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Safe and Sound … First Day in Peru

I am sitting in a booth at an Internet Cafe in Lima.  Oh, my goodness — yes, I am in PERU.  For REAL!!

Our flights from Boston to Newark, NJ, and from Newark to Lima were pretty uneventful — which is a very good thing when you are traveling.  Folks who have gone before said that check-in at the airport in Boston has never gone smoother.  All bags were within the weight allowance, so no repacking was required.  We arrived at our gate early enough to be able to eat breakfast, go over some paperwork business as a group, and play some Sudoku.  Most of us slept on the flight to Newark, having arrived at 5.30 a.m. at Boston.

In Newark we were met by another student joining our trip (he is from a college in Chicago), making us a group of nine for the next flight.  Our layover in Newark was LONG, but better that by far than cutting it too close and missing a flight.  We took the time to get to know our new arrival, walked the long passageways to get the blood moving a bit, ate when hungry (there´s a variety of food stuff available in the food court), and read.  Oh, and more Sudoku.

The flight to Lima was about eight hours long.  We all napped at least some of the time, ate some more, read, etc. I was nervous on the flight because at the airport in Boston I had found out that I would be the one to go through customs first, with a bag full of radios to be installed in medical postas.  I was concerned because in the past sometimes customs officials have not let us bring in radios.  This time we had official documents from the Peruvian consulate certifying that these are donations and are acceptable, but one never knows what will happen. I worried all day that I might mishandle any questioning and let down the group. 

When I wasn´t worrying, I was chatting with one of our students who sat next to me on the long flight.  She and I discussed the book that I mentioned in a previous post on this blog … the one about the poor helping the poor in El Agustino.  I enjoyed hearing the student´s perspective and goofing off to pass the time, as well.

When I awoke from a nice nap, it was dark outside and I stared out the window — nothing could be seen below.  No lights.  Then I looked up and saw stars.  STARS!  It had never even occured to me that on this trip I will be able to see the stars of the southern hemisphere.  One of our oldtimers in the group remarked that where my particular group is going, we will be way high up in the mountains, and I will see gazillions of stars.  Now that will be awesome!

Our plane touched down, and the passengers broke into spontaneous applause.  Then my heart flew into my mouth as I once more was reminded of the coming ordeal….

We went through immigration control first and got our passports stamped.  We all agreed that we were not REALLY in Peru until we got that stamp.  ¨Welcome to Peru!¨we greeted each other as each participant joined the group waiting just past the immigration kiosks.

Next we collected our checked luggage.  No bags were lost, thank goodness, and we each took a luggage cart and put only our own bags on it.  I stood at the front of our group and waited in line to go through customs.  The way they do things there, each person goes through a little gate and presses a buttom, which is connected to a light panel.  The light that comes on when you press the button is either red or green, and which color it turns is totally random.  Most of the time it is green.  And if it is green, you go right through.  If it is red, they pull you aside and look through your bags and ask a lot of questions.  I had a fleeting thought of what might happen if they opened the bag on top of the cart — not only did it have my backpack stuffed inside but also a prosthetic leg we are bringing to an amputee.  I wondered what the customs official would think of that!

As I approached the gate, our group all stared hard at the light, until it turned … green.  I kept my face a blank and walked calmly through the customs area and waited just outside the great big customs room.  When I turned, I found one of our students following me, then another and another. Every single person in our party got a green light.

As is the case with so many things in life, there was not really anything to worry about.  For all of my anxiety, in the end, I faced only green lights and smooth sailing.  Our reward was to emerge from the airport to see one of our Peruvian grad students, R., and a transport guy with a sign for our group both waiting behind a roped-off area.  We were hugged by the first and whisked away to our hotel by the second. 

First impressions of Lima once we emerged from the airport. … Weather like San Diego sorta.  Mild and slightly moist air — comfortable.  Smoggy like L.A., (Southern California).  I noticed palm trees right away because my son just adores palm trees, so immediately I thought of him.  Lots of graffiti everywhere. Then I saw a Kentucky Fried Chicken sign.  Later a sign for Chili´s and another for TGIFridays.  Disappointing, but I had known that parts of Lima show all of the signs of an increasingly globalized world.  I also saw a few big casinos all lit up like Vegas and bilboards advertizing that Bee Movie thing that came out in the USA recently and a few other things like that which I recognized.

The drive to the Hostel Gemina took about 40 minutes, and we were greeted by the hotel clerk, who was expecting us. After sorting out who was rooming with whom, signing in, finding our personal bags among the group bags, etc., we made our way up to our rooms and found, I thought, quite a comfortable accommodation.  Clean, at least, and that is appreciated!  I don´t know about the others, but my roomate and I got to sleep about 2.15 a.m.

This morning we met for breakfast at 8 a.m. and the other Peruvian grad student, M., plus R. (whome we had seen the night before) and 4 other Peruvians associated with the Project all met us at the hotel.  Breakfast consisted of two white bread rolls, one soft and one hard.  There was butter and jam on the table and fresh squeezed pineapple juice, plus coffee or tea.  Oddly satisfying meal. 

A man came to the hotel and changed our money for us, and we broke into groups.  I was thrilled to discover that R. had, indeed, been able to arrange for us to go to El Agustino to meet one of the women who work with the poor there.  It was a dream of mine to take my student to El Agustino so we could see first hand a little of what we have been reading about.  It had looked, two days ago, when I last heard from R., that it might not happen, but he had been able to track down someone after all and had made an appointment for us.

