A night in Atlanta

I landed in Atlanta (south-eastern USA) international airport just to find out that the affordable hostel I found online doesn’t really exist, and the cheapest option is a private room in a lodge for $53 (140LTL or £35). And that’s after paying an unexpected $25 fee for a bag on a local flight (check-in bags are not included in the ticket on the flights within the US). “This country is blowing out my minuscule budget…” – I was thinking while checking into the lodge with dirty windows and super friendly, exclusively Afro-American staff. I was shown to the private bedroom with a triple bed, a fridge, a pile of towels and the absent remote control for the working air conditioner. As soon as the conditioner was switched off, I crushed on the bed exhausted from the night before, when I celebrated the last night in Miami until 4.30am and left the hostel an hour later to catch an early plane.

At 7 o’clock in the evening of the same day I went down to the lodge reception: “Where can I find a grocery store?”, “There is one just down the road, you go right under the bridge and turn left. It’s impossible to miss it”, “How long will it take me to walk there?”, “Are you gonna walk?… I’d say it’s about 20 minutes”, replied a surprised receptionist. Well, I don’t drive a car, and not feeling like taking a bus that is overly complicated, according to the French girl living in Atlanta that I met in Miami the night before. The next 40 minutes walk made it clear to me why “not driving a car” phenomenon just doesn’t exist in this country.

I left the hotel and followed the directions. The sun was slowly going down, warm evening air was filled with the pleasant pine smell. I was the only person walking along this 3-line avenue, passing the 5-storey hotels with their huge parking areas, private-house-like restaurants (that advertise themselves by putting a massive road sign) behind their own parking spaces, perfectly green cemetery divided into lots by driving lane, and finally countless private houses, built away from the road, with their own garage and a flawlessly cut front lawn. Buildings stood distantly one from another and there was no fence between them. It all looked like a tidy recently deserted countryside with the tall green pines all over the place and no people around (just cars passing by). Thinking of how much life in Peru happens on the street, it seemed that it is not even possible to meet your neighbours here… since they never leave their house on foot.

I passed a few empty bus stops, the bridge and the further I went the more doubts I had if that was the right way to go. Finally, a human being appeared across the road to my left. I approached a tall dark skinned young man and asked about the store. “Oh my, I don’t quite know, you know the rail lines, it’s next to them…”, –  the explanation was totally useless, so I asked him about the direction: “That way!”, – he pointed to the bridge I just passed. “You’re not from here?” he wondered, “No, I’m from Europe”, “Oh, shit, oh, uh, wow, shit, you’re the first person I meet from Europe!” he got very excited about this fact, “So, you’ve never been outside the country then, huh?”, “No, never”. I headed back to the bridge hoping to meet somebody who can give me clearer directions, thinking that it’s probably impossible to find a young person back in Lithuania who had never ever left even to the neighbouring Poland, Belarus or Latvia… How sad it must be to never leave your own safe harbour…

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“I’m vegetarian 4 days a week and 3 – a meat eater…”

… Explained to me a Dutch man in his fifties. I didn’t want to disappoint him with the fact that “being a vegetarian” implies not eating meat at all, instead, I praised him for an effort.

This conversation about food started one evening in a hostel on Miami Beach. Miami is a super vegetarian-friendly place… So friendly, that nibbling on delicious fried tofu in spicy sauce (that you can take away in a local supermarket) makes the bitter disappointment of getting only a ham sandwich and a meat pie for breakfast in the inter city bus in Peru a very, very distant memory.

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Typical food of northern Peru: orange rice (typical food colouring), tamal (corn & egg mass, chicken, onion & pepper filling), boiled sweet potato, fried plantain, and a piece of fried pork.

Latin America (or, to avoid a sweeping generalization – Belize, Peru and Argentina), despite the impressive variety of grain and bean, fruit and vegetables, is impressively vegetarian-unfriendly part of the world.

First thing you should learn is that being a vegetarian in these countries is about being a non-understood and non-seriously taken minority: a tiny young Peruvian lady will look lost when you ask her “Do you have any soups that do not contain meat?”, to what she’ll smile and say “No”, while seemingly thinking “Does that exist?” or “Is this white woman crazy or what?”. Among things you must do in Argentina any guide, traveller or local, will inevitably add “Eat a parrillada*!”, and to your quiet, very apologetic “I’m a vegetarian…” will give you a loud “Aaaah!” full of disappointment: it is sincerely believed you cannot fully experience Argentina, or Peru for that matter, without eating locally cooked meat. And if in these countries you’ll be just taken as a crazy person, Mayan people in Belize will consider it offensive if you decline an invitation to try their food that is exclusively based on corn and… chicken!

