My first day in Lima was everything I expected and more. I spent the first half of the day frustrated and lost. Learning the ins and outs of my new neighborhood, where to exchange money, where to buy food – it all felt like I was back in Guayaquil. Upon returning to my house with a handful of groceries, I even managed to fail numerous times at unlocking the front door to my house. I had resolved myself to watch all the perishable items I had bought actually perish, but thanks to Jose, a perceptive security guard nearby, my nightmare ended!
But the evening reminded me of why I love the pace of Latin America and all of its idiosyncrasies. On Monday I am traveling to an area of Peru called Putis, which is located in the province of Ayacucho southeast of Lima. EPAF was appointed last week by a special prosecutor in Ayacucho to investigate several mass graves there. When I arrived to Lima, most of EPAF was at the site, preparing the area for exhumation from a grave thought to contain 80 bodies.
When you exhume bodies, and bones, you have to put them somewhere. Around 5 pm, I traveled with two EPAF representatives – Silvia and Ruth – on a journey across town to find 50 cardboard boxes. The plan was to send the boxes to Ayacucho for use to collect the bones of the disappeared. Along the way I traveled across Lima, taking in the sights and sounds of one of Latin America´s largest cities. Bright red graffiti covered some walls, declaring ´´FUJIMORI INOCENTE´´ or ´´FUJIMORI INNOCENT,´´ referencing the former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori who is currently on trial for human rights violations during the civil war. Other signs of graffiti declared him ´´CRIMINOSO´´ or ´´criminal.´´ We finally arrived to a small street where two men showed us models of boxes. Then the negotiating began. $3.00 for a box, said one of the two men. $2.00, we responded. We agreed to $2.20, and the two men ran to bring us the boxes from a location nearby. Vendors in the commercial district of Lima – Breña – often try to attract attention by showing models in the street and by offering lower prices for those who approach them. Those customers who actually go directly to the store are often charged more. Without doubt, Latin American commerce at its finest.
After buying the boxes, we shot across town to send them. Along the way, the inescapable dim orange glow of the city street lights revealed the inner workings of the city´s busiest streets. Driving in Lima is tantamount to a vehicular survival of the fittest. Imagine 20 to 30 cars within visual sight trying to claim whatever space they can find, and the horn is a must-use. Along the way, we passed through the edges of Lima´s historical center, passing the Museum of Art and other historical buildings. On the radio sounded the voice of Chabuca Granda, whose captivating voice known for romantic Peruvian ballads welcomingly accompanied a number of stops in a sea of traffic.
We finally arrived at the depot, and the boxes were shipped. As we returned to my house – from the backseat of the car – as I listened to the conversations of my work colleagues, the sound of the radio, the frenetic sounds of the chaotic traffic and the lively street vendors, and the hum of the flow of people, I let the moment sink in, and the afternoon of frustration was completely forgotten.
Posted By Ash Kosiewicz
Posted May 23rd, 2008