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One story a week will be published until submissions permit more frequent publications.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Simple Explanation

Written by:    Larry J. Pitman

Jim and I were sitting at one of the outdoor tables at Café Haiti in Miraflores. My friend had been in Peru a long time and usually was a very good companion. We differed in one major respect, however. He liked to come up with a simple phrase that would explain a very complex problem. Or, at least, what I think is a complex problem. That is just what happened today. We had been discussing the growing occurrence of crime in Lima. He took a sip of coffee and said to me:

“Poverty is the cause of crime. If there were no poverty, there would be no criminals.”

He then sat back and smiled; satisfied that he had provided an unassailable answer to the problem.

I was quiet for a while, appalled by the innocent simplicity of this statement. I was stunned by his one size fits all approach, reducing one of life`s mysteries, i.e. why there are criminals in our midst, to a simple formula. .

As he sat there waiting, I know that he was preparing himself for the pleasure of an argument. He knew that I didn`t like what he had said. Rather than hitting him head on, however, I decided to tell a story and see what he would say.

“Tell me if you think that this person became a criminal based on his background

His name is Luis.

Here are some facts about him:

He was born in a fishing village north of Lima in one of the poorest families in the town. Luis claims to have forty-five brothers and sisters. Rarely seeing his father, who had many women, he was raised by his mother. No financial or emotional support whatever came from his father. Therefore his mother, who was desperately poor, finally decided to move to Lima, where she barely supported the family by laundering clothes.

In Lima, Luis became a street-wise kid who sometimes got into trouble with the police. He was a smart ass who treated those in authority with contempt .In addition; he was in a gang that was actively stealing from houses and even from the church. Luis dropped out of school after the fourth grade. “

I turned to Jim, “What do you think? Is this person a potential criminal? “

“He fits the profile of a criminal in my mind. But I know you are going to tell me that he turned out to be a wonderful person. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule.”

“OK, now I want to tell you the story of Victor Hugo.”

“His father was a lawyer and his mother had a successful business. Victor Hugo had a nanny who took care of him most of the time. He rarely saw his parents, but they treated him with warmth and gave him anything he wanted. He went to Markham, one of the most exclusive schools in Lima, where his grades were good. “

“Does he fit the profile of a criminal?

Jim said, “Obviously not, but I am sure you are going to tell me that he is a crook”.

“You are right; Victor Hugo is in prison serving a thirty year sentence for killing someone in a drug deal.

Meanwhile, Luis has worked hard all his life, supporting a beautiful family. His sons and daughters have excellent jobs because they received a good education and strong values. Luis is well known and respected in his community. “

“So what is the difference?

In my opinion, it has little to do with poverty. I believe that people choose to be good or bad. We all have the opportunity to do something wrong, but we choose not to take it if we are good. It has nothing to do with poverty in most cases.”

“Luis chose to do all this good with his life. He had no father to tell him what to do and his mother was busy just helping the family survive. Where Luis learned to do what he did, I do not know. Perhaps he was born with a good character. Meanwhile, Victor Hugo, with all his advantages, chose to do something wrong. I can cite you many similar cases.”

“Therefore, poverty does not cause criminals. I do not know exactly what does, but I suspect that there is no simple, easy explanation.”

I paused, waiting for Jim to slash back with his counterarguments.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Written by:    Larry J. Pitman

He always thought it was silly to think about the past. Sitting with friends, sipping a beer, he would pontificate, “The past? Forget it! It is gone and done with. Let’s enjoy the present and allow the future to take care of itself.”

He had probably picked up this quote from an article he had read by Tony Robbins in Reader`s Digest. He said it with such conviction that, whether they really thought that way, he usually had his audience nodding in agreement.

Moving to Peru, for him, was just turning another page in the history of life. Sure, he could keep contact with his family through the internet and the telephone. The separation from his former life meant little to him. In fact, it might be better here in Peru than being there. It was a great escape. Now, he had no responsibilities and, at least, there were no grounds for conflict with anybody.

All that seemed to work for him. He had adjusted well to life in Lima, and rarely thought about his former life in California or, even, about the family members that he had left there. He was living in the present just as he preached so often.

So he wasn’t prepared in any way for what happened.

