Minor Revelations

Continuing on a theme of minor revelations, one of the things that we really don’t understand about San Francisco, is why on sunny weekend and bank holiday afternoons, half of the city drives to the scrubby patch of grass verge opposite the supermarket, parks up, and then sits next to their cars with the radios on, taking mate (the equivalent of afternoon tea if you’re English) and breathing in exhaust fumes. Admittedly San Francisco does lack weekend entertainment, but there are nicer venues than the main road passing the supermarket, and if you’re going in the car anyway, you can find tranquil little villages and not-unpleasant countryside within a few kilometres.
So today, passing this spectacle on our way back into San Francisco from the Scout leaders’ weekend, I made the most of having two Argentineans in the car and I asked them.

“It’s not about being in a nice place” They said (clearly not!) “It’s about being seen”. Oh. You know what? If that was me, being seen would be exactly what I was afraid of; that my friends and neighbours would clock me parked up along the dual carriageway, and ask themselves “What sort of a dozy pillock thinks that that is a good spot for a picnic?” It may be that we aren’t yet fully culturally adapted. On the other hand, there may be some aspects of culture to which one might want to avoid adapting. Note to self; don’t try this on the M25.

Two steps forward

We’re making progress towards our ambition to have our kid toilet trained before he reaches secondary school. He’s managed to keep the same pants on all day for two days running now. (No, not the same pair both days; two days = two pairs) so he won himself a little toy tractor as a reward for good effort. Actually if we’re honest, most of the effort was mine in remembering to take him every hour or so regardless of his opinion on the subject, but it’s good to be encouraging, and he’s all made up with his tractor. We’re evil parents; he doesn’t get that many new toys.
Yesterday was one of Argentina’s many bank holidays, marking the anniversary of the last military coup as far as I can figure out. One might have thought that this would be better commemorated with a Remembrance Sunday rather than everyone taking a day off work to party in the sunshine, but what would I know? As is traditional, we took the car out to see where we ended up, and it took us to the city of Santa Fe, in the next province across to the east of us. There was a nice fat river, and a tacky waterside shopping centre where we had lunch facing the water.

Leaving Santa Fe, we planned to go over the bridge to the next city along, Parana. We made it over the bridge, but the Parana part of the plan was thwarted by the car grinding to a halt on the motorway. I’d often wondered what one is supposed to do if the car breaks down. I guess sensible people would have found it before it happened. Being accompanied by the two men in my life, I couldn’t even play the helpless-female card this time. Luckily there is still one card left to play; the stupid foreigners. So we played it.

We hiked a couple of hundred yards off the motorway into a nearby garage and looked hot and stupid. We didn’t need to act on either count. The garage people sent us up the road to a service area, where they said “We’re not allowed to leave the premises, but you’ll not get anyone out to you on a bank holiday so we’ll come and have a look at it”. So we all hiked back to the motorway armed with Tame Mechanic. Neither of us has much useful Spanish where car components are concerned, but he dug around in the log-book, and poked a few things. Verdict; probably fuel-pump, which is what we already thought. But they didn’t have the bits to fix it, so the TM said he would organise having it towed off for us. “Come with me and bring your insurance documents”. (Insurance documents??) Oh yes. Breakdown cover in Argentina is provided by your insurance company. Well blow me down! It would almost definitely have been cheaper to pay someone triple time and a half to fit a new fuel pump by the roadside, but they hitched it onto a truck and took us with our car all the way back to San Francisco. And they’re paying so we’re not complaining, or at least not until next year when our insurance premium doubles as a result. Our usual guy from our usual garage came and picked it up this morning. It should be back tomorrow, although he has rather a fluid approach to time, so it could be next week.

The exotic life

Me: Oh Joni, the sweeties have all gone. What shall we do?Him: Go to the shop. Buy some more.

The couple of weeks since Peru have mostly been filled with pushing small things forward in the hope that something might crack and some progress might crawl out of the woodwork. Hence my diary contains enthralling jottings such as “buy pencil sharpeners”, “parents’ meeting” and “phone X again”. The exotic life of a missionary. I find myself hopping on the spot, torn between wanting to boldly go with my sleeves rolled up like a real missionary, and wanting to have a normal life like a real person. So what will it be; the one, the other, both, or neither?

Meantime, we might have made some measurable progress on the “kid from village goes to school” front. We have a tentative agreement from the local governor that the village will fund someone’s fuel (probably mine in the outset; the exotic life) to transport kiddo for three days a week for however long it takes for the proper funding from the provincial government to come through, at which point hopefully we might hand the transport over to a proper taxi company for five days a week. Next Wednesday we have an interview with the school to which I’ve been invited as mum’s advocate. It’s a strange thought that I’m more articulate than she is in her first language. I hope I can do her justice; that kid really needs the stimulation. The sticking point with the school might be the “three days” thing; structures are sometimes quite rigid around here. If they say it’s five days or nothing, I might be left with a choice of transporting him unpaid, or having him not in school at all, neither of which would be a preferred option.

