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? Read More
It might sound crazy, but sometimes I forget I’m living in Peru. The part of Lima that fills my day-to-day world isn’t so different from any other city. “Home” is in the expat precinct, a clean, safe world of apartment buildings, multi-national businesses, chain-store shops and fancy restaurants, as modern and soulless as any other young tourist city. It’s the Surfers Paradise of Peru, equally vapid and self-obsessed as Australia’s beachside tourist centre.
I live in an apartment that would only stand out back home for the cheapness of the rent given the enormous size of the place. Each week-day I walk a couple of blocks to the express-way and take the city express bus to the financial hub a few suburbs north, then walk through the commercial zone and leafy-green residential strip to the Government Campus where I work. I sit in my partitioned space in our open-plan office and do a job that’s not all that different from the work I’ve done back home, bantering with my lovely, educated and passionate colleagues. At night I bus home again, cook dinner in my modern kitchen, mess about on the internet and go to bed. It’s a life so ordinary it could be happening anywhere, if it weren’t for the Spanish and the noise of the place. Read More
I just brought home shopping in plastic bags. I feel… ethically compromised.
I haven’t used a plastic bag in years. I even made sure I brought enough fabric bags with me to Peru so I wouldn’t need to use plastic here. It’s a well-ingrained habit now and I’ll most always have a bag on me somewhere. So what went wrong today? Nothing: I deliberately left my fabric bags at home when I went to do the grocery shopping. I chose to use plastic.
Y’see, we need the bags for the house, for putting our garbage in. There are no wheelie bins in Lima, instead you set your rubbish out each night, tied up in shopping bags, and in the small hours of the morning it gets collected.† There’s also no domestic recycling, and I can’t compost in my apartment, and when even the toilet paper has to go in the bin that adds up to a whole lot of plastic bags that just end up in landfill, or even worse just disintegrating in a gutter or a creek somewhere before washing out to sea.
A couple of weeks ago I went for a surf with a friend at our local beach here in Miraflores, Lima (ok, he surfed, I bodyboarded) and saw just how bad the plastic pollution problem is. As well as the big bits of rubbish that were sloshing around in the surf, there was a thick band of plastic soup sea just beyond the breakers. There, the top half- metre or so of the ocean was thick with pieces of plastic in various states of disintegration. At one stage a tiny dot of plastic trash got stuck to my eyeball, causing a disconcerting “dead pixel” effect on my field of vision.
Gross stuff, right? Read More
It’s been three months now since I packed up my life and came here to Peru. The time has flown by in a flurry of activity that’s left me little time to think. Life in the big city is challenging and I miss the strong connection to nature I was lucky to have in Hobart. Here I live in an urban world, in a high-rise apartment without even a balcony. My windows look out onto the buildings across the street, over a concrete canyon awash with the noise of Lima traffic. I miss the view from my windows over my long, narrow garden, across the river to the mountains beyond. The garden…
It’s someone else’s garden now. I may have lost it, but what I do keep, little seeds saved for future sowing, are the lessons that garden taught me: Read More
Happy New Year, my lovely readers. I’m sorry it’s been so quiet around here, but living and working in another country, culture and language is pretty tiring stuff. Once again the half-written posts are piling up as I run out of steam to finish them off and post them up. 2014 is shaping up to be an exceedingly busy year between my project here in Peru and the adventures I have planned. As always there’s more I’d like to do that I possibly can and finding that elusive balance is a major challenge. It’s a lot harder to head out into nature to recharge here in Lima! Still, I managed to get away for a few days over the New Year break and went climbing mountains in Huascaran National Park, right in the heart of the Peruvian Andes.
Climbing up to 4,800 mASL under my own steam, pack and all, was a physical reminder about pacing myself in order to achieve big things. That’s not a bad message to start the year off with, is it?
Here’s to making 2014 a remarkable year for us all, and taking action to build the sort of world we want to live in.
Dare to do great things
My friend Van, who writes the lovely Speed River Journal, invited me to participate in a positivity experiment: to post 10 good things that have happened to me in 2013. It’s been a big year for me, and it’s not over yet, but the Solstice is a good time to reflect on the challenges and rewards the year has brought.
