Lessons from Peru on Third World Living, by Tantalum Tom

Tuesday, Jan 20, 2009

I hope this can be useful to people who want a perspective into the Third World way of life. I recently had the chance to interview two people from Peru. One is a man who grew up in the Andes with no electricity, dirt floors, etc. who worked his way to becoming a geography and history teacher. The other is a former Peruvian Special Forces soldier of 15 years. My mother in law's input is also dispersed throughout this article. Although I have little respect for modern reporters, I found out how difficult it can be to interview someone.

When I first started probing into the Peruvian way of life, I was shown a series of photos, They were of the Geography teacher's family making cheese, so I will start with that.
In the true Latino way, after I had asked him many times to get a copy of the photos so I could post them, and many affirmative responses, he never sent them. He said yes to my face so he wouldn't offend me by saying “no.” I'm not offended, I can see why he wouldn't want 178,000 people looking at them, and I know its the Latino way. This is definitely a cultural difference. I've seen this occurrence hundreds of times. The first picture was his brother squatting (no stool) next to a cow milking it. The cow's hind legs were tied together so it wouldn't kick. No stall. This was in the open. He was wearing Yanqii rubber “tire tread” cut mining belt sandals.
Cheese is made every single day. There is no refrigeration for the milk available.
This is how he explained to me the cheese making process. I am not a cheese maker, so I don't know the accepted modern way to do this. In fact, neither does this mans family. They just know their way that they've used for the last five centuries or more, and it works. It makes what they call “queso fresco” or fresh cheese. I know of no American supermarket version except in heavily Latino areas.
The daily labor of cheese making, not including the milking, is about a half an hour.
The first thing that is done, is the coagulant needs to be prepared. This is not included in the half-hour, as it is something that is already set up and renewed easily each day.
These mountain people take a pigs stomach, wash it, sew up one end, then stuff with green banana peel, cut up limes, and some kind of leaf he doesn't know the name of, until it is big and round. The empty spaces between the solid ingredients are filled with the whey from the last cheese they made, or water to start a new batch. The other end of the stomach is sewn up, and they smoke it above their crude indoor fire pit for 7 months. When it is really reeallllyyyy sour, it is ready. Every time they remove some, they replace it with whey. Rennet is what is being extracted from the pig stomach. Slowly these people are switching to rennet pills, so this way is being lost. The imported German pills come from a pharmacy where you can buy anything you can afford, antibiotics, hypodermic drugs & needles, etc. with little restriction.

They take some of this mixture ( I believe about 1/2 to 1 cup) and mix it with their milk in a plastic bucket. It looked like a two gallon bucket. I noticed that one of the buckets formerly contained latex paint. Buckets are extremely useful with innumerable uses. They pay about three dollars for a used bucket. (that's a lot for subsistence farmers) About 15 minutes later, the milk has solidified. It is broken up with their hands into small chunks, then patted down to the bottom gently. The whey stays on top. It can be saved to drink, but usually discarded after refilling the pig stomach. After the whey is discarded, the remains are placed in a deep tray and broken up again by hand until it is soft small balls, salt is added during this step. Next it is stuffed into a mold for a few days, then smoked over their cooking fire to dry and cure for a few more days. Cheese made like this, according to one who lived it, is good for at least six months with no refrigeration.

In the village, the people are extraordinarily tight knit. They are as unified as unified can be. Everyone knows everyone. I estimate it was a community of about 200. Everyone helps who needs it. If you need a house built, just stake out an area, and make some food! It will be up in a few days. Building codes? Huh? The roofs are covered with a fiber-cement corrugated sheeting. He was very proud to have it. It must be better than tiles. (Tiles are so old fashioned) Nobody will hurt you anywhere in town. His anecdote was “If you'd just had a drink, and wanted to take a nap, you could just lay down anywhere and nobody would bother you.” People there are honest and trustworthy. The very unfortunate part is that the youth are losing their values and morals. I personally attribute this to the television that infected his community 13 years ago.

In his tiny town there was no electricity until 13 years ago. It is hydroelectric. He claims it is extremely clean. He said gas driven generators are nearly non-existent (maybe at some mines or other large industrial complex) Photovoltaic is extremely rare. How can we expect the poorest to use the most expensive (per watt hour) electricity generating technology? Even the western world has trouble affording it! The electricity powers street lights--I counted seven--indoor lights, and televisions.

I was told that quite often people have their guinea pig farms indoors, in their living/cooking/eating quarters with its accompanying filth. They have public outhouses. They dig their pits about 4m deep. This place is blessed with a source of clean water. They have water from a fresh spring across a small valley and up a hill. No pump is needed to get the water to the public spring head, all gravity. If it wasn't for their spring, they'd be boiling everything. According to this man, and a couple other people, a populace can become accustomed to fetid horrible water, and not get sick. They say a daily occurrence is to see simultaneous deification, dead animals (probably including human), clothes washing, bathing and drinking all in the same river! Yuck! I don't know their definition of “sick” though. Strange though as this is, I find it more odd that they only drink bottled water here in New Jersey, because the “pipes aren't safe” to them.

