Amy in Peru: An Odyssey

Thursday, October 12, 2006


After an insanely boring weekend (i NEED to find some time to meet other people, because when my office mates are gone, like they were last weekend, i am completely alone!), we arrived to work to find out that the teachers of the department (like province) of Huancavelica would be going on strike on Wednesday. Strikes are called here, not by members of the union voting to go on strike, but because the leaders have decided they want to. And apparently strikes are often called on a wednesday so that people will get a long weekend... Now granted this is a jaded view, but on the whole, as it is not a particularly democratic process (they don´t get to vote to end the strike either!!), i wouldn´t be overly surprised.

So wednesday came, and it turns out, in addition to the hundred or so teachers marching on Huancavelica, the university students also decided to strike independantly, and set up blockades. I guess people were feeling particularly politically active this week--- i don´t know. So it was a dramatic day on wednesday. The local government also acceeded to one of the demands of the teachers union and fired all of the mamagers working in the department of education. Just like that. There have also been storming of government buildings, taking buildings hostage, etc... very dramatic, but frankly you don´t see much of the effects in the streets.

We are continuing to work, though quietly so as not to appear out of synch with the teachers we work with (the vast majority who, apparently, didn´t want to strike in the first place). We have a big forum coming up on the 31st of October (so no jack o lanterns for me... boooo!!), so there is a lot to prepare with that. Plus, people from EDUCA in Lima are coming for a visit, so we are trying to spiff up the office--- organizing, etc.... Not rocket science, but better than being bored, which is how i have been feeling of late. Frankly, and perhaps inappropriately put, at times i feel a bit like a pet, not contributing anything really (not for my lack of asking for things to do), but towed around for show, or becasue it is better than leaving me in the office alone. One day i spent a total of two hours sitting in the truck waiting for others to go to meetings---- is that seriously the best use of my time and skills??? But i am still learning, and part of learning about what is going on here is understanding how much time is wasted. Seriously. It is amazing. But that is how things work. For now.... (insert evil laugh here) I am already planning a subversive workshop, trying to teach other organizations how to run a meeting (ie: FOCUS people!!), how to read body language (ie: if half of the people at your meeting are asleep, one might want to rethink your delivery of information), how to involve others in a meeting (ie: why did you invite 10 people here to talk at them instead of conducting a discussion of the issues? Send a letter if all you want to do is deliver a speech---- i don't need to be in front of you for you to give me this information).

Do I sound frustrated? Perhaps. But whatever. I am going to hold out for a while, sit back and try to understand this whole system of neverending, inefficient meetings before really deciding if i am going to actually try to do somethign about it. (Please note that i am not even coming close to touching that other issue of time, where we waste an average of 1 hour at least waiting for a meeting to start. I am going to reconcile myself to that. That is culture. But the delivery of information--- that is style, in my mind, and style can be changed.)

Anyway, enough of my randomness. I am still living in the hostal, which is REALLY starting to drive me nuts (can you imagine how wrinkly some of my clothes will be after 2 months without being unpacked??), but hopefully my next post will involve some good news. I am seeing two places this weekend, both of which i am assured will be good and i can choose between them.... so we shall see. Fingers tightly crossed. I am also REALLY hoping to get a mailing address soon--- am kinda parched for some familiar stuff--- letters will be most welcomed once i have some mailable coordinates (do i sound desperate? perhaps that´s not a mistake....)

Hope all is well with everyone, and will post again soon!!


  • Hey Amy,

    Cap your amazing career with a stint in Manila. Here you will see that wasting time waiting for people or for whatever reason is not unique to Peru alone. :)


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:39 AM  

  • Hi Amy!

    It's great to hear from you and to hear that you're doing well. I think the further you get with your Spanish the easier it will be for your colleagues to trust you and leave you. It's a combination of you being a newbie and you being from a whole different world. They are proud to have you, but really unsure of how to put you to good use. On top of that, you also have to get past the 'young and beautiful' identity and prove to them that you have a brain and frankly, you'd prefer to keep using it. Sorry if I sound sarcastic, but this is from my own experience in Latin America.

