Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sapo Sapo!

So, I recently discovered an amazing game called Sapo (which means Frog in Spanish).  Basically you have a box with lots of holes in it. You throw golden coins into the holes, with points earned for different holes. In the middle there is a giant bronze frog who guards the hole worth SO MANY POINTS! To get these points you need to throw the coin in the frog´s mouth which is pretty much impossible so I have long given up on that. 

The legend is that the game was originally played by the Incas. The Incas believed magical sapos lived in Lake Titicaca, and the Inca would go there to throw gold into the lake in order to win their favor. This eventually morphed into a traveling version (no water necessary) like the one we know today. After the Spanish arrived, they realized that this game would make an awesome drinking game. Hey, with all the wine they started growing they certainly needed some bar games. 

The game then spread its way around Europe, but of course remained popular in Peru also. Today you find them at bars and clubs all over the country. I obviously don´t go to enough bars, because I hadn´t seen it. Or perhaps I had seen it but just thought it was a frog shrine?

Anyway, I have become a big fan. I am even thinking of buying a frog statue and coins here, and then having someone build me a set when I get home. And you can all come to my Sapo parties.

Peru: I Speak Pretty One Day

I was trying to explain how we celebrate Easter in the US to my workers. The following conversation happened in Spanish.

Me: Well, we have a big meal with our families.
Workers: Us too!
Me: And then we have the children paint chicken eggs many different colors.
Workers: Aw, cute. Then what?
Me: A giant bunny breaks into the house, hides the eggs, and if you find them you get new clothes and chocolate!
Workers: .........

Even better, I didn´t know how to say "breaks into" so I may have explained it as a "robber bunny".

Friday, April 22, 2011

Red, red wine

Being constantly warm and sunny, Moquegua has a growing season that is basically all year round. They grow a plethora of fruits and vegetables - the largest and most important plots are those for olives, grapes and avocados. In fact, this is one of the first areas where the Spanish decided to start growing the things that they absolutely needed in order to successfully migrate to and conquer a new continent - grapes for copious amount of wine and salty olives to snack on while drinking. I think their plan went like this- Step 1: Build a wine bar. Step 2: Steal all the gold  Step 3: DOUBLE PROFIT. 

Too bad Peruvian wine is less than delicious. Luckily, some where along the way someone had the brilliant idea of making Pisco instead. Pisco is a grape brandy that is colorless, powerful, and delicious. Moquegua has at least 11 or 12 local producers, the biggest and most market savy being Biondi (yea, this is what you are all getting as gifts when I return.Be prepared). We drive past their vineyards every day on the way to work, and hopefully tomorrow we will stop and have a tour of the whole plant. And a taste test or two....that wouldnt hurt the experience. My plan goes like this- Step 1: Visit every pisco plant. Step 2: ???? Step 3: DOUBLE HAPPINESS. 

Besides driving past the vineyard we also go past some large dairies, full of happy cows. They produce equally happy yogurt and milk. The cheese in particular is really good and a huge improvement over highland cheese. In the highlands, like Ayacucho, they have this awful salty llama cheese. You know how they say you can milk any animal if you try? And I guess it follows that you can make cheese from any animal? Well, there are some animals where you just shouldnt. Llama is one of those. Llama and meerkat.

Anyway, as you can tell, the drive to work is really peaceful and relaxing; it is one of my favorite parts of the day. In fact, as we were going in the other morning, driving through the fields of cows and sheep, blaring Bob Marley as loud as possible, I realized how incredibly happy I am here. Truly and completely happy (wont lie-this might be in small part due to the fact that my bloodstream is usually about 60% rum and coke).

Happiness is a long overdue sensation. This entire past year has been something like riding a tornado of doom. I had to attempt to make peace with life, and much more importantly, death. Which is a task far greater people than I have failed, and I cant claim to have discovered any particularly unique or profound truth. But somewhere in all the bumbling, I realized 3 things. Life is short, I will never be able to change the heart or mind of another, and that even besides these two things everything will work itself out to be a completely awesome adventure. An adventure currently filled with olives and Bob Marley.

Hell yea.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Peruvian Elections

So I forgot to talk about Election Day! Last Sunday was Election Day, so I got to see PEruvian politics up close and personal. Well...more so than usual. Politics seem to be a visible part of daily life all year round.

In Peru voting is mandatory. If you don´t show up they will give you a fine, which is about 2 or 3 days worth of wages. And not only do you have to show up to vote, you may also be called up to run a polling station, an important job which has a correspondingly high fine if you fail your duty.  This is not to say that you have to vote for any certain person, or any person at all. You can show up and say that you dont like any of the options, but you have to at least say you are not voting for a reason. You know, a reason besides being lazy.
 Additionally, election day is set to a Sunday and is a national holiday. So everyone has plenty of time to travel to their polling station (Which can be very far away, for migrant workers)!

