A typical Saturday

26 Oct

This post may not be very exciting but that might be a good thing as it will give you some idea of ¨normal.¨

Vicki was up bright and early to help the Peats make and serve lunch for a Christian youth retreat at their center. I woke up about 7 am to the sound of hammers on the concrete ceiling directly over the bed as the landlord is installing tile on the roof to make it more waterproof. Let’s just say sound travels through concrete pretty well. During breakfast, vendors started circling the neighborhood with their truck-mounted loudspeakers. Thankfully, there weren’t many today and we’re pretty used to them. For breakfast, I had some of Vicki’s yummy homemade bread with orange marmalade that friends gave us.

Mid-morning I took a taxi up to Cafe Berea to lead the Saturday morning session of Arequipa English with David J. I stopped by Cusco Coffee on the way to pick up some coffee for David and I, as we’re both now pretty bad addicts. Trip time: about 25 minutes. Trip cost (not including coffee): $2.50 + $0.25 tip because the driver waited for me longer than expected at the coffee shop. The cheap taxis here are great if you don’t mind riding in a rattletrap. Even the newer taxis like a late model Toyota Yaris are typically $3. We were filling in for Amy, who sadly had to travel back to the States suddenly due to the death of her mother-in-law. We had 8 students today, which is typical of the Saturday class. A couple students could barely speak English and that’s been a bit of a problem lately. We had to repeat that it’s an English conversation practice class and does not replace basic language instruction. We disallow Spanish except for comparison / teaching purposes and one student is finding it difficult to function without it. We did something different today and read the story about the record-breaking parachute jump from the edge of space made yesterday by a 57-yr-old senior VP at Google. I think everyone enjoyed the story. David J and I certainly did!

One of the newer students stayed long after and was asking me all kinds of questions about my degree, my work, my religion, etc. At first I thought he was going somewhere with all the questions but after more than an hour, he abruptly changed the topic and asked what states I had visited in the US. At that point I realized he was just looking to pass the afternoon with 1:1 English conversation practice and decided it was time to head home to feed the kids since it was already 1:30 pm and Vicki wasn’t back yet. I walked the 3.2 km home in about 45 minutes. I try to get in a 30 minute brisk walk most days and it’s usually very pleasant. The kids and I went to a Mexican restaurant (1 of 3 in Arequipa) that we had heard about and liked it. It’s not the Tex Mex we’re used to, but it’s decent. It’s run by Americans, but no free chips and salsa, bummer. Being Americans, they should know better 🙂 And no free refills, either. Peruvian restaurants charge you for every drop of beverage, including water because it’s all bottled. But they’re still generally cheaper than the US equivalents. Last Saturday Vicki and went to a Chinese restaurant that charged us $0.35 each for the takeout boxes!

Vicki arrived home about 4pm and Anna and I set out for this week’s second scavenger hunt. Her art teacher is constantly telling the students they have to go buy this or that item for the next class. Tuesday it was a roll of masking tape with a floral print. We never did find it. Sometimes our local tiendas have the item (we have to walk to each one and ask them using whatever Spanish word Anna wrote down in class–half the time they say they’ve never heard of it) but today we had to go downtown to the central market and walk about 10 blocks in circles asking every cookware store in sight whether they had cookie cutters. Most did, but not in the exact shape that we needed (fleur-de-lis, more or less). As usually happens, one vendor told us to go several blocks up to the supermarket that had ¨all kinds of cookie molds,¨ but they had no more than he did. After trying several more stores, we finally found what we think is the right shape for the whopping total of $1.40. We spent $3.50 on taxis to buy a $1.40 item, which is a bit frustrating, but it was getting dark, I was tired of walking, and our time is worth more than $3.50 / hr! ¨Why,¨ I asked Anna, ¨doesn’t your teacher just buy 20 of these things and you can all pay her in class?¨ ¨She did that once,¨ Anna said, ¨but the students don’t pay so she’s out the money.¨ You might wonder why the school doesn’t just include art supplies in their fees. Recall that at the beginning of the year we had to bring a certain number of rolls of paper towels, toilet paper, pencils, etc. to help the school stock up. For whatever reason, it is the Peruvian way to make all 20 parents go across town on the scavenger hunt to find the $1.40 item every other week. Immigration does exactly the same thing and for exactly the same reason: not in their budget, not their problem. It’s wasteful of time, money, and gas, and a good example of how ¨local optimization¨ (the school’s penny-pinching, in this case) ends up costing everyone much more. The US airlines are doing the same thing with checked baggage (so now everyone brings massive carry-ons and it takes longer to load the plane).

