Sunday, December 23, 2007
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Sunday, October 14, 2007
So someone in the government decided that the they should just paralyze the country for a day, make everyone stay home, and send out an army of volunteer surveyors. And if everything goes as planned, not a person will stir from his or her house between 8 am and 6 pm this Sunday, October 21, except for a serious emergency (unless you work in the airport or a hospital or some other essential service). If you should happen to forget, or not know that it´s census day, your local policeman will invite you to return to your house. Even after you´ve completed your survey, you can´t leave your house. I guess they thought that if they allowed that, many people would just lie about it.
Well, this is just too tempting. I´m going to have to sneak out at least long enough to see whether they really succeed in shutting down the city, and go snap a couple pictures of the deserted streets.
Oh, and the army of volunteers? They figure they need about 600,000. At last count, ten days before the census was to begin, they had a total of just over 200,000.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
The group who run the comedor also have a large (2 meter diameter) dome shaped bread oven that they had built to start a bakery. They´ve never gotten it to work well, and they want me to help them with that, too. Unfortunately the oven was built without a chimney, which is probably a large part of the reason that it´s difficult to heat up. We´ve pretty much ruled out modifying it, for fear of damaging it, so I´m going to take along a friend next time who has worked with such ovens for many years. Maybe he can find a way to make it usable.
There was a referendum in several towns in the department of Piura over whether the residents want a mining company to begin operations there. The result was a resounding NO. A similar referendum was just completed in Ecuador with the same result. The last (and only other such) referendum in Peru produced a similar result despite intensive efforts by both the government and the mining company. This time the government claims that it isn´t bound by the results of the vote because of some technicality in the way it was organized, but a team of 30 international observers say that the voting was conducted fairly. Recently the Interior Ministry has proposed a new law that would make it possible for the goverment to take control over common use lands for purposes of national security. They claim it has nothing to do with the mine, but many suspect that it has everything to do with it, and that shortly the central government will take over the proposed mining site and lease it to the mining company.
Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was finally extradited to Peru by Chile, where he´s been living under house arrest for more than a year after returning to South America with the intention of joining the presidential race. The irony is that the man he ousted from office and exiled from the country, Alan Garcia, is now president of Peru again, having won the election last year. So I don´t think Mr. Fujimori will be getting any breaks.
The long awaited mandatory vehicle inspections which were made law more than 19 years ago have finally become a reality. After years of legal wrangling over how and when and by whom the inspections would be performed, the city of Lima finally opened two processing centers, one in the far north of the city and the other in the far south, each capable of processing about a couple hundred vehicles per day. I don´t know how many vehicles there are in Lima, but there are about 8 million people, so even if everyone rode the buses, I don´t think they could inspect each vehicle once every year at that rate -- and the law requires publlic transit vehicles to be inspected twice per year! But capacity is only one of the issues to be solved. Mototaxis (mini taxis made from converted motorcycles) are also required to be inspected, but they´re not even allowed to drive on the major throughways, so how do they get to the inspection centers? So far the majority of vehicles have failed the tests, which include safety, structural integrity and emissions, Transit companies are complaining about the cost of the inspections and the long waits, but I think what really pisses them off is that they can´t find an inspector who will just accept a couple of extra bucks under the counter to let them pass the inspection.
A formerly unknown tribe of indigenouse people (known here as ¨uncontacted people¨) was observed by a helicopter flying over a region in the Amazon area. The sighting came at a very inconvenient time for a mining company which was in the middle of filing an environmental impact statement for a new development, and had claimed that the area was unpopulated.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Kerosene is burned in Primus stoves that look sort of like Coleman camping stoves, with a little pressurized tank and a manual pump. (See photo.) In some kitchens they prefer to use wood, but the neighbors always complain about the smoke. To burn sawdust they use a large empty cooking oil can that has a small door cut in one side. They place a large round stick upright in the middle of the container and pack sawdust all around it. Then they remove the log and remove the sawdust between the door and the hollow center, and start a fire in the middle. The door allows air to enter for combustion. Unfortunately the sawdust holds its shape well only if it is slightly wet, and that makes it burn much less efficiently, creating lots of smoke.
