On being a well-intentioned rich wanker

Grafitti in Lima

So here I sit in a specialist coffee chop, tucked away underground, at Larcomar, the boutique brand outdoor mall on the edge of the sea cliffs of Miraflores. Larcomar is a celebration of rampant capitalism: it is consumerism taken to extremes, where international brands and local high-end stores cater to tourists and wealthy Peruvians in a bubble so detached from the reality of this developing world country. Larcomar is consumerism packaged as holiday hedonism, as if there were true pleasure and unique experiences to be found in the purchase of superfluous, luxury stuff, as if there was some point to overpriced designer brands and S/10 Starbucks “coffee”.

What am I doing here? I came looking for a place to sit and write while Roxana the cleaning lady takes over the house; somewhere  I could grab some lunch and a passable coffee and access free wi-fi while I took some time out to order my thoughts. This little café, tucked away from the worst excesses of the place, does a reasonable espresso or slow-drip filter coffee, but I’ve ordered a fancy floral green tea instead. I can deal with hipster coffee pretension: I know my own kind. Upstairs in the sunlight, though, that’s a foreign world.

Coming to Larcomar is to magnify the internal ethical conflicts I navigate each day in Lima. I am from this world: disposable income, the budget for quality, everything clean, neat and western. I intrinsically understand the rules. This place could be anywhere yet always feel familiar. I chose to come here despite the disdain I feel for the place. It stands for everything about my own culture that grates at me: the privilege, the waste of resources, the mindlessness of over-consumption, the idea that such pointless consumption is somehow fun… people sleep-walking through a life of immense privilege never stopping to realise the true price.

So why am I here?

On a shop in Miraflores... Beautiful wall scrawl, Miraflores.

This is the closest decent café to my apartment. I live in Miraflores: soulless high-rise apartment suburb, full of expats and tourists and people with money trying to live westernised lives in the middle of Peru. It’s an artificial world full of sleep-walkers and those sharp sharks who seek to profit from their somnambulatory state (not that I can blame them). Buy yourself a good time in Lima: everything you could want is for sale at the right price. From hookers and blow to world-class art and gastronomy, Miraflores can provide.

Why do I live here?

Because it is clean, it is safe, it is ordered. It is familiar. I understand the rules, even if I don’t always like them. Because Miraflores means a nice apartment with hot water and my own bathroom; it means not always looking over my shoulder; a short commute to work; an excellent flatmate I can talk philosophy with.  It means clean streets; garbage collection; parks and green-space.  I live here because I am accustomed to such things, because I am privileged; because I will trade the rich culture and chaos and community, and the dirt and danger of the real Peru for the convenience of a hot shower and the express bus home. The expats and tourists who treat Peru like a discount playground annoy me, but I’m no different: I have money and I use it to buy my way out of the parts of reality I find too confronting. Who wouldn’t?

Who would choose local moonshine when accustomed to, and able to afford, good red wine? You might try it, once or twice, just for kicks, with the bravado born of knowing that next week brings a great Tassie pinot.

On a muralled house not far from my flat... On a street-corner in Miraflores...

This is my great challenge now. I’ve tasted the reality, that one month in Cusco, and it’s a hard life. If my privileged life in Lima wears me down, with the noise and long work hours and lack of access to nature, how could I cope with the loss of the material comforts I hold onto here? If I walk away from the familiar, the understood (if not always agreed with), what do I hold on to? If I really want to put my values into practice if I want to make a real difference, where do I go from here?

I know that, longer term, I can’t stay here. Lima will grind me down completely if I let it: stuck between both worlds and unable to extract what I need from either. What this place can do, however, is make me confront and question my choices. Here I can see and think more clearly without the obfuscation of familiarity, of everyday reality. Here I have time to learn, to ask questions and go seeking the answers. That I have a choice at all is remarkable. That I have the opportunity to examine it this way is a luxury. I am so privileged. Right now I’m just concentrating on holding my balance for as long as I can.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a single-origin caramel-roast pour-over coffee to drink, and I’m ok with that.

4 Comments on “On being a well-intentioned rich wanker

  1. You don’t miss it until you haven’t got it, that’s when you realise what you actually need or indeed want. As long as someone needs it then it will be provided and it’s going to be one a hell of a job to convince those people otherwise. Thankfully I don’t want much, but compared to those who don’t have what I have, I have more than enough…….like beer tonight!
    All we can do is our bit and try to shake off the need that drives the ‘thing’ in the first place.
    🙂

    • I’m going to list hot water, a flushing toilet, a kitchen with a stove and oven, a place to wash and dry my laundry, and a comfortable bed in the NEEDS column, even though so many people here do without them. Peace and quiet, a place to garden and natural beauty are also really high up on my list!

  2. Maybe you feel a bit down on yourself sometimes because you aren’t quite where you want to or think you should be, but trust me if you ever get there, the first things you will wonder to yourself is where you will go next.

    • *laugh* I know that all too well, my friend. The journey is everything. What I post here is food for thought: personal stories about global issues, designed to make people consider their own lives, choices and actions and how they fit within their values. For me right now, each day, each now ethical conflict, is a chance to learn and explore and think more about who I want to be and what path I want to take next. I forgive myself for being a well-intentioned rich wanker, because right now that’s what my life has allowed me to be and for now it’s ok to hold my balance here while I figure out the next step.

      =o)

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