Running with the Peruvians

I have a confession to make. I’ve been unfaithful. Two-timing. Strayed from a perfectly functioning relationship. I look beside me at 4.30 am and there’s a man, thirty years my senior. And I’m struggling to keep his pace.

Which is precisely 5:13 min/km on a half marathon. After the first 10k of our 21k training run, I fall behind my running buddy. Since the outlandish school hours forced me to cheat on my old running group ‘Miraflores Runners’, I’ve started my mornings with delegates from ‘Corre Perú’, which has a radically different approach to training.

Because getting from A to B is never as simple as getting from A to B. For the past few weeks I have been a slave to my sports watches (I can’t decide between Polar M400 and Garmin Forerunner. It’s me, the person who can’t choose on which continent to live!) to help me follow the detailed data tables specifying my speed zones for each workout. These are supposed to achieve me a respectable finishing time for the Lima Marathon in May. I did run my 10k PB sparked by the words of the Cuban coach Daniel Gorina that too many of us are “conservative”. Not as in Katie Hopkins – although there are too many of her as well – but as in conservative energy savers during a race; like you had any further use for your body parts after the finish line. If you’ve never during your career pledged to give “your 110%”, nor had the pleasure of working with someone who does, we need to have a chat, because I want your job. This boast has never made much sense to me – until last month. Now the cliché could even be quantified (04:20min/km)! Never mind Academia Gorina was only really asking us to give our 98% – less catchy for management consultants, but on a 10k you will enjoy the taste of blood in your mouth all the same. “If you abandon the training, you abandon the training – as long as you give it ALL you got.” (Minus the 2 per cent…)

This is completely opposite to the Protestant take on life of ‘to the bitter end, no matter what or how long it takes’. As for everything delivered while dressed in lycra, I started considering how I might apply this new piece of wisdom as a metaphor to other areas of my life, say, relationships. (But Hazel Davis already makes the case for drinking absinthe in the street here.)

While deviating from the macabre data tables by going too slow or too fast is parallel to making excuses to the speed camera, a failed run with Miraflores Runners would probably just be a run that you didn’t enjoy. Or a run without any group selfies. (My FB friends can appreciate the success rate in this regard.)

While I do need to challenge myself, I feel at home with this philosophy. In Peru I have discovered that endurance running is not about the solitary but the solidarity. The running equivalent of ‘we’re all in this together’ – as Adrharanand Finn describes in his thoroughly enjoyable best-seller Running with the Kenyans:

“In a group it is easier. It can feel as though the group is running, not you. As though the movement around you has picked you up and is carrying you along. The switching back and fort of legs focusing the mind, synchronising it, setting a rhythm for your body to follow. As soon as you become detached from the group, its power evaporates and it feels harder to run.”

If this camaraderie, training in high altitudes, ‘reverence for running’ and, in some cases, escape from poverty lie behind the success of Kenyan runners, it’s not surprising that there are Peruvian runners hot on the non-cushioned heels of the nation of champions. On Sunday, the pint-sized 28-year-old Inés Melchor made a new national 42.2km record nowhere else but in neighbouring Chile – a sweet Peruvian victory that is spurring high hopes for an Olympic gold in Rio next year.

So I will conclude with a wisdom that I’m happy sell to the highest paying political party candidate to use in the next elections, without having to travel 6,000 miles to the ancient land of the Inka empire:

“We’re all in this together – 110%.”

Even if last weekend I couldn’t keep up, and got lost from my literally young at heart running partner. It’s a good time for a dose of Finnish pessimism, and remind myself that despite having the ugliest feet in the world, I don’t currently count ‘Olympic hope’ among my occupations, but rather, am a 30-something mum, with a degree in sociology, a certificate in project management and one or two other weaknesses. Who cares about my (running) achievements or failures – or to the point, can tell one from another, apart from me? And I can always load my expectations and unrealised dreams on the cute shoulders of the next generation. While also reminding her – if something ain’t working for you, it really is ok to leave. (Except the vegetables.) But the face says she might not be doing that any time soon.

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Playas Del Sur where DD gets covered in pink and comes third.

Sharing the page with Inés Melchor, DD with the Miraflores Runners in yesterday's Libero.

Sharing the page with Inés Melchor, DD with the Miraflores Runners in yesterday’s Libero.

La ciudad blanca - or five white kilometres organised by the local borough of Miraflores.

La ciudad blanca – or five white kilometres organised by the local borough of Miraflores.

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On Opening an Oyster

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Good old fashioned magazines.

It was a mother’s day in England on Sunday, and I had the rare luxury of getting hold of some good old printed Finnish women’s mags. They are a fresh breeze from a world that is both so familiar and distant to me, having lived in (only slightly) warmer temperatures for the past twelve years.

