Wednesday, April 06, 2011

I hardly ever hang around the financial area of Lima, a part of town that is usually filled with executives, bankers, business people and the like hustling about and lots of headquarters of national banks and big companies. Huge and imposing skyscrapers are not my kind of thing and neither is the huge expressway with vehicles rushing past 24 hours a day. Nevertheless, I have been going to this part of town to teach an English class at Banco Continental, where I happen to do my banking. As expected, the building is overpowering humongous and one could get completely lost if it weren't for the security guards' assistance. After walking down several hallways for about five minutes I have to turn in my ID, get a visitor badge and wait for the lift which takes a while given that there are hordes of people coming up and down all the time. There are four spacious lifts on each of the twenty-one floors but it still takes a while to get to where I need to go. Needless to say, the building is absolutely gorgeous inside. It is one of those places that makes you feel important. And teaching the employees is quite fun.

One of my other classes is at a company that supervises insurance companies. It's a much smaller place that looks like an old colonial house. There's a black gate outside and a guard always asks who I am and what I'm there for but he won't let me in. He goes inside the building, or house, and comes back 2 minutes later to open the gate for me. As soon as he does that, he asks to check my backpack and he also asks if I'm carrying a laptop. Once he's inspected my bag, I have to walk through a metal detector and get frisked by another guard. Once then I am allowed to go in but I have to turn my mobile off and give it to yet another guard who will put it away in a locker. I am then escorted to the conference room where I teach my class. It seriously feels like going to a prison to visit someone and it became even creepier when my student told me they have security cameras all over the place, including the conference room!!!!

It is quite interesting to see the different socio-economic classes here in Lima. This language school I work for mainly caters to professionals in really big and important companies and I can tell the students are not your typical working-class Peruvians. All of my students live in nice areas of town, they are independent and they drive nice cars. Not your average Peruvian. It just blows my mind to see the differences in social status, but there is something that simply annoys me and this is not in regards to my own students but to people in general.

That feeling of superiority people have. I was at the supermarket yesterday and this lady, who was clearly an upper-class lady, was acting all important towards the check-out girl. The tone of her voice and her whole demeanor was nothing but pedantic. Clearly she thought she was the best next thing and suddenly, she got out an American passport and ordered the check-out girl -- yes, she didn't ask, she ordered -- to put her passport number on the receipt for whatever reason. She walked off without so much as a thank-you and I had to laugh at the whole thing. I got this awkward yeah-this-happens-sometimes smile from the check-out person. Now a lot of this people have not always been upper class. Lots of them have worked hard to be where they are which is good, but why do they have to change? Even if they were born upper-class, why do they have to have this imposing I-am-so-bloody-important attitude and treat others like they are meant to serve them?

Oh, the mentality!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A child.
An innocent being.
A cheerful and full-of-energy little person.
A funny little thing.
A child.

A raucous being.
A spoiled and tantrum-throwing little person.
An unnerving little thing.
A bloody child.

The shrieking of a more-than-necessary-loud little girl is piercing my ears. No, it doesn't stop. The maid does her best to calm her down. To no avail. The little girl wants to watch a Mickey Mouse DVD. Clearly she has got something against Winnie the Sh!t and Friends. The maid will not play the DVD fast enough. The little princess throws one of those tantrums that make you wonder if she has gone nuts. Dad tells her to calm down and so does mum. The black rat comes on the telly and quietness has been restored. A few moments later she is thirsty so she asks for some orange juice. Her juice comes and daddy asks her what she is supposed to say to the maid. She keeps silent. Daddy asks one more time. Cat got your tongue? Daddy will not give up. The little child needs to learn to say thank you. Sometimes she does but most of the time she doesn't. Mummy asks her daughter to say thank you. Ten minutes later, a tiny voice says "thank you". Daddy is in class but daddy's little girl does not understand so she keeps interrupting.