They grow all their own produce. Anything left is donkey driven to the nearest town up to three days travel away. Natural is normal there. You either get your food from your own garden, or at an open air farmers market in your town. Most farming is manual. Big farms as well as small. Horses and cows will plow, but there aren't any/many horse drawn machines. Lots of different sized shovels and hoes are used. Mechanization with tractors is only near cities. Nearly everything is produced locally and consumed locally. According to this one source, he believes that more is produced by hand and locally than mechanized and transported. I tend to agree, given everything I've heard also. Flies are natural too, right? They crawl all over, and people don't have screens on their windows or doors. Ignorance is quite prevalent. Not stupidity though, that's different.

This man clearly stated that if there ever were some collapse, his city of birth would be absolutely fine, and wouldn't even notice the difference.
I showed him how to get a copy of the book “Where There is No Doctor” he was excited and will send one to his village health worker. I also steered him to the Third World Reference Library web site, but alas, we found it is mostly in a foreign language to him. He did note that some of the Spanish language literature was published by his alma mater. He had one eye that opened farther than the other... He has been through a lot.

Horrible inflation lasted 2-3 years before the currency changed twice. People starved to death. More and more money available, prices climbing daily. People hoarded commodities for days to weeks speculating to get a higher price. Logic aside, that is what happened. People who paid for round trip passage somewhere were denied the return trip, it had become too expensive. Oops, stuck.
If you think water-boarding is torture, listen up. Peru had internal terrorists, they have been extinct for many years. The Terrorists would cut down power poles, block roads, kill and create, well, terror. The terrorists wanted a socialistic government. Both the geography teacher and the special forces soldier understand that socialism has been tried many times and in many countries, and it doesn't work. The Peruvian Army and Fuerza de Operaciones Especiales (FOES) special forces would fight them. They would also retrieve information from the enemy in creative ways, for example, they would have a person stretched out tied to a pole, laying horizontal, suspended some distance above the ground, slowly rotating over a fire until they decided they would part with sensitive information, etc. They would also kill anyone and everyone associated with, including family, friends and acquaintances of known terrorists. It worked. They had been dormant for a long time. They may be on the rise again though. (not sure) Peru is also still dealing with this extremely high collateral damage, and I'm not sure if it continues today.

I can find next to nothing about the FOES online, even on Peruvian Google, except the Youtube videos he showed me. Look up in YouTube “Comandos Peruanos” and “FOES Peruano” if interested in more. To be in the FOES, one had to show their valor. They showed it by ripping open live dogs and eating their hearts and livers raw/living. Hand-grenade hot-potato is a popular party game. Having someone shoot a machine gun between you and your comrade too. They are trained in martial arts, knife fighting, etc. I know my cousin, a SEAL, told me that they only use their knifes to open MREs. This Peruvian guy used them for much, much more. (My cousin also told me that push ups cannot be made into an aerobic activity, I figured he'd done enough to know, so I had asked him. “We're still human,” he said.)
Yeah, that ain't Politically Correct, as my friend Karl would say.

This person also worked for private security firm. He laid out to me how their system worked. Sorry, but all the titles are in Spanish so when I translate them, they will sound weird.
The first guy is called “gerente de recursos huamnos” or Human Resources director.
He's in charge of the whole company.
Next they have one “Jefe de Seguridad” Security Leader. He's in charge of everything security.
Below him are “Inspectores de Seguridad” Security inspectors.
These people have a zone they are responsible for, and they dispatch and are in charge of their “vigilantes de seguridad” Security guards.
The security guards have a “full ration of weapons and ammunition”. They are not allowed full power arms. Short barrel semi-auto hand guns and shot guns. I'm not sure If they also water down the powder charge or not, but they can not have full powered military style weapons. Again, this is private security, so people pay for these services. There is lots of shooting going on by these guys. Rich people have electronic security systems linked to these “vigilantes.” Electric fences and walls topped with electrified wires are good deterrents. The voltage and amperage varies on your preference in cooked flesh: Zapped, Shocked, Lethal or Char. Broken glass topped compound walls seem to be a worldwide safety measure. Bars across doors are normal.
The official police are part of the delinquent gangs congregating on the corners. The police beat people and abuse them other ways.

Taxes in Peru.

This is confirmed with at least three sources of small businesses. If you earn $1,000 in your business, you pay $20 taxes. (2%!) Wages are not taxed. Low low property taxes.
Everything in Peru is repaired many times before it is replaced. A guy with two lathes and a mill can make it quite well re-boring motorcycle cylinders. A new car there costs a lot more than repairing everything and painting and upholstering. Like $1,000 to refurbish a car, versus $15,000 new! If the part isn't available at a store, you go and get it made. This applies to industrial machinery, commercial, everything. He gets it that its the system here [in the US] that prohibits the refurbishing of anything.

If you own land, but do not develop it, the extra poor will come and squat on it. They will build their shanty towns out of woven palm-like leaves into walls, and fill up your space. If someday you get tired of it, and want to get rid of them, just call the police and they'll burn it down and drive the people away. They'll come back, and you'll burn it down again, until one side gives up.

The military also corrupt. This guy was ordered to remove thousands of bullets from their casings and to sell the brass for some commander. In fact, when the military was in charge of the whole country, it was openly corrupt, and unstable. This is the cause of Peru's continued Third World status. Government corruption and instability. They have plenty of natural resources, oil and minerals, gold, et cetera. This man told me “we take it out of the ground, and form it into rough ingots, then send it somewhere where they know what to do with it.” So they could have a fully functioning economy, but they don't.
I wish I knew what to do to keep that from happening here. Nobody has any (legal) answers as for what to do, besides get ready and get far far away.

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