In the mornings at Los Martincitos senior center, before desayuno (breakfast), and before the oraciones (prayers) that precede desayuno, the abuelos must do their exercises. It is important for the seniors in the program to loosen up their muscles and joints, and to get their blood flowing. They do this to dance music, and the exercises are led by an incredibly limber older staff member named Raul. After a week of working here, it became obvious to me that the only three songs they had in their warm-up repertoire were the Macarena, the Conga and the Hokey Pokey. I am astounded at the fact that I have done the Hokey Pokey more times in the past four weeks than I did during my entire childhood. (This is not something I had anticipated doing much of while in a foreign country.)
Angelica lives with her grown son Pedro, who is blind. Her other son, who also lived with them, and with whom she was very close, died recently of tuberculosis, a disease that is rampant in Villa el Salvador. She has trouble getting around because her legs are very swollen, despite the special stockings she wears. Her condition is not helped by the fact that she is overweight, something one does not see often in Villa el Salvador.
My new name in Peru is "Elena." The abuelos at Los Martincitos call me that because it is much easier for them to pronounce than "Ilene.” I soon realized that "Elena" it was much easier for ALL Peruvians to pronounce, so that is how I introduce myself now.
The talk of the town has been the temblor or small earthquake, that we had last week in Lima at about 3 a.m. It was a 4.3 earthquake, whose center was about an hour and a half south of Lima. It was the second temblor we've had since I have been here, and I am mortified to say that I slept right through it. (I did feel the first temblor though, which was about a month ago.)
Today I will be leaving my comfortable home base in Lima and moving to Villa el Salvador for 4 days, where I will get to experience firsthand what it is like to live in the same hood as the people about whom I have been writing. I will be living in the home of Antonio, the director of the Los Martincitos program where I work, with his wife and three children. They have a large house (by Villa el Salvador standards), and for $15 a day, I will get 3 meals a day and a place to sleep. Tonny, as he is called, speaks no English at all, and his wife speaks only a few words, so it will force me to practice my abysmal Spanish.
Eduardo is a frightening-looking man. He is blind in one eye, which is clouded over, and his other eye always looks like it is desperately searching for something. His face is so thin that his skin has to strain to cover his prominent cheekbones. He has a pronounced underbite that I imagine makes it difficult for him to chew food. He certainly looks as though he hasn't chewed food in a while. I could tell he was once a large man, but has since shriveled up to just skin and bones.
Irena, one of our abuelas, lives a a small house with dirt floors. She is almost blind. When Hermana Jacci and I arrived to visit her, she was attempting to rake the dirt (rake the dirt?) in her small front yard, but could not see what she was doing. Her house has two rooms. The larger room is furnished with a table and a few chairs. There is a bare mattress on the floor against the front wall, where her son, who lives with her, sleeps. However, when he drinks, he gets very violent, and she is afraid of him. Most of the time she hopes he will not come home, which happens often. She sleeps in the smaller room, on another mattress on the floor, across from a stove.
Seeing Pablo for the first time two weeks ago broke my heart. He is a 19 year old boy, who, in January, had an accident at work and became paralyzed from the waist down. He has been in bed ever since, as his family cannot afford a wheelchair. Their house is high up in the sand dunes, and it’s the one that Hermana Jacci and I had so much trouble getting to because there is no road to the house and no path to the door—just rocks and sand and a very steep hill to navigate on foot. I fear that he will never leave the house, unless someone physically carries him out and down the precarious hill. His parents were not home when we visited the first time, and his little brother and sister were keeping vigil over him. He seemed to be in good spirits, but I still had to hold back tears as we left. Hermana Jacci is going to look into resources for Pablo. Her organization has already donated the hospital bed he lays (lives) on.
"The mysterious drawings known as the Nasca Lines have puzzled archaeologists, anthropologists, and anyone fascinated by ancient cultures in the Americas. For just as long, waves of scientists—and amateurs—have inflicted various interpretations on the lines, as if they were the world's largest set of Rorschach inkblots. At one time or another, they have been explained as Inca roads, irrigation plans, images to be appreciated from primitive hot air balloons, and, most laughably, landing strips for alien spacecraft." —National Geographic, March 2010