Increasing life quality in Peru with Solar Energy

At the beginning of January, Swiss solar energy engineer Simon Rüegsegger is flying to Peru and staying there for the next three years. On behalf of the Bethlehem Mission Immensee (link), he will participate in a project that will introduce simple solar energy techniques to the population high up in the Andes.

Until roughly a year ago, leaving his home country for an extended time period wasn’t in Simon’s plans at all. In July 2002, Simon, who has a degree in heating engineering, founded his own alternative energy business in Niedermuehren (Swiss region of Fribourg), and the business had just started to take off.

Then he traveled to Peru for a 3 week vacation and to visit his acquaintance Thomas Kläy who worked for the Bethlehem Mission on a solar energy project at Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world.

“On the last day of my visit, Thomas asked me if I would be interested in working on such a project“, Simon said. “My first reaction was “no way”. I am doing really well in Switzerland, the business is just starting to grow, and I cannot leave here”.

But the thought of such a life changing experience kept creeping into his mind during the remaining two weeks of his vacation. After boarding the airplane that took him home, it became clear for Simon. “That’s what I am going to do”.

Environment protection and Equality

Meanwhile, he has completed the mission’s preparation process for emigrations, he quit his second job as a teacher at a vocational business school, and it was only a couple of weeks ago when he sold his business and apartment.

He flew back to Peru on January 2nd. In Santo Tomas, a town inhabited by about 8,000 people in the highlands of the Andean Sierras, he will participate and contribute to education projects organized by a school for agriculture. Together with a team of Peruvians he will educate and train teachers and scholars in the utilization of solar energy. This is an assignment that totally fits his convictions and beliefs.

“My interests are based on the protection of the environment and natural resources, but also on equal opportunity“, Simon explained. “I believe all people have the right to adequate heating and mobility. Using mainly crude oil and nuclear power is something our planet Earth cannot endure much longer. That’s why we need other resources“.

Solar technology can be very effective especially in the highlands of the Peruvian Andes. Despite long periods of sunshine it can get very cold due to its elevation and these poor rural areas have hardly any electricity.

“If we can give people the opportunity of a warm shower or an additional hot meal because of solar energy, then this means a significant quality increase in their daily lives“, Simon says.

New perspectives for his own world view

Now he is looking forward to exciting encounters with locals and to have discussions about a culture that fascinates him. “I am expecting different ideals, values, moral concepts and philosophies of life which will provide new incentives and perspectives for my own world view”.

The only thing that makes him feel a little insecure is the foreign language. He’s just not a linguistic genius, he says. Right now his Spanish knowledge is good enough for having a basic conversation but it’s not nearly good enough for leading a workshop. He also wants to learn a few words in Quechua in order to be able to communicate with the natives on a basic level and to exchange gestures of courteousness.

He will spend the first two months on learning the language in Arequipa and Cusco, the two largest cities that are close to his actual location. And he is hoping that he will remain patient. What he would like most is to spit in his hands and start working right away.

Written in German by Rosmarie Kayser, published at Bethlehem Mission Immensee, Switzerland, translated by Wolfy Becker

Walking in Lima….. is different

Public transportation in Lima is ……different.

Walking is my favorite form of transportation in Lima and I do it just about every day without fail. The biggest downfall of walking is that, well, if you walk in Lima, you will eventually have to cross the street. And cars drive in the street. I’ve heard that in Lima, six people are run over and killed every day. Not just run over. Run over and killed. And, after living here for four months, it seems like an Act of God that the number is so low.

Cars don’t wait for you to cross the street. Ever. The courteous drivers will honk before stepping on their accelerator. I’ve actually found myself yelling, “What, you couldn’t honk?” after narrowly escaping becoming a hood ornament. I have literally had to lift my arms in the air and contort my body to avoid being hit multiple times… and I probably get a good scare once or twice a week.

Now, these are normal Limeño streets. The expressway here… I wouldn’t even think of crossing it. In fact, there are signs in the middle of the expressway saying something to the effect of, “Take care of your life. Don’t cross here.”

The other thing about walking is that there are other people walking around with you. Being a gringo, this means a whole, whole lot of staring. And that’s something that takes more than four months to get used to, if you do get used to that sort of thing. Apparently, greater dangers than this exist, though. For virtually every street I have walked on in Lima, a Limeño has told me, “Be careful, it’s very dangerous.” I feel like they think they will be personally held responsible if they don’t tell me. Hence, I feel like Lima’s motto should be, “Lima: Cuidado. Es muy peligroso.”

Up until this point, I have only felt like I could have been in danger twice–both times in my neighborhood. The first was just walking down my own street, about two blocks away from my house, at night… there was a group of guys who were just giving me this look… not a look saying, “Hey, that guy looks different,” but a look saying, “Hey, shouldn’t we be mugging him?”

Interestingly enough, I have had a woman from that part of the street stop me from walking there during the daytime, saying, “You can’t walk here… ever. They’ll take your backpack.” I still don’t know who “they” were, as I couldn’t see anyone else in the street… but I decided to start taking a different route.

The other time was actually as I was walking home with a couple of American friends of mine, getting ready for the big Shakira concert. Two shady looking guys with hoodies said, in their most threatening, gruff Spanglish, “Tú money! Tú money!” I just looked at them and kept walking. They weren’t very good muggers.

Other dangers of walking: avoiding feces or public displays of nudity from guys urinating on the street, timid old ladies aborting their street crossing while you are trying to make a mad dash across, ridiculously large commercial deposits of sand or gravel that block the sidewalk, people trying to sell you things you don’t want… especially children, who sometimes latch onto your arm…

But there certainly are pleasures, too… like getting to know everyone on your route home and saying hello to them, or watching street performers or children laughing with their parents… or any form of people-watching, really… or simply just feeling like you have accomplished something because you can navigate the streets in such a crazy city.

So, anyway, that’s walking. I do a lot of it here, which is probably why I lost five pounds (which I am trying to gain back at the gym).

by Jason Woods

Peru: outing the NGOs

A proposed new law restricting NGOs operating in Peru is connected to the way Alan Garcia’s government is handling a complex political inheritance of civil war, human-rights violation, and authoritarian rule, says John Crabtree.

A law regulating the work of non-governmental organisations in Peru, now awaiting the signature of President Alan Garcia, has sparked concern that the new Peruvian government is resorting to illiberal means to silence its critics. Ministers claim that this is not so, and that NGOs must become more accountable to the country’s elected rulers. The controversy has focused attention on what NGOs contribute to democratic governance.

The law will make it obligatory for NGOs to register with a government agency (the Agencia Peruana de Cooperación Internacional /Apci) and empower Apci to outlaw those NGOs it deems not to be working towards the stated goals of the government’s development plan. NGOs and others – particularly in the press – have lobbied hard against proposals that they see as an egregious attempt to extend state control over private institutions.

NGOs claim that the draft law violates the 1993 constitution in various ways, not least with respect to freedoms of expression and association. Issues of constitutionality apart, they say they already give detailed information of their activities to a range of state institutions, including Apci.

