Unhappy Monday

Teaching at 6:45am isn’t a terrific way to start the week, however, I did everything possible to ensure a happy start to my week.

Last night I was asleep by 9:30. Now that I have to work on Saturdays, my weekends are cut much shorter. Yesterday, Alvaro and I spent the better part of the day with his extended family. I had a terrific time being with them and felt a major confidence boost with my Spanish, but the six hours intense immersion experience left me feeling exhausted. I was asleep at 9:30 and awoke this morning at 5:30 ready to take on the week.

Everything was great until I got to school and realized I should have eaten something. I skipped dinner last night because our giant Peruvian lunch was at 3pm. But this morning at 6am, was much further removed from my delicious aji de pollo and I was starved. Then my four person class quickly turned into a one person class because three students were late. I began the class with a review from last week, focusing solely on vocabulary. After two minutes of trying (rather unsuccessfully) to prompt my student with the word “landlord,” I had to check my lesson plans to make sure I was in the right chapter. Tough classes are particularly tough when they happen at 7am.

Thankfully another student walked in around 7 and I sighed with relief because I assumed she would have a better grasp of the vocabulary. The class started looking up, that is until I moved my chair and saw a gigantic cockroach mean inches from my book bag sitting on the ground. Somehow he flipped over and was lying on his back. I wasn’t about to touch him. I had a hard enough time dealing with large bugs but seeing as my day was heading downhill and fast, I just couldn’t do it. So he sat there, cockroach legs in the air, for the next 25 minutes until the class break.

During the break I found the sweet cleaning lady and asked if she could dispose of my unwelcome friend with a broom. After this, I was convinced that things would get better. A third student arrived but her phone rang 6 times in the span of fifteen minutes, on the seventh ring she apologized, grabbed her things and left.

As the hour approach 8am, I started to really dread my already dreadful “coaching and micro-teaching” at 9am. My usually comfortable wedges, were uncomfortable and I was hot because my Peruvian students hate AC. I needed coffee and the syrup like liquid served at Berlitz was not going to cut it. I immediately decided that if I had to sit through almost two hours of unpaid “coaching and micro-teaching,” I was going to be comfortable and I was going to have my coffee.

I walked home, changed, made coffee and spent a few minutes with Emmaline. I grabbed my books, took a deep breath and walked out the door. I rode the elevator with a sweet little boy in his stroller and his grey terrier. I walked along the street feeling like maybe, just maybe, Monday would start looking up. That thought quickly left my mind when in the next instant, the old man walking by me made a perverse kissing noise at me. This isn’t the first time this has happened, but it always irks me. I just keep walking, shaking my head in disgust and mumbling a variety of insults in English. I still haven’t decided which is worse, the young man who whistles as me or the old man who makes kissing noises. It’s probably a tie, they’re both repulsive.

I marched on to my micro-teaching, forcing myself to be in a better mood but that didn’t exactly help. Disinterested students, cockroaches and gross old men- all before 9am- can put a damper on even the best laid plans


The institute where I am teaching, believes that it is important for their students to be exposed to a variety of teaching styles and accents when learning English. As a result, students are not assigned to one particular teacher, but rather, the teachers rotate between the groups regularly. Last night I had class with one of my favorite groups.

This group of three women is in Level 2 and they all speak surprisingly good English for being so early in the program. Since there are together every day for class, they have formed friendships between each other which makes the learning atmosphere more enjoyable. They are funny and sweet and their enthusiasm is one of the highlights of my job.

Last night, we were reviewing the words like/love/hate/enjoy. The task was for each student to think about when they were a young child and tell the class what they liked, loved, hated and enjoyed.

Merli started by telling the class that she, “loved to go swimming everyday but I hated to drink quaquer.” She and Eloisa burst into laughter as they reminisced about this horrid childhood drink. I didn’t have a clue what she was referring to, but didn’t ask because I wanted her to finish her statements. After she was done speaking and we had discussed a few corrections I asked, “Merli, what is quaquer?”

She told me, “It’s a drink, but is very dense. Sort of like yogurt.”

I still had no idea what she meant. I started to wonder if it was sort of like the very dense, yogurt like qwark that I loved in Germany, but you eat, not drink, qwark. Eloisa also struggled to come up with the words to adequately describe quaquer. I asked Merli how to spell the word and I wrote on the board:


And still, the language barrier was high. Finally, Eloisa pulled out her Blackberry and did a quick search for the translation of quaquer. The result: oats. As in Quaker oats.

