Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Monday, June 21, 2010

Peace Corps - The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love

Beauty pagaent contestants. The one in the middle won.
Judges hard at work tallying their results.

Fan club for the Computer/IT group

My recruiter did not tell me there’d be days like this. I’ve been working with an English teacher and the health promoter in my town, both of whom are professors at the Instituto. Last week after I finished my English class, the professor invited me to come watch the beauty pageant. Since that normally is my night to teach and I didn’t have anything else to do, I gladly accepted. Looking at pretty girls seemed like a damn good alternative to sitting around the house bored watching shitty telenovelas (soap operas) with the host mom. Besides, this would be an excellent opportunity to promote America and world peace, or something like that.

When I arrived at the Instituto, I bullshitted with some of the professors and ate some picarrones, fried dough beignet-like things with syrup (delicious). The health promoter told me to come with her and lead me to the judges table. The Justice of the Peace who was going to be the fourth judge wasn’t able to make it so they wanted me to be the replacement judge. I’d judged a beauty pageant for incoming freshman last month and it was not a horrible experience so why not.

The pageant started promptly at the Hora Peruana (was supposed to start at 5:30 but started at 7:00). There were five contestants, one from each career track offered at the Instituto – Tourism, Computers/IT, Agriculture, Automotive, and Nursing. The contestants started out in casual wear which consisted of white blouses, black mini-skirts and high heels. They introduced themselves and did a choreographed dance to a Madonna song which, quite frankly, needed a little work. After the dance, the girls left the stage and changed into their evening gowns. I was waiting for the bathing suit segment of the pageant but, sadly, there wasn’t one.

During the intermissions, there were various musical and dancing acts. A fellow by the name of JC did a kind of rap/break dancing routine, a girl with dyed blond hair sang a couple of songs, and a few skimpily dressed girls danced to a pretty erotic song with alot of thrusting and chest heaving right in front of the judges table. At the end of the dance, they were hot sweaty, breathing hard and their hair was a bit disheveled. It would have been pretty hot except they were about 16 years old. I was a little uncomfortable.

After the intermission, the contestants came out dressed “a la tela” (to the nines) in their evening dresses. They selected an envelope and had to answer a question that was related to their career track. They all did very well except for the girl representing Agriculture. As she was answering her question, some asshole photographer that was up front taking pictures answered a phone call and was blabbing loudly as she was trying to answer. It was very distracting and threw her off completely. She couldn’t get back on track and quit saying that’s all I’ve got.

My task as a judge was to assign points based on presentation, beauty, culture, and fan support. The fans were a little bit insane with costumes, confetti, cans with rocks in them, an old bicycle pump with a horn taped to it, drums, cowbells, brass instruments, and piercing screams.

The points were tallied and verified by all the judges. The scorecards were signed and delivered to the Emcee.

And winner of the Reinado del Instituto Tecnológico Palpa/Rio Grande…

The girl from Computers/IT! Peruvian nerds are hotter than ours.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

La Invación – The Invasion (Part II)

La Invación

Communal kitchen in the center

Family signing property title paperwork

I went to the municipality today to talk with the mayor and bullshit with my socio over there. The place was packed with the folks from a town called Santa Rosa up the quebrada (valley) a bit. I asked my socio what was going on and he told me all the townsfolk were there to apply for title to their property. Now these folks have been living in their houses in Santa Rosa for years. I don’t know how they acquired the property and built their houses but they were just now getting around to formalizing with the central government and lay title to their piece of Peru. The initiative was spear-headed by the Mayor of Rio Grande because he sees the value in it. That and he's also up for re-election.

Since the mayor was busy I decided to walk up to the invasion. I haven’t been up there in a while because every time I went up there the folks were always asking me for bags of rice (100 soles), cooking oil (8 soles), money, etc. I hated feeling like a dick by telling them “soy un voluntario no un millonario”. Besides, the last time I visited I donated a bottle of cooking oil they kind of looked at me like “What? That’s all?” and then told me to go back and buy them gaseosas (sodas). At that point I said f*ck this I ain’t coming back.

My host family has since retired from the invasion. They couldn’t spend 24/7 there because they had to work, go to college, and the gringo living in their house wouldn’t sleep out there. The folks in the invasion were giving them a ton of grief because they weren’t putting in their fair share by helping build roads, cooking meals, cleaning, keeping watch, etc. so they were sort of forced out.

But I was curious today so I went back. The folks had laid out plots of land, built one room houses out of cane supports with thatch walls and ceilings and tin doors. They had built a little road with a row of houses on each side. They had a communal kitchen near the center of the town. There is still no electricity. People bring in water in 35 gallon drums with wheelbarrows to the communal area. One pregnant lady was toting a five gallon gas can of water to her house. I’m not sure where they shit but I didn’t see any latrines. I stopped to talk with some of the ladies cooking lunch to see how it was going. They said the supposed owners still hadn’t shown up to discuss the options. Seeing that the folks from Santa Rosa are just now formalizing their properties, getting a proper title could take years.

I was reading the Mystery of Capital – Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando Soto when the invasion happened back in May. Soto did a lot of research in Peru and in other 3rd world nations about why capitalism hasn’t fully taken hold in these countries. The book is about 10 years old so some of the information pertaining to Peru is outdated but one of his theories about why capitalism fails is because of “dead capital”. People in these nations are extremely entrepreneurial, WAY more so than in the US. They have their businesses, have property, have housing but it’s extralegal - it works outside the legal framework of the country. It’s not that they don’t want to be titled property owners or have legitimate businesses. In most cases they do. It’s just that the process can be a bureaucratic nightmare that can take years and a ton of money so they have to live outside the bell jar. Because their property is not formalized they can’t leverage it to invest it and make it work for them hence the term “dead capital”.