In addition to the pleasure of reading in my native language, I often like the worldview they represent. In comparison to their global sisters, it feels to me that they are not as obsessed with success – or that success is defined in broader terms than making it to the FHM’s sexiest women in the world list. They cover fewer people who are famous for being celebrities. Anything from overcoming an addiction to running a business to skiing to the North Pole will be ok. I was reading about Mira Karppinen, skiing 2500km across Norway this winter. No novice to the remotest areas of the world, she’s has cycled in Patagonia in the Southern tip of Argentina and spent four years on Svalbard islands (the archipelago between Norway and the North Pole that I’ve heard mentioned on a Geography class). On this solitary trip (which she blogs about here), she takes comfort in the Internet brought knowledge that there will be one other person completing the same challenge round about the same time. (For a Finn, any more would be a crowd.) Kodin Kuvalehti quotes Mira:

“Sometimes there’s a voice inside me trying to say, hello, you’re in your thirties. You need to have children and a permanent job. Then I ask the voice, says who? … I don’t let the fear take over. I want to push my limits and head towards the frightening… At least I’m trying to realise my dreams. Not everyone does.”

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We’d like more huskies in magazine covers.

I wonder if this romanticisation of both physical and spiritual journeys, is a very Western pastime. Finance assistants running away with the circus, and other ways of self-actualisation, may not be what the vast majority of the world’s population have in their radar. As Dear Boyfriend reminds me, perhaps self-actualisation is used as an alibi for poor life planning and peripatetic careers. We are on the peak of the needs hierarchy, which in fact looks more like an hour glass than a triangle anyway. With the love and family bit in the middle having shrunk, all the sand is racing to fill either the physical needs or the need for self-actualisation at each extreme.

Yet, like hungry stomachs, it seems that even the need for self-fulfilment needs to be satisfied again and again, and weighed up against other choices. Even the circus “isn’t always as exciting as tumbling across elephants in feather headdresses, juggling on a unicycle or swinging across the sky on a mile-high trapeze. Some performers say they have made tough lifestyle choices: leaving a marriage, forgoing health insurance despite high risk of major injury and living out of tiny trailers in venue parking lots.”

With my fruitless efforts of finding a job in Peru, I’m a bit fed up with Pinterest and Instagram feeding beautiful landscape pictures with inspirational quotes (you know who you are); I don’t want to watch anymore TED talks; who is Arianna Huffington; and puh-lease spare me this mindfulness business. I feel like a bit of a twit most times I face an average middle class Peruvian who’s devoted their life to boring work to offer their kids education and their parents a health insurance, things I so lightly traded for stamps in the passport.

It’s a bit like arriving on Mars and just as you are about to write an epic FB status that would merit its own hash-tag for at least a week, you are met by an astonished Martian who instead of congratulating you, repeats you paid how many billions to get here? Welcome to IRL. And then you realise that, yes, the local education provision does kind of sucks. And that Martians have ‘first world problems’ but without the parody. If that wasn’t enough, the nagging voice travels across the space from home at the speed of sound: “so we’re not that happy ever after, after all?” The Finnish version of the ‘world is your Oyster’ saying is ‘it doesn’t pay to go further than the sea to fish’.

But on the other hand, if you survive an illness or an accident, for some time at least, you will want to go further and think about the moment you have and not so much ‘the after’. And this is why I continue to draw inspiration from the non-famous women pushing the limits. I realise that I’m lucky to have many friends doing just that. My friend Anne, a mother of a four-year-old who runs a health food business in the wee hours after finishing with her ‘real job’. Or Liisa who secretly from her employer completed an MBA while taking care of a toddler. Or Lotta, a mother of four who, in her late forties, the last time I checked, was learning freestyle BMX. It is these every day trapeze artists I want to read about. I suppose I could finish this, which was not about oysters at all, with a bit of an ode to the Finnish woman with the cojones – who I could say is my ideal man. I love their grit, adventurousness, physical and mental stamina and the Sahara dry sense of humour. It is a mystery to me, how in the collective black hole of pessimism and xenophobia that Finland represents to me, there are so many of these Northern Stars, glimmering  hope on the sometimes misguided path of this aspiring ultramarathoner far from home.

“Inside all of us is Hope.

Inside all of us is Fear.

Inside all of us is Adventure.

Inside all of us is… A Wild Thing.”

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‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak

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Problems and possibilities

In February, the always reliable BBC reported that training very hard is as bad as no exercise at all. Timed well to relieve the guilt of possibly already broken new year’s resolutions, the study of 1000 people found that strenuous joggers were more likely to die sooner than couch potatoes. Later it turned out there were 36 people in the self defined category of ‘strenuous joggers’ and two of them died (of unknown reasons), but the story was out, and now only strenuous joggers and sociologists were interested in the truth.

So when my running buddies joke that I run nine days a week, it’s not far off the truth. Never mind what BBC would make of that, I don’t know how many casualties there might be if I DIDN’T run. The more intensive training plan the coach Rolando has devised to prepare us for the Lima 42k in May, has not just kept this sociologist out of mischief but also reasonably balanced.  This is code for not going completely berserk. Because, man, do I have reasons to start buffering:

  • The school holiday in Peru is longer than an average Kardashian marriage and about as long as the Falklands War, which precipitates all kinds of problems in itself.
  • Our tourist visas expired, of course we had made zero progress in obtaining residency, and thanks to the mental damage caused by David Cameron I couldn’t bear the thought of staying in any country illegally. Having read about foreigners being denied re-entry or, worse, being kidnapped by bandits, our border hopping trip to Ecuador was ok. DD got fined for overstaying her visa, though. Given that the stamps in our passports had exactly the same dates, and that you just don’t argue with border officials, my only conclusion is that time must literally fly faster when you’re small (except on school holidays), a bit like, you know, dog years. It was the only time in my life I was happy that I don’t own a Bichon Frisé.
  • There comes a point when a career break becomes unemployment. We can argue about the exact coordinates, my guess is definitely by the time the bank balance drops below £49. My sympathies go to anyone trying to find a job in a foreign country that requires that you’ve gone to primary school (and possibly other places…) with every juan pablo worth knowing. Peace be with you.
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Feeding iguanas in Guayaquil, Ecuador