A baby on the phone. A crying baby on the phone. Mum is holding the baby and the phone at the same time as if my ears didn't get enough noise. I'm trying to listen to what the lady is saying but the baby's cries drown her voice out entirely. Would it not make more sense to put the baby down for a bit and then come on the phone? Not to this lady who can't even spell her own name. On the bus back home there is a woman sitting behind me. She has, of course, a boy. The boy is what you may call an annoying chatterbox. You want to smash it into pieces to see if it will stop. Not only is he talking his head off but also out of his arse. Why is the name of that bank BCP? What happens to animals when they die? What's that building there? Geez, boy, have you not been taught to keep your mouth shut?

My cousin has a 3-year-old and they happen to be home when I arrive. She's playing with her toys and with her little cousin and then they start to fight. So it's time to say good-night. Both babies cry and I feel like my brain is going to die.

If you have children, I want you to know I have a lot of respect for you. It must take a lot of love and patience to raise one or more. It is time and energy-consuming. It is a job. It is an art. I truly look up to those who can undertake the task. I know I couldn't do it.

The void within me

As I sat at the table this morning sipping a cup of tea, my student's 3-year-old daughter was watching telly when suddenly she says, "Mummy, I need the toilet!". It was her first time asking to use the toilet. Off to use the toilet she went with mummy. A foul fragrance filled the room and a few moments later both mother and daughter proudly came back to the dining room. Dad was also quite proud that her little princess had used the loo for the first time. "She is growing so fast", said Mum. "She certainly is", I said. As the cute toddler retires to the sitting room to watch over-the-top happy Mickey Mouse, Mum's face becomes somewhat grim and without looking at me or her husband, she says, "I feel like I'm losing a leg".

"How do you mean?", I replied in astonishment and confusion. "I was speaking to Mariella over the weekend and she was telling me that when her daughters went to Europe she felt like she was losing a limb. And that's sort of how I feel right now. My baby is growing and it makes me feel like I'm losing one of my limbs." Being the cheeky lad that I am, I said, "Well, in 5 year's time she will be in elementary school, in 10 year's time she'll be in secondary school and in 15 year's time she'll have a boyfriend!" Mum and dad both say, "Oh, shut up!" After having a good laugh, mum says, "Oh how I wish I could stop her from growing." "Well", I say, "We can't stop the course of life, can we? As much as we wish we could."

On my way to the supermarket for my daily croissant and Pepsi I thought of my student's wife's words and my own. I feel like I'm losing a limb. That is how I feel as well. I miss my friends in the UK dearly. It feels like, in a way, I have lost a part me. And that part of me has stayed in London. I feel like something is missing inside me. Then my own words came back to me. "We can't stop the course of life". I need to move on. It has simply been so hard. I feel like I have changed so much. I didn't know I could miss a place, that I could miss people so intensely. To the point of feeling empty. I have been reminiscing all the great times I've had with the people who have come into my life. It fills me with joys and tears. At the same time, life goes on. The earth will continue to circle the sun. The birds will keep on singing. I will one day be old.

So I feel like I've lost a limb. And somehow, I have to carry on without it.

Cholo de m....

It is quite customary to hear latinos call each other names which in other cultures may be taken as an insult. A husband may call his wife gordita (fatty), a wife may call his husband negro (black), a mother may call his son chino (Chinese/oriental) or a man can call his mate flaco (skinny). These are all terms of endearment in Hispanic culture, if the right intonation is used of course. I personally do not like being referred to as flaco, zambo, etc. even if it comes from a family member or a close friend with the best intentions at heart. It's just one of my pet peeves.

Now some words which make reference to someone's ethnicity can be used in a very offensive manner. For instance, we have the word cholo which describes someone who has a lot of Inca (native Peruvian) ancestry. A serrano would be someone that comes from the Andean mountains.

On my way to work today, a pizza delivery guy attempted to run the red light, which he didn't manage to do. An upset, if not outraged, pedestrian yelled at him and then turned his attention to a police officer nearby. After pointing out to the policewoman what the motorcyclist had done, he shouted, "Cholo de mierda" (fucking cholo). Now, as a Peruvian, I have Inca ancestry in me, just like that delivery guy and that pedestrian do. So why would a cholo insult another cholo? Why use such word to insult someone's ethnicity which happens to be the same as my own? Sadly, I hear people say things like this all the time. "Deberian mandarte de vuelta a tu tierra" (they should send you back to your hometown), "Serrano bruto" (Stupid Andean man), etc. Some racial remarks can be very hurtful and insulting. But once again, if we as Peruvians have some of that cholo and serrano in us, because in the end we are all mixed and have a bit of everything, why do we have to base our insults on what we are ourselves?

