Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tales of the traffic and the government

The last couple of weeks I spent a couple of days at various workshops which Practical Action either organized or co-organized together with the municipality or the national government. Quite an eye opener and really fascinating, as these really showed at which level Peru actually is. You can live a first-world life here – but there are two things where you notice that you are in a third world country: the traffic and the government. First of all a video of 9am traffic in Lima (no, it is not the busiest time!):

Let me just say a couple more words to the traffic in Lima: It is actually only crazy Monday through Saturday. On Sunday’s the streets are practically deserted. I’m still not quite sure why this is, as on Sunday many Peruvians go out for a big family lunch. Ah well maybe this may be the reason: they spend the whole afternoon in the Restaurant J. Another thing you notice here are the huge amount of taxis. I would say the taxis account for roughly 30% of all the traffic. They are literally all over. If you’re walking you will get hooted at constantly by taxis, asking you if you want to ride instead of walk. This is also very typical here: Peruvians do not walk. Even if it’s only a 10 minute walk, they take their car or go by taxi (of course taking them much longer than if they had walked J). Taxis here do not have taximeters, so you need to know how far your destination is and how much the ride should be. Prices all depend on the time of day or night you are travelling. During the day prices are lower than at night, but if you dare to travel during peak time (morning, midday or evening) then your ride will be much more. Taxi drivers just calculate the price according to the amount of traffic there is. Another thing you need to know when you catch a taxi here: you need to know exactly where you’re going and you need to be able to explain this to the taxi driver. Although you will find all of them playing around with their smartphones, and some of them even looking up on google maps, they do not use the navigation system. So they heavily rely on their passengers to tell them where they want to go. Bad luck if you don’t know your way around…

So much to the traffic – now some funny tales of the government: One of the workshops I attended was a workshop Practical Action co-organized together with the Ministry of Finances. The objective of the workshop was to make sure that every municipality in eastern Lima knows how to submit their budget. This might seem like basics to you – and I was also wondering why we needed a whole days workshop for this. The reason is very simple: many municipalities never submit a budget, thus never receive any money from the national government, simply because they didn’t know that they needed to submit a budget and would then receive money, or because they don’t know how to work with Excel! Yes, you have read correctly: the budget has to be submitted in a specific Excel form which all municipalities receive from the national government (welcome to Peruvian bureaucracy!), but so many people here do not even know how to use Excel. Actually so many people working at government level do not even have an official email address – they give everyone their Hotmail address J. So if the budget is not submitted in this specific Excel form you will simply not receive any money – so not knowing how to use Excel can become a major issue here. At the workshop we found out that only about half of the municipalities in eastern Lima had submitted a budget for 2015! So no wonder the new major in Chaclacayo complained about not having money – they were among the municipalities which had not submitted a budget! Here come some photos of the event. Emilie and Abel from Practical Action, both part of the Zurich project, held short presentations informing about the work Practical Action and Zurich do in two communities of eastern Lima.

Our logo is allover :-) 

Emilie giving her presentation

The representatives from the municipalities

Abel giving his presentation
Hard at work, learning how to submit a budget

I think I’ve mentioned before that Peru is a highly bureaucratic country with extremely complicated processes. If you want to do something correctly and legally it can take you ages, cost you a lot of money and nerves. And this is one big reason for so much illegality in this country: Actually only about 10 percent is official and therefor legal, everything else is unofficial or illegal (meaning: shops, houses, businesses, streets, mini buses etc!)

