East of Heart

Panzita de burro, me tienes pensando

¡Buenas! I’ve been in Lima for just over two weeks. When I arrived, I stayed at a hostal right in the centre of the city (from where I took the panorama of the last post) but I quickly found a place to rent and today I’m writing you from my day-base at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (“la PUCP” or “la Católica”).

Before coming, I thought ‘cholo’ described people of Andean descent, but all Peruvians seem to identify with it

I arrived with no previous accommodation plans other than to do everything on site after my bad experience pre-planning for Stockholm (I forgot to mention being scammed on a deposit last year too). Quickly, I realized that I would either have to stay lodged in my hostal for a couple of weeks while meeting enough people to maybe find the Peruvian roommates I hoped for, but few students live away from their parents here, or I could give in and accept the practicality of a student apartment house with the likelihood of living with foreigners. When I found a nice house of the latter on my second day, I elected immediate simplicity and brought along Harriet, the cool Londoner who had sat next to me on the plane down from Miami and who was also, coincidentally, coming to attend classes at PUCP. Now I also live with Nicole from Germany and Silvia from Spain. It’s easy to live within five blocks of the university and two from a supermarket, fruit stores and traditional eateries. It also makes it practical to quickly drop my student life off at home before embarking on explorations of the rest of the city.

Wandering Lima’s colonial-era neighbourhoods in the centre this Sunday, surrounded by weekend throngs, I definitely felt at the head of a mighty country with vast hinterlands and a very palpable sense of the past. I just walked and observed, took the photos you see in this post. A detailed visit of historical sites will follow, with surely another post on this country’s remarkable food! I’m a bit baffled as to how I might get a tangible idea of how Lima operates and at the same time achieve some understanding and experience of the grand country of Peru, over just the next four months. All the same, I am ecstatic to be here!

I owe any facility I have at navigating this city to my time in Colombia and the experience of having to actively tap into surroundings to get around and understand the level of risk. People really look out for each other in South America and if you want to know where, when or how to go, ask around as often as needed, before and once there. From what I hear and can see, there must be a lot of petty and violent crime in Lima, but everyone is angry about this and wants it to stop, I trust others for advice.

As you can read, my base has quickly been setup, I now have to not only maximize the experience but live up to much greater goals, starting with my thesis project for next June.

The semester started on the 15th. I have three courses that are normally part of a master’s in Environmental Development, an anthropology course on Andean cosmology and a communications course called “Journalistic photography”. PUCP is located within a large, verdant, walled-in campus south-west of the city centre, half-way to the coastline, saddling the limit between middle-class Pueblo Libre and San Miguel districts (see map on the right). Like the high pedestrian traffic areas of the city which are guarded by multiple levels of police authority (national, city and district which is called “serenazgo”), there are guards everywhere with omnipresent signs reminding you to respect this island of serenity. Smoking is prohibited too: my French friend was rapidly reminded of this by a guard that sped up to his back on a segway. The idea is for you to feel safe to learn and flourish (security is a recurring theme).

PUCP was my only option when contemplating to come to Peru from Stockholm University, but I’m lucky that it’s widely regarded as one of the best and most prestigious universities of the country. You notice it right away when you meet your professors: most have published extensively and work in parallel as reputed advisors on national-level issues. They are masters at creatively using the Spanish language and insightfully dissecting the cultural ironies of Peru. I feel privileged to have this academic opportunity to participate and have a lot of fun trying to absorb their linguistic and semiotic creativity.

A salsa school meet-up at Parque de la Muralla, centre, near the Rímac River

My new university is a haven for what I’ve come to know as the Latin American intelligentsia: very professional academics with ambitious visions for the country who are thoroughly versed in world culture and history, have a library’s worth of quotes in their head and pepper their narratives with the impeccable name and date-dropping cadence needed to harden their points unquestionable to a less savent audience. Students become adept at perceiving both the superficial and deep historical complexities, the irony and intellectualism of their region but it also predisposes them to communicate with the same bewildering mix of compounding information in this context, and continue a decisionmaking class tradition of code and language. I likely notice it more because I learnt Spanish as a third language.

What might distinguish present day Latin America (and I hate to generalize, but for the moment in Lima, I’ve had a lot of superficial impressions of common elements experienced elsewhere in the region) from other places where your political participation is exponentially enhanced by effective manoeuvring of high culture codes, here the knowledgeability of the autochthonous that one must also possess can still be founded in the present. And in Peru, appreciation and awareness of tangible roots seems to be growing! Could this be part of the emergent cultural re-appropriation of natural heritage that I’m told is backing environmental protection movements? I hope to look at this integrally within my project on governance of the Peruvian anchovy fishery, as cynically tempting as it is to see this growth in awareness as merely facilitated by economic development.

If she could be 15! A quinceañera escorted by navy officers in front of the government palace in Plaza Mayor

Yes blog-reader, I am aware that these last rhetorical paragraphs are full of pompous wordiness, I have to work on this! Here are some savoury factual anticuchos to satiate other interests –

+ An earthquake shook everything about me while a dentist was drilling-out two cavities from my molars around mid-day today (my first cavities, also a bit of a shock!)

+ My first Peruvian words: huarique for a hole-in-the-wall tasty place to eat; pata for friend; huachafo for “outsider” as a noun or “of poor taste” as an adjective; pacharaco can also mean “of bad taste or heavy humour”, it’s a bit more serious. Here ‘bocadillo’ (sandwich in Spain) becomes sanguiche, ‘aguacate’ (avocado in most other Spanish-speaking countries) is palta; ‘quinua’ is queñua; ‘fríjoles’ are frejóles; and emoliente is a thick root and fruit infusion that wonderfully soothes your insides while boosting your spirits in face of the constant cold winter humidity. Garúa is the name for Lima’s ominpresent ocean fog and the reason they call her Lima la gris (Lima the grey) and the kind of sky it leaves us with, panza de burro (donkey belly).

Two more: 1. My Environmental Management and Policy professor left us with an interesting quote from Upton Sinclair in our first class with his introduction to the emergence of environmental governance in Peru: “There are two things which I don’t want to know how they are made: sausages and laws” 2. I was wondering how long it would take until I’d coincide with my ex’s trail in her home city. Last week, I met with my real landlord for the first time. He pulled out a geophysical engineering magazine when he learnt that I was studying geography. We subsequently deduced that he had been a close colleague of her father and that both families frequently held Sunday feasts together some 10 years ago. Chapter closed, keys open doors.

One Comment

  1. Sofia wrote:

    I am always amazed by your story telling and look forward to reading much more of your adventures, I’m glad you started writing again!