Other Oddities & 1st Pics from Arequipa, Peru

There’s this odd phenomenon in Peru of giving children English names. I’ve met people named Billy, Jennifer, Percy, Henry, Washington. I don’t get it.

There are police all over the downtown area. Two of them stand together on almost every other corner. They usually say hello or nod to me when I pass. I think they try to make tourists feel welcome.

Obviously, Catholicism is popular throughout Latin America. About 100% of taxis are decorated – littered in most cases – with images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, various saints, and other religious images and themes. When riding in a car past a church, most people cross themselves. One popular brand of clothes – especially for combi employees – is Juan Pablo II. It is a brown shirt or hat with the image of the late Pope John Paul II. He’s like Michael Jordan here.

I learned a gesture my first week and have actually caught myself using it recently. You extend your hand in front of you. You keep the bicep / tricep section of the arm at your side, but extend your forearm with your hand palm up. You close all your fingers and thumb together as if holding a feather straight up by its tip. You then move this imaginary feather up and down. A fast speed would only look natural if you were really angry and yelling. This communicates “What are you talking about, you moron? Were you born stupid?” This is a useful gesture for me because I constantly feel this way about people but don’t want to waste my breath. I couldn’t use this gesture in America because people would think I am trying to be like old-school Italians. I’ll give you a textbook example of when to use it. I recently reminded my friend Matt that he called me “fucking naive” when I suggested back in December that Barack Obama might defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. I recently reminded him of his strong language. I recently reminded him, as in after Hillary handily lost North Carolina and barely won Indiana and after Obama surpassed her in superdelegates and after the headlines of all the major news outfits have Obama and McCain in the same sentence. Matt replied, “As far as the political race goes, don’t count Hillary out yet. Personally, I hope she loses but I wouldn’t count on it just yet. Polls mean nothing so while you are reading the same political hype that dupes the majority of average americans, I will continue to listen to Savage who is the only one delivering the real deal.” This would be a perfect opportunity to use this feather-shaking gesture.

At the airport in Bogota, I found a 1000 note on the ground. Upon further inspection, I saw it was 1000 bolivars (Venezuelan currency). In Lima, I took the bill with my US dollars up to the money exchange. At a money exchange, a sign will prominently display the bid- and ask-prices for a dozen or so major currencies. For example, next to US dollars it read something like “2.690000 – 2.900000.” Next to bolivars, the prices read “0.000000 – 0.000000.” I had a suspicion what that meant. My suspicion was confirmed by the woman behind the desk. They do not accept Venezuelan bolivars and haven’t accepted them for at least six months. Venezuelan bolivars are effectively worthless. My find was not as lucky as I thought. But now I have a birthday present for my 8 year-old brother.

Following up on gaining confidence and getting risky, I’ve mastered the traffic of Peru (as a pedestrian). I’ve started running to Plaza de Armas – the center of city – through the crowded downtown streets. I’m ridiculously confident in crossing streets. As I described in an earlier post, the flow of traffic and right-of-way is determined by my description “Get in where you fit in.” If I need to cross a street, all I really need is about twenty feet in between two moving cars to dart across in time, but it obviously depends on the cars’ speed. Sometimes I stop and wonder about the moves I make from a gringo perspective. I literally run into oncoming traffic if there’s enough space for me to get across. This would absolutely guarantee getting honked at by drivers in any city in America. Oddly enough, it’s one of the few things that doesn’t warrant a honk here. I guess the drivers think, “He made it. Nice move.” Get in where you fit in.

For the third time since arriving, I’ve been misled by a cobrador – the combi attendants. The combis’ destinations are afffixed to the inside of the windshields. I look for “Cerro Colorado” or whatever major stop is near where I’m going. Three times now, I’ve boarded a combi and confirmed my destination only to be told later that the combi doesn’t go there. The first two times were no big deal because I was let off close-by. Last week, I got screwed. The combi I boarded that morning displayed my destination but also displayed other stops not on the route. When this happens, I confirm with the cobrador as I board where I’m going and, on this day and as always, he told me it did. About ten minutes later and after taking my money, he told me it didn’t. I had to catch another combi. I’m still relatively new here and unsure of some things, so I took the hit. But next time I’ll ask for my money back.

I called my mom on Mother’s Day from my roommate’s phone. It costs S/. 1.20 per minute to call a cell phone outside Peru. We spoke for almost twenty minutes. After giving Beto back his phone, I went upstairs to get some money. Beto was in his office when I dropped the twenty on his desk. I emphasize dropped because I didn’t place the bill on his desk nor did I throw it. Placing implies that my hand did not leave the bill until the bill had safely arrived on the desk. Throwing implies that I propelled, hurled, or somehow added trajectory to the bill’s motion. I dropped the bill by extending my hand out and letting go, letting it fall to the desk. Beto prefaced the following explanation with an understanding that I am from a different culture and he just wants to help, then explained that my action would be construed as rude here in Peru. This has been confirmed by other Peruvians. If I don’t want to offend somebody, I must place objects on desks and such. What would go through my mind if somebody said that to me in America? “Oh, did I hurt your feelings? Go take a Midol. And while you’re in your purse, grab some tissues to dry those tears, you fuckin’ sissy.” I think I stand a good chance of making the transition to being warm, but I’ll never be sensitive.

I weighed myself two weeks ago. I’ve lost eight kilos since arriving (17.6 lbs) in those six weeks. I knew I’d lose weight, but I didn’t think it’d happen so fast. In December 2006, I quit doing cardio and focused on adding mass. For over a year, I rotated various football and bodybuilder workouts while eating everything I could get my hands on – including weight-gainer powder. From December 2006 to March 2008, I went from 190 lbs to 225 lbs. Since moving to Peru, I’ve only been running and doing calisthenics. I eat less and the food is healthier. Two weeks ago, I weighed in at 94 kilos (207 lbs). I’m definitely leaner, but I’ve also lost muscle.

I joined a basketball team. After delivering a recruitment speech (my fourth speech in Spanish since arriving) for the local AIESEC chapter, José invited me to practice with a club owned by a private high school. Basketball in Perú is like lacrosse in the US. Most people don’t know how to play and almost nobody cares about it. So I assumed I’d come on the court and dominate. I was wrong. There are four guys as tall as me and two weigh more. They’re really good. Every shot they take sinks. I won’t start.

I don’t know if this is a Latino thing or a Rosa thing. When cuddling, Rosa sometimes plays with my ears. She actually inserts her finger into my ear and plays in there. It feels good. I used to worry that she might pull out a finger caked with orange wax, but I’m over that. I’d never had a girl do that before.

One night Rosa asked ‘what we were’. I told her I considered her my girlfriend. I don’t think I lied. I’ve said so in this blog, and to a couple people in Peru as well. Before I got this random girl’s phone number in a discoteca, she asked me if I had a girlfriend and I told her I did. And at one point while the Brazilian whore was feasting away on my neck I told her not to leave any hickies because I have a girlfriend.

While I was to be in Cusco, Rosa called me and said that she was going to come over to clean my room and do my laundry. I am going to Cusco to party for a weekend and she’s going to clean my room and wash my clothes. YES! I would never get that in America, at least not from the girls I used to meet. Ecstatic!

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