Vicki made a wonderful lasagna dinner for us with special fresh mozzarella cheese delivered by an Italian / Peruvian couple at our church. They are very particular about their cheese and have found a good supplier in Lima of fresh, soft mozzarella, unlike the hard round lumps you find in the markets here. Mind you, we had never noticed the difference, but in order for their supplier to make a delivery, they have to order in bulk. We don’t want our Italian friend to be without fresh, soft mozzarella and we certainly don’t mind having good cheese at a reasonable price, so we are happy to help out.

Daniel went to a youth group in the neighborhood that meets in the home of one of the classmates he met last December. Timothy and I walked halfway up the street to a new $3 haircut place that opened up. They do a good job and it’s very convenient for us, but evidently word has gotten out as it was packed! We waited about half an hour before we finally decided just to leave. The first 15 minutes were pleasant as they were playing the movie ¨Up!¨ on TV in Spanish. Then it switched to a Peruvian horror movie with bloody, vicious, zombie attacks and it didn’t occur to anyone in the shop that it might be inappropriate for a 10-yr-old (or his dad). Sadly, Peruvians are completely desensitized from a young age to trash TV of all genres.

Speaking of trash, on the short walk to the haircut place I observed a man non-chalantly drop his bag of trash right on the sidewalk in front of the best-kept house on our street. We see people toss stuff in parks and downtown sidewalks all the time, but this was really blatant. Without thinking, I put my hand up in the air and said, ¨Really?¨ He looked at me and told a bald-faced lie: ¨It’s my door,¨ then walked on. It is a mercy that I don’t have more facility in the language. When we left the haircut place, his trash was still sitting there on the sidewalk. I will be honest. There are things I love about Peru and things I have come to despise. The utter thoughtlessness of many people is one of the things that really gets to me, and it’s enough to make one sympathize with the green people in the US. Whatever their faults, I’m pretty sure the people pushing for neighborhood recycling don’t litter their neighbors’ property. The northern CA streets and parks are 10x, maybe 100x cleaner than what we see around here. Before we moved to Peru, common grace was just a theological concept. Now we know a lot more about what it is. I find it highly ironic that the indigenous people worship Mother Earth (the Pachamama) but throw trash all over ¨her.¨

Just one other event from the day. While downtown in the crowded market area, we saw traffic starting to back up on one of the one-way streets. A delivery truck had broad-sided a taxi on the passenger side in the intersection. I’m actually amazed this doesn’t happen more often as there are very few stoplights nor stop signs, and the latter don’t mean much, anyway. The taxi driver remained in his car while the truck drivers got out. A crowd of about 15 men had gathered surrounding the scene. The scene was quiet but could easily become volatile. As we passed by, we heard a lady on her cellphone talking to someone nearby, ¨Come down here, come down here to see the wreck!¨ She was very enthusiastic. Cars behind the truck started honking. Taxis on the cross street started squeezing in between the wrecked taxi and the sidewalk, honking as they sped by. We didn’t see the accident happen so have no idea whose fault it was, but I would guess the taxi dashed out in front of the truck thinking he would stop but the truck couldn’t. When two old junk taxis collide, they usually settle it right there. They argue and haggle, then one pulls out cash to pay the other and off they go. But this taxi was newer and the damage more extensive. Most vehicles and drivers are not properly insured as the minimums are ridiculously low so an accident like this one could cost the taxi driver his livelihood. It’s just sort of sad.

Otherwise, it was a clear, sunny, and uneventful day.