In the US, if you want to build a house, you leverage what you have with your good credit (now anyways thanks to all those shady real estate brokers), buy property, lay claim to the title, and build. It’s not so with this invasion. Soto gave a good analogy - it’s like getting dressed by putting on your shoes and socks first then the rest of your clothes. The folks are squatting on some land, building on it little by little as resources trickle in, at some stage making an occupancy or purchase arrangement with the legitimate property owner or government, continue building, and finally lay claim to the title. From there I suppose they could leverage it for future investments.

By the way, they didn’t ask me for shit today but I’ll try and work with them on building some communal latrines.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My Site's Better than Yours

I’m pretty sure I have the most beautiful post in the department of Ica. I’ve been to a number of other Volunteers’ sites in Ica. I’m not going to say they’re ugly but they’re not beautiful like mine. My site kind of reminds me of west Texas near the El Paso area. You get to my site crossing though the Pampa de Santa Cruz, a flat sandy desert. As you wind down the side of the mountain into my valley, you pass La Cara del Inca, a natural rock outcrop that looks like an Incan head looking off into the distance at Pichango, the tallest mountain in the Department of Ica. Below, a wide green river valley with a few palm trees.

Across the other side of the valley are smaller grayish-brown flat-topped hills that look like a bunch of elephants lying down side by side. The river is clean and always has water in it. When it rains in the sierra in February through March, the river rises and people go hang out, grill, swim and sometimes drink beer. My town is a sleepy burg of about 1200 people. There’s a pool hall/sports bar that never has beer but puts on all the big soccer games. I’ve been in there a time or two to shoot the shit and talk futbol. There I’ve had in-depth conversations with Don Julio and some of the older men in my town about politics, the weather, kids these days (with their hair and their shoes) - the same things that the retirees that hang out at McDonalds in the morning talk about.

The town plaza just got rebuilt and looks almost exactly like it did before. At night, people sit on the newly installed benches and shoot the shit. Children play soccer in the cobblestone street in front of the church. A couple of ladies sell hamburgers and salchipapas (french fries with sliced hot dog) from a little cart in front of the pension where I eat lunch. My district heads up the valley all the way towards the sierras of Ayacucho, the neighboring department. They grow corn, cotton, ciruelas (a prune-like fruit), mangos and pepinos (cucumbers). They also raise cattle, pigs and goats in this valley.

The valley was once home to the ancient Paracas, Nazca and Incan civilizations. Walking about 30 minutes from my house, there is a largish geoglyph of El Tumi, a sacrificial dagger, on the side of a hill. El Tumi was presumably built by the Paracas civilization. On the hills above me are giant Nazca triangles about the size of football fields.

During my afternoon runs, I run up a rocky valley up into the hills separating my town from Palpa. There you see powerful geologic forces in action. Once horizontal layers of rock jut upwards more than 45 degrees. I try to hit that area around sunset to watch the sun get gobbled up by the shark-toothed sierra to the west.

At night the sky is so big here. With no moon you can see hundreds of stars. There’s the Cruz del Sur, four stars in the shape of a cross that if you draw lines from top to bottom and side to side form a perfect cross.
The best thing about my site apart from its beauty is the people. But we’ll talk about that in another posting.

Saturday Night Cockfights

So what’s a boy to do in the big city of Rio Grande on a Saturday night. Hmm. I’ll head down to the local “sports bar” and have a few beers and shoot the shit with Don Julio and watch a little futbol. What’s that Don Julio? You don’t have beer right now? You haven’t had beer in two weeks. What gives? I could go to the other bar in town but that’s where all the gays and other so-called degenerates hang out. That’s out. Love the gays but don’t need the chisme (gossip) at this particular juncture. I could hang out in the Plaza but they’re redoing it and there are no benches yet. So it’s off to the cockfights in Palpa.

A few Saturdays ago was the grand opening of the new cock fighting coliseum. I went with my site mate and another volunteer who was down visiting. It was 15 Soles ($5) to get in but included a sweet lunch of chancho and pallares (pork and these white lima bean kind of things). After the inauguration ceremonies, complete with skimpily dressed girls, a padre in his brown robe sprinkling holy water throughout the coliseum and the breaking of the champagne bottle we entered the coliseum. Not exactly the coliseum in Rome but still pretty sweet. To the right, the cages where the cocks are kept. In the center, the cock fighting arena, beyond that a stage for a band, and to the left the bar. After a delicious lunch we found our seats in the back of the arena, listened to a band playing popular Peruvian cumbia cover tunes and waited for the fights.

This was the beginning of the season where sure handed cock handlers pit their largest, strongest cocks pecker to pecker. There were 16 matches that evening. Each handler brings about 5 birds with him and uses a different bird each match. It's single elimination (so to speak) and the owner that wins all of his matches wins a bottle of pisco and advances to the final event at the end of the season in August. The winner at the end of this Palpa Super Bowl of Cockfighting wins 50,000 Soles (about $16,666).

I made some side bets with Jess. The bets started out at 20 centimos (about 6 cents) for the first eight fights and bumped it up to a whopping 1 sol (33 cents) the next seven. We bet about 3 soles (1 American Dollar) on the championship fight of the night. I got my ass handed to me.

After a few beers the conversation devolved between the Volunteers because word cock just kept getting funnier. Look at the size of that cock! What a beautiful cock! He’s quite the handsome cocksman. Look at the way he’s handling that cock. He needs to blow on that cock before putting dropping it in the dirt. I hate betting with you –your eye for the cock is just too good. Stroke that cock, I’ve got money riding on it!
And please save your cruelty to animals comments. It's the culture here and otherwise I'd be bored out of my skull on the weekends. Also, I really don't give a sh*t.