Daily Archives: March 30, 2012

Wednesday: Huaycan is literally the loudest place I have ever been

There are the usual busy city sounds: dogs barking, people yelling, horns blaring.  But there are also a series of distinct sounds for everything here. The garbage man comes every morning.  He rides a little moto around and sings a sort of song into a megaphone:  “Come with your garbage.  Come with your garbage.”  People then come running to give him their trash.

There are some other words to that song, but I’m gonna need to Google the lyrics – the megaphone tends to distort.


Then, we have the mothers who use horns to call their children home.  One toot is not enough.  They toot until the child shows up.  Around sundown the mom-horns start to kick in.  Each horn is a little different, and the voluntarios who have been here long enough can even tell which kid belongs to which sound, and thereby deduce who is in a crapload of trouble for not showing up on time.  Alejandro seems to be in trouble a lot.


Then, there are the sounds of the whistles that the security guys use to ward off would-be thieves.  The sound of the lady who sells bread from her bike basket: just a standard bike bell while she yells “PAAAAN.”  The man who sells his wife’s leftovers is my favorite. He’s got a pretty good voice and he just sings about whatever she’s made.  The papas rellenas are pretty legit.  When all the sounds start to happen at once, it’s all so very Oliver Twist ala the “Who Will Buy” number.  All the street vendors singing about there wares.  “Who will buuuuuuy my sweet red rooooooses, twoooooo blooooms for a penny…”



A bunch of the voluntarios pile into a Combi.  There are no seats and we have to stand.  I realize I’m literally the only one in the bunch who doesn’t isn’t required to be doubled over in order to “stand-up.”  In fact, I couldn’t even touch the roof with my head if I stood on tiptoes.  I feel a little bit like the Bee Girl in that Blind Melon video… I’ve found my people!  We’re all sort of short, and stout, and into carbs.  I totally fit in here.  Take that tall, fit, handsome Germans!



The Combi system is really ridiculous.  In addition to there not being any legit stops or schedules, you also can’t actually trust the cobrador to tell you where you’re going.  They get a commission for every person they get on board, so sometimes they just lie to you about where they’re headed.  Or, actually, it’s not that they lie really, but they omit.  So if you walk up to one and ask: “Avenida de Quince?” they don’t actually say yes, they just yell:  “Sube. Sube. Sube.” (Get on. Get on.)  They bang the side of the bus and yell to people walking by on the streets trying, I can only assume, to solicit them into taking a Combi ride they weren’t otherwise planning to take.  (“You know, I wasn’t planning on spending money to be packed so tightly into a van that I’m actually covered in other people’s sweat, all just to go somewhere I don’t even need to be, but that Cobrador is quite the salesman.”)


They just act like they didn’t hear you, or that they’re so busy taking money and advertising that they don’t have time to say anything but “Sube.”  So they just keep yelling at you, and so eventually you just sube and hope it’s going to where you need to be.


So today, in Zone Z, I discover a bunch of children standing around a giant turtle….wait….let me back up and paint a better picture for you with these actual pictures.

This, friends, is Huaycan.


It’s basically a desert valley between a bunch of mountains.


There’s no water for miles. None.  Like sometimes not even to drink.  The only wildlife I’ve seen so far are stray dogs.  Animals don’t live in these conditions.  People barely live in them.  I’ve seen cacti dried out and keeled over.  So marine life certainly does not live here.  And listen, I’m no scientist, right.  Maybe it’s a land tortoise or something…. but he doesn’t live in Huaycan anymore than he lives inManhattan.

– Um, Ernesto where did you guys get this turtle?

– We found him.

– You found him where?

– Here.  (Points to mound of garbage on the side of the road)

– Here in the trash?

– Si.  We wanted to feed him something, but I think they eat leaves and we don’t have those (See above In re: no water/vegetation).


Enter another voluntario.

Other Voluntario: – What the hell?  Is that a tortoise?

Me: –  I’ve been saying turtle, but what do I know?

OV: –  Yeah, it’s definitely a tortoise.

Me: –  You sure learned a lot majoring in Spanish literature.

OV –  But how did he get up here? (Looks down the massive hill.) There’s no way it climbed up the hill, right?

Me-  Doubtful.  I feel like we would’ve seen him making his way up here for days.  This is apparently the first sighting.

OV: – Crazy.

Me: – Yeah, the poor little guy probably got on the wrong Combi and shit.  He was all like “Galapagos?”  and they were like “Sube! Sube!”

OV: – Yeah, I guess.  But once you see you’re on the wrong Combi, you just get off.

Me: – Dude, he’s a turtle…

OV: – Tortoise…

Me: – …tortoise…by the time he was able to get moving it was too late.  Now he lives here among the Zone Z trash.  He’ll probably never be able to get up enough speed to catch another Combi headed back down.







Tuesday: The Guilt of Privilege



It’s amazing how little space you really need to live.  I’m in a house with ten people and I’ve managed to cram my entire life into a twin sized bed and three small drawers.  My bed doubles as a storage space.  I sleep all the way against the rails and store clothes, books, medicine and various other things along the side of the wall.  I cuddle with the neck pillow that I would normally use for the plane.  There is nowhere else to put it anyway.




