This blog post will describe my experience during the first week in Lima.
My arrival was a long and arduous journey; my poor dad had to drive me from Huntsville to Toronto on Sunday, May 4 at midnight for a flight that left just before dawn. I then had a layover in Dallas that lasted nearly twelve hours, due to the flight being continually delayed, before finally departing for Peru around 8:30 pm. I got to my hotel at around 4:30 on Monday morning.
Around midday on Monday, Isabel from WUSC picked me up from my hotel for my orientation in Lima. She showed me around Miraflores, one of the principal tourist districts in Lima, and a few other barrios. I also got advice on how to carry out transactions, how to find a safe taxi, and how to find my way around. The next day, I was shown where I would live once I moved out of the hotel and I practiced taking the small private buses, called “combis”. While buses follow a designated route, they are more or less the ones who decide the route; there is not one central municipal organisation deciding which buses should do a specific route, how often, or at what time. I was also taken to the WUSC office and the office of Aurora Vivar (in “La Victoria”) where I’ll be working most days. As I expected, everyone was very welcoming.
Thursday, I went to the “Comas” district, far in the north of Lima, where Aurora Vivar runs workshops helping adolescents in their later years of school to consider their future career paths and to educate them about gender and employment/entrepreneurship issues. There is a marked difference between downtown Lima and the North; the North is far poorer, and it is clear that there has not been the same level of public investment in this region than older, more touristy, or wealthier districts have enjoyed. The “asentamientos” of Lima, reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro’s “favelas”, are settlements that sprawl away from central Lima in the hills. Though much poorer, people are equally friendly here, and I feel less like a tourist when I’m helping with Aurora Vivar’s workshops (though I obviously still look like one), as opposed to walking wide-eyed around Barranco (another touristy and bohemian district of Lima).
Saturday I helped with the “Club de Ciencias” run by Aurora Vivar that encourages young girls to take an interest in the sciences, presumably with the end goal of promoting interest in high-paying, sciences-related career paths. Unfortunately, however, attendance was very poor, given that most students were busy preparing for “espectáculos” celebrating Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is much more of an affair in Peru than it is in Canada; my theory is that this has something to do with Peru’s influential Catholic heritage, but this is only speculation.
On Sunday I visited the Museo de la Nación, and learned a lot about the terrorism and Peru’s military governments between 1980 and 2000. This is a very interesting and tragic history, one that I’m definitely going to continue reading about. Unfortunately, with all the conflict between the state police and the Shining Path communist movement (and later the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement), the primary victims were Peru’s rural civilians. In total, roughly 70 000 people are estimated to have died in the conflict.
Monday was office work, and now I’m finishing my orientation and capacity-building training with the rest of the Uniterra volunteers that have just arrived. I’ve had a very positive experience so far; Peruvians are a very friendly and very calm, relaxed people. I hope that, in the next few weeks, I’ll get more comfortable in my work and be able to make more meaningful contributions to the work that Aurora Vivar is trying to do.