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This is delicious arroz con leche y mazamorra: rice with condensed milk and a fruit mousse based on purple corn and cooked with pineapple, cinnamon and sweet potato flour. Desserts, thanks God, do not have meat : )

Second thing to learn if you chose to be a vegetarian is that cooking will save the world (or you, in this particular experience). Thanks to some basic cooking skills that I acquired trying to survive on my own in Scotland I was able to enjoy the immense variety of foods they only boast about in South America (but don’t eat): at least a dozen of types of beans, a double of that of commercial potato varieties, grains like quinoa and maca, unheard & unseen veggies. So, instead of going miles and miles around the area asking if eating places around have anything vegetarian (which they affirmatively suggest: “We can make you a salad!”), instead of paying the same price for a veggie pizza as a one with meat or fish, and getting disapproving looks, I stayed at home learning how to cook. Some results of these efforts were especially uplifting: cooked food made my Peruvian flatmate and his family discover the existence of aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini), beetroot, baked potatoes and carrots (all of those I would casually cook for myself) and got them deeply surprised that food without meat could actually be tasty and filling!

Finally, be patient and explore, or as English say it: “Keep calm and carry on (being vegetarian)!” ; )

* Parrillada – a plate with a variety of traditionally grilled meat or seafood

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What they eat on the coast

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Typical food from the coastal Peru: el sudado on the foreground and el ceviche (sometimes spelled cebiche) on the background.

Sudado (literally: sweaty) is fish fillet cooked in a hot tomato sauce with a drop of chicha (corn based alcoholic beverage) accompanied by sweet potato, yuca (potato-like vegetable) and roasted corn. Could be eaten like a soup, although, curiously, doesn’t require any water for cooking.

Ceviche is a famous raw fish salad. Recently caught fish is gutted, sprinkled over generously with the lemon juice, and put into the freezer for one day. On the next day it’s sliced, mixed with chopped onion and aji  – local chili pepper, the must-have ingredient of Peruvian cuisine. Served with sweet potato and cancha – roasted corn (It looks like pop-corn, but it doesn’t explode when heated up). Requires very little preparation and absolutely adored by coastal population of Peru, Chile, Colombia, Mexico (where prepared with some local alterations though).

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A fly in the ointment or What spoiled our Argentinean holidays

“So, what do you like about Buenos Aires”, – I kept being asked by friendly porteños and porteñas, when I say that “as any other city Buenos Aires has it’s pretty sides along with it’s ugly sides”. The capital of Argentina is a very green, culturally diverse and historical,

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The oldest building in the town – San Ignacio Church, built in 1686, has an impressively extensive underground tunnel system

simply beautiful city, with loads of cultural life happening all year round.

“And what are the things you don’t like?”, “I can’t stand the service”, “Ah, yes, I get it… it’s true”, – smilingly replied a born and raised in the capital city young man. Phew, so I’m not being spoiled and/or demanding – even local people admit that the service quality… varies from not too bad to scandalously awful.

It all starts when you take your taxi  from the airport and the driver charges you over the amount on the meter, seemingly for the backpack – a claim that makes local people loudly swear in revolt; in any case you “should be grateful” they actually took you on board, as they normally ask you out if the distance to your destination doesn’t look “worthy” to drive. Unfortunately, taking a bus is not a better option, since bus drivers are usually

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Inside the bus. Extravagantly decorated bus. The design choice made me think that the bus driver had two hobbies: football and pimping-up : )

 unfriendly enough to ignore your question about whether they are going to the place you need.

Restaurants are known for their slow service by arrogant waiters who seemed to be having a bad day every day. They don’t care too much to explain you fully what’s in the mysteriously named dish, they say “yes!” to your “may I ask a question?” and walk away to clean another table, and are rude enough to demand their 10 per cent tip although it’s not included in the bill. Oh, yes, and it is not rare that they would actually have only 1/3 of the dishes on the menu.