This weekend I’m at a Scout leaders’ camp, which unusually, I’m not wildly excited about, not least because there’s something on in Cordoba that I’d rather be at, and partly because I’m probably going to end up lugging the dog along with me. She has her leg splinted and bandaged having been run over last Saturday. She’s a street dog, she chases cars for sport. Normally our dogs spend most of their time outside doing their own thing around the neighbourhood (this is normal in Argentina for mutts like ours), but at the moment she’s too uncoordinated to be allowed out without a chaperone, so we’re having to lock her in or cart her around for the next month or so, while hoping against hope that her near death experience might reduce her enthusiasm for playing chicken with the traffic. Oh for the exotic life.


Oh the sweet sweet sound of the washing machine spinning, newly returned and functioning from its nine-day sojourn to the workshop.
Feelings more mixed about the thunderstorms raging around us for much of the last couple of days. Normally I love a big storm, but that washing isn’t going to be dry any time soon.

Ker-slap ker-slap; the sound of my sandals finally falling apart completely in the middle of the town centre this morning. Yes, the very same sandals that I spent three days trying to buy, and half a mortgage on, not very long ago; they’d already been superglued several times before they died today. Cue swift entry into nearby shoe shop and exit with cheapest available sandal-like flip-flop type affairs. I calculate that if the flip-flop-like things hold together for ten days then they will have cost less per day’s use than the aforementioned ridiculously expensive sub-standard-sandals (try saying that after a beer).

The rustle and whisper of half a dozen children trying to pretend they aren’t there. I nipped out of my room in Quebracho Herrado this afternoon to speak to the lady round the corner. Shortly afterwards a neighbour came to ask if I knew there was a bunch of kids in my room. I didn’t, so I went back and found them. They weren’t doing any harm, sheltering from the rain mostly. They stayed for a bit of a chat and when the rain had subsided, they were off to hunt frogs.

Silence; the sound of another day over. Kid’s in bed, Martin’s gone to give the babysitter a lift home, the dogs are occupied with a bone each, and I’m about to shut down this humming thing and head for bed myself.

Twas on a Monday morning

My faith in the system here is naively touching. Some might say stupid. In the couple of days before we left for Peru, I chased around various departments on behalf of my mate kiddo in the village, and was reassured by the two relevant social workers that they had everything in order for him to start school with his peers for the new academic year on the 1st of March. We arrived back from Peru on the afternoon of Thursday the 4th of March. In the evening of the same day I receive a text from kiddo’s mother. Do I know what’s happening re school as no-one has said anything to her since I last saw her?
Friday I did the rounds with my home-made rocket launcher. One of the social workers would be next in the office on Monday, and the other one in a different office on Tuesday. So I went to see kiddo and mum to touch base and report my lack of success on their behalf and explain that I would be on to it on Monday morning.

Monday, I went to see social worker A, based in San Francisco. She hasn’t done anything because she thinks that social worker B has it under control. She has every faith in social worker B, because “they were taking him to the summer scheme all summer, so I expect it is just that someone is on holiday now”. No, I was taking him to the summer scheme all summer, in my time, in my car, using my petrol, with no help, participation or remote interest from B or anyone in B’s department. A is a bit shocked by this; which is progress at least, but now she wants to focus on how I must be reimbursed for my petrol. Yes that would be lovely, but actually the point I’m trying to make is that the only thing that has happened so far is that which I have actioned myself, and what I’d really like is for someone “in the system” to recognise the kid’s existence and act accordingly, particularly while you have a legal obligation to educate him. She agrees to talk to social worker B, and now to another social worker C who is based in a school that might take him. Come back on Wednesday and she’ll let me know.

Tuesday, I go to Quebracho Herrado on the trail of social worker B. Predictably, she hasn’t done anything at all because she was waiting for the heads up from social worker A. She thinks that there is a provincial scheme where the village can claim the money for transporting kiddo to school, so she is going to look into that, but it might take a while because government paperwork always takes a while (don’t we know it) so in the mean time the village might need to put up the money for fuel so that someone can start transporting him without being out of pocket. She is going to talk to the governor. I suspect her problem there will be that she appears to be about fifteen and a half (when did she ever qualify as a social worker?) while the governor is a morose old git going through the male menopause.

Wednesday, I go back to social worker A. She hasn’t spoken to social worker C yet, and isn’t planning on doing anything until she hears from social worker B that the transport is in order.

It rained the rest of the week so the road to kiddo’s house became inaccessible. Today we went to see them in the afternoon (it’s his eighth birthday, we took him a ball), so once again I was able to bring mum up to date on the lack of progress, and to promise again that I would keep at it until we have a result.