I let out an enthusiastic, “Ohhhhhhh, Quaker oats!!!”

Everyone had a good laugh as we reveled in the relief of finally having the answer and in the realization that the words for “oats” is Spanish is nothing but a Spanishized version of the biggest name brand.

I then asked Merli, “But did you drink [making a drinking gesture with my coffee cup] the oats?”

“Yes,” she replied, “I drank them.”

Thinking that she was wrong, but yet surprised that at this level she didn’t know the difference between to eat and to drink. I said again, “No, but did you drink [again making the gesture] the oats?”

“Yes,” she said, “in Peru, we drink them. That’s why it’s so terrible.”

“Oh,” I replied, “that does sound terrible. In the States you eat them.” I completely agree. Drinking oatmeal sounds awful, no wonder she hated it as a kid. To that I would have to say no gracias.

Fish Market

Lima smells like fish.

When I walk outside in the early morning or later in the evening, I am hit with an overwhelming smell that resembles that of the fresh fish section at Publix. Actually, I don’t even have to leave my apartment to enjoy the sweet stench rolling in from the ocean. Thanks to the lack of sealant in most Peruvian apartments, my windows are not completely sealed. Sure, they are closed, but there are small open spaces that allow for the horrid smell to be the first thing my senses register in the morning.

These small openings not only welcome this smell, but also an abundance and dirt and dust. Never before have I so genuinely appreciated the cleaning power of rain. Since it never rains in Lima, and the city is next to a desert, everything is coated in a terrible brown dust. Somehow this dust manages to find its way into my apartment. My entire apartment requires a weekly dusting and frequent vacuuming. Between the dust and Emmaline's hair, I feel like I am losing the war for cleanliness in my place. I now am beginning to understand why nearly every Peruvian family has maid.

The fish smell seeps into my apartment and wishes me a delightful good morning. In the evenings as I walk to work, the smell returns and accompanies me on my walk through the park. I have absolutely no idea why this phenomenon occurs. Alvaro says that it means winter is coming, but I’m not convinced that’s the source. It’s seems like one of those interesting associations that Peruvians use to describe every weather change and illness. My personal favorite is this on from Alvaro’s mom: “If you drink ice water, you will certainly get an immediate cold.”


Last week was a whirlwind. I went from having absolutely nothing to do to spending the entire week without barely a moment to sit down a breath. How did that happen?

My teaching schedule is mainly concentrated to very early morning hours and late evening hours. Since most of the school’s clients are business men and women, our peak hours are when they are not at work. I have been very fortunate this past week and have gotten nearly double the hours I was expecting to receive my first week. Based on the experience of a friend and what I heard during training, I was expecting only two lessons per day. Instead, I average four lessons per day all last week. It seems like my Americanness has finally paid off- I am getting so many hours in order to learn faster and therefore be trained for the higher levels. The school wants to “take advantage” of my native English.

Each day I have about 4.5 hours of actual teaching time, but I have been getting to the school early and staying late to ask questions, fill out paperwork and make sure I have remembered everything on the very detailed to-do list for each student. In addition to teaching hours, I spend at least one hour preparing for each two lessons. Add three hours of prep to 4.5 hours of teaching and my part time job just turned full time.

Last week was a constant rush of teaching, coming home, throwing together some food, preparing, going to yoga, more preparing, getting ready for work, more teaching, more preparing and then bedtime. The worst aspect of my job is that the next day’s schedule isn’t available until 8pm. Most evenings I teach until 9:45pm. I get my schedule for the next morning as I leave the school and inevitably, I have a class the next morning at 6:45am. My new routine is to eat a late dinner while frantically preparing for the next morning’s class. I am convinced that there is a better scheduling system, but no one is in a rush to develop it.

This is all good. I’m busy, I feel productive, I have a routine. In the midst of these, I am still searching for another job. Preferably one that provides weekly-or even monthly- schedules (what a novelty!) and one that is full time. My current hourly wage barely buys a cup of coffee, paying my rent is a long way off from that.

However, I am thankful. I am thankful that finally I have some sort of employment. It is far from ideal in every aspect. Currently, the only ideal thing about this job is the location, but I am convinced that any day now they will transfer me to the school an hour away from here. My game plan for that day is to play the pathetic American girl role and tell them that I simply can’t travel that far.