And while 4 star hotel reception asks you to pay in parts every three days of your two week stay as if they don’t trust you to pay all at once in the end;

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One of the most ridiculous obligatory fees in the restaurants of Buenos Aires is the “cover” or the “service” cost that is not actually a gratitude to the waiter. It “covers” bread and butter that is brought to you, and even if you ask not to bring them, you’ll be charged as “for cutlery and a napkin”…

cultural centre reception doesn’t allow you to be in the building half an hour before the show until the very last minute and sends you off by a  sulky “it starts at 8pm”, without explaining why it’s 7pm on the event’s booklet. Cashiers don’t bother giving you your change when they think it’s too little to be worth counting it. Some shoe shop attendants disapprove your search for perfect pair of shoes: “If you don’t like them, you’re welcome to go and find something better”…

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WARNING: TANGO CONTAINS HIGHLY ADDICTIVE INGREDIENTS, SUCH AS PAIN, PLEASURE, PASSION, EXCITEMENT, CONNECTION, FREEDOM, TORMENT, AND BLISS. IN SEVEN OUT OF TEN CASES IT TAKES OVER A PERSON’S LIFE.”
Naomi Hotta

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Being a porteño: open-air tango

In every milonga* there is something extraordinary: in 3 minutes of the musical tango piece people go through a transformation. An old wrecked woman with dyed hair in the embrace of the man that leads her through the dancing floor transforms into a great seducer that she has always dreamt of being. The leader is older than I am and he becomes an irresistible seducer, despite the age and disagreeable physical appearance. This transformation is what fascinates me in tango.

Edgardo Cozarinsky

My own fascination with tango steams from a similar thought to the one of this film director as well as other numerous and diverse reasons. But that’s not what my post will be about. It will be about the local people and their fascination, their relationship with this Argentinean par excellence music and dance. It feels like tango for porteños is a part of the common culture and the shared past, a part of the social life, an accepted obsession, rather than an exotic hobby, clichéd and stereotyped sports activity (as it is in the rest of the world).

Don’t get me wrong: the obsession with tango doesn’t mean that ALL Argentineans dance tango. It neither means “that the moment you land in the airport you’ll see people dancing in the baggage reclaim or in the arrival area”, – as one local tango dancer commented to me on the expectations “tango tourists” have for Buenos Aires. No, you won’t see couples in red and black with the roses in their teeth dancing on every corner of the city, either. Hope you’re not disappointed. 

Nevertheless, there is a choice from about 2o daily milongas* happening during the week (that number raises to about 30 a day over the weekend), that’s excluding about a triple of that number of classes happening all around this big, over-self confident, even arrogant and melancholic, at the same time, city.

The locations chosen for dancing are also diverse, as the readiness to dance tango can’t be diminished by the unavailability of specialized tango centers. So the dancing crosses the limits and invades cafes and sports halls, parks and public squares. The last ones are actually most welcoming, fun & cheap milongas* to go to, those are certainly worth looking for and are usually found in very-non-touristy parts of the city.

A large pavilion in the park of a quiet residential area Barrancas de Belgrano that lies in the north of the historical city centre, lightens up and fills with music every odd week day and all the way throughout the weekends, becoming a truly magical place to dance tango. We’ve experienced a very informal relaxed atmosphere with old and very fun dancers during the weekdays and well dancing young-ish crowd at the weekends. While I was observing the couples around me a tune started and my leader in his seventies commanded me to get into the tango embrace “Spread out your wings! We’re taking off… “

* social tango dancing evenings

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Being a porteño: late ice-cream, dogs and open air tango

– I’m surprised you’re open that late… Do people actually come to eat ice-cream at this time of the day? – I heard myself asking a vendor at half past midnight in a minimalistic very well lightened ice-cream shop.

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Karin’s enjoying her typical “dulce de leche”, or simply caramel, ice-cream

– Oh yes! We  normally close 1 in the morning, on the weekends it’s at 2am, and if we’re busy, we stay open till 3am… – a beautiful young woman enthusiastically replied while serving a heap of pistachio ice-cream, that was at least 4 times bigger than the cone itself.

– And how does the “kilo of ice-cream” work? Do people buy it for themselves to eat here, or to share in the group or to bring back home and store it in their fridge? – I pointed out at the biggest plastic container on the shelf that indicated: 1kg – $ 56 (US$11 or £7  or 28 LTL). The woman nodded:

– Yes, I would buy it for my self and store it in the fridge, and some weekend off I’ll sit in front of the TV and slowly eat it.