So against these and other adversities, I’m happy to share some running success. My first race since the Amazon Race Forest, was slightly less respectable 10k dirt track by the beach on a hot Sunday that the Real Club organisers preposterously called the ‘marathon’. (Real Club is a leisure club…) Had it been a marathon, I’d be in the world records, which I’m not, but nevertheless took my first ever podium position in an organised race. I also got 500 soles (and so doubled my wealth) for coming second! This was great given I’d just spent 200 soles to sign up to run 21k in the North Face Endurance Challenge on 28th February. I can’t help feeling that my achievement had something to do with the state of women’s participation in amateur sports in this country.  The very elite aside, the people from Huancayo aside, I think the gap between men and women’s level in such events is not really justifiable. But if that means I can run through the cracks and to the podium, what are ideals for if not for discussion?

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She’s not here to discuss ideals.

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Miraflores Runners took home four medals in three categories.

No such cracks at the NFC event though. We’re talking about one of the main ultra and mountain races (including a 10k and 21k) events in Peru taking place in the serros of Asia, about 100km south from Lima. The landscape may feel homely if you’re e.g. a Taliban, but for me the sight of endless dry rocks, sand and scree with a few pitiful cactuses, made a too strong metaphor for the solitude I often feel in this country. If it was a jigsaw, it would be one of those fucked up ones with 5000 pieces and just two colours: blue and brown. I filled my bag with more water, snacks, vaseline and sun screen than what might have been necessary.

The NFC also supposedly had cut-off points, meaning anyone taking longer than a set time to pass an aid-station would be automatically disqualified. I didn’t see this being enforced by any degree (as with most of civil law in Peru), any more than I saw anyone getting penalised for throwing rubbish on the route, another commendable principle, I think.

What was enforced, and controversially so, was the two hour penalty to the originally claimed male winners of the 80k, Remigio Huamán and Emerson Trujillo. According to the race organiser, the elite runners had “involuntarily shortcut”. This is a very Peruvian way of assuming responsibility, be it bad sign posting or bad public policy. (“!No es mi culpa!”, as I’ve heard several times from our back garden during this – did I already say ‘long’? – school holiday.)

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Still the winner, Remigio Huamán. Still alive, me. (right to left, ahem)

Apparently somewhere at 70k, the two leaders (“involuntarily”) missed a turn and so cut 3 km of the official route. Of course the opprobrium of Peruvian runners and fans, was not the least alleviated by the gold or, to be exact, North Face gift vouchers – which makes it worse – being now handed over to a gringo, Michael Wardian (US). “The route wasn’t well sign posted,” people protest on Facebook. Even worse, some of the poor course marshals whose job it was to keep the runners on the route, had involuntarily fallen asleep when the first runners passed them at the crack of dawn! (They’d been up since 2am and it was only the most hailed ultra marathon event of the year.) Those who hadn’t, gave wrong, even contradicting directions, which ANYONE who has ever asked for directions to ANYWHERE in Peru will find extremely shocking…

But back to the more interesting topic, that is me, at least to me. Although proper trail shoes and protective gloves wouldn’t necessarily go to waste on a route like this, I enjoyed every second of the race, and was kept going by some atavistic survival instinct. When many seemed beaten by the mountains, I was able to pick up pace and run the last four kilometres well below 5min/km ending up as the 16th woman. More importantly, this race marked a special anniversary. One year ago, one momen20150228_093432t I had been filling my time sheet or doing whatever important shit consultants do on a Friday, and preparing to go for drinks with the colleagues. The next, I was sitting in front of someone with a lot of letters in front of their name calling an operating theatre about an urgent case of a female patient, who I figured, had some connection with me.

A lot has passed since the spine operation, including miles I thought I’d never be able to run. The organisation of these events hasn’t put me off the idea of doing an ultra marathon either. It’s Peru. “Problem and possibility”, as Jorge Basadre, the nation’s historian put it nicely. By the time I’ll be passing them, no course marshals will be asleep anymore – or they’ll be waking up to my victory scream, should I ever, ever, ever in my life make it past 70 km. And I promise, they don’t want that to happen.

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iFitness photographer exposes the ‘I enjoyed every second’ lie.

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Amazing Race

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Picture by María Viloria Ortín published on ARF Facebook page.

Chullachaqui is a legendary devil of the Amazonian jungle. He has the ability to take the physical appearance of a family member or loved one of his victim, to lure you deep into the rainforest where he then leaves you, lost forever.

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Picture by Carina Ramos. On ARF Facebook page.

My loving boyfriend told me this at the starting line of the Amazon Race Forest half marathon that took place last Sunday in the village of San Roque de Cumbaza in San Martin, Peru. I had looked forward to the race so much, that if on my laptop you type ‘Amazon’ in the google bar, the retail company will appear only on the page three of the search results. We had signed up for 21 kilometres in the blazing sun, but there were also people doing the full marathon distance, and a shorter 10k trail run. I looked around and saw mostly lean bodies doing warm ups and wearing the latest running gear that a few months ago I didn’t even know existed. This was definitely no McDonald’s charity run.

