Settling In

Greetings, Intrepid Readers!

3 Weeks has passed since we left the States for a 10 month stay in Lima, Peru. Now that we’ve got housing and internet figured out, behold! My very first post. Rather than give you a blow by blow of what I’ve been doing for the past 3 weeks, I’ll give you a quick overview of what has happened thus far and what I’ve learned in the time I’ve been here.

Finding housing was tough. We walked into scams a few times and were lucky enough to bail out when things started looking suspicious. Case in point, we worked with two different people who were very courteous and professional, but as soon as contact signing came time, they became pushy and impatient. In one case, one of the property owners wanted us to pay all 10 months up front. Nope nope nope.

Speaking of property owners, renting is way different here. You don’t rent apartments from rental companies, you’re renting from individual owners. So there may be an apartment building, but the apartments are owned by various owners and realty companies. Then, when working with them, you need to validate they actually own the apartment and then get their DNI number (basically their Social Security Number) to validate that they are actually who they say there are. It’s a whole thing, and it’s frustrating and exhausting. Rent in the part of Lima we were originally looking at is pricey, equivalent to US rent prices, really. The area, called Miraflores, is very nice, but aside from the language difference (and drains draining the opposite direction) you’d be hard pressed to discern you were in a big city outside of the United States.

So, we gave up that tact and started looking into renting rooms of already occupied apartments, which went well, so now we’ve got roommates in a district south of Miraflores, called Barranco. It feels a lot more authentic here, and we have lots of money not spent on rent to go do other things, like eating out.

So let’s talk about food here since I have so expertly segued into the topic. I haven’t fully decided yet if groceries are expensive or eating out is cheap, but in any case, buying groceries and eating out is about a near break-even proposition, at least for the areas we are in. If I were a native, I’m sure I’d know all the deals and could cook for a lot less, but I haven’t figured out all the deals, so this is a bit how meals have gone for me since we got here:

Buy groceries for breakfast. Lima, from what I can tell, isn’t really into breakfast, and it drives me nuts. I like myself a big breakfast, so I’ve been making eggs with cereal that I pour liquid yogurt over and a cup of milk or juice.

Hold on, you say. Liquid yogurt?

Yeah, its a thing, and it’s not that bad. In all honesty, I like it more than milk on my cereal because the cereal doesn’t get soggy, but I don’t have to eat it dry either. They’ve got lots of flavors, but thus far I’ve tried just vanilla and mango.

Anyway, after breakfast, later in the day I go out for lunch and get something called menú. This ranges from 3-6 dollars and it usually consists of rice, potatoes (yes, two carbs) and various meats of your preference in all kinds of tasty (and salty) sauces. These are huge meals, and depending on when I eat will determine if I eat dinner. If I have a menú anytime after three, chances are I’m not having dinner and get by on some fruit or bread as a snack. If we do eat dinner, it’s a 50/50 shot as to whether we eat out or make dinner. Since we’re living with other people and sharing a kitchen, we don’t have lots of space to keep much, so we’re really only making dinner three to four times a week. In some cases, we eat leftovers, in other cases, we eat out.

Dinner out is more expensive than a menú as they roll out their full menus for dinner, but it’s still substantially cheaper than in the states. Melissa and I will be spoiled by the time we get back that we can’t get a filling dinner out for $15-20 total. I’ll be even more spoiled when I come home and can’t get lunch and a beer for $6.

It also helps that the grant we’re on pays in US dollars, but we purchase with the Peruvian currency, Neuvo Sol. One dollar is roughly 3 soles, so outside of rent and some groceries, our money can stretch pretty far.

Another thing I’ve been learning about is the bus system. Their is only one city run bus service, and it’s pretty limited. All the other buses are owned by independent contractors, and for many of them, their isn’t a known route, they just have the neighborhoods and major streets they run on painted on the side of the bus. It’s confusing as hell, and really, the whole bus system must be based on the idea of “Here, you figure it out.” Once you get on the bus, or really, once you get on the road in general, their is only one overriding mantra for any and all other people on the road that isn’t your own person. It’s pretty simple, and its this:

Go Fuck Yourself.

