Sunday, 8 February 2009

At home with middle class Peru

I am increasingly taken by the rapid transformation to the middle classes that is taking place here in Peru. Whilst there is poverty that continues without abate for some, a large number are being lifted into the middle classes by the value of their enterprise.

The growth of construction of buildings is amply evidenced by the increasing number of new homes and apartments. Here in Piura, Miraflores is probably the most middle class enclave but there are many contradictions and the street scene represented by this newly acquisitive group is worthy of comment.

As I step into the street near where I live I firstly notice the watchmen, 2 of whom guard a block of apartments. At first I thought the name was a bit of Spanglish but it seems is derived from guachimanes, tough afro-peruanos of Criollan extraction who guarded the property and entertainment outlets of the post-colonial elite. They are in the street day and night, and they have a cosh and whistle, the latter of which is blown at regular intervals to let you know they are around. However you don't ever see police on the local beat; instead the Watchmen are complemented by a nightly patrol of 2 motorcyclists with a blue flashing light. All this is paid for locally by the residents.

Security is the most obvious preoccupation of the owner class. Nearly all of the houses are metal gated and windows are similarly clad. In the front of some there are large and fierce dogs and I am regularly scared witless by their sudden barking. This apart, the neighbourhood is pretty quiet. Children play in the street usually throwing globos (small balloons full of water) at each other. Outside the house there is grass and plants and these are watered regularly. Self-employed gardeners cut the grass either with shears or sometimes using a machette. By the way they call it grass not cesped

You don't need to go very far to buy the essentials, fizzy drinks, cigarettes, sweets as every street has at least 2 shops, again guarded by metal grills through which you can purchase goods. Some houses also cook food like empanadas or prepare deserts to sell.

Early evenings are the best time to be out in the street. Families congregate in their front courtyards and some times outside. The sit, chat, play music and try to keep cool outside their houses which have heated considerably in the afternoon sun. Near where I live there is a small park; this is well used by families and usually there are at least 5 young couples in affectionate embrace on the seats. I am not sure if these young people are more demonstrative than their UK counterpart or they are short of places to go but it is an obvious and attractive feature of Peruvian courtship.

I am less than impressed by the architecture of middle Peru. Many of the houses are a mix of influences, colonial, Aztec and modern and look slightly tacky and a bit brash. Also, many are built with the possibility of a 2nd floor and their metal reinforcement rods point to the sky awaiting concrete posts and in-filled walls. However, the tree lined streets soften the overall effect and the impression isn't too bad. In places r, for example beside a wall there is a lack of ownership and rubbish accumulates. That said, rubbish is officially collected 3 times a week from the elevated metal cages where it is placed outside houses. Before this happens, early in the morning, unofficial rubbish collectors with hand or donkey powered carts sort the rubbish and recycle anything valuable including glass and plastics.

Largely, life in this part of Piura is safe and tranquil and slightly more communal than similar streets in the UK, and of course, sunny and warm!

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