I’ve probably also mentioned before that elections here are always connected to people, and never to political parties. This automatically means that there is always a huge hype around a 2-3 people before the elections, and then one gigantic hype around the winner of the elections. And the winner of the elections of course has to show himself in an appropriate way. When the new major of Lima was elected last year, the first thing he did when he came into power was to change ALL the logos of the city of Lima ALLOVER. Yes, you have read correctly, this is no joke. Imagine if Zurich would change its logos every time a new CEO gets elected? Well, that’s exactly what happens here. So instead of spending money on something really necessary, he goes and changes all the logos to “his” logo. Of course, this will change again when he is voted out of office. Oh, and now guess what the second major thing was he changed? Yes! He painted all old houses in central Lima yellow, because they had been painted a different color by his predecessor and yellow is “his” color. Why spend money on something as unnecessary as a metro or better streets, or simply on the population itself, when you can go painting the city in your colors and change your logos? The metro actually, which is even been supported by big, international companies like Siemens or KfW, has now obviously been stopped again. Why? Well, there are national elections next year, and who would anyone want to carry on work now if his successor will change everything anyway again? But the hilarious thing is that an official metro plan already exists, here’s the link to it (so you can imagine how a metro system might look like if it eventually gets finished like in 50 years): http://limanorte.com/2014/metro_LN_14.php
Actually they first started working on the metro in the 1980ies – but work stopped as a new government was elected. And even with international funding now it is not continuing.

By now you must think I am mad and making up all these stories, but no, you have read correctly and this is unfortunately no joke – it’s how I tend to say: Peruvian!

Some of you ask me from where our people here at Practical Action take their energy and dedication to work with such a government. Well basically the answer is quite simple: All people who work in the “field”, with the communities, local, regional and national government are Peruvians. So they obviously do not know it any other way, for them how the government acts or does not act is “normal”. They just are in the lucky position to have had a good education and to know how to deal with the government if you want to get things done. And this is their dedication: they want to help the poorer communities who are less lucky than they are. And you really need people like them here, because you are not going to change the political system or the government, so you need to teach the population to live with it, and to make the best out of their possibilities. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Peruvian cuisine

After more than a month here I still have not written anything about the Peruvian cuisine – and as it’s really worth a blog, I hope I’ll have your mouth watering half through this blog J

Peru actually has a lot of specialties. Especially here at the coast it’s all about fish. The probably best known and an all-days favorite is Ceviche. That’s a dish a raw fish and seafood (shrimps mostly seem to be cooked), marinated in lime, garlic, onion, coriander and chili. It’s served with corn (you’ll find this in practically every dish here) and sweet potato (a beautiful compliment to the spicy and sour Ceviche!). It’s served cold. Locals tell me that Ceviche is a typical midday dish – but thank god you can find it in evenings too. Especially when I was up in Piura and surroundings I basically lived of Ceviche. It’s become a regular for me on the weekends.

Another special is the so called “Causa”. This is also a starter (Ceviche is officially also a starter, but the portion is always large enough for the main meal). Causa is basically a “tower” built of mashed sweet potato, avocado and fish or seafood. It looks and tastes fantastic!

Another dish which actually reminds me of a mix of paella and Asian rice is the so called “Arroz Chaufa” (which translated just means fried rice), and mostly comes with seafood or fish, but you also find it with chicken or meat. Always served with limes, it tastes excellent.

Going over to the meat side of Peruvian meals, you find all sorts of excellent steaks here: beef, lamb, alpaca to just mention a few, but alpaca is definitely the specialty here. Alpaca is basically the baby brother of a lama, it looks very similar but is smaller (here’s the photo). And it’s meet is lovely and tender, and tastes delicious! This is something you find especially in mountainous areas like Arequipa or Cusco. It’s mostly accompanied by various different potato mashes, all spiced differently but all equally delicious.

Something you find all over is Lomo Saltado. This is basically pieces of beef, spiced, cooked with onion, sweet pepper (mostly red pepper), tomatoes and coriander, accompanied by rice or potato. I have had this in all types of places all over the country and it always tasted really good.

Another specialty is Anticucho. This is basically heart and other innards, mainly of beef and chicken, on a skewer. Yes, yes, I know what you are thinking now. But it actually tastes delicious. It is served with potato and corn. THE place to eat this is the famous “Tio Mario” (“Uncle Mario”) in Barranco.

