Archive | September, 2013

Too many choices

30 Sep

Arequipa now has several shopping centers, with the equivalents of JC Penney (Saga Falabella, Oechsle), Bed Bath & Beyond (Casa & Ideas), and Wal-Mart (Plaza Vea). Yesterday was “Día del Shopping” during which many of the nearby stores were running 25-50% off sales so it was a great time to buy all our big ticket items, on which we saved hundreds of dollars. Two different store clerks were kind enough to tell us Fri night that the items we wanted were going on sale the next day. However, even with advance planning, we couldn’t get to all the deals on many smaller items in time to get the max savings. There were two main problems:

1. We literally couldn’t wait for many items. Bedding is essential. Towels are pretty important. We’re not cooking much until we get a stove, but a few glasses and a butter knife are awfully helpful. If a deal couldn’t be found, we had to buy something! The tough part was, despite many stores and choices, there were very few genuinely good values. There’s expensive stuff and there’s junk, but not much in the middle. We haven’t found the Target of Peru yet. As it was, Vicki and I did without a blanket (it was cold this AM) and we all shared a beach towel that Anna brought this morning because by the time we got to all 4 stores to find the best deal on towels last night, there was no time (or energy) left to buy them. And of course, the stores were mobbed yesterday because of the sales. The timeliness problem will diminish as we get established.

2. The second problem was that shopping without a car is tedious. You have to carry everything from store to store, so there’s only so much you can accumulate before you make a run home in a taxi. Ordinarily, this is a minor inconvenience, but when you’re trying to replace a household within a 12-hr sale window, it’s a problem! I made one trip home with a double mattress strapped onto a small taxi, hilarious. The taxi driver offered to help me get it up to the fourth floor and got a nice tip for his trouble.

On the plus side of not having a car, we are greatly enjoying walking together as a family.

Spring is here!

28 Sep

We realized today that it’s officially Spring. Actually, it has been for a few days, but today we started to see clouds on El Misti, which is a sign of more humid air, I think.

We still don’t have the company formed. It turns out that the general manager must be a Peruvian and he must open the bank account. Fortunately, Steve Peat was born here and qualifies 🙂 Lord-willing, Monday afternoon we’ll get that settled.

We signed the contract on our rental flat! We met with the owners this morning. Starting yesterday, I visited 5 different bank locations to withdraw the required sum in 15 different transactions. It’s actually not that much money, but the ATM limits are low here and cash is by far the most cost-effective way to move money. I did realize that MasterCard is charging me 1% for all ATM transactions, including withdrawal of US dollars. But that’s still much less than the local banks charge. Until I get a Peruvian account hooked up with PayPal (if such a thing is even possible), I think it’s the best we can do. Anyway, I’ve never been so glad to get rid of a wad of cash. I felt increasingly like a criminal hitting one ATM after another downtown, and increasingly vulnerable with 3 months rent in my jacket pocket.

The owners have already installed the thermal water heater as promised (in addition to the existing solar) and spent all day cleaning the place. This is a really good sign. We took over a load of cleaning supplies tonight. Fortunately, tomorrow is a special sale day at the nearby shopping centers, so we will be able to buy some good brand appliances at 25-30% off. Two different clerks tonight informed us that the items we wanted would be on sale starting tomorrow, which was very kind of them. We will have to wait for Wed for delivery of our stove, fridge, and washing machine, but all the beds and mattresses should show up tomorrow, Lord-willing. That’s it for now. Tomorrow is very busy.

OK, I miss the US (and my camera)

26 Sep

I’m a little sad today.

First my mom sent pictures of the pumpkin patch. I love Fall and the fresh, crisp air of the mid-latitudes this time of year, although I must say the weather in Arequipa has been fantastic. It’s Fall here pretty much every night if you don’t mind the mild exhaust fumes.

Second, I got a call on my cell phone from DHL in Lima regarding customs and the camera I’d ordered from Amazon.com and sent through MyUS.com (a freight forwarder that gives me a US address). Imagine my panic as the woman began speaking rapidly in Spanish. Of all the times not to have an interpreter handy! It would have been really useful to be able to ask her a lot of questions just then about what has happening with my package. She knew enough English to suggest that I send her a text with my email address, which I did. Then she emailed me the bill. My $196 camera and SD card, which were purchased from Amazon.com, have now incurred a DHL processing fee of $51 plus customs duties of $57. This is after I’ve already paid $47 for shipping and does not include my Amazon Prime membership (which looks increasingly useless) or MyUS.com membership (ditto). I selected MyUS.com because they were supposed to be expert in this sort of thing. I’m a little miffed because DHL has a rule that anything under $200 clears customs automatically. The cost of the items in my package was $200.22. That last 22 cents, which in this case is due to the addition of a wonderfully valued Nexus 7 case from Amazon.com for $5, has now cost me an extra $108 and counting, because DHL charges for every day of storage. It would have been nice to know this in advance! I could have purchased the camera and SD card for about $300 locally, so it looks like the Peruvian market is in fact efficient (stock market speculators take note).