It’s a job, nothing more and certainly nothing less. I’ve already seen that this school offers little opportunities for promotion and performance or seniority isn’t rewarded with bonus or pay increase. I haven’t had the chance to speak to many other professors, but it surprises me that they would choose to stay in such a stagnant position.

I have to keep telling myself, “at least you have a job.” Though I am really hoping that another surfaces sooner rather than later.

The Q'ewar Project

This morning I was browsing the always dependable, Living in Peru, and stumbled across a a story about a small village located about an hour outside of Cucso. The village of Andahuaylillas boasts the Church of San Pedro which is freely called The Sistine Chapel of the Andes. San Pedro is the man tourist attraction in the small village that relies heavily on agriculture. Besides agricultural jobs, work in Andahuaylillas is very sparse, unless one is able to make the arduous commute to Cusco. Roughly nine years ago, two locals saw a need for steady employment for the  women of Andahuaylillas and began what has grown into the Q’ewar Project.

This project creates beautiful, handcrafted Waldorf dolls by employing women to work in various workshops. Each stage of production is done using local, natural materials. All the workshops are working simultaneously to spin or dye cotton, stuff the dolls, knit clothing, make accessories and create hair and facial features. All of the dolls are dressed in clothing typical for the Peruvian highlands and some are given special outfits used primarily for festivals.

After watching a short documentary about the project, I was struck by how the project is about more than a salary. By working in the doll workshop, these women are able to work in a clean, relaxing environment, rather than working a difficult agriculture job that isn’t suited for a woman’s build. The project has also provided a nursery for the women’s children, so they no longer have to worry about caring for their children while working. A school has been established for the village’s poorest inhabitants that includes academic lessons, a warm meal, a hot shower, dental services and music lessons.

Now that these women are able to bring home a substantial salary, they are able to act as equals with their husbands. In a chauvinistic society, it is too often the case that left with no job opportunities, a woman must stay in an abusive relationship. Thanks to the Q’ewar Project, the women in that situation are able to provide for themselves and their children. The founders of the project seek to improve the over all quality of life for the woman working for them, this includes basic needs such as an in house bathroom. In order to make this a reality, at the end of their first year of work, each woman is given a S./500 bonus to be used for the sole purpose of building a bathroom with working toilet and shower. Woman who work for the project have also found a supportive community in which to enjoy companionship and excursions outside of Andahuaylillas.

Currently, 37 women work for the Q’ewar Project and in times of high demand, they bring on ten more women. The next phase for the project hopes to create a ceramic workshop for men to provide a stable work environment, where men will be treated with respect, in order to give the village’s men an escape from alcoholism. The founders estimate that nearly 100 families have directly or indirectly benefited from the project.

I have absolutely fallen in love with these adorable dolls and the beautiful social work of this project.

Big Day in Lima

Today’s the day. After struggling through language barriers, cultural misinterpretations, unmotivated employees and immigration officials, today I will finally begin working in Lima. And of equal if not greater importance, the yoga studio near my apartment is officially open! With my new teaching schedule and unlimited yoga pass, I have the feeling that the next few weeks are going to be much more active than the last four months. I feel like things are falling into place.

To say that I have been dreading this employment would be an understatement. I want a job, yes. I desperately want a job. However, with this particular Institute I feel like I have been thrown around, mislead and forgotten about. I suppose that some of these setbacks are to be expected and I am trying to be positive about that. I am trying to account for the benefit of the doubt and also leave the past in the past. It’s not the ideal job, but it is a job. It’s not full time, but at least it is part time. It is something. I am learning to accept every small victory as one step closer to making this crazy Peruvian dream a reality.

Last week I had a complete meltdown as I feared that I would never, ever find a job in Peru that would pay enough just to cover my bills. Alvaro and I endured a very difficult conversation in which we both admitted, “Maybe this simply can’t work.” That conversation was enough to scare me into a serious job application mode.

The next morning, I scoured the interest for every language job and administrative position I could find. I have serious limitations when it comes to speaking Spanish and getting around Lima, which makes me job search field even more narrow. But I am determined to not give up. I am not ready to simply pack up and head back to the United States. Though it would be easier, it’s out of the question for me.

