day 3 in lima.
i decided to leave the hostel yesterday, accompanied by a motley crew comprised of jolande, a dutch girl, bryn, an american girl, tom, a cockney musician and richard, a scot; we ventured out to centro lima even though it is reputed to be quite dangerous (and understandably so) to check out chinatown(i wanted cheap sandals but couldn´t find any, it seems that a size 10 is unheard of in peru) and eat at a chifa.
strangely enough, lima supposedly has the largest chinese community of south america, yet i saw maybe 2 chinese people in chinatown. it´s mostly markets selling indian clothes, street vendors and kids selling candy, in an area full of buildings in semi ruin and quite a dirty setting -- an interesting contrast from touristy miraflores and bohemian barranco. they have a sort of clandestin animal market there, people carry 4 or 5 puppies around at a time. they are all such beautiful dogs, boxers, pit bulls, even huskies: but half of them look like they´re dying, it´s so sad. i wish i could have at least taken one with me to get it out of such horrible treatment, but alas, i could not.
when we arrived at the mercado central, a boy of about 8 approached us to try to sell us candy as most of the children here do. we politely shook our heads, ¨no, gracias, necesitamos nada¨ as we got out of our taxi and rummaged through our pockets for the 8 soles required to pay for our ride.
the child was perched on the door, reaching into the cab trying to pick the change out of bryn´s hand as she was counting it and trying to recuperate 50 cents that had fallen behind the hand brake.
a swarm of them started to gather around us, probably thinking that the five gringos were easy targets, and i have to admit it threw me off guard- i might be a gringo, but i´m certainly not a rich one, and to be honest, at that point i was really annoyed with these children who just would not go away no matter how many times we told them to piss off.
they may have snot and grime smeared on their face, that´s not going to get to me, i´ve seen it before and i know it´s an act - i´ve seen gypsy kids rob tourists in the parisian metro and hold out dirty hands asking for money with their thick accents ¨s´il vous plait donnez moi argent¨ ; groups of twenty children in mexico trying to sell me 5 pieces of gum for 25 cents and old women clutching babies wrapped in filthy bandages; or seven year olds who are blind and deformed, with arthritis you´d only think a seventy year old could have, playing the erhu at 3 am in beijing; little flower girls who should be in school but who, because their parents assumed that sending them away to the city would be more beneficial for them, are wandering the streets in search of tourists so they can bring back enough money to send to their parents.. it´s a vast global scam to try and use children to make us feel like crap and take pity upon seeing their big brown eyes and tattered clothes. honestly, it could work, if only you didn´t see them run off five seconds later to start playing in the streets with a smile and pointing at the gringo they just ripped off. these children look so cute and innocent, but they´ll put on a song and dance to rob you blind without you noticing, ¨quiero agua, dame agua¨ - as you pass them your bottle of water, two others will be behind you, opening your bag to steal your stuff and sticking their tiny, agile hands in your pockets.
we were literally swarmed by a group of four or five children with packets of sweets, holding out their hands pleading with us to give them money to eat as we´re all standing around the taxi wondering what in god´s name was going on and why our friend was still sitting in the cab. it drew even more attention to ourselves, but we attempted to serve as guards from these vultures in training looking for anything to grab from us; they were really persistant, poking their hands through the door trying to snatch up a sole, "por favor para comer, por favor tengo hambre, dame algo¨ pointing towards the coins.
one of these children was so incredibly persistant it was almost scary. he just wouldn´t give up, no matter how many times we tsked at him and shooed him away. seeing as i speak spanish a tad bit better than the four others, i swatted at his hand when he reached for the change in bryn´s hand. i looked at him and told him ¨no tenemos nada para ti, ahora vayate!¨
he looked at me with such hate, i could almost read in his eyes something along the lines of "if i had a knife, i would slit your throat right here and now". i have to admit it sent a certain chill down my spine, and i thought to myself.. maybe i should have listened to the woman at the front desk when she warned us not to venture into central lima. i don´t think i´ve ever been scared of a child before, but this little guy gave me a serious case of the creeps, especially when he followed us for twenty minutes.
other than that, it was an interesting experience to be in what seems like the only chinatown in the world that doesn´t actually have anything chinese except for the food, which even at that seems peruvianised : i´m assuming it´s because the chinese, great business men as they are, have realised there is absolutely no money to be made in lima, as the peruvians have a hard enough time as it is running their little market stalls that all sell the same generic indian sarongs and faux inca tokens.
i´m quite used to being stared at in the "western" world, but here, it´s absolutely incredible how they stop in their tracks and glare at me as if i´d just landed here from pluto. serves me right for having blue hair, a mostly shaved head and multiple facial piercings.
however, compared to north america or europe where people stare at me as if i have the plague, here people laugh and smile, full of curiosity. they don´t find me repulsive, on the contrary, they find it rather amusing to see this gringa with rags for clothes (i have duct tape covering up a huge slit in the backside of my pants, a souvenir from jumping a fence to go swimming in an exposition lot a few years back and a rat chewed tank top), and cheek piercings (which are actually of incan origin!). many of them came up to me, mostly to say "diosmio! no te duele esos piercings? porque tienes tanto; te gusta el dolor?" . i usually don´t like being pointed at or glared at, my general reaction is to ask if they want my picture so it lasts longer, but here it goes over well because they aren´t aggressive or hostile about it at all, which is a refreshing change from the habitual piercings + dreads = junkie who shouldn´t be approached attitude back home. the children especially seem to find my appearance fascinating as they all point at me with wide eyes and smile, asking "papa, porque ella tiene el pelo azul?"
i still can´t help feeling bad for all the children who walk barefoot in the streets with their little packets of candy: i would love to buy candy from them, but i don´t want to encourage them to live like this, begging on the street and, if that doesn´t work, stealing. i do hope to be able to work with these children, to give them a chance to get good head start in life. before coming down here i had found an organization that arranged volunteer work in ayacucho, but it was very expensive and i found out by asking around that there are many free volunteer opportunities throughout south america. one of the peruvian girls who works at reception here at the hostel took one of the guests staying here to an orphanage for a day. he told me they had offered him a volunteer position, taking the kids to the parc, playing with them, bathing them, taking them to the doctor, giving them their medication, teaching them to read and whatnot. he declined, but i wanted to know more, so paola got me the number and i hope to be able to work at least a few days with these children. at first i thought my spanish wouldn´t be good enough, but she assured me that it would be sufficient to communicate with five year olds - just goes to show how mediocre my castellano has gotten over the years, even if i feel flattered when the peruvians ask me if i am spanish because of my lispy c´s and z´s. someone even asked me if i was catalan!
lima seems like such a strange place, full of contrasts and risks at every corner, i have eyes behind my head at all times and the minute i feel something brush against me i flip out thinking it´s a pickpocket or something. it´s definately not a city i feel comfortable in, but i want to discover it, learn its secrets. i´m thinking of going to villa el salvador which is an autonomous squatter settlement south of the city, just to look at the way people live and to try and understand it. there´s also a possibility to go visit the shantytowns with a guide (weird, i know), which i definately want to do, because it´s the reality for such a large portion of the population here and i´m not here just to stay in miraflores with all the malls and burger kings - i want to experience lima for what it is, a multi facetted city lodged between the andes and a very polluted pacific coast; where colourful colonial buildings stand next to decrepit concrete buildings, palm trees and shanty towns, enormous markets where the stalls are full of handicrafts on one side and plastic made in china trinkets on the other.
it really is a strange place, i´ve never actually been scared to walk alone even in broad daylight anywhere, but here nothing ever seems safe or sure. it´ll take some getting used to.