Monday, July 6, 2009

Earth-Shaking News

Well, Panama spat me out on Saturday. I was in my hotel room at 2 a.m. when I was shaken awake by a “Magic Fingers” machine run amok. I hadn´t put a quarter in so I quickly deduced that if, indeed, I was awake and not dreaming, then I was experiencing a powerful earthquake. The room creaked and groaned, like being on a boat in a windy harbor, but nothing came apart, so all was well. I heard it was a 6.4 magnitude quake, centered 40 km from Panama City, lasting 7 seconds, but it didn’t cause much damage or close the airport, which was my main concern.

Panama isn’t a place I’m anxious to see again. I was confined to a hospital for 9 days, and spent another 4 in a hotel, but didn’t get to enjoy my freedom very much. My eye was troubled by too much activity, and I REALLY didn’t enjoy trying to deal with crazy city traffic with one eye tied behind my back. It was miserably hot & humid. I did visit the Casco Viejo, the old colonial part of the city, but its charms were lost on me. The Peace Corps personnel I dealt with in Panama were uniformly nice and went to a great deal of trouble on my behalf, but I’ll be perfectly happy if I never see them again!

I got home to Peru on Independence Day, and never has that phrase meant so much to me! Jean met me at the airport in Lima, and a taxi took us to the Peace Corps 4th of July fiesta in Chaclacayo, already in progress. No fireworks, but it was GREAT to be back someplace where I could kick back and socialize with my fellow aspirantes. Jean and I left long before the party was over, (but not before I established my party animal credentials) to come home to Angelica’s cooking.

My right eyeball is still bloodshot from the surgery, and my vision is still pretty cloudy from all the gunk floating around inside my eye. I’m told it will all be reabsorbed over time, and that I should eventually regain most of my visual acuity, which wasn’t all that great to start with. I had an appointment in Lima today because one of the stitches still buried somewhere in the socket is inflamed and causing me pain. It really doesn’t bear thinking about. At some point in the reasonably near future, I should be able to resume normal activity, whatever that is.

Thanks to everyone for keeping me in your thoughts and sending some good healing energy my way.

If all checks out OK, we’ll be going to Cajamarca province next Saturday for a week of “Field-based Training.” That apparently will involve touring a dairy operation, and then working with students at a technical school, teaching business basics to see if we can put together a quick project to develop their business skills. It will be great to get out and see some more of Peru.

The people here in Chaclacayo are great, but the geography is weird. We have very high mountains rising around us, but they’re absolutely barren—we’re in a desert band that occupies thousands of miles along the coast of Peru and Chile. During our “winter” months Lima, on the coast, is almost continually socked-in by a layer of marine clouds and smog, called the “garua,” that hardly ever yield any rain, but keeps the city continually grey and a bit chilly. We’re far enough inland that the garua has dissipated some, so we get sunshine, temps in the 60’s. Nothing grows, though, unless somebody waters it, so the mountains are just jumbles of rocks. Flying into Lima on Saturday, I could see snow-capped peaks and green mountainsides, and I’m ready to go see them, with my one good eye.

By the way, one of the things that Cajamarca is famous for is its dairy operations. Angelica hails from Cajamarca, and claims that all the cows have names, and that they all come when called by their names. Does the milk swirl in the pail in a different direction, south of the equator? We’re here to find out.

Jean and I went to the market in Chaclacayo Sunday and bought herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables so that tonight we can attempt a tuna curry, served in a cantaloupe, working without a recipe or a net. I wish I could send you the experience of walking through the market on a Sunday morning. Then we walked home, passing through the “magic gate” that separates Chaclacayo proper from our neighborhood of Huascaran. It’s always amazing to pass through the gate—a portal in a thick stone wall, called the “wall of shame” when it was put up to keep green, verdant, affluent Chaclacayo from having to look at our dusty, rather-less-visually-appealing neighborhood. Most, but not all of the wall was torn down, but the “magic portal” remains. I’ll try to tuck in a photo or two for you, of the gate itself, the homes in Chaclacayo, and our street.

Last note—it’s good to slip back into the routine we’ve established here, limited as it may be. When Jean and I first arrived, none of the thousand “routine” things we do every day, automatically and without thinking about them, was familiar. From brushing your teeth (you don’t want to stick your toothbrush in the tap water and then in your mouth. No, you really don’t) to using the phone, nothing is familiar, so you spend a couple weeks feeling very clumsy and awkward all day long, while you develop your new routines. Now, I can slip back into the known territory of our lives, at least until we head for Cajamarca.

The hot water in the shower worked for a week, now it doesn´t. It´s winter. Most of us are in the same boat, so we´re showering . . . infrequently. It´s the Peace Corps experience we all signed up for .

Still not fluent in Spanish. We’ll let you know when THAT happens.


  1. Russ and Jean, I am enjoying every post and look forward to each new one! We are all thinking of you, and believe it or not I am envying your sometimes chaotic adventure! Russ, I hope all this eventually leads to a book! Take care, and all is well at Chapter One! Doreen

  2. Russ,

    Betty and I are pleased to hear you survived your unplanned stop in Panama with only a limited amount of being shaken not stirred. Good luck on continuing your magical mystery tour of Peru without further interruption. JEB

  3. Hi Russ and Jean,
    Thanks for keeping all of us posted on your adventures. The best we can report on is a trip to Butte, America for the Folk Festival last weekend. It was an adventure, but not of your amazing sort! Take care and continue to get well. We are thinking of you! Peggy and Warren

  4. Hola amigos de mio en Huascaaran. Stanley estoy aqui in Montana. I read with great interest your blogs. Not just sure yet how to reply. Glad you are out of Panama and back on track with what you signed up for. I was talking to Big David at the Farmers market this morning and he was raving about the ruins of Puma Punku in Bolivia near lake Titicaca. I've just looked at some u-tubes about it and the precision of the workmanship and the technical skills needed to build such a place make one think out of the box. Might be worth a trip when you get some vacation time. Nanji and I are pretty certain that we will be taking a job caretaking an estate for a year on the south side of Maui starting in Februaary. It is a place that we know well and love. The one place on earth I would deign to be. We met the caretakers on the beach 4 years ago and found friends in Common as they were 15 years in the Kripalu Yoga community in my home town, Stockbridge, MA. We filled in for them two years ago when they had a 6 week vacation. Now they want to take a year off!! Tonight we had a wonderful "raw meal" prepared by Suzanna McDougal and Nanji. Looks like Guy is doing a great job of shoring up your building on the west side and getting ready to stucco it. All is well here, beautiful summer weather, lots of rain and no fires. vaya con Dios amigos, Stan

  5. I just found this comments spot--didn't know I could talk back! I'm thinking about you two so much, half jealous, half glad to be home with hot water. Love the blog--you sure inherited the writing gift from both sides! On the Google map the colors of the desert band are lovely but certainly bleak. Looking forward to more contact from amazing Peru.