Instead of being upset about my half of a job, I am thinking of it as Phase 1 complete of my job search. If I could find another part time position somewhere, being independent in Lima might actually be a possibility. I feel like I am in a constant job search and I am trying to keep my motivation and hopes high, because I am afraid that if I burn out, I really will go home.

Having any sort of job, even this job that I was dreading, is helping me to see some hope in all of this. Perhaps I will progress very quickly, and this part time job will turn full time. Maybe I can make more connections here. Maybe another position will fall out of the sky and all my worries will go away. I have to think that it will happen at some point. I am a strong believer that with continued persistence, something good has to happen at some point. I don’t think the universe is so cruel as to continually throw obstacles and difficulty at someone.

So for today, I am teaching English. Four lessons to be exact. The school where I am teaching releases the schedule on a daily basis, so unfortunately, I am not able to tell how many lessons I will be teaching for the rest of the week, but I am hoping that it will be at least four per day.

Although I really am trying to stay positive about my job search, I attribute most of this positive attitude to the opening of the yoga studio. How could I be upset when a beautiful studio just a few blocks from my apartment is now in business? FInally, some time for namaste.

Language in Children

Last night, we went to a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Feast at our church. Alvaro volunteered to be the official maker of the American Pancakes and most everyone said that they were “the best pancakes I have ever eaten”. Having learned all of his pancake making skills from my dad when he was in the United States, he now feels like he has graduated from the Gwaltney School of Pancake Making and can honestly call himself a panquequero. [There really isn’t a translation for this word. It takes the Spanish word for pancake “panqueque” and rhymes it with the Spanish word for cowboy “vaquero”. Therefore it’s a made up word that suggests a pancake making cowboy. One of the women used this word to describe him last night, and I found it incredibly fitting.]

I was there simply to supervise the pancake making and serve as an official American representative if needed. While the men were busy frying sausage and flipping pancakes, I entertained myself by playing with the children. In the midst of this, I introduced myself to a man that I had seen before, but never formally met. He and his wife are American college professors that are in Peru leading their school’s International Studies program for one year. As all of the children ran circles around us, I asked, “and these are your children?” To which he replied, “Yes, all the younger ones.”

A few minutes later, an adorable two year old boy wearing a Peruvian soccer jersey came up to me holding a wooden toy. With his large, greenish eyes he looked at me and in Spanish said, “Mine.” Confused, I replied in Spanish, “Yes, this is yours.” He then looked at me again, pointed to my hat and said in Spanish, “Yours.” Again I replied, “Yes, this is mine.” After our short exchange, he became distracted by the freshly made pancakes and ran away, toy in hand.

What was so confusing was that this boy was the youngest child of the American family, or so I thought. But his free use of Spanish confused me. Midway through the evening, Alvaro was relieved of his panquequero duties, we took our pancakes and sat down near this young family. The same little boy was sitting next to me and his very American mother. He was struggling to take off his shoes and I asked him, “Do you need help?” Without skipping a beat he looked at me as said, “sí!” After removing his shoe he ran over to his mother and tried to play with her purse. He began demanding things inside and performed the whole exchange in Spanish, “I want that, no this. Mine, not yours.” She looked at us and said, “Now he prefers to speak in Spanish.”

This boy’s mom told us that he, as well as his two siblings, attend a preschool that is completely in Spanish. They also have a part time nanny that speaks to the children in Spanish. This simple immersion experience has taught this boy the most important words of a two year old’s vocabulary: Mine, Yours, No, Yes and I want. She continued to tell us that he actually prefers to speak in Spanish and in many instances, doesn’t even speak to his parents in English. The most surprising part, is that he recognizes that his parents are the English speakers and his teachers are the Spanish speakers. His mom told us that on a few occasions he has been speaking to her in Spanish and then before walking off, gives a little attitude and says, “thank you,” in English, as if he thinks she wouldn’t understand the word “gracias”.

As we were talking, another woman joined the conversation who is American, but has a German husband. She told us that when her two boys were younger, they didn’t grasp the concept of translation between German and English. That if asked, “how do you say this in German?” they were unsure. All they knew was that their mom spoke English and their dad spoke German, as if they were aware of the languages as forms of communication, but couldn’t yet see the connection between the two.