It is not clear exactly how many NGOs operate in Peru today, nor is the amount of money they channel to projects around the country. The official tally is some 3,000 institutions, but the real figure may be closer to 900. What is certain is that they come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from tiny grassroots initiatives to nationwide organisations. They also vary greatly in terms of their political outlook and in the wide range of the types of work they undertake. The new legislation’s remit includes not just local NGOs but also international ones, like Oxfam, with substantial spending programmes in Peru.

The context of a clash

In the past generation, NGOs have come to play an important role in Peruvian politics as bridges over the wide gulf between the state and society. They first appeared in any number during the early 1980s as the country emerged from twelve years of military rule. The return to civilian democracy under Fernando Belaunde Terry (president from 1980-85) provided new scope for action at the grass roots. Many NGOs adopted a critical stance towards Belaunde’s centre-right administration, reflecting the growth of leftwing party politics at the time. A number of them were also supported by the Catholic church.

Peru’s deteriorating human-rights record in the 1980s brought clashes between government and NGOs, both local and international: Belaunde famously remarked that he threw Amnesty International’s reports on Peru into the rubbish bin. At the same time, many local organisations – especially those in the poorest parts of Peru where the Maoist-inspired Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) held sway – fell victim to the savage war of intimidation and violence that Sendero perpetrated.

The authoritarian Fujimori government (1990-2000) saw the collapse of many of Peru’s main political parties, particularly those on the left. NGOs sometimes became havens for displaced politicians, both local and national. The demise of effective political parties made it more difficult for civil society to voice its concerns. To some extent, NGOs took their place as links between people and the state.

Consequently, the Fujimori government – and in particular Fujimori’s powerful intelligence factotum Vladimiro Montesinos – kept a close watch on what he and his officials saw as a subversive threat. Most clearly in the firing line were those NGOs upholding human and civil rights. A number managed to protect themselves by making use of their church connections or their links with foreign governments and funding agencies. The Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinator of Human Rights) is a case in point: it was tolerated by Fujimori only because of the support it enjoyed in Washington.

Spheres of influence

The disgrace and fall of Alberto Fujimori in 2000 opened new opportunities for NGOs as a community. During the interim Valentín Paniagua administration (2000-01) and the first part of the Alejandro Toledo government (2001-06), NGOs became influential actors in policymaking circles. Indeed, many NGO figures assumed leading roles in government. The influence of NGO thinking was particularly striking in policy areas such as decentralisation and local development.

The human-rights NGOs also made their mark with the Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (Truth and Reconciliation Commission / CVR) whose 2003 report shocked public opinion by detailing the scale of the human-rights atrocities that had occurred between 1980 and 2000. The CVR estimates that the Sendero Luminoso and the Peruvian military had between them been responsible for nearly 70,000 deaths over these two decades (see Lisa Laplante, “The cloud of fear: Peru’s anti-terror lesson“, 7 March 2006).

Moreover, foreign governments in the post-Fujimori period increasingly turned to working with NGOs as the most effective way of channelling assistance to the 50% of the Peruvian population living in poverty. Many NGOs had much better working relationships with local communities than state institutions, which had an unfortunate reputation for authoritarianism, inefficiency and corruption.

The scale of corruption under Fujimori in particular pushed many international-development agencies to look for alternatives to official channels, keen to empower institutions at the local level involved in the fight against poverty.

Areas of tension

Relations between government and NGOs have soured again in recent years, most particularly in two spheres. The first has been human rights, always a politically sensitive topic. The legacy of past violations still looms over the present. Many of the violations that took place during Alan García’s first period in office (1985-90) have since come under re-examination, not least in light of the CVR’s findings. The armed forces, widely criticised for their complicity in corruption under human rights, have also regained some of the political muscle they lost after the downfall of the Fujimori regime.

García, in particular, has been accused of bearing responsibility – political if not operational — for massacres that took place in the highlands in the war against Sendero Luminoso, as well as for other violent acts like the 1986 killings of Sendero inmates in three Lima prisons.

The current vice-president, Luis Giampetri, a retired admiral, was in charge of the naval detachment involved in the killings at El Frontón, an island prison (subsequently closed down) off Peru’s main port of Callao. Giampetri is also widely seen as the mainspring for a recent offensive against the Instituto de Defensa Legal (Legal Defence Institute / IDL), a respected NGO working on judicial matters.

The second area of tension concerns NGOs involved in protests against various natural resource development projects, chiefly in the mining sector. The current high price of minerals on world markets, coupled to Peru’s rich resource endowment, has led to massive investments in new mining projects over the last ten years. Communities living in the ambit of these projects claim that their social and environmental interests have not been properly protected, either by the companies concerned or by the state. Some NGOs have been actively supporting communities in conflicts with mining companies.

Partly as a result, NGOs have been accused of a range of offences: standing in the way of national development objectives, being irresponsible, unaccountable and lacking in transparency; and acting autocratically towards those with whom they work in civil society. The charges can extend even to involvement in terrorist activities. The NGO community vociferously rejects such allegations, arguing that they are simply pretexts for a clampdown on their freedom of action.

Fujimorismo revisited

Although there have been attempts in the past to rein in NGOs, the new legislation is seen as more draconian. It stems from the change of government and the inauguration of a new congress in July 2006. The proposal was originally an initiative of the pro-Fujimori bloc in the congress, and in particular congressman Rolando Souza. Souza, now head of the parliamentary foreign-relations commission, was previously Alberto Fujimori’s lawyer. Fujimori is still in Chile, pending his possible extradition to Peru on corruption and human-rights crimes.

The Fujimoristas – known as the Alianza por el Futuro (AF – also Fujimori’s initials) – number only thirteen in the single-chamber congress, but they exercise considerable leverage. Their main aim appears to be to exonerate Fujimori of the charges levelled against him (perhaps with a view to facilitating his return to the frontline of Paruvian politics). The ruling Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (Apra) party of Alan García – which has thirty-six seats in the 120-member congress – needs their support to ensure its congressional majority.

The AF initiative on NGOs was therefore backed by Apra congressmen, as well as those from the centre-right Unidad Nacional (UN), led by Lourdes Flores. The bill, endorsed too by prime minister Jorge del Castillo, passed its second reading in congress on 2 November 2006 by sixty-five votes to forty-three. Once promulgated by García, it becomes law.

The alliance between Apra and parties to the right reflects Alan García’s determination to be seen turning his back definitively on the sort of radicalism that ended his first government so disastrously; at that time, Peru defied the international financial community on the debt issue and abandoned the liberal economic policies espoused by the IMF and World Bank. Peru ended the 1980s in hyperinflation.

García is now keen to underline how he has changed by pursuing orthodoxy in both his economic and foreign policies. In the economic sphere, he is pushing the liberalising agenda that he once opposed, seeking in particular to attract foreign investment (not least in the mining sector). In foreign affairs, he is giving primacy to establishing a close rapport with the United States and to shunning Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez. So far, a majority of Peruvians – if not NGOs – seem to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

This article originally by John Crabtree appeared on openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence.

Living in Peru: My experience after 600 days in Lima

Text and photos by Wolfy Becker

Since Alan Garcia survived his first 100 days in office without being assassinated I decided it was time to reflect a little on my first 600 days in Peru without being mugged or kidnapped.