If one were to miss the orange signposts, and wasn’t wearing the event sponsor Suunto’s GPS watches (which, by the way, is a Finnish brand. Just saying.), the way to recognise Chullachaqui is, apparently, by looking at his feet. ‘Chulla’ means dissimilar and ‘chaqui’ means foot. If you notice that your loved one has a foot peculiarly bigger than the other, then probably you are being tricked by the devil.

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I imagined Chullachaqui to look similar to Gollum.

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An artist’s impression of Chullachaqui at http://www.amaruspirit.org

In hindsight, my boyfriend might have chosen to share another legend after what became three hours of him limbing in the forest with blue toe nails and a twisted swollen ankle. But according to the race directors, and to their credit, no-one went AWOL. Even if the most experienced trail runners among us were surprised by the difficulty of the route.

To give an idea, the winner of the men, Stalin Carrasco, ‘el caballero de trail’, finished the route in two hours. On a normal road race the winner’s time would be around half of that. Maria Delgado Salmon who came third  in women’s marathon distance, was heard saying that the previous eight hours it took her to finish the course were tougher than the famous 100km desert crossing in Paracas on the south coast of Peru.

But at 7am, tropical butterflies in my stomach, I knew nothing of this. If you really need any further indicators of my naivety, then what better than the fact that I decided to have a french pedicure at the Lima airport while waiting for our departure to the city of Tarapoto, the ‘city of palms’. (Some ultra runners have their toe nails removed, because the acid-based procedure is a less painful one than losing them on the track) Also, blame my map reading (I can read a map, but only in 2D!), I didn’t realise how relatively little running there would be along the course! For the rest of the time I was doing what I usually tell my dear daughter off for: climbing, jumping, crawling, sliding down, falling head first, swearing,  and heaving myself up gripping a low branch or a fellow runner’s hand, as we crossed mountains and rivers, and no, Motown was not playing in my head. There were four points with local people offering water and I couldn’t tell from their expressions whether our little adventure left them anything but bemused. The oncoming traffic consisted of a man with a horse, and a woman carrying a baby in a sling wrapped around her body. I had no idea where they came from, or where they were going, but mostly HOW on earth they’d managed to get there.

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The route. I shall never overlook elevation diagrams again. Source: Amazon Race Forest.

I’m sure waking up before 5 am to train with Miraflores Runners and practicing power yoga almost daily in the past months paid off, however. Weekly repeated hill runs and interval training meant that while my calves were throbbing (and three days later still are), my heart was happy, and not just literally. Speeding downhill I felt transcended back into the little girl running in my childhood’s Finnish forests (often to an outdoors toilet) in the middle of the summer. Ecstatically overtaking many military-fit looking men after ten kilometres of uphill, I remembered that for a considerable time of my youth I had entertained the idea of becoming the first black female in the Finnish army (I wonder if that would have been a better choice than the hours of leadership skill workshops at a management consultancy. Not least because I’d soon be retiring.) At one point, the slight young Peruvian woman in front of me, who probably didn’t weigh more than 50kg and didn’t exactly fit the description, said she felt like Rambo. This is why I guess they say running is like a drug. We were on the same trip.

The beauty of the place was (Ujjayi) breath taking. I’d bathed in insect repellent, which knocked out the wildlife within a five mile radius, but I still saw butterflies as big as birds and birds as small as butterflies. (Luckily, I missed the big eggs that my boyfriend saw.) After the first hour, I ditched my headphones as the pounding of David Guetta started to reach levels of irreverence, just like the plastic pollution left on the path by some of the runners*. Those things belonged to the city; here I wanted to be able to hear the sounds of the nature, which I’d usually pay an entrance for, and leave through a gift shop.

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Until recently, the Chirikyaku population in San Roque mainly cultivated cocaine. This has been replaced by coco beans. Picture by María Viloria Ortín published on ARF Facebook page.

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*I don’t know how much extra effort it would have been for the runners to pick up their own rubbish.The route was cleaned by locals afterwards. Picture by María Viloria Ortín published on ARF Facebook page.

The sight of the finish line took me by surprise too. I’d long stopped relying on my Garmin watch. Not because the satellites weren’t working, but because distance became a completely useless indicator. One kilometre could mean anything between five or twenty minutes depending on what the path in front turned out to be. (Did I just come up with a running and life metaphor for Pinterest? No? Perhaps if I paste it in a big font over some instagrammed abs?)

It took me 3 hours 45 minutes. I feel this was a decent achievement but in trail running the position (which are yet to be published by the ARF organising team) matters more than the finishing time. Nearly two hours after I’d taken advantage of the onsite ‘facilities’ and catering – bathed in the river Rio Cumbaza and sucked my teeth in five oranges – people were still reaching the finish line. (Of course some had run the full marathon.)

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Rio Cumbaza. Needless to say, the sight of the river beat reaching the best located hydration point in a city race. Picture by Maria Viloria Ortin published on ARF Facebook page.

