor’s office by 8:00 AM. He had invited us to visit to learn about Promesa Peru and what it is that we do.

Alex Rodriguez is a straight-forward man, meaning there are no frills about him. He doesn’t smile unnecessarily, is neither patronizing or pompous, and doesn’t speak just to hear himself talk. In other words he is not the typical politician. But what really sets him apart is that his constituents love him. Without exception, everyone we talked with told us that Alex listens, is fair, and gets things done. That is a glowing endorsement in a region where being critical of a mayor is almost like a religion.

We had a busy morning scheduled so after a brief discussion, and promising Alex that we would invite him to our next school donation, we boarded a mototaxi for a 20-minute ride to the village of La Carpa Casinelli. It was still early and there was a bit of a chill in the air as we slowly traversed the gravel road bordered on both sides by what seemed like endless rice paddies; the rice nearing harvesting time.

This is the village of La Carpa Casinelli. It has an interesting history…both past and present. Years ago a family named Casinelli owned all of the land for miles around. At some point the patriarch decided to reward the field workers by giving them land. At first the workers had no money to erect houses, so they put up tents. Thus the village of La Carpa Casinelli (in English la carpa means ‘the tent’) was born.

Recently an event took place that made the evening television news and was not so well received by the villagers. One morning about six weeks ago the teacher and students approached the school to find that someone had welded a hasp on the door and placed a padlock on it. Though the lot had been legally donated to the community by a deceased community member, one of the descendants decided to rescind the donation and reclaim the lot. The problem was somehow resolved but not until the school had been closed for two weeks.

Ninos Talentos (talented children) is the name of the pronoei. The building is well maintained inside and out. The animals seem to like it also.

Martina Cajusol is in her first year teaching at this school. She has 11 students. For the 11 students she has two tables and four chairs; two chairs with broken backs. We feel the village and school are deserving and would like to donate 12 Chairs ($182.82), 3 tables ($82.27), 2 storage shelves ($51.80), 1 whiteboard ($51.80), markers and erasers ($7.62) and an estimated $30.47 for transport, bringing the total to $406.78. We have $215. We need $192 to complete the project. If you can help us please visit the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.

We did visit another village school after leaving La Carpa Casinelli, but we need some discussion before deciding if we want to get involved with that school.