He was looking at the web-site of the San Francisco Chronicle when he saw a collection of old photos from the 50’s and 60’s. He clicked on it, and in an instant, and was flooded with images of his past. They were familiar places, places of memories long ago stored away and forgotten. Immediately his mind raced to how he had been to those places with his father---- Golden Gate Park, Sutro`s Baths, Chinatown.

His father….. how much he had enjoyed those times with him.

From that pleasurable retrospective, slowly a feeling of sadness came over him. Those times, he realized, and his father are gone. Never to be repeated. He felt that loss, and then came the regret that he never had enough time to share those same experiences with his sons.

With this insight, he realized that he was really a displaced person. No place was really his home. California was no longer the place it had been in his memory. When he went back for a visit, he felt like he was visiting another foreign country.

Peru? Here, too, he was a foreigner. He liked living here and even felt comfortable, but he would never be a Peruvian.

Now he was becoming really depressed. He realized that the only home he had was in his memories. And these were the memories of things that no longer existed. Morose thought piled on morose thoughts. He was really down now.

He was normally a happy man, he thought. But now he feels terrible, just because he clicked on some old photos.

Then, he shook his head angrily, as though to shake all these sad thoughts out of his head.

He screamed inside his head,

“Damn this nostalgia. I’m here, and I am going to enjoy my life”.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Wizard

Written by:  Larry Pitman

Someone told me that there are lots of witches and wizards in Peru.

Where I come from we are skeptical of these sorts of things. In fact, I have never been a believer, even if I do enjoy the Harry Potter stories.

It is a little hard for me to admit this, but I think I might just have met a wizard. I was not sure. So, before I laid the label on him, I went to the dictionary and here is what it said:

Wizard: someone having magical influence or power”.

Certainly, it appeared to me at the time that this person I met does have extraordinary powers.

Here is what happened.

I didn’t recognize him, but he knew me.

Frequently, I have to take a taxi late at night after my class. Several months ago, and only once, he had taken me home and now, after what must have been thousands of passengers, he remembered all the details of our previous journey. I didn’t need to tell him where I lived, he knew exactly.

“I remember everything,” he said.

“It is a gift” he added

He then went on to tell me about numerous occasions when he remembered the exact details of an event or a person.

“I have a photographic memory.”

“Also I have dreams with great detail, and then they become true.”

He told about how he foresaw the death of his father.

“I knew exactly when and where he would die,” he said.

“I can tell a bad guy with 98% accuracy. That is very useful in my work. I know just by looking whether I want to have this person in my taxi or not.”

He then described his intuitive powers which warn him about a coming event. He told me about a bank where he had his life savings. One day when he went in to make a deposit and, even though everything appeared to be normal, he had a strong feeling that he must take all his money out of this bank immediately. He then tried to make the withdrawal, but they said that he must wait a week. The next day he heard on the radio that the bank had been closed by government inspectors.

Then he told about how he has foreseen his own death.

“I had a dream with all the details. I know that I will die when I am 55 years old, and I have seen the hospital where I will die. I’m 53 now, and I feel my body beginning to deteriorate. My daughter, who has the same gifts as I do, has also dreamed that I will die in that year. “

I was shocked by how casual and matter of fact he seemed about this announcement.

He reassured me, “It doesn’t matter. I have no fear of death. I am a Catholic.”

By this time, we had arrived at my house. It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me.

Should I have asked him to tell me my future?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The First Time I Saw Lima

Written By:    Larry Pitman

People often ask me about how I first came to Lima. I have told this story many times, but recently I have been hearing a voice whispering to me while I tell this story. It really bothers me.

The first time I saw Lima was in 1980. I was on a business trip to Latin America.

Dang it! That’s a lie. Tell the truth

Some of my wealthy investors were so grateful for the excellent work I did for them that they made donations to give me a trip to Peru so I could scout for new investment opportunities.

You mean that you stole some money, and you were on the run from the law

I chose Lima to start my trip because there is a town in Ohio, where I am from, with the same name.

Come on. You threw a dart at the map of South America and the closest place was Lima.

Lima seemed like it would be a pleasant place. I was impressed by the airport when I arrived.

Let’s face it. Lima in those days was on its heels, a backwater. Just the kind of place you needed to hide out. The airport at Corpac was strictly small time

It was weird coming off the plane because I didn’t know anyone in the whole country. However, I liked the idea of a new adventure.

Oh yeah, really you were scared to death, but you didn’t have any other choice.You were just glad that the police were not waiting for you at the airport.