For visitors, the Amazon Race Forest is nothing less than bucket list material. For the locals – who rightly took home much of the bling – I hope well organised events like this bring more benefits than the Olympics did for London. I don’t have such data, but I believe this is the case. For one, runners eat a lot (I have a new  Peruvian love affair: ‘juane con cecina’ which is rolled plantain with marinated bacon-like cured pork. Try. It.). They go to bed earlier than the average eight-year-old, and don’t leave beer cans around. Bar some portaloos, they don’t need additional infrastructure – the route has probably been chosen for its inaccessibility. Their adrenaline addiction feeds on the natural environment, so possibly their presence increases the awareness of the region’s fight against the expansion of gas and oil companies in the Amazon.

Perhaps that’s why Chullachaqui didn’t appear. Believed to be a member of ancient species that lived in the jungle long before humans, he started his mischief to take revenge on people who had little respect for the forest or those that lived there first. Which naturally earned him the devil status. With the gas and oil companies, the indigenous people seem to find themselves in the same predicament.

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My half way victory smile. Pinched from the ARF Facebook page.

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Consultancy In ma-La-La Land

I’m really happy that Malala has won the peace prize, even if I had my money on Vladmir. Hey, when I was seventeen, all I could worry about was looking fat.  Gendered problems all the same, but on the scale of feminism, more Emma Watson than Malala.

But I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where we shoot ourselves in the head so  the Taliban don’t need to; where both girls and boys go to school, eat organic, have lovely teeth and get good enough marks to put Finland on top of the PISA education league tables, year on year.  So as any mother would do, I’ve sold our things and moved to a country that has the poorest education out of all OECD countries, just behind Azerbaijan.

So is it a surprise that my first consultancy request is to run a mini workshop on the Finnish educational system. The request comes from Iquitos, Loreto, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest and one that you can reach only by air or boat.  I know I was the one pretending to be busy whenever there was a risk of being sent on a consultancy somewhere you couldn’t access by the Northern Line, but that doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate to drop everything you’re doing and go WICKED WICKED JUNGLE IS MASSIVE.  (Watching Ali G with your 6-year-old is. Unless it’s done to maintain your cultural links to the Commonwealth.)

In my response email, I caveated my experience like no-one in possession of a Y-chromosome ever would, and suggested an agenda for the workshop. They were thrilled. I was exactly what they were looking for in this region that suffers from the poorest quality education in the country. I was the one to change this and train 400 teachers in 100 hours over two months.

Hold on.

Either Mr Rainforest is in lala land or something in my management consultancy CV gave the impression that compressing the five year Finnish teacher training into a two month course in the middle of the rain forest was my special competency. Was it the bit about operationalising payment by results to maximise value for money and optimal yet measurable and demonstrable outcomes in an effective, efficient and transparent manner while engaging and empowering project stakeholders, at the baseline and going forward? Need to re-word that. Again.

Deploying the same rigorous due diligence methods known to bluechip consulting outfits, DP then googled the prospective client, which hadn’t occurred to me yet.  It revealed that he had been on trial for paying for sex with an underaged girl. I started rewriting the agenda. Item 1: No sexual abusing of the pupils, paid or otherwise. Never. Item 2: the pillar of success of the Finnish educational system – all teachers are university educated with a post-graduate degree. Lunch.

But I decided to give it a benefit of a doubt – we’re after all in Peru, where it’s easier to buy the justice system than sugar free yogurt. Let’s be professional about it i.e. I need the money; and when before have I been promised “a team of psychologists to help because the atmosphere in Loreto is special,” despite the fact that in my experience the atmosphere is always a bit special from the moment management consultants arrive.

I email Mr Rainforest – so perhaps you are not looking for 100 hours introduction to the educational policy in Northern Europe, but a course in pedagogy. Which I’m not qualified to do, so best we meet or have a phone call to clarify the project objectives. In the meantime, if you could kindly tell me about the project…such as who it is funded and managed by?

To this email I didn’t get a response – and DP told me to forget it. But nearly a week later:

“It probably wasn’t a good idea to tell you about the reality of the educational level in Iquitos. But this is the truth and we want to change this little by little. We want to be taught to apply the Finnish educational system in our class rooms. Do not worry, we will find a specialist who is willing to do this. I profusely apologise for bothering you.”

Today I woke up convinced that I’d been in Peru a month longer than I actually have. I don’t think even a hundred hour workshop could have prepared me for all this insanity. To all my Facebook friends who are sick of seeing me wearing lycra at sunrise: running is no longer a hobby, it’s a lifeline. Because it really says something, if the sanest, most normal people I’ve met here are the ones who get up at 4am on a Saturday to drive 50km out of town to then run 7.5km uphill. And then for the fun of it, run it up all again. Booyaka booyaka.

If anyone is interested in an education consultancy, all expenses covered, a team of psychologists included and good prospects for a Nobel prize, send your CV and cover letter to the author.

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As the picture demonstrates, the hot topics here right now include online bullying at schools, hence commissioning a Finnish education consultant. Picture from DS Lands.

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Not So ‘Lone Runner’ in Lima

Whatever my idea of a sabbatical was, it wasn’t getting up at 5.10 am on most days. Now that I’m used it, I consider sleeping ’til 6am on a Sunday a lie in. This has nothing to do with DD starting school, as it has with the pre-mid life crisis of once the runner-up of the fifth grade school trail running championship suddenly bestowed more spare than there are Youtube videos to watch. So she becomes completely outdoorsy.