Frankfurt Skyline

Additional inspiration for my retrospect essay came by way of an email I received from one of our active forum participants. He asked me for a bit of advice regarding the life-altering decision of moving to Peru, and ways to make it easier. Here’s what I had to say…

I live in Peru full-time, but like to keep my options “open.” I was asked if I planned to live here forever. Well, forever is a word I don’t like to use too often. As some may know, I grew up in Germany, having spent my first 33 years there. A computer programmer by trade, I worked in the industry the better part of my life.

In 1993 I received an offer to move to Chicago on what was to be an 18-24 month contract with a German company. Having never been to the U.S. before, being independent, and already speaking the language, my decision was made inside an hour. I was moving to Chicago!

As the contract was rather lucrative I was able to maintain my apartment in Germany, though I rented it in my absence. Much to my dismay, my contract was cancelled after only 6 months, just as I was becoming acclimated to life in the Windy City. Without a green card and no work to justify my visa, I was forced to return to Germany.

Goethe's Birthplace, Frankfurt

Goethe's Birthplace, Frankfurt

Once back in Germany, I missed Chicago a great deal. The time there, although short, had changed my life. I was unhappy in Germany, even depressed at times. My thoughts constantly led to one goal – get back to the U.S. In the meantime, I still had to make a living in Germany, which I found difficult as my focus was clouded by my desire to return to the U.S.

It was 3 years before I received another offer of work in the U.S., this time in the beautiful city of Seattle. A better offer this time around, full-time employment was offered to me along with corporate sponsorship for my green card. The U.S. was where I wanted to be, so off I went.

I arrived in Seattle with everything I owned in two suitcases, as I had given away all my possessions to my ex-girlfriend in Germany. I would later regret this decision, as she turned out to be not so nice a person. Looking back I wish I’d sold my things, or at least given them to family.

Once in Seattle, it took 3-4 months to get settled. Finally, my life was on the rise again. I found that in the U.S. the best way to meet people and make friends is by going to bars, which I did. At one bar in particular I met all of my closest friends and had many good times there. Life was good, and it stayed that way for some time.

After 7 years of faithful and dedicated service, my company began to change. Management shuffled every few months, progressively worsening. While their supposed goal was a major clean-up of the workforce, management generally didn’t know the staff well enough to perform such a task. Many employees were fired for virtually no reason, while others were allowed to stay when they shouldn’t have been. My frustrations grew as many good people were let go despite their capability and years of service, and the environment became intolerable, for me anyway.

Chicago from my apartment window

Chicago from my apartment window

During this time life wasn’t all bad. I had the best friends one can imagine and best of all, I met the woman on-line who would later become my wife. I came to Lima for a two week visit, traveled the country with her a bit, and attempted to procure for her a visa to the U.S., which we quickly found out was all but impossible. Once again I had to make a decision, one that turned out to be rather easy – move to Peru and start my life all over again, this time with the woman I love. My wife wouldn’t have enjoyed life in the U.S., anyway. She is very close to her family, and regardless, sitting at home all day while I work is not at all something she would have settled for, even if she tells you otherwise.

Six months after my visit I returned to Peru, this time marrying my wife. While I realized my life in the U.S. had come to an end, we were not convinced that Peru was to be our home. We considered moving to Germany, my home, to begin our life together. Still a first-world country, after all, living costs three times as much and the economy and job market aren’t what one would call enticing. Staying with my family while I looked for work definitely didn’t add to the appeal, either.

Peru was to be my home, then. I did find a problem in my inability to speak Spanish. While my wife and I both speak English, though not as a first language for either of us, I took me some time to settle down here, much longer than in the U.S. Having someone to share it all with made the transition much easier, though. I was not alone.

Seattle (from the airplane)

Attempting to find a job in Lima without being able to speak Spanish is not much of a prospect. My wife continued working while I began blogging. I had so many ideas, constant thoughts of what I wanted to do, businesses I could start. I thought about exporting items or selling on e-Bay to the U.S. and/or Germany, but shipping costs would have eaten the profits. I even considered buying a mobile bratwurst stand and put it in Parque Kennedy, next to all the chicharones and salchicha stands, if you can believe it.

I continued blogging, and it was through my blog that I met Carsten Korch, the Chief Editor and owner of LIP. When we met I had just designed and started a new website as a source of Peruvian news in English for those of us that have not yet mastered the language of the locals. At the time, Peruvian news sources in English were scarce and of poor quality, and I was addressing a market that was crying out to me.

It was through my time spent blogging that I realized how much I enjoyed writing. More to the point, I realized how little I actually enjoyed web-design and programming, even though it had been the field all my business life. Through my blogging I met some great people – readers, responders, and fellow bloggers. Sadly, blogging doesn’t pay the bills and my savings from my time in the U.S. were dwindling, so when Carsten Korch offered me a position as editor of Living in Peru, I took it.

Seattle Space Needle on New Years

Seattle Space Needle on New Years

For almost two years I’ve lived in Lima. My wife and I have a nice apartment, and while there are plenty of things that annoy me from time to time, that would be true no matter where I live. My overall experience thus far has been great, and the desert climate was a welcome change from the ceaseless rains of Seattle. In addition, I like the palm trees and I prefer the cooing of Lima’s pigeons over the always, crying, complaining sound of Seattle’s seagulls, especially in the early morning.

As you may have noticed, my life had been quite full of experiences and nation hopping before I arrived in Peru. More than once I had packed a few things, left the rest behind, and started anew in another country. I’ve always found that where I am doesn’t matter so much as long as my goals are clear and my focus remains intense. From my perspective, life revolves around three things: job, personal life, and the manner in which you spend the little free time left after work and sleep.

I faced many challenges in coming to Peru. I went from single Seattleite with a full-time job, spending my free time in local bars and sports stadiums to married, stay-at-home husband. While the change was dramatic, it was what I wanted and where I wanted to be. The opportunity to share everything with another person overshadows the anxiety of a life-altering move, and it becomes quite simple. The anger and frustration over the little things that don’t seem quite right – the bureaucracy, occasional rip-offs, strange and different customs and habits – soon turns to whimsical acknowledgment of the subtle nuances that make life interesting.

In the grand scheme there are several things in and about Peru I find more favorable than they are in either the U.S. or Germany. My wife’s family is wonderful, friendly, helpful and funny, their doors and hearts opened to me from day one. I have no desire to give them up.

Plaza de Armas in downtown Lima

Peruvians love to celebrate, no matter the occasion. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins all hanging out together talking, eating, drinking, and dancing on Sundays, Saturdays, Holidays, any day. So friendly they are, in fact, Peruvians don’t drink their own bottle of beer, but share one at a time amongst everyone, filling small glasses over and over again. Like I said, some customs are annoying, and being German I like to have my own bottle of beer so I can decide just how fast the bottom appears.

Cross-country travel is relatively inexpensive, and from region to region you can experience the diversity and beauty of the landscape, the people, the history and the glory of this magnificent country. In a country roughly the size of Texas you can find a version of Death Valley, the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite Nat’l Park, Las Vegas, and Naples. All of this without considering those places well-known to the world, such as Machu Picchu, Nazca, or the Amazon.