– So, no crisps, or French fries, no alcohol… just ice-cream? – I smiled thinking about the innocence and harmlessness of way the residents of Buenos Aires (or  porteños, as they call themselves) chose to chill out.

– Yes, – she smiled.

– Great! No headache, no stomachache…

– Well my belly hurts a bit in the morning after eating a kilo of ice-cream, – the vendor admitted innocently.

Two girls with three dogs stopped by the ice-cream shop. They exchanged a few words and some banknotes and one of girls entered the shop, leaving her friend with a bunch of dogs outside. Dogs in large quantities are not a rare sight: you can have two, or three, up to maximum of 7 that we counted.

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The girl on the photo might have been a dog walker, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she was the owner of this herd ^_^

But usually one is enough. Whatever quantity, it seems that being a dog in Buenos Aires gives one almost a guarantee of having a good life and being adored by the local population. Big and small, nicely groomed and rather dishevelled dog owners accompany their similarly looking four legged friends on a daily walk. If the fluffy friend is not too big (a boxer, for example, falls into this category), it often travels on the hands of it’s walker, even if the walker is wearing a smart suit. (We once stopped to observe how a man was drinking coffee holding a cup in one hand, while allowing the pup to rest on the other arm that he hold as a cradle in the air). Dogs are given people’s names and treated as personalities, they are seriously talked to, for example, dogs are usually asked questions about their health and given patronizing behavioural guidelines while the owner is away from home, such as: “Don’t chew the carpet, Lily, I’ll be back home very soon and if I find out that you chew the carpet, we will not to see that dog you liked in the park again!…”

(To be continued…)

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This little buddy seemed to be anxiously waiting for somebody at the road crossing, ignoring all the movement and noise around him. Maybe he was meditating…

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Received in Buenos Aires with love, care, tango and a cup of mate

– Are you visiting?

– Well, we’re actually here to dance tango, – I was explaining to the tall blond curious waiter in an Irish-Argentinean pub in the heart of Armenian part of Buenos Aires.

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The visual evidence of the story ^_^

– Really?! And how do you find local dancers?

– Actually I danced with everybody but Argentinians so far…

– Oh, so if I invite you to dance now, I will be the first? – he asked.

I politely declined the invitation. At the end it was a bar. And not that there is something wrong to be dancing tango in a pub, but I felt… shy doing it there. Oscar, the waiter, served us food, left us to enjoy it, then brought the bill and asked if I was sure I didn’t want to dance. I wasn’t sure. In the next minute slow rock music was changed to a familiar tango tune, and a 2 by 2 meter spot of open floor between the tables, the drinks fridge and the stairs became a space for a fluid heartfelt conversation without words between two strangers. This was the beginning of my three week stay in the capital of an “empire that never existed”, as the guidebooks refer to it.

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Above the city of Good Appearances and Kind Winds – the name of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, has multiple positive meanings

Two days before that my plane landed in the airport just in the heart of the city of Good Winds. The airport personnel redirected us 3 times to a different platforms where we would receive our luggage, where in the end, with a lot of unnecessary delay I received it incomplete.  I left the arrival zone anxiously looking for a familiar face of an actor and a traveller I met in Peru. Matias was there. He greeted me by saying, “For God’s sake, give me that bag”, pointing at my serious looking backpack. While I was answering his question about the journey, he took out a small very elaborately made metal cup, wrapped in a soft, puffy heat isolating material, a metal straw, and a plastic container full of chopped dried green leaves , “That’s not marijuana, just to let you know”. “Argentineans definitely don’t lack a sense of humor”, I thought. He filled two thirds of the cup with herb and took out of his bag a… thermos. “An Argentinian would not leave a house without his mate”, he exclaimed seriously and poured a bit of water in a corner of the cup, barely getting some leaves wet and sipped from a cup, “Oh, no, I’m not giving you to try… This is too good…”. He then smiled and handed me the cup.

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Carlos Gardel passage – a musician, the legend of Argentinean tango, has his own nicely decorated passage in the city centre. Quite a few tango dancing venues, tango museums and tango shops stand out thanks to the colourful wall paintings.