As I struggle to correctly pronounce the sounds of Spanish and am working on conjugating more quickly, I am constantly aware of how we learn and adjust to a new language. It is fascinating to me that children, when placed in an immersion experience, learn a second language the way that they learn their first langue. Simply by listening and then repeating. While listening to the two year old American Spanish speaker, Alvaro noted that he had absolutely no accent, but rather sounded like a Peruvian child. Can someone please teach me how to speak like that?


Two weekends ago, Alvaro and I spent Saturday morning being tourists. I was nearing the end of my tolerance for Lima and he needed a change of pace from school, work, more school and more work. Thanks to Lima's best touring company, Mirabus, we embarked on an early morning ride to Callao, the port of Lima.

After arriving in Callao, we got off the bus and followed our guide who was carrying a bright red flag. Like children following the line leader, we walked to the end of the port and stood in line. Immediately we were bombarded by street vendors of all sorts, selling sun screen, soda, crackers, hats, binoculars for rent and lemon candies for seasickness. A very tan Peruvian girl wearing a tank top and short denim shorts stood right next to us, yelling, "The trip is four hours, you need these lemon candies for sea sickness!" The very annoying, very demanding family behind us summoned her to their side and bought several candies and at the end of the transaction, without moving down the line, she again yelled her sales pitch. This scene is one of the perfect examples of how Peruvian street vendors are cunning entrepreneurs. During the summer months they sell sunscreen, hats and soda. Around Christmas, you can purchase wrapping paper. In the days leading up to New Years Eve, every vendor is selling yellow leis or plastic glasses, as Peruvians believe that the color yellow will bring you good luck into the New Year. Valentine's Day allows for everything red and I can only imagine what sort of green products will arrive in time for St. Patrick's Day.

Once we boarded the boat, we were directed to the lower cabin and took a seat on the last row. On top of our seats were faded orange life jackets that we instinctively put on the ground. They stayed there until our guide came by and told us that we had to wear them. Reluctantly, we put on the awkward vests and sat back down.

Our boat was to circle four of the largest islands just off the coast of Lima. The first island that we passed, the largest one, is currently the home to the private beach home of Peru's President. Other than the three houses with red roofs that belong to that complex, the island is deserted. I have heard rumors that this is the island that the Peruvian government hopes to turn into a major hotel, casino and resort oasis. Though like most things in Peru, the reality is far, far away.

The second island is now deserted but once housed a jail that was home to Peru's most dangerous criminals. The primitive looking buildings were still in use until the late 1980's when Peru's then President, Alan Garcia (who is currently serving a second term, with a fifteen year recess in between), brought several terrorists to the island to be executed. This controversy, as well as other logistical problems led to the jail's final closure in 1986.

After the boat rounded these two islands, we finally arrived at the main attraction of this whole adventure- the sea lions! In this cluster of several islands is one island that is home to thousands of sea lions. It is an interesting phenomenon that the sea lions have chosen this one island, Besides the neighboring island that is used as the “nursery,” for moms to take their children to learn to swim, hunt and feed, the sea lions only reside on this one particular island.

At this island, the boat stopped for a few minutes and we were allowed to walk to the front to take pictures and get a closer look, I now know that those awkward life vests were specifically for this ten minute period. Immediately upon stepping out of the boat, I was knocked over by a horrendous stench. What I can only imagine was a mix of salt water, dead fish and sea lion excrement, was so powerful that my nose never adjusted to the smell. I was oddly aware of it the whole time. And the noise, the noise! Before arriving at the island I had my questions about the origin of the name “sea lions” but after hearing their roars similar to that on a real lion, I had no further questions. It was a truly amazing site to see thousands of sea lions perched on the island. Those closest to the water were jumping in the freezing waters and then using only their flippers, they began a comical climb back onto the island’s shore.

In between taking photos of the sea lions, I noticed the breathtaking view around me. I was floating in the Pacific Ocean, of the coast of Lima, Peru, and was facing two gorgeous, sand covered islands nestled into the clear blue water. The unusual reality of watching sea lions hit me and I realized, “this isn’t Nashville”. It’s easy to discount living on the ocean when the water rolling into Lima is brown and the shore is full of rocks, but while in the ocean, navigating the waters, I saw a brand new beauty in Lima. Despite all the ugliness and struggles and compromises, at least Lima has sea lions. There’s a serious Point for Peru.