I asked the taxi driver in my finest high school Spanish to take me to the best hotel in town.

He took you all right, charging you three times the going rate.

That was the Hotel Bolivar. They have a great bar there and, of course; I had to try their famous Pisco Sours.

Yeah, that’s no surprise since you are a drunk

That was where I got my big break.

Of course, you found another drunk

I was sitting there a few days after I arrived and this guy and I start a conversation. He is a Peruvian named Fernando. He spent some time in Miami so he speaks pretty good English. We hit it off pretty good. After a few drinks, he asked me if I would like to go to a night club. I always enjoy the night life so I said yes.

You mean, you and Fernando took off to the local whorehouse.

Fernando and I got to be really good friends and before long I was almost part of his family. That is how I met my love, Liliana, Fernando’s sister. Then, when I married her, I did become part of his family.

They were desperate to marry her off and you were the only candidate.

Soon after we were married, they asked me to be a manager for one of their companies.

What else could they do? Then, they put you in a position where you could not do any damage.

Even though the economy went up and down, I figured out how to operate in Peru and I did well.

You were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Now I am president of the company and an important businessman in Peru.

You are still just a crook on the run.

Why don’t you shut the hell up? I don’t need you.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Juana's Story

Written by: Larry Pitman

It was to be the happiest day of her life. One she had worked hard for sacrificed for and awaited eagerly. She loved Hilario and looked forward to the life they would share. Maybe they would even get married. That would be better for their three children.

She was a country girl. Her people were from the mountains and spoke only Quechua, but they were relatively prosperous. Hilario was different, his family was from Ayacucho, and spoke only Spanish.

Her family sent her to Ayacucho to attend school. That is where she met Hilario. They fell in love. Then, they decided to live together in silvina cui* following the traditional custom of the mountains.

Juana and Hilario lived in his modest family home along with his mother. Three children followed in rapid succession. Juana, a natural care giver, also took care of Hilario’s mother until she died.

It had been a long hard struggle, she reflected, but they had decided to invest in their future by selling his family’s land. Hilario could then study for his Engineering degree, and she would stay at home and take care of the children. Because the university was in Arequipa, Hilario was often gone, usually only coming home during vacation times. The absences had gotten longer as he studied at the University and the fifth, and last, year she barely saw him at all.

Finally, he had his degree, and she thought they would be together again.

Hilario , when he arrived home on that eagerly awaited day, was distant and preoccupied. Just as Juana started to talk about their future life together, he looked at her and said,

“You are an ignorant and uneducated person. I can’t introduce you to my friends from the University because you would embarrass me. Actually, I now have someone else, a real lady, who will be more suitable. Since this is my house, you and the children must move immediately. “

With these words, Juana’s hopes and dreams broke into a thousand pieces. Still, it wasn’t in her to plead with him. She had to submit. His word must be obeyed, and she had no choice, but to leave.

She told the children that they were going to visit family in Lima. That was all; they didn’t need to know that they were never coming back.

The relatives she had in Lima weren’t eager to welcome a woman with three small children. That meant that the little family had to move frequently over the next few years. But they did stay together.

Finally they found a makeshift home, modest and ramshackle, in Comas, one of the settlements around Lima.

Juana was a hard worker and a wonderful cook. She earned enough to support the family and make sure that the children got an education.The years went by. She had had a couple of lovers; unfortunately they only wanted to live off of her hard work.

Even though her children now had an education and jobs, one was an engineer, another nurse and the third, a teacher, Juana kept working. Still the care giver, her mother, very ill, now lived with her.

One day Juana opened the door, and there was Hilario. He was badly dressed, horribly thin and looking thoroughly defeated by life.

He said, “Juana, forgive me. I need you.”

She stood there in the door way looking at him for a long time. Then she slowly, gently closed the door.

*Silvina cui – a trial marriage where a couple lives together for a time before deciding to make it permanent.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shall We Dance

Written by:       Larry J. Pitman

He hated dancing. But he quickly learned that if you go to a party here in Peru, it is almost certain that there will be dancing. Not only that, Juana loved to dance, and she was the real reason why he was in Peru.

Juana couldn’t understand how anyone could hate dancing. It was such an important part of life in Peru, where everyone joins in, from grandma to the five year old. He tried to explain that it was different where he was from. He told her that he had never seen his parents dancing, even once.

