Monday, March 20, 2006

Dispatch numero uno

(Originally sent 5 Marzo, 2006)

Hi all,

First off, yes I am still alive. No, I didn´t die in some horrible third world car crash (although I have been involved in a side-on bus collision and mototaxi vs. real taxi crash). I didn´t get sucked out to sea in a riptide surfing and I wasn´t bitten by tropical snakes in the rainforest. To tell you the truth, I´ve just been too damn busy working to get our project up and running to check in with an update.

"Wait, you left the country?"

Yes. For those that I haven´t kept in great touch with, I am now working on a randomized trial of savings incentives and marketing treatments for microfinance customers in Ica, Peru.

"That sounds awfully shady, is this just cover for some South American CIA front?"

Actually no. It is kind of difficult to explain what we´re doing and what my role is, but so far it has involved a lot of shopping; hiring and training a survey team; writing, testing and implementing IS and survey systems that will hold up for the next year; building relationships with relevant partners and people at the bank who can make things run smoothly; and trying to gently push people forward in the context of Peruvian time...

"I heard you don´t have any hot water?"

Yup. The first month I was here, I managed to make due without the creature comfort of a hot shower. Considering that it´s sunny and 90 degrees almost every day, it wasn´t that bad. Since then I have rented a very nice new appartment. It includes hot showers, but wierdly doesn´t have a towel rack or toilet paper dispenser.

"Pisco es Peru, no?"

Sí! Even with the brutal work schedule, I have managed to get myself out a few nights to cause trouble. I attended the National Pisco Sour Day festival (why can´t we have holidays like that?) and (grudgingly) helped some coworkers from the bank finish off a couple bottles of pisco puro. After a month, I can confidently say that pisco from Ica is much better than the stuff you get in Chile, but that the same grapes make for a pretty shitty wine. Peru also loses bigtime on the quality of beer scale -- luckily it´s cheap!

"And the food?"

Pretty good so far. Nothing super-fancy, but ceviche for lunch with a view of the Pacific is an experience that´s hard to top. In the desert I haven´t been as eager to eat the fish, but there are great locally grown asparagus, juicy mangos, tasty pecan candies from Ica, and the ubiquitous potato dishes and roasted chicken restaurants.

"And the Santa mug?"

Apologies to all MSH people who weren´t really interested in the rest of this email. Unfortunately, the santa mug was left behind in the United States due to space constraints. Hopefully, Santa will get his chance to see Machu Picchu and the other sites after my next round-trip in June!

"Are you going to have time to actually do stuff when I come visit or will you be too busy working?"

Thank god, yes. The first 6 weeks have definitely been a grind to get things in place, but starting soon I´ll be able to set more of my own schedule. So I definitely look forward to seeing a few of you here in Peru!

"Is that it?"

Yeah, that´s my update. Y´all have my email address, but I´ve also been using Skype a lot if you want to to check in over the phone. Apologies for the length and I hope that everything is going great in your life wherever you might be!



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