Shit I Learned About Peruvian Elections

About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to be in the county’s capital city for the recent elections. They weren’t for the big job, the president, but for all of the governors and regional representatives around the country. Without getting into the nitty gritty, there were a few very interesting things I learned while being in the country during this period.

1. Everybody seems to get involved.

And by everybody, I mean mostly the elderly representatives of the country. They are out, they have their signs, they are protesting until they are hoarse. Many of them have their houses painted with political propaganda to show their support for their candidates. Candidates also paint any free standing structure they can get their paintbrushes on including cliff faces, gutters, bridges, you name it. The thing is, these people remember a time when things were much worse than they are now, so they are heavily on it with protests and campaigns.

2. To vote you have to be in the jurisdiction of where you vote.

Unlike with other countries, if you’re registered in Cusco and currently in Lima for work, you cannot vote. To vote, you have to be in the actual region where you are registered and go into a specific office that they allocate you for voting. That means on voting weekend, transport and booking buses is a nightmare because if you don’t vote, you get fined. It is compulsory.

3. There are political parties, and then there are political parties.

You will see many symbols down the road for different political parties that people are representing in Peru, such as the Maicitos, Somos Peru etc. but of more interest to me as a foreignor were the actual parties. In the lead up to elections in an attempt to convince you of their awesomeness, candidates will have street parties. One blocked off our road in the middle of a tour to Chavin as they were handing out free chicken, rice and potatoes off the back of the truck to all who came and sat in the square to listen to the propaganda. This is mild campaigning.  Some take it to a whole new level.

Back in Huaraz, an entire hostel of very shitty people trying to sleep for trekking at five am, were enduring a party in the middle of the street attended by about twenty people with flags. Why was this a problem? Because they had a stage with a ten piece band that had been playing from 1pm until 11pm and at that stage still weren’t looking at stopping, despite a crazy English girl in the hostel hanging her head out the window and abusing them in Spanish for their lack of consideration of others.

I went briefly to investigate this fiasco while on the hunt for food and discovered that not only was there a band, but they had back up dancers in g-strings and I could see what they ate for breakfast. My sensitive western ways wanted to blindfold and cover the eyes of all small children everywhere to protect them from the sexually provocative images being promoted to urge people to vote for this clearly above board chap. But then, maybe I’m just a prude.

However you look at it, they aren’t campaigning with good values in mind, well most of them…. So what values are they campaigning for?

4. Politicians in Peru earn a shit ton of money.

I have it on authority from a local that many of these low level politicians can be earning as much as $8000 USD a month!?! Yep. That’s even more than most westerners earn and we’re talking about a country where the minimum income is a bit over $200 USD a month. So despite not knowing what you’re doing, you ain’t really got a whole lot to lose by running for parliament. As it was, in the area of central Lima alone, there were over 450 candidates running. No wonder people have no idea who to vote for and no wonder it winds up being a shit show.

5. Roadworks tend to increase when elections are called.

An insight from a friend’s Peruvian mum is thatroadworks always start happening when elections are on. For two reasons. Firstly it is the most blatantly obvious way to point out to people that something is getting done. Because hey have to deal with it every day.

Secondly, because based on a survey of the average cost of a kilometre of road around the world, the cost of road in Peru is approximately three times larger than that of road in Europe. One has to wonder where exactly that money is going, and one can also take a pretty good guesstimate that it is going straight into the coffers of those in fear of not being re-elected. You know, saving for a rainy day, when your opportunity to steal from the general population disappears….. Last minute panic.

About a month on and everything seems to have settled back to normal. The houses are still painted and there are still billboards and advertisements everywhere, but the hype has definitely settled and it is back to business as usual. Less roadworks, as they have now started to steadily cease. And backpackers everywhere rejoice because they can sleep without the noisiest of campaigns happening outside their windows.