He told how dancing was associated in his mind with humiliation and embarrassment. Painful memories abounded. For example, in elementary school he had a sixth grade graduation party where the girls were on one side of the hall and the boys (him included) were clustered as far as possible on the opposite wall. The teacher would then drag the boys (him included) across the floor and get them to take a partner to dance. It was so embarrassing. It didn’t get any better in high school either.

In college, he did develop a marginal, rigid body, approach to dancing so that he could get out on the dance floor and not totally embarrass himself or his partner. Or so he thought.

Despite all this negative programming, he realized that dancing was extremely important to Juana. He imagined him and Juana dancing with the rhythm and spirit he had seen by many Peruvians. More than that, it is also a way to experience the music that is so loved in this country.

He also began thinking that he had to let go of his feelings about dancing and let himself open up as a means of personal growth. Foolishly, he even said this to Juana.. But he never thought any more about it.

Juana hadn’t forgotten, though. Out of the blue, one day she told him that she had come across a marvelous lady in the Mercado* who would be willing to teach him to dance salsa. He turned pale, swallowed hard, flashing back to his painful past, and said,

“Ok, bring her on.”

Doña Augusta became his salsa teacher. That first lesson was difficult for both of them. She probably assumed that she was dealing with a normal human being, but didn’t understand that some of gringos are not born with natural rhythm..

She put on the music and started moving in a dance step. He responded by moving his feet in a stiff-legged style. She looked at him in a strange way and said:


She could have been talking in Quechua; He really did not know what she meant.

Then she said:


He really couldn’t hear any beat. It was hard enough just to move his feet. Listening to the music, hearing the beat, AND moving his feet, was just too much . It was then that she realized that she had an extremely tough assignment.

She took a deep breath, grabbed him, and said:


Then he started moving his feet somewhat like she was doing. It was hard enough to just to keep moving his feet, but she also kept saying

“Feel the music”


“Listen to the beat”.

Both of them began sweating profusely. They were exhausted at the end of the first lesson and he hoped never to see her again.

Augusta, however, is a patient, determined woman. Weeks went by. After many lessons, to his surprise, his feet started moving more like Augusta. He even began to HEAR THE BEAT.

Then Augusta got more ambitious and tried to get him to move his whole body and not just his feet. That is not easy for a stiff-backed gringo, but when he started to move his body, he began to FEEL THE MUSIC. Truly a miracle!

Then he realized that he had learned something more. Now he could move with a partner in synch with the music. This was a totally new experience for him . That was what he wanted to have with Juana and now he had it.

Now when they go to a party, people look at him in surprise when they dance. He can almost hear them think:

“Wow! That gringo, he dances like he has the soul of a Peruvian”.

And he murmurs,

“Thanks, Augusta”.

• A local market

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Kingmaker and the Crazy Lady

Written by:    Larry J. Pitman

This is a story about how the crazy lady disappeared.

I believe It all begins and ends with Victor.

Victor is a middle class Limeño living in a nice neighborhood. An older man, slight of build, well worn by life, Victor never seems quite sincere in his dealings with others. He can be friendly if he thinks you can help him, or he can be friendly if he can avoid any problem you might cause him. However, friendly for him means saying hello, shaking your hand and inquiring after your family even though you are sure it is just a formality. Unfortunately, being friendly does not mean offering any kind of neighborly help.

Victor is naturally secretive; he plays his cards close to his vest. Even though he might have information helpful to another, he is not going to volunteer it without some benefit accruing to him. After a few dealings with Victor, I realized how he was. To him, information is like gold and has to be hoarded.

His long suffering wife goes every morning to mass. Some people think that she is praying for the Good Lord to take Victor as soon as possible. It is hard to imagine such a sweet thing as her with those thoughts. Even so, neighborhood gossipers believe that her supposed wish is well justified.

Victor lives just one block from the park. He likes to dress well and to walk around the neighborhood. His favorite destination is the Municipalidad* where he loves to chat with some cronies. You see, Victor enjoys meddling in local politics, envisioning himself as the kingmaker for the elections for Alcalde**. Actually, he does have a small group of followers which might lead mayoral candidates to think that they should court him.

In fact that seems to have happened. The successful candidate in the last election for Alcalde did actively solicit Victor’s support. That’s why the whole neighborhood believes that the crazy lady in the park disappeared.