Peruvian food and living style, well, that’s another one I’ve had to get used to. I like a lot of it, but there is plenty I don’t care for, as well. Ceviche is good, but I’ll take sushi when given the chance. At home I do a fair amount of cooking, introducing the tastes of Germany to my wife and friends.

After 15 years of taking for granted the benefits of a dishwasher, I found myself again buying plastic gloves and liquid Palmolive. Until my move, I enjoyed the comforts of a king-size bed all to myself. Now, I share a full-size bed with my wife. And the walls – the concrete walls – I can’t even hang the smallest of pictures without drilling a hole. Nails don’t work here. My biggest complaint of all, Telefonica, the local phone, cable, and internet provider that could be the role model for monopolies everywhere.

Peruvian Parliament

Peruvian Parliament

Of course, when you step out onto the streets and see so many who truly have a rough life, these minor inconveniences tend to fade away. Seeing so many people just trying to survive – street kids juggling at red lights, mom’s and babies selling candies, and old ladies pushing wooden carts uphill full of veggies for sale – brings into sharp relief the reality that is my pretty decent life. Material possessions seem suddenly unimportant. And all this in Lima, the supposed Peruvian Mecca, the metropolis, where life and opportunities are said to be abundant compared to the rest of the country.

The point is this: moving here has brought about new perspectives, not just in what I see, but in who I am, my life, my attitude. As they say in Germany “Es gibt viel zu tun, packen wir’s an,” which means “There’s lots to do, so let’s get it done.” While getting it done, I’m reminded to always reflect on my “first-world” experiences, making sure not to duplicate the mistakes of the developed world.

For those of you considering a move to Peru consider this: decide for yourself. Don’t base your decision on what you hear or read, but rather on what you see. Intuition is also a good word that comes to mind.

Let Peru be a discovery all its own, one full of intrigue and excitement. There are plenty of folks like me around to offer advice and a little inside info, but in the spirit of exploration and adventure, figure it out for yourself, for who you are, and for what it is that you are looking for.

October in Lima – The Purple Month

In Lima, October is known as el mes morado, the purple month. Why? Purple is the color worn by the faithful who follow the processions of the most venerated religious image in Peru: El Señor de los Milagros, the Lord of Miracles, a uniquely Peruvian image of Jesus Christ.

During October, in the colonial center of Lima, this image is taken from its home church, Las Nazarenas, in a series of processions to other historic colonial churches. The smell of incense, the steady beating of drums, and the footsteps of the faithful accompany these processions which wend their way along the narrow streets of colonial Lima as they have for hundreds of years.

The origins of this image of Christ date back to 1651. According to religous belief, in that year, there was a group of African slaves from Angola living in the area known as Pachacamilla, where Las Nazarenas Church now stands.

The slaves had been converted to Christianity and one of them, unnamed in the history books, painted an image of Christ on a wall of a building where the new converts converged to pray.

The image struck a chord among the slaves, who began to bring offerings to leave before it. In 1655, an earthquake of such magnitude struck Lima that most of the city was destroyed. The building where this image of Christ was housed collapsed except for one wall: the wall where a few years earlier that Angolan slave had painted the image.

For 15 years, the wall with this image of Christ was abandoned to the elements. In 1670, a neighbor found the image and began to worship there. He rebuilt the shrine for the image and according to belief, as a result, the man was cured of life-threatening tumor. From that point on, the entire Pachacamilla district began to worship the image, believing it to be miraculous.

Most of the faithful were descendants of those Africans brought as slaves to the plantations and haciendas of coastal Peru. One of the rituals that began during this period was that every Friday evening people would gather at the site of this image, bringing flowers, lighting candles, burning incense, and playing music on harps and with the traditional Peruvian cajón.

Within time, these celebrations reached the ears of Church leaders in the Archbishop’s Palace, where they were seen as a threat to the established order. The Viceroy himself ordered the image painted over in 1671. The legend of El Señor de los Milagros continues: an Indian man was brought under guard to the site where the image was being venerated in order to paint it over.

As he approached the image, brush in hand, the man began to tremble and shake. He was unable to carry out the order. Another painter was brought in, this one a soldier, and he too was unable to paint it over. The more the authorities tried to paint over the image, the more the local people protested. Finally, the Viceroy revoked the order and ordered a proper chapel built on the site.

Since that time, the image became a focal point for popular veneration. In 1687, another earthquake struck Lima, once again destroying much of the colonial center, including the chapel that had been built to house the image. Once again, the one wall with the image remained standing while the other ones collapsed.

Popular fervor led church leaders to order a painting of the image, which was taken out in a procession for the first time the 18th, 19th, and 28th of October, 1687. Since that year, the image has been taken out of its home church in a series of processions to other colonial churches during those dates.

El Señor de los Milagros was named the patron of Lima in 1715. That was also the first year the image was given the title by which it is known today: El Señor de los Milagros de Nazarenas.

Written by Alejandro Garcia

So, what does this have to do with food? Well, as to be expected, there are special foods associated with such an important religious occasion. Three of the most traditional Peruvian foods eaten at this time are turrón, anticuchos, and picarones.

No one really knows the origin of the sweet layered pastry popularly called turrón de Doña Pepa. Legend has it that was invented by the lady in a wealthy Lima family, although others claim that its origins are with a cook of African descent known as ‘ña Pepa.

What is known about this unique style of turrón (since there is a similarly named dish in other Spanish-speaking countries, although all are different from one another) is that it has long been associated with the celebrations in honor of El Señor de los Milagros, when this sweet is consumed with almost religious devotion.


Anticuchos
, grilled meat on a skewer, is another popular food during the month of October. According to researchers, the name comes from the Quechua word antikucho, meaning ‘Andean cut’ or ‘Andean mix’. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, these types of brochettes were made with llama or other local meats. In the 1500s, the Spanish began preparing something similar to the modern day anticucho, substituting beef for llama.

Once again the influence of Africans resonates in Peruvian culinary and cultural history.

The Spanish would give their African slaves the parts of the cow they wouldn’t eat themselves. This included the beef heart. The slaves took the beef heart and seasoned it heavily prior to marinating it and then grilling it in imitation of their masters. Over time, the beef heart anticuchos would become the Peruvian favorite. They are still one of the most popular street foods available in Peru, and during El Señor de los Milagros, anticucho sellers set up grills in the late afternoon, tempting passersby with the aromatic smells of seasoned grilled meats.

Finally, picarones are pumpkin fritters that are also eaten as late-afternoon street food during El Señor de los Milagros celebrations. This is another dish that has its origins in the colonial period. Some believe they are a local adaptation of Spanish buñuelos. Picarones are made of squash or pumpkin dough and sweetened with chancaca, raw cane sugar melted into a syrup. I have a post about picarones which includes a recipe for this tasty dessert.

During el mes morado, the purple month, Peruvians demonstrate their loyalty not only to their religious beliefs but also to their culinary traditions.