    Regarding the meetings, I think there is a lot that you will be able to integrate for their organisational learning (and hopefully of the other organisations that also participate in the meetings). Amy, this would be an amazing revolution, and you should be really proud of yourself if you're able to achieve any part of that agenda. It is not becuase you are in a small village in the andes that this is happenning. This is the latin american curse: come and hear my tirade because i, just like you, love the sound of my own voice. ... And the meetings not starting on time, yes, this is another latin american curse, but the degree of flexibility (aka rudeness) varies from country to country. however, in peru, it's pretty bad. people having appointments with the bank, etc. it's common for them to call 15 minutes after the meeting time and explain that they'll be there in a moment (aka 1 hour later). I think the peruvians believe it's equivalent to what happens in Spain and Itlay with the 'relaxed' work schedules. Obviously, they have completely misinterpreted the situation.

    Nevertheless, i was struck with an idea while reading your blog, which could improve timely attendance for your meetings. (this will not work if it's and internal, organisational meeting though, only if people are coming from far and have the ever-loved excuse of transport failing them or the mother-in-law having taken the car, etc. etc.) So, I suggest you plan for a meeting to start at X time (let's say 11am) you ask the guests to arrive by 10am because you will be having and informal netowrking session accompanied by (free) coffee and tea (and maybe alfajores or something ;)

    then, they might be interested in this social event and actually arrive on time for the meeting. who knows? might work? might be a total flop? might be that your colleagues don't even give it a chance? it's just one (barely)creative idea, i'm sure you have more.

    good luck!!!

    regarding your sick stint. i'm sorry to hear about that. as a frequent visitor, i follow these basic rules:

    never eat from a buffett (hard rule in lima, but always a safe bet!), do not eat raw vegetables outside of your own house (peeled tomatoe or cucumber could be the only exception), lettuce is a huge no-no!, mayonnaise is made fresh and then set out of the fridge for the rest of the day (dont' eat it unless you're sure it's been keept cool!). if you want clean raw vegetables to eat at home, wash thoroughly and then leave them soaking in a big bowl of water with a couple of drops of iodine (i think 2 is more tahn enough, but ask a pharmacist if you're worried). this will kill anything that remains and it won't kill you to eat a tiny bit of iodine.

    water: always bottled when you're out, you have to get them to open it in front of you (better yet, ask to open it yourself), or else they could have re-filled the bottle in the back. obviously, you don't have the same problem with sparkling, but be very weary of ICE!! when you're home, just boil a lot of water and then let it cool, instant cheap drinking water :) ... some people even go a far as to brush their teeth with bottled water. i don't, but it's your call.

    as a frequent visitor, i can claim to be used to most of the peruvian bugs, nevertheless, NEVER eat something from an outside food vendor (kiosk thing) ... you can do this safely in places like thailand, but in latin america, food hygene is terrible!

    what i do when arriving in peru is to slowly get acclimated to the tap water. each day, i drink half a mouthful, then a mouthful, etc. so that in case of emergency my body won't totally overreact if i end up drinking it by accident or needing to drink it because of some mass emergency (god forbid) ...

    anyway, this comment is already far too long. my point is i'm glad to hear that you're working through it and i can understand that it's difficult at times, but you have the right attitude and you're doing great so far!!

    all the best,

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:50 AM  

  • Amy,
    didn't you know,,, time is circular, not linear. things happen when they naturally are suppose to happen. late, early, these things do not exist.
    Seriously, you can't change the local culture so might as well get used to it :)
    I am sending along all my best thoughts that you find a great place to live soon - will help you feel more settled I think.

    Take care of yourself.
    Have fun.
    Start writing the next great Canadian novel (btw, Leah is a great name for a main character),

    Love you,

    By Blogger reahpeah, at 5:24 PM  

  • wowzas, I can barely handle how late most north americans are (oc me) - I'd send Laura vibes, but that would make it worse - I'll bet you are doing brilliantly - on another front, in my first few jobs post school, it took a few months to feel like my co-workers had confidence in me, but also for me to start really getting things I could sink my teeth into - my advice - keep on being eager, and articulating this, and keep on participating with confidence.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:01 AM  

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