Before coming to the drinks there are three other really lekker dishes I would like to mention. One of them is “Papa Rellena”: this basically just means stuffed potato and might not sound very exciting to you – but: you find it in soooo many different varieties that it gets exciting! Firstly, this is really a potato country – there are sooo many different varieties of potatoes. And all of them can be filled, of course. Most commonly you probably find it filled with a mixture which reminds me of the South African Bobotie. It’s a mince meet mixture with onions and raisins, nicely spiced of course like all dishes here are. This is really good! In Arequipa you’ll find “Rocoto Relleno”, stuffed pepper, an amazing dish too: Rocoto is the spicy pepper in Peruvian cuisine. It’s the shape, color, and size of a red pepper. It’s boiled to soften, then stuffed with finely cut steak or minced meet, cheese, black olives, ground peanuts, various spices, sometimes raisins, then baked. 

Last but not least – you must have been waiting for this one, Alice: the famous Cuy – or guinea pig. As you see in the photo, it is much bigger than our pets we know. Crisply baked and all tender inside, it tastes delicious. The meat actually compares to chicken, but it’s more juicy and tender. It mostly comes served with the usual potato (sometimes sweet potato, sometimes the “normal” one) and corn.

Have I got your mouth watering by now? I do hope so, because I’m feeling hungry just writing this J
But now let’s go over to the drinks, because Peru has nothing to hide when it comes to drinks either!

THE national drink is Pisco Sour. Pisco is basically a Schnapps made out of grapes, similar to Grappa (don’t tell any Peruvians I said that though J). Now, Pisco Sour is a great cocktail made out of that Schnapps. The basic Pisco Sour is Pisco mixed with fresh lime juice, beaten egg white, syrup, crushed ice and a couple of drops of Angostura bitters. They also make it in all different flavors, from Maracuya (Passion Fruit) to Mango, from Apple to Cinnamon. It’s sweet, so you don’t notice how strong it actually is – but I wouldn’t recommend having more than one if you have not eaten yet J

Peru actually also has really good wine. But don’t try to go to any wineries to try wine, because they give tourists (even those who actually show interest like I did) the very worst wines, often much too old (they gave me a white Sauvignon Blanc from 2005 to try. When I told them that it was much too old because it literally tasted sour and like pure alcohol the guy told me that that’s what Sauvignon Blanc tastes like. Thank god I know better – but I don’t even want to know how many tourists he has bullshitted out of Sauvignon Blanc). But they actually make really good Malbecs and Cabernet Sauvignos – definitely comparable to Argentinian or Chilean wines. But this is just one side of their wines. The other side are the “Vinos Artesanales”, which basically means manually produced, as opposed to the mass production of industrial wines. The artisanal wines are much sweeter, basically like a desert wine, they remind me a bit of Port wine. They are really good too – and when you go to a artisanal winery you actually get to taste the good stuff!

Oh and last but not least – the beer: Here too, you get industrial beers and artisanal beers. The industrial beers are very good and varied – my favorite is the Cusceña Negra (a dark beer). Oh but the artisanal beers! They are truly amazing, and you get them in all sorts of different flavors. One of them has a slight lime taste – oh it is sooo good. The artisanal beers are slightly stronger than the industrial ones, between 6-8 percent.

This is longer than intended again, and I probably forgot half, but I hope that this has given you a mouth-watering insight into the Peruvian cuisine.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A glimpse into Practical Action’s work - and my life

As promised in my last blog, after telling you all about certain communities and their problems I would now like to focus on Practical Action’s work. But as I haven’t written much about my life here for a couple of weeks either, I will start off by telling you a bit about my life here.
I have actually been really lucky: I live with a lovely German girl, and I actually could not have wished for a better flat mate. She has already been here for 2 years, and she takes me along everywhere. So I am constantly out and about, meeting people and living the everyday Lima life. I am now also the proud owner of a bright pink bike. 

My pink bike and I, on a sunny Sunday afternoon riding along the Malecón.