Oh, Peru

20 Oct

A couple software developers have been using our “office” apartment for the last couple months and want to pay me a little something for it ($35/mo.). Their non-profit organization requires an official receipt, as do all transactions over $2 in Peru. Since my Peruvian company doesn’t pay for the apartment, I must issue the receipt personally. But do this, I need to have a personal tax ID as well as a business tax ID. So in August, I made the trip to the SUNAT office to set this up. Then I went online to sign up for the ability to issue receipts electronically. After a few days, I was able to issue the receipt. I emailed the PDF to the organization, and they deposited $70 into my bank account in Lima. The bank deducted $2.67 because that transaction occurred in Lima, whereas my account is based in Arequipa (US banks are clearly missing some revenue opportunities from out-of-state transactions). This is a lot of administrative overhead to receive $67.33.

It’s now two months later and time to receive another $70. I go to the online system to issue the receipt only to find out that I am no longer permitted to do so because the tax authority (SUNAT) cannot find my physical address. Perhaps I could use my business account, then. Oh no, they can’t find that address, either. This is very frustrating since both of these addresses were previously verified. Now I must make another trip to SUNAT and wait for them to come out and find the place again.

The reason all these procedures are in place is to fight corruption. It’s not working because it turns out you can just as easily bribe officials to circumvent anti-corruption measures as you can to be corrupt in the first place. Thus, corruption (and the resulting countermeasures) raises the cost of doing business for everyone and suppresses wages due to lower productivity.

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

Prov. 14:34

Machu Picchu!

11 Oct
Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas. Click for more photos of Cusco.

The kids were off school this week so we were able to go with Rebekah to visit Machu Picchu! We figured a year in Peru was long enough to wait 🙂 Our residency status got us great discounts all around.

Last Saturday we flew to Cusco and spent the afternoon exploring the central square and shops. Cusco is a lot greener than Arequipa because, well, it rains there! We didn’t bring any rain gear because we were packing very light and we didn’t expect rain (also, we probably don’t have any because you don’t need it in Arequipa). The rainy season seems to have started early this year in Cusco so we got pretty soggy in the afternoon. We had just gotten on an open tour bus when it started to sprinkle, but the bus hadn’t left yet, so we ran downstairs and off the bus to the great protest of the vendor who had “made us a special deal” to get on the bus. “It’s only raining down here,” she said, “but it doesn’t rain up the hill where we’re going.” “No creo,” I smirked (I don’t believe it) and off we ran. “Amigo, amigo….” It poured shortly thereafter and I was glad we were not on the bus! We bought some emergency ponchos but saved them in our packs for Machu Picchu, which turned out to be a good call as we got a bit of rain there, too.

Overlooking Urubamba

Urubamba is a gem in the Sacred Valley.

Sunday we had a delightful time meeting a missionary family from Montana who lives in Cusco. For lunch, we had the best hamburgers we’ve had in Peru, a real treat. We later learned there are some American cattle farmers in nearby Urubamba and it’s therefore possible to buy beef that’s been properly finished (vs. the ground horsemeat we’ve unknowingly been getting in the supermarket). In the afternoon, we took a minivan to Ollantaytambo, where we boarded the train to Aguas Calientes, the tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu. The train is the only way to get there. It’s a beautiful journey through the Sacred Valley as you pass snow-capped peaks to enter the cloud forest, where the mountains are finally clothed with proper trees and vegetation instead of the poor naked rocks we see around Arequipa. Aguas Calientes was a bit of a disappointment, however. Given the unbelievable scenery, it has incredible potential as a tourist destination in its own right, but unfortunately the restaurants and hotels know they have a captive audience and can charge a lot for very little service (or food). We are told that Peruvians avoid the town and do the Machu Picchu day trip instead. I understand why.

Yeah, we did that.

Yeah, we did that. Click for more photos.

Monday morning the guys (myself, Daniel, and Timothy) headed off early to ascend Machu Picchu Mountain, which rises 2,200 ft. behind the ancient ruins. It’s the highest peak around (far above Wayna Picchu, which is the peak you always see pictured behind the ruins). We made it up in 1.5 hours and spent half an hour at the top before descending to meet Vicki, Rebekah, and Anna at the entrance. We hired a guide and visited the ruins together as a family.

