Monday, October 31, 2016

Noche de Brujas

Noche de Brujas is what Halloween is called here in Peru. October 31st is primarily a religious holiday - All Souls Day. Trick or treating is starting to become more popular here as the population of ex-pats grows and the local children catch on to the idea of going door to door for candy. That said it is still not widespread as buying candy and giving it away plus purchasing children's costumes are luxuries simply beyond the means of many Peruvians. It makes the aisles of candy in the US big-box stores seem even more obscene. There is no Goodwill or Good Sammy or Salvation Army thrift store here where one can buy a second-hand costume. I asked our housekeeper if any children in her neighbourhood go trick or treating and she said no, because no one can afford the costumes. It's another reminder of how lucky we are to live the life that we do. We live the life that many can only dream of.
Marge and Maggie.
Halloween in Arequipa is also noted for being the day with the worst traffic of the entire year. That seems like a bold statement, given how bad the traffic is on any other day, but Halloween traffic is ridiculous. The first two years we were here, we were invited to Halloween parties held by other ex-pats on the other side of the city. Our usual 15-minute journey to get there took almost an hour each time. This year we're staying in and celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary - yep, on Halloween.  
This year I volunteered to host the annual Halloween party for our group of ex-pat children. We are very lucky that our house has a giant backyard that is perfect for outdoor parties. It was a lot of work to get everything prepared but it was a team effort and the result was a very fun party that was enjoyed by young and old alike. As you can see from the photo I went as Marge Simpson with Miss B as Maggie. N went as Batman and P channeled his inner Keith Richards and went as a pirate (in his pirate costume, large pirate hat and beer in hand, he looked like Keith Richards in The Pirates of the Caribbean). 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Catching Up

A year can go by so quickly (it's only 12 months, after all). One of my goals for this year is to be a more frequent blogger. We won't be here in Peru forever and it's important to record some things about this experience before it's over and I forget all the relevant details.
I don't want this to be just a travel blog, although travel is certainly something that we love to do. One of the perks of our assignment as ex-pats in Peru is a very generous travel allowance. I think that the secret to a successful ex-pat stay here is being able to get out of the country every now and then, to depressurize, to take a deep breath of somewhat cleaner air, to recharge the batteries and to remind ourselves why it is that we are doing what we are doing (and often, to question the wisdom of what we have decided to do).
A couple of months from now we'll have our second anniversary of living in Peru. Our son is in his third year of school here (because the Peruvian school year isn't the same as the US school year - here they start in March and finish in December). Having been in the same school for more than two years puts us in the league of "old-timers" who have seen many changes. In the ex-pat school, we now have our third school director in three years. With every year, people leave and new people arrive. When we arrived, the school had just a few teachers and only 12 students. Now there are more than 30 students and more than twice the teaching staff. The school is growing and we can see progress.
Our son speaks more Spanish now and is much more comfortable with the local language. Last year we went on a road trip to Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, and there were several occasions when he was spoken to in English (because most strangers here assume that we are non-Spanish-speaking Americans), but he replied in Spanish. He both surprised and delighted us. It's really great that he is not afraid to use his developing language skills. Of course, if we ask him to say something in Spanish (usually for friends or family talking to us on Skype), he clams up and gets all embarrassed, then finds an excuse to go away.

This year our travel schedule has been turned on its head, mostly because of work commitments that will keep us here in Peru this Christmas (the last two Christmases we've been lucky enough to visit friends and family in our home country, which has been wonderful). We took a longer trip at Christmas this summer and went to both New Zealand and Australia. There really is no place like home. There was time to just relax plus time to spend with family and friends. We walked along the beach every morning (just not possible in Arequipa as the beach is 3 hours from here) and just soaked up as much of the experience as possible - the sights, smells and sounds, to sustain us while we are back here in Peru and far away from home.

We discovered last summer that there are very few ex-pat kids here in Arequipa over the summer holidays, because all the other families only have one parent employed outside the home, so the non-employed parent takes the kids back to Home Country X where they spend the summer holidays (almost 3 months) with their nears and dears. This summer there were actually a few kids here for a short time, but no more than just a couple of weeks between trips. With both parents working full-time outside the home, it's a very long summer break for N at home with our housekeeper and dog. So we try to break up the summer as much as possible with trips away, to alleviate the boredom and keep mischief at bay (at least we try).