As I said, Victor liked to walk. But he usually avoided the nearby park because that was where the crazy lady was. Just the sight of her made him angry. Every day she was there, sitting on a park bench surrounded by large boxes full of plastic bags. Thin, thoroughly wrinkled, with stringy grey hair, she perched there from morning to evening, mute and immobile, a fixture in the park.

How long she had been there, I don’t know, but I guess that it was years. The neighbors around the park tolerated her and even helped by providing a bathroom, and, I guess, some food. Where she slept I don’t know. She had a shopping cart to move her boxes which she did every morning and evening. The crazy lady never caused harm to anyone except for those who were offended by her appearance.

That was just what bothered Victor. He thought that it was a disgrace that this ugly old woman planted herself in the park every day. Often he would mutter about how someone should do something. I thought that Victor was just blowing off steam and that his animosity came because he, too, was old and ugly. Clearly, I felt, he didn’t like to be reminded of this fact.

Came the election and Victor’s candidate was victorious. A few days after, the crazy lady disappeared from the park and has never been seen there again. I don’t know anything for sure, but the rumor is that city officials gathered her up and took her to an institution for impoverished elderly citizens where they are maintained with food and shelter until they die.

Not long after, Victor had a mild stroke.

Now, if you come to our neighborhood, and visit our little park, you will see Victor sitting on a bench all day, immobile, grey, and emaciated.

His wife continues to go to mass every morning.

*City Hall

** Mayor

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Second Chance

Written by: Larry J. Pitman

“You´re a loser.” She screamed at me, “And you always will be!”

The last sounds of a broken marriage kept echoing back at me, playing over and over in my head. The really sad part was that I totally agreed with her.

How could I not agree when I reflected on what had happened over the past few years?

All our dreams and hopes, now just the dry husks of what they once were, the life strangled out of them.

I’d tried. God knows I’d tried. I’d worked until I was totally exhausted—physically, mentally and, most of all, spiritually.

The marriage, the business, my family--- all gone. Not quickly, but drip by drip... agonizingly.

So much lost…..After a while, I just began to feel numb.

Mom died.

The market crashed.

Then the marriage went sour.

Exposed along the way were all my weaknesses, my faults. My confidence, or maybe it was my arrogance, was eroded away until there was nothing left.

Sure, I can understand why she did what she did. After all, she signed on when everything looked good. So why stick around when things go bad?

“In good times and bad?” Our vows. Forget it.

Sometimes I just ask, “Why me?”

I have thought about killing myself, but I would probably botch that, too.

Still, there is a little left inside. A small spark of hope. It needs to be nurtured. I need time to lick my wounds and to heal. I have to get away. Some place different.

That´s why I am on the plane to Peru. No one knows me there. I can start again. A little money is left so l want to give it one last try.

Somewhere, deep down, I believe that I have learned something that maybe I can change and then I can have a second chance.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Standing in Line

By Larry J. Pitman

On the outside, he looked calm. On the inside, he was boiling.

He was always impatient, but never more so than when he had to stand in a line for something. In his native California, he would search for the shortest line at the supermarket, at the bank or wherever there was a line. Time standing in a line was to him time totally wasted.

Now in Peru, he had no choice.

His stomach tightened as he stood there, waiting for his turn.

They always work so slowly.

As soon as he got in the line, he drifted to another place in his head and an internal conversation began.

“This is the fifth time I´ve been here. It is just a simple recording of our marriage certificate, but then in Peru nothing like this is simple. Every time they want another paper”

“Why do they move so slowly?”

Standing there, as the minutes go slowly by, the line inching along, he begins to fantasize:

He is standing at the counter facing the clerk. The clerk looks at his documents, shakes his head and says,

“The form is not complete. Before the certificate can be approved, another paper must be supplied.“

(The fifth time… but this time it is going to be different.)

He tells the clerk, “Señor, look deeply into my eyes. Just relax. Watch the pencil go back and forth, back and forth. You are at peace. Your eyes are getting heavy. Now close your eyes slowly.“

The clerk‘s eyes closed.

“When I count one, two, three, you will open your eyes, you will smile at me, and quickly stamp the form approved. Do you understand?”

“Si, señor.”

Just then reality intrudes.

“SEÑOR! SEÑOR!” He wakes out of his daydream to find the clerk impatiently beckoning him to the counter.

The clerk takes one look at the document and says,

“This is the wrong line. Go over there.” He points to another very long line.