Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve - La Buena Noche ("the good night") - is always a day of furious activity here, as everyone makes last minute preparations. Markets are crowded and overflow onto the streets, where many people take advantage of the crowds to sell flowers or cheap imported toys and other gifts.
Turkeys are herded into makeshift pens where they await their fate. Families bring their prepared turkeys to the nearest bakery, where for a few dollars it will be baked to perfection. Families of modest means usually have stoves that use LP gas cylinders. By making use of the bakery oven, they can bake a larger turkey (or pig) than will fit in their own oven, and not have to worry about running out of gas while baking.

Taxis and "motos" are in great demand and can charge higher fees. But many refuse to travel to the inner city, because traffic jams reduce the number of trips they can complete, and expose them to much higher risk of being robbed.

Another oven finished

On Sunday we tested the oven that we completed on Friday, baking a dish of yams. Peruvians eat a lot of yams, both hot and cold, for everything from breakfast to dinner. Here Matías and Alfredo are preparing the stove for its first lighting. At this point we still hadn´t insulated the brick combustion chamber. It needs to be wrapped in fiberglass and aluminum foil to avoid wasting a lot of the heat from the fire.

El Presidente visits my neighborhood

A few days ago the president of Peru, Alan Garcia, attended the inauguration of a new recreational facility for seniors, which had been under construction across the street from my apartment for the past two years. We brought some chairs up to the roof of my apartment and took a few shots. With my camera, that is. I was surprised how little security was provided for him. There were a few dozen soldiers and police with riot gear standing ready. But if I had rented out my roof to terrorists, they would have had an easy shot.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Loaning worms in Armatambo

My friend Ana Suyo is always one of the first to know when I´m coming to Peru. She organizes groups of people who are interesting in learning about the energy-saving wood stoves and ovens that I´ve been building during the years that I´ve been working and vacationing here. Sometimes they show up and sometimes they don´t.

During the past week I´ve been teaching a group in Armatambo (a small neighborhood about ten minutes by mototaxi from where we live) to build ovens and stoves. The people are members of the same religious sect that I had worked with before in other parts of the city. Their "invasion" is one of the most recent in Lima, so they´ve had to take whatever land they could find. They settled near the top of a bare, rocky hill. Naturally there is no electricity or water available there yet.

They´re very poor, but very enthusiastic about learning something that will help to improve their lives. They hope to start a small business selling baked products. When we finish building the oven this weekend, I´m going to show them how to make cinnamon rolls. They´re also interested in creating a vegetable garden, but the soil is almost pure sand, so I´m showing them how to make a compost pile. I also found someone who sells worms, and I´m going to loan them 5 kilos of worms, which they can return after the worms have reproduced. They insist on paying for any materials that we use, and have already spent about $25 to build the oven and stove, so I felt uncomfortable asking them to spend another $8 on worms. Hence the loan.

In the last photo, we´re assembling a retained heat cooker from recycled cardboard, plastic bags and bottles. (It's essentially an insulated box where rice or beans can be cooked using their own heat once they've been brought to a boil.) An old lady (second from left) was passing by and when she heard that it was possible to cook without fire, she looked to the sky and said "It's a miracle!". She decided to stay and help us.

We´re Pregnant!

We are happy to announce that a little Wilmes Contreras is on the way, expected to arrive in June. Right now we´re on vacation in Peru, escaping from the cold for a little while before I start my new job at Elanco. We arrived on the 4th and so far we´ve just been relaxing, visiting friends and enjoying some of the great Peruvian food that we´ve missed during the past year. Sonia does her best to recreate Peruvian recipes with American ingredients, but it´s never quite the same. We´re going to try to bring back a few potatoes and some seeds, and try to grow the things at home that we miss most.

It´s finally gotten fairly sunny today, so tomorrow we´ll probably head to the beach.