Another market experience


Just came back from the market where we bought some food – vegetables and fruits – for a dinner with friends. What did we buy? 1 kg of cauliflower and tomatoes each, one eggplant, some beetroot, mangoes, oranges (4 kg for making juice), bean sprouts (first time I saw them), onions, some chills and a couple of malangas for making chips – no potatoes by the way, they are traded like drugs. I paid everything in local currency and we ended by approx. 450 Pesos which is more or less a month’ salary of a cuban worker or employee. A pensioner receives around 200 to 300 pesos per month.

On top of that everybody has his / her libreta for buying  subsidized products like sugar, rice, milk, tooth paste etc. this products last for a couple of days or so. Additionally, health care is free (but not all drugs are available), school is free as well (but there is a lack of school dresses and some material), public transport is cheap (but sometimes you have to wait an hour or more before a bus will stop), as well as telephone (fix lines), electricity and housing.

The question is, how everybody can survive if not live without thinking about how to get the food for the next day, especially the elderly? The answer – or better one of them – might be charity, the money your emigrated family abroad sends you every month (it estimated that there is 2 billion USD p.a. transferred by Cubans abroad). The demographic situation is close to the one in some European countries with a growing number of pensioners living alone and depending on support by their families. There is no homes or domestic service for these people provided by the state. And, exactly those who might suffer the most are the ones who bore the revolution…

Another option is to find a business to get an extra income or to work outside the state structure. You can do that legally on your “own account”, as ‘cuenta propista’ in those professions free to work in. Or, illegally by working aside your official job by doing whatever the “people” demand – which is a lot! But this, is to my knowledge, called market economy…

The “Cuba meter”

barometer-1-cubaAfter having completed more than three months in Cuba, I think it’s time for an overview and feedback. Just as a tool and aid for summing up the experiences I have reanimated my “barometer” as I used it for Peru. Though, I introduced new categories, most of the parameters remain the same.

One thing is obvious but sometimes neglected: I live on an island, both literally and in a figurative sense. The isolation – or, at least the impression you have – from the outside world is not a brand new but strong experience. The feeling to travel back in history (at least 50 years or more) or just to live in a movie always accompanies me. It has its charm but comes along with a certain bitterness and fatalism. Pictures become blurry and frozen in time.

What for me from my artificial bubble of being a foreign guest and observer seems to be a more or less “perfect” copy of Dali’s surrealism, appears to have a strong element of Kafka for the locals… is that what characterizes the daily life here?

When I came here first, I did not miss Lima very much, I have to admit. However, the longer I am here, the more I would like to go back soon, not to live there again, but just to recall the feeling of its people and the openness of its society, the normality of daily life, not to mention the food and breathtaking landscapes of Peru.

However, Havana has still its misty and mysterious glamour of its colonial history. Many streets and houses in the old city have been renovated, but a step aside discloses the decline.

Tormentos, moj(squ)itos, orquídeas, musica y juegos de palabras

After several months of removal and emotional stress, grieve, professional liquidation and believing in hollow promises from so-called authorities, garden and house work in Switzerland and France, I have finally settled in Havana where I arrived hardly 4 weeks ago.

I am still not sure whether I miss Lima or not, as the change had been covered  and accompanied by many other disturbing and disequilibrating issues. Just a s an indicator : I dot not dare to look at all the photos I took in Peru as I fear to fall into nostalgia…

I wonder whether I should restart setting up my ‘barometer’ for Cuba as well – maybe in one of the next postings.

Tormento de HavanaThe rainy season is in full swing and the tormentos are sometimes rather impressive with floods and inondation. The mojitos are strong and sweet, and rich in calories…, the orquídeas in our garden are maravillosas, just beautiful.

Apart from a few mojitos – having to many of them will not only add to your weight but lower your level of concentration – but my Spanish might sound better, at least in my eras, the mosquitos bite quite successfully.

Music is omnipresent, rythm and sunset are in common-mode.

My Spanish teacher sometimes riddles, and I do not know yet to crack the code. Same with the people in the house who use to talk in play of words… when you know what I mean.

More to come… from a little island in the caribbean.


myWPEdit Image… to be in Havana now. Weird, because we left Lima in a hurry, due to many events influencing and disturbing our plans and “normal” life. We hardly could say Goodbye to many of our friends and colleagues. But this seems to be our life, spending years in a country and then rushing off for new horizons. Somehow, unhealthy and superficial, I feel right now.

As difficult it was to leave Lima, saying goodbye or farewell to people and places, as soft the landing in Havana was. Climate and environment welcomed us very thoughtfully.

And now being here, without any time to recover, or to have a break seems to be less strange and unreal as I would have expected.