Because the law forces everyone to be involved, interest in politics is a lot higher in Peru. People are involved in the process at all levels, with parades, speeches and constant advertisements (usually large signs painted onto mountains on buildings). The ads are actually really interesting. Since a fairly large populations of Peruvians cant read (most illiterate citizens are women, who have a rate of 20% illiteracy according to some NGOs), most political parties have a symbol associated with their name. So when someone goes in to vote they can check the boss with the symbol, such as a llama, without having to worry about reading. Ive seen symbols ranging from cactus plants to candlesticks to mountains. It seems like most of the good symbols are already taken, but I´d like to think that if I were to ever run for office I´d still be able to get my personal favorite - a turtle. Maybe a smiling one.

Some people think this system just encourages a lot of ignorant people to vote haphazardly; the people who would normally not show up because they dont care are now forced to show up and pick a name at random. This can lead to some really awful winners. Also, migrant workers have to return to the region where they are registered, which can be across the country. They have to pay to take a bus 18 hours, or pay a large fine - not great options.

But even with the drawbacks, I really like this system. The people I have talked with have more concern for the political happenings in their community than most Americans I know...and they are more willing to step up and be heavily involved in their community. And having election day be a holiday just makes SO much sense, making it easyier and more convenient for every citizen to have a say. Why is this a hard concept for the US?

But really, the smiling turtle party. Who wouldn´t vote for that??

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Peru: Two eyes are better than one

Hey all,

Sorry for the slow updates. I´ve been working my job that is entirely too much fun to be considered a job. Seriously, I can´t believe I get to wake up, go to a beautiful site, roll around in dirt for 10 hours, and dig up 1000 year old pots.


I´m currently in Moquegua, which is one of my favorite areas in Peru. It is gorgeous - it is in a valley where river water running down from the Andean highlands allows for intensive argiculture. But if you go just a few miles away from the river you hit incredibly dry deserts (think, some of the driest places on earth). Our site is on a hill/sand dune overlooking part of the valley, and I love seeing the dry, imposing mountains run into the green oasis in the center of the valley. I´ll post picture eventually, but for now you have these:

I blatantly stole those off of google image. Sorry about that : I have a crappy internet connection and limited time. But they give you an idea of the intersection of mountain:desert:farmland that I love.

The actual digging itself is going really well. I am in charge of a small team of Peruvians,which requires a lot of Spanish. A lot of Spanish that I dont have. For example, I tried to tell the workers that I wanted them to take out the rocks (piedras) of a unit...but instead I accidently said I wanted to take out the legs (Piernas) of the unit. There was a long awkward pause where I am sure they wondered why the hell I am in charge of anyone or any thing. But while we work, I am getting the crew to teach me Aymara, which is a language commonly spoken in Southern Peru and Bolivia. They like to joke: "I should just speak Aymara,not Spanish, then maybe you´d understand me." One day I hope to legitimately speak both languages....which requires a lot of hustling in the coming year or two.

But translation aside, we have a lot of fun and are making great progress. We have a really cool first unit with an absolutely beautiful adobe wall (yes, walls can be beautiful.Trust me) and we´ve spent the last couple days cleaning it off and mapping it. Tomorrow we have to break it up and take it off to see if there is anything hidden under it. Since this is my first unit in a building I am pretty emotionally attached to this wall, and I will be sad to see it go. But, considering this will be the second time I´ve taken a pick ax to an adobe structure...I guess I know what I´m doing. At least this time will be intentional, eh?

The only hiccup was on the first day. Some unidentified flying object of doom got in my eye and scratched it or something. This happened in the beginning of the day, and I promptly could only see grey blurry things out of my left eye. Luckily, we were able to rig an eye patch out of a bandana...and I spent the rest of the day being a pirate archaeologist. Which is kinda the best thing in the world.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Peru, round 3

Hey all,

I've been told lately that I resemble a wall when it comes to emotions. Especially happy ones. So, since you probably can't tell, I'll just tell you that I am one happy wall. It feels so,so good to return to Peru; I'm going home and everything will work itself out.

I'll be updating here weekly, if anyone cares to follow along.

P.S. Is it too late to work on the wall thing?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Greyhound ads

I found this gem in the Nashville greyhound station a few years ago. It was about 5 feet tall and sitting inside the cafe area. 

 Can we all agree that "try works for 50 cent" is probably the best sales line ever. It really makes you stop and think.

Does it work in making him a scientist? Is working on getting him a noble prize here?? If all it took to cure cancer was giving 50 cent some vitamin water why didn't we do this years ago? I don't understand.

Maybe it works in making him really strong. This guy did live through getting shot 9 times....

Hmm..yea, maybe I will take some of that water. A whole case of it.  So I can be a bulletproof mad scientist super villain.