4 weeks in Peru

We’re back in good old, good cold Germany. The temperate difference to our vacation place in Arequipa is about 30 degrees Celsius, but that’s not the biggest difference to our home country.

Those four weeks weren’t exactly a pleasure cruise. We didn’t have a swimming pool, so we drove two hours in an old bus to get to the Pacific beach once (we had a great time). We didn’t have a washing machine, so I spent hours outside washing clothes by hand. We didn’t have a king size bed, so I had to sleep with one shoulder touching the cold wall. Most sanitary installations are prone to clogging, so we had to get used throw toilet paper not into the toilet but into a waste bin next to the bowl (you’ll notice it quickly when it’s time to empty it). Despite those shortcomings, I’m happy that we went to Peru, because I learned much about the country, its people and what’s important.

The four weeks of vacations met my expectations regarding getting some rest and having the opportunity to recharge my batteries. What I didn’t expect was the amount of poverty, though.

As I found out yesterday, in Peru, 30% of the population earn less than $2 USD a day, 10% are even below $1 USD. From what I saw, the most popular job in the bigger cities seems to be cab driver, more than half of the cars on the streets of Lima and Arequipa are tiny taxis. And many of them are in a state so that the German TÜV wouldn’t even consider a checkup but immediately send the car to the scrap yard on first sight.

Car exhausts aren’t limited or at least the limits get ignored. That’s why walking along one of the bigger streets in Lima feels like breathing directly through the exhaust pipe of a starting lorry. As with traffic rules, there’s obviously noone capable or willing to create them, make existing ones more rigid or at least consequently enforce them. It may be a typical german analysis, but this lack of clear and strong guidelines seems to me to be one reason for many of Peru’s problems. And where the state tries to enforce some rules, corruption often prevents a change. A friend of ours witnessed how a bribe of a few hundred Peruvian Sol saved a guy from losing his driving license forever for transporting a group of people while being completely drunk on New Year’s day.

Looking at prices, we noticed that everyday necessities like gas and fruit are cheap. I’ve never had more vitamins for breakfast as in those four weeks. Products imported from abroad, especially the USA, are of course more expensive or even luxury articles that only tourists can afford.

Another cause that’s keeping Peru from developing is, from my perspective, a mental one. Peruvians, other than their southern neighbors in Chile, seem to me very reluctant to change their ways of living and thinking. For example, it’ll be a long way to change those nutrition habits. And really not only because healthy food is more expensive: One day, we had another late breakfast when guests arrived (visitors are always welcome in Peru although they most of the times arrive with neither invitation nor announcement). Carolin had prepared herself some warm vegetables with oatmeal. When she told me not to offer it to the guests, it wasn’t out of a lack of hospitality but because Peruvians consider oatmeal as farm animal food. They’ll rather further the rampant child obesity by giving them Sugar Frosted Chocolate Bombs and Coke rather than oatmeal with yogurt for breakfast. Hopefully, they’ll learn soon that imitating the rich role model USA isn’t always a good idea.

There are also wealthy people in Peru, though. Before departing from Lima, we went for a walk to the district of Miraflores and found big houses with walled driveways, security guards and high-voltage fences. We passed BMWs, Mercedes as well as an Audi R8. Once again, it’s rich living next to poor.

I hope that today’s youth will bring a change to a more open-minded, productive and sustainable society in Peru. One of the kids living at our place, a bright and witty girl named Martha, has finished school with very good grades and now would like to attend secretary school. I’ll take care that the school fee of $100 USD per month won’t stand in the way of that ambitious girl.

Yes, it was a learning trip, not a pool side vacation. I knew beforehand that I’m rich in comparison to many people. During those days, I’ve seen how rich I really am. And, thanks to the things and especially the people I learned to know, I’m now even richer afterwards. For this experience I’m really thankful.