Saturday, October 27, 2007

Testing The Market For My Cakes

A couple of times a month I´ve made cakes to share with my friends, always with healthy stuff like wheat germ and bran and fruits or vegetables like pumpkin, bananas or coconut, nuts and raisins. Many of my friends have encouraged me to try to sell my cakes, so I decided I would give it a try. I made four cakes -- banana, pumpkin, apple and corn, and I sold sixty packaged pieces in a few hours just by walking around offering them to my neighbors, and I got a request for one whole extra cake. So I think I´ll start doing this every weekend, maybe more often when Sonia finally opens her stand in the market.

4th Anniversary of Lurín Workshop

Last week we celebrated the fourth anniversary of Lucy and Walter´s workshop for kids in Lurín. And a mini-documentary of the workshop was published recently on a web site called No Apta Para Adultos (Not Appropriate For Adults). You can view it at Just click on the ¨play¨ icon in the video window to start playing the video. The first several minutes of the program are about discrimination against speakers of the Quechua language, and the second part of the program is about Lucy´s kids. It´s all in Spanish, of course, but one thing that´s clear from the video portion alone is how much poise and confidence these kids have developed over the four years that Lucy and Walter and their volunteers have worked with them.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Census, Peruvian Style

I´ve always said the Peruvians are creative people. But their approach to the 2007 census is one that I doubt any other country has ever used. The last detailed census that produced any information of value was over 20 years ago. It´s always been difficult to get people to cooperate, as they´re suspicious of any government official who comes around asking for personal information. But an even bigger impediment, as you know from my earlier postings, is that they can´t rely on the postal service to implement the census, so the questionnaires have to be done in person. And with many people working six or seven days a week, it´s almost possible to make contact with everyone on the same day.

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

Testing New Stoves for the Comedores

After measuring the pots used in the various comedores, I began looking around in the chatarreros (vendors of recycled stuff) to see what sizes of recycled barrels I could find that would be a good fit. One of the most commonly used pots is 40 cm in diameter, and I found a barrel that is 44 cm, almost a perfect fit after allowing a small space for the smoke to escape. I made a prototype and installed it in the comedor at Huaycan, the one that´s farthest away from where I live but where the people were the most enthusiastic about wanting my help. The stove has an opening at the bottom for feeding the wood, which leads into a brick-lined combustion chamber surrounded by insulation (in this case fiberglass wool, but ashes work fine, too). The pot is supported by a couple of steel rods which sit a few centimeters above the chamber. The hot air hits the bottom of the pot and then flows up along the sides of the pot before escaping from the barrel at the top. The combustion chamber gets very hot because of the insulation and the restricted entry of cold air, so there´s practically no irritating smoke emitted. At the right you can see how they have been cooking over an open fire, with a couple of bricks to support the pot. The new stove will use less than half as much wood as the old one, and it cost about $5 to make. Their current daily expense for wood (cooking three pots at a time) is $1.50, so the stove will pay for itself in just a few weeks.

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.

September Headlines

A lot of interesting things have happened here during the past month. A large meteorite fell near Puno in the southernmost part of the country, leaving a crater 7 meters deep and 20 meters wide. After the local residents got over the shock and disproved the many rumors about toxic fumes and radioactivity coming from the site, they decided to make it a tourist site. They´ve built a fence around it to keep out treasure hunters and they´re going to put a roof over it to prevent erosion. But someone has convinced them that they should bring in a bulldozer and remove the meteor. Whether they´re planning to break it into pieces to sell to the tourists, or put it on display, I don´t know.

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.