We all had fun learning about the ruins and enjoyed a forbidden lunch on a rock shelf (snacks are officially forbidden, but nobody really minds as long as you don’t leave trash). The mountain setting is just breathtaking, sitting 1,500 ft. above the Urubamba River and Aguas Calientes. Whatever else the Incas did, they had great taste in real estate.

We were there

Captain America and family visit Machu Picchu. Click for more photos.

We spent Monday night in Aguas Calientes and headed back to Cusco on Tuesday. We visited some architectural ruins at a convent and learned some new things about Mary in the religious art gallery. There was a painting of her ascension to heaven, in which she is borne up by cherubim (portrayed as babies with wings) and a blasphemous painting of her coronation, in which the three members of the Holy Trinity are placing a crown on her head. We stumbled on two religious parades while in Cusco, combining Indian folk dance with religious symbols. The region is known throughout Peru for its strong syncretism of Catholic and pagan religion.

We visited the Cusco plaza again and were finally able to board a double-decker tour bus in good weather, much to Anna’s delight. The Cusco central plaza is beautiful, but by the time we left, we had serious “vendor fatigue.” From the moment you enter the square to the time you leave, you are bombarded by vendors on foot offering paintings, massages, tours, jewelry, and clothing. We counted and measured a peak rate of 5 VPM (vendors per minute) when first entering the square. The crazy thing is, all the products are the same, including the paintings, and one wonders how anyone can make money when there are so many people selling identical merchandise.

After a 2 hr delay, our return flight was cancelled.

After a 2 hr delay, our return flight was cancelled until the next day.

Wednesday morning we headed to the airport for a non-stop flight back to Arequipa, but the Lord had other plans. The airplane was unavailable (mechanical problems, they said) and at length, the flight was cancelled. This initiated a bit of a circus with everyone clamoring for alternate flights. There was some discussion of routing us through Lima, but in the end, the airline had no capacity. At moments like these, it is really frustrating not to have a better command of Spanish because the gate attendants were no longer using the PA nor English. Thankfully, we saw a friend who runs an orphanage on the flight and he helped us find the right line to make alternate arrangements. As it turned out, the airline provided sandwiches for lunch and put us up at a nice hotel with dinner. Back in Cusco, we had a chance meeting on the street with yet another brother from Arequipa who had been delayed arriving from AQP in the morning. We learned that his tour group of 48 students had been stranded in AQP and he had pleaded with the airline to get everyone to Cusco in time to use their non-changeable tickets to Machu Picchu. We surmised that he therefore got the airline’s one and only spare plane. It is rare that we get a glimpse into Providence, but it certainly seems as though our loss was his group’s gain, and we’re very happy that it worked out for him, as there was over $12,000 on the line for the school group. It would have been really sad for all those students to lose the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu and possibly their money, too!

All in all, we had a delightful time and are thankful for the opportunity to travel together as a family and meet new friends and old along the way. To see more photos on G+, simply click on the photos above.

An (almost) perfect triple day

15 Sep

I managed to accomplish three administrative things today, which, you may recall, is a really good day here. All three required me to visit an office:

  1. Renewed our Peruvian health insurance policy. Prices went up 20% in the last year, but I know, don’t even get you started… it’s still much cheaper here than in the US.
  2. Fixed our corporate address with SUNAT (tax agency) so our friend Steve won’t keep getting letters. It turns out this trip could have been avoided. I had tried 3 times previously online, but did not notice that there are in fact TWO confirmation screens. In the first one, the Accept button appears at the bottom of the screen, whereas on the second (why?), the buttons move to the very top. User experience fail. Kudos, however, to the friendly official who stepped me through the process right there in the office.
  3. Fixed my login with Claro (my cell carrier) so I can now see my account statement online. The problem was that when I signed up, the reseller entered my phone # as a DNI (Peruvian citizen) vs. carnet extranjería (foreign resident), so I simply needed to enter the wrong kind of identification, drop the first digit of my carnet #, and voilá, I was in! Perhaps I should offer my services as a user experience designer to these companies… this is a good thought, actually. I’ve seen quite a bit of evidence that the Web sites need a security audit also.