We are working on a mural with the women in Zone Z.  They’re not quite sure about how it works or why we’re doing it, but we’re trying to teach them about the reasons murals are used/popular.  Giving them examples of Diego Rivera and various other types of political style murals.  One of the girls I work with designed a beautiful mural for them to paint on the wall of the school room of our building.  We gave them the mural broken down onto pieces of paper for them to do a test run of the grid system.  The mural is a picture of what is quite clearly a Peruvian woman with a child strapped to her back in a colorful blanket.  Each woman received a square to paint however she liked and every single woman who had any skin color in her drawing, colored her in to be a Gringa.  It was weird and a little sad.  Like those social experiments back in the day where little black girls were made to choose between two barbies, and they were always picking the white one.  I hope the real mural turns out to actually look like them.




After the mural in Zone Z, we run to catch the Combi to Zone S.  It’s starting to leave without us, and we’re already late.  So I start running and yelling. Chelseafollows me.  We already attract plenty of attention to ourselves and now we’re two loud-arse Gringas sprinting after the Combi in our flip flops and backpacks, yelling in poor Spanish.  The Combi stops and we get on, panting.  All the natives are shaking their heads and laughing at us.


Each of the Zones is sort of set up the same way.  There’s dirt road leading away from the main roads of the “city” that go uphill at about a 45 degree angle.  Off these “main” dirt roads, are smaller dirt roads where people have set up makeshift houses.  The further uphill you go, the further you are from the city, the worse the poverty becomes.  Zone S is one of the newer Zones we’ve started to work with.  The Combis for this area only go about halfway up the hill, at which point you have to get out, and hope to find a Mototaxista that you think/hope won’t rob you (“Look the driver in the eyes,” the Peruvians will tell you, “this is how you know it’s safe”).  Alternatively, you can walk about 15 solid minutes up this desert hill at a 45 degree angle, through an area of the Zone where no one knows you, all the way up to the tippy top of the mountain where we work.


In Zone Z, we work with the people who live right in the middle of the mountain path, we’ve been there awhile and everyone knows and sort of watches out for the Gringos.  The ladies wait with us at night after class, the children greet us.  It’s safer.  But in Zone S, all the locals in the middle of the hill know, is that a few times every day a bus drops off a bunch of Gringos in backpacks, ostensibly filled with loads of expensive, stealable, items, and they trek uphill to do god knows what, totally unattended.


During the day it doesn’t feel like that big of a deal.  Lots of people are out and about, women and children, etc.  It’s busy.  You’re always with a voluntario buddy, so it’s fine.  At night, it’s less so, and I’m not keen to walk down the mountain in the dark every night at the same time.  It seems like just asking for trouble.  The other voluntarios keep telling me they’ve never had a problem and it’s fine.  But it’s not for me.


Tonight, three of us begin walking down the hill and we’re suddenly surrounded by four very large, ferociously barking dogs.  Stray dogs abound in Huaycan, but mostly they’re either disinterested or friendly.  These four are obviously neither.  The Peruvian non-friendly-dog-repellent-method is a three step process.


Step 1) Clap your hands and make noises in their direction;

Step 2) if step 1 fails, pick up a rock. Usually even motioning in the direction of a rock is enough to send them flying.

Step 3) if steps 1 and 2 fail, throw rock.


I have only ever made it to miming a rock pick-up and it’s been pretty successful.  But now it’s dark, and we’re outnumbered.  Maybe we could scare off a few of them, but really, who knows?  Maybe one of them will end up being really brave and attack.  We all try to stay calm and keep walking at an even pace.  Don’t look back!  We’re in their territory and as soon as we’re out they’ll go away.  We walk with them nipping at the air behind our heels for about a solid 40 seconds, and they give up.  We start to laugh and feel relieved, but this is obviously a sort of provocation as far as one of the dogs is concerned, because he chases after us and starts up again.  Dear God don’t let a dog bite one of us.  It’s not even the bite itself that worries me; it’s the Peruvian hospital I’d have to go to thereafter.  Or possibly even the transportation I’d have to take at this late hour to even get there:

– How’d Abby die?

– Dog bite.

– Geez, I thought it was just a minor wound.

– Yeah. She got shot on the way to the hospital.


The dogs all give up and we survive.  Halfway down the hill we run into some kids we know from class and warn them about the dogs up the hill.  “Oh, those dogs are okay.  You just have to remember to never run and you’ll be okay.  If you run, they’ll bite you.”  Noted.  I can’t believe these kids have to trek through that everyday to get home.  Alone.  In the dark no less.  I wish I were as brave as this 11 year old.


We get to the middle of the hill and wait for the Combi with a large crowd of people.  Three little girls are staring at us like we’re aliens.  They take turns pushing each other forward, no one wanting to be the first girl to speak to us.  They finally walk over.

– Do you live here?

– No. We live in Zone D. (Looks of disbelief)

– But where did you come from?


– English!  You speak English?

– Yes.

They each take turns mimicking the way English sounds to them “Wa wah wah wah.”

– Yep that’s about right.

– How did you come here?

– In a plane.

– No way!  What is a plane like?

– Like a Combi I guess.  But it flies, and there’s no cobrador [and the seats are welded to the floor, and you don’t have to shut the windows in the 90 degree heat because people walking by might reach in and steal something from you, and the driver’s not nuts, and no one is asking you to hold their chicken while they make change…but other than that, it’s mostly the same].

– Do you think we can visit you inAmerica?  Can we take a plane?  Will we take a plane one day?


No.  No, you won’t.  That’s the sad thing.  Most of you will probably never even take a Combi to another Zone….and with that, the guilt of privilege sets in….