Five of us wanted to go, so we squeezed into a cab for the ride of our lives.  I admit that more than once I slammed my eyes shut, though clearly the cab driver knew what he was doing driving through those potholed, crazy crowded streets.  They all seem to use their horns as communication devices pretty effectively. I thought Boston traffic was bad — that ain´t nuttin´to Lima! 

As we drove to El Agustino, we first took a freeway, the only freeway in this city of 8 million.  Then we got off the expressway and emerged into what was a rather desperate looking place.  Dirt and graffiti I had already seen all over Lima, but the quality of the buildings and the look of the place was markedly different.  Stolen auto parts were piled at the side of the road in a makeshift store.  A pile of garbage was being sorted by two old women, looking through the rubbish looking for anything salvageable.  Stray dogs roamed the streets, lean and always running and sniffing. The smell of Diesel exhaust flooded in through the cab driver´s open window.  El Agustino´s main geographical feature is a tall mountain-hill that rises sharply out of the ground.  Perched precariously all over the slopes are makeshift dwellings.  We didn´t get too near that but the area could be seen from most vantage points.

We arrived at the offices of SEA (see earlier post on poor helping poor on this blog) and asked our cab to wait for us.  Once inside, we had entered an oasis.  In fact, I´d say once we turned onto the street where the SEA is located, there was a totally different feeling to the place.  A planter along the center of the road was filled with flowering bushes and trees, buldings were painted in bright colors.  All was well-kept.

We waited a few minutes for the woman who was to meet us, getting a good look at the place.  The Peruvian President was on television making a speech on the occasion of the opening ceremonies in some rural area where the government had just brought electricity.

Carmen arrived and was so hospitable and welcoming.  She took us to a conference room and gave us orange soda.  We talked for an hour (not the planned half hour), and I learned of many projects that the SEA does.  I have so many ideas of how I´d like to help.  Carmen suggested that we correspond and maybe they might propose a project that I might be able to help get funds for through my church or through the Gender Studies program at my university.  She only made this suggestion when I asked about how I might donate, by the way! 

I found it fascinating to hear of their work on urban environmental issues, economic microenterprises, job training for youth, women´s services, and local development programs for comunities.  We will have to talk with ¨Gandalf¨when we return about potential collaborations in future with engineering classes through other service-learning activities going on at our university, though we did not, of course, mention anything to Carmen about collaboration.  And our own project is really more focused on rural not urban collaborations. In any case, this was just a meet each other and say hello and share a little about what we each are doing kind of meeting. 

At last we broke away… so difficult to leave!  Carmen wanted to take us  to one of their communal kitchens but we had no time left. Hugs all around and email adresses exchanged, and we were back in our cab, flying through the streets to our hotel.

Once we got back to the vicinity of the hotel, we asked the cabby to drop us at a restaurant, where we subsequently enjoyed a perfect feast of vegetable-beef soup, chicken with pineapples, rice and potato, and the Peruvian national drink, chi-cha (made with purple corn, sugar, lime, all boiled and spiced with cloves and cinnamon).  Each of these little feasts cost only 5 nuevos soles, or about $1.40.   Oh, and the cab ride cost 40 soles, or $15, for a few hours service.

And now I must leave you.  I apologize for the long post, but already I see that one has to take the opportunities for communication when one has a chance!

For the children of my son´s school, I wanted to say thanks again for the donation.  R. bought 40 volleyballs here in LIma and says to tell you THANKS!  They are sitting in the lobby in a big bag — beautiful, brightly colored balls! The village children will be so happy to receive these gifts.

For my extended family and friends and the family and friends of project participants, thanks for checking in on our journey.  Please leave a comment, if you like, so we know you´ve had a chance to get the latest update!

For my son and husband, thanks again for supporting me so I could go on this trip.  I am so happy now that I am here.  All worries have slipped away, and I am perfectly safe and content.  I miss you already, but the time will go by quickly, I´m sure!

The rest of the plan…

Tonight we attend the wedding of a former project participànt.  Wedding at 8 p.m., reception starts at 10 p.m. or so, and our scheduled transport back to the hotel is for 2.30 a.m.! Who needs sleep, right¿ (I can´t find the right-side-up question mark on this foreign keyboard!)

I will try to blog tomorrow before we leave Lima, but I do not know what is planned for the morning (before we head to the bus station to ride north to Huarmey). I suspect that I may not get a chance to post for a while, but I am hoping at least on Monday in Huarmey there´ll be an opportunity.

Meanwhile, I must go take a nap before the long evening begins. Adios mi amigos…until next time!

4 Responses

  1. Hi Diana,

    What fun to read your blog of your first day in Peru! I’m glad to hear your trip was uneventful and that you are enthusiastic about your journey. I’ve been thinking about you often and I look forward to your next blog.


  2. Glad things are going well, hon. We’re all fine here. Don’ worry ’bout nothin’. Glad you got to see D’ Agostino. Maggie says “Hi.”

  3. I’m so glad you made it there safely. I look forward to reading about your adventures 🙂

  4. Wow it’s a great blog I found here. I am sure it will be updated regularly. It’s a great site after looking around on your page. Very nice in a great journey. It’s lovely source. Life is so beautiful. Keep going on……
    Hope on the same line and have great share someday. Since I found this is one of best on net… the picture is so natural and wonderful ;>
    Have a great day!!!!

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