On Saturday on Sunday they do no work at all. So it was on a Monday morning that the social worker was called. I guess that’s my schedule for another week taken care of then.

Murphy was an optimist

Murphy’s law:
Number One. The washing machine dies three days into the potty training process, rather than in time to let you know not to think about it this week.

Number Two. A week into the potty training process, you begin to suspect that your kid wasn’t ready yet. He however has fallen in love with his “big boy pants” and won’t contemplate going back to nappies. Unfortunately he also won’t contemplate pooing in the potty.

There may be a long few weeks ahead.

Fame and Fortune

We’re famous! Or we’ve made it to the Peruvian national press at least. Thanks to Bernhard for spotting this while reading the paper on the plane home:newspaper cutting

It says; “This isn’t an image that is frequently seen in the centre of Lima. This group of people, including tourists, are attempting to dampen the incessant heat of the Lima summer with water from the fountain in the square of the Plaza de Armas (that’s the main square in the old city – H). A proof that the heat is becoming more intense year on year in our capital”

As I remember it, Joni was trying to reach the water in the fountain, Hazel was attempting to enable him to do so while preventing him from actually falling in, the officious looking police woman (not pictured) was blowing her whistle and telling us off, a bunch of Peruvians were taking pictures on their mobile phones, and Martin was trying to look like he didn’t know us. The next bit not pictured was where Joni went lay on his tummy in the pool of filthy water which was overflowing across the path. We’re always available for the “before” shots for any washing powder advert, just contact our agent.

Adventures in Darkest Peru

Me: Joni! No biting!Him: Biting later?

Despite lots of people telling me I wouldn’t, I really liked Lima. The centre could be any other world city, and the differences in wealth are frankly obscene, but the neighbourhoods further out are vibrant and exciting, and the whole place has an exotic chaotic “disaster zone chic” / “real missionaries work here”feel about it.

Bangkok style tuc tuc children playing

Plenty of people were complaining about the heat, but since it was a consistent eight degrees cooler than San Francisco, we found it quite refreshing. I guess it’s about what you’re comparing it to. And there were no mosquitoes, which right now is about all anywhere would need to qualify as utopia. One conference survived. Good networking, always handy to be reminded that there are other sane people in the world; or at least sharing the same family of mad as ourselves. I’m writing some thoughts on revamping the program just in case anyone is daring enough to ask for ideas in advance next time. Joni treated the whole thing as a rerun of Scout camp; alternating chasing the “big boys” with playing in the mud which he’d made by spreading soil from the flowerbeds across the path, creating a small conflagration by feeding a smouldering tree stump with dried grass, and playing chicken with the sprinkler system which was watering the lawns.

Joni feeding a smoking fire

As promised, we rewarded ourselves by taking a couple of days afterwards to see something of Peru. In my head we were “going travelling”, student style. In the event, we became hypnotised by a little fishing village / tourist magnet called Paracas, three hours down the coast from Lima, so we made it our home and meandered between the swimming pool and the sea shore.
Two pelicans Joni and Martin playing

Paracas is just a couple of kms down the beach from Pisco, which was the epicentre of Peru’s 2007 earthquake, and still under reconstruction, so folk were understandably jumpy following the recent events in Chile; some forms of excitement weren’t meant to be repeated. Out for a stroll near the sea-front in the late afternoon, we suddenly found ourselves kidnapped, bundled into the boot of a 4×4, and rushed up to higher ground. There was an unusually high tide as it turned out, although I’m not sure “making the basket ball court a bit damp” falls under the definition of Tsunami. Hey, I’m not complaining, better to get it wrong that way round. Once the panic had died down and the harbour had reopened, we went on a boat to see the islands of Ballestras which was a fantastic trip for any budding ornithologist (the seals and sealions were pretty good too). I had my first sighting of penguins in the wild. Humboldt. I know they’re not rare in global terms, but neither are they very common in my traditional stomping grounds of the English Home Counties and the interior of Argentina.

Islands with birdssealion and birds on a rock

The day we managed to unglue ourselves from Paracas, we headed down to Nazca where we flew over the famous lines in a rattly little four-seater Cessna (Martin was the co-pilot), which definitely features among my most terrifying experiences ever. Serves me right for trashing my carbon footprint on frivolous air-travel. I promise I won’t do it again; some forms of excitement weren’t meant to be repeated.

view  from planenazca lines

And then we were on the bus back to Lima, where we waited for our plane and caught up with a friend who was spending an unplanned extra week in Lima trying to get a flight back to Chile. Finally, a bus, a taxi, another taxi, an aeroplane, a bus, another bus and a taxi later, and we’re home with a pile of thoughts to process and another pile of clothes to wash.