Worse than the DMV

Yesterday, Alvaro and I went to his Aunts’ house for lunch. When I walked in, his Aunt Carmen gave me a huge hug and proclaimed, “Congratulations!!” Confused, I looked at her and said, “Why?”

“You haven’t heard? The application for your work visa was approved! You’ll have your visa a few days!”

I didn’t believe it. Throughout the part four months I have heard a lot of supposedly good news only to find out that the good news comes with several conditions and/or won’t be real for a couple of weeks. Once Cecilia arrived for lunch, she told me that my application was indeed approved and that all I had left to do was to go to the Immigrations office, submit my paperwork, pay a fee and have my card made. The details on how this was going to work were extremely vague, so still, I wasn’t overly hopeful. I took this as a very positive step towards the end of the ordeal, but wasn’t prepared to celebrate until I placed my card in my wallet.

This morning, we left around 7:30am in order to arrive at Immigrations before they opened. Upon our arrival, we noticed that we were joining about thirty other applicants who were in line before us. As the office opened at 8am, the lines split into those receiving a new visa and those simply renewing an existing visa. Thankfully for us, most of the applicants were renewals and I was sixth in line for the new visa line.

When we finally reached the front of the line, I had to review all of my information and make sure that it was correct. At the end, the clerk asked me, “Religion? Catholic?” and I said, “No, Protestant,” then he clicked on the drop down menu to the only other option: “Other”. Evidently, in Peru, if you’re not Catholic, it doesn’t matter what you are. After checking all my information the clerk told me to simply wait until my name was called to take a picture. The inefficiency and disorganization of this Immigration limbo, was astounding. The space was simply one giant room that served an array of immigration issues. Out of the twenty small windows, only five were operating today, which resulted in long lines. Except, these lines were self-enforced, there were neither painted lines on the floor nor velvet ropes separating Window 6 from Window 7. For the better part of three hours, all I heard were small scuffles as people tried to find their appropriate line. This monotony was broken only by a pregnant woman who skipped to the front of the line, “simply to ask a question, and I’m pregnant...” but then continued to have a normal appointment. Those behind her lost patience and weren’t as kind when she returned thirty minutes later for another skip.

I was called to form a line to take my picture. I stood behind a woman with bright blond hair. As she was taking her fingerprints, I sat down in the photo-booth. It seemed to be taking an unusual amount of time for the computer to save her information and then I was asked to step out of the booth and allow her to take another picture. She did and as she walked out of the booth I heard the dreaded words: “The system has crashed.” Immigration employees kept coming into the small office to ask if it was true, “The system has crashed?” Unfortunately, it was true. In about twenty minutes they were up and running again. I took my photo (which due to the clerk’s insistence that I tuck my hair behind my ears, made me look bald), digital fingerprints (which are actually very cool!) and perfected my signature. I set out to the waiting abyss very hopeful.

The applicants before me all took their pictures and received their visa within fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes passed. Then thirty. Then a full hour. Somewhere around an hour and a half, a small whisper began to make its way through the crowded room: “The system has crashed...” Again. The blond woman before me had already received her visa which told me that once again, the system crashed just as I was about to be set free.

Upon hearing this I thought, “What has she been doing for the last ninety minutes?” During the past hour and a half, a very overworked Immigration office employee came out into the crowd every ten minutes or so and handed out either passports or visas. Rumors began to spread and we found out that the system had crashed the day before as well. At noon, during the peak of their office hours, the system crashed and there were unable to recover it. Meaning that all of yesterday’s applicants came in today which created an organizational mess in an already disorganized environment.

Almost two hours after I had taking my photo, the aforementioned overworked employee came into the crowd and called a name that sounded something like this: “may- gone, e-lan-aye,” I took this to mean Meghan Elaine, followed her and discovered that the server “deleted” my photo and I would have to take them again. At this point it was 12:30pm, I was hot and hungry and hadn’t seen a chair since 7:30am. I took my place in line behind four men and hoped that things would finally go my way.

