Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Velada Artistica (The Talent Show)

Folks watching the velada artistica in the plaza.
It's not a velada without a provocative dance by a bunch of hot girls.
Maestros de ceremonia

Last month, my socio comunitario (community counterpart) approached me about doing a velada artistica. It was not exactly in my job description being a Water and Sanitation Volunteer and all, but since I didn’t have shit going on as far as projects go, I figured what the hell. The purpose of the velada artistica was to give the folks in my sleepy little town something to do on an otherwise uneventful Friday night. I spent two weeks trying to convince the local institutions - schools, the instituto, the health post, etc. to put together acts and then hoping they showed up on the day of the event.

The velada was scheduled to start at 4 pm sharp in the town plaza which meant the sound system showed up at 4 and took over an hour to get set up. Once the sound system was set up, we made announcements over the PA to come on down to the plaza for the grand show. The timid townsfolk filtered in little by little and by the time we actually got started, around 6:30, there were around 50 folks gathered.

My socio and I emceed the event, my socio being a professional emcee and I, well, I was just the 2 meter gringo freak show, an attaction in and of itself. A couple of acts into the show, my socio had to run off to the instituto to go take a test, leaving me to fly solo. I was a nervous wreck which didn’t help my Spanish, but I calmed down and apparently did OK. Days after the event I was told I had “la voz que embaraza” (the voice that impregnates). So if for some reason there are a bunch of tallish gringo children running around Rio Grande when I leave, I can assure you it was the voice.

As the night went on people kept showing up and by the end of the night there were by my estimate around 200 people. Not bad for a town with only 1200 or so people. The show included kids doing traditional dances. The health post put on a sketch about child abuse (the obstetriz did a great job as the abusive mother… maybe a little too good…). The high school kids did a lip-sync number about a man cheating on his girl (a common theme for the music down here for some reason – oh wait…).

I even sang!! My site mate Jess played her guitar and we sang Rocky Top and Hotel California. The last time I sang in public was at karaoke night at Friar Tucks in Chicago after a number of pints of liquid courage in front of a small crowd that was half in the bag. This time, no liquid courage and well over 100 sober Peruvians. Since the songs were in English and the folks had no idea what we were singing we were in the clear but, all modesty aside, we rocked the f*ckin’ joint.

The next day, the town was abuzz. They hadn’t seen an event like that in a while and everyone seemed to have enjoyed it. I didn’t get any latrines built or improve any water systems but maybe fulfilled one of Peace Corps’ goals of letting the rest of the world that not all Americans are a bunch of war-mongering, self-serving, ignorant douche bags.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jimmy Carter Would’ve Been Proud

Jose "Conejo" and another candidate for mayor.

Chucho excited about rockin' the vote!

Accion Popular meeting. The mayor of Rio Grande is waving
(Disclaimer for any PC honchos who may be reading this - I was just passing through the plaza when I snapped this picture so don't kick me out)

Last Sunday was Election Day for all the alcaldes (mayors) and presidentes regionales (state governors) in Peru. I’ve been looking forward to the elections because I’m somewhat interested in politicians, the lies they tell and the way people buy their bullsh*t hook, line and sinker. Also, it’s been a while since I’ve been in South America during an election where you never really know what’s going to happen.

In my town, the current acalde was running against six other candidates. We’re used to the two big parties (two horns on the same devil). Here there are a ton of political parties: Acción Popular, PRI, Somos Peru, APRA, etc. Some wield more power than others but where I live out in the provincia (the sticks) most people seem to vote for the candidate and not dopey party ideology.

Voting in Peru is compulsory- if you don’t vote, you get fined somewhere in the range of 120-180 soles (roughly $40-60), four or five days pay for a farmer in la provincia. The campaigns started to heat up about a month before the elections. Candidates here used their own money to paint the side of houses with propaganda, make banners, and hire cars with loudspeakers mounted on the roof to drive around town blaring commercials. There were radio spots but no negative ads telling us this guy hates freedom or if you vote for her the terrorists win or any of that kind of nonsense. The negative campaign was chisme (gossip) in the street though I didn’t hear any of it.

A week before the election, each candidate held a meeting (meeting) in the town plaza. A meeting is basically a mini political rally with noise makers, whistles, confetti, and chants where the candidates lay out their proposals. According to several of the townsfolk, a lot of candidates promise big things during these meetings but forget all about them after the election. Someone asked me - it’s not like that in the US is it? Well… Uhm... Yes… As a matter of fact it’s exactly like that in the US and probably the rest of the world.

On the Friday before the election, la ley seca (dry law) went into effect where no beer, wine or liquor was sold in the country. I’m not sure why they have the dry law but I’m sure there’s a very interesting story behind it.

Election day – police and military personnel armed with machine guns were stationed in and around the Instituto where everyone in the district, some coming from as far as 50 kilometers, came to vote. Folks vote by marking an X on the ballot next to their candidate. The ballots had pictures of the candidates and the parties’ symbols for those who can’t read. Once they turn in the ballot, they have to dip the tip of their middle finger into a jar of indelible ink to prove they’ve voted (and spend the next two days trying to wash it off). If you’re 18 and it’s your first time voting, the election workers play a little joke on you and “accidentally baptize” your entire finger.

After the polls closed at 4pm, the votes were counted. The town plaza was packed with people waiting for the results. Hours passed and some people were drinking like they haven’t had a drink in two days. Slowly the numbers started to come out. One small group from a party that was apparently not winning started yelling things and throwing rocks at the metal door of the instituto, probably not a good idea when there are 5 armed cops and couple of soldiers with machine guns. Otherwise, it was a party atmosphere in the plaza filled with anticipation.

Hours turned into several hours and most of folks had to catch a ride back home and left. The results were finally announced at about 9:30pm. The current Alcalde was re-elected and was paraded around the plaza hoisted on the shoulders of his supporters. As a Volunteer, I’m not allowed to be involved in politics because it could seriously affect my work here. Having said that, I’m glad our Alcalde got re-elected because otherwise I would have had to find someone else to work with and that would have been a real pain in the ass.

As I write this four days after the election, Lima still doesn’t know who their next mayor will be and they’re still counting votes for many of the presidentes regionales. A buddy of mine complained that it took too long for the results to come in and asked me if it took this long in the US. My first thought was - of course not, we know who won pretty much that night or the next morning. Then I remembered the debacle of the 2000 presidential election with Bush and Gore and hanging chads and some idiot named Katherine Harris. But I didn't want to get into all that so I lied and said we know the next day.