This painful lesson, which began with the theft of my camera on the bus, is nevertheless valuable. It prompted me to find this handy guide about shipping to Peru, so in the future I will use, of all things, the USPS (provided it’s still in business! Ouch, that was uncalled for). According to the guide, packages arrive just the same but with the important advantage that the carrier doesn’t add their own insult to any customs injury.

Now, there are several reasons why I should be thankful about this whole incident. First, I’ve learned an important lesson about personal security and another about international shipping. Second, this expensive mistake is more than offset by the lower cost of living here. For example, today we purchased a new custom made kitchen table 1m x 1.8m with 10 chairs for $275. It’s very simple but has a nice formica top and will comfortably seat eight. I don’t think I could have even found this deal on Craigslist. Four bed frames and mattresses should come in right at $1,000 and we have been promised these for Saturday, when we move in to our new apartment (PTL!). So far the economics of selling everything in the US vs. trying to ship it are panning out. Third, and most important, is that what Christ gave up to become Emmanuel, God with us, is so much greater than the minor losses we’ve suffered that it’s shameful to even mention it as a comparison. Our minor sufferings have increased our appreciation for His love and sacrifice.

On the news front, we found a wonderful apartment and plan to sign the contract tomorrow. It’s actually two floors as the rooms are a bit small and we felt we would need the extra space for office and school areas, not to mention we will have fantastic guest quarters! Even if those reading this blog don’t use them (hopefully some of you will), there is a steady stream of visitors from other missions whom we will be able to host. The cost is $800/mo., which is more than the $600 we were hoping for, but it’s still cheap compared to the same space almost anywhere in the US. That savings makes up for many other mistakes. There are other offsetting factors, too. After furniture shopping today, as a thank you to our interpreter helpers, we took them out to an excellent lunch at a restaurant serving a typical menú. Lunch for the four of us came to $17. We are really, really grateful for the assistance of so many to help us find an apartment, deal with immigration, buy furniture, start a company, and more without a full grasp of the language.

Tomorrow, Lord-willing, we sign the rental contract and open a bank account for the company. The latter has taken longer than I thought it would on Monday, but we are still learning about Peruvian time. If you accomplish one thing per day (like ordering furniture), it’s a good day. If you accomplish two things, it’s a great day. If you accomplish three things involving other people, it’s pretty much a miracle. You would be amazed how much longer things take when you have to walk / taxi / bus everywhere. Many transactions involve hand-written notes, which are far less efficient than swiping a card. And you should have seen the immigration officer stamp our “permission to sign contracts.” I so wanted to take a video! There must have been 20 stamp impressions for our 2 documents! But he was very helpful and efficient and was equally helpful and apologetic when we returned 2 days later to ask him to correct a spelling mistake in my name. That took him only 10 minutes, but took me and the interpreter from 9am – 1pm: bus, wait, walk to get a form printed and copied, more wait, 10 min of action, on the bus again. And so it goes. In retrospect, I’m really thankful we allowed time between our arrival and starting language school. It’s been absolutely necessary to get our feet on the ground.

Praise the Lord, things are coming together and we haven’t come apart 🙂

Tremor!

25 Sep

We felt an earthquake in Arequipa this morning. It was a 7.0 off the coast between here and Lima (~300 miles away). Vicki noticed some things rattling in the house. I was on the combi (a mini bus) so didn’t notice. The water came back on last night, so we have hot water again today. There is a tank on the roof at the guest house, but the instantaneous gas water heater in the bathroom requires a pressurized supply to operate. I saw some kind of political protest blocking a major road this morning and am told that there is a general strike planned for tomorrow. Sometimes they are non-events. Other times it’s best to stay at home.

This morning I had to go back to the immigration office to get a spelling mistake corrected on our “permission to sign contracts.” This afternoon, Lord-willing, we will finalize arrangements to rent an apartment and, if the papers are ready, open a local bank account for the business, Zuriel Corporation S.A.C. Later tonight, we hope to begin shopping for beds, appliances, etc.

Getting closer

24 Sep

We start language school next Monday. There is a lot to be done before then! Today I met with the director and took my oral exam for placement. He suggested that I start at the basic level for review and to correct mistakes. This could be disheartening; however, I have spoken with other missionaries who did exactly the same thing and said it is well worth it to “start over,” correct bad habits, etc. And I know I desperately need the review and vocabulary expansion. Unfortunately, this means I may be in school longer than originally planned.

We reviewed the documents to start the company with an attorney. In Peru, when you start a company, you have to enumerate every possible activity that the company may ever be involved in. You can add things later, but it’s a hassle. Lord-willing, we will establish a bank account for the company tomorrow and get the papers filed by end of week. Keeping the books is a big deal, too. You must make monthly reports or pay significant fines. We talked with an accountant who used to work with SUNAT (the IRS of Peru) about doing that for us.

The attorney who is filing the incorporation papers also reviewed the rental agreement for the apartment(s) we’re looking at and found it to be typical and fair with no gotchas. The contract allows us to leave at any time with a 1-month penalty, so we will try to negotiate for a longer-term lease to lock in a good rate. Thanks for praying!