Increasing life quality in Peru with Solar Energy

At the beginning of January, Swiss solar energy engineer Simon Rüegsegger is flying to Peru and staying there for the next three years. On behalf of the Bethlehem Mission Immensee (link), he will participate in a project that will introduce simple solar energy techniques to the population high up in the Andes.

Until roughly a year ago, leaving his home country for an extended time period wasn’t in Simon’s plans at all. In July 2002, Simon, who has a degree in heating engineering, founded his own alternative energy business in Niedermuehren (Swiss region of Fribourg), and the business had just started to take off.

Then he traveled to Peru for a 3 week vacation and to visit his acquaintance Thomas Kläy who worked for the Bethlehem Mission on a solar energy project at Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world.

“On the last day of my visit, Thomas asked me if I would be interested in working on such a project“, Simon said. “My first reaction was “no way”. I am doing really well in Switzerland, the business is just starting to grow, and I cannot leave here”.

But the thought of such a life changing experience kept creeping into his mind during the remaining two weeks of his vacation. After boarding the airplane that took him home, it became clear for Simon. “That’s what I am going to do”.

Environment protection and Equality

Meanwhile, he has completed the mission’s preparation process for emigrations, he quit his second job as a teacher at a vocational business school, and it was only a couple of weeks ago when he sold his business and apartment.

He flew back to Peru on January 2nd. In Santo Tomas, a town inhabited by about 8,000 people in the highlands of the Andean Sierras, he will participate and contribute to education projects organized by a school for agriculture. Together with a team of Peruvians he will educate and train teachers and scholars in the utilization of solar energy. This is an assignment that totally fits his convictions and beliefs.

“My interests are based on the protection of the environment and natural resources, but also on equal opportunity“, Simon explained. “I believe all people have the right to adequate heating and mobility. Using mainly crude oil and nuclear power is something our planet Earth cannot endure much longer. That’s why we need other resources“.

Solar technology can be very effective especially in the highlands of the Peruvian Andes. Despite long periods of sunshine it can get very cold due to its elevation and these poor rural areas have hardly any electricity.

“If we can give people the opportunity of a warm shower or an additional hot meal because of solar energy, then this means a significant quality increase in their daily lives“, Simon says.

New perspectives for his own world view

Now he is looking forward to exciting encounters with locals and to have discussions about a culture that fascinates him. “I am expecting different ideals, values, moral concepts and philosophies of life which will provide new incentives and perspectives for my own world view”.

The only thing that makes him feel a little insecure is the foreign language. He’s just not a linguistic genius, he says. Right now his Spanish knowledge is good enough for having a basic conversation but it’s not nearly good enough for leading a workshop. He also wants to learn a few words in Quechua in order to be able to communicate with the natives on a basic level and to exchange gestures of courteousness.

He will spend the first two months on learning the language in Arequipa and Cusco, the two largest cities that are close to his actual location. And he is hoping that he will remain patient. What he would like most is to spit in his hands and start working right away.

Written in German by Rosmarie Kayser, published at Bethlehem Mission Immensee, Switzerland, translated by Wolfy Becker

Walking in Lima….. is different

Public transportation in Lima is ……different.

Walking is my favorite form of transportation in Lima and I do it just about every day without fail. The biggest downfall of walking is that, well, if you walk in Lima, you will eventually have to cross the street. And cars drive in the street. I’ve heard that in Lima, six people are run over and killed every day. Not just run over. Run over and killed. And, after living here for four months, it seems like an Act of God that the number is so low.

Cars don’t wait for you to cross the street. Ever. The courteous drivers will honk before stepping on their accelerator. I’ve actually found myself yelling, “What, you couldn’t honk?” after narrowly escaping becoming a hood ornament. I have literally had to lift my arms in the air and contort my body to avoid being hit multiple times… and I probably get a good scare once or twice a week.

Now, these are normal Limeño streets. The expressway here… I wouldn’t even think of crossing it. In fact, there are signs in the middle of the expressway saying something to the effect of, “Take care of your life. Don’t cross here.”

The other thing about walking is that there are other people walking around with you. Being a gringo, this means a whole, whole lot of staring. And that’s something that takes more than four months to get used to, if you do get used to that sort of thing. Apparently, greater dangers than this exist, though. For virtually every street I have walked on in Lima, a Limeño has told me, “Be careful, it’s very dangerous.” I feel like they think they will be personally held responsible if they don’t tell me. Hence, I feel like Lima’s motto should be, “Lima: Cuidado. Es muy peligroso.”

Up until this point, I have only felt like I could have been in danger twice–both times in my neighborhood. The first was just walking down my own street, about two blocks away from my house, at night… there was a group of guys who were just giving me this look… not a look saying, “Hey, that guy looks different,” but a look saying, “Hey, shouldn’t we be mugging him?”

Interestingly enough, I have had a woman from that part of the street stop me from walking there during the daytime, saying, “You can’t walk here… ever. They’ll take your backpack.” I still don’t know who “they” were, as I couldn’t see anyone else in the street… but I decided to start taking a different route.

The other time was actually as I was walking home with a couple of American friends of mine, getting ready for the big Shakira concert. Two shady looking guys with hoodies said, in their most threatening, gruff Spanglish, “Tú money! Tú money!” I just looked at them and kept walking. They weren’t very good muggers.

Other dangers of walking: avoiding feces or public displays of nudity from guys urinating on the street, timid old ladies aborting their street crossing while you are trying to make a mad dash across, ridiculously large commercial deposits of sand or gravel that block the sidewalk, people trying to sell you things you don’t want… especially children, who sometimes latch onto your arm…

But there certainly are pleasures, too… like getting to know everyone on your route home and saying hello to them, or watching street performers or children laughing with their parents… or any form of people-watching, really… or simply just feeling like you have accomplished something because you can navigate the streets in such a crazy city.

So, anyway, that’s walking. I do a lot of it here, which is probably why I lost five pounds (which I am trying to gain back at the gym).

by Jason Woods

Peru: outing the NGOs

A proposed new law restricting NGOs operating in Peru is connected to the way Alan Garcia’s government is handling a complex political inheritance of civil war, human-rights violation, and authoritarian rule, says John Crabtree.

A law regulating the work of non-governmental organisations in Peru, now awaiting the signature of President Alan Garcia, has sparked concern that the new Peruvian government is resorting to illiberal means to silence its critics. Ministers claim that this is not so, and that NGOs must become more accountable to the country’s elected rulers. The controversy has focused attention on what NGOs contribute to democratic governance.

The law will make it obligatory for NGOs to register with a government agency (the Agencia Peruana de Cooperación Internacional /Apci) and empower Apci to outlaw those NGOs it deems not to be working towards the stated goals of the government’s development plan. NGOs and others – particularly in the press – have lobbied hard against proposals that they see as an egregious attempt to extend state control over private institutions.

NGOs claim that the draft law violates the 1993 constitution in various ways, not least with respect to freedoms of expression and association. Issues of constitutionality apart, they say they already give detailed information of their activities to a range of state institutions, including Apci.