During the next few days I´ll develop a strategy for each kitchen (pot skirts, retained heat cookers, high efficiency wood stoves) and start teaching the people how to make and use the devices. The plan is that they will pay for the materials from their fuel savings.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
My revelation occurred when the taxi driver, who seemed like a very normal driver, told me that he had lived in Lima for nine years before moving to the northern extreme of the country. He said that he hated driving a taxi in Lima because there was so much competition. So in order to make a decent living in Lima, a taxi driver has to really hustle. (There are no meters in taxis, so income is strictly related to distance traveled, not time of travel.) He has virtually no control over the price of his service, since he´ll have no customers if he charges more than others. And he has a limited amount of time to earn his daily wage. Darwin would probably look at this situation and say, ¨Of course they drive that way. It´s the only way they can survive.¨
Consequently the volume of the service is so low that they have to charge very high prices for postage to cover their fixed costs (about $2 to mail a simple letter to the U.S. or $25 to send a two pound package -- both rates about double the rate for U.S. postage to Peru). And because they can only afford to place a couple of employees at each of their offices, many of the less frequently used services are offered in only a few locations. For example, if you want to purchase a $20 money order, you can go to any bank branch and pay a $10 commission to obtain one, while you can get one for just a $3 fee at SERPOST -- but only if you´re willing to go to their branch in Miraflores, about forty minutes from where I live.
As if to confirm the near invisibility of the postal service in Peru, the SERPOST office in Chorrillos doesn´t even have a sign anywhere identifying it as a post office. There is, however, one very positive aspect of this otherwise seemingly hopeless situation: nobody receives junk mail!
I´m not sure how the group survived that disappointment, but they impress me as a group of people who are extremely dedicated to doing something about poverty, and not by looking for solutions from the outside. In fact, when I first sat down to talk with a couple of members about how I might be able to help them economize on fuel usage in the soup kitchens that their members run, the very first thing they told me was that if I wanted to work as a volunteer and share my knowledge, that was fine, but they were not interested in working with either government or non-government aid organizations. They feel that financial and material aid contributes to the culture of dependency, and the process of distribution of the aid is a strong temptation to corruption. And I think they´re exactly right on both counts.
OK, so I didn´t actually become a member. I´ve only joined their effort to help create self-sustaining comedores to provide an inexpensive daily meal in the hundreds of communities where their members live. One of my neighbors, Anita, is a member of the group. I´ve known her for a couple of years because she and her kids run the internet cafe on my street, but I had never known anything about her group until another of my neighbors recently told me that she was involved in working with these comedores. These groups are ideal candidates for the kinds of energy-saving technologies that I teach, because they cook such large quantities of food and a significant percentage of their operating budget goes to purchase fuel. And they use almost every kind of fuel available -- propane, kerosene, wood, charcoal, sawdust, maybe others -- so it will be an interesting challenge to adapt these technologies to all of the different fuels.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
We like to think that in times of disaster people come together and show their solidarity, but in this case an awful lot of people have been shamelessly taking advantage of the situation. Certainly there has been an outpouring of aid from people in other areas of the country and from other countries. But local residents have sacked stores whose walls were damaged by the quake; gangs of delinquents have roamed the affected areas at night stealing whatever they want from the damaged houses; bandits have robbed trucks carrying relief supplies at gunpoint as they edged slowly along the damaged roads; bus companies have doubled their fares from Lima to Ica.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Monday, July 09, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
So when I visit the group, I usually take charge of Game Club time to teach the kids something new and interesting that they would not otherwise have an opportunity to learn. In the past I´ve taught them Sudoku, some magic tricks, how to make balloon animals, etc. This time I brought my laptop with me and showed them Google Earth. First we talked about satellites and the different purposes they serve. Then we turned on the computer and began our descent into South America, Peru, Lima and then Lurín, with the kids helping me to identify landmarks along the way. They were awed by the fact that they could see their own individual houses, and ¨fly¨ over the dunes that stand nearby. Some noticed that the photographs were several years old, and pointed out changes that had taken place in their neighborhood since they were taken.