I took my picture, retook my fingerprints and when the clerk saw that I had already signed my paper I replied with, “Yes, two and a half hours ago.” I went back into the waiting area and thankfully it had thinned out and there were now chairs available. Nearly forty minutes later, our favorite overworked, bitter employee came out and again shouted: “may-gone, e-lan-aye!” I followed her into her wood paneled office and delighted at the sight of my work visa sitting on my desk. The catch? She wasn’t going to give it to me. I still had to pay a small tax on my card and since it was now 1:30 and the office was technically closed, she said we would have to come back tomorrow morning. Cecilia insisted over and over again and just before the discussion elevated, the clerk caved. Cecilia grabbed my visa, ran downstairs, payed the tax and remerged in less than ten minutes. After six hours at Peruvian Immigrations, I finally had my work visa and a residency stamp in my passport. I am finally legal.

As I waited and waited and waited some more, with little hope or end in sight I began to daydream about going to the DMV. Nashville areas DMV looked and felt like a summer vacation compared to Immigrations. At least DMVs have chairs, AC, reading materials (albeit materials regarding road rules) and the best part? At the DMV you receiver a number and can watch the countdown as it gets closer and closer to your place in line. At Peruvian Immigrations, you are left resting on a little bit of hope and a whole lot of mercy from the overworked clerks.

Pirate Market

In the past four months, I have learned a great deal about social norms. In Lima, it’s socially acceptable to arrive over an hour late to a social gathering. Generally speaking, it’s acceptable for men to turn their heads in a full 180º to check out a woman that has just walked by. The most surprising, however, is that it is socially acceptable to buy pretty much everything from a pirate market.

The two biggest pirate markets in Lima are Polvos Rosados and Polvos Azules (Pink Dust and Blue Dust, respectively). These two shopping malls are housed in a large warehouses complete with separate kiosks, snack machines, ATMs, actual shopping bags, business cards and police protection. Unlike the shady fake Louis Vuitton handbag purchases that take place in a dark corner of a New York subway station, pirate markets in Peru are not afraid to stand out. This is particularly obvious by the pink paint covering the exterior of Polvos Rosados.

When Alvaro first took me to Polvos Rosados several months ago, I entered the warehouse and my jaw dropped. I was in disbelief at the sheer number of products available for sale. Backpacks, electronics, movies, CDs, clothes, shoes, pet supplies, books- you want it, they have it. Alvaro goes to the same kiosk every time to purchase movies. Each movie kiosk is equipped with at least one decently sized flat screen TV on which customers can test their movies to check for quality. Our trusty pirated movie salesman can find a movie in a matter of seconds. They sell everything. From the most obscure foreign film to the movies that still haven’t arrived in Peruvian theaters, they have it.  This kiosk sells movies for S./5 each, but if you buy four then you get a fifth one for free. About two months ago, Alvaro purchased the second Wall Street movie to watch for a class project. We started to watch the movie, only to discover that it was in black and white and the entire menu screen was in Russian. But no worries, our pirated movie salesman is so honest that he offered to switch out the movie for us at no additional cost. And my copy of Enchanted that wouldn’t play in English? No worries, he switched that one too and even threw in an extra movie for free, to compensate for “our trouble”.

Buying pirated movies in Peru has become so socially acceptable that the it seems ludicrous to buy your movies anywhere else. Video rental stores are non-existent in Lima. Forget Netflix and Redbox, they would be too expensive. Why rent a movie for $1 when you can buy it for $1.60? The movie selection at electronic stores and supermarkets is abysmal and if you were to find the movie you wanted, it would cost you at least $30. In a society in which the middle class has nearly disappeared, buying a movie is simply too expensive for a large majority of Peruvians. Which is why the pirate markets make sense, the movies are cheap, in wide supply and the demand in these markets is greater than in any other. Such a phenomenon has carried over to movie theaters. An adult ticket to a new release on a Friday night costs barely $5, if theaters in Lima were to charge the outrageous prices found in US, no one would go to the theaters. Why pay close to $50 to take your entire family to the movies when you can buy the same movie for less than $2 at Polvos Rosados?

Alvaro interns at one of the largest law firms in Lima and works in the Intellectual Property department. He spends his days writing cases for Adidas, Hello Kitty, Donkey Kong, Juicy Couture, Spongebob Squarepants, Louis Vuitton and Chanel, supporting these companies when knock-offs of their brand make it to the shores of Peru. Last week he went to a raid where he spent the better part of the day counting pairs of fake Chanel earrings to include in the evidence reports. For forty hours a week, he is surrounded by law regarding trademarks and branding, but yet last Sunday we came home from Polvos Rosados with seven movies. When lawyers and police accept something as a norm, I guess everyone else has no choice but to follow.