A bike in Lima is really the best way to get around. It is flat, and there’s so much traffic that you do not get anywhere by car. Buses are complicated, random – and stuck in traffic too. And there is no other public transport. I have found myself a gym too (actually the same as my flat mate goes to) and go there in the mornings before work. You might think I am crazy. But as working hours are so much more relaxed here, it’s the best time to go. Arriving at work at 9 am I’m still one of the first to get in. Oh and if I stay on longer than 5.30 pm the office is deserted and I say bye to myself J. I have become somewhat of a consultant actually: I have set up team meetings (at first the team wasn’t quite sure why I wanted this, but the first meeting then went on for 3 instead of 1 hour and now I think they see the necessity of talking to each other from time to time J). I advise on any social media activities, infographs, videos, and even held a social media training last Friday – 16 people attended (not even half of them actually do social media). Apart from that I’m writing a Social Media strategy and concept for them – which is quite challenging with over 16 channels to integrate! Oh and this is in Spanish too, of course…

My colleagues and I. Back left my boss Doris (she calls herself Chani)

Anyway, enough about me, now I’d like to tell you something about Practical Action’s work here.
I’ve come to learn that key is really to work very closely with the communities. Each community has its leader (or depending on the size of the community there might be various leaders (sometimes also called directors)). They have small teams of so called “brigadiers”. But the main points of contact for our people here at Practical Action are the leaders. They are often young people, and often females, as most men work. They need to be well known and well connected in the community, and trusted. Every volunteer has to attend a certain amount of workshops, each on different, relevant topics. A workshop is actually quite something to experience, as everybody of course brings their children along, all pile in to the room, happily chatting. The highlight of the workshop (at least for the children) is the part where cold drinks and snacks are distributed.
Practical Action organizes these workshops together with the local municipality and INDECI, which is the national government. Actually all of Practical Action’s work is closely coordinated and arranged with the local and national government. Many of our field visits start or end with a stop at the local municipality or INDECI, to hear how they are getting on with certain topics, to exchange data and talk about future projects.
This is important as nothing can get done here without the help of the government. One thing which Practical Action does is educate the people and teach them how to file a complaint with the government or ask for something to be built. As it’s a highly bureaucratic country, everything has to be done according to a certain process. For example if a community needs a wall to be built, to avoid the river from overflowing, a certain form has to be filled in (by hand and correctly), and this form then has to be brought to the municipality on a specific day at a specific time, and only then will it be acknowledged and (maybe) looked at. If something is approved (which can take years, people tell me) then Practical Action might help with funding, but the money will always be paid directly to the people building the wall, and never to the government.
A lot is about awareness, and about the communities to get things done themselves. They tend to (and that is actually a characteristic I’ve noticed in many Peruvians) sit around grouching and blame all their problems on others (like the government). Instead of standing up for themselves and getting things done. Easy things which can be done like cleaning up the environment or planting trees on the river bank giving more of a protection, the community can do on their own, without big funds. This is where Practical Action comes in too, encouraging them and helping them with their plans.
Not only people blame their problems on others, the government does so too. At a recent Simulacro (simulation of an earth quake) the local government, including the mayor, also attended. After the event had finished the mayor said a couple of words to the community. And his first words were: “We first had to clean up after the previous government, they left a huge mess. And they left us a lot of debt too, this is why we cannot fund as many local projects as we would like to. Now we are ready to start sailing, but it will take time until we can really start work.” I almost laughed out loud. But it really is quite symbolic for Peru. Oh and after this speech he went around and kissed every single person on the cheek (check my video!).

Unfortunately this is quite characteristic for the government in Peru. This is why, in a megacity like Lima, there is virtually no public transport (except mini buses) – no tram, no train, no metro. Although in the last 30 years various projects were started, they were always stopped once the government changed.

As not to prolong this blog too much I'll stop now - but will try to write my next blog again sooner this time :-)