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Streets as a war field

“YES, because Lima deserves more” says a big yellow and red billboard just outside my house, the house next to it claims “The neighbours of this house are UNITED for the NO”… For the last two months the streets of the city Lima have been converted into a war field: two camps the “YES” and the “NO” have been trying to get a support of the majority of Lima’s population in the upcoming referendum for (the YES) or against (the NO) the revocation of the current mayor of the city Susana Villaran.

Everything started when an ex-mayor of Lima, secretly paid a whole lot of money to a lawyer and a university professor to start gathering signatures to revoke the current mayor, accusing her of a “total failure in fulfilling her role”,from americatv.com.pe for example, worsening the traffic in Lima (although it’s hard to believe it could be worse than it is!) by ordering the police to regulate it, mostly replacing the traffic lights with inexperienced policeman and policewomen. From there, the snowball started rolling and resulted in the public referendum.

Accusations are many, true crimes are few. But in a nutshell the mayor is seen as supporting the rich and neglecting the poor (and the differences between the rich and the poor in the city of Lima, the capital of the fastest growing economy in Latin America are severe). Her ideas are good, but there was very little or no change that happened in the city, and it was mostly invisible for the poor, or made them angry, like the prohibition to the bus drivers to listen to music loudly while driving, which converted thousands of bus drivers that work 14 hours a day in dust and stress while the music is their only entertainment, into the furriest supporters of the YES side. Her own intention was however was to grant the passengers their right to choose to travel in tranquility or to listen to the music of their choice through the personal headphones.

While the enemy politician is hoping to overtake the power, Susana launched her own campaign, as a citizen, for the NO. “No, Lima can’t stop” (developing, I guess)from blogparamaestros.blogspot.com says the main slogan that was recently joined by “NO to delinquency”, “NO to corruption” (I was told by independent party that Susana is the least corrupt politician in the whole country, this is why she gets the opposition), “NO to discrimination”, “NO to violence against women”, “NO to fear”, which are all important messages that will probably not reach the hearts and minds of many for being part of the political campaign of the current mayor.

Posters are put up and graffiti paintings are painted on the grey walls of the buildings, drivers attach the stickers on the front windows of their vehicles, TV and radio host ardent talk shows and investigate who paid for the campaign, newspapers claim almost 50/50 support of each side and calculated the loss of 69 million soles (about 25 mln US$) for the city council for the change of power, activists armed with the loudspeakers and piles of leaflets propagate one of the sides, while the whole city anxiously waits the 17 of March referendum.

 

(Unfortunately, the photos are not mine. The credit is given in the title of each photo)

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How to find a place to live in Peru

The house owner’s “invitation” to move out from the place we lived in was taken as an opportunity to find something better and possibly cheaper.

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Street advertisement informing you that “corn (is) on sale” in this house. Similar hand made masterpieces inform about home ice-cream on sale, lost pets and rooms for rent.

But how do I search for a flat to rent in Peru?

I rang a doorbell next to the white sheet of paper with hand written “SE ALQUILA. Razón aquí” (Eng.: For rent. More information here). Somebody slightly raised a curtain, then opened a window.

– Good afternoon. I was wondering about the flat you’re renting… – I said trying to figure out if the person behind the window will actually come out to talk to me. The curtain was closed and in a minute I heard the sound of the door lock. A small stocky not very young lady wearing big reading glasses came out.

– Hello. Yes, I’m renting the place. Is it for you? – she asked me closely starring at me through the gate separating us. I explained to her that I’m looking for a flat for a family with a kid. The lady didn’t reply and I went on telling her how nice and reliable the family was, that they lived in the neighbourhood for quite a while, have a stable income. – Well, it’s only one room with a shared kitchen I’m renting, it could be perfect for you…

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Some ads are small… some – gigantic! This one is inviting you to a typical Peruvian live music concert.

– Ah, but too small for a family… – I sighed. I wish I knew that before ringing the bell.

– I think so. Well, there is a street guardian a few blocks from here down the road, he knows all the residents and he might know of the place that’s looking for tenants, – she apologetically pointed to the right.

I thankyou-ed her and went to the direction she pointed.

Talking to people in the area is the way to find a place to live in Peru: just walking all the streets in the neighbourhood, ringing the bell on the doors that have any sort of renting announcements (usually informal, written on a white sheet with a maker), having a look at the local market’s notice boards, talking to the travelling ice-cream sellers and local shop owners asking if they know of any place being open for rent. Internet ads and renting companies are rare and restricted to posh-ier neighbourhoods of the cities.