It is not clear exactly how many NGOs operate in Peru today, nor is the amount of money they channel to projects around the country. The official tally is some 3,000 institutions, but the real figure may be closer to 900. What is certain is that they come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from tiny grassroots initiatives to nationwide organisations. They also vary greatly in terms of their political outlook and in the wide range of the types of work they undertake. The new legislation’s remit includes not just local NGOs but also international ones, like Oxfam, with substantial spending programmes in Peru.

The context of a clash

In the past generation, NGOs have come to play an important role in Peruvian politics as bridges over the wide gulf between the state and society. They first appeared in any number during the early 1980s as the country emerged from twelve years of military rule. The return to civilian democracy under Fernando Belaunde Terry (president from 1980-85) provided new scope for action at the grass roots. Many NGOs adopted a critical stance towards Belaunde’s centre-right administration, reflecting the growth of leftwing party politics at the time. A number of them were also supported by the Catholic church.

Peru’s deteriorating human-rights record in the 1980s brought clashes between government and NGOs, both local and international: Belaunde famously remarked that he threw Amnesty International’s reports on Peru into the rubbish bin. At the same time, many local organisations – especially those in the poorest parts of Peru where the Maoist-inspired Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) held sway – fell victim to the savage war of intimidation and violence that Sendero perpetrated.

The authoritarian Fujimori government (1990-2000) saw the collapse of many of Peru’s main political parties, particularly those on the left. NGOs sometimes became havens for displaced politicians, both local and national. The demise of effective political parties made it more difficult for civil society to voice its concerns. To some extent, NGOs took their place as links between people and the state.

Consequently, the Fujimori government – and in particular Fujimori’s powerful intelligence factotum Vladimiro Montesinos – kept a close watch on what he and his officials saw as a subversive threat. Most clearly in the firing line were those NGOs upholding human and civil rights. A number managed to protect themselves by making use of their church connections or their links with foreign governments and funding agencies. The Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinator of Human Rights) is a case in point: it was tolerated by Fujimori only because of the support it enjoyed in Washington.

Spheres of influence

The disgrace and fall of Alberto Fujimori in 2000 opened new opportunities for NGOs as a community. During the interim Valentín Paniagua administration (2000-01) and the first part of the Alejandro Toledo government (2001-06), NGOs became influential actors in policymaking circles. Indeed, many NGO figures assumed leading roles in government. The influence of NGO thinking was particularly striking in policy areas such as decentralisation and local development.

The human-rights NGOs also made their mark with the Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (Truth and Reconciliation Commission / CVR) whose 2003 report shocked public opinion by detailing the scale of the human-rights atrocities that had occurred between 1980 and 2000. The CVR estimates that the Sendero Luminoso and the Peruvian military had between them been responsible for nearly 70,000 deaths over these two decades (see Lisa Laplante, “The cloud of fear: Peru’s anti-terror lesson“, 7 March 2006).

Moreover, foreign governments in the post-Fujimori period increasingly turned to working with NGOs as the most effective way of channelling assistance to the 50% of the Peruvian population living in poverty. Many NGOs had much better working relationships with local communities than state institutions, which had an unfortunate reputation for authoritarianism, inefficiency and corruption.

The scale of corruption under Fujimori in particular pushed many international-development agencies to look for alternatives to official channels, keen to empower institutions at the local level involved in the fight against poverty.

Areas of tension

Relations between government and NGOs have soured again in recent years, most particularly in two spheres. The first has been human rights, always a politically sensitive topic. The legacy of past violations still looms over the present. Many of the violations that took place during Alan García’s first period in office (1985-90) have since come under re-examination, not least in light of the CVR’s findings. The armed forces, widely criticised for their complicity in corruption under human rights, have also regained some of the political muscle they lost after the downfall of the Fujimori regime.

García, in particular, has been accused of bearing responsibility – political if not operational — for massacres that took place in the highlands in the war against Sendero Luminoso, as well as for other violent acts like the 1986 killings of Sendero inmates in three Lima prisons.

The current vice-president, Luis Giampetri, a retired admiral, was in charge of the naval detachment involved in the killings at El Frontón, an island prison (subsequently closed down) off Peru’s main port of Callao. Giampetri is also widely seen as the mainspring for a recent offensive against the Instituto de Defensa Legal (Legal Defence Institute / IDL), a respected NGO working on judicial matters.

The second area of tension concerns NGOs involved in protests against various natural resource development projects, chiefly in the mining sector. The current high price of minerals on world markets, coupled to Peru’s rich resource endowment, has led to massive investments in new mining projects over the last ten years. Communities living in the ambit of these projects claim that their social and environmental interests have not been properly protected, either by the companies concerned or by the state. Some NGOs have been actively supporting communities in conflicts with mining companies.

Partly as a result, NGOs have been accused of a range of offences: standing in the way of national development objectives, being irresponsible, unaccountable and lacking in transparency; and acting autocratically towards those with whom they work in civil society. The charges can extend even to involvement in terrorist activities. The NGO community vociferously rejects such allegations, arguing that they are simply pretexts for a clampdown on their freedom of action.

Fujimorismo revisited

Although there have been attempts in the past to rein in NGOs, the new legislation is seen as more draconian. It stems from the change of government and the inauguration of a new congress in July 2006. The proposal was originally an initiative of the pro-Fujimori bloc in the congress, and in particular congressman Rolando Souza. Souza, now head of the parliamentary foreign-relations commission, was previously Alberto Fujimori’s lawyer. Fujimori is still in Chile, pending his possible extradition to Peru on corruption and human-rights crimes.

The Fujimoristas – known as the Alianza por el Futuro (AF – also Fujimori’s initials) – number only thirteen in the single-chamber congress, but they exercise considerable leverage. Their main aim appears to be to exonerate Fujimori of the charges levelled against him (perhaps with a view to facilitating his return to the frontline of Paruvian politics). The ruling Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (Apra) party of Alan García – which has thirty-six seats in the 120-member congress – needs their support to ensure its congressional majority.

The AF initiative on NGOs was therefore backed by Apra congressmen, as well as those from the centre-right Unidad Nacional (UN), led by Lourdes Flores. The bill, endorsed too by prime minister Jorge del Castillo, passed its second reading in congress on 2 November 2006 by sixty-five votes to forty-three. Once promulgated by García, it becomes law.

The alliance between Apra and parties to the right reflects Alan García’s determination to be seen turning his back definitively on the sort of radicalism that ended his first government so disastrously; at that time, Peru defied the international financial community on the debt issue and abandoned the liberal economic policies espoused by the IMF and World Bank. Peru ended the 1980s in hyperinflation.

García is now keen to underline how he has changed by pursuing orthodoxy in both his economic and foreign policies. In the economic sphere, he is pushing the liberalising agenda that he once opposed, seeking in particular to attract foreign investment (not least in the mining sector). In foreign affairs, he is giving primacy to establishing a close rapport with the United States and to shunning Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez. So far, a majority of Peruvians – if not NGOs – seem to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

This article originally by John Crabtree appeared on openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence.

Living in Peru: My experience after 600 days in Lima

Text and photos by Wolfy Becker

Since Alan Garcia survived his first 100 days in office without being assassinated I decided it was time to reflect a little on my first 600 days in Peru without being mugged or kidnapped.

