11th – 22nd Oct 2012
OK guys this is a long one so make ure you are quite settled and have a nice glass of wine in your hand...or a cup of tea will also do.
So let me start with my new location....Cusco.
Cusco is different and taking a little bit of time to get used to. It is obviously a city and getting around has taken time to sort out. Cusco sits in a valley with a lot of it built up the sides of the mountains so at some point in your journey you will be climbing and it can be pretty steep whether you are going up or down! The bike has quickly got relegated to the back room. Not sure if I mentioned this but to save money as the house is quite far out of town I asked Carol if she had an old bike I could borrow..only to use if I was going into a house or it would be stolen. Anyway it is of no use. I am missing Urubamba a little with less dogs and my salsa class. You can also walk about in reasonable safety there at night. Hopefully I will catch up with friends there at some point. At the moment though with such upheaval I am working crazy hours so exhausted at night and in bed for about 8pm at the latest! Once it all settles Esmaran and I are going dancing. Yey!
I feel this is the time to tell you about the dogs in Cusco...a real issue actually! I have never been so scared passing dogs as I was on 2 of my walks. I tried altering my route but it was worse. I haven’t ventured down there again. Basically these dogs rule the steps and there are a lot of steps you need to use!! I am now very aware of the dogs and if I think there will be an issue I will look for a stone and carry it. The roads are very rough here so rubble isn’t difficult to find. You usually only have to show them the stone and that makes them back off but you do have to watch your back when you pass as well especially if there is more than one of them. A volunteer here, who helps us occasionally, has been bitten twice and now getting injections at great cost. I had considered the rabies vaccine before I came out knowing the issue with dogs in Cusco. He said it only buys you an extra day to get treatment and instead of 10 injections you need 3! He seemingly had ignored the dogs as he walked past and they came up behind him and bit him!! Incredible and a bit scary!!
The combis here are interesting too. They are just little minibuses and it is interesting to see how many people they can pack in. Haven’t done a head count but we are like sardines! I am starting to get the hang of which ones I can take to where before I change for another one. I can get closer to Sonia’s on the way there than on the way back. I have to walk a bit more that way to get the next combi and along quite a narrow street with no lighting so get a taxi if it is dark. On the combis you have a person, usually young adults about 16 -18 but I have seen an older lady on guard too. They are a bit like conductors but they have to be fit. They are in charge of the door and ride shotgun (if you can picture that). When we are all crushed in like sardines these guys are crushed against the door! They collect the 60 centimos from everyone. Great value actually as it is 60 centimos regardless of how far you go. This is about 15p to you. They shout out the name of the next stop and we respond if we want off with “Bajo”. They then repeat to the driver “baja, baja “or “nadie” -which translated means “stop, stop” or “no-one”. Along the way at set places there is a machine that they punch a card. The driver will say “tarjeta” (ticket) and as the combi slows down these guys take the ticket, jump off, punch the ticket and jump back on. The combi never stops, only slows down. Quite fascinating, actually.
Weather-wise this is spring which here means very hot sun in the morning until mid afternoon then the rain starts. When it rains here is really rains. We are getting some thunder and lightning too. When it stops though, it doesn’t take long to dry up because of the strong sun.
OK so a little about what has happened here and my change in role. Talk about right place, right time. I couldn’t have timed my arrival any better. So Fani, who was to have been our new president has been dishonest to the extreme..so much so we have had to get lawyers involved and we have all had to make statements. So our new structure (like old times ) is Sonia, as President – she is doing great after 2 months rest. Me as Treasurer and ...well this name keep changing to try and reflect all I do. I’m opting for overall Administrator supporting Sonia and Rita. Sonia prefers Director but I am a little uncomfortable with that title. Ineke who had recently left will help me one day a week for a short time to get caught up as things have slipped a bit and Rita will resume as project coordinator. It has been heart warming to watch Rita grow in confidence again and so quickly. She really has the respect of the communities and the experience for all we are currently doing. Nutrition, Health and Contraceptive Program (which with new money we are getting we will extend to the teenage girls, plus we can then apply for a grant from an organisation we know are keen for us to apply for this project) and Greenhouses. I actually feel as if I am back in my area manager role to a certain extent, juggling lots of stuff and working in harmony with a great team. The ideas are really flowing and it is just such a great feeling to be a part of all of this amazing stuff helping to improve the lives of those less fortunate. I love that people know me and all the familiar faces. After 3 weeks of flat out working seven days a week I feel I am now getting into my stride and feel absolutely in the right place...it feels great actually...albeit tiring at the moment. I am really enjoying my new role and the challenges. To be honest I don't need a title, I just get on with what needs to be done. I check in with Sonia to see what involvement she wants and how we share decision making but otherwise I am getting on with it. We are getting past the crisis managing which was nothing that we couldn’t handle. Days were particularly long when we had to go to the communities and then coming back to do e mails. I need to keep facebook active, sort the website and keep it active to keep it high on google and get a newsletter out soon before reports for those who have donated to us are due in a couple of weeks. Meetings need to be had to meet and discuss how various people who have emailed us and shown an interest in supporting us...Plenty to keep me out of mischief.