That’s it. That’s the singular rule of the road.

Buses will gun it down the street, only to slam on their breaks to go over a speed bump. What should the passengers do about it to deal with this? Refer above.

Traffic lanes and stop signs are but mere suggestions all over the city. Turn signals are very expensive options here apparently as nobody has them and traffic lights and meaningless bullshit meant only for everyone else. So since rules of the roads don’t apply, and everyone is not stopping, you can imagine the chaos. Eventually, traffic backs up into intersections where opposing traffic can no longer navigate through. What are the people blocking the intersection thinking or swerving through lanes, or straddling lanes, or cutting other people off ? Refer above.

Traffic is a complete and utter mess. Most people I’ve noticed have portraits of Jesus Christ himself somewhere in their car, most likely so that he can take the wheel at a moment’s notice.

But let’s not forget about the other half of the equations. Want to walk across the road when it says it safe to do so? Proceed with extreme caution, because drivers aren’t going to stop unless some sort of physical barrier prevents their movement, and pedestrians don’t count as a physical barrier. Think your safe on the sidewalk? Maybe, but keep your wits about you, because Motorcyclists consider sidewalks to be viable lanes of traffic.

And where are the police in all of this? Doing the same thing. They don’t give a damn. If Lima enforced their traffic laws (they do have them, its just nobody cares) and made people pay the fines for a year, I’m convinced the city would have a twenty year budget surplus.

Finally, this is the most important thing I have learned since being here. Lima is woefully unprepared for a disaster, and it impacts the cities poorest residents most severly. Northern Lima and Northwest Peru have experienced severe flooding, which in itself is bad. However, Western Peru is a desert, so they are doubly unprepared for any sort of excess water. In the past two weeks, faced with Climate Change and an El Niño cycle, the city has experienced devastating and deadly flooding. They had bad floods back in 98 during the last El Niño, but my roomates say it was not nearly this bad as last time.

Currently, the northern section of the city has been more or less isolated from the rest of the city. Bridges have been swept away, houses have crumbled into the river, landslides have wiped out entire blocks and at least 75 lives have been lost. Many of the cities’ poor reside in the Northern and Eastern sections of the city, and they’ve been cut off from clean water and electricity. To add insult to injury, when infrastructure isn’t decimated, the poor in Lima pay more to access water than the wealthy.

As I said, Lima is a desert, but from the parts of the city I’ve been in thus far, you wouldn’t know it. Water is used to water grass and gardens in an area where they shouldn’t even grow, while the poor pay much more for the very little they get everyday. It’s quite shameful.

To increase the shame, the richest district in the city abuts the poorest district in the city. To fix the problem of having to see slums, a nearly 20 foot wall was built and topped with razor wire so that the poor couldn’t even get into a neighborhood across the street where water is cheaper and easily accessible.

So this cycles back to the poor having minimal access to water to the poor being the most adversely affected by flooding. The poor are paying the most for the cities inability to cope with a disaster it has seen before.

Where Melissa and I are, we’ve been pretty lucky and safe. We’ve seen some intermittent water shutoffs while the water treatment plant gets closed to clean it off mud and debris from flooding. Still, I feel guilty that I am this outsider that has come traipsing into the city for a few months, while the people who live here and dealing with horrific conditions on a daily basis. I’m planning on doing some volunteer work over the weekend with an expat group here, but that hardly seems like enough and yet I can’t think of how else I could affect any sort of change.

So this takes us up to now, Intrepid Readers. I plan to post more often now that we’re all settled in. I’ll hopefully have some adventures coming in the near future that I can share with you. I’ll also need to do some border hopping in the next few months to comply with Peru’s visa requirements, so there should be some excitement to share there as well. Still, that’s still a ways off.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in helping with flood relief efforts in Lima, please consider donating to the International Red Cross, who’s link I have supplied.

Until Next Time.


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