Thankfully, both SUNAT and Claro have offices in the mall across town which are much less busy than the ones close to us. There was a good sale on tennis shoes there, too, but Daniel (who has already had his current shoes repaired once) didn’t think they were made of strong enough material to withstand the streets and sidewalks here, so we’ll keep looking.

On a more philosophical note, the fact that I had to personally visit two offices to be shown the “gotchas” on their Web sites is indicative of a mentality which concerns me very greatly as a would-be employer. The education system is based on memorization / repetition, so there seems to be an expectation that users will have to be shown how to use the Web site as I was today and memorize the steps to complete every possible task. It’s about learning the magic sequence rather than making an intuitive user interface in the first place. My accountant seriously suggested that I read the 30-page manual to learn how to use the SUNAT Web site. I told her that’s why I pay her to do the filings. She laughed and laughed when I said that, almost as if she hadn’t considered that’s part of the reason people pay her!

Anyway, I really am glad to get these things taken care of. The lines were short across town, the customer service people were all very friendly and helpful, and they spoke a language I could understand (Spanish! As opposed to, say, English with a thick Indian accent). In between trips, Vicki and I once again enjoyed reading the Bible with our landlords and they were kind enough to lend us their ping pong table for a while. We disassembled it to get it up the narrow staircase and reassembled it on our office floor. It’s a really nice table and very kind of them. It takes up nearly the whole front room but folds up so we can move it down the hall when not in use. And what software development office is complete without a ping pong table?

Vicki made chocolate cake tonight. Anna tasted it first and started laughing. In the rush of things going on, Vicki forgot the sugar. Otherwise, the cake turned out better than any she’s made in Peru (it was moist and cooked evenly throughout–perhaps sugar is the culprit?). After a good laugh and copious application of whipped cream, we went to the park to play with Anna’s new volleyball. That lasted until Dad sent it flying backwards over the neighbor’s iron fence. Fortunately, it didn’t go over. Unfortunately, it landed right on a metal spike and began slowly deflating. This was already the replacement volleyball as the first was too hard and Anna is supposed to take her own ball to phys ed tomorrow for a volleyball test. So Dad was banished to the office to write this blog post.

The milk lady cometh!

5 Sep
Pasteurizing the milk

Pasteurizing the milk

This post is for all you raise-your-own-chickens and drink-raw-milk homeschool moms out there. Vicki and the kids have not been pleased with the taste of store-bought milk in boxes and had become increasingly jealous of our friends in the country who get raw milk delivered every day. (I exclude myself because I’m lactose-intolerant and have never drunk milk). We asked several locals and no one knew of local milk delivery; however, sharp-eyed early riser Vicki one Saturday morning on the way to the grocery store noticed some unusual activity on the sidewalk above our street. Could it be a bona fide milk lady? The rest, as they say, is history.

We now get raw milk delivered 3x per week and Vicki pasteurizes it on the stove. It costs less, tastes better (so they say), and generally ensures that everyone is up by 7am at least three days a week when the doorbell rings 🙂

In other news, I’m back from a 2-week trip to the States and we are delighted to have Rebekah with us until Christmas. The kids were sick earlier this week but went back to school yesterday. They are currently practicing their flautas (recorders) for a school music competition on Saturday and Vicki has been practicing folk dances with the 1st and 4th grade moms for the school’s upcoming anniversary celebration. I had many good meetings in Colorado with authors and publishers and continue to work on RememberOneAnother.com. We are thankful for a season of tranquility. And fresh milk.


Are Christian missionaries narcissistic idiots?

7 Aug

Ann Coulter seems to think so, and Albert Mohler has written a nice response.

Writes Coulter: “There is little danger of an Ebola plague breaking loose from the treatment of these two Americans at the Emory University Hospital, but why do we have to deal with this at all? Why did Dr. Brantly have to go to Africa? The very first ‘risk factor’ listed by the Mayo Clinic for Ebola — an incurable disease with a 90% fatality rate — is: “Travel to Africa.”

She then asked this question: “Can’t anyone serve Christ in America anymore?”

Well, Ann, by your logic, Jesus was a fool to leave heaven for our sakes, let alone suffer the humiliation of the cross. The missionary spirit is the spirit of Jesus, and Dr. Brantley knows that Spirit.

