Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Year of Turning 20

30 years ago, in the summer of 1976 I flew down to Lima to work at Hierro Peru. An iron mine located in Marcona. That was my year of turning 20.

I showed up with nothing more than my passport (without a Yellow Fever inoculation, by the way) and one piece of luggage. The Health Inspector waived me in anyway (though I can still remember in my mind hoping that I would just be turned away and sent home. It was a daunting thought to be 19 years old and about to spend three months in Peru, never having been out of the US before) and I went to meet the folks I was staying with.

There were some interesting things that I still remember. I had to register with the PIP (the Peruvian equivalent of the FBI), where they fingerprinted me and took my mug shots. I remember a Soviet Submarine entering Bahia San Nicolás. One evening when I was playing poker with some friends, there was a knock on the door and an armed soldier asked to come in. (The people I was with did not let him in). He said he was checking for curfew violators (of which I was one).

I went to free outdoor movies – several of which were from “red” China. I saw Chinese movies with Spanish subtitles. Remember how bad the relationship between the US and China was back then? I felt subversive.

The currency exchange rate changed almost daily (not that I had much money). The drug of choice (after Beer and Pisco) was Pasta. Mixed with tobacco. Did nothing for me. I ate a lot of potatoes once the folks I was staying with left. I had almost no money. One night, a friend dragged me to several brothels. I had to money to pay there either. I went home unsullied.

When you are 19 you are fearless. I hitchhiked from Nazca to Arequipa. I jumped over the wall at Sacsayhuaman and ran away from the cops who were chasing me. What was I thinking?

At 19 I did not really notice the poverty, but I did notice (or _feel_) the repression. Maybe I just imagined it.


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