GROW Post Two: A Reflection on a Day in Peru

By Cameron Cummings
I woke up this morning to the roar of a freight train pounding in my ears.

I think I vaguely recall it beginning to rain as I fell asleep last night, large drops pattering on the tin roof in a discordant jumble. It was 5:45 now, and the slow crescendo had reached its climax, a dull and monotonous roar as the saturated clouds released their heavy burden.

The heavy storm wore itself out, pounding away at the tin roofs without avail. Soon, the roar subsided into a jumble again, and finally all was silent. There is a certain silence after the rain, but it is full of life. Even the motos sounded a little more peaceful, if only from inside the house. I drifted back to sleep and woke a couple hours later. Or was it only moments? It seemed too short to be more than a blink.

After a family breakfast of toast and eggs, we headed directly to Pampachica, to El Aguaje for their parillada. Frida met us outside our house, and hailed a moto for us, so we wouldn’t get ripped off. I think her and Manuel are trying especially hard to make sure we don’t pay too much just because we’re gringos. After a brief haggle, we were on our way, the four of us all cozy in the 3-person vehicle. A sweaty, bumpy ride across town later, we arrived in la Zona de Pampachica. Although he insisted he was familiar with it, the driver didn’t actually know where El Aguaje was. So he dropped us off in El Porvenir and we walked the two streets over to get there.

There was this adorable moment when we had just turned into El Aguaje and a few people walked past us without paying much attention, and then this little boy of maybe 9 years and no more than 4 feet sprinted up to Maddy and practically tackled her in a hug. They immediately started chattering away, and moments later I was introduced to Bruno, one of the members of El Aguaje’s youth group. He walked us to the parillada, which was located under two white easy-ups at this widened turn from that main street into another.
There, we were reunited with Albert, the president of the neighborhood’s youth group. One of the women had just begun cooking, and had a small charcoal grill with marinated chicken covering every square inch of the seasoned grate. The pungent, spicy smell of the searing meat drifted up from the grill on a cloud of white smoke, and filled the two awnings assembled there. We milled around for about half an hour, chatting with the kids as they came and went, until Maddy spotted a cat curled up in the shady corner next to a house. She made a beeline for it, and we were soon huddled in a circle around the creature. While she made friends with the gatito, Anisha and I took a few pictures of El Aguaje.

Before long, they brought out stools and chairs and just as we sat down, Manuel arrived. We asked for a few plates of the barbeque and they immediately brought over the spiced grilled chicken, waxy boiled potatoes, and a greenish peppery sauce, ajil, I think. We dove in, while Joycee chatted with Manuel. He had just gotten his hair cut the day before, something about the fashion police having an intervention about it. He also looked pretty funny rocking his casco, something I guess he took to heart when Anisha gave NatO’s presentation on GROW intern safety.

The food was great and we got to watch the comings and goings of El Aguaje, while casually sitting at the table outside. There were more than just a couple dogs hanging around, and they loved to choke down the chicken bones when you’d finished. We watched them amusedly, and shared our scraps with them. Well, Maddy gave whatever she could pick off the carcasses to the gatito, and then we all put the plates on the ground and watched the feeding frenzy.
Afterwards, we met up in Plaza de las Armas, only 4 blocks away from Silvia’s house. There, we were able to use the ATMs to withdraw soles…well, until the ATM ate my card following my first transaction. I guess we have to go back on Monday, since the banks here (and it seems like a lot of businesses actually) close for the entire weekend. We walked back to the house from the plaza, and deposited most of the money here. Manuel walked from his house to meet us here, and then took us on a short walking tour of this part of Iquitos.

He showed us the green market just two blocks down on our street, the frutería where they sell all types of fruit salads, a few more banks, an intersection of all pharmacies, and finally the supermarket. It was a pretty modern supermarket, and we all sat down for a glass of juice in the café there. Humma got an apple refresco that tasted like applesauce apparently and Maddy, Anisha, and I got a refresco from this other type of fruit that he had just showed us at the market, maracuya. He was explaining to us that the yellow skin will turn brown and wrinkle and can really look terrible, but once you remove it, the fruit inside is perfectly fine. I guess we’ll have to buy one and see! The juice reminded me of passion fruit, and also a little of pineapple. Anisha compared it to guava.

After that we returned home to rest before heading out to dinner and the meeting with Pasaje Iván this evening. Hopefully this head cold goes away soon; it’s a really nasty combo with the humidity and constant sweating. Other than that, all is really well and I’m looking forward to meeting more of the neighborhoods as we did El Aguaje today.