Next up, shopping for beds, stove, fridge, table, chairs, curtains, pots, pans, microwave, kettle, water filter….

Things you can’t buy

23 Sep

Things you can’t buy in Arequipa:

  1. Chocolate chips. This is a very serious problem. I’m really surprised that women, in particular, can live without such a basic necessity. Last week we splurged and bought a large chocolate of bar which can reportedly approximate chocolate chips. Vicki made a batch of chocolate chunk cookies and took them to church on Sunday. They were the first container to go empty, thereby confirming what we already knew about the universal value of chocolate…. Nestle sells coffee here. Why not chocolate chips?
  2. Jasmine rice. The local arroz is superior to plain white rice in the States, but it is not as good as authentic Thai rice.
  3. Brown sugar. The sugar here is blonde and the crystals are bigger. Further messes up chocolate chip cookies.
  4. Barbasol shaving cream for $1 (or any price, for that matter). Gillette is available, but expensive. Most toiletries are 2x to 3x the price we’re used to. Wal-Mart hasn’t come to Arequipa.
  5. Pumpkin stuff. Although they have other squashes.

Some things are available, but much more expensive:

  1. Peanut butter. Combined with #1 above, this represents a total lack of a major food group.
  2. Cheese. Cheapest we’ve seen at the local market is $3.50 / lb. and it’s strange. A lb. of cheddar might be $5. Fancy cheeses run up to $8 / lb.
  3. Salsa. $3 for a tiny jar and we’ve only found one brand (El Paso).
  4. Kleenex. $2 for a meager 80 off-brand tissues.
  5. Dijón mustard. $5 for a jar about the size of baby food. We were thinking of making quinoa salad but the mustard was expensive and we couldn’t find red wine vinegar. The latter could just be a language thing.
  6. Tortilla chips. We finally did find a good-sized bag of Doritas “Dippas” for $3.27, but we miss the $2 round Mission chips.

Now, for things that you can’t easily buy in the States:

  1. La Leche Gloria. The name says it all–the milk here is seriously good: evaporated, whole, 2%, it’s all just better somehow. Ditto for Gloria mantequilla (butter).
  2. Fresh, ripe mangoes for $0.40 each. Missionaries here don’t even bother with mangoes when they’re back in the States.
  3. Peruvian lemons. They’re somewhat like key limes, but better, especially in chica morada.
  4. Speaking of chicha, purple corn for boiling chica morada. It’s the sweet tea of southern Peru.
  5. Papayas the size of a small watermelon. I don’t think we like papaya, though.
  6. An apartment with a view of a 19,101 ft. volcano out the living room window! Stay tuned.

Moving from the ridiculous to the mundane, Steve Peat just called to let us know there will be a water cut tomorrow. I think the guest house has a tank on the roof, but in any case, we’ll need to keep the showers short and make sure the water filter is topped off tonight.

We have a few more houses to look at tomorrow. We saw a spacious, furnished 3BR apartment today, but it was on the first floor and security was poor. We’re looking pretty hard at the 3rd and 4th floor apartments above a house in Yanahuara. They are small and we would have to buy all the furniture and appliances, but together they could work. The owners have offered to install thermal heat to complement the solar water heater and to add bars to the windows near the stairs for security. The neighborhood is one of the nicest we’ve seen in central Arequipa. Still praying and seeking…

Good day of fellowship

22 Sep

Today we enjoyed sweet fellowship with the Peats and the church that meets in their home. We spent the afternoon with the Peat family, enjoyed some wonderful Indian curry for lunch, and our kids enjoyed playing with their two boys. Besides planting a church in southern Arequipa, the Peats have a burden to work with local churches and Christian schools to provide training in areas where the Peruvian church is typically weak, such as biblical family life and stewardship. In their meeting facility, they cater to school groups and have activity days with games and archery along with food and Bible talks. Sadly, most high school students from Christian homes and schools cannot give biblical answers to basic questions such as “Why did Jesus have to die?” and Steve takes the opportunity to present the biblical gospel of grace instead of the “be a good person” mentality which is prevalent even in the evangelical church.

Let me say just a few words about health. So far, I have been the only one affected by the local bacteria and started taking Cipro yesterday to counter worsening intestinal trouble. I am very thankful to report that it is working and I feel much better. Missionary Doctor Allen describes such problems as an “occupational hazard” here. Even those who have been here for decades occasionally have episodes despite disinfecting all raw foods and drinking only bottled or filtered water. Also on the health front, I bought an extra asthma inhaler to keep on hand. It cost about $3 and no prescription was required. Same thing in the States costs $45 plus a doctor’s visit for refills. Cipro is also cheap and available here, so no need to pay big bucks for it in the States before you visit. When we visited in April, we didn’t need it, anyway and hopefully you won’t, either.

Tomorrow we look at a furnished apartment for rent, Lord-willing. There weren’t many new listing in today’s paper, so we’ll hopefully be able to make a decision tomorrow. At this stage, we really want to stay close to the language school and we have one good option in hand that would allow that. Lord-willing, we will also have ample guest quarters, so be thinking about when you’re coming to visit!

Thank you for remembering us in prayer as we make major decisions.