I’m no speedy gonzales, but I’ve always loved running – even before I spent an hour a day reading the Runner’s Magazine. But me and trail running hit the rocky road when I became a single mother/management consultant. For the first couple of years especially, my nose would be running more often than my feet. I’d be reaching my maximum heart rate at the top of the escalators at King’s Cross.

As often happens with the taken-for-granted things in life, I realised how integral running was to my identity in a hospital bed. High as a kite from morphine the day after my spine surgery, I read ‘It’s Not About the Bike’ by Lance Armstrong, and googled swimming instructors in London.  As if reading my thoughts, my neurologist (what, not everyone has their personal neurologist?) said the words that have followed me to South America: “You will be running soon again.”

And so I am – but in Lima rather than London.  I’ve joined a local sports aficionado group Miraflores Runners led by a Peruvian elite distant runner. Mr Ricapa likes taking photos and making people get up at 5am. There are now so many unflattering #nomakeup shots of me on Facebook that cancer charities would probably return donations on seeing my account removed.

In the past month I’ve taken part in three of Lima’s big races. Toyota 21k, Maraton RPP and New Balance 15k. If you’ve clocked most of your miles in Europe, the first thing to note is the absence of fund raising, but you can take comfort in your nice new t-shirt in which you’ll be raising the awareness of car manufacturers/fast food chains. Someone’s got to burn the calories. The second thing to note is that the Maraton RPP is not a marathon. It’s a 21k. But, hey fifty percent margin of error- let’s not be so pedantic.

The third thing is the gender balance. As you walk to the race start area, you are greeted by (presumably) Argentinian models. You can’t miss them, because they are tall and blonde and their boobies that have more gel cushioning than my trainers, are at the eye level of the average height Peruvian man. Qualities that would make them excellent pacers, but despite the misleading clothing, they are not there to run. They have more important things to do. Like to be blonde.

So that’s the women done…

I’ve observed about 1 to 4 female-male ratio at the events. It’s great if your bowel is telling you that carb-loading before a race (you learnt about that in Runner’s World) is not for people who tend to load on carbs anyway. Welcome to your first public event ever where there are no 5-mile queues for the ladies’! On the other hand, this means Lima’s trees get watered extra well (before eventually dying of ammoniac). But most importantly, mind the machismo on the track!  Some say that men are worse at pacing themselves. My guess is that they have been to South America. In which case they, like me, may have noticed the first aid treat someone at the 1km point.

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Running away from her problems as usual. At RPP.

The New Balance 15k is a nice fairly flat race and my favourite of the three: you can even win a trip to the Disney 21k,  if you are wearing a new pair of NB trainers. AND you make your best friend happy when they will be carrying your chip as you’re recovering from a knee injury for breaking the runner’s rule #1: ‘do not try anything new the day of the race’.

So, Lima and its races. Are they worth it? I wouldn’t be booking flights… unless you want to tell your Facebook friends you finished a ‘marathon‘ in an hour, or you’re a woman and have a nervous gut like me.  But if you happen to be in Lima and not that busy on a Sunday morning – as they say here: ‘alas y buen viento!’ (wings and good wind) You may see a race regular English bulldog El Biuf on skateboard enjoying just that.

Maraton RPP
Source: Maraton RPP Facebook

But it seems that as with everything else, the most amazing things about Peru are found far outside the capital. We are currently booking flights to Tarapoto for the Amazon 21k Race in November. Trail run in the jungle – now that’s what I call a sabbatical.

IMG_20140929_182212ASICS, Brooks, Nike, if you’re reading this, I will review your latest runners in exchange for a free sample. Who cares I have 100,500 fewer followers than El Biuf? I can write better than the bitch.
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Tuesday is a Point of View

Now that DD has finally started in a school in Lima (DUN-DUN-DUUUN!!!), I can close the phase of the home educator with the most grateful amen ever uttered on this continent. Although it had only been a week since the kids in London were back to school, my anxiety  (and jealousy) was multiplied by the possibility of our ‘summer holiday’ extending until the next term… or beyond. That in addition to entertaining and trying to keep calm and blah blah blah, I’d have to start pay serious attention to some curriculum – don’t even know of which country – so she’d not fall behind. In the four weeks we’d done the Museo de Ciencia y Tecnología (the day I got robbed); the mini city for kids Divercity, ChocoMuseo; climbed Peru’s biggest indoor climbing wall (three times); gone surfing, cycling and visited most playgrounds with little to do or see, apart from around twenty five homeless cats, half of which appeared to be pregnant. We’d even been to the exhibition of contemporary chair design, as you do. We’d done it all apart from paragliding.

Lima is not necessarily a great city for kids. They don’t do amazing or even pretty basic attractions, like libraries. They seem to value primitive anthropological concepts such as friends and family and spending time together.

We obviously don’t. Thanks to all the years spent in nursery and school, DD seemed to have got this idea that at 8 am she and I would sit on the carpet, and I’d call the register and reveal a white board with a list of twenty-seven fun and developmental structured activities planned for our day together. When spotting her mum’s failure to plan was heading towards planning to fail she started injecting our day with some direction:

What are we doing today? An art gallery? What’s a gallery? I don’t want to go to a gallery. Is there a cafe there? How long are we going to be in the gallery? Can we go to the cafe after? Can I have what I choose? What if they don’t have what I want? What are we doing after the cafe? After we’ve eaten? Draw a picture? A picture of what? And what are we doing after that? What are we having for lunch? What are we doing after lunch? What are YOU going to do after lunch? … and after you’ve been to the loo? Can I watch Frozen? What are we doing now? And if it rains?