We’re back home now after a long day in Pampachica, around Iquitos, and back to Pampachica again. For dinner, we walked the 3 or so blocks to Plaza de Las Armas and went to ‘The Yellow Star of Texas’ restaurant just beyond it, towards the river. We passed a couple churro carts that made us incredibly hungry, but we decided to hold off til after dinner. Maddy said she went to the restaurant the year before and it was fine, but also had a little more variety than the typical pollería we’d wander into.

So we decided to eat there. But as soon as we walked up to it, the wait staff greeted us almost too cheerily, and a woman not dressed in anything to indicate her affiliation to the establishment grabbed us and marched us to this strange, garishly-painted narrow spiral staircase, all the while yelling something unintelligible at us. So we climbed up the stairs, without any other options really. Up the incredibly tall and narrow staircase, we found a large room with very few people and instead a mountain of Texas, Confederate, and general Americana memorabilia. As we made our way to a table, a fat old gringo with a nose red from dinking got up from an Adirondack chair and insisted we take another spiral of stairs to an upper level. He persisted but we put our foot down. Or, rather, we sat down at a table before we could be bullied into anything else. An overly helpful waitress showed us on each identical menu how one side was in Spanish and the other in English, as the big fat gringo muttered something else from seat on the ‘dais.’

We ordered, burritos for three of us and pasta for Maddy, and awaited our meal to see if it too would garishly reek of an over-the-top Texas and Americana theme. About this time, we took notice of the music that seemed to have reached the peak of its crescendo in the background, and were annoyed to find that it was a mix of late 1900’s American rock and ‘Spanish’ music (terrible renditions of famous Mariachi pieces, Shakira, other nondescript ‘Latin’ music).

The meal came, and another disappointment was upon us. Anisha had ordered a vegetarian burrito, which turned out to be an authentic flour tortilla filled with incredibly salty pico de gallo, mashed avocado, and thawed frozen vegetable medley. Mine wasn’t much better, with pico, avocado, and pork too salty to even choke down. Not to mention the cold tortilla tore too easily to pick up with the watery filling.  No one even dented their meal, and we asked for the check so we could leave. We got to observe a stereotypical gaunt, hippy ‘Ayahuascan’ as he came in to complete some odd, shady transaction with the fat gringo on the dais.
The bill came and we were outraged to find that it was 120 s/, far more than we had planned on for any meal. The food had been terrible and I was real annoyed to find we had to pay so much for it. But we did, thanks to Maddy having the foresight to grab an extra 20 s/ before leaving the house. Before we could leave, the gringo-owner heaved himself off the dais to greet us and ask where we were from. We begrudgingly told him, and continued giving monotonous one-word answers until he finally released us.

The man was so ignorant and self-absorbed; it hurt to be in the same room as him. Here we were, working with Kallpa to support the youth of this underprivileged community to organize themselves and leverage resources to better their community health, and this fat slob was telling us about how clever he was to order only 1 Adirondack chair kit and then ‘have some locals copy it to make more,’ which was somehow justified in his mind, ‘because the Chinese do it,’ so why not him. I’m still surprised he didn’t call them Chinks or something equally offensive. This huge jerk probably came to Iquitos with only a moderate amount of money, bought a reasonably-priced piece of property on this plaza, and then set about fulfilling his misogynist, ignorant dream of an ‘exotic’ Hooters in the Peruvian forest. And now he was acting like some sort of big shot with his gringo-catering restaurant, offering “Ainglish newspapers” with “good ole American news” and the “Ayahuasca diet.” Couldn’t believe that man. Or his dumb restaurant. Or the “Ayahuasca diet.” Or mostly his dumb Adirondack chairs.

And we didn’t even get churros afterwards because we literally spent all our money on the overpriced food. Ugh.
A short moto ride later, we were back in friendly Pampachica. This time we were looking for Pasaje Iván, for a youth group meeting there to discuss their plans for ‘Mi Barrio Saludable’ and to converse with us about what they potentially want to do in the future. We arrived before Frida or Joycee and even Priscilla, in whose house we were meeting, was not there yet. So we stood around chatting with a couple of the younger girls who were there already. And of course Maddy found another cat to hold and pet for a little while. Classic.