The medics arrive on Friday 26th October for 5 days, 9 of them this time, so I am organising that with Rita at the moment. We are rearranging where they are going as we had real concerns for the health of two of them who have been very unwell. Going to the community Fani had suggested would leave us in a real predicament if someone took ill. It is a 3.5 hour very steep climb in and the only way out if someone collapsed would be a helicopter at an exorbitant cost! Sonia, Rita and I have agreed a change without impacting too much on this community. They will come to us which the kids do every day already as they go to a school in the valley instead of the one in their community. We have just heard about this school actually. You would wonder why we didn’t know but it is quite a big and widespread community and as I said very difficult to reach for us gringas! The children don’t go there because the teacher seems to be a drunk and has been reported to the authorities for attacking women in the community but he seems to have relations in the education authority so he is left alone!
A couple who run a small NGO in the US have donated a considerable amount of money to build a greenhouse at our last school. I met with them last Friday after lots of other meetings. I then updated them of the change in the NGO which I wasn’t sure how they would respond but they were absolutely fine and more concerned that the greenhouse would be built so they could tell all their donors. I had to be honest with them about my concerns at the plan that Fani and Saul had done but explained we had a structural engineer at the moment as a volunteer and he was helping us. The important thing for me was to see how the community was getting on with digging away all the soil to make it flat. You are never sure how many men will be available to work on each agreed day. On the Wednesday prior to this when Sonia visited (we were also there with Shop 2 (which is just the vegetables and the smaller shop for the month) ) there was a faena when about 30 men turned up and were working with picks to dig away the banking to level the ground. They had hoped for a machine from the municipalidad but that hadn’t turned up. It was amazing to watch them all hard at work. I was so pleased when we returned on the following Monday with Carlota and Joe (the American couple who had raised the money for the project) that there were still about 10 - 15 men and some women working to clear back to the main wall next to the school. Joe’s background is construction and greenhouses so, albeit his experience is not here in Peru where there are fewer materials, he can provide a lot of insight. As is always the case here plans constantly change. Now the municipalidad are offering to build the community a library which is great, but this is the only available plot of land so both the green house, big enough to feed the kids and future proof it (Dionessio is now asking for a 2 storey replacement for an older building to cope with the increasing numbers coming in). With our discussions with Clive we had thought 2 smaller ones would be better but now it will have to be one with dimensions between what we had thought for a smaller one and what Fani had considered. Well on Monday with so many people in the know Dionessio, another male teacher there, Joe and Rita eventually came up with frankly a great solution. It felt like a really productive day..it really did! On top of that we were delivering the veggies for the other community on the opposite mountain and looked at the newly repaired greenhouse there. Unfortunately it was already encountering problems! So again with Joe and Emilio (the headmaster here) it was agreed what needed to be done to stabilise it. It is disappointing Fani had not done this one properly! We are not sure why. We will need to find funding for this though as Joe and Carlota are keen to support the one community with their greenhouse, very dangerous stairs where the huge pots of hot food are being carried down and the kitchen – to make it more smoke free as we have struggled to get this kitchen as good as the rest..possibly the location. This is to be done if there is money any left. By the end of the day Joe and Carlota were real converts of our projects and this community. I think we will work together over many years which will be great. They are such a lovely couple and so aligned with the way we work..which is actually why they picked us actually. We were British and they could see we would ensure the completion.
On the Wednesday we were back up again, I brought my laptop this time as the rough drawing from Monday needed converting into useful information on what and how much to purchase and for Clive to come up with a drawing that the community could use. Just to remind you, Clive is the structural engineer. This again was a big day with a lot of discussion about how many supports were required, what the roof would look like and right down to the amount and size of nails we would need. I was pretty shattered after this I can tell you. While we were working on the detail of the design lots of men were continuing to dig away the banking against a stone wall we were now going to use as a main wall for the structure to maximise use of the available plot. Helping them were some women carrying away stones or rubble in their shawls. These women tend to be from the families where the men are away or there are no husbands so all are involved. It is incredible to watch I can tell. So in the space of just over a week these men have dug away a 35 metre steep banking turning it into a level area with the foundations dug down a metre, ready for the large stones/ rocks to go into. On this day the men had split into 2 groups because the alcalde (the mayor of Pisac) had given them a large lorry to fling rocks into and bring down the mountain. This was the nearest place for rock..about an hour’s walk up the hill. How they got them into this lorry I don’t know because it was a beast of a lorry and the rocks were a fair size I can tell you. All the equipment the men were using was on loan from the municipalidad which was brilliant as it was good quality and it needed to be for this terrain I can tell you. Amazing to watch how, with the enthusiasm and will of the community a barren hillside can be turned into a flat, workable area ready for the foundations and walls of the greenhouse....and not a heavy machine in sight. The president..new since last year, thank goodness as last year’s was a real numpty..(he was the one who forgot to tell the community about the medics visit!)..asked if we could purchase the equipment and all they needed to build (other than the adobe bricks of course that they had already made them) as there was to be a faena every day to make sure the greenhouse went up quickly . I discovered the real haste was because potato planting time was fast approaching before the rains started in earnest. Rita and I arranged with Martin to meet early in Cusco and do the shop on the Friday. As it turned out we were a little early for the shops so had to wait half an hour. They needed breakfast so I waited with them. As is the norm here it is sopa (soup) with potatoes, root veg and meat. Now there is no finesse to this soup you get a big chunk of meat you pick up with your fingers, whole potatoes, and large chunks of root veg. Also on the menu apart from the standard chicken was cow’s stomach soup...nice!! The old lady behind the desk was a little scathing that I didn’t eat..but tough..my tummy was still a little rough (see below for the reason!) We had a good 4-5 hours and got the best prices we could. It really felt like déjà vu as it is almost a year to the day since I last did this for our first community greenhouse. This time because Martin now had a mini bus he could take the large water tank on top of his van as well as all the things that were in stock - just a few things to follow.