Afterwards the kids presented Walter and Marcos and me with a cake that they had baked for us. Later we went to one of the internet cafes down the street and installed Google Earth on two of the computers there so that they could continue to explore.
I selected a pair of size 34 Lee jeans that I liked and took them to the same attendant to ask her what the length was. Without even glancing at the pants, she replied, ¨32¨. I scanned the label again, and couldn´t find a ¨32¨ anywhere. Dumbfounded, I asked her, ¨How do you know?¨. ¨They´re all 32¨, she replied.
And so it is in Peru. You can buy any waist size you want, but unless you want to pay more than $50 for jeans imported from the US, the length is always 32. That´s more than enough length for 95% of the customers, and it costs less than a dollar to have someone tailor them to your preferred length. So it doesn´t make economic sense for the stores to order and manage lots of different sizes when they can get a better price ordering larger lots of fewer sizes.
A few days later I went to the huge clothing market in the district of Gamarra, and after asking half a dozen people where to find extra long jeans, I finally found two pairs of jeans with a 33 inch length for less than $20 each, one of them in an off-the-street backroom store that sells Chinese imitations of American brands, and the other at a Chilean import store. After paying a lady at the market 90 cents to let the hems down, they fit me as well as my American-bought jeans.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Monday, April 30, 2007
The Ciclovía in Chorrillos is similar to what a lot of North American cities have done, reserving a space in the public thoroughfares exclusively for bicycles. And in some areas where the road was recently widened, it was implemented very effectively. But for the most part it just consists of a couple of yellow stripes painted on top of whatever was already there. And human nature being what it is, it´s hard to imagine that the mototaxis that have always parked on a certain street, or the pedestrians who fill the sidewalk at one of the busiest bus stops in the city, are going to pay much attention to the new yellow lines. So while there will undoubtedly be a reduction in the number of bicyclists run over by vehicles, there will probably be an increase in the number of pedestrians run over by bicycles. I suppose it´s a good tradeoff.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
This device takes advantage of the fact that purification of water doesn´t require boiling, but only pasteurization. That is, as long as the temperature is held at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, all of the dangerous bacteria and viruses will be killed. The amount of time varies inversely with the temperature, but the absolute minimum is 65 degrees C, at which pasteurization requires about 30 minutes. Raising the temperature of water from room temperature to 65 degrees C requires only half as much energy as boiling the water! But holding it at that temperature requires either the expenditure of more energy or the use of a well insulated container.
In the aquaflector system (so named by Larry), the untreated water enters one end of a shallow, wide heating duct that is suspended about 4 meters above the ground. The top of the duct is covered with insulation, and the reflectors concentrate the sunlight on the bottom of the duct to heat the water. At the far end of the duct is an exit pipe with an automotive thermostat (the little red thing between the water duct and the retention tank) that opens at 71 degrees C. The heated water enters an insulated retention tank that has been sized to hold about half an hour´s output, and the bottom of the tank contains an exit pipe connected to a float valve so that when the tank is full, the coolest, densest water (which has spent the most time in the tank) is released for use.
The ingredients are:
- a blood sausage called relleno (which is hard to find here in Lima, but Sonia knows a lady from Chincha who brings it to a market near my apartment once a week). It´s wrapped in a real intestine like old fashioned sausages, and sometimes contains rice.