After a week now, I feel comfortable and almost “at home” already, but maybe this is just the first phase of being excited about the new place and life lying ahead.

However, my real Havana time will only start by end June when I’ll be back from Europe where I have to travel to in a couple of days – I’d rather stay here…

Have a look at a number of photos I took over the last seven days:

Just 4 weeks…

Cusco - Puno…before flying to Havanna. It is still difficult to realize the upcoming change in climat, environment, people and professional activities. It will be a completely “new life” but the language will be the same – at least.

As we do not have much time to enjoy the last weeks in Peru, everything seems far away and unreal. I will miss Peru very much, that is for sure. Almost unbelievable after the struggle I had in the beginning. But as always, to feel at home needs effort and will, friends and family.

Leaving a country for going to a new one is always an experience of “little death” and exciting for what will expect you, an area of conflict between staying where you feel at home and comfortable and longing for adventure and new experiences – leaving with mixed emotions.

Before going back again….

If I would have known when writing the last post… my last flight back to Lima will likely be next Friday coming back from my childhood’s place where I had to go in avery short notice.

Living abroad, as accompanying person (how I dislike this expression), far away from family and friends again proofs to be a difficult issue. What do you do when your beloved ones need help and support, 11 thousands kilometers away? What do you when difficult decisions have to be taken, when your parents fall ill or become so dependent on external help?

It is somehow calming when you notice that – under these stressful circumstances – you are still able to act rationally and prudentially though emotionally very much involved. It is almost therapeutical watching yourself behaving in such a manner. Everything you do contributes to fulfill one of the last steps to become a grown-up when you take over responsibility for you parents, something they did for you when you were a child.

I am sure that the right decisions have been made…

Last flight to Lima

taxiTomorrow morning will be my last flight from Switzerland to Lima, at least as resident of Peru. The time in this beautiful country will be over soon, after almost 4 years as a life of an accompanying person in a city which was hard to adapt to but will be very difficult to leave. What I never could imagine 4 yours ago has, however, happened: I will deeply and very sadly miss my life at the shores of the Pacific, in Miraflores and San Isidro, and all the little things you learn to know after a certain time in a big city.

I will also miss my intensive travelling into the Andes and the Amazonas, along the desert coast line, the exploration of so many historical and archaeological sites, the music full of rhythm, myth and love. With fear and struggle in the beginning, I tried to learn Spanish which still proofs to be very difficult, but opened the door to other cultures and people. I remember my first interview with a group of youngsters in Lima explaining me – filled with enthusiasm I never heard in Europe – how they struggled to grow up, to work when they were children, to learn and to develop a vision for both their own future and those of their country. I will never forget their shining eyes and their vibrant voices…

Of course, without mentioning the Peruvian kitchen, this first glance back would be incomplete. How one could ever be on earth without knowing the varieties and tastes of the uncountable dishes. The flavour of the Peruvian kitchen is nothing else but the mirror of the glue (maybe I am exaggerating a bit) different people with different backgrounds sticks together: the love for food!

The feeling of sadness for leaving Peru increases caused by the the uncertainty of what to expect in the upcoming years. Right know, my life seems to fall apart as I feel to be at the mercy of people and institutional structures that in reality to not care at all. After more than 20 years living abroad, I never imagined what I have learnt over the last 5 to 6 months in my role of being a trailing spouse. The only person you can trust on are you yourself. Maybe I will have to take decisions which I really did not want to take – I am very sad to say that.

Barometer 7 and 8 from Peru

Barometer 7These are my latest barometers from Lima – not yet the final one, but there won’t be many to follow. What do they show? Certainly, that after almost 4 years in Peru, Lima has become my home, at least a sort of. I feel strongly attached to the Peruvian kitchen, its countryside and people.

I am happy with what the city has to offer in terms of infrastructure – apart from the traffic. I feel secure as well. My Spanish has improved and I feel more or less comfortable in having conversations regardless the subject.

Even my new role as an ambassador’s trailing spouse has become something I got used to – as much as I could without loosing authenticity. In order to compensate the rich and tasty Peruvian kitchen, making sport has increased and kept me in shape.

Barometer 8Looking at the tables I noticed that one important category had been missing over the last years: culture as such. The longer I am in Lima the more I enjoy cultural life and activities. Visits to theatres, cinemas, museums and concerts have not been extremely frequent but have developed a certain regularity.

Additionally, I started learning to play cajon. It reduces stress and proofs to be a good brain exercise, and last but not least, provides access to the afro-peruvian culture which otherwise is less present here.

After Christmas holidays and some weeks in Switzerland, the time in Lima will be limited to a couple of months only. End of March or maybe beginning of April will herald a new phase of life when moving to another country awaiting us with many new impressions and providing exciting experiences.