On the Wednesday, back at the school, it was also a big day for the 6th grade pupils as they had a cooking competition with posters with ingredients and how they prepared their dish. They then had to present this to Dionessio, the headmaster, Rita and myself. I understood a little. We had to judge the presentation, nutritional value and taste. There were about 8 groups some boys, some girls. It was really refreshing to see the boys preparing food and to be honest one group of boys had prepared my favourite dish. To help them fundraise we bought what we ate. I had 2 plates of theirs – the plates were very small I might add- like saucers. Their dish was fried potato shavings, a special bean that you boil for some time– very good for the digestion I was assured, onions and mint to accompany it. It really was yummy. I was very generous and gave them 5 soles for their funds. By the time we were ready to leave I needed to loo and felt I really didn’t want to go to the toilets up there. I asked Martin if he could drop Joe, Carlota and myself at their hotel. (I had used their, more public toilet downstairs the last time I had been there.) The way back was a little rough on me as the road surface is far from smooth and I was beginning to struggle I can tell you. I didn’t hand around long once we stopped either! Well....was I glad I waited!!!!!! Talk about an enema effect!!!!! I felt off for about 4 days and am still not 100%! No more beans for me!!
Because of the Fani situation Sonia and I have agreed I would look for other premises big enough for the office to be with me and I now think we have found the right property. Only after a number of days looking and sore feet – mostly mine because Sonia struggles with the steep streets here... well she is 81 after all.... and when I say steep I mean really steep. As I mentioned before Cusco is built from the valley and up the sides of the mountains which make our mountains look like lovely hills actually, much as I love ours they are quite a bit smaller. The house is in a lovely part of the city, high up near Sachsaywaman – the wonderful ruins I love. I will be living in a house which is in a mini complex where the family houses are around me which means it will be very safe. We have discussed the changing of some of the wall colours as the green was pretty rank! We are hopeful we will get all the furniture that Fani and Saul borrowed from Sonia when she moved in with Esmaran into her very beautiful fully furnished house..the best in Cusco we all think. The house I will stay in is also only 2 or 5 minutes walk from Sonia and Esmaran...depending on whether you are going up or down the hill! I have just bought a second hand washing machine, an oil heater, a rug, a soft blanket and a shower curtain from a lovely Irish girl I met last year so all in all I think I will be sorted.
I don’t intend to visit the communities too often but leave this in Rita’s capable hands. It doesn’t make sense for us both to be going up. Otherwise one of us would not be needed! I will visit to take photos for the website and facebook and discuss anything I find at the time....once every 4-6 weeks should be about right. My role is really behind the scenes, on the computer and talking to people visiting occasionally when needed. They will be able to come to the house which is good. It kinda feels like déjà vu and I have been transported back to last year with a bit more understanding of the operations now! There is loads to do though so Ineke is going to help me one day a week while she is still here as her and her boyfriend are hoping to move. After our one meeting I already feel I understand a little more of the detail I was not involved in before.
Re Mr Ratty!! I haven’t heard it lately which is good but the small cup that is on a tray on the next bed has been toppled over in the morning a few times so he is still around! I am conscious of putting my rucksack in the wardrobe now so there is no more eaten food. Edgar who is the main guy for the travel company here finally came to see me after a week and a half and said he would do something later that week...so 2 weeks later! Oh well! I have had a couple of issues in the house where my food has been taken and the water I pay for is being drunk by both Pilar, the nanny and Julia, the cook who are here constantly. I was expecting them only to be in occasionally which is what I was originally told but a few things have changed since then! They also use way more gas than me as I am never there to cook, but I am still paying for it! They are not making things easy for me despite the fact that I have discussed that I am paying a reasonably big rent for the house so I have had to put signs on the fridge and water, which needless to say is not working. Also the fact that it is my friend’s house you don’t really settle the same to make it your own so it is best I move. I don’t want the friendship to be soured by this. The fact that I need a place for the office is the biggest factor of course.
Oh well my friends I think this blog is quite long enough!! Next week I must ensure I am on top of the paperwork, reports and updating our media before the medics come on Friday and we start a 5 day stint in all the communities from the Saturday to the Wednesday...no rest for the wicked....then I will hopefully move in.
HASTA PROXIMA VEZ, MIS AMIGOS, MUCHOS ABRAZOS.