- a hot pepper called aji amarillo which is used in just about every Peruvian dish that is spicy
- an onion (Peruvians prefer red ones for almost everything)
- a couple cloves of garlic (essential for almost any Peruvian food -- even for plain white rice that you´re serving as a side dish)
- a bunch of spearmint leaves (also very common in Peruvian cooking)
Now that the neighbors have one success under their belt, they´re meeting every month to discuss other ways to improve their neighborhood. Lately, discussion has turned toward the construction of an illegal connection to the sewer system! I told Freddy that I thought it was a very bad idea and that it would leave them liable to severe penalties if it were discovered. But I was encouraged by the fact that the neighbors are realizing that they can accomplish more when they organize themselves. I guess empowerment has its good side and its bad side.
Monday, March 19, 2007
You have four or five choices in public transportation within the city, depending on when you´re leaving from and how far you plan to go. Naturally there are lots of taxis, and these are the most expensive and (usually) most comfortable option. But lately there has been an increase in kidnappings by phony taxistas, who ransom their captives to earn a living. So I generally avoid taxis unless I´m in a really big hurry to get somewhere, or unless I know the driver.
If you´re just hauling a lot of groceries from the market and don´t want to carry them home on foot, you can take a moto, which is a motorcycle converted into a two passenger taxi. I´m told that it is a Peruvian invention. Since these are relatively slow vehicles, they don´t venture very far outside the neighborhood, except in rural areas where they are sometimes the only option.
If you want the comfort of a taxi but not the expense, you might be able to take a collectivo, depending on where you´re going. These are regular taxi cabs that travel fixed routes in the busiest areas, and charge a lot less than a taxi and about double what the buses charge. So if you are willing to walk a couple of blocks to a location where they pass by, this is often a very good choice, especially if you are in a hurry. Once they fill up with four passengers, they don´t make any stops until someone wants to get off.
At the opposite end of the expense/comfort spectrum are the combis, no larger than an extended minivan, which generally have three rows of seats behind the cab, plus a row of thin seats facing the opposite direction just behind the cab. When all the seats are full, they continue to stop for any potential passenger and try to stuff as many extra people in as possible. But they´re the cheapest way to get around.
On some routes there are full-size or medium-size buses. These are usually more comfortable than the combis and charge about the same. So they´re always preferable to a combi when one is available.
Interurban routes are served by three different classes of buses. The least expensive are crowded and offer no services. The tourist class buses have lots of leg room and generally have a toilet. They sometimes have two levels, with seats that convert to beds in the bottom level. The most expensive class of buses have air conditioning and heating. As far as I can tell, none of the drivers observe the speed limits or the double yellow lines on the highway.
I think one of the most difficult jobs in Lima is that of the cobrador, the driver´s assistant on a bus or combi who tells the driver when someone wants to get on or off, collects the fares, makes change, keeps track of who has paid and who hasn´t, and throws people off the bus when they become unruly or attempt to steal from someone.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
- pollution -- as usual I developed a respiratory infection the first week I was here.
- noise -- Saturday nights are usually sleepless nights because there´s almost always an all night party within earshot
- water -- bathing with 7 liters of water (the capacity of my solar heater)
- dust -- leaving a window open on a windy day (a necessity during summer) means having to sweep the floor the next day.
The one thing that I always seem to adapt to rapidly is the food. I love the many creative ways they use potatoes, and I especially like the variety of the fruits, many of which we don´t have in the states, like maracuyá, lúcuma and guanabana.
I´ll be here until May, laying the groundwork for some projects that won´t get into full swing until June and July. After attending my daughter´s graduation and my son´s wedding, I´ll return at the end of May. This year we have another group of Canadian students from Global Youth coming to Peru, and they´ll be spending a week here in Lima and another week working with my friend Ernesto in Cai Cay to complete the adobe building that will house his educational center. In July, two students from the University of Dayton will join me for several months to help me with my investigations of efficiency improvements for gas stoves and of a new solar device for water purification that we will be installing for the first time anywhere in the world.