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.