1. The garden was a rich source of pleasure this year. It provided grounding when I needed calmness and sense of connection. It taught me patience, resilience and the rewards of hard work. I learnt more about how to grow food and nourish the soil, and through that myself. There were the escapades of chicken-sitting in January, when some borrowed hens did great things for my compacted, nutrient poor “lawns” and decimated my beetroot crop (I forgave them: the eggs were delicious). There was the excitement of growing and harvesting completely new crops, like oka and Jerusalem artichokes, and just the simple pleasure of lying on the meadow in the sun, listening to the drowsy buzzing of the bees.
2. Hiking was another activity that brought many great moments with it. There’s nothing like standing on top of mountain you’ve climbed yourself to make you feel glad to be alive. For the first few months of 2013 I spent a day most every weekend in the wilderness and loved it, even when my muscles shook with fatigue and the sweat stung my eyes. Taking myself out into those wild places remains one of the best things I can do for myself, to care for my physical, mental and spiritual health and look forward to future journeys to wild places.
3. On the topic of climbing to giddy heights, in 2013 I fell stupidly, dizzyingly, completely in love. In my mid 30’s for the first time in my life I was head-over-heels for someone, and that someone felt the same about me. It didn’t work out in the end, but I still got to feel it, and now I understand how and why people do such incredible things in love’s name. ❤ Read More
I’m a long way from home these days, but I carry this amazing place with me, wherever I go.
When you’re living in a desert city of 10 million people in the developing world resources are stretched tightly. There’s not much room for nature in Lima, beyond the inevitable urban pigeons and a few hardy native birds that take advantage of the artificial oases of urban parks and gardens. There’s no space for wild places within the vast city limits, with one remarkable exception: Los Pantanos de Villa. Read More
Today is International Volunteers Day, apparently. There’s a day or a week or a month for everything, it seems, but volunteering is a good thing to stop and think about now and again. Volunteering – donating our knowledge, labour or skills for free – is a powerful way of creating the kind of future we’d like to see.
I’m volunteering on a big scale, spending a year working to help to develop skills and capacity in the team that tried to balance the social and economic needs for development with the protection of Peru’s network of incredible national parks and reserves. It’s a privilege to be doing what I’m doing, to have the opportunity to experience another country and culture, using my skills to help accomplish things that I’m passionate about. I’m incredibly lucky to have the opportunity, to have found myself at a place in life where I could just pack up and go, to be able to afford to spend an entire year away without a real income. How fortunate I am to have the chance to try to change things (and how bizarre it feels to find myself the ‘expert’ in anything).
You don’t have to do something as big and crazy as I’m doing to change things though. In fact it’s often the local, community efforts that make the biggest impacts and really change the way we live. Volunteering at home, as much as abroad, gives us the ability to touch other people’s lives and contribute towards the world we want to live in. When if comes to building a sustainable, communal, joyful future, volunteering our time and effort is one of the the most powerful things we can do. Read More
It’s a strange thing to find yourself slipping into the rhythm of daily life in an unfamiliar world. I’ve been in Lima four weeks now and my days are starting to take on a more familiar shape.
Two weeks ago I moved into an enormous share-house. Eight of us – a mix of Peruvians and other foreigners – share 6 bathrooms, 2 lounge rooms and 1 kitchen. It’s a big adjustment after 18 months of living alone in the Cottage and was pretty nervous about moving in given how badly I coped with a share-house of 4 in uni. I’m slowly getting used to the noise of others coming and going, and thankfully the others don’t much use the kitchen (and I have my own en suite bathroom) but it’s still taking a lot of adjusting and I’m still horribly under-slept. There’s just too much happening in my poor brain to get good quality rest.
Changes come thick and fast and the challenge is finding enough down-time to process all the new information that’s super-saturating my brain so I can wind down enough for sleep. It’s not helped by a culture where plans are made at the last-minute and you suddenly find yourself with an unmissable invitation on the day you were planning to catch up on sleep. There’s always something going on here in Lima. Read More