Democracy by the Moonlight
I'm sorry Winnipeg! I have been away on my mission and there was no internet access. That and my stomach was doing the Peuvian shuffle. In fact this little gastronomic jig became very popular amongst our entire group, here's a tip for you all, If you're going to Peru and you're a Winnipegger, make sure you don't touch, eat or breathe anything! Don't worry though, we've all found drugs for our varying ailments, we're on the mend.
YOUR MISSION EWALD IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT...... Friday morning was the big day, I met a Mr. Carlos Rosales at around 10 a.m. Carlos and I hit it off immediately, he is originally from El Salvador but was educated at Canadian and American universities. He is presently the press secretary for the president of El Salvador. We hit the road and I started asking him questions about his job and other various things. He was charming, polite and extemely bright and never once seemed annoyed at my incessant questioning. Rare is it indeed that one gets to spend three days with the message man of a Central American government, so even if he was annoyed, I wouldn't have cared that much - I would have kept grilling him.
The ride to Ica is about four and half hours through the desert and at parts along the coast. Carlos pointed out that it looks like the moon; pretty close I would guess. Our driver kept giving us little insider tips about the things we passed by. He pointed out the huge shanty town on the outskirts of Lima as we left; these are of course migrant workers seeking financial opportunites in the city. It was a humbling sight. As I mentioned, this coastal highway is a gallery of contrasts. I saw gated vacation resorts, equipped with guards, next to Inca archeological sites. Farmers loading bundles of sticks onto donkeys next to massive billboards, deserts, and ocean.
Half a roast chicken with some fries. Not particularily Peruvian one might say but this is standard, this and Chinese food?! Tastes great but you will be in the fetal postion in a matter of hours, take my word for it. Upon arriving in Ica, we found a suitable hotel, ironically a hotel that produces a Peruvian spirit known as Pisco. It's made from distilled grapes, tastes great and costs next to nothing. In fact it cost us nothing at all because there was a national ban on the sale of alcohol in effect for the three days leading up to the election, enough time for everybody to stock up and then run out by E-day or so the logic goes. So here we were in grape country, grape and Prickly pear country (the seeds of the prickly pear are so hard you just have to swallow them all at once and there are many of these stony devils in each bite) and we can't try the local schnapps because we are respectable OAS representatives so we abstained until the ban was lifted, no Pisco for us. This is just as well considering that alcohol was the last thing on my mind while my stomach decided what it wanted to do: hot flash, cold shivers, cramp? What's it gonna be? Lucky for me my fever broke by the second night, then it broke again on the third and fourth nights.
OK back to the mission. Carlos and I woke up early on Friday and hit the steets. We visted the offices of all the major players in the Ica election. ONPE (the equivalent to Elections Canada), an NGO called Transparencia (a group of activists who monitor the elections in the same way the OAS does, only they don't get a chauffered car and diplomatic immunity), we then visited the District Attorney's office ( nice guy, had a really grand medallion around his neck so that we knew he was important), we visited the chief of police and a few other folks. For the most part we introduced ourselves and let them know that the OAS was in town; they were very receptive. The OAS has played an immensly important role in elections in the past and Peruvians have not forgotten this, see Fujimori.
The Chief of police decided that it is not good for the OAS representatives to go roaming around the streets of Ica without some protection, so I met a very nice plain clothes officer named Franco. Franco rode with us everywhere we went and is gifted at making himself look not present, a talent for a man his size. In a playful mood I tried ditching him at one point, you know just to see if he could find me again, but there he was always a few feet away from me. Franco, thank you where-ever you are.
So after a day of paying visits to assorted influencial leaders, we returned to the hotel/distillery and were greeted by a couple other police officers who would guard us as we slept. It began to occur to me that I should start walking with a swagger or something because of all the protection, but of course that would be silly so I graciously thanked everyone whenever I could. I gave out little Canada pins to some of the volunteers I encountered (I know this is a little Tim Hortons of me); they all loved them, so despite the sense of importance I remained modest and tried to be nice.
Waking up the second day, suffering from heat stroke, dehydration, and the some sort of tropical revenge, we toured around to the headquarters of various political parties and to some polling stations set up mostly inside schools. Our arrival was simultaneous to that of the armed forces, young men with guns. They would serve as guards. They would make sure no one in line waiting to vote got hit by passing cars, an ever present threat (drivers in Peru are a blog entry on there own, traffic in Peru is a white knuckle ballet), and that no one interfered with free and fair voting.
Tune in tomorow for day two of my peruvian election ponderences, I hate to leave you all hanging, but my back is getting sore and I want to be thorough with the details........ till tomorrow morning folks.