Profesor de Negocios

10 May

Teaching business classes to agricultural workers and entrepreneurs in Juanjui

In another century in America, teachers received apples from their students on the first day of school.  A few weeks ago I began my first of a series of weekly workshops to provide business plan training to farmers and aspiring entrepreneurs in the rural town of Juanjui.  Instead of apples, I was greeted with a basket of several kilos of oranges and other citrus fruits, courtesy of a pair of middle-aged farmer women (one who lives in a village sans electricity) who are students in my class.  At the end of our first session, they led the class in a group toast with freshly squeezed orange juice, and I received the first of many invitations to visit their farms.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how I would take to this new component of my work, which involves traveling a couple hours out in the countryside via cramped colectivo taxis.  My trips always involve hoping there are enough other passengers with the same intended destination to fill a car, hoping that heavy rains don’t strand me somewhere inopportune, and hoping to avoid an accident on the dark, scary roads late at night.  (On my way home tonight, in fact, my taxi struck and killed a large dog that was in the middle of the road.  Damn sad.)

My students come from outlying areas which aren’t the most accessible either.  So it’s no wonder that during a conversation with a colectivo driver in Juanjui, he complimented my work with cocoa and coffee farmers, but countered “You must have also encountered la blanquita?”  Of course, the “white girl” he was referring to was not any foreign tourist (of which there are none out in Juanjui) but cocaine — and as the driver rattled off a list of places in the area where coca is grown, I was reminded that the region’s alternative development campaigns are not yet “Mission Accomplished!”

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Citadels and Sunsets

16 Apr

My family at Machu Picchu

I’m back in Tarapoto after a week-long vacation, one which got off to a rough start when I was robbed in Lima of my laptop and camera.  Luckily, the ensuing arrival of my family and our subsequent adventures went a long way in helping me put that incident behind me.

Like President Ollanta Humala and his family, my family’s Semana Santa (Easter week) was spent visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu before returning to Lima.

Due to the short nature of this visit, they could not come see what my life in Tarapoto is like, but between seeing Peru’s most famous tourist site, the capital city, and having less-common experiences like piling into a colectivo (shared taxi) on rural roads–my mom’s eyes popped at seeing a family stuffed into the trunk of the car we were riding in–they nonetheless had an unforgettable time.

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Robbed in Lima

4 Apr

I arrived in Lima two days ago for a week-long vacation scheduled to really get under way tomorrow with the arrival of my family in Peru.  Unfortunately, I hit a bit of a speed bump this evening.

While sitting at an outdoor cafe right off Parque Kennedy in Miraflores around 8:30pm, catching up with my friend Maike, my little drawstring backpack was stolen.  In the space of just a few minutes between us ordering and receiving our drinks, a man managed to use a knife or something to slit the straps of the backpack, which was slung securely over the chair I was sitting in, and carry it off without me feeling it.  Maike–who was sitting right next to me and looking at me the entire time–didn´t notice a thing.  Neither did the couple who was sitting right behind me, nor the security guard standing just feet away.  Inside my backpack was my trusty Canon S90 digital camera, and more consequentially, my laptop.

While in the States I make use of an external hard drive to backup my files, that is a luxury I have not had in Tarapoto.  I just lost all of my photos from 6+ months in Peru, the entirety of my Technoserve work files, all of my music, personal documents, Photoshop, etc.  While many things are replaceable or replaceable at a cost (guess I know what my just-received 2011 tax refund is going toward), the first two items are mostly not, and that is truly a crushing blow.

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Wet, Wild

12 Mar

Maike and I during a whitewater rafting trip of the Rio Mayo

It’s now March, still in the rainy season here (the last 7 days have each featured heavy downpours), and I have now passed the half-way mark of my scheduled time here in Tarapoto. I’d be hard-pressed to think of another equivalent period of 5+ months which flew by and simultaneously seemed much, much longer due to the sheer number of new and interesting experiences and challenges packed into what is really a short amount of time.

Carnavale mayhem during a massive water balloon fight in the streets

While I haven’t written here as frequently in the new year, and will save the latest of many work-related advances for another post, 2012 has seen a lot of new events and people. Most notable has been the arrival of two McKinsey consultants, Sarah from San Francisco and Gaby from Mexico City, who have been welcome additions to our crew. While work has kept us all quite busy and I haven’t done much sexy travel of late, we have had our share of excitement, including a whitewater rafting trip on the Rio Mayo and engaging in a massive town-wide water balloon fight as part of a Carnavale celebration in the town of Rioja.

Additionally, there has been my unfortunate involvement playing on the office fulbito (a rough-and-tumble version of soccer played on a miniature field). Given how absolutely terrible I am at soccer, it’s a wonder I’m still allowed and encouraged to play in our weekly matches; I suspect I may be there just for humor value, like when a shot at close range hit me square in the nuts, and as I staggered about gasping for air the players on both teams and all the spectators in the stands spent a full minute chuckling heartily at the brown gringo…

While on the subject of activities which I ineptly embarrass myself at, I recently began taking weekly salsa lessons. After months here of envying the fluid and sexy dancing of the locals at bars and nightclubs, I finally signed up for classes with Tarapoto’s self-appointed “profesor de baile“, Fernando, who fits every stereotype of a Latino dancer with slick moves. I have now had my first two classes, which I am taking with a partner–a young single mother named Reina–and have confirmed that the intricacies and rhythm of dance do not come naturally to me. Still, I’m gamely trying, and remain amused that each time Fernando chastises Reina for not dancing sexily enough, he berates her for moving like an Americana instead of a Latina. (He then proceeds to very convincingly demonstrate the coquettish manner a Latina should dance in… oy!)

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The Motorcycle Diaries

2 Feb

A week and a half ago, I bought a secondhand motorcycle off the street. While there were some things wrong with it (broken taillight, non-functioning speedometer and fuel indicator, and a worn out hand brake), the timing and the price worked out quite well. After some good ol’ fashioned haggling, I laid out S/. 1,150 in cash — about $430, to become the proud owner of a used bike.

My previous motorcycle experience was limited to a one weekend course at a community college I took a few years ago, when I had the intention of getting my license and buying a bike. Unfortunately, right after that, I got sent out of town long-term on work travel, and thereafter life as a traveling management consultant extinguished my desire.

Here in Tarapoto, though, where the personal car is still a rarity, virtually everyone gets around on two wheels. (Or three, technically, since half the population rides the three-wheeled motorcycle rickshaws called “mototaxis”.) Since I got here 4 months ago, I’ve had it in the back of my head that I wanted to get back into motorcycles. My Peruvian friend Jean explained the basics of the controls to me (as I had forgotten) and gave me a lesson once where I rode his bike — and that was the extent of my experience.

So of course it seemed like a good idea to just go ahead and buy my own here, to ride around like the locals, jouncing along the rocky dirt roads in my neighborhood or weaving and dodging at high-speed through the madcap traffic in the town center — sans helmet or any other protective gear. At the least, this must prove I don’t have any brain cells to lose in an accident, right?

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