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Shit I Am Going To Have To Relearn Going Home

Travelling through developing countries is a whole other world compared to the cushiness that you experience living in a country like Australia. For the last year or so, I have developed habits that I daresay are going to follow me around for a while. Some of the things that I am going to have to relearn when going home are as follows:

  1. Toilet paper belongs in a toilet, not a rubbish bin

It is fair to say that plumbing here is fairly shit. So shit in fact that if you throw toilet paper in the toilet and clog it up, you’re facing more shit than you could ever dream of. After my very first trip to Asia, I came wandering into the kitchen of my flat with my toilet paper and my housemate asked me what the fuck I was doing. That is a superb question really. After a year and a couple of months of this, it is going to be a hard habit to break.

2. Taking toilet paper with you everywhere you go

Because they bloody well don’t provide it anywhere. And if you’re lucky to get charged for a toilet that actually has paper you can be sure that they will give you four squares and look at you strange because you ask for more. The truth is, if you’re a woman peeing, you need more, sometimes that shit sprays. If you’re a woman on your period, four squares is also definitely not cutting it. And if you are anyone taking a shit, especially diarrhoea, a measly four squares isn’t going to do the job. As such, you find yourself resorting to the following; stealing napkins from restaurants you eat lunch at, or sitting on a hostel toilet with a cardboard roll and rolling that thing full of paper for ten minutes and then trying to sneak it out of the bathroom down your pants so that nobody sees you.

3. Toilets with actual plastic seats

Long gone will be the days of sitting your arse directly on a cold porcelain bowl or trying to squat over it because someone has kindly pissed all over it and hasn’t cleaned it up due to their lack of access to sufficient toilet paper.

4. You can drink water from the tap without having to boil or purify it.

The days of pouring yourself a glass of water from the tap ended long ago. The constant need to think about where you are going to source your water from and how you are going to purify it is a constant thought process. As one that hates constantly buying plastic bottles from shops as it is bad for the environment, planning for water is a constant thought that I will not have to worry about.

5. I do not need to keep and do surgeries on things that are broken

Everything I own is somehow broken. But when you have no money and having new things isn’t a priority, makeshift fixing is high on the list, when in ordinary life you would just throw it away. Surgeries that have been conducted on this trip include:

  • Using a hot metal spoon over fire to melt the plastic back together of my neck pillow
  • Duct taping around the strap of my backpack to try and hold it together long enough to get me home
  • Sewing holes in the crotches of my pants with patches
  • Wearing a garbage bag as a poncho because your rain jacket is totalled and no longer waterproof
  • Sticky-taping the screen of my iPad together so that the glass doesn’t fall out
  • Using stickytape to hold your shoelaces together so that they don’t fall apart
My engineering mate helping out with neck pillow surgery.

6. Using a telephone.

Broke the awful thing that had no battery life on the kitchen floor of my flat in Colombia….. yeah I don’t need another one of those. These days I function with good old fashioned paper maps and email. WhatsApp? What’s that?

7. Having keys

The current check is passport, wallet, water purifier, lip gloss. Keys don’t register in this because I haven’t had to deal with keys for a very long time. Incorporating them into the daily check is going to be interesting.

8. Sleeping in a room alone

When constantly sharing a room with up to twelve people having privacy is kind of weird. When you finally find yourself in a room alone you start freaking out because, well, where is everyone?

9. Sleeping in a double bed

That and you’re always in a single bed with a shitty mattress and pillow. I don’t know how I am going to survive fluffy doona covers and decent pillows. Life is going to be hard.

10. Not packing your bag everyday

This is a reality. Every single day, you pull shit out of the bag, you put shit back into the bag. You are on constant alert as to where everything you own is and trying to make sure that it is in a safe area where it won’t get mixed up with everyone else’s stuff. Watch out Mum, I’m spreading throughout the house.

11. Wearing nice clothes and doing hair and make up

Enough said. Some weeks, I don’t even look in a mirror. I don’t brush my hair. I never put on make up. I don’t care. All of my clothes have holes in them, are faded, and look like shit. It is going to take a bit of adjustment to get used to normal people clothes and feeling like I belong in them.

12. Not constantly saying goodbye to people

Of the most exciting things on this list, is that I will be able to keep in touch with people I meet. Saying goodbye constantly takes its toll and is something that I do on a daily basis. It makes you somewhat closed to meeting new people because you know that everyone is transient.

Well, five more weeks of this and then life changes. Until then, I better get back to brushing my teeth from the bottle and going to bed in my holey socks! Cheers!