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The cat that lives on our 3rd floor “terrace” (un-built space that is used for hanging clothes) is fed by the house owner and recently gave birth to 4 wonderful little ones that look nothing like her ^_^

Tenants in the poorer residential districts just walk around allowing themselves to be guided by local people. After 4 days of search, me and my flatmate visited some 4 flats and decided to stay in a beautiful, newly built two bedroom flat on the 3 floor, some 7 houses away from our previous living place.

P.S. After moving in I went back to the corner grocery store to thank a cute old lady for recommending me the flat. She was happy to hear we found the place and introduced me to her cat and a dog that were sleeping under a stone bench just outside the shop.

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The owner is not the God

On a promisingly peaceful Thursday night me and my flatmate heard a knock on the door. Since the house we live in is fenced, the only people who can be knocking on our door are our downstairs neighbours aka the owners of the house. I opened the door and greeted the old lady. She didn’t greet me and asked if my flatmate was in without even looking at me. I called Jimmy and he appeared on the doorstep while I sat down on the sofa next to the entrance to continue reading a book.

It was useless to try to read again: the words I overheard from the conversation outside the open door were too disturbing. The old lady was telling off my 36 year old flatmate like a primary school student for such minor things (like not locking the double front door (that shut automatically) and not sweeping the stairs to the second floor, where we lived (that he truly never did, because they get dusty anyway, since they’re outside) that the drama in her voice was completely inappropriate. My flatmate obediently listened. The lady felt the taste of his silence and went over to criticize his private life. He kept quiet. She then changed the tone to more “pity evoking” and was telling Jimmy that she as a mother couldn’t stand his behaviour, accentuating his private issues.

I jumped out of the sofa thinking “How dare you? His private life is none of your business,” and went outside trying to mediate… well, rather to let the lady know she is crossing the limits. I invited myself into the conversation as politely as I could, answered to her blames and offered that we’ll follow her rules if her family will show a bit more respect towards us. She looked at me and then told my flatmate she will speak only with him. I couldn’t believe my ears: I was a legal inhabitant of that flat, I was paying the rent and not doing any damage. “Do you want me to leave?”, – I asked not being able to believe she throuws me out of the conversation. She didn’t reply. My flatmate turned to me and asked me if I mind heating up the dinner. I did, but I went to the kitchen feeling the bitterness from unjust treatment.

– She wants us to move out, – my flatmate entered the kitchen a few minutes after.

– What? Why? Is it because of me?

– No, it’s not because of you, don’t worry. It’s the way she is. You heard: we don’t mob the stairs, nor lock the font gate…

– That’s enough to send us out?

– She is the owner, she does what she feels like.

– But she can’t pry into your private life!, – I burst out swearing

– Well, in this country, the one who has money or owns property can do whatever they want to. There is nothing that protects you from them…

– Can’t believe that… – I couldn’t get the fact you can have an unfinished two store brick building gives you the right to treat people like rubbish, – Why didn’t she want to talk to me?

– Because you’re a woman. A foreigner. And you don’t own anything, – he replied and smiled.

I was treated as inferior because of being a poor white woman. Made me furious. I was ready to grab the old lady’s hair and spit into her face. Now I understood why an unequal treatment provokes violence…

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Learning to change the world without getting hands dirty

People often ask me how do I find my new job and when I say that I love it, and that nothing seems to be better than working on sustainable development, hunger, health and discrimination questions with a cool office team, they get disappointed: “So it is office work? You don’t actually go into the field and do stuff? How boring…”. Besides my job being labeled as boring, the people I talk to don’t quite understand the meaning of it – how can you “save the world” sitting in the office? I’ll be honest with you: I used to ask the same question before I started this job.

The answer soon became clear – working in an office of an NGO is like working behind the scenes – you become an invisible somebody, without whom a performance would not be happening, even if there are actors. Think of a theatre: the director, playwright, sound operator, lighting and scenic designers, electrician, wardrobe supervisor, dresser, paint crew and many more – all these people are absent from the final show, however they are crucial for it to happen. Now think of an office: an executive director is “the head” of the NGO – she, in our case, not only coordinates EVERYTHING that is happening in the organization, but also represents it to the outsiders: she is the one who goes to the meetings with the potential partners and donors, answering all the questions about who we are and what we do, reporting to the existing funders our progress and so on.

