Monday, July 31, 2006

A Fire in the Neighborhood

I heard a lot of sirens on Friday morning, but didn´t realize the fire trucks were just down the street on the block where I live. Apparently a short circuit started a fire in the house and it quickly engulfed the walls, which were made of esteras (woven grass mats) nailed to wooden posts. The family was asleep at the time, but fortunately all awoke and were able to escape.

On Saturday morning, Sonia and I joined about twenty-five members of the church that the family belongs to, digging through the rubble to find anything that could be salvaged and piling all of the debris in one area. When we started, it looked like a forest of burnt poles with wet burned trash everywhere. This is what it looked like after we finished. The part that Sonia and I worked on had lots of straw, and I asked her whether the family kept animals. ¨No¨, she said, ¨those were their mattresses.¨

About the only things that were salvageable were a few tools and a lot of sheet metal roofing. The family is temporarily living in a lot that is owned by some nuns.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

No, I´m not three weeks late. Peru celebrates its independence from Spain on July 28. For most of the people living in 1821, it was only a nominal independence that had no effect on their lives. The wealthy Spanish elite who controlled the country stopped paying taxes to Spain, but everyone else continued to be controlled by the Spanish elite.

In Peru (or at least here in Lima) you´re required to display the flag on Independence Day, and if you have a business you´re required to clean and paint the exterior. You can be fined for failing either obligation. So the city has become quite a bit more attractive during the past few weeks, and flags are visible everywhere.

There´s a big festival in the park across the street where I live, with lots of good food, some games and raffles. I´m heading there right now with some friends.

Monday, July 24, 2006

My New Place -- With A Hot Shower

I´ve finally found an apartment with a large bedroom, a spacious dining room and a tiny kitchen, with a spiral staircase giving me access to the roof. Like most houses in Lima, it has no water heater. The property has a large yard where I can work on developing efficient stoves, ovens and other things that I´m interested in teaching people to produce and to use. And there´s even a large vacant room where I can hold classes.

The owner, Miguel, is seventy years old and a firm believer in lifelong learning. He´s been helping me to find components like recycled barrels for making ovens, and last week we put together a solar hot water shower and installed it on my roof. It consists of a 28-meter coil of 3/4 inch garden hose, painted flat black, beneath a sheet of glass, all encased in a plywood box. The innermost end of the coil is connected to the pipe where the faucet head used to be attached, and the outermost end of the coil is attached to the faucet head. When I open the shower valve, cold water is sent up to the heater, pushing the already heated water down into the shower.

We almost never have a clear day in Lima, especially during the winter (which is right now -- we´re in the southern hemisphere here). On a typical day when it´s about 60 degrees outside and you can´t make out where the sun is, the heater puts out water at about 90 degrees -- just adequate for a shower. On a day when you can see some shadows, the water gets up to 125 degrees. The coil holds only 7 liters of water, but it´s sufficient if you shut off the water while you´re lathering up and then turn it on again to rinse off. It cost about $30 to make using all new materials, but it could probably be made for $10 using recycled stuff.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Anniversary Celebration of Workshops

This past weekend we celebrated the first anniversary of Lucy and Walter´s workshops with the mothers of the community of Guadulfo Silva in Lurín, a little town south of Lima. They travel two hours by bus every weekend to provide workshops for the children and their mothers (and a few fathers) about a wide range of topics, including assertiveness training, skills for couples, artesania, and many other things. We´re planning some new activities for the next two years that will include starting a business, perhaps a bakery.

To celebrate the anniversary, the children prepared some dances and skits, Sonia and I cooked aji de gallina, a creamy chicken sauce served over potatoes and lettuce, and some friends of Lucy and Walter played guitars and flutes and sang.

During the celebration, a parade happened to pass by. It appeared to be in honor of el Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles, one of the many representations of Christ), but included some brightly dressed scissors dancers, a traditional indigenous rite associated with devil worship in the mountains! The large wooden object being carried vertically is a harp.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

June 29 is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. It´s celebrated with huge festivals and parades in coastal communities like Chorrillos (where I live) because St. Peter is the patron saint of fisherman.

Vendors line the streets selling food, artesania and clothing. Some of the streets are closed to create a marketplace. On the pier, statues of St. Peter and the Virgin Mary await the procession that will take place in the afternoon. Many people come up and touch them.

Near the beach, people have gathered to watch a couple of street actors. Sonia recognizes one of them as someone who used to have a show on TV, which was canceled because it was considered to be in bad taste. They periodically pull people from the audience to participate in their skits. When I arrive, they call me Harry Potter and proceed to perform a skit about an American who is visiting Lima.

The parade is supposed to begin at 10:00, but at 11:30 we find the streets packed with people, and groups of uniformed participants still trying to organize themselves into a parade. Eventually the parade begins and the people give them enough space to pass. There are army reservists, nurses from a nearby hospital, and groups of students and teachers from all the local schools.