So a few weeks after coming back from Australia, we headed off again for two more weeks of holiday (making full use of the travel allowance) in Florida and the Caribbean. It was absolutely amazing and really a fun holiday. It feels very indulgent to have had two completely wonderful and long holidays in such a short space of time, but there are no more holidays (other than a long weekend here and there) planned for this year. Our next holiday of a week or more won't be until at least January. This is where being an ex-pat is really going to get challenging, but it's also what we said we were willing to accept when we asked to have a month and a half away from work at the start of the year.

When others are flitting back and forth between Peru and established homes in the US, it's easy to become envious. We don't have an established home anywhere other than Arequipa. Now the strategizing of how long our stockpiled supplies of imported, locally unavailable products (such as my favourite shampoo, or fabric Bandaids, or a particular brand of tea) will last under the circumstances. Usually when we do go overseas I try to stock up on things that will see us through until our next trip somewhere. Right now, with no more holidays and no overseas work travel likely this year, the next trip somewhere is next year. We try to find local equivalents for things and sometimes those are good enough. Sometimes they look like the familiar products from overseas, even down to the packaging, but the contents and actual characteristics of the product leave us wanting. I'm very lucky that I have generous friends and work colleagues who are willing to bring a few extra things back in their suitcase (sometimes, the whole suitcase full, if I am really lucky!) of special items that really help to raise our spirits and help us feel more content with being here (sad to think that shampoo or crackers could make someone feel better about their life, but there you go). It's things that would otherwise be very easy to get and not a big deal if we lived in Australia or the US, like an engraved tag for the dog's collar, or an extra Wii remote. Stuff that often involves an afternoon-long fruitless search through one local department store after another as we try in vain to find something specific, to avoid having to ask yet another favour of a friend or coworker to bring it into the country for us.

So, where previous years' blog posts have been a lot about travel (I will get caught up on that and post some photos for you) and less about everyday life, this year's posts look set to be the opposite. I hope that you get some insight into the challenges, joys and experiences that make up life as an ex-pat in Peru.

Here's a fun fact for you: In my 41 years on Earth I have lived in 29 different houses, in 12 different towns or cities (some of them more than once) in four different countries on three different continents. I'm certain that I will be adding to this list before I'm done.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Some thoughts on living in Peru

I just got back from a couple of weeks in the US. On the whole it was a great trip, especially as I was able to see and spend time with many friends from the six years that we lived in Arizona. I took N with me as he had a week of school holidays and on top of that, due to an immigration issue which delayed our departure from Peru by a day, he managed to miss a whole week of school. He had a great time playing and hanging out with several friends which was really good for him. As I've mentioned before it can be hard living here in Peru and this trip was a good opportunity to take N out of Peru for a little while so that he could have a break and have some fun for a couple of weeks.
Before departing on the trip we made our shopping list and wish list of places we wanted to go and things that we wanted to do while in Tucson. We were able to do most of them (we couldn't visit our favourite sushi place because it's on the university campus and the day before we visited, they had closed for the summer - we'll have to try again next time) and got our fix of McDonald's (doesn't take much to have had enough McDonald's to last me a long time) and Subway.
While we were in the US many people asked me how I like living in Peru. It's a question that I am asked a lot as an ex-pat, especially now that we are in Peru as it's a bit of an unusual place to live and lots of people are curious about it. I tell them that the work assignment is great and that we get to travel a lot (which we enjoy) but that Peru does have some challenges and that it's not the easiest assignment in the world. We don't have Walmart or Barnes and Noble or Trader Joe's, and we can't just go out and find everything that we need or want at the local stores that we do have. I share with them the restrictions of our security requirements and the social isolation that some of us ex-pats (especially those who are working here) experience. I tell them that it's not all bad and that there are some things that make living here very enjoyable (having a housekeeper who cooks our dinner; making friendships that we wouldn't have had the opportunity to make elsewhere) and rewarding (learning Spanish; experiencing a different culture first-hand; racking up valuable work experience). What I often forget to mention when asked about living here are the little miracles that remind me to cherish the time we have here and to try not to see it as something that has to be endured (which is how it can seem at times; how many more years?): a long-tailed hummingbird circumnavigating the garden; waking up to a clear blue sky and snow-capped mountains; the simplicity of people who live off the land and are perfectly happy with the little that they have. It can be easy to dwell on the negative things about living in a developing country such as Peru, especially when you are back in a familiar "first-world" country surrounded by lots of friends and all the modern conveniences that any "first-world" native could possibly want.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Scouts: Siempre Listos!