Frankfurt Skyline

Additional inspiration for my retrospect essay came by way of an email I received from one of our active forum participants. He asked me for a bit of advice regarding the life-altering decision of moving to Peru, and ways to make it easier. Here’s what I had to say…

I live in Peru full-time, but like to keep my options “open.” I was asked if I planned to live here forever. Well, forever is a word I don’t like to use too often. As some may know, I grew up in Germany, having spent my first 33 years there. A computer programmer by trade, I worked in the industry the better part of my life.

In 1993 I received an offer to move to Chicago on what was to be an 18-24 month contract with a German company. Having never been to the U.S. before, being independent, and already speaking the language, my decision was made inside an hour. I was moving to Chicago!

As the contract was rather lucrative I was able to maintain my apartment in Germany, though I rented it in my absence. Much to my dismay, my contract was cancelled after only 6 months, just as I was becoming acclimated to life in the Windy City. Without a green card and no work to justify my visa, I was forced to return to Germany.

Goethe's Birthplace, Frankfurt

Goethe's Birthplace, Frankfurt

Once back in Germany, I missed Chicago a great deal. The time there, although short, had changed my life. I was unhappy in Germany, even depressed at times. My thoughts constantly led to one goal – get back to the U.S. In the meantime, I still had to make a living in Germany, which I found difficult as my focus was clouded by my desire to return to the U.S.

It was 3 years before I received another offer of work in the U.S., this time in the beautiful city of Seattle. A better offer this time around, full-time employment was offered to me along with corporate sponsorship for my green card. The U.S. was where I wanted to be, so off I went.

I arrived in Seattle with everything I owned in two suitcases, as I had given away all my possessions to my ex-girlfriend in Germany. I would later regret this decision, as she turned out to be not so nice a person. Looking back I wish I’d sold my things, or at least given them to family.

Once in Seattle, it took 3-4 months to get settled. Finally, my life was on the rise again. I found that in the U.S. the best way to meet people and make friends is by going to bars, which I did. At one bar in particular I met all of my closest friends and had many good times there. Life was good, and it stayed that way for some time.

After 7 years of faithful and dedicated service, my company began to change. Management shuffled every few months, progressively worsening. While their supposed goal was a major clean-up of the workforce, management generally didn’t know the staff well enough to perform such a task. Many employees were fired for virtually no reason, while others were allowed to stay when they shouldn’t have been. My frustrations grew as many good people were let go despite their capability and years of service, and the environment became intolerable, for me anyway.

Chicago from my apartment window

Chicago from my apartment window

During this time life wasn’t all bad. I had the best friends one can imagine and best of all, I met the woman on-line who would later become my wife. I came to Lima for a two week visit, traveled the country with her a bit, and attempted to procure for her a visa to the U.S., which we quickly found out was all but impossible. Once again I had to make a decision, one that turned out to be rather easy – move to Peru and start my life all over again, this time with the woman I love. My wife wouldn’t have enjoyed life in the U.S., anyway. She is very close to her family, and regardless, sitting at home all day while I work is not at all something she would have settled for, even if she tells you otherwise.

Six months after my visit I returned to Peru, this time marrying my wife. While I realized my life in the U.S. had come to an end, we were not convinced that Peru was to be our home. We considered moving to Germany, my home, to begin our life together. Still a first-world country, after all, living costs three times as much and the economy and job market aren’t what one would call enticing. Staying with my family while I looked for work definitely didn’t add to the appeal, either.

Peru was to be my home, then. I did find a problem in my inability to speak Spanish. While my wife and I both speak English, though not as a first language for either of us, I took me some time to settle down here, much longer than in the U.S. Having someone to share it all with made the transition much easier, though. I was not alone.

Seattle (from the airplane)

Attempting to find a job in Lima without being able to speak Spanish is not much of a prospect. My wife continued working while I began blogging. I had so many ideas, constant thoughts of what I wanted to do, businesses I could start. I thought about exporting items or selling on e-Bay to the U.S. and/or Germany, but shipping costs would have eaten the profits. I even considered buying a mobile bratwurst stand and put it in Parque Kennedy, next to all the chicharones and salchicha stands, if you can believe it.

I continued blogging, and it was through my blog that I met Carsten Korch, the Chief Editor and owner of LIP. When we met I had just designed and started a new website as a source of Peruvian news in English for those of us that have not yet mastered the language of the locals. At the time, Peruvian news sources in English were scarce and of poor quality, and I was addressing a market that was crying out to me.

It was through my time spent blogging that I realized how much I enjoyed writing. More to the point, I realized how little I actually enjoyed web-design and programming, even though it had been the field all my business life. Through my blogging I met some great people – readers, responders, and fellow bloggers. Sadly, blogging doesn’t pay the bills and my savings from my time in the U.S. were dwindling, so when Carsten Korch offered me a position as editor of Living in Peru, I took it.

Seattle Space Needle on New Years

Seattle Space Needle on New Years

For almost two years I’ve lived in Lima. My wife and I have a nice apartment, and while there are plenty of things that annoy me from time to time, that would be true no matter where I live. My overall experience thus far has been great, and the desert climate was a welcome change from the ceaseless rains of Seattle. In addition, I like the palm trees and I prefer the cooing of Lima’s pigeons over the always, crying, complaining sound of Seattle’s seagulls, especially in the early morning.

As you may have noticed, my life had been quite full of experiences and nation hopping before I arrived in Peru. More than once I had packed a few things, left the rest behind, and started anew in another country. I’ve always found that where I am doesn’t matter so much as long as my goals are clear and my focus remains intense. From my perspective, life revolves around three things: job, personal life, and the manner in which you spend the little free time left after work and sleep.

I faced many challenges in coming to Peru. I went from single Seattleite with a full-time job, spending my free time in local bars and sports stadiums to married, stay-at-home husband. While the change was dramatic, it was what I wanted and where I wanted to be. The opportunity to share everything with another person overshadows the anxiety of a life-altering move, and it becomes quite simple. The anger and frustration over the little things that don’t seem quite right – the bureaucracy, occasional rip-offs, strange and different customs and habits – soon turns to whimsical acknowledgment of the subtle nuances that make life interesting.

In the grand scheme there are several things in and about Peru I find more favorable than they are in either the U.S. or Germany. My wife’s family is wonderful, friendly, helpful and funny, their doors and hearts opened to me from day one. I have no desire to give them up.

Plaza de Armas in downtown Lima

Peruvians love to celebrate, no matter the occasion. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins all hanging out together talking, eating, drinking, and dancing on Sundays, Saturdays, Holidays, any day. So friendly they are, in fact, Peruvians don’t drink their own bottle of beer, but share one at a time amongst everyone, filling small glasses over and over again. Like I said, some customs are annoying, and being German I like to have my own bottle of beer so I can decide just how fast the bottom appears.

Cross-country travel is relatively inexpensive, and from region to region you can experience the diversity and beauty of the landscape, the people, the history and the glory of this magnificent country. In a country roughly the size of Texas you can find a version of Death Valley, the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite Nat’l Park, Las Vegas, and Naples. All of this without considering those places well-known to the world, such as Machu Picchu, Nazca, or the Amazon.

