East of Heart

Briefings

Two frenetic and uplifting weeks of geographic discovery with a visiting friend have just come to an end and I am back in Barranco for what have to be my last weeks in Peru. This latest trip leaves me with yet stronger contradicting emotions of wanting to launch ahead towards the next checkpoint of the road blended with a gut urgency of making the most of the remaining time to leave at peace. I apologize for taking three weeks to sort out my thoughts last month. I have a whole bunch of stories to share now.

Accompanying my friend to the airport this evening, our cab driver was a military mercenary between contracts with 5 years’ experience in Baghdad. Surviving numerous close brushes with death has left him convinced that God exists and watches over us. A mortar shell once landed right in front of him but its detonation mechanism by chance failed. Another time, an unknown car charging their checkpoint was successfully immobilized only to find out through a subsequent remote robot inspection that it was full of unexploded charges left immobile by malfunctioning trigger circuitry.

On the way back from Jorge Chávez flight port, another double length nocturnal trip through the capital, this time with a gregarious Marine ex commando two weeks from his retirement. Some of his toughest assignments had been spent in messy central Andean rural conflicts in the mid 1980s (in retrospect he believes they were staged by drug cartels to keep the military away from the border to allow the free outflow of merchandise) and gathering intelligence embedded in prisons as an inmate on fictitious charges. His parallel boxing career lasted 7 years, but “the hardest blows hurt nothing compared to the pain of witnessing the misery of people who cannot even afford a daily piece of bread”. What seems to fascinate him most nowadays however are the wits of the three growing young children he’s sired out of a second mariage with a school teacher who speaks seven languages. He works two jobs because after 35 years of service, the military still pays him no more than 1,700 soles a month (about US$630). Along his meandering night route of choice through some of the city’s most dangerous neighbourhoods, every time I resisted his requests that I re-lower my window, he claimed absolute confidence in never being bothered by any thieves. My fists are barely a third of his in volume. Both conversations started as doubtful polite interrogations by the passenger and ended in deep curiosity and perplexity. ¡LIMA!

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