We took a bit of a leap on Saturday when we went along to our first Scouts meeting here in Arequipa. N's school has a Scout group which is just starting its program for 2014 (the school year started this month). N was very apprehensive about going along because he wasn't sure if he would know anyone and of course there is always quite a bit of trepidation from him regarding activities etc in Spanish. His confidence is growing and he can understand more than he lets on, but still he felt that he needed P and I there for some reassurance and some handy translation.
The first session involved 2 hours of fun games for the kids. N's leader put him in a group with a couple of kids who could speak some English, to help him. N knew one other child from soccer and recognized one or two others from school. That helped to put him at ease. I acted as translator as best I could and between us (plus some explanatory hand signals and demonstrations from the leaders) we managed to get through all the games (even a couple of songs!) and had a good time.
Having been a Scout leader in the US I understand that groups like this need a lot of help from parent volunteers. There seemed to be a distinct lack of parents at this session (most of them appear to take advantage of the free babysitting and just drop the kids off) and I had already made up my mind before we went there to volunteer to help (so I did). I know it will challenge my Spanish skills (but that will be good for me) but it will help N too (when he doesn't understand what's going on, I can hopefully help him out) and really, I need it as much as he does. I've mentioned before that it can be challenging to work here in the particular situation that I am in. I am the only ex-pat wife who is also working a full-time job at the mine, so I am a demographic group of 1 member. I can't go to the lunches, trips to the market, coffee mornings, yoga classes, etc that the other ex-pat ladies do regularly, so I tend to miss out on that social interaction (but I do try to meet friends on the weekend so that I don't completely feel like a hermit or social outcast). Getting involved with Scouts (I hope) will be good for me and will help me to feel more connected with the local community. I don't yet feel attached to Arequipa in an emotional way so maybe this will help. Plus Scouts is just plain fun. And who doesn't like singing Spanish songs? 

Get off the road

Our normal way home from the mine was blocked today by "manifestantes", aka, protesters. About 400 of them had the road blocked so we had to take the alternate way home which adds about 30 minutes to the trip. One hour and 40 minutes after I left work, I arrived home. Anticipating then dealing with road closures (because of industrial action or protests) is one of the "features" of working here. We have contingency plans and the worst that normally happens is a small inconvenience and a son who takes the opportunity to eat pizza while his parents are out of the picture for an extra hour. The protests are usually non-violent and are more of a nuisance than anything. I feel sorry for the crews who had to work later because they had to wait for their relief shift which was late arriving. They will have a very long work day today. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bienvenidos Bindi!

This bundle of fur is our new puppy Bindi, who became part of the Gelfi family this week. She is a 5 and a half week old golden retriever. We got her via the vet that several of our friends use. As you can see she is very cute and we are very grateful that as she gets used to us and her new home, she is also slowly becoming less nocturnal.
She is proving to be a very nice little dog but like all puppies there is a lot of work in looking after her right now while she is still very young (toilet training, don't chew the furniture and all that). Bindi is the first pet that we have had since we left Australia in 2007 and N was very surprised and excited when the bundle that I carried in from the pouring rain last Wednesday evening turned out to contain a little dog.

Summer holidays

It's the middle of the school summer holidays here right now and we are realizing one of the disadvantages of being two working ex-pat parents of a school-aged child. Every other ex-pat family here has one parent working at the mine and one parent at home who can be with the children. So what that non-working parent apparently does for the summer is leave Arequipa with the children and go back to their home town/state/country and spend the summer there, or they rent a house at the beach here in Peru (the coast is about 2 hours from Arequipa) and spend the summer there. Very few of them stay in Arequipa itself, which means that we have a boy who gets lonely and misses his friends, who he won't see again until March when school starts. We try to do things together when P and I aren't at work but it's certainly not the same for our son who just wishes that he had friends nearby who he could go and play with.
This is a problem that can have an effect during the school term as well because of the housing and security situation that is part of our life here. If N wants to visit a friend, unless they live in the same gated community (which they don't), it is quite awkward to go and visit them. There are friends who live in the gated community next to ours and although it would be just a 5-minute walk (it's really only a few hundred meters away), we aren't allowed to walk there. We have to arrange to go there with our security agent who then waits until it is time to take us home again. N can't do any of the summer vacation activities that are organized for kids (sports camps, drama and music classes, outdoor activities) because we aren't there to go with him and the agent has to be at the mine to drive us if we need it.

These are the times when we really wish that we had other family supporting us here.