IT NEVER RAINS IN LIMA!

Yeah, but what are we doing today, if it rains?

I tried to think what my home schooling friend in London would have done. She organised the ‘Forest Club’ in a true Finnish ‘we-fought-the-Russians’ spirit in Hampstead Heath. There are no forests in Lima, but there are the rocky beaches. I’m sure my friend would have said something like: “Let’s go down on the beach and paint!”

We sat together, back to back, with our paints and brushes. I mixed greys and blues. It’s Lima, it’s the winter. It’s always overcast, it’s always grey, polluted and it never rains. School hunt sucks and I need a job. She was reaching for the purple, pink, yellow and orange with her paint brush. I was going to remind her the point of this planned curricular exercise was to observe and reflect on our environment – not paint rainbows or hearts – but thought better of it. She was engaging in an activity, at least, and wasn’t asking what we were going to do next –

DONE!

(Now, dear readers, here comes my Buzzfeed link bait moment: “I always knew me and my 6-year-old saw things differently, but then I saw this and OMG THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED!”)

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Photograph from GuiaGPS

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‘Tuesday’. My interpretation.

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‘Tuesday’. Her interpretation.

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Photo from Nirvanadmc.com.

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Help

Help

“Under segregation, black women were so rigidly excluded from good jobs that 60% of those who were employed in 1940 worked as maids.” The Economist, 30/08/14. Picture fromthe Help (2011)

 Wednesdays are special days. On Wednesday afternoons I can never find the phone charger, a bottle opener, and it took three weeks and a CSI unit before I found the tampons. This is because Wednesdays mornings Doña Lucha comes to clean our home. I can’t begin to tell you how often the single mother management consultant version of me in London, was dreaming of a doña lucha.

It is therefore very fitting that now that I’m doing nothing, I have a doña lucha here to help me allocate my precious time better. I’m therefore living like most women over the poverty line live in Peru. Except that most would have a live-in maid and a nanny plus additional garnish of your choice (gardener/chef/driver etc). We have really gone for the diet option. On the other hand, the one kind of help that’s been my lifeline in the past six years, a babysitter, is a completely foreign concept in Peru. I’ve found myself explaining over and over again that I don’t want someone wearing an apron and plaits, who calls me a señora and who sleeps in our bike shed. Oh, you mean a ‘cama afuera nana’ (live-out nanny)? No-one seem to understand the idea of a cash-strapped student who’s happy to sit on your couch for five hours doing course work/check Facebook/watch bad TV while your precious offspring sleeps/does graffiti/watches bad TV. This, I think, is because generally cash-strapped people don’t study in Peru. And generally those who study don’t do minimum wage jobs.

The Economist had an article on domestic servants yesterday: “In 1935, six out of ten urban white families above the poverty line in the South had a full-time domestic servant, compared with under 20% in the North. Now hardly anyone does. People who want help with the housework typically hire cleaners (also called maids) for a few hours a week, not as live-in flunkeys with whom they pretend to have a warm relationship”

Welcome to Peru in 2014, bringing you ceviche, Macchu Picchu, llamas and an environment where you can still pretend to have a warm relationship with your brown live-in flunkey! If your vision is not clouded by Lima’s wintery fog, it is clear as day that this warm relationship is rooted in slavery and colonialism. This spill over effects are everywhere: the boys pushing your shopping trolley all the way to your front door. It’s not the same as home delivery as you’re not saving any time. It’s a power display. That or a management consultant doing the field work part of a leadership workshop.

20140822_180322“Keep up, boy. The turkey is defrosting”

The whole economy seems to be based on servitude. Innovation management consultants – don’t even bother. There is no need to come up with products that would help me be more efficient in my daily tasks because someone spending their whole day doing a job for me inefficiently is cheap as chips. And makes me the high man on the totem pole. People who work as domestics often can’t have a family themselves and if they do, who do we think serve them and other low wage people? Anything to do with the fact that at least 6% of children in Peru work in domestic services.

If wages were more equal this would obviously diminish. (And not coming last in OECD education rankings might help). If this blog was by a clever economist right now there’d be a chart that shows that income inequality correlates with domestic servitude. I’m no longer a management consultant so I don’t need to pretend I’m smart.

But I can still offer my opinion. Peruvians, you’re big boys and girls now – emerging economy… OECD… All really exciting, can-barely-keep-your-pants-on stuff, but keep it in your privacy and you don’t need, ahem, a hand from the help. Expat Americans: that segregation in the U.S was kind of abolished like, sixty years ago, does not like give you a reason to boss brown people in South America. Hipster backpackers: why is it cool and eco and sustainable to pay a local ten times less than you’d pay in Shoreditch? And the rest, Europeans, ex management consultants and especially bloggers who’ve assumed a moral higher ground because you’d never use domestic slavery… Well, forget it. This blog is not about sock factories in Bangladesh, anyway.

We found a babysitter. She studies bar tending and mixes amazing pisco sours. According to DD anyway. We tip generously.