Sadly, it’s not just loud-mouthed conservatives who ask this question. It is sometimes asked in milder form by well-meaning friends, family, and churches. Indeed, as David Platt recently pointed out, almost all the missionary heroes we read about today were OPPOSED strongly by many in their churches! In our own experience, when we were considering moving to Peru to use our gifts in technology and teaching more directly for the benefit of Christ’s Kingdom and Peruvians, I was stunned to be asked by believers a couple times, “Couldn’t you do that here?” Yes, in some ways, I could, but what would be the point? I still feel the burden of proof is the other way around. When there is so much Gospel light in the US and so little in other parts of the world, how can you justify not going?

Is it expensive to send missionaries to foreign countries? Undoubtedly. But was it expensive for Jesus to leave heaven for our sakes?

Might you risk your life by leaving the developed world to give of yourself to others? Right again! And in so doing, you would only follow in the footsteps of the Master.

The missionary spirit is the heart of Christianity and every church. If that spirit dies, the church dies. Don’t quench the Spirit. Get involved in missions! Short of moving away from home, perhaps you could teach an ESL class or participate in a friendship program with international students. These are fantastic opportunities right in your own backyard. Whether you give, pray, or go, don’t be a spectator. Be intentional about being part of Christ’s mission, and you will not regret it. He is worth it, and you will be blessed by your involvement.

What is culture shock?

1 Aug

Before we moved to Peru, many people warned us about culture shock. We read books about it to try to understand it and prepare for it. We talked to many veteran missionaries about it. Here is the best definition I’ve seen so far, from a missions Web site:

What is culture shock? Nearly every missionary, at some time in their first year to two of service, comes to the bottom of themselves, and usually, it is not a pretty place. They feel alone, even abandoned. Things that have never bothered them before are now driving them to irrational expressions of emotion. God, the person who lead them into all this, seems absent…or at least, deaf or worse, uncaring. Welcome to the experience that is, “culture shock!”

The big surprise for me is that despite being well aware of it and having prepared intentionally, it still snuck up on me. At least, I think it did. What strikes me odd is that the classic examples relate to culture: different customs, attitudes towards time and personal space, directness vs. indirectness, etc. Initially, these were challenges, for sure, but I’ve grown accustomed to and even enjoy many aspects of the culture. I try hard to accept that many things are not bad, just different.

But one thing I’ve really struggled with is the land! Parts of Peru are gorgeous, but we don’t live in those parts. We live on the edge of the driest desert in the world. We moved from an evergreen state to a place where the only green things are cactii (mind you, I like cactii, but they’re not shade trees 🙂 From an idyllic suburban setting in the forest that is Georgia, we moved to narrow streets, wall-to-wall concrete houses, crumbled sidewalks, and a whole lot of exhaust. Never mind Colorado, I’m missing Georgia and Iowa and even western Kansas! At first, I liked it. It did (and does) have its own beauty. But as time goes on, it becomes just as crushingly monotonous as western Kansas. Except there are no thunderstorms or snowstorms or even tumbleweeds. Just desert and sunshine and the very occasional cloud. And unlike driving through western Kansas to Colorado, the desert is still there the next day, and the next day, and the next. (Note: I’m extra looking forward to my visit to Colorado next month!).

So we’re thankful to report that tonight we found a new greenspace less than 10 minutes walk from our house. It is a very small park, only a few square meters, but has green grass, a lovely arrangement of cactii, and overlooks the onion fields. It’s on the nicest street we’ve seen in Arequipa. Every house is painted and immaculate except one and it just needs a fresh coat of paint. The sidewalks are smooth are there is no trash. But the few meters of greenspace overlooking the onion fields through the stone arch is the best part, and I think I shall have to visit often.

There are a lot of other factors that have contributed to a general malaise for me of late, but for me, the desert is symbolic. Culture shock is something like living in an urban desert. On the bright side, I can breathe better than I’ve been able to in my whole adult life. As we had hoped, my asthma loves the desert! For the trees and flowers I love to photograph are also those to which I’m allergic. Thus, I now feel somewhat trapped in the desert. To be honest, I don’t really know what to make of it yet. But breathing is important, after all.