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A painting on the wall in Urubamba

Everything she cannot cover, like paper work including incoming payments, arranging travels, looking for the best deals when anything has to be bought for the projects or the office, as well as monitoring volunteers coming and going is the responsibility of the administrator. Being a volunteer dependent organization, we have a sort of “casting director” that looks for the “stars” that will be building for, curing, educating and helping in other ways a local community. A media director is our “wardrobe supervisor”, “paint crew” and “publicist” – she (yes we are quite a feminine team : )) makes us look in a certain way (that we are not a business, for example, but and NGO working for sustainable development), she makes us known to people (no, nobody has asked for autographs. Yet!). Finally, their salary has to be counted, so have to be the money on which the project is being run, and all the taxes paid… there it comes – the necessity of an accountant.

What is my role then? I guess, as an assistant of the executive director, I have to do a bit of everything, being sometimes a playwright, sometimes a sound operator. I am currently building parts of organization that do not exist, but can help to run the projects, can help to allow these people in the field to keep going, assured they are doing the right thing (by the group of consultants that I’m organizing at the moment) and don’t have to starve doing that (that is why I’m looking for funders and fundraisers). Both make me feel I’m doing something important. More than that, the part that I love about my job is that space for creativity I have to actually propose an idea to be developed as a project. A project that might change the world. Well, at least a little bit a very small part of the world… but one has to start somewhere, right?

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A day on the bus (continued)

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A minibus, called “combi” here: they’re fast, a bit more expensive, less comfortable and feel less safer. And since they transport less people, combis there is more of them on one route than there are buses. Which on the roads of Lima means that combis simply jammed the traffic…

8.20     We are in the queue again: three-line-all-one-way road leading to the bridge that takes me to the heart of the old city centre. Women march through the lines of tightly standing cars, buses and mini buses calling a fruit name and a usual price – 1 sol (US$ 0.40 or £0.25). They hold their hands on the shoulder level, palm up, fingers spread – each finger has about 2 or 3 little narrow transparent bags hanging down with 3 peeled tangerines or 4 apricots, or a peeled cactus fruit called tuna. A lady sitting in front of me opens the window and shouts for the seller. The seller runs to the window and makes a transaction just before the bus starts moving again. A young newspaper vendor sells about 6 newspapers before the traffic gets moving again.

In another ten minutes passengers get desperate: “Avance, señor, avance!” (Move forward, sir, move forward!) people start shouting to the bus driver and banging the celling or the floor. “Where I’m going to move?! There is no space! Look at this traffic!”, driver shouts back defending himself. An old lady starts shouting that he allows other cars to cut him (!) and they advance while you’re keeping us in the same place! People nervously look at their hand watches and sight.

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Not sure how I feel about this monstrous building that is the seat of the Ministry of Culture…

8.30      Within the next 15 minutes half of the bus gets off. We are on the main avenues of Lima, passing huge university buildings, old colonial mansions, some ugly industrial stuff. Two seats away on my left a woman is standing up to sit down. All three men standing between me and the seat indicate to me that it’s free – I noticed that men would almost never take a seat if there is a woman standing around. Only if she refuses to sit down.

8.45     A woman gets into the bus through the back door. She marches to the front turns to the rest of the bus and starts loudly: “Dear ladies and gentlemen, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers” and she goes on telling a story of how she came from the province searching for better life in Lima, got a job cleaning a house, then was diagnosed this illness (she shows an x-ray photo of some sort of bone),

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Gamarra: the famous shopping street in Lima. Cheap, good quality “Made in Peru” stuff. It gets “jammed” only on Saturdays.

so now she cannot work, has a kid, and doesn’t know what to do. “Help me please, dear ladies and gentleman, I’m a lonely mother, I worked hard and only this illness doesn’t allow me to continue doing so. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t think that I’m just a beggar, I didn’t come with my hands empty (she shows a bag of sweets), I have these very tasty lemon candies for you: 20 cents one candy, 3 for 50 and 6 for 1 sol”.  She passes the bus stopping 2 or 3 times to receive money from a few smartly dressed women.

