Monday, June 15, 2015

En que momento se jodió el Perú?

In my Culture for Language Learners class, my professor brought up a famous quote from Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa in his book, Conversation in the Cathedral: "En que momento se jodió el Perú?" The English translation of the novel reads, "At what precise moment had Peru f*cked itself up?"

In this class, we acknowledge the noncanonical culture throughout Central and South America. We look at the underbelly of society and the problems that go unspoken or unsolved. After having been living in the community of Cusco for about a month, I am going to acknowledge some of the problems in this post.

We all hear about corruption in Latin America, and while the corruption here is not an immediate threat, its effects are still observable.

For example, one of the first things one can't help but notice upon arrival is the presence of unfinished buildings and houses. Cement shells with rebars sticking out and houses missing roofs are everywhere in Peru, not just Cusco. The fact that so many houses go unfinished cannot be blamed on laziness. I have heard that it is the fault of the banks here in Peru, although I can't state specifically the root of the problem.

The education system here is also concerning. Almost every child attends a private school. I have not once even seen a public school here. I heard that public education (not including university) is deplorable.

Of course, there are also stories of police letting people who know high government officials get away with small crimes.There is also [this] case which has been on the news lately. However, many of the problems exist because it is normal for Peruvians to try and game the system. Many people here will rent houses under the table so as not to pay taxes, for example. It is also normal to leech electricity and wifi.

When on the street (and definitely not on a personal basis), people seem to demonstrate a lack of consideration for others. Many people drop their trash wherever they please, run red lights, almost hit pedestrians, refuse to acknowledge others on the street (unless they're catcalling, which happens frequently), pickpocket, ignore those in need, etc. People in Cusco also have a weird habit of slowly walking in groups that take up the entire sidewalk and refuse to move, even bumping into you, when they clearly see you coming.

Additionally, people are always looking to get money from foreigners. On my first day here, after arriving sweaty and dehydrated and tired on a delayed flight, a man pretended to be from my program, took my bags from me (when I told him not to and tried to get them back), and hurried to the ISA bus. When we got to the bus, he repeatedly asked for a tip, which confusingly sounded like "teep, teep." After having given him more money than I meant to (There are 5 sol coins), I finally got on the bus.

For all the reasons listed above, I don't think I can give a satisfactory answer to Vargas Llosa's question about a precise moment in which Peru f*cked itself up. Perhaps it started due to problems from colonization. Maybe it's because of higher level government corruption. It might even be due to the citizens' lack of consideration for others and their environment. More probable though is a combination of many things.

Although the roads are a free-for-all and remind me of real-life Mariokart, and although many of the buildings are unfinished, things seem to work here. A virtue that comes from Peru's brokenness is flexibility. Since the roads don't have lines, and stop signs and stop lights are mere suggestions, drivers have to coordinate with other drivers around them to work like a living organism. Even though the buildings are patched up or partially unfinished, they still work well enough.

Yes, I suppose one could look at all the statistics and say that Peru is broken, but the statistics don't tell of the people's hospitality, generosity, curiosity, and an unwillingness  to say "no" to others. Statistics don't show the true face of Peru; experience does.

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