This youth group seemed pretty small, though I’m guessing there are other kids who weren’t there tonight. Since Pasaje Iván is the most low-lying barrio, all of the houses are up on stilts, probably a full story in the air. Priscilla’s house seemed to be a bit less than 1,000 sq feet, with a large entry room taking up about 250 of those. It was lit by a single naked bulb hung from its wire, wrapped about a crossbeam of the house. The kids were very shy about talking to us, but Frida reminded them that ‘Globe-eh-Med’ couldn’t help them if we didn’t know what they wanted. She also loosely described the MOU process, and it turned out they were looking to develop a library with a table and chairs, in which they could do their homework. We went around and introduced ourselves, and Maddy actually gave this incredibly inspiring speech about how we were there because we wanted to listen to them firsthand and that although they may be shy, they were so hard-working. They warmed up a bit after that, and we got a little interaction, though minimal. But when they left, I was a little surprised by how polite they all were. Each made the point of saying goodbye and mucho gusto to each of us, before filing down the open staircase to leave the house.

Before leaving Pampachica, we followed Frida literally just across the way to Aguas Blancas. Interestingly, this neighborhood seems to be a little more well-off. The houses are similarly raised about a story and there was a central ‘bridge’ on which you could walk the whole way down. And yet the houses seemed nicer, like some were constructed a little more securely, and maybe there was less trash lying around. Here, we spoke with a few of their youth group, including a boy of about 16-18 named Luis, who had recently injured his leg. Although their president wasn’t present, we met with about half a dozen of the older members, and talked about the library with them. Aguas Blancas has had a library (I think for about a year, but I’m not sure) complete with table and chairs and an armoire in which they keep the books. Apparently last summer when there was the huge flood, the house in which the library was kept was hit bad, so they moved it into storage and now weren’t using it. Since Pasaje Iván was looking to have a library, Frida wanted to know if all of the materials could be moved back to a usable location, and the resources shared. Finally Luis and the girl he was with agreed to have an answer about a potential space by  night.


  1. Hello GROW!

    First off, thank you Cam this was written beautifully allowing me to feel like I was there with you guys. I have a couple questions: Do you find that when walking around with Manuel everyone recognizes and kind of looks up to him and the staff? Is there a noticeable division between the workers and the people of the community or do they act as one? And, do you find this among the children of different communities as well? I would think because of the level of poverty in most areas the people between communities would come together and help one another. Is that not the case? When you mentioned the politeness of some of the children as well as the cleaner neighborhood it seems like there might be a greater division then I had imagined.

    Thank you all for everything you're doing. I love that while you're down there directly impacting our partner the rest of the chapter is working from home to do the same :) So much love and support is being sent your way.

    1. This just in:

      Yes, everyone (children and adults) in la zona de Pampachica does recognize the Kallpa staff. We've mostly been walking around with Manuel and Frida, and also Joycee, another staff member who exclusively works in Pampachica. Especially when people in the neighborhoods are expecting us to come, they greet the Kallpa staff very enthusiastically. Since the Kallpa staff are all adults and aren't from or living in the zone of Pampachica, they are different than the kids and people who do live there. However, there isn't a division per se, just a distinction. As there is a distinction between parents and kids. The people respect Kallpa and welcome them for what they do, but they're only responsible for facilitating programs, and the kids themselves are becoming increasingly responsible for their own programs/projects.

      Among the kids of the 9 different neighborhoods, there are divisions. Kallpa started working with the kids of El Porvenir first, because that neighborhood showed the most initiative and organization from the start. Now, the other neighborhoods are jealous because they've received less attention and resources to date, so there are a few 'edgy' feelings about that. For example, there's currently a strong competition between Porvenir and El Aguaje, because Aguaje is currently the best organized and the kids of Porvenir resent those of Aguaje for their success. Porvenir used to be the best-organized and the 'model' neighborhood, but hasn't been the strongest for the past few months. In order to combat some of the competitive feelings and animosity, the names of all of the neighborhoods were painted in the youth center. This was a huge symbolic stride to show unity between the youth groups, but doesn't really change the fact of the matter.

      Although one might think that, the neighborhoods maintain very individual identities and are pretty self-inclusive and protective of their own. Within their neighborhoods, there is a lot of community support and collective decision-making, but these types of relationships seldom transcend the boundaries of each individual barrio. The cleanliness of each neighborhood is in part dependent upon the geography (is it on higher ground and more dry, or are the houses built above standing water, on stilts?), as well as the weather and a variety of other conditions.

  2. It is unbelievably great when people are inspired to do such outstanding deeds! Motivation should be high to deal with all this! 15 Rules of Motivation