Once she gets off, a man gets inn to tell a similar story, and sells the same kind of sweets. I ask the lady next to me if she believes in what the man is saying. She shakes her head:“He looks fine to me”. A couple of passengers (that got onto the bus after the “previous lady”) give some money to the beggar.

9.05      “Clinica!”, “Clinica, baja!” (Clinic! Getting off on Clinic). People are getting up from their seats and shouting out the bus stop that I need. The bus stops in the middle of the road and lets people out. I finally get to work. After 2 hours and 10 minutes of survival lessons, guide to human nature and a training on patience. Welcome to the public transport in Lima!

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A day on the bus

7.00am     I’m heading to the bus stop. In front of me opens up one of the busiest veins of Lima – part of Pan American route. A multitude of vehicles slowly move forward, keeping so close to each other that they seem to be wagons of a single train. A large queue formed on the exit from the neighbourhood to the main road. Roar of the motors and impatient beeping of the car horns is mixed up with the shouts of bus driver helpers announcing the route. A motorcycle just past me by: he was cutting the way by getting through a pedestrian walk. Crossing the 2 line auxiliary road to get to the main, seems impossible: there are no traffic lights and there is not a car that would stop to let you go. In some 10 minutes of waiting, I quickly run on another side.

7.15am     I’m waiting for my white and red bus, that is known as Santa Cruz, route 13, or NO-03, and suddenly I see it through the metal fence separating two roads. The bus is passing on the auxiliary road. Perhaps that’s the bus that confused the way (I’m calming myself)… Another 10 minutes wait. The air is suffocating. There is just too much traffic. Another white and red bus passes by on my left. On auxiliary road. I must be doing something wrong waiting for the bus on the designated bus stop!

7.40am     I run back to the cross and while waiting to cross it, the bus I need comes to the stop. On the main road this time. I run back. The bus closes the doors and tries to get back to the traffic. The bus behind is hitting the horn continuously – it decided that my bus was at halt for too long. Thanks to traffic bus moves slower than a snail. It sees me signaling, opens the doors and the driver’s assistant shouts “Suba rápido! Suba rápido!” (Get in, quick! Get in, quick!). I jump into the moving bus. Thanks god I’m in!

I’m trying to squeeze in between people to get to the middle, as I’m told by the assistant, but it’s impossible. The bus looks (and feels) like an overfilled can of sardines. No space for sauce. Nor air. We move 50 meters and stop in the middle of the biggest traffic jam I’ve ever seen.

8.00     We haven’t moved a meter more. An old gentlemen sitting on one of the reserved seats starts talking loudly to an old lady next to him, who is obviously forcing herself to look through the window to show the lack of interest in the talk. “Traffic gets worse and worse everyday! And all because of this darn mayor! She doesn’t know anything about traffic, of course she is rich! And she is a woman! And this is what she is doing… the police now regulates the traffic!  No,worse, the police women regulate the traffic! It’s all because of the women, they don’t  know a damn about how to regulate the traffic!”… I’m on pins and needles to give this old gentlemen a good slap on his face and tell  him to shut up and stop slandering women!

8.05     We finally move forward and pass the ominous turn of the road. Two slightly overweight policemen (!) were regulating the impossible traffic on the Lima’s main road. I looked with the triumph at the spiteful old machista.

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10.30pm After the rush hours traffic gets somewhat better. Well, at least you keep moving all the time.

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New Year in Lima: oddities

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Yellow. Everything becomes yellow in Lima: houses are excessively decorated with yellow posters, balloons and garlands, people dress in yellow, put on tall yellow hats and long yellow paper necklaces. Yellow brings good luck, according to local people. Traditionally, though, it’s only underwear that supposed to be yellow and worn inside out to attract the luck.

On the 31 of December just after midday people march in crowds from the Central Market carrying the paper faces of characters that following the custom “have spoiled the leaving year”. Mostly these are face sized photos of the politicians.  These paper masks-pictures together along with traditional stuffed dolls made of old clothing and other old stuff are burned in one of the numerous fire buns lightened specially for the New Year Celebration.

As for celebration, the rich go to the expensive parties in the clubs around the city, the adventurous greet the new year from the beach, the quiet ones spend it with the family and neighbours.

Hey, but independently of how much money you have, at 12 you’ll join millions of people around the world to follow the old as hills are Chinese tradition of fireworks. And the city will become a bomb field: explosions continue for hours and hours…

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