I will let you know…


Barometer 6

Barometer 6Lang ist’s her, das letzte Lima-Barometer. Doch diese schöne “Tradition” will ich nicht aufgeben, zumal die Zeit in diesem Land ja für uns begrenzt ist. Ich habe mich einmal durch die ersten Barometer geklickt, nachdem ich dieses letzte erstellt. Wie gut, dass sich alles doch letztlich zum Guten wendet, die Erfahrungen, das Lebensgefühl und der Umgang mit der provisorischen Heimat.

Bei der Ankunft aus Santiago, vorletztes Wochenende, hatte ich plötzlich das Gefühl, nach “Hause” zu kommen, so wie es mir, wie es uns bisher immer bei jedem Posten ergangen ist, auch wenn uns in der Zwischenzeit die Kinder “abhanden” gekommen sind, die immer so offen und einfach mit diesen Wechseln umgegangen sind und mir das Leben erleichtert haben.

Im Detail zum Barometer:

  • Alte Heimat… nun ja, wer will schon während der Olympischen Spiele in London sein…
  • Wie gesagt, Lima ist das Zuhause, auf Zeit, aber jetzt im Sommer ist’s ohnehin leichter.
  • Infrastruktur: Es hat sich ja nicht viel getan, außer dass jedes Jahr 30-40 Tausend neue Autos in Lima zugelassen werden.
  • Wie haben wir das gute peruanische Essen während der Reise in Argentinien und Chile vermisst!
  • Wetter: gegen den Humboldtstrom kommt man eben nicht an, also akzeptieren, so gut es geht.
  • Spanisch: wird nie so gut wie Englisch oder Französisch werden, aber fühlt sich trotzdem leichter an.
  • Sport: Das kompensiert so viel. Und jetzt kann gibt es in San Isidro noch ein Fitness-zentrum wird die Bewohner – gratis! Und laufen am Malecon oder an der Costa Verde!
  • Stadt, Leute: ich bin halt kein Fan von großen Städten, jedenfalls nicht zum dauerhaften Leben darin. Ich einmal neulich ‘mal hoch gerechnet: Am Tage wird ca. 4’000 Mal vor unserer Residenz gehupt – einfach wunderbar, v.a. weil’s so sinnlos ist, wenn alles verstopft ist.
  • Land, Leute: Freue mich jedes mal wie ein Schneekönig, wenn’s raus aufs Land geht. In 14 Tagen geht’s nach Nasca und Ayacucho, wieder etwas Neues entdecken.
  • Neue Rolle: Ist eben nicht mehr neu…
  • Sicherheit: Angesichts der heute veröffentlichten Kriminalstatistik und der nach oben zeigenden Tendenz wächst das  Gefühl der Unsicherheit, aber nur sehr leicht.

Exploring Patagonia

How lazy I have been, at least in terms of looking after my blog. Though there were many things to write about but the latest highlight was our trip to Argentina and Chile (Santiago).

Buenos Aires’ charme de belle époque, the distant but permanent sound of tango, and an atmosphere somewhere between decline and raise is unforgettable. As it reminds you of many European cities making you sometimes believe to be in Paris, Madrid, London, Naples or even Berlin. However, Buenos Aires’ sound will tell where you are!

This sound of Tango changed into the one of huge ice blocks falling into glacier lakes in Patagonia. The crispy, cristal clear sky is still in my mind, like a silent echo from another world, one without almost no people (300’000 on a surface of 900’000 square km, approx. 22 times Switzerland’s size). The steppe is endless and after 28 hours and 2’000 km on a bus drive through the same landscape you start believing it will never end at all!

But finally you arrive in Mendoza, still in the desert but amidst the biggest wine growing area in South America – lucky you are! Whether you like the local Malbec type, the classic Cabernet Sauvignon or some of the more rare grape variety, a vineyard tour is a must and everybody will find its favourite. Spend the whole Sunday in the thermal springs of Rio Mendoza in the mountains, and you will a lot about local people and their customs.

Finally, we crossed the Andes again heading for Santiago. You climb up to more than 3’000 meters, very slowly in 5 hours without noticing, surrounded by the highest Andean mountains, of which the Aconcagua is the highest with 6.962m. You survive the severe Chilean custom check: no fruits, no undeclared organic material at all. After the checkpoint you will decent again, but this time 3’000m in 1 hour…

The Chilean capital welcomes you with its sun (and smog as well) shining more than 300 days a year, and its Sanhattan skyline indicating that Santiago is the vibrant centre of a very successful economy. (However, it also reminds you that the grey Lima sky is still waiting in a couple of days…).

It is still difficult to describe all the experiences and feelings we had during this three weeks’ trip. And for those who prefer watching photos, here is the link: Argentina and Chile