Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Saturday, November 7, 2009


We went to do some field training in a little town called Bernales in the Department of Ica which is about four hours south of Lima. I would have called it a small town since it didn’t have a Dairy Queen or a stop light but there were a couple of stores, a couple of pensiones (restaurants) and a place where you could buy beer, sit outside on plastic stools and shoot the shit. Bernales is in the desert and is flanked by irrigated farms on two sides and big-ass sand dunes on the other. Arid mountains are in the distance and the coast is not too far away.

Bernales was hit hard by an earthquake in 2007 and the town is still in the process of rebuilding. Walking around, there were a bunch of folks that still lived in thatch huts while they were rebuilding their houses out of brick and concrete. The Red Cross/Red Crescent is helping out the rebuilding effort by building one-room houses out of thatch covered with plaster, kind of the Peruvian equivalent of the Katrina houses in New Orleans.
Our job while we were there was to build dry bathrooms, pit latrines and flush bathrooms. Pit latrine, no problem. Dig a hole, cut off the ends of a couple of 55-gallon drums, put them in the hole and put a slab over it. The others took a lot more work. For our flush latrine, the family dug a hole two meters deep (about as tall as me) and we lined it with brick so the walls didn’t collapse, put in the piping and poured a slab of reinforced concrete where the shitter goes. Since everything I’ve ever built in my life has wound up in a landfill well before its expected lifespan, I was a little nervous. There were a couple of false starts and it was kind of a one step forward, two steps back approach but we got ‘er done.

The food at the pension in Bernales was awesome! Looking at the place I thought to myself that there’s no fucking way I’m eating there; dirt floors, tarp for a roof and thatch walls. The dishes, however, were spotless and the food was terrific. Lunch and dinner included soup and a main course for 5 soles (<$2). We had fried chicken nuggets, some kind of beef in gravy, fish, and a popular regional dish called sopa seca (spaghetti tossed with something that looked like pesto) and carapulcra (some kind of diced potato side with a spicy sauce). Carapulcra means clean face but every time I’ve had it I’ve managed to spill it all over the place and make an awful mess. Kind of like calling a Sloppy Joe a Spotless Hank. I’m not sure if the name is supposed to be ironical or if I’m just a slob.

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