Peruvian food and living style, well, that’s another one I’ve had to get used to. I like a lot of it, but there is plenty I don’t care for, as well. Ceviche is good, but I’ll take sushi when given the chance. At home I do a fair amount of cooking, introducing the tastes of Germany to my wife and friends.

After 15 years of taking for granted the benefits of a dishwasher, I found myself again buying plastic gloves and liquid Palmolive. Until my move, I enjoyed the comforts of a king-size bed all to myself. Now, I share a full-size bed with my wife. And the walls – the concrete walls – I can’t even hang the smallest of pictures without drilling a hole. Nails don’t work here. My biggest complaint of all, Telefonica, the local phone, cable, and internet provider that could be the role model for monopolies everywhere.

Peruvian Parliament

Peruvian Parliament

Of course, when you step out onto the streets and see so many who truly have a rough life, these minor inconveniences tend to fade away. Seeing so many people just trying to survive – street kids juggling at red lights, mom’s and babies selling candies, and old ladies pushing wooden carts uphill full of veggies for sale – brings into sharp relief the reality that is my pretty decent life. Material possessions seem suddenly unimportant. And all this in Lima, the supposed Peruvian Mecca, the metropolis, where life and opportunities are said to be abundant compared to the rest of the country.

The point is this: moving here has brought about new perspectives, not just in what I see, but in who I am, my life, my attitude. As they say in Germany “Es gibt viel zu tun, packen wir’s an,” which means “There’s lots to do, so let’s get it done.” While getting it done, I’m reminded to always reflect on my “first-world” experiences, making sure not to duplicate the mistakes of the developed world.

For those of you considering a move to Peru consider this: decide for yourself. Don’t base your decision on what you hear or read, but rather on what you see. Intuition is also a good word that comes to mind.

Let Peru be a discovery all its own, one full of intrigue and excitement. There are plenty of folks like me around to offer advice and a little inside info, but in the spirit of exploration and adventure, figure it out for yourself, for who you are, and for what it is that you are looking for.

October in Lima – The Purple Month

In Lima, October is known as el mes morado, the purple month. Why? Purple is the color worn by the faithful who follow the processions of the most venerated religious image in Peru: El Señor de los Milagros, the Lord of Miracles, a uniquely Peruvian image of Jesus Christ.

During October, in the colonial center of Lima, this image is taken from its home church, Las Nazarenas, in a series of processions to other historic colonial churches. The smell of incense, the steady beating of drums, and the footsteps of the faithful accompany these processions which wend their way along the narrow streets of colonial Lima as they have for hundreds of years.

The origins of this image of Christ date back to 1651. According to religous belief, in that year, there was a group of African slaves from Angola living in the area known as Pachacamilla, where Las Nazarenas Church now stands.

The slaves had been converted to Christianity and one of them, unnamed in the history books, painted an image of Christ on a wall of a building where the new converts converged to pray.

The image struck a chord among the slaves, who began to bring offerings to leave before it. In 1655, an earthquake of such magnitude struck Lima that most of the city was destroyed. The building where this image of Christ was housed collapsed except for one wall: the wall where a few years earlier that Angolan slave had painted the image.

For 15 years, the wall with this image of Christ was abandoned to the elements. In 1670, a neighbor found the image and began to worship there. He rebuilt the shrine for the image and according to belief, as a result, the man was cured of life-threatening tumor. From that point on, the entire Pachacamilla district began to worship the image, believing it to be miraculous.

Most of the faithful were descendants of those Africans brought as slaves to the plantations and haciendas of coastal Peru. One of the rituals that began during this period was that every Friday evening people would gather at the site of this image, bringing flowers, lighting candles, burning incense, and playing music on harps and with the traditional Peruvian cajón.

Within time, these celebrations reached the ears of Church leaders in the Archbishop’s Palace, where they were seen as a threat to the established order. The Viceroy himself ordered the image painted over in 1671. The legend of El Señor de los Milagros continues: an Indian man was brought under guard to the site where the image was being venerated in order to paint it over.

As he approached the image, brush in hand, the man began to tremble and shake. He was unable to carry out the order. Another painter was brought in, this one a soldier, and he too was unable to paint it over. The more the authorities tried to paint over the image, the more the local people protested. Finally, the Viceroy revoked the order and ordered a proper chapel built on the site.

Since that time, the image became a focal point for popular veneration. In 1687, another earthquake struck Lima, once again destroying much of the colonial center, including the chapel that had been built to house the image. Once again, the one wall with the image remained standing while the other ones collapsed.

Popular fervor led church leaders to order a painting of the image, which was taken out in a procession for the first time the 18th, 19th, and 28th of October, 1687. Since that year, the image has been taken out of its home church in a series of processions to other colonial churches during those dates.

El Señor de los Milagros was named the patron of Lima in 1715. That was also the first year the image was given the title by which it is known today: El Señor de los Milagros de Nazarenas.

Written by Alejandro Garcia

So, what does this have to do with food? Well, as to be expected, there are special foods associated with such an important religious occasion. Three of the most traditional Peruvian foods eaten at this time are turrón, anticuchos, and picarones.

No one really knows the origin of the sweet layered pastry popularly called turrón de Doña Pepa. Legend has it that was invented by the lady in a wealthy Lima family, although others claim that its origins are with a cook of African descent known as ‘ña Pepa.

What is known about this unique style of turrón (since there is a similarly named dish in other Spanish-speaking countries, although all are different from one another) is that it has long been associated with the celebrations in honor of El Señor de los Milagros, when this sweet is consumed with almost religious devotion.


Anticuchos
, grilled meat on a skewer, is another popular food during the month of October. According to researchers, the name comes from the Quechua word antikucho, meaning ‘Andean cut’ or ‘Andean mix’. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, these types of brochettes were made with llama or other local meats. In the 1500s, the Spanish began preparing something similar to the modern day anticucho, substituting beef for llama.

Once again the influence of Africans resonates in Peruvian culinary and cultural history.

The Spanish would give their African slaves the parts of the cow they wouldn’t eat themselves. This included the beef heart. The slaves took the beef heart and seasoned it heavily prior to marinating it and then grilling it in imitation of their masters. Over time, the beef heart anticuchos would become the Peruvian favorite. They are still one of the most popular street foods available in Peru, and during El Señor de los Milagros, anticucho sellers set up grills in the late afternoon, tempting passersby with the aromatic smells of seasoned grilled meats.

Finally, picarones are pumpkin fritters that are also eaten as late-afternoon street food during El Señor de los Milagros celebrations. This is another dish that has its origins in the colonial period. Some believe they are a local adaptation of Spanish buñuelos. Picarones are made of squash or pumpkin dough and sweetened with chancaca, raw cane sugar melted into a syrup. I have a post about picarones which includes a recipe for this tasty dessert.

During el mes morado, the purple month, Peruvians demonstrate their loyalty not only to their religious beliefs but also to their culinary traditions.

Page 34 of 35« First...1020...3132333435
?>