Please feel free to comment.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


There is a small coffee shop my friend Martin and I used to go to for tea. We had made a habit of going there after strolling in Victoria Park or lying on the grass in London Fields. A couple of weeks before I left the UK we were on our way to the coffee shop, this time, however, we were walking along Regent's Canal. We stumbled upon some beautiful sunflowers and we stopped to have a closer look and take some photos. These sunflowers were truly gorgeous. Their leaves were so smooth and yellow, and the central part was a dark vibrant brown. The stem was also quite long and they were on the side of the pavement in front of a wooden fence. As you may already know, the leaves and flower head of a sunflower follow the direction of the sun, changing their orientation from east to west during the day. After admiring the splendour of these flowers we moved on. It was a sunny, warm August afternoon.

It has been three months since I left London and the weather has grown colder in the UK. Temperatures are below zero and snow has been forecast. I was speaking to Martin, who told me he'd been walking along the canal where we saw those sunflowers. There, where beauty once was, now lies death. I could not help but think that we human beings, just like sunflowers, live on this earth for a very short time. Just like those sunflowers, we grow, we reach the climax of our lives, we grow old, we wither and eventually we die. As time goes by, with every day, every hour, every minute and every second going by, we will eventually come to the end of our existence. We will not always have the softness and brightness of those sunflowers. The sun will not always shine and the warmth that gives us life will one day be gone. Someday we will start to get wrinkly. Someday we will become droopy. Someday we will no longer be here.

Lots of people will walk along that canal and look at us. And so whilst we are yellow and following the direction of the sun, we should try and absorb as much energy as we can. We should try and make the most of our time whilst we are still full of life. And when we are old and withering, people will look at us and remember the beautiful sunflower standing tall and pretty along the canal.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When you do your job right, you expect people to commend you...

... but such is not the case for bus drivers in Lima. This past Monday I was on a bus that did not have a conductor. So the driver was making people pay him as soon as they hopped on the bus. Now, how dangerous and reckless is that -- dealing with money and giving tickets to passengers whilst driving a vehicle!! Not an unusual sight in this city, however.

It is impossible to sit on a bus, enjoy a pleasant journey home or to work and relax. You just can't do it here. Why, might you ask? Because a) the driver may be playing music and it can be a bit loud and it may not be what you want to listen to b) Both driver and conductor are loud and rude. More so the conductor c) The horn is always unnecessarily honked by every driver on the road d) Because these buses are trying to get as many passengers as they can, they will drive recklessly. To add to this nightmare, traffic rules are never obeyed. Buses stop just about everywhere to pick up and drop off passengers. There are some signs along the sidewalks saying it is prohibited for a bus to stop there, but it's just a suggestion. They will stop when the light's green to get people to get on the bus, but then, when the light's red, they will run it.

People complain that bus drivers do not do their job right. Passengers treat them like dirt and they are quite rude in return. Much to my astonishment, this driver was actually doing his job the way it should be done. He wouldn't stop at every bloody corner to pick up a 50-cent passenger and he wouldn't drop anyone off wherever they wanted. He was also encouraging people to get on and off the bus at bus stops and he wasn't being rude or sarcastic. He was clearly and politely telling people he could be fined if caught by the police. I could hardly believe it. I had to pinch myself. I wasn't dreaming.

It was good to see this man was trying to make a difference. Yet, his passengers started hurling insults and being absolutely heinous at him. I will not even begin to mention the score of nasty things he was told. It is going to take years for the public transport in Lima to become decent. And if the people do not cooperate to change this chaos into order and civilisation, then it's going to take even longer. I may not be around to see it, and I still got a long way to go... or so I think.