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Our Crêpe Shaped World (Moving from London to Lima)

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Note from the editor (that’s me): From now on this blog uses Mumsnet style abbreviations to refer to my dear daughter (‘DD’) and dear partner (‘DP’) to protect them and their current and future careers against my big online mouth. This is a  necessary measure taken as a response to a surging popularity among the two family members and five or so spammers who occasionally visit this site.

“Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”

Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne

For me ‘another way’ meant dumping our clutter at a Cancer Research shop and cramming the rest into nine bags and a box for the bicycle. I wasn’t so much worried about moving to Peru as such, as I was about having only one way tickets; having different family names in our passports; and no document whatsoever that would show her completely absent biological father was in agreement with our emigration. However, after the 20 hour flight, my fears of long questioning evaporated as soon as the officials gestured“adelante” through a dedicated fast-track for families with young children. Being 6 years old at the Lima airport is a bit like being an EU citizen at Gatwick.

One of the first things I’ve realised, is the difference between ‘immigrants’ and ‘expats’. Where DP was an immigrant in the UK; me and my daughter are expats in Lima. He would still be an immigrant if he took his PhD to an investment bank. I’m still an expat even if I’m sipping down DP’s salary at Starbucks on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s the difference between ‘you are a cleaner’ versus ‘you have a cleaner’ (wohoo, I have a cleaner!). It’s the difference between making pancakes (me) or crêpes (him). Yet, apart from my good taste for chocolate, my consumerism, I don’t know what it is I’m contributing to the Peruvian economy. I’m trying to see if any of the local election banners promise “serious measures to tackle expatriation”.

So while I’m waiting for an expat task force crackdown at Starbucks, the Mission One for our new little family is to find a school for DD. Education is insanely expensive in Peru – by expat standards, let alone for the average Peruvian. In the event capitalism has worked out for the undeserving (single mothers? black people? indigenous people? atheists?), the other school admission requirements – which include a parental psychiatric test; references from two existing school parents; a family photograph that “includes the entire family” (particularly difficult since our only family dog is a mongrel) – will guard the country’s elite from mixing with mortals. Yet, I dare argue, access to a private swimming pool and personal psychologist aside, basic levels of literacy and numeracy are fairly mediocre compared to what one gets for the price of a school meal in London.

Being the economist that he is, DP thinks human capital investment should be treated as any physical asset. Will $10,000 enrolment fee + 10* $1,000/monthly fee over ten years plus inflation and family fun day entrance fee supplemented with home tuition and ballet classes etc give a better return than handing a publicly educated 19-year-old $100,000 to invest however she wants to? (I am happy to volunteer in the control group if anyone is interested in administering a study and doesn’t mind a participant who falls outside the age criteria by a couple of years.)

 I have to remind myself that we didn’t move to Peru for the quality of its British education or its corporate prospects for me. We  moved because there’s more to life than exam results and career, and the next time I’m bothered by such deep thoughts, I don’t want to be in hospital bed recovering from a spine surgery.

So I’m writing this sitting on the beach watching DD on the surf board. Every time she disappears into the waves my heart nearly stops and I nearly drop my new Mac which makes my heart stop again. I refuse to think whether the instructor is qualified, CRB checked, health and safety trained or what he knows about pedagogy. I just concentrate on waving at DD as she approaches the shore, standing on the board on her own for the first time.

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Letting It Go And Getting the Timing Right

In the past weeks apart from learning to lip synch to Let It Go (because apparently my voice is annoying), just as important as not holding back is knowing exactly when.
For example, in case you have forgotten, learning to ride a bike without stabilisers is hard work. It’s especially hard if when it comes to the practice of calm mindfulness, your mum is the opposite of a yogi, because she’s yet to get eight weeks off from work to do yoga and eat croissants (after literally – not metaphorically – losing some back bone). And if your dad was around, he would possibly have more patience but only after having exchanged the bike for cannabis.
So my daughter’s inability to ride a bike without training wheels was just a metaphor for the guilt I felt about our incomplete family. Yet her stabilisers hardly touched the ground so I knew she could do it, but she was as confident as the Bank of England. I’d hold and run behind her and then let go without warning. I thought this was commonly practiced pedagogy. “Are you holding? Are you holding?” “Yes! Keep pedalling!” I’d lie. But rather than cycling to the sun set she’d get completely hysterical and probably lost all trust in me for the next ten years.
Then one of these days, I didn’t let go. “Are you holding? ARE YOU HOLDING?” “No! You’re doing it yourself!” I lied. “SERIOUSLY? AM I GOING ON MY OWN? I’M PEDALLING ON MY OWN!” she cheered and the next time she demanded I step aside and just watch as she went by: “I’M THE CYCLING CHAMPIOOOOON!”
The thing about kids is that I suppose one can always plunge them into the water. But if they don’t sink they’ll get back to the surface more bitter than when they went down. I hope I can remember our cycling experience through her childhood and teenage years: Let her go in spirit and think she’s doing it herself.

This is the lesson number two: parenting is not a job for the credit hungry – they’ll never give you that and that’s ok, it shouldn’t be. But maybe when she has her own kids, I will tell her, guess what, I was holding you that whole time. That’s why you didn’t fall.

 

bikeCold never bothered her anyway.

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